I see this question get thrown around a lot in various forums, and sadly, the default conception that GSM (Grams per Square Meter) is the defining factor of what makes specific papers fountain pen friendly is very much false. Yes, heavy paper tends to (generally speaking) perform better than cheap lightweight copier paper when you’re scribbling with a fountain pen, but that’s an oversimplification of a multifaceted issue. We’ll get into the specifics of this issue here.
First of all, before we define what fountain pen friendly paper is, let’s discuss the issues that crop up with paper that’s patently unfriendly.
Paper issues that can crop up when writing with fountain pens
This is when the ink literally bleeds through the paper to the other side. It’s hideous and should be avoided at all costs. Generally speaking, a low GSM paper being so thin will be prone to this (some exceptions apply) due to not being able to absorb all the ink prior to reaching the reverse of the paper. Think of a newspaper vs watercolour paper stock. Doesn’t really matter on the relative quality of newspaper paper or the watercolour paper, one will always have bleed through and the other won’t by virtue of having so much highly absorbent material to eat through.
Not to be confused with bleedthrough, ghosting is when the paper is so lightweight that the ink will show through the reverse, but it has not bled through. The best example being the excellent Tomoe River paper that due to its inherent lightness (52 gsm) is prone to such aesthetic quirks. For me personally, I quite like some ghosting in certain situations. With my Hobonichi Techo, the ghosting adds the interesting consequence of the ink being almost heavier than the paper. After a few months of doodling the notebook will bulge up and, for some unknown reason, I rather like this.
This is really a situation where personal bias comes into play. Some people hate ghosting, others are indifferent and some (a rare few) are even partial to it. Your mileage may vary and ultimately the easiest way to avoid ghosting is with fountain pen friendly paper that’s thick enough to eliminate this issue. I personally would say that 80 gsm high quality paper will mitigate most ghosting (unless you write with heavy pressure and nail like nibs, or super juicy double broads).
Feathering is the bane of a nib scribbler’s existence. This is the one real problem that seems to be universally despised by fountain pen aficionados. Feathering is a result of ink resting on highly absorbent paper and the capillary effect being amplified resulting the ink spreading laterally in visible thin spider web trail like fashion which ruin your otherwise perfectly crisp cursive.
Sadly, since modern paper is designed to be used with ballpoints, I find this to be a relatively common issue. Ball points use a very thick gel-like ink and quick-drying (hence the super absorbent paper) is the preferred option. Fountain pen ink being super viscous by nature does not play well with such paper. Ideally, you would want the ink the rest on top of the paper and dry mostly naturally with minimal absorption. Fountain pen friendly paper could ironically be defined as paper with specific ink resistance.
What makes ideal paper for fountain pens different?
So, how do paper manufacturers deal with such issues? The primary method seems to be with weight, density of the fibres, and smoothness of the finish when it is milled. As unscientific as my explanation is – I think the denser the paper, the less likely it is to bleed through. The obvious exception to this being the appeal of laid or woven paper, but those are really aesthetic considerations. Some people like writing on heavily textured paper due to the feedback it produces. Same can be said with paper with a high cotton content. These considerations do not define the viability of fountain pen ink friendly paper, but rather a personal bias.
You can easily get (reasonably) good fountain pen friendly paper that is not designed specifically for this use, like the HP Premium Choice Laserjet (32 lb) loose paper. It’s relatively cheap, available more or less everywhere, and has become the de facto standard for common loose leaf paper that plays nice with our juicy nibs.
The other way manufacturers create fountain pen friendly paper is through a specific finish. In Clairefontaine’s case, vellum finished paper (what’s used in their notebooks) adds significant resistance to feathering and bleedthrough and for a more extreme example, Tomoe River paper has a silky smooth finish that resists ink, causing it to dry on the surface rather than leeching down. The downside of papers like this is that the time it takes for your scribbles to dry will be significantly extended. Something to be aware of for those who tend to write quickly and want to turn the page pronto.
What if you can’t get a hold of this kind of paper?
If your neck of the woods doesn’t have easily available (or affordable) paper suitable for fountain pens, the obvious solution would be to use a very fine nib pen. I can write on a cheap newspaper with my Platinum #3776 in UEF nib without incurring any issues, but I know that needlepoints are not everyone’s cup of tea.
As a side note; I know for a lot of people, especially those new to the hobby addiction, it’s very easy to view paper and ink as not as important to invest in as they are consumable goods, but honestly, it will have a bigger impact on your writing enjoyment than spending more on a marginally higher quality nib. I would much prefer writing on Clairefontaine with a cheap Lamy Safari rather than mutilating my Pilot Falcon nib on cheap copier paper.
What are some fountain pen friendly papers?
Besides the aforementioned HP & Tomoe River paper, the following are “known” as fountain pen friendly options.
- Rhodia Paper: 80 gsm, but a solid performer. Inexpensive (in Europe at least) and handles ink rather nicely.
- Oxford Optik Paper: This is a UK-specific option and ridiculously cheap. Much like the Rhodia options, this is also 80 gsm and I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s made by Clairefontaine (who make Rhodia paper).
- Apica Paper: 81 gsm and solid as hell; Japanese, so cost is higher than the western alternatives (at least here in Europe).
- Stalogy Paper: 81.2 gsm paper; also a sneaking suspicion it’s made by Apica.
- Clairefontaine Paper: 90 gsm of vellum goodness. This is great stuff although the texture is super smooth – almost glassy. Some really like this, but others prefer a bit of feedback from their nibs. I love the stuff for certain application, but it does feel like you are skating on ice sometimes.
- Crown Mill Laid Paper: For those who like super-heavily textured paper; it’s heavy and very unique in terms of feel. Clairefontaine makes similar stuff from their Triomphe line, and the texture is so heavy that writing is almost a chore. Not in a bad way, but I find I have to take my time, lest the tines get caught up in the paper.
- G. Lalo Toile Imperiale Paper: G. Lalo produces high end (and high priced) paper with a perfect feel in my opinion. It is textured, but unlike the coarse Crown Mill stuff, the G. Lalo is almost like writing on a smooth, dense canvas.
- Leuchtturm 1917 Paper: Great Moleskine alternative; advertised as “ink proof” paper, and whilst it’s not the best, for its price and format (A6 notebooks anyone?), it’s pretty great stuff. A German company, but the paper is made in Taiwan. The weight of the paper differs based on the size of the notebook you buy. I found that the smaller notebooks that use 80 gsm paper performed better/had a higher quality coating compared to the heavier 100 gsm stuff found in their larger offerings.
- Black n’ Red Paper: Quite expensive in Europe compared to the commonly available Clairefontaine options. The one I have is made by Oxford using “Optik” paper that, as I said, is most likely made by Clairefontaine. As far as I know, the U.S.-sourced Black n’ Red notebooks offer different paper that is also fountain pen friendly.
This is not an exhaustive list, and a lot of your experiences will be dictated by your weapon of choice (how wet is your nib etc.), as well as the ink you use.
Besides a superior writing experience, high quality paper that is fountain pen friendly is milled in such a way as to minimize the amount of fibers that get stuck between the tines of your nib, which is really good, as those little clumps of fiber can really hamper your writing experience.
This is one of the major reasons why recycled paper that is fountain pen friendly is almost a myth (off the top of my head, I can’t think of one – feel free to chime in).
What are your favourite fountain pen friendly papers?
Have a favourite paper for when you’re writing with fountain pens? Let me know in the comments.