That age old question, Why?

Birmingham Sixth Avenue Eye of Sauron, Ebonite, and Nemosine Singularity

Looking at the things I can do on this blog, I started thinking, “What is my goal? Why do I want to blog about fountain pens and other stationary?” I found my answer relatively quickly: I enjoy the act of writing with a fountain pen or other good writing product on good paper, and I enjoy seeing others discover the difference between good stationary and what everyone uses because no one has shown them the good stationary.

Now, what exactly do I mean by that? I think I can best sum it up in what happened at my workplace a little over a year ago: My workmate had heard me talk about fountain pens and how comfortable they are to use, but he never wanted to try them. Finally I handed him my notebook, a cheap ballpoint, and told him to write. He did, it was normal for him. I handed him my well smoothed and used work fountain pen and had him write again, he said it felt good. Then I handed him back the cheap ballpoint to write with again. The look on his face when it clicked, when he felt how much of a difference there was between the ballpoint and the fountain pen, that is why I want to do this.

But how can I convey that same experience to you, who is reading this on the internet? I can’t hand you a fountain pen, nor can I give you a nice sheet of paper. What I can do is describe the feel of the pens and paper, and also find inexpensive starting areas that are easy for you to jump into and won’t take hours of hunting to find or buying from a store that is trying to sell you pens in the hundreds or thousands of dollars range, which can be very daunting for the first purchaser.

I believe writing can be a luxury, but an inexpensive luxury. One that places all people who enjoy it on the same level. Do you have the money to afford those thousand dollar pens? Great, glad you enjoy them! Can you only afford a two or three dollar pen and some cheap ink? Guess what, you can get the same joy and pleasure from that cheap pen as anyone can with the most expensive pen. How is that possible? Because there are options in all price ranges, and there is not as much difference between them as you might think.

A bit of comparison and how things work.

So why is a fountain pen smoother and easier to write with compared to a ballpoint? First we need to look at the writing surface. You would think a ball would be far smoother, since it rolls on the paper, while a fountain pen slides on it. Here are a couple pictures of each:

This a a selection of different ballpoints and fountain pen tips. Do you see on the ballpoints how less than half is showing? That is because the ball is in a socket on the end of the pen, basically, there are two rings just slightly smaller than the circumference of the ball at its widest point that hold the ball in place, preventing it from falling out. Why does this influence the smoothness? Friction. each of those rings is a point of friction, the ball on the paper is a point of friction, and the ink is also a point of friction (more on the ink later). That is four points of friction for the ballpoint. how many for the fountain pen? One, where nib meets paper. Does friction come into play in other ways too? It does for the ballpoint. In order to get the ball to roll, you have to put pressure on the ball to overcome the friction of the socket and the ink, which in turn causes more friction between the ball and the paper. Some more modern ballpoints have better designed sockets, lubricated ink, and other things which allow that friction to be lessened greatly as well as the pressure you have to use to write with. But you still have to get that ball to roll.

What about ink? How does that affect the writing experience? First, what are your ink choices? For a cheap ballpoint, you don’t have any. You can pick different brands of pens, to get their ink, but you also get their design of pen tip. You can’t take Pilot ink and place it in a Bic Crystal pen. There is no option for ballpoints to find your favorite writing system and favorite ink to make the best ballpoint for you. No, you are stuck with whatever is there. How about that ballpoint that just writes amazing, you can’t believe how well it writes! What happens when it runs out of ink? can you refill it, continue to use a tip that was well designed and just came out of the factory amazing? No, you replace the WHOLE SYSTEM with a refill. Is this one as good? maybe, maybe not. You may never find a tip that writes as well from that same line of refills. A fountain pen though? You can use the same nib for a lifetime, using your favorite ink, favorite color, and even transferring that nib into your favorite barrel if you get one that fits that nib size. You can make the writing instrument that you want to use for the rest of your life.

Is that all there is to the ink though? lets take a closer look:

Here you see A close look at the ink on the page, as well as what was written. Do you see the difference between the ballpoint ink and the fountain pen ink? The ballpoint ink is not covering the whole amount of paper where it was written, why? Because of the type of ink. Ballpoint ink is thicker, often very paste-like. While on the other hand, Fountain pen ink is much more thin, allowing it to flow onto the paper. Remember when I said friction and ink have something to do with each other? Rollerball ink is thick, making more friction to transfer it onto the paper. Fountain pen ink is thinner, so it transfers very easy. But not only that, it also helps with the smoothness of the writing, how so? Think about your car. It uses oil in the engine to allow all the parts to work together smoothly. How would it do with an oily paste in the engine? It would be smoother than nothing, but it would not be good for it, and you would eventually have to replace your engine. But standard oil is is much thinner, enough that it can circulate and get a layer of oil on all the moving parts while your car is running. A ballpoint is using that oily paste, better than nothing, but not a smooth drive. A fountain pen is using a thinner liquid, with far less friction areas to worry about, plus far less pressure needed to write, and that equals up to a smooth drive over the paper.


I am not trying to say a ballpoint is a bad tool, merely that it good for what it does, writes when needed. But is it a luxury? A joy? It is hard to find one that can fall into that area. Ballpoints are a functional tool, like a hammer, or a tape measure. But Fountain Pens are Instruments, like a Guitar or a Violin. One is for work, the other is for enjoyment. Do you want to enjoy writing again?


2 thoughts on “That age old question, Why?

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