Fountain Pens are the embodiment of preferring quality over efficiency, patience over haste, and a solid appreciation for old-world style. They provide a beautiful approach for anyone to give some class to their signatures, handwritten letters, calligraphy, or general writing.
This is the total beginner’s guide to fountain pens from the anatomy of a pen, to how to use one, cleaning, and finally storing a fountain pen.
When fountain pen users start throwing around terms like nib or converter it can seem a bit daunting, but this guide has been written to cut through the confusing and give you the confidence to dive into the wonderful world of fountain pens.
If you are keen to get your first fountain pen then have a look through our full store at Fountain Pens Online.
- 1 Anatomy of a Fountain Pen
- 2 Install the Ink on a Fountain Pen
- 3 How to Hold a Fountain Pen
- 4 How to Maintain a Fountain Pen
- 5 Practice Makes Perfect
- 6 Frequently Asked Questions
- 6.1 Does Fountain Pen Ink take longer to dry?
- 6.2 Do I need special Fountain Pen paper?
- 6.3 Do Fountain Pens write upside down?
- 6.4 What is the difference between an ink cartridge and an ink converter?
- 6.5 How long does a fountain pen cartridge last?
- 6.6 How do you Clean a Fountain Pen?
- 6.7 What is the best Fountain Pen for Beginners?
- 6.8 What is the best way to transport fountain pen on a plane?
- 6.9 Why does my brand new fountain pen not work?
- 6.10 Do I need to change converters when changing ink colours?
- 6.11 Why does my fountain pen skip?
- 6.12 Why are fountain pens worth it?
- 6.13 What are the best fountain pen brands?
Anatomy of a Fountain Pen
The nib is the part of the pen that writes on the paper. Different shapes and styles of nibs can change the amount of ink distributed and the thickness of your writing line.
Most fountain pens have replaceable nibs. They can come in many different materials and styles and are ranked from extra-fine to extra broad.
- Extra Fine – 0.5 mm
- Fine – 0.6 mm
- Medium – 0.75 mm
- Broad – 0.9 mm
- Extra Broad – 1.1 mm
The grip is the place where you hold onto the pen. This can be made from a variety of materials for style, aesthetics, and comfort.
The barrel is the back end of the pen. It screws into the grip and is where the ink cartridge or converter is stored.
The Cap, or Lid, covers and protects the nib when not in use. Most fountain pens are designed for the pen to be written with the cap attached to the barrel from a balance point of view, but pens without caps are also available.
Install the Ink on a Fountain Pen
There are two main ways for putting ink into a fountain pen – installing ink cartridges or using a converter and bottled ink.
Cartridges are the most common and simplest approach to ink. They are a self-contained ink package that slots inside your pen. For beginners we highly recommended getting started with a cartridge pen.
An opened cartridge cannot be re-sealed, so if you are looking to change ink colour frequently this can be a problem.
Once you have installed a cartridge it can take time for the ink to fully saturate the nib which is needed before you can start writing. It can take up to an hour the nib to get completely filled depending on the ink and temperature.
Not all cartridges are compatible with all fountain pens due to their length and diameter – so make sure you have gotten the correct brand/type.
Most cartridges have a plastic seal that must be broken by gently pressing the cartridge towards the nib. We have had some confusion about cartridges not fitting because they have not been correctly installed by breaching the plastic allowing the ink to flow.
Bottles and Converters
A converter is a refillable device that draws ink from a bottle. These generally come in either piston or squeeze converters.
If you have a mental image of an old fashioned writer dipping a pen in an ink bottle then you are thinking of a fountain pen with a converter.
Using ink bottles are preferred for writers who go through lots of ink as they are cheaper in the long run. They also offer more colour options compared to cartridges.
Converters can be cleaned and washed with water to remove residual ink before colour changes, but due to cost we recommend purchasing a few different converters if rotating between different colours frequently.
It also means that you will lose less ink than if you had to flush the converter every time you want to change colours.
How to Hold a Fountain Pen
Hold the pen nib comfortably in your hand with the nib at 45 degrees from the paper surface. It is also critical to make sure both nib tines are in contact with the paper, so don’t rotate the pen while writing.
It is also important to keep in mind the pressure you apply to the paper. Fountain pens require less pressure than ballpoint pens. Applying too much pressure can even damage your fountain pen over time.
Practice makes perfect and whe using a fountain pen. Modern-day fountain pens are easy to use and can closely mimic ballpoint pen behaviour. The key areas to focus on is keeping the nib straight and at the correct angle.
Some fountain pens are also designed to be used with the cap placed on the back of the pen to better balance the pen.
How to Maintain a Fountain Pen
We recommend cleaning your pen every two months to remove any foreign particles, such as dust, that can clog your pen over time and lead to low ink flow and poor quality writing.
To clean your pen you will need to disassemble it and rinse it thoroughly with clean water. Then place the pen in a glass of clean water, when the water changes colour due to the ink then replace it. Keep replacing the water until all of the ink has been removed. This generally only takes a few hours.
Cleaning or replacing the converter is also suggested when changing colours or inks.
Practice Makes Perfect
After a lifetime of using ballpoint pens it can take some time for writing with fountain pens to feel natural. We always recommend trying out with different nibs and ink colour and quality to find what feels comfortable to you.
It is also important to write at different angles and different pressures to figure out how to best use your pen.
There are big differences in performance with changes to ink quality. Different inks have differences in viscosity, flow, colour, and cost. Finding an ink that suits your style best is one of the best parts of owning a fountain pen.
Changing nib sizes can also make big changes to your pen style, as going from an extra fine nib to an extra broad nib will change how your pen writes and the look of your writing. Calligraphy sets often come with a series of nibs to give you more options.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Fountain Pen Ink take longer to dry?
Having said that many fountain pen ink types take only a few seconds to dry.
Some inks have a smudge test after one, two, five, and 10 seconds to show the drying speed and how likely it is for a smudge to occur.
Do I need special Fountain Pen paper?
It is worth noting that fountain pens can struggle to write on some plastic that a ballpoint pen might work on.
Do Fountain Pens write upside down?
What is the difference between an ink cartridge and an ink converter?
A converter is an empty cylinder that can be loaded from a bottle of ink, consumed and re-used.
How long does a fountain pen cartridge last?
How do you Clean a Fountain Pen?
What is the best Fountain Pen for Beginners?
They are a good pen to practice with and then upgrade from later.
What is the best way to transport fountain pen on a plane?
With modern fountain pens this is unlikely but if you are worried than we suggest the following options:
– Remove and Ink and flush the pen with clean water
– Pack with the nib standing upright
– Put the pen in a ziplock bag
Why does my brand new fountain pen not work?
Here are a few ideas to try:
– Flush the nib with clean water to remove any potential foreign particles
– Make sure the cartridge is all the way in and the plastic seal has been broken allowing ink to flow
– Prime the ink by holding the pen with the nib down – it can take 10-60 mins for the ink to flow (depending on the viscosity) and fill the pen and nib
Do I need to change converters when changing ink colours?
If you are looking to change colours very frequently then it might make more sense to keep multiple converters so you do not lose ink every time you switch.
Why does my fountain pen skip?
The first step is to flush the nib with clean water.
You might also want to consider a thinner ink if this is an ongoing problem.
Why are fountain pens worth it?
A fountain pen is a great piece of engineering – particularly the modern design. For the kind of person who values patience and quality over speed and quantity then upgrading to a fountain pen is a great idea.
What are the best fountain pen brands?
There are also some other guides online that you might find interesting.
If you are still confused then ask us a question below and we will strive to answer it.