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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Brian's Top 5 Fountain Pens for Newbies




Even though it's been 7 years since I was a complete newbie in the fountain pen world, I still remember very distinctly how incredibly overwhelming all of the options seemed. Especially if you're shopping online, all of the different pens and their features all sort of seem to blend together and it can be paralyzing. Fountain pens are such a personal thing, and while you don't always know what will be the ultimate perfect pen for you, it's best to start out with a reliable writer that is a good introduction to the hobby. 

After years of experience using hundreds of different pens and talking with thousands of customers, I have compiled my personal list of what I feel are 5 of the best pens to consider for the newbie just getting into the hobby. While I didn't use any scientific reasoning, the main criteria I used were value, reliability (especially in writing), and positive reputation. 

Here is a bullet-point style run down of my 5 favorite fountain pens for newbies:

Price: ~$15
Video Marker: (1:09)
Pilot Metropolitan
Pros:
  • Converter is included
  • Incredible value
  • Nibs write very fine, finer than other brands of the same size designation
  • Reliable writer
  • Many color choices
  • Durable
  • Nice case included, great for gifting
Cons:
  • Included converter does not show ink level
  • Limited nib options (fine and medium)

Price: ~$3.95 
Video Marker: (2:49)

Platinum Preppy
Pros:
  • Cartridge/converter is easy to use
  • Eyedropper convertible for large ink capacity
  • Affordable
  • Reliable writer
  • Cap seals great (better than many much more expensive pens)
  • Clear body shows ink level without having to open it up
Cons:
  • Proprietary Platinum cartridge/converter
  • Expensive converter, costs almost twice what the pen does
  • Plastic can break if dropped hard
  • Limited nib options (fine and medium)
  • No case/box included with pen

Price: ~$3
Video Marker: (4:58)
Pilot Varsity
Pros:
  • Great performers
  • Convenient, no need to ink up/refill
  • Easiest FP in the world to use, no knowledge required
Cons:
  • Not refillable (unless hacked)
  • Limited ink color options, prefilled
  • Only one nib size (somewhere around a medium)
  • No case/box included with pen

Price: ~$9.90
Video Marker: (6:49)
Jinhao x750

Pros:
  • Converter included
  • Standard international converter/carts, easier to find/replace
  • #6 size nib fits nibs from other brands like Goulet, Noodler’s, Edison, Monteverde
  • Durable
Cons:
  • Included converter isn’t fantastic, can be replaced with standard international
  • Heavy pen
  • Limited nib options purchased with the pen, additional nibs must be bought to swap
  • Limited color options
  • No case/box included with pen

Price: ~$29
Video Marker: (9:13)
Lamy Safari

Pros:
  • Workhorse/durable
  • Reliable
  • Ink window means you can see ink level without opening pen
  • Cartridge/converter
  • Swappable nibs, huge range of sizes (EF, F, M, B, 1.1, 1.5, 1.9)
  • Lots of fun colors
Cons:
  • Most expensive of this group
  • Converter is not included
  • Proprietary Lamy Z24 cartridge/converter
  • Triangular grip is polarizing, some love it and some hate it

While there are many other pens that I absolutely enjoy, these ones are the go-to pens that I find best to recommend as an introduction into the fountain pen world. You personally may love or hate them, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on them in the comments below. Do you have any other pens you find are great to start out with? I'd love to hear that, too. 

Write On,
Brian Goulet

24 comments:

  1. My first interest in fountain pens was purely for flex nib writing, which of course led me to the Noodler's Creaper & Ahabs. Some would argue that they're horrible pens for "noobs" but I've realized that the required tinkering it has taken to work with them has immersed me in learning about fountain pens much quicker than expected. I would only recommend them to someone who is interested in flex nib writing and is somewhat handy and willing to learn.

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  2. I purchased both of my Metropolitans from the always reliable Goulets and their staff. I HATE the medium nib one. It skips, is a hard starter, and is not all that smooth (especially for a medium nib). However, I LOVE the fine nib one and I love it for all of the reasons the medium nib pen didn't make it. The fine nib pen is a smooth writer, starts right up, and doesn't skip. Also, for its price it is an exceptionally well built pen.

