Fountain pens have long been a beloved writing tool used by many writers to get a smooth writing experience, elevate your everyday writing, and often, make a statement with our beautiful and elegant writing tool.
That being said, because they are a more elevated writing tool, they have more parts and mechanisms that can cause your pen to malfunction or write badly. If you’re experiencing a fountain pen that won’t write or a pen that’s skipping or writing badly, we’ve got you covered. Our guide of what to do if your fountain pen won’t write will go over all scenarios of getting your pen going.
We’ll talk about the top three most common problems that cause a fountain pen to not write and explain how to fix each of them, as well as what to do to get your new fountain pen writing and FAQs.
Table of Contents
If your fountain pen isn’t writing, try these quick tips to get it writing quickly. Hopefully this will get it going, but if not, continue down the post to see the more in-depth options to get the ink flowing again.
- Check the ink level in your cartridge, converter, or filling system.
- Shake and tap the pen to help move fresh ink to the nib.
- Wet the nib with a few drops of water.
Note: Don’t press the nib onto the paper with the same pressure you would use on a dry ballpoint pen. This can damage the nib, which can cause the ink to stop flowing or completely break the tines of the nib.
How to Get Your Fountain Pen Writing
Luckily, there are a few common reasons that your fountain pen isn’t writing, even beyond the few above options. With a little bit of effort, you can get your fountain pen writing again. Let’s get into the reasons.
Check the Cartridge or Filling Mechanism
Like mentioned in the quick checks, one common issue is lack of ink in the pen. If that’s the case, simply swap out the ink cartridge or refill your filling mechanism. But there are other filling system issues that can cause a pen not to write.
Check Proper Installation
If you’ve already tried to shake and gently tap the pen and/or drip some water onto the nib and it still won’t write, check that the mechanism is installed properly. If a cartridge or converter isn’t pushed in all the way or is somehow crooked, the ink won’t flow properly. Just like any good trouble-shooter, try unplugging it and plugging it back in again.
See our Converter Compatibility Guide or Cartridge Compatibility Guide to ensure you’re using the correct converter/cartridge for your pen.
Force Ink Into the Nib
Next, you may need to flood the pen to force ink into the nib. For pens with a cartridge, remove the barrel and point the nib upwards. Gently squeeze the cartridge to see if you can push ink into the feed. If you see ink, stop squeezing and try a few scribbles.
For converters or piston systems, remove the barrel, point the nib up, and then twist the piston or converter nob like you would if you were emptying the pen. Once you see ink appear in the feed, stop twisting. Slowing turn the pen, as there may be excess ink in the nib that can drip, and try to write.
If you need to do this often, it may indicate an issue either with the filling mechanism or the feed. That doesn’t mean you can’t use the pen, just that you may need to swap out the filling mechanism or troubleshoot other mechanical issues in the pen.
Clean Your Fountain Pen
Whether or not flooding the pen worked, it’s probably time to also clean your fountain pen. Cleaning the pen can help get out any dried or clogged ink that may be causing the pen not to write and can ensure you don’t continue to have writing problems.
Unlike other pens, like gel pens or ballpoint types, fountain pen nibs feature tines that have a small gab that can easily get filled with small particles of dust, paper fibers, and of course, dried ink. This obstructs the capillary action that allows the pen to write. Learn more about how fountain pens work, Here.
It’s recommended to clean your pen every time you change inks or every one to two months, depending on how often you use the pen.
There are various ways you can clean your pen, from a simple soaking of the nib, to fully flushing the feed in cleaning solution.
To clean the nib:
- Step 1. Remove the pen cap and unscrew the nib from the barrel and remove the converter or cartridge.
- Step 2. With cool, running water from the faucet, rinse the nib section until the water runs clear. This washes off the surface ink.
- Step 3. Soak the nib by filling a small cup with cool water. When the water becomes saturated with ink, replace it with fresh water. Continue changing out the water until it stays clean for an hour. Some fountain pen inks—like water-resistant or highly saturated ones—may take longer to fully clean out.
