Fountain Pen vs. Ink Pen: Is it the Same?

The vast majority of pens use ink and so can be called “ink pens”. These inks have different chemical contents and viscosity and are packaged in refills of various sizes. If you see an advert for an “ink pen,” do not be misled into thinking that it is necessarily a fountain pen.

The people of India mean a fountain pen when they say “ink pen”. In other parts of the world, such as the UK and the US, an “ink pen” is any type of pen that uses ink and includes fountain pens, rollerballs, ballpoints, fiber-tip pens, and gel pens. “Ink pen” is a generic term in much of the world.

Fountain pens, unlike other pens, can use bottled ink, so the phrase “ink pen” may at times be used to indicate a fountain pen, but this is not often the case. It depends on which area of the world the term is used. In fact, “ink pen” is sometimes used to distinguish another kind of pen, such as a ballpoint, from a fountain pen.

What’s In A Name?

There are, in fact, many different types of ink pens that use a wide variety of inks delivered by various methods onto the paper. Examples of ink pens are ballpoints, rollerballs, fiber tip pens, and fountain pens. People may mean “fountain pen” when they use the term “ink pen”, but they could also mean other types of pens.

Since the word “pen” has several different meanings in the English language, it’s possible that the term “ink pen” is used to distinguish the writing instrument from a pigpen or an epi-pen used to treat anaphylactic shock.

Some people say that the term “ink pen” is an Americanism originating from the southern US and the Irish immigrants. It is a linguistic trait that developed to distinguish the word “pen” from the similar-sounding “pin,” which means something else entirely. This is because the way they pronounced the word “pen” sounded like “pin”.

If you are in America and someone uses the term “ink pen”, it is unlikely to mean a fountain pen specifically. They could just as easily be referring to a ballpoint, rollerball, or another type of pen. Some people find the term “ink pen” vaguely annoying because they say it is stating the obvious. All pens use some kind of ink.

It is also possible that people, especially from older generations, still refer to fountain pens as “ink pens” to distinguish them from other types of pens that don’t use bottled ink, such as ballpoints. This would have been around the time that ballpoints were first invented, and younger generations have since picked up the term from their grandparents.

When ballpoints first came out, some people would still ask for a fountain pen when they wanted a ballpoint. However, some say that in the US, the term “ink pen” is more commonly used to refer to a ballpoint than a fountain pen these days.

In India, the term “ink pen” only means a fountain pen. In England, they use the term “fountain pen”, not “ink pen”, and other types of pens are commonly called “biros”. This word comes from the name of a newspaper editor called Laszlo Biro from Budapest, who invented a form of ballpoint pen. He eventually sold his patent for two million US dollars to Marcel Bich, who improved on the design and called his company Bic.

According to more than one online thesaurus, synonyms for “ink pen” include “reservoir pen”, “stylograph,” and “fountain pen”. Stylographic pens have a nib made of a metal tube with a thin wire inside to regulate the ink flow. They are sometimes referred to as “stylos”. A Canadian, Duncan McKinnon, patented one in 1875 and called it an “ink pencil”. Subsequently, a man called A T Cross sold a modified version of this pen and called it a “stylograph”.

Stylos were a type of fountain pen because they had an ink reservoir, but their nibs were very different from the bladed nibs of fountain pens that came out in the 1880s and eventually replaced them in popularity. However, stylos were still sold as alternatives right up until the ballpoint pen became widely available.

The closest modern relatives to stylos are drafting pens, but they have square rather than rounded nibs, more suitable for drawing lines than writing. Before nibbed fountain pens superseded them, stylographic pens were made around the world and were extremely popular.

A fountain pen is so called because, in contrast to dip pens, it contains its own fountain or wellspring of ink.

Dip Pens Are Ink Pens Too

Dip pens are the predecessors of fountain pens and also use bottled ink. When someone refers to an “ink pen”, it could be a dip pen. These pens have nibs similar to those of fountain pens, but they have no ink reservoir or feed and must be dipped periodically into the ink bottle during use. They can use the same ink as fountain pens but also use other types that can be disastrous for fountain pens.  

For instance, dip pens can be used with pigmented ink such as India Ink or China Ink which are black. The pigment is usually carbon, and these inks also contain a resin called shellac. These ingredients do not work well in fountain pens because they are almost impossible to clean out properly and permanently block the pen after a while. When this happens, the pen is unusable, and all that’s left is to throw it away.

Unlike fountain pens, dip pens can also use acrylic inks that are pigmented water-based inks made with an acrylic binder. Acrylic is basically a liquid plastic. When acrylic inks dry, they become entirely waterproof and immune to damage because they have some elasticity. There are therefore much more durable than other types of ink.

Dip pens can be used for ordinary writing, but they are more often used for calligraphy, sketching, comics, and other artwork. A crow quill is a very fine pointed dip pen beloved by artists because of the delicate textures, tones, and lines they can create with it.

The Difference Between Fountain Pens And Other Ink Pens

The main differences between fountain pens and other ink pens are the nib design, the ink feed, the reservoir, and the type of ink they use. The nib of a fountain pen is made of a metal, such as stainless steel or gold, and is much larger than the nibs on other pens. Rollerballs, ballpoints, and gel pen nibs usually have a tiny ball-bearing in the nib that distributes the ink across the page as it turns in its socket. 

Fountain pen ink flows more quickly and is water-based. Inks used in ballpoints are oil-based, while marker pens use pigment, oil, water, or alcohol-based inks. The majority of fountain pen inks are not waterproof or pigmented because this causes clogging of the ink feed. Rollerballs and fountain pens use dye-based inks.

