Buying Your First Fountain Pen: Four Factors to Consider
So you’ve decided to buy your first fountain pen. That’s great! A fountain pen is a great investment. It lasts long. It’s not uncommon to see fountain pens that have existed for generations and still work well. Fountain pens are also comfortable to write with, and they look good, too!
But buying your very first fountain pen can be tricky. There is an overwhelming amount of options to choose from. Also, while some fountain pens are entirely different from each other in appearance and make, some are just too similar that they’re difficult to tell apart. How do you know which one is the best for you?
In this guide, we’ll discuss some factors to consider when buying your very first fountain pen so that you can make a firm and wise buying decision.
What Sets Fountain Pens Apart From Other Pens
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, let’s first look at why fountain pens make for a great buy and what sets them apart from other pens: comfort in writing, its need for maintenance, and price.
A fountain pen writes on paper through a nib. It’s a flexible pointed metal made of stainless steel or gold. The nib’s flexibility allows for a comfortable writing experience; you won’t need to press too hard onto the paper when writing, as opposed to other kinds of pens. As a result, fountain pens are more ideal for extended periods of writing.
A fountain pen must also be properly maintained. When using a ballpoint, rollerball, or gel pen, you simply have to put its cap back on after use and that’s it. Meanwhile, a fountain pen requires more care than that.
If used regularly, a fountain pen must be washed at least once a week or every two weeks, depending on the ink used. Meanwhile, a pen that is not used regularly, say just twice or thrice a week, may need to be washed every after use to ensure that ink doesn’t dry up inside the nib and permanently it.
Price-wise, fountain pens are expensive due to materials and labor cost. A fountain pen’s anatomy is more complex than other pens, so they also take a while to build. For example, a fountain pen has a nib, a feeder, an ink refill system, a pen barrel, and then a cap, as opposed to the usual ink cartridge, barrel, and cap of a regular pen. Many more expensive and luxurious pens are also handmade, and that understandably increases the price.
What to Consider When Buying Your First Fountain Pen
Now you know why a fountain pen is a great choice for a writing device, so it’s time to look for what will fit your needs best. When buying your first fountain pen, you have four things to consider: its price, nib, ink filler mechanism, and design.
Before choosing which fountain pen to get, you should first think about how much you’re willing to pay to avoid shortlisting fountain pens outside your price range.
If you just want to test the waters, there are great fountain pens priced below $100. They write smoothly and consistently, so you’ll still get a good writing experience. In this tier, usually, the pricier it gets, the more reliable the nibs are.
The next tier is $100 to $200, and it has several great options suitable for beginner and advanced fountain pen users. Many crowd favorites, like pens from Webson Gill and other brands, also fall within this tier, and for a good reason. They’re not as expensive as the more luxurious fountain pens, but they perform well with reliable nibs and a solid build. This is a great tier to consider if you have the money to spend and want good writing performance and a premium feel in one pen.
The more luxurious options are in the final tier, and their price can go up to thousands. Since these fountain pens are very expensive, they’re also more premium and are expected to last long. This tier also includes most handmade and limited edition fountain pens that are often purchased for the sake of collecting, not daily use.
Since you’re buying your very first fountain pen, it’s best to consider pens that fall within the first and middle tier to get the fountain pen experience you want without breaking the bank.
After price, another aspect of a fountain pen to consider is its nib.
A nib comes in four different widths: extra fine, fine, medium, and broad. The width of the nib will depend on the style and size of your writing. For example, if you have small handwriting, an extra fine nib or a fine nib will do you just fine. Meanwhile, a medium nib or a broad nib will be better if you have a large handwriting.
You will also need to consider the nib’s material. As mentioned earlier, fountain pens come with steel nibs and gold nibs.
Steel nibs are affordable and more common in beginner fountain pens. But don’t let their affordability fool you. Steel nibs perform well and allow for great ink flow; even some luxury pens have them. Steel nibs may also be stiffer than gold nibs, but they are comfortable to use and can smoothly move on paper.
Gold nibs are more expensive. They also glide smoothly on paper like steel nibs. The most notable difference is malleability. Gold nibs flex well when writing, which means they’re “softer” to write with and will need proper control. Pressing too hard might damage the nib.
Although, this malleability can be difficult for first-time fountain pen users. For example, if you’re used to ballpoint pens or gel pens, then you’re probably used to pressing hard on paper when you write. Doing this using a gold nib can result in uneven lines or ink splatter, which can be frustrating when you’re just starting out your fountain pen journey. Yes, there’s a learning curve when transitioning to a fountain pen as your main writing instrument.
For your first fountain pen, you might consider a medium steel nib. The material is flexible enough to write comfortable but still easy to control, especially if you’re heavy-handed. The medium width is the most popular one and is similar to most common pens. Several brands like Webson Gill offer fountain pens with a medium-width steel nib that makes shifting from a regular pen to a fountain pen easy.
The ink filler mechanism
Apart from price and nib, you also need to check the ink filler mechanism of a fountain pen. Popular mechanisms include the cartridge refill, converter, piston, vacuum filler, and the eyedropper pen.
The most common mechanism is the cartridge refill, which comes in the form of a small disposable plastic tube attached to the pen. You can refill ink simply by detaching the empty cartridge from the pen and attaching a new one. Ink cartridges usually have a small ink volume, but on the brighter side, they’re very convenient and mess-free to replace.
Another common mechanism is the converter, also known as “cartridge/converter.” Similar to a cartridge refill, a converter is attached to the pen. The main difference is that the converter is refillable, rather than disposable.
