At The Beginning, Is It Better To Have A Variety of Inks or Pens?

When you’re first getting started in the world of fountain pens, it can be a bit overwhelming and hard to discern where to start. In this slice from a previous episode of Goulet Q&A, Brian tackles the important question of which to stock up on first: Ink or Pens? Read on to find out the answer.

Even Brian Goulet had to start somewhere when he first got into fountain pens. When you do not have a lot of experience and don’t want to invest a lot of money into a hobby you’re not sure will stick, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by all the options. Brian explains that since Goulet Pens started out primarily selling ink and paper, he drew much of his interest from that and dove deep into the world of inks. Inks were really what excited him as well so he ran with it.

However, this is, in his opinion, also the best way for anyone to start the fountain pen hobby. It is a fairly easy task to find an inexpensive pen that you enjoy and will write well on a page. But the ink is the thing that is left behind on the page and the factor that you will see more often so it is important to find the right ink. Once you find that good pen, you can then set to the task of searching down inks. With the opportunity to purchase ink samples, you are definitely getting the most bang for your buck buy accumulating inks as well.

Pens can be expensive to someone not familiar with the cost of fountain pens. A Lamy Al-Star at $37.60 can be a great deal of money for a pen and you may not want to invest that much, especially knowing you still need ink. But for that much, you could also get a Pilot Metropolitan and at least a dozen ink samples to test out and get a much larger variety in your writing experience. For the cost of the replacement nib for that same Lamy, which will slightly alter your writing experience, you could get 10 or so ink samples from different brands or with different properties that will broaden your horizons and show you how different inks behave. You can see how the ink reacts to different paper types and different nib sizes. These samples can also last through quite a few pages of writing, so you get a good long taste of the experience.

So, in the question of “is it better to have a variety of inks or pens?”, your best bet is going to be to invest in 3-5 inexpensive pens that you enjoy writing with and focus on collecting between 20 and 40 ink samples so you can test ink across brands and settle in on some top contenders. Once you find your inks, then you can move on to next level pens. The key to remember is that you do not want to overwhelm yourself with options of pens and inks. Either stick to the same ink and buy lots of pens or stick to a few pens and go crazy with inks. This will help you define characteristics you like, piece by piece, so you get the full picture of your ideal pen and ink.

How did you get started in fountain pens? Lots of inks or lots of pens first?

Write on,
The Goulet Pen Company Team

2017-10-11T01:54:18+00:00 August 2nd, 2017|Tips & Tricks|26 Comments
  • Kenneth Solomon

    When I started I wanted more pens. To learn how to write with a FP and also to use various nibs. As we all know every pen and every nib is a bit different. I started with just 3 inks. When I was comfortable with my writing instruments and knew more of what I wanted from a FP I began to explore inks. Of course this led me to even more FP and a drawer or two filled with inks!

  • Samantha Evans

    I started with more pens, because I had not yet formed a nib preference, but now I have more ink than I could probably ever write with. Lol

  • Sara Hagen

    I started with a variety of pens. Now I’m more into ink. I’ve got pens dedicated to certain inks and I’m looking forward to getting more ink (and a couple more fountain pens).

  • tlesher

    Put me down for the “inks” side. I started with two inexpensive pens (Lamy Safari F and Pilot Metropolitan M) with cartridges because I couldn’t decide between the two, and then a bunch of ink samples until I started to understand what I liked and didn’t like about different inks.

    I still get a “Surprise me!” sample every time I order. It’s an inexpensive way to keep from falling into a rut.

  • Alex C

    I was more interested in the pens. But once I discovered all of these inks and different properties, I’m all about the ink. I quickly found myself just using ink samples in my Pilot Metro and Lamy Al-Star before I committed to a whole bottle and then bought new pens. It’s hard to shake the collector mentality and the Pokemon syndrome…I do NOT gotta catch ’em all. 🙂

    • Lydia At Goulet Pens

      Hahaha totally understand that! Love the Pokemon reference! Definitely feels similar.

  • Memory

    Not sure why, I was more interested in pens than ink. I started with an expensive Waterman that was incredibly heavy with a few cartridges. It was a gift from my sister and never liked it because the ink wasn’t waterproof and not that bright. That was in high school working in a university lab and had an entire lab notebook lose most of its information due to a spilled beaker. I still wonder what happened to that Waterman was definitely expensive with real gold accents and a real gold nib.

