Fountain Pen Mania
May 1, 2003 8:10 AM   Subscribe

Keyboards Are Not Like Nibs: Fountain pens - or writing instruments in general - rule. Lately though, the main manufacturers have stooped to ballpoints, gels and other madnesses. Just as the stupid calligraphy fad killed proper handwriting, the main fountain pen manufacturers have been their own hangmen. I love Pelikan but my main hearbreak is Rotring, whose rapidograph 0.10 and 0.18 and isograph 0.20 (this latter line now sadly reduced to college sets) are my favourite scratching sticks. Are you holding a torch for any of those legendary manufacturers (Parker, Waterman, Cross, Schaeffer, Aurora, Lamy et caetera) who have gone down the drain? What glides your writing hand? Is the pseudish, unpardonably expensive and increasingly naff Montblanc the last pen manufacturer to uphold its own standards? When you do put pen to paper - if you still do at all - what's your stubborn choice? Damn it, you must use something to log into your Moleskine!
posted by MiguelCardoso (96 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
have stooped to ballpoints, gels and other madnesses

You have got. To be taking. The piss.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 8:16 AM on May 1, 2003

Parker is still my favourite. My school insisted that we should use fountain pens, not ballpoint or rollerballs or any of that nonsense. I probably went through a dozen different makes of fountain pens before I settled on a Parker Frontier, which has been serving me well for several years now (I don't think they're being made any more though).

I've always found that when writing on paper, the only choice that feels right is a fountain pen. Ballpoints seem to skitter across the page uncomfortably, but you get a nice feeling of traction and flow with fountain pens.
posted by adrianhon at 8:19 AM on May 1, 2003 [1 favorite]

Any one who doesn't carve their own quill pens using feathers from an ostrich they raised themselves has never actually written.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:20 AM on May 1, 2003

But... ballpoints dry! And you don't get your hands covered in ink! I guess maybe I have my priorities wrong.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 8:21 AM on May 1, 2003

I like nice pens, but usually stick with whatever ball point is on my desk. I'm not sure I agree that ballpoints skitter across the page, but that's just me.

I had a Rotring pencil that was pretty cool, but it broke. I prefer the Black Warrior. But, no special loyalty.
posted by drobot at 8:23 AM on May 1, 2003

I thought we covered a lot of ground about pens in the Moleskine post.

I collect fountain pens and focus mostly on Watermans. Of the ones in my collection, my personal favorite is the L'etalon.

The only Rotring pen I own is one of the worst fountain pens I have. It's leaky and the nib is too flexible for me.
posted by briank at 8:23 AM on May 1, 2003

I like Rotrings, but they seem to be prone to leaking.

Let it be known ball rollers are great.
posted by angry modem at 8:24 AM on May 1, 2003

How is this different from keyboards? Professionals who write a whole lot tend to buy good pens (ie. doctors and lawyers). Professionals who type a whole lot are more likely to buy decent keyboards rather than the $2 mush clone PC keyboard. Doesn't conceptually sound that different other than a keyboard doesn't need refills.
posted by shagoth at 8:25 AM on May 1, 2003

It doesn't? And I've been loading mine with photons for six years now!
posted by Pretty_Generic at 8:26 AM on May 1, 2003

Now, Miguel, don't look askance on a nice gel, they write smooth as supermodel-skin and can be had in quantity cheap as Superfund-site dirt. But I'm lucky, in that the company I work for contracts Parker to manufacture our corporate leave-behind pens (nice thick twist-barrells with a rubber grip and brass accoutrements) that I steal mercilessly from HQ and use almost exclusively. They are a nice massy ballpoint, with a distinct heft and solid, conservative semi-gloss black ink - not a smear in a case. I typically carry two at all times, one to write with, the other to offer to damsels-in-distress or colleagues-fumbling-for-crappy-bics as necessary. Email me a dropstop and I'll send you one :)

At my desk, I also employ a selection of Sharpies, black blue and red, for day to day markups.
posted by UncleFes at 8:27 AM on May 1, 2003

I can't remember the last time I handwrote more than a paragraph in a sitting.

I enjoy a good pen, but convenience far outweighs any other factor. I have a $60 Lamy, but I prefer to use something I'm not afraid to lose. Being left-handed, though, it is very important to me that the ink dry very quickly. I'm not one of those lefties that wraps the hand around to fake being a righty. I'll be pushing my hand through the ink just after I write it.

If it is an ink that is going to smear, it isn't a pen I'm going to use (which rules out most of the really expensive, nice pens). Further, I find 90% of fountain pens to be so thick that they are completely uncomfortable to hold for more than a couple minutes.
posted by obfusciatrist at 8:30 AM on May 1, 2003

It doesn't? And I've been loading mine with photons for six years now!

Get with the program, chump--I switched to tachyons eons ago and
I can't tell you how much time it's saved me.
posted by y2karl at 8:32 AM on May 1, 2003

I'd invest in a nice fountain pen, but my handwriting sucks. A pig in a dress is still a pig.
posted by Cerebus at 8:41 AM on May 1, 2003

Gel Pens. I really like the gel pens with glitter in them. 99p for five from the local stationers, they last ages, and they look funky. And they write smoothly as well.
posted by seanyboy at 8:42 AM on May 1, 2003

Zebra pens are great. Heavy feeling, made of cool brushed metal, and they write wonderfully.
posted by internal at 8:49 AM on May 1, 2003

Being left-handed, though, it is very important to me that the ink dry very quickly.

obfusciatrist: Tell me about it. Right-handers have no idea what we lefties go through. Which reminded me of another Spenglerian sign of decay: 20 years ago, all manufacturers (even the good cheap ones, like the marvellous Osmiroid) had left-hand nibs readily available. Now it's almost an extinct industry...

