Once you start using a fountain pen, you’ll never go back to a ballpoint. That’s exactly what happened to me when my cheap pen ran out of ink in the middle of an exam. My friend—a “pen snob” I often teased for using nothing but fountain pens—lent me her Pilot Metropolitan.
It was love at first write.
I discovered (and you will too) that fountain pens are more comfortable and easier to write with. The vivid ink pigments also make your handwriting clearer and easier to read. Fountain pens can also help you save more money in the long run—and are good for the environment, too.
Not yet convinced? Here are some reasons why fountain pens are better than ballpoint pens, and why you should try one yourself.
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Your hand won’t get tired when you write
Ballpoint pens use a thick ink that flows slowly out of the nib. If you’ve got a bad pen, you end up having to push the nib hard on the paper, with your fingers locked into a tight death grip.
This is what causes “writer’s cramp”: you’re wrestling with your ballpoint just to get ink to flow. Some of the really annoying pens will only work if you hold them at a certain angle. If you’re left-handed, it’s 10 times worse.
In contrast, fountain pens use liquid ink that flows easily and smoothly. You can write even with a relaxed grip and a very light touch. To see the difference, lightly press the tip of a fountain pen and the tip of a ballpoint pen on a piece of paper. Which leaves a bigger, more vivid dot? See what we mean?
You can choose the most comfortable “fit”
People have different hand sizes and natural grips. However, ballpoint pens don’t account for that kind of diversity. They look different, they have different ink, but when it comes to the length and diameter of the pen, they are pretty much one-size-fits-all.
But what if you have big hands and long fingers? What if you like having a little weight or thickness to your pen?
That’s why fountain pens are more likely to give you a comfortable fit. They come in different thicknesses and shapes. Some have a tapered tip, others have a thicker cigar shape. Some are very light, while others have a certain “heft” to them.
Try holding different fountain pens at the store. You are bound to find one that is just easier and more comfortable to right with because it works with your natural grip.
You can even pick a pen that suits your preferred weight. I personally like using a lighter pen for everyday notes, and a heavier pen when I’m writing in my journal and am more conscious of the strokes.
The beauty of fountain pens is that you can choose what works for you, instead of adjusting your grip or writing style to the pen.
Fountain pen ink is brighter and more vivid
I hate ballpoint pens with faint ink. It’s really hard to read, and the ink fades even more over time. I’ve never had that problem with fountain pens.
First, fountain pens generally release more ink onto the page, because of the consistency of the liquid ink and the construction of the nib.
Second, fountain pens will usually have high-quality ink, to begin with. I’ve had some “premium” ballpoints that have very rich pigments, but they’re the exception rather than the rule. In many cases, the ballpoints with runny inks have a tendency to blot and bleed.
However, even the most affordable fountain pen inks are quite vivid. Black ink looks really black, and even specialty shades like yellow or pastels will show up much better than corresponding ballpoints.
Fountain pen ink comes in more colors
There’s an amazing variety of fountain pen inks available. Aside from different shades, you can also find different types: quick-drying, water-resistant, pigmented, sheen, shimmer, shading, scented, iron-gall, dye.
The variety of inks is perfect for calligraphy, journaling, illustration, scrapbooking, or any kind of creative expression. I even like using the inks for work, especially when signing documents. People may be able to forge my signature, but they can’t “fake” a unique ink pigment.
You can vary the line and thickness
With fountain pens, you can change your writing with the pressure you use and the angle you hold it. That’s why they’re a favorite among calligraphers and artists—they’re such an expressive writing instrument.
If you’re looking for a fountain pen primarily, for this reason, we recommend getting one with a 14k or 18k gold nib. These are more flexible than steel nibs, so you can really play with the lines and achieve different effects.
You can customize the nibs
One of the things I love most about fountain pens is the ability to change out the nibs, for different kinds of writing effects. Nibs generally vary according to:
- Point size. I can use a thinner point when I’m writing in my bullet journal or pocket calendar, and a medium point when I’m taking notes.
- Shape. A round trip is best for everyday writing and creating elegant lines. A square tip is great for calligraphy and italic strokes.
- Flexibility. A softer nib allows you to play with pressure and angle, to change the stroke.
But as you get into fountain pens, you’ll hear about special nib types. For example, a stub nib is characterized by a flat, wide tip with rounded edges. It’s perfect for people with very bold handwriting and is actually the pen that Neil DeGrasse Tyson likes to use when he signs autographs.
