The Pilot Custom 912 Waverly ($224) is a most unusual fountain pen. And its not unsual for its exterior. From the outside, it looks like what the Brits might call a “saloon car”. Not in a bad way. It’s an upscale 4-door black sedan in the nicest possible way but no one would look at the outside of this pen and ogle. It’s understated and refined. It has simple silver hardware withe very little ornamentation or flash. It’s not fancy.
When the cap is removed, you see beautiful etching on the 14K gold nib, a razor fine point and the letter “WA” etched on the nib. “WA”?
When turned to the side is when you see, this is not ordinary nib. Did it get dropped? Nope. It is meant to be bent at an angle like this with the tip flared up ever so slightly. According to Pen-Info.jp, it is designed this way to allow any writer to write at any angle. For a left-hander, this means that some of the issues that can sometimes confound a left handed writer with softer gold nibs, extra fine nibs or writing overhanded or at odd angles, can be avoided with a nib like this.
So, do my writing results prove it? Indeed they do. I have been writing consistently with the 912 since before Christmas (Merry Christmas to me!) and the pen performs flawlessly. My previous experience with a Pilot Custom 74 F was not as successful partially because of the softness of the nib and the angle of my writing. This is clearly a vast improvement. Do I wish I could put the beautiful nib in a sports car package? Yes. But I’m okay driving around in the saloon car sometimes too.
The Visconti Wall Street Limited Edition Green Pearl is the first Visconti that I’ve ever had the privilege to use. In terms of looks, its probably the exact model I would have picked for myself. The layered green celluloid catches the light similarly to vintage Parker Vacumatics. As someone who’s heart is perpetually stuck in a 1940s film, this is an easy way to win my heart. The unique, rounded square shape is also quite appealing too. For starters, its far less likely to roll off the table and it actually feels quite nice in the hand.
Aesthetically, my one sticking point is the Visconti branded scimitar clip. I have just never liked this design decision and Visconti sticks it on almost every pen they design. Its like the un-design decision. Can’t think of how to design the clip? Stick the scimitar on it. Where the layered celluloid is supposed to create the illusion of floors of a skyscraper and the twinkle of lights in the windows and the shape of the pen is supposed to be reminiscent of the shape of a building, why stop at the clip? Could it not also evoke the decorative filigree on buildings like the Carbon and Carbide Building or other great historical architectural marvels? I didn’t mention the Chrysler Building because that seemed obvious but you know what I mean… right?
Most of the weight of the pen is in the cap and the clip, weighing an impressive 42 gms capped but uncapped and filled, it weighs a more manageable 25 gms. The chart below includes capped and/or posted weights for common budget-priced pens for comparison.
In regards to length, the Wall Street can be used posted at an impressively long 7″ or unposted at a more diminutive 5.25″ which fit comfortably balanced in my small hands. Closed and capped, the Wall Street is 5.75″ which is only about 0.25″ longer thank your average Lamy Safari so its not a small pen but its not out of the ordinary size-wise.
This nib on this particular model is the BB, double broad “Dreamtouch” 23K gold correction: palladium. It is a soft, slightly flexible nib and is quite smooth though I had a bit of a learning curve finding the right angles to get the best performance from the nib. The BB required being held at a slightly higher angle if I was writing from below the baseline (from my left handed angle) though writing from above, I had no issues with writing at all except that the pen laid down so much ink that dry time became an issue and I kept sticking my hand in wet ink. It’s a bit flexy but I would certainly not be inclined to use it as a flex nib.
In order to take full advantage of the flexibility of the nib though, writing from below the baseline was my best option. Just the weight of one’s hand and the movement and passion with which one is writing is enough to add some character and flair to the strokes.
However, when writing overhanded, I needed almost no contact with the paper to get ink to flow. The lightest of touches was needed and ink just appeared on the paper which was really nice. It meant that writing was easy and I wasn’t having to push or pull or will the ink out of the pen. It just flowed.
I did not talk in depth about the filling system which is a double reservoir power filler. The best information I could find to clarify what a “double reservoir power filler” was came from Inks and Pens who succinctly explained that its a glorified vacuum filler. Oh, well. That’s much easier to understand. The challenge is getting a full flush. Since this is not my pen, I did my best to fully flush the pen clean but it left a bit of clean water in the reservoir. Rather than disassemble a loaner pen, I’m going to leave the water in the pen than risk disassembly. It actually arrived with a bit of water in it so it seems to be an issue coming and going.
