Learning To Underwrite

I have written hook handed all my handwriting life. As a wee lass in kindergarten it felt most natural to basically write upside down or from the side. Learning to write with a pencil or even a crayon definitely frees someone to hold their instrument however they need to. When I got into fountain pens, I did adapt my grip from a bipod wraparound to something resembling a tripod grip.

After learning more about grip styles, and how they can effect fountain pen writing, I’ve taken notice of other left handed people’s writing style. I had somehow never noticed that my mother, who is left handed, underwrites. She started school in the late 1960’s, and was trained to underwrite. I started school in the late 1990’s, and by that point the public school system had stopped making kids write a certain way. We learned cursive in (I think) 4th grade, and were only allowed to write in cursive in 5th grade.

In the last few weeks, I’ve decided to try and train my hand to be able to underwrite. I decided to do this because I recently tried a Narwhal Schuykill, and their fine nib writes significantly wetter when I underwrite with it. I also want to reduce hand fatigue and not worry about smudging.

Here is how this process is going, along with some observations:

This is from August 17th, written with a Sailor 14k fine nib and Montblanc Lavender Purple, on Doane paper.
This is also from August 17th, written with a Sailor 14k zoom nib, with Sailor Haha, on Doane paper.
This is from August 29th, written with a Narwhal fine nib, with Colorverse Extra Dimension, on Tomoe River paper.
Also from August 29th on Tomoe River paper, but written with a Nemosine medium nib with BPC Boiler Steam.
This is from August 31st, written with a Nemosine 0.6mm stub nib, with Noodler’s Borealis black, on Tomoe River paper.

It’s a lot easier to underwrite legibly with a broader nib. The first sample, done with a Sailor fine nib, has pretty shaky lines. My lettering is especially shaky on the two bottom lines where I tried writing a sentence in print letters and block letters. I generally prefer to write in block letters, so that’s what I’m trying to improve most.

I also noticed that I don’t need to grip the pen as tightly as I do while over-writing. I know that fountain pens generally reduce hand fatigue compared to other types of pens and pencils, and my grip has definitely relaxed since switching to fountain pens. When I write a lot in one sitting though, my hand does get sore. It feels a lot better to not have hand and wrist pain, and I can focus more on lettering.

I am interested in hearing about your experiences of learning to write in school, so I made a short survey. While this blog is generally geared towards the left handed writing experience, anyone can take this survey by clicking the button below. In a few weeks, I’ll share the results.

Birmingham Pen Company Hydrangea

It’s late hydrangea season, which means there’s no better time to review Birmingham Pen Company’s Hydrangea ink. Here are some actual hydrangea bushes from my front yard in June, then August:

They changed to a dusky pink, except for the two pink flowers.

These flowers can change every year depending on your soil acidity and the weather. This year happened to be an exceptional bloom for the bushes in my yard, and the flowers have a nice gradient. Hydrangeas have a special place in my heart because they change with each bloom, and they can even change throughout the season. My mother liked to keep dried hydrangeas in a vase, and their dark purpley grey color reminds me of this Birmingham ink.

The Birmingham Pen Company is located in Western Pennsylvania, and endearingly call themselves “a tiny pen and ink manufacturer”. They make beautiful fountain pens in small batches, and have started manufacturing their own ink in 2021. Starting in 2018, they sold ink that was made in Europe and bottled by hand in Pennsylvania. In January of 2021, they decided to make their own ink. The Well Appointed Desk published an interview with BPC about this transition, which you can read here. The Birmingham name comes from the area of Pittsburg where BPC was originally located. That area of Pittsburg is called “Little Birmingham” after the city in England, because of all the manufacturing done there. Birmingham, England used to produce pens and nibs, which is a nice piece of trivia.

A swatch of Hydrangea next to its chromatography strip.

BPC’s Hydrangea is purple with some blue tones and a hint of pink shading. If you look closely at the June hydrangea photo, there are some purple flowers that match the color of this ink. The chromatography was not surprising. You can’t see in the above photo, but there is a light strip of black where I swabbed the ink, then it spread out to a light pink, then blue. I took a photo of Hydrangea next to some other purple inks that I have swabs of, and it’s kind of a cross between Sailor Manyo Nekoyanagi and Sailor Ink Studio #150.

Hydrangea has a lot more pink than in this photo, but I couldn’t color correct without throwing off the other inks.

Hydrangea is made with BPC’s Crisp formula, which means that it will perform well on most papers regardless of quality. Birmingham has been prolific this year with their ink output, and they’ve quickly become one of my favorite ink brands. They have several different glass bottle sizes (from 30ml to 120ml), so if there’s an ink that you really like you can get a large bottle of it.

I have Hydrangea in a Pilot E95s with a juicy medium nib, and they work well together. The ink flows smoothly and consistently, and has lovely shading on the right paper. To test the claims of the Crisp formula, I tested Hydrangea on Field Notes 70#, Doane, Nock, Apica Premium, and Tomoe River:

On Apica and Tomoe River, Hydrangea dried within 15 seconds. On Nock, Doane, and Field Notes Hydrangea dried within 5 seconds. As with most inks, you’re gonna get better shading on paper like Apica and Tomoe River. Hydrangea did quite well on Nock and Doane, and there was no feathering on either paper. On Nock, there was no bleed-through, but there was some on Doane. On Field Notes, there was considerable feathering and bleed-through onto the back of the page. Hydrangea (or any Crisp formula ink) is good to have if you frequently find yourself using a variety of paper. Since this ink dries pretty fast even out of a wet nib, it’s good for lefties. I purchased a 60 mL bottle of Hydrangea for $16 USD, and you can too here.

