Beginner fountain pen users are most likely familiar with the ink cartridges that are installed in the pens. They are by far the easiest way to ink your pen with the least fuss and mess. However, a fountain pen ink converter is a great alternative to disposable cartridges that allow you to choose your own bottled ink and avoid unnecessary waste with only a little more maintenance than cartridges.
But first-timers may be a little intimidated getting started with a fountain pen converter, the types of converters available, and how to use each of them. So I’ve put together this converter guide to help you learn how to use a fountain pen converter. If you are interested in other types of fountain pen filling systems, check out our post explaining all of those and how to fill each type.
Table of Contents
What is a Fountain Pen Converter?
So as I’ve said, a fountain pen converter is a device that lets you refill your fountain pen from bottled ink as opposed to using disposable ink cartridges that come pre-filled. Ink converters are reusable, which is great for the environment, and also lets you fill your fountain pens with virtually any ink you can imagine.
If you’ve never seen a cartridge, you can think of them as similar to the replacement pen refills you can get for ballpoint pens or rollerball pens, where you keep the same pen body and just replace the ink. The converter, on the other hand, comes empty, so you’ll need to buy your own ink bottle to fill the converter to get your pen writing.
Types of Fountain Pen Converters
Now that we know what a fountain pen converter is, we should learn the fountain pen converter types to help you understand the best option for you or learn which version may have come with your fountain pen so you can properly fill it with ink. The three converter types are a piston converter, a squeeze converter, and a push-button converter.
The most common type of converter is a piston converter. It works by twisting a knob at the end at the top of the converter, which moves the piston up and down to create a vacuum to draw ink into the pen.
As the name suggests, squeeze converters use a squeeze mechanism to squeeze the air in and out of the converter to create a vacuum to draw ink into the converter.
The least common converter option is a push-button converter. They are a great option to hold more ink than other types but are more difficult to use and harder to clean.
How to Fill a Fountain Pen Converter
Now that you know which converter is for you or you’ve identified the converter type you own, we can talk about filling a fountain pen converter.
Step 1: Unscrew the body of the pen and insert the converter in the grip section (the part with the nib).
Step 2: With the piston fully raised, dip the nib into your ink bottle. The nib will need to be entirely submerged, and it may even be necessary for the grip section to touch the ink. This is because the pen draws ink in through the breather hole in the nib, so if any part of the hole is above the ink, it won’t draw ink in properly.
Step 3: Twist the converter’s knob counterclockwise to lower the piston to expel the air from inside the converter. Bubbles will escape from the pen as this happens.
Step 4: Now, twist the knob clockwise to raise the piston mechanism and suction ink into the converter’s chamber. There may still be air or bubbles in the converter when the piston is fully raised. That’s normal.
Step 5: Repeat steps three and four until the chamber is fully filled with ink.
Step 6: Using a paper towel, clean the grip of ink and gently blot the top of the nib to absorb excess ink. Don’t press too hard on the nib, or you’ll start bringing ink from inside the pen, creating a large mess.
Step 7: Now you can reassemble your pen and start writing. Your pen should start writing immediately because the nib was completely submerged in brand new ink. If it doesn’t work for some reason, give your pen a gentle shake and try again. You can also see our guide for what to do if your pen won’t write for more help.
Step 1: Disassemble the pen and insert the converter into the grip section.
Step 2: Dip the nib into the bottle, making sure the nib is completely submerged. It may even be necessary for the grip to touch the ink. This is because the pen draws ink in through the breather on the nib, so if any part of the hole is above the ink, it won’t draw ink in properly.
Step 3: Squeeze the push-bar or sac firmly to expel air from inside the converter. There should be air bubbles in the ink as you squeeze.
Step 4: Slowly release the pressure on the bulb and wait a few seconds to allow the converter to suction the ink in.
Step 5: Repeat steps three and four until no more air bubbles come out when you squeeze. If your converter is clear, you will see that the ink is about two-thirds or half-full. That’s normal as squeeze converters have a limit on how much ink is physically able to be vacuumed inside.
Step 6: Using a paper towel, clean the ink off the grip and gently blot the top of the nib to absorb excess ink. Don’t press too hard on the nib, or you’ll start bringing ink from inside the pen, which will create a large mess.
Step 7: Reassemble your pen and start writing. Your pen should start writing immediately because the nib was completely submerged in brand new ink. If, for some reason, it doesn’t work, give your pen a gentle shake and try again. You can also see our guide for what to do if your pen won’t write for more help.
Step 1: Disassemble the pen and insert your converter into the pen.
Step 2: Completely submerge the nib into the ink. it may even be necessary for the grip to touch the ink. This is because the pen draws ink in through the breather hole in the nib. If any part of the hole is above the ink, it won’t draw ink in properly.
Step 3: Quickly press and release the converter’s button to push air out of the converter and draw ink inside. You must push very quickly or the converter won’t draw in much ink. Continue pressing the button until the converter is completely filled with ink and there are no more air bubbles released as you press.
