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Everyone has had the experience of being a newbie at one point in his/her life. Choosing your first fountain pen can be overwhelming especially with the wide range of brands, nibs and bodies available. It's easy to get confused and feel lost when you see the options available.
Today, we are going to talk about the four factors, which you should consider when choosing your very first fountain pen.
When I first started writing with fountain pens, I thought nibs came in standard sizes across all brands. I soon found out that Japanese fountain pen brands make their nibs significantly finer than, say, European nibs. My handwriting leans a bit on the small side, so I tend to stick to extra fine or fine nibs when buying European or American pens. Choose according to the size of your handwriting. The smaller your handwriting, the more likely it is that you would prefer a finer nib. It's all a matter of what you'll be comfortable with so try as many of them as you can before committing.
Before I used fountain pens, I admit that my expectations was determined largely by what I had been using up to that point--ballpoint pens and rollerballs. The first time I used a medium Lamy nib, I could not imagine being ever used to such a wide nib size. As a result, my first fountain pens had fine nibs. Over time, I realized that your choice of nib size will depend on your writing style and what you consider to be aesthetically beautiful. I ended up picking medium and broad nibs as time passed by because I like how these nibs write wetter and show off ink characteristics better when paired with good fountain pen-friendly paper. The shading and sheen shows off better with medium and broad nibs. My handwriting is big and bold, so wider nib grades work well with it. People with tiny handwriting might find themselves veering more to fine and extra fine nibs. I guess it boils down to whatever fits your writing style. It helps to try different kinds of nibs before you buy, and be ready for your preferences to change as you discover more about fountain pens.
The most common filling mechanisms you will find are cartridge fillers, converters, and piston fillers, although the last can be expensive. I started with a cartridge-converter pen. To this day, I still prefer refilling cartridges and using converters to piston fillers. Partly because I find it easier to clean cartridges and converters, and I don’t really have a pressing need for a large ink capacity. If you take a lot of notes for class or work and would like to minimize the possibility of running out of ink, go for a piston filler. In short, there are a lot of other filling systems out there, and surely, there will be one that will fit your needs.
Common mechanisms, as Keshia already explained, are cartridges, converters, and (thanks to the proliferation of affordable options like TWSBI) piston-fillers. Many people prefer cartridges because it’s convenient. Just pop the cartridge in and throw it away when empty or you can refill cartridges using a syringe. My favorite filling mechanism is converter-filling because you don’t use up plastic cartridges, you don’t need to refill using a syringe either. While piston fillers typically have larger ink capacity, it also has some movable parts. This means that when the mechanism breaks down, you’ll need to send it in for repairs or make the repairs yourself. On the other hand, if your converter breaks, you can just buy another converter. Then there are other filling mechanisms more common to vintage pens like lever fillers, touchdown fillers, vacumatics, etcetera. I suggest that you research on your preferred pen’s filling mechanism first before you decide whether you want it for the long haul. Vintage pens’ filling mechanisms can be fun, but when it gets damaged or needs some servicing, shipping it out to a nibmeister to have it repaired will entail added cost.
For this part, I fully recommend finding a way to hold and try out a pen before buying it. I've experienced a lot of buyer's remorse because I didn't try a pen out before buying. I once bought a pen just because I liked how it looked, and it ended up being too heavy for my small hands. There will be barrels that won't feel great, grips that are too slippery, or don't work at all. It's a matter of finding out what's comfortable for you. If you have a friend who owns a fountain pen, ask them nicely if they can teach you or let you try out his/her pen. Don’t break it, though. It breaks our hearts when our pens get hurt.
There is such a thing as love at first write. You look at a pen and fall in love with it because it’s pretty and shiny, but the only way to know whether you’re really gonna like the pen is when you use it. Personally, I prefer pens that are light but not too light. I have a soft spot between too light and too heavy pens. Any heavier than my preferred weight will strain my hands and make the pen a lot less fun to use. Join a local pen club and try out other members’ pens before you buy one of your own. Or go to a pen store and ask to touch a pen and try it before you make a purchase. My preference for pens’ form factor is light, medium-sized, with a comfortable section. These things make pens comfortable to write with for extended periods of time.
Every investment needs to be worth it. For a first pen, I would recommend shelling out no more than P1500. You might realize that fountain pens aren't for you, or may absolutely love the experience. P1500 is enough to buy a good enough pen that you will still like even when you decide to upgrade. Alternatively, it is also not so expensive that you will experience extreme buyer's remorse if you don't end up liking it, or if you decide to give up on fountain pens once and for all. Once you’ve developed a clearer idea of what you’re looking for in a fountain pen, then you can go on and splurge on a more expensive pen. With that said, when getting your first fountain pen, I always recommend trying before buying. I remember being a tiny bit too excited when I started to show an interest in fountain pens. I have a lot of impulse pen purchases and most of which I’ve discarded and given away.
As much as I love fountain pens, some people really just don’t get along with it. Some have a peculiar grip that work well with ballpoint pens and terribly with fountain pens. Many are unwilling to unlearn a grip in order to learn a new one. Our experiences can’t all be the same. That being said, it’s preferable to try out a pen first before you consider buying one. An initial investment for a good starter pen is P1500. That way, if you decide that you like it, then you it’s a great price for a good pen. If you decide that you don’t like it after all, at least you didn’t pay too much for it. I believe that you get what you pay for. If you want a really nice pen with a really nice nib, shelling out more money is essential. However, keep in mind that not all expensive pens are excellent pens. If you have a price range in mind, doing a little research will help you find a general consensus among fountain pen users of what they consider to be a great value for money at that price range. Don’t be in a hurry to purchase pens. Do a little research and you’ll find a good starting point. Then you’ll know which pens you can try before you buy.
Still don’t know where to start? Here are our recommendations:
Pilot Metropolitan - P600
The Pilot Metropolitan looks classy, comes in many designs, and one of the most budget friendly pens in the market at the moment. The pen and nib do not feel cheap, so it’s a very good starter pen for someone testing the fountain pen waters. The Metropolitan comes in fine and medium nibs. The fine nib is equivalent to a Western extra-fine and the medium is a Western fine. The pen also comes with a squeeze converter (if you want to use bottled ink) and a free cartridge.
Lamy Safari - P1500
The Safari is probably the most recommended starter fountain pen. It’s virtually indestructible, it comes in a lot of colors, and it’s versatile enough for a starter fountain pen. You can switch out nibs (from EF-B, 1.1mm and 1.5mm stub) according to your preference. The pen also takes a converter or a cartridge. The downside to this pen is the grip. Some people find the triangular grip nice and helpful, some find it really bothersome.
TWSBI Eco - P1695
The TWSBI brand has been around for a while, but the TWSBI Eco is a newcomer in the market. We love how TWSBI has made piston fillers more affordable and available to beginner fountain pen users. TWSBI is a good introduction to piston fillers because the pen comes with the tools needed for maintenance and care. This is also a good choice for people who want to be able to do a bit of tinkering, since TWSBI provides an instruction sheet that guides you through taking the pen apart and putting it back together.
Faber Castell Loom - P1850
The Loom is Faber Castell's entry level offering, and it comes in many colors. This is a bit more versatile since is takes standard international converters and cartridges instead of a proprietary cartridge and converter. The Loom comes with a free cartridge. You will need to purchase the converter separately.