Fountain pens, inks, and fountain pen friendly paper have now become indispensable companions in my personal and creative growth. Before plummeting eagerly into the rabbit hole however, I took it upon myself to do a little digging into what the fuss was all about. I didn’t know anyone back then from my local fountain pen community, so I did some preliminary research through the internet. Then I attended my first fountain pen meet. The rest is the ongoing story of my epic journey. I would like to share with you some of the most common questions that I encountered starting out, the general answers given, and some of my own insights.
Question 1 — What is so special about fountain pens?
A fountain pen is a whole world of possibilities embodied in a writing instrument.
As a tool, it withstands the test of time. It keeps pace with current trends and modern technology while adhering to its basic principles of engineering and design. Since its inception in the 1800s, the fountain pen still holds court among those preferred by writers and other artists. The main reason being that fountain pen is a pleasure to use. The ease with which you can transform your thoughts on paper — with little to no pressure due to the natural dynamics of ink flow — allows more time and less effort to immerse yourself in writing or sketching. There is also the aesthetic aspect of it all. Given the multitude of fountain pens and ink colors available, you are sure to find at least one of each that speaks to you, represents what you perceive to be beautiful, and use these for self-expression.
These hold true for me. Ever since I’ve started using fountain pens, I find myself writing more pages with less hand cramps. Journaling has become an essential self-care activity. Sketching is more exciting too since I've been enamored by the unpredictability of ink washes, particularly when the chromatography is complex. Lastly, holding a chosen fountain pen adds a personal and emotional weight to what I am creating by hand.
Question 2 — Why is the fountain pen better than a ballpoint pen?
Ah, the eternal conundrum.
The underlying theme is preference. Do you place greater value on convenience and ease of maintenance? Then a ballpoint pen fits right in your wheelhouse. However, for a more nuanced sensory experience when it comes to a writing instrument, the fountain pen offers more. In addition, with proper care and maintenance, it can be passed on to the next generation as an heirloom steeped in your own personal history.
I’d been using ballpoints since I was in grade school. They’re very practical, especially when there’s a high probability of losing them, or being borrowed and never returned. However, since I’ve discovered fountain pens, my perspective changed. My writing instrument has gone beyond being a mere throwaway object to become more of an extension of myself. Since it is something that I care for as I have been cleaning fountain pens, pairing it with a particular fountain pen ink, and assigning it to a specific task, it has gained more worth in my eyes.
Of course, there is a middle way. You can have the best of both worlds, especially when somebody wants to borrow a pen ;).
Question 3 — Can you use any ink for fountain pens?
Simply put, only those inks distinctly made for fountain pens.
This cannot be stressed enough. By virtue of the mechanics of its design, a fountain pen requires the proper ink for it to work as it should. Whether dye- or pigment-based, iron gall or shimmer, the choice is yours to experience and experiment with your fountain pen. Part of the challenge of being a fountain pen user is to be able to determine the pen-and-ink pairing that works best for your needs.
A caveat though — not all fountain pen inks can be used with all fountain pens. This is particularly applicable to vintage pens. The older filling system utilized might not be able to tolerate certain ink formulations, so due diligence is needed when deciding on what ink is safe to use in a specific pen. Shading inks and those with shimmer particles usually perform better with broader or flex nibs.
This is one aspect of using fountain pens that appeals to my sense of adventure. So many inks, so little time! The vast variety of inks available makes it easier to be creative through the use of color, shading, and shimmer. I see it as a mini-quest each time, adapting to the ink’s properties and fountain pen’s capabilities.
Question 4 — What kind of paper should you use with fountain pens?
This is the last element of the trifecta of the whole fountain pen experience.
Determining the kind of paper that fits your needs is necessary to enhance your enjoyment and bring out the potential of your fountain pens and inks. Fountain pen friendly paper is a general term applicable to various brands, and choice is oftentimes dependent on personal preferences.
With these in mind, there are several factors to consider when narrowing down your options. One is the sizing or coating of the paper. This process makes the paper surface smoother and more resistant to the natural capillary action of the low-viscosity ink through the paper fibers. It helps bring out the sheening and shading properties of some inks. However, the amount of sizing may lengthen the drying time and increase smudging as there is less absorption. Another is the weight of the paper, or gsm. Thicker, heavier paper lessens the chances of show-through and bleed-through. A third factor is texture, as related to the paper sizing. In itself, fully coated paper gives a smoother writing experience. Uncoated paper offers more texture — and faster, greater ink absorbency. Other factors include color (white or cream) and sheet style (blank, lined, graph, or dot grid).
All these idiosyncrasies inherent to the paper should be considered in relation to the fountain pen and ink you are using. Broader or flex nibs and/or wet inks have a greater tendency to create feathering, bleed-through, or show-through (ghosting) if not balanced with good quality paper. Finer nibs give more feedback and would feel best on smoother paper, which also lessens the chances of catching on the paper fibers.
I have spent a fair amount of time and resources in my search for the best paper suited to my own needs. I love EF and F fountain pen nibs because of my small handwriting and drawing style— and sometimes enjoy a bit of sheen and shading in my inks — so I favor smoother paper. I also prefer lighter, thinner paper even if there might be some ghosting involved. I think it’s a matter of knowing what you want as the end result, and finding the balance between all the elements involved that works for you.
Question 5 — Can fountain pens be used everyday?
A resounding YES is the answer.
At the risk of over-explaining, a fountain pen is a handy companion for any task that needs a writing instrument. Mundane tasks such as taking notes, making lists, organizing your calendar, doodling in class — so many possibilities exist. The fountain pen is designed to be used, and some pens are made with more robust materials such as brass, steel, or aluminum that can stand being tossed in your bag among other everyday paraphernalia. That being said, one of the everyday activities that fountain pens are perfect for is journaling. Taking your time to develop self-awareness this way is made more pleasurable with the use of a fountain pen loaded with a favorite ink.
Since I have started using fountain pens for journaling and sketching, I have found myself wanting to write and draw more. It is a wonderful, self-sustaining cycle of creativity and self-exploration. Part of this is the desire to actually use the pens and inks that I’ve amassed since starting my journey ;P. Another, more enriching goal is to engage in a regular activity that benefits me, and that I find gratifying enough to keep on doing.
I hope these questions, answers, and further expositions resonate with you. May you find the same enduring charm that I’ve discovered since I first held a fountain pen. And if you’re an enthusiast like myself, may you continue wielding that fountain pen with joy.
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Written by @lekzumali
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