    Another pen, for about the price of a Safari, is the Kaweco Sport. Of the two, I lean towards the Kaweco. While both are fine choices, the Sport is a smoother writer than the Safari. Because it is a pocket pen, the Sport is easier to carry around than the Safari. In fact, the Kaweco Sport has become my everyday carry for a couple of years now.

    Unlike Brian, I would not recommend the Preppy. While certainly dirt cheap, that is pretty much the way it writes; it's pretty scratchy and might turn off someone curious about fountain pens. I do agree with him about the seal when the cap is snapped closed. When reopened, the pen is ready to write. There don't seem to be any hard starts, at least for me.

    Obviously, these are just my opinions and there are other pens out there that are pretty reasonably priced. Brian gives a great jumping off point to anyone just starting out. Of all the ones he mentions that I have tried (I've not tried the Pilot Varsity) I think a fine nib Pilot Metropolitan is the best of the ones here, and not just for newbies, either. ;-)

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  3. What about the Pilot Kakuno? I bought a Pilot Kakuno in Tokyo last year just out of curiosity (note: I already have a Pilot Namiki Falcon purchased from Goulet Pens). The Kakuno writes very smoothly and it's really cute (with a smiley on the nib). It cost around 1100 Yen, which is about $11. The sales person told me that it's for kids :) but honestly anyone starting with fountain pens will find it very easy to use.

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  4. I like these choices, but I would recommend the x750 only for a large-handed person. There are other smaller inexpensive Chinese pens that are slimmer and just as good.

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  5. I'm a total noob and your videos sure help a lot! So thanks for that =)
    In this case, I wonder if it would be cool to have a beginner set with mixed properties. Starting out a couple of weeks ago, I had a couple of random pens at home, but then I bought the Lamy because it's such a classic. And I got a Pilot Parallel and recently ordered a Metropolitan and a Noodler's Flex pen, you know, to try different things.

    So I was wondering if we could have a recommendation from you of a mixed set, for example: get a Lamy with medium nib, a Pilot Metropolitan with fine nib, Noodler's Flex pen and some other pen with italic nib. How does that sound?

    Thank you for the awesome blog and shop!

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  6. Vinícius CordeiroAugust 5, 2014 at 8:41 PM

    I believe that Brian made the video with an Western audience in mind, since the Pilot Kakuno do not sell (officially) outside Japan.

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  7. You can buy the Pilot Kakuno from Jetpens.

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  8. Yeah, because of the price point and the versatility of these pens, they are often very appealing to newbies. But boy, do we get a lot of questions about how to use them, and honestly, they're just not the best introduction for a BRAND new fountain pen user. It's a bit involved.

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  9. Really? That's definitely not the way the medium Metropolitan usually is, I've written with a bunch of them and what you have seems to be the exception rather than the rule, I'm sorry! But your fine is right on par, that pen is fantastic. Good point about the Kaweco, that would have made my list but the cartridge-only aspect of it is what bumped it off my list. It's also not nearly as known as the Preppy, part of why I included the Preppy on my list isn't because it's necessarily the absolute best writer (it's pretty good, generally), but more because it's a known quantity and they're really widely discussed and known by just about everyone.

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  10. It'll be coming into the US in early 2015. I didn't include it on my list partly because it's not available in the US, but mainly because I don't personally have experience with it. All of the pens I recommended I know really well and have used them extensively.

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  11. True, but I'm a big-handed guy :) Most of the other pens I recommended are much better suited for smaller hands, so I wanted to throw a big one in there :)

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  12. Sounds like you just did my work for me, Juliana! That's a pretty good mixed set right there ;) You could always throw a Lamy 1.1mm stub on the pen, or put a #6 Goulet 1.1mm stub on that Noodler's Flex. Or the Pilot Parallel in the 1.5 could serve as the italic of the bunch.

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  13. Fair points, Brian, and you would know better than I. Interestingly, though, I also purchased a medium nib Metropolitan for a friend at about the time I got mine and her reaction to it was the same as mine. I'm not sure why that was but, based on my experience with the fine nib, I'm willing to accept the fact that I may have gotten a medium that was the exception rather than the rule because the fine nib model made a believer out of me.

