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Fountain Pen 101: Everything to Know Before You Buy a Fountain Pen

Fountain Pen 101 Everything to Know Before You Buy a Fountain Pen

Cufflinks, tie clips, and buttery-soft leather goods: There’s just something about these items that convey presence, prestige, and luxury. And, you know what? Fountain pens are in the same category.

No other desk accessory or writing instrument offers the sophistication of a fountain pen. With their gleaming metal details and flowing ink, these pens ooze elegance. One of these beauties placed just so atop your desk says it all: The work I’m doing is important, and so am I.

Ready to write your way to the top? Read up on fountain pen essentials before you invest in one of your own.

Business man in black suit signing contract

Fountain Pen Basics

For more than a thousand years, fountain pens have been must-have writing tools. The first pen we have on record was used in Northwest Africa by the caliph of the Maghreb. While the item itself was lost to history, the technology emerged in Europe hundreds of years later. Here, they were used by gentlemen.

Today, the fountain pen has become a refined object that elevates the workplace. However, it’s not just a status symbol. Many writers prefer using fountain pens over more commonplace instruments.

What is a fountain pen?

Fountain pens evolved out of need. The first pen, called a dip pen, was like the quill you imagine Shakespeare must have used. With the dip pen, there was no ink reservoir inside the instrument, so writers had to continually stop working to dip their pens in an inkwell. It was tedious and messy, and people who wrote frequently wanted an improvement.

Enter the fountain pen, which stored its ink inside the shaft of the pen. It was still messy; when you ran out of ink, you had to carefully pour (or use a dropper) to refill it. But it was an improvement and, over the years, the improvements continued.

The modern fountain pen has the same basic anatomy: There’s the shaft of the pen with a reservoir or a cartridge for ink inside of it and a pointy nib that sits in its base. Though the metal nib looks stiff and scratchy, it’s engineered to be flexible, which makes writing as easy as possible.

What makes a fountain pen different from other pens?

It’s more comfortable to write with.

Engineers used physics principles to design fountain pens that allow ink to flow down and out through the nib naturally. That means you don’t have to press as hard while you’re writing to achieve a crisp line. Because you don’t have to put so much force into it, writing fatigue and cramping muscles are much less pronounced with a fountain pen than they are with a ballpoint or even a rollerball pen.

Go Green Pens

It’s more sustainable.

They’re also a greener option. While some less expensive pens you can buy by the dozen do allow you to refill the ink, every item comes swathed in plastic. Most cheap pens are disposable and impossible to recycle. Once you run out of ink, you have to toss it in the trash bin.

Not so with a fountain pen. They are eminently refillable; all you need is a fresh bottle of ink, and you’re ready to go.

It’s made to last.

While you might need to occasionally replace a dull or broken nib, the body of a fountain pen is solid and built for a long, practical life. A.T. Cross offers lifetime warranties on all our writing instruments, including fountain pens, for this reason.

ATX Brushed Rose Gold Fountain Pen

(ATX Brushed Rose Gold Fountain Pen)

How to Pick the Right Fountain Pen

When we say that a fountain pen is an investment, we’re not solely talking about price. Because they have the potential to last a lifetime, it’s important to take who you are and what you want into consideration, too. You shouldn’t settle for something that “just works.”

Remember: This isn’t another cheap disposable. A fountain pen stays with you. It should be something you want to use today and tomorrow.

At A.T. Cross, we craft more than 100 different fountain pen designs. Trust us when we say that there is a fountain pen out there that’s perfect for you. The key to finding the right fit is taking a few different elements into consideration while you shop.

What sort of person are you?

Character counts! We believe in injecting personality into every element of your life and work—that’s what makes it remarkable. You should be proud of who you are and whatever it is that you’re scribbling with your fountain pen. It should reflect you.

So, who are you? Are you the type who wants to stand out in a meeting from the moment you sit down or are you more reserved? Do you prefer traditional stylings or modern innovations? Are you conservative? Do you wear your heart—and your interests—on your sleeve?

Write with style

Fountain pens are for everyone, and our designs prove it. A.T. Cross offers pens with traditional black with metallic accents, modern chrome, luxe gold, contemporary pearl white, youthful pop colors, subtle superhero designs, and much more.

Keep colors, materials, textures, designs, and size in mind as you shop.

How are you going to use it?

At the end of the day, a fountain pen is still a writing instrument. Yes, it’s luxurious and beautifully crafted, but it still needs to get the job done—whichever job it is that you have in mind, of course.

