Are Fountain Pens Messy? If You Really Need To Know

If you’re looking to get into fountain pens, you’ll be doing a lot of research. Pretty much, you’ll be searching around for reasons you should – or should not – invest in one, and I’m sure this once concern will turn up more than once, and that’s if fountain pens are messy. I went around the net and gathered all the useful information on it.

Are fountain pens messy? Fountain pens, working in proper order, should functionally not be messy. The only time a working fountain might create a mess is when you don’t carry it properly, there is something wrong with the parts, or when you are inking it. That said, inky fingers are a badge of honor in the community.

When you’re researching on fountain pens, you’ll come across much useful information. There are various sources to get them, from fountain pen websites, communities, and even youtube. Most of them are from the first-hand experience, and will greatly help you get to know this fine writing implement. 

While having plenty of sources is an advantage, going through all of them can be quite a time-consuming task. Also, just as many as there fountain pens out there, personal experiences vary just as much.

To save you time, I’ve gone around these communities and collated all the most useful information – the ones that worked for most people – and collected them all here.

Below, I’ve collected most of the sentiments of the fountain pen community regarding the “messy” nature of the pen.

When Do Things Get Messy?

As stated above, a properly maintained fountain, by itself, will not be messy. It was designed so that the ink will stay in the barrel or reservoir, as all pens are.

However, that does not mean you truly free from all the mess if you’ve got a brand new, or perfectly working fountain pen. For those, the moment when things get messy is when you fill it with ink.

See, there are different types of reservoirs of ink. The cleanest of which are the cartridges, which you just pop right into the pen and throw away when it’s empty. Of course, having a fountain pen, more often than not, you’ll want to take advantage of the ability to refill said cartridge.

Enter the converter and the different types of fountain pen reservoirs.

For more on the different reservoirs, check this out.

No matter which reservoir you have, or the type of pen you have, there will always be a tendency that you get ink on your fingers when you refill it. That’s because you have to directly take the pen apart, get the ink, and fill it manually.

If you’re going into the fountain pen world, it’s better to accept this.

In fact, most fountain pen users consider this a badge of honor. Most have resigned themselves to the fact and just immersed themselves in the fun of it.

Of course, if your pen is still messy even when you aren’t refilling the ink, then you might want to check for anything wrong. It’s particularly common for vintage or older pens to have this problem. So once you acquire one of these pens, you might want to have them checked by a professional.

If it’s fresh from the box and messy the moment you fill it up with ink, you might want to contact the supplier and return it for a properly working one.

How To Stay Clean

Of course, while some relish in the messiness of their hand, some won’t. It may be because you can’t have ink on your fingers during work, or maybe you’re OCD and can’t stand the sight of messy hands.

We have a solution for that: wear gloves.

It’s pretty handy to have and easy to carry. That’s pretty much the only solution, and while that sounds like a hassle, accept it. It’s a labor of love.

If you’re getting ink all over your hands while writing and not refilling your pen, there might be two problems:

  • Faulty parts
  • You’re holding too close to the nib

For faulty parts, again have it sent back if it’s brand new, or have it checked by a pro.

For those whose writing form is holding too close to the nib, try relaxing your posture and holding it farther. You’ll find that it’s more comfortable and easier to write that way.

Of course, to each his own. If you don’t mind it and find that position comfortable, go ahead!

Check this video for more:

How To Clean The Mess

So. You’ve got ink on your hands. What now?

Easy: wash your hands.

That’s pretty much it.

Fountain pen inks are all water-soluble, which means it easily washes out with soap and water. So if you get ink on your hands when you’re filling it up, a quick trip to the bathroom will get that right out for you.

For more info on washing your hands, check this out:

Things To Remember

There are things to remember if you want to avoid any more ink than you want to. They are:

  • Types of Ink
  • Types of Nib
  • How To Carry

Types Of Ink

Given that there are so many types, colors, and brands of ink. You can generally classify them to two types of ink:

  • Wet Ink – Flows more freely, meaning more ink will transfer onto your paper
  • Dry Ink – Flows more conservatively, meaning less ink will transfer onto your paper

There are uses for both, and of course, preferences are taken into account. However, there is generally less mess if you go for dry ink. Dry ink would also be better is you want to avoid smearing, or smudging, which can both result in ink on your hands.

Types Of Nib

The type of nib your fountain pen is using is also a factor. While a properly working nib should not leak, it does control the flow of water-based ink onto your paper.

This would mean that the finer the nib, the less ink goes onto your paper, which will result in less ink transferring to your hands.

Having a combination of the perfect ink and nib for you is a trial and error process. However, if you want to truly want to be as neat as possible you’ll want to find the perfect combination. This is especially so if you are left-handed.

For more, check out our article of smearing.

How To Carry

This has actually been a long-standing argument in the community. Lots of myths have been born from it, and plenty of personal experiences and anecdotes have been shared.

The verdict: as much as possible, keep it upright.

The effects are as explosive as you would expect but generally, it’s best to keep it upright, with the nib facing up. This is especially true when traveling by plane.

The reason for this is the air inside the reservoir. There are plenty of factors that can cause it to expand and once it does, it may bring out a bit of the ink from the nib.

You can read more on that in another of our articles here.


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