So You Want To Start Using Fountain Pens

Do you want to start using fountain pens, but you have no idea where to begin? This post is for you.

Answer a few questions, and you, too, can start using unnecessarily fancy pens!

What type of nib do you like?

The nib is the tip of the pen. It's the equivalent of the point on the end of a ballpoint pen. The shape of that nib determines what your writing will look like.

In cheap fountain pens, there are two basic types. A round nib is the standard; it's round on the end, and writes more or less like a ballpoint pen. An italic or stub nib1 is flat on the end, so the width of your pen stroke will vary depending on which direction you're writing in.

Goulet Pens has a post on their blog with examples of several different kinds of nibs. If you scroll down, you can see a picture with round nibs (in several widths) as well as two different stub nibs. Look at the X's for the stub nibs, and you'll see what I mean about width varying with stroke direction.

Many people find round nibs easier to write with. I am not one of those people; I actually find stub nibs much easier to write with than round ones. If you get the opportunity to try both out, then do so; otherwise, pick whichever one looks most aesthetically pleasing to you.

How heavy do you want your pen to be?

If you've written a lot with pens, you probably have a decent idea of how heavy or light you like your pens to be. Find one that you like the weight of, and weigh it. Your kitchen scale is probably precise enough for this, because one gram one way or the other doesn't matter much. Most cheap fountain pens weigh between 10 and 30 grams, although I own a few 50-gram pens.

Choose a pen

There are many, many cheap fountain pens out there. If you're lucky, a local store has a few they'll let you try. If you're less lucky, the only way to try out pens is to buy some for youself.

Here are a few that I've liked - with price, nib style, and weight - and why I like them:

If none of those seem appealing, there are lots and lots of places to buy fountain pens online. However, Goulet is the only store I know of that lets you sort by weight.


Most cheap modern fountain pens are "cartridge-fillable"; you buy cartridges of ink, you put them in the pen, and you replace them with a different cartridge. Most brands of pen use a proprietary cartridge shape that won't work with other cartridges. Due to Murphy's Law, your favorite ink will not come in a cartridge that matches your pen. Welcome to the wonderful world of converters. A converter is a piston mechanism2 that is the same size and shape as an ink cartridge. Using one lets you use bottled ink with your pens. (You can also use a syringe and a 20-gauge needle to rinse out an old ink cartridge, then fill it with a new ink.)

Some pens (for example, the Noodler's and TWSBI pens above) are piston-filled. You don't have to buy a converter to use bottled ink with these pens, because they have a piston built-in.

When you're first buying inks, I highly recommend buying ink samples from several different brands. My experience has been that inks from one brand tend to have the same characteristics - different colors will have about the same "wet" or "dry"-ness, will flow similarly, and will have a similar amount of feathering and bleedthough. But two similar colors in different brands - or a similar color in the same brand, but with different properties (e.g. waterproof vs. non-waterproof ink) - will feel very different.

Goulet is where I get my ink samples. If you know that you want a particular color of ink, you can check out their sample packages by color. If you're open to trying a lot of colors, flip through their list of multicolored sample packs and pick something that looks appealing to you. Try different things until you know what you like! Once you have an ink you like, you can buy it anywhere - I usually get mine from JetPens, but I've even found ink on Amazon (and successfully avoided being scammed).

Enjoy your new pens!

  1. Technically, stub and italic nibs are different: stub nibs are rounded off at the corners, and italic nibs aren't. When you're looking for pens, use both search terms; there are a lot of cheap pens out there with "italic" nibs that actually have stub nibs. In the unlikely event that you find a cheap pen that offers both stub and italic nibs, note that most people find stub nibs easier to write with.
  2. Squeeze converters also exist; the Pilot Metropolitan comes with one. My experience with that converter was that it was excellent at getting ink everywhere except inside the pen. I do not recommend squeeze converters.