by Ana Reinert
True or false? Left-handers can’t use fountain pens?
True or false? Left-handers must use specially designed nibs made for left-handers.
There are so many misconceptions about left-handers and fountain pens, and, as a left-hander myself, I am here to set the record straight.
First, I want to dispel any notion that left-handed writers cannot use fountain pens. This is untrue. Left-handers DO NOT need a special nib or brand of fountain pen. I use dozens of fountain pens, from many brands, and they all write for me with no issues. And the whole business about specially designed left handed nibs… it’s a marketing ploy. Don’t fall for it.
But, as a left-hander, there are some things to consider when purchasing a fountain pen. Heck, there are some challenges for lefties when writing with ANY pen, but I don’t think fountain pens make it worse. If anything, I’ve found that my handwriting looks better and I have fewer issues with smudging when I use fountain pens because I can control more aspects of my writing experience. With fountain pens, lefties can choose the nib size, the ink and the paper to find a combination that might work better with their particular writing style.
The big issue for lefties is that we write from left to right, often dragging our hand through what we have just written. Some lefties compensate for this by trying to angle their hand above the line they are writing, often called overwriters or “writing with a hook” (I fall into this camp). The other method is to write below the line, mirroring our right-handed friends, which is referred to as “underwriting” or “sidewriters.” Often times, underwriters have fewer issues adapting to fountain pens than overwriters or sidewriters.
Regardless, any lefty writing style will tend to put the writing hand into the fresh ink the moment a word is written. So, ink smear is a big concern. When choosing a fountain pen, consider whether you often smear your writing when using a ballpoint, rollerball or pencil. Does the ball of your hand often have telltale ink or graphite smudges? If so, then you will definitely want to consider a quick-drying ink like Noodler’s Bernake line. Also, a finer nibbed fountain pen might help since it will not lay down as much ink as a wider nib will. Paper selection will also play a role in how quickly ink will dry. Papers noted for their “fountain pen friendliness” like the Hobonichi Techo or Tomoe River papers are notorious for taking longer for ink to dry since the ink sits up on the paper and does not soak in. This means your writing won’t feather or bleed until you stick your sleeve into it.
There is no one-way to eliminate the smearing issue, but knowing what to troubleshoot can help. If you have dreams of using a broad italic or stub nib on Tomoe River paper, you may want to invest heavily on quick-dry inks.
Because of the left-to-right motion when writing, left-handed writers are often pushing the pen rather than pulling it. This can inhibit ink flow in some pens– fountain pen, ballpoint or otherwise. Very fine needle tip fountain pens, like the Japanese extra-fine nibs or custom “needlepoint” grinds can be difficult for some lefties. If you prefer a super fine line, I recommend that you try a pen first, before buying it, being careful to sit and write a sentence or two in your natural writing position to be sure you don’t have any issues with ink flow.
Ink flow problems can be exacerbated if you press down hard on your pen. All fountain pen users learn that a light touch is best (unless we are talking about flex nibs, but I’ll get into that in a minute) but it’s particularly true for lefties.
If you are hoping to use a broad calligraphy or stub nib, positioning of the pen on the paper may present issues for some left-handed writers. I frequently use a 1.1mm stub nib and a smaller 0.6mm stub with no issues. For me, though, wider nibs are an issue as I have difficulty making consistent contact with the paper from my overhanded position. Partly this has to do with pushing the pen, rather than pulling so the ink does not flow as consistently. Also, the wide, flat nib is difficult to keep in constant contact with the paper from the left-handed direction. Finally, because of the different angle to the paper, our approach to drawing each character and how we put the pen on the paper, the thicks and thins that become noticeable with a broad stub/italic nib might be in the opposite place. The best test for this is to grab a chisel-tip marker, like a highlighter, and try writing with it. If your writing looks strange, you may want to give the traditional wide stub/italic nibs a pass. If your writing looks okay some of the time, but at others, the pen doesn’t seem to be making consistent contact with the paper, you may be a good candidate for a custom ground stub/italic that is angled for a left-handed writer. A left-handed stub/italic nib will be tapered down to the left to make more consistent contact with the paper. These left-handed nibs won’t work for all left-handed writers as it depends entirely on your writing angle.
Flexible nibs can present a similar problem. Flex nibs are designed to create line variation as you write which works great if you are most often pulling the pen. If you are pushing the pen, the springy quality of the nib will not be on display. If you are a heavy handed writer, the flex in the nib will make it even easier to strangle the ink flow on up strokes which can potentially damage the nib but will, more often, cause the pen to splatter ink as it springs back. If flexible nibs are interesting to you, before investing in a Namiki Falcon or a vintage “Wet noodle”, I recommend experimenting with flexible dip nibs. A holder is usually about $5 and nibs are a couple dollars each and available at most art supply stores; an inexpensive flex nib like the Noodler’s Creaper/Ahab is also a great option.
The last issue is the grip section on the pen. Often mentioned as a great “starter” fountain pen, the Lamy Safari/AL-Star features a molded, plastic grip intended to help writers angle the nib properly. Most right-handed folks love this because it makes it practically foolproof. Left-handed writers are less enthusiastic about this pen because the “proper angle” can be less-than-perfect for some left-handed writers. Often, left-handed writers ignore the grip and hold the pen in such a way as to get the best, and most consistent, ink flow which means that the grip will cut into their middle finger or thumb. This is the only reason I don’t recommend the Lamy Safari/Al-Star as frequently as other bloggers. Lamy nibs are awesome and if you are ready to invest in a fountain pen over $50, I have plenty of Lamys I can recommend.
Retractable fountain pens like the Pilot Vanishing Point can also be less-than-comfortable for left-handed writers (and some right-handed writers, for that matter). In order to get the proper grip and angle on a retractable fountain pen, some left-handers have to grip over the clip which is not ideal.I prefer a round barrel, be it smooth or ridged, which allows me to twist or angle the pen as needed for the best writing results without poking my hand unnecessarily. Grip issues are not a make-or-break issue, but for long-term comfort, pens with molded grips or clips may not be your go-to favorites.
If you can, try to borrow or test drive a pen before you buy it. If that is not an option, find out what the company or web site’s return policy is. If they will not accept a pen return if it’s been inked up, try dipping the pen in water to get a feel for how it writes.
Pilot Metropolitan (approx. $15-$20)
Kaweco Sport or Skyline Sport (starting at $25)
TWSBI 580 or Mini or Eco (starting at $29)
Lamy Safari or AL-Star (molded grip, starting at $30)
Lamy Logo (round grip section, approx. $30-$50)
Remember to consider whether, like your right-handed compatriots, you want to use ink cartridges or if you’ll want to use bottled ink and add the proper-sized cartridge converters to your order accordingly.
(Much of this article originally appeared on The Cramped)
Ana Reinert is The Chair behind The Well-Appointed Desk, a blog dedicated to pens, paper, office supplies and a beautiful place to work. To the pay the bills, she works in a beige cubicle at Hallmark Cards designing greeting cards, drawing typefaces and lettering, dreaming of a more colorful workspace.