Posts filed under Fountain Pens

Guest Post: “I think I want to try out this whole fountain pen thing.”

(This is a guest post by Jonathan Bemis. You can follow him on Twitter @jtower42.)

There comes a time in nearly every pen geek’s life when he or she thinks, “I’ve never tried a fountain pen. I wonder if I’d like it? It seems like a cool thing, but there are so many choices, and fountain pens can be EXPENSIVE. Where do I start? How do I choose?”

We’re going to try to sort through some of those questions with today’s review of some of the very likely suspects for a “first ever” fountain pen. The only way to really learn fountain pens is to experience them, and hopefully this will help you select a first fountain pen that leads to a positive experience for YOU.

‏First Pen - all four pens - 7-3-14.JPG

Pens Compared: Pilot Metropolitan, Platinum Plaisir, Sailor Clear Candy, Kaweco Classic Sport

Selection Criteria (and exceptions): Defining this category isn’t easy. There are lots of decent, inexpensive pens out there, so I felt like I had to make some assumptions about the person asking for a recommendation. First, I assumed the person was an adult. I figured that a child getting into fountain pens (at least in the U.S.) would already have a parent or other adult figure that was knowledgeable about pens; I bought my daughter a Pilot Kakuno for her ninth birthday, but I already knew something about fountain pens. So that assumption eliminates the “kids’” or “student” pens like the Pelikan Pelikano, Pilot Kakuno and Lamy ABC. Second, I assumed they might use the pen at work or in a professional setting, and would therefore not want a pen that was too “out there” in terms of appearance or form factor. Finally, I set a price ceiling of $25 for a first pen. This may be controversial, in that it eliminates the Lamy Safari, which is very commonly recommended for first-time fountain pen users. I chose fine nibs for all pens except the Sailor Clear Candy, which comes only in a “fine-medium.”

I also eliminated a few pens somewhat arbitrarily, just because. Feel free to disagree with my capricious choices. I eliminated the Sheaffer VFM for no good reason other than I have never had a Sheaffer and that Shaeffer is owned by Bic. (I told you this was arbitrary.) I also ruled out the Pilot Varsity because as a disposable pen, it is not quite as “nice” as the other pens on this list. Finally, I chose the Platinum Plaisir over the Platinum Preppy for sort of the same reason; I felt the simple but traditional look of the Plaisir would be more appealing than the sticker-covered clear barrel of the Preppy.

Comparison criteria: 1. Appearance/form factor 2. Feel in hand 3. Nib performance 4. Paper performance

Method: All four pens will be inked up with Organics Studios Blue Merle, which is a well-behaved dark blue-black ink. Being a “third-party” ink, there should be no advantage or disadvantage that might be gained by using inks from Pilot, Platinum, Sailor or Kaweco, all of whom manufacture inks that presumably are designed for use in their pens. Writing samples will be done on this random white legal pad I held my breath long enough to retrieve from my office’s supply room.

Platinum Plaisir ($22.00)

This is a reasonably nice-looking pen, glossy black with a silver-colored cap band. I find the cap band to be too bulky for the overall size of the pen, and I think the pen would look better if it were not quite so broad. The clip might be the nicest looking thing on the pen; it is silver-colored with a black “racing stripe” down the middle. The pen comes in something like 10 different colors from black to pink to navy blue, so there’s sure to be a color that speaks to you.

The body and cap are anodized aluminum and feel reasonably solid. There is a rather unpleasant-sounding “tink” when it is set on my glass-topped desk. The section is clear plastic with visible feed fins. It’s a cool look, but distinctly “un-executive” and doesn’t quite match the classic look of the body and cap. I believe the section and feed are shared with the $4 Platinum Preppy, which probably helps keep costs down. It also shares a “love it or hate it” feature with the Preppy, which is the color-matched nib. My black Plaisir has a black nib, which I think is pretty cool, but all the other colors match as well, and you may want a purple pen but not want a purple nib.

