Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Fountain Pen Beginner's Guide - It's Quality Bro Edition

A few quick notes before we get into the meat of the post. FREE SHIPPING is live on our website for orders over $120.00, so if you plan on getting a few items and want free shipping, you now have that option. The initial Stonewashed Series sale via @karaspenco went very well, so well we are going to do more from time to time, potentially one at the end of this week depending on if we can get some more pens “stonewashed”. I am going to keep teasing this until I can actually announce it, but the Fountain K is going to have some huge news around it, stuff that you won’t want to miss out on if you are interested in that pen or Karas as a whole. That being said follow this blog, our Instagram accounts and sign up for the newsletter to get the news as soon as it’s released. Full review of Art’s Nibs coming early August with pictures and some more details on how to get his nibs in your pens. Lastly, @karaskustoms Instagram account recently reached 10k followers, we are going to be running a HUGE giveaway to celebrate. How huge? We have partnered with numerous Instagram small businesses that have given us product to giveaway. It’s a smorgasbord of cool stuff, ranging from beard products, to handmade EDC knucks and beads, to specially patina’d pens. However, the grand prize is going to be HUGE, next level stuff, it’s going to involve a truly handmade Karas Kustom pen. If you want to be able to win any of those prizes you have to follow @karaskustoms. Now on to your regularly scheduled program

As we sit around the shop and discuss certain topics that would be beneficial to our customers, we often come back to beginner’s tips to using and appreciating pens. This applies more to fountain pens than our line of ballpoint and rollerball pens, but we would touch on those as the need arises. My hesitancy around getting into any kind of beginner’s guide is due to the fact that so many already exist, and quite a few of them are REALLY good. So I have decided to not do a conventional “beginner’s guide to fountain pens” rather I am going to run you through “my experiences as a n00b with fountain pens with bonus content”. I am sure it will be beneficial to some, hopefully I won’t alienate anyone due to my departure from the tried and true method of teaching new users but I wanted an alternative to what already exists. On with today’s lesson…

Question 1. “Why should I buy/use a fountain pen?”

Answer 1a. Because disposable pens are nothing more than a piece of plastic holding an indeterminate amount of ink that allows you to scrawl your thoughts down if you remember to carry a disposable pen with you. Due to the very nature of the product, you probably don’t carry a pen on you and therefore when you need one you end up asking someone else for one. Owning a fountain pen, or any non-disposable writing instrument means you view writing as an important process, you care enough to invest time, money and space on your person, and you have thoroughly evaluated the product you are purchasing. This process reshapes your thinking about everything related to a pen, you spend time writing and considering what you write. You now have assigned a permanence and importance to annotating data, notes or thoughts; and as a result you will likely be a more thoughtful, creative person.

Answer 1b. Using a fountain pen will likely improve your penmanship and potentially make you a more responsible person. My own journey into fountain pens was primarily as a way to improve my horrendous handwriting. But with that came a desire to repair and maintain fountain pens. I put a lot of time, energy and money into my pens and therefore I treat them with the respect they deserve. Sure they are tools, but they are tools that allow us to create art and collect memories and that is something to be cherished in a world that is all about the here and now, something designed to last multiple lifetimes that has the ability to collect hundreds of years’ worth of memories is a truly amazing product. 

Q2. “Why are fountain pens so expensive?”

A2. Fountain pens aren’t all expensive. Some wonderful fountain pens can be purchased for less than three drinks from Starbucks, and will perform wonderfully for hundreds of years if maintained. But fountain pens can cost a lot of money. While there is some debate on whether more expensive pens truly outperform the cheaper pens, there is no debate that some fountain pens merely exist because they are luxury items and are priced accordingly. I have found some sub-20 dollar fountain pens that outperform my 150 dollar pens all day long. I have also found several pens in the 80-150 dollar range that consistently perform as I would expect them to perform, heads and tails above their peers. Fountain pens aren’t expensive, most of the time you get what you pay for, and if you buy an 8 dollar pen from Asia, you are going to get the performance associated with that price.

Q3. “Why would I ever need more than one pen, let alone more than one fountain pen?”

A3. Inevitably this question wanders off the path of n00b pen use, but I found myself asking this question early on in my own fountain pen journey, similar questions/comments have been made to me by non-fountain pen people recently. This is going to be my opinion only, but here goes. It comes down to two answers to this question. First, you will purchase a fountain pen and within a relatively short amount of time you realize you want nothing to do with a fountain pen and you move back to ballpoint/rollerball territory. Second, you buy one fountain pen, then a short time later find yourself buying a second and within a year or two you have a “collection” of fountain pens ranging between 3 and 3,000. The first type of person is someone who will never truly appreciate a fountain pen for the intricacies and elegance inherent in the pen. The second is the true fountain pen user that is at heart a collector and has found their collecting niche. Granted there is a small outlying group of people that are satisfied with owning one or two fountain pens, and while I understand the first group and am a member of the second group, I literally can’t understand the third group.

Q4.  “As a n00b, what fountain pen should I buy first?”

A4. The obvious answer to this question is the Karas Kustoms INK and Karas Kustoms Fountain K. Actually, to be honest once the Fountain K is available, it will immediately make my “Fountain Pen Recommendation List”. Its size, weight and overall functionality make it a great beginner fountain pen. Plus it is nearly indestructible and that’s a big plus when thinking about buying your first fountain pen. I am not going to go through my entire list, but considering the Fountain K will be in my top 5 I will go through the other 4 pens in my top five fountain pens for n00bs. And these are in no particular order.

