Wondering How to replace the cartridge in your fountain pen?
Refilling the fountain pen is a part of regular maintenance that should be performed at least once a year.
There are two (2) main types of refilling systems:
1. A cartridge refilling system, which uses a fountain pen ink cartridge.
2. A bottled ink system, which uses a bottle of ink to refill your pen.
Replacing the cartridge in your fountain pen is a part of regular maintenance that should be performed at least once a year. Converter, ink bladder, barrel, and built-in refilling systems all use fountain pen bottled ink for refilling.
A Note On Fountain Pen Maintenance:
- Always clean your fountain pen before refilling it with ink, before switching between different types of inks, and before storing your pen for an extended period.
- Before you take apart your fountain pen to refill it, it's important to have a general understanding of the inner parts of a fountain pen. Modern fountain pens tend to be different from vintage pens, they contain a cap, nib, grip, ink reservoir, and barrel.
- The ink reservoir can be refilled because it is separate from the pen's main body. The pen can be disassembled for cleaning and refilling ink as described in the user manual.
Parts of a Fountain Pen
- Cap: A lid that fits tightly over the nib and prevents any ink from leaking out
- Nib: The metal tip that distributes ink to paper
- Grip: Section connected to the nib and held in hand during writing
- Barrel: The outer pen sleeve that protects the nib and feeds from drying or damaging elements; the reservoir of ink inside a fountain pen
- Ink Reservoir: The fountain pen, which has a reservoir for ink that is housed inside the pen body; many designs; some are built-in to the design of the pen
- Cartridge: A refillable ink reservoir for fountain pens; can be refilled with bottled ink using a tube or syringe.
- Ink Bladder (or Ink sac): A refilling ink reservoir; a plastic sac inside the barrel that connects to the nib and grip. When pressure is applied, the bladder moves to create low-pressure that pulls ink back into the reservoir.
- Ink Converter: An ink reservoir that sits inside the pen’s barrel and has a mechanism to fill it with ink; is usually lever-operated and uses low pressure to transfer ink from a bottle into a reservoir.
Fountain Pen Maintenance
Regularly cleaning your fountain pen will help maintain its performance and will be easier to replace the cartridge in your fountain pen. If you use your pen often, you should clean it at least once a month to keep it in optimal condition.
Fountain Pen Troubleshooting
Cleaning solves these common fountain pen problems:
- Fountain pen skipping
- Build-up inside the pen (dried ink, dust, paper fiber, etc.)
- Fountain pen ink not flowing
- Nib corrosion
- Fountain pen not working
- Intermixing inks
- Fountain pen stops writing
How to Clean a Fountain Pen
How to take apart a fountain pen
The standard disassembly process is to:
1. Remove the cap.
2. Unscrew the nib and grip from the fountain pen by turning it counterclockwise.
3. Remove the barrel to expose the ink reservoir.
Any further disassembly will put your fountain pen at risk. For safety, it's best to keep your fountain pen in its three-piece state to prevent breakage of the nib or cap and to assure against warranty violations. You can pull the fountain pen nib and grip off of the ink reservoir, but only if the reservoir is detached from the barrel. You can also get a nib and grip replacement kit if necessary, but we recommend you consult with an expert for more information first.
In some fountain pens, the nib separates from the grip and can be detached from the pen if not cleaned properly. Separating the nib from the grip could damage either part, and your warranty may not cover any repairs. Cleaning your fountain pen can get a bit messy, you could get ink in your skin or clothes but don’t worry there are a series of household products and methods to help you remove these undesired ink stains.
Cleaning your fountain pen
To clean your fountain pen:
1. Remove the cartridge or converter from the nib and grip.
2. Gently tug on the pen cartridge or ink cartridge to detach it. Rely on gentle force to remove it, not excessive force that could damage the pen.
3. Restrain the flow of ink from the cartridge using a bandage, such as an adhesive bandage. Use duct tape to keep a dam with the opening of the cartridge or converter sealed.
Pressure-sensitive tape is a type of tape that can be activated with pressure and is often used to seal doors. Scotch tape is a famous brand of pressure-sensitive tape available in most supermarkets.
4. Let the pen sit for a moment and then run it under cold or room-temperature water. It's best to run the nib and grip under a gentle stream of cool water to reduce the risk of destruction from high temperatures.
5. When the nib and grip are clean, then add a small amount of water to the pen. Then, gently dab the nib and grip with a soft cloth until no more ink appears on the cloth.
