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Why I Don't Use Fountain Pens

OK, I'm going to just come out and say it: I don't like using fountain pens.

I like looking at beautifully made fountain pens. I like handling them. And I love the idea of using fountain pens. But when it actually comes time to put ink on paper, I'll take a good gel or rollerball pen every time. Heck, even a ballpoint, if it comes to that.

I know, sentiments like that are anathema to most pen geeks. Trust me, I've tried to make myself love them as much as the rest of you. But it just hasn't worked.

To me, my reasons are valid, though.

1. Fountain pens are distracting.

I enjoy the sensory experience of feeling a good pen flow across clean paper. But, I don't write for that reason. When I'm writing by hand, it's for the sole purpose of putting ideas or information on paper.

When you use a fountain pen, it's all about the pen. You have to always be conscious of how you're holding the pen, how it's moving, how the ink is flowing. If you let the fountain pen get out of the correct position, it won't work. You're forced to focus on the act of writing itself, rather than on the writing.

That's a problem.

I want as little impediment between my brain and the paper as possible. I want to think it and see the words appear, without having to consider my pen. The beauty of the right gel pen is that you just write. It does its job – moving effortlessly, putting down vivid lines – without demanding attention to itself like a fountain pen does.

2. Fountain pens are too much work.

Look, I already have enough to worry about between car maintenance, taking care of the computer equipment I use to make a living, keeping up with little repairs around my apartment, and the general minutiae of daily living.

Fountain pens have to be cleaned carefully after use, stored just so to prevent damage or leaking, filled before use. I'm not interested in having to worry about my writing instruments like that on top of everything else. It's just unnecessary hassle and, for me, takes all the fun out of pens.

I enjoy finding and buying and using new pens. But they have to be low-maintenance.

3. Fountain pens are too expensive.

As I've said before, my absolute favorite pen to date is the Pentel EnerGel, especially now that it comes in so many different variations. Not one of them costs more than about US$10.

I know that there are good fountain pens to be had for under US$50. But, let's be honest, most of you are spending hundreds of dollars on fountain pens. Maybe I'm just cheap because the idea of parting with that kind of cash for a pen makes me cringe.

(Of course, having said that, I want and eventually plan to own a Pilot Vanishing Point for occasional use...and we all know how expensive those things are.)

The VP aside, for the cost of a high-end fountain pen, I can buy boxes of my favorite gel and liquid ink pens, all of which I would enjoy using more than a fountain pen. And I won't end up in tears if I drop one of them on a hard floor.

So, what do you think? Ready to let me have it? Feel free to share your feelings about fountain pens in the comment section below.

18 thoughts on “Why I Don't Use Fountain Pens”

  • John the Monkey

    Well, (1) is a personal thing - that's not something I've noticed myself, writing or drawing with my pens.

    2) It'd be more accurate to say "some" fountain pens must... I think. The Lamy Safari, Vista, Al-Star will take some pretty negligent usage - my Vista travels with me to work in my bike bag, my Kaweco Sport is my pocket pen, and my Schneider Base is another bike bag pen. They get bumped about, left for weeks at a time, and still write without hard starts or skipping. I'm more careful with my finicky vintage pens, but a school pen type cheapie will stand some abuse. No flushing is needed if you're reinking with the same color, and cartridges make filling pretty simple.

    3) I've not paid more than £30 for any of my daily users, and most hover between £8 (Schneider Base) and £20. I can't beat the cost of a cheap gel pen, but I value the "feel" of fountain pens enough that the extra cost is worthwhile (for me).

    I did a quick round up of cheapies (in fountain pen terms) on my blog;

  • Dave P

    You have a point. Restrict pen usage to writing for pleasure (you define that) and it is much more accesptable. For work? For quick notes? Agree 100% they get in the way when more convenient forms are available (mech pencil in my case)

  • Matthias

    I can see that these points might be valid in your case, but if you had to use fountain pens in school you'd probably disagree with all of them. I used a Pelikano for three or four years, then a Lamy Safari for 10 years or so. They were never distracting, never any work, except putting in a new cartridge when the old one was used up, they weren't expensive.

    On the other hand, if you start collecting fountain pens, want to use different inks, don't use them often, etc, suddenly all the points you mentioned become true. Suddenly they need cleaning etc, because you change ink, because you store them, ...

    The points you raise can actually be transferred to many hobbies, e.g. photography, suddenly it becomes an effort and expensive, because you have several lenses/cameras, etc. (for other people it might be cars or watches).