There are also oblique nibs that are cut at an angle, to suit your writing angle. Some of these are specially designed for left-handed people, who hold their pen in a different way. Fude nibs, on the other hand, mimic the strokes of a calligraphy brush.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg! The more you get into fountain pens, the more you’ll be able to see the subtle differences in nib shapes and materials. You’ll really see that there’s an art and science to the way the nibs are made—so different from the mass-produced metal tips of a ballpoint pen.
Your handwriting will get better
When I first got a fountain pen, I had no interest in calligraphy. But it was such a delight to use that I actually grabbed any opportunity to practice my handwriting. It was like a new toy.
Eventually, this led to a curiosity about different handwriting styles, which paved the way for calligraphy and doodling. I am by no means a professional artist, and my writing looks very wobbly and inconsistent compared to those who really spend time mastering the craft.
However, no matter how “amateurish” my doodles get, my handwriting is still a hundred times better than it was when I used a ballpoint.
Fountain pens are more convenient than you think
You may think fountain pens are complicated and “fussy” to use, but there are many ready-to-use pens that are just as convenient as a ballpoint. You can get:
- Disposable fountain pens. These are affordable, and come pre-filled, so all you have to do is remove the cap and you’re ready to write. One of the most popular disposable fountain pens is the Pilot Varsity (read our review by clicking here), A pack of three costs less than $10! If you like a lot of colors, try this set of seven from Zebra.
- Cartridge refills. If you don’t want to deal with converters and ink pots, get a fountain pen that uses cartridge refills. You just unscrew the pen, slip in a new cartridge and push it into place, and you’re done. Watch this video for the step-by-step guide.
Fountain pens come in different designs
Fountain pens are like clothes: they make a style statement. You can get an “executive pen” made of classy metal and a pedigree brand, like a Montblanc. If you prefer brighter colors, check out the Lamy Safari range, which includes bold shades like Mango.
Once you start getting into fountain pens, you’ll also notice the little details that make each pen special, such as a textured body, fine engravings on the nib, accents on the cap or tip, etc. Brands will often release limited edition sets, which include special boxes or carrying cases.
You can even personalize your pen further, by etching your name, initials, or monogram. It can really make your pen feel yours, which makes it feel special (and also prevents anyone from stealing it—a problem I constantly had with my ballpoint pens!).
Fountain pens are environmentally friendly
Did you know that the metal tip of many ordinary ballpoint pens contains heavy metals like lead? Once you throw them away, they pollute the landfills, waterways, and other areas with their toxic content. The plastic containers also take up to 450 years to decompose.
Over 130 billion ballpoint pens are thrown away every year. While it’s not the biggest contributor to environmental waste, it’s one of the easiest things to prevent. Pick a more environmentally-friendly writing instrument, like a fountain pen.
One fountain pen can be reused for years. Some of the more expensive ones are so durable and beautifully crafted that they’re practically heirloom pieces that are passed on from one generation to the next.
If you use refillable pens, you reduce plastic waste even further. The inks are stored in recyclable glass bottles. A single bottle can last you for a long time, even if you use it every day. And if you store the ink properly, the ink stays “fresh” for years.
Compare that to a flimsy ballpoint pen that you only use for a few weeks or months, and can dry out if you leave it uncapped!
That’s why fountain pens are simply the best choice for anyone who cares about the environment. We learned to use eco-bags and bring our own tumblers to coffee shops to reduce plastic waste—and we can learn to use fountain pens instead of ballpoints, too.
Fountain pens are great gifts
Once I got into fountain pens, I started giving them out as gifts. It’s a very practical gift (everyone needs a beautiful, high-quality pen), but it can also be very personal and customizable.
I choose a pen design that suits the person’s taste and personality, and usually has the name engraved on the pen or the box. I also have a bunch of extra pen gift sets in the house, for those emergencies when I forgot to buy a present Most fountain pens come in beautiful gift boxes that only need a ribbon—the perfect last-minute gift!
Fountain pens come at different prices too, so it’s easy to find one that fits your budget. You can find pocket-friendly pens that are around $50, to luxury pens that can impress your boss or celebrate a special anniversary, promotion or graduation.
Fountain pen vs ballpoint: what’s your choice?
These are some of the reasons why we think fountain pens are better than ballpoint pens. It just delivers a better writing experience and is more versatile and customizable than any pen set you can find. It’s also environmentally friendly—and with global warming being a big issue, that’s already a big reason to switch.
However, the best way to find out if a fountain pen for you is to just try one. Start with a disposable fountain pen, or look for an affordable pen that’s under $50. Experiment with it; get used to holding it in your hand, and making strokes.
There’s a learning curve as your hand gets used to a new grip, and how the ink flow responds to a different pressure and grip. But we guarantee that after get used to it, you’ll see how much easier and more fun writing can be with a fountain pen.
It’s simply the “write” choice.