31 July 2014

In praise of fountain pens

Like most people of my generation I was forced to use a fountain pen at school. And, like most people, I found the experience messy (blots on the paper and stains on my fingers), scratchy and slow. As soon as I could, I abandoned it for the convenience of the ballpoint pen and, more recently, the gel pen. However, in recent years, I have begun to discover the joys of writing with a fountain pen. Here are some of the reasons I am a convert to fountain pens:

  • The writing experience: Using a decently made modern fountain pen on good quality paper is a revelation. The nib glides effortlessly across the page. It is much easier on the wrist than the average ballpoint.
  • A fountain pen is for life: Fountain pens seem to be far more expensive than ballpoints. Typically they range in price from tens to hundreds (or even thousands) of pounds, though you can get a decent basic fountain pen for less than a fiver. But a well-maintained good quality fountain pen can reasonably be expected to last you a lifetime (in fact, there is a thriving market in vintage fountain pens), whereas even an expensive ballpoint is no more than a fancy holder for a disposable writing mechanism. If you want to reduce the environmental impact of your writing habits, think about a fountain pen – the only consumable element is the ink.
  • A bewildering choice of inks: Most ballpoints or gel pens are available in three or four colours (perhaps a dozen if you use something like a Pilot G-Tec-C4 or a Pentel Slicci). But there are literally hundreds of shades of fountain pen ink to choose from to suit your mood or style. I happen to like dark inks (blue-black, dark greens, reds and browns), but that preference is hard to satisfy with ballpoints or gel pens (a notable exception is the blue-black and dark brown Pilot G-Tec-C4s that Cult Pens imports specially from Japan).
  • A fountain pen gives your writing character: If you want a pen that produces a line of unvarying thickness, then a ballpoint or gel pen is ideal. With a fountain pen, the thickness of the line varies slightly with the pressure you apply and the angle that the nib makes to the paper. This is more pronounced with gold nibs and specially designed flex nibs. In addition, nibs come in a variety of shapes to create a range of writing effects (fountain pens are still the obvious choice for calligraphy).

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