How Fountain Pens Work

How Fountain Pens Work

In today’s world, fountain pens are a rare luxury. It is hard to find someone using a fountain pen when ballpoints and computers exist. One might even wonder why and how a fountain pen works when more accessible options are available.

Just one look at a fountain pen and the modern mind will be astonished. You will wonder how such an instrument came to be and how it works. Compared to a ballpoint, a fountain pen looks like an ancient, traditional pen from an antique pen shop.

It might seem like the working of such a pen is super complicated, but in reality, it is straightforward. Frederick Fölsch fountain pens are a combination of a few simple parts that come together to let the ink flow through to produce a sophisticated and lovely writing style.

From how a fountain pen works and what parts come together to form the structure of a fountain pen to how the ink flows in the working process and how the working of a fountain pen differs from a commonly used ballpoint, everything has been discussed below in great detail.

But let’s begin with the biggest question in everyone’s minds.


The anatomy of a Fountain Pen

The anatomy of a fountain pen is simple yet highly sophisticated. Three main essential parts come together to allow the working of a fountain pen. If any of them were missing, the fountain pen would no longer exist.


The Nib

The nib is the part of the fountain pen that makes all the magic happen. It is a piece of metal that touches the paper and serves the purpose of a fountain pen. It is the most iconic and significant part that sets it apart from common ballpoints.

The structure of the nib is designed in a particular way to let the ink flow smoothly and swiftly onto the paper. Along the center, there is a prominent slit creating two halves till the middle. These two halves are known as tines and act as channels for the ink to flow down to the tip.

Fountain pens work by capillary action that requires constant movement and flex. This is why the tines are coated with a hard metal alloy so they can withstand the applied pressure while writing.

A breather hole is present at the end of the slit, which forms the top of the nib. Its function is to let air flow into the reservoir. It also plays the role of a stress reliever to prevent the pen from cracking or snapping.



Also known as the feed, it is a plastic component that forms the connection between the nib and ink supply. It is the most crucial part of a fountain pen as it creates a bridge between the nib and the ink from inside the pen.

Most feeds are made of black plastic, but other materials like ebonite are also available.
The feed serves three purposes simultaneously. First, it provides the ink with a space to move along. Second, it controls the motion of the ink from the feed to the nib. And lastly, it allows constant airflow into the reservoir for the proper functioning of the pen.

The working of the feed is the same as the nib. The ink is drawn from the inside using capillary action, just like the nib’s slit.


Ink Reservoir

The ink reservoir present inside the fountain pen is similar to a cavity. It is designed to store the ink for later use.

In the history of fountain pens, this part has seen the most changes from a simple dip pen to cartridges, converters, and whatnot. Today, there are three main types of reservoirs and their filling systems. Frederick Fölsch values its users the most and offers all three options for their ease and accessibility.

  1. Cartridge: Cartridges are the most used and preferred kind of reservoir in today's times. It is a small, simple, sealed plastic tube that stores the ink. All that is required is to replace the cartridge once empty.
    No one can deny how much of a hassle it is to fill fountain pens the traditional way. This is where cartridges come in handy due to their ease of use and convenience.

  2. Converter: A converter is similar to a cartridge except for the fact that you can refill it. If you don’t like spending money on buying cartridges every time, you can switch to a converter. Converters can also be fitted in pens with cartridges.

  3. Piston: This filling system is the traditional method that is rarely practiced now. It focuses on sucking in ink through the nib by drawing a piston up the barrel. The downside is that you have to carry a bottle of ink everywhere and try not to dirty your hands.


How Does Ink Flow?

Fountain pens produce writing that is effortlessly beautiful and elegant. The smooth strokes and the light touch are all you could ever ask for. All this magic in the Frederick Fölsch fountain pens comes from the ink flowing through the pen.

One might ask how does ink flow through a fountain pen? The answer is relatively simple. There are a variety of ways that come into contact with the efficient working of a fountain pen. The gravity that withdraws the ink towards the nib, the capillary action that controls the output on the paper, the airflow that produces a constant in and out movement, and the pressure on the nib all work together for the flow of ink in the fountain pens.



Gravity is a universal phenomenon. The entire universe is dependent on how gravity controls our motion and directs our everyday life.

The first ever concept of how fountains pen work was based on gravity. The belief was that all the pens in the world, from ballpoint to roller pens, are dependent on gravity. Fountain pens also work because of the same gravity.

