How to Write with a Fountain Pen: A Beginner’s Guide

A beginner’s guide on how to use a fountain pen, choosing the best fountain pen for your needs, and how to care for your pen.

Fountain pens are generally seen as old-fashioned and intimidating, especially when compared to the easy-to-use ballpoint pen. But, they have a place in every home and office, especially if the people who use them are frequent writers. 

Fountain pens aren’t that different from the everyday pens you’re already using. That’s not to say that there isn’t a slight learning curve, however. You’ll have to practice with these pens a bit, but once you get the hang of them, you’ll be writing beautiful, professional script in no time at all.

We understand the value that fountain pens can add to penmanship, so we wanted to provide you with this guide that sheds a little light on these fancy pens. To learn more about how they work, keep reading!

Why Should I Use a Fountain Pen?

Fountain pens are a great alternative to regular pens, such as ballpoint or rollerball varieties. Not only do they write beautifully, but each pen stroke reflects a rich history.

The earliest record of a fountain-like pen dates back to the 10th century, but fountain pens as we know them today came about in the late 19th century when Lewis Waterman patented the first practical model. Before this invention, fountain pen inks frequently spilled and blotted, making them unreliable and inconvenient. Waterman’s model fixed this issue by creating a new pen that created more airflow within the pen itself. 

Fountain pens work by managing the rate at which ink flows through the pen. Every time the pen is upright, gravity pulls ink from the reservoir and works it down to the tip of the pen (the nib), and onto the paper. This process requires a decent amount of room within the pen to ensure that the ink has somewhere to go once it leaves the reservoir. If that room isn’t there, there will eventually be too much ink flowing through the pen, which will ultimately cause it to flood out. 

Waterman solved this problem by creating a capillary-style mechanism that draws ink into these channels at the same time that air comes back in over the fissures and enters the reservoir. So, gone are the random blots and floods, in exchange for the much more functional modern fountain pen.

Reasons to Use a Fountain Pen

Fountain pens can feel intimidating if you’ve never used one before, but there are plenty of reasons to have one in your arsenal of writing instruments.

  • They feel better in the hand. When using a fountain pen, you don’t have to press down as hard to write, so your hand is much less likely to fatigue during extended periods of writing.
  • They are better for the environment. While you can buy disposable fountain pens, the majority of them are refillable. This significantly reduces waste and extends the life of all your writing instruments.
  • Fountain pens are more economical. Though they can be quite an investment when you’re first starting out, because you can keep the same pen for years, they’re more economical in the long run.

They make your handwriting look better. If you’ve struggled with bad handwriting with other types of pens, a fountain pen may be a great option for you. Because of the light touch and flowing hand movements, your writing will naturally appear much clearer.

Can Left-Handed People Use Fountain Pens?

It’s a common misconception that left-handed writers can’t use fountain pens, but the truth is that they can write with them without any issues. One thing left-handers should keep in mind, however, is that they need to change their writing style slightly so they can avoid dragging their hand across the drying ink as they’re writing. If you’re a leftie, simply reposition the pen within your hand. This changes your writing angle and will help to lift your hand off the paper in order to avoid smearing the ink.

How Do I Choose the Best Fountain Pen?

  • Nib: The metal point that touches the paper.
  • Feed: The area that stores ink once it leaves the reservoir.
  • Ink Reservoir: The part of the pen that holds the ink.
  • Cap: The cap protects the pen while also ensuring that the ink doesn’t dry out.

Choosing a fountain pen can feel a little complicated, especially if you’ve never used one before, but with the following considerations in mind, you’ll be able to find one that suits you with ease

Pen Size

Your fountain pen must feel comfortable in your hand, especially if you write a lot, so we recommend looking for a pen that’s sized appropriately. Although there’s no exact formula, people with larger hands may find a small pen uncomfortable to hold, and vice versa. When browsing for a fountain pen, make sure to look at the detailed dimensions for each model and compare them with pens you already own.

Pen Weight

Although a heavy pen may feel better at first, it may cause fatigue during a particularly long writing session. So, if you write more, consider getting a light pen. If you’re not going to use your fountain pen for long periods of time, it can have a bit more weight.

Nib Material and Shape

Other considerations are nib material and shape. First, let’s go over the materials. Nibs are made from a variety of metals, but the most common are steel, gold, and palladium. Steel nibs are the more affordable option, but they still produce writing that is just as smooth and consistent as their more expensive counterparts. Gold and palladium nibs are much more exclusive by nature, and they will be softer and provide slightly better quality than steel varieties.

Also consider the width of the nib and correlate your handwriting with how wide or narrow the nib should be. For example, if your handwriting is large, you should select a broad or medium nib. Conversely, if your handwriting is small, choose a fine or extra-fine width. 

Reservoir of Filling System

Many fountain pens are refillable, but the way in which ink can be refilled varies between models. There are three main ways to refill a fountain pen’s ink.

  • Cartridge filling system. A cartridge is a small, sealed disposable plastic tube that holds the fountain pen ink. When you need to refill your ink, you only need to remove the old cartridge and put a new one in.
  • Converter filling system.  Instead of replacing when your ink runs out, you refill the converter with ink directly. This refilling system works similarly to cartridges and can fit most cartridge pens.
  • Piston filling system. Acting as a built-in converter, this filling system uses a screw mechanism that draws a piston up the barrel, sucking in ink through the nib and feed and into the reservoir.

