There are several different kinds of pens apart from fountain pens – ballpoints, rollerballs, fibre-tipped pens, gel pens, and dipping pens. The question is, do fountain pens use more ink than these other kinds? The problem is the chemical composition of ballpoint ink is very different from that used in fountain pens, so one is not really comparing apples with apples.
Fountain pens use more ink than ballpoints because the ink is less viscous. A standard cartridge will last the average regular writer about a week before needing to be replaced, while a ballpoint can go for many months. However, fountain pens last for decades, and bottled ink is not that expensive.
The viscosity between the two types of ink also differs significantly, with fountain pen ink flowing at a much faster rate. Even rollerball ink is a bit thicker than standard fountain pen ink, although it basically uses the same type of ink. Rollerballs use more or less the same amount of ink as a fountain pen.
Nib Size Affects Ink Efficiency
Some fountain pens use more ink than other fountain pens, depending on the design and structure of the nib. Flex nibs in a fountain pen use more ink than standard nibs.
Some fountain pens come with fine or extra-fine nibs that deposit less ink on the paper than broad nibs. The shape of the nib also makes a difference. One fountain pen user said that his Shaeffer Snorkel fountain pen with a fine nib writes 2800 words on college-ruled notebook paper before needing a refill.
Another user said his Cross Century II medium nib fountain pen needs a refill after around seven or eight pages of writing. In comparison, his Aurora 88 with a fine nib writes over twenty pages. So even between fountain pens, the amount of ink used can vary significantly.
Fountain pen nibs are characterized as “wet” or “dry” writers, and for most users, it is a matter of personal preference.
Noodler’s eyedropper pens with a fine ball nib can go for a much longer time without needing a refill than many other fountain pens. A bottle of fountain pen ink can last more than a year, even if the user is a student who takes detailed notes every day. Some fountain pen users have observed that a moderately priced fountain pen using even expensive ink will still cost less per written word than a disposable ballpoint.
So even if a fountain pen uses more ink than a ballpoint, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the cost is higher in the long term. Fountain pens are also much more nature conservation-friendly than ballpoints which come with a high cost to the environment. For fountain pen users, the pleasure of using a fountain pen outweighs any associated added costs.
Buying your favorite ink in a larger bottle dramatically reduces the costs of fountain pen ink even further. Writing with a fountain pen is fundamentally different from writing with any other kind. In many ways, fountain pens are incomparable to ballpoints.
One lefthanded writer said that fountain pens were a magical discovery for him after his school years were filled with smudged hands and handwriting using ballpoints and pencils. He noted that fountain pen ink dries faster than ballpoint ink and within about the same time as a rollerball.
How Long Do Different Pens Write?
A large ball in a ballpoint or rollerball nib delivers more ink to the paper than a smaller one. According to the manufacturers, the average length of writing for a ballpoint pen is nine hundred meters, but some ballpoints can write between two and four kilometers.
One writer tested the difference between a Parker rollerball, which uses a gel ink, and a Parker ballpoint. He marked each transparent refill to see how far the ink level dropped as he wrote with them on an A4-sized page. The gel refill dropped by 7 millimeters, while the ballpoint refill dropped only 2 millimeters.
He calculated that the ballpoint would last for twenty-five pages, but the gel ink in the rollerball would only last for just over seven. Unfortunately, he did not include a fountain pen in his experiment.
Fountain pen cartridges last for varying lengths of time, depending on the size of the cartridge, the nib size, and the type of paper you are using. Larger cartridges hold more ink, and some manufacturers, such as Monteverde and Edelstein, sell cartridges much bigger than the standard ones. However, these cartridges will not fit all fountain pens.
If a fountain pen comes with a piston filler or a converter, they generally hold more ink than a standard ink cartridge. Fountain pens with built-in filling mechanisms also contain more ink than those that use cartridges. One user who writes and sketches daily said he uses around two milliliters of ink a week, while another said he could run his pen on one load of ink for a week or more.
Fountain pens have a great deal of line variation, depending on nib size. For instance, an extra-fine nib uses less ink than an italic nib. Also, some kinds of paper are more absorbent than others which translates to using more ink. Some fountain pen inks flow faster than others, depending on their composition, which will also affect how long the ink lasts.
It can take up to a year for a regular fountain pen user to go through one bottle of ink, but the bottles do come in different sizes. A lot depends on the size of the nib too. However, the joy of using a fountain pen is the many different hues of ink available, and fountain pen enthusiasts rarely have only one bottle on their shelves.
Eyedropper pens that use the entire body of the pen to hold the ink write for much longer between refills than other types of fountain pen. Ink cartridges are a better option for people on the go than bottled ink and are highly portable and leakproof.
Comparison Between Different Pen Inks
One needs to appreciate that the chemical composition of the ink varies, depending on the type of pen for which it is designed. The efficiency of a pen, as far as the amount of ink it uses depends on the nib type and the viscosity of the ink. For instance, fountain pen ink is far more fluid than ballpoint pen ink.
Rollerballs that use ink cartridges instead of pen refills are called cartridge rollerball pens, and their ink is similar to that used in fountain pens. However, the ink delivery system differs from the nib of a fountain pen as it employs a tiny revolving ball to spread the ink on the paper. The writing experience when using a rollerball is similar to that of a ballpoint, but a lighter touch is needed.
