How do you choose your first fountain pen? I have prepared a handful of tips and specific tips on what to look for when buying.
“What pen should I buy to start with?” This is a question that you ask a lot on my Discord group, in emails and private messages. Unfortunately, there is no specific answer to this question. However, I can tell you what to consider when choosing, describe my pens, and point out a few noteworthy models.
Simply put, it can be said that a good starting pen should be reasonably priced, nice looking, solidly made, and writes smoothly. What does “nice” and “inexpensive” mean, everyone has to answer for himself. The most important criterion when choosing your first pen is a good fit for the user. What to look for when buying a beginner fountain pen?
The appearance of the pen
The fantasy of fountain pen companies has no limits. You can buy feathers in all colors, with eccentric patterns and very different shapes. When considering your choice, consider your style and the circumstances under which you will be using the pen. Think about whether you will get bored with a very unusual pen after some time. Maybe it’s worth betting on a safe classic at the beginning? My first feathers were calm and elegant. Now I also have colorful and fancy patterns in my collection.
Should I choose a plastic or metal pen? Plastic ones are lighter. If you are unfamiliar with writing with a pen, your wrist can tire of holding onto the solid metal body for hours. Plastic is more pleasant to touch than cool metal, but it looks less elegant.
When considering buying the pen of your choice, don’t overlook the details. Just such a trifle as the way the cap is attached: the screw cap is difficult to open quickly with one hand. If you are looking for a lecture note pen and you will be reaching for it dozens of times a day, it may be bothering you.
Conversely, the dome cap may slip off if you carry the pen loosely in your pocket, backpack, or purse – there is a risk of ink spills. There are also pens without caps, with a nib that slides out of the body (eg Pilot Capless ).
The standard type of nib you buy a fountain pen with is M (medium), giving you a medium-thick line. It’s great for everyday notes, as long as you type in normal-sized letters. In most pens, however, you can choose other nibs – from very thin to cut, giving a wide line.
- Thickness. The thinnest nibs are EF (X, XF) or extra-fine (very thin), then we have F – fine (thin), M – medium (medium), B – broad (thick) and BB (2B) – double broad (very thin) thickly typed). Sometimes triple broad nibs ( BBB , 3B) can also be found , e.g. in the Pelikan M1000 model . Unfortunately, these designations are not uniform for all companies and can therefore be confusing. In general, Japanese nibs (e.g. in Pilot pens) are thinner than European ones (e.g. in Lama feathers), i.e. the Japanese equivalent of M will usually be European F , and vice versa.
- The shape of the tip. The tip of the nib can be rounded (like in a pen) or cut. Rounded line gives the same line no matter how you hold the pen. Cut straight, ( italic or stub type ) draws a wide line. The oblique cut nib, marked with O ( oblique), gives – skillfully rotated – the possibility of decorative writing with a line of various thickness.
- Flexibility. Beginners often ask for pens with a flexible (flexing) nib, which can be alternately thin and thick – as in Copperplate writing. It is worth emphasizing that modern fountain pens with an flexing nib do not give such a variable line as pens manufactured several dozen years ago. Examples of flex nib pens currently in production include Noodler’s Ahab and Pilot Falcon . Another option is to buy a used pre-war pen, possibly from a recommended, proven source. You can look for them on forums or at events for feather lovers (Pen Show, Fountain Pen Day). A line written with such a pen will be very diverse, giving an effect similar to a nib on the pen holder .
Ink filling method
You have a choice of three options: a pen for cartridges, a pen with a plunger permanently fixed in the body, and – the most popular and universal – a pen with a variable filling system, which you can use with cartridges or with a converter (removable plunger).
- The cartridges are convenient – they do not stain your fingers and are easy to change outside the home. Their main disadvantage is the limited choice of colors. Some pens (eg Lama) do not fit the most popular short cartridges, you have to buy special ones.
- Using bottled ink is cheaper in the long run and does not make us dependent on a single manufacturer. Some pens are sold with a converter, but sometimes you need to buy it separately (which is worth considering when considering the price). The indirect method is to fill used cartridges with bottled ink using a needle and syringe.
- A plunger permanently mounted in the pen usually has a greater capacity than the cartridge, but it forces you to carry a bottle of ink.
My 3 favorite beginner pens
Llamas are not the plural of a South American animal spitting on onlookers at a zoo. It is also not “Lejmi”, although Americans stubbornly pronounce the name this way (but they pronounce everything in their own way). 😉 The founder of the company was German Josef Lamy and we pronounce “Lami” .
Colorful, plastic Safari, with a characteristic clip resembling a paperclip, is distinguished by an unusual futuristic design. It has a good nib (you can buy it in several thicknesses, from EF to B, and also in a left-handed version), it is light (the hand does not get tired while writing for a long time), and the section (the part of the pen that we hold with our fingers when writing) is specially contoured (which, however, does not suit everyone). You can write with cartridges (they are unusual, large – the Lama and my pen Herlitza cartridges fit ) or you can buy a converter and use bottled ink. An oval window is built into the pen body to view the ink level.
Safari can be bought in many color variants, some are on offer, others appear every year as a special edition (which disappears after some time or goes into permanent production). In 2017, the special edition is Marine Petrol. With Lama’s feathers, if we like their appearance, we want another, another, and another. I have five and still not enough. 😉 I use EF and M nibs – there is not much difference between them, the line is quite thick and “wet”.
Kaweco Classic Sport
Kaweco is also a German company (named after the founders of Koch, Weber & Co.) founded at the end of the 19th century in Heidelberg. The most popular model, Kaweco Sport, is a dwarf feather. When folded, it measures just over 10 centimeters (for comparison Lamy Safari 14 cm), so it will fit not only in any purse but also in a pocket.
After the cap is put on, it has normal dimensions and you can write comfortably with it. It is a visually very modern pen, although its appearance has not changed for over eighty years. It is made of plastic (there is also a metal version, several times more expensive), you can get them in several colors. Choose from several nib thicknesses ( EF to BB ). Converter and clip must be purchased separately.
I have a very nice Kaweco Sport model – transparent. As I use a gold ink pen for this, the whole thing looks really pleasing to the eye. I chose the F nib and it is really thin, it does not scratch the paper, it gives an even line – I am very happy with it. Unfortunately, the converter is not very roomy due to the pen size.
When someone asks me about a really cheap and good fountain pen for beginners, I recommend “Chinese”. I buy them on Aliexpress and I still can’t get over my amazement that someone pays off to produce them, sell them for a few dollars, send them to Norway without postage and earn money. Because they are really decent pens, metal, nice to look at.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to choose the exact size of the nib, usually, there is a thin 0.38 (equivalent to F ) and quite thick ( B ) option . I already have five Chinese pens, Jinhao and Hero, and (except for one converter that broke after a few months) I have no complaints about them.
My favorite is the thin gray Hero pen with dots, delicate and feminine. The pen works with standard cartridges, there was a converter attached to it. Hero is a Chinese brand created in the 30s in Shanghai.
Hope this post helps you choose your first fountain pen. If you’re still wondering whether a pen is a good choice, read about its benefits.