How To Use a Fountain Pen – A Full Crash Course

Learn how to use fountain pens in this concise yet informative article

Table of Contents

Knowing how to use a fountain pen may seem useless in an age where digital communication technologies are relegating even the humble ballpoint to the stationery drawer. And yet, this historic technique is still being sought out by those who appreciate its distinguished classiness – and you won’t learn any of it in school.

If you’ve always been mesmerized by the mystical flow of ink only possible with a fountain pen, this concise guide will inspire you to jump in and do your part to preserve a skillset from a bygone yet precious era.

The Parts of Your Fountain Pen

Fountain pens rely on a few different parts to ensure the smooth flow of ink. Understanding how they work together will help you properly care for yours as you churn out volume upon volume of enlightening scripts.

Familiarize yourself with the parts of a fountain pen using this simple, clear diagram
Fountain pens usually come with several important components, including the nib, the feed, and either cartridges or a converter for holding ink. These are then housed in a cap, section, and barrel.

The Nib

The nib is the signature end of the fountain pen that puts ink to paper. It’s part of what makes fountain pens unique. Change the nib, and you change the writing experience completely.

Once you find a fountain pen you like, choosing the nib size is the next most important decision you’ll have to make. Fountain pen nib selections come in sizes ranging from extra fine to bold. Put simply, these sizes determine how “fast” the ink will flow and how thick the lines will be.

Now let’s hone in on the details. You’ll also have a choice of different styles, including stub, cursive, and italic. Plus, you can opt for either stainless steel or gold – the latter metal exclusive to high-end brands.

Did you know? The metal of the nib will actually adapt to your writing habits over time, which is why initiated fountain pen owners never lend their styluses out. The foreign feel of someone else’s nib is simply too strange.

The Feed

The feed does exactly what it sounds like. It feeds the ink from the cartridge to the nib, all through capillary action. It’s a crucial component because it controls airflow back into the cartridge. And this action is what regulates and maintains an acceptable ink flow. You’ll at least want to know the gist of how this works.

The feed has fins that slow down the ink, preventing it from flooding the nib too quickly. Fins work similarly to turning a full, uncapped bottle upside down. Liquid would still pour out, but the air displacement would cause a “gulping” motion, disrupting and thus slowing down the flow.

A Cartridge or a Converter – Which One Do You Have?

To a fountain pen connoisseur, inks are like wine. You won’t have to try many before gravitating to a certain “taste”. With experimentation coupled with experience, you’ll surely develop an inkling (sorry… I had to!).

Cartridges. If your stylus uses cartridges, you won’t have to buy separate bottles of ink. Rather, just buy replacement cartridges. Each one typically holds 1ml of ink – once it’s up, replace it like ammo. Some pens use proprietary cartridges from the manufacturer, which means you’re confined to buying that one type when it’s time to refill. However, there are pens that use universal cartridges, too.

Converters. A fountain pen converter is essentially a refillable ink cartridge that fits into the feed, just like an ordinary cartridge. A converter’s primary difference is that it comes with a plunger or piston to draw ink from a bottle. With converters, the ink world is your oyster because you can go from bottle to bottle (bottles can hold as much as 80ml of ink).

How To Fill a Fountain Pen

How you fill your fountain pen will be slightly different depending on whether it uses a cartridge or a converter.

How To Fill Fountain Pens With a Cartridge

This is straightforward stuff! First, unscrew the pen to separate the feed and nib from the main body, and remove the old cartridge. Then, take a new cartridge and insert the tapered end (it has a nipple) into the feed section. A peg within the feed’s lower area will pierce the nipple, causing ink flow. You’ll hear an audible click if you’ve done it right.

How To Refill Fountain Pens With a Converter

With converter fountain pens, you’ll have to draw up the ink into the reservoir from a bottle. Converters also have a tapered end that fits onto the feed’s post.

First, unscrew the head of the pen from the main body, but make sure that the cartridge (converter) is firmly ATTACHED. Now, gently screw the piston down until it is all the way to the bottom. Next, dip the nib into the ink bottle and “unscrew” the piston to draw up the ink. You may have to do this multiple times to create enough suction.

Keep some paper towels handy. There shouldn’t be any major spillage, but odd spatters are inevitable. Now, whatever you do, don’t forget to screw the lid back onto the ink bottle. A little bit of ink makes a big mess!

