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Choosing Your Fountain Pen: Filling Mechanisms

There are many different filling mechanisms for fountain pens, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

We will be going through four common filling systems: cartridges, converters, pistons, and eyedroppers; how to use them, and the pros and cons of each.


Ink cartridges are the most convenient of filling systems. Most fountain pens can use ink cartridges, which are pre-filled, plastic tubes that are made for one-time use. When empty, they can be thrown out and replaced. 

To use an ink cartridge: 

  1. Insert the ink cartridge into the feed unit of the fountain pen.
  2. Press the cartridge down until it is punctured so that ink can flow down to the nib.
  3. Leave the fountain pen pointed downwards. This step may require an hour or two to complete.

If you are looking for a fountain pen that can be carried around, cartridges are ideal. They are portable and do not require you to carry bottles of ink together. They are very simple to use as well.

However, because they do not draw from bottled ink, there tends to be limited colours and kinds of ink available. They also have smaller ink capacities as the cartridges are separate components. So if creating waste is a key concern, cartridges may not be what you’re looking for.


Converters are refillable cartridges that can be removed. Essentially, they “convert” cartridge-style pens so that they can draw ink from bottles.

To use a converter:

  1. Insert the converter into the pen.
  2. The nib of the pen is then to be submerged into the bottle of ink.
  3. From then, you can draw ink up the nib and the feed.

For those dissatisfied with cartridge pens’ ink selection, converters are a good option that allow you access to a variety of bottled ink. They are reusable and a better choice compared to cartridges for the environmentally-conscious.

But like cartridges, they have smaller ink capacities as they are separate components. Not all converters are interchangeable either, so be careful when picking out the right one for your pen!


Pistons are like converters, but are integrated rather than removable. These pens can thus only use bottled ink, and not cartridges.  

To use a piston fountain pen:

  1. Submerge the nib into a bottle of ink.
  2. Draw the ink in by using the piston knob at the end of the pen barrel.

Piston fillers allow you to access a variety of bottled inks, and unlike converters, they have greater ink capacities. 

They may be less portable compared to the previous two types of filling mechanisms as they require bottled ink and do not have the option of using cartridges.

Eyedroppers, as indicated by its name, use an eyedropper to fill the entire body of a pen with ink. 

To use an eyedropper fountain pen:

  1. Unscrew the pen barrel.
  2. Use the eyedropper to fill the barrel with ink.
  3. Screw everything back together.

Compared to cartridges and converters, eyedroppers can hold a significant amount of fountain pen ink. They also offer good ink selection. Eyedropper pens tend to have lower cost as well.

However, they are less convenient: you need to have a separate eyedropper or ink syringe to fill your pen. They are more prone to leaking, especially if you are carrying it around. 

We hope this guide has been helpful! Check out the footnotes™ notebooks for fountain pen-friendly notebooks you can bring around easily.