Tips for Troublesome Fountain Pens

Pen comparison

At some point in a pen obsessive’s life, you will find yourself in possession of a “troublesome pen”. Maybe it bloops inks, maybe it’s scratchy or maybe the ink just does not flow. I thought I’d put together my quick list of tips to try to amend the troublesome pen’s maddening ways.

The bottom line is that there are six things you can try before abandoning all hope.

  1. Clean it: remove the nib, run it under cold water to loosen ink and debris then soak it in clean water. Keep changing the water every 30 minutes or so until its clean. Remove the ink cartridge or flush water through the ink reservoir until it also runs clean. Dry it and refill it.
  2. Change up your ink: some inks might not be the best match for your pen. Depending on the pen you are using your ink might be drying too quickly or too slowly. The ink might be old or too gritty or too viscous. Try a different brand. If you are having an issue with the pen being too dry, look for an ink that has a longer dry time or is described as more lubricated. If your ink is too runny or isn’t drying, seek out an ink that is described as quick-drying. You might discover that by simply changing your ink, your least favorite pen will become your favorite pen.
  3. Add a refillable cartridge converter (or convert into an eyedropper/syringe filler): If you are running out of ink too frequently, try using a cartridge converter of convert your pen to an eyedropper/syringe filler with some silicone grease. This will allow a much wider selection of inks to choose from and a larger ink capacity. In the long run, its also more cost-effective than the individual cartridges.
  4. Swap out the nib: If the problem has still not been solved, can you swap out the nib? Even on lower-priced pens, the option to purchase a wider or finer nib is available. A great example is my Pilot Prera issues. While I didn’t swap out the nib per se, I did try the pen with a different nib size to discover what all the hullabaloo was about. Its been suggested that I could have used a nib from a lower priced Pilot fountain pen as an alternative to buying a whole new pen.
  5. Try some different paper: Paper can completely change how a pen behaves. Cheap office copy paper might be too absorbent causing your ink to spread and feather or it could be coated with sizing that makes it resist ink. If you are having issues with a fountain pen, I would actually recommending starting here. Change your paper. Try a good quality paper like Rhodia and verify if your pen performs properly. If it doesn’t, then I would suggest trying the other suggestions here but its pretty amazing what a difference even slightly better paper can make.
  6. Get it repaired or nib tuned: If none of these options have solved your problem or if you cannot swap out the nib, you may need to have your nib repaired or tuned. Goulet Pens now offers a kit to attempt your own repairs but I recommend that you proceed with caution here. On a lower end pen where it might not make financial sense to employ an expert, this might be a way to try to save a pen from the trash heap. If you have a higher quality pen that is causing you problems, start by contacting the manufacturer to see if they offer repair or replacement services. If your pen is secondhand, vintage or outside of a manufacturer’s warranty you may want to consider one of the experts in the field like Richard Binder, Mike Masuyama or one of the dozens of other experienced pen repairmen. A pen show is a great place to find someone who might be able to help you. To find great recommendations and discussions about pen repairs and tuning, search the archives of FPN.

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  1. Great tips — I often use the ‘lotsa water’ technique at #1.
    Have you ever tried a pen flush solution?

  2. I changed inks in a balky Sheaffer 300 and now it writes smoothly! Thanks for the tips, and keep up the great blog-work!

  3. Great suggestions, I have employed many of them with success and will add a dip in my $25 ultrasonic jewelry cleaner from Amazon to your list.

  4. Yes, these are all great suggestions for newbies! It’s good that you compiled them all, I had to learn the hard way 😉 I absolutely agree with #1 and #2 specially, as cleaning/ink swapping seems to resolve a lot of fp problems. If none of this work, then I’d get a little more “hands on”, fiddling with nib/feeder location which usually works with flowing problems, but that may be a bit intimidating for new users

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