By far the most common question I receive from readers, as well as other people in my everyday life who know that I love pens, is how to choose a fountain pen to use as an everyday writer. Sometimes, they even specify that this will be the only pen they plan to own/use! I basically write for a living, both here and at my day job, so I don’t take this question lightly and it’s also a difficult question to answer, because so much depends on personal preference, not to mention financial circumstances. The truth is that there are a variety of excellent options if what you are looking to do with the fountain pen is actually write. The best choice for you, however, depends upon your particular preferences and circumstances. This post offers my thoughts on different factors you should consider when selecting a pen you plan to use every day.
Be honest with yourself, and don’t feel pressure to stretch financially, because in today’s fountain pen market there are going to be viable options at any price point, even on the extreme low end of the pricing scale. If you are willing to spend as little as $25 you can purchase a reliable pen and avoid serious quality control issues. In any event, even if you have more flexibility, I would think hard before spending more than $200, since using a pen as a daily writer does bring with it the increased risk of loss, theft, and damage.
From the perspective of a writer, a fountain pen’s filling system is more important than many people make it out to be. If I’m busy at work, I can burn through a cartridge or a converter in an afternoon. If I’m in a place where I can’t refill, or don’t want to carry multiple pens, I need a pen that holds a lot of ink. My personal preference is a piston or vacuum filler, since these hold significantly more ink than a converter. Eyedroppers are another option, but for daily use I would highly recommend a Japanese-style eyedropper that uses a valve to prevent ink spilling or burping into the cap when the pen is not in use, especially if the pen will be carried in a briefcase, backpack, handbag, etc. where it’s going to get jostled around.
For those who don’t write a dozen pages or more a day, a cartridge-converter pen should work perfectly well for daily use, and you may find it more convenient to have the cartridge option if the pen runs out of ink at work. Just be aware that many brands (specifically Pilot, Sailor, Aurora, Lamy, and Platinum) take proprietary cartridges, so you will be limited to cartridges and ink colors made by that specific brand, unless you want to refill the cartridges yourself using a syringe or bottle-fill from the converter.
Weight and Balance
Once you’ve narrowed your budget and decided what type of filling system you want, the most important consideration becomes how the pen feels in your hand. Remember, you’re going to write with this thing every day, so while looks are important, comfort is key. Two of the most important things I look for in a pen are weight and balance. The two concepts are related, but distinct. By weight, I’m referring to how heavy the pen is. Certain types of pens (particularly metal pens made of copper, stainless steel, or brass) are better suited, in my opinion, for shorter notes and pocket carry, because their heft can make your hand quite tired after several pages. There are exceptions, but I’m dealing in general rules-of-thumb today.
Balance is a different issue, and relates to where the weight of the pen sits. Do you post your pens, like me? If so, make sure that the cap isn’t too heavy because it will back-weight the pen and make writing awkward, even if the pen isn’t that heavy overall. Front-weighted pens (i.e., those with metal sections), typically don’t pose the same problem, since many people, myself included, prefer a pen in which the weight is shifted to the front, which keeps the nib on the paper and offers an additional degree of control over your handwriting. Because weight and balance are such a key consideration, it’s important to be able to either hold a pen in person prior to purchasing, or purchase from an online retailer that permits returns, especially if you’re shelling out a lot of money for a higher-end pen.
Is the nib the most important part of the fountain pen? Yes and no. If you have a pen that feels great in your hand, but has a crummy nib, the pen isn’t usable, so the nib IS important. However, a bad nib can usually be improved through tuning and/or smoothing. On certain models of pens (TWSBI, Pelikan, Kaweco, among others) you can even switch out the nib and substitute one that’s a different size or even a specialty grind. For that reason, I tend to prioritize the weight, balance, and overall “feel” of a pen over the nib. Unless the nib is absolutely god-awful, it can be adjusted. The size and heft of the pen can’t.
With respect to nibs, what’s most important is choosing the right type of nib for the work you want to do. If you write very small, and your day job (like mine) involves annotating or marking up documents that are often printed on the cheapest recycled paper available, you will likely want to choose something in the extra-fine to medium range and be particular about which inks you use. Those with larger handwriting, and who don’t need to write on cheap paper, have more flexibility to go with a broader nib or even a stub as their daily driver. Unless your day job involves calligraphy, however, I generally advise people to avoid super “soft” or “flex” nibs for everyday writing, as they tend to write far too wet.