    When I didn't have to use fountain pens any more I was initially very happy to use a ball point pen instead, I did that for a few years, even though my handwriting looks so much worse with a ball point pen - just because I could and didn't have to use a FP, until I realised that my handwriting is so much worse ...and that so much more force is needed when writing. Gel pens were a better alternative, but I like fountain pens even more....

  • Patrice

    What you're saying does apply to a lot of fountain pens, especially if you did not spend years of your life using them in school as others have. They're like strange foreign objects that don't always behave the way you expect and they are certainly more fragile than your average cheapo ballpoint or gel pen. There is one exception that to me seems very different in price and performance, and that's the Pilot Varsity fountain pen - very inexpensive and so easy to write with - it just flows like no other fountain pen. If you don't like a bold line, you won't like this economical gem, but if you do, it's perfect.

  • gary

    I can understand entirely why you don't use fountain pens. They're not for everyone.

    (1) You are as distracted as you want to be.
    If using an FP takes your mind from the topic of your writing it's not for you. And any FP as fussy as you describe needs a little adjustment. Which brings us to:

    (2) Your pens require too much work.
    Your solution is in your last line: "But they have to be low-maintenance." Those pens are out there, lots of them. No, a hard rubber Conklin Crescent filler with a flexxy extra-fine nib isn't one of them, but pens ranging from a Pelikano to a Safari to a 51 aerometric filler all fit the bill. Ask me about the client taking my 51 to write on a 2 x 4 at a construction site...

    (3) Expensive pens are a problem only if you buy them.
    Expensive pens don't leap into our hands, become permanently affixed, and then extort purchase. We make the choice to buy them. Or not.
    I happily survived 3 years of law school on a Sheaffer No Nonsense and an old Parker 45 that I found in a drawer at work. FPs are tools that can become collectibles and jump in price. But putting ink to paper doesn't happen only in the stratospheric price ranges.

    Gel pens and ballpoints have it all over FPs in two areas though: you can shoot them through boards, and they produce no guilt when you chew on the ends.


  • David

    Obviously you have never used a perfectly tuned high quality fountain pen with good ink on top notch writing paper. Nothing can compare with such a writing experience. Once you've been there, there's no looking back.

  • Neville Harrison
    Neville Harrison March 22, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    Anyone who finds fountain pens "Too much work" is obviously not using the right kind of pen. "Must be cleaned every time you use them" was one comment I saw on your site!
    My advice to such people: Get yourself a "Real" pen such as a Parker 51
    or Pelikan 400, and you'll wonder why you never had one before. I write regularly with a 51 and flush and clean it but once per year. It never lets me down and is a joy to write with.
    One word of warning: If you do invest in such a pen, be careful not to leave it lying around the office!! Nev Harrison. Pen collector, France.

  • Bert Burgess

    I received my first fountain pen as a gift back in 1992 from a cousin who visited from Spain, it was an orange Pelikan. A couple of years later it was stolen right out of a kitchen drawer by an uncle of mine! The bastard! He took it just to give to someone else.

    I didn't get back into fountain pens until a little over a year ago and have since collected 18 of them along with several different bottles of ink. The only pen that leaves the house is the Lamy Vista because I don't want a $150-$200 pen getting lost or stolen in some restaurant.

    My most recent pens are the Lamy 2000 (fun to use) and Monteverde Prima Brown Swirl (very attractive yet inexpensive).

    To me fountain pens can and should have sentimental value. You can buy and use them for certain occasions or at certain times in your life and you can keep and use them for years and perhaps give them to someone who will hopefully think of you fondly whenever they use it. That is why I miss my orange Pelikan since it was a gift from my cousin. Whenever I see a Pelikan pen it always reminds me of my stolen Pelikan (which I'll never see again) and my inability to hold it in my and and fondly remember my cousin which I'll probably never see again either being that she lives several thousand miles away.

    You can't say that some cheap plastic pen in a blister pack hanging on the rack at Wal-Mart will provide you with any sentimental value years later. They're strictly for utility in the present time. They serve a purpose here and now when you need to take down a quick note. If you're a pilot; a fountain pen has no place in a busy cockpit copying down a clearance from ATC, although one written with a 1.5 mm stub would certainly look nice!

    I do like the Pilot G-2 Gel because of how much ink it puts down on paper and its smoothness but I've never held one in my hand and marveled at its appearance or beauty. And when it's empty, it's gone.

    There's also the tremendous variety in ink colors. I stick to blues and blacks so that you can use them for anything.

    I do understand how ballpoints became popular when they came out because people no longer had to spill ink everywhere or get it on their fingers.

    I think fountain pens are slowly coming back but they'll always be in the minority because they just don't have the utility or versatility of a regular ballpoint or rollerball pen. And people just don't write letters, post cards, thank-you notes, or invitations anymore. It's all email, phone and text messaging. And that's a bit sad, since there is nothing like holding a hand-written letter from a friend or relative.

