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Fountain Pen 101: A Getting Started + Good To Know Guide

by Tona Bell April 08, 2018 4 min read

Fountain Pen 101: A Getting Started + Good To Know Guide

Fountain pens revolutionized writing in the 19th century. Before fountain pens people used quills and inkwells. The writing process was messy and time consuming. Having a refillable chamber or cartridge meant one could easily travel and change inks on the go. Writing expanded to more people and the fun really began.

Why Write with a Fountain Pen
They look cool and write really smoothly. Simple. The experience is way nicer than ballpoint and smoother than a rollerball with more line variation. You can write in cursive, print or anything in between. Your writing will have depth and personality. The rainbow of colors available make anything possible and well with proper care and use, they can last a lifetime!

Writing with a fountain pen necessitates holding the pen a little differently, to have the ink flow from the pen to the paper. Each pen and person and the way they write are a little different. Testing a few is the best way to get familiar with them.

There are three basic parts of a fountain pen: nib, ink, and body.


Nibs are the most important as they control the ink flow and mark on the paper. These can be made from basic material like steel, to extra fancy, like gold.

Nibs most commonly come in these varying point sizes: extra fine - EF, fine - F, medium - M, broad – B, and double broad - BB. And in different parts of the world these sizes are even different. In the East the EF point sizes are finer than in Europe or the U.S. So knowing where your pen is made will help you know what point size you may want.

Almost any nib size can be customized by a nibmeister (trained people who are adept in modifying the most important part of the pen), not only into different shapes (like italic, cursive italic, and architect), but also can be adjusted for smoothness and flow to suit each user.


Here is a very handy comparison of strokes of varying fountain pen nibs: https://www.gouletpens.com/nib-comparison-tool

Filling Systems & Ink

There are many different filling systems available depending on the manufacturer and type of pen. Cartridge/converter pens are the most common, but there are also piston fillers, vacuum fillers, lever fillers, eyedroppers, and many others. Don't be afraid to try the different types. Ink can come in handy pre-filled cartridges or you can fill convertors with bottled inks of your choice. 

Some fountain pens have proprietary pre-filled cartridges, like Lamy, but all can use bottled inks. Convertors are easy to fill and the range of bottled inks available is staggering! Just imagine the colors, moods, and sheens to express yourself.


Pen holders can be simple, like the clear plastic ones where you can see the ink color, to resin and metal, or even wood. Find what you like to hold in your hand and think about how you will use the pen.

Types of Fountain Pens
There is an incredible range of fountain pens on the market, from affordable, entry-level models to thousands of dollars which showcase fine craftsmanship and incredible materials.

Some are modern, classically designed and come in heavy or light weights. There are skinny ones and chunky ones, basic and high tech, you get the idea.

There are vintage models to that are rare and thrilling to find. You can find ones from low to high in price. It is best to try a few out and see which ones speak to you. Think of them like wands, they really are magic and powerful and truly become an extension of you.

Entry-level starter pens to try: Pilot Metropolitan, Lamy Safari, Platinum Preppy and TWSBI.

At first any fountain pen can seem stratchy or the ink won’t flow right away. Just keep writing and you will feel the ink start to flow, sometimes its like the pen breaks you in.

LIFE paper
Writing on the appropriate paper will also ensure a pleasant writing experience. Smooth paper is best. At first, try writing on notebook paper, a post it note, a piece of junk mail, any paper near you. You will soon see and feel the difference proper paper can make.

The Paper Seahorse likes these outstanding papers for fountain pens and calligraphy. The key to a good paper is in its smoothness and in how it handles feathering, show through, and bleed-through.

  • Clairefontaine - French, the only European company to mill their own paper
  • Tomoe River - Japanese technical paper, extremely thin and strong, can use both sides of the paper
  • Maruman Mnemosyne - Japanese silky smooth
  • G. Lalo - French laid in fun colors
  • LIFE - Japanese velvety touch
  • Rhodia - a cult French paper from Lyon

    Further reading:

We hope you go for a “test write” and try one, any one, and see how your letters and everyday writing will change for the better. Be warned, the world of fountain pens can be addicting and it’s a rabbit hole that invites you in. Next thing you know, you will be attending pen shows and looking for that special pen case to hold your new friends in style.

Happy writing!






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