Back when I was an college student, I burned through notebooks quickly, and I was a frequent visitor at my local stationery store. And, for better or worse, like many engineers I am an optimizer at heart. So, while I loved my Pilot V5 (and still do, for the record), I was always trying to find something better. Something that wrote smoother, something that would be more pleasant for me. And so began my quest to find my perfect pen. I always was curious about fountain pens, but, as someone who is left handed, I assumed they weren’t for me.
I was wrong. Fountain pens are for everyone. And you should use one, because they are amazing.
There are plenty of guides online about fountain pens, and I’ll link you to a few of my favorites in a moment, as well as give you a few starting recommendations. But before we get to that, why should you try a fountain pen? Ballpoints can be had for next to nothing (there are plenty of places that will give you one for free if you don’t mind a bit of branding), so why should you invest in an expensive pen that you don’t know if you’ll like?
They’re Not Expensive
Fountain pens really aren’t that expensive. While you can easily drop several hundred on a high end fountain pen, you can get a get a great one for under $5 (like the Platinum Preppy or the Pilot Petit).
Better Writing Experience (it’s smooth)
For me, the main reason to use fountain pens is that they are a joy to write with. Unlike ball point pens, that require you to press against the paper, fountain pens simply need to touch the page to write – the paper will pull the ink from the pen onto the page.
As GeekMom Kay points out, because fountain pens don’t require pressure to write they can have the same benefits of felt tip pens, which many occupational therapists will give to folks who struggle with handwriting. If you have issues with fine motor control, want to improve your handwriting, or if you simply want to write longer without your hand getting tired, fountain pens can help.
Do you ever get tired of writing in blue or black? Fountain pens let you write in any color you can imagine. White ink so you can write on black paper? Check. How about something with sparkling, metallic hues? No problem. How about something that only shows up under UV light? We’ve got you covered. And while it is, of course, usage dependent, ink bottles tends to last people a while. A $10-20 bottle of ink will likely last at least a year or two, if not more.
Even refillable gel and ballpoint pens use cartridges that generate waste. Fountain pens, if you’re using bottled ink, don’t generate waste (if you want to be pedantic, there is an empty bottle when you’ve finished your ink, but that is easily recycled).
They look really cool!
Where To Start
All right, hopefully I’ve sold you on at least trying a fountain pen. Here is the amazing JetPens starter tutorial, as well as their other post on good beginner fountain pens (my four favorites are the Pilot Metropolitan, Kaweco Sport, Platinum Preppy, and Pilot Petit). Their tutorials will give you basic instructions on how to hold your pen, how to clean the pen/change inks, and some terms you should know.
If you want to use bottled ink from the get-go, you’ll also want to grab a converter, if your chosen pen doesn’t come with one.
However, as I mentioned earlier, I’m a lefty. (GeekMom Patricia commiserates with this!) And, while any pen can be used by anyone, there are a few things I wish I had known earlier as a left-handed user. So, if you’ll stick with me just a bit longer, I have a few more minor notes for my fellow lefties.
You Can Use Any Pen You Want
While there are lefty-specific fountain pens and lefty-specific tips, you can safely ignore those and use a standard fountain pen without issue (most pens have symmetric tips). Just be aware of the grip¸ some pens like the oft-recommended Lamy Safari that have a molded triangular grip might not be comfortable depending on how you hold your pen. If the pen you’re interested in has that kind of grip, see if you have a local pen shop that carries it so you can try before you buy.
Both Paper and Ink Contribute To Drying Time
As you’re likely aware, smearing ink on your hand while writing isn’t fun. How fast your ink dries will be a function of the ink and the paper. The paper is just as important. Don’t worry¸ you don’t need expensive paper. Quite the opposite actually; more expensive, fountain pen friendly papers are often worse with respect to dry time. Fountain pen users love to talk about smooth papers like Rhodia or Tomoe River, because your pen glides across them, and they are indeed quite lovely to write with. But, because they are so smooth, ink doesn’t absorb into the page well. I’ve seen inks that dry in seconds on standard copy paper take over a minute on Rhodia. Be careful.
Ink, perhaps less surprisingly, also contributes to dry time. Personally, I’ve had excellent luck with Pilot inks—they seem to dry rapidly on nearly everything I throw at them. However, there are inks that are designed to be quick drying. If this is something you’re concerned about, JetPens has a great guide on fast-drying inks in each color.
Use Ink Samples
The majority of ink I’ve sampled dries quickly enough for me on standard cheap notebook paper. And half the fun of having a fountain pen is the freedom to experiment with the myriad of colors available, so you shouldn’t limit yourself to inks marketed as quick-drying. But, if you don’t want to buy a full bottle of an ink that might not work for you (either because it might not match the color in the photos, or because it might dry too slowly for you), you can get ink samples. Online shops like Goulet Pens will sell you a vial of almost any ink for around $1.50 depending on the color. One sample vial will fill a pen about 2 to 3 times. This is a great way to experiment—buy several colors you’re interested in, try them out, and then you can buy bottles of the ones you want (or just buy more samples if you’d prefer to keep trying new things).
And now you should be set! Best of luck on your fountain pen adventure. Now go forth and write!