Pilot Metropolitan – For price, functionality and quality, this pen practically can’t be beat. If you are diligent about where you shop and what deals you find, you can get a Metro shipped to your door for 10-12 bucks. The nibs are like most Japanese nibs and “finer” than their German counterparts, but are extremely well made and perform quite well out of the box.

Lamy Safari – This is a love it or hate it pen. The entire pen has a very unique design that doesn’t appeal to everybody, but the ease of use and nib swap and overall quality is definitely there. It should be included on any recommendation list.

Parker 45 – I had to have a vintage pen on this list, and this one makes the most all around sense. They are relatively easy to find, accept cartridges and converters still in production and are not very expensive. Plus they don’t normally need any real repair beyond a good soak and rinse. Combine all of those things with an iconic design and you have an awesome pen.

Pelikan M200 – Until recently I wasn’t the biggest Pelikan fan, I had heard all of the hype but never used one of their products. Then I had the chance to borrow one for a week; that week changed my life and I went out and purchased one. The one I purchased was even better than the one I borrowed. This pen could be considered price restrictive for a first fountain pen purchase, but if you are diligent you can find good sales on Amazon for this item or a new one on Ebay for less than 80 dollars. If you can get one for less than 100, I think you have the best sub-100 dollar non-metal pen on the market as far as quality is concerned.

Q5. “What about fountain pen accessories, inks, nib sizes, pen rolls, there’s just so much out there what do I do?”

A5. Keep Calm and Write On. You don’t need to be concerned with all that during your initial pen purchase (see below for inks). You may want a pen sleeve or something to carry your one pen in. If your first fountain pen is one of our pens, you can merely tighten the cap down good and hard and slip it into your pants pocket. It will be just fine, trust me I worked retail management for over a year with a Karas INK in my pants pocket every day. Didn’t damage the pen at all and my pants survived if I kept the cap on tight.

Q6. “Umm, inks?”

A6. Yup there are LOTS of inks. For all kinds of uses. Here’s the quick down and dirty and two recommendations for first ink purchases. Don’t go crazy with ink. If you plan on carrying and using your fountain pen for work or school no crazy colors, keep it simple. Do some research on individual ink make up you don’t want to slap Iron Gall into your brand new pen and then forget about it for 6 months. Likewise you don’t want your first bottle of ink to be Baystate Blue, lots of people have made that mistake and gone on to rue that day. Here’s the recommendations I have for two fairly friendly beginner inks. Waterman’s Blue is a classic blue and can be found even in some office supply stores. It’s not flashy but it looks good and plays nice in any pen I have used it in. Noodler’s X-Feather is perfect for anyone that is going to be using a fountain pen frequently with really crappy paper i.e. you are a broke student that buys the 5 cent notebooks for all of your classes and spent all your money on your new pen; get a bottle of X-Feather as it will make your new pen work with your “oh so crappy” paper.

Regardless of whether you get into fountain pens and stay in the hobby, testing out whether a fountain pen is right for you is something I believe everyone should do. It’s an otherworldly experience learning to write with a fountain pen. It doesn’t feel like writing with a regular pen. The process is that much different. The paper and the pen almost speak back to you as you feel the feedback through the pen. I might be waxing a little poetic but no two pens write exactly the same. They all feel slightly different on paper, and that feeling is one of the more personal aspect that a fountain pen can provide the user. Something that a ballpoint/rollerball can’t provide. It is one more reason I prefer fountain pens.

I say all of that just to come around to the following statement: “A pen is a tool that has many uses. At its core, a pen is nothing more than an implement to record thoughts and ideas. It has been largely devalued in a technological society. A fountain pen or even a non-disposable ballpoint/rollerball, can and will change your perspective on pens, writing, and the art of creating that inhabits all of us. We make pens so that our customers can slow down just a bit and realize these concepts, then adopt them in their lives. And furthermore that the pens our customers buy can and will be handed down for generations, cataloging numerous descendants’ thoughts, dreams, ambitions and memories is an added bonus. A pen can be mediocre and meaningless, or it can be a life changing tool that enables a person to realize the dream of writing a novel, penning a love letter or creating a timeless piece of art. We want our pens to help change lives, mold futures and allow for great creations; we hope you feel that when you pick one up.”

Below you will find a list of resources that are more the “usual” beginner guide to fountain pens. Read them at your leisure. You will also find a link to a few spots I return to fountain pen advice and minutiae, these resources might be even more helpful to you.

Beginner’s Guides

Goulet Pens Fountain Pen 101 - the best resource in my opinion as it has video to go along with it.

The Well-Appointed Desk: Ask the Desk - Our friend Ana gives her ideas on the best beginner fountain pens, her blog is a must read for any fountain pen user

Writer's Bloc - List of beginner fountain pen posts that I read early on in my fountain pen search, quite informative.

Fountain Pen References

Jetpens Guide to Choosing a Fountain Pen - Jetpens is a great place to buy stuff, which is why it's here and not above, they do articles like this as well and there is good information on their site but they are first and foremost a business.

FountainPenNetwork - The largest forum/network of fountain pen users in the world. If this forum doesn't have what your looking for, likely the resource isn't available on the internet. This is the entire swimming pool from the kiddie side to the deep, DEEP end when it comes to fountain pens so it can get complicated and technical at times, but if you stay with fountain pens at any time you will want to be a member of this forum.

Richard's Pens Reference Pages - Richard Binder is one of the biggest names in fountain pen knowledge in the world. So big he has been featured on several major news networks in the past. His knowledge, especially on vintage fountain pens and fountain pen history is IMMENSE. His reference pages are a collection of decades worth of research all in one place. If you need something, and he doesn't have the answer, you likely won't get the answer anywhere. His site should be bookmarked by anyone that uses fountain pens as a place to look first for any fountain pen related topics.


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