Fountain Pen Ink: Bottled or Cartridges?

There are many considerations to make when purchasing a fountain pen, one of which being whether bottled ink or cartridge inks will be your go to writing experience. This decision may influence the fountain pen you choose because of the restrictions of some pens’ filling mechanisms.

Ultimately, there are almost endless inks available but there are pros and cons to both cartridges and bottled ink. The Hamilton Pen Company is here to help you decide.

Which is best? Ink Cartridges or Bottled Ink?

Fountain pens are a very personal pursuit, whether you are looking for a pen for daily use or something more specialist. Ink choice is similarly personal. Motivation - if that's the right word - plays a part in the decision as to whether your experience will be based around cartridges or bottled ink. Perhaps your interest in fountain pens isn’t even from a writing perspective but something rather more artistic. Thinking about how you want to use your fountain pen will help decide which type of ink delivery system will work best for you. Let’s examine each in turn…

Ink Cartridges for Fountain Pens: Pros 

One of the main benefits of ink cartridges is that in terms of initial outlay costs, they are cheaper than bottled ink. A pack of 6 cartridges will run you change for a fiver.

However, this pro becomes a con when you consider the cost by volume. A standard ink cartridge holds approximately 0.8ml of ink meaning a pack of 6 ink cartridges provides just less than 5ml of ink.


30ml of Lamy T53 bottled ink, for example, costs £9.50 so you would need 6 boxes of cartridges to match the volume. A similarly budget friendly pack of cartridges would cost around the £2.50 part meaning the same volume of ink in cartridges vs bottled ink would cost £15.

Where cartridges very clearly win out over bottled ink is with convenience factors. Firstly, cartridges are quicker and easier to use as they are prefilled. All you need to do is pop the cartridge into the pen then dispose of it when it is empty. This makes cartridges a great choice for beginners and novices. In a similar line of thinking, cartridges, on the whole, travel more easily than bottled ink, being both lighter and more compact - not to mention sealed.

The safety of a sealed ink cartridge is a big draw for those looking for a daily use fountain pen they can throw in their bag. Although not impervious to incident, ink cartridges may be the safer option for on-the-go. As with most things there are exceptions to the rules. Ferris Wheel Press have charger sets containing 3 small vials of 5ml bottled inks. 

Ink Cartridges For Fountain Pens: Cons

Probably the biggest con of ink cartridges is that they are more limited than bottled inks in terms of variation. There are far fewer brands who sell fountain pen ink cartridges. Here at The Hamilton Pen Company we are lucky to hold a great variety of cartridge brands, even so we have 24 brands with cartridges vs 30 bottled ink brands. Within those brands is less variation in colour and quirks for cartridges unlike bottled ink which features colour changing inks, shimmer inks and reactive inks to name a few. 

There is a lack of flexibility with cartridge inks. You may be limited to the same brand as your pen for ink cartridges - these are known as proprietary cartridges. It is also slightly problematic to change ink colours if the cartridge is not yet spent. Either you need to throw away some ink or use the whole cartridge before changing colour. ‘Great’ Fountain Pen Ink has developed a stopper to move past this issue.


Finally, as previously mentioned, their volume capacity may be a challenge for those who use a daily fountain pen.

Bottled Inks for Fountain Pens: Pros

One of the biggest pros to bottled ink is the sheer variety of fountain pen inks available. 

There is a versatility associated with bottled ink. Apart from the odd specialist ink which may be unsuitable for use with some fountain pens - i.e. some shimmer inks can’t be left in fountain pens for extended periods (or at all for particularly delicate pieces) - bottled ink can be used in ANY fountain pen that you own. You are not limited to matching brands. For example, if you own a Parker Pen, there is no rule to say you HAVE to use Parker inks. Furthermore, bottled ink can be used with ink converters to replicate some of the ease of cartridge ink

Volume is certainly a draw for many when it comes to bottled ink. That initial purchase will be more voluminous for your money than with cartridges and with more variety there is more variety with bottle sizes and types available. So, if you use a lot of black ink you can buy in bulk but invest in smaller bottle sizes for more unique and specialist inks. 

Finally, a not-insignificant point, visual impact. Bottle inks can be incredibly beautiful. Bottled ink brands often put serious time and resources into bottle design. Whether practical or hobbyist, bottles can be a big draw for fountain pen users. 

Bottled Ink For Fountain Pens: Cons

The initial cost of bottled ink is higher than with cartridges but as previously stated, the cost per ml often works out more efficiently. Compared with cartridges, bottled ink is higher maintenance as they take more time and effort to fill your fountain pen and there are additional steps for cleaning and flushing after use.  Bottled ink is less practical than cartridges. Cartridges travel better and require fewer steps to take mobile.

Finally, it can be said that there are almost too many options with bottled inks. If you are in any way indecisive, you might prefer the structure of cartridges. This final point is perhaps a bit of a stretch as a con but regardless remains worth mentioning.

Which Should I Choose? Bottled Inks or Cartridges

There are many pros and cons to both options and ultimately it comes down to personal preference. There is nothing to stop you using cartridges for some fountain pens and having bottled ink on hand for other pens and other occasions. 

To find out more and explore our ink selection, visit The Hamilton Pen Company today.


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