Hopefully this short guide is helpful. Readers of this blog won’t be surprised to know that after considering all of the factors above, my own preferred “workhorse” pen is the Lamy 2000. I have several of them, and in addition to the fountain pen regularly carry the rollerball, ballpoint, and 4 Color Ballpoint (multi pen). From a fountain pen perspective, I love the Lamy 2000 because (1) it’s perfectly balanced for my hand; (2) it holds a lot of ink; and (3) I love both the way the hooded nib writes AND how it “disappears” in a crowded meeting room, where you don’t want to be that guy writing with a distracting fountain pen.
But what works for me may not - and in fact, probably won’t - work for you! While I maintain an annually updated list of pen recommendations, I’ve never published a “ranked” list of “Workhorse” fountain pens because the criteria are so subjective. I won’t rank pens here either, but I will provide several suggestions within particular price brackets. Everything listed here is a pen that I enjoy using and either regularly carry or would have no issues doing so. Where possible, I’ve linked to my own reviews, and otherwise to a retailer I trust.
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Platinum Plaisir. I’ve come to believe that the Plaisir might be the best “cheap” pen on the market, especially for one that you plan to use regularly.
PenBBS 308 or PenBBS 309. The 308 is a cartridge-converter pen; the 309 is a piston filler. The time has come for PenBBS pens to start appearing on recommendation lists alongside TWSBIs. They’re that good.
PenBBS 456. PenBBS’s vaccum-filling model, for around the price of a TWSBI Eco.
Faber-Castell Essentio. Faber-Castell makes the best bargain-priced steel nibs on the market.
TWSBI Eco. If people ask me for a TWSBI recommendation, I often recommend the Eco over the 580 because (1) it posts; and (2) it’s hard to beat the combination of price, availability, and reliability.
Kaweco Sport (Standard). If you don’t mind a shorter “pocket pen,” Kaweco Sports are inexpensive, reliable, and come in a wide array of colors. If you prefer chrome trim, check out the “Skyline” model. You can also swap nibs.
Faber-Castell Loom. I prefer the Loom to the Essentio because it posts better. It’s only slightly more expensive and uses the same excellent nib.
Opus 88 Koloro or Opus 88 Picnic. The only eyedroppers I recommend, because they have the Japanese-style valve system that helps prevent “inkcidents.” Be aware that the Omar and “Demo” pens are very large.
Lamy 2000. See above. My personal workhorse.
Pelikan M200/M205. Another relatively inexpensive piston filler, which comes in a wide array of different colors and patterns, including special and limited editions. Pelikan pens are reliable and will stand up to years of use.
Leonardo Momento Zero. A recently released pen out of Italy, available in some exceptionally pretty materials. Lightweight and reliable writers.
Pilot Custom 74. An underrated cartridge-converter pen with an exceptional nib. These pens don’t get nearly as much attention as they should. If you absolutely want a piston filler the Custom Heritage 92 is an option for more money.
Platinum 3776 Century. A pen that attracts a lot of attention for the collectibility of the limited editions, but also excels as a daily writer. Platinum offers a wide range of nib options for this pen.
OK, I want to blow it out ($200+)
Sailor Professional Gear (“Pro Gear”). My pick for a high-end cartridge converter pen. Sailor nibs are exceptional, and the Pro Gear is a well-balanced writing instrument, especially posted.
Pilot Custom 823. A vacuum-filler that posts well and makes for an comfortable writer despite the larger size.
Montblanc 146. Many people won’t carry a Montblanc because they find the branding pretentious. While I agree these pens have become a bit of a status symbol, they’re still great pens, hold a good amount of ink, and despite what people say, the standard Meisterstuck pens aren’t ostentatious.
Conid Bulkfiller. If you want the ultimate “ink tank” and cost is no object, get a Conid. Bulkfillers come in a wide array of shapes and sizes to suit any preference.
Again, I hope this is helpful! Please reach out through the comments or “Contact Me” link if you have any additional questions, or would like to share any additional information you take into account when choosing your daily writers.