    Fastforward to my postdoctral lab when my Russian baymate made fun of my Sharpie that I hated, but used because it would be waterproof. However, we use different kinds of alcohol often in biology labs. He introduced me to the Namiki Vanishing Point and Noodler’s Bulletproof inks. Finally! A practical fountain pen and ink combination that would work in a lab setting. We even decided to really push Noodler’s inks and test every single property. Ultra Violet lights to crosslink DNA to paper? The super strong UV light that kills bacteria and viruses? Different solvents? It became a fun experiment for the two of us while waiting for other experiments to be completed.

    So I was kinda weird. I spent over $200 on my first fountain pen, quickly spent $300 to get a limited edition 2008 purple vanishing point (that I’ve lost somehow…I’m still holding out hope that it’s in my car or my husband’s car).

    With ink, the problem was that I was introduced to Noodler’s first. At such a cheap price point, why would I bother to buy smaller bottles that weren’t bulletproof. When Noodler’s released Violet Vote (which was a nod to the Iraqi women who were allowed to vote for the first time and had to dip their thumbs into bottled ink), I was all set. I bought two bottles, and have used them from college through two postdocs.

    Ten years later, and I’m just now getting back into fountain pens. For about 7 years I was a circus performer and rarely had to use any pens at all. Then I took a grant writer position and had to start writing a LOT. Even though most people edit on their computers, I stil have to write an outline or scribble a paragraph before i can finish editing my draft. When it became important to keep track of those drafts, someone gave me a pack of the Preppy fountain pens. Disposable fountain pens? What’s the point in that? So I googled to try and find out if there was a way to reuse them.

    Wait, eyedropper pens? I don’t have to change a cartridge a day (I hate cartridges for the waste), or a small converter that I’d have to fill twice a day? This sounds amazing! And that started the addiction…..I went fo a variety of pens because I wanted to test out the different nib sizes and pick up calligraphy again. I always look at the sample vials, but then I think “but if you just pay X amount more, you get a whole bottle!”

    All in all, I went with one pen and one ink for years. Then things changed and I went for 10 different pens and 10 different inks. The collection continues to grow and my husband said that we don’t have anymore room in our drawer. I’m finding another drawer 😉

    • Lydia At Goulet Pens

      Wow! So glad you were able to come back and fall even deeper in love with fountain pens!

  • My interest was definitely more in the pens, at first, but it’s true: the ink is the important part left behind. So I am still searching for my favorite ink (my husband claims that the bottle of black ink in his office is one that *he* bought, even though I know that *I* bought it from Goulet Pens and just stashed it in there for safekeeping!), but I do have a good collection of pens at this point. And, hopefully, many more to come!

  • MP

    Ink all the way! Cheap, fun, and infinitely varied.

  • Lesley Schultz

    I’m an oddity and I started with paper. The feel of quality paper has always attracted me, and Goulet has one of the best quality paper selections found anywhere. Just recently I have branched out into pens and ink, because I asked myself why am I spending $15+ dollars for a set of Gel Pens that maybe last me half a year. A Pilot Metropolitan (or any other in the $20 and under set) and a bottle of Ink will last me way longer and is much greener. Not to mention the ability to really personalize your color selection. I now have 6 pens and 3 bottles of ink, and samples to last me a bit. Still finding my colors for a few, but in general, loving it so far, and I love being unique!

  • peter hofmann

    When I started with FP’s it was at a boarding school in UK (you had a choice of FP or pencil no ballpoint allowed!). At the time the choice of inks was black or blue!
    I used FP’s on and off for years, and 90% of the time with cartridges (again ink choices were limited).
    After doing some research, I stumbled onto Goulet and discovered ink samples, and that there were inks with quick drying properties (I am a lefty).
    So now I have a variety of pens, my inks have “exploded” and to top it all off I discovered the joys of good paper (partial to Clairefontaine).

    • Lydia At Goulet Pens

      Also a lefty! And I too love Clairefontaine, especially because they have the top bound pads so I’m not fighting with the binding when I write!

      • peter hofmann

        Have not tried the top bound one, will have to poke around my local store (I am in Canada). I do now run away from spiral bound notebooks

  • Carol F Metzger

    In 1973 I was going to spend the summer doing first hand anthropology in New Mexico. I wanted my notes to last. My mother took me downtown, very likely to Marshall Field’s, and bought me an olive green Parker 45 and some permanent black ink. Decades later I rediscovered it and started collecting. To date I have more ink than pens, lots of samples but also lots of bottles of the ones I loved the best. A few dozen pens, probably a hundred or more inks.

