Platinum Carbon Fountain Pen—Returning to Tools You’ve Used Before

July 18, 2016

160616_A_CarbonPenPortrait_Woman_HairCRBRLeft: First sketch using the Platinum Carbon Pen, after a long absence. I was sketching from an old photograph. This is my Shinola Sketchbook test book. Montana Marker background.

Sometimes a tool doesn't work the way we would like. It might not feel right in your hand, you might not get the line quality or control that you like. There may be structural problems with the tool. I still think we need to keep an open mind.

I tried the Platinum Carbon Fountain Pen when it first came out—I think that must have been a couple years ago, or longer. (And of course it could have been available for a longer time without my knowledge!)

I had two problems with it. The paper I was using a lot of at the time (Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media—because someone is going to ask, but keep reading because I have thoughts on this!) didn't like the pen. And when I washed over the ink it always bled in the most inconvenient places.

I would have kept experimenting but one thing really put me off. The pen is poorly designed for my hand. I really hate how it tapers to a fine point at the butt end. WHY? Why not have a uniform-ish cylinder for a barrel and leave it at that?

It's not because I like to post my cap—snap it onto the end of the barrel while I use the pen. Frankly the only tool I regularly post is the Aquash Waterbrush. It holds on to its cap when attached in posting position. All other tools, all my favorite pens, and the Niji Waterbrush all have a tendency to lose their grip on their cap when it's posted. This is a problem when you're out in a field of overgrown weeds and want to cap your pen and go home but the cap has fallen off into the grass. And it's a problem of a more serious nature when you are sketching animals in a barn or zoo, or even a home, and the cap falls off within reach of a curious animal who might gobble it up—and have very expensive vet bills as a result.

I simply take caps off and pop them in my pocket.

But for some people not being able to post the cap on this pen is an issue. For me, it's the shape of the pen.

So I set it aside for a couple years. Then in June I wanted a thinner tool than I was routinely using but didn't want to get the dip pen out. I picked up the Platinum Carbon Pen instead of the dip pen. I've been sketching with it off and on since then. It really likes a lot of different papers. While it doesn't have the wide variation in line of a dip pen or even a fountain pen that has got a lot of flex, it can be used for a lot of interesting effects. And on many papers with different sizing, I've found that it is waterproof or bleeds so little as to be insignificant. My thought is to retest it on Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media paper because my earlier tests might have been accomplished during a very humid time period or have other conditions I can control.

I will say on the negative side, I did take it out into the field the other day and it leaked on me! This was without shaking or dropping it. I simply added a line to a sketch and held the pen ready for my next move and a large drop of ink exited the pen nib and fell to the paper. Is it an anomaly or something that will increase in frequency as the pen ages? We'll see.

Right now it's fun to test in on the current commercially bound journals I've been experimenting on. It fits well with my desire for a finer line right now.

Keep flexibility in mind. Don't count a tool out just because of one bad experience. Revisit it at some point just to see if it is what you need for now!

  1. Reply

    I too had a Carbon Pen that dripped…that dripping got so annoying it was put in my box of pens I don’t use anymore. Some people love it, I’m not one of them.

    • Jennifer
    • July 18, 2016

    I really love my Platinum Carbon pen, and I love what you have done with it above, Roz. It’s my current favourite tool. I do have this feeling that mine is getting wetter with age though, though it might be that I’m not terribly consistent with the paper I use. No leaks so far, touch wood.

    • Paul
    • July 18, 2016

    I haven’t had any problems with leaking but I have only had the pen a couple of years. I do like the “permanent” Platinum black ink. I don’t like the long tapered tail. I cut about an inch off the end of the barrel and now the pen fits in any pencil case :-).

  2. Reply

    Paul, thank you for bringing this up. I was wondering about cutting the long tail off. How far up did you cut your barrel do you remember? Or how long is the pen now, that’s what I should ask.

  3. Reply

    Jennifer, thanks for the feedback on your use and how your pen is working. I work on a lot of different papers too and sometimes things appear differently because of that. I will keep my wits about me. I’m not sure I’ll take it to the Fair, however, because of the issue of possible leaking.

    • Donnamcm
    • July 18, 2016

    Cathy Johnson cut the end off until the cap would post. Mine has never leaked or bled with watercolor. My go to pen for a thin line!

  4. Reply

    I love the line that this pen makes but I find it leaks if I take it around with me. I keep it on my desk and only use it at home now. I also did a Cathy Johnson and cut the end off with a junior hacksaw, smoothed down with sandpaper and now the lid posts nicely, and it will fit into a pencil case.

  5. Reply

    I just eyeballed the length of the cartridge/ink reservoir and cut a bit longer than that.

    • Jen
    • July 18, 2016

    I believe the instructions on the back of the package say that the pen needs to be stored upright, like in the sold-separately pen stand. It is meant to be a desk pen. Whenever I stored mine horizontally, in a pen case, it leaked. Either a blob on the paper, or ink all over my fingers.