The pen feels good in hand. The section is long enough that my fingers don’t rest on the small step connecting the section to the body. The section is also nearly perfectly straight with no taper or pinch. The pen is long enough to write with unposted, but the cap is light enough that posting doesn’t make the pen back-heavy. In fact, the pen was remarkably well balanced for a pen this inexpensive.

The nib is as stiff as a nail, which is par for the course for many Platinum nibs. The stiffness of the nib is truly a personal choice for the user to make. Generally, a stiff nib will lay down a more consistent line than a flexible one, and a stiff nib may allow for smaller handwriting and more detailed work. The Plaisir’s stiff nib lays down a moderately wet ink flow and has no scratchiness, and feedback is a barely detectable whisper.

On the cheap office paper, there was significant feathering and heavy show-through, but because of the fine, consistent line, there was little to no bleed-through. You might be able to get away with using this pen on cheap paper if you only write on one side of the page, but it won’t be pretty.

Plaisir.jpg

Pilot Metropolitan ($15.00)

The Metropolitan has an aluminum barrel and cap, and a plastic section. My choice was the “Plain Black” style, which is matte black except for a shiny black band where the barrel meets the cap. The section is held into the barrel by a silver-colored collar, and a thin reveal line of the collar separates the cap and barrel, which I think is a classy touch. I don’t personally like most of the other Metropolitan colors – it comes in gold, violet, white, silver and black, and except for the Plain Black and Plain Silver, the shiny band around the middle has a geometric or animal print pattern. I think that detracts from the overall appearance of the pen, but that’s personal preference. The nib has a subtle Art Deco-esque pattern etched, which I like.

The pen is weighted well. It might be a touch heavy towards the nib unposted, but when posted, it balances perfectly. The build feels solid; the aluminum feels thicker or heavier than the Platinum, and the section, despite being plastic, does not feel cheap or flimsy. There is a sharp step between the barrel and the section, but I have tried gripping the pen a number of ways, and the step doesn’t interfere.

I was prepared to rave about how awesome the Metropolitan’s nib is, until one sentence left in my written sample. All of a sudden, I started to get some hard starts, and then the nib just went dry. I could not get it going again until I unscrewed the barrel and gave the converter a little squeeze or two. Then the flow started up again with no problems, and I was able to finish. I had been using this pen prior to the written sample and had no issues, and am not prepared to say this is an actual issue. I do know that prior to that hiccup, I was thrilled with the nib. It is firm, but less stiff than the Platinum. It lays down a smooth, fine line and glides across the paper with no scratchiness.

On the office paper pad, there was moderate showthrough and little bleedthrough except when I flexed the nib to show line variation. Feathering was moderate, perhaps a little less than the Platinum. I was generally pleased with the performance of the Metropolitan on the cheap paper.

Metropolitan.jpg

Sailor Clear Candy ($16.50)

I almost didn’t include this pen based on its appearance. It comes in a range of colors, but all of them (as the name implies) are candy-colored and loaded with kid appeal. I selected what looked to me to be the most professional-looking color – white with blue trim and blue Sailor logo anchors around the base of the cap. Despite the more casual aesthetic, I felt like I needed to include the entry-level model from one of the legendary Japanese pen manufacturers.

The pen is plastic. Plastic body, plastic cap, plastic clip, plastic section, plastic pen. The only metal on the whole thing is the nib. However, it’s molded well, with no rough parting lines or gate vestiges. Being all-plastic it’s quite light; unposted, it’s very insubstantial. Posted, it’s nicely balanced for such a light pen. The barrel diameter is comfortable in hand, and while the threads are underneath my fingers, because they are plastic, they are not sharp and uncomfortable the way metal threads can be.

