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5 Best Inexpensive Fountain Pens For Beginners

While it’s no longer a common everyday writing instrument, a fountain pen need not be intimidating, expensive, or maintenance-intensive. You can find many fountain pens that are inexpensive–but since price and value don’t always line up, we’ve got five great picks from which you can choose!

In the US, unless they intentionally seek them out, most adults never get acquainted with fountain pens. In Germany, where Raphael grew up, it’s part of the school curriculum, so he first wrote with fountain pens when he was five years old.

Over time, he’s used many different fountain pens–expensive and inexpensive ones. Today, we’ll highlight the five best-value pens that won’t break the bank. If you’re unsure whether a fountain pen is right for you, this guide will focus on low price, easy maintenance, easy writing, and overall, a good experience at a minimal investment.

History of Fountain Pens, in a Nutshell

The fountain pen looks like a more modern variation of the dip pen, but it actually dates back centuries to 973 A.D., when Ma’ād al-Mu’izz, the caliph of the Maghreb, wanted a pen that wouldn’t stain his hands. He was given a pen with a built-in reservoir for the ink that could be held upside down without leaking.

Power of WordsPower of Words

The 1600s saw the invention of

Pens with Ink Reservoir

In the 1600s, pen makers in Germany were producing pens with some kind of ink reservoir. The development improved, and by the late 1600s, fountain pens, as they are known today, were in vogue and being used throughout England.

What was once reserved for the wealthy aristocrat due to cost was now widely available for a minimal price that almost anyone could afford. For the men and women who previously couldn’t afford to write, the fountain pen proved to increase literacy as they began to acquire their own collection of pens.

The knowledge of the pen’s dynamics caught on in the mid-1850s, and from then on, there was a growing number of manufacturers filing patents on a regular basis. Once the free-flowing ink was invented, along with hard rubber and the iridium-tipped gold nib, the industry caught fire, and fountain pens became the standard writing instrument used on an almost global scale.

One of the earlier patents of a fountain pen.One of the earlier patents of a fountain pen.
One of the earlier patents of a fountain pen.

By the 1900s, self-filling pens were developed by companies like Waterman, Parker, and Shaeffer, which had twist, button, and lever fillers. Still, the pens continued to leak, so safety pens were produced, which either consisted of a retracting nib or a screw-on cap that sealed tightly around the nib, preventing it from leaking.

In Germany, concurrently, companies like Pelikan, which had been around since the early 1800s, were beginning to produce fine writing instruments with the more modern piston filler, patented in 1925.

In the 1960s, ballpoint pens were invented and rendered the fountain pen almost useless in many parts of the world including North America. Since then, ballpoints have been the standard writing instrument in America. Across the pond, though, in Europe, we were still using fountain pens in school.

These days, only those with a particular interest in fine writing instruments know about, own, and use fountain pens, but we think they’re great to have, and that they shouldn’t be too intimidating!

Fountain Pen Terminology

As with any interest or hobby, there’s a lingo in the fountain pen world that we think you need to understand so you can distinguish between the different pens.

The Cap

Basically, the cap is the part of a pen that covers the tip of the pen or the nib. It attaches to the pen’s body. Attached to the cap is the clip, which is a metal strip that allows the pen to hold onto a shirt pocket and keep the pen from rolling off a desk. It can also be a part of one’s style, since some clips are decorative, and there are those that can be bought separately, allowing you to “match your metals.”

Another detail on the cap that keen enthusiasts notice is the finial, which can be found on top of the cap. It is usually designed with the pen maker’s logo.

The Nib

The nib is arguably the most important part. It is the pointed metal piece at the tip of a fountain pen that you write with on a piece of paper. Basically, a fountain pen uses capillary action as well as gravity to get the ink from the inside of the pen through the nib onto the paper.

Mont Blanc Fountain Pen NibsMont Blanc Fountain Pen Nibs
Fountain Pen Nibs

The Ink Feed

Right below the nib, you can find the ink feed which helps the capillary action and to get the ink onto the paper. Unlike ballpoint or rollerball pens, nibs come in different widths. The finest ones are EF, which means extra fine, and then there’s F for fine.

