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How to Write with a Fountain Pen

How to Write with a Fountain Pen

How to Write with a Fountain Pen

While ballpoint pens write equally well from most angles and positions, fountain pens require a certain touch. In this article, we’ll show you how to hold and write with a fountain pen. Do experiment with what works best for you, as what feels most comfortable depends on your hand shape and supplies. Don’t worry too much if you’re comfortable holding the pen slightly differently from what’s recommended. However, if you’re having difficulty writing smoothly or comfortably, try making some of the adjustments suggested below, or watch this video to see our tips in action.

Choosing Your Fountain Pen Supplies
Rhodia R Premium Pad and Lamy Safari
The Rhodia R Premium Notepad and the Lamy Safari Fountain Pen are great for beginners.
We will be using a Lamy Safari Fountain Pen with a fine nib and a No. 16 Rhodia R Premium Notepad. We picked out the Lamy Safari since it’s a relatively low-maintenance fountain pen with excellent ink flow. The pen is constructed from lightweight, virtually indestructible ABS plastic (the same material LEGO blocks are made of). It also has a contoured grip that makes it easy to hold it in the correct position. It’s fairly easy to refill—simply pop in a new cartridge or use a converter to fill it with bottled ink. For our paper, we chose the

Rhodia R Premium Pad because of its smoothness, which allows us to take advantage of the Lamy Safari’s easy-flowing ink. At the same time, it has just enough tooth so that it’s not too slippery to write on. Additionally, it has low showthrough and a relatively quick drying time of about 10 seconds.

Holding the Fountain Pen
To Post or Not to Post
Posted Fountain Pen and Unposted Fountain Pen
Decide whether or not you want to post your fountain pen.
Before holding the pen to write, figure out whether you prefer to have the cap posted (attached to the back of the pen) or not. Typically, fountain pens feel more balanced when the cap is posted, but people with smaller hands may prefer to leave the cap off.
Hold the Pen Between Your Thumb and Index Finger
Tripod Position
Hold your pen in a tripod position.
Optimize control of your pen by holding it between your thumb and index finger. Rest the barrel over or just forward of the bottom knuckle on your middle finger. Keep your ring finger, pinky finger, and palm gently against the writing surface to provide stability. The pen should make a 40 to 55-degree angle with your writing surface since that is the "sweet spot" of most fountain pen nibs. This may be lower than what you’re used to, but it will facilitate a juicy ink flow.
The Sweet Spot
Find the sweet spot of your pen.
Find the sweet spot of your fountain pen.
The sweet spot is the area of the nib's tip that will glide across the paper, leaving a trail of ink behind it. The tines and feed separate slightly when you push down on the sweet spot, which lets the ink flow out more easily. Hit the sweet spot to write continuously and smoothly. The nib feels scratchy and skippy when it is not in the sweet spot.

Those who learned to write with pencils often instinctively rotate their writing instruments in an attempt to find a sharp edge. This habit doesn’t translate well to fountain pens. If you rotate your fountain pen too much, the sweet spot is lifted off the paper.

Writing Movement
Write With Your Arm
Write with your arm.n
Write with your arm.
Some people keep their hands relatively motionless when they write by flexing and bending their fingers to control the pen. This tends to be exhausting and may lead to long-term finger strain. This way of writing also constantly changes the pen’s elevation and rotation, which makes it impossible to stay in the pen’s sweet spot.

To stay in the sweet spot and avoid hand injuries, try writing with your lower arm. By doing so, you’re using the large muscles in your arm instead of the small muscles in your fingers. With this technique, you don’t need to strain your hand and wrist as much. You also keep the elevation and rotation of the pen constant so that you stay in the sweet spot to produce consistent handwriting.

Reduce Pressure
Write with a light touch.
Write with a light touch.
If you’re accustomed to writing with ballpoint pens, you might be pushing down too hard on your fountain pen. Ballpoint pens require you to constantly push down to write. Fountain pens don’t require nearly as much pressure—simply guide the pen across the writing surface and ink will come out. Pushing too hard can ruin the alignment of the nib or wear it down over time.
Picking a Fountain Pen

How you select a fountain pen depends on many variables, including your hand size and what kind of writing you’re doing. It’s similar to picking out a pair of shoes. Are you looking for a pair of shoes to run a marathon? To make an impression on a first date? Or to trudge through rainy streets? Consider some of the questions below to guide your fountain pen selection and make writing sessions comfortable.

