Write Stuff

Fountain Pens

My name is Rob, and I am addicted to fountain pens. As addictions go, this is a pretty safe one. The only damage is to my wallet and the storage space in my office. I am occasionally surprised that this became a thing for me.

I’ve always had this attraction to stationary products, so I’ve usually had an odd assortment of pens, notebooks, and paper around. I never liked the cheaper Bic or Paper-Mate pens. I’d settled on Pilot G-2’s for a while, but a couple of years ago while making a run to an office supply store I wanted to find something better. I spent at least 20 minutes in the pen section trying to decide what to get. I think I came home with seven different pens and while they were mostly fine, I didn’t find anything really satisfying.

Around this time I saw a Twitter post from one of my favorite writers, Neil Gaiman, where he stated that he did a lot of writing by hand with a fountain pen. Specifically a Pilot Custom 823.

I had used a fountain pen very briefly in seventh-grade art class. It was a horrid dip pen that no longer had any tipping, so was sharp as a knife. I spent more time cutting paper with it than actually writing. I thought fountain pens were a relic of the past and couldn’t understand how anyone would choose to use one when ballpoint pens were available.

I thought “What the heck? Maybe fountain pens aren’t as bad as I remember. Let me give it a shot. Let’s look up this Pilot Custom 823 and OHMYGODITCOSTSWHAT!?!”

Current rate for a Pilot Custom 823 is $288.

For a pen.

A single pen.

No way I’d ever spend that much on a pen (spoiler: I have two now). I wondered if there was a cheaper option. Turns out there are plenty of cheaper options. I picked up a Pilot Varsity for about $3. It changed my life. Yes that’s a silly statement but when I was spending all of that time looking for a better pen, I really didn’t know what I was looking for. With the Varsity I’d found it.

The Varsity isn’t perfect. Fountain pens in general will feather quite a bit on cheap paper, where the ink spreads out from your intended line. The Varsity feathers more than most. What it did have going for it was the fact that it was so incredibly smooth compared to anything else I had ever written with. It was so good that I felt like I had been missing out on it for my entire life. I loved my Varsity.

After a little while, I wanted to take the next step. For me the Varsity is far superior to any ballpoint I’ve ever used. It’s made to be disposable though, and you’re limited to just a handful of colors. Once you find an interest in fountain pens it’s just a matter of time until something else catches your eye. When looking for a good pen that’s not disposable, the general consensus falls between the Pilot Metropolitan ($20) or the Lamy Safari ($30). It took me some time before I was willing to shell out that much money for a pen, but I finally settled on a Lamy Safari. I was so excited to get it, load the ink cartridge, and start writing.

It was horrible. It skipped to the point of being unusable. I set it aside and went back to my Varsity. Time passed. I couldn’t understand how a $30 pen that people seemed to love was so inferior to a $3 pen. After about six months I decided to give the Lamy another shot. Lamy seemed to sell a lot of pens, and they couldn’t all be as bad as my one experience had been. I picked it up to try again, and it didn’t work at all. The ink had dried up. After searching for “how to clean a fountain pen” I cleaned it, loaded another ink cartridge, and tried again.

Same result. It was uneven and skipping. I wrote one sentence. I wrote another. I was disappointed all over again. Then, as if some last bit of gunk had flushed out of it, it started writing beautifully. What I hadn’t know at the time is that all Lamy pens are tested before they leave the factory, so they all have a little residual ink in them that may dry up over time. You should clean them before first using them. I hadn’t, which led to the poor performance out of the box. Once cleaned it wrote like a dream.

That was it. I was hooked. I now have dozens of pens and inks, and I enjoy writing with them almost every day.

So, why fountain pens?

  • They give me a much better writing experience than ballpoints do.
  • Handwriting is an analog skill. In our digital world, I find it to be a nice and relaxing change from being at a keyboard.
  • There is an almost infinite variety of ink colors to choose from.
  • The ink is water-based and flows in a way that makes writing more interesting.
  • Various inks have different properties such as sheening or shading that add character to your writing. Click through to the larger version of the image above and you can see quite a bit of variation even within a letter.
  • Different pen nibs can have an effect on your writing.

I’m now a pen snob, and I’m ok with that.

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