We often get asked about what sort of maintenance a fountain pen requires. I think the idea of paying relatively so much for a pen (compared to disposable ballpoint) and then having to do work to keep your fountain pen writing can sometimes be a bit daunting, but the good news is that there's really not much to it! There's a lot of stuff out there showing how to take apart your pens and using pen cleaning solutions and ultrasonic baths and q-tips and bleach, and this is helpful stuff, especially if you get something really sticky trapped in there, but for the most part, it doesn't always have to be quite so complicated, because... The golden rule of keeping your fountain pens flowing magnificently is to use them all the time.* In fact, you could stop reading now, and if you follow this general rule and use your pen all the time, I'd be fairly confident you'd be okay for the lifetime of the pen. Pens were made to be used! The people that never (actually never) clean their pens are generally people that use their pen everyday, and they usually refill from the same bottle when they're running empty. Sometimes they dip from different bottles, which is a bit dicey, but not the end of the world. The more you use your fountain pens, the more ink will constantly flow through the feed, acting as its own sort of flush, and the less chance there will be for the ink to dry up or to get clogged in your feed. Use fountain pen ink, not India Ink or calligraphy ink. However, a good cleaning every once in a while is not a bad idea. Here's when you should clean your pen: 1. When you're no longer going to use it (for more than two or three weeks). Clean, leave nib down into a paper towel or cloth in a cup to dry overnight, store. 2. When you are changing ink colours from a bottle of ink. 3. When you notice there's a change in flow. If you need a quick refresher on how to clean your pen you can check out this blog post, but the basic idea is to flush your pen through with water. You can draw up water with the converter, you can draw up water with the piston, you can leave the nib to soak in some water. It's also not a bad idea to try and flush water from both directions, both pushing from the back of the pen out the nib, and drawing water into the pen - this helps dislodge any tiny bits of ink from crevices of the feed from both sides. One tip on really cleaning your pens out with just water (because water really is the best thing to clean your pen with) is to flush it out the best you can, and then fill it with water. Cap it, and leave it overnight. In the morning, you may find that the water has slowly dissolved some of the residual ink from the feed, or maybe even from inside the converter or piston. Flush it out one more time. When re-filling from the same bottle of ink, I sometimes do a light flush or two with water, and then refill. Sometimes I don't flush and just refill. When re-filling from a different bottle of ink, I often do a more thorough flush, but I admit that I occasionally leave a small trace of an old ink behind. When putting a new cartridge in of either the same or a different colour, I don't find it necessary to flush at all, but it doesn't hurt. If you don't, you'll get some pretty cool gradient colour changing. I also like to live life on the edge, so I have very, very occasionally refilled a cartridge or converter with a syringe of a different ink from a sample vial or bottle, without flushing or cleaning the pen at all, and then putting the converter back in and seeing what happens. This is generally frowned upon, as you never know what kind of reaction you can get by mixing inks, so I definitely don't recommend it in a more expensive pen that you care greatly about. One day my pen may spontaneously ignite and my neon lime ABS plastic will all melt away, but until then... If you are going to mix inks, the best idea is to mix in a separate vial and let it sit overnight to see if any precipitates form or it gels up. At the very least, the thing to keep in mind is you want to try to avoid contamination in your ink bottle, so make sure your nib is clean before dipping it back into the bottle. This is a pretty general primer, without a lot of how-to's and details, and that's because I think for the most part, that's all you really need. The focus is not so much that your pens need to be hyper sterilized, although of course who am I to say no if someone is going to offer to do that for me. Pens were made to have ink in them. In fact, you may even notice some residual ink already in your brand new pens, such as your Lamy pens, that's left there from factory testing. The point is that your pens just need to be clean and happy and writing well in order for you to be the same. *In addition to the golden rule of using your pen all the time, use common sense all the time. For example, don't put paint in your pen and expect it to write.