6. Repeat until the water remains clear for over an hour.
7. Place a paper towel inside a clean, dry cup and hold the nib pointing downward. Let the water sit inside the cup for a few hours. The water will drain out of the nib and the paper towel will dry it up properly.
Reassemble your pen
After you've thoroughly dried the nib and area of contact, remove the pressure-sensitive tape from the opening in the ink cartridge or converter. If you are replacing the ink, then install a new ink cartridge. If you are refilling your pen, look for bottled ink; this can be purchased in office supply stores such as Staples and Office Max. Turn the nib section counter-clockwise to close the pen.
Fountain Pen Flushing
“Flushing” is a cleaning process used to clear your pen of all ink to replace the cartridge in your fountain pen. With the same goal in mind, it is important to flush any fountain pen with an ink-filling system or converter when you notice that your pen isn’t working properly.
To flush your fountain pen:
1. Remove the nib assembly from the barrel and the refilling system.
2. Run nib under cold or room-temperature water.
3. Place refilling system open-end down in a clean cup of water.
4. Clean the refilling system chamber by filling it with water and emptying it.
5. Reassemble nib to the refilling system.
6. Use a refilling system to move water in and out of the nib; replace water as needed; repeat until clear water comes out of the nib.
7. Soak nib in water for at least an hour to remove the remaining ink.
8. Dry nib and reassemble pen.
Fountain Pen Filling Systems
Most fountain pens are made to use a proprietary ink cartridge and screw system. You must understand how the filling system for the type of pen (ballpoint pen, rollerball pen, fountain pen, etc) you own works to properly replace the cartridge in your fountain pen. This will help you choose a new pen when you run out of ink, or when you want to purchase a new one. To test the fill type of your fountain pen, remove its cap and grip. There are two reservoirs attached, one on top and one on the bottom. They show which filling system is in place.
Inks come in two main types: bottled and disposable. Bottled inks, also called prepackaged inks or prepacked inks, use pressure to fill a cartridge with ink. Converters, ink bladders, barrels, and built-in filling systems use a syringe to refill with bottled ink.
How to Fill a Fountain Pen
Filling your fountain pen with ink depends on the type of filling system. “Charging” a fountain pen is another term for refilling your fountain pen with ink.
How to put an ink cartridge in a fountain pen
A fountain pen cartridge has a side that looks like a cup. This inverted rim is the side that connects to the nib and grip. You might notice something inside the cartridge; It's a metal ball that creates a seal with the ink feed when new ink cartridges are installed. This helps prevent air from getting into the ink, preventing leaks
Before you start to replace the cartridge in your fountain pen, make sure the hole is fully open. Some pens have a hole at the top of the pen that allows you to remove and refill the ink cartridge. If your pen has this feature, make sure the hole is completely open before inserting the cartridge in the pen. Before placing your ink cartridges in the printer, remove the spacer so that the ink cartridge is not inserted too far into the printing mechanism. Your new ink cartridge can get stuck inside of the barrel without removing it from the spacer.
To insert an ink cartridge:
1. Remove the barrel from the nib and grip.
2. If you are replacing an empty ink cartridge, remove the empty cartridge by pulling it away from the nib and grip.
3. Push down on the cartridge until it clicks into place. This will indicate that the cartridge is properly placed, ensuring that you will be able to use the new cartridge.
4. Hold the pen nib down to allow ink to flow to the nib; may take an hour or two.
5. To improve the flow of ink, always cover the feed of the pen and gently shake in order to help your feed pull ink out of the reservoir. Likewise, dipping the nib into clean water promotes ink flow.
For more detailed information on fountain pen usage and writing, read our article:
“How to Hold a Fountain Pen”
Fountain pen ink cartridge sizes
See your pen manufacturer’s website or consult the instructions that come with your fountain pen for information on what type of ink cartridge to use for your pen. Fountain pen ink cartridges come in three sizes:
1. Standard international long
2. Standard international short
3. Proprietary cartridges – ink color cartridges that are made specifically for your pen
How to refill a fountain pen ink cartridge
Although ink cartridges are disposable, they can be refilled with bottled ink to save money and reduce waste.