  • David

    “At The Beginning, Is It Better To Have A Variety of Inks or Pens?”

    In the beginning, indulge in all sorts of BOTH inks and pens! Later on you’ll settle down with what you like best, and have lots of baby inks and pens 🙂

  • Tom Johnson

    Which came first – the pen or the ink? It was the pen, writing in clay. Or was it the charcoal and colored pigments, writing on the cave walls with fingers? Is a stick of charcoal a pen or an ink? How about a chunk of yellow ocher?

    I first fell in love with writing with pens at work and used black ink. As I added more pens I was still using them at work and later it was important to use a totally permanent ink (Noodler’s Black) because many documents I wrote and signed as had to be permanently archived. I did use red, green and orange inks for editing/proof reading and making comments. Only after I retired and found Goulet Pens did I branch out into other colors, but still my pen collection has grown as much or more than my ink collection. So first – a slow buildup of pens that grew faster when I retired. Then a slow buildup of inks after I retired.

  • I started with wanting a waterproof black ink pen that would not be headed for the dump once a week. I bought a Platinum Carbon from Goulet, then bought some ink-with-free-pens (leaving names out because I won’t buy their ink anymore) and while I gave away or am using up the ink painting with it, I looked at th amazing colors of ink and wanted them and was signed up to the Ink Club by my husband. I do buy pens, but mostly now I want inks to play with painting too. I buy lots of ink samples! I just won’t buy an expensive pen because of what I do with them, sticking nibs in watercolor by accident or design, dragging them outdoors and in various types of studios. My range is generally $10-$50 tops. I want stub nibs almost exclusively now, but love love love the Platinum fine and medium. NO FUSS. Writes every time no priming the pump!

    • Lydia At Goulet Pens

      SImply lovely!

    • drzeller

      What color/brand is the green background? Ink? Watercolor? Thanks!

      • It is possible it is ink, and if it is it would be Super5 Dublin, waterproof — truly waterproof — helloooo Goulet pleeze carry it again! I buy from Amazon. I don’t have the journal on me to look, and I paint with inks a lot in my journals. If not, it is a Daniel Smith watercolor. Sap Green? But I think ink.

        • drzeller

          Thank you!

  • torrilin

    Paper. As a kid I cared that the paper I used for calligraphy practice was cheap, plentiful, and didn’t bleed so much that I couldn’t do hairlines. I went through several reams of 20lb copy paper and loose leaf that were good enough. But cheap paper was unpredictable and it often happened that if I couldn’t touch the paper before buying it would turn out awful and be stuff I’d have to pass on to a sibling. Finer nibs are less fussy, but good enough paper is still a big deal to me.

    Next up is ink. 100% of why I didn’t use my calligraphy pens for other writing is because they were Schaefer No Nonsense pens and I had no idea about converters or refilling carts, and Skrip ink is EVIL if you’re a lefty. The black dimly approached ok, and the blue black but really it just wasn’t nice. You would often have to wait for the work to dry, even with a 1.1mm nib. Basically every ink I’ve tried since is better, with Lamy and Pilot being good cheap choices. Platinum carbon black is amazing, and every arty kid should have a bottle of it or a comparably nice and archival ink. The carbon black is bitchy about paper, but if it won’t write nice, the paper won’t behave nicely with most anything but graphite anyway.

    A No Nonsense is prone to getting ink everywhere inside too. They don’t dry out fast, but a Platinum Preppy definitely is better. And cheaper, even with a converter. Lamy Safaris dry out fast but you don’t wind up covered in ink, and you can have a full range of nibs. Pilot Metropolitan is too heavy, but the nibs are nice. Kanuko or other school pens are probably better. Sailor school pens are nice, they don’t dry out fast or leak, and the fude nibs are fun. My TWSBI pens are about as good as the Platinum for ink not drying out, and the ink capacity is good.

  • David L.

    I started with more pens than ink. Mistake. I think it would be better to start with more inks than pens. Or have a pen for each ink. Having the same ink in each pen gets boring after a while. I encourage every person thinking of getting into the hobby to sample lots of inks and get one or two pens to start out with. Sampling a wide variety of inks pulled me in deep.

  • Kristina Castagnola

    I pretty much was balanced. I got hooked early on with the idea of matching pens and inks. 🙂