Category Archives: Meta-review

Blackstone blue inks

A little bit of history  Filling a fountain pen used to be difficult for folk Down Under. Sending a glass bottle full of rather heavy water half-way around the globe was an expensive business, and there were few local alternatives. Then Aussie dye-makers Toucan realised that one of their hues worked well enough in a fountain pen, and that was a start. Before too long the specialist ink-wrangler Robert Oster followed suit (almost certainly more about him to follow on this site soon), and then up popped a third Antipodean pen-filler: Blackstone. We found ourselves drawn to the blues.

How it looks  The two blues offer a lighter and a darker option, and both are charmers. There’s decent shading on offer, and quite a bit of sheen if you lay it on thickly. In short, if you like blues you’ll like these.

Crucially, how it writes…  Like standard fountain pen ink, really. Adequate flow, good saturation, reasonable drying times and no problems to report. All very encouraging.Ink! What is it good for?  It’s multi-purpose ink, this; it would be perfectly nice for writing a diary with, but you could probably get away with taking it to the office too. The plastic bottle is also hardy enough for travelling with, if you want to avoid glassware on the move.

VFM  Tolerable. £6.95 for 30ml is thrice the price of the same amount of Diamine, but this has come all way from the other side of the planet. It’s certainly not going to break the bank.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Then Blackstone’s new set of scented inks might be worth a look instead. Or there’s Robert Oster’s range, of course.

Our overall recommendation  Well worth a try if you’re after something a bit different without blowing the ink budget all in one go.

Where to get hold of one  The best bet in this hemisphere is straight from Bureau Direct.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Blackstone and Bureau Direct for some of the samples.

Italix Deacon’s Doodle fountain pen review

A little bit of history: ‘Mr Pen’ is one of a number of business ventures owned by Ruislip-based company P. J. Ford & Associates Ltd, set up 1989. Their in-house Italix range of pens is already well-known thanks to the famous Parson’s Essential and, as we’ve already reviewed, the English Curate. Italix has now entered the budget end of the market with the Deacon’s Doodle – and of course, we had to put it to the test.

How it looks and feels: It’s a classic look in brushed stainless steel and it comes with a choice of nibs AND a converter. One might be concerned that a stainless steel pen could feel a little heavy, but this is not the case – the Deacon’s Doodle is pleasantly ‘there’ in the hand, but it’s no dead weight.

How it fills This one’s a straightforward universal cartridge-filler, but amazingly at this price point it comes with a good converter as standard.

Crucially, how does it handle? All our reviewers report that it performs well, offering a smooth writing experience and a fairly wet nib worthy of a much more expensive pen.

Pen! What is it good for? The Deacon’s Doodle looks and feels expensive, but – and you might want to sit down for this one – it costs LESS than £15.00!

There are gift set options which include engraving, intelligently aimed at the gift market; nobody would ever guess from its looks and performance that it is a budget pen.

VFM Frankly astonishing. If this pen cost £30 you would be delighted, but for £15.00 it’s a bargain.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  The Faber-Castell Basic is available in a stainless steel version of similar quality, but that’ll probably cost you a fiver more.

Our overall recommendation  For a budget pen which actually writes rather well and looks a lot posher than it really is, this is pretty much unbeatable. Try one.

Where to get hold of one Straight from Mr Pen

This meta-review references:

Thanks to Mr.Pen himself for sending some review samples our way.

DEACON’S DOODLE GIVEAWAY!

If you are based in the UK and you would like to win the gift set or the fountain pen on its own, all you have to do is answer these three easy peasy questions about the Deacon’s Doodle – all info found on the Mr Pen site.

1 How many nib options are there for the Deacon’s Doodle fountain pen?
2 How much does the fountain pen/ballpoint pen gift set retail for?
3 How much does the Deacon’s Doodle fountain pen weigh?

Two winners will be chosen at random after the closing date 27 April.

Send your answers to: unitedinkdomprizes@gmail.com

Choosing Keeping Notebooks

A little bit of history: Choosing Keeping is a shop found in London that can be reached through the Central Line or the many lines that serve London Liverpool Street. They are open Wednesday through to Sunday (which means they’ll be open on the weekend, if you plan on spending a weekend in Central London!). Choosing Keeping sell fountain pens, rollerballs, ballpoints, mechanical pencils, art & office supplies, desk objects and many more. What we have for you today is from their paper offerings: some very beautiful notebooks in three different sizes.

How it looks & feels: Those within the Inkdom were very impressed by the presentation of these notebooks. There’s a very retro look to them, which is further enhanced by the string keeping them together when they were delivered.

The personal touch and retro look is further enhanced through the envelope that the notebooks are stored in, inside the parcel package.

Hand-made in Italy with leather-looking paper, these seriously look the part! The covers do throw you a bit because you expect them to be leather, but they definitely don’t feel it. You can tear them with a bit of force, but it shouldn’t be a problem for normal carry. The covers come in three flavours, depending on the size you want: green (A5), red (11x15cm) and blue (9×13.5cm).

The pages are lined with red edges, which is a bit different. Another thing that is lined is the off-white pages themselves, though you do have the option for plain layouts too. On the inside page you have space for a weekly planner overview and on the final page is a multiplication table. Could be useful? It’s written in Italian as these are Italian-made notebooks – you can still understand the numbers though!

The paper has a bit of tooth and texture, but nothing overly noticeable or anything that would give a bad writing experience.

Crucially, how does it handle fountain pen ink?: Coming in at around 70gsm, we may have been a bit sceptical as to whether the paper would hold up, but it handled fountain pens very well. Even with wide italic nibs sporting Noodler’s inks in Daniel’s tests.