I confess, I waited until after I did all my testing and writing and experimenting to find out exactly how expensive this pen was. I know that Visconti pens are not inexpensive but I did not want the price of the pen to factor into my opinion of the pen. As many of you already know, I’m not a fan of the hype and fanfare around the Homo Sapiens line (see Pen Addict podcast episode 238) so I went into my Wall Street experience a little skeptical to begin with. However, I did warm to the pen in general. I did gasp a bit at the price.
If I wasn’t such an ink changer and didn’t think the clip was phoned-in, I might actually consider this pen as a possibility for my collection, with an extra fine nib of course. But with those caveats, I think I might rather put that kind of money towards a refurbished Parker Vac instead.
PS: I didn’t go into detail about the packaging because it was just fancy packaging. If you’d like to see photos of the box, check out this review for a different version of the pen, but the same packaging.
Big shout out to Casey (AKA Punkey) for loaning me this pen to try out. He is, as always, my enabler, my comrade and my favorite troublemaker.
Last summer, after answering an Ask The Desk post about finding a classic ballpoint pen, I developed a fascination with Cross Century pens. At the DC Pen Show, I acquired my first, an engraved Cross Century II in matte blue metallic and have since acquired three more: two classic Cross Centuries and a Cross Century II Starlight from NOS this December. You may be asking yourself, what’s the fascination?
First, the original Cross Century is similar to the Parker Jotter in that the design has been around for decades. Its classic, streamlined and elegant. Originally created in 1946 and still in production today, the Cross Century is a sleek, elegant design and, like the Jotter, worthy of being in any pen collector’s collection, whether you acquire your grandfather’s or purchase a new one. Or both.
The Cross Century II is an updated version of the Century modified to accommodate rollerball refills, a more ergonomic grip section and the larger pens preferred by modern pen consumers. This also allowed for some innovations in their refills as well which Cross refers to as the “Selectip” refills which appealed to me because one of the options is a felt tip. Of all the major pen manufacturers, Cross is the only one I know of that offers felt tip as a refill option.
(This is the point at which I am NOT going to talk about the Star Wars Cross designs. Like they never even happened. Nevermind, those are the “Townsend” line — they are still awful. I can gripe about the Marvel Century IIs. Those are bad too. Giant logos do not make for good licensed products. Okay, back to our regularly scheduled happy review.)
And then there’s the “Switch-It” mechanical pencil option that can be dropped into the ballpoint pen to turn it into a pencil. I love a pen manufacturer who considers giving their customers range and options! Of course, the actual implementation of the “Switch-It” refill is a little janky and it is only available as a 0.7mm mechanical pencil which steam a lot of people since the older Cross mechanical pencils were 0.5mm or 0.9mm so the fact that the Switch-It insert only has one width option is kind of lame. Anyway, actually using the Switch-It insert took a little practice since it doesn’t work like any other mechanical pencil I’ve ever used.
While it took me awhile to figure out how to work the Cross “Switch It” Pencil refill on my own. I came to the same operating action as demonstrated in the video shown here:
And, of course, because I can’t leave well enough alone, I modified the Cross Spire pictured at the top of the photo to accept a Uni Signo 0.38mm D1 refill by jamming a bit of plastic in the end of the barrel to make up the space disparity in the length. It’s now one of my favorite everyday pens.
Cross refills are considerably more limited than Parker. Cross makes proprietary refill sizes and offer a limited range of tip sizes and colors, where PArker style refills became the industry-standard size. As a result, Cross pens are not nearly as popular unless you like plain black and blue ink and medium width ballpoint or rollerball refills. However, if you are willing to do a little tweaking, there’s some opportunities to make these beauties work for you. And, in some ways, it looks like Cross is trying their best to help too like the Switch-It pencil refill.
This fourth and final installment of the brush pen series reviews bristle-tip pens containing water-soluble ink. Similar to their waterproof ink counterparts, these 10 brush pens have actual synthetic hair tips that take a bit of practice to get the hang of controlling. However, I find their lines to be more expressive and fluid than felt tip brush pens, so it is worth it to me to give them the extra effort to use.
