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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What is Fountain Pen Friendly Paper?

If you are a writer that uses fountain pens you may have noticed that not all paper is created equal. The performance of your fountain pen may be spectacular on some paper, but less than desirable on others. How do you determine what paper is fountain pen friendly – that will give you the performance you want with your fountain pens?

The answer to this question is kind of like the answer to the question, “What is a comfortable pair of shoes?” Everyone has their own opinions and not all of them are the same, but there are some similarities in the answers. If you ask the question, “What is the most comfortable pair of shoes in your closet?”, then the answers will vary even more!

Many opinions of what fountain pen friendly paper is will include the following (but not necessarily limited to these things or in this order of importance):

1) The fountain pen ink does not bleed through the paper excessively.

2) The ink is not overly visible from the back side of the page.

3) The ink does not feather or has minimal feathering on the paper.

4) And for the lefties of the world I will add the ink must dry within a reasonable amount of time on the paper! In fact, this personally is my highest priority, otherwise I cannot use the paper with a fountain pen. I’m hoping the use of fast-drying ink will expand my fountain pen friendly paper selection.

If you ask the question, “What fountain pen friendly paper is on your desk?”, you’re likely to get a variety of different answers! Each fountain pen nib, each brand of ink, each color of ink and the paper in each notebook or journal will interact differently when used with each other. The equation pen + paper + ink = good/bad results changes each time you change a component of the equation. This is why in our online store we cannot say for certain which paper is fountain pen friendly and which is not. There are brands of paper that in general are known for good performance with fountain pens, but within a brand there may be several types and grades of paper, some of which may not be so fountain pen friendly.

There are many online reviews of various paper products that can be very helpful in making your choices. The Writer’s Bloc blog has a number of reviews with writing tests showing the performance of a limited number of fountain pen inks on specific paper and notebooks. Before purchasing your journal or notebook, why not do a search on our blog or use any search engine to find some reviews? From our own experience, experimenting yourself with pens, ink and paper will help you to find what you personally like the best.

So I must ask, “What fountain pen friendly paper is on your desk?”

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

I am a left-handed writer and the first time I used a fountain pen I had no idea left-handed fountain pen nibs even existed. It didn’t occur to me that there would be any problem using just a regular nib and I didn’t notice any problems. Years later, I’m back to using fountain pens regularly and have discovered that there are a few nibs out there specially designed for lefties. Many ask the question: Is it really necessary to have one of these special nibs if you are left-handed?

Left-handed fountain pen nibs are generally more rounded on the tip with the idea of producing a smoother writing experience. This particularly applies to languages such as English that are written from left to right. When left-handed people such as myself write, the pen is often angled in such a way that the pointiest part of the pen, the nib, is being pushed along paper made of fibers that are not impervious to tearing and which offer some resistance. It’s like taking a sharp nail or a pin and pushing it along a piece of paper at a 45 degree angle with the pointy end facing the direction it is being pushed. Likely you’re going to end up piercing that piece of paper with your pin! In contrast, try taking that same pin and pulling it along that same piece of paper with the pointy end facing away from the direction it is being pulled. It feels smoother as you pull it and it is much less likely that you will pierce the paper. That would be more like the experience of a right-handed writer. So as you can see, pen nibs of all kinds have a huge influence on whether or not a lefty has a good or a bad writing experience.

I personally find that a good writing experience for a lefty does not stop at the kind of nib on the pen. It is extremely important to me that whatever ink I’m using dries quickly or else I’ll smear it all over the place. The type of paper I use is also important since this affects the drying time of the ink. In addition, if paper is of very poor quality or tears easily, I may find myself poking holes in the paper with my pen or pencil. Each writer needs to experiment with different combinations of pen, ink and paper before discovering what works best for them.

I own many fountain pens with a variety of nibs, and three of them happen to have left-handed nibs. I personally find that the left-handed fountain pen nibs aren’t necessarily any better or any worse than using a regular fountain pen nib. I’m not sure if you will have the same experience. I must say though, that I can’t go wrong with my left-handed Pelikano Junior fountain pen. I don’t always want to write with such a broad nib, but I appreciate its smoothness when I use it.

(Pelikan Pelikano fountain pen with a left-handed nib compared to a Pelikano with a regular nib. Note the modified grip and the rounded nib on the left-handed pen.)

