I am certainly not the first person writing an article about why to write with a fountain pen. And I certainly won’t be the last one. Also, I am pretty sure that anyone that really appreciates writing with a fountain pen – more or less consciously – does have such a ‘list’ (or call it: a couple of reasons) internalized, even though maybe never made it explicit. If you, who reads this, have never written with a fountain pen, this list may be a teaser to get you started.
Before we head on to the actual list, allow me to say three short things about what this list isn’t.
Three things in advance what this list is not about
- This list is not about the benefits of (hand)writing or the use of analogue tools in general, as opposed to the use of digital tools (e.g. digital note-taking on an iPad, digital drawing/sketching or developing thoughts on a keyboard) for instance – I may write about that at another point in time, though.
- This list is not about why to only write with fountain pens: there are many situations or reasons in which or why a rollerball, ballpoint, pencil, gel pen, you name it, is much more useful, convenient, or appropriate – and I do use all of these myself, too.
- This list is not a universally applicable or exhaustive list. It is just my personal reasons why I write with a fountain pen. As they are by now. These may change over time. And your reasons may be entirely different. Also, there is probably more than five reasons. These where just the ones that happened to pop into my mind (which means they most likely have some kind of a meaning to me), and hence were convenient for me to develop a little.
Having that said, off we roll.
Top 5 reasons why to write with a fountain pen
Most writing-instruments – and this is a quite general statement – are rather limited in one respect or another. (Mechanical) pencils are all pretty much the same in body shape, ballpoints mostly come with blue or black refills, and even the colorful gel pens are typically not available in more than a handful of line widths. While this may perfectly suffice for most rational use cases, the use of fountain pens will open up an entire different world to you.
Fountain pens come in basically any shape and size imaginable: from a very large Montblanc 149 to the tiny Kaweco Lilliput, from the rather conservative designs of Waterman to the more extravagant Montegrappas.
When it comes to the writing line you prefer, the gates sort of open with a Japanese (Ultra) Extra Fine nib on a Platinum or Sailor pen, which basically is a hairline, and close again with a German double broad nib on a Pelikan, which basically is a paintbrush. Both end points of this continuum can further be pushed to the extreme with a custom needlepoint grind on the one, and flex/stub/fudge nibs on the other hand side.
When it comes to writing color (i.e. ink), Diamine or Pilot (Iroshizuku) alone offer more than a handful of different shades of blue each. Not to mention all the other ink-manufacturers and all the different hues of grey or black (yes, there are different shades of grey and black!), orange, brown, red, yellow, green … ok, I guess I got the point across. Anyway, take Rohrer & Klingners 18 color-wide ink palette which is explicitly mixable, and you’ll potentially have a next-to-infinite color-spectrum available.
Combine all three of the above, body design, writing line width, and color, and it will be next to impossible to not find the perfect combination that works just for you – not to mention the joy of the journey there.
Haven’t we all been through that: you got that really nice non-refillable pen from a friend or a client – be it a freebie or whatnot – and once you got used to and really came to like it, you wrote it empty…and can’t find that exact same thing anymore.
Well, that can’t happen with a fountain pen. Once you’ve found your favorite combination from what has been said under 1. above, or you got a pen as a graduation present or from a person that is important in your life, you can basically have that piece for a life-time. Fountain pens can be refilled, and in case something breaks there is little that can’t be fixed by a skilled nibmeister, pen-restorer, or the pen-manufacturer itself.
You may then, in your pen, very well have a companion for lifetime. A tool that recorded many of your emotions regarding your past, that assisted you in jotting down what is present, or let you develop new ideas for your future. It may have picked up that one scratch from when it dropped that one evening on this veranda in Greece. In short: you have an artifact that sort of carries parts of you in it – and that maybe even your children will be proud to carry and use from the day you hand it down to them. I have a Pelikan school pen from the 1960s. What words may have been written with this pen? What rooms has it seen? What subjects have been studied with it?
3. Feel & Appearance
There is no writing-experience that even approximates the feeling of an inky nib on paper. Don’t even bother searching for something comparable. It’s just not there. Okay – a pencil on paper is pretty awesome, too. Still, the tactile experience that a nib on paper gives you is unparalleled.
You just really ‘feel’ the writing – there is a connection between you, the writing tip (i.e. the nib), the inkflow, the paper, and the words that form subsequently. Plus no two nibs feel the same. While each nib has ‘its own soul’, as they say, there is also a nib-type for the different preferences people have. You prefer the ‘warm-butter-on-glass’-like feel? Pick up a Pelikan. You really wanna feel that ride across the paper’s structure? Then a Sailor might be just for you! A slight pencil’ish feedback? The Waterman gold-nibs will serve you well. Wanna glide on ink like in a water chute? Get yourself a Visconti or hunt for a vintage-flex gusher! Whatever it is you like, I’ll promise you: once you’ve put a nib to paper, anything else will just feel ‘meh’.
This is not even to speak about the inexplicable pleasure of having that nib laying down a glossy, wet line of ink that you see slowly being absorbed into the paper as the writing tip hastily keeps on flying along the paper’s ruling. That writing line will look crisp, saturated, and confident. Not like the hesitant, shattered, pale line of a ballpoint. And last but not least: just put a fountain pen into the hand of a non-user and ask them to produce a couple of lines – and then do nothing but thoroughly observe their initially curious faces gently fade into surprised and satisfied smiles, as they see their own handwriting upgrading itself as if by a stroke of magic.
It’s perfectly fine to regard a fountain pen as nothing more than a mere tool. Which in the end it probably is. A tool to get a task done: writing. Just as a hammer gets a nail
onto your thumb into the wall. Nothing wrong with such a view – one that many people will hold.
Though, chances are there that the sheer infinity of pen models, nib types, ink variety, and paper characteristics will spark that nerd in you. Just for starters:
- Pen models:
There are pocket pens, retractable nib pens, vintage pens, oversize pens, plastic pens, Urushi lacquer pens, custom handmade pens….
- Nib types:
There are hooded nibs, inlaid nibs, flex nibs, custom grinds, specialty nibs from Japans nibsmith-grandmasters…
- Ink variety:
There is an infinite amount of ink colors, each ink having a handful of differently behaved characteristics such as shading, wetness, lubrication, dry time, sheen, flow, water resistance…
- Paper characteristics:
There is white paper, ivory paper, grey paper, each of which will make ink look different. There is a spectrum from highly absorbent paper to highly ink resistant paper, each of which will make the ink behave different and the nib feel different. There is lined, squared, dot grid, graph paper….
Now combine all of the above and, well, you arrive at the perfect nerd-playground. Or call it a hobby. Just as wine, gardening, or whatever else are. These are lovely past-times in which you can develop substantial expertise. And pleasure. And that’s just a whole lotta fun. And I’ve not even started mentioning things such as pen-/company-history, attending pen shows, and so on.
Writing with a fountain pen has class. Period. No further explanations. I would also not explain why a three-piece-suit has class. It just has.