Ink Color & Permanence
First, I’ll talk about the inks these pens contain. While they all look within a comparable range of black on the Canson XL 98-pound mixed media paper I scribbled on, the Kuretake Zig Clean Color Real Brush Pen has a slightly purplish tinge (which is more apparent when washed with water). The Zig, the Pentel Standard Brush Pen (medium tip) and the Akashiya Sai Watercolor Brush Pen have the darkest, richest washes when water is applied. That’s a quality I look for in water-soluble inks, since I generally use them when I want to take advantage of the wash for shading.
Compared to some of the water-soluble pens in the felt tip group, these inks mostly stayed water-soluble when washed a couple of weeks after the initial line had been applied. However, when I washed them again just now, more than a month since the initial application, all of them were nearly permanent. I think it’s safe to assume that these inks eventually become permanent over time.
All inks behaved as expected on Field Notes 60-pound Finch Opaque Smooth paper with very little bleed-through except where I had applied water. As I mentioned in the water-soluble felt tip review, it’s interesting to see the difference in the washes when comparing the Field Notes paper with the 98-pound Canson paper. Sized for water media, the Canson paper brings out the washed color, while the Field Notes paper makes the washes look more like wimpy blurs.
Although I tested only pens with black ink, it should be noted that the Akashiya Sai comes in 20 colors and the Zig Clean Color comes in 80! They can be blended like watercolors, and since they remain soluble for quite some time, you could continue blending them as you work. The Akashiya Sai ThinLine is available in five dark, natural tones. (I think I’m going to have to eventually get all five because I love the muted tones, which aren’t easily found in brush pens.)
Beyond these points, none of the inks stood out with any distinction. What I find distinctive about this group is the wide variety of form factors in which the pens are available.
Variety of Form Factors
By form factor, I’m referring to the size and shape of the pens. The three Sailor Fude Nagomi brush pens (the red, the green and the black) look the most like traditional Asian calligraphy brushes with their longer length and tapered body. (Incidentally, the three Nagomi pens are identical except for their body colors; I guess I would have known this before buying all three if I’d read the descriptions more carefully and hadn’t been so excited about having more brush pens to explore!)
The Akashiya Sai and the Akashiya New Fude Disposable Brush Pen look similar, both with transparent caps, but are longer than the Kuretake Zig Clean Color, which is slightly thicker. The Akashiya ThinLine, however, is indeed a distinctly thin pen – a little too thin for my comfort. It could be mistaken for an eyeliner. The brush itself is somewhat thinner than the others in this review, but because of that, I missed the wider end of the range that I could get with the others. Its very tip was not any thinner than the other tips.
The Pentel has a reservoir and a soft barrel that can be squeezed to push more ink to the brush. (Beware: this is the type that will leak to high heaven at high altitudes.) It is refillable, however, with proprietary cartridges. The only other refillable pen in this group is the Sailor Profit Brush Pen, which looks like and is refillable like a Sailor Profit fountain pen.
The variety of shapes and sizes means that you can choose the one that fits your hand and work style most comfortably. If you are already familiar with a classic fountain pen body, then the Sailor Profit is an easy transition. If you like narrow barrels, then the Akashiya ThinLine might be a good choice. The Zig Clean Color has a body that feels the most like a classic marker, and I find the thicker barrel easier to use. The longer Sailor Nagomi pens might be difficult to handle, but they are nicely balanced even when posted.
I’ve done it in all the other reviews, so I might as well complete the set: I am notably grumpy about caps that don’t post as expected. In this group, only the double-sided Kuretake has caps that must be reversed to post. All others made me happy by posting predictably.
While I tend to reach for waterproof inks more often, I have to say that the water-soluble aspect of these bristle brush pens encouraged me to experiment more. Most of my sketch samples in this series were done with brush pens only. For this review, however, I tried something different by sketching the pear first with oil-based Faber-Castell Polychromos colored pencils. Then I gave it shading with the Pentel, which I further blended with a waterbrush. The wash has enough transparency that the blended colored pencils underneath show through – an effect that I like.
I wore out all three Sailor Nagomi pens at life-drawing practice sessions. The expressiveness of the brush combined with the ability to conveniently shade by washing the line made them a joy to use.