I solve the ink-drying problem by huffing and waving and not minding looking like an idiot, btw. I also have permanently inked-in hands, like manipular tatoos, of course.

I'm not one of those lefties that wraps the hand around to fake being a righty

Whoever would want to fake being a boring, blaaaah old righty?
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:50 AM on May 1, 2003

Internal: Zebra are indeed good.

The Japanese know too. Just as the old Pilot V5 Needlepoint rollerballs are probably the best non-fountain pens, Sailor make exceedingly good fountain pens, despite the retrokitsch. They leak, of course, but that's a feature, not a bug, as far as I'm concerned.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:56 AM on May 1, 2003

While we lefties are bashing righties, it's not just an issue of dragging your hand through wet ink...

A left-handed nib is a nice try, but after several years of trying to use fountain pens, I've come to the conclusion that they just don't work right for lefties with our left-to-right writing system. Right-handed writers more or less pull the pen with them, with the nib pointing more to the left than the right. Left-handed writers have to push it, nib first, across the page, which always makes it feel to me like the nib is scratching across the page.

It's discrimination, I tell you! We should lobby to have Western lanuages written right to left--or just all move to Israel.
posted by tippiedog at 9:04 AM on May 1, 2003

Acme Studio makes my favorite beautiful to use and look at fountain and gel pens. I also have a Mont Blanc and am none to impressed. The Acme gels use a Schmidt cartridge...quite possibly the finest gel catrige ever.
posted by pedantic at 9:05 AM on May 1, 2003

I was sort of forced into fountain pens when I had a bad bout of RSI that made writing with a ballpoint intolerable. I eventually settled on a Waterman Philias as my writing insturment of chioce and personally I find it pretty neat that I've been using the same pen for more than 9 months. Gell pens just don't cut it and I like mixing my own ink.

I honestly don't know how you get inky fingers using a fountain pen. Unless you doodle all over yourself as a matter of habit.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:07 AM on May 1, 2003

naff (adj) Chiefly British Slang - Unstylish, clichéd, or outmoded.

Ahh...Miguel's posts are my word-a-day calendar.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:09 AM on May 1, 2003

I use pens mostly for drawing, and I'm a big fan of the Sakura Pigma Micron. Nice feel, smooth flow, precise points in six widths, quick-drying ink that's waterproof and fadeproof... oh, the ecstasy.

For writing, I think rollerball pens are a nice compromise between the smooth flow and feel of a fountain pen and the inexpensive convenience of a ballpoint.

That being said, though, I loathe ballpoints. Inexpensive convenience comes at too high an aesthetic price. Foul demon, thy name is Bic.

Thanks for the great pen thread, Miguel!
posted by eyebeam at 9:11 AM on May 1, 2003

Pen, pencil, crayon, whatever (usually stolen from work), and napkin, scratch-paper, envelope, whatever... these scraps then tossed into the shoebox to be dug out later and saved on the computer.
posted by Shane at 9:12 AM on May 1, 2003

Cheers for the Pilot Precise Rolling Ball Extra Fine. But this pen should not be confused with the more-impressive
Pilot Precise Rolling Ball Zing
, which provides an “Airplane Safe Writing System for smooth writing at any altitude.” (Huh? Is that like dolphin-safe tuna? Amazing what features marketers can dream up.) Off-topic: apparently there was a naming rights scuffle between Pilot Pen and 3Com over the pen vs. the PalmPilot: "Crusade to Rename the Device Formerly Known as PalmPilot."
posted by win_k at 9:15 AM on May 1, 2003

I love the sarasa pens by Zebra. They are a blessing for lefties like me; no smearing and a nice thin line. I have the multicolored pack that I bought the last time I was in Japan. I cringe every time someone asks to borrow a pen because I'm not sure how I could replace a lost one short of some very expensive mail-ordering.
posted by Alison at 9:15 AM on May 1, 2003

I love my persimmon orange Waterman. It's a roller ball.

I've never liked fountain pens, as I hate the drag on an up-swing or a return (the backside of a cursive lower-case L). Maybe I've only used poorly designed pens, though.

I prefer my pens to move with me, and as my handwriting is rather fluid, I prefer roller balls with gel ink.
posted by silusGROK at 9:15 AM on May 1, 2003

I've found that inks vary quite a bit in their drying times. I tend to use Pellikan because it dries within a reasonable ammount of time and has good color. Hebrin seems just a bit slower to me and Private Reserve has the coolest colors but seems gloppy and takes forever to dry.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:16 AM on May 1, 2003

I love my Montblanc fountain pen, a gift at graduation. It feels like nothing else when writing a paragraph or just signing my name.

Yes, the are expensive, probably outrageously so. Yet, they are truly a fine writing instrument.
posted by Plunge at 9:16 AM on May 1, 2003

Many ballpoints do skitter. Since I have discovered that the Space Pen refills work in my Parker, I have ceased to suffer this phenomenon. Fountain pens, whilst indubitably superior to write with, are not for writing on the bus or in the pub, which is the whole point of my moleskin.
posted by walrus at 9:21 AM on May 1, 2003

I'm with Pretty_Generic on this one -- cracks me the f up:

A few months ago, I visited the Edoardo’s home and it’s like a vintage pens museum. The legend about him is that he generally uses an Omas extralucens in order to stir his coffee. While the other absence was Paolo Mijno (Turin). Some say that he has a box full of Aurora Asterope under his bed....but these are both just stories......

No! Not Aurora Asteropes! How devilishly outrageous!

