I’ve tried a lot of fountain pens at this point, and even started this blog to publish more information online about the fountain pen experience for lefties. When I got in to pens in 2019 there wasn’t that much about tips or “things I wish I knew” for lefties, and there still isn’t in 2023, so here are my hot tips for newbies.
There are three types of left handed writing styles, or how you contort your wrist while writing: underwriting, overwriting, and side writing. There are also different variations in grip which can effect which pens you might find comfortable.
There’s a myriad of factors that determine what pen you should buy like personal preference, budget, and practical needs. This can be very overwhelming, so my first hot tip is to write down why you want a fountain pen, what you want to use it for, and how much you’re willing to spend. Something else that’s important to figure out is if you want one pen, a handful of pens, or if you want a collection. This exercise can help narrow down your choices among the vast sea of available pens. While the rabbit hole is fun, inflation is bad right now and not everyone has disposable income to go wild on pens.
If you’re an underwriter, you can use pretty much any pen you want! You can even use a three-ring binder. You will have an easier time using fun flex and stub nibs. Underwriters are more likely to write at a lower angle, have their hand positioned below their writing, and therefore are using the pen at a more ideal position akin to way the manufacturer intended. They’re still pushing the pen though, so there are still factors to take into consideration like nib smoothness.
If you’re a overwriter (like me), you write with your wrist turned inward so that you’re positioned above your handwriting. Smudging is an issue especially as you work your way down a page. Overwriters are more likely to hold their pen at a higher angle and are basically using their pen upside down. This makes using flex and stub nibs more challenging and requires some adaptation and experimentation. Many nibs are ground in such a way that they write finer and dryer at a higher angle. Over and side-writers are more likely to have issues with nibs that have a “sweet spot” where the tipping on a nib is ground and polished in a way that is smoothest on a specific area.
If you’re a side-writer, you write with your wrist straight so that you’re positioned perpendicular to your handwriting. While this handwriting style is perhaps the most comfortable for your wrist, smudging is definitely an issue. Side-writers are also more likely to hold their pen at a higher angle, but the nib would be sideways unless you rotate the pen about 90 degrees so that it’s upside down and at angle. I don’t know much about the physics of side-writing, but it’s likely that you would need a nib that can write at any position and angle.
Lefty Specific Pens & Nibs
You might come across Lamy’s left handed nib that’s specifically ground to be smoother while being pushed across the page, instead of pulled. Unless you have a very specific writing style, it’s basically the same as a medium nib. Pelikan also has the Pelikano with a lefty nib. My second hot tip is to not get too excited about them because they may just lead to disappointment down the road. Please take this one with a grain of salt, there may be a lefty specific pen out there that’s amazing for you. If anyone reading this has tried the Sailor 1911 Lefty, please let me know how it is in the comments.
Ink and Paper
Ink and paper choice matter too, and can make or break a pen experience. Some inks are drier than others (Colorverse and Pelikan), some are lubricated (Iroshizuku, Diamine, Monteverde), some are super wet and never dry (Noodlers). Some papers are toothy (Leuchtturm), some are glassy smooth (Mnemosyne and Kokuyo). Some papers absorb ink right away (Field Notes), and some let ink pool on the surface (Tomoe River). For over and side-writers, paper and ink combinations make more of a difference as smudging is an issue. For more in-depth information on this I suggest looking at my series The Scale Of Paper Absorption.
My third hot tip is to not be discouraged if a particular pen doesn’t work well at first. Fountain pens in general can take some experimentation and fiddling to be right for you. Troubleshooting is part of the ride at first, sometimes even with expensive pens. If your pen doesn’t write at first (hard starting), or skips, it may be that the nib has “baby’s bottom” where the tipping is over-polished to the point where there’s insufficient contact between the nib tines where pen meets paper. If your pen is super scratchy, the tipping may have a rough spot that needs smoothing. This can be remedied right away if you have a paper bag or kraft paper, as it has enough tooth to smooth out light burrs, but not enough to ruin the nib. If you do this, the pen needs to have ink in it (or water) for proper lubrication.
Amazon Vs. Stationery Retailers
Amazon has fast shipping and lower prices, but you run the risk of counterfeit pens and poor packaging that leads to pens and ink getting damaged, or even destroyed. While you do end up paying MSRP, with fountain pen retailers there is added quality assurance and more personalized customer service. Certain stores, like Goulet Pens, have a generous return policy so you can have an easier time finding the right pen for you.
As I said earlier, troubleshooting is part of the fun. But, ordering a pen like the Kaweco Sport or the Lamy Safari from a retailer that tests pens before sending them out can make a huge difference in your first-time-writing experience. The Sport and Safari, while great starter pens, come from manufacturers with spotty quality control as far as nibs go. Nib performance can be adversely affected by writing style and angle, and you can let a pen retailer know how you hold your pen by leaving a note when ordering or by email. The retailer can then test your pen with that in mind, or offer suggestions and recommendations.
Below is a list of links to pen and stationery retailers. I’m not affiliated with any of these stores, but interested parties may inquire.
- Goulet Pens
- St Louis Art Supply
- Yoseka Stationery
- Anderson Pens
- Pen Chalet
My last hot tip is that fountain pens don’t require as much pressure as ballpoint pens and rollerballs, so you don’t have to grip the pen as hard and you might even have less hand fatigue. You might also adapt your grip over time to have better control over your pen. As a lefty, I get hand fatigue perhaps more easily than if I were a righty, but fountain pens are still more comfortable. It should also be said that certain combinations of pens, paper, and ink offer more control over others. While glassy smooth nibs are nice, sometimes you need a little feedback. I hope that everyone reading this has found it at least a little bit helpful.
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