While no clear favorite emerged from this group, this combination of brush and ink type is definitely a keeper in my sketch kit. In fact, as a result of writing this series, I now have four daily-carry brush pens, one of each type, because each serves a different sketching need.
Within the brush pen series (Part 1: Waterproof Felt Tips and Part 2: Water-Soluble Felt Tips), the type of pens I’m reviewing today are probably the ones I use most often – hairy, bristle-tip brush pens containing waterproof ink. Designed to simulate sumi brush pens used for traditional Asian calligraphy, the bristle-tipped pens take a little more practice to manipulate compared to their felt tip counterparts, but the line variation they impart can be very expressive. If you are used to handling paint brushes with ink, these will feel familiar.
As a general rule, bristle tips last longer than felt tips without mushing down from pressure, and their flexibility gives the widest range of marks. For example, I’ve been using the same Kuretake No. 13 Fountain Brush Pen for several years now, and its synthetic brush is still going strong. When I eventually upgraded to a sable hair Kuretake No. 40, thinking it would be even better than the 13, I have to say I was disappointed. The brush performs well, but it doesn’t seem to warrant the price difference compared to the No. 13. In fact, I find that the No. 40’s tip spreads out when pressure is applied and doesn’t pull back into a sharp point when the pressure is released the way the 13 does. I have to roll it against the paper to get the point back. Maybe a painter accustomed to handling natural hair brushes would have better results from it.
All the other brush pens reviewed here have similar synthetic bristle tips to the Kuretake No. 13 without much distinction. The exceptions are the Pentel Tsumi Tip (labeled FL2U on my chart) and the Pentel Suki Tip (FL2V) Brush Pens, both of which are capable of producing particularly thin lines at their very points. See the man wearing headphones that I sketched with the Pentel Suki? I was able to make that very thin line defining his nostril with the tip – it might have been a single hair! You have to hold the brush nearly vertical to the page to get that hairline, so it’s a bit tricky, but it has a beautiful range.
Here’s something to consider if you travel: I carry all my usual sketch gear with me when I fly. Although I’ve heard various warnings, usually related to leaking fountain pens, the only time I’ve ever had any kind of leakage problem was with reservoir-type brush pens such as the Pentel Tsumi and Suki and the Kuretake Zig Cartoonist Brush Pen No. 22. They are prone to making a huge mess! This goes for driving to high altitudes, too, not just while flying. Believe me, I only made that mistake once! Wrap carefully if you plan to take them with you.
Ink Color & Permanence
As before, water tests were done on 98-pound Canson mixed media paper. Most of the inks are waterproof as soon as they dry, within a minute or so. The exceptions are the Pentel Tsumi and Suki, which remain water-soluble for quite some time. Two weeks later I tested again, and they were permanent. I started using both the Pentel Tsumi and Suki pens as if they were water-soluble inks, washing lines for shading. I wouldn’t use them with watercolors or even with a gel pen, however, since those products would become muddy when mixed with the inks. If you’re planning to wait a while before painting, however, these inks could be considered waterproof also.
Those two Pentels were also the only ones containing inks that looked slightly gray to me compared to the true black of the others.
All inks behaved well, as expected, on Field Notes 60-pound Finch Opaque Smooth paper. The only spot that bled through slightly was where I had made an especially thick line with the Kuretake No. 40 (containing Platinum Carbon Black ink).
It’s important to note that the Kuretake No. 13, Kuretake No. 40 and Pentel Kirari Pocket Brush Pen can all be refilled just like fountain pens. They come with waterproof ink cartridges when purchased, but you can install a converter or simply syringe-refill the used cartridges with whatever ink you want. My favorite waterproof fountain pen ink is Platinum Carbon Black (*Editor’s Note: Mine too!), which puts out an especially rich, black line in all of these refillable pens. I have a second Kuretake No. 13 that I fill with water-soluble Diamine Chocolate Brown ink. So although I’ve classified these pens as waterproof, the type of ink used is up to you. (However, I recommend sticking with one type of ink per pen, since the brushes are difficult to clean.) Since the bristles have proven to last a long time, their refillable quality makes these pens a particularly good value.
The Kuretake Zig No. 22, the Pentel Tsumi and the Pentel Suki can all be refilled with proprietary cartridges. (Actually, the cartridges look like they can be refilled with fountain pen ink too, though I haven’t tried it.)
