Owning and using a fountain pen can be a joy and finding the pen that's right for you (or the person for whom you're buying) can mean gaining a life-long partner. However, knowing which fountain pen to buy can be a daunting task at first so we hope that this buyer's guide will help you select the right pen for you. We have fountain pens to fit all budgets and tastes so whether you are buying for yourself or as a birthday, wedding or graduation gift there is sure to be a pen that fits the bill. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Why use a fountain pen?
There are many reasons why people choose fountain pens over other types of writing instrument, for example ballpens ("biros") and roller-balls but here we are just going to concentrate on the ergonomics of writing. A fountain pen delivers liquid ink to the tip of its nib so that when in contact with the page the ink just flows naturally. Therefore, almost no effort is required when writing as the nib just glides across the page leaving behind a trace of beautiful ink in whatever colour you have chosen. If you take a look at the notebook of a ballpen user, you will notice that the pages are all deformed such that the pages of the book no longer appear smooth and flat. This is because a lot of effort is required to press into the page to make the pen write. Contrast this with a fountain pen - virtually no pressure is needed so it's much less fatiguing to write, especially if you need to write a lot. We would therefore always choose a fountain pen as a person's main writing tool.
A pen must feel comfortable in your hand, especially if you write a lot. People with large hands may find a small pen uncomfortable to hold, although there is no formula for the right size pen. Look at the detailed dimensions for each model we stock and compare them with others you have tried or own.
Although a heavy pen may feel more substantial at first, even more luxurious, ask yourself whether the weight may cause fatigue during longer writing sessions. The Kaweco Brass Sport on the left is a heavy pen best suited to short periods of note taking. If you need to write for longer, consider a lighter version like the AL Sport on the right. Most pens are 25g or under. Anything well above 30g is considered heavy.
Maybe this is important, maybe not. If you have to write for very long periods between refills then choose a piston or vacuum-filler as these hold a lot more ink than cartridge/converter pens. Many people relish the thought of frequent changes of ink colour so if this is you then cartridge/converter models are probably the best.
At the top of the photo is a vacuum filler (TWSBI Vac 700R). This type of pen fills with one stroke and it's possible to almost fill the barrel entirely. Other pens that use this system are the Visconti Homo Sapiens and Pilot Custom 823.
Next is the piston filling mechanism commonly found in premium-level European pens like the Lamy 2000, Pelikan, Aurora and Montblanc. Like the vacuum filler this system draws ink directly into the barrel.
Lastly we have the cartridge/converter system, so called because disposable ink cartridges can be used but these can be replaced with a "converter" to fill from bottled ink. Most converters are piston types that are easy to use and reliable. Cartridge/converter pens are the easiest to clean.
Does your choice of pen come with the right nib width for your style of handwriting? If you like a fat juicy extra-broad then it's unlikely that a Japanese pen will be right for you and vice-versa. As a simple rule, if your handwriting is large, select a broad or medium nib whereas if your writing is small choose a fine or extra-fine instead. Many manufacturers offer italic options if this is your preferred choice but if you really like the look of a pen but there is no italic option then we can provide you with a custom nib. If you have particular requirements in a nib, always check that these are catered for in the pen models that interest you. Read about nib sizes on our nib FAQ page.
Gone are the days when a steel nib automatically meant a cheap pen. Many stainless steel nibs write just as smoothly and consistently as their more expensive gold equivalents (you write with the tip not the body of the nib so the alignment and finish of this part is the most important aspect, not the material it's attached to). However, the very best pens still have gold or palladium nibs and these will have a lot of attention paid to the quality and finish. Most gold nibs will be softer than the equivalent steel nib to give a more comfortable and characterful writing experience but this is not universal. Some pens, like the Visconti Homo Sapiens, Pilot Falcon, Pilot Justus and Pelikan M1000 have particularly soft or "springy" nibs.
The example below shows two Edison Collier fountain pens, one with upgraded gold nib, the other with the standard stainless steel nib.
Firstly, thanks for making it down this far! We hope you are now a little more enlightened as to how to choose the best pen for you (or your gift recipient). If you have specific questions, please get in touch by e-mail, telephone or via social media.