Suddenly writing becomes sensual & tactile
As a design concept, the fountain pen is an incredibly efficient yet simple method of applying ink to paper.
To many the elegance and simplicity of the fountain pen is unsurpassed; it's the embodiment of KISS, Keep It Simple, Stupid. And none the worst for that the fountain pen's legion of fans will testify.
Using the opposing forces of capillary action and surface tension to compel ink to flow through a small hole, the fountain pen contains no moving parts other than the filling mechanisms. Essentially, there are only two elements to a fountain pen, the body and the ink path. The barrel topped off by a cap forms the body. The ink path comprises the ink reservoir and filling point, and the feed which terminates at the nib. Because of this low-tech strategy, nothing much ever goes wrong with a fountain pen.
Before the advent of the ballpoint pen in 1950, fountain pens were the only show in town. Where they differ from a ballpoint is in the flexibility of the nib. If this wasn't the case, a fountain pen's nib would buckle due to the friction of metal against paper. Though ink contains lubricants these are insufficient for a nib that doesn't have an encased ball bearing with which to spread the ink.
Things to consider
When purchasing a fountain pen for the first time you may have to experiment with a variety of nibs to find the one that best suits your style of lettering. Nibs have varying degrees of flexibility but don't be too quick to change nibs, especially if previously you've only used ballpoints.
Certainly try before you buy if possible. Some modern fountain pens offer a moderate amount of flexibility while others are more rigid. Vintage pens, meanwhile, usually have very flexible nibs and so messing up is all the more likely for the unpractised hand. With modern production techniques, though, the blotter can stay in the drawer. Truly squishy nibs are a thing of the past.
But why use fountain pens, wouldn't it be simpler using ballpoint pens instead?
No, ballpoints are for scribbling. Fountain pens are writing pens. Nowadays, most of our communications seem to be by email, fax or cell phone, so when it comes to putting pen to paper why choose a blunt instrument?
Whereas writing with a ballpoint can be tiring and the results uniform, there's something aesthetically pleasing about writing with a fountain pen. Writing suddenly becomes sensual and tactile with a fountain pen. It's lightness of touch and subtly. By comparison, writing with a ballpoint is ultimately an unfulfilling and sterile experience. There's no joy or personality to your handwriting; it's black and white with no shades of grey.