My email inbox gets a plethora of interesting pen related questions, and I spend a good deal of time crafting thoughtful responses to each person who writes to me. A lot of times, the questions I get are good ones that I feel are worth sharing with you! I’ll be posting highlights of some of my more interesting email questions every Mailbox Monday. These are some emails of mine from the past week or so:

Which pens do you consider to have the tightest sealing caps? (Kaweco, Preppies, Plumix, Pelikano [Jr], others) I’m trying to figure out which would be the best of my pens to ink with my new Q’Ternity and I figure it should probably have a tight seal to keep it from drying out in the pen. Decided to skip the N flex pens as I get the impression this ink might tend toward the dry end of the continuum since it’s a quick dry ink. Yes? Your expertise would be most welcome.

The best would actually be the Platinum 3776 Century pens, they advertise more than a year of sealing without drying out! Platinum Preppies seal well, the Prera does too. TWSBI’s aren’t bad….basically any pen that has an insert in the cap will seal well. I don’t know that it’s necessary to have a well-sealing pen for Q’Ternity or any other fast-drying ink for that matter. Contrary to what you might think, fast drying inks are actually quite wet. The reason they’re fast drying is because it absorbs very quickly into the paper and spreads out, so it dries quicker to the touch. I haven’t found that the ink dries any quicker in a pen than any other ink.

I have many fountain pens that use standard international cartridge converters. I never use the plunger mechanisms though as I always refill them with a syringe. The mechanisms though consume half of the available ink space. Do you know of any robustly made cartridge converters that would have the reinforced neck etc. without the plunger mechanics, and therefore twice the capacity?

When it comes to cartridge converters, you usually don’t have many options. Whatever converter fits is the one that there is for it, and that’s it. For example, the standard international converter that comes with most pens that fit it is the same for all brands (they might have their company’s logo on it, but that’s about the only difference). Proprietary converters from other brands might be a slightly different (like Pilot, Sailor, Sheaffer, Lamy, Platinum), but they’re only going to fit those brands of pens. If you want to get more ink capacity, there are really only two options. You can refill ink cartridges for the given pen, which may or may not have a higher ink capacity than the converter. There aren’t any converter-grade cartridges that are super-durable but with a higher ink capacity than a normal converter, though. Ink cartridges are flimsier and meant to be disposable, so you’ll be able to get a few fills out of them but they’ll wear out and crack/lose their seal after 3-5 refillings. Or you can possibly convert the pen to an eyedropper-fill pen, like I do here with this Platinum Preppy. But not all pens are able to do that. 

I’m planning to buy some Noodler’s Green Marine and a bulletproof Black. The idea is to mix and get a bit darker shade and a stronger bulletproof line. What would be the results of mixing a small quantity of X-Feather in? About 1:8 ratio. I’m not entirely sure to go with that or regular BB for my additive. I wouldn’t like pure X-Feather because I like to use my pen for notes at school, and X-Feather dries very slowly. But BS Concord Grape has too much bleed/show-through to write on both sides of a page.

You can mix Noodler’s inks, but when you get into mixing inks with different properties, you’ll essentially be diluting the properties in accordance to the ratios you mix. For example, Black is bulletproof, Green Marine is not. So if you mix the two 50/50, then your mixed ink will only be partially bulletproof (about halfway), because only the black components of that ink will be. Does that make sense? Same goes for lubrication, UV-resistnace, etc. The part that gets interesting/confusing is that each individual ink has its own mixture of chemical properties, exactly which we don’t really know because the formulations are proprietary. So when you get to mixing different inks together, it really takes a lot of trial and error to try to get a specific result, because you only partly know what you’re mixing. As long as you keep an experimentation mindset, it can be a lot of fun. The only inks you don’t want to mix are Baystates…well, you can mix them with other Baystates, but not with other inks. They have some kind of property that makes them incompatible with other inks, to the point where it will froth/gel.  

I’m curious if anyone has tried taking a Konrad and pulling the plunger out of the back assembly and using it as an eyedropper. I would assume I would want some silicone grease.

The Konrad is a piston-fill pen, so it needs to have the mechanism intact to be able to seal properly. The only pens that are able to be eyedropper converted are ones that have removable cartridge/converters that have completely sealed bodies. Because the Konrad has a piston mechanism inside, the seal on the end of the piston rod is what keeps the ink from leaking out of the back. If you remove that, then you’re left, essentially, with a gaping hole in the back of the pen. Now in theory you could seal up the back of the pen somehow, but it’s not entirely practical to do that, and wouldn’t really buy you much in terms of ink capacity. The Konrad’s pretty good as is, if you really want a high ink capacity, then you should take a look at the Ahab, which holds a mammoth 6ml of ink when you fill the body!

