Ask the Desk: Lefty Smudge Issues, Top 5 Pens under $50 and more refill options

I have accumulated a lot of Ask the Desk questions lately so I decided to tackle a few of them in one GREAT BIG post. Please let me know if you have any advice as well. And submit your questions at the tab in bar at the top of the page. Thanks!

Gordon needs some help:

Dear Ana, I am a left-hander who has recently returned to using fountain pens. I have a lovely Franklin-Christoph Model 20p (the smaller EDC version) with a medium stub and, no surprise, have been dealing with the dreaded smudge problem. Before picking up again with fountain pens I’ve been using Doane 8x11pads, whose format I love, but it does smudge. Do you have suggestions for more fountain pen friendly and fast-drying paper and/or small international cartridges that dry fast (I’m partial to blue-black). Thanks so much for you help. Yours, Gordon

Gordon, the lefties at The Desk feel your frustration. Medium stubs are quite wet nibs so you have added to your struggle for dry time. Doane paper is not the worst for dry time overall so let’s start with some unconventional suggestions.

First, I wanted to start with items that could be added to your existing set-up. Rather than having to buy new notebooks or ink, these options might fix your issues.

  • Vanness White Lightning Ink Additive ($5.95) This additive can improve dry time of ink you already own. I have some tips for using it but a drop or two in 5-10ml of ink can improve flow and dry time. Adding White Lightning will require using a converter and bottled ink since you’ll have to decant your ink but it opens up your color options dramatically.
  • J Herbin Blotter Paper – White ($10) Blotter paper can be used to absorb ink on any page that is taking awhile to dry.
  • SmudgeGuard SG1 1-Finger Glove ($14.99) While this isn’t the most aesthetically appealing solution, many artists use a smudgeguard or slide an extra piece of paper under their hand to reduce smudging. Blotter paper works great but an index card make a fine substitution as well.

Paper alternatives:

Since you’re already using a paper not known to be too bad for smudging, I want to remind lefties in general, I recommend avoiding paper like Tomoe River which has longer than normal dry times if you are having smudging issues. I also recommend avoiding Rhodia paper, because it is very smooth, may also suffer from smudge issues. A good alternative may be Leuchtturm1917 which strikes a reasonable balance between dry time and being fountain pen friendly. Baron Fig could be another good option for lefties.

Other ink options:

Finally, there are some inks that have been especially formulated to be “quick drying” but will definitely limit your color options. If you want to pursue this route, look for inks that say “fast dry” on the label. However, utilizing standard inks (non-sheening/non-shimmer) and possibly adding White Lightning mentioned earlier may be all you need. Sheening and shimmer inks will often require longer dry times.


Ed asks:

I love the retro 51 rollerball refill. Do you know what pen bodies will work with it? While I love the Retro 51, sometimes I prefer a capped pen.

For a capped pen that takes the same Schmidt P8126/P8127 that is used in the Retro 51 pens (it’s just custom branded for Retro51) but capped, I recommend Kaweco Sport. It is available in plastics, metal and resin finishes for a variety of price points. All versions accept the P8126/8127 refill.

Most of the Monteverde Rollerball pens accept the Schmidt Short Capless sized refills though they will probably ship with the Monteverde branded version. It is essentially the same refill, just house branded for Monteverde just as the Schmidt refill is rebranded for Retro51.

The Schmidt 888 (plastic tube or the 5888 with metal tube) is the longer version of the same refill. There are a lot of brands that utilize this refill as its considered the standard size for European-style rollerballs. Pen Boutique has a great chart that lists compatible refills for many major brands.


Jeremy asks:

I would love some help in a pen recommendation. I am currently in grad school getting my PhD and find myself writing more than I ever had before. My normal go to for writing utensils has been my Fisher Space Pen Bullet when I want something with ink and a Pentel P205 when I want something with lead. The P205 serves my purposes well and I have no reason to replace that, however the Space Pen is absurdly uncomfortable when I find myself writing for days on end. Any recommendations for a pen under the $50 mark, the cheaper the better, that would be comfortable for extended periods of time when I write? Cheers!

Several years ago, I wrote a post for my Top 5 Pens under $30. I can’t say that my top choices have changed dramatically. Adding an extra $20 to the budget doesn’t necessarily alter things too dramatically but let me give it another glance.