Unlike other ink pens, fountain pens can use bottled inks because they have a mechanism to draw the ink up into the pen. They are a much older invention than ballpoints, rollerballs, and gel pens. In his diary entry for August 1663, the famous Englishman Samuel Pepys referred to a silver pen to carry ink in. However, the history of pens with reservoirs goes back much further than this.

In the year 953 AD, the Fatimid Caliph of Egypt got tired of ink stains on his fingers and clothing and instructed his vassals to bring him a pen that didn’t make such a mess. They provided him with a pen that had a reservoir that fed ink into the nib. The exact mechanism is unknown. The fountain pen, as it is known today, was invented by Petrache Poenaru, a Romanian who studied in Paris, where it was patented in May 1827.

Other Types of Ink Pens

Many ink pens are disposable, like cheap plastic ballpoints, rollerballs, and gel pens, but others are intended for multiple use. Refills are made for more expensive ballpoints like Parker, Cross, Montblanc, and many others. The same is true of good quality rollerballs and fiber-tip pens.

Rollerballs are a hybrid of fountain pens and ballpoints and use water-based ink similar to fountain pen ink. However, they cannot use bottled ink like fountain pens. Ballpoints use oil-based ink that is thicker and stickier and can leave blobs on the page. People wanted a ballpoint that could use water-based inks, which write more smoothly than oil-based inks.

Rollerball inks can dry out quicker than ballpoint inks, so you generally need a cap to cover the nib when not in use. There are some capless rollerball pens, such as the Lamy Typo and Cross Edge, but most have caps.

Ballpoint pens don’t need caps, and so their manufacturers are free to use click and twist mechanisms to project the nib from the pen. Their bodies are usually slimmer than rollerballs, and their refills are much narrower.

Since rollerballs use inks similar to fountain pens, they may also be called “ink pens” by some people to distinguish them from ballpoints. Rollerballs need less pressure to write than ballpoints, but their refills tend not to last as long. The ink used in a rollerball also smudges more easily than ballpoint ink after being deposited on the paper.

Manufacturers of cheap pens seldom make refills for them because they want customers to buy another whole pen. The unfortunate consequence is that the environment is polluted with billions of disposable pens that people have discarded. Americans alone dispose of 1.6 billion cheap plastic ink pens every year.

Like other pen types, fountain pens come in cheap disposable versions, but most are sold as re-usable writing instruments. The appeal of a fountain pen is that it is easily refillable, with inks available in a vast array of colors. Ballpoint, rollerball, and fiber tip refills generally only come in the standard shades of black, blue, and red.

Fountain pens are seldom sold as disposable items and can be extremely valuable both to collectors and those who want a special pen to make their mark on the world. Fountain pens hark back to a previous era before everyone started using electronic media such as computers and cell phones to ‘write’ essays, books, articles, and letters. People who buy them usually love handwriting and want a tool to express their unique style and personality.

Due to their popularity and ubiquity of Marcel Bich’s cheap plastic pens, many people still use the term “Bic” when they mean a ballpoint pen. The Bic ballpoint is the best-selling pen in the world, and some artists still use them to draw amazingly detailed portraits. Sadly, the art of handwriting is disappearing fast as more and more people use electronic devices to communicate.

Everyone who appreciates the beauty of the handwritten note, letter, or journal knows the joy of a good pen. Fortunately, journaling is still advocated by mental health professionals and others. Writing down thoughts, feelings and actions allows a person to maintain their sense of self, reflect on their life experiences, and helps to reduce mental stress.

Fountain Pens Can Only Use Certain Types of Inks

All ink consists of color contained in a solvent or carrier substance, also called a vehicle. Dye is used to color water-based inks for fountain pens. Water is the solvent in these inks, as other types of solvents, such as alcohol, can corrode and damage a fountain pen. Gel pen and rollerball inks are also mainly water-based.

If pigment is used instead of dye, the ink can be water-resistant and sometimes waterproof, but pigmented inks are not generally recommended for valuable fountain pens. The particulates can clog the feed. Pigment-based inks are more permanent than water-based ones, but they do not offer the same color variety, and the pen requires higher maintenance.

A fountain pen filled with pigmented ink must be rinsed out regularly and used daily to prevent the ink from drying out.

Platinum sells a pigmented ink for fountain pens, but retailers warn that it has the potential to damage the pen if not used according to the instructions. The available colors are Rose Red, Sepia, and Blue. Platinum Carbon Ink is a black pigmented ink. Carbon ink is usually preferred for official documents that have to sit in archives for long periods. Sailor also makes a Blue-Black pigmented ink.

Pigment is used to color the ink used in other types of pens and consists of microscopic particles held in suspension within the solvent or carrier. Different kinds of pens use oils, alcohol, or gels as carriers. Manufacturers will add other chemicals such as surfactants, binders, and preservatives to improve the ink’s flow, adherence to paper, and prevent mold.

These days, the majority of fountain pens use refills in the form of plastic cartridges. However, most reputable manufacturers sell converters that can be plugged into the back of the pen like a cartridge and used to draw up ink from a bottle. Some fountain pens, such as TWSBI and certain Montblanc models, don’t use cartridges at all as they have inbuilt filler systems.


In the Western world, the term “ink pen” can mean one of several different types of pens, including fountain pens. However, it is relatively unusual to use this term these days as people most commonly say, “have you got a pen” or “I need a pen”. They don’t specify the type of pen they want unless they are handwriting enthusiasts or artists.

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