- Step 4. Finally, dry out the section completely. A great way to dry it out is to put it nib down in a cup or small container filled with a paper towel or soft cloth to let gravity help pull the water out. You can also simply let the section rest on paper towels, which may take longer. This could take up to 24 hours.
To Flush the Pen:
- Step 1. Disassemble your pen and rinse it by following the first two steps from the instructions above.
- Step 2. Flush the filling system by filling the chamber with clean water as if you were filling it with ink. Then empty it. Continue until clean. You may need to replace the water to ensure a thorough clean. Or, you can choose to empty the dirty ink in a separate glass.
- Step 3. Attach the barrel or converter to the nib to prepare to flush the feed of the pen.
- Step 4. In a new cup clean of water, submerge the nib and use the filling system or converter to cycle water through the nib and filling system. Repeat filling and unfilling until the water runs clear when exiting the pen. Make sure you replace the water every few times so it doesn’t become too inky.
- Step 5. Soak the nib in a cup of water as we did in the basic cleaning. Allow it to sit for at least a few hours to help dissolve the ink left inside. You can also soak the converter or filling mechanism to get any stubborn ink.
- Step 6. Finally, let dry completely either on a paper towel or in a cup with paper towels or a cloth like we did in the basic cleaning. This will take around 24 hours. Then finally, reassemble as usual, and fill with your next ink of choice.
For more cleaning tips, check out our complete guide to cleaning a fountain pen.
Check Your Nib
Sometimes, especially if you’re newer to writing with fountain pens or have disassembled the nib for cleaning, the nib can become misaligned or bent. To check the health of your nib, take a look at each of the ways the nib can prevent the pen from writing and learn how to fix a fountain pen nib for proper ink flow.
It’s also possible that the tines can become misaligned from each other. While it may be possible to see the misalignment with the naked eye, especially if they are significantly splayed, a magnifying glass can help for minor issues.
Hold a clean nib up to the light. there should be a very slight gap between the tines that is even from the feed to the tip. If the gap is larger at the tip, the tines are splayed, causing issues with the ink flow. This is often caused by too much pressure when writing. The tines can also touch at the tip, which may be caused when reassembling the nib after cleaning, or incorrect writing form.
To fix this, hold the underside of the feed with a fingertip and roll the top of the nib against ahe table hard surface or a few seconds. Then, turn the nib on its side, pressing first one tine against a hard surface, pushing the tine inward, and then switch to the other side. This should help push the tines together.
If your tines are touching, you can hold the pen on a table as if you were writing. Gently but firmly press the tines and hold for a few seconds, spreading the tines no more than a millimeter or two apart. Don’t push too hard as you can damage. Continue pressing for a few seconds at a time and checking the tines’ distance until they have an equal gap from feed to tip.
Misaligned Feed and Nib
The feed and nib can become misaligned, typically if you completely disassemble the nib during the cleaning process. Usually, you can check the alignment with the naked eye, but a magnifying glass may be helpful to ensure you can see it properly. However, if you can’t see a misalignment with the naked eye, you typically don’t have an alignment problem. Any gaps in the visible to the naked eye will definitely be a problem.
To see if you have any gaps, look at the breather hole and see if the feed’s slit is centered. If it’s not, you can use your fingers to shift the feed and nib until they are aligned. Use gentle pressure and work slowly to ensure you don’t bend or damage the nib or the feed.
Separated Nib and Feed
Another issue is when the underside of the nib comes away from the top of the feed. For the pen to work properly, they need to be flush. If they’re not, you can use a flat surface to press the bottom of the feed down onto the nib.
To do it, make sure the converter or cartridge is out of the pen and you’ve rinsed the nib. Then flip the nib over, place the top of the nib on the table, and press a fingertip against the underside of the feed, rolling from the base to the tip firmly.
