Fountain Pen Review: Sailor Compass (MF Nib)

Sailor Compass

I am shocked at how long it’s taken me to write a review about an “under-$50” fountain pen. Sometimes, I think reviews about pens in this price range require the greatest attention because they are the pens that can make-or-break a fountain pen fan. Should someone purchase just the right fountain pen in this price range, they will most likely become a lifelong pen fan. However, if they get a dud, it could become the end of the interest in fountain pens altogether. Maybe that’s why I took so much time putting this review together.

The new Sailor Compass fountain pen ($39.20) is Sailor’s latest low-priced fountain pen. I’m still trying to figure out the difference between the Compass and the Shikiori fountain pen which appears to be a rebranding of the ProColor. There are higher end models of the Shikiori with gold nibs and Pro Gear styling so the product line is confusing, to say the least.

The Compass, on the Sailor’s official website for Japan or the UK (global), do not even list the Compass so, as I write this review, I have to wonder if Sailor will even continue with this particular pen line. Do you see why it’s taken so long to write this review? It’s still available in the US and I’ve had questions about it. So… onwards we go!

First, let’s discuss the features and packaging.

Sailor Compass packaging

The Compass ships with a converter and two cartridges (nice touch, thank you!). The converter that shipped with my Olive Transparent had a green twist mechanism (color coordination, another bonus). I suspect that Sailor has attempted to match the converters to each Compass pen. It’s a nice touch.

Sailor Compass out of packaging

The converter is in the pen in this photo (sorry, I got ahead of myself!). The pen and accessories come in a box, lined with foam and wrapped in a clear plastic sleeve. IMHO, the packaging is a bit excessive for a pen at this price point. It also meant that I’m left with non-recyclable materials (at least in my part of the world) — foam, plastic and coated board box. Sigh.

Sailor Compass

Sailor Compass vs. other Sailors

When placed next to a  (from left to right) ProColor, the Compasss, a different model of ProColor and a Pro Gear Slim, it’s clear to see some aesthetic differences. The Compass more closely resembles the ProColor on the left than the one on the right. The black ProColor on the right looks much more like the new Shikiori models listed on Sailor’s web site with the wider cap band and metal trim around the point where the clip joins the cap at the top. The Compass and the clear ProColor both have less metal hardware on the exterior of the pen.

Sailor Compass nib comparison

When looking at nibs (ignore the 21K nib on the clear ProColor. I upgraded it. This is not the stock nib AT ALL!), the two nibs in the center show the visual differences between the current Compass nib and the earlier ProColor steel nib. While the earlier ProColor nib was narrow, it looks like it was molded to be a lot more curved and there is more decoration pressed into the front of the nib.While the decoration doesn’t necessarily make the earlier ProColor a better nib, it certainly makes it appear that Sailor put more care into making it.

Sailor Compass writing sample

This all leads up to my initial writing tests with the Compass MF (medium fine) nib. I prefer nibs with a little tooth, a bit of feedback to them but this nib tested the limits for me.  I had to continually turn and twist the nib in an effort to find a good writing angle that didn’t feel scratchy or that didn’t require excessive pressure to get ink on the page. In general, this is not my experience with the higher end Sailor pens. The lightest of touches will deposit ink on the page with most Sailor 14K and 21K nibs and that is how I prefer it. So struggling to ink on the paper — let’s just say, I was getting frustrated. I also realized it was unfair to compare a steel nib to $100+ gold nibs. But I know that Pilot Metropolitans and Preppy pens are far easier to use. My Platinum Carbon Desk Pens do not cause me this kind of difficulty either. None of these pens cost as much as the Compass so either I got a dud nib (it happens) or the Compass nibs are sub-par.

Sailor Compass before tuning

I got my loupe out and took a look. Now, I know that for a lot of the people buying a pen like this, doing something like this is beyond their experience of expertise but, after some debate, I decided it was worth doing. If someone new to pens buys a Compass and runs into this issue, can they fix this on their own? So, if you look at the photo above, the tines have a little bit of space between them near the breather hole but as you look closer to the tip, there’s less and less space between the tines. It basically chokes the flow of ink.

Sailor Compass nib after tuning

I did two things. I flossed the tines with a brass shim* and then I used my finger to gentle pull one tine forward just a bit. Using your fingers can sometimes be your best tools. Notice how now you can  see the line between the tines all the way from the breather hole to the tip of the nib?

Sailor Compass writing sample

My second attempt after opening up the tines just that tiny bit made the actual act of writing much less of a chore. The nib was still a bit scratchy so the next step would be to attempt smoothing the nib on some micromesh but just getting the ink out of the pen made the pen usable and that’s huge.

