The world of fountain pens is as deep and storied as any luxury asset. It may sound odd to think of a pen as luxurious, but if you’ve ever written with a fine fountain pen, you know when you’re holding a thing of beauty.
In an age of texting, smartphones, and computers, writing by hand can seem so passe. Fountain pens are a statement piece, as timeless as a Rolex upon your wrist. Harkening back to an older, classier time, using a fountain pen creates a beautiful stroke upon the page for writing or drawing.
If you’re intimidated when looking for a fountain pen, let us help. This guide will introduce you to what fountain pens are, what brands to consider, and why you should own one to begin with!
Entering the World of Fountain Pens
What are fountain pens anyway, and what makes one better than a regular old 10-pack of Bic pens?
What Makes a Fountain Pen?
Fountain pens are a far cry from the pens you used in school. Sometimes fetching absolutely eye-watering prices, some Monetegrappa or Montblanc pens routinely see five or even six-figure price tags. How could such a humble instrument, taken for granted by school children daily, ever command such a price?
Fountain pens are quite different from their mass-produced brethren. These luxury pens have a metallic nib that is often made from precious metals (think of a solid gold-tipped pen). The nib is fed by a refillable ink supply.
Contrast this against the pens you’re probably familiar with. These usually use a rotating ball (hence the name ball-point pen) rather than a fine-tipped metallic nib. Ballpoint pens are far easier and cheaper to produce. However, they do not rival the smooth writing quality or customization potential of a fine fountain pen.
This classical design almost looks like a more modern version of the fine-tipped quill pens that the early academics used. Fountain pens have remained popular in Europe. In the United States, though, it wasn’t until the late 1970’s that a resurgence took place.
So, now you know the difference between a ballpoint and the masterful craftsmanship of a fountain pen. Are you thinking of becoming a fellow pen junkie? Read on for our favorite affordable fine fountain pens. We’ll help you find the perfect upgrade for your boring old ballpoints.
Best Fine Fountain Pens
The Parker IM Fountain pen is a far cry from a cheap plastic fountain pen despite its very attractive price. The polished lacquer is stunningly contrasted by the gold trims that accentuate the cap and base of the stainless steel nib.
The nib ends with a very fine point allowing you to write with precision and style. Comfortable to use for extended periods, the Parker IM Fountain Pen is an affordable and high-quality fountain pen.
We love how this pen is packaged without the ink cartridge installed. While it’s unlikely that damage occurs during shipping, it’s always nice to know if the worst does happen, you won’t have to open a box coated in exploded ink.
The cartridge doesn’t quite give the same authentic feel as a liquid ink well does. It is disposable, though, and easy to replace when empty. The package comes with the pen itself, a single ink cartridge, and a sleek gift box.
The Parker IM Fountain pen is a great entry point into the world of luxury pens. It comes at a sub-$50 price point, and as a bonus, there are several other colors available if you don’t like the black and gold base model.
The Waterman Graduate Allure looks like a cross between a classical fountain pen and a more modern writing instrument. When capped, it doesn’t have the immediately identifying aesthetics of a classic fountain pen.
Like the Parker IM, the Waterman Allure comes in several different colors. The nib is made from durable stainless steel and will hold up to years of heavy use. Waterman even includes their name laser-etched onto the nib which is a lovely touch.
What makes this pen really stand out is that it comes packed with erasable blue ink, making it the perfect gift for a student or younger professional. The pen comes with an already-loaded ink cartridge, presented in an eye-catching blue gift box bearing the Waterman name.
What we love most about the Waterman is that it is manufactured in France, at the same location where they’ve been making pens since the company’s founding in 1883. The attention to detail and respect for tradition really sets this pen apart and gives it a unique identity.
Even more impressive is the sub-$25 price point. That’s a hard price to beat for a high-quality entry into the world of fountain pens.
Pilot is a more recognizable brand name for those uninitiated in the world of fountain pens. The Metropolitan Collection is unlike the two other pens before it. The Pilot only offers one color choice, solid black. With a fine brass casing in a classic cigar shape and stainless steel accent points, the Metropolitan Collection looks like it could find a home in the pocket of Bruce Wayne.
This pen also sports a fine-tipped stainless steel nib for seamless control and writing precision. The benefit of the finer tip, other than precision, is that it uses less ink in a single stroke. The Pilot ink cartridges are long-lasting and don’t create unnecessary, ink-wasting overflow.
The default ink in the package is black, but Pilot makes a variety of colors that you can purchase and install to customize your pen. The customizability is a primary draw of fountain pens as you’re not limited to the mass-produced factory construction.
Change the nib, ink, or casing for a totally different writing experience, regardless of your personal writing style. Similar to the prior two pens, the Pilot Metropolitan Collection also comes with an elegant gift box to hold your pen when not in use.