    And they do get people's attention when they see you writing with one. Which is not necessarily a good thing...

  • Anton Ninno

    You need to try a Pilot Varsity fountain pen. Then come join our group on Facebook. Over 150 around the planet.

    Pilot Varsity Fountain Pen

  • Weemeng lee

    There is something about using the same writing instrument to write / sign memorable events. Each time it is held, it is a trigger for the brain to release waves of memories of what has been inked before to come flooding back.

    This can only happen with a pen, that will last, the test of time; a well designed fountain pen (it doesn't need to be costly).

  • Steve

    Your post makes all kinds of sense to me. The pen snobs waxing lyrical about their 'instruments' prove you right...well, up to a point.

    Try a dirt cheap Lamy Safari and you may change your mind Sir. The cost, design, and durability of the little things counter all your points. Pick one up from Amazon - go for a fine nib - and make another post eating those words ;)

  • priyodarshini chatterjee
    priyodarshini chatterjee August 1, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    i think that every thing has a negative side and a positive side likewise as you have brought up some negative points about that pen i have some positive sides too. First in your writing FP brings a maturity it looks beautiful and on the topmost why use expensive ones ,use the plain ones and you will surely feel it sir

  • Martin Sanders

    The reason a person dislikes fountain pens is usually because that person comes from the lower class, and is therefore not capable of appreciating the art of using a fountain pen.

  • priyodarshini chatterjee
    priyodarshini chatterjee September 16, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    yes i agree martin

  • Anirban Bhattacharya
    Anirban Bhattacharya November 7, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    Like seriously ? Try out a Schneider base... bang for your buck..
    That should get you started and then u'll feel the urge of writing for the sheer pleasure of it.
    Then maybe a waterman hemisphere someday...

  • Annie

    I understand where you're coming from, because I have once experienced the same. To me when I was a fountain pen beginner, fountain pens were like fancy ornaments--fascinating, but not practical. The better ones are more expensive, and you have to try to use inks that won't bleed on cheap paper, etc. However, now that I have used better fountain pens for a much longer time, I agree with Gary's points, and have realized that fountain pens are wonderful for individual expression and a truly unique writing experience. My advice is to give them another try: buy a reliable (check reviews) and attractive fountain pen, a bottle of ink in the color of your choice, and some high quality fountain pen friendly paper…and just write :) Everyone has their own preferences, but I think you should go for that VP!

  • Subhasis Biswas
    Subhasis Biswas October 2, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    dear sir, even cheap fountain pens are very nice... i enjoy writing with the fountain pens... my handwriting looks much better... these pens need no pressure at all as the ball pens do... once you start writing with fountain pens... you will soon forget what ball pens are... but the pens need to be taken care regularly ... there's no doubt about it... but a little care can give you pleasure as your luxury car does, writing is not only about doing your job quickly and carelessly... pleasure of mind is also needed... some things better remain slow... though the technology has been developed a lot... writing slowly with a fountain pen with intense attention and good handwriting is really a great experience... it feels like a journey on a train sitting right beside the window ...enjoying the beauty of nature...

  • Alex Kashko


    I find the reverse, I don't need to worry when writing with a pad, resting on a book that is resting on on my lap when I am on a couch.

    You may find a different nib would suit you better. And perhaps try different paper: printer paper is good enough for most notes. Unlined note pads are better. Paper does matter.

    A good nib will mean you don't even notice the movement of the pen over the paper. If that distracts you maybe you need to work on focus/meditation – No idea if that is tha case, it's for you to answer

    Too much work :

    I neglect my pens, including a Parker that was a treasured gift and reserved for interviews and meetings where I want to impress people, and they all work after being left for ages, especially the low end Lamy safaris and the Calligraphy pen, which all have italic nibs by the way. If you get a pen that needs care then schedule it into your month as a form of meditation which may release new creative ideas.

    Too expensive:

    My "Go to meetings" pen is a €6- Pelikan picked up in a drugstore in Frankfurt. It writes a bit more smootlhy than the Lamys or the Parker and I take as much care of it as if it cost £100+ because I enjoy using it and, it I write a bit slower my handwriting transforms from an illegible scrawl to something that EVEN my other half says looks nice.

    Of course one day I would love to be able to own a £100,000 + pen without a sense of guilt and a fear of using/losing it but above a certain fairly low point there is no extra gain in quality or writing experience for a higher price, and not many expensive pens look that good either.

    In the end what you use is what suits you, but I think my answer and the others here suggest strongly that your objections can be overcome with a little effort.

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