A converter often comes with a piston mechanism or a squeeze mechanism. A piston converter can be refilled by dipping the pen’s nib and feeder into a bottle; there’s a knob at the end of the converter that is twisted to get ink. To refill a squeeze converter, you need to first press the ink reservoir, dip the nib and feeder in the ink bottle, then release the reservoir. The vacuum will do all the work.
Next in line is the piston mechanism. This works exactly like a piston converter but isn’t detachable. It’s refilled by submerging the fountain pen’s nib and feeder into a bottle of ink and then twisting the piston knob at the end of the barrel, which is usually covered by a screw-on cap. Refilling a pen with a built-in piston can be messy, but the good thing is it has a larger ink volume than the first two.
The fourth mechanism is the vacuum filler. To refill the fountain pen, its nib and feeder are dipped into an ink bottle. Once both are submerged, the knob at the end of the pen is pushed down to create a vacuum that will fill the ink reservoir. It also has a larger ink volume than a cartridge refill and a converter.
Last but not least is the eyedropper pen. In a fountain pen with this ink refill system, the entire barrel serves as the ink reservoir, so you get a pretty big volume capacity. This is very convenient if you plan to use your fountain pen daily and as your main writing instrument. To refill, you need to use an eyedropper pen to get ink from a bottle and transfer it straight to the barrel.
For beginners, a fountain pen with a cartridge refill mechanism may be more practical. Webson Gill and other fountain pen brands offer good-quality pens with this mechanism, so there are lots to choose from. A converter mechanism is also a good choice since it’s refillable and allows you to try inks that are only available by the bottle, if you prefer. Still, the other mechanisms are great choices as well but may get tricky for beginners.
With the more technical aspects out of the way, the last factor to consider is the design of a fountain pen’s outer shell, particularly its grip, barrel, and cap.
Check the grip. A grip is a very important part of the pen since it’s what you hold on to. It commonly comes in a cylindrical shape, like what pens from known brands like Webson Gill have. Triangular grips are also available but uncommon. You need to choose which one feels more comfortable to hold. Try holding the cylindrical and triangular pens you already have to check which one you like the most.
You’ll also want to check the width of the grip. Most pens come with a grip of 10 to 12 millimeters in diameter, but thicker ones are available too. One or two millimeters doesn’t seem to be a significant difference, but it does affect writing experience. Ergonomically, if the grip is too thin, the pen might be too straining to hold for a long time, so going for a thicker diameter grip is ideal.
Check the barrel. The barrel of the pen also needs to be considered. In particular, you need to look at two things: its material and length.
Several materials are used to make a barrel, like brass, chrome, wood, fiberglass, resin, and acrylic. The barrel’s material affects the weight of a fountain pen. If you want something a little heavy, going for metal material like brass and chrome is a good step. If you want something lighter, you’ll want to look at barrels made of wood, fiberglass, resin, or acrylic.
The barrel’s length is also important to consider. Say you have a pencil; when you first bought it, you never really paid attention to its length. But due to constant use and sharpening, the pencil had become too short and uncomfortable to use.
In the same way, mini or short fountain pens can be difficult to hold, but they’re portable. Long fountain pens provide more “real estate” for your hand, so you’ll find writing comfortable. A great way to determine the length that’s best for you is by measuring the length of one of your pens or your favorite pen.
Check the cap. The cap of the fountain pen is also something to consider, particularly its mechanism and whether it has a clip.
Two of the most common caps are snap-on and screw-on caps.
Snap-on caps are convenient since, as their name suggests, you simply need to snap them on and off the barrel. The downside is that the cap might snap off the barrel if not properly placed, which can result in ink leaks. In a worst-case scenario, the nibs might also get damaged. But on the bright side, snap-on caps can usually be attached at the end of the pen. You won’t have to worry about losing the cap; just snap it at the end of the barrel and write.
On the other hand, screw-on caps need to be screwed onto the barrel. This mechanism provides added security since the cap doesn’t easily come off like a snap-on cap might. However, a screw-on cap usually can’t be attached to the end of the barrel when the pen is uncapped.
Some caps have clips and some don’t, so you’ll also have to think about whether having one matters. If you like clipping your pen on a notebook or book or putting your pen in your pocket for easy reach, having a clip is very convenient. Otherwise, if you just like to put all your pens together in a case, a cap without a clip will be just fine.
You might simply look at a fountain pen’s exterior and think about whether it looks good or not, but there’s more to consider. You also need to check the size, shape, and make of a fountain pen’s body when making a decision.
Webson Gill offers a fountain pen that will work great for the beginner user: the Captain Edition pen.
It has a medium steel nib that can endure heavy-handed writing but still create clean lines. While the nib is a little stiff, it can generate thicker lines when pressure is applied. Also, it has a cartridge refill mechanism, so refilling inks is a breeze.
The pen’s exterior has a premium build. The cylindrical grip is made of a brass while the body is made of wood. And since only the grip is made of brass, the pen is still lightweight and comfortable to use for a long time.
The reliable nib, convenient filler mechanism, and premium exterior all make Webson Gill’s Captain Edition pen a great choice to get started with your fountain pen journey.
Deciding on which fountain pain to buy may take time due to the many factors to consider: the pen’s price, nib, ink filler mechanism, and design.
But spending some time to really think about which one to get is really important. As mentioned earlier, a fountain pain is an investment, so you’ll want to spend your hard-earned money on something that’s worth it.