FP101: Fountain Pens for Lefties


I started a Fountain Pen 101 Series more than three years ago, and ever since then at GouletPens.com we’ve been getting asked about doing one especially for left-handed fountain pen users. It’s a great idea…but I’m definitely not a lefty! Well, we’ve talked to a lot of lefties and put together the best information we could (with some left-handed chicken-scratch to demonstrate). Enjoy!

Fun facts about lefties:
  1. Today is International Left-handers day: August 13! That’s why we decided to launch this post today ๐Ÿ™‚ 
  2. Of the last 7 US Presidents, 5 are left-handed! 
  3. 10% of population thatโ€™s left-handed
  4. Why are they called southpaws?
  • originally terms for left-handed baseball players
  • pitchers traditionally face west, so a pitcher throwing left-handed would have his left hand on the south side of his body

Lefties are likely underrepresented in the FP world because of the challenges:
  • ink smearing
  • drag/rough feel on the page
    • challenges with certain nibs like flex or italic
  • potential flow issues 
Pushing motion more than pulling (like a righty would)
  • nib size will be impacted (based on drag/feel of the nib)
  • ink options, dry time/smearing
Pen angle matters
  • 45 degree angle is ideal for lefties or righties
  • coming from ballpoints/rollerballs most people hold their pens at a steep angle
  • lefties feel a lot more โ€œtoothโ€ with high angles in the push motion
  • try to drop that thing down if you can


Hand positions:

#1 Underwriter
mirror image of righty

  • mirror image of righty
  • hand does not smear overtop of writing
  • this position allows for most versatility in pen/ink choice
  • many writers with this hand position donโ€™t have to take nib sizes or inks into consideration


#2 Side-writer
hand is in-line with the writing



  • hand in-line with writing
  • most potential for smearing
  • fast-drying ink is essential
  • smaller nib sizes are best (EF, F), though there will be a factor of personal preference here
  • flex nibs will be a challenge due to push motion
  • stub nibs can be used but might look odd due to the angle
  • turning paper to the left could help fix smearing issues


#3 Overwriter (hook handed)
hand is over the line of writing



  • hand is over the line of writing
  • still a potential for smearing, not quite as bad as side-writers
  • sometime exaggerating the โ€œhookโ€ can actually help prevent smearing
  • fast-drying ink helps
  • flex nibs are basically unusable
  • stub nibs actually emulate a righty, just coming from the opposite angle!
  • paper turning might end up being rather extreme with this hand position
Important!! Practice can change habits/experience
  • fountain pen will force you to slow down, practice intentionally
  • Iโ€™ve heard from lefties who found their existing hand position restricting, so they intentionally retrained themselves to be underwriters


Product Recommendations:
Personal preference comes into play with nib size, smearing vs. drag- for all lefties

Underwritiers: 
  • little special consideration is needed apart from righties
  • generally no smearing issues, most nib sizes work well
  • does present challenge with stub or flex nibs, may require turning the paper drastically


Side-writers and Overwriters:

Ink:

Pens:

  • really fine nibs for a fine line (may drag though): most anything Pilot, Platinum Preppy EF, Faber-Castell EF
  • avoid soft nibs, flex nibs, and stubs
  • some prefer medium nibs b/c theyโ€™re smoother
  • Pilot Metropolitan (fine or medium)
  • Lamy Safari with swappable nibs, EF and M
  • left-handed nibs: donโ€™t bother, hard to find and most lefties say it doesnโ€™t feel different than a medium nib

Paper:

  • Will really depend on your nib and ink choice, and personal preference
  • Rhodia seems to be a popular recommendation, but you might want faster dry time
  • Clairefontaine is even smoother, but dry time will be a little longer
  • Leuchtturm, Field Notes, Apica are slightly more absorbent
  • Goulet notebook sampler set
  • experimentation will be key here based on your nib/ink preference

It’s worth checking out threads on Fountain Pen Network and Reddit for more opinions of left-handed fountain pen users.
Be sure to check out the other Fountain Pen 101 videos, and visit GouletPens.com to check out more of the products we featured here. Ask any questions you have in the comments below!

