Using and collecting fountain pens is a very rewarding and enjoyable experience, but the amount of terminology can be overwhelming. In an attempt to clarify what some of these terms mean, I’ve put together a visual glossary to illustrate many of the most common fountain pen terms.
A Visual Glossary For Fountain Pens
Aerometric Filler – A filling system where a metal bar is squeezed by hand to compress the sac, thus sucking ink into it. It is contained inside the barrel of the fountain pen, which means it is not accessible from the outside of the pen.
Band – A metal piece that circles the bottom portion of the cap. It is mainly decorative, but can also help prevent the cap from cracking. Not all fountain pens have bands.
Barrel – The main portion of a fountain pen that holds the section. This is where the ink supply is stored (typically inside of an ink sac).
BHR (Black Hard Rubber) – A material that was used to make fountain pens in the early 1900s. It is prone to fading and discoloration. It has a unique smell when rubbed.
Blind Cap – The top portion of the barrel of a button-filler fountain pen. It screws off to reveal the button filler mechanism.
Brassing – Removal of the shiny top layer of trim, resulting in dark, dull patches. Usually caused by repeated use and rubbing over time.
Breather Hole – The part of a nib located at the intersection of the tines. This allows air to enter the pen to replace ink that has flowed out. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Button Filler – A filling system that uses a button on the end of the pen barrel to squeeze the ink sac. This button is concealed under a blind cap.
Cap – The part of a fountain pen that covers and protects the nib. It also prevents the nib from drying out. Caps either screw or slip onto the barrel.
Cartridge – Plastic containers that are filled with ink. Cartridges are designed to be disposable and single-use. They can only be used in cartridge-fill fountain pens.
Cartridge Filler – Fountain pens that use ink cartridges. They do not have an ink sac and get their supply of ink from the cartridge.
Chasing – A repetitive, decorative engraving found on most hard rubber fountain pens. Chasing was done by a machine and is usually a series of lines, waves or zig-zags.
Clip – A metal bar found on the upper portion of the pen cap. The clip helps the pen sit upright in a pocket. It also helps prevent a round pen from rolling away. It is also a decorative part of a pen. Not all fountain pens have clips.
Converter – A device that allows a cartridge fountain pen to be filled from a bottle of ink.
Crescent Filler – A unique filling system, named after the crescent that protrudes from the barrel. When squeezed, the crescent depresses a metal bar, which squeezes the ink sac. The round piece under the crescent can be rotated to allow or stop the crescent from being depressed.
Demonstrator – A clear fountain pen that shows the internal workings of the pen and the ink it’s filled with. They used to be used by salespeople to demonstrate how a pen worked. Now they are sold directly to consumers by many pen companies.
Dip Pen – Dip pens are not fountain pens. They do not have an internal ink supply and must be continually dipped into ink, hence the name.
Discoloration – The color changing of a fountain pen. This can be caused by exposure to sunlight, gasses from an ink sac or other environmental factors. Usually found on hard rubber, but can happen to any fountain pen.
Engraving – Designs, patterns or words that are carved onto the body of a pen. These engravings can be done by hand or machine.
Eyedrop Filler – A fountain pen that has the ink supply inside the body, but not contained in a sac. They are filled by dropping the ink into the barrel with an eyedropper, hence the name.
Fading – Discoloration caused by exposure to sunlight. You will often find the part of the pen underneath the cap is not discolored, as it was covered and not exposed to light. Fading is very prevalent on hard rubber pens, but can be found on most pen materials.
Feathering – Occurs when ink is sucked into the fibers of paper, resulting in soft, blurry lines instead of text with crisp, defined edges.
Feed – The material underneath the nib. Feeds channel ink from the supply to the nib, regulate the flow of ink and prevent it from running out of a pen too quickly. Older feeds are typically flat on the bottom while more modern feeds have a visible “comb” pattern consisting of a series of fins.
Filigree – A lacy, decorative style of overlay on the pen body. Filigrees can have many different patterns, engraved either by hand or machine.
Flex – Fountain pens nibs have varying degrees of flex, which results in line-width variations when writing. Some have no flex at all (sometimes referred to as “nails”), while others have unusually high amounts of flex (referred to as “wet noodles”). Gold nibs are usually more flexible than steel nibs.
Hooded Nib – A nib that is mostly covered. Usually just the tip of the nib is visible.
Imprint – Typically found on the barrel of fountain pens, the imprint might have the manufacturers name, model number, patent number and even a small logo. Some pens also have a model number imprinted on the end of the barrel.
Ink – Ink is used in fountain pens to write with. While many types of ink exist, ink that is made specifically for fountain pens should only ever be used in a fountain pen.
Jewel – Decorative elements on the cap and/or barrel of a fountain pen. These can be made out of plastic, metal or many other materials. Not all fountain pens have jewels.
Lever – Part of a lever-fill fountain pen that is found on the pen body. When pulled away from the body, the lever depresses a metal bar, which compresses the ink sac. When decompressed, ink is drawn into the pen.
Nib – The part of a fountain pen that transfers ink to paper. At the most basic level, the nib is the actual writing part of a fountain pen, while the rest of the pen is used for ink storage, ergonomics and decoration.
Overlay – A metallic cover on the pen body. Overlays can show the original pen material underneath or completely cover it up.
Posted – Putting the pen cap on the back of the pen barrel while writing. Some people don’t like to post their pens, while others feel it gives the pen a good balance.
RHR (Red Hard Rubber) – The same as black hard rubber, only in red. Typically more fragile than black hard rubber.
Ring Top – Instead of having a clip, some fountain pens have a ring top. This is usually found on smaller pens and was originally intended to be used with a ribbon or necklace so the pen could be worn around the user’s neck.
Sac – A soft bladder that stores ink inside of a fountain pen. The sac is squeezed, expelling the air inside of it, causing ink to be sucked in when the sac returns to its original shape. The sac attaches to the back of the section.
Section – The portion of a fountain pen that connects the nib and feed assembly to the barrel and sac. It is also the portion of a pen most people hold while writing.
Shading – A quality of ink characterized by color variation in writing. Some inks exhibit extreme shading while others exhibit no shading. Can also be influenced by the shape and flexibility of the nib.
Sheen – A characteristic that is found in modern inks. Sheen can be described as a metallic quality that can be observed in dried ink.
Snorkel – A type of filling system that is unique to some Sheaffer fountain pens. The snorkel extends from underneath the nib, allowing a pen to be filled without dipping the nib into ink, resulting in easy cleanup.
Threads – The threaded portion of a pen barrel where the cap screws onto the barrel
Tine – Each half of a fountain pen nib. The slit between the tines is what channels the ink from the feed and onto paper. The tine separation while writing is what defines the flex of a nib.
Trim – The metallic parts on the body of a pen that are both functional and decorative. Trim can include the clip, band, lever and rings around the jewels.
Vial – Some pen users like to trade small amounts of ink with other users. For this, they typically use a small plastic vial to store it.