The nib is stiff and has a substantial amount of feedback. It’s not quite scratchy, but neither is it smooth. I was reminded of another writing experience during testing that I couldn’t quite place. Taking a wild guess, I grabbed my Uni-ball Jetstream 0.38 and jotted down a few sentences. Sure enough, that was it. The feel of the Sailor was very similar to a fine-tipped hybrid ballpoint, and that’s not at all a criticism. It is, however, a fairly specific feel – some people love that experience, and others may not. There was no skipping and no hard starting. The Clear Candy just wrote a tight, fine line with no issues.

On the cheap notepad, the Sailor Clear Candy performed the best of all four pens, with just a hair less feathering and showthrough than the Metropolitan. There was nearly zero bleedthrough, and I could almost see using the backside of the paper.

Kaweco Classic Sport ($23.50)

The Kaweco (pronounced kuh-VAY-ko) was another pen I considered not including in this review. It has a unique compact design that looks quite different from a “normal” pen and might give the first-time fountain pen buyer pause. But the Classic Sport is ubiquitous, well-regarded and from a well-respected German pen manufacturer. I also figured that the first-time fountain pen buyer might like the sturdy, compact design.

The Classic Sport is, like the Sailor Clear Candy, constructed entirely out of plastic. The nib is steel, of course, and there is a gold or silver button (depending on the color and model you get) on the top of the cap that might be metal or might be metallized plastic. You can get the Classic Sport in several basic but rich colors, and the identical Ice Sport comes with clear barrels and colored translucent caps for the same price. The pen does not come with a clip, but you can purchase one for about $3, which would technically vault the price of this pen over the $25 price ceiling of this review.

The cap is octagonal and threads very deeply onto the barrel, which makes the capped pen quite short, as you can see in the photos. Uncapped and unposted, the pen by itself is very short, probably too short to comfortably use for anything beyond jotting down a phone number or reminder. The magic of this pen comes when it’s posted. The cap posts very solidly, but not quite as deeply as it caps. It’s easier to see in the photos, but the practical effect is that the pen, when posted, is about 50% longer than when unposted. This makes it longer than the (unposted) Metropolitan, Plaisir and Clear Candy. The point is it’s a very clever design that makes for a compact pen to carry and a comfortable pen to hold for writing.

The Classic Sport is balanced well, perhaps a bit shaded towards the nib, but not in a noticeable or unpleasant way. The octagonal barrel may annoy some people who don’t like to feel edges when they write, but I don’t find it bothersome.

While I love this pen (I actually have two in my personal collection), the nib is a touch finicky. It’s an extraordinarily well-made nib, smooth and wet. In fact, it is the smoothest nib out of all four pens, and the only one with a touch of flex. However, it doesn’t behave well with some papers. On the cheap office paper, it feathered and bled like crazy, going so far as to leave dots of ink on the writing surface of the next sheet of paper. This phenomenon illustrates an important rule of thumb about European vs. Japanese nibs. For the same nominal size of nib, the European nib will lay down more ink than a Japanese nib. It’s not quite as simple as adding or subtracting a size, (e.g., a Japanese Medium is equivalent to a European Fine), but that can be a good rule of thumb. So the fact that the Kaweco was wetter and laid down a lot more ink than its Japanese counterparts is no surprise.

On high-quality paper (like Rhodia or Clairefontaine) the Kaweco really shines. But because a first-time fountain pen buyer isn’t likely to have a good stock of high-quality paper, I am forced to dock some points from the Kaweco. If you are reading this, I am not recommending this as a first fountain pen. But if you like the experience of writing with a fountain pen, go pick up some nice notebooks and make the Kaweco Classic Sport (or Ice Sport) your SECOND pen.

