The A-Z of Pens: A Glossary of Pen Terms

The A-Z of Pens: A Glossary of Pen Terms

The A-Z of Pens: A Glossary of Pen Terms

We know that buying a pen can be confusing. In the realm of pens technical terms are a bound.

At Pen Heaven we want buying a pen, either for yourself or as a gift, to be a pleasurable experience. We hope our glossary of terms will help build your pen knowledge and ensure you can buy with confidence.



An ink which is fade resistant and will look the same after many years. Especially important when signing official documents. All Cross inks and pen refills are certified as archival.

Ballpoint Pen A pen which uses a small ball at the writing point to manage ink flow. Ususally utilising an oil based ink and a click or twist mechanism to extend the writing tip.   A lady's hand holding a ballpoint pen and writing
Barrel The long tube which makes the main part of the pen. This usually conceals the mechanism & refill.  
Bottled Ink  Ink bottles and ink converters with a fountain pen

Fountain pen ink housed in a bottle. Can be used with a converter or a pen with an in-built filling mechanism.

Pilot's Iroshizuku bottled ink comes in 24 beautiful ink colours inspired by the colours of nature and ivoking images of Japanese landscapes.

Breather Hole A small hole at the bottom of the nib slit which allows intake of air and assists with ink flow. Sometimes called a vent hole.  
Calligraphy A decorative style of handwriting / handwritten lettering created with a pen or brush. An art form which takes years to master and is especially prized for wedding invitations, menus etc. We love the Lamy Joy Calligraphy Set - supplied with a range of nib widths you'll have the perfect size for any project. Lamy Joy Calligraphy Set
Cap The part of the pen which covers the writing tip. This part can be removed and posted onto the end of the barrel whilst writing. Traditionally found on fountain pens and rollerball pens, but sometimes these are capless or you'll find a ballpoint pen with a cap.  

Lamy Tipo Capless Rollerball Pens - 2021 Special Editions - Copper Orange & Petrol

Shop Lamy Tipo for a budget friendly capless rollerball.

A pen which would traditionally have a cap which does not. Eg. a capless rollerball pen. A different mechanism will be used to pull the writing tip inside the body of the pen and prevent drying.
Clip A metal strip attached to the pen cap (or upper part of the pen barrel) which can be attached to a shirt pocket. The clip also helps prevent the pen from rolling off a desk. Yard-o-Led Viceroy Barley Fountain Pen - clip image
Clutch Pencil A type of mechanical pencil. The mechanism "clutches" the lead near the writing tip and lets go of the lead completely when the mechanism button is utilised.   
Collector's Edition

A release of a product that has additional features or design elements compared to the standard version. 

The Cross Calais x Liberty United Collector's Edition Ballpoint Pen features flashes of safety orange and metal parts made from genuine guns. The sale of each one helps charities supporting American children affected by gun crime and takes another illegal gun off the streets.

A man at a work desk using a Cross Calais Liberty United Ballpoint Pen
Compact A smaller writing instrument, usually pocket sized, ideal for carrying around. If the pen has a cap, it will be compact when closed, extending to a full size pen when the cap is posted.  
Converter A device for allowing the use of bottled ink with a fountain pen. Often utilising a piston mechanism, but other mechanisms are available eg. squeeze. Like a refillable ink cartridge.  

TWSBI Diamon Mini White Rose Gold Fountain Pen

A pen with a transparent body which allows you to see its inner workings.

See all our demonstrator pens.

Dip Pen A nibbed pen which has no internal resevoir to hold ink. The pen must be "dipped" into an ink bottle and will only hold a small amount of ink on the nib. The pre-cursor to a fountain pen. With a selection of nibs and two ink this wooden dip pen is sure to please.  
Eraser A piece of soft rubber or plastic used to rub out something written (usually with a pencil). Many mechanical pencils will have an eraser hidden in the end.  
Ergonomic Designed for efficiency or comfort. Many pens have an ergonomic grip section which promote proper finger placement and so ease writing strain. The Yoropen Executive Ballpoint Pen

The Yoropen Executive Ballpoint's unique 'lightning bolt' shape aids a more natural writing position, easing strain and improving comfort. The ergonomic rubber grip makes this pen suited to both left and right handers.

Feed The plastic section which sits at the back of the nib. It draws ink through from the cartridge / converter / internal resevoir to the nib using capillary action.  
Fineliner A fine fibre or plastic tip which allows for precision detailing so ofted used in draphic design and sketching.  
Fountain Pen A nibbed pen with an internal reservoir to hold ink. In most modern fountain pens the reservoir is a removable ink cartridge or converter. Visconti Mirage Emerald Fountain Pen
Gel Ink A water based ink, which has a thickness similar to oil based ballpoint ink, but with the smooth feel and flow of a standard water based rollerball ink. The high proportion of pigments which the gel can hold means you can get brightly coloured, metallic and glitter ink gel pens. Choose a Cross rollerball pen for a super smooth gel ink experience. A Cross Century II white lacquer rollerball pen with a recipe card, surrounded by ingredients
Grind The way in which a fountain pen nib is cut. The grind includes the shape and angle of the tip.  
Grip Faber-Castell Essentio Rose Fountain Pen

The part of the pen where you hold when writing, close to the writing tip.

