19 Apr 2016

fountain pens for beginners: from a novice to a beginner

Having been using fountain pens for the last three years 'full-time', I feel that I may have now crossed the line from being a beginner to a novice. I still have a lot to learn but I definitely feel a bit more confident when talking about nibs, tines, feedback, inks and all things fountain pen related. Today, I thought I'd write a bit of a beginner's guide to fountain pens for people similar to me: someone who wants a fountain pen that writes well, suits my handwriting style and also looks good.

How to choose a fountain pen?

Top to bottom: Pilot Kakuno, Lamy Safari, Kaweco Skyline Sport, Platinum Plaisir. Just a few examples of some great beginner fountain pens in my collection.
1) What will you be using it for? 
If it will be a heavy duty pen, you'll most likely want a durable pen that is a pleasure to use and look at. In this sense, you might want to pay a bit more but on the flip side, a pen that gets used a lot may also get bashed around a lot so you may want to limit how much you spend.

2) How big is your handwriting? 
If you have medium to small handwriting, you may want to consider a thinner nib. This is why I always go for at least a fine or an extra fine with most of my fountain pens. However, broader nibs can be good for calligraphy so again, it depends on what you want to use your pen for.

3) How big/small are your hands? 
Some pens, when unposted (i.e. without placing the cap on the end of the pen barrel), can be very short and would suit someone with smaller hands but may also suit others with larger hands with the cap posted. However, some pens are still short with the cap posted (e.g. the Kaweco Skyline Sport) so definitely bear this in mind if pen length matters to you.

4) Do you like heavy or light pens? 
Pens made of metal will obviously be a bit heavier than those made of plastic so if you're used to using a lightweight Muji gel or a Bic biro, a metal pen that could moonlight as a paperweight may not be the pen for you initially. Over time, you may prefer a heavier pen but it's best to start off with a lightweight plastic one if you're unsure or completely new to all this.

5) What is your budget?
This could be the biggest influencing factor in deciding which pen is your first. There are pens to suit all budgets and most brands offer an entry-level fountain pen.


Left to right: Lamy Safari in extra fine, Pilot Kakuno in fine, Pilot Vanishing Point in fine, TWSBI 580AL in fine, Pelikan M400 in extra fine.
Nibs are a tricky area. We mentioned earlier that you might prefer a finer one if your handwriting is small but how do you know if an extra-fine nib is too fine? Ultimately, it's hard to tell without trying a pen out but this page can give you an idea if a nib would suit you.

The main things to remember is that Japanese nibs are generally finer than their European counterparts. So for example, my Pilot Kakuno fine nib writes a much finer than than even my Lamy Safari extra-fine.

Some pens have nibs that are interchangeable and Lamy Safari and Al-Stars are the perfect example of this. With replacement nibs only a few quid each, they are an inexpensive way for you to find your ideal Lamy nib. However, the same nib width can even vary from pen to pen so often, it's best to buy in person if you can.

Finally, some brands have nibs that are beautifully designed. The most notable one in my collection is my Pelikan M400 (the one on the far right of the picture below).

Let's Talk Ink

Clockwise from top left: Sailor Jentle cartridge ink in blue-black, Pilot blue cartridges, Platinum blue-black cartridges, J. Herbin Rouille d'ancre bottled ink, J. Herbin vert pre bottled ink, Diamine blue-black bottled ink.
The main things here are bottled ink versus cartridge ink. Most pens give you the option to invest in a converter which can be refilled with bottled ink too.

Bottled Ink
An obvious advantage to bottled ink is that they are much cheaper compared to cartridges. My favourite beginner inks are Diamine ones and they are priced reasonably too. However, they can be messy and inconvenient to use but you can choose from a very wide variety of colours!

Cartridge Ink
Cartridges can be carried around with you whenever you're away from home but they are a lot more expensive (per millilitre) compared to bottled ink. There is also less to choose from in terms of coloured ink. Also, if you have a variety of fountain pens from different brands, you may find that some pens only take their own-brand cartridges. Do your research about this as I've found that my Kaweco Skyline Sport take international cartridges and they can be bought on the cheap from stores such as Rymans, WH Smith, Staples, etc.

These are great if you want to use your own bottled ink in an otherwise cartridge-only fountain pen. They are usually inexpensive but some definitely work better than others. Another way to use your own ink is to keep old cartridges, wash them out and then using a syringe and needle, refill old cartridges that way.

Piston Fillers
Piston filler fountain pens are usually in the mid-higher end price range. One advantage is that they can usually hold a lot more ink than a cartridge/converter and you can elect to use whatever bottled ink you want. However, they can be messy to refill!

Famous Last Words

Main Thing: do your research! Fountain Pen Network is a great forum to browse (and may also be the reason why you have no money left for food at the end of the month...!) and there are at least one or two reviews of most fountain pens out there. I'm not a member of the forum but it's a great resource for anyone interested in fountain pens and fountain pen ink.

- Start cheap then work your way up once you know what you're after!

- Try and see if you can try out the pen in person first before ordering online (or buy from an independent store!).

My Recommendations
Bear in mind that I have smaller handwriting so my recommendations will be slightly biased towards that! I've put what kind of pen they are in brackets too.

Low price (less than £10): Pilot Kakuno (cartridge/converter), Platinum Plaisir (cartridge/converter)

Moderate (less than £30): Lamy Safari (cartridge/converter), Lamy Al-Star (cartridge/converter), Kaweco Skyline (cartridge/converter)

Moderate (more than £30): Pilot Prera (cartridge/converter), TWSBI Eco (piston filler), TWSBI Diamond 580 (piston filler)

Unlimited: Pilot VP/Capless (cartridge/converter), Platinum 3776 Century (cartridge/converter)

I hope this is helpful for some of you :) 

1 comment

  1. Hi, I'm new to the blog and really enjoying it. I adore my diary and fountain pen and wouldn't be without them. I've seen lots of beautiful things on here I now want!! I wanted to ask a question- how do you stay focused when you are studying? Any tips for keeping your concentration? I'm going through a phase of procrastinating and I'm trying to break it. You always look so organised I'd love to know your everyday routines and tips : ) Thank you, Katie