Long ago, fountain pens had a hollow body to store ink, and you used an eyedropper to fill the tube up with ink from a bottle. Some still do. Many others started using various different mechanisms for filling, with levers, pistons, and even extendable tubes to dip into the bottle.
Most now take ink cartridges instead. The ink comes in a sealed plastic tube, that you just push into place in the pen, breaking the seal and allowing ink to flow. When the cartridge runs out, you pull it out, throw it in the bin, and push another one in.
Lots of people still like to use bottled ink, so along comes a device called a converter. It allows use of bottled inks in a cartridge pen. A converter is a similar shape and size to the cartridges it replaces, and fits into the pen in the same way – usually just pushing into place.
Why Use a Converter?
- Cheaper – if you use a lot of ink, you’ll save a fair bit of money by buying bottled ink, compared to cartridges. The converter will probably pay for itself before you get through the first bottle.
- More Choice – you can get a huge range of inks in bottles. Many more than you can get in cartridges, especially if your pen takes proprietary cartridges. My Lamy pen could only take Lamy ink before. Now, with a cheap converter, I have access to hundreds of different types of ink.
- Ink Snobbery – few people will admit it, but there’s something kind of nice about being a bit fussy about the ink you use. By time you’ve tested a few different ones and settled on a favourite, you’ve spent a whole lot of money, and the ‘cheaper’ argument no longer applies. Cheapness or snobbery. Pick one.
The first consideration is that you need the right sort of converter to fit your pen. Most fountain pens take a type of cartridge developed by
My Lamy Safari needed the right one of three different converters made by Lamy. Fortunately, they’re cheap enough (mine cost less than Â£3, from The Writing Desk in the UK). Sam has a fountain pen from
A Parker pen I had came with a converter where you squeezed a spring-loaded strip of metal, which deflated a rubber bag. Releasing it again sucked.
A different model of Parker we have came with the more common piston type. With this one, you actually pulled and pushed the end of the piston manually, at the top of the converter.
The two we’ve just bought (in the picture – we’ll be writing about the Noodler’s Ink soon), and most of the other models at The Writing Desk, have sections at the top that you turn, which screw the piston mechanism up and down. This does seem to work better, making for a less jerky movement, and a more gentle sucking. An improvement, I think.
There’s two different methods you can use for filling…
- Fill the cartridge, then put it in the pen: dip the cartridge in the ink, and do what you have to do to make it suck (usually sliding the piston up). Once it’s full, put it in the pen like a cartridge, but taking care not to drip ink as you do so. This way, you don’t dip the nib in the ink, leaving the pen cleaner.
- Fill the cartridge in the pen: put the cartridge in the pen empty, then dip the whole of the nib into the ink bottle (trying to avoid staining the pen itself). Operate the piston, so the ink is sucked up into the cartridge. Tap the pen on the edge of the bottle to shake off any drops, and clean the nib if needed.
I found out that if you try the first method after cleaning the pen through with water, the ink can come through almost unusably watered-down for a long time. I’d avoid this method at least the first time, and I think I’ll be sticking with the second from now on anyway.
Converters are an easy way to open up more use of a cartridge pen. If you write a lot, you can even save a bit of money. If you’re anything like me, though, you’ll just start wanting to try lots of different types of ink, and that can start to get expensive.