Pen, Paper and Ink – Fountain Pen Basics

John BosleyFountain Pen Education12 Comments

fountain pen ink and paper

When it comes to writing with a fountain pen, you need to consider more than just which pen you’re going to use. A fine writing experience depends on three different things: your pen, your ink and your paper. If one of these items is lacking it can ruin the entire experience. At the same time, if all three compliment each other it can lead to a wonderful writing experience. Let’s talk about these three fountain pen basics.

Fountain Pen Basics – The Pen

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re interested in fountain pens. That means that I don’t have to convince you why they’re so great to write with. Of course, there are still choices to make when choosing which fountain pen to use. For example, do you want to use a flexible nib to give your writing a bit of flair? Maybe you’d prefer a broad nib to lay down a bold line. Or maybe your handwriting is small so you want to use a fine nib. Whatever the case, the nib you choose can affect the way your handwriting looks.

different fountain pen nib sizes pelikan montblanc pilot

Three different nib sizes and widths – From Left to Right: Broad, Medium, Fine

The pen and nib you choose will have other impacts on your writing experience as well. If you choose a disposable fountain pen that looks and feels cheap, you probably won’t enjoy writing with it as much as you would a high-quality pen. If you choose an expensive pen that you’re worried about using in public, you probably won’t enjoy your writing experience as much as if you choose a pen you’re not as worried about. Even the size of the pen will affect how it fits your hand. Choosing the right pen to fit a given situation is just as important as choosing which nib you want for your writing style.

montblanc esterbrook fountain pen size comparison

These two fountain pens have drastically different physical sizes

Fountain Pen Basics – The Ink

Fountain pen ink comes in almost every shade you can imagine. From pure black to highlighter pink to shimmery green, if there’s a color you want to write with, chances are some ink manufacturer makes it. There is more to choosing an ink than just the color you want to write with. Do you want an ink that dries quickly? Does your ink need to be waterproof? Do you care if it has sheen or shading? These are all important considerations when choosing an ink to fill your pen with.

fountain pen ink color splats sheen

Fountain pen ink color variety

Ink also comes in bottles, which is another important part of the ink equation. Some ink bottles are decorative and look beautiful when put on display. Some ink bottles are functional and make filling your pen easier. Some bottles of ink are much more expensive than others. Before spending a bunch of money on a bottle of ink, you should ask yourself if you want to use that particular color for the next few years, as that’s how long it usually takes to get through a single bottle of ink. If you don’t want to commit to a single color (or just want to try a bunch of different colors), ink samples might be your best bet. Most major online pen retailers offer small ink sample vials in addition to full bottles, so feel free to experiment with as many different inks as you’d like.

fountain pen ink bottles and sample vials

Fountain pen ink comes in various bottle sizes as well as sample vials

Fountain Pen Basics – The Paper

Many people focus on the pen and ink that they use, but don’t pay much attention to the paper that they write on. Choosing quality paper is just as important for a good writing experience as the pen and ink that are used. Good paper can mean the difference between writing that feathers and bleeds versus writing with crisp lines and good colors. The way a paper feels also matters. Some people prefer paper that is ultra-smooth while others prefer paper that gives a little feedback while writing on it.

fountain pen paper

Various papers that are good for fountain pens

Whether you prefer writing in journals, notebooks or on loose-leaf paper, there are high-quality paper options available. How can you tell if paper will work well with fountain pens? Unfortunately, the best way is to test it out, which isn’t always possible. Generally, you get what you pay for, so if you buy cheap paper, it probably won’t perform well with your fountain pens. Even some more popular and expensive notebooks and journals tend to perform poorly with fountain pens. Specifically, Moleskine paper tends to feather more easily with fountain pen ink, making it a less-than-ideal choice for fountain pen users. When in doubt, purchase your paper from a retailer who sells fountain pens and ask them what they recommend (or better yet, if you can try writing on some).

Putting Them Together

Keeping all of this in mind, the next time you sit down to write, pay attention to all three factors. Note which types of nib you prefer and which size of pen feels most comfortable in your hand. Pay attention to the colors of ink you enjoy and which qualities appeal to you. Feel how your pen moves across the paper and watch how the ink soaks into it. Eventually you’ll get a feel for the different combinations that you prefer and will soon know what your favorite types of pen, ink and paper are!

Hi, my name is John. I’m a Colorado-born professional photographer who currently lives 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.

12 Comments on “Pen, Paper and Ink – Fountain Pen Basics”

  1. I feel that the paper is quite often overlooked. In combination with a good, free-flowing ink, it is very likely to have a bigger impact on the writing experience than the pen.

  2. Thanks for this! Why do you favour Esterbrooks? Also, what paper do you like best? Fun that you’re creating in this blog! Best, Ink & Quill. 😉

    1. You’re welcome, Sarah! I love Esterbrooks because they’re relatively inexpensive, easy to repair, have interchangeable nibs and work great! As for paper, I just recently tried out a Midori writing pad and love it! Thanks so much for reading!

  3. Thank you for this blogpost! The one thing that confused me a little is what you’ve mentioned about Moleskine notebooks. My fountain pens seem to write perfectly on Moleskine’s paper (with no feathering), while they tend to write less smoothly on Rhodia (which many people recommend to write on using fountain pens). Is this a matter of what pen I use or how smooth is the nib?

    1. Thank you for reading! Moleskine’s paper doesn’t necessarily feather with all fountain pens and inks, it just has a reputation for not being as fountain pen friendly as other some other papers. I have also used some pens and inks that work perfectly well with Moleskine paper. With that being said, I’ve updated the article to make it a little less severe.

  4. I’ve pretty much come to the pen I like, with a custom ground 0.07mm stub nib for me, and am wanting to try the Tomoe River paper What is a good source for it, with no lines, but does come with the lined grid to go under it for writing? Thanks.

    1. Glad to hear you’ve found a pen that you like, Joe. For some Tomoe River paper, you’ll need to decide if you want loose paper or a notebook. For loose paper, it always comes unlined as far as I know. I got mine from Amazon, but I know that most major online pen-retailers carry it and it’s close to the same price. I live in San Francisco and noticed that some of the stationary shops in Japantown also carry Tomoe River, so if you’re in a large city you might look around a bit and see if you can find it locally. If you want a notebook, many different people make them and which one will work the best for you will depend on what other qualities you’re looking for. I’d suggest getting a notebook from an online pen retailer (versus Amazon, Etsy or eBay), as they’ll have the best selection.

      For the loose paper, I don’t think there is any Tomoe River that comes with a lined grid to go underneath. For notebooks, it will depend on the manufacturer. The easiest way to get one would be to print your own. You can use this page to print your own custom grid: http://incompetech.com/graphpaper/

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