One of the greatest benefits of buying fountain pens is the vast number of choices you can make to tailor your writing experience to your personal preferences. Do you write small and need a narrower nib to make your documents more legible? Would you like to use different inks for different documents or projects? Do you prefer smaller, fatter, lighter, or more colorful pens? Whatever it is you are craving, there is a pen that will fit your style, right down to the way that you refill your pen.
While many people rely on disposable BIC pens that get thrown out when they are out of ink, fountain pen enthusiasts would never dream of throwing out their pen just because the ink ran out. Luxury fountain pens are works of art meant to last many years if cared for properly. So, how does one solve this inconvenient problem? That depends on your preference.
For new fountain pen users, cartridges are undoubtedly the easiest way to replace the ink in your pen. Similar to the plastic ink tube in a disposable pen, cartridges are disposable, cylindrical ink containers. They attach to the back of the feed on the inside of a fountain pen, and most new fountain pens come with one cartridge to get you started. You can easily replace them by opening the pen, removing the old cartridge and replacing it with a new one. Changing the cartridge allows you an opportunity to change ink colors as well.
Best of all, cartridges keep the ink contained. Changing your ink or refilling your pen does not involve opening a jar of ink and dipping your pen. I’m sure you can see the potential for disaster in this scenario if you are not careful. Spilled milk might not be worth tears, but spilled ink is another story.
The most significant drawback to using ink cartridges is that your choices will likely be limited by the type of pen you own. Cartridges are not always interchangeable, meaning a Lamy ink cartridge may not be compatible with a Kaweco pen. Many cartridges only work with certain fountain pens. Make sure the cartridges that you buy are compatible with your pen.
It is also worth noting that an ink cartridge typically holds less ink than other types of pen refilling systems. If you choose this method, plan on refilling your pen more often.
At first glance, a converter may look very similar to a cartridge. They both attach to the pen at the base of the feed and hold the ink. However, rather than being disposable, cartridges are a refillable actuator that you can fill with many different types, colors, and sheens of ink. It opens a whole new world of options with one big caveat – you will need to refill it, which can be a messy job.
However, being able to use bottled ink has its advantages too. You will spend less money and end up with more ink if you buy bottles rather than cartridges. You can invest in a myriad of different ink options and amass a collection that will last you years without breaking the bank.
If your pen didn’t come with a converter, that does not mean you can’t use one. Nearly every cartridge pen can work with a converter as well. Choosing the right converter for your pen is essential, though. Check with your pen’s manufacturer or a trusted pen store for help identifying the best converter for you.
Although most fountain pen with converters use either a piston or a plunger refill system, they come in four types: piston, plunger, push-button, and squeeze. All four mechanisms draw ink into the pen by forcing air out of the converter chamber, creating a vacuum and drawing ink into the converter.
Note: Before using any new ink in your pen, we recommend verifying its compatibility with your pen. Some inks require more maintenance and could damage your pen if not handled properly. Read here for more information about ink types.
The converter should attach tightly to the pen’s ink feed at the base of the nib. If it is not installed properly, you will not be able to create a proper vacuum, and the converter will not draw up ink as it should.
The bottled ink is not drawn up through the nib. It actually enters the pen through a small hole at the base of the nib. If you only dip the nib into the ink, you will not be able to refill your pen. For proper filling, make sure to submerge the nib up to its base in ink.
To make room for the ink in the converter, you must first push the air out. In a piston converter, this is done by twisting the knob on the top clockwise to lower the piston. If you have a plunger or squeeze converter, push the plunger down or compress the sac to force the air out. You should see air bubbles in the ink.
With the air removed, simply draw back the piston or plunger and watch the ink level rise inside the converter. You may notice that there is still some air in the converter – that’s ok. Repeat these two steps until the air is gone and the cartridge is full of ink.
When you remove your pen from the bottle, the nib will be covered in ink. Clean off your nib according to the manufacturer’s directions for that ink to protect your pen and nib from damage. Your pen should be ready to go.
Exploring new pen and ink combinations can be one of the great joys of using a high-quality fountain pen. How you choose to refill your pen is up to you. You may find that you like the quick and simple cartridges, the flexibility of a converter, or choose to embrace both options by adding both types of pens to your collection. The choices are truly endless.