/me being a nob
posted by krunk at 9:24 AM on May 1, 2003

btw, I'm just bitter because I couldn't find a moleskine website that would ship to Canada
posted by krunk at 9:25 AM on May 1, 2003

I have a nice Waterman biro in a marble blue and gold case that my parents bought for me last Christmas.

I love it, it writes nicely and it looks professional too.
posted by ralawrence at 9:31 AM on May 1, 2003

Yo, if you want to use a fountain pen as an artist's tool and not just a luxury name-signing instrument, try putting an ink wash in it. The results are excellent.

I am still pissed about losing my graduation-gift fountain pen sometime in my junior year of college.

I don't understand all this lefty pen angst though. I tend to hold my hand up so that my pinky isn't dragging through what I just wrote. Maybe that's it.
posted by furiousthought at 9:31 AM on May 1, 2003

good post Miguel - ..... i feel so dirty....

- love rotring Isographs but maintenance has consigned them to the drawer.

- i have a Cross ballpoint I use to sign things else I always use a pencil, 0.5 Pentel P205A or 0.7mm Pentel P207 - a classic, everyone who aspires to engineering should have one.
posted by Frasermoo at 9:33 AM on May 1, 2003

krunk - Flying A in New York has moleskines of several types and I think they'll ship anywhere.
posted by jeb at 9:36 AM on May 1, 2003

krunk: If you have a Barnes & Noble nearby, go there. They are the only chain store I've found that stocks the Moleskin. I know you can't find a less glamorous place to purchase one, but sometimes you have to make do.
posted by Ufez Jones at 9:39 AM on May 1, 2003

My wife is an active member of the fountain pen subculture, but I am a mere dilettante and forever doomed to remain so. She gave an amazing Nishiki fountain pen with a retractable nib (so it acted like a ballpoint--push button on the end that pulled the nib in).

Of course, I'm always losing pens, and that seems to apply to $250.00 pens as well as to $.50 pens. She said I would take better care of an expensive pen and keep better track of it. She overestimated my abilities, and the Nishiki (however naff it may be to the true pen aficionados) is now lurking at the bottom of a magazine holder in the seatback of a plane somewhere, and I am heartbroken and depressed still. I just can't be trusted with a quality writing utensil.
posted by smrtsch at 9:39 AM on May 1, 2003

While the gels do look cheap i still swear by them for actual smooth writing.

however, what i'm REALLY trying to find is a good metal mechanical pencil with a twist-erase end. Sadly pentel doesn't make any such device (AAARRGH!)
posted by NGnerd at 9:40 AM on May 1, 2003

It seems that there are two groups within the pen culture. Writers will fall in love with any nib no matter how cheap as long as it writes smooth and lays down a good line. Collectors will drop tons of money on a $5 ballpoint cartridge in an expensive body.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:44 AM on May 1, 2003

Being left-handed, though, it is very important to me that the ink dry very quickly.
Agreed. The knuckle of my pinkie finger is permenantly blue. I grew up using a variety of pens: Bics, Fountain Pens (which I loved, but weren't practical), etc...

But after much trial and tribulation, I finally found one that worked quite well for me, the Sanford Uni-Ball Onyx Micro. They may not be the BMW's of pens, but are dependable enough to be considered Golf GTI's.

Since finding this beauty I have never gone back. Sure I've occassionaly been tempted by the gaudy gel gripped ballpoints, or various supply room pens, but I always return to my Onyx Micro. I disdain what my employer provides, preferring to purchase my own supply of these pens.
posted by smcniven at 9:50 AM on May 1, 2003 [1 favorite]

For a little over ten years, I was obsessively devoted to Schaeffer fountain pens, jet black ink only, thankyouverymuch. I hated breaking them in, but there's nothing like the way a nib picks up your writing angle and begins conforming to it, kind of like shoes. My main problem was that I would fetishize each pen I got in succession - this is my pen, my one and only, the best pen in the world - and then carelessly lose it after about a year - because, hey, it's just a pen, I couldn't actually be bothered to keep track of it every second.

About the same time I started doing almost all my writing on a keyboard (about six years ago), I stopped replacing my Schaeffer pens (for one thing, the jet black cartridges became almost impossible to find reliably) and just used the ones at the office, which were rollerballs, technology that had just improved significantly. I think they were Espressos. Instead of having one key pen, I started making sure that I was surrounded with these pens, so if I lost one, there was a backup somewhere near. At first I would just have a bunch on my desk at work and over time they would find their way home with me (not intentionally - really) but now I buy them (Pentel Rollingwriters lately) in multiple packages of ten to achieve the same effect (my new workplace only has GAG ballpoints as office pens). I am now a happier pen user than ever, and though the rollerball doesn't break in to quite the level a fountain nib does, it's close enough for comfort.
posted by soyjoy at 9:53 AM on May 1, 2003

Parker Sonnet Stainless Steel Chrome Trim is what mine seems to be called. Click on the ballpoint (the horror!) next to that name to see a picture of the fountain pen version.

I like the pen, but I hate Parker's black ink: the shade is just too light. That means I have to fill my pen with Chinese ink and boy can that go wrong. So if Parker kindly would offer cartridges with dark, dark, dark and somewhat glossy black ink, I'd be much obliged, thank you.
posted by NekulturnY at 9:56 AM on May 1, 2003

Of course, I'm always losing pens

Me too! I wonder where do all those lost pens go?
posted by soundofsuburbia at 9:59 AM on May 1, 2003

I really only use the fountain pens when I'm doing things like writing "thank you" notes, or other social obligation notes. A boss of mine in the 80's bought me a Mont Blanc as a performance bonus...I still have it, it still works perfectly well...but at the risk of being plebian, I think I prefer my Waterman.