Check for Other Issues
If you’ve gone through all of the above steps and your pen is still not writing, you might need to take a look at the the paper, ink, and even nib size you’re using.
- The Paper. If your pen seems to be functioning properly with ink flowing smoothly across the nib, but it is still scratchy or skipping, consider the paper you are using. While it’s not necessary to get special paper just for your fountain pens, some papers accept the ink from fountain pens better than others. Consider buying from fountain pen-friendly brands like Field Notes or Rhodia that may work better for your fountain pen. See also our post on the best fountain pen-friendly paper.
- The Ink. Ink flow doesn’t only depend on the mechanism of a specific fountain pen but also the type of ink used. Some inks, like shimmering, glitter, or iron gall varieties, for example, may clog parts of the pen if used improperly or not cleaned out often enough. Some inks aren’t meant for fountain pen use, so, as expected, when used in a fountain pen, can cause issues with ink flow. To see if ink is the problem, thoroughly clean your fountain pen and try with a new ink. This may get the pen flowing again.
- Nib Size. While the size of a nib alone won’t cause it to stop writing completely, there are times when a pen dispenses less ink than writers think it should. This is often the case for new fountain pen users who choose too fine of a nib, or accidentally buy the wrong size. If your pen is dispensing ink but still feels scratchy or isn’t giving you the glossy lines you’re looking for, consider sizing up your nib. I know this isn’t an easy fix, but if your pen is functioning properly but you aren’t enjoying the writing experience, you may just need a new nib. Go for a broader nib, especially if you are purchasing a Japanese pen as Japanese sizes run even smaller than their Western counterparts.
See our guide to choosing a fountain pen nib.
How to Get Started with a New Fountain Pen
If you’ve just bought your first fountain pen, you might not know that you can’t start using it straight out of the package like other types of pens. Here are some general tips to getting started with a new pen to ensure your ink runs smoothly from the first line. You can also follow these steps if you find your new fountain pen won’t write.
Clean the Pen
It’s recommended that you clean a new fountain pen before you insert any ink. This is because machining oils may still be on the feed which will hinder the ink flow. Plus, some companies like TWSBI or LAMY dip the nibs in ink to test them before selling. This can leave traces of ink in the feed that may have become clumped or can mix with your new ink to cause flow issues.
See our guide for the steps to clean your fountain pen.
Insert the Cartridge
After you’ve let all components dry completely, it’s time to reassemble and insert the ink. If this is your first fountain pen, you most likely have a cartridge insert. When inserting a cartridge, it’s important to use firm pressure. Some newbies are surprised with house much pressure needs to be used, but if it ever feels like you’re forcing the cartridge, ensure you’re inserting it correctly before using too much force and damaging components. If you’re unsure how to insert the cartridge, check for a “lip” that has a noticeable indent that will be punctured inside the pen.
Encourage the Ink to Flow
And finally, we need to help the ink flow to the nib. Don’t be tempted to just start writing, scratching away at the paper and pressing too hard on the nib. A newly inserted cartridge hasn’t had time to get the ink distributed yet and doing so can damage your pen. While you can gently squeeze the cartridge to get things moving, it’s not recommended as you could force too much ink out. And besides, this isn’t necessary for a properly functioning pen.
The best way to help the pen get writing is to let gravity do the work. Cap your pen and let it rest with the nib down for about 15 minutes, but you can let it go longer if you have time. After you’ve waited, you can test your pen with a few scribbles on a piece of paper. If you’ve waited a decent amount of time and the ink still isn’t flowing, you can try the quick checks above by checking the cartridge, giving the pen a few shakes, or wetting the nib with water.
So there you have it, our guide on what to do if your fountain pen won’t write. Hopefully this has helped you get your fountain pen up and running, and how to keep your pen in great shape from the very beginning. Let us know if the comments below if you’ve had any issues with your pen and how you ended up fixing it, or if you’re still having a problem.
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