So you’ve picked your first fountain pen, inked it, and found your fountain pen-friendly paper. But, now what? It’s time to write. Despite the slightly intimidating look of the fountain pen, it’s relatively simple to use. However, following some tips and tricks will make your fountain pen write better, last longer, and give a beautiful look to your writing, art, calligraphy, drawing, or sketching. Whatever you choose to do with your fountain pen.
In this article, I’ll give you everything you need to know about how to write with a fountain pen, choose your materials, and maximize your writing experience.
Why Use a Fountain Pen?
Before we get started in learning to write with a fountain pen, we should talk about why you should use one. Not only are fountain pens aesthetically pleasing, but they’re also really great writing tools. While you could easily use a ballpoint pen, after the initial adjustment to the fountain pen writing style, they’re actually easier to use and have many benefits.
Reasons to Use a Fountain Pen
- Improved handwriting
- Less hand strain
- Less cost over time
Disadvantages of a Fountain Pen
While fountain pens are fantastic writing tools, they’re not the best for every situation, and they do have drawbacks. Some of the disadvantages are:
- Less ink capacity
- Inks tend to be wet and can smudge easily
- Expensive initial cost
- You need to be conscious of nib position, so “lazy” writing styles may not work.
To learn more, read my beginner’s guide to fountain pens Here.
How to Write with a Fountain Pen
So now, how do you write with a fountain pen?
Choose the Right Fountain Pen
Before you can write correctly with a fountain pen, you should pay attention to your writing style as your writing style will dictate the type of pen you choose and, therefore, how comfortable of a writing experience you’ll have.
Nib size will depend on the size of your handwriting. The smaller the writing, the smaller the nib should be. And vice versa. The How to Choose a Fountain Pen section below will get into more of this. Talking about nibs, you should also look at your font style. A broad nib is more suited to cursive styles while
The size of your hand will help you choose a pen body style. The larger your hand, the larger your pen body should be to give you the most comfort when writing.
Your writing speed will also determine the best pen for you. The faster you write, the light your pen should be. You should also pick a more quick-drying fountain pen ink, so you don’t smear your ink as you write (an essential if you’re a leftie). See our guide to fountain pen inks, Here.
Scroll down to choose a Fountain Pen for more advice on choosing your next pen.
How to Correctly Hold a Fountain Pen
Holding a fountain pen isn’t hard but can be tricky to get used to if you’ve been writing with other pens all your life (like most of us). There are 3 main things to think about: balance, grip, and angle.
The first thing to think about when holding a fountain pen is balance. One significant aspect of balance is actually the pen’s cap. There is apparently a considerable debate about whether you should “post” the cap (putting the cap on the back of the pen) or not. Fountain pens feel more balanced when posted, but those with smaller hands may prefer to go without. Some pens, like the Kaweco Sport, have such a short body they need to have the cap posted to feel comfortable in almost every hand.
Most fountain pen experts agree that the “tripod grip” is the best way to hold a fountain pen. The basics for the tripod grip are: hold your pen between your thumb and index finger. Rest the pen on your middle finger’s bottom knuckle. The rest of your fingers should sit on your writing surface. This way, they support the fingers holding your pen while you write.
Personally, this is not the way I hold a typical pen or pencil, so it takes a conscious effort for me to write this way. However, this position allows the ink to flow smoothly. When writing, the pen remains firm in your grip, and the nib will remain even on the page.
The pen should make a 40-55 degree angle with your writing surface since that is the optimal writing position. Keep your fingers stiff and place the tip of your nib facing down and the slit facing up. Once at that angle, write for a few lines to find the “sweet spot.” You’ll know you’ve found this spot when you feel comfortable, the nib is not scratchy, and the ink flowing nicely.
Make sure you keep your pen at this angle and avoid twisting or rotating the pen in your hand. I tend to rotate my pens or pencils in my hands when I pause writing which doesn’t work with fountain pens. You can think about turning a pencil to get back to the sharp point. But obviously, that isn’t necessary or functional in this situation.
