Fountain Pen Basics: What essentials do I need with my first fountain pen?

If you’re thinking of buying your first fountain pen, you may be surprised to discover just how many choices of styles, brands and inks there are for this traditional writing instrument! It may seem overwhelming to figure out what you need as you sift through the huge variety of fountain pens and accessories available to the modern writer. What basic essentials must you have to begin writing with your first fountain pen?

(LAMY Safari fountain pen in charcoal with a black nib)

(1) A fountain pen. It is not necessary to buy an expensive pen with a real 14K gold nib to begin your new writing experience. Something as simple and cheap as a disposable pen can be sufficient to help you get the feel for what writing with a fountain pen is like. The refillable Platinum Preppy fountain pen is a very popular choice under $5.00. There are many other pen choices in the $50.00 or less category that can even last a lifetime. Generally, most (but not all) pens in this price range have steel nibs and cartridge/converter filling systems. Just like regular pens, fountain pens come in a variety of nib sizes, often ranging from extra-fine to broad. If you’ve never used a fountain pen you’ll probably find that either a fine or a medium nib is the easiest to begin writing with. Here is a short list of some suggested beginner fountain pens:

LAMY Al-Star
LAMY Safari
LAMY Vista
LAMY Joy Fountain Pen
Pilot Metropolitan Fountain Pen
Kaweco Classic Sport
Kaweco Ice Sport
Pelikan Pelikano
Pelikan Pelikano Jr.
Platinum Plaisir
Platinum Preppy

J. Herbin Universal Fountain Pen Ink Cartridges - Rose Cyclamen
J. Herbin Universal Fountain Pen Ink Cartridges – Rose Cyclamen

(2) Some ink. If you are a beginner, ink cartridges are the easiest way to refill your fountain pen. The most important thing is to make sure the ink cartridges you get are compatible with the fountain pen that you buy. Standard international or universal cartridges fit many types of fountain pens, but not all fountain pens. Some fountain pens require proprietary cartridges, or in other words, ink cartridges that are the same brand as the fountain pen. Here’s the same list of beginner fountain pens with suggested compatible ink refills:

LAMY Al-Star – LAMY T10 fountain pen refills
LAMY Safari – LAMY T10 fountain pen refills
LAMY Vista – LAMY T10 fountain pen refills
LAMY Joy Fountain Pen – LAMY T10 fountain pen refills
Pilot Metropolitan – Pilot Namiki Fountain Pen Ink Cartridges
Kaweco Classic Sport – short standard international cartridges
Kaweco Ice Sport – short standard international cartridges
Pelikan Pelikano – short standard international cartridges and Pelikan 4001 Giant universal cartridges
Pelikan Pelikano Jr. – short standard international cartridges and Pelikan 4001 Giant universal cartridges
Platinum Plaisir – Platinum fountain pen ink refills 10 pack or 2 pack
Platinum Preppy – Platinum fountain pen ink refills 10 pack or 2 pack

Our blog includes articles that are very helpful in explaining ink cartridge use:

Crash Course in Fountain Pen Ink Cartridges
Pelikano Fountain Pen Cartridge Tips

Also worth mentioning – once you start writing with fountain pens you will notice that the kind of paper you write with will matter more than it did before. The type of paper you use will definitely affect your writing experience. To find out why, take a look at this blog article:

What is Fountain Pen Friendly Paper?

If you are left-handed and have noticed that some fountain pens come with left-handed nibs, this article might answer some of your questions:

Do I need a left-handed nib on my fountain pen if I’m a left-handed writer?

So that’s basically it – a pen and some ink are all you really need to try out a fountain pen. If you discover that you like fountain pens and want to expand on the basics, what comes next? This will be the subject of a future blog post.

What was your first fountain pen? Was it love at first write, or did your taste for fountain pens develop slowly? Do you have any suggestions for someone who wants to get their first fountain pen?

