The fountain pens that we think of today have been around for a long time. In fact, they’ve been around for a very long time. The earliest references to fountain pens can be traced back to the legendary Renaissance painter and inventor, Leonardo DaVinci.
Leonardo’s journals contain illustrations of a new type of pen that appears to work with an ink-feeding reservoir. The pen depicted utilizes gravity and capillary action to transfer the ink to the page.
Writing with a dip pen, which was the only method available at the time, produces a slow fade as the ink on the quill tip is used up. Since dip pens don’t have a continuous feeding mechanism, the ink gets less and less bold when used.
DaVinci’s journals do not have this telltale ink fade which possibly suggests that DaVinci succeeded in inventing the first-ever fountain pen. Unfortunately, none of Leonardo’s fountain pens have survived the centuries to confirm it, but there is compelling evidence that the first documented use of a fountain pen was by the famous Italian inventor.
Fountain pens were widely available throughout Europe around 150 years after DaVinci’s passing and have continued to evolve into the fountain pens we have today. Patents for the modern version of the fountain pen were filed in the early 1800s.
The designs have been refined slightly over the last two centuries but the pens from the early 1800s would be very similar to those that are in your pocket today. By the 1960s, fountain pens had incorporated all of the modern innovations that maintain the prestigious quality and prevent troublesome ink leakage.
Fountain pens have morphed from essential writing instruments of the late Middle Ages to luxury, collectible items in the modern era. Several modern manufacturers such as Montblanc and Visconti even market their pens as high-end status symbols, rather than practical writing instruments for everyday carry.
If you’re interested, this video from National Geographic shows how intricate the inner workings of a fountain pen really are.
How do Fountain Pens Work?
Today, we primarily have three different categories of pens. The ballpoint, rollerball, and fountain pen. You’re probably familiar with the ballpoint pen as it’s a favorite of school children and office workers throughout the world.
The fountain pen retains the elegance of earlier times and earlier models that may have been used by legendary people in history. No other pens today can really match the writing quality of a good fountain pen; in fact, fountain pens are so highly regarded that people have been inspired to dedicate their lives to the history, restoration, and preservation of these writing instruments.
The fountain pen has three major parts, the body or case, the feed or reservoir, and the nib.
The body is usually classic plastic or brass and has a smooth cigar shape. The feed connects the nib of the pen to the ink in the ink reservoir. Capillary action and gravity help to pull the ink down the feed to the tip of the pen so you can write or draw.
The fountain pen nib is the more complex and customizable piece of the fountain pen’s construction. The nib is usually made from stainless steel or solid gold, some of which are even adorned with precious gemstones.
By changing the width and flexibility of the fountain pen nib, the amount of ink dispersed onto the page can be altered. People with very thin handwriting usually prefer using finer-pointed nibs since it creates an attractive spacing of their script.
Fountain Pen Inks
Before reviewing our favorite products, it’s worth a quick detour to cover the inks used in fountain pens. Fountain pen inks are water or dye-based. Pigment-based inks should not be used with fountain pens since it’s likely to cause clogs within the nib or feeding mechanism.
The modern fountain pen is loaded with a cartridge of ink which is then fed to the nib for writing. While the nibs do look somewhat similar to the old-timey feather-adorned writing quills of the classical world, you shouldn’t try to use dip ink with your fountain pen.
The ink reservoir needs to be internally loaded, if you try to dip your pen into ink it will likely just run right off and cause a mess.
The only way to use bottled ink without creating a modern art style ink blotch painting on your table is to use a device called a fountain pen converter. Converters pull the ink from the bottle into the internal reservoir of your fountain pen.
Some fountain pens include a converter; otherwise, they need to be purchased separately. They’re generally inexpensive, so if you want to purchase one separately it shouldn’t break the bank.
While not strictly necessary, some people prefer using converters since it allows you to more easily use inks from a variety of brands which gives you access to a wider range of ink colors.
Now that we’ve covered what fountain pens are, how they work, and the important parts that help them work, let’s dive into our favorite picks for the best pocket fountain pens.
Fountain Pen Guide
The following are our favorite selection of quality travel-sized, pocket fountain pens that are great for travelers on a budget.