To refill an ink cartridge with bottled ink:
1. Remove the empty cartridge from the nib and grip.
2. Clean any residue from the rim and inside of the cartridge with a cotton swab.
3. Use an eyedropper or a syringe to refill an empty cartridge with bottled ink.
4. Reattach the cartridge to the nib of the fountain pen.
Fountain pen ink cartridges: Pros and Cons
- Easiest and cheapest refilling technique; cartridges pop in and out of the nib and grip
- Ink doesn’t spill
- Convenient for travel
- Can be refilled with bottled ink and a syringe; saves money, avoids landfill, and fosters ink color experimentation
- Proprietary cartridges vary from brand to brand; limits the availability of useful cartridges
- Holds a lesser amount (volume) of ink than other refilling systems
Fountain pen converters
A converter filling system is a reservoir for storing ink. A plunger or another mechanism within the reservoir pulls ink from a bottle into the reservoir to create a low-pressure vacuum.
There are two types of converters: a piston and a squeeze. A piston is an air-driven pump that pushes ink into the reservoir through the pressure of the air in the tank. A squeeze is a device attached to an air tank that releases compressed air when squeezed.
How to fill a piston converter:
1. Completely submerge nib in the ink bottle.
2. Turn the top of the piston converter counterclockwise to release air.
3. Turn the top of the piston converter clockwise to suck ink inside the converter.
4. Hold the pen above the ink; gently turn the piston converter counterclockwise until you see a drop of ink come to the nib.
5. Use blotter paper or lint-free cloth to clean the nib of ink.
How to fill a squeeze converter:
1. Completely submerge nib in the ink bottle.
2. Squeeze converter to force air out of the empty chamber. You will see bubbles in the ink bottle.
3. Release pressure on the converter slowly. Low air pressure will fill the converter with ink.
4. Keep squeezing and releasing until there are no air bubbles in the ink bottle.
5. Use blotter paper or lint-free cloth to clean the nib of ink.
Fountain pen converters: Pros and Cons
- Compatible with cartridge fountain pens; can replace the cartridge in your fountain pen with a converter
- Cheaper than using cartridges over time; converters refilled with bottled ink; can use a variety of inks and colors
- Don’t have to replace the converter every time you refill ink; creates less waste than cartridges
- The inconvenience of proprietary converters
- Holds less ink than a cartridge; need to refill more often
Fountain pen ink sac (bladder)
The ink sac, also known as an ink bladder, is a plastic chamber located inside the barrel that contains the reservoir for ink. Pressing on the nib of an instrument opens the ink sac allowing air to be removed from the sac to fill it with ink.
How to fill a fountain pen bladder:
1. Dip nib in the ink bottle and squeeze until all the air comes out of the sac.
2. Release pressure until the sac fills with ink.
3. Repeat until you fill the bladder with ink.
4. If you see bubbles inside the sac, it is possible that the sac itself is not securely anchored to the nib. Remove the sac from the pen and reattach it to the nib of your pen.
5. Remove the nib from the bottle and clean with a paper towel or blotter paper.
Some modern fountain pens use a lever mechanism to empty the ink bladder. The mechanism is a crescent-shaped metal bar that has pressure applied to it. A lever on the other end of the mechanism pushes down on the ink reservoir, opening it. The air in the reservoir is then forced out and replaced with ink. These mechanisms are rarer than lever mechanisms which use a crescent-shaped metal bar or flat metal bar.
How to fill with the metal bar mechanism:
1. Completely submerge nib in ink.
2. Apply pressure to the metal bar on the side of the barrel to empty air from the bladder.
3. Release the bar to fill the bladder with ink.
4. Pull nib out of ink bottle and wipe excess ink gently with a clean, lint-free cloth.
How to fill with the crescent-shaped mechanism:
1. Rotate locking ring to open.
2. Submerge nib in a bottle of ink.
3. Apply pressure to the crescent on the side of the barrel to empty air from the ink bladder.
4. Pull nib out of ink bottle and wipe away excess ink with blotter paper or lint-free cloth.
5. Turn locking ring to secure pen and hold crescent in place.
6. Wipe away excess ink with blotter paper or lint-free cloth.
How to fill with a lever:
1. Lift lever to empty air out of the ink bladder.
2. Submerge nib in an ink bottle.
3. Release lever. Air pressure will fill the ink bladder.
4. Repeat lifting and releasing lever until ink bladder is full.
5. If air bubbles should form inside the ink bladder, take out the lever and start lifting again. Repeat this process until there are no more bubbles inside the ink bladder.
Fountain pen ink sac: Pros and Cons
- Simple refilling process with bottled ink
- Silicone sacs are durable and long-lasting
- Sacs are easy to replace
- Some sac materials are sturdier than others
- Silicone sacs need to be stored nib-end up to allow air to escape and prevent leaks
- A chemical reaction between latex sacs and certain inks release sulfur compounds
- Latex sacs need to be replaced more often
Fountain pen barrel
A fountain pen with a disposable ink cartridge is a pen that contains ink cartridges that are replaced one at a time. These pens are often called “disposable pens.” The oldest fountain pen models had disposable ink cartridges.
