Hilary is a sophomore at the University of Georgia. She is a self-proclaimed pen enthusiast and has used fountain pens for several years.
Are Fountain Pens Better Than Ballpoint Pens?
Before I begin my pen reviews, let me explain why fountain pens are good for college students.
1. Less Hand Cramping and Fatigue
What differentiates fountain pens from normal ballpoint pens is the amount of pressure needed to write with it. When I use a fountain pen, I find that it writes under its own weight requiring only guidance from my hand to form letters. This effortless way of writing is due to a process called capillary action. This means that the liquid ink will automatically flow down the thin tube in the nib and onto the paper.
The mechanism is similar to how water rises inside of a plant. As the ink leaves the pen, air enters the pen via a "breather hole" in the nib replacing the vacuum in the reservoir left by the ink. As a result, writing with a fountain pen is quite an enjoyable process. The nib glides across the paper in a hypnotic fashion, forming script effortlessly. Since I no longer have to bear down heavily on my pen, my hand does not cramp as frequently anymore, and I find that I can write faster in lecture classes.
2. So Many Pretty Colors!
When you use a fountain pen, you have so many more ink color options-—there are literally 50 shades of gray, and perhaps more. Some shimmer, and others possess a beautiful, multi-colored sheen as seen in J. Herbin's Emerald of Chivor. Even the most basic of ink colors, black and blue, can be made interesting with fountain pens.
Fountain pens have the potential to last forever. Also, they're not even that expensive; you can pick up a great fountain pen for $20 to $30. Some are even cheaper than $5! As long as you don't lose it, drop it from the top of a building, or crush it beneath a hydraulic press, fountain pens will last well into your college career and beyond. Plus, they make you feel fancy.
Now, let the recommendations begin!
1. Pilot Metropolitan: $16–$20
- The Pilot Metropolitan has great value.
- It looks like a pen that is far more expensive.
- It has a metal body, which gives the pen weight and heft.
- It is one of the most popular fountain pens for beginners.
- It comes with a rubber squeeze converter, enabling the owner to use bottled inks.
- The squeeze converter is messy and difficult to use.
- It is hard to fill the converter up completely without the use of a syringe.
- The converter is opaque, preventing you from seeing the ink levels in the pen.
- Another issue is that it can only use Pilot brand cartridges.
- It has a metal ridge near the nib, which can bother writers who grip far down on the pen.
Overall, the Pilot Metropolitan is an amazing pen. It writes very smoothly for a pen of that price, and it does not look like a cheap, $16 pen, making it perfect for gifts. When you purchase the Pilot Metropolitan, it comes in a nice, sturdy pen case with a rubber squeeze converter installed and a black ink cartridge on the side. Make sure to buy more cartridges online or at a local art store if you run out.
2. TWSBI Eco: $30–$32
- This is a fun, fancy-looking demonstrator pen, because it has a clear body, enabling you to see the inner mechanism of the pen.
- It is a piston-filler pen, so you can use bottled inks on it.
- It has a high ink capacity.
- When this pen is purchased, it comes with a little toolbox with some wrench and silicone grease for long-term maintenance.
- Even though this is a good beginner pen, it can be intimidating to those new to fountain pens as this pen can only use bottled inks.
- Most beginners are not comfortable filling the pen from a bottle.
The TWSBI Eco is one of the highest quality piston filler fountain pens at this price point. Bottled ink provides you with a wider range of colors than ink cartridges. Plus, watching the ink swish around in the crystal-clear pen body is therapeutic during boring lectures and stressful tests. The large ink capacity ensures that you have more than enough ink to last you through the week, and the demonstrator body allows you to see how close you are to running out of ink.
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3. Lamy Safari: $20–$30
- The Lamy Safari is another famous beginner fountain pen.
- It features a sleek, modern look and an ink window, allowing the user to view ink levels.
- It has a triangular grip to help guide the writer's hand in an optimal writing position.
- Some people may dislike the triangular grip as they grip their pens differently.
- Also, the pen can only use Lamy brand cartridges.
- The Lamy converter has to be purchased separately.
