For many people a fountain pen evokes a bygone era; it is much like the use of a semi colon in punctuation! However, the writing experience of using a fountain pen works wonderfully in the electronic age. So we thought we’d share a ‘Fountain Pen 101’ to provide an introduction to what to consider when buying a fountain pen.
Recent studies have shown that writing notes rather than typing them gives better retention of facts.
The water-based ink used in fountain pens allows a smoothness of writing unlike any other writing instrument. The fluidity of stroke encourages the writer to form their characters more carefully and results in superior penmanship.
How does a fountain pen work?
Ink is stored in a reservoir, then flows through the feed to rest behind the nib. The feed is a series of chambers inside the grip section, which regulates the flow of ink. When the nib is touched to the page, capillary action draws the ink through.
The ink reservoir may be a cartridge, a converter or the body of the pen itself.
- Cartridges are small, sealed tubes of ink that are single use.
- A converter is essentially a refillable cartridge. Ink is drawn into the converter from a bottle and this process can be repeated when the converter is empty.
- In a piston fill fountain pen, ink is drawn directly into the body of the pen.
Difference between fountain pens
The main differences between fountain pens are the material used and the type of nib. The body of the pen is generally made of metal, plastic or resin, with a gold plated or silver (stainless steel, chrome, or other silvery metal) trim.
It is in the nib that the greatest differences are apparent. Nibs are stainless steel or gold, with an Iridium tip. Iridium is a very hard wearing metal which prevents abrasion of the nib through contact with paper and prolongs its life.
A nib will “wear in” to the handwriting style of the user. This will take longer with a stainless steel nib than with a gold nib, due to the relative hardness of each metal.
A fountain pen should only be used by its owner for the best, smoothest result.
There are three main types of nib placement on a pen:
- The standard or flared nib is the most common and recognisable.
- An inlaid nib is set into the top of the grip section, with only the tip protruding beyond the body of the pen.
- A hooded nib is similar, except that the nib is enclosed by the grip section.
The advantage of a hooded or inlaid nib is that the user can exert more pressure without causing damage.
Finally, the shape and thickness of a nib vary to suit different writing styles. Standard nibs are graded by the thickness of their line, in extra fine, fine, medium, broad or double broad. The line is consistent in width. The majority of standard nibs are designed for right-handed users. A few companies produce left-handed nibs, which push the ink away from the direction of the stroke so it dries faster and doesn’t smear.
An italic (or calligraphic) nib is cut flat across the tip. When the pen is used at an angle to the page, the thickness of the line varies to give a distinctive “script appearance” to the writing.
Oblique nibs are cut at an angle across the tip. The pen is rolled slightly to the side to write with this type of nib.
How to care for a fountain pen
It is easy to care for a fountain pen. The most important thing is to flush the pen of ink residue when it is going to be stored (and for regular maintenance). This is because the dye solids in the ink will set as sediment when the water component evaporates. This ultimately interferes with ink flow. Cold tap water should be used. No soap, however, as it leaves a film inside the pen, affecting performance.
If cleaning the nib, swish it in some water, then blot on absorbent paper. Don’t rub as this may catch fibres in the slit, which will interrupt the flow of ink.
There is more care involved in using a fountain pen than a ballpoint – but the difference in writing really is worth it. With a little use it becomes second nature to look after your pen.
The type of paper you use will affect the look of your handwriting and the performance of your pen. Water based ink will bleed through the page or “feather” (appear blurry) on low quality paper. Brands such as Rhodia and Clairefontaine are perfect for use with a fountain pen.
How to choose your fountain pen?
There are fountain pens to suit every aesthetic and budget. In our Milligram range, the LAMY 2000 and the Kaweco Ice Sport represent this spectrum.
In 1966, LAMY released the 2000. Designer Gerd A. Müller had been commissioned to design a pen around the Bauhaus principle “form follows function”, from which the shape of an object was determined by its purpose.
The resulting pen is still one of the most modern looking pens on the market, a triumph of minimalist design. It is widely regarded as one of the best pens ever produced.
Made of Makrolon, a polycarbonate resin, the LAMY 2000 is matte black when new but develops a patina with use. Unusually, it improves in appearance the more it is used. Makrolon is lightweight but very strong, creating a remarkably durable body. The piston fill mechanism is integrated almost seamlessly into the body. In fact, many people are confounded by how to fill this pen unless it is explained to them.
Stainless steel contrasts with the black in the brushed tip and solid steel spring loaded clip. A 14 karat solid gold hooded nib with platinum coating completes the package.
Within a short time of owning a LAMY 2000 you will love the smoothness of writing and the subtle beauty of the pen. It also makes a wonderful gift as there is a great backstory to its origins.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Kaweco Ice Sport is an affordable, durable and portable fountain pen that is perfect to take “out and about”.
A translucent Terlux body with a stainless steel nib and removable pocket clip make the Ice both funky and practical. At 10.5cm closed or 13.3cm with the cap posted, the pen is easily stored. There is a range of colours to suit most tastes.
Using the international standard cartridge means it is never a problem to find refills. An optional squeeze converter allows filling from a bottle.
A Kaweco Ice Sport is perfect for everyday use, or as a gift for a first time fountain pen user.
So, for you or for a friend who loves to write, a fountain pen is a great way to feel connected to your words and bring a little bit of old world style into your day.