That makes the Kuretake Bimoji (medium), J. Herbin CreaPen Pinceau and Copic Gasenfude the only disposable pens in this bunch. I try to avoid pens that must be tossed after their inks are gone, so that puts these otherwise good brush pens at a disadvantage. A couple of things to note: For some reason, the J. Herbin CreaPen ran dry after only a short time, despite being stored horizontally. And the Copic Gasenfude, despite bearing the Copic name, contains ink that is nothing like the alcohol-based markers most people think of when they see the name Copic! This is very important to me, as I can’t stand stinky markers.
If you’ve read my other reviews, you know I get cranky about caps that don’t post as expected. In this group, only the Kuretake Bimoji has a cap that must be reversed to post (and yes, it still annoys me). All other caps posted properly and securely.
Reviewing bristle-tip pens right after all the felt-tipped brush pens drove home an important point: Bristles are far more durable and able to withstand pressure while continually bouncing back compared to felt tips. It occurs to me that this is the reason most of the felt-tipped brush pens are disposable – the tips wouldn’t last beyond the initial ink, even if they could be refilled.
For my money, that makes the refillable fountain-pen type brush pens the best value as well as the hardiest performers. However, they make a very different type of mark from the felt tipped pens and require more control, so value isn’t the only factor to consider. Personally, I carry at least one bristle tip and one felt tip at all times because I like the variety of marks each type offers me.
There’s only one part left in this series – bristle-tip brush pens containing water-soluble inks. That group contains a huge variety of form factors! Stay tuned.
In part 1 of the brush pen series, I covered felt-tipped waterproof pens. This review is about 11 brush pens with similar compressed-fiber tips but containing water-soluble black inks.
In general, I’d say the tips behaved in the same ways as their waterproof-ink counterparts of comparable size. One of my goals with this series is to find pens that don’t mush down from my heavy-handed abuse, and as it turned out, I didn’t find any in this category with the slimmer felt tips that did tend to flatten in the waterproof group. Most in this review have either a relatively stout bullet-shaped felt tip or a small, firm plastic or rubber tip, and both styles stand up well to my heavy hand. However, the points of the broad end of the Tombow ABT Dual Brush Pen and the Sakura Koi Coloring Brush did flatten after a relatively short while, which surprised me because they look sturdy.
The pens that are the most resilient tend to make a strange squeaky sound with slight pressure, such as the two Zebra pens (both double-sided and single-sided), the Kuretake No. 55 Double-Sided Brush Pen and the Kuretake No. 33 Brush Pen. Perhaps the squeakiness is related to the type of material they are made of. I know that’s not a very helpful characteristic if you haven’t bought and used the pen yet, but for me the squeak is a good indication that the tip will last. I’ve been using the four named above for a good while, and they are all still pointy and going strong.
Both the Sakura Koi and the Winsor & Newton Watercolor Marker have tips that are a bit too broad for my uses. Even held vertically, I couldn’t get a fine enough point for detailed work (and since the Koi started mushing down quickly, its tip got even flatter). On the other hand, when held at a sharp angle to the paper, the Winsor & Newton marker makes a very wide swath of ink that covers a lot quickly. For that reason, I enjoy using it at life drawing practice with larger paper.
Ink Color & Solubility
Now, on to the inks. My favorite way to use brush pens containing water-soluble ink is to make a line drawing and then use water to wash the line slightly for shading, and I usually don’t add color afterwards. So the quality of the washed line is important to me.
One interesting thing I learned from comparing these pens was how variable the term water-soluble can be – and how long water-solubility lasts. To test solubility, I made a scribbly line on Canson 98-pound mixed–media paper. Within a minute, I ran a waterbrush through the line to see how much it dissolved. (Those water marks are shown on the right side of my test sheets close to the names of the pens.) Although all the inks are roughly the same shade of black when applied to white paper, some look very different after being washed with water. Often the wash is much bluer, and in a few cases turns brownish. The Kuretake No. 14 Pocket Brush and the Pentel Fude Touch Brush Sign Pen both washed with such pale smears that I don’t really consider them water-soluble for my purposes (yet neither is described as being waterproof by JetPens). If I’m going to wash a line for shading, I want the shading to be rich and strong, which is the case for most of the other pens. The Sakura Koi, the Tombow and the Zebra pens all washed to particularly dark shades.