Cartridge Converter vs. Piston

Refilling your pen through each of these methods is simple, so which one you choose is up to you. The most commonly used method is the cartridge filling system because it is very convenient, but the other two filling systems are more environmentally friendly because you aren’t throwing anything away. 

If you plan to write for long periods between refills, it may be a good option for you to get a fountain pen with a piston filling system as these hold a lot more ink than cartridge and converter pens. 

Best Pens for Beginners

There are a multitude of fountain pens out there for you to choose from. To help guide your search, we’ve included some top-rated fountain pen brands.

  • Cross - Aventura Fountain Pen
  • Monteverde - Prima Fountain Pen and One Touch Fountain Pen
  • Pilot - Varsity Fountain Pen and Plumix Refillable Fountain Pen 

Fountain Pens for Kids

Many private and Montessori schools require their students to have a fountain pen. These schools value teaching penmanship, and fountain pens are great tools for that. Consider starting your kids off with a lower-cost, cartridge refill option and then scaling up to a more advanced pen once they are comfortable taking care of them. Additionally, select a fountain pen with a grip that’s easier for their smaller hands. 

How Do I Write With a Fountain Pen?

Writing with a fountain pen takes a little bit of practice to master. But, once you do, using it will become second nature. Try these tips.

  • Post your cap. Posting your cap, or putting the cap on the end of your pen, helps to make the pen feel more balanced as you’re writing. 
  • Hold your pen at the correct angle. Fountain pens should be kept at a 40 to 55-degree angle on your writing surface. Ink tends to flow more easily at these angles. 
  • Use less pressure than you’re used to.  Too much pressure can actually prevent ink from flowing properly and can damage the nib, so keep your strokes light. 
  • Use your arm. Most people write with their fingers, but with fountain pens, you need to involve your arm and shoulder. Using your entire arm will help you ease up on the pressure and keep your writing smooth.

How Do I Install the Ink?

Fountain pens almost always come with their ink cartridge sealed, so you’ll need to install the cartridge before you can use the pen. To do so, you’ll need to:

  1. Unscrew the pen’s grip and locate the cartridge. Many manufacturers store the cartridge in the pen’s barrel.
  2. Insert the sealed end of the cartridge into the grip. The sealed end of a cartridge is usually narrower than the other end, but double-check your specific pen’s specifications to make sure.
  3. Reassemble the pen. Put everything back the way it was and let the ink fully saturate the pen before you use it. This can take a while, so be patient.

How Should I Take Care of My Fountain Pen?

Fountain pens can be delicate, so it’s important to care for them properly. A properly cared for pen lasts for years, especially if you get one that is refillable. Luckily, caring for a fountain pen is quite simple.

  • Keep the cap on. Keeping the cap on prevents the ink on your nib from drying out and protect the nib from any damage. If you do leave the cap off, remove the dried ink from the nib or soak the nib in water to unblock the flow.
  • Don’t let others borrow your pen. Your pen adapts to your writing style, so letting others use it can throw it out of whack.
  • Regularly flush your pen. Flush your pen under cool, running water once a month to remove any buildup within the nib or feed. It’s also a good idea to soak your nib in a cup of cool water overnight to remove any stubborn buildup.

When Should I Not Use My Fountain Pen?

Because these pens are so delicate, there are situations where they wouldn’t perform correctly or might even sustain damage. Below are some rules of thumb that you should keep in mind.

Fountain Pens Aren’t Meant for All Types of Paper

These pens work best on specific types of paper and notebooks that are created for fountain pens. There are plenty of paper varieties that don’t fall in this category, such as construction paper and poster board. If you’re unsure if your paper is fountain pen friendly, be safe and opt for another type of pen.

Fountain Pen Ink Doesn’t Dry Instantly

Fountain pen ink takes longer to dry than other types of ink, so if you’re writing quickly, you’re much more likely to smear your work. If you’re jotting something down in a hurry, find another pen.

Fountain Pens Aren’t Waterproof or Archival

The vast majority of fountain pen inks aren’t waterproof or archival. Even if the pen markets itself as water-resistant, it won’t compare to a gel or ballpoint pen. 

They Aren’t Great on Airplanes

Fountain pens are famously known for leaking on airplanes, particularly during takeoff and landing. The differences in pressure and elevation affect the pressure and airflow within older fountain pen models, causing them to leak. Even though this isn’t necessarily a problem now, it’s better to be safe and keep your pen completely full or empty and inside of a plastic bag. 

Fountain Pens Can’t Write Upside Down

It’s common to have to write notes or lists in different positions, but fountain pens aren’t suitable for this. Because they work using gravity, they can really only write on a level surface.

Bottom Line on Fountain Pens

Fountain pens were made to create many beautiful things, but you can’t just pick them up and expect to use them right away. Each pen has its own personality and quirks, but that only contributes to its uniqueness. Even though it might take some time to find the right fountain pen for you, as soon as you get the hang of it, that time would have been worth it. So, don’t hesitate to browse through our collection of fountain pens to find yours today!