How to Insert Ink Cartridge in a Fountain Pen

In the same way that an artist can’t paint without his paintbrush, a fountain pen can’t create its telltale strokes without an ink cartridge. The tool of endless emperors, presidents, and upper-crust erudite, the fountain pen has written much of history as we know it. Centuries of trial and error have gone into creating the perfect formula. From colorful sheens to shimmering swirls, the origins of ink is a fascinating topic.

The seemingly mundane skill of learning how to install an ink cartridge in a fountain pen is the first step towards mastering the art of penmanship. Like peanut butter and jelly, fountain pens and ink are at the top of our list of memorable pairings. In this article, we’re demystifying the process of how to use an ink cartridge to make your writing experience more seamless and enjoyable!

Preparing for Ink Cartridge Installation

One of the top selling points of fountain pens is that you don’t have to buy a brand new pen once they are empty. They are refillable and will operate as long as you maintain them. While the task of filling ink cartridges is straightforward, it’s best to do so in a conducive workspace. Make sure your desk is clean, well-lit, and away from drafts that could whisk away tiny yet precious components of your fountain pen. Lay out a soft cloth to protect the nib and your desk from unexpected inky mishaps.

Understanding Different Types of Fountain Pens

Like the personalities who wield them, fountain pens come in a wide variety of different styles and types. Regular refills and routine maintenance are simply part of the fountain pen experience. Many of our Pen Pals keep a couple of different types in their rotation. The three primary types of fountain pens are cartridge/converter, piston-fill, and eyedropper.  

Piston-fill fountain pens can hold the greatest volume of ink, contained in the barrel of the pen itself. A piston mechanism pulls the ink from the barrel up into the chamber. With eyedropper fountain pens, you manually fill the barrel with an eyedropper device directly from bottled ink. They also boast great ink capacity but tend to “belch” due to heat or internal air pockets. Some fountain pens can be converted into eyedropper-fill pens.

Our focus in this article is the cartridge fountain pen. The most common type of fountain pen, cartridge pens are popular for their convenience and beginner-friendly design. Their "plug and play" ability makes it quick and easy for the writer to get started. Cartridge pens are typically sold with the cartridge in the barrel to start, and can be refilled by unscrewing the pen barrel and inserting a new cartridge. Using a fountain pen with a cartridge is the quickest way to dip your toes into the world of fine writing with as little mess as possible.

Selecting the Right Ink Cartridge

Finding the correct cartridge or ink converter for your fountain pen can easily frustrate without the right guidance. Luckily, our team at Goldspot is here to help you find compatible refills for all your fine writing instruments.

Standard International pen cartridges as well as converters are widely used with fountain pens. While international cartridges are available in short or long sizes, international converters usually come in one size. Most interntional-style cartridges or converters are compatible with each other, but certain fountain pen brands use proprietary cartridges made specifically to fit their pens (like Cross, Pilot, Lamy, and Montblanc, for example).

Reference our handy chart to see if the pen brand you use is compatible with standard international cartridges, or if it uses proprietary cartridges/converters. Choose your ink cartridges by brand, color, and size. You can always contact us if you’re not sure.

Tools and Materials Needed

When it comes to how to put ink in a fountain pen, you’ll need a few items on hand. We recommend keeping your pen refilling tools in a drawer, plastic tote or, if you have an eye for decor, an aesthetic wooden box. This keeps everything in one place when you need it. Gather the following materials:

  • Your fountain pen

  • Compatible ink cartridges

  • A soft cloth or paper towel

  • Pen flush or lukewarm water (optional, for cleaning)

  • High-quality, fountain pen-friendly paper (for testing)

Step-by-Step Guide to Inserting an Ink Cartridge

Now for the main event! As any good orchestra maestro knows, every section is important for a harmonious performance, and your fine writing tools are no different. With the above tools in hand, you’re now ready to refill your cartridge fountain pen. Take your time with each of the steps below, especially if you’re a new fountain pen user. In this context, it’s not cliche to say that practice makes perfect. Check out our detailed guide on how to put ink in a fountain pen here.

Step 1: Disassembling Your Fountain Pen

Every fountain pen has its own disassembly method, so refer to the detailed instructions in your user manual the first time. Gently unscrew the barrel from the grip section to take it apart. Handle the feed and nib with care, as these are the most delicate components of your pen.

Step 2: Preparing the Ink Cartridge

Shake your new ink cartridge lightly to ensure no particles are clogged or settled. Even a new ink cartridge will have an air bubble inside. Even though the cartridge is sealed, it is possible for the cartridge to dry out over time. If you have a cartridge that is less than half full, ink probably evaporated. Once the cartridge is punctured, the ink will saturate the feed and work its way down to the nib.

