How Do Fountain Pens Work?

Sophisticated Simplicity

Fountain Pens may seem like complicated little contraptions, but there are just a few sophisticated but relatively simple parts that make it work. Here we will show you some of the terms and the functions there are in each bit of the pen. 

Fountain pens draw ink from the cartridge or reservoir to the nib by an interesting process called capillary action, whereby a liquid is drawn through a slim tube simply by the various forces acting upon it.

There are four main parts of a fountain pen that get all that lovely ink from inside the pen onto the page:

 a vista pen nib, showing slit, tip of collector

You can see the slit running down the nib, the hole for air at its end, the grooves of the collector are also visible at the bottom..

The nib slit:

The line that you can see on top of the nib, created by the gap between the two tines (the metal prongs) of the nib, this takes the ink from the feed and delivers it to the tip of the nib. This is why it is very important that these are aligned and not too close together or too far apart, otherwise the ink will not transfer properly.

Also note the small hole usually just above the slit, this allows air to flow into the pen so that the ink can come out.

The collector:

These are the grooves or fins visible either below or behind the nib, this part of the pen collects some of the ink flowing from the reservoir and stops too much flooding out at once, which would cause blots and messes on your paper.

The feed:

Carries ink from inside the pen to the nib through a channel, this is the bit of the pen your nib sits on top of.

 labelled feed and nib

The tip:

The tips of the tines are where the ink finally gets to meet the page, as it pulls along the surface it should draw more ink out, creating a smooth line when you write, and the shape of this tip also affects the style of writing that is possible, it might be a fine ball or square ended for an italic style, there are so many different styles to choose from. 


These are lovely little devices that make using bottled ink fairly simple, although it is important to make sure that your pen is compatible with the converter (for example the Lamy Z24 works for all Lamy Safari, Al-Star and Vista fountain pens). They work by replacing a normal cartridge with one that acts like a small syringe that you can draw ink through the pen nib by twisting the screw at the top. 

z24 and z26 converterfountain pen cartridge green

Left: a Z26 converter above and a Z24 below, these function as a cartridge (right) that can draw ink out of pots.

Almost all modern fountain pens use these key parts, although how they look might differ slightly, and we hope this will help you understand the purpose behind them. Take a look at our fountain pen page to see some of the variety of pens on offer.