The concept of gravity is that when the pen is held toward the paper, the ink will automatically start flowing. The gravitational forces of the Earth come in contact with the ink molecules and assert a force so strong that it pushes the ink out.

Although this concept was majorly accepted as the only method for ink flow, it was later on denied because of its drawback. There is an inconsistency in the ink flow as the process is continuous and does not stop until all the ink has been finished.

No science could explain how to control the limitless flow of ink. This idea is still applicable in the working of fountain pens. But, now it is combined with the effect of capillary action. Capillary action saved the day as, before its advent, pen technology went through a lot of struggles.


Capillary Action

Capillary action is the process that controls the unstoppable ink flow. It works regardless of the flow of gravity. The process is such that liquid is extracted into a narrow area by cohesion to the other liquid molecules and adhesion to the solid wall of the feeder.

Simply put, imagine sucking on a plastic straw. While the drink does flow out of the straw, it is within a certain limit. The excess remains inside the container, and thus, the liquid is controlled.

The activities of cohesion and adhesion allow the liquid molecules to simultaneously stick to one another and the walls of the container. The narrower the space is, the easier the liquid will adhere to the borders and rush out of the pen.

The ink is then pulled down to the nib by capillary action. It is a chainwork mechanism in which one droplet tugs on the next to follow through. This is how writing comes to be using a fountain pen.

Another purpose of the capillary action is the airflow to prevent the formation of a vacuum. Air enters the pen just as the ink flows out and moves in the opposite direction to fill the empty reservoir.

The disadvantage of capillary action is that no external forces are acting on the ink. In this way, the ink coming out of the pen is not smooth and follows in short bursts.


Gravity and Capillary Action Working Together

Frederick Fölsch exhibits a display of fountain pens with the combination of gravity and capillary action processes.

The gravity allows limitless ink to flow, whereas the capillary action hinders the ink from coming onto the page. The gravity pushes the ink out, and the capillary action limits the ink flow via the air in and out mechanism.

In this way, gravity and capillary action work together to give results. As a result, both these principles are essential to the working of a fountain pen.

Airflow: Ink Out, Air In

The mechanism of airflow plays a prominent part in how fountain pens work. As much as capillary action and gravity do their work, airflow is vital to the smooth and steady release of ink.

Airflow is also understood as letting air in and ink out. If the internal space is filled with ink, then air can not flow. For the air to flow, there must be some channel for air to rush in. Otherwise, the space inside will crack due to the pressure.

The primary thing that is happening is that there is a constant rush of air just as the ink leaves the reservoir. One might wonder if the storage space of both the ink and air are the same or not. The feed includes a system of parallel networks, three tiny ink outlets, and one big inlet for air. This is intended to let the air flow in at the same as the ink leaves.

This controlled rate allows just the right amount of ink to produce a visible, solid line without leaking.



When it comes to pressure in fountain pens, there are two concepts. One is the atmospheric pressure which stops the ink from flowing altogether. This is the same concept as the air-in, ink-out mechanism.

When there is only one hole, the external atmospheric pressure pushes air up the hole and obstructs the natural flow. However, if there is a second hole as well, the ink will have a separate pathway to come out of.

The second concept is that of pressure to produce writing. Unlike ballpoints, fountain pens do not require much in the way of pressure while writing. As the pen is ink-based, it flows pretty quickly from the reservoir to the nib without becoming gummy or solidified.

The point to notice is to always keep the pressure light and to take it easy. The lighter the stroke, the lesser the damage to the nib and the smoother the lines produced.


How is the working of a fountain pen different from a ballpoint?

There are two significant differences between the working of a fountain pen and a ballpoint. The first is the writing mechanism which is relatively simple in ballpoints. Ballpoints use a ball and socket mechanism that covers the tip in ink while it spins.

On the other hand, for fountain pens, ink flows through a system of reservoirs to the feeder and then to the nib.

The ink is also different for both pens. Ballpoints use an oil-based ink with high viscosity. This allows it to dry up instantly and is ideal for low-quality paper and daily use.

While the ink used in fountain pens is water-based and has a low viscosity. It takes a few seconds to dry up but is preferred for formal settings.

Indeed, fountain pens aren’t the simplest and easiest option out there, but it is a fact that they do offer a satisfying and personal experience.

So, now that you know how fountain pens work, what are their different components and how ink flows, you can better understand the pen that you require or desire.

And, the best part is Frederick Fölsch recommends fountain pens keeping in mind the needs and mastery of an individual!
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