Best Fountain Pens

Updated April 2021
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

30 Models Considered
18 Hours Researched
2 Experts Interviewed
124 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best fountain pens

The pen may be mightier than the sword, but only if you have the right one. The best fountain pens are handsome, classy, and smooth writing tools, requiring little effort to operate because of their unique design. They’re a fantastic addition to any workspace, offering a touch of practical luxury to your daily tasks.

Fountain pens differ from ballpoint and gel pens in that they have a metal, quill-like tip, called a nib, that applies the ink to paper. They have an internal reservoir for the ink, which eliminates the need to constantly dip your pen in an inkwell as with old-fashioned quill pens. And the ink flows down the nib freely with the help of gravity, requiring no extra pressure. This makes a fountain pen a fantastic choice for anyone with hand or wrist pain. Fountain pens aren’t without disadvantages, though. They typically use more ink than other pens and can leak if stored improperly.

With thousands of varieties to choose from, it can be difficult to pick just one, but we’re here to help. Read our buying guide and check out our recommendations to find out what makes the fountain pen special.

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When you use a fountain pen on low-quality paper, you may experience something called feathering. This occurs when the ink is pulled through the paper’s fibers, resulting in rough, blurred lines. Broader nibs can exacerbate this because they deliver more ink to the page.

Key considerations

There are several components in a fountain pen, but parts like the cap, grip, collar, and barrel are fairly standard. The nib, feed, and ink reservoir are what set these writing tools apart.

Nib

What makes fountain pens unique is, of course, the metal nib. It’s the only component that touches the paper and the part through which the ink flows.

Material: Generally, nibs are made of stainless steel, but some pens have a gold nib for a luxurious look and feel. Gold is significantly softer than stainless steel as well, allowing the nib to adapt to your handwriting style and pressure.

Shape: Other than the material it’s made of, the shape of a fountain pen’s nib is paramount to how the pen writes and feels. Most modern nibs have a rounded tip for more uniform lines, while others have a “stub” or calligraphy tip for more artistic results.

Size: Similarly, the size of the nib plays a big role in how thick the lines are. Choices include extra-fine (EF), fine (F), medium (M), and broad (B). Fine nibs are well suited for those people with a compact, precise writing style, but the results aren’t always as smooth as those using a broader nib.

Unfortunately, these categories aren’t standard across the globe. For example, a fine nib on a Japanese pen might be equivalent to an extra-fine nib on a German pen. It really depends on the manufacturer and style. This is why we recommend trying a pen before buying if possible.

Feed

Above the nib is the feed, which supplies the nib with ink from the internal reservoir. The feed is covered by the pen’s barrel and grip, so it’s typically plastic. It’s a fairly simple component consisting of a main ink channel and an array of fins to keep the flow of ink predictable and smooth.

Ink reservoir

The ink is held in an internal reservoir. There are two main styles of reservoir: cartridge and converter.

Cartridges are ready-to-write ink containers. You simply put a new one into the pen when the old one runs dry. Ballpoint and gel pens use a similar system. While intuitive and hassle-free, cartridges are more expensive than refilling your pen with ink manually.

Converters are what you use to refill the pen manually. A converter essentially swaps out the cartridge system for a refillable reservoir, one that you replenish either by hand or with an integrated system such as a piston. Some pens include a converter, but others do not. Using a converter is significantly cheaper than buying new cartridges regularly. It also gives you more freedom of choice when it comes to ink color, but it requires a bit of labor on your part.

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DID YOU KNOW?
As much as technology has improved over the years, fountain pens still perform very poorly when writing upside down. This is because they use gravity and capillary action to deliver ink to the page. They’re best suited for use on relatively level surfaces.
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Features

Case

Fountain pens are fantastic writing implements, but to some people they’re also a lifestyle statement. With this in mind, many high-end fountain pens come with a pressed or stitched case made of premium leather or other material. The case holds and protects the pen, of course, but some cases also include a dedicated pouch for ink cartridges or other extras.

Ink cartridges

Some fountain pens are designed to give you everything you need right out of the box, including swappable ink cartridges in different colors. This convenience allows you to switch up your writing, calligraphy, or art style without worrying about refilling a converter or researching different ink brands.

Fountain pen ink takes longer to dry than ballpoint or gel ink, so give it extra time before moving the paper or turning the page. Waterproof ink takes even longer to dry. Also, fine nibs put less ink down than broad ones, which takes less time to dry.

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Fountain pen prices

Inexpensive: Fountain pens have a luxury feel, but one isn’t a massive investment. You can get an entry-level pen for about $10. In this price range, expect fairly simple models with steel nibs, minimal grip comfort, and basic cartridge-refilling options.

