HOW TO USE A FOUNTAIN PEN
Updated: Nov 28, 2021
In the hi-tech world we live in, it is common to hear that writing with a fountain pen is uncomfortable or old-fashioned.
Maybe it is true, but might it be just a belief?
Bringing around a laptop with a charger is not easier than to carry a pen with an ink bottle… and, certainly, a lap top has no more character compared to a stylish pen.
To properly use such a writing instrument there is little to understand and, with some practice, the gesture will become fluent and the usage ritual will become easy to handle.
Therefore we really suggest everyone to start his own journey into this fascinating world.
How fountain pen works?
Fountain pens are actually instruments with components and mechanism which works under physics constrains, therefore, first one need to be acknowledge about how to properly use a fountain pen then one can learn how to write with it.
The ritual of how to use a fountain pen is composed from few steps; learning how to refill without messing up with ink, practicing different writing styles to may find your own, learning to handle with care and to maintain your instruments.
The rest is all about shiny nibs, colorful inks, refined materials and precious details to enjoy all life long.
The choice of fountain pen ink is also very relevant because inks are not all the same, some are more liquid and fluent, others are less and so on.
The same ink may perform differently used in two different instruments because of the different manufacturing of the feeders and nibs.
Therefore, the path to find the perfect writing experience is long and quite some practice is needed to reach the destination, but the important thing is the journey not the destination.
When unpacking a brand new instrument, it is necessary to fill it up because, for obvious reasons, they are delivered empty.
Cartridge models usually comes with a sealed cartridge or an empty converter.
Using ink cartridges it is necessary to install it from the correct side and push it firmly into the section until the cartridge stopper is perforated. You will notice the cartridge to be steady in place.
With converters and built-in systems an ink bottle is needed to fill up the pen.
With the converter installed one can refill just submerging the nib into the ink bottle and fill by twist the converter knob. Twist on one direction to push out, on the other to suck in. Wipe off excess ink from the nib and you are ready to go. Otherwise refill the converter first and mount it on the section afterwords.
There are refill built-in systems of different sort but the most common are the piston filler and the vacuum one.
The piston system works similarly to the converter but in allow a much larger ink capacity. Sometimes these model are transparent so that one can see which ink is in the tank that can turn out to be very useful and fun.
The vacuum system is a bit more complex and it works similarly to a syringe. An inner plunger that runs into the barrel needs to be pulled back and forth to fill up the ink reservoir.
This is it definitely the more safe system because there is the way to voluntarily stop the ink flow by tighten the knob on the barrel back end.
Precautions and Tips
After filling up the pen one will learn how to start it up cause every model has a slightly different way to operate.
Do not worry, to let your fountain pen write one will have to gently shake it a few times or pump a bit of the ink out.
To do not stain your sheet, consider that a few ink drops will eventually spill out while doing this operation.
If the ink flow is poor, try to pass a rather rigid plastic sheet between the nib and the feeder.
This operation could help to solve any obstruction issue of the two elements and let ink to flow properly again.
To do not damage the nib and have a fluent writing experience one only need to apply little pressure to write. Some model do not need any pressure at all, they jus flow very smoothly.
If your pen has no clip and could roll off the table use a pen rest or place it were it can stand still.
Consider that the nib is the most delicate pen component and if it will fall on the tip it will probably be damaged.
For the best writing experience use a fountain pen friendly paper otherwise it could be possible to face bleed-through or feathering issues.
Keep the pen capped (or retracted) so that ink won’t dry out. If that’s appear to be the case rehydrate the nib tip with a drop of water. If that is not enough it is necessary to clean the section.
A periodic cleaning (once every 1 or 2 months possibly using distilled water) it is necessary to maintain the pen performing, especially when using iron gall, pigmented, and shimmering inks cause they could clog the feeder more easily than others.
Operating a basic cleaning of a cartridge pen is quite simple and only require a sink and towels. Uncap the pen and disassemble the section from the barrel, then leave the section under running water with the nib looking downward. Let it dry and reassemble. One could also soak the section into a cup of cool water for about 24 hours and then let it dry before reassembling.
With built-in systems it works in a different way from model to model because of the unique mechanisms and designs.
