Are you thinking about purchasing a fountain pen? Or already have a fountain pen but don’t know much about how they work and function?
If so, this guide is for you. We created this guide to introduce fountain pen newbies (and those who just want to learn more) to the world of fountain pens.
Some of the high-level topics we will discuss below are (feel free to click and skip ahead):
- Why Would You Want to Write With a Fountain Pen
- Common Complaints about Writing with a Fountain Pen
- What Supplies You Need In Order to Write with a Fountain Pen
- Steps To Writing with a Fountain Pen
- A Few Suggested “Starter” Fountain Pens to Consider Buying
Table of Contents
Why Would You Want to Write with a Fountain Pen?
The answers vary from practical to reasons that delve into the aesthetic elements of owning a fine-writing instrument.
Some commonly cited reasons for choosing a fountain pen include:
Write Ergonomically, with a Naturally Free-Flowing Motion
Fountain pens have multiple features that allow writers to write without undue stress on their hands. First, there typically is a fatter barrel, that allows for an easier grip.
Second, the ink itself – being water rather than oil-based (as in ballpoint pens) means that the writing really flows. Overall, once you get used to your fountain pen, and do not have to worry about balance or writing style (thus reducing smudges), your writing will flow as smoothly as one can ever hope for.
The End Product is Superior – Handwriting, anyone?
A fountain pen will produce writing that looks both smooth and effortless. Plus, there is the matter of producing written work in vibrant colors, as we discuss below.
All in all, the reader is bound to be impressed by the work product. Your handwriting is bound to look better than any of the alternatives.
Choose Your Own Style – Use Nibs, Inks, and Colors that Suit Your Personality
We will discuss some of these points in detail below, but fountain pens are practically the only writing implements that allow you free latitude with practically every aspect of how you write and what you write with.
For example, you can choose among multiple styles of nibs that have a distinct impact on the end product.
Similarly, the type of ink you choose will lay on writing paper in different ways and can have a definite impact on the end product. Last but not the least, people who like writing in colored inks can go absolutely ga-ga with fountain pens – there are literally hundreds of choices.
Writing Itself Can Become an Experience
Many fountain pen users will say that their pens become an extension of their own personalities to a certain extent. There may be some truth to this. Fountain pens, nibs, and inks are available in far greater varieties than any other writing implement. As such, they are personalized from the beginning and continue to be so over the course of their use.
Secondly, the very act of writing with a fountain pen seems to invite some element of introspection – the balance is proportionate to the synapses that spark in the brain of the writer. Overall, writers that use fountain pens seem to place greater emphasis on the act and artistry of writing itself, which in turn reaffirms the personalized aspect of what is being put down on paper.
The personalized aspect can go beyond the mundane. Many fountain pen users will describe their experiences as being more fun than other modes of recording their thoughts or outputs. They can leak, and definitely may need more maintenance than ballpoint pens, but those acts are akin to caring for a most favorite hobby or pet.
There are refined needs that require the type of refinement that only fountain pens may be able to provide. Calligraphists and other fine art producers will use fountain or dipping pens, both for their wide array of colors and shades and for the quality of the penmanship.
Finally, and in a bow to the aficionado, when someone reads what you write with a fountain pen, they will know that it was your work product – that is how distinctive one of your fountain pen written documents will be.
They Are Easier on Your Bank Account Balance
Cheap pens easily break, run out of ink, or get lost. This is because most people don’t value a cheap pen, and don’t think twice about a lost BIC pen.
However, fountain pen owners tend to treat their pens with the proper respect they deserve. A new starter fountain pen will cost around $20-25. If well maintained, the pen could easily last for 10 years or more, which will cost less than buying disposal pens over time. Plus, not flying through hundreds of disposal pens in a lifetime is easier on the environment.
A Few Common Complaints that Need to be Addressed
There are some complaints that crop up from people who regularly use fountain pens, the commonest among them being nib creep, which in turn causes smudges and stains on paper, fingers and clothing, as well as the maintenance of the parts of the pen – especially the nib. It is important to be aware of these, but equally important to realize that these so-called problems are natural and manageable.
The most common complaints usually involve either too much ink leading out, or a scratchy nib that could lead to skips at the beginning of the writing stroke. A fountain pen relies on a feeder (from the ink repository within the main body into the nib), the nib and then the capillary system on the nib itself to have a controlled flow of ink – not too much, and not too little. The maintenance or refinement of your pen revolve around the same.
Fountain pen ink is water, rather than oil, based. Additionally, unlike dipping pen ink, the ink is not typically waterproof or water resistant – instead, it is free flowing. This means that the ink has a tendency to leak out a bit, starting with globules sitting on the nib. But provided the pen itself is not defective, such issues can be easily addressed through some simple precautions as outlined below:
- Care for the nib and pen: There are a number of issues that can crop up with the nib. Firstly, its possible that the tines of the nib are not properly aligned, in which case there will be irregular ink flow. While home remedies are possible, it may be better to consult a professional or go back to the vendor who sent you the pen. A smaller, but more frequent, occurrence is where the pen dries out if not used regularly. The solution could be as simple as placing a drop of water (or a couple) on to the nib of the pen.