A comparison of pen strokes with varying widths depending upon the nib sizeA comparison of pen strokes with varying widths depending upon the nib size

from the INK FEEd

To The Nib

The most common nib is M for medium. If you want a broader nib, you get a B, an even wider one is a BB nib, and if you want it really broad, which is usually only used for signatures, you get an O3b nib. Sometimes, you can also find oblique nibs, which means they’re angled at the tip, and that would, for example, be an OB, which is an oblique broad nib.

When you start for the first time, I suggest you maybe go with a medium nib, a fine, or an extra fine nib, because they’re easiest to learn with, and later on, you can upgrade and invest in more pens with broader nibs.

The Converter

Unlike a ballpoint pen, most fountain pens don’t come pre-loaded with ink. You can either get cartridges, but they’re more expensive per use. Instead, you can use a converter, so you can choose from any kind of ink you want and just fill the ink into it. Usually, they cost anywhere from one to five dollars, but you’ll save money over time compared to a cartridge, which is usually one-time use.

ConverterConverter
You can refill the ink with the converter.

The Piston-Filler

The piston filler doesn’t have a cartridge, and you simply turn the knob at the end of the fountain pen to basically suck ink in or push it back out. This kind of mechanism is commonly found in expensive fountain pens. I am a big fan of the piston fillers or the converters because, down the line, they’re less expensive than cartridges, and they’re also less hard on the environment because you have less waste.

With the essential knowledge up your sleeve, you might ask, what is a good fountain pen to start with? We’ve got great value, inexpensive fountain pen recommendations today.

1. Pilot Metropolitan – A Fine, Good-Value Fountain Pen

First on our list is the Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen. It was introduced in 2012, and it was universally praised as a really good fountain pen, especially at its price point. It comes in a nice gift box, has a nice weight of about 91 grams, and has very clean lines. It seems durable as well.

Pilot Metropolitan Fountain PenPilot Metropolitan Fountain Pen
Pilot Metropolitan Fountain Pen

It has a fine, Japan-made steel nib, which seems to be high-quality and you can even choose between different nib sizes, which is not something you often find in this price range.

It uses proprietary cartridges and converters, but when you buy a new one, it comes with a converter where you just have to squeeze and let go, which sucks up the ink into the fountain pen, allowing you to increase ink capacity.

Price Point: Retails around $19

2. Pilot Varsity – The Most Inexpensive Fountain Pen

The Pilot Varsity is an easy-to-use, disposable fountain pen. If you want to, it is also refillable with an eyedropper. It’s a very good pen that comes in different finishes, colors, and ink colors, so you can personalize it to your taste. Its design allows you to see the ink supply. The nib is made out of steel, made in Japan.

Pilot Varsity Disposable Fountain Pen made of cheap plastic [Image Credit: Office Depot]Pilot Varsity Disposable Fountain Pen made of cheap plastic [Image Credit: Office Depot]
Pilot Varsity Disposable Fountain Pen made of plastic. [Image Credit: Office Depot]

For what it is, it is really good, not harsh, and definitely, a pen that we recommend to anyone who just wants to start out and who’s not sure if he wants to invest hundreds of dollars into a fountain pen.

Price Point: Retails around $13 for a pack of 6 ($2.20 a piece)

3. Jinhao X450 – Huge Bang For The Buck

Most people are surprised by how low the prices are and how valuable Jinhao pens seem in comparison. Unlike the pilot Metropolitan, the Jinhao pens are larger, and the X450 is also a lot heavier.

A Jinhao X450 Fountain PenA Jinhao X450 Fountain Pen

CHEaP BUT HAS

Some Weight

For long writing sessions, this can tire out your hand more quickly, but if you just use it for signatures, it’s really nice to have a certain weight. The nib of the X450 looks pretty similar to a Montblanc nib. However, it’s just gold-plated and not made out of solid gold.

When you buy one, it already comes with an ink converter, which is rather nice and unexpected in that price segment. It is compatible with international, standard cartridges as well. Overall, it doesn’t look like a high-end fountain pen. At the same time, it doesn’t look like an eight-dollar pen, either.