Usually around September we get a few parents coming by looking for fountain pens for their kids. Often these are parents whose children are in Montessori or private schools, and a fountain pen is on the school supply list provided. Many of these schools teach cursive writing and want their students to have proper tools for this experience. Of course, hand in hand with running a fountain pen shop is treasuring hand writing, and I know many of my former students loved writing with fountain pens, although part of it may have been the novelty. I know September has come and gone, but I figure with the holiday season around the corner, a few ideas may help with the gift-giving. Aside from the debate of whether or not cursive writing should be taught in schools, I think no one can argue with kids practising and building on their fine motor skills in writing, and fountain pens can be part of the fun of it. Here are some fountain pens for kids: 1. For the kid that has never used a fountain pen, and just wants to have fun: the Platinum Preppy. These are inexpensive pens that come in different colours and have large capacity cartridges. Because they're so inexpensive, you don't need to worry about the nib breaking or the barrel cracking, or if it's left under the couch for two months before the vacuum finds it. The pen is available in a rainbow of colours, with cartridges to match, so kids can pick their favourite colours, or one of each. This is great for kids to learn how to write with fountain pens, and they're fun enough to make writing and drawing exciting. 2. For the kid that is ready to take care of a pen and use it regularly: the Lamy ABC. Also, for the kid that is ready to take writing seriously. This is one of my favourite pens, maybe because I am a former teacher. It's available with a red or blue cap, and even comes with name label. The pen has a softer grip section than the Lamy Safari, but it still has some shape to help ensure proper grip. It comes with an "A" nib, which is between a fine and medium and slightly rounder, so good for kids to write with. Later on, you can swap these out for another nib size or a calligraphy nib as well. Lamy cartridges for these guys are also quite large, so you don't have to worry about fiddling around with cartridges as often. However, a big advantage is that this a pen for a kid to "grow into" - you can also get a converter and teach your kid to fill it with bottled ink when he or she is ready. 3. For the kid who may step on, drop, throw around or sit on their pen: the Kaweco Sport. These Kaweco Sports are super. They're on the smaller size (portable), so kid hands don't have to wield a jumbo sword, and they fit nicely into pencil cases or tuck into pockets. The plastic on this is pretty hard to break, and the cap is a twist on, so you don't have to worry about the cap popping off or the barrel cracking at the bottom of a backpack. They take standard international cartridges, which are easy to find anywhere, and are available in a multitude of colours. The pen itself is available in a bunch of colours too - black, green, blue, burgundy, clear, and this new mint. You can get any nib from extra fine to double broad, or even italic nibs, but I would recommend a medium nib to get started. 4. For the creative, artsy kid that likes using bottled ink: the Pilot 78G (medium nib). Most of the time, parents or adults who come in are pretty confident that they want to get a pen that takes cartridges. As someone who runs a pen store, I can say that a spilled bottle of ink is no fun. However, every once in a while, there is a young artist, a very responsible young artist, who would love a bottle of ink. The very notion of a fountain pen and a bottle of ink is too romantic to pass up (don't we all know this...). The Pilot 78G is a Japanese pen available in fine or medium, and I would recommend getting a medium nib because the fine is very fine. It comes with a converter, so you can use bottled ink. The 78G is a bit of a cult classic pen, and we get it straight from Japan. Available in black, teal, green, red. It also has a bit of a vintage flair. J. Herbin ink to go with it. Not only are their bottles pretty and available in pretty colours, more importantly they have a wide base and are difficult to tip over. For grandparents hoping to exchange letters with grandchildren, parents hoping their kids will develop master penmanship, or kids who just like to write and draw. Also, fun stocking stuffers!
