this thing's incredible

The Lamy Safari Is a Fountain Pen for Dummies

It makes the quirks of my handwriting feel intentional. Photo: Courtesy the retailer

I really love my Lamy Safari fountain pen. I’m not exactly sure where I first saw it. It might have been at Stevdan Stationers on Sixth Avenue, where I often wander around and test out pens — the people at Stevdan are very patient.

The Safari always caught my eye during these scouting missions — a German, Bauhaus-like design wrapped in the body of a Lego brick. Introduced in 1966, the pen today comes in a wide array of colors, unapologetically bright and vivid amid the homogeneous rows of smooth black pens with gold and silver accents. I remember trying out a yellow one and buying it on the spot — it felt great to finally buy something at Stevedan.

Fountain pens can be complicated and intimidating, but the Safari was designed to be approachable. (It was apparently originally meant to help teach proper handwriting to schoolchildren). Pen enthusiasts often recommend it as a great “starter” fountain pen, which I’ve found to be spot-on. There’s a bit of a learning curve with fountain pens that you don’t have with ballpoints. You need to hold the pen at a pretty sharp angle to the paper, about 45 degrees, with the nib falling flat on the page. It feels awkward at first; I kept thinking I was overcorrecting when I first tried, but it quickly became second nature. Write your signature a bunch of times and you’ll get the hang of it. The most surprising thing is that you barely need to apply any pressure when you write — it’s more like you’re gliding the pen across. The sensation and sounds are almost ASMR-like. (I actually found a pretty amazing fountain-pen-writing ASMR video and I am so happy it exists.)

Not that I’m suddenly an expert, but there is something special about writing with a fountain pen. The steady flow of ink is so expressive; it somehow makes the weird, messy quirks of my handwriting feel intentional. The nibs come in extra-fine, fine, medium, and broad, and though most people prefer fine, I like the boldness of a medium. More than anything, it’s just fun to write with. I find myself looking for excuses to use my Lamy — I definitely write way more thank-you notes now. And even though the five-pack cartridge refills last a while, I’m considering going all the way with an ink converter that’ll let me refill directly from a bottle of ink.

Lamy Safari Fountain Pen, Yellow Medium Nib
$25 at Amazon

More Strat-approved pens

Uni-Ball Vision Rollerball Pens
Photo: SvetaVo/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Uni-Ball Vision Rollerball Pens
$19 for 12 at Amazon

Illustrator Joana Avillez stands by the Uni-Ball Vision: “One of its finest attributes is its waterproofness. And its fadeproofness. It is reliable. It is disposable. It is trustworthy. It creates a line that is buoyant. It is as free as you can possibly let your mind be. It is also roughly two bucks at a stationery store, $13 for a pack of 12 on Amazon.”

Midori Brass Ballpoint Pen
$28 at Amazon

Writer Mark Byrne likes his brass Japanese pen: “Surely there are hundreds of other collapsible pens. There are also, I know, many very beautiful pens. I submit that the Midori is a rare combination of both, and for that reason it is extraordinary. It is both very good-looking and small. I keep mine in the coin pocket of my jeans. I carry it almost everywhere.”

Staedtler Pigment Liner, 0.4mm, Black Ink
$9 at Amazon

Novelist Alexander Chee only uses one pen when he signs books: “Some pens will cut the paper, which is horrifying. It’s a little punk rock, but you don’t want to do it over and over. So with the new book, I knew I needed a pen. I don’t like the Sharpie, which is what a bookstore will hand you, so I went and found these. They’re technically drawing pens, and I use them to sketch and doodle when I’m not doing author events. I actually remember how I discovered it through trial and error. I had one of them with me in my pocket when I showed up for an event a few years ago for Queen of the Night readings, and that’s when I noticed it did very well and didn’t cut the paper.”

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The Lamy Safari Is a Fountain Pen for Dummies