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How Does a Fountain Pen Work?

how does a fountain pen work
Long before modern fountain pens existed, writing was all about quills, reeds, and pigmented black inks or dyes derived from carbon and many other sources. But time and technology have rapidly progressed, innovating new writing devices that render straightforward features for a more convenient writing experience.

Apart from ballpoint pens and gel pens, advanced pen technology unraveled the world of fountain pens. The exquisite details, sophisticated appearance, and practical design make fountain pens an ultimate favorite among professional art and calligraphy artists, writing enthusiasts, or even casual writers.

But how does a fountain pen work? If you are a beginner or simply on the hunt for the perfect pen, you would be surprised to know what goes beyond the mechanism and design of modern fountain pens. Much more so why these classic and stylish writing instruments are considered to be works of art. Let us find that out in this article.

What is a Fountain Pen?

Beyond its elegant features and aesthetics, a fountain pen is a writing tool that utilizes an internal ink reservoir. Basically, it stores the liquid ink in its body and draws the ink to the metal nib through capillary channels.

An internal filling mechanism that generates suction (for instance, through some kind of piston mechanism) or a suction to transport ink straight through the nib into the reservoir can be used to manually fill the reservoir, to use an eyedropper or syringe, or to use a combination of these methods. Moreover, some pens use pre-filled ink cartridges as removable reservoirs.

Different Parts of a Fountain Pen

As we get down to the nitty-gritty of a fountain pen, the parts are pivotal to its functional design. Let us take a look at a fountain pen’s main components.


It is the metal pointed tip that you press onto and drags across the paper. The metal nib is a crucial part of a fountain pen that elevates your handwriting experience.


This is the internal part of the pen’s body that holds the ink, which is typically concealed with a lacquer-coated protective case or barrel. Moreover, the ink reservoir can either have a piston ink converter (a refillable tube) or a disposable or replaceable ink cartridge.


It is a removable and replaceable ink container, which many modern fountain pen designs use for quick and easy refilling.

Feed System

This is the part of a fountain pen that regulates the flow of ink and draws it to the metal nib.


This is part of the feed system (located under the metal nib) that looks like fins or grooves. As the name suggests, its main purpose is to collect ink and stabilize it to prevent overflowing. This allows the pen to dispense the right amount of ink according to the user’s writing speed and pressure.

How a Fountain Pen Really Works: Understanding the Basic Principles

How a fountain pen actually works seems to be a mystery because of its exquisite features. But beyond its sophisticated design, a fascinating activity takes place, creating an effortless and delicate handwriting experience. Let us dig deeper into this fine work.

1. It starts with the feed system

The feed or feed system is an integral part of a fountain pen. If you take the metal nib off, you will see a black part underneath it, which is the feed. This part draws the ink to the metal nib or feeds the nib with ink. Hence, the name “feed” or “feed system”.

2. Capillary action primarily does the job

The mystery is that a fountain pen does not spill out a lot of ink despite being so fluid when you write with it. Did you ever wonder how this happens? It has got to do with air, some gravity, and a whole lot of capillary action.

Most of the movement in the feed is all because of the capillary action that draws the liquid ink to the tiny parallel channels or tubes.

If you look closely at the nib, you can see a small slit right from the very back of the feed that goes all the way up to the tip, which is where these channels are. The slit regulates the ink flow.

3. Optimum airflow through the capillary channels

When you point a fountain pen downward, gravity moves the ink just a tad bit. But how does the ink flow steadily without overflowing?

Another activity that takes place is the airflow. Take note that the feed has parallel channels, one port is a large channel for optimum airflow. When you point the pen downward, air goes in while ink goes out. However, it does not overflow due to the fact that the feed is too small. Therefore, the ink cannot escape or spill out heavily.

Imagine this: a bottle is filled up with water. Take the cap off and tip it over. As expected, the water will spill out but not as smoothly as it should. Air bubbles will form. It is because the water goes out while the air enters the bottle. Thus, there is tension between the two. However, if you tilt the bottle at an angle, it gives enough room for the air to flow optimally and for the water to exit at the same time without any tension.

That said, it is safe to say that the same concept applies to a fountain pen’s mechanism. With the feed’s design, air can enter and flow down to the reservoir. Subsequently, the ink goes out steadily and precisely, then flows down to the paper without overflowing.

4. The collector controls the ink to dispense

The fins act like a regulator that controls the amount of ink to dispense, depending on your writing speed and pressure. This ensures a steady and smooth ink flow.

5. The ink travels all the way to the nib

As the ink goes through these channels, it will flow to the metal nib eventually. You will notice that the metal nib also has a slit right from the hole and to the very tip. Therefore, the nib works correspondingly to the feed, allowing the capillary action to take place and draw the ink to the paper. At this point, the user can write effortlessly on the page whether for calligraphy, signing, or everyday writing.

How Does a Fountain Pen Differ from Ballpoint Pen and Gel Rollerball Pen?

Now that you have seen how a fountain pen works, perhaps you can say that it stands out among all the other types of pens. But how so? Take a look at this comparison chart.

TYPE OF INK Liquid ink Paste ink Gel-based ink
DESIGN and MECHANISM Utilizes capillary action to draw ink down to the tubes and the metal nib The paste ink backs up to the tiny ball at the tip of the pen and draws the ink to the paper as you drag the ball across the page Works in a very similar fashion to a ballpoint pen but has a gel-based substance to prevent ink from overflowing
COLOR QUALITY and  APPEARANCE Very fluid ink that delivers pigmented color; Delivers consistent lines and strokes suitable for calligraphy and cursive writing Great line and color appearance but not as dark as gel pens or fountain pens; typically used for utility and not for the pleasure of writing Very fluid than ballpoint pens; more uniform in color and highly pigmented ink; great for everyday writing
DRYING TIME Requires time to dry Quick-drying Requires time to dry
OTHER FEATURES Has a refillable piston ink converter or replaceable ink cartridge Can be retractable for fast and easy writing Can be retractable; usually has refillable options
DRAWBACKS May sometimes leak or spill Not usually refillable Prone to smudging and bleeding
PRICE Typically expensive Very affordable; Has cheap options More expensive than ballpoint pens but some brands have affordable options


Therefore, how does a fountain pen work? Understanding the ink flow and all the other movements within a fountain pen might seem perplexing. But if you look at it as a whole, you can see that a fountain pen is not just a relatively straightforward device that makes writing more enjoyable and more comfortable; it is a work of art.