Do Fountain Pens Bleed?

Whether a fountain pen bleeds depends on the type of paper you are using, the type and color of the ink, and the nib’s size and shape. All fountain pens use liquid, water-based ink that comes in many different colors and varieties. However, various manufacturers formulate their inks differently, and some may dry faster than others.

Fountain pens can bleed, but they don’t always do. Various inks interact with paper in different ways, and the type of paper also affects the ink’s penetration. The paper thickness and fiber size, together with the ink’s viscosity, determine the level of ink absorption and whether bleeding occurs.

When the ink soaks through a sheet of paper and onto the flip side, this is called bleeding. If the ink does not actually seep right through the page but is still visible on the reverse, this is called ghosting and can happen when the page is too thin or slightly translucent. Ghosting is usually fainter than bleeding. Whether it occurs depends on different ink and pen combinations.

With bleeding, it looks as though both sides of the paper have already been written on. This could be a problem if you intended to write on the reverse side. In severe cases, the ink may even bleed onto an underlying surface such as a desktop or the other blank pages of your fancy notebook.

Bleeding is unlikely if you use standard ink, a fine nib, and ordinary 100 gsm paper, such as what you would use in an office.

Nib Types Can Affect Bleeding

The finer the nib, the less ink it deposits onto the page, so if your pen gushes ink, in other words, it writes “wetly,” it could still bleed through even on heavier paper. If you have one of the better quality pens, you could probably just buy a finer nib for it rather than replace the entire pen. Some nibs write wetter than others, so you may have to test a few before settling on one.

If you like a wetter nib, use thicker paper or a faster drying ink to avoid bleeding. A good cleaning can also help if your pen has suddenly started bleeding when it didn’t before. Excessive ink flow can be caused by your hand heating up the air in the pen as you use it. Expanding air can increase the speed of the flow.  If this happens, you can hold the pen upright with the nib at the top for a few minutes to allow the air pressure to equalize.

A pen will also write wetly if an air leak is caused by a less than airtight seal between the ink cartridge or converter and the pen’s body. You can sometimes resolve this by installing a different converter or cartridge. If the pen uses a vacuum filling or piston system, the leak could be at the back. Adding some silicone grease to the filling mechanism can make it airtight again.

Pen nibs come in extra, fine, fine, medium, and broad and have different ink buffer designs depending on the manufacturer. The ink buffer catches the ink overflow and slows it down.

Ink Type Can Affect Bleeding

The ink type is just as important as the nib. If your fountain pen’s manufacturer also makes ink, you should try to use that ink because it is formulated especially for your pen. Not all fountain pens are designed in the same way, and their ink feeds may work differently depending on what ink you use.

Some inks are more likely to bleed than others. The ink in a ballpoint pen is more viscous than fountain pen ink mainly because it isn’t water-based. Fountain pen inks take longer to dry and can travel between the paper fibers by capillary action. Some ink brands dry quicker than others and are less likely to bleed as a result. You get wet inks and dry inks for fountain pens as well as wet nibs and dry nibs.

Inks with unusual colors are also more likely to bleed than the traditional blacks, reds, and blues. The various additives in ink can modify its surface tension and viscosity. Many pen shops test their pens with Waterman’s Blue Black or Florida Blue inks because they are quick-drying and unlikely to bleed on most paper types.

Black Parker Quink and Pelikan 4001 are other recommended inks that don’t bleed. Iron gall ink is an ancient ink that several different modern ink manufacturers still make. You should definitely try this ink if you want to avoid bleeding. Some scribers recommend Noodler’s X-Feather or Bullet-proof Black, particularly for use on cheap paper.

You should try several different inks to see how your pen writes with them because bleeding is not caused by only one factor. It depends on how your particular pen works with that specific ink. They have to be compatible.

Ink drying time also depends on weather conditions like temperature and humidity. In humid conditions, the ink will obviously take a lot longer to dry, increasing the risk of bleeding. In warmer climates, the ink will dry quicker and is less likely to bleed.

Paper Type Makes A Difference

Because fountain pens use liquid ink, they can bleed a lot on low-grade paper. If the paper is too absorbent, it draws in too much of the ink, causing unsightly blotting and blurred lines. Paper napkins, kitchen toweling, and newsprint are examples of highly absorbent paper that is not fountain pen friendly.

Any grainy or porous paper will wick the ink away from the lines you have written, leading to smudging and bleeding. Blotting paper is a prime example.

Most commercially available fountain pens don’t bleed if you use them on regular office paper or writing paper. Handmade paper is another story as it is usually more fibrous and less dense with irregular rough patches throughout. It is better not to use a fountain pen with most handmade papers.

Fountain pens don’t work well on glossy paper because the coating prevents ink absorption.

Bleeding is also likely if the paper is too thin. The till paper used in shops and restaurants that may require your signature as proof of purchase is an example of this. Writing on cheap printer paper will also lead to bleeding, especially if your pen is the wetter variety.

The finish of the paper is just as important as its thickness. It is likely to be better for use with a fountain pen than rougher paper if it looks smooth with no visible fibers. The paper finishing process includes calendering, using high pressure and temperature.

Calendering is the smoothing and compressing step in paper production and involves passing the paper in a continuous sheet through various heated pairs of rolls called calenders. If the paper is well calendered it the ink is less likely to bleed.

There is no paper made exclusively for fountain pens, so you need to experiment with different types to see how well they work. Performance can vary from one paper brand to another, depending on how it is finished. The feel of the paper under your pen is also a factor when choosing the best one to use.

Using a good quality paper can definitely minimize the risk of bleeding.


Fountain pens do bleed, but this is not as common as you might think. It depends on the paper quality, the nature of the ink, and the type of paper you use. You don’t need to buy expensive paper to prevent bleeding as the better kinds of office paper are usually adequate for the task. The nib’s quality and size are also a factor as finer nibs put out less ink and so are less likely to result in bleeding than broader ones.

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