2018 is the year I became obsessed with fountain pens. I’ve long enjoyed writing by hand, and for years my favorite pen was the Pilot Precise V5. But the more I though about the Great Straw Ban of 2018 and other environmental issues, the more I started to think about other areas of my life where I could reduce waste.
It turns out, fountain pens are a joy to use, you don’t have the break the bank buying one, and they are the perfect hobby to delve into at any level, whether you want to dabble or become a full-blown collector.
Why Write by Hand in the First Place?
Even though I write for a living, and spend most of my time on the internet, I still make a point to journal by hand every morning. I also prefer to take notes by hand when I’m working. Why? For one, I don’t want to lose the skill of nice penmanship. But also, numerous studies have shown that writing by hand stimulates a part of the brain associated with creativity, an area not activated by typing. In addition, people who take notes by hand have better long-term memory retention of those notes.
Yes, typing is a lot faster. But when writing by hand, going slow is part of the point. Writing manually allows us to more deeply connect with the thoughts and material as we go. Plus, in a world where we’re constantly connected to digital devices, it feels nice to go analog once in a while, especially when using a technology as ancient as a nibbed pen.
They Produce Less Waste
Next time you’re at your desk, have a look at how many plastic, half-used, dried out, or broken pens you have. Now consider that you can buy a decent fountain pen for about $30—one that will last you at least a few years or longer. Additionally, you can buy a 3-ounce bottle of high-quality ink for about $10 that’ll easily last longer than any writing device you currently own. No more throwing away whole pens the minute they run out of ink. No more clutter!
Plus, it’s better for your wallet, as long as you’re not investing in a $500 Mont Blanc. Before I switched to fountain pens, I was regularly spending $20 a box for a pack of Pilot Precise V5s. My first fountain pen was a mere $5 more than that.
The Technology Has Improved
It’s easy to get bogged down in the myriad available fountain pen options, so let’s start with something beginner-friendly: The Lamy Safari is one of the most popular novice pens. It costs about $30, comes in a variety of colors, is made out of resin, and has interchangeable nibs (though at that price, you’re better off buying a second pen instead of a new nib). Check out this sleek all-black one, including a matte black nib, which is currently on sale for $20.
Another popular option is the Pilot Metropolitan, which is currently on Amazon for about $15. Both the Metro and Safari use ink cartridges, which are still better than throwing away a whole pen once it’s empty, but if you want to reduce waste even more (or use a special ink) you can buy a convertor that allows you to use bottled ink with the pen.
Pen company TWSBI just release a new starter pen called the Go, which is filled via a piston-style plunger and costs less than $20. TWSBI also makes an Eco-T for about $30, which features a special grip for helping kids or fountain pen newbies learn how to hold the pen correctly.
One of the biggest perceived problems with fountain pens is their propensity to leak. TWSBI and other companies have come up with a solution in the form of a vacuum-filled pen. My TWSBI Vac Mini is smaller than most pens, so it fits in my purse, but it's still comfortable to write with when the lid is posted. Unlike other pens, it won’t leak on an airplane. Plus, it was a reasonable $60.
Go Custom with Ink and Nibs
My TWSBI pen is what’s known as a “demonstrator pen,” which means the barrel is clear, allowing you to see the ink inside. Pen enthusiasts have great fun pairing specialty inks with different colored barrels.
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🙋 Hi Dr!! @wmanthony Today's carry. Pen: Opus 88 Koloro Demi @penchalet Nib: No6 Steel Jowo Broad Ink: Rohrer & Klingner Alt-Goldgrun @penchalet Paper: 🤔...umm...umm...🙈 #altgoldgrün #opus88koloro #ilovethisink #whatanicepair #bigpen #demonstratorpen #opus88korolodemo #opus88writing #saturdayvibes
The styles and types of ink are endless, including every color you can imagine, archivable and waterproof inks (my nightgown is currently spotted with black waterproof ink that will never wash out), plus inks that do magical things as they dry. The same goes for nibs. Most pens are available with a variety of nibs in basic sizes like extra fine, fine, medium, and bold, most of which would be used for everyday writing. Other nibs, like obliques, stubs, and italics, can produce fancier-style writing once you learn to write with them correctly. Flex nibs are a step above that, allowing for calligraphy-style writing depending on the pressure you exert on the nib.
Nerd Out to Your Heart’s Content
Like bullet journals, fountain pens have found their niche in online communities. On Instagram, the hashtag #fountainpen has more than 880,000 entries. On Reddit, r/fountainpen’s 98,000 members share images of ink splotches, ask for advice on customizing their pens, and show off their new purchases. That doesn’t even include the many other forums and blogs dedicated to inks, nibs, and even paper. It’s easy to dip your toe in the waters with an inexpensive pen, and if you find that nibbed pens are for you, continue to explore and build your collection.