Fun With Ballpoints

The little ball tip works like a bearing and is lubricated by oil based ink.

Ballpoints, they’re everywhere. They’re in banks, grocery stores, restaurants, under your car seat, there might even be one wedged in between your couch cushions. Ballpoints were invented as a cheaper, cleaner, maintenance-free alternative to fountain pens with patents dating back to 1888. For more on the history of the ballpoint, please click here. Ironically, people today are switching (entirely, if not partially) to fountain pens because they’re not ballpoints. The pressure required to get many ballpoints to write a legible line leads to hand fatigue, which is problematic if you’ve started to write on paper more. It’s also problematic for lefties who already are contorting their hands. Last year, I made a post about gel pens and how they’re a faster-drying and more convenient fountain pen alternative, which you can read here.

I avoided ballpoints for personal use for a while because I wanted a more comfortable pen. Even though gel pens, rollerballs, and fountain pens are smoother and have better flow, they can only be used on a limited range of surfaces. Ballpoints can go anywhere that a human can go (and survive the trip), and can write on many surfaces. I’ve tried using a gel pen on a tyvek mailing envelope, but the ink tends to bead on the surface and will smudge easily. The only difference between a standard rollerball and a standard ballpoint is the ink. Rollerballs have a liquid ink while ballpoints have an oil based ink. There are some hybrid liquid-oil pens, and many gel pens have a ball tip.

Starting in my early teens, I wrote with a Papermate erasable ballpoint in school because I was tired of all the smudging that came with pencils, but still wanted to be able to erase my writing. Then I started using the Bic multicolor ballpoint, and kept using it until I got a Papermate Inkjoy gel pen. I enjoyed switching colors effortlessly, and the click sound. In school my hand and wrist was used to writing and taking notes every day, so hand fatigue was less of an issue, unless there was a test. Five years out of college, I write in a journal and make to-do lists every day, but there is still much less writing output. This makes hand fatigue an issue for me, so I tend to gravitate towards comfortable pens. I like having a variety of writing instruments around, so I’ve acquired a small collection of ballpoints. Here is a list of ballpoints that I have, in no particular order:

Please ignore the Frixion for now, as it is a gel pen.

The Milan Sway Mix:

This is a purse pen for me. It’s compact and brightly colored, so it’s appropriate for people of all ages. This pen is refillable, but I haven’t looked into where the refills can be bought. The tip is 1 millimeter with blue ink. As with most pens on this list, the darkness of the line depends on the pressure you use. To get a readable line though, I was able to get away with using moderate pressure. I purchased this pen from St Louis Art Supply for $1.69 USD.

The Bic Round Stic:

The Round Stic is the ultimate Pen For The People because you could easily go through life without ever buying one. When you do buy them, they’re available in bulk for about $6 to share and share alike. Bic makes some truly iconic ballpoints, and the Cristal is on display in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This grey Round Stic has black ink and requires moderate pressure. This pen is the only disposable one on this list.

The Pilot Legno Ballpoint:

The Legno ballpoint is the cousin to the now discontinued Legno 89s fountain pen. The impregnated wood feels nice in the hand and looks attractive. This pen has inner brass components that adds some heft. The weight makes it easy to use this pen with minimal pressure, and it can write under its own weight. The ink flows easily and is a hybrid. I purchased this pen from Jetpens for $16.50 USD. Besides this light colored wood, the Legno also comes in red, brown and dark brown.

The Uni Jetstream Edge 0.28 mm:

My favorite ballpoint! The Jetstream Edge has a design similar to a drafting pen/pencil, with an elongated tip area that makes it easy to use this pen with a ruler or stencil. The grip section is brushed aluminum, which weights the pen towards the tip and makes it easier to write with. The Jetstream refills are great because they come in extra-fine tips and require very little pressure to lay down a dark line. I purchased this Edge from Jetpens with a 0.28 mm tip size in black, but replaced that refill with a blue 0.38 mm as the 0.28 is a bit too fine. The Edge now comes in the 0.38 size, as well as a multi-pen.

The Ohto Horizon Needlepoint:

The Ohto Horizon needlepoint ballpoint is also available in a gel version, and a Euro point. This pen came with a 0.28 mm tip as well, but I got rid of that refill because the tip got gummy and didn’t write very well for me. That original refill did write very smoothly, and this version of the Horizon was voted Best Pen by the New York Times. This pen has a side click mechanism like the Uni Boxy 100, but with a metal body. I was able to hack the 0.28 Jetstream refill to fit in this pen by adding an o-ring for the inner spring to rest on. I purchased the Horizon from Yoseka Stationery for $12 USD. Here is a writing sample with the original Horizon refill:

The jetstream refill produces a more consistent line.