  6. Reply

    Jen, My pencil case in my purse holds everything upright so it was never horizontal or face down. It’s good to know this, however for future reference. Perhaps the leak I experienced was an anomaly?

  7. Reply

    Thanks Alison.

  8. Reply

    Thanks Donna, I remembered Kate doing that and you and Paul reminded me so I might do that too. But I’m not sure that will fix the balance problem in my hand. We’ll see. If it keeps leaking I’ll probably cut it up and see if I like that enough to get a new one that doesn’t leak (at least at first).

  9. Reply

    Roz I cut my Carbon Pen when I got it about two years ago. You can see a side by side comparison picture of my modification here.

    Mine has never leaked. I carry it in a pen bag vertically nib up.

    1. Reply

      Jim thanks for sending your side-by-side comparisons. I think that will encourage people to do the same and solve the barrel problem. I’ve continued to use mine and you can see some additional comments about use in my comment back to Libby.

      I think the leaking I experienced was just the bad luck of that first pen, as others I’ve had since haven’t leaked. But I also always carry them upright in either a deep pocket or pencil case that is upright in my pack, so I think that’s probably why I’ve had better luck.

    • Libby Jane
    • October 2, 2018

    I cut the end of my Carbon Pen off with a little saw, and then use a lighter (outside!) to melt the end until it’s round again, so I can post the cap. I have different lengths of pen now also, so I can tell the extra fine nib apart easily. I keep mine in a pencil roll in my bag, upright (mostly). I also like to wear Carhart pants (Fleet Farm) with cargo pockets that are perfect for carrying my pens and pencils upright, and even a tiny Nag Hammadi journal at fairs and such. I wouldn’t keep the Carbon pen in a normal pocket, but haven’t had any trouble with it leaking from the cargo pocket, upright or flat.
    I have previously had the Carbon Pen leak when it is low on ink. It happens when it’s hot out, or can happen from the heat of my hand. So if I’m out and about and notice the ink is low, I add a little water to the cartridge. This can be done drop by drop with the tip of a pencil, or the pen nib itself, though that would be inkier!I think it’s the pressure difference caused by heat, but I don’t know why that would be worse if it’s low–does air expand more than liquid when warm? For this reason, I try not to even temporarily keep the Carbon pen behind my ear, the way I do out of habit with many writing things.
    I have really enjoyed this pen as my normal writing pen, and have found the ink to be quite waterproof for all washes. (though only once dry!) These modifications have made it much more practical for real and rigorous use for me.
    I have had trouble with the tip getting clogged up irreparably after a few refills, despite thorough rinsing every time I refill, but still feel it’s a good deal for the amount of use I get out of it, since I have resolved the issues you mention, at least for my purposes. I should mention that it’s shape doesn’t bother me, except that it didn’t fit in my pencil box until I modified it. (I used a box before my current pencil roll.) Hope something here is helpful to you. I have found it to be the most practical fountain pen ever for me. Though I used to carry around a dip pen with a bombproof bottle of ink, so maybe my ideas aren’t really practical. But Carbon pen lets me sketch and write on the bus and train way more than I did before.
    Thanks for all the great and uber-practical reviews of art products! I’ve started searching your blog before I trot over to Wet Paint.

    1. Reply

      Libby, thanks for all the great hacks you’ve listed. After writing this post in 2016 I’ve continued to use the pen off and on. I have actually come to like the weird barrel because when I put it in my pockets (Gramiccis. also upright as you mentioned) I can reach in and tell it immediately from my Pigment Liners. But I have other friends here in town who have taken the bottom off as you mention so it will fit in their pencil case. My case, which sits upright in my pack never gets closed any more, so this pen will fit there without difficulty.

      I haven’t had the last two pens leak regardless of heat, humidity, anything. I even take them to the Minnesota State Fair, where it is typically hot and humid. I think always keeping the tip upright in my pencil case and pocket probably helps.

      I don’t know why yours leaks under those conditions, but it’s good that you have a work around.

      I do wish the tip were more flexible! I’m a dip pen girl at heart and love flexible nibs but I am too klutzy to carry a bottle of ink around—though recently several of my students have been attaching small bottles of ink to drawing boards when in the field, so I am tempted. Before I switched to Staedtler Pigment liners in the 1990s I did carry dip pen and a tiny water bottle cap, about the size of a thimble. I had it hot-melt glued to a long piece of mat board that I could insert in my journal so that the ink was at hand but not in hand, and I could sketch that way, standing as is my preference. But only outside (as even a thimble full of ink is a disaster when spilled indoors). I really miss using the dip pen when out and about however. Maybe my students will tempt me back.

      I’m so glad the pen is working for you and I know others will take encouragement! I don’t remember what they cost (the last one I purchased has lasted quite a long time) but I do remember them being so inexpensive that it was silly not to try them.

    • Elizabeth Johnson
    • October 17, 2018

    I think they’re $13, or thereabouts. What a cool idea for a plein aire dip-pen set-up! Thanks so much for describing these fascinating things.
    I’ve been having so much fun reading your blog for a while now, and your archives are a treasure trove!

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