I’m happy that fountain pens are experiencing a resurgence around the world. While availability of fountain pens continues to be a challenge, many are finding their new writing instruments online. It’s a beautiful hobby full of tradition and you can pursue it anywhere!
Writing with fountain pens isn’t all roses, and there are some uncomfortable truths you should understand from the beginning.
1. Expensive Pens Aren’t Always Better
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE an expensive fountain pen. I’ve reviewed many of them on this site. But if the money is being spent primarily on the body of the pen with little thought about the nib, it won’t write any differently. In that respect, you can end up buying the car body without the engine. No one wants a Ferrari with a motorcycle engine that can’t climb a hill, so just make sure to pay the most attention to the nib.
There’s a heated debate on gold versus steel nibs and which actually write better, but understand that when you buy a new fountain pen, most of your investment will ride (pun intended) on the nib, not a fancy pen body. I’ve found that more expensive pens tend to have the best nibs and writing performance, but not always. Smoother is better to me and I get asked a lot what the smoothest nibs I’ve used are. There are many, but my two favorites are by Aurora (their higher end pens with handmade nibs) and Sailor this Japanese brand makes the BEST Extra-Fine I’ve used to date.
2. Pen Cleaning is a Necessary Evil
Yes, we all know it has to be done, but no one adequately explains the time consumption and monotony of fountain pen cleaning. This is one non-optional chore that comes along with using fountain pens, just like changing diapers came with having a baby. Necessary, and you feel like you’re doing the right thing for the greatest good, but not my kind of enjoyable.
Sure, some people like cleaning pens; they like the ritual, the zen and the tradition of pulling their pens apart and flushing them. I, however, find it a necessary chore to keep my pens maintained, but don’t usually enjoy the process. If you want more information on how to do it, just sign up for my newsletter, you’ll get a free ebook that explains how. My favorite part of pen cleaning is standing the nib up on a towel to let the capillary action draw the remaining water out of the nib and into the towel. The reason? It means I’m done! (Patience in general isn’t my forte either, can you tell?)
3. Nib Dry-out and Skipping Will Drive You Nuts
Oh, there’s NOTHING more annoying when using a fountain pen than finding out the nib has dried out from leaving the cap off too long while listening to a lecture or having it skip across the page mocking you as it bounces all of your hopes and dreams back off the page. Nib dry out is one of the unfortunate by products of letting your baby sit for weeks unused and unloved in a drawer. I’ve done it, you will too. Life is busy and you can’t always use all of the pens you ink. It’s a frustration that you will learn to live with and return to #2 above. I call it my stupid tax for leaving my pens for months to dry out… a stupid tax to clean them and start again.
Skipping isn’t usually caused by dry out, in that case the pen will stop writing all together. But skipping will drive you even MORE nuts because you will think you can scribble past it. You will treat your pen like an old ballpoint that sat too long and scribble to try and get the ink flowing again. But since fountain pens are designed to distribute ink as soon as they touch the page, if it skips, it’s likely something else, like baby’s bottom.
4. Paper Matters
Oh, how I resent this one. I want my fountain pens to write on absolutely anything. I review them on both high end paper (read: expensive, heavy weight, and smooth papers.) and notebook paper you can get 200 sheets for a the local dollar store. I want every pen to write equally well on whatever I try it on. What I’ve found is glossy paper repels water-based fountain pen ink. The coated surface isn’t conducive to the ink settling into the fibers, so the ink will sit on top of it and wipe right off. Cheap paper can also be a frustrating combination with your favorite fountain pen. In my experience, the finer the nib, the less it will bleed through on cheap paper, but inexpensive fine nibs tend to be more scratchy as well. Broader nibs that lay down a lot of ink will frustrate you to no end with their ability to bleed through multiple sheets of cheap notebook paper.
5. Open Bottles of Ink Have Shelf Lives
Here’s something no one talks about either. Now it’s not the same shelf life as the block of cheddar behind the lift up shelf in your refrigerator, but disgustingly, your ink will likely mold eventually. As I learned in this article when I was researching what the fuzz was, inks use organic dyes and mold spores feed on them. Every time you open the bottle some settle into it and eventually the spores can overtake the mold inhibitors in fountain pen ink and your favorite blue can meet the same fate as your beloved cheddar cheese.
I’ve only had one bottle of ink mold on me so far, so it’s not like this happens as fast as it does to the cheese in your fridge, but it does happen and no one talks about it!
In the end what matters most is that you enjoy the process of using your fountain pens; not the price, the cleaning, the eventual dry out, pricey paper or the fate of your beloved bottle of Sargasso Sea. It’s all part of the journey while using fountain pens. There are MANY benefits I didn’t cover here, I’ll save that for another article.
Hey, buyer beware, but buy anyway. Fountain pens are way more fun than they are work. It’s how this website came to exist, through my deep love of fountain pens, even after learning these uncomfortable truths!