Perfect Your Writing Movement
Write With Your Arm
Some people keep their hands almost completely still while writing by flexing and bending their fingers to control and move the pen. This is often exhausting and leads to long-term finger strain. Not only that, but this writing style changes the pen’s elevation and rotation, which makes it virtually impossible to keep your pen nib at the correct angle for writing properly.
To keep the nib in its proper place and to avoid hand injuries, you should write with your lower arm. This allows you to use your arm’s (obviously stronger) muscles instead of your small finger muscles. This way, you don’t need to strain your hand and wrist as much. You can also keep the elevation and rotation of the pen consistent to allow the ink to flow better.
If you’re used to writing with ballpoint pens, you are probably used to pushing hard on your pen. Ballpoint pens require you to push down to write. Fountain pens don’t require nearly as much pressure for the ink to flow. Simply guide the pen across the page. Pushing too hard can ruin the alignment of the nib over time.
Tricks to Write with a Fountain Pen for Lefties
Many left-handed people might be turned off from using fountain pens because of their tendency to smear. But fountain pens are definitely still an option for lefties.
A few tips for Lefties to try:
- Place your paper on the left-hand side of your body. This will help you see what you’re writing better.
- Write with the paper tilted about 90 degrees relative to the table surface. This might help you keep a better angle of the pen nib to the page while being easier on your arm.
- Write with your hand under the writing line. This will minimize the possible smudging with your hand.
- Buy a left-handed nib. Some manufacturers offer left-hand nibs cut in the opposite direction of a regular nib, obviously to accommodate the opposite angle to the page.
- Use a stiff, solid nib to help give straight, smear-free lines. Some lefties push their pens across the page (as opposed to pulling like righties), and soft nibs would pull apart when pushed and cause smudging and excess ink to be released. Learn more about fountain pen nibs Here.
For more help, see my guide on writing with fountain pens for lefties.
How to Choose a Fountain Pen
So if you’re new to fountain pens and unsure where to start, let’s start right at the beginning.
When choosing the size of your fountain pen, you need to look at the size of your hands,
Using a pen that is too small or too large will result in hand fatigue and cramping. Large hands will be more comfortable with thick, long pens, such as TWSBI Fountain Pens. Small hands will feel more at ease with slim pens with contoured grips, like the Pilot Penmanship Fountain Pens.
The petite Kaweco Liliput, one of the smallest fountain pens in the world, is also an excellent option for small hands. Five inches, when posted, it offers just enough balance without being too big. Those with arthritis will find girthier pens more comfortable to hold regardless of hand size.
The pen’s weight is crucial to how your handwriting will look on the paper. The weight of the pen determines how well it balances and fits in your hand. Ideally, you want a weight that feels comfortable and requires the least amount of effort to maneuver when using a fountain pen.
Three things can affect the weight of a fountain pen: the material it’s made from, the amount of ink inside the barrel, and the diameter of the inner chamber. Most pens today are made from plastic, wood, or other synthetic materials. But most high-end options are from stainless steel, aluminum alloy, or gold.
You should also look at how fast you write. Writing speed often comes down to occasion and personal preference. But obviously, the heavier the pen, the slower it will make you write, or the more tired your hand will become. So a lighter pen is better for quicker writers.
Look at how much you’ll be writing. A heavier pen will inevitably feel heavier the longer you use it. So if you are studying or taking notes, you should choose a lighter pen and keep the heavier ones for the more important signatures or short-form writing sessions.
To write, you obviously need ink. There are multiple types of filling mechanisms on fountain pens.
Filling mechanism options:
- Cartridge: a small disposable plastic tube filled with ink.
- Converter: a small reusable plastic tube to which you can manually add ink.
- Built-in Filling System: internal system to fill with ink.
