With so many different writing instruments available today that are both easy to use and inexpensive, you might ask, “Why use a fountain pen?”. You have ballpoint pens, rollerball pens, gel pens, mechanical pencils, Sharpies, markers… all very capable writing instruments that only cost a few dollars and do the job. What makes fountain pens so special that many people will spend tens, hundreds or even thousands of dollars on one?
Why Use A Fountain Pen? What Are The Benefits?
Fountain pens have many different benefits. While they are ultimately just pens that put ink to paper, to the people who use them they are so much more than that. Some benefits might be physical, while others might be mental. I’ll run through a quick list of benefits so you can get an idea of what all the fuss is about.
They Can Be Easier To Write With
Many people use fountain pens because they find them easier to write with than other types of pens. They come in many different diameters, weights and lengths, which offers quite a bit of flexibility when choosing a pen. Fountain pens also require less pressure to write with. Since the ink is pulled out of the pen via capillary action, it takes little to no pressure to put ink on paper, which can reduce hand fatigue during prolonged periods of writing.
They Have Different Sizes and Shapes Of Nibs
Fountain pens come with different shapes and sizes of nibs. This allows you to choose the perfect nib for what you are writing. While some people prefer one type of nib, others prefer a variety. While a fine nib might be useful for jotting down notes, a flexible nib might be preferred for a letter because it can add more character to your writing. Regardless of which type of nib you prefer, the ability to have different pens that have drastically different writing characteristics are one of the major attractions of fountain pens.
There Are Countless Different Colors Of Ink
Just as nibs can give character to your writing, inks can as well. The number of different inks that are available today is overwhelming. Each ink has unique characteristics and a unique color, and each will look and perform slightly differently depending on which pen you use it in. This means that with just a few different pens and inks you can have quite a few different writing options. Compared to the standard blue and black that are typically available with rollerballs and ballpoints, you can see how attractive it might be to have a variety of colors to spice up your writing.
They Are Not Made To Be Disposable
Most fountain pens are not meant to be disposable. Whether you are someone who cares about the environment and cringes every time you toss a piece of plastic into the garbage or are someone who prefers to spend their money on high quality items that will last for many years, a fountain pen should satisfy you. Even fountain pens that are disposable can easily be refilled.
They Are Collectible
Whether you decide to use vintage or modern fountain pens, you will find that they are all highly collectible. From limited editions to special releases to vintage pens that are hard to find, there are many different ways to collect fountain pens. For example, many manufacturers such as Pelikan, Lamy and TWSBI release special colors every year. Montblanc releases numbered limited editions that are extremely valuable. Even if you’re not into spending a bunch of money on limited edition pens, you can always focus your collection on a particular brand or even a specific color of pen!
There Is An Amazing Community Of Fountain Pen Users
Once you get into the world of fountain pens, you’ll find that it is full of amazing people. Online forums are full of individuals who are more than happy to answer any questions you might have. Most larger cities have pen meetups where you can meet other fountain pen enthusiasts and try out pens, inks and paper that you’ve always wanted to try. Pen shows are one of the best ways to immerse yourself in pen culture, meet new people, take a class or two and walk away with that pen you’ve had your eye on.
What Are The Drawbacks To Using A Fountain Pen?
Although there are many benefits to using a fountain pen, there are some drawbacks as well. While they don’t necessarily leak all over the place like many stereotypes would have you believe, there are a few things that might make you think twice before buying your first fountain pen.
They Cost More Than Most Other Types Of Pens
One of the main reasons ballpoint and rollerball pens are so popular is because they are cheap. Fountain pens, on the other hand, are not. Even some of the least expensive fountain pens out there will cost between $10-$20 each. While it is possible to pick up some inexpensive Chinese pens for a few dollars each, the average that you’ll spend on a fountain pen will probably be somewhere between $20-$50. I even know some people who have been using them for less than a year who aren’t phased by a $200 or higher price tag. Of course, you don’t have to spend that much to get a good pen, but it is very easy to do so if you want to.
They Need To Be Cleaned
As I mentioned earlier, fountain pens work via capillary action. This means that there needs to be a clear path for ink to flow out of the pen and onto paper. If the ink dries out between fillings or you change from one ink to another, you’ll need to clean out your pen. Proper and regular cleanings will keep your pen working great, but if you don’t clean your pen very often you might run into issues and have trouble writing with it. While cleaning a pen might only take a few minutes, it’s still an extra step that you’ll never have to worry about if you use a rollerball.
They Have A Cap
It might seem very minor and insignificant, but most fountain pens have a cap. If you’re used to a pen where you can click a button on the top to extend and retract the tip, especially in situations where you have to quickly jot something down, a cap might be more of a hassle than you want to deal with. Of course, there are many rollerballs and even ballpoints that have caps, but losing one isn’t really a big deal. You lose the cap, throw the pen away and grab a new one. With a fountain pen, if you lose the cap you’re in trouble. Not only will the pen dry out and essentially be useless without a cap, but you won’t want to throw away your $20 or $200 pen.
They Don’t Work Well On Some Types Of Paper
Fountain pens can be a little picky about which types of paper they work well on. If you regularly write on inexpensive copy paper, you probably won’t have a very good writing experience with a fountain pen. The ink will likely feather and bleed and you’ll want to switch back to a rollerball. They also don’t write very well on paper that is used for receipts (it’s too slick) or with carbon-copy checks (you don’t press hard enough for the copy to work). Even on good, high-quality paper that is fountain pen friendly, you’ll have to be careful you don’t smudge the wet ink before it has completely soaked into the paper.
Hopefully this article helped answer the question “Why use a fountain pen?”. While they take more effort than most other pens, are more expensive and are a little more picky than a rollerball or ballpoint pen, for most people the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. It doesn’t matter if you’re a collector, an environmentalist, someone with hand pain or just someone who wants a wonderful writing experience, a fountain pen is one of the best writing instruments around.
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.