The Zebra Blen:

Zebra wanted to create a clicker pen that’s as quiet as possible, and they did. The Blen is a good pen for anyone with sensory issues. The clip is also the click mechanism, and it doesn’t rattle or slide around. The tip also doesn’t wiggle as you’re writing, and is only a little noisy as it glides on the page. The grip is a soft silicone, and has two narrow indentations as well as two narrow windows. “Blen” is engraved into the plastic body of the pen and feels nice to rub your fingers on. The ink writes smoothly and consistently with a pleasant feedback, and can produce a legible line under its own weight. I purchased this pen from St Louis Art Supply for $2.99 USD.

The Fisher Space Pen Cap-O-Matic:

I’ve had this pen for about 9 years now, and it’s the first nicer pen I ever bought. It’s called cap-o-matic because the metal cap on the back of the pen is the clicker mechanism. The Fisher Space Pen is called that because it will write even after you’ve left Earth’s atmosphere. It can write upside down, on wet paper, and greasy paper. The original Space Pen refill was a black medium tip, and it was in there for roughly 8 years. Even though I didn’t use it much, that refill still wrote until I replaced it with a fine blue one. My favorite part about this version of the Space Pen is that the clip is engraved with the word Space, and a little planet. The Space Pen requires light pressure to write a light but legible line. I purchased this pen on Amazon for $16.85 USD.

The Parker Jotter:

The Parker Jotter is a classic design that’s widely imitated. The Jotter comes in many colors, and is also available in an XL version and a gel version. The standard Quink refill that this pen comes with is not pleasant to use, and requires considerable pressure to lay down a consistent line. Thankfully, there are dozens of better refills available in the Parker size. The Ohto Flash Dry gel refill is flawless and is great for lefties. Right now, I have a Monteverde Soft Roll blue-black refill in my Jotter, and that writes much smoother and requires less pressure. This Jotter is available in a three pack on Amazon for $16.50 USD.

The Caran D’Ache 849 Ballpoint:

The Caran D’Ache has a great body with a not so great refill. The body is brushed aluminum with a hexagonal shape, and comes in 6 standard colors. There have also been several special editions, including ones with N’espresso. The click mechanism on this pen is somewhat mushy with the Goliath refill. The Goliath is a thick refill that’s supposed to last a very long time, but requires moderate pressure to write. It’s also a little shorter than Parker-style refills, so you can’t add a different refill without modifying it. I really like the body of the 849, so I looked at my pile of refills and tried to find one that could fit. The Ohto Flash Dry is about 2 or 3 millimeters longer than the Goliath, but it has a plastic housing that can be sanded (or cut) down. To do this, just remove the cap off the end of the refill and sand off at least 1 mm of plastic. This would be easier with a Dremel or an X-Acto knife, but I was able to fit in the refill by using 600 grit sandpaper. Then, put the cap back on, line up the brass feet on the end of the 849 clicker with the notches in the refill cap, and screw the clicker back on. The Caran D’Ache 849 can be purchased at Yoseka Stationery for $24 USD.

Sanding the plastic refill and lining up the notches with the brass feet makes the Ohto Flash Dry just long enough to fit in the 849.

The Pilot Acroball 3+1 Multipen:

The Acroball 3+1 has red, black, and blue interchangeable tips with a mechanical pencil that’s deployed by pushing down the clip. The Acroball colors are great; the ink in these is pigmented and less viscous than regular ballpoint ink. The Acroball flows very well, and requires almost very little pressure to write. The grip is wide and comfortable to hold. I took out the mechanical pencil component though, because the lead wouldn’t stay retracted. According to Jetpens, the body of this pen is made from 80% recycled plastic. I purchased this pen from Jetpens for $8.25 USD.

Disclaimer: All the Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, where if you click on them and make a purchase, I make earn a small commission. All the other links are not affiliated and not sponsored, and you should visit them.

The Noodler’s Cinematic Universe: Six Degrees of Baystate Blue

What do Baystate Blue, Bambi, kittens, and Smokey Bear have in common? Let’s find out!

The most infamous Noodler’s ink is Baystate Blue. It’s so infamous that it has its own Reddit user account. BSB is an intensely saturated ink that will stain whatever pen you put it in, and is water and forgery resistant. This ink has a higher pH level than other modern inks, and can only be mixed with other Baystate inks. I wondered why an ink like BSB exists, so I did some research and found that Baystate Blue is a recreation of a particular Carter’s ink from the 1940’s.

it’s so blue
Photo from munsonpens.wordpress.com

Carter’s Ink was based in Boston and was, at one point, the biggest ink manufacturer in the world. Starting in fall of 1941, Carter’s made an ink called American Blue. In the spirit of patriotism, American Blue was based on inks used in Colonial times. It was a vibrant blue, and the bottle had an eagle on the label. An ad for American Blue touts the oval shaped bottle as “streamlined” and “packaged in the mood of the times”. I’m guessing that the streamlining of the bottle has something to do with the lingering economic effects of the Great Depression. Perhaps the oval bottles used less glass but could hold the same amount of ink as their other bottles. Carter’s regular bottles were cube shaped like modern Sailor bottles, and had really neat labels:

Why can’t we have ink bottles like this now? Photo from munsonpens.wordpress.com

The link above is to a post on Munson Pens called “The Story That Your Ink Bottle Tells”, which takes a look at a promotional book for Carter’s of the same name. This post also looks at Carter’s ads and bottles. A Carter’s ad not included in that post is this one:

Kittens! This ad is from 1944, but there are several kittens ads dating back to 1943.