Write On,
Brian Goulet and the Goulet Team 

2017-10-11T13:45:47+00:00 August 13th, 2015|Fountain Pen 101|51 Comments
  • Bridgett

    So many great tips!

    I started out my fountain pen journey as a slight over writer, but as I started to explore with more pens and inks I started to retrain myself to be an underwriter. I switch back and forth now depending on the pen and ink combo I’m using. I’ve even started to play around with flex and cursive italic nibs in the last few years and after toying around with them I’ve gotten both to work for me.

    It’s all about trial and error and finding what works. Fortunately that can be a lot of fun if you give yourself the time and space to do it.

    • Madigan

      Hey Bridgett! Great points, and not just for lefties. I feel like a lot of the enjoyment in using fountain pens is the ability to mix and match, use different inks and nib sizes, and find one that works for you! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Suzanne D

      I am similarly a hybrid – for most writing, I’m a slight overwriter, and regularly use nibs of all shapes and sizes, including italics. For pointed dip pens and other flexible nibs, I shift to being an underwriter as you need the pull of the nib with the tines spread to get the best line variation.

  • Kyle

    I had tons of problems switching over to fountain pens as a lefty. I am a high school student so I had way too much time on my hands during the summer. So naturally, I decided I would teach myself to write with my right hand too. I was a really fun and challenging thing to do. I still use my left hand more often, but being ambidextrous is a great skill to have.

    • Madigan

      Awesome Kyle! That is so fun that you were able to make yourself ambidextrous. Since filming this video our videographer, Jenni, has been trying to do the same thing. Letting her know that it can be done will certainly boost her confidence! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Charles Latshaw

    Hi Brian. I happen to write with fountain pens BECAUSE I’m a lefty. It means I can select the inks that work for me and best avoid smearing. Some tips you didn’t mention above:
    1. I actually prefer medium+, bold, and big stub italic nibs. Since I’m a side-writer, I’m pushing the nib forward. Fines and extra fines tend to poke into the paper and get stuck. I want a big nib with a nice round surface.
    2. Noodler’s Bernanke Blue and Black are great, and they do dry nearly instantly. BUT, they look terrible on cheap paper, and they smell even worse.
    3. I prefer cheap paper that sucks up the ink right away. Good, smooth paper like Rhodia or Clarefontaine is nice for you righty majority, but terrible for us smudgers. Gimme a cheapo staples notebook any day. Just about any ink will soak in right away and work fine without smudging. My favorites are all the Iroshizuku inks. They dry fast enough that I very rarely get a spot on my hand. And they don’t feather very much. Plus they clean out of the pen with just one or two flushes.

    • Madigan

      Hey Charles! These are really great points. I can totally see how cheaper paper would help ink soak in and reduce smearing. Iroshizuku inks are fantastic! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Rangaprabhu P

    I am a left handed underwriter. Never had issues with fountain pens. My son though is a left handed side writer. He is seven and is starting to take after my fountain pens. This post is very helpful for me when he is ready to pick inks and such.

    • Madigan

      Glad we were able to help! We’re always here if you (or your son!) have any questions. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Mitchell Weinberg

    Lots of solid info in this post, thanks for making it. I’m a lefty underwriter as well. Much of what you said I’ve come to figure out through experimentation on my own over my 3 years of being into the fountain pen hobby. I use the PR Midnight Blue for taking quick notes at work and I find it dries quite fast and is a nice, professional dark blue colour.

    • Madigan

      Hey Mitchell! PR Midnight Blue is one of my favorite dark blues. It’s totally gorgeous. I’m glad you enjoyed the post! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • astra2

    I’m a lefty sidewriter. I go with bigger nibs (M or B) so the flow is smoother, since I hold my pen parallel to the text rather than perpendicular. I sometimes have trouble with stub and music nibs for this reason and haven’t dared try a flex nib. What has worked well is are italic nibs.