Price Point: Retails around $8

4. Jinhao X750 – Inexpensive Fountain Pen Made in China

Our fourth pick is still from Jinhao, which is the X750. We have a model with a barrel that kind of brushed stainless steel look in platinum. It comes in other black with other finishes, too. The nib that comes in stock is made of steel, non-plated, and medium in size #6. It has a nice lid that clicks on and seems quite tight even though, over time, I don’t quite think it will stand the test of time.

Jinhao X750Jinhao X750
Jinhao X750

The brand name engraving on it looks rather cheap, but at the end of the day, it is a cheap fountain pen. It’s very similar to the X450, but it’s more lightweight. If you want to try them out, you can get both without having to spend so much and have an extra in your arsenal.

Price Point: Retails around $8

Beginner Fountain Pen Mistakes

5. Lamy Safari – Inexpensive Fountain Pen Made in Germany

Lamy pens are made in Heidelberg, Germany, which is very close to my home state. When I was in third grade, this was the fountain pen I used. Because of its sleek design and look, you can even see sometimes people today wearing it with their bespoke suits. This is ironic because it was a school pen that I used. For the same reason, I just can’t get myself to use that pen today because it always makes me feel like a little school pupil.

Plastic Lamy SafariPlastic Lamy Safari

the budget edition

Made of Plastic

The standard version of the Lamy Safari fountain pen is made out of plastic. You can also find different versions of metals, such as aluminum, but in Raphael’s experience, they dent very easily and scratch, so they don’t look very well. Going with the original plastic version is just fine. 

The styling is definitely the most industrial one in our list today, but it’s very comfortable in your hand and it’s very easy to grip for small and medium hands. If you have really large hands, I find the Lamy Safari is not quite the right pen for you.

Lamy was quite smart, and they introduced the proprietary ink cartridges, which are much larger than regular ones but also more expensive. They also have ink converters but you have to buy them separately, and they are not part of the package as for the Jinhao. Unlike the other pens in our lineup, the Lamy Safari has a convenient ink window so you can see if the pen is dried in or if you simply ran out of ink.

Fountain pen paper and a Lamy Safari fountain penFountain pen paper and a Lamy Safari fountain pen
Fountain pen paper and a Lamy Safari fountain pen

The Lamy Safari nib is smooth right out of the box and it comes in different nib widths as well. It’s also easy to exchange the nibs in different widths and because it is such a popular pen, it comes in many different colors and patterns and varieties. The Lamy Safari is the most expensive of the bunch today and costs a little over $20, depending on where you buy it.

Price Point: Retails between $20-$25

Conclusion

Fountain pens are not the most typical writing instrument of today, and there aren’t too many who know and appreciate them, it shouldn’t stop anyone from trying it out. Moreover, there are affordable options when you just want to pique your interest in what is believed to be the pinnacle of writing instruments. It could improve your handwriting and make it unique as well.

If I had to choose just one fountain pen out of the five, it would probably be the Pilot Metropolitan in an F or fine nib because the medium is something you find in many nibs, so fine is a little different. It also has an ink flow that it’s not as strong, so you can basically write on it with any paper without risking it bleeding. It also has a heavier weight than the Lamy Safari and to me, it’s a more professional-looking pen, and it doesn’t have that schoolboy image.

All the pens mentioned here can be used by right-handed and left-handed people. We suggest you go out and try them out. You can even buy two or three different ones to see which ones you like more and then write it up for a little bit.

If you really fall in love with them, you’ll probably want to invest in a more expensive piece that has nicer materials and a nicer nib because, that way, it remains a good investment and could last a lifetime.

Best Mid-Range Fountain Pens: $100-300

Budget Fountain Pen Recommendations

Outfit Rundown

Raphael wears a royal blue polo shirt, madras shorts, and PF Flyer sneakersRaphael wears a royal blue polo shirt, madras shorts, and PF Flyer sneakers
Raphael wears a royal blue polo shirt, madras shorts, and PF Flyer sneakers

Raphael is wearing a summery outfit which consists of a royal blue polo shirt paired with bleeding madras cotton shorts. The shoes are vintage-inspired canvas sneakers from PF Flyer, which he finds comfortable and breathable, especially in the summer months.

www.gentlemansgazette.com

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