Carter’s kittens, because these inks are gentle as a kitten. This is a great ad, and the art was done by Albert Staehle. He did many advertising illustrations, as well as some Saturday Evening Post covers and some work for the WPA (Works Progress Administration) Federal Art Program. He is most known for art of various animals including dogs and Elsie the cow for Borden’s Milk.

In August of 1942 Disney released its masterpiece of animation, Bambi. It’s the story of a young deer growing up in the forest. During World War Two, the U.S Forest Service started using wildfire prevention campaigns as a form of propaganda. There were less men around to fight wildfires, and the government was actually concerned that the Axis powers would use wildfire as a mainland attack strategy. Because of Bambi’s hard-hitting message of conservation, Disney allowed for Bambi-inspired characters to be used in a 1943-44 Forest Service fire prevention ad for one year.

Around the same time as the above ad, the Forest Service ran a handful of fire prevention posters by WPA artists. The poster below was created by Albert Staehle, and seems Bambi-inspired as well. In 1944, the Forest Service needed a new animal mascot for when their license expired, so they asked Staehle to design a mascot. He created Smokey Bear, the American icon of the forest.

Poster from pre-August 1944 by Albert Staehle.
Smokey was born on August 9th, 1944.

If Bambi has a similar look to these WPA style posters, that’s because the look of the film was designed by a different WPA artist named Tyrus Wong. Wong’s art style was inspired by Chinese art from the Song dynasty. Bambi has a pretty naturalistic color palette, so I wasn’t sure if an intense blue like BSB could be found in the film, but it is:

The first frame is from a stylized fight scene, and is the closest shade to Baystate Blue. At the top of the second frame in the right hand corner, and in some spots in the stream, you can see BSB as well in its lighter shades. Bambi has lots of blue, but it’s either a darker blue or more of a blue-green.

Above are two of Wong’s works. On the right is a mural titled Dragon Chasing Pearl from 1941. This mural was for the Federal Art Program for a bank in Los Angeles. You can see shades of Baystate Blue on the dragon and in the clouds. On the left is concept art for Bambi, and you can see some BSB in the bottom right hand corner.

Baystate Blue writes silky smooth. I put this ink in a J. Herbin rollerball to test it out, and it’s actually a very nice rollerball ink. The Herbin rollerball needs a wet, lubricated ink to make writing with it at all pleasurable, and BSB does the job. I used a blunt-tipped syringe to fill an empty cartridge. I can normally do this without making a mess but this time I overfilled the cartridge and got ink on my fingers.

I also put Baystate Blue in a Kaweco Perkeo, which offers a much better writing experience than the Herbin rollerball. The tops of my hands are now dotted with blue ink, but I know it’ll come off with a lot of washing. The color of this ink reminds me of the bright blue ink that’s in Stabilo rollerballs, and is definitely unique among fountain pen inks. While I enjoyed using Baystate Blue, I most likely won’t purchase a whole bottle of it because of the staining issues.

The TWSBI Eco 2 Years Later

I’ve already reviewed the Eco, specifically the yellow edition from last spring, but I feel that post didn’t accurately reflect my feelings about this pen. I used to have four Ecos, and now I have one, and I’m perfectly fine with that. It’s my first Eco, the transparent orange edition from 2019. This was my fourth or fifth pen in my collection, and I was so excited about it! It’s a beautiful color, and the Eco is a great beginner pen. There are many people out there who collect every color released of the Eco, but I cannot afford, nor do I want to be one of them. I’m the kind of collector who likes to use all of her pens, and I feel bad if I don’t use a particular pen that I’m fond of. When I had four Ecos, I felt neglectful of my beloved orange. So I sold the other three to a better home.

There has been a lot of writing lately about special edition burnout. It’s come to a point where “special edition” doesn’t really mean anything, and manufacturers are taking advantage of consumer hype. I’ve only been in the fountain pen hobby for two years, but this has definitely gotten worse over the last year or so. Finding a particular model of pen that you like among a growing sea of colors is special, because you form a bond with this tool that can be kept for years and years. The thing about the fountain pen hobby is that FOMO is driven almost purely by social media.

“Buy it for life” is also being used more in the outdoor industry, and I’ve seen it applied to pens occasionally. Many people buy a fountain pen specifically to reduce waste and to have a serviceable writing instrument. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people, and I have more ink than I and my girlfriend will ever use. The Eco is definitely a “buy it for life” pen, it even comes with everything that you need to service it yourself. It seems like there are many people out there that question the durability of TWSBI pens because of cracking. All TWSBI pens have an o-ring on the section threads to make a double seal inside the cap. Unfortunately, this makes it very easy to over-tighten the cap and crack the barrel. You can prevent over-tightening the cap by stopping when you feel resistance from the o-ring. It takes one and a half turns to fully cap the Eco. On TWSBI demonstrators, you can see when the inner cap seal hits the end of the section.

Inner cap

I’ve dropped my Eco quite a few times, from about two feet. These drops did no damage to the body of the pen, but one of the drops misaligned the nib. The height of these drops is minimal and it’s onto a wood floor, but I dropped a Platinum #3776 from the same height and cracked the finial. This was minutes after I got the pen, and it’s the reason I returned it. The cap seal on the Eco is so good that the nib never dries out. My Eco is always ready to write, and has never hard started. This pen has never let me down, and I believe that it never will. Forming emotional attachments to inanimate objects is a very human thing, and it’s important to recognize that in a materialistic hobby. Most pens that people come across everyday are disposable, but a fountain pen gets brought to life every time you fill it and write with it. I don’t care if this is overly sentimental because I’m a Pisces.