Standard rollerball ink contains particles of carbon black, which give it its color. These particles are segregated in a polymer that prevents them from clumping together. A solvent is included to promote ink flow. Carbon black comes from coal or oil, and the polymer is usually some kind of petrochemical or is derived from pine tree oil or rosin.
Carbon black is rarely used in fountain pen ink because it is a pigment, not a dye. Pigments are fine particles suspended in the ink solution, and they tend to clog the nib of a fountain pen eventually. Gel inks refills can sometimes be used in rollerballs too. Liquid ink in rollerballs flows more consistently and skips less often than gel ink.
The ink used in fountain pens, gel pens, and rollerballs is water-based. However, gel ink has a thickening agent to prevent it from spilling or leaking, and it is not in liquid form. Refills for gel pens and rollerballs are very similar and, in some cases, interchangeable. However, rollerball refills contain liquid ink, unlike gel pen refills.
Gel ink dries a bit faster than rollerball ink, and the colors are usually brighter and available in a much more comprehensive range. A rollerball deposits more ink on the paper than a gel pen, so there is a greater risk of the ink bleeding through to the other side of the paper. However, both types can cause feathering of the lines on cheap paper because they are water-based.
Fountain pen ink is also water-based, and so has similar risks of bleeding through and feathering as rollerballs and gel pens. Ballpoint pens, by contrast, use oil-based ink, so there is no risk of bleed-through or feathering, even on poor-quality paper. It took decades for inventors to come up with the right formula for ballpoint pen ink.
Typically, ballpoint ink is composed of dyes and pigments in an oily solvent. The commonest oils used in this type of ink are phenoxyethanol and benzyl alcohol. Other additives may include oleic acid or other fatty acids to keep the ink from clogging and lubricate the ball in the tip.
Paper does not absorb oil-based ink as readily as water-based ink. Ballpoint ink, therefore, dries a bit slower than water-based ink due to its chemical composition. The exact formulas for ballpoint ink are a closely guarded secret and change over time as chemists improve on them. The fact that these inks are fast drying and relatively waterproof is a selling point for ballpoint pens.
Unlike fountain pen ink, ballpoint ink is usually in the form of a paste containing varying percentages of dye and pigment. The size of the ball in the socket of the nib can affect drying time as the larger the ball, the more ink it deposits on the page. Ballpoint ink, like fountain pen ink, can smear across the page, but the smearing is not so great because it deposits less ink.
Once dry, It is generally more permanent than fountain pen ink because it is not water-based. Ballpoints can become messy as they sometimes accumulate around the pen’s tip and create the occasional ink blob. They are also more tiring to the hand than fountain pens, so they are not the best choice when writing screeds of notes.
Rollerball refills don’t last as long as ballpoint refills because, like fountain pens, they use more ink. The same is true of gel ink refills.
As their name suggests, dip pens don’t have an ink reservoir like fountain pens, so the nib has to be dipped every few minutes directly into the ink bottle while writing. While dip pens generally use fountain pen ink, they can also use other kinds that are not suitable for fountain pens, such as India ink. Since the ink delivery system on a dip pen is pretty similar to that of a fountain pen, they will use roughly the same amount of ink.
Fountain Pen vs Rollerball vs Ballpoint
Many people find ballpoints more practical for everyday use, but a rollerball or fountain pen is better if you are looking for a pen over which you have more control while writing. Unlike ballpoints, rollerballs and fountain pens have to be stored with the cap on to prevent the ink from drying out inside. If you like to keep a pen in a breast pocket, however, it is advisable to cap or retract your ballpoint’s nib because the ink stain is almost impossible to wash out.
Fountain pens require only a light touch to deliver ink to the page and glide effortlessly over the paper. They do, however, require more maintenance than a rollerball or ballpoint. A rollerball is easier to use for someone accustomed to a ballpoint because it uses a similar ink delivery system. However, rollerball ink stands out more than ballpoint ink and is more vibrant.
Ballpoint nibs don’t wear down, and the ink does not dry out as fast as in fountain pens and rollerballs. It does eventually dry out, though, as many who have found an old ballpoint at the back of a drawer will attest. The average fountain pen cartridge will only write for around seven to fifteen pages, while some ballpoints can write for up to four kilometers.
Ballpoints are cheaper than fountain pens and many rollerballs. If you look at the ballpoints and fountain pens produced by reputable pen manufacturers, you will still pay less for a ballpoint than for a fountain pen of the same brand. Ballpoints can also write on a wider variety of surfaces than fountain pens and rollerballs due to their different ink composition.
For color choice, you can’t beat fountain pen ink. Rollerballs and ballpoints tend to use standard colored inks of red, blue, black, and green, but in the case of fountain pens, ink is available in every shade and hue imaginable.
Fountain pens use more ink than ballpoints but not necessarily more than rollerballs or gel pens. The amount of ink a fountain pen uses dramatically depends on the size and shape of the nib, and there is a much wider variety of bills available for fountain pens than for ballpoints and rollerballs. When looking at costs in terms of ink, fountain pens are not necessarily more expensive than ballpoints because they last for decades longer if properly maintained. In contrast, people often lose or dispose of ballpoints far more frequently, meaning they have to buy another.