It might seem like a big jump between the $5 and under pens to a pen that costs upwards of $30, but it really opens the options for materials other than plastic and introduces some refill and filling mechanisms that allow for longer-term cost effectiveness.
Retro 51 Tornado Classic Lacquers start at $21. There are lots of colors to choose from and special body designs are available seasonally for added interest and collectibility. I would recommend swapping out the stock rollerball refill with a slightly finer option. I like the Schmidt P8126 refill instead as its not as heavy or dark especially in smaller pocket notebooks. Even my husband, who loves bold lines prefers the Schmidt P8126 refill in his Retro 51.
The Fisher Space Pen ($20) is often recommended for folks looking for the perfect EDC pen. With the pressurized ballpoint ink, it should write in any weather, at any angle. I love the classic good looks and range of color options.
(Runner-Up: The Parker Jotter. The Jotter is a classic design that been in production for more than 60 years. Modern models feel a little flimsier than the vintage models but its a beautiful pen. If you need a ballpoint on your desk, this is a good option. Its about $10 for a plastic body edition and about $20 for the stainless steel models.)
This is the hardest category. I have a personal preference here but I know its not a pen that might please most people. I also have a prejudice against one pen because of the way in which I write though I know its a great sub-$30 option. So… that said, here’s my recommendation for a good starter fountain pen beyond the disposable options in the sub-$5 category.
The Kaweco Classic Sport (and ICE Sport, both start at about $23.50) is my favorite entry level fountain pen. I know a lot of people will disagree with me because its small, plastic and can only use standard short European cartridges. Alternately, its totally pocketable and has classic good looks in its favor. The clip is optional which adds to the cost but is not necessary. I have over half a dozen Sport models and every one has a good nib that works well from EF, F and M nibs. I do find the M nibs dry out and need to be primed more often but I’d buy another Kaweco Sport in a heartbeat if it was in a color I liked. I’m not inclined to say that with my runners-up. The runners-up are good pens but I don’t find myself continually reaching for them once I “graduated” to more expensive pens. But I still carry at least one Kaweco Sport next to my high priced pens.
(Runners-up: Pilot Metropolitan and the Lamy Safari. Like I said, this is a challenging category. For sheer value, a full sized Pilot Metropolitan in a metal body for under $20 is a great value. Lamy nibs are great quality and easy to swap out so that a first pen purchase can be a success and lead to a lifetime of fountain pen.)
I love multi-pens for the option of carrying several colors at one time. I’ve tried just about every brand of customizable multi-pen and my favorite have swiftly become the Pentel i+ 3 model. The pen allows for an assortment of refill types from the Sliccie gel refills to the Vicuna and Energel refills. While I thought I’d miss the silicone grip featured on other brands, I find the Pentel i+ easier to slide in and out of pockets and pen loops without it so it gets chosen more often than others. Fully customized for about $10.
(You might notice that there are only four categories in this Top 5 but there are actually more than five pens recommended. Let’s just say, I’m a designer by trade and not so “mathy”.)