A calligraphy dip pen is usually the preferred choice of calligraphers, but might be a little difficult to handle for some beginners. Although I would recommend getting used to the operation and “feel” of a dip pen as soon as possible, calligraphy fountain pens are a “no fuss” tool to begin learning letter forms.
Selecting a Calligraphy Fountain Pen
Calligraphy fountain pens come in a wide variety of brands and nib sizes, and often have inks available in a range of colors conveniently contained in plastic cartridges. As with calligraphy dip pens and nibs, the choice of what type of pen to use depends on what would best fit your style and budget:
- Do you prefer a long barrel or a shorter barrel?
- Does the pen fit comfortably in your hand, or do you find it too thick or thin?
- Are ink cartridges easy to find?
- Is the ink available in a bottle?
- Does the pen come with or have the option to purchase an ink converter?
- Is a variety of color choices important or do you plan to use only black ink?
- Do you require a wide range of nib sizes or will a few be sufficient?
- Can the pens be purchased individually or are they only available in sets?
- Are replacement nibs easy to find? Would you have to purchase an entire pen or set to replace a damaged nib?
Note: Purchasing calligraphy fountain pens on-line is one way to get a pen not available locally – just be aware that the pens might also include a few ink cartridges, and these will sometimes leak or explode (regardless of how well it is packaged) during shipping, especially if shipped by air. This has happened to me more than a few times – ask anyone who has forgotten to empty their fountain pen before taking a plane flight.
It probably won’t damage the pen, but it does make quite a mess! If possible, try to find ink refills at a local art or stationary store. If the pen is by a manufacturer the store usually carries, they might be able to order the ink for you.
Loading a Calligraphy Fountain Pen
Loading an ink cartridge into a calligraphy fountain pen is fairly simple – you did read the instructions that came with the pen?
Generally, one simply takes the pen apart by unscrewing the barrel from the nib section:
Cartridges vary in design by manufacturer – in this example, the Rotring cartridge has a distinctly different top and bottom design that indicates which end is inserted into the nib section:
If you examine the top of the cartridge, there is a little seal inside that needs to be “popped” when pushing the cartridge into the nib section to allow the ink to flow:
Tip: Don’t pop the seal before inserting the cartridge into the pen section! Always push the cartridge into the nib section and make sure the correct end of the cartridge is attached to the nib, or follow the instructions from the manufacturer.
Push the cartridge gently but firmly into the pen section – with the Rotring pen you will be able to “feel” when the cartridge has attached to the reservoir. If you’re not sure if it’s firmly attached, try pulling it out – the Rotring cartridge takes a good tug to remove – if not, try again!
Reassemble the pen by screwing the pen and barrel back together, and you are ready to letter!
If you have an ink converter, you can use bottled ink instead of cartridges. Filling the converter varies with each manufacturer, but as an example, the Rotring converter uses a twist mechanism to fill. First, twist the converter until the plunger is at the bottom. Place just the tip (don’t dunk the entire converter!) into a bottle of ink, then twist the plunger in the opposite direction until the converter is full.
Care and Cleaning
Although calligraphy fountain pens are more convenient and easy to carry around than bottles of ink, they do require basic care and attention:
- clean the pen at least once a month
- if the pen is not going to be used for while, remove the ink cartridge and clean the nib assembly
- store the pen with the cap on with the nib pointing up if there is an ink cartridge in it
How to clean a pen
- disassemble the pen and remove the ink cartridge
- run the nib assembly under cold water until the water runs clear. To get rid of excess water that might still be in the nib, wrap the nib loosely with a few paper towels and blow gently into the top of the nib assembly. If you have an ink converter, attach it to the nib and use the mechanism to force out any remaining water.
- dry with a paper towel or soft cloth
Calligraphy fountain pens are mainly plastic with metal nibs – never use any solvents or pen cleaners unless specifically recommended by the manufacturer as some of the chemicals might damage the barrel and nib.
The best advice I can give regarding the care and ink selections for your calligraphy fountain pen is to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. Manufacturers have developed their own proprietary systems regarding the feeding and flow of ink from the reservoir and the inks they recommend are formulated to work with that particular system.
More information and a discussion of calligraphy fountain pen inks can be found at the Selecting Calligraphy Inks post.
If you are not sure about what the manufacturer recommends, general information on the care of fountain pens can be applied to your calligraphy fountain pen. A source of excellent information on cleaning and care of fountain pens can be found at the RichardsPens website.
Troubleshooting a calligraphy fountain pen
- Ink won’t flow after installing a new cartridge – unscrew the barrel, hold the pen in a vertical position with the nib pointing down, and gently squeeze the ink cartridge (you might want to put some paper towels underneath). Try a few pen strokes to get the ink moving.
- Ink flows too fast or blots – make sure you are using ink recommended by the manufacturer. Since inks vary greatly in formula, the ink you select might be too thin for your pen. If the ink is fine, check the nib – if the tines are split or damaged it might be time to replace the nib.