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Refill Fountain Pen Ink Cartridges with a Blunt Tip Needle Bottle

If you own a fountain pen that has a cartridge filling system, you can easily refill your empty ink cartridges or ink converter using a blunt tip needle bottle. (Update: a NEW style of blunt tip needle bottle is now available.)

  1. Put some ink into the needle bottle – a small funnel can be used to make this easier.
  2. If you are changing ink colors it would be a good idea to clean your fountain pen and rinse out your empty cartridge with water first. A blunt tip needle bottle filled with clean water is a good way to rinse out ink cartridges. You may want to let the cleaned pen and ink cartridge dry overnight before you refill them.
  3. Insert the blunt tip needle through the small opening on the end of the cartridge down towards the bottom of your empty cartridge. This way as you fill the cartridge the air will naturally come out the top and not form too many ink bubbles.
  4. Gently squeeze the needle bottle and fill the cartridge or converter not quite to the top with ink.
  5. Put the refilled ink cartridge into your fountain pen and you’re finished!

I’ve heard that some people use a dab of glue from a hot glue gun to reseal the cartridges so they can take extra ink cartridges with them. If you decide to give this a try, be aware that it’s not foolproof. You may want to carry the ink cartridges in a plastic zip top bag to prevent any accidents.

There are many advantages to using a blunt tip needle bottle to refill your empty fountain pen ink cartridges:

  • Bottled ink is much cheaper to use than ink that comes in cartridges.
  • Since the empty cartridges can be re-used many times before discarding them, there is less plastic waste going into the environment.
  • Ink cartridges usually can hold more ink than a comparable ink converter.
  • The needle tip bottle can hold lots of ink and it doesn’t need to be cleaned after each use like a syringe does.
  • The blunt tip needle is safer to use for refilling than a sharp tip syringe.
  • The plunger on a syringe can be hard to control leading to small ink explosions, but the bottle yields to very gentle pressure.
  • You can fill the needle bottle with your own custom ink color and use it to create your own custom cartridges.
  • You can fill cartridges with ink that isn’t available in cartridges such as Noodler’s and Pilot Iroshizuku.

The little wire in the cap of the blunt tip needle bottle isn’t completely necessary, but it does serve a couple of useful purposes. Since the wire goes into the needle when the bottle is capped it helps to prevent any clogs and it also helps to prevent leaks if the bottle tips over. If the little wire in the cap comes out, you can gently push it back in.

Do you ever refill empty fountain pen ink cartridges? What method do you use? Do you have any tips that you’d like to pass along?

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Crash Course in Fountain Pen Cartridges

When I first got my pink Platinum Preppy Fountain Pen I was very nervous about putting the cartridge in. I didn’t want to push it so hard that it ruined the pen, but I also wanted to make sure it was attached securely so the ink wouldn’t leak and ruin my purse. After getting some feedback I realized that I wasn’t alone in my fears, so I decided to share what I’ve learned about fountain pen cartridges to help others calm their fears about putting their pens together.

First of all, the tension that you feel when pushing the cartridge into the pen comes from the stopping device at the top of the cartridge, meant to keep ink in prior to assembly. In the Platinum Preppy Fountain Pen Cartridges this is a small metal ball, in standard cartridges (like J. Herbin Universal) it is a tiny glass ball, and in LAMY cartridges it’s just a thin layer of plastic. When you push the cartridge in you are not only attaching it to the pen, you are pushing the stopper device in and starting the ink flow.

The way to put cartridges in is fairly simple: slowly and gently while ensuring a firm attachment. Put it in straight on and start pushing gently. When you feel the tension from the release of the stopping device it should be just about in, and a tiny extra push to secure it won’t hurt.

Once the cartridge is attached to the pen it takes a little while for the ink to flow through the feed to the nib. Allow your pen to sit for awhile before you try to write with it. If the ink doesn’t seem to be getting to the nib, let the pen rest with the cap on and the nib pointing downwards. If you’re still having trouble getting it to write you can run cool water over the nib or pull the cartridge out and put a couple of drops of ink on the nib to encourage the ink to flow.

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