What if the Ink Is Skipping?

Skipping ink refers to gaps in the ink flow, which cause missing or partial strokes. The problem could either be due to a clogged nib contaminated with debris or more severely, misaligned tines in the nib.

A clogged nib is an easy fix. In fact, if you’re cleaning your pen regularly as outlined in the last section of this article, you’ll have no issues. Just soak the nib and feed in water, then flush the nib under a running tap. For more stubborn clumps, such as those created by dried Noodler’s Bulletproof Ink, use a dedicated cleaning solution for fountain pens.

What if the skipping persists? Then the delicate tines of your nib may be out of alignment. A fountain pen specialist can repair a damaged nib.

Get the Ink Flowing

In most cases, the ink should start flowing quickly. If it doesn’t, ensure the cartridge or converter is correctly seated so that the seal is punctured. Fountain pens rely on capillary action, which means the ink is naturally drawn through the feed and into the slightly separated tines of the nib.

To encourage ink flow, hold the pen vertically and gently tap the nib against the paper to let gravity lend a helping hand. You could also press the nib in one place on the paper using slightly more than the usual pressure. Repeat these motions until you see ink making it into the tiny gap.

How To Write With a Fountain Pen Like a Cultured Human!

The fountain pen's nib is angled in such a way so as to produce a smooth flow of ink
The main difference between writing with a fountain pen and a regular ballpoint involves keeping the nib at a specific angle to the paper. This will allow a smooth flow of ink.

It can take a little while to get the feel for writing with a fountain pen, but with a bit of conscious practice, you’ll be fine! It’s largely intuitive, but here are some specific instructions.

Unlike ballpoint pens, which transfer ink to paper at just about any angle, fountain pens need to be held at a 40- to 55-degree angle to the surface, with the ornamental face of the nib turned up.

As for hand positioning, do what ergonomically works for you. Usually, a writer will hold the fountain pen between the thumb and index finger, with the pen’s barrel resting on the side of the middle finger. And the ring finger, pinky, and palm’s edge provide stability by resting on the writing surface.

Fountain pens have a sweet spot where the nib’s tines separate slightly to facilitate a smooth flow of ink. Your strokes should feel like an Olympic figure skater gliding across fresh ice rather than nails screeching across a chalkboard.

Did you know? You should be writing by moving your forearm rather than by flexing and moving your fingers. Otherwise, your digits will get sore when working on lengthy prose, and you’ll turn the pen away from its sweet spot. The larger arm muscles won’t tire nearly as quickly, the pen’s position will remain uniform relative to the paper, and you’ll have finer control over your strokes. Here are more tips for improving handwriting.

How To Store Your Fountain Pens

Store your fountain pen properly, and it won’t give you any trouble. Keep it in a cool, dry location in either a horizontal or vertical position with the nib facing up (never down!) and out of direct sunlight.

What if you’re traveling with your treasured stylus? Keep it in its own case, and ensure the ink reservoir is either COMPLETELY full or COMPLETELY empty.

How To Clean a Fountain Pen Properly

Unless you’re a prolific writer, your fountain pen may go unused for days at a time. Follow these cleaning procedures so that it always works when you need it to.

First, there’s no need to empty the reservoir. However, residual ink in the nib can dry and damage your pen as it writes. So cleaning the nib regularly is a must! Every month or so, remove the nib section and hold it under a slow-running tap until the water runs clear.

If your pen uses a converter, is it important to clean this part as well? Yes. Attach the converter and flush it by pulling in and pushing out clean COLD water. When the released water is crystal clear, you have a clean fountain pen.

Leo Cai

Leo Cai

Leo Cai, the one solely responsible for the inception of this Mickey Mouse operation, has at least garnered the acceptance of Casey Cai - his wife. He used to view himself as an avid writer back in high school, with grandiose dreams of making a living using words. That never culminated because, as he himself puts it, "It's more practical to stock bakery shelves while striving to become a professional photographer".

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We’re Leo & Casey Cai, and Journaling Diaries is our outlet for sharing what we’re learning from the lightweight, nearly disaster-proof hobby of journaling. So far, we’ve found that journaling isn’t merely a shameful tool for hard times or a poor memory. It’s enriching & fun. Whatever, whichever, however – as long as it involves journaling – we’ll be covering it all here. Thanks for stopping by!

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