Fountain Pen Review: Zebra Zensations

Review by Tina Koyama

In general, I avoid pens (and other products) that are disposable, but I can think of two circumstances under which a disposable fountain pen makes perfect sense: One is when it might be inked and forgotten for a long time. The other is as a gift to the curious but not yet convinced. Under both circumstances, a disposable fountain pen has one job: It must behave like a gel, rollerball or ballpoint pen that requires no maintenance or thought beyond the color of ink it may dispense.

If that’s the one job, the Zebra Zensations ($3) is doing it – and very well.

Available in seven colors, it comes with a 0.6mm nib (which happens to be my ideal basic writing nib size). It has many competitors, and I pulled out a few I happen to have, including the Pilot Varsity ($3), Platinum Preppy ($4) and Pilot Petit1 ($3.80).

The Zensations has a pleasing, secure snap when the cap is engaged (unlike the Varsity, which feels mushy, and the Preppy, which takes more muscle to pull off than I ever expect). Of the four plastic pens, I prefer the Zensations body and design for looking the most fountain-pen-like. The barrel has a narrow window for checking the ink level.

As for writing quality, the Zensations’ steel nib is solid, reliable and surprisingly smooth – no skipping, blobbing or scratchiness. It started writing immediately – no initial scribbling needed.

Used only sporadically in the four months that I’ve had it, the Zensations always starts writing upon demand without priming, which is more than I can say for some much more expensive fountain pens. The purple ink I chose (which matches the body) dries quickly (no lefty smudges in my writing sample, which was done in a Leuchtturm 1917 notebook).

Frankly, considering that all four pens cost $4 or less, they all write remarkably well and – dare I say it? – behave as close to a rollerball or gel pen as any fountain pen could. Which brings me back to how I began this review. While I don’t value pens for being designed to be tossed when empty, sometimes I want and appreciate the writing feel of a fountain pen nib even when I won’t be using it much. A case in point is the little Lihit Lab pouch I take with me only on fitness walks. I could drop a Zensations into that bag, forget about it for weeks or months and still feel confident that it would work well when I needed it.

In addition, I think a Zebra Zensations would be an ideal candidate for pushing your curious-but-cautious friends over to the fountain pen side of the fence. I know that the Lamy Safari and Pilot Metropolitan are often cited as good “starter” pens for their low entry cost. But as “real” fountain pens, they still require filling and occasional flushing (and I sure wouldn’t want a newbie to leave a Safari idle for six months and then roughly prime it like a ballpoint pen when it doesn’t write! Yes, I know someone who did this). The Zensations is more of a transitional fountain pen that gives the uninitiated a chance to learn to appreciate what it feels like to write with a pleasant nib – but without the fuss.

Tina Koyama is an urban sketcher in Seattle. Her blog is Fueled by Clouds & Coffee, and you can follow her on Instagram as Miatagrrl.

DISCLAIMER: The items included in this review were provided free of charge by JetPens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

What the heck is White Lightning?

What the heck is White Lightning?

Vanness Pen Shop has released their first ink product and it’s an additive for ink to help improve the drying time and flow of “dry inks”. Dry inks are the inks that may cause a pen to hard start or are overly pigmented. Some inks might have excessively long dry times, particularly on certain papers. The product is called White Lightning Ink Additive ($5.95 for 1oz bottle).

Good candidates for White Lightning might be the Kyo-No-Oto or Kyo-Iro inks. Some Robert Oster inks. I’m thinking Aurora Blue Black might have improved dry time with the addition of White Lightning. And that’s just a few I can name off the top of my head. There are probably many one-off ink colors that have frustrated and annoyed.

White Lightning Ink Additive

So, how do you use White Lightning? It’s easy. Take the offending ink and add 5ml to a sample vial. Add one drop of White Lightning to start. Shake up the mixture. Then fill a pen from the sample vial.

Never add White Lightning directly to a whole bottle of ink. Dispense ink into a smaller container and use a ratio of 5ml to 1 drop or 10ml to 1 drop. Be sure to label your container after you’ve dded White Lightning to the ink.