Upturned & Downturned Nibs

Take a look at a nib of yours. Is it straight, or does it have a slight upturn or downturn? Is the tipping ball on the top or bottom? There’s an entire spectrum of nibs from an upturned fude all the way to a downturned concord or reverse fude. Fude nibs somewhat resemble a painter’s pallet knife and allow for different line widths based on your writing angle. Reverse fude allows for an extra-fine line while writing normally, and a regular fude while reverse writing. These nibs aren’t for everyone, but the spectrum in between these two poles is very diverse with a nib for any writing angle and preference. I decided to write this post after using the Midori fountain pen, which has a downturned nib. I wasn’t sure how the nib would feel when being used at a high overwriting angle, but it’s very nice. Starting with upturned nibs, lets work our way through the nib spectrum.

Fude~

These nibs are pretty easy to find on Chinese pens on amazon, or Sailor has a fude nib. You can also make one yourself or have one made by a nibmeister. Sailor offers these nibs at 40 and 50 degree angles. I’ve been using a 50 degree fude, which writes like this:

A fude takes some getting used to, and doesn’t have to have such a firm angle. On instagram there are many examples of what a fude can look like along with writing and drawing examples.

Waverly~

A Pilot Custom 912 Waverly

Waverly nibs have a gentle upturn and almost look like they’ve been dropped on the floor. Pilot offers a Waverly nib on their Custom 912 and 742 that is (in my opinion) the best writing experience a lefty overwriter can find. In the 1940’s Sheaffer made their conical triumph nibs that are Waverly nibs. With the gentle upturn, it doesn’t matter how you hold the pen or at what angle. It’s always just right, and I’ve found that my handwriting is neater while using my Pilot Waverly nib. Certain nibmeisters, like on fpnibs.com, can turn a regular nib into a Waverly.

PenBBS~

PenBBS nibs are in between a Waverly and a Kugel. They have a slight upturn with the tipping ball on top, and the very tip of the nib where it meets the paper is rounded. This nibs produce a slightly stubby line that is wider than a traditional fine. I haven’t tried a medium nib from PenBBS, but I saw that they have a rounded medium.

Kugels~

I have two nibs that can be considered kugels, which means ball tip. They’re different so I’ve listed them separately.

Montblanc Stainless Steel Medium:

A Monte Rosa.

I have a vintage Montblanc Monte Rosa with a steel nib that has the tipping ball on top and no upturn, but it’s labeled as a regular medium. The steel has some springiness and looks to have originally been gold plated. These nibs work very well for reverse writing. Even though the nib itself is not upturned, the tipping ball on top creates a wide sweet spot.

Lamy Kugel:

These nibs are not upturned like the previous examples, but the tipping material is rounded to be shaped like a ball. A kugel nib is smooth from most writing angles, and can be pushed across the page. Lamy used to make kugel nibs within the last 20 years, which can be found on eBay. Pelikan used to make kugel nibs as well, but they are harder to find. The only kugel nib that I have right now is a Lamy medium kugel, and it feels different from their regular medium nibs and even their left handed nib. It comes close to Lamy’s 14k gold nibs, but silkier.

Postings~

The following nibs can all be under the posting umbrella, but are different. Different brands manufacturing in different countries and decades have varying standards, and that is very interesting to me.

Esterbrook Ex. Fine Ex. Firm Posting:

When Esterbrook was making their “J” series of pens, they offered an exceptional range of nibs that could be easily swapped out. This made it easy to find the right nib for your purposes without buying a whole new pen. The 9450 EF Ex. Firm Posting nib has very little tipping material with the nib itself being quite thick. This nib has a slight downturn and produces a very fine line. These nibs were made to withstand a firm hand while writing on forms that required carbon copies. If you’ve never had the pleasure of making a carbon copy, you have a regular sheet of paper on top and underneath it is at least one sheet of carbon transfer paper. If you write on the top sheet with enough pressure, your writing is transferred to the bottom page. Today, you could use this nib to write out a check.

Posting:

Regular posting (PO) nibs can be hard to find nowadays, but Pilot offers one on their Custom 912 and 742. A traditional posting nib is designed for the same purpose as the Esterbrook one above, but has more of a downturn. It’s called a posting nib because it was designed for writing on postcards. The Pilot posting nib is still stiff, but has some give because it’s a gold nib. I haven’t tried one of these PO nibs myself, but reviews say that this nib writes without feathering even on copy paper.

Manifold:

A manifold nib is the German version of a posting nib. I have a vintage Pelikan manifold gold nib that is slightly obliqued and super stiff. There are two breather holes that allow for shorter tines, which helps make the nib so stiff. I have to rotate the nib a little to accommodate the left foot oblique, which feels natural. This nib feels very buttery and writes silently.

Pilot Falcon~

The Pilot Falcon is a unique bird. Pilot actually makes two “falcon” nibs: one for the Falcon, and one for their 912 and 742/743 pens called the FA. For the purposes of this post I’ll just be discussing the Falcon nib. Falcons have a small hump in the nib and feed where the tines begin to accommodate extra springiness. These nibs are labeled soft, but I’m not sure how these compare to Pilot’s soft #5 gold nibs. From the hump, the nib is angled downward and the tip remains straight. These nibs can be used while overwriting as long as you use minimal pressure. While underwriting, the springiness is extremely satisfying and you can get about one millimeter of line variation.

