Ask The Desk: First Fountain Pens

Stephanie asks:

I’m looking for my first fountain pen, mainly for journaling while I’m in college, and I came across reading a review for a pen I saw on Amazon. I don’t want to spend too much money on a pen since I’m just getting into it but I don’t want a real junky pen either that will totally turn me off to fountain pens. Are there any brands or particular pens you would suggest for a beginner? I’ve also seen that there are different size tips or nibs. Which size would you recommend to start with? Thanks for your help.

Stephanie, this is probably the Number One question that all pen bloggers get and often the hardest to answer. Most first-time fountain pen buyers are looking to make a small investment as they are not sure this is a rabbit-hole they are ready to go down. First, the pen needs to be pretty dependable from a brand you can trust so I don’t recommend buying from an off-brand for your first foray into fountain pens. Then, not all first-time fountain pen buyers want to go to buying full bottles of ink either, so knowing if you are more inclined for a cartridge filling pen over a pen that will accept a converter or other filling mechanism that will let you fill your pens from an ink bottle may be a deciding factor. And finally, deciding on a nib size can be hard initially so a pen that makes it easy to switch the nib is a great option. Whether you change the nib soon after purchasing it or years later when your collection has grown.

So, based on price, ease-of-use, reliability and nib swap-ability, I pulled together my best recommendations for the first fountain pen purchase. Your final decisions will depend on which factors most influence you.

In no specific order:

Lamy AL-Star or Safari (both are equally good, its an aesthetic preference): The Lamy Safari and Lamy AL-Star offer the molded grip which many people find very comfortable and helpful in mastering a good grasp in handling a pen and are charmed by the colorful plastics and aluminum finishes of the pens. Lamy has converter and cartridges which make it easy to fill with ink. The nibs are smooth and consistent and its easy to swap out nibs should your taste in nib widths change. The only caveat is for left-handed writers who may have an unusual grip that might find the molded grip uncomfortable.

Kaweco Sport: The Kaweco Sport has a retro design that is quite pocketable. The pen is available in a variety of finishes from clear plastic demonstrator to a weightier brass with prices that range from about $25 to about $100. The nibs are steel and range from a European EF to B. There is also a calligraphy set available. The Sport has a converter available but I would not recommend it so really, its a cartridge filler only. I do refill cartridges so its not really all that limiting but it moves the Sport into more of an “advanced beginner” pen or at least an “adventurous beginner” category. Of course, the small size of the Kaweco Sport makes it unique, the cap is postable which makes it more comfortable but if you have large hands, the small size may make this pen less appealing.

Pilot Metropolitan/Pop: The Pilot Metropolitan and Metropolitan Pop are wonderful starter pens. The price point is excellent, the nibs work great and the pens ship with both a cartridge and a cartridge converter in the box. All for one low, low price, usually below $20. The pens are full-sized with a satin metallic finish and in a range of colors. The nibs are in Japanese sizes so they run a bit finer than the Kaweco and Lamy nibs. There is an italic/stub nib available though.

TWSBI Eco: The TWSBI Eco is on the higher end of the price points but it is a piston filler so if what you are looking for in a fountain pen is the chance to play with lots of fountain pen inks, than this is your best option. It’s available in a couple colors but that only alters the cap and twist filler, the barrel of the pen remains transparent to see the ink. The cap posts and the nib ranges from extra fine to a stub 1.1mm. TWSBI uses German nibs so assume the nibs are more comparable in size to Lamy or Kaweco than to Pilot in sizing.

So, those are my recommendations for starter fountain pens. There are many others but these pens will most likely be easy to find at most online pen shops, pen shows or even a well-stocked brick-and-mortar pen shop. TWSBI being the exception, though a lot of online shops are carrying TWSBI these days.

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15 comments / Add your comment below

  1. You can’t go wrong with the Pilot Metropolitan: cheaper than the others, a variety of colors and color combinations that range from sober to cute/ridiculous, and I’ve also seen them at office supply chains. A slightly fancier replacement–finally!–for the old Schaeffer school fountain pens that used to be available all over the place for $4.

      1. I appreciate your enthusiasm but in the “under $50” range, the Sheaffer web site only lists two models: the Bailey and the Beverly. I’m not familiar with either of these models. Are these the pens you are recommending to first time pen buyers?

        1. The pens she’s referring to no longer exist. They were ubiquitous back in the 80s, even sold in the stationery aisles of supermarkets, so many of us middle-aged Gen-Xers started out with them.

  2. Such beautiful spring colors! I really suggest Pilots or TSWBIs for the reliable nibs. Nothing is more discouraging than a new fountain pen that won’t keep writing. If you like a funkier look than the Metropolitan, Pilot Kakunos are great.

    1. Oh, the Kakuno is a good option as well! Thanks for bringing that up as well. It is a bit smaller and a little harder to find but I love the smiling face etched on the nib.

  3. nib size kind of depends on how you wrote. I write small and sometimes fast so I like finer line nibs. if you write with a nib and your e’s, o’s, etc are closed up, nib size is probably too broad for you to start.

  4. I approve of all of these; however, I’d pick out the Pilot Metropolitan and the TWSBI ECO as particularly good starters. The Metropolitan, in particular is a GREAT, GREAT starter pen for the price. The ECO is much smoother and more fun because it is a piston filled, and the reservoir is great. I write for weeks on mine.

  5. Another option, before buying, is to check to see if there is a fountain pens club nearby. They often meet to look, compare, and discuss, and many are more than willing to let you try some of their pens to see what you like.

  6. I’m going to be a bit of a contrarian and suggest that beginners should always start with a pen that takes standard European cartridges (the Pilot and Lamy both take proprietary cartridges, and of course the Eco doesn’t take cartridges at all). This will give them the broadest choice of inks, and (most) can be fitted with a standard converter if and when they want to expand their choices to bottled inks.

    1. Not a contrarian at all but it does tend to push into more expensive pens in most cases or a wider range of potential choices. Monteverde offers some good options but the nibs are not always 100% tuned out of the gate. Do you have a specific pen in mind?

      Also, since the Metropolitans ship with a cartridge converter, I really do think its the best of both worlds.

      1. I have nothing bad to say about the Metropolitan, everyone is correct that they are an exceptional value. The proprietary cartridges are my only quibble (ditto for Lamy).

        I haven’t personally tried one yet, but Jet Pens’ house-labeled “Minis” seem to be a good deal, and my experience with Jet Pens leads me to think they wouldn’t be selling garbage. They also have a number of other universal cartridge pens in the <$20 range.

        I recently had an interesting experience with some Jinhaos. I ordered a pack of 10 for <$20; when I tried them, 3 of the 10 had one flaw or another and got thrown out, but I still got 7 usable cheap pens for less than $3 each.

  7. I started out with the Pilot Metropolitans, but have since moved away from them after encountering a lot of quality variability in the EF nibs. If I had it to do over again, I would probably start out with either a Kaweco Sport or a Lamy AL-Star (or Safari, but I’m #TeamALStar), in either an F or M nib. Those are the most consistent and most reliable experiences I’ve had so far in the less-expensive end of pens.

    Re: TWSBI Eco, after having the barrel on mine crack at the nib end, I’m a little less enthusiastic about them. They sent me a replacement barrel and it wasn’t that big of a deal to replace, but I feel like that kind of experience could turn someone new to fountain pens off.

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