So you’d like to try a fountain pen but don’t want to use the same old monotonous hues of blue, black, red, and green found in other types of pens? Part of the magic of using a fountain pen is you can write, sketch or draw in a fantastic variety of colors. This is where a converter comes in.
A converter attaches to the grip section of a fountain pen in place of an ink cartridge. It’s a plastic, silicone, or rubber capsule with a mechanism to suck ink up from a bottle through the pen nib. Most use a piston that is screwed up and down with a knob while others are squeezed and released.
Many fountain pens are sold with a plastic ink cartridge or two, the idea being that you must buy more cartridges when they run out. However, proprietary ink cartridges are often restricted to standard colors. Bottled inks, on the other hand, come in a crazy array of hues, including shimmering varieties that make your penmanship sparkle. To get the ink from the bottle to your pen, you need a converter.
Check Before Buying A Fountain Pen
Some fountain pens at the cheaper end of the spectrum can only use cartridges, but this also applies to some costly ones, so the price of the pen is not a good indicator of whether a converter is available. Other pens, usually made by reputable fountain pen manufacturers, may be sold with a converter, but most of the time, you have to buy the converter separately.
Some converters fit many different makes of fountain pen while others can only be used with the brand of fountain pen for which they’ve been made. Don’t assume that a pen can take a converter just because a reputable manufacturer makes it.
If you want to explore all of the ink options available to fountain pen users, make sure you buy your pen with a converter. This will allow you to use inks that are not made only by the manufacturer of your pen. With cartridges, you are generally limited to specific ink brands. Although the color range for ink cartridges is more comprehensive than it used to be, there are still many inks that are only sold in bottles.
Some pens use standard international ink cartridges. These are not brand specific, and although made by a different manufacturer to the one that made your pen, you can still use them. Many pens use these cartridges, some of which are Monteverde, Delta, Conklin, and Montegrappa.
If your pen uses a standard cartridge, the chances are good that there may be a converter available, even if the maker of your pen doesn’t sell one. For example, Monteverde, whose pens use standard international cartridges, makes two types of converters, one that screws in and one that snaps in. The latter is for shorter fountain pens, while the former is longer. One of these converters may fit your pen if it uses the same style cartridges, even if it is not a Monteverde pen.
What Is A Converter?
A converter fits into the same opening in a fountain pen as an ink cartridge. It comes with a mechanism that allows you to suck up the ink from a bottle multiple times, unlike a cartridge which is usually disposable and is only intended for single use.
If you really want to fiddle with syringes, needles, and ink, you can sometimes re-use a cartridge by filling it up with ink, but it can get messy. If a converter is available for your pen, it is worth getting one as they are not usually expensive.
Different converters use slightly different mechanisms for sucking up the ink, depending on the manufacturer and the brand of fountain pen for which they are designed. You can also use the converter to empty the ink from the pen so you can easily change to a different color. A cartridge, by contrast, usually has to be used until the ink is all finished and cannot be squeezed to expel the ink from the pen.
The converter has to be attached to the back of the pen before you can use it. Holding the pen nib in the ink, use the converter to draw the ink through the nib and into the reservoir.
To use a converter, you must first remove the ink cartridge from the pen. You must also make sure that the whole of the nib is submerged in the ink when filling the converter.
How Does A Converter Work?
A converter consists of a small cylinder that acts as a reservoir for the ink and screws or press-fits into the grip section of your pen. It is usually made of clear plastic so you can see how much ink is left. It is not built into the pen but is supplied as an accessory that can be easily removed or installed. Since a converter isn’t a permanent fixture, you still have the option to use cartridges when this is more convenient.
Sometimes the converter is made of an opaque rubbery compound that you squeeze while dipping the pen nib in the ink and then release, drawing the ink up into the barrel. It works much like the rubber top of an old-fashioned eyedropper that you squeeze and release to cause the liquid to flow up into the hollow pipe. These are called squeeze converters. Different pen manufacturers have different styles of squeeze converters.
Some of them, such as the Kaweco squeeze converter, are shaped like a soft plastic ink cartridge with a metal ring near one end. Others, such as one made for Pilot pens, are more elaborate with a silicon or rubber reservoir encased in a flexible metallic cage. They all work on the same principle. You compress the converter with your fingers while holding the nib in the ink and then slowly let go. The resulting vacuum draws the ink into the reservoir.
Squeeze converters are an older design than piston converters and are more straightforward to use. However, as they get older, they may get worn out and perish, depending on the material from which they are made.
The Kaweco squeeze converter fits Kaweco fountain pens as well as other brands that use standard or universal ink cartridges. People sometimes refer to the ink receptacle as a bladder or bulb. The Kaweco converter is cheap but may not work as well as a converter that is made specifically for your pen. Some squeeze converters are encased in metal with only a small opening where the bulb or bladder can be squeezed.
Other converters are made with a small piston inside that can be wound up or down to draw up or expel the ink. This kind of converter has a small knob at one end that you turn clockwise or anti-clockwise. Moving the piston up the tube creates a slight vacuum in the cylinder that causes the ink to flow into it.
You first turn the knob counterclockwise to make sure that the piston is as far forward as it can go and expel the air in the reservoir. Then you fully immerse the nib in the ink and, while doing so, turn the knob clockwise so that the piston moves back up towards the knob, drawing up the ink as it goes along.