Sailor Compass pen comparison

When comparing the Compass to other fountain pens in the $50-and-under category, the competition is fierce. My instinct it to compare the Compass to its Japanese rivals: Pilot and Platinum first, but there are also many European makers in this category as well. The pens pictured above are not all the options in this price range but certainly represent a good range of plastic and aluminum barrel as well as a variety of price points.

From left to right: The Faber-Castell Hexo, Faber-Castell Grip, Pilot Metropolitan, Sailor Compass, Pilot Prera, Lamy AL-Star, and Platinum Preppy.

Capped, the Compass is similar in length to the Hexo, Metropolitan and Preppy measuring approx. 5.25″ (133mm). Uncapped, the Compass is 4.3125″ (109.5mm). With converter filled, the Compass weighs 16gms capped or posted and 11gms uncapped. It’s a pretty light pen, but well balanced and not too big, even in my small hands.

Pen Weights

Sailor Compass pen comparison

Posted, the Compass is most similar in length to the Metropolitan at 5.75″ (146mm).

At $49MSRP ($39.20 retail), the Compass is up against Pilot and Platinum specifically in the under $50 Japanese fountain pens which is not somewhere that Sailor has really tried to compete much in the past. Pilot has dominated this market with the Pilot Metropolitan. Pilot also has their budget-friendly Varsity and more recently the Explorer. Platinum woos many with their budget Preppy, fancier Plaisir and more recently with the Prefounte and Procyon.

And when shopping for that “first big fountain pen” consumers aren’t likely to limit themselves to just Japanese brands so Faber-Castell, Lamy, Kaweco, Diplomat, TWSBI and Caran d’Ache all have legitimate candidates in this price range.

My experience with the Compass would need lead me to recommend that someone run out and buy one. Of course, I have a sample size of one and I could be the person who got the dud. I say this as the person who has the TWSBI curse. Ask me about it sometime. So, I would just say that, at the moment, it is not bumping any of other fountain pens off my “best pens under $50” list.

*Brass shims (0.002″ / 0.05 mm) can be purchased from hobby supply stores that specialize in model building and miniatures. Or try using a small piece of acetate from an old 35mm slide or negative.

DISCLAIMER: Some items included in this review were provided free of charge by Goldspot Pens for the purpose of review. Some items in this review include affiliate links. The Well-Appointed Desk is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon. Please see the About page for more details.

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18 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Your experience was NOT out of the norm; I had the same issue with the one I bought, although I didn’t go to the trouble of attempting to open up the tines because I just wasn’t that impressed with the pen overall. The colors on offer are very pretty, but, apart from that, it doesn’t really stand out against its competitors in this price range. The real deal-breaker for me is that the “medium-fine” nib (the only size available) is more like an “extra-fine” nib. I’m personally not a fan of fine Japanese nibs, since I have larger handwriting and like a lot of ink flow. I expected the “medium-fine” to be a little bit closer to a Western fine, but it was not. Coupled with the scratchiness and limited flow of ink, it was not a pleasant writing experience overall. I wound up returning it.

  2. So I’m not the only one who has had this same experience with this pen. I have used micro mesh on it but have not adjusted the tines at all – will do that next. I have been basically regretting that I purchased this pen.

  3. Can you say what you mean by ‘pulling one tine forward’? Forward as related to what? I have a Jinhao nib that is so nice and smooth but the tines are super tight and nothing I’ve done to it with shims makes any difference, including leaving two brass shims stuck in the slit for hours on end which I saw recommended someplace. Thanks!
    And I agree, MF is a dealbreaker for me on even considering trying this pen. I have a Pro Gear Slim with a M and even that is too fine for me and on my list of pens to move out.

    1. When I say forward I mean pinching and pulling the tine (with the etching side facing you) straight up. Think of when you were a kid and your tooth was loose and you would wiggle it back and forth? Same idea! Just instead of your front tooth, its one tine of the nib. Does that help?

  4. While I don’t have a Compass, I do have a Sailor Profit Jr which I got from Japan about a year ago. They appear to be identical pens. While it is a darn cute pen, it definitely has quality problems just like yours in the nib. It is scratchy and ink starved…overall no fun and way more trouble than it was worth. Lots of micromesh and use of the brass shims have brought it to a usable state. It isn’t very fun to use and I feel that both the Profit Jr. and the Compass are far over priced.

  5. Nice review! It looks like I have an out-of-the-norm experience. I liked the color a lot and thought the matching converter was cool, so I went ahead and gave it a try. While I agree that the packaging was excessive (bordering on ridiculous–what a waste!), my Compass wrote well out of the box. Though it was definitely on the dry side initially, daily use had it writing with a perfectly medium flow after about a week. (I’ve found that I need to patiently ‘write-in’ any pen from the Japanese ‘Big Three,’ and usually hold off a couple of weeks before attempting any nib adjustments.) I prefer wetter lines generally, but appreciate that my Compass flows with absolute consistency. As noted in other comments, mine also has a relatively narrow line compared to a Sailor 14k F, but that’s not a total surprise given the firmness of the steel nib. (And I prefer F and EF nibs, so this was a lucky bonus for me!) Actually, my biggest complaint about the pen after a couple of months is the extremely thin plating on the cap band…that is definitely a cut corner! But I think it’s a neat pen in the under-$50 category and I find myself writing with it every day.

