Category: Pen Review

My First Fountain Pen(s)

Review by Laura Cameron

I’m new around here, but I have a confession to make: I might be addicted to pens.

From left to right: Retro 51 Tornado Rollerball in Pink, Twinkle and Fountain Pen, Pilot Metropolitan Pops in Turquoise and Lime and TWSBI Eco in Lime.

I’ve been around pen enthusiasts for years. My father can always be found with a pen in his shirt pocket and, more often than not, it’s a fountain pen with a fine nib and peacock blue ink.  When I moved to Kansas City almost a decade ago, Ana and I met through other shared interests (knitting and tea), but it wasn’t long before I was a regular reader of the Well-Appointed Desk.

Almost two years ago now, I had a taste of my first gateway drug: a Retro 51 Tornado Rollerball. It was pink and I was in love. It wrote so smoothly, and I loved the weight of the metal pen in my hand. It wasn’t long before another Retro came to live in my house. This time it was the Retro Tornado Limited Edition Twinkle.  I saw it and I had to have one.

It took a little longer for me to move onto the “hard stuff.” I’m a left-hander and all I remembered from trying fountain pens as a kid was that I smeared the ink all over my hands and I thought fountain pens were fussy.  

But in late 2016, while listening to the Pen Addict and idly browsing Pen Chalet, I found a deal that was too good to pass up. I ordered a Lamy Safari in Dark Lilac and a box of the Dark Lilac Ink to match. 

And I hated it. I feel bad even saying that, but it just wasn’t a good match for me. I really disliked the angled (molded) grip the most, but I also didn’t how lightweight it felt. I used it halfheartedly for a few weeks and then sold it to what I hope was its forever home.

I mulled my options over. And then I went back to my favorite dealer and ordered something I hoped I would truly love: a Retro Tornado Medium Nib in Black Cherry. It arrived and I took a few weeks to load it with ink, afraid that I’d be let down once again. I don’t even think I told Ana I was experimenting with pens and inks. Eventually, I loaded it with a black cartridge and played a little bit. The feel was SO much better. I really wanted the weight of a metal pen in my hand, and a smooth grip really pleased me. The medium nib let the ink flow beautifully.

Then I saw several reviews of Robert Oster’s Fire & Ice and I wanted that particular ink so badly. I had to wait until it was back in stock, but finally it was mine. And it was a perfect match. I’ve been trying other pens lately, contemplating additional purchases, but I still go back to the Tornado most of the time. I just can’t beat the “high” of the right pen and ink.

A few weeks ago Ana generously lent me a few other pens to try out. One was a Pilot Metropolitan Retro Pop Turquoise with a fine nib. I immediately gravitated towards this one because it was more of what I liked: a metal body that had some weight to it, a round smooth grip, and a nib that let ink flow smoothly. Another confession: within a few days of testing Ana’s out, I had ordered a green one for myself.

The second pen I had been jonesing for was a TWSBI Eco. This one was obviously a little different in terms of materials and style than what I knew I liked, but I was fascinated by the clear model where you could just twist it to load the ink. I dithered about purchasing one until Ana offered me hers to try.  At first I wasn’t sure about it. The TWSBI is a bigger pen than either the Retro or the Pilot, and of course it’s a plastic body.  But I used it for a few days and it grew on me so I expect one to come live with me soon. Ana’s TWSBI Eco has a fine nib and that was probably the least pleasant nib I tested. I found it to feel kind of scratchy on paper, so I’m looking forward to trying one with a medium nib to see if that feels better.

The final pen that I wanted to play with was a freebie that I received from Goldspot with my first order. It was a Jinhao 599A Orange Demonstrator pen. It didn’t have any of my preferred options (it’s plastic, it has an angled [molded] grip, etc.) but I eagerly inked it up with a sample ink and wanted to test it.  However, I was really disappointed because it leaked everywhere. I think the seal between the feed and the barrel was defective because I kept ending up with ink blobs on my page every time I pulled it out. Since it was a freebie I have to admit I chucked it.

I’ve enjoyed a lot of things about this new addiction of mine. First of all, there are some really lovely pen people who have a lot of knowledge and are generous about sharing that knowledge. I have added quite a few blogs and Instagram feeds to my daily routine, and I’ve also found some great stores to work with. All of the pens that I’ve spoken about above are available for less than $50, which I consider to be a reasonable starting fee. The Pilot Metropolitan is a steal at under $15 (via Jetpens) and looks and feels fun to boot. I’ve really enjoyed learning about what features I like the most and I’ve also enjoyed spending the time with analog tools. I spend so much of my day typing, that it’s nice to get back to writing with nice pens and ink. I’ve also noticed my writing style change. In the last several years I’ve developed a very heavy hand. I grip my pen fairly hard, and I tend to press down hard on paper when writing. I don’t know that I was aware I was doing it, except now I’m lighter and easier with a fountain pen, I am happier with the results.

