One question that many people who are new to using fountain pens have is how do I fill a fountain pen? There are many different filling systems available for fountain pens, so the first thing you’ll need to do is identify what kind of filling system your pen has. Once you do that, you can fill it and start writing with it. In this article I’ll outline the most popular types of filling systems, show you how to fill your pen, and let you know what types of ink you can use in your fountain pen.
How To Fill A Fountain Pen
Why do you need to fill a fountain pen in the first place? Unlike ballpoint or gel pens, fountain pens do not come with ink in them. In order to get them to write, you need a combination of pen and ink. Fountain pen ink can be purchased in both bottles and cartridges. Regardless of which you choose, the ink is exactly the same, but as you’ll see below, whether you decide to use bottled ink or cartridges will depend on a few different things.
Regardless of which filling system you use, the basics are the same. Ink is stored inside of the fountain pen. Some pens store ink inside of the cartridge it came in, some store it in a latex bladder while others store ink directly in the barrel of the pen. When the nib touches paper, ink is pulled out of the pen onto the paper via capillary action. If you want to learn more about how fountain pens work, I have an article that discusses fountain pen basics that you should find helpful.
Fountain Pen Filling Systems
Fountain pens come with a variety of different filling systems. Some people have a preference as to which one their pens have, while other people may have pens with many different types of filling systems. One is not necessarily better than another, so don’t let the filling system deter you from a particular pen. In fact, you might be attracted to a pen because it has a filling system that’s different than a pen that you already own! This is just another feature that makes fountain pens unique.
Cartridge Fountain Pens
Many vintage and modern fountain pens use ink cartridges. This is probably the quickest and easiest filling method for a fountain pen, as it’s not much more difficult than putting the cap on your pen. While it may be easy and convenient, the main drawback is that you are somewhat limited to which inks you can use. If you want to use a color of ink that does not come in a cartridge that fits your pen, you are out of luck (unless you want to refill an empty cartridge).
If your fountain pen uses a cartridge, it should unscrew at a point somewhere above the section you hold while writing (the grip). Unscrew your pen and take a look at the two halves. 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, most 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. Almost all cartridges will also have a collar on the end that gets punctured that helps to guide the cartridge into place. This is the end that will get punctured by the part of your pen that looks like a needle. To puncture it, simply push the cartridge onto the needle. You should feel a bit of resistance, but the cartridge should get punctured and slide onto the needle. That’s it, you’re done! You’ll need to give the ink a bit of time to get through the feed to the nib, but once that happens your pen is ready to write.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 the ink cartridges you can find that fit your pen. Almost all converters are either piston fillers or squeeze fillers, so refer to the proper section below for filling instructions.
A Note About Converters
If you have a converter, you can fill it directly from your ink bottle without first attaching it to your pen. This can be very useful if you are down to the last drops of ink and simply can not fill your pen any other way. If you decide to do this, be careful not to completely fill the converter. Leave a little air at the opening so when you insert the converter into your pen, ink does not squirt out.
You will also need to prime the nib before writing. When you fill your pen with ink through the nib, the nib and feed get saturated with ink, which allows you to immediately start writing. When you directly fill the converter, the nib and feed remain dry. To get ink into the feed and nib, you can either dip the nib into ink or carefully squeeze a bit of ink out of the converter (either with the piston or bulb filler) until you see it start to drip out of the nib. At this point you can suck the ink back into the converter and your pen should be ready to write! You can also simply wait for a few minutes while the ink makes its way to the nib. Scribbling on a piece of paper can sometimes speed this up.
Lever-Fill Fountain Pens
This filling system is found on many 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-Fill Fountain Pens
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 or converter. This is typically found on the top of the pen. 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. Now screw the twist-fill mechanism so that it returns to its 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-Fill Fountain Pens
Some pens fill via a squeeze-filler mechanism. 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. Most pens will have a metal bar that you’ll squeeze 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. Now squeeze the sac once or twice. This will fill your pen with ink. 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.
Eyedropper Fountain Pens
Eyedropper fountain pens get their name from how they are (or were originally) filled… via eyedropper! Before fountain pens had different options for filling mechanisms, they held their supply of ink directly inside the barrel. The only way to get the ink into the barrel was by squirting it in with an eyedropper. These days you’re much more likely to use a syringe or pipette, but it’s the exact same idea.
To fill an eyedropper pen, you’ll need to unscrew the nib section from the pen. This should reveal an empty barrel, just waiting to be filled with ink. At this point you can use a syringe, pipette, or even an eyedropper to squirt ink into the barrel. Similar to using a converter, when you fill a pen via eyedropper you’ll need to prime the feed or wait for the ink to make its way to the nib.
One thing to note about modern pens is that most need to be converted to be used as an eyedropper and are not able to hold ink without leaking before the conversion. The conversion usually consists of simply applying silicone grease to the threads, which which will keep ink from leaking out and making a mess. If you’re wondering if a pen that you have can be eyedroppered, a quick search online should turn up more detailed instructions for your specific pen.
Other Filling Systems
You’ll find many other types of filling systems on fountain pens, but most of the ones that I didn’t cover here are found on vintage pens. For that reason, I’m not covering them in this article. If you have a filling system that is not covered here and you’d like to learn more about it, I’d suggest checking out Richard Binder’s site.
What Kind Of Ink Can You Use In A Fountain Pen?
So now that you know how to fill your pen with ink, how do you know which inks are safe to use with fountain pens? 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. If you are using ink that comes in a bottle, it will probably say fountain pen ink on the bottle or packaging. If you are using ink in a plastic cartridge, chances are it is made for fountain pens, but if you are unsure the box or packaging should say.
You will almost always be safe using inks that are made by fountain pen manufacturers. These include but are not limited to Parker, Sheaffer, Waterman, Pelikan, Montblanc, Cross, Pilot and Lamy. There are many other wonderful inks available today, so don’t limit yourself to only these manufacturers. Just always check to make sure the ink that you are using is made specifically for fountain pens.
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.