Chances are, if you grew up in the later half of the 20th Century, you might not have had any experience learning to use a fountain pen in school. Cursive writing might seem like a foreign language to you. New generations might not even know that fountain pens exist, let alone how to use one.

Much like Obi Wan handing Luke his father's lightsaber in "Star Wars," there's a sense of magic and wonder about holding such an elegant instrument as the graceful fountain pen. Unlike disposable ballpoint pens, fountain pens are meant to be refilled with ink and maintained so that they may perform faithfully for years of use. There's also a high degree of customization - you can usually pick a nib size and ink color that best suits your handwriting.

Don't worry - if you're a newb, we'll cover the basics on how to fill, write with, and maintenance a fountain pen.

How to Fill a Fountain Pen

To fill a fountain pen, you must first find out whether the pen is a piston fill or a cartridge-converter fill. Cartridges are pre-filled capsules of ink that you can insert into your pen. Cartridges are one of the most convenient ways to fill your fountain pen since they are already filled with ink. All you have to do is insert it into the pen where a converter would have been with the small end facing downward. Push until you feel a "pop." When the cartridge is pierced, the ink will flow into the capillary feeder to make the pen write. To quicken the process, position the pen with the nib pointed toward the ground so gravity can move the ink through the feed. This usually takes a few minutes. If it takes longer, you can follow our troubleshooting tips to help get the ink flowing.

How To Use A Fountain Pen

*Push the cartridge all the way down. This image does not show the cartridge pushed down all the way.

For converters, each converter works differently, so you may have to do further research to find out how to use your specific converter.

With the most standard international Monteverde converter, twist the end knob of the converter in the counterclockwise direction before dipping the nib in the ink. Then, twist the end knob of the converter in the clockwise direction to draw up ink into the converter's reservoir.

To fill a squeeze converter, remove it from the fountain pen completely and squeeze it prior to submerging the open end into the ink bottle. Then when you release it, it will draw up the ink. Do this a few more times with the converter still in the ink until there are no more bubbles that arise in the ink bottle. This means it is completely filled. Some examples of fountain pens that can use squeeze converters include the Pilot Metropolitan Fountain Pen and the Kaweco Sport Fountain Pen.

In most cases, a piston-fill fountain pen cannot be disassembled like a cartridge converter. The filling system is contained within the pen's barrel. Prior to dipping the nib into the ink bottle, twist the end blind cap of the barrel counterclockwise until there is resistance.

Completely submerge the nib and feed into the ink, just like you would with a converter fountain pen, then twist-the blind cap clockwise to draw up the ink.

Examples of fountain pens that use the piston-filling system are the Narwhal Original Fountain Pen and the Leonardo Momento Magico Fountain Pen.

To operate the one-handed vacuum-filling system, unscrew the blind cap at the barrel end and pull back the plunger. Then, fully submerge the nib and ink into the ink. Push the plunger down all the way. The air pressure that builds inside the barrel when the plunger is at the bottom will cause the ink to be drawn in an upward direction. Some examples of fountain pens that use the vacuum filling system are the TWSBI Vac Mini Fountain Pen and the Pilot Custom 823 Fountain Pen.

Traditional eyedropper-filling fountain pens have a larger capacity than most other fountain pens. Yet, they can get a little messy if you aren't careful about transferring the ink. Before using an eyedropper to transfer ink into the barrel, we suggest to coat the front section thread of the pen with 100% silicone grease to help create a watertight (or ink-tight) seal. Drop ink into the barrel until the level reaches right below the interior barrel threads. Then, screw on the front section to close the pen. Just like with a cartridge, you will want to give this pen some time for the ink to saturate the feed.

Some examples of fountain pens that use the eyedropper filling system are the Opus 88 Fountain Pen which is featured in this picture.

When filling a fountain pen, it is a good habit to keep paper towels or a cleaning cloth nearby to catch any stray ink drops. If you've filled your pen by dipping the nib in bottled ink, you'll want to wipe the nib and grip section with a paper towel or microfiber cloth to absorb any excess ink.

Now that you're ready to use your fountain pen, you'll need somewhere to write, right? Before you grab any old notebook, back of the envelope, or napkin to write on, consider the paper weight. Because fountain pens write with water-based dye inks at a greater flow than ballpoint or rollerball pens, you have to always consider paper choice when writing. In general, paper weights that are greater than 70gsm (grams per square meter) will handle fountain pen ink sufficiently as to not feather or bleed through to the other side of the page.

For best results, we recommend obtaining notepads and notebooks that contain excellent, fountain pen friendly paper. For notepads, trust that Rhodia's French-milled paper will handle most nibs and ink types. Japanese Tomoe River paper is a favorite among fountain pen enthusiasts for smooth, delicate feel and the ability to show inks at their best vibrancy, sheen, and shading. The Endless Recorder notebook is made using Tomoe River paper and features an inside cover pocket, elastic closure, and bookmark.

Now that you've got your pen filled with ink and a fresh, blank page, let's get to writing, shall we?

In our video "How to improve your handwriting with a fountain pen," Tom covers the basics on proper writing style with a fountain pen, which I will outline below.

How to write with a fountain pen

  • Position the metal face of the nib so that it is facing upward toward the ceiling (or sky if you're outside).
  • Angle the tip of the nib so that it meets with the paper at approximately 45 degrees. No need to break out the protractor, most pens have a forgiving writing surface that will forgive a less-than-ideal writing angle.
  • There's no need to press with a fountain pen. Gently touch the nib on paper and the ink should get flowing.
  • When you write, keep your arm and shoulder loose. Move your hand with your writing so that the nib maintains a consistent contact angle with the paper. If you notice skipping, you might have lost the nib's "sweet spot."
  • Take is nice and slow at first. Writing with a fountain pen is meant to be savored, not rushed through.
  • Concentrate on your letter forms as you write. Keep consistent heights of capital and lowercase letters, and spacing between letters.

When you're finished writing, allow some time to pass for the ink to dry. Fountain pen inks have varying dry times, which also depends on the nib size and type of paper you are using. Some inks might take a couple seconds to dry, others (like super-saturated, sheeny inks) may take minutes and might be prone to smudging even when left alone for hours or days. Using pieces of blotting paper helps absorb excess ink to quicken the process.

How to maintain a fountain pen

Don't worry, it's not as messy or difficult as it might sound. Since fountain pens use water-based inks, all that is usually needed to keep them clean is running tap water. Some might opt for distilled water or a pen flush solution to clean out their pens. Most of the time, plain tap water will do the job just fine.

You would want to clean a fountain pen when switching different color inks and when planning to store your pen for more than a 2-3 weeks. If you experience any flow issues or skipping, the first solution I suggest is to flush the pen.

Cleaning a fountain pen is similar in process to filling it with ink. Instead of filling the pen with ink, you fill it with water, flush the water out of the pen, then fill it back up again. Repeat the process of filling and expelling water from the pen until the water coming out of the pen is clear of the residual ink color.

Once you have flushed the ink from the pen, leave the nib and parts out to air dry on a paper towel or microfiber cloth. To enlist the aid of gravity and capillary action, line a cup with paper towels and place the pen, nib point down, on the paper towel. The nib's contact with the paper towel will draw the remaining inky water from the feed.

Over years of use, you may encounter difficulty filling the pen or writing like it used to. For troubleshooting tips, Goldspot Pens provides helpful advice on getting your pen working again.

Fountain pens can seem scary to handle at first, but hopefully after reading this, you are confident to start your own fountain pen journey. Good luck and stay inky!