So, I guess the only question is what’s my next pen?

(Editors Note: Today is Laura’s birthday and her first post here on The Well-Appointed Desk so please leave her lots of nice comments and a birthday wish or two, okay?)

Laura Cameron is a tech editor, podcaster, knitter, spinner and recent pen addict. You can learn more about her knitting and tea adventures on her website, The Corner of Knit & Tea and can find her on Instagram as Fluffykira.

Pen Review: Montegrappa Game of Thrones Ballpoint & Rollerball Pens

Montegrappa has mastered the art of the licensed pen with the Game of Thrones collection. They created four pens to represent major families represented in the series: House Stark, House Lannister, House Targaryen and House Baratheon.  From the packaging to the aesthetics of the pens, Montegrappa managed to do high-end licensed pens right.

I was lucky enough to get to take the House Stark ballpoint and the House Lannister rollerball out for a test drive.

While I am not normally interested in packaging, for a licensed product, I think it shows that care was taken. The box is paperboard-wrapped but iconography representing other houses from Game of Thrones is included on the box and the artwork is very nice.

The artwork even wraps around to the front creating a seamless look. There was time and energy put into making the packaging pleasing. For a fan and a collector who is spending money on something they love, this makes a difference and is appreciated.

Inside, the box is a standard velveteen lining that lifts out to reveal the instruction booklet, refill, etc. The ruby red color of the lining is fine for the House Stark pen but is a little clashy for the House Lannister.

There was even an effort made to include Game of Thrones graphics on the Montegrappa Unser Manual cover. Now on to the details of the pens themselves.

My favorite details of the pens were the clips. Each clip is carved to resemble the family’s symbol. In the case of House Lannister, the clip is a lion’s head. The cap is printed in gold with a stylized rose pattern.

The top of the cap is embossed with the motto of the Lannisters, “Hear me roar.” All the details of the pen are in yellow gold over a red lacquered finish.

The House Stark clip is carved into a wolf and the cap features rune designs in palladium over smooth, white lacquer.

The top of the cap is embossed with the wolf again and the motto “Winter is coming.”

Both pens feature the “Game of Thrones™” logo on the cap band. In the case of the ballpoint, its a twist mechanism so its not technically a cap but the placement is the same.

On to the actual functionality of the pens. The rollerball pen is a bit narrower overall at the grip section than the ballpoint as is shown in the photo above (gold House Lannister on the left is rollerball, palladium and white House Stark on the right is ballpoint).

Since the rollerball has a removable cap, the pen is lighter and shorter, or can be. Though the cap can be posted, I was a bit nervous to post the cap. I was worried the cap might chip the finish. I found that posting the cap threw the balance off on the rollerball. It wrote fine and was long enough for me without posting but I am not a cap-poster in general.

The ballpoint’s slightly wider width was just a bit too wide in my hand. I think most people with normal, adult-sized hands wouldn’t notice but in my pixie-sized hands I felt like I was holding a My First Crayon.

As for the actually refills included, the House Lannister appeared to have a standard Euro/G2 rollerball refill which was pleasant enough to use. I didn’t have any to swap in as my supplies are seriously depleted but Monteverde makes a wide range of colors and widths. A red would probably be most appropriate in the House Lannister. The House Stark ballpoint takes a standard Parker-style refill so the pen refill world is your oyster here. Montegrappa shipped it with a black refill but a broad blue might a good option if “Winter is coming.”

  • Montegrappa Game of Thrones Rollerball Pens MSRP: $325
  • Montegrappa Game of Thrones Ballpoint Pens MSRP: $295

There is, of course, a fountain pen version of the pens as well for $350 MSRP that feature a steel nib.

The bottomline is that Montegrappa did a great job on high-end licensed products for a rabid fandom community. If Cross had put as much attention and care into their Star Wars pens, they would have had something worthy of the price tag they were charging. I believe Montegrappa has positioned themselves to be able to approach other brands and get the licenses they want. Hello, Harry Potter? Gryffindor! Hufflepuff! Ravenclaw! Slytherin! Hello, Lord of the Rings? Elves, Hobbits, Rangers, Riders of Rohan, Dwarves… Eye of Sauron enamel on the top of the cap? How about Wizard of Oz? Their DC pens were just okay but with the GoT, Montegrappa has proven that they can extend themselves… so grab that Marvel license. Steal that Star Wars license from Cross and do it right! Then you’ll have Disney on your side and can do Mickey, Minnie, the Incredibles, Monsters, Inc… the list is endless!