- Catering to a few other moving parts that will ensure smooth writing: The alignment between nib and feeder can cause a number of problems – watch out for air leaks among other things. Also, if the nib tip needs to be polished, take a slightly rough paper surface (e.g. a grocery bag) and write Figure 8’s on it till the nib point feels smoother. Be aware that if the root cause is a misaligned tine or a damaged nib, you should likely consult a professional.
- Take some other, simple precautions: Store the pen away from the sun. Heat can cause the ink to expand and leak. Tightening tines by pressing down for 5-10 seconds with your fingers can also help control irregular flows of ink. Read more about correctly storing fountain pens here.
In all of the above, check for serious defects and/or damage. In those cases, we recommend involving a professional.
What Supplies Do You Need to Write with a Fountain Pen?
While its not an endless list, writing with a fountain pen is not unlike choosing the right pet and training it so you are comfortable around it. From that perspective, some choices need to be made.
The Pen Itself
Pens come in a variety of shapes, sizes and qualities, across a wide range of prices. In choosing a fountain pen, size and weight are also important considerations. Choices depend on the size of your hand and how comfortable a pen feels when you hold it while writing. Plus, there are additional features that we discuss below.
In general, seasoned users may choose higher end brands such as a Mont Blanc or higher end Parker models, which will cost anywhere from several hundred to over a thousand dollars. Such investments are deemed reasonable since a well-maintained and regularly used fountain pen can last for over a decade, sometimes even a lifetime.
For a beginner, though, a more modestly priced starter pen may be the way to ease into the use of these fine writing implements. There is no reason to believe that such lower priced implements will not last for a long time, either, though its possible that you may want to move into some of the upper end brands and models as you get more comfortable with wielding a fountain pen.
Choose the Right Ink
Choosing the right ink boils down to how nitpicky or impatient you are about dealing with smudges. Normal pens, using water based inks, are bound to have some nib creep. If you are seriously bothered about it, there are a few options in terms of choosing inks that will help.
Inks that are either waterproof or water resistant will tend to smudge less. Examples include carbon or particle inks (with fine suspended particles), iron-gall inks (with iron salts and tannic acid), bulletproof inks (that are waterproof) and water resistant inks.
Some specific examples are listed below:
|Type of Ink||Brands/Names (Examples)|
|Carbon/Particle Inks||Sailor Pigmented Ink, Platinum Carbon Ink|
|Iron-Gall Ink||Rohrer and Klinger Bottled Ink, Mont Blanc Ink, Lamy Ink|
|Bulletproof Inks||Noodlers Ink|
|Other Water Resistant Inks||Namiki/Pilot Standard Ink, Platinum Pigmented Ink|
What is important to understand is that moving to the types of inks listed above does involve a tradeoff. While smudging is likely going to diminish, nibs that have particulates and/or acids will tend to clog up the nib. In some cases, such as with iron-gall inks, the nib itself will get corroded over time with frequent usage, especially if not cleaned regularly.
The jury is divided, but many users vote for Noodlers Ink as offering a good compromise – some smudging, but fewer problems with the pen itself over the long term.
- 100% made in the USA from cap to glass to ink
Choose the Nib that Suits Your Style
Choosing the right type of nib that suits your writing style is important. However, equally important is to realize that for different types of nibs, you have a hierarchy of brands that are best to choose from. Moreover, even the geographic origin of a standard fountain pen could have something to do with the types of nibs you may end up with.
What makes it most complicated is that there is no single, established standard set for the fineness of a nib in a fountain pen. This means that choices need to be carefully made.
First, the common types of nibs are as follows:
- Extra-fine (EF/XF/X): These nibs provide the most delicate (thinnest) writing lines, suitable for writing characters and/or drawing with intricate details. Japanese or Chinese characters come to life with extra-fine nibs.
- Fine (F): While not as suitable as extra-fine for intricacy, fine nibs are significantly in print than medium ones, with lines around 9.4 mm in width. As such, if you have small and neat handwriting, these may be for you.
- Medium (M): Fifty percent thicker than fine (that is, around 0.6 mm), medium sized nibs are the most common type found on most brands, unless you are specifically looking for something different.
- Broad (B): Double the width of fine nibs at the writing point at 0.8 mm, these pens help users that have larger hand writing.
Even armed with the general guidance above, it is important to be aware of the following:
- Pens from Asia tend to feature nibs that are finer than those found in the Americas, which in turn tend to be finer than those produced by European penmakers.
- Even among the leading brands, you have to know who produces the best types of nibs of a particular width. For example:
- The best pens with extra-fine nibs are most often found in Waterman brand pens, followed by Parker, Faber-Castell and Lamy.
- The best pens with fine nibs are most often found in Lamy brand pens, followed by Parker, Laban and Otto Hut.
- The best pens with medium nibs are most often found in Otto Hut brand pens, followed by Cross, Diplomat and Lamy.
- The best pens with broad nibs are most often found in Laban brand pens, followed by Otto Hut, Faber-Castell and Parker.
