How Do Fountain Pens Work?

Writing has and still follows much of the same technology that was invented several thousand years ago. We still make marks on paper or other surfaces using some kind of pigment through a vessel. While we have moved on from using quills that were useful but quite limited, some things have stood the test of time: there are still fountain pen users and lovers worldwide, and this community continues to grow. 


You may have wondered how fountain pens work. They glide smoothly across pages of writing and are made to last a lifetime. These writing instruments work in a very precise and well-designed manner. But how does it achieve such a pleasurable and memorable writing experience? Let’s explore: exactly how do fountain pens work?

 

Fountain Pen Components

There are three main parts of a fountain pen that bring the fountain pen ink from inside the pen and lay it down onto the page.

 

The Reservoir

Fun fact: fountain pens used to be called reservoir pens. This pertains to the part of the pen that stores the ink, whether in the barrel itself, in a cartridge, or in a converter. When the pen is held upright, ink flows from the barrel into the feed.

 

The Feed

You may wonder how ink is controlled when it flows down from the reservoir and into the nib. This is thanks to a part of the pen called the feed. It ensures that ink is delivered in a consistent and steady flow. 

 

A notable part of the feed is its fins, which provide air control to prevent too much ink from flowing at once. The fins also allow air to flow back into the barrel to replace the ink flowing out. This is one of the reasons why nibs have small air holes built-in.

 

The Nib

The nib delivers the ink from the feed onto the page. When you look closely at a nib, you’ll notice that it is split into two parts at the very end. These are called tines, and this allows the ink to pass in a steady flow to the tip. The alignment of the tines will affect ink flow. 


The shape of the nib’s tip will also affect your writing style. Some nibs create finer lines, but others are broader for bolder strokes. Pens like the Nahvalur fountain pen come in several nib sizes to fit your preferences.

 

How Does a Fountain Pen Work

 

Now that you know the different components of the fountain pen that are responsible for bringing ink onto a page, it’s time to discuss how they all work together. 

 

The Power of Pressure

Imagine having a full water bottle with a tiny hole at the top. When turned upside down, water doesn’t come out of the bottle (or if it does, it drips out very slowly). This is because, despite the weight of the water pushing down, air pressure is pushing up in the opposite direction. Once you release some of the pressure, water will start to flow.

 

Fountain pens work very similarly. They are designed so that the air pressure exchange is consistent and encourages smooth and steady ink flow. As discussed earlier, it is the feed and the air hole in the nib that is responsible for this.  

 

Gravity and Capillary Action

Another way that ink comes out of the pen and onto a page is through gravity — its own weight pulls it downwards, especially when the pen is upright. A more important concept to grasp in how fountain pens work, however, is capillary action. This is the phenomenon where a liquid will automatically enter and draw itself along a thin tube, similar to how water rises in a plant.

 

When you hold a pen like the Opus Kokoro with the nib pointing straight down, you may notice that the ink doesn’t all pour out at once. This is because of capillary action going on in the feed linking the nib to the reservoir. 

 

So how does ink come out of a pen with all these forces at work? When you place your nib on paper to write, you pull the ink out of the pen by capillary action as well. Imagine that each ink molecule drags the next one out of the pen as it comes out onto the paper. This action eventually pulls ink from the feed and the reservoir. As this happens, air enters the pen to fill the reservoir as it empties of ink to maintain the right pressure.

 

The Bottom Line

Photo from @micahfinds on Instagram

No matter your choice of fountain pen, whether it’s fine-nibbed, Sailor brand, piston filler, or what have you, they all work in pretty much the same way. How fountain pens are designed and how they work are what have led to people enjoying the tradition of writing with them even today.

 

 

 

Written by EndlessPens Blogger Ramona Kabigting

Author: Ramona

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