How to write with a fountain pen?
Beside the refill system and the ink flow, the major difference between fountain and a ballpoint pens is the way to hold the pen to ensure a fluent writing session.
There isn't one specific way to hold the instrument, one will find his own style while practicing, but certainly there are a couple of tricks to follow for a smooth writing experience.
Holding and writing
First of all, one needs to uncap the pen and decide whether to post the cap (if possible) or leave the cap off.
This choice reflects your sensation towards the weight balance and pen length compared to your hand size and the time of writing session you are going to perform.
Then carefully choose the most suitable writing instruments for the uses you will have to make of it.
The grip is the pen component at the front of the section where the nib spill out from.
To achieve the best nib control grab the grip between your thumb and index finger with the nib tip facing to the paper sheet and rest the barrel over your middle finger. The rest of the hand should gently lay on the paper to improve steadiness.
The pen should be oriented with an angle between 40 and 50 degrees to the writing surface, much lower compared to a ballpoint pen, and here is why.
As mentioned in the components article, the nib has a slit that divides the nib tip in two tines.
While writing, the pressure imposed from the hand allow the nib tines to detach from the feeder so that the ink flows out fluently and continuously.
Apply a balanced pressure on the nib it is very relevant, because imposing too much pressure can misalign the nib tines or even bend the nib tip.
To properly write with a fountain pen it is necessary a very slight pressure.
To write without ink interruption it is very important to do not twist the pen either side otherwise the nib slit won’t touches the paper correctly and the ink flow will be little or absent.
Moreover, to achieve a consistent handwriting style, handle correctly the pen is not the only aspect to take in consideration.
Remind that it is very important to use your arm to help the hand to write, not just because writing solely with your hand will shortly exhaust those tiny muscles, but also because this way of using the pen changes the angle and twists the nib resulting into an uneven calligraphy.
Which fountain pen is best for writing?
It is not so easy to answer this question because there isn’t a kind of Graal of fountain pens.
Fountain pen writing is an experience that combines multiple aspects some of which are extremely personal, they could be physical, functional, ethical or aesthetic.
Imagine to choose a wrist watch… Would you like it lightweight or heavyweight, would you needed it waterproof or chronograph, would you choose a masterpiece from a well known brand or a more sophisticated product from small manufacturer, would you like to have it plenty of details or minimal design…
Aesthetics might be a superficial attribute, but it is plenty of models that can fit with your hands and write very well, therefore choose the one you like the most!
Size and weight
That said, surely one must consider the proportion between the size of his hand and that of the pen (with the cap posted or not). Choosing a long and heavy pen having a small hand could work for signing documents discontinuously or having short writing session otherwise this unbalanced could eventually bring to hand fatigue.
On the other hand, to handle a small pen having a large hand won't help to perform a comfortably writing experience.
Moreover, the pen weight is very related with the kind of writing we need to perform.
If we use a pen only to write a note or sign documents, the overall weight will be an irrelevant factor for the choice of the instrument, but if we have to write several pages we will need a pen with a balance and a weight that does not tire the hand too much, otherwise the writing experience will be tiring.
An other aspect concerning the pen weight is the writing speed that each writing occasion needs, because the writing performance needed to put down quick notes is very different to the once needed for a fountain pen calligraphy exercise.
Therefore, a lightweight pen with a broader nib would be suitable for the ones who likes or needs to write faster while who likes to write slowly could afford to use an heavier model.
“Tell me which kind of character you need to write and I will give you your nib”.
This might sound like a prophetical expression, but the nib choice could really depend from which kind of alphabet / language you are going write.
For instance, most of Asian character are written with multiple tiny lines, therefore, to let the writing being easily readable, a fine or extra fine nib point is required, whilst, for Latin or Cyrillic alphabets, where letters are quite large and airy, a broad nib can equally work or even being more suitable if one is looking for calligraphy proportions.
Everyone has his own preference in terms of writing styles, but a proper calligraphy needs to match correct letter proportions.
Therefore, most of the time, finer nibs works better with smaller handwriting as so forth.
Finally, there is whole world of fountain pen nibs which can vary in materials, size and point to let user decide which one is their favorite writing style and calligraphy.