Back to Basics: Using Fountain Pens and Choosing Safe Inks

All learning has an emotional base.

⁓ Plato

Do you remember the reasons why you were first drawn to fountain pens? For me, it was their potential to be wonderful tools for sketching. My previous favorites were technical drawing pens and watercolors. When I had discovered the versatility of fountain pens and the whole multitude of inks to choose from, I happily found myself wandering deeper into the rabbit hole. 

 

As time passed and my experience grew more extensive, I realized why fountain pen users become enthusiasts. The pen ceases to be just an instrument, and becomes more of an extension of one’s self. Distinct needs and tastes help determine your choices, and eventually you grow a collection of pens, inks, and paper that complement your personality.

 

Another aspect of becoming an enthusiast is the time and effort that you learn to give to your fountain pens. Most are designed to be used repeatedly and to last for a long time. The act of cleaning and maintaining, choosing the appropriate ink, and finding suitable paper all contribute to making this particular tool a more significant part of your life. Yes, the fountain pen can be finicky to use. Personally though, I find all of these to be pleasurable necessities that are part-and-parcel of having such an indispensable and refined writing instrument.

 

Before you develop this connection however, you must first learn how to properly use a fountain pen. Add to this — what inks are safe to use. These are two of the things a newcomer to the hobby should learn to be able to fully realize the potential of the pen.

 

 

How To Use A Fountain Pen ⁓ for Beginners

The rewarding experience derived from a fountain pen is heavily reliant on how it is used. Here are some main pointers to send you on your merry way —

Flush first.

This may not be a standard practice for all fountain pen users, since some pen brands are known to work effortlessly out of the box. For newbies who have opted to try the most basic or lesser known options, doing so helps cleanse the pen of residues from the machining or manufacturing process and facilitates better ink flow at the start. Clean tap water and a bulb syringe will do.

 

Use proper ink.

One of the tenets of this avocation is proper care and maintenance of your fountain pen. Choosing an ink that is safe and well-behaved for your particular pen helps make this necessary ritual stress-free. As using safe inks is an essential factor, it will be discussed more extensively in the next section.

 

Mind your grip.

When it comes to holding your pen, the tripod and the quadrupod grips have traditionally been considered optimal. These allow for stability with the outer portion of your hand acting as the base, while the thumb and other fingers move together for more precise and fluid strokes. Avoiding a tight grip helps prevent cramping and fatigue as well, for more comfortable, longer writing or drawing sessions. For left-handed users, holding the pen higher up in the section can aid in seeing their work. Adjusting the tilt of the writing surface to follow the line of the left arm also allows for a better view without having to hook their dominant hand. 

 

Check that nib.

Ideally, the nib’s point touches the paper’s surface at a 45 - 55 degree angle to catch that sweet spot that allows a smoother writing experience. Both nib tines need enough contact with the paper to allow ink to move through the nib slit and be deposited onto the paper’s surface. This is particularly important for special nibs such as stub or cursive italic. 

 

Ease up.

Since fountain pens are designed so that ink flows out naturally through gravity and capillary action, little to no pressure is needed to make your mark on the paper (unless aiming for line variation with flex nibs). Too much applied force can interrupt the ink flow and damage the nib tines, flex or not. Remember, gentleness yields better results when it comes to fountain pens. 

 

Keep the cap on.

Leaving the nib exposed for prolonged periods of time will hasten evaporation of the ink. This can lead to hard starts and clogging. Dipping the nib in clean water usually resolves this issue and restarts the flow. Another reason is to lessen the chances of nib damage if ever the fountain pen falls.

 

Friendlies first.

Using paper with specific characteristics helps enhance the whole writing experience by working well with your fountain pen. They likewise bring out the best in your fountain pen inks. More on fountain-pen friendly paper here.

 

 

How To Choose Safe Inks

Broadly speaking, not all inks can be used in fountain pens. As a rule, inks from companies who also produce fountain pens tend to be safer. Furthermore, not all fountain-pen friendly inks are suitable for all pens. One major responsibility of being a fountain pen user is getting to know your particular pen and determining which ink works best with it. Here are some general guidelines —

Know your pen.

This bears repeating as fountain pens can either be modern or vintage. The materials with which they were made significantly affects the kind of inks that could be used in them without incurring damage to their components. Most modern pens are made of synthetic resins and with filling systems that can tolerate a varied selection of inks. In contrast, most vintage pens are sensitive to some modern ink formulations because of the materials used in their construction — such as celluloid barrels and rubber ink sacs.

 

Know the ink.

Safety refers to the ink’s tendency to corrode the fountain pen’s components over time. Usability alludes to how well-behaved the ink is — how it works with the fountain pen and the time and effort it takes to clean and maintain the pen it is used in. These are several factors that determine safety and usability —

 

pH

Ink reacts with the material it is in contact with. An ink’s pH determines whether it is acidic or basic. The further it is from a neutral pH of 7, the more corrosive it can be to your fountain pen’s parts. The closer the ink’s pH is to 7, the safer it is for your pen.

Pigment load

The amount of pigment, or how saturated the ink is, relates to its usability. Highly saturated inks have a greater tendency to clog if left to evaporate and dry up in the pen. This can consequently require disassembly to clean the pen thoroughly.

Type of colorant

Dye-based inks are formulated with water-soluble colorants that are generally easy to clean off. Pigment-based inks have insoluble particles that embed themselves into the paper, offering water-resistance. This feature requires a more stringent pen maintenance routine. Traditional iron-gall inks were extremely corrosive, while modern formulations are now safer to use. It is still advisable to clean your pen regularly.

Ink viscosity

This refers to the wetness or dryness of the ink.  Some have described viscous inks as oily or thick, giving a smoother glide when the pen is used. However, more viscous inks have a greater tendency to dry out faster and clog your fountain pen if left unattended for some time.

 

Find your balance.

With so many considerations, finding a safe ink for your pen necessitates a certain degree of dedication to complement a sense of adventure. Whether an ink is safe and/or usable is dependent on your choice of fountain pen, the attention you are willing to give towards its maintenance, and how much you really want to use the ink. Simply put, be curious but be careful.

 

Wait, There’s More

When I looked for insights from the fountain pen community, I found a few common recommendations for safe and well-behaved inks that I find especially helpful for newbies. Take note though, that these choices are not absolute nor all-encompassing. Due diligence is still needed to determine if a particular brand’s ink color will be suitable for your fountain pen and your needs. —

 

Waterman Ink 50ml Bottle

The highest quality of ink ensures supreme performance, and guarantees an exceptionally comfortable writing experience. With nine beautiful color options in 50ml ink bottles, you can cultivate your own sense of style, and make your words stand out from the crowd.

 

Diamine Ink 30ml / 80ml Bottle

Diamine inks have a long and rich history, dating back to 1864. Produced in the UK, it is made with a gentle formula safe for all fountain pens. It has quickly become one of the most popular and sought-after brands around. A wide selection of ink colors is available. 

 

J Herbin Ink 10ml / 30ml Bottle

Herbin is the oldest name in pen inks in the world. "The Jewel of Inks" was created in Paris in 1700. Herbin uses all natural dyes in their fountain pen inks. This natural composition is reflected in the very neutral pH of the inks.

 

That’s it for now. Happy hunting!

 

 

Use the code LEKZ10 to get a 10% discount!
* Not applicable for HopDrop, Clearance, On Sale items, and select brands.

 

Written by @lekzumali
Check out her musings on Instagram!

Author: Lekz

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