For the left-handed writer that is new to fountain pens, I would suggest starting out with a nib that is middle-of-the-road, perhaps something like a LAMY Safari with a left-handed, fine or medium nib. You might find extra-fine nibs to be too sharp and “pokey” at first, and broad nibs may lay down so much ink that you are smearing your writing too much. Another pen that I felt was easy to write with from the first time I picked it up is the Platinum Preppy with a fine nib, or for a nicer version of this pen with the same nib, the Platinum Plaisir fountain pen. If you get a chance to purchase a fountain pen with a left-handed nib, it is worth giving it a try. The Pelikan Pelikano and Pelikano Junior are both readily available with left-handed nibs. The Pelikan Pelikanos also have a grip that is modified to fit a left-handed writer. I’ve also heard of some lefties sending in their expensive nibs to be customized by a nibmeister, but I’ve never felt the need to do this myself.

Are you a left-handed writer? What kind of pen or fountain pen do you like to write with? Do you own any fountain pens with left-handed nibs?


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Student Calligraphy and Fountain Pens

We were recently contacted by a schoolteacher who wanted to introduce her students to the “lost art” of calligraphy and writing with a fountain pen. She was looking for supplies that were both affordable and capable of withstanding the wear and tear of her students. Fortunately, Writer’s Bloc carries a wide selection of calligraphy supplies and fountain pens that are tailored to the needs of students. Our hope is that introducing students to calligraphy and fountain pens will bring about a newfound appreciation for writing. Here are some ideas for teachers and students who want to try their hand at calligraphy and using fountain pens.

Platinum Preppy Fountain Pens

The Platinum Preppy Fountain Pen is a good choice for a first fountain pen. This fountain pen is of good quality for its price and is a great way to supply the classroom with affordable quality fountain pens. Students will be able to choose from an array of colors and find one that suits them best.

Pelikano Junior Fountain Pen

The Pelikano Junior Fountain Pen is great for our aspiring little writers since this pen is specially designed for children. The Pelikano Junior Fountain Pen is available in four different colors and is also available with a left-handed nib for all the left-handed writers.

LAMY Safari Fountain Pen

For older students, the LAMY Safari is a popular choice. This fountain pen is a favorite daily writer of both teachers and students around the world. The LAMY Safari fountain pen comes in several colors and different nib sizes including 1.1mm, 1.5mm and 1.9mm calligraphy nibs.

Pelikan Script Calligraphy Pens

For those new to calligraphy the Pelikan Script Calligraphy Pen is a nice starter pen. UPDATE: The Pelikan Script has been discontinued.

Pilot Parallel Calligraphy Pens
Pilot Parallel Calligraphy Pens

For students wishing to learn calligraphy, some other affordable calligraphy fountain pens choices are:
Pilot Plumix Calligraphy Fountain Pen in Blue, Black or Purple
Pilot Parallel Pen with a 1.5mm Nib, 2.4mm Nib, 3.8mm Nib, 6.0mm Nib, or a Set of All Four Pens

Introduction to Calligraphy Lettering Cards

The Introduction to Calligraphy Lettering Cards from Brause are a useful guide for practicing Calligraphy. Introduce your students to nine different lettering styles and let them teach each other!

French Rule Paper

Many teachers and students in the USA are unfamiliar with the French ruled paper commonly used by students in France and other countries. This paper is an excellent tool for anyone who wants to learn cursive writing, to improve their handwriting or to practice calligraphy. For more information about French rule paper you may wish read one of our previous blog posts: What is French Ruled Paper?

Do you love writing as much as we do? What tools do you personally find useful to help students and others to develop the art of calligraphy and handwriting?

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Equation for the Perfect Writing Tools

If you are particular about what you write with like me, you may agree that the following equation, when put together just right, adds up to a great writing experience:

Pen (A) + Ink (B) + Paper (C) = The Perfect Writing Experience (YAY)!

There is no right or wrong answer to this equation since the answer will depend on the preferences and tastes of the writer.

I’m still in the process of experimenting with pens, inks and papers to see what works for me. Being a Lefty adds some additional challenges since I’m always trying to avoid a big mess of smeared ink. Much to my dismay, I’ve discovered that I am not able to use Clairefontaine’s fabulously smooth 90g white paper for everyday writing with a fountain pen. Almost all fountain pen ink dries too slowly on this paper for my style of left-handed writing and I make a huge mess. *Sniff* However, I can use this paper successfully with a fine nib Platinum Preppy fountain pen using Platinum ink cartridges, Pentel Energel or Slicci gel pens, or some other non-fountain pens and pencils. I’m in the process of testing other types of Clairefontaine paper such as the Graf it sketch pads to see if I can use it regularly with fountain pens. It seems that I need a paper that is slightly absorbent and not too coated, that still resists ink feathering and bleed-through. Right now I am loving J. Herbin Ink since it seems to have a pretty decent drying time. As regards to the pen I use, well, is it possible to have too many pens? I tend to write with whatever I’m in the mood for that particular day.

This is where I need to hear from you. Please leave a comment and tell me what your perfect writing tools are. I’d love to get some valuable tips from other writers!

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