Classic Sport.JPG

Summary

See the Grades photo for how I felt each of the four pens performed in each of the four comparison criteria. Another criterion for you to take into consideration is value for the price. The Platinum Plaisir and Pilot Metropolitan both graded out equally well, with the Plaisir getting the nod in nib performance and feel in hand, and the Metropolitan winning in appearance and performance on cheap paper. Either pen would make a great first fountain pen – both are attractive, comfortable, well-performing pens. However, the Metropolitan is $7 cheaper, and performs better on cheap paper, which is all you are likely to have at first. However, you could use that $7 and get a fantastic notebook with amazing paper that will immediately enhance your fountain pen experience. A Clairefontaine A4 size (about 8.5” X 11”) staplebound notebook can be had for $6, or a top-staplebound Rhodia A5 (about 6” X 8”) for $5.50. So, combining performance with value, I have to give the top spot to the Metropolitan.

Grades.JPG

Winner: Pilot Metropolitan Runner-up: Platinum Plaisir Recommended: Sailor Clear Candy, Kaweco Classic Sport (or Ice Sport). Not recommended: None

Posted on August 26, 2014 and filed under Fountain Pens, Pen Reviews.

Pilot Lucina Fountain Pen Review

The Pilot Lucina is a pen that I've often thought about getting, but couldn't really justify the almost-premium price tag. I'd look at pictures and read about it, but I couldn't understand why it was in the mid-$80 range. Basically, it's a unique design for Pilot, and it has some really fun colors. What else? Well, not much. But, if you like the looks of it, I guarantee it will charm you if you decide to pull the trigger on the purchase.

Aesthetics

The Lucina comes in a standard Pilot flip box – nothing fancy, but classy and reserved. It's tucked into a plastic sleeve inside the case, which is something I wish the pen manufacturers wouldn't do. It takes away from the experience of opening a new toy.

After getting the pen out of its packaging, you notice that it's a lightweight pen and really well balanced. The plastic doesn't feel cheap, and the attention to detail is superb. I'm not a huge fan of gold trim, but I think it works well on the Lucina. It has the right style to sport the gold trim well. The black accents also add more punch to the main color. In my case, I went with yellow because I really had no other choice. The red also looked interesting, but not nearly as much as the yellow. It pops.

The cap screws on and off, and posts perfectly. The nib is also gold in color and has a bit more decoration than the cheaper Pilot nibs. There's some scroll work and a Pilot logo above the standard Pilot name and nib size. The clip is what I consider to be the perfect mixture of strength and flexibility. It just works and never requires fiddling.

One thing I dislike about the looks of the pen is true of every lighter-colored pen barrel that secures the cap with threads – dirt gets into the threads and shows up instantly. My hands are pretty clean, but the dark specks still get into the threads and I can't stand it. When I uncap the pen it's the first thing I see. Yes, you can clean them, but it's not easy and it's never quite perfect again. I prefer snap on caps, but I can get over my silly OCD tendencies if the pen writes well enough. And the Lucina does.

Writing

In my experience, Pilot always delivers a well-behaved nib out of the box, and the Lucina is no exception. The steel nib is a smooth and dependable writer. I've used it on a number of different papers, and it works well on them all. Being so fine, it doesn't bleed much on cheap paper, although it can tend to snag if the paper surface is rough. On smooth paper like Rhodia and Clairefontaine, it glides like an ice skate and fresh ice.

I typically write unposted when using normal pens. The Lucina is about the size of a Metropolitan, but I really enjoy writing with this pen posted. I think it was designed to be used this way because the balance is perfect when it's posted. It feels a bit off when unposted – like writing with a Kaweco sport or TWSBI Mini unposted, but not as exaggerated.

I bought a pack of Pilot blue-black cartridges with this pen, and tried them out first. The ink flows well and the pen never skips or has issues starting – even after being idly uncapped for a few minutes. That's rare with the rest of the pens I own. They get a bit dry after a minute or two of being unused and uncapped.

The grip section feels good on this pen. I'm not very picky when it comes to how the grip feels when I'm writing as long it doesn't distract me. I don't notice the grip when I'm writing with this pen, and that's good.

The nib is extremely forgiving. There's no sweet spot on this nib, it just works however you're holding it. Fantastic.