For everyday scribbles...I actually prefer mechanical pencils or really fine point ballpoints.
posted by dejah420 at 10:08 AM on May 1, 2003 [1 favorite]

I've been writing with a Tombow Ultra for about 10 years now. The pen has a weight to it that just feels good in the hand and seems to glide along the paper thanks to the phenomenal rollerball cartridge.
posted by Mr Stickfigure at 10:10 AM on May 1, 2003

I'll follow the Pilotophiles, V5s and V7s rock. I buy them by the dozen box which makes them about a dollar each. win_k ;) Pilot pens can leak ink at reduced pressure (e.g. on flights, up a mountain), I've blotted a couple of shirt pockets this way.
posted by carter at 10:30 AM on May 1, 2003

Sanford Uni-ball GRIP in bulk from Staples.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:38 AM on May 1, 2003

The better the pen, the faster you'll lose it, says I
posted by BentPenguin at 10:39 AM on May 1, 2003

I've received multiple pens as gifts (Cross, Mont Blanc, Waterman), but the pens that I've bought for myself have been Rotring. I have an entire set of the Rotring 600, but my everyday work pen is the Trio. Black brass barrel, three cartridges, very heavy -- Darth Pen (and a great graduation present). For the classier moments (Christmas cards, birthdays, etc.), I use a glass pen and bottled ink.

The pen that draws the most attention, however, is the relatively cheap Core -- go figure.
posted by joaquim at 10:59 AM on May 1, 2003

In my experience, my handwriting is too messy and small for me to use either rollerballs or fountains--the loops of as and os and es all fill in, making my writing even less legible than normal. Does anyone have any snobby-pen-buying suggestions for me? I have big, thick, clumsy hands, so I need something with a substantial barrel. I used to have a "Portly Pen" (can't find a link), which I loved.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:17 AM on May 1, 2003

You can talk about your fancy-schmancy fountain pens all you want, but you'll have to pry my Sanford Uni-Ball Micro out of my cold, dead hands. (At least, the Uni-Ball I'm holding right now. I have 12 more sittings at my desk.)
posted by mrbula at 11:35 AM on May 1, 2003

As an artist, I've never had any luck with fountain pens, or Speedball pen nibs. I think like some people above mentioned, this type of nib just ain't designed for us lefties.

My main sketching pen is a cheap, buy-em-anywhere Pilot VBall extra fine. I found one in a classroom once, snatched it, and fell in love with the smooth and steady line. I need a pen that can keep up with my hand when it starts sketching broadly and quickly. Most pens just can't hack it, leaving weak, faded lines in the wake of my strokes.

When I need to draw more cleanly, I use Pilot Drawing Pens and their best feature is that the very fine tips aren't scratchy, and again, they keep up with you when you want a quicker stroke. Most pens in this category, like the Sakura Microns, require very slow drawing and they make a horrid squeaking sound.

I've used plain old Bics for drawing too... well usually when I should've been taking notes. Sure they're cheap and trashy, but the thing about ballpoints is that you can fake a crude halftone with them, and that's sometimes nice.
posted by picea at 11:39 AM on May 1, 2003

my every day pen is my sterling silver cross but only for home office use, i would hate to lose it, so i carry the regular chrome set in my purse. my fave fountain pen is an elysee ("impression no. 1"). it's a bit heavy for me in terms of everyday writing but the weight is perfect for calligraphy.
posted by t r a c y at 11:39 AM on May 1, 2003

Different tools for different tasks: there's a time for longhand, when the thinking is slow and personal -- journal stuff, aimless doodling, brainstorming etc. I'm a Pilot V7 man, and recently discovered the "precise deluxe," which is also fun. (Good notebooks are whole 'nother topic.)

For faster thinking, it's gotta be typing. It's just about the speed I can compose at, so generally, this works well. A wireless split Logitech keyboard will do.

For the rare occasion the ideas come even faster, they go straight to my Olympus DW-90 for later mining and transcription.

I haven't written with a fountain pen since my Abitur, but I do miss them. I'll come back to Mig's recommendations when I have a mahogany desk. These are Ikea days, and Pilot pens seem about right.
posted by muckster at 11:42 AM on May 1, 2003

I write a lot of hand written letters, collect nice stationary, and have pretty good handwriting. Writing with a fountain pen makes for aesthetically pleasing letters. Also, I have an inexplicable fondness for green ink.

I have a Waterman Philias that's ok, but the fountain pen love of my life is my grandfather's Lamy 2000 that has seen decades of heavy use first by him then by me, and has yet to leak or have the nib get wonky, or have any other problems. the 2000 is just a staggeringly beautiful piece of engineering.
posted by antimony at 11:53 AM on May 1, 2003 [1 favorite]

As an artist, I've never had any luck with fountain pens...

Not to derail or branch off too much, but are there any artists here who use digital drawing pads/pens? I have not, but I'm intrigued.
posted by Shane at 11:55 AM on May 1, 2003

Maybe I just write wrong, but I've never been able to get past the feeling of fingernails on chalkboards that fountain pens always give me. On top of that, my handwriting is so small (and messy), that fountain pens and rollerballs tend to make my handwriting a lost cause.

My personal writing utensil of choice? A good old .3mm drafting mechanical pencil. I used to use these all the time. Nowadays, I handwrite stuff so infrequently, that I just grab whatever is convenient. Hell, my wife doesn't even let me fill in forms because my handwriting is so bad.
posted by piper28 at 11:59 AM on May 1, 2003

What is this "pen" of which you speak?