Often when people start using fountain pens, they discover quickly after that not all paper is made equal. When using ballpoints or rollerballs, most paper performs fairly similarly, which has to do with the oil-based greasier ink of these types of pen. Fountain pens are certainly in-demand at present, so it's no wonder that places like Office Monster offer them as part of their wide range of supplies. But the paper you use will also make a big difference to the quality of your penmanship, irrespective of the quality of the fountain pen. How well your ink does on your paper has to do with your pen, your ink and your paper. The wetter the pen, the more ink goes on the page, and so the more likely you'll have problems. Certain inks display certain tendencies, and so you'll have to play around and try a few inks to see how they differ. However, the paper you write on often has the biggest variation in how your pen and ink perform. Paper weight is an indication of how heavy it is. Most paper is measured according to "gsm" or grams per square meter. American paper weights are in pounds, and it's very confusing. My reference point is: 20lb paper is around 75 gsm. Rhodia's standard staplebound pads have 80gsm paper. If you ask me any more questions about paper weight in lbs, I will likely spend a long time on this online conversion tool. I think the real difference between how paper performs comes down to the sizing of the paper, or how the paper is treated in manufacturing to change the absorbency level of the paper. The basic idea is that the more absorbent the paper is, the more feathering and bleed through you will experience. Paper that has additional surface sizing will have the ink sit on top of the paper and take longer to dry, rather than absorbing into the paper, to dry quickly. Bad things that can happen with paper: Show-through: if you're writing on the other side of the page, show-through or ghosting can make it more difficult to read what you're writing. This is much more prevalent in thinner paper, such as Tomoe River Paper, and obviously if you hold it up to the light. Bleed-through: when the ink actually makes it way to the other side, bleed through makes it almost impossible to use the back page. Really terrible paper may even have ink on the next page. Feathering: this is probably the least acceptable characteristic. Many people are willing to forgo the back of the page, but if the writing itself on the page looks terrible, there's not a lot you can do about it. Here are a few ways to think about paper: 1. Regular paper This is the copy paper at your office, or the lined notebooks for students. This paper often isn't great for fountain pens, as it was designed for fast consumption and for use with ballpoints. There are a few types of copy paper that are designed for laser printers, and that perform quite well with fountain pens, for example HP Laser Jet 32lb paper. If you're stuck using poorer quality paper, you can try either using a thinner nib, like EF or F, or trying an ink that general performs a little better on cheaper papers, like Noodler's X-Feather, or Rohrer & Klinger's Iron Gall Salix. 2. French/European paper Clairefontaine and Rhodia paper are considered two of the top brands in paper. While both companies make a variety of paper formats and sizes and weights, in general, their paper is smoother, slightly thicker and excellent for fountain pens. Most people find they can use broad, stub or flex nibs without problem because this paper is good. This paper is more expensive than regular or copy paper, and it also has longer dry times. 3. Japanese paper Japanese paper is making is beginning to become much more widespread in North America. Japanese paper tends to be thinner, but definitely holds up to fountain pen ink very well. Even though the paper is thinner, the lines you get are often exceptionally crisp. Life Stationery has a lot of ivory and thin paper in a huge variety of formats (notebooks, typing paper, writing paper, bank paper...), and Tomoe River Paper is exceptionally thin, and so has quite a bit of show-through. Japanese paper tends to have very long dry times. 4. Stationery Paper Stationery or correspondence paper is usually A5 or A4 sized (rather than the North American standard sized letter or legal") and come from Europe. This paper is often used for letter writing or more formal situations. G. Lalo and Original Crown Mill are two companies that are known for their stationery paper, and in particular for their laid finish. This paper is thicker and much more textured, sometimes with "verge" or grid textured lines (that can be very helpful for writing straight across!). What's the deal with Moleskine? We get asked quite a bit about why we're not carrying Moleskine, mainly because we're a stationery shop and we get a lot of people who aren't using fountain pens but are maybe looking for a notebook. The long and short of it is that Moleskine paper is great for ballpoints and pencils, but not as great for really inky pens, like fountain pens. There are many, many other paper products out there, some we carry and many more we don't. You can always read reviews online, and they often also have pictures, so you can see how one paper performs, but it usually comes down to a combination of the pen, the ink and the paper, so your best bet is to try it out yourself.
