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.