As the above descriptions show, understanding how you write (i.e. your handwriting), what you are trying to do and what type of nibs to get requires some thought and planning.
The Paper You Choose can be Very Important
While a defective or badly-maintained fountain pen can cause smudges that are hard to stop, a normal pen will still have some nib creep. In those cases, choosing the right class of thick, absorbent paper can do wonders.
In many users’ experiences, papers similar to that found in Leuchtturm1917 notebooks can create a much better writing experience in terms of limiting smudges and/or dribbles, regardless of the type of ink being used.
If you want to read more about the right type of paper for your fountain pen you can read our guide here.
- The A5 MEDIUM notebooks are the perfect size with a wide range of colors making them ideal companions for all walks of...
A Few Things on the Side
As you use a fountain pen regularly, you will get used to some of its features that will inevitably arise. There is no reason to shy away from the use of the pen itself but preparing for some smudges and spills may be necessary as a matter of course.
Many users will use a dry paper towel or tissue to deal with smudges as they start writing. Regular users may go one step further and designate a rag (one made from towel cloth works the best) that is ink smudged but reusable to the point where a fresh one is clearly necessary.
Cleaning the pen out every three or four weeks by soaking in cool water and/or under a running faucet could also be vital to the maintenance and upkeep of the pen over time.
Steps to Write with a Fountain Pen
Once you have chosen the right fountain pen, with the right type of nib, and are supplied with the right ink and paper, there are a few steps to master in terms of holding the fountain pen.
How to Hold the Fountain Pen
Fountain pens should ideally be held at an angle between 45- and 55-degrees to the plane of the paper. Going outside those bounds will often cause the pen to either scratch or overflow.
Second, the pen needs to be held with a rigid hand. Ball point pens can be wielded with both fingers and wrist moving – a fountain pen will not function well with that technique. Ideally, the wrist sits rigid along the surface of the paper (which means there is some work being put in by the shoulder and the arm), which then allows the fingers to wield the pen freely. Otherwise, any pen with a straight nib will tend to splay or not get enough ink flowing.
Finally, there is an optimum level of pressure – sort of a Goldilocks zone – that needs to be applied on to the paper you are writing on. Otherwise, you stand the chance of perforating the paper and/or damaging the nib.
Discover the Type of Writer You Are, and Adjust Accordingly
Overall, there are three types of fountain pen users:
- A sidewriter tends to hold the pen at a pronounced angle, outside the 45-55 degree zone – this will lead to more smudging.
- An overwriter, on the other hand, employs a hook-handed style where they may look like they are writing upside down. They may end up at an obtuse angle, and smearing will result.
- An underwriter tends to hold the pen perpendicular to the paper, which will reduce smearing.
The sidewriter and underwriter may have the least level of correction necessary to get into the shoulder, arm, wrist and finger position to write with the least amount of effort and produce the best effect. Once applied, the principles above are not difficult to implement. Many southpaws, who were traditionally supposed to shy away from fountain pen usage, routinely discover that they can make simple adjustments and enjoy a fountain pen.
Which Fountain Pens Should You Buy to Get Started? A Few Suggestions
If you are not fully conversant with using a fountain pen and not a fountain pen snob (believe us when we say that plenty of those exist), you should balance performance and value in the first pens that you look for. Buying a pen worth several hundred, or thousands of, dollars when you are a relative novice in terms of using such delicate instruments may not be the best idea.
Luckily, there are many “starter pens” that you could look into, such as those outlined below. The better options offer choices among good brand pens, along with some other options (e.g. nibs) that allow you to experiment with what will work best for you.
- Pilot Metropolitan
The Pilot brand is ever reliable. The Pilot Metropolitan pens offer many types of nibs, especially straddling fine and medium, that you can pick and choose from. They are also well packaged in gift boxes, and offer a look and feel that is above and beyond what one normally expects at this price range.
For example, here is the Pilot MR Retro Pop Collection in Gift Box:
- PILOT MR: This refillable modern fountain pen delivers refined style & an exceptionally smooth writing experience....
- Lamy Safari
A bit more expensive than the Pilot Metropolitan range, the Lamy Safari combines fine German craftsmanship with affordability. The normal plastic casing is often the most convenient. These may not be the best pens for users with large hands, but for most other people, they do fine.
- 🖋️ Made in Germany: The Lamy safari fountain pen is a timelessly modern writing instrument and is in a class of its...
- Jinhao X450
If price with usability is what you want, plus you are a beginner, the Jinhao X450 may be hard to beat. It’s half the price of the Pilot MR but has a certain heft and look that makes it look like a moderately expensive pen. The gold plated (note: not gold) nib adds to that look and feel.
- Length : 138 mm ; Nib : 18KGP Medium ; Converter ：Screw type ; Cap : Push-Type , Pen Weight : 45G
The Final Word
A fountain pen can be a lifelong love for those who adopt to using one. They will reflect your personality, whether through a simple signature or a personalized, hand written missive. Choosing the pen that works for you involves a little bit of work, but given the decades of benefits that the right pen(s) will provide – why not figure out what works for you?