Tale of a Vandal Pen User: On Ink Capacity

Danitrio Eyedropper

Meditating upon the remaining pens in my little hoard, to my surprise there were only two piston filling pens remaining. Today the pen collection contains seven c/c fountain pens. Four of those c/c pens are eyedropper converted pens. “Converted” sounds so complicated, doesn’t it? All conversion takes is a little silicon grease applied to the section threads. Despite this “conversion” the pen can still be used with a cartridge or a converter when desired.

At one time the collection contained only piston-filling pens. I thought piston-filling pens provided the best ink capacity. Yet because I require lightweight pens and pens of a certain diameter, larger piston and eyedropper pens with great ink capacity are outside my writing comfort range.

The Edison Huron, as has been previously noted, opened my collection up to the idea of filling the barrel directly with ink, aka western-style eyedropper filling. Filling the barrel with ink is a very simple procedure—not as messy as some would have you believe especially if you are paying attention to what you are doing—and this style of pen does not have any parts that twist, turn, squeeze or rot. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone kindly reading Peaceable Writer that I find elegance in such simplicity.

There has been no science in my exploration of ink capacity. I have merely discovered, “Oh, that converter needs refilling two or three times or so in a day.” Or, “For God’s sake, that converter lasted hardly an hour of writing.” “Gee, that Pelikan lasted two days before refilling.” Or, “Wow, the Huron lasted four days before needing to be fed again.” Or, “the Short Octagon with its EEF nib seems to go on forever.”

Generally I keep two pens inked at a time. One for out and about note-taking and one for writing sessions. During the latter, I’m not paying too much attention to the pen and the ink. Some day I want to count how many pages or words a pen-fill writes. I am too busy (or perhaps too forgetful when in the writing zone) to track. Yet my curiosity would like me to count.  I have only a general sense of how long pens write before they need refilling.

What little I know about ink capacity is that a pen’s feed, nib-point size and how wet or dry the nib writes effects how much ink is used during a writing session. (With one exception, all my nibs are in fine-point arena.) The physical size of the nib and feed also effect how much ink is taken up. The large Bexley nib’s feed will likely hold more ink than the Levenger True Writer’s feed. The medium wet stub of the Nakaya Piccolo with its tiny Platinum converter will write out faster than I’d like for a writing session.

4ml capacity syringe; earthquake putty at bottom

Over the holiday, having a bit of time, I performed the following experiment on the pen collection. Loading up each pen with ink and making sure the feed was saturated (see Brian Goulet’s video for a good tip, btw), I then expelled the ink into a measuring tube. The tube was a syringe with some earthquake putty stuck at the bottom to prevent leaking. [I tried measuring how much ink a pen took in, which would be more accurate (it would include the saturated feed), but I could not find a satisfying measuring container in the house. Impatience lead me to the expelling-ink route with the tiny syringe.]

For the eyedropper pens, I filled each one with the measuring syringe. I was surprised to discover that the four converted pens virtually held the same amount of ink! I expected that some pens might hold more ink than others.

Below are the results of my non-empirical holiday ink capacity experiment. Remember the amounts do not take in to account the feed or ink that remains in the section, or may cling elsewhere in a converter or pen. The converter and piston numbers reflect expelled amount of ink. The western-style eyedroppers reflect barrel-filled amount of ink.

Converter pens (used for editing and note-taking)

  • Bexley Submariner – .6ml
  • Levenger True Writer – .6ml
  • Nakaya Piccolo – .6ml
  • Danitrio Cumlaude (small) – .3ml

As the Danitrio Short Octagon, Fellowship and Edison Huron use the same basic converter as the Submariner and True Writer, I would draw similar conclusions to the amount of expelled ink for those pens.

Piston Pens (used for writing sessions)

  • 1950’s Pelikan 400 – 2ml
  • Visconti Caravel – 1ml
  • Wahl-Oxford – unknown (under ink-scrutiny)

Western-style Eyedropper Pens (used for writing sessions) – all of these filled at slightly more than 3ml. Not one of these converted fountain pens proved itself mightier than the others as far as ink capacity.

  • Danitrio Cumlaude (small)
  • Danitrio Fellowship Pen
  • Danitrio Short Octagon
  • Edison Huron
  • Edison Mina (both extended & standard)
  • Platinum Preppy (used only for highlighting)
Top to bottom: Syringe, Edison Huron, Platinum Preppy, Pelikan 400, Visconti Caravel

Once I saw that the Danitrio, the Edison and the Preppy all held the same basic amount of ink, my curiosity got the best of me. I used water to measure the Nakaya and Bexley barrels. I have different reasons for not converting these two pens to eyedropper filling. The Nakaya has brass parts inside the section that I do not wish to corrode over time. The Bexley’s acrylic has some translucency that I do not want to stain. The Nakaya Piccolo held more than 3ml of ink. The Bexley Submariner held 2 1/2ml.

What I now understand is that, internal barrel size being much the same, the Danitrio Short Octagon’s longer inking power over the Edison Huron is attributable to the Danitrio’s EEF nib. The Huron’s nib is F.** Both pens, by the way, are wet writers.

It would seem with larger pens out of comfortable writing reach, such as a Danitrio Densho with a capacity of 5ml or more of ink++, my pen collection may not ever exceed 3 1/2mls of ink+* capacity for any one pen. While that capacity seems to be working for me, my little holiday experiment may change the way I look at pens in ways I don’t yet know.

Updated 2016 Mar 07:

  • A highly illuminating discussion (in French) on ink capacity at the Stylo-Plume forum, dated 2010.

Updated 2013 Jun 26:

  • ** The Huron’s nib has been re-ground by Michael Masuyama. It’s now a sweet .2mm EF nib.
  • ++ Privileged to use a Densho on loan recently, the ink capacity measured 3ml not 5ml.
  • +* My 2013 Custom Edison pen holds nearly 5ml of ink.

Updated 11/02/2011: A post on FPN about fountain pen ink capacities contains some fascinating information about vintage pens such as Sheaffer.

Updated 03/17/2011: On his Crónicas Estilográficas blog, Bruno has done a great evaluation of capacity for Sailor, Pilot and Platinum converters. Also reference his FPN post here.

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