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:

I am looking at purchasing a flex nib pen from you. I have watched heaps of your reviews which have been very helpful but in the end I am still stuck as to where to go. I am looking for a quality flex pen with good solid ink flow. Could you please give me your thoughts for me. At this stage don’t factor in price. I look forward to your thoughts and appreciate your help.

I’m happy to share my thoughts with you on flex pens. We have a few different ones, but not as many as you might think so I can actually cover all of the ones that we carry:

Noodler’s Nib Creaper/Ahab/Konrad: These pens are the best value flex pens in the world, period. No other flex nib pen gives you anywhere near this performance for the price. They can take a little bit of getting used to, needing some tinkering and adjustment, but that’s by design. The man who makes the pens (Nathan Tardif of Noodler’s Ink) fundamentally believes that fountain pens are made to be user-serviceable and easily taken apart and adjusted. The flexibility of the nib rivals that of any other modern flex pen, though sometimes they require a little harder pressure to achieve this because of the steel nib.

Namiki Falcon/Pilot Metal Falcon: These pens are just awesome. Before the Noodler’s pens came about, these were the most affordable modern flex nib pens. They call their nibs ‘soft’, not flex, but you’re getting flexibility for sure. You can see how the nibs perform in this video that I made. They are expensive, but worth it. They’re reliable, look great, and perform very well. The Namiki Falcon is the best bang for the buck, but the biggest drawback of that pen is the small ink capacity. Flex pens tend to use more ink than conventional fountain pens, and this is no exception.

Platinum Modern Maki-e: These pens are priced about where the Namiki Falcon rests, but they’re much more ornamentally designed. They’re not marketed as being flexible or soft, but they certainly are. They’re much less talked about than the Falcon, but perform admirably.I don’t think they flex quite to the degree of the Falcon and certainly not like the Noodler’s, but they have much more variation than your conventional nib.

Well, that’s it! Those are all the flex nib pens we have. You’re probably wondering why more pen companies aren’t making them, and I don’t have a great answer for you. They are much harder to design and manufacture than conventional fountain pens, and many companies would likely consider flex nibs to be too small of a niche to pursue. The one other company that I know does make a flex nib is Stipula, and I use their “T-Flex” nib in this video where I actually compare it to the Namiki Falcon and Noodler’s Flex. I personally find this nib to be so incredibly wet and broad that it’s much less practical than the other pens.

I have seen a see through Pilot pen, between $50-75, can’t remember the name. is the fine point on this similar to the vanishing point? I like writing with what is equivalent to the extra fine nib. went to the paradise pen store and road tested a couple of pens for fun. the dealer says the fine point on my namiki is equivalent to an extra fine (my Mont Blanc fine tip writes larger line).

I think the Pilot pen you’re referring to is the Prera. The fine nib on that pen is actually a bit finer than the Vanishing Point fine, but not quite as fine as the extra-fine. You can compare them to anything you want in our Nib Nook, I’ve taken the liberty of pulling up a few nibs to help you out:

I think you’d be happy with the Prera fine! It is true that Pilot’s nibs (and Japanese brands in general) are about a size finer than their Western counterparts. 

I am using my new namiki falcon which I finally received on Monday I am having a problem with the writing experience. I believe this is due to the type of stationery that I currently have. The paper has a texture to it albeit not very rough but on the upward strokes of writing the nib seems to dig and scratch the paper resulting in breaks in the flow and annoying jolts in the letter formation. I was hoping you could recommend a brand/type of paper I could use to achieve a smooth writing experience. Just to remind you I have a namiki metal pilot falcon pen with a SEF nib. I also use other pens mainly montblancs with my current stationery and I haven’t had these issues. I guess because my other pen nibs are generally mediums with very little flex. I look forward to hearing your recommendations. I have seen a couple of your helpful videos but I thought I would draw on your experience as you have used most pens/papers. I’m particularly interested in writing paper for letters, envelopes to match and also notebooks (A4 & A5).  

I’m sorry you’re having some trouble with your Pilot Falcon SEF! That is an incredible nib, though not without its quirks like many flexible nibs have. Part of what you’re experiencing may well be the paper, and part of it may be due to your writing pressure. That SEF nib is very fine, and needs the lightest writing pressure you can use, particularly on upward/cross strokes. You only want to be flexing the nib on the downstroke, as you’re writing with the nib in a ‘pulling’ motion, for a right-handed person this would be in a direction from the top left to the bottom right. I should ask, are you right-handed? Being left or right handed makes a huge difference when writing with a flexible nib.

I don’t know if you consider yourself to be a heavy-handed writer or if you even think about it very much, but it will make a difference with this particular nib how much pressure you use when you write. The SEF nib is particularly sensitive to writing pressure, and even with light pressure, it won’t feel as smooth as your stiffer-nib medium pens, simply because the tip of the Pilot nib is so very small. Of course, with all this taken into consideration if you feel that the nib isn’t living up to your expectations, we can take it back and inspect it, and exchange it for another if necessary. I want to make sure you are satisfied with your pen in the end ;)

To answer your original question though, I find the most enjoyable papers to be Clairefontaine and Rhodia. Clairefontaine is generally just a bit smoother than Rhodia, though they’re both amazingly smooth compared to most of the paper you’ve probably used in your life!

