What’s the Difference Between a Cheap and an Expensive Fountain Pen?

While looking for a new fountain pen, you may be amazed by the different prices! You can purchase a fountain pen for less than $5. Equally, some fountain pens are on the market for $100,000+. So, how do you determine what you should spend on a fountain pen?

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To make your decision, you need to understand the difference between a cheap and an expensive fountain pen. This will help you know what the extra money is getting you so you can determine whether it’s worth it. 

In this post, we’ll break a fountain pen down into four critical components to determine how they impact cost and quality:

  1. The filling mechanism 
  2. The body
  3. The feed
  4. The nib 

So, let’s get right to it…

The difference between a cheap and an expensive fountain pen: The filling mechanism 

There are a number of different ways to get ink into a pen, a lot of which come down to personal taste and preference. 

Cheap fountain pens nearly always employ cartridges to minimize the number of moving parts. Switching the ink color in your pen is not always straightforward because cheap ink cartridges tend to have poor ink flow and can leak. In fact, even pricey cartridges might be challenging to replace unless they’re completely empty.

Cartridges are incredibly convenient, but this convenience comes at a cost in terms of money and the environment. This is because cartridges generate a substantial quantity of waste, and even those that you can recycle still utilize energy in the recycling process.

Plus, they can be pricey, particularly if your pen only accepts proprietary cartridges rather than conventional types. Furthermore, you cannot even refill some inexpensive fountain pens on the market, so when the ink runs out, you’re forced to discard the entire pen.

To put it to you another way… eventually, all the money you’ll waste on “throwaway pens” could be better utilized by purchasing a higher-priced pen with a reliable refilling mechanism.

As we’ve already discussed, you can still use cartridges with premium fountain pens for their convenience. They are still expensive but less prone to leakages or negatively impacting ink flow.

Other systems

As a result, you’ll also see devices that draw ink into the reservoir through the nib. 

Today, the most typical piston mechanism is one that twists or pulls. Yet levers were more prevalent in the early 20th century. 

Moreover, some pens have convertible systems, which enable them to accept cartridges or draw ink. Many enthusiasts love systems like these because they can flush the ink from the pen to change colors, which makes cleaning the pen simpler.

Overall, the filling technique is of utmost importance for your levels of convenience. The process will typically be more straightforward if you invest in a more expensive system. Plus, you’ll also avoid the unpleasant cleanup that comes with using low-quality, leaky pens.

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The difference between a cheap and an expensive fountain pen: The body

A pen’s body is a container that houses all the parts that enable the pen to work. 

Naturally, the body significantly impacts the pen’s appeal and aesthetics but also affects its balance and weight, determining how well the pen writes.

Materials used

Due to its ease of manufacture and low cost of production, plastic is the material of choice in most of the cheaper fountain pens. Although some inexpensive fountain pens can also be made of metal or wood, these are typically of inferior quality to keep prices low.

High-quality resin, and valuable metals like gold or silver, or fine woods, are used to make expensive fountain pens. 

Luxurious wood and precious metals surely don’t need much explanation. But because of how you make resin, it is more visually appealing and far more durable.

Many users prefer resin to metal or wood. Its mildly sticky texture makes it easier to hold. Of course, this is a personal choice. Still, you can be confident that the materials used to make expensive fountain pens will be of a higher caliber overall, no matter what they are. 


Style-wise, cheap fountain pens are typically plain and uninteresting since there’s not much room in the price point for designers to be employed.

On the flip side, it’s not uncommon for garish and overly cluttered designs that draw attention away from the subpar materials used.

Manufacturers are more likely to put more attention into their designs when selling products at a higher price point, resulting in bodies and caps that are works of beauty. Particularly if the body has fancy metal or diamond embellishments. These fountain pens are often collectible and can make ideal gifts.


A cheap fountain pen will almost always be very light, regardless of the materials, to further reduce expenses. 

As a result, holding the pen will typically feel unnatural, and writing will be imbalanced. 

With a light pen, you won’t grasp it properly, making it painful for your hand as you continue to misapply pressure.

How much is too much?

One thing to remember is that expensive fountain pens can rapidly end up being very expensive! Consequently, if a pen is so costly to the point that you don’t feel comfortable using it or carrying it around, there’s no point in buying it. Therefore, make sure to weigh any bling against how useful it will be to use your fountain pen on a daily basis.