Seriously, the only times I put one to paper anymore:

1) signing in at the physical therapist
2) making out my rent check
3) addressing Xmas presents

I can't believe how much time I spent on penmanship between kindergarten and the fourth grade. I knew it was a waste!!!
posted by scarabic at 12:24 PM on May 1, 2003

Shane:Not to derail or branch off too much, but are there any artists here who use digital drawing pads/pens? I have not, but I'm intrigued.

I own a small Wacom tablet. I used to have to draw freehand with a mouse, and moving to the tablet was a huge step up in control. The pressure senstivity makes for very nice line-making that you can't get with a mouse without a lot of labour. While it's still nowhere near as precise as sketching with a real pen on real paper, (for me, anyhow) I'd say a tablet is definitely a necessity for any electronic artist who likes to fiddle with 2D programs.
posted by picea at 12:34 PM on May 1, 2003

It looks like I am a rarity among the lefties.

I'm also left-handed, and am also *not* one of those 'clutch-it-like-a-righty" writers, but I don't find the ink issue a problem. Along the way I learned that the fountain pen doesn't need as much pressure at the bottom as a ballpoint does, and so I don't drag my hand across the paper much.

I find a pen of medium thickness means you don't have to constrict your fingers around the barrel much, either. And I never put the cap on the barrel when I'm writing, because it makes the pen too top-heavy.

As a consequence of all of this, I find writing with a fountain pen a far more fluid experience and much less effort than using ballpoints.
posted by briank at 12:36 PM on May 1, 2003

Not to derail or branch off too much, but are there any artists here who use digital drawing pads/pens? I have not, but I'm intrigued.

Every day at work. What do you want to know? They're not perfect - they don't perform well with quick strokes, I find, as they break up the stroke into line segments - but they're so much better than using the bar of soap it's not even funny.

I suppose I may as well reveal my soft spot for short-lived Sharpies (ultra-fine) while I'm at it. You can get a lot of expression out of those guys.
posted by furiousthought at 12:42 PM on May 1, 2003

Thanks, picea. I'd love to try a Wacom someday. I remember reading a tutorial that comics artist Brian Bolland did, explaining step-by-step how he created a cover completely digitally. It was fascinating, and the resulting art looked just like traditional pen-and-ink rendering.
If you're interested, I'll try to dig up the URL for you when I get a chance.
posted by Shane at 12:42 PM on May 1, 2003

What do you want to know?

Good question. I guess I just wondered how you feel about digital pens compared to those Sharpies you mentioned (I do like those too, and luckily they are stocked here at work...) I'm not enough of an artist to justify buying a Wacom now, but if I keep playing with Flash it's going to get tempting.
posted by Shane at 12:45 PM on May 1, 2003

I am thoroughly enjoying my Rotring Lava fountain pen - it writes wonderfully. A slender pen avoiding Mont Blanc gaudiness however heavy enough that it won't fly out of my hand.

It seems that most of these companies are still producing their high-quality writing instruments, even though they must develop their customer base by producing lower-hassle/mess/class/what-have-you products so that they can continue producing their high-quality products. (It's also nice to hear that somebody's developed an "airplane safe" rollerball - I've had a number of them explode and create enormous messes both in the air and after landing.)

Mont Blanc (German, not French - you can keep buying them) seems to have avoided this by the sheer cost and cult of it.

But once more about Rotring - The Rapidograph (and less so, the Rapidoliners) are very specific technical tools mainly intended for architects and draftsmen - "ink on mylar" (a sort of stiff plastic sheet) is one of the most beautiful media of drawing - a crispness and life that is unsurpassed.
posted by danbeckmann at 12:52 PM on May 1, 2003

Well, let's see. When the lines are important I still depend on pen and ink - the Wacom isn't quite precise enough to pull off a good line unless you want to spend all your drawing time zoomed in or you like to draw with a slow hand. So I don't think it quite compares with the real thing, although with Painter you can get pretty close... But still it's such a radical improvement over the mouse that you'll wind up using it constantly for all sorts of other tasks when you're doing digital art.

I must be the only person I've heard of who really likes drawing in Flash. It handles graphics tablets very well.

They have Wacoms set up in the Apple stores I've been in, although they're nailed down in very lefty-inconvenient positions. If you want to just try one that's a good place to go.
posted by furiousthought at 1:06 PM on May 1, 2003

I can't remember the last time I handwrote more than a paragraph in a sitting.

I actually hand-wrote a four page letter a month or two ago, to one of my younger sisters who hasn't yet discovered computers. Oh, did my wrist ever hurt when I was done. I can't imagine how the ancients managed to get chapters written, much less entire books, back in the dark ages before word processing software.

Do schools still teach kids cursive? I suspect I was one of the last to be taught that art; I learned just enough to pass, but have never actually used it for anything but my signature. I can print much more gracefully (when I think about it) than I could ever render cursive.

I never felt like putting the money or desk space into a Wacom pad, but I've found that my TiBook's trackpad works marvellously well with Illustrator.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:14 PM on May 1, 2003

Thanks, furiousthought! I'm totally intrigued by the whole digital art thing. And I'd love to hook up a tablet to Flash and try my best to do my own Plimptoons, heh. Maybe I'll e-mail you and picea offlist sometime, if you don't mind. I'm probably to the point of derailing about now.
(I'm always curious as to how people have learned to use digital programs, too. Some of the techniques Bolland was going on about were so complicated that you wanted to scream, Put down the damn tablet and grab some paper! I can't imagine self-learning all that stuff without a course or two, but then again I know people [freaks!] who have.)
posted by Shane at 1:20 PM on May 1, 2003

Thanks to this wonderful thread (boy will I go stationery-hunting tomorrow!) I've understood that my being left-handed skews my outlook on fountain pens and writing instruments. The ones I prefer - I see now - are straight, "non-handed", i.e. not susceptible to favour a right hand.

