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Fountain Pen vs. Ballpoint Pen

    When it comes to writing, I recommend using a fountain pen. I say this for several reasons. There are reasons why ballpoint pens rule the market today, but there are also reasons why fountain pens continue to keep their niche.


    How It Started

    I am not a calligrapher. I never really took writing seriously until I started playing with glass pens, a discovery I made when I visited Hsinchu, Taiwan. There is one extremely skilled marker who makes world-class glass pens that surpass those from Germany. Then my interest in these pens grew. Sadly, glass pens are dip pens, so they are not portable. They’re also fragile, and care needs to be taken when handling them.

    A great alternative to having a similar writing experience and yet remaining portable is fountain pen. I was given a fountain pen by my father when I was little. It was a navy blue Platinum PE-400. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t know how to use a fountain properly. Now, I cannot afford expensive fountain pens, so I use the very cheap but highly enjoyable Platinum Preppy most of the time. The other alternative is Pilot Petite.


    Fountain Pen vs. Ballpoint Pen

    Advantages of a Fountain Pen

    1. Write in the proper way, and only the proper way.

    Fountain pens are designed in a way that makes you write with a rather specific angle and a rather specific way of holding the pen. Or else the writing wouldn’t be smooth and you would be scratching paper and ruining your nib.

    Write in the most proper position, with the pen tilted approximately 45 degrees, the pen being between your thumb and index finger, held in a way that your thumb and index finger almost meet on the holder, resting the holder on your middle finger at the bottom, and having the body of the pen resting just before the knuckle of your index finger. Write with your forearm and shoulder, but never your wrist or finger. Your fingers and wrist are completely stationary – they never move. Make the nib touch the paper so lightly that it’s almost flying above it. Provided that the nib is of quality and the ink flows well, you’ll have the smoothest writing instrument ever devised by man.

    The advantage of writing the proper way? You’ll find that writing is much more effortless. You can write a lot more for a lot longer without getting tired. Your writing will also start to look neater and better because you’re no longer writing with your fingers. With a bit more practice and paying attention to the neatness of the text, your writing will start to soar in the sky like never before.


    2. Fountain pens last for a long time.

    Fountain pens last. Even the cheap ones last much longer than any other common writing instrument such as ballpoint pen, pencil, felt pen, marker pen, etc. This makes it a very environmentally friendly pen. You don’t need to buy new pens all the time. All you need is fill the ink.


    3. Fountain pens are not limited to one ink.

    YES! Whereas you’re stuck with one color with ballpoint pens, fountain pens are not limited to the color of ink available to them. You just need to make the cartridge (or ink-holding sac) run dry, clean it, dry it, and fill it with a different ink. Ta-da! You have a new color. This is flexibility available in fountain pens not found in modern portable writing instruments.

    There are various selections of ink from different makers, so even with the same color, you can experience different properties of ink. It makes writing experience a lot more varied and fun. You start to observe the bleed, flow, color, saturation, tone, dry-up time, etc. with different ink. Eventually you’ll find the optimal ink for different needs.


    4. Different fountain pen nibs are designed for different writing styles.

    Fountain pen nibs have various designs. The cheap ones from Platinum and Pilot are rather stiff nibs that draw lines of the same thickness but run very smoothly. More expensive ones may show more flexibility, and the flexible nibs allow you to control the thickness of the lines you draw to make your writing extremely stylish and professional. Calligraphy nibs have a more flat tip rather than pointy tip, so it varies line thickness (thicker when drawing vertical lines, and thinner when drawing horizontal lines) in your writing to make it look artistic. Different nibs give you different writing experiences. This is flexibility not found in ballpoint pens.


    5. Fountain pens adapt to your writing habit and become uniquely yours.

    Fountain pens are very personal writing tools. The nib is made of metal, so they show some flexibility. In time, the metal nib adapts to your writing habit and the pen becomes uniquely yours. This is why some rather demanding fountain pen writers appear to be “snobs”. They don’t lend people their pens, and they forbid their pens to be written by anybody besides themselves. Sensitive writers feel their pens are ruined by the usage of others, even just once. That is why fountain pen writers sometimes hold the rule to NEVER lend anyone their pen.

    You become attached to your pen after a while. The pen starts to write smoother and better for you. It is a growing process. Your writing grows with the pen, and the pen grows with you. Such a personal experience is never found in ballpoint pens.


    Disadvantages of a Fountain Pen

    1. They require care when being handled.

    Fountain pens cannot be written under high pressure! Their nib is flexible, and under high pressure the nib will deform and be in need of repair. Ballpoint pens encourage writers to write with their fingers under high pressure, or else the ink wouldn’t flow as much as expected. Write in this way, and you’ll ruin your fountain pen.

    Fountain pens cannot be dropped. With a lid on to protect the nib, fountain pens spit ink out when dropped. It usually only requires cleaning (or not). Without the lid on, the dropped fountain pen has a chance of landing on the nib, thus deforming the nib.


    2. They dry up.

    Stored away with ink inside, and the fountain pen nib may dry up in a matter of months or less. Well-designed lid like like Platinum Preppy allows the pen to be stored for 1 year without drying up. Without the lid on, however, and the nib may dry up in a matter of minutes. Keep the lid on when not writing. If the ink stops flowing, it starts clogging.

    Non-waterproof ink is a lot easier to deal with when the nib is clogged up. Submerge it underwater or rinse it under water will alleviate the problem. If waterproof ink is used and it clogs up, then it’s a lot harder to deal with. It may even render the fountain pen unrepairable.


