Getting to the Point

This week Apple announced improvements to the Apple Pencil, the precision iPad stylus, at WWDC and a few weeks ago Microsoft announced the new Surface Pro tablet with the all new Surface pen to put their previous Surface pen to shame. I have my own set of styli that I would like to share, but mine are much more analog.

Though I work in tech I often take handwritten notes. I find them very helpful when trying to learn or remember something, or to visualize a problem I’m trying to figure out. My office stocks the standard red, black and blue Bic ballpoint roller-ball pens that you can find literally anywhere. These are perfectly functional, but I would prefer to write with something nicer. From about the start of the year I had been caring with me a fine-tip Prismacolor marker and using this to write notes. Recently this went dry and I needed to find a replacement.

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New Prismacolor (top) and worn down used one (bottom)

 I was directed to give fountain pens a try. Though most of the world has moved on to ballpoint and gel pens there is still a community of fountain pen users and still many producers of classic and new pens. I dove in and got a beginner pen, the popular Lamy Safari and I was hooked.

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Top to bottom: Pilot Metropolitan, Kaweco Liliput, and Lamy Safari

So what makes fountain pens different? Most would point the the nib as the largest difference between other pens but the differentiating factor is really the ink. Fountain pens use water based liquid ink, while most roller-ball pen use ballpoint ink which is oil based and much more viscous, gel pens of course use gel ink which falls somewhere in the middle. This liquid ink is stored inside an internal reservoir inside the pen to flow, like a fountain, out of the tip or nib of the pen. The distinctively shaped nib has no moving mechanical parts like a roller-ball pen, as it relies on gravity and the capillary action of the water to pull ink from the reservoir down to the tip at a consistent rate.

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Roller-ball, Fountain, and fine tipped marker

The Lamy Safari is an amazingly good pen. Solid ABS plastic and a nib that is very easy to use. The pen is a bit big and bulky, and has a very utilitarian style, which I appreciate but sometimes I want a fancy pen to look fancy too. This lead me to the pilot metropolitan. A little more sleek and with an italic nib it allowed me to try writing in a more stylized script. The last requirement I had was a pen I could pocket.

Putting a fountain pen in a pocket can be a risky move. The pocket protector wasn’t created because people thought is stylish, fountain pens hold liquid ink which likes to seep everywhere it can. While this is unlikely, some pens have threaded caps that screw on to for a seal to stop any ink from leaking. For a pocket pen I went with the Liliput. A tiny pill that when posted turns into a usable pen.

When taking notes the writing instrument is only half the equation. There is also the variable of what you are writing on, and with fountain pens paper choice is very important. That watery ink fountain pens need to function does not work well with all types of paper. Some paper can be too absorbent and suck up extra ink, which makes the letter look like they are bleeding into the page. Some paper takes too longer for the ink to dry and the ink will smudge it touched. For most of the writing I do its fine if there is a little bleeding but its nice to write on good paper.

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with water based inks, paper quality matters

Lastly, with a fountain pen comes the chore and choice of ink. These are not single use pens (though single use fountain pens exist) and once the ink runs out the pen can be refilled. While filling some pens can be a hassle, being able to fill your own ink gives you so many options. There are hundreds of different colors and formulations available! No longer is writing with a pen confined to blue, black, and red. Currently I am using purple, turquoise, and black across my pens, but I have the ability to change out the inks at anytime.

So with new pens, new paper, and new inks I am ready to take notes in style and luxury. When writing with one of my fountain pens or with a simple Bic I have found a new level of understanding and appreciation into how much thought and effort has into creating the tools white allow us to write.

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