There have been a lot of better-quality, Chinese pens introduced into the market recently and the Kaco brand, like Pen BBS and the Moonman line, is one to put on your radar. While the Kaco Retro (approx. $11.49) is not the most innovative pen in terms of design from Kaco (more to come about their other pens shortly), it is available in six ABS plastic colors. Each pen is a solid color with a thin wire clip and a contrasting dot of plastic on the end of the clip adding a pleasing pop of color to the design.
The pen ships in a frosted plastic box with molded insert for two cartridges and a Schmidt converter. The insert can be removed and the box can be kept and reused. This satisfies one of my requirements with pen packaging — that it be either recyclable or reusable.
I picked the green which is a turquoise/blue-green with a tomato red dot on the clip. I really liked all the color options, even the white-with-grey-dot.
The design of the Kaco Retro is clearly inspired from the Parker 51 and hooded nib pens of the mid-20th century. There is a clear section just at the top of the grip section where the pen separates for inserting cartridge or converter. The hope would be that the window could be used to see the ink volume but I had a hard time determining if I was just seeing the edge of the converter of the actual ink. I suppose time will tell.
The cap can be posted and does not affect the overall weight or balance of the pen adversely since the cap and clip are relatively light. Capped and filled with the converter, the Kaco Retro weighs about 16gms putting it right between a Prera and a Safari in terms of overall weight. That is pretty much where I would expect it to land considering it is made from ABS plastic.
In writing, the EF nib performed more like a Western fine to me than an Asian EF which seems to be more common with the newer Chinese manufacturers. I think they are aligning their pen widths closer to Western standards. Initially, I tried using the provided cartridge in black but found the ink to be thick and slow-drying which made the nib perceptibly wider and my page very messy (life of a lefty). Once I switched to a ink of known quality (in this case, the new 3Oysters Haneul [$18 per bottle]), the Retro wrote better and I was less smeary.
Compared in size to other entry-priced fountain pens: (left to right) Kaweco Sport, Lamy AL-Star, (the not-so-entry-priced)Opus 88 Picnic, Kaco Retro, (another not-so-budget-priced) Sailor 1911 regular, and the Pilot Prera. I included the higher priced pens as they have similar cigar shapes and similar lengths.
The same pens listed in the photo above only this time open, with the caps posted. The Kaco Retro is the only hooded nib and ends up being approximately the same length posted as the Sailor 1911.
Overall, this pen writes very smooth, is comfortable in the hand and super well-priced. If you are placing an overseas order, there’s no reason not to try one out or pick one up for a friend you might want to lure over to the fountain pen world.
(UPDATED: March 4, 2019. Added other pen comparison images. )
- Paper: Rhodia Uni-Blank No. 18 with 6mm guide sheet
- Pen: Kaco Retro Fountain Pen 0.38 Extra Fine ($11.49 via Ebay)
- Ink: 3 Oysters Haneul ($18 per bottle)
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