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How to choose a fine writing pen

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tip of fountain pen
The nib of a fountain pen molds to its owner's hand.
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Writing with a fine pen adds a smooth touch of charm to your handwriting

Fine writing pens are a charming personal accessory that can say a lot about your personality. An exciting investment for writers or just the right gift for someone you love, fine pens give grace and respect to the act of writing.

There are three types of pens to choose from, each with distinct qualities and subtle variations. As the price point for a fine writing pen can vary from under $100 to over $3000, it pays to do your research before making a purchase. Stop by a pen shop and ask if you can test different pens, or borrow a colleague's pen for a "test drive." Once you know what you like, you can find your perfect pen at a specialty retailer online, by catalog, or at a high-end stationery or jewelry store.

Fine pens will feel very different than disposable pens. Youíll notice they are thicker and sit in your hand with a pleasant weight. In general, people with large hands or long fingers prefer to write with thicker, heavier pens while those with petite hands prefer thinner, lighter pens.

The first step in choosing a fine writing instrument is to decide which type of pen will suit your needs. The three types of fine writing pens are ball point, rollerballs and fountain pens. Within each type youíll find variations in construction and materials that affect the penís price point, feel and writing quality.

Here are the characteristics of each type of fine writing pen:

Ball point pen Ė A ball point pen is a good choice if you want to upgrade your casual, daily writing. These pens are popular choices for a professional setting; they produce the smooth lines youíd expect from a fine pen, without requiring the same level of maintenance as rollerballs and fountain pens. Plus, the oil-based ink lasts longer.

Roller ball pen Ė Rollerballs are versatile pens for professionals and writers. They produce a uniform line that gives handwriting consistence, and use a water-based ink that doesnít last as long as oil-based inks, but can easily be refilled with a new disposable cartridge. Roller ball pens may not be the best choice for someone who writes for long periods at a time as the slight hand pressure required can cause soreness. Unlike fountain pens, roller ball pens write well on thin paper like moleskin travel journals and they donít bleed.

Fountain pens Ė Fountain pens are an old-fashioned favorite. Sensitive to pressure, they write with more flow so you donít have to press hard and can write for extended periods. Many pen enthusiasts will tell you that fountain pens improve handwriting because they give more shape and personality to each word: vertical lines are narrow and horizontal or slanted lines come out thicker.  You can refill them with a water-based ink cartridge or choose a model that requires an ink bottle refill.

If youíre leaning towards a fountain pen, it helps to know a little about nibs. Nibs are the split point at the end of the pen where the ink flows. As the nib makes contact with the paper, its size and stiffness or flexibility affects how the pen writes. Fine and medium-sized nibs work for most people, though you may want to try out an extra fine nib if you write small.

Nibs are flexible and will bend over time according to the amount of pressure you use when writing. This quality gives fountain pens the unique ability to mold to the individualís handwriting. This is also why fountain pen owners are so reluctant to lend out their pen, and rightfully so.

High-end fountain pens often have nibs made of gold or silver, while most fountain pens have stainless steel nibs. Gold nibs are more fragile, but pen sellers will tell you they write much smoother than stainless steel. Older stainless steel pens may have a scratchy feel when pressed to paper, but newer pens often donít.

Still undecided? Here are a few tips to help:

* If the writer will not use the fine writing pen often, it may help to note that fountain pens dry out and require thorough cleaning if they are not used frequently.

* Bring the notebook or paper the writer will be using to a pen shop for a test. Shops have paper designed to make their pens write well, but you want to see how a pen will write on the actual paper youíll be using it on.

* Set a budget. A fine writing pen is an investment, but you can find a good instrument for under $150 or even $100. You donít need to go for the gold with your first fountain pen.

Once you have your pen in hand, give it a permanent home - someplace safe and out of the reach of passersby, especially little ones.


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