Wondering how to put ink in a fountain pen?
Refilling the ink is one of the most routine forms of fountain pen maintenance you will perform.
There are two (2) main types of refilling systems:
A cartridge refilling system requires disposable ink cartridges that are removed and replaced when the ink runs out.
Converter, ink bladder, barrel, and built-in refilling systems all use bottled ink for refilling.
Separating all of the parts can result in damage that voids a manufacturer’s warranty. For example, Montblanc offers a two-year warranty against manufacturing defects and an international warranty for purchases outside of the United States. However, they do not cover damage from dismantling your pen outside of the instructions provided in the user’s manual. Pilot/Namiki also offers the same protection against defective parts or assembly, but it does not include “unreasonable misuse” by handling the pen in a fashion not outlined in the user manual.
A lid that attaches to the barrel and covers the nib
The metal tip that distributes ink to paper
Section connected to the nib and held in hand during writing
The outer chamber that covers or contains the ink reservoir; in some fountain pen models, the entire barrel is the ink reservoir
The container inside of a fountain pen that holds ink; come in many forms; some are built-in to the design of the pen
A disposable ink reservoir that attaches to the nib and grip; can be replaced or refilled with bottled ink using a syringe
Ink Bladder (or Ink sac)
A refillable ink reservoir; a plastic sac located inside the barrel attaches to the nib and grip; compressing and releasing on the bladder creates low pressure to pull bottled ink into the bladder
A refillable ink reservoir located inside the barrel that attaches to the nib and grip; has a mechanism that uses low pressure to pull ink from a bottle into the reservoir
Interested in reading more about why these quality writing instruments are called fountain pens? Be sure to check out our article "Why is a Fountain Pen Called a Fountain Pen?".
Regularly cleaning your fountain pen is important for optimal performance and will make refilling the ink a smoother process. If you use the pen often, you should routinely clean it about once a month.
Cleaning solves these common fountain pen problems:
The standard disassembly process is to:
Any further disassembly could break parts of the pen or violate your warranty. Your disassembled pen should only be in three (3) pieces: the cap, the nib and grip (attached to the ink reservoir), and the barrel. The only exception to this rule is if your fountain pen has a barrel refilling system, in which case there is no ink reservoir attached to the nib and grip.
In some fountain pen models, the nib detaches from the grip, but this is unnecessary for a thorough cleaning. Separating the nib and grip could damage either part, and your warranty may not cover the repairs.
To clean your fountain pen:
Pressure sensitive tape is a tape which uses pressure to activate the adhesive. Scotch tape is a famous pressure-sensitive tape that is readily available.
After the nib and grip completely dries, remove the pressure-sensitive tape from the opening of the cartridge or converter before reattaching it to the nib and grip. If you are replacing your ink, install a new ink cartridge or fill your converter with bottled ink. Replace the barrel and turn the nib section clockwise to close the pen.
“Flushing” is a cleaning process used when your fountain pen has a built-in ink refilling system or converter. Just as with cleaning, always flush your fountain pen when changing inks or you notice that your pen is not writing properly.
To flush your fountain pen:
Understanding filling systems and how they work will help you maintain your fountain pen so that it will last for years. The type of filling system you have will affect how you refill your fountain pen and can influence which types and brands of fountain pens you will purchase. To find out what kind of filling system you have, remove the cap and barrel from your fountain pen. The reservoir attached to the nib and grip show the type of filling system.
There are two main types of reservoirs that use cartridges or bottled ink. Cartridges are disposable units pre-filled with ink. Converters, ink bladders, barrels, and built-in filling systems use a pressure mechanism or a syringe to refill with bottled ink.
Filling your fountain pen with ink depends on the type of filling system. “Charging” a fountain pen is another term for refilling your fountain pen with ink.