Sleek, elegant, and unassuming, this Lanxivi all-brass fountain pen is a great pen for everyday use. Inexpensive yet not lacking in quality, this pen is a true pocket pen and will easily fit right into your favorite casual or professional shirt.
This pen is easy to grip and easy to write with for long working sessions. It has a comfortable weight and a durable cover. This pen is able to easily stand up to the rigors of daily travel and still look great at the end of a long day.
There are several nib options available out of the box, though you can always customize your pen to your heart’s extent later on. The default is an attractive, stainless steel, extra-fine nib. Keep in mind that if you have larger handwriting, the extra-fine nib might make your writing feel cluttered and crowded.
You might want to consider one of the prepacked fine nib options. You can even purchase your own medium nib and switch it out later on.
This pen ships out without any included ink cartridge which can be disappointing. It does meant that you never have to open a package that conceals an inky mess, silently waiting to stain your hands and clothes.
We like how this pen includes an ink converter so you can load your favorite bottled ink right out of the box. It’s a good substitute for including a prepackaged ink cartridge. Just keep in mind that if this is your first fountain pen purchase, you’ll also need to order a bottle of ink.
This is a great introductory pocket-sized fountain pen, and it’s one of the least expensive ways to add a great pocket-worthy option to your collection.
Short and bulky, the not so affectionately named “little fat man fountain pen” is a deceptively excellent travel option. If you have smaller hands, you might want to pass on this one; the larger than normal circumference won’t be the most comfortable to hold, especially if you have to write for a long time.
If you like the thicker aesthetic or have large hands, this pen is likely to find its way into your list of all-time favorite pocket fountain pens. This pen is shorter which means it fits quickly and comfortably into your jacket pocket.
We like the contrasting color scheme of the deep jade green and the gold-plated accent points. The Majohn Q1 fountain pen has a really unique look that sets it apart and gives it a unique identity.
In terms of actual construction, it has an internally threaded o-ring that prevents ink leakage. No more ink-filled pants pockets!
The Majohn Q1 ships with an included ink cartridge but no ink converter. While we love the flexibility of a converter, you might want to just stick with the cartridges if you travel frequently. That way you’d have one less item that could potentially break and leak out into your suitcase.
The nib is made of stainless steel and plated with iridium gold for a sleek look. Majohn manufactures fine and extra-fine nibs, though you can order this fountain pen directly with a medium nib. If you choose to purchase the medium nib, keep in mind that it will be made by a third-party manufacturer.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you might want to eventually upgrade to a higher-quality third-party medium nib in the future.
Slightly more expensive than the last pen on our list, you can purchase the Majohn at a sub-$30 price point. A great, budget-friendly travel fountain pen option.
3. Wancai Transparent Fountain Pen
The Wancai transparent fountain pen wins all of the style points we can possibly award.
This is an eye-catching fountain pen if there ever was one, and even DaVinci would be jealous.
Like the Majohn, this is a shorter and thicker pocket carry fountain pen. This pen is great for traveling, but it is still not the best choice if you have smaller hands. One immediate advantage over the Majohn is that it’s merely one-third of the weight, weighing in at a minute 11.8 grams.
This pen’s lightweight construction makes it so easy to carry that you might forget that you have it with you. Comfortable and easy to use for long periods of time, this is a great pen to bring with you on your next business trip to impress your coworkers.
This travel-sized fountain pen also includes an internally threaded o-ring to prevent leaks and it includes not just one or two, but six ink cartridges! With the Wancai fountain pen, you’re not limited to the ink cartridges either.
You could also purchase a converter to use bottled ink, but since six ink cartridges are included you won’t really feel the absence of the converter in the packaging.
When purchasing this fountain pen, you can choose a fine or extra-fine nib. As with the other options, you’d need to order a medium nib separately.
This pen is a great choice for pocket carry at an even more affordable price than the Majohn. If the thick and short body style is appealing to you, the Wancai might be your next fountain pen obsession.
We love the eye-catching transparent design with the painted-on, flowing green lines. If you want a more subtle option, Wancai also makes a transparent fountain pen that is plain and subtle.
