Guide to Choosing a Fountain Pen

Guide to Choosing a Fountain Pen

August 25, 2015 - Posted by Ryan to Guides, Fountain Pens

Guide to Choosing a Fountain Pen

For over half a century after the first modern fountain pen was created by Lewis Waterman in 1884, fountain pens were used for writing everything from grocery lists to historic treaties. Even in the age of ballpoint pens and word processors, fountain pens retain an undeniable allure. Read on to learn the important things to consider when choosing a fountain pen, or jump ahead to see our specific fountain pen recommendations.

Characteristics to Consider
Nib Type
The first thing to consider when choosing a fountain pen is the nib—the metal writing tip of the pen. More than any other part, the nib determines how a fountain pen will write.
Tip Size
Broad nib vs extra fine nib
The tip size of a nib determines how wide a line it will make. They are typically rated from narrowest to widest as extra fine, fine, medium, or broad. Japanese fountain pens typically write about a size finer than an equivalent pen from a non-Japanese brand. For example, a Pilot medium nib will write about the same as a Kaweco fine nib. People with smaller handwriting should choose a fine or extra fine nib, while those with larger handwriting may prefer a medium or broad nib.
Tip Shape
Italic nib vs round nib
Nib tips can be either round or shaped. Most are round, meaning that they create the same line width in any direction—just like a regular ballpoint pen. Shaped nibs will have different line widths depending on the direction of the stroke. The most common type of shaped nib is italic, which makes wide vertical strokes and a thin horizontal strokes. If you are new to fountain pens, we recommend picking a nib with a round tip.

There are other characteristics to consider when choosing a nib type, but these two are the most important. For more information on the different kinds of nibs, check out our Guide to Choosing a Fountain Pen Nib.

Ink Filling System
All fountain pens use ink, but not all are filled the same way. Which system is best for you will depend on whether you prefer convenience, ink capacity, choice of ink colors, or a balance of all three.
Cartridge fountain pen
Most fountain pens use ink cartridges, which are simple and convenient but also limit the choice of ink colors. Some fountain pens use standardized cartridges that are interchangeable between brands, while others are only compatible with cartridges from the same brand.
Fountain pen converter
Many cartridge fountain pens are also compatible with converters that fit into the pen like a cartridge and allow the pen to be used with the nearly unlimited range of bottled ink colors. The main downside to converters is that they typically only hold about half as much ink as a cartridge.
Built-In Filling System
Built-in filling system in a fountain pen
Other fountain pens use built-in filling systems like a piston or vacuum mechanism. These pens can be filled straight from a bottle and typically have a much larger ink capacity than a cartridge or converter. On the other hand, they can't be used with cartridges, so you'll need to have an ink bottle on hand when they do run out of ink.
Eyedropper filling system for a fountain pen
With eyedropper pens, the barrel of the pen itself serves as the ink reservoir. As the name suggests, eyedropper pens are filled using an eyedropper or syringe. They can hold far more ink than any other type of pen. Very few pens are built to be used as eyedroppers, but many cartridge fountain pens can be converted into eyedropper pens by following a few simple steps.
Convenience Capacity Choice of Colors
Cartridge High Medium Low
Converter High Low High
Built-in Filling System Medium High High
Eyedropper Low High High

For an in-depth, hands-on look at the different kinds of fountain pen filling systems, check out our video here.

Body Design
Fountain pens come in all shapes and sizes. Body design doesn't directly affect how a pen writes, but it is important to select a fountain pen that you will find both comfortable and attractive.
Fountain pen size comparison
It is important to match the size of a pen to the size of your hand. Using a pen that is too small or large will result in hand fatigue and cramping.

Heavy vs light fountain pen
Some people prefer pens with a reassuring heft, while others like their writing instruments to be as light and nimble as a feather.

Most pens are made of either plastic or metal. Plastic and aluminum pens tend to be lighter, while brass and steel pens tend to be heavier.
Capped or Retractable
Retractable vs capped fountain pen
The vast majority of fountain pens use either screw-on or snap-on caps. However, for those who hate caps or are afraid of losing them, there are retractable fountain pens that don't use caps at all.

