If you've never used one, getting started can be intimidating, what with the complexities of maintenance and decisions to be made about nibs, inks, and filling options. Or, you just might not be interested in fountain pens as a matter of personal preference.
What will you be missing? Well, there are three primary reasons that people use fountain pens: fluidity of the writing experience, ability to vary line width and diversity of ink choices.
Unfortunately, you will have to give up access to a broad range of colors if you decide to write with something other than a fountain pen. While many gels offer some exciting and, in a few cases, even aromatic color options, none can match fountain pen ink for diversity and richness of color saturation.
However, just because you aren't ready to get fully into the fountain pen experience yet, or don't want to at all doesn't mean you have to sacrifice an extremely smooth writing experience or even line variability.
There are alternatives to fountain pens that will give you very similar results without the added complexity that comes with fountain pen use.
Here are some suggestions.
1. Disposable fountain pens
These are an excellent choice because you still get that fluid movement across the page, along with the waxing and waning and wetter, more intense lines that come from regular fountain pens, except that you don't have to worry about cleaning or refilling them.
Pilot Varsity/VPen – Smooth writing disposables with an actual fountain nib, medium size, that comes in a range of colors, from black to teal. Even erasable using a Pilot Eradicator.
Bic Disposable Fountain Pen – A new addition from Bic that is getting excellent reviews, especially for its thicker barrel and larger ink supply. Available in some very attractive styles in Europe and Africa.
2. Fountain Pen-Style Pens
These are pens that offer similar writing experiences to fountain pens, in terms of smoothness, without the inconvenience (or pleasure, depending on your viewpoint) of dealing with nibs and the chore of cleaning the ink reservoirs.
Fountain Pentel – Not truly a fountain pen in that it has a fixed, plastic nib, but it gives that same fluid writing experience and the blade-shaped nib allows you to vary your line width as you write. Refillable with simple cartridges in blue, black or red ink. Similar to the brilliant and sadly discontinued Stylo.
Sharpie Pen – Included here because it has a plastic tip that, while not providing fountain pen-style lines, glides as smoothly as most fountain pens. Writes wet, but dries fast and gives very little bleed-through on most papers. Also offers a great variety of colors and is now available in a handsome refillable stainless steel version.
Parker Ingenuity – Similar to the Pentel in that it has a flexibile polypropylene tip that offers something akin to fountain pen performance. However, this is not a pen we recommend because it has a ridiculous price point around US$160.
3. Disposable Calligraphy Pens
Not many people would consider these everyday-use writing pens, and neither do we. However, if you're looking for a non-fountain pen that will give your letters that old-school look as if they had been written with a fountain pen, a good calligraphy instrument will do the trick.
Artline Calligraphy Pens – Square-cut fiber tips allow you to vary the thickness of your lines as you write. Available in a variety of nib sizes. Similar to a marker, they will bleed or blot if you aren't careful.
Berol Italic Pens – Virtually identical to the Artlines, although personally, I seem to prefer the Berols, for some reason. Could be that the line edges are a little more distinct.
4. Glass Dip Pens
Dip pens have all of the coolness factor of fountain pens, and then some, but none of the cleaning chores. A quick rinse under running water, and you're ready to switch inks. If you're looking for that vintage aesthetic, these are highly recommended. Of course, the downside of these pens is that, unlike a fountain pen, you can't just carry it around in your pocket for use in a variety of settings. You will always have to be near a bottle of ink. However, these are a good way to ease yourself into the world of fountain pens.
J. Herbin Glass Dip Pens – Brilliant designs that look antique and sexy modern at the same time. Tips are spiral cut to hold ink and feed to the paper by capillary action. According to J. Herbin, they will write an entire page of ink without re-dipping.
In addition to the J. Herbin pens, there are a variety of other glassmakers who turn out exquisite dip pens.
So, those are some fountain pen alternatives to get you started. If they don't work for you, and you still aren't interested in becoming a fountain pen user...well, you just can't beat a good retractable gel or liquid ink pen. :)
Have any recommendations for pens that are similar to fountain pens without being, ya know, fountain pens? Let us know!