How big is your hand?
Pilot Penmanship Fountain Pen
The Pilot Penmanship Fountain Pen is an excellent pen for those with slimmer fingers and smaller hands.
Using a pen that is too small or too large will result in hand fatigue and cramping. Large hands will be more comfortable with thick, long pens, such as TWSBI Fountain Pens. Small hands will feel more ease with slim pens with contoured grips, like the Pilot Penmanship Fountain Pens. The petite Kaweco Liliput, one of the smallest fountain pens in the world, is also an excellent option for small hands. Five inches when posted, it offers just enough balance without being too big. Those with arthritis will find girthier pens more comfortable to hold regardless of hand size.
What kind of characters are you writing?
Pilot Elabo and Lamy Safari
A good pen for writing Asian characters is the Pilot Elabo. The Lamy Safari suits more fluid Western script.
Because they contain many details, Asian scripts such as Chinese and Japanese must be written with thin lines to maintain legibility. Additionally, traditional writing and calligraphy often require writers to lift the nib from the paper and alter the pressure of their strokes. For example, you may start with more pressure on the paper and end on a lighter stroke. One great fountain pen for writing Asian characters is the Pilot Elabo, which has a soft, flexible nib that creates different line widths depending on the pressure that you apply.

The Elabo comes in fine and extra fine nib sizes, which is also excellent for writing intricate characters. Keep in mind that finer Japanese nibs may dig into your paper if you apply too much pressure. Try a lighter touch when you’re using them.

On the other hand, the Western alphabet has relatively simple shapes. Western writers also tend to use cursive, a style in which the pen doesn’t need to lift from the page too often. A good fountain pen for Western lettering writes fluidly, has a broader nib, and doesn’t require too much pressure to use. In this guide, we use the lightweight and smooth-writing Lamy Safari as an example for English writers. Be mindful that if you apply too much pressure, broader nibs can deposit ink pools and create bleedthrough.

How big is your handwriting?
Different handwriting sizes
Try a finer nib for small handwriting and a broader nib for large handwriting
The rule of thumb is that finer nibs suit smaller handwriting while broad nibs suit larger handwriting. Finer nibs allow small, squished handwriting to be more legible. But if your handwriting is tall and wide, writing with a fine nib may make your letters look spidery and disproportionate. If you’re in the former camp of writers, consider fine Japanese fountain pen nibs. For those in the latter group, consider broad Western fountain pen nibs. Learn more about the differences between these two in our Guide to Fountain Pen Nibs.
How fast are you writing?
Platinum Preppy Fountain Pen
The Platinum Preppy Fountain Pen is great for jotting down quick to-do lists.
Writing speed ultimately boils down to occasion and personal preference. For example, if you’re taking notes during a lecture or creating a to-do list, you’re probably jotting down words quickly. If you’re working on a personal letter or a calligraphy project, you’re probably writing slowly and deliberately to show off your best work.

Fast writers will appreciate a fountain pen that is lightweight and has a broader nib that allows for fluid, fuss-free writing, like the Platinum Preppy Fountain Pen. The Preppy is a Japanese pen whose fine and medium nibs use bigger Western sized-tips. More deliberate writers will enjoy the heft and solid feeling of a heavier fountain pen, like the Pilot Vanishing Point Fountain Pen. Writers who use light fountain pens should avoid gripping their pens too hard to overcompensate for the pen’s light weight. On the flip side, writers who use heavier fountain pens should remember to take breaks to avoid hand cramps.

Using Your Fountain Pen
Practice writing with your fountain pen.
Practice writing with your fountain pen.
Practice makes perfect, and the more you write with your fountain pen, the more comfortable you’ll feel with it. Here are some ideas for using your fountain pen to squeeze in some extra daily practice.

  • Create a lovely, handwritten greeting card to convey to a loved one how much you appreciate them.
  • Bring your lecture note-taking game up a notch with the spiffiest writing utensil in the classroom.
  • Send your long distance friends snail mail.
  • Write down deep dark secrets in your diary.
  • Jot down captions for your DIY scrapbook.
  • Use it for signing your John Hancock on checks and important documents.
  • Write out a rough draft of the next best-selling novel.

Other Useful Fountain Pen Resources

Do you need some help figuring out how to select and refill your fountain pen? Here are some guides to help you navigate how to use and choose fountain pens.

Signing Off

Writing with a fountain pen should feel comfortable once you find the sweet spot and write by moving your arms rather than your fingers. Do you have any other tips for writing with a fountain pen? Let us know in the comments below!