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 generally prefer a fine nib or EF because most of my writing is small and precise. However, in doing signatures perhaps a medium nib would be better on the Pilot Custom 823 for example? Or would I be frustrated printing smaller characters including practicing Chinese characters and wish I’d gone with an F nib for the $290 investment?

Pilot tends to grind their nibs a little finer than Lamy in general, especially on the finer nibs. Here’s a comparison from the Nib Nook:

You can see here that there’s actually a pretty big jump from the 823 fine to the medium. The 823 fine is actually thinner than the Lamy extra-fine, but the medium is closer to a Lamy medium. It’s a big jump, so you’ll definitely want to make sure you take that into account based on how you want to use it. I can’t really say which one will be better or worse for you, it all depends what you want! 

In your review of the Pilot Metropolitan you mention how smooth writing the M steel nib is. Obviously, probably the best value in a fountain pen, period. What rational justification can I have for lusting after a Pilot Custom 823 that costs 15 times as much, other than it’s just a totally awesome work of engineering? What objective metrics could justify such a purchase?

Well, the Metro is an underpriced pen, in my opinion. A comparable pen from a company like Sheaffer or Lamy might end up being more like $40-50, so to view the 823 compared to the serious value of the Metro is always going to be hard to justify. There’s certainly a law of diminishing returns, there isn’t likely ’15 times’ the value of a Metro. That said, the things that make the 823 cost significantly more are the gold nib, and the vacuum-filling system. The vacuum system is not easy to design, and other vacuum pens from companies like Visconti cost about twice as much as the 823! The only vacuum pen that I know that is less is the TWSB Vac-700, and that is another good ‘value’ pen (if you’re shopping for a vacuum pen). The ink capacity is about 4 times the Metro in the 823, if that helps ;)

I’ve been considering the Pilot Custom 74 instead of the Pilot Custom 823, primarily because I like the blue color much better than the amber. Saving $120 doesn’t hurt either. I watched your video comparison of the 74, Heritage 92 and 823 but just wanted to follow up a little more specifically. 1) Will the demonstration you gave be the same for the Custom 74 nibs in Fine and Medium? 2) Would you rate the 74’s quality of writing experience the equal of or similar to the 823, (with emphasis on the distinction between the nibs)? I’m probably going to go with the 74 but wanted to ask your opinion. 

There actually is a slight difference in the nibs. It’s not huge, but it’s worth pointing out. The 823 uses a slightly larger nib, and it seems it’s ground just a bit different. Here’s what I mean:

The Custom 823 seems to be a little more on the extreme with the fine and medium, meaning that the fine is just a bit finer than the Custom 74, and the medium is just a bit broader. I personally have a medium in both pens in my personal collection, and with most inks I don’t really notice a difference between the two. And in fact, I actually like the way the Custom 74 writes a little more. The nib, though smaller, is a little more springy…but that’s being pretty nit-picky, they’re both great nibs. I think you’d be very happy with either. It’s sort of like choosing between a Ferrari and Maserati ;) Honestly, with all factors in play, the Custom 74 is the better value. I love it, and it’s been my daily writer for two years now.

So, two questions: Mostly, I’m really torn as to which nib size to get for a Lamy 2000… I have a fine Lamy nib, and ideally would get something between that and the 1.1 italic, which I also enjoy. Is the medium the best bet, or perhaps the broad? I wouldn’t want a line thicker than a 1.1, but not as fine as the steel fine. I’m also a little wary of some of the stories I’ve heard about shoddy quality control with the 2000.

I like my medium, but it sounds like you might actually enjoy the broad. The broad is really smooth, and has just a hint of stub-ness (made up word!) to it, just look at my writing sample:

As for the quality control, there are some issues we see with the tines being misaligned and the pistons being a little stiff. But we QC every Lamy 2000 that comes through our shop, so you are definitely going to get a good one from us.  

I’m currently a university student and the Iroshizuku inks are simply too expensive for me to afford. Especially to justify to non fountain pen using parents! I’ve read some threads over at FPN that offer some inks as substitutes to the Iroshizuku inks. I love the color of Kon Peki and the forums suggest Sailor Sky High as a poor man’s substitute. My thought is to buy Sky High and an empty Kon Peki bottle and “cheat” a little. It won’t be an exact match, but it just needs to be “close enough”. I know from watching your videos that Kon Peki is one of your favorite inks and was wondering if you had any experience with alternatives, and what you think of my plan?

Sky High is probably the best substitute for Kon-Peki, and is definite cheaper! I actually don’t use Kon-Peki as much these days since I have Liberty’s Elysium (which I helped design, so I’m biased). Liberty’s is a little darker, though. Sky High is a closer color match. I think your plan is pretty solid, Sky High is a nice color, but really, the Sailor bottles are pretty nice as they are! They’re not the same as Pilot, but they’re very functional and aesthetically pleasing. The only kink in your plan is getting the Iroshizuku bottle. It’s fairly rare we come across an empty Kon-Peki bottle, we don’t even have any empty Iroshizuku bottles at the moment (this was the situation at the time). When we do, it’s random based on what ink we’ve recently sampled, so it’s going to be nearly impossible to get a specific Kon-Peki bottle. You may have to settle for a different Iroshizuku bottle, and peel off the label.

I’ve been interested in the Diamine green black and Noodlers red black, cause I have these uni-ball blx pens and they have all inks infused with black and I really love the colors so if I’m trying to find all these colors in pen form. So I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about these inks and how they handle and if think they’ll be dark enough in a fine nib on rhodia or moleskine paper.

Diamine Green/Black is pretty dark, not quite as dark as Noodler’s Zhivago though! That’s the darkest, if you want dark. None of the inks are really going to be two-tone, like your pens are. When they’re called green/black or red-black, that really just means they’re very dark green or red. That said, Noodler’s Red-Black is very, very dark. The darkest red made. Both should perform well on Rhodia, they might have a pretty long dry time because any ink as dark as these are pretty well saturated with dyes and usually take longer to dry. Moleskine….that’s really hit-or-miss, I don’t know how they’ll do. I’d recommend you try samples of these inks to see for yourself. 

Brian, any plans to get the pre-cut J. Herbin blotter sheets in white and if so will you be offering a package set including the blotter the way you do with the full-size sheets?

Herbin only makes the pre-cut sheets in pink :P Otherwise, we’d carry them in white! They only have full sheets in white. You’re actually the first to ask me about doing a blotter package set with the pre-cut sheets, but if there’s other interest I will consider setting that up. No immediate plans though. 

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!