Sep. 24th, 2015

damselfish: photo by rling (Default)


Yesterday I was asked independently by two friends to recommend fountain pens to newbies, and this morning a third mentioned it and nudged me into making a post after I showed her The Atlantic's "How the Ballpoint Killed Cursive."*

The article does a good job answering the question of "why fountain pens?" I initially got into fountain pens for the colors and the temptation of yet more stationery, but that only got me in the door. What turned me into an exclusive fountain pen user was how much less pressure I needed to write, and how much easier it makes writing in cursive, or writing for long periods of time. I never liked ballpoints to begin with, finding the ink waxy, chunky, the points scratchy, and I was always hunting for a better pen. If you're not a fountain pen person and want to know what I do recommend, I like rollerballs and gel pens, notably the Uni-ball Vision Needle and the Uni-ball Signo. If you are curious about fountain pens, this post is for you.

As a lefthanded overwriter, I thought hand pain was par for the course, but in the course of using a fountain pen I learned two things. 1) It's all the pressure I used to make my chicken scratch, and 2) apparently everyone taught to write after the 1950s has been taught to finger write, which strains the hand. Yes, while researching left-handed writing solutions I learned that we're all writing wrong, and it's largely thanks to the mechanics of ballpoint pens.

Which isn't to say that fountain pens will cure all your ills; it's just why I like 'em and why I recommend 'em.

On to the bit everybody wants to know. What do I buy?

There are many "best fountain pens for beginners" posts floating around out there, and they all look a little something like this:

Pilot Varsity: $3
Platinum Preppy: $3
Pilot Kakuno: $13
Pilot Metropolitan: $15
Pelikan Junior: $16
Platinum Plaisir: $20
Pelikan Pelikano: $20
Kaweco Sport: $24
Lamy Safari: $28

Almost any "top five beginner fountain pen" list will be mostly made up of these pens. There are other pens in the same price range - various Jinhaos, some Sailors - which will occasionally make an appearance, but for the most part, these are it. Partly it's because these make up the bulk of "less expensive" pens.

To me, a nearly $30 pen is not a beginner's pen, but I'm a Millennial and many of my peers don't have that kind of money to spend on a lark. So if you're looking for the quick and dirty, here are my actual recommendations for a beginner:

Pilot Varsity: $3
Platinum Preppy: $3
Pilot Kakuno: $13

Pilot Metropolitan: $15
Pelikan Junior: $16
Platinum Plaisir: $20
Pelikan Pelikano: $20
Kaweco Sport: $24
Lamy Safari: $28

My usual spiel goes a little like this: how much are you looking to spend? Because you should really try the Platinum Preppy. It has a fantastic nib, is one of the most non-fiddly pens I have, and the seal on the cap means I'm not even sure it's capable of drying out. I once had a cartridge in there for 6 months.

If you're able to spend the $20, go for the Plaisir. The Platinum Plaisir has the exact same innards as the Preppy, but an aluminum body rather than a plastic one, making up for what appears to be the Preppy's only flaw: the plastic cap is prone to cracking. If you want to get a converter, you may as well get the Plaisir and a converter because anything over $25 gets you free shipping from JetPens.

BTW: a converter is a refillable ink reservoir that goes in your pen. A cartridge is not refillable (without tinkering) and nearly all pens come with one so you can start writing right away.

But mostly: get a Preppy. And tape the cap.

I will add some love for the Pilot Kakuno. I've just started playing with it, and it writes like silk. It is a children's pen, so it has a molded grip which may be a turn off for some, but it doesn't stop me as an hook-writing southpaw. I can't say much else about it, so I won't recommend it as enthusiastically as I do the Platinums, but so far, it is nice.

The Pilot Varsity shows up on the beginner lists because it's the easiest of easy. It's basically a regular disposable pen with a nib on top. There's no cartridges, no nothing, to mess around with. It writes exactly like those colorful pens we all used back in middle school. Personally, I find the grip rather uncomfortable compared to the Preppy and I don't think popping on a cartridge is all that taxing for a beginner. Honestly, you're going to have to learn some pen maintenance anyway so may as well start with the Preppy because who cares if you ruin it.

I love the Safari (I have two, I am a sucker for limited edition colors) but at $28 I think it's out of most first timers' price range. It is, however, worth every penny.

The reason I don't recommend the Jinhaos is because they're knock-offs. Not bad knock-offs, mind you, they are excellent pens for the price, but they're not as good as some other pens and most people recommend swapping the nib for something like the Goulet #6, which sounds like gibberish to most people.

The Sailor Clear Candy was actually my first non-Preppy fountain pen and I had a bit of trouble with it because of the barrel grip and the way I hold pens. I like them now, but I probably wouldn't recommend them to a beginner. Also, at $18, you're probably better served by grabbing something else. Also also: I hate screw-caps.

And finally: how do you write with a fountain pen?

Pretty much like any other pen. Fiddle around with it in your hand until you find the angle at which it puts ink on paper. Continue as normal. Same for choosing nibs. I recommend getting a fine or medium depending on how thick you like your pen to write (medium is closer to the standard 0.7 mm pen).

Congrats on buying a pen virtually no one in the office will steal because they all find it too intimidating!

Next up: Pen Maintenance, or in the alternative, When Did I Touch the Nib and How Did That Ink Get There.

*How the Ballpoint Killed Cursive.

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