Will you use it every day? Will you use it to sign important documents? Will it be an heirloom? Will it be a gift? Will you keep it on display? Will you give them to multiple people as part of your professional or personal endeavors?

All these questions play a part in your decision-making process. For example:

A daily workhorse fountain pen needs to be the right size, shape, and texture for your hand to be comfortable holding it for hours on end. For pieces you plan to use less often, the pen’s appearance might be more important to you than its feel.

If you want to purchase an heirloom that can be passed on from generation to generation, you might want to invest in more expensive materials, like sterling silver or gold. Or you might prefer a limited-edition pen that will increase in value as the years pass.

For a company-wide gift signifying achievement, you’ll want to keep the diversity of your workforce in mind so that you select a fountain pen that they’ll all enjoy. If you want to be able to order (or reorder) the same style, you’ll also want to avoid limited edition options in favor of more classic picks that are more likely to remain in stock.

Where will you use it?

If you’re writing primarily in an office or home office environment, the size and shape of your pen likely aren’t consequential. However, if you tend to travel often or you plan to carry your fountain pen in a briefcase, laptop bag, or purse, you might need a slimmer style with a lower profile design.

Also, consider the value of the pen. Are you comfortable carrying a pricey model with you and risking losing it?

Nib Size

What kind of nib should you choose?

Fountain pen nibs come in different shapes and sizes, just like paintbrushes. And, like brushes, these different shapes and sizes create different results on paper.

There are two common types of nib shapes you’ll probably see when you’re shopping for your fountain pen: round and italic.

Most fountain pens on the market today come with round nibs, which produce uniform lines no matter which direction you move the pen. An italic nib, which creates thick and thin lines depending on how you orient the nib against the paper, can be found on calligraphy fountain pens.

When it comes to nib size, you’ll likely have two or three to choose from: fine, medium, and broad. Broad tends to be less common than the other two. A fine nib creates a narrower line than a medium nib, and a medium nib creates a finer line than a broad nib.

If you’re new to fountain pens, we recommend that you start with a medium round nib.

As you shop, you’ll also notice that nibs are made from different materials. For example, you’ll probably see both gold and steel nibs. Gold is a little springier than steel, which means that your pen will move a little more smoothly across the paper. Other than that, the differences are small.

What’s your budget?

A quality fountain pen doesn’t have to break the bank. In fact, A.T. Cross offers pens at a variety of price points. Today, you can find a luxury writing instrument no matter your budget.

You’ll see the greatest price difference when you look at fountain pens made from different materials. A pen with a resin barrel, or outer casing, tends to be the least expensive option—typically $50 or under. Pens with chrome plating and lacquer finished are next in line, generally $150 or under. Above $200, you’ll see finer metals, including gold plating. At the far end of the luxury spectrum—think thousands of dollars—you’ll see exquisite precious metal craftsmanship along with gemstones like diamonds and rubies worked into the design.

Speaking of design, details also play into the price. A licensed design, like our Star Wars collection, will feature a higher price point, especially when paired with more expensive materials and textured effects.

For a long-lasting pen with an ergonomic design, expect to pay between $100 and $350, though you can certainly pay significantly more or less based on the options we’ve explained in detail above.

Scuderia Ferrari Brushed Black

(Cross Townsend Collection for Scuderia Ferrari Brushed Black Chemically Etched Honeycomb Pattern Fountain Pen)

Where to Buy a Fountain Pen

While you can purchase fine pens at a variety of retailers, including high-end department stores, luggage stores, and office supply stores, we’re going to focus on two specific points of sale. Why? Because both have unique plusses in their “pro” columns.

Pros of a stationery shop:

There’s something wonderful about walking into a stationery store and running your fingers over fine papers. Some will let you experiment with different fountain pens. If you haven’t used one before, we recommend giving them a test run, so that you can see which features and designs you like and which ones you don’t.

Pros of shopping online:

While you can’t try-before-you-buy with an online store, you can pick up your fountain pen purchase direct from the manufacturer. Often, the stock you find online is more complete than in stores, which tend to cherry-pick which lines and collections they want to carry.

It can also be easier to order replacement parts or have your pen serviced if you buy from the manufacturer, if only because you’ve worked with them before and your pen’s specifications and warranty information will already be on file.

At A.T. Cross, we’re proud of the products we make, and that shows in our customer service and our lifetime guarantees for our writing instruments. Above all, we aim to be a company that helps you do your job—and live your life—better. We want you to feel the same pride in your work that we feel in ours.

If you have any questions about our fountain pens or other products, please reach out! We’ve been here to serve since 1846.

By visiture

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