When it comes to stationery (for correspondence), the paper is often more textured, to give it more character/feel to the recipient. Clairefontaine Triomphe paper is flat-out the smoothest paper I’ve ever used in my life, and it does have matching envelopes. Just about as smooth, but without matching envelopes, would be Rhodia Premium tablets, it’s nearly identical to Triomphe but in off-white. A really nice correspondence paper that has a bit of ‘tooth’ to it (not textured, but just a little more resistance to it than the super-smooth Triomphe) is Original Crown Mill Pure Cotton. The paper has a very interested feel to it, being 100% cotton, and it looks really nice to the recipient.  

I have recently been smitten with the allure of demonstrtator pens and have collected a few so far. I have been reading some about ink colors and their likelihood of staining. As my collection grows are there any inks you have experience with that I should stay away from due to a reputation for staining? The Diamine Deep Magenta comes to mind as the sample vial is still tinted even after a thorough rinsing.

I am also infatuated with demonstrators! They are much more likely to show inks that stain, that’s very true. In all honesty though, very few inks if any, will stain permanently. At least on modern pens. The inks that tend to be more of an issue are permanent inks, anything iron gall, waterproof, pigmented, or something like that. I think the inks that generally tend to stain a little more are pinks, reds, purples, and royal blues. And honestly, it’s probably similar red or blue components in these colors that tend to do most of the staining. When it comes to the actual stain though, most of the time it’s not permanent at all, it just requires cleaning beyond plain water. Noodler’s Baystate Blue is a prime example…it will stain dang near anything blue, but some bleach diluted in water will cut right through it and make your pen look new. Some inks clean up well with diluted bleach, most will clean up well with a flush like JB’s Perfect Pen Flush. You can always test out a cleaning technique on a sample vial that is stained, before putting it into your pen! That would be a harmless way to do it.

I don’t have a master list of stain-prone inks though, in all honesty there are so few situations that I hear about with pens permanently being stained that it’s not really an issue. Now there are certain vintage pens out there made from materials that are more prone to staining, and that’s a whole other ball of wax. Before modern plastics came about, there were a lot of experimental plastic compounds that pen companies were using, some of which were not at all ideal for their intended use in pens. But any pen made probably in the last 40 years should be just fine with conventional fountain pen inks.

I was wondering what the difference between a Konrad and Ahab pen was? Also, I have only used a Lamy Safari fine nib pen, and I absolutely loved it. However I lost it, and I was wondering how these pens would compare for note taking and if the flex nib would be practical for such uses?

I’m so sorry you lost your Safari! That is a great pen, and I can wholeheartedly recommend another one to you, they’re a staple pen in this hobby.

I actually have a blog post with a video where I compare all three Noodler’s pens in more detail than I’m able to share in an email, feel free to view that here at your leisure. I don’t know that I would look to use a flex pen as your only daily writer. These pens have their quirks…they’re amazing pens for what they do, and are a tremendous value for a pen with a flexible nib, but the nature of the pens makes them challenging in certain situations. For one, they are VERY wet, and put down a lot of ink when you write, even when not flexing. That makes them tough to use on cheaper papers, because you’re more likely to experience feathering and bleeding with a really wet pen. The flex nibs can also take a little getting used to because the nib size changes with your writing pressure (on purpose, that’s actually the whole idea!). This is a good thing, but can take a lot of getting used to if you’ve never used a pen like this before.

The flex pens are a lot of fun and really interesting to use, but I would probably keep another pen in mind just in case you find you’re not able to use a flex as your exclusive pen. They’re great for what they are, but they’re not quite as versatile as a conventional nib pen. I have all kinds of suggestions for other simpler pens, if you’d like. My favorite (that it a great value) is the Pilot Metropolitan

I am interested in purchasing a Pilot Metropolitan but being the owner of a Pilot Knight I am a little worried that the Metro will be uncomfortable to hold like the Knight. The grip section is too short on the Knight with that steep step so it just stays on my rack. I suppose if the Metro grip section were a little longer the steep step wouldn’t be a problem.

I know exactly what you’re talking about! We actually used to carry the knight about a year and a half ago before it was discontinued in the US. It does have a very steep step, but the Metropolitan isn’t that drastic. The grip section on the Metropolitan is longer and less drastic than the Knight, so I think you’ll find it much more pleasing. Plus, the overall weight of the Metro is lighter than the Knight, so it’s better to hold for long periods. And it’s about 1/3 the price that the Knight was back when we sold it….basically it’s just a better pen all around!

I have recently got into fountain pens and find your website an invaluable tool for tips and ideas for emptying my wallet!! But as I now have a nice pen I want to improve my handwriting to show off the great pen and ink!! My handwriting is fairly shocking, do you know of any good websites or books for improving my joined up writing!! I seem to only be able to find books for kids! I should have practiced more at school :-(

Welcome to the fountain pen world! I’ll be completely honest, handwriting isn’t exactly my strong suit either. It’s actually something I really plan to work on in 2013. The tough part is that there isn’t really any one place that I know that has great handwriting stuff…the best place for resources that I know right now is the Fountain Pen Network, in their Penmanship subforum. There are a lot of great links here. The cursive that most of us learned is school was the Palmer method, which is a fairly utilitarian handwriting designed to compete with typewriters in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The more elegant and fancy writing before that was the Spencerian method, and that’s making somewhat of a resurgence in the pen community. 

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!