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.