Check with your favorite pen boutique (maybe from the sidebar of this website?) to see who is stocking the Game of Thrones pens. And thanks to Kenro for letting me play in the world of Westeros.

DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by Kenro Industries for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Fountain Pen Review: Sailor 1911 Fresca Regular with Fine Nib

Last year, I fell in love with Sailor pens when I purchased my first Pro Gear Slim, the Bungbox Pink Love and then later acquired the rare Purple Lamé which featured a custom ground super fine nib. I had not braved purchasing a larger Sailor pen because I have so enjoyed the compact Slim size but when I saw the Sailor 1911 Fresca regular size ($196), I knew the time had come for me to “level up.” The Fresca is a North America exclusive colorway (the knitter in me is inclined to refer to them as “colorways,” that’s how we refer to yarn color schemes).  The solid turquoise with chrome trim and 14K nib all shiny silvery is just stunning and the slender cigar shape with simple  clip design is classic and timeless.

The only branding on the exterior of the pen is the etched “Sailor” name on the cap band. Very tasteful.

The nib is classic Sailor all the way with the etched anchor and “1911” along with the decorative filigrees and, of course, “14K 585” and “Sailor” at the base of the nib. Next to Pilot’s smiley Kakuno nibs, the Sailor nib design is one of my favorite stock modern nib design.

From left to right: Aurora Style, Pilot Metropolitan, Kaweco Sport, Sailor 1911 regular size and Sailor Pro Gear Slim

I really didn’t need to worry about the size of the standard 1911 pen. It is really about the same size as a Metropolitan and since its an acrylic/resin/plastic (don’t me hold to the material because I don’t actually know what it is made of) its quite light. The Metropolitan feels weightier. The barrel is the same diameter as the Pro Gear Slim and when uncapped, its just the little cigar shaped taper at the end that is longer. So, it’s not a huge pen.

Posted, the 1911 is 20gms, making it lighter than an AL-Star. Unposted, the 1911 weighs 11gms which is lighter than a Kaweco Sport in plastic posted so the Fresca is not heavy at all.

Finally, in writing tests, with some of my new Robert Oster Australian Opal Mauve, the fine nib was a perfect smooth, light line for a bright, light pen. With the fineness of the nib and the gold nib, I got a little flex… not FLEX flex, but the nib was light and easy to write with. It was not a “hard as nails” nib. I think this is where the Sailor nibs excel. I have a music nib on my Pink Love and that’s a lot of nib material so there’s not as much lightness to the nib. Both the Purple Lamé and the Fresca have finer nibs and there’s more flexibility to the nibs so they are a much more pleasurable experience to write with. These are the gold nibs that make people talk about why they like gold nibs better. I think its the same reason why I tend to favor felt and fiber tip marker pens — that flex that adds some variation to the writing line weight, that shows some shading to the ink, when you get excited, or bored, or angry or enthusiastic as you write and it shows? I love that and when a pen is nail hard, those characteristics don’t show. So, if you have the means to invest in a Sailor pen (or a Sharpie pen) — try one out and let some of that expression come out in your writing.

I purchased this pen from Anderson Pens with my own money and all opinions here are my own. Anderson Pens are one of my sponsors so if you do decide to buy a Fresca, it sure would be nice if you purchased it from any one of my lovely sponsors who are currently stocking them and letting them know you heard about them here. Thanks.

Pen Review: Copic Multiliners 0.3 4-Pack

I bought the Copic 0.3 Wine refill for my Multiliner SP  to use during  Inktober last October on a whim. I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy using a contrasting color for linework. It’s a bit of a challenge to find the refills for the SPs so when I found the Copic Multiliner 0.3 Pen Set ($12.50) with Cobalt, Olive, Sepia, and Wine, I purchased it immediately. I’ve actually been using these for several weeks but haven’t gotten a chance to write the review until now.

The pen barrels are unusually glittery plastic with a solid-colored, rounded bottom end and a matching, solid-colored flat cap. The logos and text on the barrels is printed in white ink and is mostly inoffensive. The clip on the cap is solid-colored plastic, attached to the top flat part. Its not super-sturdy but it does keep the pen from rolling away particularly if you have the pens on your book, lap or the couch.

The transition between the barrel and the traditional felt/fiber metal tip is an almost-smooth conical transition. You’ll either like this or hate this. I found it fairly non-distracting but I like the more stepped design of the Copic Multiliner SP, which is probably the more traditional technical pen design.

