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Fountain Pen Converters: What They Are, and How to Use Them

So you have a fountain pen. You can use cartridges just fine (or if that's not the case, we can help: How to Change a Cartridge in a Fountain Pen). But either you've heard of 'converters' and you're not sure what they're for, or you know what they're for, but you're not sure how to use them. It's ok - even us fountain pen geeks had a time when we were puzzled by them, not knowing what they converted, and from what to what.

And if you'd prefer a video to explain it, we have that too:

What Is A Converter?

It's a little thing that converts a pen that normally uses cartridges to use bottled ink instead. It fits in place of a cartridge, and suddenly you can fill the pen up from ink bottles.

So do you need one? Well, not really, cartridges are fine, and you're happy with using cartridges, feel free to stick with them - they're very convenient. But bottled ink will give you a lot more choices of ink, including hundreds of colours, and specialist inks with sheens and shimmers. And bottled ink will almost always work out much cheaper than cartridges in the long run, which can be important if you do a lot of writing.

Can Your Pen Use a Converter?

The vast majority of fountain pens can, so it's most likely yours can. Some brands need their own specific converter, while others are interchangeable. Sticking with one that matches the brand of your pen is the safest option, but if your pen uses standard 'international' cartridges, it's very likely to use a standard converter too.

A few pens are just too small for a converter, but we're usually only taking about the very tiniest pens, like the Kaweco Liliput.

Some fountain pens come with one, especially the more expensive ones, so it might be worth checking the box your pen arrived in, just in case there's one already there - it's becoming less common these days, though, sadly.

Fitting a Converter

This bit is pretty easy - converters almost always just push into place the same way a cartridge does. A very tiny number have screw threads on the end, and actually screw into place, but that's very unusual. They won't usually 'click' the way a cartridge does, a firm push should fit it ok.

Filling Your Pen with a Converter

Once the converter is fitted, and you have your bottle of ink, you're ready to go. Almost all converters are 'piston' fillers - there's a knob at the top, usually black, which you can turn, winding the piston inside up and down. Assuming it's like that, keep reading - we'll mention some oddities further down.

While this process is usually pretty clean, you might want to try over the sink the first time, just in case. And having some tissues handy is a very good idea!

Start by winding the piston down towards the nib. If there's been ink in the pen, take care here - any excess ink could be pushed out.

With the piston at the bottom, dip the whole nib into the ink - if there's any gap where air can get in instead, you'll mostly fill the converter up with air instead of ink, which isn't much help. Now wind the piston back up by turning the knob the other way - you should see ink being pulled up and filling the converter. There's usually a bit of air at the top, so don't worry too much about that.

Lift the nib back out of the ink, and give it a wipe clean. You did grab those tissues, didn't you?

An optional trick here is to wind the piston down again just a little bit, so a drop or two of ink comes out, then wind it back up. This puts a bit of negative pressure in the converter, making it less likely to drip ink after filling. It's usually fine without, but worth keeping in mind if you do get a drip later.

Now you can write or draw. Wait! Put the cap back on the ink bottle before you forget, you don't want it all over the carpet.


The above covers almost all converters, but there are a few oddities that are a bit different.

  • Parker and TWSBI have simpler push-pull piston-filled converters. They work just the same as above, but instead of winding the piston up and down with a knob, you just push it. The TWSBI also has a spring to push it back up, so you need to hold it at the bottom while you dip the nib in the ink.
  • Pilot have a button-filled converter, which is only supplied (and only fits) some of their bigger pens. You dip the nib into the ink and push the button repeatedly until the converter fills up. It holds a lot of ink.
  • The Pilot Capless uses a standard piston converter, but with a couple of twists. The nib unit has to be removed from the pen to fill it, and the converter doesn't get as full as you'd expect - a bigger air gap at the top is quite normal.