Fountain Pen Fridays are the weekly blog posts/conversations about fountain pens and general stationery.
So now that we’ve talked about why fountain pens, I’m going to talk about how best to introduce yourself (or others) to the hobby. In the community this is known as penabling but I also call it pen-vangelizing.
I’m going to divide this review into two tiers. Tier 1 will be your super-budget-just trying-this-to-see-if-I-like-them pens and Tier 2 will be your actual starter hobby pens. I’ll include as much information as possible and try to be as concise as possible but if you want to skip the explanations you can see a chart at the bottom. Each of these pens will get their own individual reviews later.
I’m mostly including Tier 1 out of due diligence.
Kaweco Perkeo ($15-$17)
This is a surprisingly handy pen and a great writer. It’s a taller version of the Tier 2 Kaweco Sport and in many regards it writes much better. It’s also comparable in size to other fountain pens and It only takes international standard cartridges, which are just about a dime a dozen. It lacks a clip but the octagonal shape the cap is designed in keeps it from rolling off the desk easy. Oh! It also has a slightly indented grip intended (ha indented intended i r so smart s-m-r-t) It’s also very lightweight, which can be a pro for some and a con for others.
The biggest downside it has it shares with the Pilot Kakuno in that it doesn’t come with a way to clip it somewhere. The color selection is also very limited. Per Jetpens:
Relatively easy, as it’s a cartridge-filler and you’d just have to rinse out the ink residue when switching cartridge colors.
While not a must-buy, it’s a great pen to have for quick note-taking and having the ability to use international cartridges makes it a great pen.
Pilot Kakuno ($10-$12)
It’s no secret I’m a Pilot stan but I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the Kakuno. But it’s not a bad thing. The Kakuno, like the Perkeo, also has an indentation that guides you where your hand’s supposed to go on the grip. It also has a wider range of colors than the Perkeo or the Varsity. With some resin glue, you can also turn it into an eyedropper pen (more on this in the future)
It only takes proprietary Pilot cartridges, which can be good if you’ve stocked up on them but honestly if you’re going to stock up on Pilot cartridges you’re better off spending a few dollars more and getting the Metro. It’s also more of a dry writer, which, again, works for a lot of people.
Much the same way as the Perkeo, quick rinse.
For the price, go for the Metropolitan.
Platinum Preppy ($5-$14)
It’s somewhere between the Kakuno and the Perkeo in terms of how it writes, so it’s a good balance. It’s also, at $5, the cheapest single option outside the Varsity. If you add the converter, or the o-rings plus the eyedropper to “hack” it into a converter pen, that’s still $14.
It’s an ugly pen and a little on the thin side overall. It also uses proprietary cartridges so if you’re not turning it into an eyedropper you’re limited to just the Platinum cartridges.
There’s not much to cleaning this one, just if you’ve managed to turn it into an eyedropper, do it over a sink.
Pilot Varsity ($8 for a 4-pack)
This pen has no business writing as smooth as it does. It’s got an even better flow than the Pilot G-2. It comes with a clip so it looks even better than the Perkeo or the Kakuno. And when it comes to introducing people to fountain pens, I like to have one of these on hand because they’re a quick and dirty introduction to this wonderful world.
It’s disposable, so there’s no refilling, no converter, no hacking into an eyedropper pen. The color palette is limited to maybe 8 colors, too.
Now for the fun part.
I’m not going to rank them in any specific order because this is the “What’s your favorite deep dish in Chicago?” argument (Spoiler: It’s Giordano’s, no, I won’t take feedback) and I’ll leave the verdict for last.
I will also put them individually next to the Pilot G-2 so you can see how they are.
Kaweco Skyline ($25)
It’s lightweight, but sturdy. The color combinations available are also very cool — for a little extra you can have an all-brass one, for instance. It also falls under the aegis of pocket fountain pens so it’s a quick grab-and-go pen. Just like the Preppy mentioned above, it can be turned (with a little bit of know-how) into an eyedropper pen AND it takes international catrtidges so color options can be vast.