Cartridges are the easiest as they require no maintenance and are disposable. But that means they’ll cost more in the long run. Converters and built-in systems can take some time to get used to but they will save money and allow you to choose more ink styles and options.
When picking out a pen, you’ll want to choose a filling system that works for you. For low maintenance, go for a cartridge pen like the Kaweco Sport. Or, if you want versatility in your inks, choose a built-in system like TWSBI ECO.
For more information on fountain pen filling systems, check out my guide.
For nibs, you should look at what you write and how you tend to write.
The rule of thumb is that finer nibs suit smaller handwriting while broad nibs suit larger handwriting. Finer nibs allow small, squished handwriting to be more legible. But if your handwriting is tall and wide, writing with a fine nib may make your letters look spidery and disproportionate.
Consider fine Japanese fountain pen nibs if you’re in the former camp of writers. For those in the latter group, consider broad Western fountain pen nibs. Learn more about the differences between these two in our Guide to Fountain Pen Nibs.
Choose a smaller nib if you are writing very fine lines or delicate details. Because they contain many details, Asian scripts such as Chinese and Japanese must be written with thin lines to maintain legibility. Additionally, traditional writing and calligraphy often require writers to lift the nib from the paper and alter the pressure of their strokes.
For example, you may start with more pressure on the paper and end with a lighter stroke. One great fountain pen for writing Asian characters is the Pilot Elabo, which has a soft, flexible nib that creates different line widths depending on the pressure you apply.
The Elabo comes in fine and extra fine nib sizes, which is also excellent for writing complex characters. Remember that finer Japanese nibs may dig into your paper if you apply too much pressure. Try a lighter touch when you’re using them.
On the other hand, the Western alphabet has relatively simple shapes. Western writers also tend to use cursive, a style in which the pen doesn’t need to lift from the page too often. A good fountain pen for Western lettering writes fluidly, has a broader nib, and doesn’t require too much pressure to use.
For more, check out our guide to choosing a fountain pen nib.
Choose the Right Fountain Pen Supplies
Choosing the right supplies will help improve your fountain pen writing experience.
Choosing The Right Fountain Pen Ink
After picking out the pen, choosing an ink is the second most important part. Inks come in different colors and types and can even change how you write or use your pen. If you’re using a cartridge pen, you’ll only have that as an option unless you use a converter.
- Water-based. These are generally less expensive and more common but might dry out faster.
- Oil-based. These are usually thicker and don’t dry quickly at all.
- Alcohol-based. This is the most popular option as they combine aspects of both water-based and oil-based.
Some inks also offer shine, shading, glitter, and even color effects.
When thinking about what ink you might want, you’ll want to think about:
- Flow. Flow, or the “wetness,” refers to how quickly an ink runs through a pen. The wetter an ink is, the quicker it flows, and the more ink is put on the paper. Wet inks feel smoother to write with than dry inks. But dry inks are less likely to feather or bleed through an average piece of paper. The flow of the ink is up to you, but generally, if you’re
- Saturation. Saturation refers to how much colorant is in the ink. Highly saturated inks are dark and vibrant, while less-saturated inks are paler and more transparent. In general, highly saturated inks take longer to dry and are more prone to smearing after they dry. Highly saturated inks can also cause dye residue to build up in your nib and feed over time. If you want a low-maintenance and no-fuss ink, go with a medium or low saturation.
- Shading. Shading is where ink appears darker in some areas and lighter in others. As you write, the ink tends to pool at the beginning and end of letters and loops where two lines intersect. The effect is a unique gradation of color intensity from letter to letter. Your pen and paper also play a significant role in shading. Smoother paper promotes more shading since the ink has more time to pool into high-concentration and low-concentration areas as it dries. Shading is a fascinating and unique element of fountain pen inks, but not everyone enjoys it. For some, too much shading is distracting or doesn’t look good.