    The pictures in your review are great, btw!

    1. I’m so glad you had a good experience with the pen. It’s a relief to hear that someone had a good experience almost from the start.

  6. I had a great experience with the Profit Jr too …. so much so that I was considering getting a Compass, which seems exactly the same. I love the transparent feed and mine writes REALLY well. But maybe I won’t risk it now. Shame, because I love Sailor pens.

  7. I’m sad to see that this pen has such bad QC issues. While $40 is towards the bottom end of the fountain pen world, it’s quite expensive for my budget. If I’m spending that much money on a writing instrument, I’d like to KNOW that it’s going to write nicely, rather than simply rolling dice in the dark.

  8. Hi Ana, you said: “I say this as the person who has the TWSBI curse. Ask me about it sometime.” – OK, I’m asking… What do you mean by the “TWSBI curse”? The TWSBI Eco deserves mention for comparison purposes in this review. To omit the Eco, plus your “TWSBI curse” comment seems to say you got bit hard by one or more bad TWSBI products. Early-on, many suffered from the Plastic Cracking Syndrome with TWSBI pens. And then there was the issue of corrosion on most anything TWSBI produced with “Rose Gold” nibs and/or furniture. I suffered through all of this from the outset with TWSBI, and you know what – TWSBI always fixed the problems or gave me my money back – my choice. I expected problems with the early TWSBI pens. These clear injection molded (acrylic/polycarbonate?) pen parts are not easy to make without internal stress inclusions that lead to eventual cracking unless mold cooling and injection flow profiles are carefully tuned and controlled. Eventually by learning, better quality control, and the use of more tolerant raw materials, TWSBI finally emerged as a trusted mass producer of affordable yet quality writing instruments. Most importantly, TWSBI did this from the ground-up, not by copying or outright stealing a competitor’s designs and/or technology. My TWSBI Eco w/1.1mm stub is in regular rotation alongside pens costing orders of magnitude more, and it stands strong. Is there more TWSBI can do? Yes, for fun I’d like to see TWSBI do a classic black-tie cigar pen with a PVD gold-tone nib and furniture (not rose gold – pleeeze). Something like the Pilot Custom Heritage 743, but at a quarter the price and some sort of TWSBI branding on the cap band only. That’ll teach ’em! Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with TWSBI other than as a satisfied customer.

    1. Amazingly, my TWSBI curse has had nothing to do with their manufacturing issues. Not one of the six or more TWSBI 580, mini, or Eco models I’ve owned have cracked or corroded. Nope. My situation is unique to me. Every TWSBI I purchase arrives with the scratchiest nib in history, or an EF nib that writes like a BB (latest weirdness). I’ve had other TWSBI enthusiasts try the pens I’ve gotten and also noted the oddness of how scratchy mine always are.

      That said, for the purpose of the Sailor Compass review, a TWSBI Eco is a better value. But the nib sizing is wider overall (so if you were looking for a pen with nib widths comparable to a micro gel pen, TWSBI would not be a good match) and it’s a piston filling pen so if someone is new to pens, this can sometimes be intimidating. Until recently, TWSBIs were not as widely available as Lamy, Pilot, Platinum, Faber-Castell, et al. So, while I realize my personal experiences with TWSBI are unique, I did take all this into consideration when writing my review.

  9. “My experience with the Compass would need lead me to recommend that someone run out and buy one.”

    Was that supposed to be “would not lead”?
    Regardless, thanks for the review. It was very helpful since I was considering one. The allure of the colors was very tempting.

  10. Thanks for your review Ana, I was one of the lucky ones and my Compass that I received from Goulet Pens wrote well right out of the box. Love the colors, mines blue but my favorites are a Sailor Pro F and a Pilot Custom 74 F. Keep up the good work, I read all of your reviews..️

  11. Ugh I hate my Sailor Compass MF. I wish I had read this before buying it. The Compass is SO dry.
    – Compass MF is more dry than Platinum Preppy F
    – Compass MF is more dry than Pilot Kakuno F

    The line width is similar between all three. I’m finding interestingly that they all dry similarly, with the Pilot having the darkest, most well defined lines, and the preppy skipping the most (seems to have a smaller range of angles that don’t skip, so part of it is user error).

    The Compass also leaks quite a bit into the cap.

    God I hate this pen. The only thing it would be good for would be writing on very thin paper without bleeding through.

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