If you’ve ever wondered how to use a fountain pen, you’re in the right place. In this age of ballpoints, rollerballs, gel pens and even styluses, a fountain pen can seem like an antiquated relic from the past. This couldn’t be further from the truth! A good fountain pen is a high quality, precision writing instrument that can elevate writing from a necessary evil to something that is extremely enjoyable. Still, that doesn’t make a fountain pen less intimidating for someone who’s never used one before. Let’s take a look at all of the information you need in order to learn how to use a fountain pen.
How To Use A Fountain Pen
In order to learn how to use a fountain pen, you’ll need to first understand what is involved. If you’re not familiar with fountain pens, you should definitely read the article What Is A Fountain Pen first. There are a few different steps to using a fountain pen, so it’s not as simple as buying one and immediately writing with it. First you need to fill it. Then you need to make sure you know how to hold it correctly. Finally, you need to maintain it so that it works well for you. I’ll discuss each of these steps in detail, so don’t worry. By the end of this article you’ll be an expert!
Filling Your Fountain Pen
Before you start writing with your pen, you’ll need to fill it with ink. It is very important that you only use ink that is made specifically for fountain pens! If you use any other type of ink such as calligraphy ink or india ink you can permanently damage or even completely ruin your pen, so make sure you know that the ink you are using is made for fountain pens.
Once you have your ink picked out, it’s time to get it into the pen. There are two basic ways a fountain pen holds ink. One type uses a cartridge that’s filled with ink that you place into the pen. The other type sucks ink out of a bottle and stores it in an internal reservoir. The filling methods are very different for each type of pen, so I’ll go into detail for each one.
Using A Cartridge Fountain Pen
If your fountain pen uses a cartridge, it should unscrew at a point somewhere above the section you hold while writing (grip). Unscrew your pen and take a look at the two halves. The half without the nib (barrel) is where the ink cartridge will go. The half with the nib will have something that looks like a needle near the threads on the side opposite the nib. This will actually puncture one side of the cartridge and allow ink to flow into the pen and through the nib. It is very important that you do not try to puncture the cartridge before putting it into your pen! If you do, you’ll probably end up with a big mess and you’ll have to use a new cartridge.
All ink cartridges are made differently and different brands of pens take different types of cartridge, so don’t think you can use any cartridge in any pen. Furthermore, some cartridges are made to only fit into a pen one way, so if your cartridge doesn’t seem to fit into your pen, try turning it around and see if it fits that way instead. Ultimately, your cartridge should have one end that looks “thinner” than the other or has a slight indentation in it. This is the end that will get punctured by the part of your pen that looks like a needle. To puncture it, either press the cartridge onto the “needle” or sometimes you can simply put the cartridge into your pen and screw the two halves together. You should feel a bit of resistance, but the cartridge should be easily punctured. That’s it, you’re done!
Some cartridge fillers also come with a converter. This allows you to fill the converter with ink from a bottle and use it in place of a cartridge. The benefit here is that you can use any ink you want and not be limited to only using ink cartridges. Almost all converters are either squeeze or twist fillers, so refer to the proper section below for filling instructions.
Using An Internal Reservoir Fountain Pen
If your fountain pen fills via an ink bottle, you have a bit more work to do to figure out how to fill it. There are many different filling systems for fountain pens, so determining how yours works is your next step. I’ll cover the three most common types here:
– Lever filler: This is found on most older fountain pens. To fill a pen with a lever-fill system, gently pull the lever away from the pen body so that it is perpendicular to the pen. You might want to do this step with the nib of your pen pointing into a sink unless you know for sure that is does not have any ink in it. While holding the lever, place the nib of your pen into your ink bottle so that it is completely submerged. When you gently lower the lever back to the pen body, the pen will suck ink into the internal bladder. Congratulations, your pen is now full of ink! For some pens you might need to do this multiple times to really fill it up, but once should be enough most of the time. Be sure to wipe off the nib and any other parts of the pen that might have ink on them and you’re ready to write.
– Piston filler: Many modern pens and some vintage pens fill via a piston-filler mechanism. The piston is found inside of the pen and works like a syringe. To raise and lower the piston and fill the pen, you will need to twist part of the pen. This is typically found on the top of the pen. If you’re using a converter, you will twist the top of the converter. To fill a piston-fill pen, hold the pen body with one hand and unscrew the twist-fill mechanism with your other hand until it stops. You might want to do this step with the nib of your pen pointing into a sink unless you know for sure that is does not have any ink in it. Place the nib of your pen into your ink bottle so that it is completely submerged up to where the nib goes into the section. Now screw the twist-fill mechanism so that it returns to it’s starting point. This should completely fill your pen with ink. Be sure to wipe off the nib and any other parts of the pen that might have ink on them and you’re ready to write.
