Pilot Varsity Fountain Pen

Pilot Varsity Fountain Pen

I noticed that I had never written a review of the Pilot Varsity Fountain Pen so I thought I’d add it. Let me start by saying that I bought this several years ago and was very unhappy with its performance and stuck it in a drawer. It actually took quite some time before I was willing to venture into fountain pens again because of the experience. To be honest, at $3 per pen, I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting.

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To a newbie though, the Varsity seems like a reasonable way to get into fountain pens. Its not. The most expensive part of a good fountain pen is the nib and feed, and this one, available in a medium width only, is not good at all. Its a plain steel nib. Steel nibs can be good but not at $3, I think.

Pilot Varsity Fountain Pen

If you look at the writing sample above, the pen skips and whole letters will not appear while the ink flow readjusts. It squeaks on the paper, actually squeaks. If you have an aversion to the sound of nails on a chalkboard, you best give this pen a wide berth.

I’m not inclined to write reviews for products that I genuinely dislike and think are terrible. I’d prefer to let me silence speak for itself. However, I get enough people asking about the Varsity and other sub-$10 fountain pens that I felt I should be honest.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll put up reviews of the other entry-level priced fountain pens. Maybe there is a gem among them.

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19 comments / Add your comment below

  1. My starter pen was a Platinum Preppy, and in less than six months I purchased a Lamy Safari then two Esterbrook SJs (If only I knew how to adjust the bent nib on the second one).

    I posted a brief review of the Preppy and the Sailor Candy in my blog the week before I got my Safari. I think it will be interesting to compare my starter reviews to yours since you’re a veteran user, and I posted mine before trying anything better.

    I have since converted two people to fountain pens by giving them Platinum Preppys! One of them already has a Lamy Safari and the other is still waffling on which new pen to purchase.

  2. I have to respectfully disagree. I’m a confirmed fountain pen user (35 years and counting!) and have enjoyed using many Varsity pens over the past 20 years. During that time I have only found a very few lemons in the lot. I currently have several Varsities scattered around the house and carry one in my purse for note-taking on the go. All work flawlessly. May I encourage you to go with your initial thought and give the Varsity another try, perhaps with a color other than black? (I’m especially fond of the turquoise and the purple!) You may have gotten the odd ‘bad’ one….

  3. I have the Pilot Varsity and I agree, it does skip a lot and it feels pretty scratchy, especially on nice paper. I am a fountain pen novice, so I’m going to consider it a gateway drug to fountain pens…if this is what the “bottom” is like, I can’t wait to try something stronger!

  4. I am going to disagree as well. I have used several Varsity pens off and on and have not had a skipping or scratching problem. I am also a left hander. It took me a long time to learn to turn my paper sideways when I right, so dragging my hand through the ink is no longer an issue for me. (for other left handers, turn your paper so the top edge is perpendicular to your surface. It looks weird but your hand is at a natural angle and your can read your witting.)

    I have found that the Varsity ink does not dry as fast as other inks. That can be a problem.

    But, as Kimberly put it, it is an easy “gateway drug” to give fountain pens a try.

  5. The Varsity was my first fountain pen and now I’m actually hooked! Haven’t used one since, though, so I’d probably be a bit pickier than I was then, using it on regular notebook paper. I liked it though – I liked the line thickness of it.

    1. As of today, we are now at 231 members. I hope you have since tried another Varsity and had a better experience. I recommend the 3-pack with black, blue, and purple. While I do prefer a fine over a medium nib, the Varsity still wins the race for a good $3 fountain pen. I tried the Bic and found it a distanct second. For one thing, their ink is too light, I also like the smaller thumbprint of the Varsity in my pocket. Please post a comment if you’ve got one.

  6. I was given two Pilot pens recently, a Varsity (blue ink) and a Metropolitan. I like them both very much. My handwriting has degraded a lot over the years, and the Varsity’s medium nib is forgiving of my errant strokes. The ink, while not waterproof, flows well, dries quickly, and looks great.

    For context, the only other fountain pen I’ve owned post-childhood is the Waterman LeMan 100, which I love. But that’s 100x the price of my trusty new companion, so I don’t feel all the comfortable toting it around on a daily basis. The Varsity, on the other hand, is now always with me for taking notes, signing autographs (I’m joking), and other writing exigencies.

    I just bought a few to hand out to family members. It’s my modest effort to rekindle interest in the fountain pen, surely the most genteel writing implement available.

    John Dallas Bowers
    Villanova, PA

    1. So happy to hear that these pens have helped to rekindle your love of fountain pens and are priced so that you can share your enthusiasm with others.

  7. I must agree with Stone Zebra, and i am a FP user for 50+ years, and am a lefty.
    I have had a lemon Varsity once, outta i do not know how many, blue and black ink models i used.
    A Namiki Falcon it ain’t, but just sayin’ 🙂

  8. You probably have to adjust these Varsitys for flow, but then I have had to do that for every single expensive pen I have bought without exception.

    The Varsitys I have adjusted to be wet enough are perilously close to being as good as the best pens I have ever bought, and are better than many pens costing over £150. I mean this. It’s extraordinary in a way, but then a fountain pen is really a dip pen with an internal reservoir of some kind. It’s not a complicated instrument. And yet all the major makers manage to do a terrible job on QC.

    That’s why cheaper pens often work better (once adjusted for greater flow). The Lamy Safari and the Pilot Varsity, or V-Pen as it is in Europe, are in my view as good as FPs get. There is bugger-all difference in writing performance between these pens (again – once adjusted) and high-end Pilots (always too dry), Pelikans (often too dry), and all the others.

    1. Here, here! Bravo. Yes. My Varsitys have ALWAYS performed consistently better than my Mont Blancs, Pelikans, and a $40 Lamy. Never had a Varsity that ever failed to write, even after sitting in a drawer for a month, or being left in a suitcase for a year. And that’s the truth.

  9. I actually prefer the design of the Varsity in the above photo to the one I have; anyway, the Pilot Varsity, the JetPens mini & the Jinhao 599A are my 1st beginner/novice/starter fountain pens. they DEFINITELY are very wet, very heavy & very thick pens. and if you are a heavy-handed, overwriter like I am, there can & will be feathering. tbh. as a novice, I am just happy they write & i didn’t have to buy fountain ink, ink cartridge or converter for it.

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