    • Madigan

      It’s interesting to hear about lefties using bigger nibs. It makes sense though- you wouldn’t want those toothier nibs to get caught on the paper! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Mishelle R

    I think as a kid I must of been a side writer, because I remember always having pencil smudges on my hand. Somewhere along the lines, I developed into an underwriter. I always used a medium ballpoint pen, or bold because it worked better for my writing, and flowed more freely than a fine pen. Don’t get me started on twisted ball point pens, those twisted instruments of lefty torture! (Now the Retro 1951 twists from the top of the pen not in the middle, and also locks into place so it doesn’t twist back down while writing and the refills are smooth)

    However when I moved to fountain pens I got Fine (Lamy Safari blue) and then an Extra Fine (Lamy Al-Star Purple) – because I read that fine nibs work best for Lefties and on cheaper paper. Then Brian had to say that Medium was what he recommended for Lefties. So my third pen was a Lamy Vista Medium (might as well get another pen for just a bit more than just a nib) The medium was the size I needed. I loved it. Ended up getting the broad, 1.1, 1.5 and 1.9mm nibs for my lamy pens.

    The twsbi-580 al in purple was a different writing experience in medium than the lamy for me. I have now moved into actually liking a fine in my 580 and also my Eco. Now the platinum cool fine is a toothy pen, and I have to make sure not to twist the nib to keep it writing in the “sweet spot” My twsbi and Lamy don’t seem to respond that way for me.

    One thing I have learned since I started using fountain pens, my left looks like I am writing with a fat marker when I use a stub 1.1, 1.5 or 1.9mm but when I swap it with my right hand I get line variation, and almost write in a “shaky calligraphy” style writing. I could never get the angles and line variation down with my left, but just might get something going with my right hand. Something to practice.

    No more hand cramps from pushing hard on a pen to get ink on paper. Now my pen flows across the page smoothly with just enough “resistance” that I am not having to “hold back” the pen from racing across the page. (My pends are smooth – some ball point pens are too slick they race across the page when I write, and that’s what I am referring to)

    Thank you for posting this FP 101 for lefties. Enjoyed Brian’s left handed attempts ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Madigan

      Hi Mishelle! Thanks for sharing all the great information. It sounds like you’ve really worked out a system of writing that works well for you. It’s so cool that you are practicing with your right hand as well. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Mel

    My daughter is left handed and finds it hard to use my Lamy. This will be handy for her as she is the only leftie in our family. Thank you for posting!

  • TAZ

    Very informative video! Thanks for posting. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Madigan

      You are welcome, Tiffany! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • John Smith

    Thank you so much! I am somewhere between a side writer and an underwriter in the 8th grade with a Lamy Safari (M) and a Pilot Metropolitan (M). I find that when writing on bad paper, Noodlers X feather will get the job done. When Im writing on Leuchtturm1917 Master (Good notebook, not super absorbent) I use Bernanke Black. This unfortunately has a bit of a longer dry time (5 secs), so I occasionally smear my writing (not as long with Metro, more like 2 secs.). I use Sheaffer Skrip Red for grading papers (Works like a Charm!) I also use a Nemosine Neutrino 1.1mm stub. It writes fairly well for me with X feather (provided it writes in the first place, kind of a finicky pen).

    Once again, thank you so much for creating this blog post!

    • Madigan

      Hey John! These are fantastic combinations! I’m glad that you’ve found something that works well for you. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Sparky Catkid

      Oh wow, I’m in 7th right now, good luck in 9th! My only fountain pen is an Esterbrook 1551, but I do have a fine Platinum Preppy I ordered. Along with that I have the J Herbin 1670 samples+De Atramentis Blackberry.

  • Mel, I am a left handed over-writer and love a Lamy, but couldn't use it until I had used another one for a while. I think Jinhao was too heavy, and the preppy too light. But both worked well to learn to use it.

  • Starchix

    SO thankful I am a righty! But have huge sympathy for lefty fp lovers. One other suggestion would be to switch to Hebrew, which reads (and presumably is written) from right to left! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Madigan

      Hey Starchix! Good idea! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Jessica

      Or you can do what I do: just write English backwards (mirror-image). Another of my self-adaptations to pen-using and to righty-style notebooks! ๐Ÿ™‚ Has a slightly lower learning curve than switching to Hebrew. ๐Ÿ˜›

      • Starchix

        Hey, if it’s good enough for Leonardo, it ought to be good enough for modern day lefties. I wonder if Leonardo was a lefty?