The pen I loved the most for thirty odd years - although it hasn't been produced for more than 15 - was the very cheap (£4.99/$7.50) Osmiroid Sketch Pen. The Music Pen (same price) was my second favourite. The nibs were very, very thin and scratchy and only lasted about a month but they were great for writing (more like inscribing, actually) and drawing. I must have gone through a couple of hundred before my supply (a Harry Potterish shop in London called The Pen Shop) dried up, as it were. The last ones I bought were in Halifax, NS., Canada.

Their great advantage, to me, was that you could use India Ink, the blackest, most satisfying ink there is.

The greatest disappointment in my life - and I have no hesitation in warning people against them - was the much-hyped Omas fountain pen. It was very expensive (about $450 about 10 years ago) but almost useless: leaky, uneven ink flow, heavy, capricious, no joy whatsoever.

My most gratifying surprise - and a constant - is how good the very cheapest fountain pens - the $2-3 dollars ones - are. The designs are embarassingly gaudy but the steel nibs are very good, at least for this lefty. One of these cheap makes - Reform, formerly made in East Germany - has since become a bit of a cult item in Portugal.

I should add, for those still wary of fountain pens, that they all require several writing miles of breaking in. Once you've molded and grooved a nib to your hand movements, though, they are quicker and smoother than any roller ball.

Those who, like me, prefer a precise point over a fuller one, should know that all pen manufacturers make extra-fine and even FF nibs (I'm surprised no one has mentioned the very faulty but satisfying Rotring Artpens). I bought a Parker Needlepoint pen in Dublin (it was expensive, around $300) which is almost as fine as a Rotring rapidograph 0.20.

We need an ink thread now!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 1:21 PM on May 1, 2003

[the Omas link]

Hate! Hate! Outrage! Hate!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 1:24 PM on May 1, 2003

are there any artists here who use digital drawing pads/pens? I have not, but I'm intrigued.

i am so not an artist but i have a wacom tablet that i use to make my various site graphics. it took me a very long time to get used to drawing on the tablet, and even now my instinct is to throw the tablet down and get back on paper. my scribbles turn out much better if i start them on paper and then take them to the tablet for finishing.
posted by t r a c y at 1:40 PM on May 1, 2003

A Niceday biro, blue. Does this make me a philistine? In my defence I am also a lefty and find all pens equally unbearable owing to my (apparently) strange way of holding them. Also, always 5mm squared paper, never lined. But I suppose that's another post.
posted by zygoticmynci at 1:57 PM on May 1, 2003

Mars Saxman - I recall that the reason they taught us cursive was speed. Hilarious! Continuous-line writing was supposed to be more efficient. Truly, a revolution in communications, that. I didn't get typing lessons until the 7th grade, and even at that I think I was ahead of the curve. A travesty!
posted by scarabic at 2:05 PM on May 1, 2003

I'm more than a little terrified that people are all..writing, penmanship, cursive: how quaint. I love handwriting, and I'm a little concerned that the Kids of Tomorrow will write not at all, which is fine, because what they have to say is apparently hOx0r(sp?)-speak anyway. *sigh* [/25yo-fogey]
posted by jengod at 2:08 PM on May 1, 2003

I don't understand... isn't cursive (I had to look that up) taught as standard at schools in the US? I always assumed that it was the only way to write, given the way we were taught in the UK.
posted by adrianhon at 2:11 PM on May 1, 2003

I learned cursive, but I only use it when I'm disguising my own distinctive printed handwriting, which I might add I can write as fast as anyone else writes cursive. Also, unlike every person I know, I've never looked at my own writing and not been able to read it (oh, except for when I write my dreams down in the middle of the night).

And Shane, I have a Wacom tablet and love the pen, though it has a different "skill set" for me from a regular pen in drawing. It lends itself to a different sort of line, a different sort of flow. There are some things it does better, others definitely worse. For some reason the mouse that goes with the tablet seems slightly buggy.

Also, I too enjoy drawing in Flash, furiousthought.
posted by soyjoy at 2:26 PM on May 1, 2003

Now I'm really curious: how do you other lefties hold your pen?

I've gotten used to being pointed out by stupid mothers with their inquisitive children ("Look! Look!") as I set out my paper or notebook parallel to my outstretched arm/ perpendicular to my eyes, and write towards myself, North to South, apparently "upside down".

I could never write like other lefties who twist their hand so as to obey the right-handed convention.

[My sweet revenge is that my handwriting, even if I say so myself, is quite beautiful.]
posted by MiguelCardoso at 2:26 PM on May 1, 2003

They teach manuscript [roman letters] first, and then in fourth or fifth grade, you graduate to "cursive" -- which I remember being quite a big deal at the time.
posted by jengod at 2:27 PM on May 1, 2003

And Shane, I have a Wacom tablet and love the pen...
*begins salivating for a Wacom after all these replies*

posted by Shane at 2:33 PM on May 1, 2003

Now I'm really curious: how do you other lefties hold your pen? I set out my paper or notebook parallel to my outstretched arm/ perpendicular to my eyes, and write towards myself, North to South, apparently "upside down".

If I'm reading you correctly (it took a few minutes with a pen and pad to establish this) just like that! How exciting. I find it terribly awkward, particularly as it results in the inky-hand syndrome many have discussed, and the dreaded gawping you mention on the part of right-handed simpletons. I seem to end up with a mish-mash of unruly fingers scattered all over the pen. Friends have pointed out with sadness the ungainly appearance of my very personal method, but nothing else seems to work. This despite the efforts of innumerable well-meaning but ultimately doomed souls who have attempted to tutor me in the 'proper' manner to hold a pen, with style and elegance, rather than appearing like a monkey clutching an ink banana.
posted by zygoticmynci at 2:53 PM on May 1, 2003

Now I'm really curious: how do you other lefties hold your pen?