    3. They require much more care

    Fountain pens require much more care than most other pens. They can dry up, so they may need to be taken apart, submerged in water, and cleaned up before use again. The tip of the nib may sometimes mis-align and require realignment or it would scratch paper. The feed may also be filled with too much ink and require cleaning. Thorough cleaning may also be required when changing the color or type the ink. You’ll find yourself spending more time with a fountain pen because of the maintenance required for prolonged use. However, the writing experience and lasting property of fountain pens may be worth the time.

    Nibs may also have paper fiber getting stuck inside. You’ll need to remove it, too. This can be done carefully with craft knife to get into the gap and pull the fibers out.


    4. They’re limited to writing with normal paper.

    The delicate nib makes fountain pens unsuitable for writing with carbon paper. Written with pressure, the nib will deform. It is only suitable for normal writing paper. Not all the normal writing paper is suitable, either. It also depends on the ink used. The ink may bleed through the paper, have too much feathering, etc. You’ll need to use the suitable ink as well as paper.


     Advantages of a Ballpoint Pen

    1. Care-free

    Ballpoint pens are very cheap. They’re perhaps the cheapest pens available. Their ink is viscous, the nib is tough and impact-resistant, can be subject to high pressure, etc. If broken? Throw it away and replace it with a new one! It’s cheap!

    Storage life is good – cheap, medium quality ones can be stored for years and still be usable. Initially the ink may be dry, but drawing circles on paper helps revive the pen again. Low quality ones may completely dry out and be rendered useless. All in all, they require very little money to have very long storage life with or without good design of the lid.


    2. Cheap and ubiquitous

    Again, ballpoint pens are cheap. There are high quality ballpoint pens that cost, but most are cheap. Few pay much regard or show care or get attached to something this cheap. The cheap price makes them sell. They are the dominant and most available writing instrument on the market.


     3. Versatile ink

    Yes, ballpoint pens have versatile ink. Ballpoint pens have one type of ink: newspaper ink. They dry up almost instantly after they come in contact with paper. This instant-dry property makes ballpoint pens much less picky on paper. They can be written on many types of paper, and the ink is waterproof, so they’re okay for permanent and important documents.


    Disadvantages of Ballpoint Pen

    1. Poor writing habit

    Ballpoint pens are not designed to be written in the most correct way. In fact, writing with the correct way, which means using the method that allows you to write in the most effortless way for long hours and write better, makes the writing experience hideous with ballpoint pens. Write effortlessly, and you don’t draw enough ink out. Even with gel pens, the most effortless writing instrument with a ball point, is tedious to work with. I tried to write the fountain pen way with a Mitsubishi gel pen, which is pretty good, and I did so for two straight hours. My thumb got tired trying to keep the pen in place. It’s simply not designed to be written this way. It’s designed to be written like a ballpoint pen – you have to write with your finger and wrist. With ballpoint pens, it becomes worse with the fact that it requires you to add pressure on the paper to draw sufficient ink out. You will get tired even more easily, and it makes your writing look worse.

    After my thumb got really tired, I tried with fountain pen again. Even with my thumb exhausted, writing with the fountain pen was a breeze. Yet with a ballpoint pen, writing without tiredness requires much effort.

    In short, writing experience with ballpoint pens is downright terrible. This turns people away from writing to the computer. Yet writing, as it turns out with scientific research, helps your learn more.


    2. No ink selection. No refill. Environmentally unfriendly.

    You’re stuck with one ink type with ballpoint pens. Some may be high quality and write better. Some may be low quality. No matter what, you’re stuck with the one type of ink for the entire life of the pen. Also, you’re stuck with that one color. There are pens that offer replacement ink, but it replaces the ink chamber AND the ballpoint tip. You’re not really replacing the ink. You’re replacing the pen except for its outer shell.

    Ballpoint pen cannot be refilled with ink at home. Most ballpoint pens are one-offs. Once the ink it finished, the whole pen is finished. It is environmentally unfriendly.


    3. Blob forms at the tip of the pen

    This can even happen with gel pens. The ball in the ballpoint tip rubs against something. It scraps some ink against the ball holder. In time so much ink is scrapped and piled up, a blob of ink forms at the tip. This may smudge your work if the blob is drawn on the paper. The big blob will not dry easily and will stain. I often just clean the blob out at the corner of the notebook.


    4. A lot of the ballpoint pens are not ergonomic

    Fountain pens emphasize a lot on one thing: balance. The balance has to be right to make the writing experience effortless and help the user write better. A well-balanced fountain pen can be heavy but effortless to write with. A lot of the cheap ballpoint pens are not designed with this in mind.¬† They’re one-time only, and will be thrown out anyway, so it is rather redundant to have it so well made.



    Fountain pens and ballpoint pens have their pros and cons. Fountain pens are a strange niche to most people now, especially young people. Ballpoint pens are still the dominant writing instrument today. A comparison between the pros and cons of these two types of pens shows that fountain pens are generally more troublesome to take care of and maintain, but they provide very good writing experience that helps the writer write effortlessly and write better. However, they’re a lot more pricey except for the few cheap but decent fountain pens such as Platinum Preppy. Ballpoint pens are very much the opposite – they give very bad writing experiences, makes the user’s writing worse, but are tough, versatile, cheap, and care-free.

    Since cheap fountain pens are only a bit more expensive than gels pens (around 3~4 times more expensive, which isn’t too expensive for a fountain pen), I highly recommend trying one out. You’d wonder why you never thought writing could be so enjoyable.

    Written on March 4, 2015 at 11:24 am