      • Starchix

        And if you also form the letters backwards and use Noodler’s invisible ink (I forget what it’s called) you can have your own secret code. Oh wait, that’s not the goal, is it? ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Adam Hopkins

    Lefty chiming in: The best way I’ve found is kind of like an overwriter, but instead of turning the paper the way you showed in the video, turn it the other way so your hand isn’t hooked. It’s kind of like in-line writing, but mimics the pen angle of an overwriter (180 degrees from righty underwriter). No problems with stubs this way, no smearing (unless it’s super slow drying/not waterproof). I’ve found water-proofness is almost more important than dry-time because my hand might be sweaty and smears it. Flex, I have to try underwriting. But I do agree with your ink choices, Scabosia and Salix are some of my favorites.

    • Madigan

      Hey Adam! Thanks for sharing your way of writing! It’s been really interesting hearing about all the ways lefties have managed to make writing with a fountain pen work for them. I’m glad we included some of your inks of choice in our suggestions. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Jared

    I think I’ similar to Adam. I am a mix of side-writer and over-writer, but avoid hooking my wrist (uncomfortable!) by turning the paper instead to the left of vertical. My ideal ink is fairly fast drying but certainly water resistant, because my hands will sweat. I’ve had some luck with various Noodlers, recently discovered Scabiosa, also Faber-Castell Moss Green, and PR (fast dry) Chocolat. I can do some stub, and also a teeny bit of flex (if I overwrite). When I overwrite, the pen angle is a bit steep. I like Rhodia, Clairefontaine papers. Kyokuto has great notebooks. I’m interested in trying Leuchtturm.

    • Madigan

      Hi Jared! Those are some fantastic ink suggestions. I haven’t heard about Moss Green being a good fast-drying ink, but I absolutely love the color. I’ll have to check out the Kyokuto notebooks! Thanks for the suggestion! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Janis

      Jared…just checked out my writing style…same as you…my paper is tilted to the LEFT of centre…not the right, and I am now less over-writing and more side writing, but my hand is above the line I am writing…tend to smear the line below the first line…I use anything…but Australian Black Roses and apache sunset…really hard to write constantly with…gotta wait…everything smears…such slow drying inks

  • Jessica

    Thanks for researching and writing this blog! Years before my foray into fountain pens (as in, elementary school), I found out that if I turned my page 90 degrees to the right (like you show in the over-writer section of the video) I stopped getting “Needs Improvement” in handwriting lessons! When I started using fountain pens, I found that I didn’t need to do anything really special as I had already adapted to an appropriate writing style that worked for fountain pens as well. ๐Ÿ™‚ Love your blog!

    • kbenton

      Hah! I should’ve reloaded before I made my post aboveโ€ฆ I knew there were more of us out there with the 90 degree method ๐Ÿ™‚

      Remember all the graphite you had on your hand at the end of a school day before you tried it for the first time? I sure do!

      • Jessica

        Ha! Do I??? And your video is exactly how I write…solved all my problems and now I just feel sorry for other lefties who haven’t figured it out yet. ๐Ÿ˜› I never had any issues switching to FPs and I can also write reasonably well with a flex nib (if I practiced I could write quite well, but patience isn’t one of my strong suits!)

        • Tracy Neal

          oh my! Another one of us?? GREAT! Even thought I write with the same 90 degree solution, I seem to be having issues w/ fountain pens (i.e. pilot metropolitan). I can’t get consistent ink flow and it’s driving me nuts!!

      • Sparky Catkid

        I never had graphite on my hand. Am I the only one?

  • Brooks Martin

    Lefty Underwriters should have no difficulty with flex nibs. The Lefty’s hand position places the nib in the optimum angle to make good thins and thicks for writing in the Copperplate and Spencerian styles of calligraphy. If you look at a dip pen nib holder for flexible nibs for Righties, you will see that the nib is held in the natural angle assumed by Lefty Underwriters ๐Ÿ™‚

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Pz04cuzVCo

  • kbenton

    Brian, I was so happy to see this topic, as a proud lefty and die hard FP lover. I’ve posted on the site once before about how I handle the problems you mention, whichโ€ฆ I guess I have to call it uncommon, as I’ve never met anyone in the 30 years I’ve been handwriting who does the same thing. I’m sure someone out there does, though, and maybe they’ll read this too.

