Capped Versus Retractable Fountain Pens: The Great Debate

Nov 03

Picture it: You’re in a board room, and your colleagues pull out their portfolios and settle in to take notes during the meeting. Everyone begins to uncap their fine ballpoint pens, posting the caps and reclining in their chairs. Then, you pull your fountain pen out of our portfolio and click the end, exposing the fine nib as you prepare to take notes. No cap, no twisting or pulling, or posting. Just a simple click and you’re writing with an elegant, refined fountain pen, while your colleagues look on in envy.


If you like the sound of this scenario, but aren’t sure you’re ready to try out a retractable fountain pen, we understand, as capped fountain pens have their benefits too. Before you’re ready to invest in your next fountain pen, consider the benefits of retractable and capped pens, to help decide which variety is right for you.


Retractable Fountain Pens

Capless fountain pens have been on the market since around the 1960s, though they have been improved by a variety of manufacturers over the years. Similar to the functionality of a retractable ball point pen, a retractable fountain pen allows you to depress a button on the non-writing end of the pen, which triggers a lever to open a slit on the writing end, from which the nib slides out and locks into place until the button is next depressed. To keep the nib from drying out when not retracted, the most reliable brands close securely around the nib to keep air from reaching the nib and ink chamber.


This simple functionality offers a world of convenience for fountain pen users. Consider these benefits:

  • Functional simplicity. A single click and you’re off—writing and creating. No twisting, pulling, or separate hardware.


  • Streamlined design. Retractable fountain pens have a more sleek and slender appearance. For many fountain pen fans, the look of the pen itself matters just as much as the quality of the ink inside, so choosing a pen with a streamlined appearance is appealing and enjoyable.


  • No lost caps. Need we say more? Where do you put your fountain pen cap when not in use? Do you set it down? Hold it in your non-writing hand? Post it on the barrel of the pen? Have you ever placed it on a table, only to later wonder where it rolled off to? When it comes to non-retractable fountain pens, lost caps mean dried ink and potentially a ruined device.


  • Easy one handed operation. If you’re an engineer, architect, designer, or busy student or professional, there are many benefits to a fountain pen that you can operate with a single, one-handed click, freeing-up you second hand to flip to a new page in your notebook as you initiate your next creative project.


If these capless benefits don’t appeal to you, know that there are benefits of writing with a capped fountain pen too—a traditional approach that many still prefer. Consider these capped fountain pen pros:


  • Minimal risk of leaks. Do you often carry your fountain pen in your shirt pocket? While many brands of retractable fountain pens are reliable and leak-proof, were you to forget to retract the nib and quickly put your pen in your shirt pocket, you’d likely end up with a stain on your shirt.


  • Posting the cap means a more balanced and comfortable writing experience. Possibly the biggest factor for many long-time fountain pen users that keeps them from making a transition to retractables, is the way a fountain pen feels when the cap is posted on the end. The highest quality fountain pens are designed so that the cap serves as a counter weight to the writing end of the pen, allowing for optimal balance and comfort when the pen is posted. Getting used to writing with a fountain pen without a cap posted on the end may take some adjusting.


If you’re looking for a reliable capped fountain pen, we recommend the LAMY AL-star,  or the Platinum Preppy.


On which side of the line do you stand? Capless? Or Capped? Retractable? Or Coverable? Do you use a mix of both depending on where you are or where you’re going? Tell us in the comments below.

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