For a fountain pen, the nib and feed are fitted into this section and this attaches the nib to the barrel and ink reservoir.

Many pens have a textured, rubberised or ergonomic grip for extra comfort and control whilst writing. Sometimes known as the shell or section.

Hallmark A mark stamped on articles of gold, silver, or platinum certifying their standard of purity. All our sterling silver pens are hallmarked by the assay office in Birmingham, England. See our range of beautiful sterling silver pens. Yard-o-Led pens showing sterlign silver hallmarks
Ink Cartridge A disposable ink reservoir, for easy and mess free refilling of fountain pens. Made of plastic. Some fountain pens use brand specific ink cartridges (eg. Cross, Parker & Lamy), but many use Standard International Short size (eg. Waterman, Faber-Castell & Kaweco)  
Italic Nib Rotring-Italic-Nib A nib which has a flat grind at the tip, creating a line variance between the vertical stroke and the horizontal stroke.
Lead The refill for a mechanical pencil. Usually made of graphite, leads must be purchased in the correct thickness to work with the specific pencil being used. Often available in a variety of hardnesses.  
Limited Edition A release of a product that has a strictly limited run. Usually limited edition pens will be individually numbered and bear a certificate of authentication.  
Mechanical Pencil A pencil with a replaceable and mechanically extendable refill called a lead. The lead is not attached to the outer casing, and can be extended as its point is worn away as it is being used. Rotring 800+ Mechanical Pencils
Multifunction Pen A pen which has multiple writing options including different coloured ballpoint pens, mechanical pencil & stylus tips. Options included in each pen vary from brand to brand and range to range.   
Nib Graf von Faber-Castell fountain pen nibs

The metal tip part of a fountain pen which makes contact with the paper.

We have an extensive range of replacement nibs. Perfect for changing nib width or replacing an old or broken nib unit.

Oblique Nib A nib which has a flat grind, like an italic nib, but cut at an angle (either left or right).    
Piston Filler A type of in-built filling mechanism for a fountain pen. Using a twist tip and a piston to draw ink into the internal reservoir. We love the TWSBI ECO for entry level piston fill fountain pens, and the Pelikan Souverän for top of the range. Filling a Pelikan fountain pen from an ink bottle
Posted When the cap of the pen is placed onto the end of the barrel whilst writing.  
Pressurised Ballpoint Refill A ballpoint refill which contains pressurised gas. The gas expands as the ink is used up and pushes the remaining ink through the ball tip. This allows the pen to write in circumstances where it usually couldn't function eg. upside down, under water, in zero G. Fisher Space ballpoint pens feature this innovative refill. Fisher Space Bullet pens
Push Pencil A type of mechanical pencil. The mechanism "pushes" the lead through the writing tip in small increments when the mechanism button is utilised.  
Quill Feather quill calligraphy set  A dip pen where the shaft of the pen is made from a bird feather. All our quills are made from goose feather. Traditionally the shaft of the feather was cut to hold ink, but now quills have a metal nib.
Refill The generic term used for the replaceable metal ink cartridge which is used in ballpoint & rollerball pens.  
Rollerball Pen

A happy medium between a ballpoint and a fountain pen. Like a ballpoint, a rollerball uses a small ball at the writing point to manage ink flow. However the ink is usually water based and most rollerballs have a cap to cover the writing tip, like fountain pen ink. These things combined provide the smooth writing experience of a fountain pen with the ease of use of a ballpoint.

Kaweco Brass Sport Rollerball Pen
Shoulder The widest part of the nib.  
Slimline A pen with a slim profile. At Pen Heaven we would call a pen with a diameter of less then 10mm slimline. The Cross Classic Century and Waterman Hemisphere ranges both provide elegant style with slimline profiles.  
Slip & Seal Platinum #3776 Century Bourgogne Gold Trim Fountain Pen

An secondary inner cap which creates an airtight seal around the pen grip/nib, preventing drying and leaks. Slip & Seal is used by Platinum in their #3776 Century range.


Slit The thin cut which runs down the nib to the breather hole. This helps to carry the ink through the feed to the writing tip.  
Special Edition A release of a product that will be available for a limited period, but doesn't have a strictly limited run. Special edition pens often showcases new colours of an exisiting product line eg. Lamy release special edition colourways each year for many of their ranges. See all our special, limited and collectors editions. TWSBI ECO TWSBI ECO Limited Edition Golden Horse Awards Fountain Pen Gift Set
Stub Nib A nib which has a flat grind at the tip, creating a line variance between the vertical stroke and the horizontal stroke. Like an italic nib, but with more rounded edges at the flat tip, creating a smoother everyday writing experience. An image showing writing saying Wild Lines written using a stub nib
Stylus A tool which can be used to help with precision and ease of use on touch screens. Found as an additional feature on some multi-function pens.  
Tines The parts of the nib split by the slit which taper towards the tip. Usually a nib has 2 tines, but in the case of the Platinum Music nib there is 3.  
Tip The very end part of the pen nib or refill which touches the paper.  
Tipping Material A very small bit of durable metal which is attached at the tip of the nib. This is what is ground to the sizing required.