Fountain Pens are like Potato Chips

*crossposted from Seven Deadly Divas*

It’s really hard to just have one.

Because you buy one, and then you want some fun ink for it. And you can’t just buy ONE ink, so then you have two inks, and only one pen. So obviously you need another pen… and then it’s just downhill from there.

I’ve managed to avoid the trap that is collectible pens, though I’m seriously lusting after a Noodler’s Flex Nib, but … well…

Fountain Pen Basics

Fountain Pens are a relatively new pen technology, when you consider the history of writing implements goes back to some guy with charred stick. The first fountain pens (as we know them) came about in the mid 19th century, and many of those pens actually still work. In fact, some of them are worth lots of money.

There are few different pen designs, but they all basically work through capillary action (and gravity) to draw ink out of an internal reservoir through a nib and onto the page. As with any pen, the only part that actually affects the writing is the ink, the nib, and the shape of the grip, the rest is just eye candy.*

You either get ink into the pen manually (by unscrewing it and adding a new cartridge or filling it by hand with a syringe or eyedropper) or via the pen itself, via some kind of suction (squeeze mechanisms or plungers, usually). Some cartridge pens will make what’s called a converter, which is a cartridge looking thingy with a plunger filling device, so it’s reusable. This means you can use whatever the heck ink you want.

Which is all a lot of science for something that ends up writing unlike any other pen you’ve ever owned.

Now, if you want a pen that will write upside down in zero gravity and never ever smudge…

…actually, if you want that, get a pencil.

Anyway, ball point pens use an ink that is oily and thick and rolled on via an encased ball-point (hence the name). Because the ink isn’t actually a thin liquid, it’s relatively smear resistant and also not very picky, but sometimes doesn’t write immediately. Roller-ball pens use a liquid ink that’s designed to dry quickly (but doesn’t always), and gel-pens are somewhere in between.

However, a fountain pen does amazing things with color and shading that you’ll never see in other inks, and – once you get used to writing with one – is just really damn fun to write with. They require NO pressure to work, only to create fun line-width designs with a flexible nib, and glide across the paper with a delightful little scratchy noise.

Inks can be saturated with color (laying down a thick, dark line) or heavily shaded (where the line is variable depending on pressure and how much ink), and just looks elegant on the page.

Almost any handwriting can be improved with a fountain pen, if for no other reason than that you’ll slow down a little as you get used to writing with one, and are less likely to deathgrip the pen or smash it into the page really hard.

A Note About Paper

Of course, you’ve all probably written with a Sharpie Marker at some point, and noticed that some inks bleed through some kinds of paper.

Fountain pens, by virtue of their engineering, lay down relatively more ink than most liquid ink pens you can get from Office-Thing**, and so are susceptible to bleed through. They’re also susceptible to feathering, which is common for any liquid ink pen, where the paper isn’t sufficiently resistant to the ink, and sucks it up via capillary action and makes cool little spidery fractal designs all over your paper, rendering whatever you write either fuzzy or illegible.

To prevent this, when writing with fountain pens, you will also want to find some good quality paper, and also use some trial and error. I’m very fond of Black and Red notebooks, which are readily available, inexpensive, and have fantastic paper. Clairefontaine is probably the best known paper for fountain pens, and is available online or at some art supply stores (it comes in notebooks and loose-leaf paper). Some notebook manufacturers, like Rhodia, actually buy and use Clairefontaine paper.

I’ve also found paper at my local Office Thing that’s done superb with fountain pens, so your mileage may vary.

A Note About Inks

Fountain pens are not like dip pens. With a dip pen, you do not store the pen with ink inside, therefore, you don’t have to worry about what kind of ink you use and whether it will separate or gunk things up. Fountain pens, on the other side, are easily gunk-up-able, and will do so if you use any ink that has pigment sediment or any other matter that will separate. For that reason, use fountain pen ink in fountain pens.*** Generally, if you have to shake it up before you use it, it’s not a fountain pen ink.

I’m a big fan of Noodler’s fountain pen inks, because they come in amazing colors, have an excellent line of waterproof and forgery proof inks (called “bulletproof”), and because they’re made entirely in the US.

Ordering sample-packs of inks is also a good idea, because you’ll get about one pen-full of each color, which is more than enough to decide if you like it before you buy a whole bottle.

But Which One Should I Get?

If you’re going to buy just one fountain pen, I suggest either a Platinum Preppy (if you want a disposable pen), a Pelikan Pelikano, or a Lamy Safari. The Preppy is a great pen if you have no idea if you’ll like this fountain pen thing or not. The Pelikano and the Safari are both excellent writing, inexpensive pens that sell both cartridges and converters.

If you decide to get cartridges, make sure you get cartridges that will fit your pen. If you get a converter to match, it won’t matter, and you can use any fountain pen ink (you’ll want one converter per pen).

As an aside – you may be able to find fountain pens in your local Office Thing store, in pretty gift boxes. Those are usually designed to LOOK snazzy, not to write well, so for the money, you’re WAY better off spending $15 on a Pelikano. If you find Pilot Varsity pens in your Office Thing, they’re also decent disposable pens, but I like the Preppys better.

If you write very small, start with a Fine (F) or Extra-Fine (EF) nib. If you don’t, want to work on your handwriting, or want to experiment with ink shading, try a Medium (M) nib. Flex-nibs … flex – meaning they make a wider line when you apply more pressure. They can be a little fussy to start with, so stick with regular nibs at first.

What Do I Use?

I have a Peikano – F, two Lamy Safari – EF, and a Lamy Al-Star – EF, as well as a Parker Frontier Luna – M. My favorite pen is probably the Safari, because it’s durable, comes in every color under the rainbow, and looks classy enough in black to take to job interviews. That said, I use and love all five.

If I had to pick one ink forever, it would be Noodler’s Bulletproof Black, because I can use it for EVERYTHING and it never gets washed out. Otherwise, I really like Noodler’s Ottoman Azure, Nightshade, and Sequoia, and Pelikan Blue-Black.

I really love pens of all sorts, and I’ve got a general twitch for all kinds of office supplies, but I absolutely love fountain pens. I love how they write and the way the ink looks when I use it, I love the different and amazing papers and ink colors.

I love writing letters (though I’ve been kind of bad at being a penpal recently, sorry Tami :/) and basically anything to do with mail. So it all goes together.

Happy Writing!

Anna
(Who is working on a post about smartphones next, for full acceptance of her ability to blend new and old geekdom)

*A Bic Medium Blue Ballpoint with a solid titanium body will still write like a Bic Medium Blue Ballpoint. Of course, with fancy fountain pens, sometimes a higher price means better nibs, BUT NOT ALWAYS. With ballpoints, past about $15, they’re all just body upgrades.

**Office Thing is any of the usual big box office supply stores. I never remember which one it is that I’m going to, so they all have become Office Thing. For online stores, I recommend JetPens, the Goulet Pen Company, or The Writer’s Bloc for great service.

*** If you’re unsure, ask the internet. If you don’t know where to ask, ask at The Fountain Pen Network, where they also have an AMAZING database of ink and pen reviews, with pictures!

Government Required Disclaimer: None of the above mentioned manufacturers, stores, or websites have any idea who I am. I am not being paid to endorse their products, nor have I received free samples. I’m just a happy, nerdy customer.