Sunday, January 10

World Class Pens

I have waxed poetic about pens before, but this time things are a little different. Why? Because is giving away a pen by one of my favorite pen manufacturers. We're not talking about the sort of so-called "fancy" pen you might find in a big-box store or office supply. We're talking a luxury writing tool from Pelikan. Free. Gratis.

Well, there is one, tiny catch. It's a contest. So stay glued to eInvite on Twitter, here on Blogger, or at our Facebook page. Lest you miss out on owning a great pen. Remember, there is more to writing than words on paper.

Image: Adoniram Sides, Pen Courtesy

Pelikan makes some wonderful pens. What makes for a wonderful pen? As it turns out, a few objective qualities and a few subjective, combined: mechanics, features, "write-ability", and aesthetics. Let's take a quick look at each quality in turn.


This tends to vary with regard to the style of pen you like to use. The popular types tend to be felt-tipped, ballpoint, and fountain.
  • Felt-tipped pens are commonly called "markers" and use a porous material as a membrane between the ink and the paper. The mechanical action is exceptionally simple, but leaving the cap off a felt-tipped pen will usually result in its demise, as the porous material allows air into the ink and will eventually dry out the pen.
  • Ballpoint pens apply ink to the page through friction applied to a tiny ball, often made of metal. The ball separates the ink, held in a case, from the elements outside the pen (paper, air, etc). As the ball spins, the ink flows past the ball, coating it in the process, and is applied to paper. This type of pen has a variety of mechanical benefits: they tend to inexpensive, they have great longevity, and many people enjoy the lack of attention required to write. A ballpoint pen will write in just about any direction, as long as gravity continues to feed the ink. Some ballpoint pens are pressurized to remove the gravity feed problem and allow you to write in any direction, even upside-down.
  • Fountain pens are, in my opinion, the most luxurious to use, but also the most difficult to use. Ink is fed by capillary action, through pressure applied to the nib (or point) of the pen. The design of fountain pens requires a more fluid ink that does not dry nearly as quickly as that of a ballpoint or even felt-tip pen. There are benefits, however, that the other two cannot reproduce. Greater pressure applied to a fountain pen results in a wider line, allowing for emphasis to easily be added to text, or allowing for beautiful flourishes and ligatures. Modern fountain pens are also easily refillable, making them a far more environmentally friendly choice than the mass-produced, disposable ballpoints.
Just like any tool, the quality of the design, materials, and machining have a huge impact on the mechanics of the pen. Metals and alloys make for durable, beautiful pens that write well and live long. Properly machined and fitted parts ensure the comfort (and quiet) of a fine pen. Have you ever noticed that, like a cheap car, cheap plastic pens squeak and bend as you use them? A good pen will not interfere with you as you write.


Oddly enough, pens have features, much like any other device. Grips, clips, tips, and a myriad of other design elements allow your pen to do more than just write. However, I am not a fan of generalism. I think you should excel at what you have been designed to do, rather than try and solve a bunch of problems that I don't have. Plenty of people like mediocre things, but if you're going to spend more than a few dollars on a pen, it should be exceptional. The two parts of this puzzle, in my opinion, are the remaining qualities: "write-ability" and aesthetics.


This term is not a real word, of course, but it does meet the need to describe how a pen really works. After all, a pen is really there to do one thing: write. When taking notes, I rely on a ballpoint pen, as it dries quickly but has an easy flow of ink to the page. It is not nearly as pleasurable as using a fountain pen, but it does the job admirably well (I use a Cross Century). Disposable pens, particularly those made by Bic, also write very well, though due to the sheer volume of manufacture, tend to be a little less reliable than a more expensive version of the same essential design. When you combine a well manufactured ink system with longevity, the only piece remaining is aesthetic.


This is the most difficult quality to quantify and a great deal of it is subjective. When it comes to pens, I like conservative design, where the appointments don't overwhelm the pen. I like a thin body, because I have a tendency to "crush" the pens or pencils that I use (I hold them with too much force). The smaller form forces me to use a lighter touch. Choosing the design of a pen is really up to you, but bear in mind that the size and shape will have a significant impact on how long you can use the pen and how well you can write with it. If you find a gigantic pen with all kinds of doodads and appointments that appeals to your tastes, try to imagine how it would feel to use. Similarly, if you're the utilitarian type, remember that there is more to the pen than how well it writes: rare metal and good manufacture can keep your hand cool and your fingers tireless.

Hopefully this has whet your appetite for more on pens, and writing in general. Leave your experiences and tastes below! We love to hear from you and always try to respond to comments quickly (so return often)!


soxgal said...

I've always wanted to try a fountain pen, but being left-handed I'm worried that I'll end up smudging my words more than with other pen styles.

Adoniram said...

Yes, it is sort of a curse of the language that we write from left to right. We should probably write from top to bottom, as the Japanese do with tategaki... at least that would reduce the smudging problem.

If you wrote with a dip-style fountain pen, there are a couple of inks that will work well (though I have no experience with them). Diamine Ink and Swisher's Midnight Black supposedly dry very, very fast. Interestingly, Pelikan's ink has a very good reputation for fast drying, even on cheap paper (which typically is a problem for fountain pens).

If you get a chance, remind me about the Pelikan and I'll pull one out for you to try. The speed of your writing and the heaviness of the line also matter, so if you write with a slightly lighter touch and slower speed, you might solve some of the smudge problems.

Wow, long reply... but there's one more thing - both righties and lefties can reduce smudging by picking the heel of the palm up off the paper. This is a bad habit that I personally have, and many others have it too without realizing. Like wielding a sword or brush (as the Japanese say), the wrist moves very little, and the motion comes from the elbow and shoulder, with all of the stroke coming from the shoulder.

If you have a hook-hand style, that could also be part of your problem. It's tough for left-handers, but if you straighten your hand and change the angle of your paper (rather than the other way around), you might find immediate improvements when using a fountain pen.

Michelle May said...

A this is fantastic! I hope I will that pen.