Converter or Piston? That is the question

Quite similar to a watch, however not too elaborated, a fountain pen has its own peculiarities you can opt for when choosing it. Whether you choose the nib material (stainless-steel or gold), one pattern instead of another or simply the filling mechanism, in the end, your decision reflects somehow the quality of the fountain pen or its pros and cons. As a trusted guide when it comes to writing instruments, unanimously agreed or not, we’re going to be talking about both converter and piston filling mechanism in order to understand which is the right option for your next purchase.

The converter 

That said, let’s begin with the converter. It is perhaps one of the most common filling systems. It doesn’t give you headaches when filling up the pen, is easy to use and clean, but has some disadvantages you should consider. However, even though it’s not something that bothers you for real, the converter might not be enough in some cases and you’ll understand why. 

Unlike the piston filler, the converter requires little maintenance and you don’t need to be a genius to understand how it works. The newcomers and everyday users may find the converter the best option as it can be easily filled from an ink bottle thanks to its fairly intuitive system. As for the cleaning part, just soak the pen unit in water or run it through an ultrasonic cleaner and you’re ready to go.

Be aware that the converter is also preferred when using shimmer or highly saturated inks which are, by their nature, difficult to clean out of a pen, that said, keep your piston fountain pens away from shimmer and highly saturated inks in order to extend their lifespan. 

Now that we’ve covered the advantages, let’s move on to the cons. First of all, the ink capacity, which is quite small. That means you’ll have less than 1ml of ink inside. If you can live with such a small amount of ink, this might not be a problem. But if you write a lot over the course of a day and find it annoying to constantly refill or simply don’t carry an ink bottle with you, which is completely fine by the way, a piston filling mechanism might be more effective. Secondly, even though some of the companies have made the transition to standard international converters that are interchangeable between different pens, many of them still create proprietary converters that only work in their pens. In addition, most companies sell converters separately, and some people may not agree to the extra expense.

The piston filling mechanism

First things first. Let’s clarify how the piston filling mechanism works, if by any chance there is anyone who doesn’t know yet. At the end of the barrel there is a piston knob that creates all the magic – you only need to dip the nib into the ink bottle and rotate the piston knob in order to fill up the piston. Speaking of piston fillers, you can re-read our article about Pelikan Souveran M1000 in which we mentioned, in some lines, the piston filling mechanism invented by the Hungarian engineer Theodor Kovacs around 1927 – what a remarkable achievement for that age. Invented so many years ago, they withstood the test of time and this is impressive – it proves that all the engineering behind such a piece was perfectly executed by masterminds. We get a little bit nostalgic every time we think about how piston fillers were developed and, to pay homage to the inventors, we praise their works by using piston fountain pens. Enough with the feelings for one day, let’s discuss the pros and cons.

The most important fact, above everything, is the ink capacity. A piston filler can hold up to 2ml of ink per fill, which is double the converter. This amount of ink is more than, enough even for those who write a lot. Another aspect to consider is that a piston filler is made in a more laborious way, which significantly decreases the chances of it breaking down. With proper maintenance, you can enjoy your piston fountain pen for years, as for the converters, some of them are more likely to break down in a shorter period of time, so be aware.

Some may see the cons a real issue while others not. This is definitely a matter of taste. The first disadvantage would be the price. However, we all know that quality is expensive… 

Secondly, you’ll have to carry an ink bottle with you whenever you travel. To be honest, we don’t really see this like the biggest inconvenient due to the fact that there are many travel friendly ink bottles. Now, the filling and cleaning part, which are both fun in our perception. But once again, it depends on how you want to look at it. For some people, the filling procedure might seem too messy and the cleaning procedure too annoying because it takes too much time. 

Now, to answer the question – “Converter or piston filling mechanism?”: well, it depends on your taste, budget as well as on how much energy are you willing to put into the maintenance process. Both systems are great for different scenarios and our recommendation is to try each of them and see which one suits your needs most.

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