    Anyway, I made a quick youtube video (not with Brian’s production values, I fear) that shows itโ€ฆ basically it’s underwriting, but with the page rotated 90 degrees. The video above does mention rotation in overwriting with the hooked hand, but I’m a strong advocate for my method because it keeps the hand natural, and ensures that the presentation of the nib to the paper matches that of a right-handed writer, which makes italics, flex pens and calligraphy far more straightforward.

    The only hard part is training yourself to read sideways ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Anyway, the YouTub’s here for anyone interested https://youtu.be/aQfxywIq_MM

    Happy writing, everyone!

    (p.s., Pen โ€” Noodler’s Ahab; Ink โ€” J. HERBIN BLEU OCEAN 1670; Paper โ€” Tomoe River Cream; all but the last bought from the fine folks here at GPC ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Tracy Neal

      Hi Kerry!! I “found” your video on Goulet Pens where Brian is talking about fountain pens for lefties… I found it interesting that you said you had never come across another lefty who writes as you do, with your paper turned 90 degrees???? Really??? That’s the only way I have ever written!! =) I am a fountain pen “newbie” and having trouble finding a FP that works for me. I keep “blaming” the issue on being a leftie, so it was nice to find your video. Maybe we could chat via email sometime. tracy p neal at g mail dot com with no spaces. =)

  • I am an underwriter and the picture is not accurate. It is not possible to write with the paper straight like that. It has to be angled to keep from hooking the hand. This link is the most accurate link I have seen on line in regards to left handed writing.
    http://www.nibs.com/Left-hand%20writers.htm
    Thank you for recognising lefties!

  • Bry

    The body of the lamy Safari is perfect for write handed people but really cuts into my
    Middle finger as a left handed person. Is there any way to twist the body of the pen to be more comfortable or would I just end up breaking the pen?? Thanks!!!

  • Kris Burgess

    I was really happy to see this but it kinda drove home that i need to change the way i hold the pen. I’m an over writer. Something i’ve found with my hand position is that my nails will cut into the skin, to the point where i can’t hold the pen anymore. Trimmed nails kind of became an essential but an annoyance.

  • thorn

    I know I’m not the only lefty who does this, but I’m an ‘underwriter’ who has never ‘pushed’ my pen. I hold the pen in a conventional way, except that I point my pen-nib to the left and ‘drag’ it across the paper. My favorite oblique pen was an Osmiroid with a tipped nib that actually curved to the left. I still have the grip section of that thing, but I think I must’ve messed up the feed using hot water or something. Man did I love that nib. My handwriting is *nothing* special, but co-workers seeing my writing with that pen asked if I was a calligrapher. I wish someone would make a serviceable knockoff of that thing.

  • itsonlywords

    I’m an underwriter when I’m printing. I turn my paper at about a 45 degree angle to the right. However, when I’m writing in cursive, I’m an overwriter with my paper turned at about a 45 degree angle to my left. It is very nearly impossible to achieve nice looking, consistently right-leaning letters when underwriting with the left hand. By overwriting and turning the paper to my left, my wrist stays in a neutral position, my ink has extra time to dry, the slant of the letters is naturally to the right and, probably most importantly for writing with a fountain pen, by making a small adjustment to pen position, I can pull the pen rather than push it.

    (Full disclosure: I haven’t actually written with a fountain pen in many years so I’m going by memory here.)

  • SJ Kissell

    I get less ink ink on me with a fountain pen than I do with a roller ball, which is always darker, harder to remove and a boring color. With a fountain pen, I can use a piece of blotting paper if it’s not drying quickly enough and if u forget the ink I wear will be beautiful.

  • disqus_xSCCITLlSf

    I’m an underwriter but find the barrel unscrews. Any ideas?

    • Lydia At Goulet Pens

      Heather, are you turning the pen at all as you are writing? I’ve never experienced the barrel unscrewing on me when I write and I too am a lefty. I would try loosening your grip or holding the pen closer or further from the grip section. It may simply be that your natural writing tendencies are working against the pen and causing it to twist loose.