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How to use a fountain pen

Fountain Pen

Our great grandparents would be proud. In the age of text messaging and emails, handwriting is back in fashion. Cursive instruction has returned to public schools in many states, and pen-pal clubs have popped up all over the country. Meanwhile, people have rediscovered the fountain pen, a writing utensil first developed in the 1800s.

Once upon a time, fountain pens were a disruptive technology. For more than 1,000 years, people dipped quills in ink. Writing was slow going because people had to dip their quill every few words. Fountain pens introduced a built-in ink reservoir, allowing for automatic ink flow and faster writing.

Fountain pens fell out of use when ballpoint pens became popular in the 1950s. But they're still as useful as ever. They create pleasing bold lines of various thicknesses, and there are few things more satisfying than the feel of a fountain pen gliding across the page. If writing with a fountain pen sounds intimidating, we're here to assure you that it's actually not that difficult. Keep reading to learn how to use a fountain pen.

Anatomy of a Fountain Pen

First, it helps to understand the nuts and bolts of fountain pens. They're relatively simple tools with three major parts.

  1. Barrel

    The exterior body of the fountain pen houses the ink reservoir and has thin grooves at the top to attach the cap. Barrels were originally made from hard rubber, but today they're usually made out of durable plastic. People prefer different weights of barrels. Pens for beginners tend to be lightweight.

  2. Nib

    This is the metal tip of the pen that contacts the paper. Today, nibs are typically made out of stainless steel or gold alloys. Less common are titanium nibs. Nibs usually end in a round point and come in various sizes ranging from extra fine to broad. It's easiest to learn with a medium or fine nib. Or you could buy a fountain pen that comes with several sizes of nibs and experiment to see which one you prefer. Customized nib shapes, such as oblique, stub, and italic, are also available for more experienced pen users. They allow for variations in the line width and angle.

  3. Built-in ink reservoir

    Fountain pens can be filled with ink in different ways. The most common systems are ink cartridges and ink converters. Ink cartridges are small disposable containers filled with ink that fit inside the pen. When you run out of ink, you remove the cartridge, throw it away, and insert a new one. They're convenient and easy to use, so they're great for beginners.

    Once you're an experienced fountain pen user, you'll probably want a broader selection of inks. At that point, you may want to invest in a pen with an ink converter. Ink converters are refillable devices you insert into a pen just like a cartridge. When the ink runs out, the converter allows you to suction more ink into the pen. There are several types of converters, including lever fillers, squeeze fillers, and piston fillers. Converters are messier than cartridges, but they're relatively easy to use and will save you money in the long run. Plus, they cut down on waste since they're refillable.

How to Use a Fountain Pen

Ready to learn how to write with a fountain pen? You don't need an expensive pen to learn. But you may want to invest in some high-quality paper or a high-quality writing journal to practice. When you use a fountain pen on low-quality paper or standard printer paper, the ink may feather or bleed and the paper may tear. You'll have better results with better paper.

Once you have a pen and paper, it's time to get started!

  1. Experiment with holding the pen

    Pick up your pen and hold it with the lid on and off to determine which you prefer. If you have small hands, you may enjoy writing with the cap off. But if you have larger hands, you'll probably prefer the weight of a slightly heavier pen.

  2. Get the ink flowing

    Hold the pen vertically and press or tap the nib on your paper. That's usually enough to get the ink flowing. If it doesn't flow immediately, press a scrap of paper to the top of the nib for a few seconds. When you see ink on the paper, the pen's ready to write. If you still have trouble, run the nib under warm water for a few seconds to start the ink flow, then wipe it off with a paper towel before you start writing.

  3. Do some trial and error with the angle

    Hold the pen as you would any other pen. The metal side of the nib should face away from the paper. Start writing. If you feel the nib scratch against the paper, you're probably holding your pen slightly crooked. Experiment and find an angle where the pen feels smooth against the paper.

  4. Don't press too hard

    Unlike a ballpoint pen, you don't need to apply much pressure when you write with a fountain pen. If you press too hard, you may even damage or break the nib.

Fountain Pen

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Enjoy the Brain-Hand Connection

“My two fingers on a typewriter have never connected with my brain. My hand on a pen does. A fountain pen, of course,” wrote the late English novelist Graham Greene. It's true: Research suggests writing by hand provides many benefits over typing and texting. Children and adults comprehend and learn better when they take notes by hand, people remember appointments better when they write them down, and doodling while you listen to a phone call can actually help you remember it better. A fountain pen may be just the thing to help you remember the pleasures and benefits of longhand writing.

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Abby Quillen writes about sustainability, green living, health, business, and other topics. Her work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, YES! Magazine, and dozens of other publications. She lives in Eugene, Oregon with her family. Visit her at abbyquillen.com.

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