Pens for Better Penmanship

TRYING TO WRITE a note by hand after years of typing on a physical keyboard or smartphone screen can be discouraging. Often, the spastic result only vaguely resembles penmanship.

Thankfully, though, getting your skills back up to a level that would make your grammar-school teachers proud isn’t difficult—it just takes the right tools and, of course, practice.

Adjust Your Ink Flow

Buying a fancy pen won’t transform your chicken scratches into gorgeous calligraphy, but your choice of pen can make a big difference if your longhand has gotten rusty over the years.

Those struggling to write neatly should avoid rollerballs, according to Todd Craver, former owner of the recently shuttered Seattle pen and watch shop World Lux. “Rollerballs tend to cause your handwriting to deteriorate in appearance; they almost flow too quickly,” he explained. On the flip side, ballpoints require writers to apply excessive pressure on the tip to get the ink to flow, which can have equally deleterious effects.

The most forgiving writing implement happens to be one of the oldest: a fountain pen, which provides a “fractional amount of feedback,” explained Mr. Craver. “It makes you slow down just a little and makes your writing more legible.”

Molly Suber Thorpe, author of “Modern Calligraphy: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started in Script Calligraphy” (St. Martin’s Griffin) seconded the fountain-pen strategy. “Slowing down makes you more conscious of your letter-form strokes and their shape,” she said. “It lets you really take the time to form each letter, instead of just letting your muscle memory dictate the shape of each word.”

1. LAMY Studio; 2. Sailor's 1911 Large Collection; 3. Namiki Pilot Vanishing Point Metallic; 4. Faber-Castell Loom; 5. Varsity Pilot; 6. Faber-Castell Ambition; 7. Uni-Ball KuruToga Roulette

1. LAMY Studio; 2. Sailor’s 1911 Large Collection; 3. Namiki Pilot Vanishing Point Metallic; 4. Faber-Castell Loom; 5. Varsity Pilot; 6. Faber-Castell Ambition; 7. Uni-Ball KuruToga Roulette F. MARTIN RAMIN/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, STYLING BY ANNE CARDENAS

Although fine fountain pens can cost five figures, even the least inexpensive models can help, according to Steve Wiederlight, co-owner of New York City’s Fountain Pen Hospital. He said you can spend $30 or $10,000, but “the $10,000 pen is not going to make your penmanship better.” A good starter model is the Varsity Pilot ($4,, which is available in many office-supply stores as well as specialty pen shops, and costs roughly the same as a rollerball.

Even Ms. Thorpe, a professional calligrapher, opts for relatively inexpensive fountain pens for everyday use. She keeps a LAMY AL-star ($47, in her purse, because she likes its smooth ink flow and fine tip, “which lends itself to small handwriting like mine,” she said. She also favors the affordable Faber-Castell Loom ($40, for its balanced weighting.

The LAMY Studio ($99, is another popular fountain pen for beginners because of its rubberized grip and substantial weight, said Mr. Craver. For those who want the performance of a fountain pen but the convenience and familiarity of a retractable ballpoint, the Namiki Pilot Vanishing Point Metallic ($175,, which has a click-action, retractable nib, is a suitable option.

When you are ready to invest in a more expensive pen, Mr. Wiederlight said that penmanship-focused writers should look for one feature in particular: a genuine gold nib, which is more flexible than a steel one. “It shows the variation of the lines: more pressure, thicker stroke; less pressure, thinner stroke,” he said, adding that the gold will get smoother over time. He pointed out that Sailor’s 1911 Large Collection ($310, has the same 21-karat gold nib found on the company’s much more expensive models.