It'd be easier to draw it and post the picture, but I'm still at work.

Arm parallel to paper, paper at a 20-60 degree angle to my eyes, though I can do it straight if I have to. Wrist tilted 20-30 degrees to left, resting on left side of the heel of my palm unless I'm making big lines. (This winds up being about three inches south of the line I'm writing, so no smudges.) The thumb holds the pen perpendicular to it and the rest of my fingers, more or less, with the point of contact being about three inches from the point of the pen.

I'll tell you what being a lefty screws up, it's doing Chinese calligraphy. Boy did I suck at that.

I learned cursive, but I only use it when I'm disguising my own distinctive printed handwriting, which I might add I can write as fast as anyone else writes cursive.

My mother forced me to use cursive when signing formal documents. I forget which, but the end result is that my signature is the only thing I regularly use cursive for, and it's entirely different (less legible and less stylized) than my regular (printed) handwriting, and since it's on my driver's license etc. etc., I can't get rid of it!

I do use a somewhat better cursive for illustration purposes now and again, but that's something I taught myself many years later.
posted by furiousthought at 3:00 PM on May 1, 2003

Umm - apparently there's an American and European style of left-handed calligraphy. Typical! We could definitely do with a drawing, zygoticmynci!

Btw, here's an example of my handwriting.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 3:13 PM on May 1, 2003

Btw, here's an example of my handwriting.

What?! You've worked with Durutti Column? My stars, that's... That's... That's just cool.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 3:37 PM on May 1, 2003

What glides your writing hand?

A fountain pen made of sunken maple.
posted by DakotaPaul at 4:13 PM on May 1, 2003

I, also, am a lefty. I find many left-handed folk to have extremely bad handwriting, myself and my father included.

Clearly this is not the case. Maybe I attribute it to having teachers who were all right-handed and leading me astray.

So let me ask you this: what can one do to improve their handwriting? I am always envious of handwriting I see which is beautifully done, while glancing down at my chicken scratches and wondering where I'd gone wrong.
posted by christian at 4:45 PM on May 1, 2003

What?! You've worked with Durutti Column? My stars, that's... That's... That's just cool.

Gotta say that I am impressed as well.
posted by thirteen at 4:53 PM on May 1, 2003

Gel pens are made using the devil's spunk.

They are an abomination; they constantly fail to draw an unbroken line, once you take it into a curve. Useless, useless technology.

Give me a simple, fine-pointed everyday biro to doodle with, over a gel pen, anyday.
posted by Blue Stone at 7:27 PM on May 1, 2003

I own them all and they are all junk (including the Mont Blanc -- the worst of the bunch). Save your money and buy a holder and some inexpensive steel nibs -- they work much better than all of the "jewelry pens."
posted by {savg*pncl} at 10:33 PM on May 1, 2003

I am truly saddened. I just took a new job that requires that I sign a lot of lifetime retention documents - and they require that a ball point pen with permanent ink be used, black only thank-you-very-much. Gak.

I've written with fountain pens for years and am mortified about having to go back to ball points. I am particular to Watermans, but will buy any fountain pen that I can get my hands on cheap. In fact, I was walking through Office Depot a couple of nights ago and bought a Sheaffer calligraphy set (I already have more than one!) for about $6. I probably own about 25-28 fountain pens, with about half of them being plastic barrelled Sheaffers due to cost. My wife actually gave me an off brand fountain pen for Christmas this year, it has a laser pointer built into the's neat to play with but is not very comfortable to hold.

The best "writer" and everyday pen that I use is a Waterman Graduate, which is no longer in production. It was originally designed as a simple chrome pen for presentation to college and high school graduates, I think I got it used at a thrift store for $5. After a little cleaning and nib work, it writes effortlessly and I have had it in daily use for several years now. I prefer to use J. Herbin inks, but also have several bottles of Private Reserve inks and often custom mix colors.

Lastly, if your pen scratches and does not write smoothly, it probably needs some simple adjustment. A properly tuned fountain pen should put ink on the paper almost instantly and will not appreciably scratch the paper. Anyone can find dozens of links for fountain pen repair and tuning on the web, and such services are generally pretty inexpensive.
posted by insulglass at 11:02 PM on May 1, 2003

I enjoy the smoothness of fountain pens, but I've never bought a real one -- I typically use Pilot Varsity disposable fountain pens (which I can only find at Kinko's anymore.) I just wish my penmanship didn't suck -- it's a messy version of the Palmer Method I learned in second grade. Is there any way to re-train myself?

There are so many options out there, as this thread demonstrates. Where should a novice buyer of non-disposable fountain pens start? How should I even know what qualities are important for me?

I wish I'd seen this thread a week ago -- last week I sent off for a Rotring Initial pen (because we're currently getting 2/3-off discounts of certain pens through my work, and it was the only fountain pen available aside from the Waterman Harley-Davidson model.) Anyone have any experience with the Initial?

