Writing With a Fountain Pen


The angle of the nib to the paper is important

Holding your fountain pen

Holding your pen impacts your writing experience. The nib needs to flow across the paper at an angle rather than direct straight down.

Writing with a Fountain Pen

This is the experience we enjoy

Using your fountain pen is the pleasure. I am always amazed when I see pens listed for sale with the caption "never inked". What? To have a fountain pen and have never used the pen means it was never acquired to be a pne, but perhaps just bought for resale and potential profit. Not my idea of pen ownership.

I often receive e-mails asking if there is a break-in period for a new pen, primarily the nib. Not really, although the nib will ongoing use.

Another common comment is a difference in how the pen wrote when home to how it wrote in the store. This can be the difference in quality of paper (those pads supplied by the pen companies are usually made from very good paper) and the difference in standing and writing and sitting and writing. Standing or sitting may have you hold the pen at a different angle to the paper.

The writing experience with a fountain pen is a combination of the pen (size and fit in the hand), the nib (width and material), the ink (flow characteristics) and the paper on which you write. The same pen can have a different writing experience with different ink, with a different nib or on different paper.

Your Pen With Use

On the question of "breaking-in a pen", there is no break-in period. That does not mean the writing characteristics of the pen do not change. Nibs get smoother the more they are used. There is a result of the pen being drawn over the paper and the pressure you exert on the nib with ongoing use.

While higher end pens are tested in the factory, the testing is limited. I have seen the nib test in a number of the factories. An employee dips the nib, and then draws the nib across paper to create a line or so. The employees have told me they can feel if the nib is scratchy or see if there is a flow problem. But I will say, it is a dip and draw a line. There is no test to see if the ink feed is working correctly. That would involve drawing in into the pen, then writing for a period so that the ink that sits in the nib is used up and it is ink that is flowing from the ink chamber (cartridge, piston chamber etc.).

Pens often write better after using them for a time because of better ink flow. A number of issues can effect the flow. My first suggestion on this point is to flush the pen with water a few times. Factories use liquids to clean the various parts and you may need to give you pen a good flushing of water. After flushing the pen with water, flush the pen with ink a couple of times.

The Nib

I put a high value on the experience of actually trying a pen in a store to know if the particular pen is right for me. No two nibs are the same. If you try one and it does not feel good, try another pen with the same width of nib. You may be surprised how much variance there is between pens of the same pen width.

If a store will not allow you to dip the pen in ink and try it, then shop elsewhere.

The Paper

The paper is important to the writing experience. In a store we often try a fountain pen using note pads provided by the pen distributors. These note pads are typically made of high quality paper. Much better than the cheaper paper often found in offices.

I often bring some of my everyday office paper into the store and write with a pen on that paper to check performance.

Remember paper has two sides. There is an up and bottom side to paper. You can try writing on both sides. You will notice the up side provides a cleaner line. If you are using office paper, the reams of paper often have an arrow to give direction as to the side to load up in a photocopier.

The Rituals

There are rituals when writing with a fountain pen. Enjoy them!

Cap on, Cap Off

Keep the pen capped when not in use. This helps to prevent the ink that is sitting in the nib section from drying out. You will notice how there is variance in dry times of ink.

Putting the Cap on the Pen

When placing the cap on the pen, hold the pen with the nib up, not down. It was many years ago when I always found ink in the cap of one of my pens. When I discussed the issue at my pen store, they saw how I was capping the pen. It is a small thing and not a big issue, but it can help to prevent ink from leaving the nib into the cap of the pen.

Rinse Regularly

Nothing is better for your pen then a regular rinse, or flush through, with just plain water. It helps to wash out any dry ink that may in the feeds.

Store Pens Nib Up

Where possible, store your pens, that are inked, with the nib up. This helps to prevent ink from draining out of the pen into the cap.

Holding the Pen

Holding a fountain pen is different than a ball-point. The ball of a ball-point pen is really designed for almost a vertical writing experience. With a fountain pen, however, the degree of the slant of the nib to the paper is important.

On the bottom side of the nib is a small "ball" of very hard material. This is the part of the nib that slides across the paper. Some stub and and other specialty nibs do not have a ball welded to the nib, but rely on the shape of the tines to create the writing effect.

Where you hold your pen impacts how it writes. If you hold the pen at the bottom of the nib section this tends to result in the pen sitting in a more vertical position in your hand. Being vertical, it does not maximize the area where the ball of the nib can flow across the paper.

If the pen lays in your hand guided by your fingers, the pen typically sits at a better slant to the paper.

Often, if the pen is the wrong size for the hand fingers tend to go to the bottom and grab the pen.

Stalled Pen?

If ink does not start immediately flowing, don't press extra hard to get it going, draw one of two small strokes, with the same pressure that you use to writing with. This will gently lift the nib, and it helps to accelerate ink flow along the feed. When you write, the nib lifts from the feed mechanism, this allows air in, it helps to release the vacuum and ink should flow.

Make the small strokes up and down. The nib, with no ink flowing, has more resistance on the paper. Sideway actions could result in a twisting the nib points.