Step 4: Using a paper towel, clean the grip to remove ink and gently blot the top of the nib to absorb excess ink. Don’t press too hard on the nib, or you’ll start bringing ink from inside the pen, which will create a large mess.
Step 5: Reassemble your pen and start writing. Your pen should start writing immediately because the nib was completely submerged in brand new ink. If it doesn’t work for some reason, give your pen a gentle shake and try again. You can also see our guide for what to do if your pen won’t write for more help.
How to Install a Fountain Pen Converter
If you’re new to fountain pens, you may want to know how to use a fountain pen for the first time and how to insert a converter. Luckily this is pretty simple and is done the same way for all converters.
There is a small opening on one side of the converter, opposite from the filling mechanism (the knob, button, or bulb). Insert the opening into the grip (the part with the nib) and press firmly. It may feel like you’re using more force than necessary, but the converter must fit tightly to work properly. It should feel secure and unable to wiggle around at all.
Fountain Pen Converter Compatibility
Not all pens are compatible will all converters. Before buying a converter, it’s important to ensure your new converter will work with your pen or your new pens will work with the converters you own.
Standard International converters are the most common size for fountain pens. They come in both short and long sizes to accommodate different pen body sizes. Brands like Kaweco, Monteverde, Pelikan, and TWSBI all use the Standard size.
On the other hand, many brands use their own proprietary size for converters, so you would have to buy a converter specifically made for each of these pens. Brands like Platinum, Sailor, Pilot, Parker, Montblanc, and Lamy make their own converters.
For a more in-depth guide to converter compatibility, check out our guide.
How to Clean a Fountain Pen Converter
One of the most significant parts of ensuring your fountain pen and converter continue functioning correctly for years to come is giving each of them a proper cleaning. Here are the steps to properly clean your fountain pen converter.
Step 1: Disassemble the pen and rinse the nib section under cold running water.
Step 2: Take the converter and dip the open end into a cup of clean water. As if you were filling it with ink, fill the converter with water, then release the water back into the cup or another cup. Continue until no more ink is released from the cartridge.
Step 3: Insert the cartridge into the nib section.
Step 4: In a new cup of water, submerge the nib and fill the cartridge, once again, like you were filling the pen with ink. Repeat filling and unfilling the cartridge until the water runs clear. You will need to replace the water when it becomes saturated with ink.
Step 5: Disassemble the pen and soak the nib and cartridge in a cup of clean water. This will help remove any stubborn ink.
Step 6: Dry thoroughly for at least 24 hours, and reassemble.
It is also possible to further disassemble the cartridge to get any ink that has built up in the mechanisms. This will depend on the type of converter you have and how comfortable you are disassembling mechanisms. To learn more, visit our guide on how to clean a fountain pen.
And that’s it for our Fountain Pen Converter Guide. Hopefully, you’ve seen the rewards of using a converter vs. a cartridge and have been convinced to try one yourself. Or, if you’re already sold on cartridges, hopefully, our guide was able to teach you how to use a fountain pen converter correctly, and your pen is writing smoothly. If you have any questions, make sure to leave them in the comments below, and check out our other fountain pen guides for more information on all things fountain pens.
Can You Use a Converter on any Fountain Pen?
No. Simply put, some fountain pens use a standard converter sizing, while others use their own proprietary sizes. For more info, see our converter compatibility guide.
What is the Best Fountain Pen Converter Type?
While each type has their own benefits, most people say the piston mechanism is best. This is because it’s the easiest to use and fills the pen with the most ink, meaning fewer ink refills or cleanings.
What’s Better: Fountain Pen Converter vs. Cartridge?
This will depend on your pen personality. If you like things quick and easy, a cartridge is best for you. There is less cleaning, less mess, and less work. However, a cartridge is more eco-friendly and can be used with a variety of inks that are often not found in cartridges (or at least not cartridges compatible with all pens.
On any given day, I will like one or the other better, but overall, I like converters because I can sample different inks, use my favorites in my other fountain pens, and I feel less wasteful. However, there are times I use cartridges in between my converter when I’m a little more impatient and just want to throw ink in there.
Why is my Fountain Pen Converter Not Filling?
There are many reasons why your fountain pen may not be filling. First, check that your converter is inserted properly. Second, check that your nib is fully inserted into the ink, so the breather hole is submerged. Third, ensure you’re correctly maneuvering the mechanism (the piston, bulb, or button). And Fourth, see if you can spot any defects on your nib or mechanism that might be inhibiting the vacuum function on the converter.
What Inks Can I Use in My Fountain Pen?
You can use virtually any ink that is rated for fountain pens. These can be standard inks in blacks, blues, or your favorite color, to shimmering, glittery, waterproof, or iron gall inks. Just make sure the ink is made for fountain pens, and be sure to give your pen a thorough cleaning between each ink as inks can negatively interact with each other, or some inks, like iron gall, can gum up your fountain pen if left in for too long. For more info, head over to our guide to the best fountain pen inks.
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