Unique, subtle, and an ode to the history of Kaweco, the sport fountain pen is styled after the original design of the fountain pen dating back to the 1930s when octagonal cases were a popular style. Only available in one color, the light lavender is catchy without being too flashy, so it’s a great choice for your home or office.
Not as bulky as the Wancai or Majohn but still shorter and stouter than a more classical cigar-shaped fountain pen, the Kaweco sport has a unique feel in your hand.
Easy to write with for long periods of time, this pen is a great choice for those who like thicker-bodied pens but don’t want the extreme thickness of other pens on our list. The pen is slightly heavier than the Wancai but not enough to be uncomfortable or cause an awkward hand feel.
The cap screws onto the top of the pen to cover the nib, as opposed to a snap and lock design. The body is made of tempered plastic. It’s definitely durable, but it’s less solid than a brass casing. The Kaweco sport is an excellent fountain pen, and it might be the best choice for travel if you’re going to stuff it into your baggage. Plastic casings are less likely to survive being thrown into the cargo hold.
The nib is gold-colored but it’s actually stainless steel with an iridium tip, there’s no gold plating. Even without actual gold plating, the nib has a distinct and attractive sheen while the cap is off.
One blue ink cartridge is included and ships from the factory already loaded into the pen. This means there’s no delay between unboxing and writing. No converter is included in the box though so keep that in mind if you want to use bottled inks.
Worth noting, Kaweco pens are actually manufactured in Germany and have the quality engineering and construction you’d expect from any German-made item. This is the only pen on our list made in Germany.
Shiny, smooth, and bright, this brass-cased fountain pen is eye-catching and beautiful. Weighing in at 48g it’s one of the heavier pens on the list. Since the body of the pen is longer, the weight is distributed over a larger area. Despite the weight, this pen is extremely comfortable to write with, and it has a great hand feel.
While discussing the body, we noted that some users might find the clip to be a little bit too large. If you have plenty of pocket depth to clip it onto you probably won’t mind but some might find it unwieldy. The good news is the clip is fully detachable so if it’s a bit too much you can slide it right off.
The included nib has a fine point and like the Kaweco it doesn’t have a factory option for an extra-fine or medium-tipped nib. Like the other pens, the nib is stainless steel and highly durable. This is one of the best pocket fountain pens for daily carry.
This pocket fountain pen comes with a single ink cartridge, as well as an ink converter so you have the option to use bottled inks right out of the box if you so choose. The cap is a clip-on as opposed to a threaded screw, but it doesn’t feel out of place or like it would be inviting leaks.
Internally, there’s a thick o-ring that prevents ink from leaking out and damaging your clothes. The Lanxivi pocket fountain pen is an excellent choice for extensive home or office use, and its sleek design and solid construction make it a natural fit in any professional setting.
Lastly, we love the solidly constructed gift box the fountain pen ships in. When not in use the aluminum tin is a great protective home for your new pen. From a functional perspective, the solid box construction reduces the chance that your pen is damaged during shipping.
Since the fountain pen ships with an ink cartridge loaded inside, extra shipping protection is extremely welcomed. Anyone who’s had their hopes and excitement dashed by a damaged and ink-bombed package knows all too well that you can never be too safe when shipping pre-loaded fountain pens.
Buying Considerations and FAQs
Before making a purchasing decision, you may want to consider a few points that could help lead you to the best choice.
Where Will You Use Your Pen?
While any of these pens could easily find themselves in your home or your office, it’s worth considering where you will be using them most of the time.
If you commute or have to travel frequently for work, you’re probably going to want to stick with one of the solid brass-bodied pens as opposed to a plastic casing. Depending on the office culture, if you’re primarily going to be using your pen at work, you might want to stick with a traditional brass or clear design.
We love the artistic, loud, light-green hues of the Wancai fountain pen, but your boss may feel differently.
Will You be Able to Comfortably Grip a Thicker Pen?
The thicker, stouter bodies of the Wancai and Majohn aren’t for everyone. If you’re going to be writing frequently you need to make sure that your hand and wrist will remain comfortable.