$25 is just for the base pen and one cartridge. If you wanted to add a converter to get different kinds of ink, that’s like $6. If you wanted to add a clip, that’s $8. So to really deck out the pen you can expect to drop $32 dollars, which is $12 more than the Pilot Metropolitan and the Diplomat Magnum, $2 more than the TWSBI Eco, and just $3 less for a decked-out Lamy Safari.
Follow Perkeo recommendations.
Lamy Safari ($30, comes with cartridges; $36 with converter)
There’s a reason Lamy is one of the most commonly-recommended fountain pens for starters. It’s got a sturdy build made from the same kind of plastic Legos are made, its ink flows well, and there’s a really nice color range to them. The pen clip is also massive but uniquely shaped so that it’s both secure in your pocket and also able to be taken out a moment’s notice. Also, for it’s size it’s basically lightweight.
In my mind, you have to get the converter because, to me, the Lamy cartridges it comes with are kind of crappy. Lamy usually packages them with a blue cartridge that’s a really weaksauce shade of blue. So you’re starting out with $36 unless you actually end up liking the cartridge.
Cleaning screw converters can get to be a pain, but you won’t have to do much of this unless you plan on switching inks on this pen every two weeks that the converter runs out.
Diplomat Magnum ($22)
The Diplomat Magnum is strangely not mentioned in a lot of these “Starter fountain pen” lists and I don’t understand why. It’s a really great writer, comes with its own converter when you order from Goulet, (Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with the Goulets or Goulet Pen Company, I’m just a fan of their customer service and their products). And like the Lamy Safari and the TWSBI Eco, it has its own ink window that lets you know when your supply is running low so you can re-ink.
There’s only 8 colors of this pen and it’s a little on the lighter side when it comes to weight. My thinnest pen (a Parker Jotter) is heavier than this, as are most of my other pens, including the gel pens I have. The other thing is a weird one because it’s strictly based on how I write. Every time I pick it up, my thumb settles right above the ink window and it’s a weird scratchy feeling.
Since it’s a twist-converter pen, you can follow the Lamy instructions.
The Pilot Metropolitan ($19)
This is a really solid starter pen. The weight is very comfortable. It punches above its weight class and has the feel of a fountain pen three times its worth. Of this list, it’s the one that most represents a traditional fountain pen experience. The ink flow is great, and when it’s paired with a wetter ink it just about sings on the page. And one silver lining to the smaller converter is that it’s easier to clean and you can switch out inks more frequently.
It comes with a squeeze converter that doesn’t have the best ink capacity. A good “charge” will last you about five days and that’s a little less than what the Lamy screw converters or the TWSBI will have. The color selection is also limited to roughly about 7 colors and their ‘animal print’ equivalent.
Squeeze converters are actually very easy to clean. You separate the pen, rinse out the converter, and then use a Q-tip to make sure all ink residue is clear.
TWSBI Eco ($30)
If the Pilot Metropolitan best resembles the standard of fountain pens, the TWSBI Eco best represents the potential for what fountain pens COULD be. The ECO has a HUGE ink capacity and once you fill it you’re going to be using it for a bit. The other thing I really like about this pen is that I’ve never had it hard start. I’ve gone for months without using my pen only to pick it up and it’ll start writing as if I had only had it capped for a few minutes. It also comes with a tiny wrench and fountain pen-friendly silicone grease for longer-term maintenance.
It can be a chore to clean a piston filler because it’s like filling a screw converter but with some extra time over the sink. This also means you best be committed to the ink you’re putting in (which, honestly, is not that hard to do).
The Pilot Metropolitan takes the official Obsidian Palms recommendation for best starter foutnain pen. For $18, it’s probably the best bank for your buck. The Namiki ink cartridges it comes with are solid if you don’t want to start out with ink just yet. It’s got a really nice weight to it and it’s also easy to clean.
The TWSBI would be my runner up because of the comfort you have of being able to use it for longer writing sessions.
The Diplomat Magnum is great but the weight is a little too flimsy for me. And the Lamy Safari is best upgraded to a Lamy AL-Star ($42 in total for pen + converter) because it combines the comfortable heft of the Metropolitan and the other pluses of the Safari.