Fountain Pens

It’s been said that there are two kinds of people: Those that care about pens and those that don’t. I’m in the first group. To me, a pen isn’t just about scribbling on paper, but it’s also about how it feels to write on paper. There are (I think) four main kinds of pen:

  1. Nib pens (including Fountain and ‘dip’ pens.
  2. Felt-tip pens
  3. Ballpoint pens.
  4. Rollerball pens.

Felt-tip pens are usually a more special-case pen; usually used as ‘magic markers,’ or similar. They’re OK, but I would never want to write for very long with one. I’ll write with a ballpoint, if there is no other option, but I’ve never really liked ballpoint pens. The stiff pressure required to get the things to work is (literally) tiresome. I just can’t write for very long with a ballpoint. Rollerballs are a big improvement over ballpoints - much richer colors, and a more comfortable feel. A rollerball doesn’t require anywhere near as much effort to write with as a ballpoint.

It wasn’t until I entered college that I tried a fountain pen. I’ve been hooked ever since. With a fountain pen, you’re really brushing the ink across the paper. No downward pressure is required to write, and it has a much more pleasant ‘feel’ to write with a fountain pen. I carried and used a fountain pen throughout college. The only time I used a ballpoint was when I was working at Frido-Lay (to pay for school), as ballpoints cost a dime, and you don’t feel bad if you lose/break/ruin one in any of a thousand ways.

For the most part, I’ve only used ‘cheap’ fountain pens - pens that were below $20, and filled with a cartridge, instead of a bottle. I’ve recently decided to try a couple ‘nice’ fountain pens, and have been filling the pens using bottled ink. One of the neat things about using bottled ink is that you have a vast range of colors to choose from, and you can mix your own inks to make custom colors. Problems that plagued earlier inks - like running when exposed to water, have been solved by a number of inks. And you can choose inks with varying levels of saturation; I’ve long liked highly saturated inks - especially black.

I’ve compared the ‘color’ of various fountain inks, and then compared them to a number of popular rollerballs - like the Uni-ball Vision or the Pilot G2. i prefer the richness of the fountain pen inks over the rollerballs. And rollerballs are far and away better than ballpoints.

Why do I care? For some reason, writing with a fountain pen seems less mundane, and almost magical. It’s almost hypnotizing watching the pen draw a wet line of ink that dries over a few seconds. You have to fill fountain pens fairly often if you use them regularly - about once a week for me. They also can dry out if you don’t use the pens, and can require some maintenance. But even after all this, a good fountain pen will last decades, and can still be cheaper than buying $2 disposable rollerballs. Yes, you have to fill them more often, but the ink is cheap in comparison.

So far, I’ve tried a very ‘cheap’ fountain pen from Parker - the “Vector.” It was a decent pen, but I never liked writing with it. I’ve had a number of less expensive Sheaffer pens, with the latest being a couple of Sheaffer Javelins. I then got a Sheaffer Prelude, which is about a $50 pen. The prelude has essentially the same nib unit as the Javelin, and so feels much the same. Next up comes a couple of new additions - Lamy Safari, which is meant as a college student’s pen. The Safari, like the Javelin, uses a stainless steel nib. After using a Safari, I can see why it gets such good reviews - it is a really nice writer. I haven’t decided if I like it more than the Javelin, but it is a nice pen.

I’ve recently bought a couple of ‘nice’ pens - a Lamy 2000, and a Sheaffer Legacy Heritage (pictured). The Lamy 2000 is the top-of-the-line model from Lamy, made from a fiberglass-reinforced polycarbonate called ‘Makrolon’ (a Bayer brand). It has a palladium-plated gold nib, and is a very nice writing pen. It honestly doesn’t look like much - it would be easy to mistake it for a cheap felt-tip pen, quite honestly. But it’s an amazing writer, and I can see why Lamy has been making the same design for over 40 years.

The Legacy Heritage has the same kind of nib - palladium plated gold. It uses Sheaffer’s classic “Inlaid Nib”, a look which I love. To be honest, I haven’t put ink in it yet, though it’s supposed to be a nicer pen than the Lamy 2000. I’ll see in time, I’m sure, but I’ve got a bunch of other pens that I’ve got to drain the ink from in the meantime. When they’re done, I’ll clean the other pens and give the Legacy a try.