OK, so you’ve decided to start writing more. You’ve upgraded from printer and notebook paper to actual writing paper, maybe even commissioned your own personalized stationery. The next step is to get rid of that disposable Bic pen and get a writing instrument that matches the quality of your new stationery and intentions!
When considering your first fine writing instrument, there are a lot of considerations to take into account. Perhaps the first you’ll run into is choosing between a rollerball and a fountain pen. The good news is that most quality manufacturers offer their pen lines in both options.
Generally, a fountain pen will give your writing more “flow” and, because it is pressure sensitive, will also give you wider horizontal strokes and narrower vertical strokes. This adds a nice sense of personality to your writing (a bit like calligraphy). A rollerball will give you a very uniform stroke no matter which direction it is in.
Another difference to consider will come when refilling your pen. With a rollerball pen you will simply swap out the ink cartridge (which includes the writing tip) whereas with a fountain pen you have a couple options. The first is to use ink cartridges. These look a bit like bullet casings and are disposable much like the rollerball cartridges. The other option is to use a refillable converter, which basically turns the pen into a syringe for refill from an inkbottle. If you plan to use your pen quite a bit, a converter is the way to go, as it’s a cheaper option over time.
Your decision will ultimately boil down to three considerations: duration (how much you plan to write at a time), frequency (how often you plan to write) and aesthetics (how you like your handwriting to look).
Duration: This is an important consideration from a comfort standpoint. Since a fountain pen is based on ink flow to transfer the ink to paper, it requires less pressure and therefore can be comfortable to use for long periods of time. A rollerball by contrast, requires much more pressure to transfer the ink from ball to paper. The pressure needed can quickly result in hand fatigue and discomfort.
Frequency: How often you plan to write will impact the maintenance of your pen. If left unused for significant periods of time, a fountain pen will start to dry out and will at the very least require a thorough cleaning before it can be used again.
Aesthetics: Fountain pens will produce a distinctive aesthetic that may or may not work for you. If you struggle with penmanship, a fountain pen will highlight your flaws but also force you over time to correct them. Essentially, using a fountain pen is an investment in your handwriting.
If you decide to go with a fountain pen, here are some additional things to consider:
Nib Size: The nib is the split point at the end of the pen from which the ink flows. The options vary by manufacturer (not all may be offered) but include extra-fine, fine, medium, broad and extra-broad. Obviously extra-fine and fine points will produce finer lines while the broad and extra-broad nibs will produce wetter, wider lines. For everyday use, I’d recommend a fine or medium nib.
Nib Construction: Most entry-level fountain pens have stainless steel nibs while more expensive pens use gold plated or solid gold nibs. While very durable and consistent, stainless steel is also fairly stiff and won’t have as even or smooth of a flow as the gold nibs. As a result, stainless steel nibs can sometimes write with what is best described as a “scratchy” sensation. While gold nibs are more even and smooth, they are also less durable and more susceptible to damage from inadequate care.
Refill: As described above, there are two options for refill: cartridge or converter. Most modern pens come cartridge ready out of the box and many include the converter if you choose to use that instead. Some pens however require you to purchase the converter separately, something to consider when you buy it.
New or Vintage: While there is some appeal to finding a vintage fountain pen if you choose this route, proceed with caution. Nibs are inherently flexible and therefore over time will take on the “personality” of your writing style, molding to your handwriting. Once a pen has adopted its owner’s style, it can be problematic for other users. This is also a good reason not to allow other people to use your pen regularly as this can affect the development of your nib.
For under $150, here are a few fountain pen recommendations.
Parker Sonnet: A nice, traditionally styled fountain pen with great performance at a very reasonable price point. Comes in a variety of colors and in both 18K solid gold and gold plated nib options that offer very smooth ink flow. In my opinion, the gold plated Sonnet outperforms everything else in its price range. List price: $240 (18K solid gold), $105 (gold plated).
Lamy Studio: A Swiss pen with a more modern design and a unique “propeller” styled clip. Comes in both 14K gold and stainless steel nibs. A nice option if you want something with a bit more of a modern look. List Price: $135 (14K gold), $85 (stainless steel).
Faber Castell Ambition: From the German company credited with the invention of the No. 2 pencil, this pen is uniquely designed with a combination of pearwood and chrome. This is a great option for someone who wants to make a statement with their pen choice. Also comes in a variety of brushed resin color options if the wood finish is not your thing. List Price: $110 (stainless steel nib, converter not included).
Pelikan Souveran 200: Timeless design, durable construction and a nice gold plated nib offer great value. Features a built-in piston filling system with transparent, see through ink tank. $110 (gold plated nib).
For a first fountain pen, we recommend sticking to a budget of about $150. While better performing pens are available, at higher price ranges you’ll start paying for design, exotic materials and branding and until you know for sure that a fountain pen is for you, they are probably not worth the investment. If you want to buy one, check out the mecca of fine writing instruments: NYC's Fountain Pen Hospital. www.FountainPenHospital.com
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