Fountain Pen Design

Function, Development, Construction and Fabrication

Components of Fountain Pens

It’s always good to start with definitions; it assures us that we are on firm and common grounds. These are definitions of fountain pens I found on the internet. I may not always agree with them but here we are.

A fountain pen is:

– A pen with a reservoir filled with ink that automatically feeds the writing point.

– A pen that is supplied with ink from a reservoir in its barrel.

– A mechanism that is composed of three main parts. The nib, which is in contact with the paper. The feed or black part under the nib controls the ink flow from the reservoir to the nib. The barrel holds the nib and the feed on the writing end protects the ink reservoir internally. The part close to the nib is the part that you grip while writing.

– All pens that contain an internal reservoir for ink.

Believing strongly that you expect more than these brief statements, I will write about the fountain pen and its components more in-depth.  The focus will be on the function of the components, the underlying mechanics, physics and a subtle smell of chemistry, the manufacture and their testing.

As a guide for their introduction, I would like to use the German word Füllfederhalter. It’s a long, good, reliable word. Meaning a fillable nib holder. In German, the most significant component of a collated word is the one at the end, namely the holder.

The topics with blue titles are completed.  Clicking on the title takes you to its first chapter


In my early days of trying to work out what it does, I drew up a flowchart of functions, interactions, and feedback loops.

Having arrived from designing computers, for work, and built a basic calculator as a hobby, I believed, that only a microprocessor could fulfil this complex task. When I suggested it to management, they looked at me as if I had been teleported from Mars, a second or two ago.

With a bit of help from miracles, I managed to design a feed without a microprocessor.  Last but not least, I had to because at that time, 1978, they had been still too large to fit inside a pen.

Seriously, today, with microchips being cheap as chips and being so small, and nanotechnology around, I wonder, why no one has taken on this task.


It is probably the most significant part of a fountain pen. It is there, where it all happens. The ink is transferred to the paper. The nib determines the characteristics of writing when the width of line alters in response to the pressure the writer applies, providing the writer with a form of expression, only surpassed by the brush.


Even it is a significant component of writing, designers and engineers neglect it, often.

I invested some time studying rheology, fluid statics and dynamics and developed reliable test methods. Without this, my fountain pen (the one I brought to life) would be long forgotten.  Time weeds without attachment.

Section Assembly

The main components of a fountain pen are contained in the section assembly, namely: The grip itself, the feed and the nib.  Once these components are assembled the testing of a fountain pen’s function can begin.  I also will write about the aspects of ergonomics.


The holder or barrel as it is called in New German, sorry, English, is also the largest part. Inside the front end, the grip section houses the ink feed with the nib attached.  Right behind it, further towards the other end of and inside the barrel, is the location of the tank or cartridge.

In the case of a tank version of a fountain pen, there is a turntable section at the side or back of the barrel, assisting in filling the tank. In a cartridge design, the barrel can be taken off, usually just behind the grip section, to gain access to the cartridge for its replacement.  And, there are numerous other versions of reservoirs with their particular filling methods.


A component much undervalued because most of the time it only clutters your desk space. It has several important functions. Firstly and obviously, it protects the nib while the fountain pen is carried around.

It prevents the exposed nib from soiling things. It also reduces the rate of drying out the nib, which prolongs the time for the pen to be available. For the latter in particular, the cap contains an inner, softer part that seals the area around the nib from the atmosphere around, thus, reducing drying of the ink on the nib.

Some caps are screwed on some others clipped on, on some you may find a small hole hidden under the clip. Unfortunately, clip-on caps have become more fashionable. Why do I say this? I will tell you more in the specific chapter.

The clip is attached to a cap.  However, since this attachment is quite superficial (almost any clip can be connected with almost any cap) I mention it here separately.  I talk about the different ingeneering principles such as: the hinged metal clip, the preloaded plastic clip and the elastic clip.  There is also a discussion on the various forces applied to the clip and the dilemma this can cause.

Ink Reservoir

(Next in line, started collecting thoughts and pictures) It holds the ink. It sounds very simple, and therefore it is an undervalued, ignored component with a significant impact on the feed and nib design and the overall quality of function of the fountain pen.

There are several styles of reservoirs. Here, I only add them up without going into much detail. The oldest version is the bladder with various forms of filling it. Historically followed by the tank with a piston and finally, the cheapest version, the cartridge, invented by marketing, because it gave them a reason to sell ink at a higher price.

The converter is an unfortunate afterthought because it is filled through the feed and section of a fountain pen, which had not been designed for this function.  Cartridge fountain pens are meant to be filled from the rear end of the section. Marketings excuse was to give people who do not have access to buying cartridges still the opportunity to use such a fountain pen.

The Fountain Pen in total

An article about the fountain pen looking at it from the outside, its handling and ergonomics and aspects on manufacturing, assembly and maintenance.

Quality Control

An attitude

Above all: Enjoy!


Amadeus W.

11 October 2014

Considering research, ingeneering and production, the feed is the most involved amongst the essential components of a fountain pen.  Therefore, I recommend you start with exploring this chapter The Feed’s Function

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