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Guest blogger Janet Salmons is an online professor, scholar, and writer about research and collaboration in the digital world -- with a collection of fountain pens close at hand.
Information overload is everyone's complaint now that text messages and emails are inescapable, following you from computer to tablet to the smartphone in your pocket. How can you break through the inbox and catch someone's attention when you want to convey a meaningful message? With a hand-written note, of course!
As Philip Hensher observed in The Missing Link: The Lost Art of Handwriting, "handwriting is what registers our individuality... it has been seen as the unknowing key to our souls and our innermost nature" (p. 17). When the note is scripted with a fountain pen, you have the chance to personalize it with your favorite color, and in wispy fine or boldly broad strokes to create a signature that is uniquely your own.
The same principle applies when communicating with yourself: while the keyboard may work fine for the left-brain workday writing, when recording thoughts, reflections or ideas the pen seems to release the right-brain's creativity. Or, you may just enjoy the sense of a pen in your hand -- even when the task is mundane. Luckily we don't have to choose between whether we type or script.
If you are thinking about tiptoeing into the world of fountain pens for the first time, or you like the possibility of owning several with different inks or nibs, you will be glad to know that modestly priced pens do not require you to sacrifice quality. Whether you are contemplating a love letter, soul-revealing memoir or a grocery list, what fountain pen might you choose?
I selected five pens under $50 that you may want to consider:
For this review I am considering how each pen looks and aesthetics of design, how it feels and comfort of use, and how it writes, including nib options and flow. Finally, I will consider the practical side of use including ease of maintenance.
Pilot Plumix Fountain Pen
The Pilot Plumix is an elegantly designed pen, inspired presumably by the plume. The slightly longer body and cap are available in transparent black, blue, or purple, all with a clear grip area. The material is plastic, making the pen very lightweight. The shaped grip area on the barrel is comfortable to use. The small cap screws on when closed, and fits on the end of the pen body when you are writing. The cap is molded with edges to prevent the pen from rolling. While it fits fairly securely, it seems likely that it could detach and wander off if you are not paying attention. There is no clip. A distinction of this pen is its nib, which is labeled "Medium Flat Italic." I would probably call it a fine italic. The italic is classy and fun, but does not require the writer to become a calligrapher. If you own other Pilot pens, such as the Metropolitan, the nibs are interchangeable.
The ink flow is, however, less than perfectly smooth. The pen occasionally skips, and in general seems a bit dry and scratchy. I find I want to just dip the nib into a bottle of ink to get it going. If I have let it rest a few days, some encouragement is needed to get it started. It seems to prefer fine paper over the everyday note pad, and it was a smooth write on a nice note card.
In terms of ease and cost of maintenance, the Plumix uses a proprietary Pilot cartridge only. If you have a variety of pens of various brands and want to use the same generic international cartridges with all of them, this may be a problem. However, it can also accept a converter, which allows you to select any brand of bottled ink. If you are new to fountain pens, a converter is refillable with bottled ink and can be used instead of a disposable cartridge.
Given the price point, the Plumix is an attractive pen, and a good choice for correspondence or journal writing. While the low cost may make it seem like an everyday pen to carry around with you, the proprietary cartridges and lack of a clip may make it less practical.
Ohto Rook Fountain Pen
When closed, the Ohto Rook is almost half the size of the Plumix, but when open they are roughly the same size. There lies the genius in the design of this mini, but not mini, fountain pen. The oversized cap, when fixed onto the barrel, extends the length.
The Rook comes in two styles. In one, the aluminum barrel accent color -- green or red -- contrasts with a black plastic snap-on cap. In the other models, aluminum orange or black barrels contrast with silver metal caps. The caps snap cleanly into place, and the pens have a silver clip. These pens are light but not flimsy. The slightly curved cap of the Rook becomes part of the barrel when extended. As a result it fits nicely in my small hands -- writers with large hands may find it's a bit diminutive.
Ohto makes another expandable aluminum fountain pen model that comes in additional colors, called the Tasche. The Rook and Tasche pens both come with a fine iridium nib, and that description is accurate. This pen would work nicely for drawing as well as for writing. The nib has a little bit of flexibility, and is responsive to position and pressure for varying lines. On cheaper notebook paper script may seem closer to that of a medium nib, with a finer line on nicer paper. It allows for a fluid writing style, and even after a few days of non-use the pen starts without coaxing.
This expando-pen design means it can fit anywhere -- in a small purse, bag or a journal's pen loop. Since it uses the commonly-available standard international cartridge, this pen qualifies as a go-anywhere pen. The unique design means a converter will not work, but then you choose a pen of this design to take with you -- and that ink bottle won't fit in your pocket. This is a great choice for taking notes in meetings or classes, writing letters, doodling or jotting down ideas on the fly.