When you don't have an opportunity to try a pen out, it can sometimes be difficult to know what nib size you want. If you're new to fountain pens, here are some considerations to think about: 1. Size of your handwriting: if you have smaller handwriting, or frequently need to write in smaller spaces, then consider a smaller nib size. If you would like to use your pen to express your handwriting with more 'character' you may also consider a broader nib, as you will be able to get slightly more variation with it. 2. Dry time of ink, or when and where you're writing: if you're on the go or need to move quickly, you will probably benefit from having your writing dry faster. While ink and paper are pretty important factors in how fast your writing dries, the finer the nib size, the faster it will dry as there's less ink on the page. On the other hand, if you're writing letters or journaling at home, the dry time may not be as big a factor for you. 3. Smoothness of writing: of course there will always be buttery smooth EF nibs and scratchy B nibs, but in general with all things similar, an EF nib may be just ever-so-slightly scratchier as it's ...an extra fine point on your page. There's less lubrication from the ink, so the nib may not glide quite as smoothly - but it also does have to do with the maker. A beautifully made Sailor EF nib may end up better than a B nib from a poorer company. 4. Calligraphic or italic nibs: these are designed specifically for calligraphy and have a straight across cut as opposed to a rounded edge. This enables you to draw a consistently fine line in one direction, and a consistently broad line in the opposite direction. 5. Left-handed: Lamy does make a left-handed nib, which I would put at between a fine and a medium. The nib is slightly more rounded than the other nibs, to make it smoother as you 'push' into the paper from the left side. While it is not vastly different from writing with a regular nib, but each person's writing experience can be quite personal. The Lamy Safari is a terrific pen to start with. It's durable and consistent, isn't prone to leaks or cracks, and is pretty forgiving in maintenance. The added bonus of being able to buy and swap out just the nibs as you get used to fountain pens is also nice. You can look at the samples to get a sense of how wide the line will be, and compare it how you generally write. The nib size samples above were written with Noodler's Burma Road Brown. You know your own handwriting and what you're doing best, but if you really have no idea what size nib you'd like, I would suggest going with a Fine nib. It's a good standard nib size for everyday writing, and Lamy nibs are smooth, with good flow.
If you have a fountain pen that takes a cartridge or converter, and you have the converter for it, this is the post for you on how to keep it clean. This includes pens like the Lamy Safari with the Lamy converter or the Jinhao 126 that is used in the demonstration. What you will need: Your fountain pen A converter that fits your fountain pen Two bowls of water (or a bowl of water and the sink) A cloth that can get a little inky Step 1: Swish around the nib in the water. You will likely get quite a bit of ink right away, as the water will draw some of the ink from the feed and around the nib. Generally, it is recommended that you use distilled water so you don't get any of the minerals or fluoride building up in your pen, but I feel pretty comfortable with tap water at room temperature. Step 2: Draw up the inky water into the converter to begin flushing the nib. The water will be quite dark, but much diluted from the "pure" ink that was just in the pen. I like to move my nib around to the cleanest part of the water in the bowl as sometimes the inkiest water just kind of sits where it was just pushed out. Draw up and flush out several times until the water has been totally muddied up. Step 3: At this point, you can wipe off the nib to draw out any concentrated ink still left. The feed and nib use capillary action to draw out the ink when writing, so you should be able to draw a little water and ink onto your cloth. This step is optional, but you should have a cloth handy anyways, so you might as well. Step 4: Draw up water from the second bowl of clean water, and dispense that water into the dirty bowl. Do this several times until the water runs clear, and then maybe do it a few more times after that. Step 5: Wipe off. If you see any residual ink on your cloth, you will want to flush out a few more times. Step 6: Leave your pen nib down on a cloth or paper towel to draw out any moisture. You can do this overnight, and it's particularly important if you're cleaning your pen because you're not using it and you want to store it - you don't want moisture trapped in.
