If you are new to fountain pens, there are a couple of things you should know before you start spending money, just to make sure you are getting what you want.
There are three main types of fountain pens.
OPTION 1: The cartridge/converter. The most common.
Generally considered the “standard” entry-level fountain pen, the Lamy Safari is a cartridge/converter pen, which means it takes either cartridges or a converter.
People often use cartridges for ease – just pop one in and you’re good to go. If you run out, you take out the old one, and put a new one in. For traveling or for places where it’s not always convenient to take out a bottle of ink, cartridges are great.
Not all cartridges fit all fountain pens! Some companies have proprietary cartridges/converters, meaning that only their cartridges will fit their pens – and that you have to keep buying from them. Other companies make pens that fit the “international short” or “international long” cartridges.
When you put your cartridge into your pen, you may need to push a little until you hear or feel a “pop”, and that’s the seal of the cartridge opening. When using a cartridge, if your pen has been dry, it may take a few seconds for the ink to make its way through the feed into the nib.
Ink is typically much, much more expensive in cartridge form versus buying a whole bottle. You may also be limited to the ink colours if the cartridge is proprietary – for example, Lamy fountain pens only take Lamy cartridges (not pictured above), so if you are only using cartridges, you can only use the inks Lamy has.
You can, however, refill an empty cartridge with a syringe and ink from a bottle – but you can’t store it in the cartridge, so you’ll need to use it right away.
Life gets much more exciting when you enter in the converter.
Often you need to buy the converter separately.
You simply push the converter all the way into the pen, sometimes hearing or feeling a snug connection. You submerge the entire pen nib into a bottle of ink and draw up on the converter (like a syringe).
When using a converter, over time, if you pop it in and out of pens too often, you can wear down or stretch out the seal between the converter and the ink, meaning suction is not good and the possibility of leaks.
When I got my first fountain pen, I only used cartridges. I soon discovered these bottles of ink in different colours and sizes, and once I got a converter for my pen, I never looked back.
OPTION 2: The piston-filler.
The Serwex 962 is a piston-filler. The piston filler fills ink directly into the body by drawing it up with an internal piston. It’s basically like a converter that’s built into the pen itself.
You twist the back of the pen until the piston is all the way down. If you look very, very carefully at the picture above, you can see the piston through the clear part of the barrel. Just like with a cartridge/converter pen, you submerge the nib into the bottle of ink. You twist the top of the barrel back, drawing up the ink.
With piston-fill pens, it can sometimes be difficult to clean because you cannot remove the converter to flush it out. You are sometimes left to twist the barrel to draw up water, flush it out, draw up water, flush it out, etc. There are some piston-fill pens that you can disassemble, but most you cannot.
OPTION 3: The eyedropper (my personal favourite).
Some pens, like the Serwex 101, are made as eyedroppers, but most pens that are used as eyedroppers were designed as cartridge/converter pens and turned into eyedropper pens.
You remove the barrel of the pen from the nib and feed section, and the barrel is what will hold your ink. You can fill it with an eyedropper or syringe.
The eyedropper is a little more dangerous in the possibility it might leak, or if you accidentally sit on your pen and crack it, the game is basically over. It’s a good idea to use a bit of pure silicone grease around the threads to help seal it and prevent leaks. You should refresh the silicone grease every time you fill.
The great advantage is that eyedroppers tend to hold a lot more ink that either the cartridge/converter or piston fill pens, and many eyedroppers are clear, so you can see the ink sloshing around in the barrel.
We will soon have silicone grease and ink syringes available at the store.
As always, please email or comment if you have any questions!