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Fountain Pen Myths

Posted in Fountain Pens

I came across a post a while back where someone was concerned that their nib didn’t have a breather hole. I didn’t bother to comment that a breather hole isn’t necessary for your pen to function because multiple people already had. But, it got me thinking, what other fountain pen myths are there? These are the ones I could think of, with some help from Azizah of Gourmet Pens.

Nibs need breather holes

Breather holes can serve a purpose. From Richard Binder’s website:

A hole, frequently made in a decorative shape such as a heart or a crescent, that pierces a nib at the end of the slit, ostensibly to improve air flow but also to relieve stresses that tend to crack nibs at the relatively highly stressed area around the base of the slit. Breather holes are sometimes dispensed with on firm nibs, which are stiff enough to resist the bending forces imposed during use.

Pen Glossopedia

So, breather holes are more important with soft and flexible nibs. Hard nibs don’t actually need one.

Nibs are tipped with iridium

I first learned about this when Jim started working on nibs. He did a bunch of research to find nib tipping balls, and discovered that Heraeus is a primary supplier of tipping balls, and they are not made of iridium. According to a blog post from, even vintage nibs didn’t necessarily have iridium tipping.

I can’t say if names made in-house — like Pilot, Platinum, etc. — are tipped with iridium, but it seems unlikely. If you’re interested in nib tipping, check out Yao SongYi’s series of posts on Fountain Pen Network. They share their plan, then their results from round one and round two of testing.

Music nibs have three tines

I covered this before, in my fourth Fountain Pen 101 post, on nibs. I’m happy with what I wrote then, so I’m just going to copy that paragraph here:

Music nibs were originally created to transcribe music. When held correctly, they allow for the thick horizontal strokes and thin vertical strokes. I learned something new in researching music nibs for this post. Up until today, I considered only music nibs with three tines to be “real” music nibs. However, thanks to this article from Richard Binder, I now know that the true mark of a music nib is that all edges of the nib are completely smooth to reduce the pen’s drag on paper. The extra tine on a music nib is really just to increase ink flow and allow for faster writing. GourmetPens has a nice post comparing some more easily acquired pens with music nibs.

Fountain Pen 101: Nibs

Nibs adapt to your hand, so you shouldn’t let other write with them

Over time, a nib will somewhat adapt to the way you hold your pen and write. However, this takes time. Letting someone write with your pen to take a quick note or test out the way it writes won’t cause any problems.

Besides, that’s not the reason to be miserly with your pens. People, especially non-fountain pen people, can’t be trusted with your pens — I’m only half joking. We’ve all heard horror stories of pens getting damaged by careless people. So be careful with your pens!

You should store fountain pens tip up

When inked, fountain pens can be stored anywhere between flat and vertical (with the tip up). You can’t store them tip down unless you want a cap full of ink.

Depending on the environment in which you’re storing your pens — temperature, humidity level, etc. — and how much you use your pens, storing them tip-up may cause more hard-starting. If you have troubles with that, try storing your pens flat.

You can’t fly with fountain pens

I’ve taken at least one fountain pen on every trip I’ve been on since 2017, and have yet to have one leak. To be safe, however, I still pack them in ziplocs, just in case. Goulet Pens has a video on this topic, too.

If you’re concerned, try one of these tips:

  • Make sure there isn’t any any air in your ink reservoir. Either completely fill your pen or twist up the converter or piston so that there isn’t any air.
  • Use a pen that has a shutoff valve, like the TWSBI Vac700r or an Opus 88. The shutoff valve keeps ink from reaching the nib, so it can’t possible leak. But, you have to open the valve in order to write.
  • Fly empty. Bring some new cartridges with you and fly with your pen empty. Your pen can’t leak if there isn’t any ink in it.

You should carry some ink in case your pen runs dry

How many times have you had a pen run dry when you aren’t at home? You don’t need to worry. Most fountain pen ink is pigmented enough that you can refill your pen with water at least once without noticing much difference. With darker inks — or sheen monsters — you may even get two or three refills before seeing a difference in color.

A word of caution. It’s better to use filtered or bottled water. If you use tap water, you should clean your pen when you get home.

You don’t need to clean your pen when filling with the same ink

While we’re on the topic of cleaning, it isn’t just to keep inks from mixing, it’s also an important part of pen maintenance. You can think of it a little like an oil change; it’s good to flush things out, even if you’re refilling with the same ink. You don’t need to clean it completely, like when changing inks, but at least flush your pen out a bit.

Even if you only ever use one ink in a pen, it’s good practice to thoroughly clean your pen every few fills to make sure your pen keeps working well. And if you’re using sheen monster or shimmer inks, it’s even more important and should be done more often.

You can’t mix inks

You can’t mix some inks. Within a brand, you’re likely to be OK mixing inks, but you probably should test each mix first. When mixing brands, definitely test mixes before using them.

By test, I mean mix a small amount in a sample vial and set it aside for a week or so before plopping them in your pen. If the mix is still liquidy, it should be fine to use in your pen, if its turned gloopy, stay away.

BONUS! You have to completely fill a pen

I’ve never really heard anyone say you have to fill a pen when you ink it, but when I mention only partially filling pens, I tend to get confused looks. Most pens — any cartridge/converter, eyedropper, or piston pen or sac pens that you can unscrew or pull the nib from — can be partially filled. It tends to be easiest with converters or eyedroppers, as you can easily choose how much ink to fill with. But, with pistons, you just need to twist the piston down a bit so you aren’t filling the entire reservoir.

Unfortunately, the many iterations of vacuum fillers are difficult — sometimes impossible — to partially fill.

Thanks for reading to the end, I hope you enjoyed my post. Did you learn anything new today? Have you heard these myths before? What fountain pen myths did I miss? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.

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One Comment

  1. These pens need a little extra upkeep and attention to stay in good condition and maintain the writing experience. One of these is refilling ink, which you’ll need to learn how to do first.

    May 12, 2023

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