The above sample was done using Robert Oster Carolina Blue with a broad nib on a Leonardo Momento Zero (reviewed earlier this week). The ink is extremely pigmented and writes quite dry. One drop in 5ml made the ink much better behaved and improved flow dramatically.

One bottle of White Lightning should last a lifetime. Unless you’re me.

DISCLAIMER: The items included in this review were provided free of charge by Vanness Pen Shop for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Notebook Review: Wild Pages

By Jessica Coles

The Chicago pen show was a great show in 2019 (not that it isn’t every year!) due to hard work from the organizers, fun people, and new vendors.  I always love to see new vendors at shows; they prove that the pen community is growing.  Plus they bring new stuff to check out!

One of the newest vendors at the Chicago show was Wild Pages. My table happened to be next to the Wild Pages table so I was able to see the amount of traffic that was drawn in by the brightly colored notebooks.

In order to demonstrate their paper, Wild Pages had pieces of their journal paper and various pens available.  A smart way to introduce a new type of paper to the fountain pen crowd.

Wild Pages brought four types of notebooks. I couldn’t resist grabbing both a large and a medium to take home.  It was a bit tough to choose the color – all of the colors were beautifully distracting! Prices were clearly labeled on their sign.

Finally, I did choose a large purple notebook (9.7 x 6.5 inches) and a medium (6.5 x 4.9 inches) in a light coral. The covers are made of a medium weight cardstock.

Inside, each notebook is made of two signatures (a group of pages that are folded together) of white paper for a total of 48 sheets (96 pages). Each signature is sewn into a fold in the center of the cover and includes an elastic band.

This band is looped around the folded ends of the cover, so it is easy to remove if you would prefer to go band-less.

The only mark on the entire notebook is a printed logo on the bottom of the last page.

Here’s a closeup of the logo so you don’t need to squint!

Now for the paper.  The owners of Wild Pages understandably didn’t want to give too much information about the origin of the paper in their notebooks, although we were told it is made in the US. The surface is just a bit shiny and smooth to the touch, but there is some tooth to it when writing.

First came tests of various inks and gelatos in the larger notebook. I wanted to see how the pages could stand up to various mediums.

There was no bleed through with these inks, although there is a tiny spot where I laid down quite a bit of Taccia Midori ink.  I did notice the tiniest bit of feathering with heavier inks, however, I could only see it when the page was two inches from my eyeball.  There is a good amount of ghosting (being able to see the writing on the back side of the page), but if this bothers anyone, a dark sheet of paper behind the page masks the writing.

Then it was time to throw a wide variety of pens and inks at the notebook – I love this part since I get out all of the fun pens! I also conducted this testing on the medium notebook so I could make sure the quality was the same.

If you look closely, the Sharpie did feather a bit. Oh, Sharpie. However, the Sharpie didn’t fully bleed through; there was no ink on the next page. The metallic Gelly Roll pen and the Pentel Sparkle Pop had small spots where they nearly bled through. But not nearly as much as I was expecting; these are two pens that are usually second only to a Sharpie in bleeding through paper.

So I decided to increase the challenge. I purchased a folded nib at the Chicago show that hadn’t been used yet.  It paired perfectly with a bottle of J. Herbin Rouge Hematite! Dry time on this page was faster than Tomoe River paper, slower than watercolor paper.

All that ink and no bleeding through! I was shocked.

One thing I noticed with this super sheeny ink was specifically the quality of the sheen.  I’ve included a photo of the same ink on Tomoe River 52gsm paper below to demonstrate.  The color of the sheen is the same on both papers, however, the sheen on the Wild Pages paper appears matte rather than metallic.

I love the difference between the two.

To make sure it wasn’t an effect that was confined to one ink, I also grabbed some Bungubox First Love Sapphire. Please excuse the slight smearing of the ink.  My cats decided to investigate before the ink was completely dry.  It is no fault of the paper!