Midori MD “Beak”~

Midori added a downturn to the medium nib on their MD fountain pen. It’s advertised as being beak shaped and suitable for all writing angles. This nib has more of a downturn than a PO nib, and really is smooth at different writing angles. It also has more give than a posting nib.

Reverse Fude~

I’ve never written with a reverse fude nib, but I’ve watched Mark Bacas’s instagram videos that show him writing with one. Here is a link to his page.

KUM Pencut Scissors

Scissors can be a sensitive subject with lefties, because we’ve been scarred with a lifetime of embarrassment from trying to wrangle a pair of right-handed scissors. There are many options now for lefty scissors or even ambidextrous scissors that work great, but I’d like to highlight one highly portable pair of scissors by KUM called the Pencut. The Pencut is 5 inches long and half an inch thick, and has a cap with a clip. This size means that the Pencut can easily fit in your pen case or pocket, and that you never have to be without a pair of useable scissors again. The cap clicks on securely and keeps the scissors from opening in your pocket or bag. The Pencut is special because the blades are double edged and can be reversed depending on the user’s handedness. The packaging is in Japanese but has visual instructions for how to orient the blades and finger loops. The slider for the little finger loops can also be reversed. There are other pen sized scissors on the market but I don’t know if they’re ambidextrous.

The plastic on these seems pretty sturdy, and the blades are child-friendly. The size makes these scissors suitable for a wide range of ages, but don’t look ridiculous in adult hands. These would be great to have around for on-the-go crafting emergencies, first aid emergencies (the blades would be okay to sterilize, just don’t get any alcohol on the plastic), or even snack opening emergencies. If you want, you could probably cut hair with these too just don’t quote me on that. In all seriousness, I really like having these scissors around.

The Pencut comes in lime green, fuchsia, and black. They’re $13.50 USD and are available on JetPens. I don’t usually post reviews of non-pen or non-pen-adjacent items but as a site geared toward lefties I wanted to talk about these cool scissors.

Pilot Iroshizuku Ama-Iro

Ama-Iro from Pilot’s Iroshizuku line is a consistently great ink. It dried super fast on every paper I wrote on in my paper tests. Across all 21 papers that I tested, the average dry time was 6.6 seconds. For several months I had Ama-Iro in a TWSBI Eco with a fine nib, and that combination made for an excellent note taking pen. I could write fast and not smudge one bit!

Ama-Iro is a sky blue/ turquoise ink that doesn’t sheen. It’s a few shades lighter than Kon-Peki, which tends to overshadow Ama-Iro in terms of popularity. Ama-Iro writes a smooth and wet line with nice shading on most papers. It’s visually similar to Lamy Turquoise and TWSBI 1791 Sky Blue. Lamy Turquoise tends to write dryer and is capable of sheening. I haven’t written with TWSBI Sky Blue in a pen, but I remember it writing well with a glass dip pen. TWSBI Sky Blue is also capable of sheening. I used to take notes with Lamy Turquoise, but it would smudge sometimes if I was writing a lot at once. I can rub the side of my hand all over a page with Ama-Iro and it won’t smudge.

Currently, I have Ama-Iro in a Kaweco Perkeo with a fine nib. It performs similarly to my Eco, except Kaweco uses nibs by Bock and TWSBI uses nibs by Jowo. The Perkeo writes a wetter line that still dries fast. I will continue to maintain that Ama-Iro is a champion among light blue inks for a very long time.

Though Ama-Iro writes wet, it doesn’t bleed on most papers when used with a finer nib. After looking at the above pictures, I noticed that this ink feathered a bit in some spots with the Eco. On super absorbent papers like Nock, Leuchtturm, and Blackwing, there was slight feathering but no bleed through to the back of the page. On Field Notes, the line is fuzzy but there’s no ghosting. There’s even some shading. With the wetter, broader line of the Perkeo, Ama-Iro doesn’t shade and ghosts on the back of the page. The line is considerably fuzzier than that of the Eco.

Big bottle and tiny bottles. It’s Pride month and there’s a stack of Greta Garbo DVD’s on my table.

It took me a while to come on to Ama-Iro. Two years ago my girlfriend bought an Iroshizuku mini set of blue inks that had Ama-Iro, Kon-Peki, and Asa-Gao. I used Kon-Peki first and liked it enough to buy a full sized bottle of it. Then, my girlfriend started using Ama-Iro more and was really enjoying it, so I decided to ink my Eco with it. Now we have full sized bottles of all three inks in that set. They all perform similarly in that they flow well and dry fast. Asa-Gao may be smoother and Kon-Peki can sheen. But, if you’re looking for a bright light blue to bring some tranquility to your writing, Ama-Iro is a solid choice.

The Pilot Deluxe Urushi

Back in March, I posted some first impressions of the Pilot Deluxe Urushi on Buy Me a Coffee. Here are some of those impressions along with the insight I’ve gained after having this pen for a few months.

The Pilot Deluxe Urushi is a slim snap cap fountain pen with an Urushi lacquered brass body. The nib is a uniquely shaped 14k gold fine. The wonderful thing about the Deluxe is that it’s an Urushi pen for under $150 USD! I ordered from Pensachi, as this pen isn’t available outside of Japan. Shipping to the United States was $20, but it came quickly even with weather delays, and was packaged with care.

This is my first Urushi pen, and I love it. The pen feels warm in my hand, even with the brass body. I wasn’t expecting the Deluxe to feel much different than my Pilot Stella, a different lacquered brass pen, but it really does. The Deluxe may not feature the breathtaking craftsmanship of a Namiki or Nakaya, but you get to try out an Urushi pen with a fantastic nib. The finial and the tail of the pen have a lovely gold jewel that catches light beautifully. While this pen is able to be posted, I haven’t posted it and don’t plan to. I suppose you could slip the cap on the back of pen very carefully, but I don’t know how the Urushi would hold up. The snap cap has a firm click. Before the pen arrived, I figured that the grip section would be blue resin to match the rest of the body, but it’s also Urushi lacquered. I’m not sure if the section will scratch over time with the snap cap, but so far there is ne’er a blemish.

The branding has a really nice texture.

I inked this pen with Pilot Iroshizuku Yu-Yake; I like orange and blue together. This ink flows very well and the nib feels silky on paper, it’s a joy to use this pen. While underwriting, the nib is pretty firm but I could get a little bit of line variation. This nib has a slight amount of feedback, but is still smooth enough that the pen can seem hard to control on smooth paper. The shape of the nib is unique for Pilot. It’s a combination between the beak shaped Falcon nib, and the inlaid E95s nib. Generally this nib looks the most like a Lamy nib, but with better quality control.

Clip designs. From Left: CH 912, E95s, Lucina, Legno, Custom 98, Falcon, Prera, Deluxe Urushi.

Something that I just realized while typing this is that Pilot has a really nice variety of clip shapes. There’s the Falcon clip, the sword shaped clip, the ball clip, and there’s the clip on the E95s. The clip on the Deluxe has a slight taper in the middle, with a facet that catches light well. Near the finial there’s a somewhat militaristic engraving. There’s no branding on the clip, the only branding is on the back of the cap. This is a really classy, understated pen that’s more than meets the eye. The Pilot Deluxe Urushi can be found on Pensachi for $135 USD.

Writing sample

Snap Cap Fountain Pens

snappy cappies

Snap cap fountain pens are great for taking quick notes, writing on the go and general convenience. Here I have compiled a list of ten snap cap pens, for beginners and experienced users alike, for any way you hold your pen. This isn’t a ranked top ten list because there are so many snap caps that I haven’t tried, and this list is Pilot heavy. You may notice that the Pilot Metropolitan and the Lamy Safari/AL-Star/Vista are not on this list, and that’s because they are very popular starter pens that have been discussed a lot. The pens I have here are some alternatives at various price points, whether you’re looking for something different or something beyond a starter pen.

1. The Kaweco Perkeo

The Kaweco Perkeo is a great value at under 20 dollars. It comes in several fun color ways and is offered with fine or medium nibs. As of my writing this, Kaweco recently came out with new monochrome colors in pink, green, blue, and clear. This pen can take any standard international cartridge or converter, so there are many different ink options. The Perkeo is a great fountain pen for beginners because the semi-triangulated grip helps the user hold the pen in the correct way, but it works as a great pen for lefties because it’s still comfortable to hold with a different grip than the design intended. Smudging has not been an issue with this pen. These pens take long and short standard international cartridges and converters, and can fit Kaweco’s really nice piston converter. The cap on this pen has a quick hollow snap, and is easy to operate.

2. The TWSBI Go

The TWSBI Go is a quirky little pen with a unique spring loaded filling system. It retails for just under 20 dollars and comes in blue, grey and clear with nib options ranging from extra-fine to 1.1 mm stub. To fill the pen you just dip it in your ink bottle and press the button! Of the piston fillers in my collection, the Go is by far the easiest to take apart and put back together. The Go has a round grip with a pronounced edge that is comfortable to hold for lefties no matter their grip. The flow of this pen is moderately wet, but performs well with fast drying inks such as Robert Oster. The Go cap has a loud snap that’s quite firm, and can take some effort to uncap. I’ve splattered ink a few times while uncapping this pen.

3. The Pelikan Pelikano Jr.

I’m using this JetPens photo because I no longer have a Pelikano Junior.

The Pelikan Pelikano Jr. is one of the few pens on this list offered with a lefty specific nib. It has a left handed molded rubber grip that is quite comfortable to hold. Like the previous two pens on this list, this pen retails for about 20 dollars. The Pelikano Jr. is truly tailored for lefties learning to write with a fountain pen. The nib is a medium, and is ground in such a way that is especially smooth for lefty’s. The Jr. has a translucent colored body and comes in several neat colors. If you prefer a look that is more professional there is a regular Pelikano that also comes with a left handed nib. The Pelikano can take both long and short standard international ink cartridges and converters. The Pelikano cap snaps similarly to the Perkeo.