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  14. Whenever I see the cartridge vs. converter ($) or no converter, I always wonder why the syringe option isn't mentioned. For about $5 I got two ink syringes (from you!) that put me in the category of never having to worry about converters again -- I just flush an empty cartridge, fill with the ink of my choice, and go on about my writing business. A syringe is the TRUE universal, and a good investment for any newbie to make!

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  15. Me too Linda! Good point. Some cartridges hold more ink than their converters (Pilot) and I refill the cartridge quickly and easily with my Goulet syringe. Plus, I can suck up the last bit of ink in the bottle or vial.

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  16. I too have been disappointed in my M Metropolitan which skips all the time. For $15 I'm not going to complain much (maybe I'll try to fix it) but I would worry that a beginner would get frustrated and give up on fountain pens if they got the one I did.

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  17. I own three medium Pilot Metropolitan pens. I use each one with different kinds of ink/color. I mainly purchase Noodler's inks and those with a light viscosity tend to perform better with the medium nib. My favorite ink is Noodler's 54th Mass (somewhat thick viscosity) but it does skip especially if I haven't used the pen in a few days. Every now and then I take the Metropolitan apart and sink it all in warm water to clean the tracks. Afterwards, it rarely skips. My 2 cents :)

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  18. I found that to be the case with my Lamy Vista. I bought the converter but prefer refilling the cartridge with syringe. Holds way more ink.

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  19. One trick, if you are not already using it, is to cut a piece of blotting paper the size of the notebook sheet. Then, when you finished writing on the page, slip the blotting paper sheet in between the wet page and the previous dry page. As you close the book, the blotting paper will keep the ink from smearing.

    If you can't find blotting paper, Kleenex, a paper towel, or construction paper will sort of work (though not as well as J Herbin blotting paper, in my experience).
    Hope this helps.

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  20. Thanks for the trick! I'll try to find and use one.

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  21. http://blog.andersonpens.net/delta-unica-sneak-peek/#more-3694 Will you guys be carrying this pen? Looks to be a pretty good deal for the price. A new entry level Delta for $76. Same nib as the Serena, but the pen looks nicer, in my opinion (especially the blue one!)

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  22. I think you may have missed the mark a bit with this one. Usually, your suggestions are spot on, but this time, the wrong direction may have been taken.

    The only two pens I'd recommend here for beginners are the Lamy Safari and the Pilot Metropolitan an mayyyybe the Varsity.

    What I mean is, when I was new to fountain pens, I wanted something that I could put my own bottled ink in, and that I could use for a long time. I never considered the Varsity, because a disposable fountain pen was something that just didn't make sense to me. I thought of fountain pens as superior writing instruments meant to stand the test of time, not to be thrown away like a Bic-Stik. I also never thought about the Preppy because the term Eyedropper had to context for me, or any other non-FP users. Sure, I knew what it meant, and that it greatly increases ink capacity, but never having used a cartridge/converter pen yet, I had no idea how long a normal fill lasted in the first place.

    I wanted something reliable and easy, that was going to last me a long time, not the crackable Preppy or the Toss-able Varsity. I also wouldn't recommend the Jinhao, simply because I think a new user would mess up the pen. The Jinhao steel nibs are so soft, a newbie might interpret it as the 'Flex' they've been reading about and then spring the nib or make it otherwise worthless, turning them off of fountain pens forever, since this one broke so easily. Same thing goes with the Preppy. It cracks and leaks ink all over an important item, and they get turned off of fountain pens.



    My recommendations instead would be the Metropolitan, the Safari/AL-Star/Vista, Sheaffer 100, TWSBI 580 (This one is pushing the price, I know), and the Platinum Balance. They appeal to what I think the average newbie is looking for in fountain pens.

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  23. How about Brian's Top 5 Fountain Pens for "Expert Users"? Select at least one soft, hard and flex nib pens.

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  24. so what flex nib pen would you recommend as a good starter pen... if that even exists?

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