How to refill ink barrel:
1. Unscrew the barrel from the nib and grip.
2. Place O-ring at the bottom of the threads to create a seal when closing the pen.
3. An alternate sealing method is to use a silicone sealant that will prevent leakage.
4. Use an eyedropper or a syringe to fill the barrel with ink to the threads.
Fountain pen barrel: Pros and Cons}
- Holds more ink than other filling systems; ink fills the entire barrel
- Can use any bottled ink for fountain pens
- Ink barrel fountain pens are more expensive than other models that use cartridge or converter filling systems
- Incompatible with cartridges and converters
- Leaks if not sealed correctly with an o-ring or silicone grease
- Inconvenient in travel: requires extra supplies (syringe/dropper, o-rings, grease, bottled black ink)
Built-in filling system
Fountain pens, the classic writing instrument, already have built-in ink reservoirs, meaning you don’t have to replace the cartridge in your fountain pen. Filling these pens is easy because you can simply pour the ink into the reservoir. There are two types of built-in ink reservoirs used in fountain pens — those that use gravity to pull more ink into the reservoir and those that use pressure to push ink into the reservoir.
The built-in piston system is a similar alternative to the converter pump. However, it does not require you to twist the plunger and create air pressure. The built-in piston systems are more inexpensive to operate and easier than converters for filling calligraphy ink needs. Always flush the pen's internal refill or vacuum system before refilling or changing inks.
How to use a built-in piston refilling system:
1. Twist the piston until it extends fully and empties the air of the reservoir.
2. Cover nib in the ink bottle.
3. Twist the pen in a counterclockwise direction to fill it with ink. Twirling slowly will prevent air bubbles from forming.
4. Remove nib from ink and let a few drops of ink fall from the nib.
5. Turning your fountain pen upside down allows you to release any air that would otherwise cause the ink to overflow.
6. Close the pen and wipe excess ink off of the nib.
How to use a built-in vacuum filling system:
1. Remove the knob at the tip of the pen (opposite of the nib).
2. Push the plunger down to remove air and excess ink.
3. Cover nib in the ink bottle.
4. Pull the plunger until it is fully extended, drawing ink into the reservoir. Ink should be filled to the top of the container, but be cautious not to overfill the container.
5. Repeat until the reservoir is full or if air bubbles appear in the reservoir.
6. Remove nib from ink and wipe away excess with a paper towel or blotter paper.
Built-in Filling Systems: Pros and Cons
- No need to replace the cartridge in your fountain pen or insert converters
- Can change colors/types of ink
- Hold more ink than cartridges and converters
- Need to oil the filling system periodically to prevent corrosion
- Can be more expensive than fountain pens without a built-in filling system
- Holding more than the average amount of liquid can cause leakage if not maintained carefully
Fountain pen filling systems: What is the best refilling system in fountain pens?
When searching for a fountain pen, you must consider the way that it is refilled. Cartridge and ink bladder pens are the most straightforward mechanisms. Their simplicity makes them highly desirable. Converters provide a more convenient refilling option, but they still require you to remove the cartridge and fill up the reservoir yourself. With a converter, barrel, or built-in system, you can use a wider variety of inks. Cleaning and flushing an ink system is simple and can be done many times without damaging it.
If you're on a budget, consider getting a cheaper fountain pen so that you can use ink refills in it with a syringe. Fountain pens are the cheapest pens to buy — and purchasing in bulk means that you can get more ink for your money. Fountain pens with built-in ink tanks are more expensive but you don’t have to replace the cartridge in your fountain pen.
If you are a fountain pen enthusiast who loves to draw or write and you want a more expensive calligraphy pen that requires minimal maintenance, you may be interested in a cartridge/converter filling system. Cartridge/converter filling systems do not require any maintenance other than replacing the old ink cartridge when it runs out.
As a fountain pen convert, I've found that refilling gives me the most satisfaction. The ease of pulling a cartridge out from one place and replacing it with a filled one is exactly what I prefer. My very first fountain pen came with both a cartridge and filling system so that I can alternate between ink reservoirs. My refillable fountain pen depends on my lifestyle. I use the converter when at home in my office and I use the cartridges when traveling. Refillable fountain pens are both stylish and compact, making them perfect for on-the-go use.