Rather than making a “best pens under $XX” I decided to do out fountain pen list as our most recommended pens. These are based on the many times, throughout the years, at pen shows, here on the site and at meet-ups that people have asked for recommendations and which pens tend to float to the top. There are lots (and lots and lots) of other pens that I love personally and that were number 11, 12, 13, etc on the list but these are the top 10-ish on our list.
There is no hierarchy other than how the images ended up in the photos.
- Pilot Metropolitan: This, for so many years, was our most frequently recommended entry-level fountain pen. It’s relatively inexpensive, it writes really well, comes in a lot of color options and its pretty durable. It continues to be a good option though we do recommend upgrading the converter. (starting at $19.50 at JetPens)
- Diplomat Traveler or Caran d’Ache 849: These two pens are similar in scale with a more slender barrel than many fountain pens on the market, both feature snap caps and accept standard European converter and cartridges. The Caran d’Ache is a rounded hex shape and the Traveler is a smooth round barrel and slightly shorter. Both pens post but the Caran d’Ache is a bit long posted. Both the 849 and the Traveler is available in 6 colors each, $52 from Vanness Pens)
- Kaweco Sport: This is one of my favorite entry level pen recommendations. It’s diminutive size, multitude of materials and classic good looks makes the Kaweco Sport a great starter fountain pen. It takes standard international cartridges so it makes it a great starter pen for many people and its super pocketable. (available at all your favorite online retailers)
- Lamy Safari/AL-Star: It’s one of the most commonly recommended first fountain pens and there are a lot of reasons for that. The pen is uniquely styled to be appealing to a lot of people. It is available in bright colored plastic or aluminum. The price point is reasonable. There are many nib sizes available and it’s easy to swap out nibs should you decide you want to try a different size without having to buy a whole new pen. Lamy does require a proprietary cartridge/converter which is one of the downsides of the Lamy Safari/AL-Star. Some people do not like the molded grip section but, for some, it helps establish a proper hand grip for fountain pen use. (available at all your favorite online retailers)
- Platinum Carbon Desk Pen: I had to get the PCDP in here. I have recommended this pen, given it away or otherwise inflicted this ugly but glorious pen on more people than I care to admit. What it lacks in physical beauty it more than make up for in drawing prowess. If you or someone you know is a loyalist to the technical pen or the superfine felt tip drawing pen (like a Sakura Pigma Micron 005 or 01) this pen will change their life. Add in a box of Platinum Carbon Black cartridges or a bottle of Platinum Carbon Black ink and it will be game over for bent, broken felt tips forever. Yes, it’s ugly but Sakura Pigma Microns do not exactly win any beauty contests and at least I’ve never had to throw away a PCDP, I just keep passing them on to new converts. At present, my favorite sources for the PCDP do not have them in stock and the info I have suggest that Platinum in Japan may not be manufacturing this model any longer. Maybe they are changing the design? I don’t know. So, if this is a pen you are interested in owning, jump on it before the prices skyrocket. The steel nib model should not sell for more than about $15.
- TWSBI Eco/Eco-T: TWSBI ECO and ECO-T provide great options for anyone looking for their second fountain pen or an ambitious first-time fountain pen owner who is willing to purchase a piston-filling fountain pen. The nibs are all European sized on Taiwanese-built pens. (starting at €28.93 at Fontoplumo)
- Faber-Castell Grip: Faber-Castell is releasing this fountain pen in different colors more often and the price is very reasonable making this pen a candidate in the entry-level fountain pen category. It takes standard European cartridges and converters so it’s easier to find ink cartridges for new users. (starting at $20 at Vanness Pen Shop)
- Pelikan M600 Series: Originally, I was going to put the more commonly recommend entry level M200/205 here but honestly, I didn’t buy an M200/205 of my own until I had purchased an M600 in transparent white (“the Ghost“) and realized what all the fuss was about. Pelikan’s gold nibs make it a bit easier to understand their softer steel nibs but honestly, I recommend saving up for their more expensive pens rather than rushing to get a Pelikan just to say you have a Pelikan. The 600 series is just slightly larger in size than the 200 series. Wait for a color combination that speaks to you. It will be worth it but remember that Pelikan nibs run wider overall than most other European nibs so even the EF writes more like an F or M if you’re used to Japanese nibs. (Appelboom has a wonderful selection of 600-series Pelikans and they wrap all their orders like a gift and include a stroopwaffel)
- Sailor Pro Gear Slim: Are you surprised I waited this long to include the Sailor Pro Gear? After Kaweco Sport and Franklin-Christoph 45s, I have more of these than any other pen. First, the Sailor 14k gold nibs are second to none out of the box. For larger hands and deeper pockets, the full-sized Pro Gear is just as appealing and features a 21k nib. (starting at $180 on Goldspot Pens)
- Pilot Vanishing Point/Decimo: I prefer the Decimo to the Vanishing Point because the size fits my hands better but if your hands are larger, the Vanishing Point might be preferable. Of all the retractable fountain pens, the VP/Decimo is still the best in show and worth saving up to purchase. The nib is gold and available in a range of sizes. Pilot does not release a lot of new colors or materials of this model regularly but I feel like one of these pens is in a collection is adequate unless you want to have a variety of nibs options. ( available at all your favorite online retailers)
Honorary Mention: Opus88 Koloro This was my first experience with Opus88 and it has remained my favorite. It’s similar in size to a Lamy Safari but made from a combination of ebonite and resin materials and the unique Japanese eyedropper filling system holds a massive amount of ink making this pen a perfect candidate for a wider-than-usual nib. (Limited stock still available, starting at $74.40 at Pen Chalet )
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