Drawback

Here's the deal. I love this pen. It's a great writing instrument and I think the style is charming and unique. I get a great deal of enjoyment out of the pen, and I have no issues with what I paid for this pen.

However, unless you're just really attracted to the unique style and colors of this pen, I can't say it writes better or offers any other advantages over the Metropolitan. The Metropolitan is a killer pen, and I could say many of the same things about it as I said about the Lucina. The main difference is the price – a Metro runs under $20 while the Lucina is right over $80. That's four Metropolitans.

It's not a pen for beginners just because of the price, but it's still a fantastic pen. If you like the way it looks, then I say go for it. It won't disappoint. If you're still trying things out, I'd put this one on a lower priority list for now.

If you decide to grab one of these beauties, you have a choice of black, blue, red, and yellow bodies. All of them have gold trim, and only the black ones offer different nib sizes than fine.

So, there it is. The Lucina is a fantastic pen in a confusing price category. I love mine.

(You can find more from Jeff online at Draft Evolution, Twitter, and App.net.)

Posted on August 20, 2014 and filed under Fountain Pens, Pen Reviews, Pilot.

Lamy 2000 Fountain Pen Review

There are few pens that match the iconic design of the Lamy 2000. That's a bold statement, but this is a pen that's included in the Museum of Modern Art.

It's not uncommon to hear negative thoughts on the 2000 because of it's finicky nib. It seems Lamy have a quality control issue with this model, because it happens far too often. Yes, I'm starting this off with the negative aspect first because I want to get it out of the way.

Full disclaimer: the Lamy 2000 that I bought had a problematic nib out of the box. It wrote, but it wasn't smooth and it wasn't enjoyable. It caused anxiety and frustration more often than good feelings. With a pen that looks so awesome (and cost this much), you expect it to write with 100% consistency.

I bought my 2000 before the 2014 Atlanta Pen Show. I did this on purpose so that I could bring it along in case it had a bum nib. I'm glad I made that choice, because it did have a bum nib, and I was able to have Mike Masuyama fix it for me. If I didn't end up going to the show, I would've sent it off to a nib meister shortly after receiving it.

I love my Lamy 2000, and I think it's a great pen. But, if you buy one, it might be wise to set aside a little bit of money for nib work – just in case. That's my advice, but I really hope that the pen you buy is perfect right out of the box.

Now, on to the good stuff about this pen.

Looks

Not to be superficial, but I kind of think other pens are jealous of how hot this pen is. I know that's just personal preference, but I'm smitten.

The Lamy 2000 is unique. There isn't another pen like it in design. It's sleek, modern, and welcoming at the same time. It looks like a pen meant to write, but classy at the same time. It works with casual and dress clothes splendidly. It always gets comments out in the wild.

One of my favorite aspects of the pen is the grip and nib section. The nib is hooded, and looks very small since most of it is hidden beneath the metal grip. Now, I'm no expert in metals, but I think the grip is stainless steel. Whatever it is, it feels fantastic to hold.

The body is made of Makrolon, a form of fiberglass. It looks unique, but it also feels unique. It's a subtle difference, but I always notice it. After you write for a while, the body warms up as it rests on your hand. When writing, my fingers rest on the stainless steel grip and the body rests on my hand. I've written with this pen over numerous long writing sessions, and it never got uncomfortable. It's a great material, and well-balanced in the hand.

I normally write with this pen unposted, but it also feels well-balanced when posted.

The pen is a piston filler, and the piston section is so flush with the rest of the pen body, that it's often easy to miss. I love this aspect of the design. It makes the pen look like a solid, single piece.

Another fascinating design feature is the ink window. Toward the grip section of the barrel, some of the Makrolon is thin enough to let light through so you can see (roughly) how much ink is left. This is nothing similar to a demonstrator body – it's in no way completely transparent, but it does allow you to keep an eye on your ink level. It's a great feature.