- Sheen. Sheen is when an ink appears to have a metallic finish. Sheen is caused by dye or pigment crystals forming on the paper’s surface instead of absorbing into its fibers. As with shading, pen and paper are a huge factor in whether or not you experience sheen. Not all inks are prone to sheening, and even the ones that do sheen will only do so if it isn’t fully absorbed into the paper. So naturally, less-absorbent papers and wetter pens are better if you want to get as much sheen as possible.
For more info on Fountain Pen Ink, see our guide Here.
Choosing the right Fountain Pen Paper
Because of the nature of fountain pen ink, it tends to remain wet on the page for a long period. This can mean smudgy, blotting, or just not a great writing experience. So, just like choosing the right ink, you’ll have to pick the right paper.
Paper color. A crisp, clean white is the standard for most fountain pen paper. Its neutral tone is the best choice for inks to show their true colors. The brightness of white paper varies across different manufacturers: some papers are a bright white, while others are a soft off-white. Ivory- and cream-colored paper are also available as easier options for the eyes.
Feathering. The dreaded effect known as feathering occurs when ink spreads through a paper’s fibers, resulting in an unattractive, web-like mess. Low-quality paper is more prone to feathering, while high-quality paper is specifically designed to resist the spread of ink along its fibers.
Aside from the paper itself, nib size and ink formula can both play a role in the amount of feathering that occurs. Broader nibs put more ink on the page, meaning more ink soaking into the paper’s fibers. Some inks are simply more prone to feathering regardless of nib size or paper as well.
Bleedthrough and Showthrough. Bleedthrough occurs when a paper is too thin or too absorbent or when a fountain pen ink is particularly wet. The fibers of fountain pen-friendly papers are specifically woven to prevent bleedthrough, but you may still see traces of what you’ve written on the other side of the paper.
This “shadow” is also known as showthrough. The level of showthrough largely depends on the opacity of the paper, which can be affected by the paper’s thickness. A thicker paper will likely have less showthrough, but that doesn’t mean it will have less bleedthrough.
Dry Time. The less absorbent a paper is, the longer the dry time—and vice versa. A paper with very low absorbency will demonstrate less feathering, but it’s more prone to smudging as the ink simply refuses to dry. The more absorbent a paper is, the more likely it will exhibit bleedthrough.
In practice, you should choose a paper that balances dry times and bleedthrough according to your needs. Left-handed writers may prefer a more absorbent paper, while those who use extra fine nibs can consider using less absorbent paper.
Sheet Style. Like regular paper, fountain pen paper comes in a range of sheet styles, including lined, blank, dot grid, and graph. For those who prefer blank sheets, some manufacturers will include a template that can be layered behind the paper to keep your writing straight. To read more about sheet styles, read our Best Notebooks for Every Use guide.
Paper Texture. Most fountain pen paper has a smooth surface, allowing the nib to glide across the paper. Some papers (like Midori MD) have a hint of tooth that provides a tactile sensation. Usually, a paper’s sizing or coating affects its smoothness. A fully coated paper is slippery, and inks take longer to absorb and dry.
An uncoated paper tends to be more textured and may soak up ink. For all writers, we recommend starting with partially coated papers for smooth writing experiences and reasonable dry times. As your familiarity with fountain pens increases, you’ll develop your preferences regarding paper texture.
Check out our guide to the best fountain pen paper Here.
Using Your Fountain Pen
So what should you do with a fountain pen? Lucky for you, you can do virtually anything with a fountain pen. If you can use another pen or writing utensil, you can use a fountain pen. Here are some ideas:
- Make your own greeting cards for family and friends.
- Add style to your class notes.
- Write the next great American novel.
- Use it to sign important or special documents.
- Start a calligraphy business and sell your stationery.
- Sketch out your surroundings.
- Journal your thoughts or plan your day.
Whatever you do with your fountain pen, I know it’ll be a special and unique experience. There’s something about writing with a fountain pen that will add an extra flair to whatever it is you’re doing.