And, in an e-mail to me the other day, Miguel mentioned that he'd just bought a bunch of Moleskines and a fountain pen. We've already had the Moleskine post, and I was wondering when the fountain pen post would show up. :-)
posted by Vidiot at 11:58 PM on May 1, 2003

Disposable fountain pens? Now I've heard of everything. That seems wrong to me - disrespectful. Ballpoints should be disposable because they're garbage - they should be disposed of immediately upon purchase. But I have to admit one of the refreshing changes I noted in my life upon switching from Schaeffer to Rollerballs like Espresso (or is it Expresso? - see, that's how much loyalty they generated) was in this area. After years of getting to the bottom of the ink cartridge (starting to notice the line petering out) and limping along for a while by taking it out and dipping the nib into the hole in the cartridge to get those last drops, I felt a rush of freedom and satisfaction at using a pen that would keep the firm line right up to the end, then pop! no more ink, toss it in the trash, grab a new one.

And Vidiot, since you brought up the inimitable Miguel, I have to ask, who else here could get away with saying "Thanks to this wonderful thread" on his own thread?

But, as usual, he's right.
posted by soyjoy at 7:40 AM on May 2, 2003

I've just started collecting them myself... for use, not for sitting around in a display case.

Good, inexpensive, nice looking pens:

- Esterbrook J and its close relatives. You can find them on ebay and elsewhere cheap and in good condition. They were made in 1949 and early 50's, but serious collectors don't like them because they're not expensive enough. Lever-fillers so you don't mess around with cartridges and converters at all, but get one for each ink color you want to use 'cause cleaning them out completely is a chore. Mine writes just great.

- Lamy Al-Star. It's aluminum so it scratches easy, don't keep it in a jeans pocket with car keys. Writes very nicely. The medium I have is a little seepy but the fine is perfect. Looks like a geek's pen, not a CEO's pen.

- Rotring Core. If you don't mind it looking a little weird -- or a LOT weird depending on the color scheme you get -- this puppy is pretty much indestructable. Doesn't leak for me at all. Writes quite nicely. Looks like a geek's pen, if the geek is into anime or robots or Legos.

- Waterman Kultur/Phileas. Mine has a cool Apple logo on it but a funny brushed metal texture that I'm not sure I like (most of them are smooth). It needs a bit of starting, which none of the others do, but that might be because I'm using the included cartridge instead of a converter (bottled ink rules). It starts writing faster than most ballpoints though and once it starts, it's completely reliable. Doesn't even show the merest hint of thinking about leaking.

- Sheaffer Prelude. You can get 'em for $10 at Arcamax and not much more elsewhere. They look and feel like much more expensive pens. Haven't inked mine yet since I just got it last night, but if it writes like it looks and feels it's a winner.
posted by Foosnark at 8:19 AM on May 2, 2003

Oh, and I'm one of those evil people who likes gel pens. I like FPs better though.
posted by Foosnark at 8:33 AM on May 2, 2003

And Vidiot, since you brought up the inimitable Miguel, I have to ask, who else here could get away with saying "Thanks to this wonderful thread" on his own thread?

hee-hee...good point. But the real utility of a thread comes from the comments within. I think it's a pat on the back to everyone here. *basks in Miguel's approval, at least till he notices*
posted by Vidiot at 9:19 AM on May 2, 2003

*blushingly notices, puts another bottle of champers on soyjoy's and vidiot's IOU* :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:06 PM on May 2, 2003

My Mom, growing up as she did in the era when you had no choice but to use fountain pens, remembers joyfully giving up her fountain pen for a newfangled Parker ballpoint and never looking back.

As for me, I played around with fountain pens a bit but (sorry Miguel) I never really took to them. I use different pens for different purposes, as someone said.

For regular writing I use a Sanford uni-ball vision elite roller pen (block printing when I can, pathetic Palmer method cursive when forced. I failed cursive handwriting in grade school one year and in second grade they actually brought a lecturer in to try to scare those of us who were Palmer method "challenged" by saying (literally) how we would fail in life if our handwriting was not legible - this was pre-electric typewriter/computer era, of course. Does anyone remember being taught the Palmer method by having someone draw a face on the back of your hand and tell you that the face had to be looking at the ceiling or you weren't holding the pen correctly?

At work I use a Hunt Crowquill dip pen, a #102 nib, and some Higgins black India ink for numbering museum artifacts (this is traditional at my museum). Some artists and scientific illustrators are also quite loyal to this dip pen, I hear.

But my true friend is my PaperMate Sharpwriter #2 mechanical pencil. I am someone who thinks/composes best when writing by hand. I just can't do a first draft on keyboard, so that pencil eraser comes in very handy!
posted by gudrun at 11:08 AM on May 3, 2003

Great topic and links, Miguel!

Starting out with the Rapidograph and Isograph's are enough to turn anyone away from the fountain experience. Good thing the computer came along and I was able to put them away [to be donated to a museum at a later date!].

Then there was the Osmiroid Calligraph 1.1. Wasn't great at all IMO, so I bought a Rotring "Art Pen"...don't know why I have two of them still.... but must have put them down when I bought my Parker 75. Matte black with gold clip and ends, convertible/piston fill, medium French nib. Purple or turquoise ink.

I know they've stopped producing them and moved on to the Parker Sonnet Matte Black, but the 75 is slimmer than the Sonnet.

Imagine my shock when I see it would cost me the price of that fountain pen for a different nib! Damn! This from the Fountainpen Hospital

Some of their sales are real deals, imagine, only $4,000.00 discounted from $8,000.00!

Yep, to think I paid $100.00 for my 75.

Browsing around, I found a Fountainpen Message Board. They have a lot of information on Fountain Pen shows with reviews!

Can't stand ballpoints. They just lend themselves to horrible penmanship. I will give the nod to Pilot V5 Extra Fine. In a pinch.

My fountainpen fetish is kept in check by available funds, for now. Truly, they rule.
posted by alicesshoe at 3:11 PM on May 5, 2003

« Older schools out   |   Corkscrews drawn Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments