I received a Karas Decograph as a birthday present earlier in the year, and here are my first impressions after using this pen for a few months. The Karas Pen Company is based in Mesa, Arizona, and they make a variety of machined metal and acrylic pens. Besides fountain pens, they also make some very nice looking rollerball/ballpoint pens, mechanical pencils, and various accessories.
The Decograph is normally made with an acrylic body and machined aluminum trimmings, but earlier in the year they released an all aluminum production version, which is what I have. My Decograph has a body of red anodized aluminum and silver trim with a double broad Bock nib.
One issue that I tend to have with metal pens that have threaded caps is that the threads can be sharp and uncomfortable. For example, the Kaweco AL Sport is uncomfortable to write with for more than one sentence because it has a short grip section with about 3 millimeters of sharp threads. My grip usually falls a bit high on most small to medium sized pens, so factors like threading and body-to-section steps are a consideration for me. The Decograph has flat threads (about 6 mm long), a minimal step, and a long (21 mm) grip section. All of the edges on this pen have a slight chamfer, which is incredibly pleasing. The inside of the cap has an inner cap piece and a wide o-ring so that it stays closed and sealed in your pocket. The o-ring also cushions the cap when closing it, but gets all twisted when I’ve tried posting. The weight of the body itself is just right though, so I haven’t felt the need to post.
I recently ordered the Decograph rollerball conversion kit to try out as I was using mostly rollerballs at work. I had a blue-black needlepoint energel refill in there now and there’s not much else to say other than it writes great but the tip tends to wiggle. I’ve had this issue with every non-Pentel pen body that I’ve put this refill in though. Previously, I inked the fountain pen nib with Colorverse Cotton Blue and it writes well with a thicc line. This ink is a bit dry, and Bock nibs tend to be dry, so I’ll try an Irohizuku ink for potentially better results.
Iroshizuku inks are lubricated and flow well in most pens regardless of nib size. I changed the nib unit to a medium Opus 88 Bock 250 and inked the pen with Yama-Budo. Something that had never occurred to me is that, on pens like the Decograph where you can use it as a fountain pen or a rollerball, the fountain pen nib will almost always be longer than the rollerball insert with refill. The longer nib did change my writing angle a little bit, and my finger position on the grip section changed as shown in the photos above. The medium nib with Yama-Budo writes very smoothly and it flows well. Despite the inner cap seal I keep getting hard starts after not using the pen overnight or even a few hours. This also happened with the double broad nib.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is the nicest aluminum pen that I’ve ever owned. The anodized finish has a slight texture, and on the clip you can see the grain of the metal. I also appreciate the Karas engraving on the nib as it brings a nice art deco flair. While I like the idea of being able to switch from rollerball to fountain pen, I think my hand prefers the longer nib and the shape of a regular capless rollerball. The Decograph is available on the Karas Pen Company website in various materials and finishes.
The Lucina fountain pen from Pilot is a slick little pen that is no longer widely available in the U.S. except for on eBay. It has the aesthetics of an Italian sports car and comes in red/orange, yellow, blue, and black. The nib sizes available are fine, medium, and broad. Pricing oneBayranges from $70-$100 USD, which isn’t that far off from its retailpricing. Back in 2020 I purchased a yellow Lucina in fine, and my wife then purchased a red one also in fine. We eventually switched pen colors, so the photos for this post will feature the red model.
When I purchased my Lucina in 2020, it was already hard to find in the U.S but was available on Jetpens. In 2022 this pen is no longer sold through pen retailers but can be found on eBay or the second hand market. Because of scarcity through changing markets, if you read this review and really want a Lucina for any number of reasons, I would recommend it if you don’t mind hunting for it and are willing to potentially pay for shipping from Japan. It’s a great pen, so here are my thoughts and opinions on how it feels and performs:
I once read a review of the Lucina from 2014 that said that it doesn’t have much more to offer than the Metropolitan, and that you should get it only if you really like the look of the pen and are willing to pay $85 for it. But, upon receiving the Lucina I’ve found that the nib and feed are different in both performance and shape. The Lucina nib is a bit bigger and wider than Pilot’s standard entry level steel nibs, and the feed is similar to the ones used on gold nib models like the Custom 74. So, I would say that the Lucina nib is a happy medium between Pilot’s steel nib pens and their gold nib ones. The red model looks similar to the Urushi lacquered Vermillion Custom 845, while the other colors look similar to certain models of the Custom Heritage 91.
The Lucina is on the smaller side, slightly longer than a full sized Sailor Pro Gear and roughly the circumference of a Pro Gear Slim. The grip section is similarly sized to the grip on the Custom Heritage 92. The threads are tiny, followed by a gentle step that has yet to bother me. The cap has an inner seal that keeps the nib wet for a long time. I’ve had the same cartridge of Namiki Sepia in this pen for over a year and it still writes perfectly. The one qualm that I have with the Lucina is that sometimes while unscrewing the cap, the grip section also unscrews. This is just something to pay attention to and would only be a problem if there was somehow a leak in the cartridge or converter.
The nib is gold plated and very smooth with nice ink flow on most papers. Like some Pilot gold nibs, the nib on the Lucina has a slight downward curve similar to a Posting nib. The tip itself is rounded enough that it still writes smoothly regardless of angle and handedness. Namiki Sepia has some nice shading and dries pretty quickly with a fine line. The grip section, while small, is still comfortable in my small hands for short periods of time. I haven’t tried using the Lucina to take notes or to write with it for more than a quick sentence, so I’m not sure how comfortable this pen is for extended writing. The cap unscrews in about 1 and 1/4 turns so it can be uncapped pretty quickly. As I mentioned earlier, the Lucina is able to stay wet and ready for quite a while, which is great if you have a handful of pens inked and don’t use it all the time.
The Pilot Lucina is a great steel nib fountain pen if you’re ready to make a step up from a Metropolitan or Prera (or another brand’s similar pen) but you’re not quite ready for a gold nib yet. The Lucina can be found on ebay and other second hand pen markets at various prices.
If you’ve read any of my other TWSBI reviews, you know that I really like their piston fillers. When I heard that TWSBI was coming out with the Swipe, I was skeptical. Why is this company that helped to democratize the piston fill fountain pen making a cartridge pen? What is this Tesla-looking clip? Why is the spring inside the converter? Why not just buy a Go? After reading and watching two reviews of the Swipe, and then buying one, my answer to these questions is why didn’t TWSBI make this pen sooner? The Swipe comes with two converters: one is spring-loaded and the other has a traditional twist mechanism. There is also a black ink cartridge included, along with a spring that holds the cartridge in place. All three of these are thicc, and standard international. I haven’t tested to see if these converters will fit in other standard international pens though.
By giving users a choice of cartridge/ converter style they can decide if they want to spend 4 more dollars for an Eco, 6 less dollars for a Go, or any dollar amount for some other cartridge/ converter pen. With the Swipe, TWSBI has offered an excellent starter fountain pen that is competitive (in price as well as usability) with the Lamy Safari, Kaweco Sport, and Pilot Metropolitan.
The grip section on the Swipe is comfortable, the converter is easy to clean, and the weight is light. I really like that the grip section is crystal clear. It extends far down enough that you can see into the converter, and you can see how much ink is left in the feed while cleaning. I got the smoke color, and that is transparent enough that I can see the whole converter. The cap has a very firm snap; I have splattered ink while uncapping this pen. The barrel is pentagonal shaped, which kind of acts as a roll stop. The clip is low profile enough that it won’t stop the pen from rolling on a low incline. The nib on the Swipe is the same nib that’s on the Eco, Go, Classic, and both Minis. I purchased this pen with an Extra-Fine nib, and it writes quite wet with Diamine Wild Strawberry.
The Swipe comes with the spring converter already in the pen. Unlike in the Go, the spring is inside the barrel of the converter. I’m not sure how the metal would do with ink in it for long periods of time, but if it were to be damaged the spring included to hold cartridges in place works as a replacement. TWSBI is also excellent about sending replacement parts, you just PayPal them $5 USD for shipping.
The spring converter takes so little effort to take apart, it’s wonderful. The spring keeps the piston seal at the back of the converter barrel, so when you unscrew the metal sleeve the rod comes right out. The spring slides out easily as well, you can just tap the converter barrel on a hard surface and the spring slides out. One thing that I didn’t notice until after I took the converter apart is that there’s a small agitator ball that can get lost easily. These converters are definitely some of the easiest on the market to completely disassemble.
The piston converter is a chonk as well. I used a syringe to fill this converter, so I can’t say how well it pulls in ink. The thing that I like about this converter is that the piston is able to go all the way back, so it can hold as much ink as is possible. I haven’t tried the included black cartridge yet, but it is substantial. This seems like an unnecessary amount of plastic, but this cartridge would be a good one to reuse multiple times. I inked the piston converter with Birmingham Chrysanthemum, which is less wet than Wild Strawberry. This ink works a lot better in the Swipe, is less of a gusher, and ink doesn’t splatter when I uncap the pen. This pen writes smoothly, and performs as well as every other TWSBI with this type of nib.
My takeaway from using the Swipe is it’s a great entry level pen. If you want to try TWSBI and don’t know where to start, try the Swipe. If you know you like piston fillers and want a solid pen, try the Eco. If you want a no fuss pen that’s easy to take apart and put back together, try the Swipe or the Go. If you want to try a TWSBI pen but have a $20 USD budget, try the Go. TWSBI has a great lineup of pens at $30 USD and lower, and now they really have a pen for any taste. The Swipe is available at your favorite purveyor of fountain pens.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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 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
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.
I’ve actually reviewed this pen before, in a post called Happy Fountain Pen Day. That post was an initial review, so this will be a more long term one after having the pen for about five months. Desiderata is a Black owned pen company based in Chicago, and they make excellent small batch fountain pens.
The BAMF has a large ebonite body with a glossy red ebonite grip section. The body and grip section are all one piece, except for a blind cap at the back where you can access the spring-loaded Pump Piston. The blind cap really blends in; I wasn’t sure where it was at first because the little striations in the ebonite match perfectly when the blind cap is screwed on. Unscrewing the blind cap reveals red ebonite threading, which is a nice surprise. The Pump Piston mechanism is very smooth with a titanium rod. The current webpage for this pen says that a new batch will be out in spring 2021 with an in-house screw piston rather than the spring-loaded one. As you can see in the photo above, the pen says “Bad Ass Motherfucker” on it. The engraving is really subtle, which is nice if you have kids unless they pick the pen up to look at it.
The BAMF can be ordered with a Zebra G nib, Jowo nibs from EF to 1.1mm italic, or a Nemosine 0.6mm stub. I went with the Nemosine nib, and it’s great. The stub is very round and forgiving enough that my girlfriend and I can both enjoyably write with it. I can overwrite and underwrite with it; I didn’t know stubs could be like this. Even with the fine stub, there’s still line variation. While overwriting, there is less line variation for me but still enough that my handwriting has some character. I’ve tried two different inks in this pen: Noodler’s Q’ternity and KWZ Honey. Q’ternity is a thick blue-black that writes very smoothly and dries fairly quickly. Honey is one of the few brown shading inks I’ve found that actually dry. Honey doesn’t write as smoothly as Q’ternity, but it flows very well. When capped, this pen seals up enough that there have never been any hard-starts or skips.
While I’ve never dropped this pen, its durability is unquestionable. The smooth grip section is very comfortable while overwriting, and I really like the vintage style flare near the nib. If you’re interested in this pen, there’s a sign-up box to be notified when the new run is available. The BAMF sells for $188 USD.
The Kaweco Sport is a favorite among many fountain pen users for its small size and many color options. I’m a fan of pocket pens myself, and enjoy these little guys. The Sport line has many iterations besides the rainbow of standard plastic models; there are AL or aluminum models, carbon fiber, special acrylic, steel, and brass. You can also get the Sports in rollerballs, ballpoints, clutch pencils, and mechanical pencils. When Kaweco went under new ownership in 1994, they updated the design from a piston filler to the standard international cartridge/converter system. Vintage Sports with gold nibs and pistons can be found on eBay, and I hope to acquire one someday.
The first Sport I owned was a clear one with a medium nib. At first it had some baby’s bottom issues, but Kaweco customer service sent me a new nib, which worked fine. Baby’s bottom is where a nib is over polished so that the inside edges of the tipping material are rounded and don’t touch, inhibiting ink flow. Later, I tried a white Sport with a fine nib, but it had flow issues and only liked very wet inks. My third Sport is navy with an extra-fine nib, and it’s just right. The navy is a lovely deep blue color with gold trimmings. I added a black clip, which compliments the navy nicely. I ordered this pen from St. Louis Art Supply over the summer. They test all fountain pens over $20 USD before sending them off, and this Sport had the best out-of-box writing experience out of all the Sports I’ve tried.
The Sports are a good starter pen for lefties with small hands, or for anyone who wants a pocket pen. These pens are designed to be posted, but my hands are small enough to use the pen unposted if I’m just writing a quick note. Posting really helps keep the pen balanced. My grip happens to fall on the threads above the grip section, which is fine with the plastic models as the threads aren’t sharp.
Sports take short standard international cartridges, or Kaweco’s slide piston converter. Kaweco also makes a tiny squeeze converter, but I’ve found that they don’t work very well and come apart easily. I’ve also found that Kaweco pens write better with non-Kaweco inks, except for their Pearl Black, which wrote great every time. Lubricated inks like Monteverde come in cartridges and seem to flow smoothly. Faber-Castell cartridges also work well. I haven’t tried Herbin or Diamine cartridges, but I know their inks work well out of the bottle.
If you don’t want to use cartridges, or are bothered by Kaweco’s converters, plastic Sports are able to be converted into eyedropper pens by applying silicone grease to the barrel threads. You can add an o-ring as well but the silicone grease works just fine.
Eyedroppering is especially nice with clear barrel models such as the clear classic, and any of the ice series. In the picture above, I’ve filled this pen with Noodlers Blue Nosed Bear. This is a super wet ink, so the fact that I was able to write with this and enjoy it means that this medium nib was a very dry writer. I’ve taken notes with my navy Sport, and it flowed well, but the design of the pen makes it impractical for start/stop applications unless you’re able to use the pen unposted. When I was first trying to write with my clear Sport that had baby’s bottom, the pen wouldn’t flow consistently when I was holding the pen at a high angle. My girlfriend tried using it while holding the pen at a lower angle and she was able to get a consistent flow. I’m not sure how common baby’s bottom is for Kaweco nibs, but it is an issue to look out for. If you’re a lefty over writer beginning their fountain pen journey with a Sport and you encounter baby’s bottom, please don’t be discouraged because there is always another nib.
I love Kaweco as a brand, and love all of my pens from them, but the quality control on their nibs can be uneven. I once bought a double broad Kaweco nib, and it didn’t have a slit. Fortunately, all of their pens except for the Supra take the same nib, so it’s easy to swap nibs once you’ve found one that you really like. All Kaweco nibs are friction fit inside a plastic housing. On all metal sectioned models, this housing can just be screwed in and out. On all plastic sectioned models, the housing is stuck inside the section and is not able to be removed. To remove a Kaweco nib from its housing, use a rubber grip or jar opener and pull it out by holding the nib at the tapered part of the feed. Kaweco feeds are a lot more durable than (for example) TWSBI feeds, so these pens are good to practice on if you’re a beginner nib swapper. Lamys are good for practice as well, but you can’t play around with other nib brands.
Every version of the Sport will have its own writing experience, which is why the AL-Sport will have its own post. Besides the fountain pen, I’ve also tried the rollerball and the clutch pencil, which are both pleasant to use and will also have their own posts in time. You can purchase your own Sport wherever fine writing instruments are sold. The plastic models generally sell for about $25 to $30 USD.