4. The Platinum Preppy

A clique of Preppies

With the best value at 5 dollars, the Platinum Preppy is a great pen to dip your toes in the fountain pen waters. It comes in a rainbow of translucent colors, with nib sizes in extra-fine, fine and medium. There is even the option for a highlighter and marker tip! The Preppy takes proprietary Platinum ink cartridges. The Preppy does take Platinum converters but they cost more than the pen itself. If you want to try bottled ink and are feeling adventurous, this pen can be easily converted into an eye dropper with an o-ring and some silicone grease. The inner cap has a seal mechanism that will keep the nib from drying out for a year. The fine and medium nibs are both very smooth and a pleasure to write with. The round grip is also comfortable to hold, no matter your grip style. The Preppy has two siblings: the Prefounte and the Plaisir, which are also snap caps under 20 dollars. The Platinum Preppy performs excellently with lubricated inks such as Monteverde, and have a low dry time. These caps have a softer snap than the the other plastic pens on this list, and the click is very pleasant.

5. The Pilot Kakuno

Mmmm aesthetic

The Pilot Kakuno is very kawaii. It comes in soft pastel colors in the U.S market and translucent demonstrator colors in the Japanese market. The nibs on the Kakuno have little faces on them to remind the user to keep the nib facing up. If you’re an over-writer, the little face will be looking at you upside down or sideways, but it’s still cute. The face that comes on the nib is based on tip size; the EF has a cheeky winky face. The cap on this pen has a clicky snap and is easy to uncap. Though this pen is designed for kids, people of all ages love the Pilot Kakuno. This pen retails for about $10 USD.

6. The Pilot Prera

A seriously satisfying snap of this cap, the Pilot Prera has a more professional look than the Kakuno. At around 40 dollars this pen is more of a step-up than the previous pens on this list, but is worth it for the smoothness of the nib. The Prera can be found on Amazon in solid colors such as ivory, grey, blue, yellow, and red. The Prera can also be found on most pen websites with a clear body and various transparently colored finial and tail. This version comes in colors such as clear red, clear navy, and clear grey.

7. The Lamy Studio

A bigger step up from the other pens on this list, the Lamy Studio caps with a short and sweet click. Equally (perhaps more) satisfying is how the pen clicks when being posted. This pen has a wide variety of special editions that range in price and materials. The Studio has a metal body with a unique propellor shaped clip, and has been released in several special edition colors. Most versions of the Studio come with a steel nib, but there are some that come with a 14k gold nib, at a higher price. The standard price is 80 dollars USD.

8. The Pilot E95s

The Pilot E95s is less snappy than the other pens on this list, but it’s still satisfying to cap and uncap. The cap slides on softly and clicks gently when hitting the stopper ring on the end of the section. It’s a classic design pocket pen, so the cap posts in order to transform this little guy into a full sized pen. The nib is an inlaid 14k that’s soft and smooth. In my experience, the medium nib is springier than the fine. From about the mid-1960s through the 1970s, the Japanese Big 3 (Platinum, Sailor, Pilot) had their own roughly identical version of this pen that can be easily found on ebay. Today, Pilot is the only brand that has this design available in a new pen. The Pilot E95s retails for $136 USD.

9. The Midori MD Fountain Pen

The Midori MD fountain pen is the newest on this list, having been released in the US earlier in 2021. This pen has a vintage design similar to a Parker 51 with a plastic/resin body and brushed metal cap. The body is cream colored to match your MD notebook, and the grip section is clear with a clear feed. The grip is matte plastic that’s subtly ribbed, and it feels nice to hold. The cap of the MD fountain pen snaps very firmly and feels sturdy. When capped, there’s no step between the body of the pen and the cap that makes for a sleek line. The firm medium nib has a unique downturn similar to a beak, and writes smoothly even at a high angle. The Midori MD fountain pen retails for $38 USD.

10. The Traveler’s Company Fountain Pen

The fountain pen is on the right, pencil on the left.

The Traveler’s Company, known for their high quality notebook systems, also makes writing instruments! Every iteration is pocket sized and brass. In 2020, Traveler’s Co released a special edition Factory Green line, pictured above. There’s a bullet pencil, fountain pen, rollerball, and ballpoint. I’m just going to discuss the fountain pen here, and it’s wonderful. Similar to the Pilot E95s, the cap slides on the back of the pen with some resistance in order to create a full sized pen. When you cap the pen, the snap is hearty with a satisfying click. I can’t speak to how well the snap mechanism holds up over time, but the material of the pen feels solid. The Traveler’s Co fountain pen comes in plain brass and Factory Green, and retails for around $70 USD.

Honorable Mention: Pilot’s Snap Cap Pocket Pens

It’s okay, there’s no milk in the bowl.

Several years ago Pilot made these wonderful snap cap pocket pens, but have discontinued them. The Stargazer is the US model, while the Stella and Legno are Japanese models. The Stargazer and Stella both have a subtly sparkly lacquered body while the Legno has an impregnated wood body. There is also a rare celluloid model called the Legance 89s. These pens feature the less common Pilot 14k #3 nib, and have a flat top design. If you prefer a traditional cigar shape there is also the even rarer Custom 98. The Custom 98 has the same #3 nib, and looks very similar to a Montblanc 144. I’m grouping all these models into one paragraph because they’re essentially the same pen with different bodies. Unfortunately they’re hard to find nowadays. They can be found with persistent hunting on eBay or a pen swap forum. The snap on these caps is so damn satisfying; it starts out soft and then finishes with a quick click. These pens are an honorable mention because they’re difficult to find at a reasonable price.