Kaweco Ice Sport Fountain Pen
The Kaweco has a similar design to the Rook, with a longer cap that allows for expansion. But this Ice Sport pen is bigger and rounder than the Rook. The Kaweco Ice Sport is lightweight plastic, with a brightly colored cap and clear demonstrator barrel. It comes in four gem-tone colors: red, green, orange or blue. The faceted cap prevents rolling; and when screwed closed is secure enough to endure being jostled around in the bottom of your bag. The Kaweco Classic Sport, at the same price and with the same design, is also available in solid colors or an entirely clear body. A clip may be purchased separately. The pen is shipped in a small cardboard box.
The pen reviewed here has a medium nib, which writes bold and clean. The stainless steel nib has little flexibility. The flow was smooth and consistent with no skips or feathering, even on basic notebook paper. And like the Rook, it is a pen you can set aside for a few days but be confident that it will start right up when you want to write again -- it just goes until the cartridge runs out. The Kaweco Sport line of pens come in fine and medium nibs. Kaweco makes a line of cartridges in a range of colors, but the pen can also use the standard international cartridge. It accommodates a small squeeze converter.
The compact size and reliable flow make this a great everyday pen to carry with you. This reliable write-anywhere pen will meet your needs for taking notes, or recording your to-do list and daily inspirations.
Lamy Vista Fountain Pen
The Lamy Vista is a more traditional style of fountain pen, with a rounded barrel and cap with clip. It is made of sturdy plastic. The model I reviewed is a clear demonstrator but the family of Al-Star (aluminum) and Safari (plastic) models in this price range includes a wide range of solid colors. The clear model allows you to monitor your ink supply. The body and grip are faceted, so it won't roll away when left on a desk.
This Lamy Vista is significantly larger than the Rook or Ice Sport -- meaning those with bigger hands will find it fits well. A large metal clip will keep it secure. The pen is packaged in a basic cardboard box.
The reviewed pen has a medium nib, but the pen comes with a multitude of options including extra fine, fine and broad. If you change your mind, replacement nibs are available in all sizes. The medium stainless steel nib is rigid, but allows for an effortless flow, no skips or feathering.
Lamy pens use proprietary Lamy cartridges. They are slightly longer than the generic international cartridge for longer run time. Other companies, such as Monteverde, create this size cartridge so there are many color choices. Or you can use a converter to use any ink you want. The Lamy is a solid, durable pen for any writing purpose.
Pilot Prera Fountain Pen
The Pilot Prera is an aesthetically pleasing fountain pen. It is made of high-quality resin with polished chrome-plated metal trim and a small pocket clip. In addition to the springy lime green reviewed here, it comes in brown, gray, ivory, soft or royal blue, pink, and yellow, in fine or medium nibs. Similar but slightly pricier demonstrator models are available with calligraphy nibs.
The snap-on cap fits securely on the barrel when you are writing. Unlike the Lamy, the barrel is smooth, no grooves or facets. This medium-size pen is comfortable in my small hands. While still light the weight is well-balanced. While this is the highest priced one in the collection reviewed here, it is reasonably-priced for a fine pen, and it looks and feels like a more expensive pen.
The reviewed pen is a fine nib. I found this a true fine, not the extra fine often common in a Japanese pen. The medium nib is available for those who want a more substantial line. It offers in a clear, precise and very smooth line. There is no skipping or feathering -- allowing you to think about what you are writing, not whether or not the ink will flow when you put nib to paper. It is equally happy with fine paper or a common notebook. The Prera could be used for drawing as well as writing purposes.
Like the Plumix, it uses the proprietary Pilot/Namiki cartridge or one of two converters available. After trying the pen with the blue cartridge it came with, I tried a CON-50 converter. I inked with the romantic J. Herbin Poussiere de Lune purple ink. The converter fit neatly and easily, and once filled the pen continued with a silky and continuous flow.
The Prera is compact enough to serve as an everyday carry pen to use for the practical mundane writing tasks. And it is fine enough to enjoy for creative and reflective writing. This is an exceptional fountain pen for any writing project.
Even in a digital world, fountain pens have a place. While the reviewed pens use various cartridge or converter styles, they are all refillable. This means you can use a fountain pen for years -- it does not need an "upgrade" and will not add to the landfill of disposable items. A fountain pen allows for a personal touch to writing that is tactile and expressive. When such wonderful pens are available at a reasonable price, trying one is worth the effort.
Preference in fountain pens, like many things in life, is based on personal taste, use, and priority. Someone who wants simple maintenance may prioritize pen choice on its ability to accept generic international cartridges that can be purchased at typical office supply stores. Others may overcome that challenge by choosing pens that accept converters, and buy ink by the bottle.
Nib size and style is another area of personal style. The pens reviewed here were in a mid-range of fine and medium, but some writers may prefer the delicate writing of extra-fine nibs or a bolder broad or stub type of nib. On-the-go writers may focus on compact size and delight in the extendable mini pens. From my personal view, it would be hard to choose one pen from this selection of terrific options that are easy on the budget!
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