The Metropolitan Collection also presents a very attractive entry point to fountain pens and is the lowest-price pen in our guide, proving that elegance and quality don’t have to break the bank.
This is most expensive, exclusive collection, and the second Waterman pen on our list. The Expert Fountain pen is an excellent choice for anyone looking for an even more refined writing experience. The clip and trim are 23-karat gold, although the most stunning feature is the fine point 23-karat gold and steel nib.
The Waterman Expert series retains the meticulous and beautiful French construction that has defined the brand for almost a century and a half. The luxurious and free-flowing blue ink cartridge is a perfect compliment to the comfortable shape of the blue brass casing.
This is the kind of pen that really highlights the difference between a common ballpoint and a classical fountain pen. The fine nib flows across the paper like it was gliding across water. The Waterman Expert delivers the superior tactile sensation of a classic writing instrument.
The only downside, albeit a tad nitpicky, that we found with this pen was that it does not include a converter. At over $50, we were hoping it would ship with a converter inside the Waterman gift box.
A cartridge converter is an instrument that allows ink-loaded fountain pens to be dipped into a liquid ink well and used in a truly aristocratic fashion. The included ink cartridge is as high-quality as you’d expect from Waterman and provides consistent writing output. Still, it would have been nice to have the converter included.
As with all Waterman pens, the Expert Collection is of absolutely flawless quality and has an extremely comfortable size. It is, by far, one of the best and most agile writing instruments you can buy for less than $100.
The ZenZoi fountain pen is a great middle-ground for those who want to spend a little more than entry-level but not quite as much as the Waterman Expert would demand. The smooth steel nib is a premium German design that makes for a superb writing instrument at a very reasonable price.
The ZenZoi beautifully glides across any surface for sharp and consistent line widths. It boasts unparalleled accuracy and a consistent ink flow that any artist will appreciate. The smooth brass casing is comfortable to hold and use for long periods of time. A neat extra touch, the pen comes packaged in a lovely gift box.
What sets this apart from an economic point of view is that the ZenZoi ships with not one but two ink cartridges, along with the converter we sorely missed from the Waterman Expert line. Not only can you choose from the included black or blue ink, you can also use the converter to write in your choice of bottled ink colors.
In addition to the ink colors, the casing itself comes in a variety of colors. They range from classic black to bright and vibrant orange.
Designed in (but unfortunately not actually constructed in) the USA, the ZenZoi makes a great gift. It even comes with a 60-day return window if for any reason you are unsatisfied. If you’ve been looking for a reason to upgrade to fountain pens for the first time, the ZenZoi is a perfect choice.
Frequently Asked Questions
Please note that the answers to some of these FAQs apply to all of the pens in our guide unless specifically noted:
Where are the pens manufactured?
Waterman pens are made at their headquarters in France, all others are made in China.
Can I use liquid ink?
Technically all of these pens can write with liquid ink. However, they need cartridge converters. Only the ZenZoi ships with a converter included. If you want to use liquid ink for the other pens you will need to purchase a converter separately. Thankfully, these are usually very inexpensive.
Which replacement ink cartridges should I buy?
If you want to be safe, order the international standard ink cartridges from your pen’s manufacturer, or use a converter to use any liquid ink well.
What is the difference between a fine and medium nib?
The nib size refers to the size of the point at the end of the pen. A smaller nib will produce a finer-looking line. In general, if you have very small handwriting you should choose a finer nib as it will give your handwriting greater clarity as opposed to a thicker blockiness.
Before wrapping up, we wanted to give you a more in-depth look at the brands mentioned within our guide.
A storied brand with over 130 years of history, Parker walks the line between classical elegance and modern culture in its designs.
Dripping with French elegance and Parisian style, Waterman remains true to its classical French roots. Founded in 1883 Waterman pens skyrocketed to notoriety in 1900 at the Exposition Universelle in Paris where this new, upstart brand was awarded the Gold Medal of Excellence.
Originally founded in Japan in 1918 and creating Japanese fountain pens for over a century, the Pilot company is a relative newcomer to the fountain penmaking world. The oldest and largest pen manufacturer in Japan, Pilot has expanded to 13 other countries via its subsidiary manufacturers. The American subsidiary was founded in 1972 and is headquartered in Jacksonville, FL.
A family-owned business and another Florida-based manufacturer, ZenZoi creates premium products featuring German-engineered parts for exceptional accuracy.
Fine fountain pens harken back to a classical time and still remain relevant in the digital era. In the same way that a classic wristwatch will never go out of style, a fountain pen provides elegance, luxury, and accuracy that cannot be matched by any mass-produced ballpoint pen.
Every pen on our list can be purchased for less than $100 and most of them for significantly less. If you’ve been eyeing a fountain pen but weren’t sure which to buy, hopefully, this buying guide has shown you that a classical pen is an affordably luxurious writing experience.