Fountain Pen Care Tips
Fountain pens are relatively easy to use and a great option for all writers, but they must be taken care of to ensure longevity and the best writing experience.
Clean Your Fountain Pen Regularly
Regularly cleaning your fountain pen can be the difference between a long-lasting pen and one that breaks down in time. A rule of thumb is to clean your pen every time you swap out or refill ink, when it’s visibly dirty, or when it’s not writing as well as usual.
- For a quick clean, simply unscrew the section from the body, remove the filling mechanism, and run water through it until it runs clear.
- For more in-depth cleans, you’ll want to soak your nib in water or flush your pen, depending on the mechanism inside.
For more, check out our guide on how to clean fountain pens.
Store Your Fountain Pen Properly
Another way to keep your pen working properly is by storing it correctly. Simply put, the best way to store a fountain pen is horizontally in a pen dish. This keeps the nib from drying out but also helps ensure the ink doesn’t leak into the cap or out into wherever you’re keeping it.
If you can’t store it horizontally, like in your bag or purse, the next best option is vertical with the nib facing up. This will allow the ink to flow back into the pen (not out into your bag) but dry out the nib. If your nib does dry out, you can usually scribble a few seconds on a scrap paper, and it’ll get going again. If not, adding a drop of water to the nib will usually help.
If you need more help, see my guide about what to do if your fountain pen isn’t writing Here.
Beyond cleaning and storing properly, you’ll want to:
- Cap your pen when not in use. This keeps the nib from drying out.
- Avoid placing it in direct sunlight for extended periods
- Completely fill or empty the ink when traveling.
Improve Your Writing with a Fountain Pen
Writing with a fountain pen can often improve your handwriting. Between holding your pen the correct way and being more conscious of your movements, you will most likely automatically improve your writing. But, if you want to further improve your writing and write even more neatly with your fountain pen.
Tips for Improving Your Handwriting
The easiest way to improve your writing is to, obviously, slow down. The slower and more conscious you write, the better your lines and whirls become.
Sit in a comfortable chair with your back straight and your feet on the ground in a relaxed posture. Don’t slouch but keep yourself loose and not stiff. Your writing area should be in front of you at a comfortable angle for your arm. You want to be able to move your writing hand, arm, and elbow freely.
If you’re still not liking your handwriting or want to try to make it neater or find your own personal style, try to imitate others. This sounds strange if you’re trying to find your own style. But using your favorite handwriting as templates, you can learn to create a style that is easy for you and fits your wishes. You can find workbooks Here to help improve your writing.
Other Fountain Pen Resources
Fountain Pen Writing FAQs
Are fountain pens easy to use?
Even with their exquisite appearance and delicate and shiny nibs, fountain pens are perfect for elevating your everyday writing experience. Often confused as a ‘calligraphy pen’ or a ‘dip pen,’ rest assured they are neither as tricky nor messy as those.
Why should I write with a fountain pen?
The ink from a fountain pen glides effortlessly over the surface of the page, allowing you to hold the pen less tightly and avoiding pain and fatigue when writing. Fountain pens are also more eco-friendly, cost-effective in the long run, and allow you to create your style by choosing more upscale or fun options that last.
Can you write with a fountain pen upside down?
In short, no. The ink flows through the fountain pen partly by gravity. Since there’s no mechanism in a fountain pen to push it up, there will be no ink in the nib if the nib is above the feed. You’ll have to find a pen made for writing upside down. Check my guide here for some ideas.
What to do if my Fountain Pen doesn’t write?
There could be many reasons your fountain pen isn’t writing. The first thing to do is check the ink level in your cartridge or converter, then shake and tap the pen to try to get the ink moving. You can also wet the nib with a few drops of water to help wet any dried up ink, and if nothing else works, flood the feed.
For a more in-depth guide, check my guide here.
And there you have it: how to write with a fountain pen. Hopefully, you’ve learned something and can now confidently write with your new pen. If you have any questions or want to add anything to my guide, leave a comment below.