– Squeeze filler: Some pens fill via a squeeze-filler mechanism (sometimes called a bulb-filler). This is typically found inside of the pen. To fill a squeeze-fill pen, you’ll first need to unscrew it. You should see a metal and rubber section that is attached to the half of the pen with the nib. You’ll squeeze the metal bar to compress the rubber sac. You might want to do this step with the nib of your pen pointing into a sink unless you know for sure that is does not have any ink in it. Place the nib of your pen into your ink bottle so that it is completely submerged up to where the nib goes into the section. Now squeeze the metal bar once or twice. This will compress the sac and suck ink into your pen when you let go. Now you can screw the two halves of your pen back together. Be sure to wipe off the nib and any other parts of the pen that might have ink on them and you’re ready to write.
Writing With Your Fountain Pen
Now that your fountain pen has ink in it, it’s ready to write! If you filled it from an ink bottle, it should start writing as soon as it touches paper. If it doesn’t, or if you are using a cartridge-filled fountain pen, you might need to get the ink flowing to your nib. I have found a few good ways to do this. Sometimes, simply touching the nib of your pen onto a piece of paper for a few seconds will start the flow of ink. You can also hold a soft cloth or piece of paper towel onto the top (metal) side of your nib for a few seconds. One you see ink on it, it should be primed. The quickest but messiest method that I have found is to run my finger along the top (metal) side of the nib. Once I see ink on my finger, I know that my pen is ready to write.
Writing with a fountain pen is much different than writing with any other type of pen. Most importantly, it doesn’t take a lot of pressure. If you are used to pressing hard when you write, do not do this with a fountain pen! You can damage the nib by pressing too hard, which can result in an unusable pen and costly repairs. A fountain pen should write with the lightest of pressure. I once heard that you should be able to hold a quality fountain pen between your thumb and index finger, lightly drag it across a piece of paper without applying any pressure and it should draw a line. So remember, light pressure.
You can hold a fountain pen between your fingers like you’d hold any other pen, but the nib has to be correctly positioned in order for it to write. Specifically, the slit on the nib has to touch the paper. If you angle it to one side or the other, ink will not be able to flow onto the paper and your pen won’t write. You also have to make sure the correct side of the nib is facing up. The metal side of the nib should be facing away from the paper, not the plastic or rubber feed below the nib. If you write with your pen upside down (feed up), it will probably feel scratchy, won’t write very well and you can potentially damage your nib.
Writing with a fountain pen should be a smooth experience. Any time you feel it scratching against your paper, chances are something is not right. A scratching sound or feeling is typically caused by holding the pen slightly crooked so that the nib is not sitting on the paper properly. If you can’t find an angle where your pen doesn’t scratch, you might have a misaligned or bent nib. Usually, this is not something you should try to fix yourself. Another possibility is that you are using a low-quality paper that is not good for fountain pen use. Good paper will not snag or cause ink to bleed and will compliment your pen to give you a smooth writing experience.
Caring For Your Fountain Pen
Once your pen is filled, there are a few things you’ll need to do to keep it in top working order. First, you should put the cap on your pen any time you’re not using it so that the nib doesn’t dry out. If you find that your nib has dried out and your pen won’t write, a quick wipe with a slightly damp cloth, paper towel or finger will usually get the ink flowing again. If not, you can dip the tip of your pen into the ink bottle you filled it from. If you still can’t get it to write, you can gently and very slightly move your filling mechanism, which should squeeze a bit of ink out of the pen and through the nib. If you use this method, do it very slowly over a sink and be sure to stop at the very first sign of ink.
You’ll also want to make sure to handle your pen a little more carefully than most other pens. Don’t shake a fountain pen unless you want to clean up an inky mess. Try to avoid excessive jostling or vibration, as this could cause some ink to leak into the cap and get onto your fingers. Finally, if you don’t plan to use it for some time or it runs out of ink, you’ll want to clean your pen. To do this, simply repeat the filling process, only use clean, cool (not hot or cold) water instead of ink. Fill a small, clean container with water. I’ve found small jars or even old, empty ink bottles work best. You will initially see a lot of ink come out of your pen, which is completely normal. Repeat the filling process a few times and then dump the inky water down the drain. Repeat until the water coming out of your pen is clear. If you want to make sure it’s really clean, fill your pen with water and fill your container just full enough so that only the nib is submerged and leave it overnight (don’t do this if your pen is an antique and is made out of hard rubber or celluloid… if you have an antique pen and you’re not sure what it’s made out of, you should probably skip this step). This should soak out any dried up ink in your pen and feed. The next morning you can squeeze all of the water out of your pen. Wipe the nib with a cloth or paper towel until no more water comes out. Set it in a safe place to let it dry for a day or so before capping it for storage.
Enjoying Your Fountain Pen
Now that you have filled your pen and know how to write with it, be sure to use it every chance you get. You’ll find that there are many different combinations of pen, ink and paper out there. While some will work for you, others won’t. Maybe you love one particular type of ink on one type of paper, but on another type of paper it bleeds. Or maybe one ink works great in your pen but another doesn’t. Keep trying different combinations until you find one that works for you!
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Hi, my name is John. I’m a Colorado-born professional photographer who recently moved back to Denver after spending 3 years in San Francisco. I’ve been using and collecting fountain pens for over 20 years. I got my first one in college when I got bored taking notes with ballpoints and pencils. Since then I’ve bought and sold hundreds of pens, but have consistency in my love of Esterbrooks.