The difference between a cheap and an expensive fountain pen: The feed

A feed connects the ink reservoir with the nib. When the nib comes into touch with paper, ink can flow freely through it, yet ink cannot fall out when the pen is not in use. 

It accomplishes this by using a convoluted network of narrow channels. 

Air from the outside of the pen can flow upward along the feed as ink flows onto the paper, bringing ink down from the ink storage. 

Plastic feeders are nearly always found in cheap fountain pens since they are easier and less expensive for manufacturers to create.

If the plastic feed fits properly into the pen, it can work effectively. Yet, improperly installed plastic feeds can have terrible results. When writing, ink can trickle, overflow, or even pour out when the pen isn’t in use.

Defects in airflow can also cause the opposite issue, i.e., preventing ink from ejecting even when you want it to. 

However, as indicated, these problems are typically the result of manufacturing flaws rather than the characteristics of plastic as a feed material. Plastic feeders are consequently becoming more prevalent in middle-tier and even some higher-tier fountain pens.

Proper ink flow is a must when buying a more expensive pen

No matter the material, feeds for expensive fountain pens should be guaranteed to maintain proper ink flow. The best pens, however, will have Ebonite feeds, containing vulcanized rubber that has been hardened and is semi-porous for a better writing experience. 

These minuscule air bubbles assist in balancing the flow of air and ink as they go through the feed, respectively. This enables more reliable ink propulsion and a more comfortable writing experience.

Ebonite can be molded and shaped easily, allowing a tighter fit inside the pen’s body. A tight seal can enhance ink transmission and decrease the likelihood of leaks or overflow.

So, when it comes to feeds, construction takes precedence over the material. Most writers can get by with a well-made plastic feed, but an Ebonite feed offers a definite step up in quality and will enhance your writing experience. So, a low-quality fountain pen may not only lack an Ebonite feed but also contain a poorly-fitted plastic feed that causes even your best writing to become sloppy.

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The difference between a cheap and an expensive fountain pen: The nib

Finally, an essential component of any fountain pen is the nib. The nib transfers ink onto the paper through the capillary action process, which involves the interaction of surface tension and adhesion.

Of course, you’ll want to consider the aesthetic element of the nib. However, how flexible the nib is will impact your ability to produce lines of different widths.

Moreover, nibs affect how evenly and cleanly the ink is applied to the paper.

What impact does price have on this crucial functionality, then? 

We’ll start by talking about cheap nibs, which are often constructed of stainless steel. Manufacturers prefer stainless steel because it is affordable. However, the interval between nib changes is a factor when evaluating nibs, especially with stainless steel nibs. Their durability can be problematic.

Steel nibs are incredibly rigid and, in some situations, don’t flex at all due to this. And as we’ve already established, flexibility permits you to write with different line widths.

Writing becomes increasingly frustrating due to the increased risk of spills and skipping and the need to press harder on the paper. And, isn’t writing supposed to be fun? The last thing you want to do is defeat the purpose. We’re not saying you need to break the bank, but getting the balance right is vital, so you don’t waste money on a fountain pen you hate using. 

Inexpensive nibs are also more likely to gum up if not cleaned. Of course, all fountain pens, regardless of price, must be cleaned occasionally. Failing to do so is a typical novice fountain pen blunder.

Corrosion is an additional factor to take into account. Previously, the operation of stainless steel nibs was seriously jeopardized by chemical scarring caused by corrosive inks. Ink flow, uniformity, and stroke clarity would all suffer. 

Although contemporary stainless steel is more corrosion-resistant, it corrodes quicker than the materials used to make expensive nibs.

What to expect from more expensive nibs

On the flip side, some of the more expensive nibs are typically made of gold or titanium. Gold is preferred since it is corrosion-resistant. It’s flexible enough to allow for variable line width and springy enough to return the nib to its neutral position between strokes. 

As a result of this softness, writing will be much more enjoyable because you won’t need to press down as firmly on the paper, and the ink will flow out nicely and naturally.

The nib ultimately has the most significant influence on the writing process, and more expensive nibs increase writing comfort, consistency, and convenience by using higher-quality components and construction. 

How much should you spend on a fountain pen?

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of the difference between a cheap and an expensive fountain pen. 

Of course, all fountain pens are different, so you should always take the time to read the specifications and reviews that have been left by others. 

By understanding what you’re actually spending your money on, what you want from a fountain pen, and your financial situation, you should be able to determine how much to spend on this type of product. 


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