Using the Noodler's Nib Creaper Piston-Fill Flex Fountain Pen, which we just did a review on here. We just got in our Noodler's Pens (and a few new inks!), and we figured we could take some pictures on filling the Nib Creaper as we inked it up for testing. The Creaper is a piston-fill or piston-filler fountain pen. For piston-fillers, you don't need a converter or cartridges (as the pen has the "converter" built right into the pen barrel") so all you need is a bottle of ink. Here, we're using J. Herbin's Poussiere de Lune. Step 1: Twist the back of the pen so the piston rod is all the way down. It's like a syringe, so as you twist the rod back up, ink will be sucked up into the barrel of the pen. Step 2: Submerge the nib and the lower part of the grip section into the ink bottle. Don't be afraid to get the pen inky, as you can wipe it off easily. If you don't submerge the nib far enough into the ink bottle, you'll end up drawing air into the barrel. Step 3: Twist to draw up the piston rod and ink. You will probably get a small air bubble because there is air in the feed to begin with. If you want it as full as you can get, try emptying the ink and drawing it up again a few times. Generally speaking, piston-fill pens hold much more ink than cartridges or converters, so you'll get quite a bit of ink. Step 4: Wipe off any drops of ink. And off you go! Because you drew ink up through the feed, your feed should already be wet and should write without too much hesitation or skipping.
When I received my first fountain pen, it came with a single cartridge, and gift giver (Jon) included two extra cartridges. When those ran out, I began looking for other cartridges and stumbled upon bottled ink. As you know, this was a turning point in my life. Many, if not most, fountain pen users use bottled ink to some extent, and there are several reasons for this. 1. It's cheaper. 2. You get more ink colour choices. 3. More environmentally friendly. 4. No other choice - some pens only takes bottled ink. 1. While the cost of a bottle of ink is more expensive than a package of cartridges, the unit cost is generally much, much cheaper than buying cartridges. Noodler's creator, Nathan Tardiff, actually chooses not to manufacture cartridges in part because of the unit cost difference between bottled ink and cartridges. Noodler's Ink (at $12.50/90 mL) is $0.14/mL. Private Reserve Ink (at $8.80/50mL) is $0.18/mL. Rohrer & Klingner Ink ($12.00/50mL) is $0.24/mL. PlatinumI Bottled Ink ($6.75 for 30mL) is $0.23/mL. Compared to cartridges: Lamy Proprietary Cartridges ($4.75/5pcs @ 1.4mL each) is $0.68/mL. Kaweco International Short Cartridges ($2.20/6pcs @ 0.5mL each) is $0.73/mL. Platinum Proprietary Cartridges ($3.00/2pcs @ 1mL each) is $1.50/mL. *These prices were as of 2013, before the CAD tanked. The cost may not really be a big deal, especially if you're not writing too often or too much, but over time it adds up. 2. The ink choices are abundant. Many older pen companies also make ink, but sometimes only in a few standard colours (black, blue, green, red, etc.), but there are new ink companies, like Noodler's and Private Reserve, who manufacture what seems like hundreds of ink choices (several different shades or types of black with different properties). You can also try various inks by filling a small amount in your converter or dipping your nib rather than committing to a whole cartridge. Once you start a cartridge, it's pretty tough to take it out and store it for another use. 3. Of course using bottled ink is much more eco-friendly. Sending less plastic to landfills, glass bottles being more easily recycled or re-used, less packaging for a bottle of ink than a package of cartridges. However, you can re-use your cartridges with a syringe and bottled ink. Over time, you may find that the seal between your cartridge and the pen may stretch out a bit, but that is over many, many uses. 4. Some pens only take bottled ink, including piston fillers and eyedroppers, which simply don't have a place to insert a cartridge. A fifth reason may be that bottled ink seems a little bit more romantic, more nostalgic, but I'm not sure how seriously this reason will be taken. I think it's secretly why I use bottled ink. The main reason writers choose cartridges are: 1. It's more convenient. 2. Cartridges/converters are proprietary or converters are hard to find. 1. The convenience of using cartridges is hard to argue. When traveling, at work, the danger of spilling or breaking a glass bottle of ink can be a pretty steep price to pay. It's easy to slip a cartridge or two into a pencil case or bag without worrying about it. 2. Some pens or pen companies only take proprietary cartridges. If the price of the converter seems too much or if it's hard to find, it may be necessary to keep re-purchasing cartridges, or you can always refill your cartridges using a syringe.