If you are planning to use a rollerball, gel or ballpoint pen, and since you are using more slender pens and pencils in general, here are my best recommendations:

  • Caran d’Ache 849 (ballpoint starting at $19.95) This pen is similar in size and width to your favorite pencil. Its available in many colors and finishes and is a classic, just like your Pentel.
  • Retro 51 Tornado in Classic Lacquers (starting at $21) The Retro 51 is a classic as well, takes a favorite rollerball refill or a standard Parker-style ballpoint refill and is available in a ton of standard colors. Its slightly wider width may be more comfortable for longer writing sessions. Just be careful about carrying this pen in your pocket as the liquid refill may leak. For a capped alternative, see may recommendation to Ed in this post.
  • Lamy 2000 Multi Pen (€61.98) This pen goes slightly over your budget but contains four colors and is one of the most iconic pens available. It also allows for color changes as if by magic — just turn the pen so the color of your choice is facing up and depress the knock.

Refill Questions:

Chris asks:

I need a refill for an Anson Pen, I think it might be a 360?

I ended up learning a bit about the Anson Company in trying to locate a refill for this pen. If the pen is a ballpoint, it will most likely take a standard “stick refill” or a Cross threaded ballpoint refill like you might find at any big box office supply store (I found this photo below in an Ebay listing).

Anson Pen Refill order form

If the pen takes a nylon tip refill, a Waterman fibertip might fit. I’m guessing here based on the shape alone as I am not sure on the length required. While a slightly different shape, the Schmidt 6040 fineliner (or one of the many versions that are branded for Monteverde, Faber-Castell, et al) may be easier to acquire. The pen would also accept a Schmidt rollerball refill if the fineliner fit as well.

If you’re lucky enough to be near a brick and mortar pen store or a pen show, I recommend taking the pen there and trying out a few refills to find the perfect fit.


Gayle asks about other refills:

I want to put other colors in my Uni Jetstream 4+1 pen, other than black, blue, red, and green. Which refills designed for similar multi-pens will fit the Jetstream 4+1? If I understood your multi-pen FAQ video correctly, the Zebra Sarasa pre-fills are too short for the Jetstream 4+1, is that correct? Looking forward to your response!

Gayle, I don’t think I made a multi-pen FAQ video but now maybe I will. That said, let’s see which refills you can put in your Uni Jetstream 4+1 besides the standard blue, black, red and green.

Jestream 3+1 refill options
Pictured here are options for the Jetstream 2+1 pen. Shown are the Uni Signo (Uni Style Fit) refills, both trimmed and whole; Frixion slim refills, with and without the end caps; Pilot Coleto refill without end cap but before trim; and standard Jetstream refills.

If you’re willing to apply a little hacking, the Uni Signo UMR refills (these are the Style Fit multi-pen refills) will fit. It just requires trimming a bit of the plastic off the end. The same with the Pilot Coleto refills. With the Coleto refills, you need to remove the plastic caps from the end, then trim to the proper length. Frixion multi pen refills will also fit but the little cap on the end will need to be removed and the refill trimmed to the proper length. These can all be trimmed with a sharp pair of household scissors, an x-acto knife or a pocket knife easily.


Lorraine has a refill issue too:

I have an old dual pen desk set from my grandfather that I would love to get working again. The refills are giving me trouble finding. It’s an old basic coppers colored spring load style. Kinda looks like one of those snap to size types. I can send a photo. What I’m really wanting to know is, is there a rollerball or gel or gel/hybrid that will work so the pens will be enjoyable to use? I don’t mind buying a few to try, but I’d love to get the search narrowed down. Thanks!! p.s. love listening to you on The Pen Addict!

Thanks, Lorraine. While I don’t have a copper version of this refill that you mentioned, I think it probably looks something like this:

Winged refill

Trying to find a non-oily ballpoint option is near impossible. The closest I found was a Pilot Dr. Grip which looked close. You’d probably have to save the spring from a previous refill to make it work however. While still ballpoint ink, its probably much better than the cheap oily ballpoint ink originally sold in the refills. The Uni Jetsream SXR refill might also work and is the best ballpoint refill. It might also require a little tweaking but it could be a contender. Wish I could have been more help. Readers, if you have any better suggestions, please leave them in the comments!

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5 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I have been a left handed fountain pen user for years. I have never had a “smudging” problem. My suggestion would be to line the paper up with the forearm so that no part of the hand rubs over the lines written, i.e. no “hook”.

    1. Well, of course, not hooking is always preferable but even I can attest to that not being the easiest skill to learn. Or unlearn.

  2. Oooh, Gayle asked the question that I didn’t even know I needed the answer to! I would love to put other colors in my Jetstream 4+1. Thanks, Ana!

  3. This is a really great column! Well done.. Fun group of questions. I loved learning that I can use retro 51 rollerball refills in my Kaweco AL sport. I should also mention that as a leftie, I have learned to write from below, not the wraparound curl they taught us in grade school

    1. Congrats! That is quite a brain challenge to retrain yourself to write a new way. You have connected millions of new synapses in your brain as a result.

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