Few people in the United States are ever exposed to fountain pens, but they stand as a tool that is especially useful for students.
Of course, in the day of technological convenience, it is strange to suggest putting an abnormal effort investing into what may seem to be an anachronistic tool. However, studies continue to support the suggestion that handwriting improves memory. And most importantly, it is still a good idea to brush up on the use of tactile writing, as opposed to typing.
But what, really, is a fountain pen? Simply, a pen that has a reservoir of ink, is refillable, and generally uses water-based inks as opposed to the oil-based inks that ballpoints use today.
Historically, the first pens were quill pens, which required an animal quill (feather) and a bottle of ink at the ready. The problem was that while the quill was the primary tool of nonverbal communication, it was inconvenient to carry both the ink bottle and the quill. This led to the invention of the fountain pen. Over time, the fountain pen became the standard that people would use until BiC introduced the BiC Cristal – one of the best-selling pens of all time.
Fountain pens are best known as the predecessor to the current ballpoint pens that most people know, and use, today. While most people might recognize the fountain pen as a “calligraphy pen,” it is technically incorrect to refer to a fountain pen as a calligraphy pen, as the nib (metallic writing tip found on all pens) of calligraphy pens are disposable, and don’t use water-based inks.
If fountain pens are so good, you might ask, why were they replaced?
In short, it is because fountain pens do have disadvantages. First, they are less than ideal for air travel as the rising air pressure causes the pen to leak. Second, because they are refillable, fountain pens are seldom designed to be disposable. This can cause problems if the user carrying one is prone to losing pens, and because they have higher upfront costs. Lastly, it is important to keep the cap in the pen when not using it, as the ink dries up even faster – especially compared to ballpoints.
While fountain pen advocates will say there are specific models designed to counter one of the three disadvantages, they are either expensive – even among fountain pens – and lack variety.
Of course, with the disadvantages also come other advantages.
While the upfront fountain pen costs are higher than ballpoint pens, inks for fountain pens are very affordable and downright cheap, especially if bought in bottles. A luxury bottle of fountain pen ink (example: Pilot Iroshizuku) costs 20 cents per refill, while a more affordable brand (example: Noodler’s Inks) costs almost 7 cents per refill. In contrast, a cartridge refill for Pilot G2s (No. 1-selling pen in the U.S.) costs $1.50 per refill – an 8 times difference between a luxury bottle of ink and a ballpoint cartridge.
There also is a wider variety of ink colors, from classic black and blue inks to exotic yellows. browns, and grays, all up to your discretion. In addition to colors, fountain pen inks can have special properties – from improved water resistance, inks with glitter, inks that shine only under UV light, to laserproof (Yes: laserproof!) qualities.
Lastly, fountain pens can accommodate many writing preferences. Do you prefer a finer, or broader, line? A smooth pen or a tactile pen? A large pen or a small pen? Fountain pens can accomodate all of those choices. And because fountain pens use water-based inks, even mid-priced fountain pens have a smoother flow than the most expensive ballpoints can achieve.
To summarize, I believe that most students would stand to benefit from what a fountain pen offers. Its long-term cost effectiveness and ability to match an individual’s writing preferences means that the experience of handwriting improves notably for those willing to commit the time to understanding how to use one.
If you are a student who does not fly regularly, are not prone to losing your items, and can remember to keep the cap on your pen when using it, then a fountain pen may be good choice for you, as the advantages are most likely useful for your lifestyle.