A fountain pen ink cartridge has a rim that looks like a cup. This inverted rim is the side that connects to the nib and grip. You may see a metal ball inside the cartridge, which moves when changing the cartridge and breaking the opening seal. This metal ball improves the flow of ink by making sure ink does not stick to the sides of the cartridge.
Before inserting your ink cartridge, check the barrel of your pen for spacers. Some fountain pen models come pre-loaded with an ink cartridge, with a spacer inside the barrel that fits between the cartridge and the barrel to keep the cartridge in place. Remove this spacer before replacing your empty cartridge by shaking the empty barrel to remove it. Your new ink cartridge can get stuck inside of the barrel without removing the spacer.
To insert an ink cartridge:
See your pen manufacturer’s website or consult the instructions that come with your fountain pen for information on what type of ink cartridge to use for your pen. Fountain pen ink cartridges come in three sizes:
Although ink cartridges are disposable, they can be refilled with bottled ink to save money and reduce waste.
To refill an ink cartridge with bottled ink:
A converter filling system is an ink reservoir, similar to a cartridge, which attaches to the nib and grip. The converter uses a plunger or another mechanism to produce low pressure to pull ink from a bottle into the reservoir.
There are two types of converters: a piston converter and a squeeze converter. A piston converter twists to release air and fill the reservoir with ink. Applied pressure to a squeeze converter releases air to fill the converter with ink.
An ink sac, also called an ink bladder, is a plastic sac attached to the nib located inside the barrel. Applying pressure empties air from the sac to fill it with ink.
Some ink barrel fountain pens have metal mechanisms to assist with refilling the ink bladder that look like a flat metal bar, a crescent-shaped metal bar, or a lever. Vintage pens commonly have lever mechanisms, and they are rarer than the metal bar or crescent ink bladder mechanisms. Applying pressure to these mechanisms empties the ink bladder of air and sucks ink into the bladder to fill it.
A fountain pen with a barrel refilling system is a pen whose entire barrel is filled with ink via an eyedropper or a syringe. These pens are often called “eyedropper pens.” The oldest fountain pen models had barrel refilling systems.
Fountain pens with built-in filling systems already have an ink reservoir attached to the nib. These permanent reservoirs are more convenient because they hold more ink than a cartridge or a converter. There are two types of built-in filling systems which use different mechanisms.
The built-in piston system is similar to the piston converter, except the piston is already attached to the nib and grip. The built-in vacuum system uses a plunger to refill the ink in an up-and-down motion, and there is no twisting involved. Always flush the piston or vacuum systems before refilling or changing inks.
When searching for the perfect fountain pen, the refilling technique often plays a factor in which pen you will choose. Cartridge and ink bladder fountain pens are the most straightforward mechanisms, and their simplicity makes them highly desirable. Having either a cartridge or a converter system is more convenient if you are looking for a quick refilling process. Either a converter, barrel, or built-in system allows more ink variety; with thorough cleaning and flushing, you can experiment with different colors and brands of ink.
If the price is a factor in choosing a fountain pen, cartridge fountain pens are the cheapest on the market, and the overall cost decreases on cartridge replacements if you refill the cartridges at home with bottled ink and a syringe. Fountain pens with barrel and built-in filling systems are more expensive, but they do not require replacement cartridges.
If you are looking for a low-maintenance fountain pen, cartridge and converter filling systems need little maintenance compared to barrel and built-in filling systems. Cartridge fountain pens also travel well, for they do not require anything other than a replacement cartridge when the ink runs out.
As a recent fountain pen convert, I have found that the cartridge refilling system works the best for me. I write all day long, so the ease of snapping out an empty cartridge and replacing it with a new one appeals to me. My very first fountain pen, the Pilot Metropolitan, came with both a cartridge and a squeeze converter filling system so that I can alternate between ink reservoirs. The filling system I use depends on my activity. I use the converter when writing at home and I use the cartridges when traveling. The cartridges are simple to replace on-the-go and they are small enough to fit in my carry-on bag.
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