Writing

Ah, the writing. At the start, the nib was inconsistent with ink flow, and it tended to stick to the page a bit. It's hard to describe, but it was dry and seems to be held to the page with some sort of really mild adhesive. Despite cleaning the pen numerous times, this didn't go away. I took it to Mike Masuyama in April, and he smoothed it out and increased the flow. Now it writes like a dream.

This is my first gold Lamy nib, and it's not dramatically different from the steel nibs, but I do notice it every now and then. There's more give in the gold nib compared to a steel nib.

Even after being adjusted, the nib still requires a fairly strict angle of attack on the page. I've grown used to this unique aspect of the pen, and after a few sentences, I don't even have to think about it.

As I said earlier, I love writing with this pen, and that's really all that matters. I'm really happy with the work Mike did on the nib, and I hope that everyone who owns or purchases one of these little beauties has a good nib to begin with or a good nib meister that can help.

Overall, I recommend the Lamy 2000. I've heard that some vendors will check the nib before they ship the pen to you – if you ask them to. Sure, you might get a bum nib, and I don't think that's right considering the price tag. That considered, a well-writing Lamy 2000 is a glorious thing. I think it's worth the risk.

I personally bought a fine nib model, but they have extra fine, medium, and bold as well. I'm tempted to have Mike put a cursive italic on it next time, but we'll see.

(You can find more from Jeff online at Draft Evolution, Twitter, and App.net.)

Posted on August 6, 2014 and filed under Pen Reviews, Lamy, Fountain Pens.

Pilot Vanishing Point Gun Metal Black Matte Fountain Pen Review

I didn't need another Pilot Vanishing Point. I already had two: the famed Black Matte, which became one of the "pens who shall not be named" on the podcast, and a retro Black Faceted model, which is a mainstay of my collection. So why did I NEED this new Gun Metal Black Matte Vanishing Point? I rarely need any new pen, but this one I had to have.

It took a while for me to get on the Gun Metal bandwagon. I wasn't sure of the color scheme at first, but after seeing multiple pictures of it and checking it out in person I went for it. The barrel is slightly different than the full black matte version, with the grey area being smooth as opposed to a satiny matte feel, which is reserved for the tip, clip, middle band, and knock. It's quite a stunning look, especially in person.

It also sports one of the recently introduced black nib units, which I am in love with. I went for the EF nib, which is ridiculously small, even for me. I never recommend this size to anyone but I love it. Paired with a well lubricated ink like Sailor Nano Black, this nib writes wonderfully smooth and consistent. But boy is it fine. You really need to manage your writing angle with this one to make sure you are hitting the sweet spot.

Many people have asked what fountain pen best compares to the Pilot Hi-Tec-C 0.3 mm/0.4 mm gel ink pens. Pilot's EF nibs, as found in the Penmanship (which can be swapped into the Metropolitan or Prera) and the Vanishing Point, are the closest I have found. Looking at the writing sample in my Field Notes it is closest to the 0.28 mm Uni-ball Signo DX and 0.3 mm Hi-Tec-C, so that seems like a good range. Ink and paper will cause this to vary of course.

But back to this whole idea of needing this pen. Although yes, I got this pen for free as part of my JetPens sponsorship, I still couldn't justify it without selling one of my current Vanishing Points. I didn't see myself actively using two similar pens, so my trusty black matte VP, one of my first big fountain pen purchases, has found a new home. More than any other fountain pen I own, the Vanishing Point is made to be used, anywhere and everywhere. That is this pens job, so having one sitting around collecting dust would be doing it a disservice.

My friend Mel found the words I was struggling to find about my Field Notes Butcher Orange, and it applies here too: "By using it, it is now truly yours and you've fulfilled its purpose." Words to live by.

(JetPens is an advertiser on The Pen Addict and I received this product at no charge.)

Posted on July 21, 2014 and filed under Pen Reviews, Pilot, Vanishing Point, Fountain Pens.