Now, let's take a look at some specific fountain pen recommendations.

Recommended Products
Testing the Waters

If you're just starting out, these pens will let you experience the pleasure of using a fountain pen for about the price of a cup of coffee.

Top Choice: Platinum Preppy
Platinum Preppy
Platinum Preppy

The Platinum Preppy is our most popular entry-level fountain pen. It offers a range of nib sizes and ink colors to choose from, and it is compatible with the Platinum Fountain Pen Converter, which allows it to be used with any bottled fountain pen ink. If you decide you don't like fountain pens, or if you just want to try something different, you can even convert the Preppy into a felt-tipped marker using the Preppy Sign Pen and Highlighter refill tips.

Also Consider: Pilot Petit1
Pilot Petit1
Pilot Petit1

A fun alternative to the Preppy is the Pilot Petit1. Capped, it is compact and easy to slip into all but the smallest bag or pocket, but with the cap posted on the back it transforms into a comfortable, full-sized pen. The Petit1 is only available with a fine nib that lies between the typical Western and Japanese fine nib sizes, making it comfortable to use with most writing styles. Unlike the Preppy, the Petit1 is not compatible with any converters.

Jumping In

This is where the adventure really begins. Pens in this price range have smoother nibs and better bodies, giving a better writing experience all-around.

Top Choice: Pilot Metropolitan
Pilot Metropolitan
Pilot Metropolitan

The Pilot Metropolitan offers a fantastic combination of quality and affordability. It has a comfortably weighted metal body with a range of body colors and patterns to choose from, as well as a remarkably smooth Japanese fine or medium nib. The Metropolitan nibs can also be swapped with the extra fine nib from the Pilot Penmanship or the medium italic nib from the Pilot Plumix. The Metropolitan comes with an included converter, so you can use it with bottled inks straight out of the box.

Also Consider: Lamy Safari
Lamy Safari
Lamy Safari

Besides its distinctive styling, the thing that stands out most about the Lamy Safari is its grip section, which is contoured to help users hold the pen in the correct position. The pen is constructed from lightweight, virtually indestructible ABS plastic (the same stuff LEGO blocks are made of), and comes in a rainbow of fun colors. The Safari is available in a full range of nib sizes from extra fine to broad. Converters and replacement nibs are available separately.

Going Deeper

These pens are ideal for anyone who has used fountain pens for a while and is looking for something a little nicer or more interesting. This is the point where fountain pens really start to branch out and take on their own distinctive styles. They can offer better styling, better build quality, and other cool features like a built-in filling system or all-metal construction.

Top Choice: TWSBI Diamond 580
TWSBI Diamond 580
TWSBI Diamond 580

The most impressive feature of TWSBI Diamond 580 is its built-in piston filler mechanism, almost unheard of among fountain pens in its price range. It also features a strikingly modern design, with a clear plastic body that shows off the internal mechanisms and ink reservoir. Like all TWSBI fountain pens, the Diamond 580 is designed to be self-serviceable and can be completely disassembled and reassembled using the included wrench and silicone grease. It can also be paired with the TWSBI Diamond 50 Ink Bottle to make refilling clean and easy.

One potential downside of the Diamond 580 is that it is not designed to have the cap posted on the back of the pen. For a similar pen that is slightly smaller and can be posted, check out the TWSBI Diamond Mini.

Also Consider: Kaweco AL Sport
Kaweco AL Sport
Kaweco AL Sport

While the TWSBI is sleek and modern, the Kaweco AL Sport is rugged and industrial. Like the Pilot Petit1, the AL Sport is compact when closed but transforms into a comfortable, full-sized pen with the cap posted. It is machined from solid aluminum, giving it a substantial and dependable feel. The AL Sport uses a system of replaceable nib units that screw into the grip section and can be easily swapped out if you want to change nib sizes or if a nib ever gets damaged. It can use short international standard ink cartridges or the Kaweco Squeeze Converter.