Step 3: Inserting the Cartridge into the Pen

Line up the open part of the front section with the narrow end of the cartridge. Insert the cartridge into the section. Apply a little tension, and push it in gently until you hear an audible click. Once the cartridge is pierced, it should be firmly attached to the section.

Step 4: Ensuring Proper Ink Flow

After installing the cartridge into your fountain pen, you have two choices: wait for the ink to slowly saturate the pen feed, or you can prime the pen straight away and squeeze the attached cartridge. Either way, work slowly and with patience to draw the ink into the nib and to avoid excess ink spillage. If you squeeze the ink cartridge, do so over a towel or sink just incase a droplet of ink comes out.

Step 5: Reassembling and Testing Your Pen

With your fountain pen ink cartridge in place, screw back on the barrel. Then, hold the pen nib-side down on a sheet of paper. Allow gravity and capillary action to initiate the slow and noble flow of ink. Again, this may take a few gentle shakes or squeezing the cartridge to encourage the ink to descend. Some fountain pens have translucent barrels where you can see the ink inside the pen. Give it a few test strokes across your paper. If nothing happens, dip the nib in water and try again.

Maintenance and Care for Your Fountain Pen

Cartridge/converter systems allow you to both use cartridges and refill from an ink bottle. Think of a converter as a refillable cartridge. Converters entail occasional inky fingers, but if you’re like most of our customers who truly enjoy the hobby, a little ink stain is a badge of honor. Your cartridge/converter fountain pen has the potential to last many years, even generations, given the right type of care.

Maintaining your fountain pen isn’t a particularly difficult task-you just have to make it a habit. To best care for your favorite pen, clean it out at least four times a year or after changing ink colors. It will inevitably dry out when not in constant use. To flush it properly, disassemble the nib, grip, and feed, and run them under lukewarm water. Wet the nib and clean it with a lint-free, soft cloth. Dry all the sections with a paper towel before reassembling.

Store your fountain pen in a temperature-controlled area out of direct sunlight. Try to place it horizontally, as storing it nib side-up can cause clogging and nib side-down can cause ink leakage. One of the best ways to maintain your pen is to use it regularly, keeping a pulse on its working condition and ink levels.

Advanced Considerations

The type of filling system that best suits you will depend on whether you value convenience over ink capacity. If you live out of your suitcase, cartridges are the obvious choice over carrying multiple bottles of ink. However, if you love having high ink capacity and don’t switch colors often, a piston-fill, vacuum-fill or eyedropper method will work well.

Mixing and Matching Inks

Resist the urge to mix inks willy-nilly unless you’re ready for a science experiment. For safety reasons, only mix inks of the same brand. Otherwise, you’re assuming a degree of risk since different manufacturer dyes can result in adverse chemical reactions. Shading inks use lighter-colored dyes, while darker inks produce sheens with beautiful metallic finishes. All you need is an ink syringe or pipette, ink, and a container to hold your creation. Go slowly and mix in small batches. If you like the end result, you can mix up a larger batch. Check out some of our favorite inks here. 

Environmental Considerations

One of the most eco-friendly aspects of owning a fountain pen is that you don’t have to throw it away once the ink runs dry. You can refill it over and over again. Fountain pens will always be a more sustainable alternative to disposable ballpoint and felt-tip pens.

Vintage Filling Systems

Life-long fountain pen lovers might stumble across unusual types of filling systems in vintage pens. These come with more of a learning curve than your typical modern fountain pen. Vintage systems include lever, crescent, safety, snorkel, aerometric, and many others. Since cartridge fountain pens became more popular in the 1970s, there aren't many vintage pens that use an ink cartridge. If they did, it might be difficult to find the replacement cartridge or an adaptable alternative to fill the particular pen.

If you’re interested in vintage pens, consider attending a pen show where you can talk to the dealers and learn more.

Ink In, Creativity Out

Mastering the process of how to fill your cartridge fountain pen is the first step in the winding road toward creativity. At Goldspot Pens, we encourage you to continue exploring fine writing as an art form. It only gets easier and more enjoyable with time. Each pen tells a story not just on paper, but in the heart of its holder. Whether you’re jotting down notes in a meeting or starting your magnum opus, it all starts with prepping your pen with the perfect ink. So go forth, fill your cartridge and your coffee cup, and send us your questions-we want to hear from you!

About the Author

Madeleine is a copywriter and video script whiz for creative and inventive brands. As an empathy-based marketer, every website, landing page, blog, email, and video she writes showcases her clients at their best. Some say she's a mind-reader, but she's really just an expert listener with one goal in mind: to inspire readers (and viewers) to take action. A true logophile, she's the one who (unabashedly) keeps a hard copy thesaurus on her desk. When she's not on set or crafting copy, you can find her nose in a book sipping a matcha latte.

Back to blog