As for the actual colors, I loved getting a way to try out all four of the deep tone colors available for the Copic Multiliners in one convenient package. The wine color still remains my favorite but the cobalt and olive are also great options for other linework possibilities. I burn through felt tip points so fast, I still much prefer to use the SP line and replace just the tips as needed, even though I realize the cost to replace the tip is on par with replacing the whole pen. Somehow, it just feels more environmentally more sound to only throw away the tip, not a whole pen.

If you have never tried colored waterproof, COPIC-proof (fancy term for alcohol-marker proof) fineline, felt/fiber markers before, this set is a great way to try them without investing in a whole system.

If you already know you like felt/fiber tip markers, I recommend investing in the Multiliner SP pens. You can pretty much buy any size pen body (despite what the number says on the tube). Once you own one, you can put any tip and any ink refill into it and ignore the number on the barrel. Just be sure you use the right refill for the tip (smaller tips need the A refill, bigger tips need the B refill). If you want the colored ink refills, head over to MarkerPop, they are the best source I know to get all the SP colored ink refills for SPs.

From my Inktober 2016 Challenge: I drew the “Knitters Alphabet” using Copic SP 0.3mm in Wine and Copic Sketch markers and the ArtSnacks Inktober Sketchbook

DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by JetPens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Fountain Pen Review: Aurora Style Gemstone Aquamarine EF Fountain Pen

The Aurora Style Aquamarine Fountain Pen with extra fine nib is probably one of the most budget-friendly Italian pens. The pen price is $85 at the time of this review which is pretty reasonable. Aurora makes their own nibs so there is real appeal to being able to get an Aurora for less than $100, even with a steel nib.

The Style Gemstone line features three pastel colors that each feature smooth, glossy exteriors. There is another Style line called “Resin” featuring more jewel tones and traditional colors, that is specifically called out as using resin for the cap and body but nowhere could I find information that definitively confirmed that the Gemstone line used resin. If anyone can confirm the material used for the Gemstone line, please let me know in the comments.

The cap features an angled, flat surface with a chrome, disc shape that mimics the shape of the Aurora logo. The clip is a sleek simple shape in chrome and the band at the bottom of the cap is also chrome with “Aurora” and “Italy” engraved discreetly into it. The pen body is rounded and tapers into a cigar shape. The grip section is black and separated from the body by a chrome ring. The overall effect, with the solid pastel color, is very retro.

The pen is a snap cap which might take some getting used to, if you usually use threaded caps.

Because of the lightness of the materials, the Style is not a very heavy pen. Uncapped and unposted, with a converter, it weighs only 14gms. Posted, it weighs 22gms. The cap will post if you prefer a weightier pen.

From left to right: For size comparison: Aurora Style, Pilot Metropolitan, Kaweco Sport, Sailor 1911 regular size and Sailor Pro Gear Slim

The nib has a nice etched decorative line, the size and “Aurora” marked on it. Simplicity at its finest.

As much as I was drawn to the looks of the Aurora Style, it was the nib I was most curious about trying. How would a steel nib form Aurora actually perform? I was most surprised to discover that the EF nib had quite a bit of bounce to it. The nib is very smooth, right out of the box and I was able to use it both holding it below the baseline and overhanded (weird left-handed style).

A big stumbling block is that the Style does not ship with a cartridge converter in the box. If you are inclined to use bottled inks, you’ll want to add a cartridge converter ($16.50) to your order. Aurora uses a proprietary converter and cartridges. Parker cartridges will also work with Aurora pens but I couldn’t find any pen shops that would confirm that the Parker cartridge converters would which is a bit of a bummer because they are half the price of the Aurora converters.

So, the addition of the converter brings the Style price up to $101 which does make me reconsider the Aurora Style a little bit. At $85, it was easier to put the Style as a step up from TWSBI 580 at $50-60 but at $101, the Style is in that “over $100” range. For me, I suspect the Aurora Style is priced to be a competitor to the Pelikan M200/M205 which is priced around $130-150.  Where I had issues with flow from the entry level Pelikans, the Aurora Style worked fine from the box but I think the Pelikans look a little bit more high end than the Style does. However, I really like the look and feel of the Aurora Style and I like the nib of Style a whole lot better than my few experiences with Pelikan thus far.

For another perspective of the Aurora Style,  see the video review from Waski Squirrel on YouTube. He purchased the Aurora Style in Rose Quartz with a Broad nib.

DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by JetPens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Pen Review: Weight of Words Fountain Pen (Fine Nib)

This morning I noticed several other people posting about their YStudio The Weight of Words Brassing Portable Fountain Pens so it must be in the air this week. These somewhat rare little gems from Taiwan seem to be making their way around the world and ending up in the hands of many fountain pen fans. Dries at The Pencilcase Blog in Europe posted his pure brass COPPER version today and Leigh posted one she got in Singapore today as well. So… around the world in brassing pens!

The packaging is fantastic and normally I don’t care much about packaging. However, if the packaging can have secondary use for storage later and doesn’t look too overly branded then YEAH! for good packaging. The Weight of Words pen comes in a deep stained wood box with paperboard lining that can be removed  making the outer box fully reusable. There’s a thumb hole to remove the lid and the only branding on the box is the company name and the characters for what I assume is the name of the pen in Chinese on the lid in gold foil. Very simple and elegant.

Under the lid is a piece of fine grit sand paper and an instruction booklet for the pen, including on how to use the sand paper to weather and age your pen to look more worn. I’m not sure I can bring myself to do that as I like how my pen looks as is at the moment but I’ll hold on to the sandpaper for now in case I change my mind.

Inside the box is the die cut layers of recyclable corrugated cardboard (not foamcore!) to hold the pen, wood carrying tub and lanyard in place. I got the black lacquered copperBRASS version of the pen.

The carrying tube is wood (I think) with a slit at the top to  allow the cap of the pen to stick out of the top. Its a clever design element. The leather lanyard ties can be threaded through the cap of the pen and then looped on to a bag loop, key fob, or whatever else you can think of. The pen cap clicks into place rather than a twist mechanism making it a nice option for everyday quick writing.

Its a smaller pen so its probably not something a lot of people would want for long writing sessions and the cap does not post. For my small hands though the brass added enough weight to make it comfortable to use for note taking and on-and-off use throughout the day.

The nib is a standard Schmidt fine nib. Pretty and scaled to fit the pen overall.

When the pen is wrapped up tight in its carrying case and with a leather lanyard attached it looks pretty unique.

The Schmidt nib means its a good writer and it comes with a converter.

Since this pen is quite hard to come by I won’t torture you with price points and availability. If you’re in the EU or Asia, keep an eye out in your local stationery or pen shop for YStudio products because they are worth taking a look at. If you’re in the US and planning to travel, leave some room in your shopping budget for the possibility of seeing one of these in the wild. Maybe they will wash up on our shores sometime soon.

EDIT: Thanks to Dries for catching my errors. I really shouldn’t write my reviews at 6AM!

Kickstarter: DUO Everyday Ballpoint Pen and Stylus

One of the most recent Kickstarter projects to cross my path is the DUO Ballpoint Pen and Stylus. It’s a slim aluminum, twist retractable ballpoint pen with a stylus tip on the reverse end.

For my tech-savvy friends out there, the stylus is a 6mm Wacom Bamboo Stylus tip and actually works really well on my iPhone and iPad. I haven’t had a chance to put it to the test using any of my drawing apps yet but navigating through email, and regular touch interface worked fine. As someone who uses a Wacom Intuos Pro tablet and a Cintiq, I’m pretty picky about touch capabilities and the Bamboo Stylus worked well enough to not make me crazy. Often, my fingers are so cold that they don’t actually work on my touchscreens so having the DUO handy is actually a bit of a blessing.

The pen is slim and small enough to fit into a pocket, even some of those ridiculous “girl jeans” pockets. The anodized color is pretty without being flashy and is available in four colors: gunmetal grey, copper orange, satin black, and my peppy electric blue which is a lovely turquoise color. The etched crescent moon is the only branding on the pen which is subtle and makes me feel a bit like Sailor Moon.

The pen takes a standard Cross ballpoint refill. I’d say the Cross ballpoint refill is a fairly common refill but there are not a lot of options with this particular refill. It is a “ballpoint only” refill. There are not any gel or rollerball options available. Monteverde makes a version of this refill in Medium or Broad in their “soft roll” and the medium tip option is available in ten colors but that’s the extent of your options.

Most big box office supply stores (i.e. Office Depot, Staples, etc) or your local pen shop should have the Cross ballpoint refill in stock in some variation. Places like RefillFinder, Amazon, and Cult Pens list the Cross refill on their site. I know Vanness Pens and Anderson Pens stock the Cross ballpoint refill in store but don’t list them on their site so if you’re ordering from them, you may want to call in or email and ask to have them add a couple to your next order.

The DUO can be backed for £20 for one pen as an Early Bird for one pen and one refill and they estimate shipping in July of 2017.

DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by 529Studio for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.