It’s not just about looks. If you want the right fountain pen, you need to test it, try it out and make sure that it’s comfortable. After all, you wouldn’t buy clothes without trying them on.
Buying a fountain pen is very personal. Everyone has their own taste, for a start, when it comes to the aesthetics of writing instruments. Some people love understatement, others want a colorful, extrovert pen. Some love the wabi-sabi feel of urushi (lacquer), while others prefer the clean lines of machined metal.
Feeling the Fountain Pen
You need to consider several aspects. One is the feel of the pen in your hand. That can be particularly important for those with carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis; a wider gripping section and chunkier pen can help, and a lighter pen will be less fatiguing to use.
Another aspect to think about is the nib. It should be suited to the writing you do with the pen; whether that’s neat calligraphy, or note-taking, and you should try it out with that writing style to know whether it will work well.
So, you’re in the shop, and you’ve identified a pen you’d like to try.
Ink and Paper
Ask to try it out, and you’ll generally get a bottle of ink and a pad of paper. Both of those might influence the feel of the pen – usually, an ink like Waterman blue or Parker blue-black which is relatively neutral is used, but the paper might still not suit the nib. So if you’re not getting on with the pen, just ask if there’s a different kind of paper you could use.
Start off just trying out some shapes; swirly S’s and figures of eight, and O’s, will test the flowing quality of the nib. Try a little faster to see if the ink feeder keeps up with you. However, don’t press down, unless you are trying a flex nib – ask first whether you should try to get flex out of the nib or not.
Then start some noughts and crosses, and try some grid patterns, or a row of downstrokes and a column of horizontal dashes. That will help you see if there’s any variation in the line, for instance with an italic nib or stub where depending on the angle of the nib, you can get a thin line or a much thicker one.
The Sweet Spot
Now, and only now, it’s time to start writing. You might begin with some quick note-taking. Does it the nib hard start (taking a few letters to start pushing out ink), skip, or scratch? Or you might want to try out slower, more calligraphic writing.
Does the nib help or hinder you when you’re trying to make your handwriting look its best?
You might also notice if the nib has a ‘sweet spot’. Many of us let the pen rotate in our fingers while we’re writing, and that changes the place where the nib contacts the paper. Some nibs are very tolerant and forgiving, but others have a narrow ‘sweet spot’ and will skip, scratch, or just stop writing if you don’t keep them at exactly the right angle.
Do write for a little while; don’t just make two or three letters. If you can’t think of anything clever to write, just look around the store and write down the brand names that you see! By doing this, you’re taking your attention away from the pen and using it as you would normally when you’re writing.
Choose A Fountain Pen
Some people are bugged by features of the pen-like sharp screw threads near where they hold it, ‘ears’ on the Lamy 2000 which hold the cap on, or the clip on the Pilot Vanishing Point which is at the nib end (because it’s a retractable pen so it has to be stored nib up). If you take a while to write, you may find that you stop noticing that feature. It’s something you can get used to. If it keeps bugging you, then maybe this is not the right pen.
Ask yourself whether the pen feels nicely balanced, or whether you’re having to adjust your hold to keep it in your hand. If you start feeling cramped, it’s probably too slim or too heavy.
And finally, remember to communicate your findings to the vendor. It may be they have the same pen but with a different nib, or that they have exactly the right pen for your particular needs – and it’s not the one you were looking at. Besides, if you show you know what you’re looking for, they’re going to be happy to let you try another pen or two.
Trying out a pen properly will stop you from spending money on a fountain pen that doesn’t make you happy. And it can also be quite good fun, so go and try a new pen today!
Lori Ballen is a real estate agent in Las Vegas. She’s a digital marketing specialist, speaker, and marketing coach and loves to share her “Ballen Method” to generate website traffic and leads online. Lori’s specialties are SEO content writing (ranking on the search engines), social media strategies, and affiliate marketing. Need a website? Contact Lori’s brothers Jeff and Paul Helvin at Ballen Brands.