Again, the color of the sheen shows as usual, but the surface is matte rather than metallic.

Still no bleed through!

I am enjoying these notebooks from Wild Pages thoroughly. The price per page ($0.15 for the medium and $0.23 for the large) does put the notebooks among the more highly priced available, but for the new type of paper, a new company and hand-sewn bindings, I believe they are worth the cost.

The last thing that should be noted: these covers are absolutely perfect for the stickers you have been saving up!

DISCLAIMER: Some of the items included in this review were provided free of charge for the purpose of review. Others were purchased by me. Please see the About page for more details.


Galen Leather A5 Leuchtturm 1917 Notebook Folio

Galen Leather A5 Leuchtturm 1917 Notebook Folio

Those kraft paper boxes from Galen Leather are always so enticing. Inside, there is always some wonderfully constructed leather case to cradle a notebook or piece of technology. Or both. So when this box arrived, I couldn’t wait to lift the cover and see what was inside.

Galen Leather A5 Leuchtturm 1917 cover

Squeee!!!! I already own a 3-pen case made from the Crazy Horse leather that I have carried everyday since I got it but have been wanting to try their green Crazy Horse leather for some time. The A5 Leuchtturm 1917 notebook folio ($119) is the perfect companion to my pen case. Oh, the green leather is stunning. And the crazy horse leather is pre-destressed which means you don’t have to worry about scratching it or scuffing it. That first scratch is already on the material.

The leather is solid but supple. The case will provide a firm writing surface and protect your notebook and associated ephemera while the leather is also pleasing to the touch and flexible.

Galen Leather A5 Leuchtturm 1917 cover

Inside the case, on the lefthand side are slots for business cards or credit cards, secretary pockets for papers, larger loops for cords and larger tools, a key ring and a removable 4-pen loop board. The slot on the right for the A5 notebook is split at the top make putting a hardcover in easier. The interior material is a microsuede but the pockets on the left are leather. There are even leather patches on the elastics built into the case.

Galen Leather A5 Leuchtturm 1917 cover

When the pen loop board is moved, there are more spaces on the interior for squirreling paper ephemera. I couldn’t wait to try loading it up with some of my goods. Since elastic is the one element most likely to wear out faster than anything else in this case, I’m glad that the pen board is removable. I hope that Galen Leather will offer replacement boards in the future (or board repair) since the case will probably far outlast the pen board.

Galen Leather A5 Leuchtturm 1917 cover

Without the pen board, I used the top slots to hold two pens. The slots are a bit a loose but if the pens have clips, they can be clipped to the elastics. Then the inner pocket on the left can be used to hold a notepad.

Galen Leather A5 Leuchtturm 1917 cover

With the pen board filled, and even more pens in the additional slots, including a Wacom Pen and the cable, I have the case filled to capacity. In the secretary pocket, I put my Traveler’s Notebook-sized Ink Journal and the notebook is my Ink Journal Tomoe River Endless Recorder.

The more I think about this case, the more ways I can think to put the pockets to use. I think, without the writing board, a phone will probably fit in the front pocket.  That would make this a great case for meetings and conferences. Load it with a notebook, biz cards, your phone, a pen and pencil, some 3×5″s and maybe tuck your bank card/hotel card and a few dollars in here and you would be set for a whole day of seminars, meetings, etc.

I haven’t used the key fob yet but I really like it. It’s a great use of leftover leather and I love that it clips into the case. For me, my car key is an enormous key/alarm pod that would not comfortably fit inside the case but I may try to utilize the fob with the clip in my bag.

Galen Leather A5 Leuchtturm 1917 cover

With all the pens inside, I was able to zip it shut with no issues. I love the super tough zippers that Galen Leather uses on their products. I never have any issues with them sticking.

Galen Leather A5 Leuchtturm 1917 cover

Based on my previous experience with the Crazy Horse leather pen case, I am confident that this case will soften with use making it easier to over stuff it, should the need arise. Of the cases from Galen Leather, this is probably my favorite thus far.