The Lamy Safari is iconic in the world of fountain pens. They show up in nearly every beginner fountain pen discussion and post. It's easy to see why they're so popular; the Safari is a sleek modern pen that writes well, is affordable, and can accommodate both bottled ink converters and cartridges. The pen comes with one blue ink cartridge. They come in a wide assortment of colors, and they're made of the same material as Legos. Write away, and enjoy!
4. Kaweco Sport: $21–$25*
- The Kaweco Sport is a small, portable, and lightweight pocket pen.
- It uses standard international cartridges.
- It can even be converted into an eyedropper. Eyedropper pens can hold bottled ink in their bodies.
- The clip is sold separately.
- The clip does not attach well to the pen cap.
- Kaweco has a reputation for producing finicky nibs (I have never had that problem, personally.)
The Kaweco Sport is an adorable EDC (everyday carry) pocket pen. This pen also comes in a wide variety of colors, from dark, businesslike colors to pastel colors. All short standard universal ink cartridges can be used with this pen, including but not limited to those made by Kaweco. Its small size ensures that it can fit anywhere, but it may become lost in the abyss of a book bag.
*This price only applies to pens with a plastic body, i.e Sports in the Skyline, Ice, and Classic series. Metal Kaweco Sports are more expensive.
5. Platinum Preppy: Under $5–$11
- The Platinum Preppy is super cheap, and is a great quality for the price.
- The pen is refillable.
- The nib can be scratchy, especially when compared to better quality pens, such as those reviewed above.
- It appears cheap and flimsy, and the pen may be prone to having difficult starts, meaning that it may take a few tries to get the ink flowing.
The Platinum Preppy is the cheapest option on this list. It is a good beginner pen, especially if you are not committed to purchasing a more pricey pen. It is refillable and can be converted into an eyedropper. However, do not expect too much from this pen. Though it is a good quality product for this price, it does not write nearly as smoothly as most pens. That said, this is definitely worth a try if you're curious but unwilling to spend too much.
6. Pilot Vanishing Point: $148–$156
- The Pilot Vanishing Point "uncaps" by clicking the button on the back of the pen, much like a ballpoint pen.
- It has an 18kt gold-plated nib for silky smooth writing.
- The VP comes with a blue ink cartridge and a 4 CON-50 twist piston converter, allowing you to use both cartridges and bottled inks.
- This is an expensive pen, which may not be ideal for broke college students.
- The pen also has its clip placed at the grip, which may be annoying for some people.
- The smooth grip area may be slippery for writers who grip their pens tightly.
The Pilot Vanishing Point is a luxurious, unique fountain pen that features a retractable nib. Once the nib retracts, the spring-loaded door at the end of the fountain pen closes, creating an airtight seal that prevents the pen from drying out. This pen creates an amazingly smooth writing experience because of its gold-plated nib. Though this pen is pricey, it is an amazing pen that would fit perfectly in both a college setting and a professional setting.
Which Nib Size Should You Get?
If you are a beginner fountain pen user and you are unsure as to which nib to select, I recommend picking a pen with a medium nib. They are easier to write with as they have higher ink flow. Medium nibs lay down a line of about 0.75mm depending on both the quality of the paper and the brand of nib.
However, if you have small handwriting, I'd suggest using a fine or extra-fine nib. These nibs may feel a bit scratchier than a medium, but they are less prone to feathering and leave a thinner line.
There are many amazing pens out there that aren't fountain pens. However, I highly encourage giving these a try. Who knows? You might even like them.
Questions & Answers
Question: For the "Pilot Vanishing Point", would you recommend extra-fine or fine for a guy who uses normal (cheap) notebook paper?
Answer: Since the Pilot brand is Japanese, their nibs are usually thinner than Western brands. I personally would use fine, but if you're really worried about ink bleeding, I'd go with the extra fine. From my experience, the extra-fine can be a bit scratchy, but that easily be resolved with regular use and some good old-fashioned Googling.
Question: As an engineering student, I tend to write a lot of math equations and write a lot very quickly! Would you recommend a fine or an extra fine nib? (for #6 JoWo nib)
Answer: I would recommend a fine nib. Extra fine nibs tend to be a bit scratchy and have slightly slower ink flow. If you use a fine nib, you can still get a nice, juicy line while still making small symbols legible. I'd say that fine nibs have around a 0.5mm line, which is what I prefer.
© 2019 Hilary Hsieh