Specialty Fountain Pens

If you are a confirmed fountain pen lover looking to fill a specific niche in your arsenal of writing instruments, here are some great pens that are among the best at what they do.

Pocket Carry: Kaweco Liliput
Kaweco Liliput
Kaweco Liliput

Less than 4 inches long when capped, the Kaweco Liliput is one of the smallest fountain pens in the world that uses standard international ink cartridges. The cap screws securely onto the back of the pen, making it a comfortable 5 inches long when in use. In addition to being ultra-portable, the Liliput comes in a range of cool styles and materials, from the understated black aluminum to the classy brass wave and mesmerizing "fireblue" steel. It uses the same interchangeable nibs as the AL Sport.

You can see more of the Liliput in our video review here.

Note-Taking and Signatures: Pilot Capless Decimo
Pilot Capless Decimo
Pilot Capless Decimo

For those who like to whip out a pen and quickly jot things down whenever need or inspiration strikes, we recommend the Pilot Capless Decimo. Featuring a clever retractable click mechanism, the nib can extended with one hand, leaving the other hand free to handle notebooks, receipts, or anything else. The Decimo is slightly thinner and lighter than its better-known sibling, the Vanishing Point, which some people find a bit too large and heavy for extended use.

Business: Kaweco Dia2
Kaweco Dia2
Kaweco Dia2

With its classic looks and premium black acrylic body, the Kaweco Dia2 is the sort of pen you could imagine using to sign a presidential act or a multi-million dollar contract for the next Avengers movie. The Dia2 uses the same interchangeable steel nibs as the AL Sport and Liliput, so you can easily swap between a fine nib for general note-taking and a broad nib for signatures.

Letter-Writing and Calligraphy: Pilot Elabo
Pilot Elabo
Pilot Elabo

The secret of the Pilot Elabo, also known as the Falcon, lies in its cleverly shaped gold nib. The nib is "soft," meaning that it creates different line widths depending on how much pressure is put on it. When used like a normal fountain pen, the Elabo will add a subtle touch of character to your writing. When used as a flex pen, however, it can create truly impressive calligraphic effects. Either way, the Elabo is a great choice for anyone who wants to give their writing an extra level of personality.

Extended Writing: Lamy 2000
Lamy 2000
Lamy 2000

The Lamy 2000 is one of the most iconic fountain pens of all time. Inspired by the Bauhaus school of design, it was created with the goal of being nothing more or less than a great pen for writing. Made of brushed stainless steel and Makrolon fiberglass, it is exceptionally well balanced and comfortable to hold for even the longest writing sessions. It also features a built-in piston filling mechanism, capable of holding more than twice as much ink as a typical converter. These qualities make the Lamy 2000 a favorite among novelists like Neil Gaiman, who has described it as "a glorious pen."


These are some of our favorite fountain pens that we would recommend to just about anyone, but there are hundreds of other great fountain pens to choose from as well. Just keep in mind the important characteristics to consider when choosing a fountain pen, and feel free to have fun exploring all of the different possibilities.

Do you have a favorite fountain pen that you would recommend to others? Let us know in the comments below!

Fountain Pen Recommendations
Experience Level
Testing the Waters Top Choice:
Platinum Preppy
Platinum Preppy
Also Consider:
Pilot Petit1
Pilot Petit1
Jumping In Top Choice:
Pilot Metropolitan
Pilot Metropolitan
Also Consider:
Lamy Safari
Lamy Safari
Going Deeper Top Choice:
TWSBI Diamond 580
TWSBI Diamond 580
Also Consider:
Kaweco AL Sport
Kaweco AL Sport
Pocket Carry Kaweco Liliput Kaweco Liliput
Note-taking & Signatures Pilot Capless Decimo Pilot Capless Decimo
Business Kaweco Dia2 Kaweco Dia2
Letter-Writing and Calligraphy Pilot Elabo Pilot Elabo
Extended Writing Lamy 2000 Lamy 2000

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