Long-term Ink Permanence
The big surprise came a couple of weeks after I made the test sheets. Experimenting with a drawing I’d done earlier, I realized that the ink that had washed previously was now permanent. Curious, I went back to the test sheets and made a new waterbrush mark (shown on the left side of the test sheets) on each of the original lines. Most still responded in the same way as before, but the Zebra Double-Sided Brush Pen, the Kuretake No. 55, the two Kuretake Fudegokochi pens (regular and super-fine) and the Pentel Fude Touch Brush Sign Pen all diminished in solubility. In fact, the two Fudegokochi and Pentel pens were essentially waterproof after the passage of those weeks, showing no solubility at all.
Since I generally finish a sketch in one sitting and wash lines immediately after making them, the delayed permanence is not a factor I would consider as long as I knew an ink was soluble to begin with. But if you make a line drawing first and continue working on it quite a bit later, it’s something to consider. And the delay might be a favorable feature if you want your work to be insoluble for the long run.
All inks behaved well and showed no feathering or significant bleed-through on Field Notes 60-pound Finch Opaque Smooth paper. Even though I know this Field Notes paper is not intended for wet media and has performed poorly with water in the past, just for kicks, I put water on the test lines. As expected, the beautiful washes I got on the 98-pound paper were nearly non-existent on the 60-pound Finch. (My experience with other Field Notes papers is that this difference is primarily due to the sizing on the paper’s surface, not the weight. For example, I get satisfactory washes on Domtar Earth Choice 60-pound paper found in the Field Notes Lunacy edition.) However, even where water was applied, only the Winsor Newton ink bled through.
Although I tested only black inks in this review series, it should be noted that the Tombow, Sakura Koi, Pentel Fude Touch Brush Sign Pens and Winsor Newton markers all come in a zillion colors, and their water-soluble qualities make them ideal for blending like watercolors.
As with the waterproof felt-tip pens, I experienced the same crankiness with some caps that have to be reversed before they can be posted! This time the guilty parties are the Kuretake No. 55 and Kuretake No. 33 (which will both most likely suffer an early demise because I keep inadvertently jamming their tips into the wrong end of the caps when I replace them after posting).
My favorites from this group? Despite that cranky cap, the double-sided Kuretake No. 55 is my overall fave because the two distinctly different tip sizes offer a remarkably wide range of marks in one convenient pen – important for an urban sketcher like me who carries her studio in her bag. (Conversely, the two tips on the double-sided Zebra and double-sized Winsor Newton are too similar to offer the same range.) Its ink washes beautifully, and the Kuretake No. 55’s notably squeaky tip is also standing up well to my firm pressure. For richness in wash color as well as a good range in line width, I also like both the single- and double-sided Zebras and the Kuretake No. 33.
The Morning Glory Mach Campus Rollerball Pen in 0.28 mm with Stripe Body and Black Ink ($1.95) is part of the Morning Glory Mach Campus Rollerball Pen line-up, which are available with blue, black or red ink and all with 0.28mm tips. When I ordered it, most of the line was sold out. Knowing how much I liked the Morning Glory Mach 3, I was not surprised. While the Campus Rollerball Pens do not come in nearly the array of colors that the Mach 3 line is available in, the fineness of the tip more than makes up for it.
The tip is needlepoint fine and writes well at any angle. I had no issues with it hard starting or giving me any grief as a result of being left handed or writing upside down, sideways or at any other janky angle.
And the Campus Rollerball writes TINY. I decided I need to compare how small I could write, without much effort, with something most people would be familiar with so I pulled out a Sharpie Pen and attempted to write as small as possible with it. You can see how quickly the cross bars and centers of the letters started to fill in on the Sharpie Pen writing on the right compared to the Campus Rollerball Pen writing on the left. These were done on the same page and were not resized or composed in anyway. I just scanned them in as is.
The Campus is a capped pen which might not be the favored model for everyone but the cap posts with a good solid click which means its not going to pop off. Since it is liquid ink, capping it closed before putting it away also means its not going to accidentally leak onto paper or an item of clothing in your bag like a retractable pen (Retro 51, I’m looking at you!)