Fountain Pen Review: Zebra Zensations

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.

Tina Koyama is an urban sketcher in Seattle. Her blog is Fueled by Clouds & Coffee, and you can follow her on Instagram as Miatagrrl.

DISCLAIMER: The items included in this review were provided free of charge by JetPens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

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7 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I will probably pick up a few of these to see what they are like, but they will need to be pretty special to displace the Pilot Varsity FP from my knockaround carry bags/pockets.
    a. The Pilot inks are rather good, and the blue is one of my favorite blue inks of any FP blue.
    b. The Varsity plastic is very durable, but it looks like the Zebra may have a more brittle plastic.
    c. The Varsity nibs are usually pretty good, and are easily tuned, and some of them are just
    ridiculously good: smooth, wet, writes just as well upside down (thinner line).

    1. I’ll look forward to hearing what you think of it! I like the Varsity nib, too… it’s just its cap that annoys me because it doesn’t have a nice solid click.

  2. I recently picked one of these up from Jet Pens on a whim. A member in one of the facebook stationery groups had posted about it and I was intrigued how similar it looked to a Bic disposable fountain pen that I love. I had also picked up a few Platinum Preppy’s and a Plaisir. While I am not a fan of the graphics on the exterior, that has nothing to do with how it writes, which is as you said, wonderfully. Personally I prefer the styling of the Preppy but this Zebra pen definitely feels more substantial and robust, it’s also heavier too.

    Now I really like this pen but there is one reason why I wouldn’t recommend it. About a week after I got it, the cap started to form a crack on the parting line. For those who don’t know, a parting line is where two halves of an injection mold meet. Since these parts are injection molded, they have a thin line that is visible along the midline of the cap. the crack started here and then eventually would not stay attached to the pen body. This is a shame and the pen is essentially useless now. I contacted Jet Pens and they sent out a new one right away. I haven’t seen this issue on the new pen yet so maybe it was just a bad part. I don’t want to dissuade anyone from trying it out, but just be aware. Also the pen is so inexpensive, if it does fail no big deal. But I just hate it when things that are still good go to waste.

    Great review as always Tina!

  3. I’ve used two of these pens now and they both failed with the same crack in the cap – so I would say that the chances of yours just being a bad part are pretty low.

  4. I use Zebra FPs and agree about the always-ready, no-skip writing even if months between picking one up. I completely also agree that this category of pen is a fantastic way to explore the feel of FPs to a curious initiate. I was that person about a year and a half ago, and bought three Platinum Preppys – 02 (EF), 03 (F) and 05 (M) sizes, as an inexpensive way to see what nib size suited my writing and preference in an FP. Instantly hooked. You can transcend the “throwaway” problem with Preppies too… buying cartridges for them or modifying them to be eyedrop filler pens (with a super-cheap little o-ring, and silicone grease). Sure they won/t give you flex, spring, stub/italic options… and not turn any heads… but as a take anywhere, leave on your desk at work pen – SO versatile. I have some nicer FPs now that I love for their own merits, but still find I’m reaching for the Zebra and the Preppy even at home sometimes. Cheap way to keep different coloured ink at the ready too.

  5. I think they are great pens, but agree with Steven about the cap. Any idea which nib this is closest to (eg Parker)?

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