Piston-type converters are the most common and are made by many different pen manufacturers. However, you should always buy a converter that is made for your pen if you can. This is because not all piston converters can be used in all pen brands. If you use a poorly fitting converter or the wrong one, you may have messy ink leaks or even damage your pen if you try to force it in. So don’t try to use a Lamy converter in your Montblanc pen or vice versa.
Some piston-type converters do not have a knob at the top that turns but instead use a small plunger that moves up and down like in a syringe. Parker makes both the converter with the turning knob at the top and one where a plunger is pushed down and then released.
Other Types of Converters
A similar type of converter is referred to as a syringe-filler. There is a knob at the end, attached to a small rod that runs down inside the converter. Pull it out to the maximum length, then submerge the nib in the ink. Then depress the plunger in a single smooth movement while counting to ten as the pen fills. Afterward, remove the pen from the ink and wipe off the nib.
When choosing a generic converter, make sure that it is not too long to fit in your pen as converters vary in length.
Push-button converters are the least common but can usually hold far more ink. They are not as easy to use as other converters and are harder to clean. To fill this type, you push a button and then release it. Pilot makes a push-button converter, but it only fits some of their fountain pens and cannot be used in the capless ones. Pushing the button pulls the ink into the capsule.
Older Shaeffer pens also use push button converters. The push-button converter contains a small spring or pressure bar. When you push the button, the spring flexes and squeezes the ink sac inside. Releasing the button causes the spring to flatten, and the sac returns to its original shape sucking up the ink. This type of mechanism is prone to more wear and tear than piston converters.
It is easier to clean piston-fill converters because they can be taken apart and washed out.
Converters do not fill up to the brim with ink because there must still be a bit of air left in the reservoir to create pressure that causes the ink to flow through the pen as you write. You may have to turn the knob repeatedly to move the piston up and down while holding the nib in the ink to get rid of bubbles inside the pen and fill the reservoir properly.
Converters come in different lengths, so even standard generic converters may not fit stubby pens with a short barrel section. For instance, Waterman converters have a unique shape and size, are 76.2 mm long, and only fit Waterman pens. Parker converters are only 74mm long and will only fit some Parker pens. Lamy converters are 71.4 mm long and have unique shapes and sizes that will only fit Lamy pens. The Cross standard ink converter is longer than most at 77.7 mm.
Some converters are 75 mm long. These include Faber-Castell, Montegrappa, Tibaldi, Visconti, and S.T. Dupont brands and are on the shorter side. Sailor sells a converter that is only 70mm long, and it only fits some Sailor pens, while the Sheaffer ink converter is even shorter at 66.7mm. Even if your pen uses universal cartridges, some generic converters may not fit inside it due to their length.
Some people say that piston converters with the screw-knob at the top are better as they give more control and require less physical force to fill the pen than the plunger-type. Piston converters seem to be preferred by a wide range of manufacturers nowadays. Not all plunger converters can be easily disassembled and cleaned. Others say that an advantage of the plunger-type is that you can more easily eject the ink as you can exert more pressure.
Some Fountain Pens That Use Piston Converters
Lamy fountain pen converters use the piston model. Lamy pens do not all use the same converter, so make sure that you order one that works with your particular Lamy model. The Lamy Z24 and Z26 converters work with the Safari, Vista, Al-Star, and Joy models, but you can only use the Z26 converter with Lamy’s Accent, Studio, CP1, and Logo pens. The Lamy pens that require the Z26 converter are usually sold with the converter, while those that use both converters are not.
Montblanc sells a Black Gold piston converter which is only suitable for the Montblanc Meisterstück Classique fountain pen range. As with all things Montblanc, this converter is pricier than those for other fountain pens, and the company only recommends that you use Montblanc ink in your converter. Fortunately, they offer some exciting ink colors.
Some Montblanc pens have a built-in piston filler, so you don’t need a converter or cartridges for them, while others use cartridges and nothing else.
In addition to the squeeze type converter mentioned earlier, Kaweco also supplies a piston-type screwing converter for some of its fountain pens in two sizes – a standard converter and a Mini. If you are familiar with Kaweco pens, you will know that some of them are pretty stubby and need a shorter converter.
Some converters have to be screwed into a fountain pen, while others only have to be plugged in. Schmidt sells both types, and their standard converters are intended to be used on many different brands of fountain pens. They both have the knob screw on top. Schmidt standard converters are 76.2mm long, and they make K1, K2, K5, and K6 converters – so four different types.
Fountain pen designs change over the years, so if you are buying an expensive pen, it is a good idea to buy a converter at the same time because, in later years, it may no longer be readily available. Even if your pen is not that expensive, if you want to be sure you can use it ten or fifteen years from now, a converter is the way to go.
Converters Are More Cost-Effective
In many instances, it is more cost-effective to buy a converter and bottled ink than to buy cartridges as it costs more to manufacture ink cartridges. Some say that you can buy more than a year’s worth of ink for the price of six months of cartridges. Some converters hold more ink than a cartridge too.
Converters are inexpensive add-ons to a fountain pen that have many advantages. These include cost-effectiveness, environmental friendliness, and almost unlimited ink color choice. They are not difficult to use, and most work very well, especially if purpose-made for your pen brand. You may get a bit of ink on your fingers while learning how to use one, but once you know to keep your fingers away from the bottle, they are no messier than a cartridge.