Best Paper for Fountain Pens?

One of my classes at university is Research Methods, which is a course designed to guide students through the process of researching a topic – deciding what to study, finding a way to test it, gathering data, interpreting data, and writing a report. Throughout the course, we will be conducting four “inquiries”, which are projects based on questions pertaining to anything and everything we are curious about! My two professors for this course (NATS 4390 at the University of Texas at Dallas) are Dr. Hajeri and Dr. Taylor, and my teaching assistants are Lok, Ken, Georgia, and Baily – all of whom specialize in a different area of study (physics, statistics, and biology).

INQUIRY 1 – RESEARCH METHODS | September 1, 2019

Our first inquiry was fairly quick, not too in-depth, and I had a TON of fun with it! Below is my submission for this first inquiry, pertaining to different types of paper and attempting to answer the question of, “Is there a superior fountain pen friendly paper?” Spoilers – yes! I can’t tell you which one you might prefer, but there are plenty of choices when it comes to luxury papers.

my graphical abstract for the project!

A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO THE TOPIC:

In the age of technology, cursive penmanship has been seen as a dying form of writing. The common question has gone from, “Why do they teach cursive in elementary school? Our teachers told us we would be required to write in cursive, but all we do is write in print!” to, “Do they even teach cursive in elementary school? I swear kids are coming out of the womb with an iPad in one hand and a laptop in the other.

Looking around a university lecture room, a sea of tablets and laptops light up the faces of students while a professor breezes through the lecture quicker than the frantic click-clack of of keystrokes can keep up. This is all to say that although a large majority of people favour electronic devices to jot down ideas, take notes, or keep track of a schedule, there is a dedicated minority of people who enjoy using pen and paper. Of that dedicated minority, there is an even more niche group of fountain pen enthusiasts – a passionate and welcoming crowd!

There are many factors that contribute to a good fountain pen – the nib grind (this affects how fine/bold the pen can write), the feed (this controls the flow of the ink from the cartridge/converter to the nib), the weight (this affects the grip on the pen and can cause/alleviate hand cramps), the material of the pen (this is mainly for the aesthetic but can be indicative of a higher quality pen), the country in which it is made (Japanese pens tend to have a finer nib than American/ European pens due to the fine strokes needed for Kanji characters), and the list goes on and on… However, one factor that heavily affects the entire writing experience that isn’t even a part of the writing mechanism itself is the paper!

$100 worth of paper

ABSTRACT:

For many, writing with a fountain pen brings back less than fond memories of cursive handwriting drills from grade school, with pages covered top to bottom with ABC’s and smudged papers getting less than acceptable remarks. For others, a sleek Montblanc or a custom urushi pen is a prized possession, a work of art itself, and a valuable writing utensil. Within the crowd of fountain pen enthusiasts, “Is there a superior fountain pen friendly paper?” is a common question. With complaints of feathering, bleed-through, staining from water spills, and fading over time, there are many factors to take into account when selecting a new notebook.

When considering writing with a fountain pen, three different materials must be acquired before the pen meets paper: a fountain pen, ink, and paper. To facilitate testing different papers in a timely manner, certain factors were kept consistent. The pen used was a Kaweco AL Sport with a medium sized nib, as the larger nib size would allow for more ink to flow, providing opportunity to test for bleed-through and feathering. The petite Kaweco AL Sport was filled with Iroshizuku’s Tsukushi brown ink, which was selected because this is a dye ink, as opposed to a pigmented ink. In general, pigmented ink will sit on top of the paper and resist bleed-through better than a dye ink, which is more prone to soak into the paper. However, pigmented inks (Sailor’s line of Storia inks) were briefly tested in the writing samples comparing different pens, nibs, inks, and writing utensils.

The writing samples tested six different papers – three brands with two variations of each brand: Maruman Loose Leaf and Maruman Mnemosyne notebooks, Rhodia Ice Pad vs. Rhodia coloR Pad, and Tomoe River White Paper Pad vs. Tomoe River Cream Paper Pad. The six tests performed were: 1) fountain pens, 2) various writing utensils, 3) smear test, 4) drip test, 5) cotton swab test, and 6) writing sample. 

In the first test, different fountain pens were used to see how different nibs, manufacturers, inks, and ink types would fare on the paper, in terms of feathering and bleed-through. The second test explored the same principles of feathering and bleed-through with other various writing utensils. The third test involved smearing the inks, a prominent concern when writing quickly with wet inks on nice paper. This test involved writing 5 X’s, then smearing the ink at different intervals of time (1, 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 seconds) a number of three times to ensure there were consistent results between trials. The fourth test involved drawing a grid and dripping water on it to see how well the paper withstands water damage. The fifth test involved smearing the ink with a cotton swab to test the bleed-through.The sixth and final test involved a brief writing sample to see how the paper fared in terms of feathering and bleed-through with normal, consistent writing.

smear test, drip test, cotton swab, and writing sample

While the results do not show a definitive superior paper, it does show that these six luxury fountain pen friendly notebooks have been able to alleviate the major concerns and complaints of fountain pen enthusiasts. The smear tests showed discrepancies in dry times, which may correspond to the weight of the paper. The drip test showed variance in the water resistance of these papers. While it is not documented in the results, it seems that the higher density Rhodia paper (80 gsm) was more water resistant than Tomoe River paper (52gsm), as the water formed tight droplets on the paper, taking much longer (hours) to absorb the water than the Tomoe River paper. All of these luxury notebooks had minimal to no bleed-through and undetectable amounts of feathering. Something to note is that Tomoe River is viewed as the best paper in the industry, as it maintains all of these qualities while remaining very thin.

sampling different pens on the paper

In the end, paper selection boils down to personal preference of the writer, as there are other factors, like binding of the notebook, paper colour, and layout of the notebook (lined, dot, grid). This series of tests and analysis simply provides more information so the writer can make a more informed decision based on this qualitative data. The best notebook is simply a notebook that gets used!

THE RESULTS

This was not a part of the write-up, as we were to simply write a brief abstract. I just wanted to showcase the paper tests and writing samples in this post! I might make separate posts for each type of paper, with additional pictures of the backside and close-ups of the different tests.

Maruman Loose Leaf Paper

Mnemosyne by Maruman

Rhodia Ice Pad

Rhodia coloR Pad

Tomoe River Paper Pad in White

Tomoe River Paper Pad in Cream

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