Will the TWSBI Ink Bottle work with most fountain pens?

The TWSBI ink bottle will work with any pen, but which pen will fill which way will vary. Basically, if you take off the aluminum part, then it’s just a regular bottle and you can fill it with any pen. The aluminum part has an adapter that is made for the TWSBI 540, TWSBI Mini, or a Standard International converter. Those are the only things you can use on that part, to fill it without having to dip your pen into the ink. 

I’m at the point where I’m looking to expand my pen inventory and while I really like my Lamy Studio, I’m yearning to have a gold-nibbed pen that is a level up from it. This is where I need your help. I’ve surfed around and tried some pens at a great store in The City (Flax Art & Design, San Francisco) and am gravitating towards four different pens. (I haven’t tried the TWSBi locally, so I really don’t know how it feels or writes, but it’s on the list because of all the attention it gets) This is what I’m looking for in a new pen: (ordered somewhat in priority) 

1) Writing Experience – melted butter on glass and all that 
2) Fit & Finish – must be quality materials and workmanship 
3) Durability – it should last decades if not for the rest of my life, and not be too sensitive (or melt) with a variety of good inks 
4) Ease of Maintenance – if it’s not reasonably easy to clean, what’s the point? 
5) Serviceability – if it should need to be repaired or have parts replaced, how easy is that? 
6) Various Intangibles – “soul”, je ne sais quoi, etc. – you know what I mean ;-) 
7) Appearance – moderately important, I’m not drawn to most “classic” style pens with gaudy colors or weird end-to-end random patterns 

The four pens: Pelikan M605 (I know it’s not a regularly stocked pen, but I would special-order it from you) Pilot Custom 74 Platinum 3776 Shoji TWSBi Diamond 540 Pretend for a moment that they were all the same price, which would you recommend?

I don’t think that I’ll be able to give you any one magical answer because a lot of what you asked is subjective and I will have an opinion that may be different than yours or others, but I’ll do my best. I think the best thing I can do for you is give you my opinion about the 4 pens you asked me about.
• Pelikan M605- I don’t personally have experience with this exact pen, but I have used the Pelikan m600 White Tortoise that was a special edition late last year. It was a gorgeous pen, and I know that Pelikan has a great reputation for their gold nib pens. I think it meets all of your criteria…as it well should, because it’s by far the most expensive of the group.
Pilot Custom 74– I love this pen. It writes so well, and Pilot has a great fit and finish. My medium nib Custom 74 is my go-to pen, even though I have about 100 others at my disposal. The one potential drawback is that the converter is hard to clean well, so it’s kind of a pain to change colors on a regular basis if you’re using inks that are hard to clean. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s worth mentioning.
Platinum 3776 Shoji– This is also a great pen, and is limited edition that I believe will run out very soon. The best thing about this pen is the patented cap seal that Platinum has on this pen, they tout over a year of storage with an inked nib that will not dry out. If that matters to you. The nib is a bit stiffer than the Pilot, so if you like stiff nibs, then go for it. Both Pilot and Platinum’s nibs are finer than the corresponding Pelikan size.
TWSBi Diamond 540– This one is hard to fairly compare because it’s a steel nib and the others are gold, and there’s obviously a huge difference in price. But you asked me to ignore that so I will. I am a fan of the 540, mainly because it generally writes well and is easy to disassemble for cleaning and maintenance (it even comes with a wrench and silicone grease). The biggest downside to this is that TWSBI is discontinuing this model, so it will be hard to find. We have some of the colored 540’s left, but those will dwindle. We have no clear ones and won’t get any more. We’re told that TWSBI is updating the pen to become the 580, a similar design with some slight improvements, but we have no information about when that will happen or how much it will cost (probably similar to the 540).

Honestly, all of these pens will meet all of your criteria, they’re all beautiful and well-engineered pens that will write well and are relatively problem-free in maintenance. What separates them will be nitty gritty details such as their ink capacity, specific dimensions like weight and grip diameter, and of course, price. 

Thanks for taking the time to read my emails! I’d love to hear what you think in the comments. I’ll be compiling this coming week’s emails into next week’s Mailbox Monday post!