Mid-range: In the $20 to $50 range, you’ll notice a significant uptick in quality. You can find premium metal bodies instead of plastic, comfortable grips, and classy designs that can elevate your workspace. Many of these pens come with a converter so you can refill ink whichever way is most convenient.

Expensive: In the $50 to $100 range, you’ve officially entered the premium marketplace. Expect smooth gold nibs here, with high-end cases, comfy grips, tons of color choices, and proprietary ink-filling systems. These pens look and feel fantastic to use and have a price tag to match.

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CAUTION
Fountain pen ink is water-based, so it can freeze. This can cause your pen, cartridge, or ink bottle to burst, causing myriad problems depending on where it’s stored. Keeping your ink reservoir less than full helps, but pressurized ballpoint pens are best for use in cold conditions.
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Tips

  • Start with an inexpensive pen. If you’re just starting out, we recommend buying an inexpensive “beginner’s” pen first. These tools have a learning curve, so your initial experience might not accurately indicate how they perform. Get used to how your fountain pen writes and feels before spending a lot of money on a high-end model.
  • Be patient. A key to success with fountain pens is patience. If it’s a new pen, or if it’s been sitting for a while, it might take some time for the ink to flow smoothly through the nib. We suggest you keep the cap on the pen when it’s not in use.
  • Rehydrate the nib. If the nib on your fountain pen dries out, it can result in spotty writing or a “scratchy” feel. A quick fix is to place a drop of water on the nib to rehydrate it.
  • Try different papers and inks. If you’re not happy with your pen’s performance, experiment with different papers and inks before changing your pen. Different combinations can perform very differently, so a small tweak in your writing tools can make a huge difference.
  • Prevent leaking ink when flying. If you take your fountain pen with you when you travel, you can prevent leaks by keeping the reservoir either completely full or completely empty. Also, store the pen with the nib facing up. This allows air to escape during pressure changes without forcing ink to spill.
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Fountain pens have many advantages over other pens, but they aren’t without drawbacks. For instance, the ink is rarely waterproof or archival (permanent). If it is, it will have an exceptionally long drying time and likely still won’t compare to gel or ballpoint equivalents.

FAQ

Q. What is the proper way to hold a fountain pen?

A. The premium look and feel of a fountain pen are undeniable, but there’s a small learning curve when first using the tool. This is because fountain pens simply do not write the same way as ballpoint pens. The ink is delivered to the page in a completely different way, with a heavier flow and longer drying time. And because of the nib design, the pen needs to be held at a certain angle so ink flows properly.

The common rule of thumb is to hold the pen at a 45° to 55° angle. This allows the nib to glide across the paper smoothly. If the angle is too steep or shallow, the nib won’t have healthy contact with the page and you may notice skips or a scratchy feeling.

In addition to a proper angle, you might need to adjust the way your hand rests on the page. Remember, fountain pen ink dries slowly, which increases the risk of smudging if you tend to drag your hand when you write.

Q. How do I install new ink?

A. As discussed above, ink cartridges and converters each have advantages and drawbacks. The installation process is also different.

For cartridges, it’s quick and simple. Unscrew the pen’s barrel from the grip. If you look at the feed inside, you’ll notice a sharp protrusion of some sort facing out. This is what punctures the cartridge when you install it, allowing the ink to flow down the feed and out of the nib. Insert the cartridge inside the grip and press firmly to puncture. Reassemble the pen and leave it sitting nib down for an hour or two so the ink can travel down to the tip.

To refill a converter, install it into the grip section as you would with a cartridge. With a piston converter, there is a knob on the end that twists to extend the piston. Extend the piston and dip the tip of the pen into the bottled ink of your choice. Then simply twist the knob in the other direction, drawing ink into the reservoir.

For a squeeze converter, install it in the grip section and dip the nib into the ink. Squeeze the reservoir, releasing the air inside and causing some bubbles to appear in the ink. Release the reservoir slowly, and just like with a piston converter, this draws ink inside. Clean any excess ink off the tip as needed.

Some fountain pens are refilled manually with an eyedropper. Others have a built-in filling system, the directions for which vary depending on the manufacturer.

Q. I need to clean my fountain pen. What’s the best way to do it?

A. Fountain pens use a fair amount of ink, and their design makes them more susceptible to clogging than regular ballpoints. Because of this, we recommend cleaning your pen every month or so to remove dust, paper fibers, and dried ink.

The process is easy. Disassemble the pen and remove the converter or cartridge. Rinse the nib section under cool, running water for a few seconds. This might be all the maintenance you need to do because fountain pen ink is water-based and comes off easily. If there is excessive buildup, soak the nib in water for an hour or so.

If you want to change inks or clean the reservoir, you might need to flush out the pen to completely remove all the old material. You do this by filling the reservoir with water and forcing it out the end. Simply follow the ink-filling process using cool water and repeat as necessary.

 

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