DISCLAIMER: The items included in this review were provided free of charge by Galen Leather for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Link Love: By The Numbers

Link Love: By The Numbers

This week’s links seems to be all about the numbers: three Lamy pastels, eight Nakayas, and 700 inks — just to name a few. There’s six brush pens, seven grammar tools, two 3 Oysters inks, and a tweet… “I don’t know who needs to hear this, but you already have six blank notebooks at home.”

Link(s) of the Week:

Thanks to Bob for our Link of the Week this week. The first one is purely for entertainment.




Notebooks & Paper:

Art & Creativity:

Other Interesting Things:

Fountain Pen Review: Diplomat Traveller (Flame, Medium Nib)

A few months ago Ana let me use her lime green Diplomat Traveller and I liked it quite a bit. So I thought it was very sweet when she presented me with a Diplomat Traveller in Flame ($52.00) for my birthday (and review!)

Back in 2017 I reviewed a Diplomat Excellence A, and the thing I love most about that pen were all the details that went into it! In some ways the Traveller feels the same, albeit at a much lower price point. So let’s start at the beginning.

The Traveller is a sleek and slim designed fountain pen. It features Diplomat’s signature clip and imprinted nibs, in a smooth body design. The Traveller comes in a variety of colors including Black Lacquer, Black Matte, Stainless Steel/Gold, Lumi Blue, Lumi Green and Flame. The Flame colorway is achieved by treating the body with fire which creates a unique finish for each pen. Ana knew I had a Kaweco Liliput in Fire Blue and knew I loved it; this has made the perfect set with the two!

The Traveller measures approximately 4 5/8″/11.75cm end cap to nib tip, and 5 3/8″/13.5cm from end to end when capped. The cap is a snap cap (with a satisfying snap!) and is postable.  The pen takes standard international cartridges or a converter and, when full, weighs about 20g. That puts it squarely inline with many other popular pens.

pen weight comparison chart

I’ve compared it to some of my favorites (L to R: Retro 51 Tornado Fountain, Pilot Metropolitan Retro Pop, Diplomat Traveller, Sailor Pro-Gear Slim, and Pelikan M200). The Traveller is the slimmest of the bunch, but is fairly comparable in terms of length to all of them.

So let’s get down to why I like this pen so much. The Traveller is super slim, which works beautifully in my small hands. It is also a super smooth writer from the get go. The nibs are made by Jowo (rebranded for Diplomat) and aside from being slightly wider western-style nibs, are beautiful. I got a medium in this pen which is probably a bit wider than I normally go, but everything is just so smooth and the lines it puts on the page are beautiful.

Even though the market has lots of options in the $50-75 range, I just feel that this is a really nice option for someone looking for a more modern, sleeker fountain pen. It feels like a quality pen in my hands, and the attention to the little details really make me love it that much more.


DISCLAIMER: Some of the items included in this review were provided to us free of charge for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Fountain Pen Review: Leonardo Momento Zero Positano (Rhodium Trim/ Broad Nib)

Fountain Pen Review: Leonardo Momento Zero Positano (Rhodium Trim/ Broad Nib)

The Momento Zero is the first pen I’ve tried from the Leonardo Officina Italiana brand. From what I’ve read, the Leonardo brand is the latest incarnation from the father-son team responsible for making pens for Delta and later Armando Simoni Club before branching off to create Leonardo Officina Italiana.

Leonardo Officina Momento Zero

The packaging is appropriate to a pen at this price point. There is an outer dust sleeve and then an inner “coffin box” with a creamy suede-like lining. The only odd detail is that the pen is pinched into place by clips under the fabric rather than under a band or elastic like most boxes. It reminded me a bit of the monsters book from Harry Potter. I felt like I needed to grab the pen from the ends quickly and slap the box shut before it tried to snap back. There was an information booklet included as well. The converter was thoughtfully in the pen upon purchase. There were no cartridges included though the pen should accept standard international cartridges.

