Fountain Pens

Who uses fountain pens these days anyway? They are so antiquated, aren’t they? A bunch of rabid writers and pen fanatics would disagree! The American president uses a fountain pen to sign executive orders. Rare and valuable fountain pens are highly sought after by collectors around the world. Handwriting experts and educationalists recommend these writing instruments. Environmentalists prefer them to disposable plastic ballpoints.

Fountain pens are not necessarily better than ballpoints, as each has their merits and application. Ballpoints can write for miles without needing a refill. Fountain pens fit the hand better and offer a superior writing experience. A fountain pen expresses the full beauty of handwriting.

Inky fingers are uncommon with ballpoints, but inkblots on the paper are more likely with fountain pens. Fountain pens and ballpoints differ significantly in the areas of ink, body shape, and nib design. The range of ink colors for fountain pens is staggering, and there’s a much wider choice of nibs. Ballpoint pens are usually slimmer and use oil-based ink, and are generally considered disposable.

No-one stresses at the loss of a cheap ballpoint. Fountain pens are fatter and more comfortable to hold. They also offer more choice when it comes to ink colors and nib designs.


The writing end of a ballpoint pen consists of a tiny ball bearing in a socket that rotates, transferring the ink inside the reservoir tube onto the paper.

Ballpoints are hardly comparable to that medieval writing instrument of priestly scribes, the old quill pen. Sharpened feathers dipped in ink wrote exquisite manuscripts in ancient times. Did you know that “manuscript” means handwritten?

Fountain pens still use the feather principle except that the feather’s point is a metal nib, and there is now an ink reservoir in the pen’s body. They are sensitive to writing pressure.

With a ballpoint pen, it makes no difference how hard you press. The ink flows out at a constant rate due to the force of gravity, and so ballpoints don’t work for astronauts. Fountain pens use a water-based ink that flows more freely.

The nib consists of a metal blade split down the middle that leads to a rounded end. Ink flows by capillary action through the split and onto the tip when pressing the pen to paper. The harder you press, the more ink flows. Of course, gravity also plays a role, so fountain pens aren’t good in outer space either.

Environmental Considerations

Fountain pens are environmentally friendly if you use bottled ink instead of plastic ink cartridges. Although many fountain pens use cartridges, you can buy a little device called a converter that screws onto your pen and allows it to suck up ink from the bottle.

Using a converter means you don’t have to buy cartridges. The ink is in a shapely glass bottle and lasts longer. Glass is preferable to plastic. The bottle is itself a thing of beauty when arranged strategically on your desk.

Ballpoint pens, especially the cheaper kind, are meant to be disposable. They end up polluting the land and the sea. Worst of all, cheap ballpoints are manufactured in the billions.

Americans discard 1.6 billion disposable pens each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Refills for cheap ballpoint pens are scarce, if available at all. There is no standardization across refills. Different ballpoints use different refills.

It is easier to throw a ballpoint pen away than to go looking for a refill. From an environmental viewpoint, reusable fountain pens with ink drawn from glass bottles are better than ballpoints. Fountain pen cartridges also have a higher level of standardization than ballpoint refills.


We can’t talk about the merits of pens without mentioning writing mediums. There are different kinds of paper, and fountain pens don’t work well on all of them. The ink will sometimes bleed through to the other side if you use paper such as newsprint. However, you don’t need to buy rare vellums to write on with your fountain pen.

Most paper is suitable for use with a fountain pen. Highly absorbent mediums, such as tissue paper, are not. The paper that is used in diaries and for electric printers is usually suitable.

Typical office paper is called 80gsm, and it is good enough for use with a fountain pen. Ballpoint pens are not fussy about the type of paper you use. Newsprint or bond, it’s all the same to them. They can even write on paper napkins.

Art and Beauty

Ballpoint pens are usually disposable items, whereas fountain pens are often treasured works of art. While a ballpoint pen may be more convenient, a good quality fountain pen can be a valuable heirloom. Some fountain pens are serious collector’s items and can fetch high prices.

They can be fashion statements and a part of your individuality, just as your handwriting distinguishes you from others. In this digital age where longhand is fast becoming antiquated, it is easy to forget how satisfying and artistic it can be to write with a pen.

You don’t have to be a calligrapher to take pride in your handwriting. It’s a bit sad when many people can write so beautifully, to see them tapping away on tablets and phones. Students might be interested to know that there are learning advantages when writing notes in longhand instead of typing them directly into a laptop. The information is more deeply processed by your brain when you write it out than when you type it.

Practical Considerations

A ballpoint pen is less likely to leak ink in your pocket than a fountain pen but is not nearly as stylish. A fountain pen is easier to hold, and the nib’s nature means it is easier to control when writing. If the paper you write on gets wet for any reason, ballpoint pen ink is much less likely to run than fountain pen ink.

But this is also a disadvantage because if you get ballpoint pen ink stains on your clothes, they are much harder to wash out. Writing with a ballpoint requires you to apply more pressure than writing with a fountain pen. If you are writing for a long time, your hand will tire less quickly using a fountain pen.

Ballpoint pens are cheaper and more readily available than fountain pens and also work better at high altitudes. When you are flying, a fountain pen might leak due to cabin pressure changes, but most modern fountain pens are unlikely to do so. Keep the nib facing upwards but if you are anxious about leaking, just remove the ink from the pen before you board your flight.


The fact that fountain pens are still around despite the ballpoint pen’s invention in the 1940s is testimony to their ongoing usefulness and aesthetic value. They are an older concept than the ballpoint. Many people prefer ballpoints for convenience’s sake.

hey don’t mind if they lose it. Fountain pens are more expensive to replace. Artisans make the best ones with love and concern for beauty and functionality. A Fulgor Nocturnus fountain pen was sold in 2010 at an auction in Shangai for 8 million dollars, but you don’t have to pay that for your fountain pen. The simplest only cost a few dollars.

Unlike a ballpoint, a good fountain pen requires only featherlight strokes. People who battle with arthritis or other painful conditions in their hands may find it easier to use a fountain pen.

Keeping a handwritten diary is an inspiring way to stay in tune with yourself and display and improve your handwriting. Writing a letter to someone special creates that profoundly personal touch all too absent from an email or electronic text message.

Whatever your choice of writing implement, it pays to remember that writing is a skill that requires a certain amount of dexterity, hand-eye coordination, and mental processing. Merely tapping away on glass is an exercise in conformity.

The handwritten word is still a beautiful thing. Exercise your right to write as often as possible. Try a fountain pen if you’ve only ever used a ballpoint. You may just become a scribe and reincarnate the ancient art of illuminated writing.