When I was 15, my mother bought me a calligraphy pen set for Christmas. It came with the fountain pen, several different nibs, and ink cartridges in black, blue, and red. I followed the instructions to put the ink cartridge in and get it working. We lived below the poverty line so it was by no means a fancy or high quality pen, but at the time I didn’t really understand fountain pens so didn’t think it would make a difference. It was just a pen, right? When the pen didn’t work well, when it scratched through my paper and handled terribly, when it bled through anything I tried to write on, I let the stains of that ink colour my opinion on fountain pens from that point forward.
Fast forward a decade and I start experimenting with my penmanship. In the back of my mind, fountain pens were still “old, outdated pens that suck”, but I wanted to try something new for writing with. To be honest, I was tired of junky plastic disposable pens that gave me hand cramps when I used them. As much as I love writing, I wanted to make the experience a more enjoyable one for myself. I was pushing my son in a stroller around my local Chapters store one day when I found an old fashioned quill dip pen, packed beautifully in a box with a little bottle of black ink. I bought it, some nice paper, and set for home to try it out.
I liked it! The methodical dipping of the pen and writing was quite meditative. I enjoyed the inconsistency of line–thinner here, thicker there. It felt simple. I wanted to write by the light of an oil lantern. The one thing missing was the convenience of portability. I couldn’t very well pull out my pen and a bottle of ink to sign something at the bank without holding everyone up.
Throughout my online searching I kept on finding myself surrounded by fountain pens. I resisted them for a while, but eventually caved and bought a Lamy Safari, a sort of mid-range fountain pen highly recommended for beginners. I paid about $50 CAD for it, which is a lot for a pen when you compare it to the disposables out there, but I’ll get to the savings later.
My pen came with a couple of blue cartridges, and something called a converter. Converters are cool, because with them you can use ANY fountain pen bottled ink in your pen. Anything. You would not believe the variety of inks available to you until you look. I was overwhelmed and mesmerized by choices, and quickly ordered a few samples. There’s waterproof ink, quick drying ink, archival ink, and in any colour you can imagine. Some inks have shimmer, some are fluorescent, some even look different colours depending on how the light hits it.
I quickly fell head over heels for my new pen. It was clipped indefinitely to the front of my shirt at work (many a pen thief around here) and in my purse any other time. It soon became the only pen I used. I started poring over the selection at The Goulet Pen Co. (I can’t recommend them enough. They’re great people and have a fantastic selection.) and ordering various inks to try.
I wanted something with a wider nib, so bought a Lamy Vista, which is like the Safari only with a clear plastic body so you can see the ink inside. This became and continues to be my everyday pen, my favorite, my writing companion. It’s filled many journals.
When hanging around in fountain pen communities, it doesn’t take long to become enamored with the pens available. You soon find your Holy Grail pen, which you lust after. That pen for me was the Sailor Imperial Black. It was gorgeous in photos. Matte black body, titanium ion darkened metal details, and a 24k gold nib, also darkened to a gorgeous black finish. This is the kind of pen you use to sign your child’s birth certificate, or your marriage certificate. It made my little goth heart happy, and it also came at a hefty cost, but I’ll tell you more about that journey when I write up my review on the pen in the coming weeks.
I’ve been using fountain pens solidly for 3 years now and I can confidently say I’ll never go back. There have been days where I forget my pen at home when I go to work, and using the regular ballpoint disposables practically ruins my day. There is a certain pleasure in writing with a smooth-flowing pen that you’ve grown to know quite well. You take it apart to clean it, you refill it with new and exciting inks, you carry it with you everywhere and you notice your penmanship improve greatly.
Now let’s talk about paper. When you start using one of these pens, you will learn that certain types of paper doesn’t play well with fountain pens. The ink might bleed through, or it might feather really badly. This honestly depends a lot on the ink you are using as well. There are inks that write well on cheaper paper, and honestly it’s not a huge deal if you write on standard paper with a fountain pen. For the best experience, there are types of paper that are quite cheap that work extremely well with fountain pens. I really like Apica notebooks. They’re cheap and great with any kind of ink I’ve tried.
Considering a fountain pen? Here’s the good and the bad:
- You will never have to buy another pen again.
- You refill the same pen infinite times, so you don’t need to throw it away.
- With less waste, it’s a better choice for the environment.
- Ink flows smoothly and effortlessly.
- No hand cramps, even when writing for a long time because you don’t need to use much pressure to write.
- Thousands of choices for ink so you can find one that is perfect for you.
- Fountain pens range from very cheap (<$10) to very expensive (>$1,000) so there is an option for any budget.
- Huge online community on Reddit for when you have questions or are looking for recommendations.
- It’s a lot more personal. It’s not just A pen, it’s YOUR pen.
- Losing an expensive pen sucks.
- Cleaning your pen can be somewhat messy (but some of us like that).
- If someone borrows (read: steals) your pen to jot something down quickly, they can ruin it by using too much pressure if they aren’t used to fountain pens.
- Not all paper is fountain pen friendly.
I was wrong about fountain pens in the beginning. I thought they were scratchy, bleedy, inky messes that you’d spend more time fighting with than writing with. Now that I’ve been using them for a few years I can’t say enough good things about them. They’re the perfect tool for any writer who enjoys penmanship, any business person who does a lot of writing in a day, or anybody who simply enjoys pens.