If the thickness of the fountain pen’s body is uncomfortable at first, it will only get even more noticeable as your hand gets fatigued from writing. If you’re going to be writing frequently and for long periods of time, or you have smaller hands, it may be best to stick to a traditional cigar-shaped fountain pen style.
All of the pens in our guide are comfortable and easy to use, but some may be more comfortable than others depending on your unique needs.
What Ink Do You Want to Use?
Consider if the pen you want to buy ships with a pre-loaded ink cartridge, or if the package includes an ink converter. If you want the flexibility of using bottled inks, make sure that your fountain pen includes a converter or that you can purchase one separately. You’ll also need to purchase bottled inks as none of the pens in our guide include ink bottles.
If you’re going to stick with ink cartridges then any of the pens in this guide will be an excellent choice, though you’d give up being able to use the more fun and eccentric colors that are only available as bottled inks. Some fountain pen aficionados like being able to purchase from any manufacturer and having the full range of colors open to them.
If you’re artistic and like to draw, you might want to consider using bottled inks. You’ll have more colors to choose from and you can even mix inks together to create your own exciting colors. Just remember that if you’re going to mix bottled inks, do it on a separate palate and not in one of the ink bottles!
How Large is Your Writing?
If you have small, sleek handwriting, you’ll be right at home with a fine or extra-fine nib. Either of these nib sizes is usually readily available and easy to purchase, though the edge for a seamless experience does go to the fine over the extra-fine.
If you have thicker handwriting you might want to explore using a medium-sized nib. This size lends itself to the thicker, bolder lines that you’d expect to see with larger handwriting, and it doesn’t over-crowd the page when you write.
Unfortunately, most fountain pens don’t offer a “from the box” medium nib option. You’ll need to order a medium nib separately and then swap it onto your new fountain pen once it arrives. This process is quite easy, but the extra steps of finding a medium nib, ordering it separately, and then installing it does dull the excitement somewhat from just being able to open the box and get right to it.
Note that all of the questions answered in this section apply to each of the pens covered within our guide unless specifically differentiated:
Where are the pens manufactured?
All of the pens are manufactured in China with the exception of the Kaweco Sport fountain pen, which is made in Germany.
Can I use any brand ink cartridge with one of these pens?
Yes, as long as it will fit in the pen. For example, the smaller Majohn and Wancai use “mini” ink cartridges so you won’t be able to order a full-sized cartridge for use in those pens. That said, as long as the ink cartridge fits within the pen, you shouldn’t have an issue using cross-brand inks.
Can I order replacement parts if something breaks, or do I need to order an entirely new pen?
It depends on what part breaks. If the nib breaks, it would be easy to order a new nib and replace the broken one, however, if any of the internal parts of the pen break it’s likely you will need to order an entirely new pen.
A quick guide to each of the brands mentioned:
Lanxivi is a popular maker of high-quality and budget-friendly fountain pens. This brand operates exclusively as a private label and they do not maintain their own storefronts either physically or digitally. Their products are widely available on Amazon, Walmart, Sears, and other major retailers
Another popular, private-labeled offering of high-quality fountain pens. Majohn doesn’t operate physical or digital storefronts and instead chooses to sell its products via major retailers. Sometimes confused with their older iteration “Moonman”, Majohn is the modern incarnation of the brand.
Interestingly, Majohn also owns the label for Wancai, so if you purchase either the stout Majohn pen in our guide or the stylish and transparent Wancai, they’re both made by the same parent private labeling company.
A German-owned fountain pen brand that brings all of the high-quality engineerings that Germany is known for. Kaweko is also privately labeled and retails through partnerships with significantly larger distributors.
Have You Found the Best Pocket Fountain Pen?
We hope this guide has been informative and given you a detailed overview of some of the most popular private-labeled options for a quality travel fountain pen. Easily finding a home in your jacket, or pants pocket, in the office, or in the comfort of your home, the best pocket fountain pens are a joy to write with.
Durable and customizable, writing with a fountain pen gives you much more control over the quality and style of your writing. All while wrapped up in a classical body that echoes back to the days of DaVinci. There’s a reason why fountain pens have been the writing instrument of choice for almost five centuries.
Don’t wait for another five to find out why.