It indicated that the Momento Zero Blue Positano models are open, numbered editions. There was a place in the back of the booklet for a seal and signature from the shop where the pen was purchased to indicate date of purchase and note the number of my pen. Since I acquired the pen via online, I suspect the box was never opened before shipping or only cursorily to verify that the info on the outside of the box matched the contents before shipping.

Leonardo Officina Momento Zero

The Momento Zero line is a lower-priced acrylic version of this size and shape pen. It was also done in celluloid and resin (€690 each).

Leonardo Officina Momento Zero

While I don’t own any of the Armando Simoni Club pens, I’ve seen them at pen shows and the design of the Momento Zero is similar to that of the ASC pens, including the disc design on the clip and the wide conical tip on the ends of the pen. Where the ASC pens have a decorative Greek Key band around the edge of the cap band, the Momento Zero pens have three metal rings. The Momento Zero is smaller in scale than the ASC pens I’ve seen which is fine with me. I am, as you may realize by now, petite of hand.

Leonardo Officina Momento Zero

The model I got is the Positano with Rhodium trim and a broad nib. I don’t normally favor broad nibs but I think, in this case, fate played a hand because I was very pleasantly surprised with this nib. While it is a steel nib, it has a lot of spring and bounce to it making it a hugely pleasurable writing experience. I’d compare the feel of the nib to a Pelikan M200 nib in terms of springiness. It did write perfectly out of the box, unlike many M200 series nibs so consider that in my comparison.

Leonardo Officina Momento Zero

The only branding on the pen body itself is the name engraved into the acrylic along the barrel along with the specific number of the pen purchased.

Momento Zero

One of the most unusual features of the pen is multiple access to the converter. The pen features a cap on the end to access the converter without unscrewing the whole barrel. You can also access the whole converter from the nib section.

The assembled pen is shown above with just the end cap removed to access the end of the converter.

Leonardo Officina Momento Zero


  • Weight: 27gms Capped/Posted and 19gsm unposted (with converter filled)
  • Length: 5.5″ (140mm) capped, 5″ (127mm) unposted and 6″ (152mm) posted

pen weight comparison chart

The Momento Zero is not heavier than a Metropolitan when filled and posted and just a little heavier than an AL-Star unposted.

Leonardo Officina Momento Zero

For size comparison, from left to right, the Aurora Optima, Pilot Custom 92, Lamy AL-Star, the Momento Zero, Pelikan M205, Pelikan M605, Opus 88 Picnic and a TWSBI Eco. Below, the same pens, posted. The Momento Zero is about the same length posted as a TWSBI Eco and just a little longer than the Pilot Custom 92.

Leonardo Officina Momento Zero

What I was most surprised to discover is how well-balanced the Momento Zero was to use posted. I almost never say that. Actually, I think that’s the first time I’ve said that in a review. I’d actually write with this pen posted. Not that I need the additional length but it did not throw the balance off. Amazing.

Leonardo Officina Momento Zero

Now, for what you really wanted to know… how does this pen write? Frickin’ beautifully. I was blown away. Like I said at the beginning of the review, I don’t usually got for broad nibs because they usually write like blunt makers for me and that just makes me say, “meh”. This nib… this nib had a crispness to the broad that made it more… stub-like? Something wonderful this nib brings. (Yes, I butchered a Shakespeare quote… this nib makes me feel badly poetic.)

Any flaws in the writing above is due to a slightly drier ink and not a fault of the pen. I have adjusted the ink since writing the review to verify this and can say unequivocally that the pen and nib are perfect and the ink was a might bit dry.

So my final take away? The acrylic material is pretty for a larger commercial manufacturer selling a pen for under $200. The filling system is overly fancy for a cartridge converter but I appreciate the effort of making a banal element something “extra”. And the nib is ROCK STAR level for a steel nib. If you were waiting to see whether the Leonardo pens were worth the price, I’m telling you, yes.



DISCLAIMER: The items included in this review were provided free of charge by Appelboom for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.