Ditch That Disposable Pen

Ditch That Disposable Pen

An Introduction to Buying a Fountain Pen

The pen isn’t something that typically receives much thought. The ubiquitous ballpoint pen dominates the market; no office or junk drawer would be complete without an ample supply of cheap pens.

The disposable pen is inexpensive and gets the job done, and while these characteristics are in part responsible for its success, this results in pens which are often difficult to get excited about.

While the venerable fountain pen still lives on today, it does so in the shadows of its ballpoint brethren.

Fountain pens aren’t just about aesthetics and status, the writing experience they offer is what truly sets them aside as noteworthy writing instruments. It often takes a company years to bring a new fountain pen design from conception to mass-production.

Consumers are astute, and this is no truer than with those who shop for fountain pens. Designers toil over their pens in order to satisfy the critical writer. While the number of pens on the market grows each year, the competition among manufacturers is serious business.

The thought of pen designers hunched over their drafting boards creating beautiful writing instruments sounds lovely but expensive. This exclusiveness is a misconception commonly attributed to contemporary fountain pens, with many people assuming them to be reserved for the wealthy executive.

The truth is that well designed and affordable fountain pens are available to the masses. For less than the cost of a moderately priced meal in a restaurant, a person can buy a fountain pen that could last them for decades.

Writing Experience

Writing with a fountain pen is a treat. What makes the experience different than writing with a ballpoint pen lies in how the ink is transferred to the paper.

As the name suggests, ballpoint pens have a small ball bearing seated in the tip with an ink reservoir fitted on the opposite end. As the writer draws the pen across the page, the rolling ball transfers ink from the reservoir to the paper.

Fountain pens are similar insofar that each pen has an ink reservoir connected to a nib. Reservoirs can be reusable or disposable, and sizes differ among fountain pens; most pens contain enough ink for at least a full days worth of writing. Rather than relying on a rolling ball to transfer ink from the reservoir to the page, gravity and capillary action draw the ink through tiny channels within the fountain pens nib, which in turn allows ink to flow through the nib and onto the paper. When it’s time to refill the fountain pen, the nib is dipped into a bottle of ink while the reservoir is either squeezed or twisted to draw up a new supply of ink. The process is clean and messes are rare. Choosing to use disposable ink cartridges simplifies the process further.

Apearence and Cost

Fountain pens differ greatly in appearance and cost, but they all consist of the same general parts. These include the body and cap, the writing end which is called the nib, and an ink reservoir which can be either a disposable cartridge or a reusable converter. Fountain pens are available in a variety of sizes and materials, from plastic to precious metals, and these materials play an instrumental role in the cost, weight, and feel of the pen. Plastic bodied fountain pens are a common and affordable option. Despite being made from plastic, Many of the injection molded pens are known to survive serious wear.

Plastic bodies allow manufacturers to mass produce pens and pass the savings on to consumers, it reduces the weight of the pen and can be made in almost any color or texture. Stainless steel and other metal alloys are also commonly used as a primary material for pen bodies. Steel alloys are inexpensive and durable, with the trade off being additional weight when compared to plastic body pens. Steel pens can be finished in a variety of ways, from polished, brushed, powder coated, painted, or anodized. High-end pens are often made from precious metals such as gold, platinum, and silver. While pens made from precious metals are beautiful heirlooms, they’re outside of the scope of interest for most people exploring a new interest in fountain pens.

Nib Size

Fountain pen nibs come in a variety of sizes and materials. Ranging from extra fine to broad and beyond, nib sizes are based on the preferences and requirements of the writer. To determine the correct nib size, one needs to consider the type of writing they plan to do. For note taking and general daily use, fine and medium nibs are common. Those who write small characters might prefer extra fine nibs. Calligraphers often use broader nibs which allows for more line control depending on the angle and pressure exerted on the pen.

As a general rule, larger nibs tend to write more smoothly than smaller nibs. Larger nibs offer an increased surface area and lubricating ink flow which reduces friction when writing. This results in thicker lines and more ink laid down on the page. Alternatively, finer nibs are susceptible to scratchier sensations when writing as they’re more susceptible to feedback from the texture of the page. Finer nibs allow less ink to flow and produce smaller lines. Despite their size, the tips of all fountain pen nibs are carefully polished to ensure that, with the help of the ink acting as a lubricant, very little pressure is required to mark the page with ink. This can reduce or eliminate the sore and cramped hands that many associates with writing sessions using disposable pens.

Nib Material

Different materials such as stainless steel, high carbon steel, silver, and gold are also used in fountain pen nibs. These metals directly affect both the feel and cost of the pen, and most introductory pens will offer nibs made from non-precious metals to keep the price affordable. When shopping for a new pen, it’s advisable to visit a retail store which carries demonstrator fountain pens to experiment writing with various pen styles and nib sizes. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to fountain pens, and while these general guidelines can help narrow down the correct nib size, it’s best to gain some experience writing with a variety of pens and nibs to gain some personal preference.


Nib size isn’t the only choice available to consumers with respect to fountain pens; the varieties of ink are seemingly endless. Common characteristics that differentiate ink include pigment and color, opacity, drying time, and viscosity. Much like how nib size is largely a matter of personal preference, so too is ink. While the most common colors are blue and black, ink is available in hundreds of colors using a wide variety of natural and synthetic pigments.

For those who send handwritten cards and letters, using a colored ink can further personalize the message and impart a sense of pride in ones writing. Waterproof and smudge proof inks are commonly used in professional settings and by those working outdoors. Even scented inks are available to encourage writing among children and adults alike. Inks are sold at a variety of prices with most being very affordable. Depending on how often one writes, a bottle of ink can last multiple years when stored properly.


Fountain pens haven’t enjoyed much contemporary mainstream popularity; it’s as if they are an unintentionally kept secret. Affordable and well-made fountain pens do exist, and despite their obscurity in popular culture, they are easy to find. Fountain pens reduce hand cramping when writing and are far more comfortable to use than most ballpoint pens.


Environmentally they are a clear winner against disposable pens considering a fountain pen can last for decades. Through various combinations of pens, inks, nibs, and paper, the writing experience can be tailored to any mood or situation. Regardless of the reason for using one, fountain pens are a joy to write with and collect. With the vast amount of choice available, there’s a fountain pen for every personality.

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