A close up of said italic with Noodler’s

They even held up to Nick’s tests!

However, it wasn’t enough to hold up to Noodler’s Baystate Blue, as Mateusz discovered, though with all due respect this is a very difficult test to pass! We also discovered some sheen, which would appeal to some of us.

To show how the notebooks react with the infamous Noodler’s Baystate Blue

Pulp! What is it good for?: Coming in different sizes, you can use these for different applications. But you have the options, from a pocket notebook to scribble down quick notes up to an A5 size for those more in-depth thoughts. They complement each other quite well as you have the different sizes which will allow you to transfer and expand on thoughts when moving to the larger sizes; it would be quite interesting to view your own thought processes expand in that respect!

VFM, and what else is there on offer if it isn’t quite your cup of tea?: £18 for three notebooks does sound like quite a lot. Especially when you consider that Rhodia A5 notebooks are around the £2 mark. Overall you get 186 pages when considering all three notebooks, which leaves you paying a fraction under 10p per page. Leuchtturm notebooks, with 249 pages, for reference will be 6p per page. Leuchtturm also come with more options, such as colour, options for planning and numbered pages, though the paper quality is often contested. However, you don’t get the same personal touch or feeling when using other notebooks and that is something you definitely get with these. They are also very easy to slip into a bag and don’t take up too much space due to their covers, but remain very stylish and looking the part.

Our overall recommendation: The personality, the way the pages keep up with fountain pens.. It’s difficult to give these a miss.

Where to get hold of one: Direct from Choosing Keeping

This meta-review references:

 

Kaweco Steel Sport fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Every serious fountain pen fan has a Kaweco Sport somewhere; small, pocketable – and in their simple plastic form eminently affordable – they are often starter pens, and frequently stay in use as emergency back-up pens even when owners have developed more exotic tastes. For quite a while, though Kaweco has been developing a ‘premium’ line of robust, refined, reassuringly expensive Sports in interesting materials ranging from carbon fibre to industrial metals. The very first United Inkdom meta-review tested the brass version of the Sport, a pen so popular that not a single reviewer sent it back, and we really thought that would never be beaten. But now there is heavyweight competition, from a slightly surprising direction: stainless steel.

How it looks  The design is almost exactly the same as any Sport, with its small-until-posted form factor and that famous octagonal cap. What makes the Steel Sport look immediately different from even the aluminium version is the milled/brushed effect on the surface of the steel itself, which is reminiscent of classic cameras or draughtsman’s tools. If any pen were to make a statement, it would probably be this one – and the statement is something like “I don’t do bling; I’m just here to write”.

How it feels  Solid, unbreakable, built to last a lifetime and, of course, fairly hefty. But this is not ridiculously heavy, and writing with it for a prolonged period is no more tiring than with any other Sport.

How it fills  This is a perennial subject of concern as the Sport’s barrel is not long enough for a traditional converter. However, Kaweco now offer a short and simple push-rod piston converter which works fairly well. Most users simply syringe-fill a standard ‘short international’ cartridge, though, and that seems to be quite easy to live with for most users.Crucially, how it writes…  As always, that depends on what nib you choose. Like all the more expensive Sport bodies (and indeed most of the Kaweco fountain pen range) this version uses screw-in small#5 Bock assemblies, which are available in a wide range of both round and italic tips. For the round tipped-nibs, many of us find that EF, F and M tend to be safest of the steel options, although any flow or smoothness issues, which can be variable in steel, vanish if you upgrade to gold. For this meta-review, though, we put the Steel Sport in the hands of two professional calligraphers (in Kent and Austria, respectively) who put the italic options through their paces – and found the narrower 1.1mm and 1.5mm nibs worked well even for fast writing, while a little more care was required for the wider tips where the same flow of ink has to stretch further. But as long as you choose the right nib for you and your own writing style, this is a reliable performer.Pen! What is it good for?  With a round-tipped nib this is probably the pocket pen par excellence; it looks the business, works well and will probably outlast most owners. Our calligraphers thought it was good for having some fun with italic lettering too, even if not quite the thing for fee-earning studio work (which is not what it is really designed for, to be fair).VFM  This is not a cheap pen – indeed, apart from the carbon-fibre version this is the most expensive Sport so far. Retailing for either €85 or £84.99 (which says something interesting about current exchange rates), it’s a significant purchase, but still not in luxury price-tag territory in our view. It looks a lot more expensive, though, and it’s tough enough that you would have to try very hard before you damaged it – nothing short of a diamond-tipped angle grinder is going to break this!If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Then there’s the shinier, lighter and more affordable aluminium version, or the steampunk splendour of the Brass Sport, either of which are sound choices. We have also seen the prototype of the solid silver version – but expect that one to break the £100 barrier, as the materials alone are likely to add around £15 to production costs at current prices.

Our overall recommendation  If you’ve been putting off buying a grown-up Sport until the time was right, that moment has come. Try a Steel or Brass version at a bricks-and-mortar shop if you can, or borrow them from a friend; if one or the other doesn’t appeal to you, we will eat our collective hats.Where to get hold of one  From all the usual sources. Some pens take lots of research to track down, but this shouldn’t be one of them, and it’s currently available from almost all the places you’d expect to look. At the time of publication, The Writing Desk were selling these for £5 less than most other UK retailers, but we don’t expect their stock to last too long!This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Kaweco for sending temptation our way again.

 

 

Beaufort Inks

A little bit of history Some time during the Caledonian Orogeny, around 490–390 million years ago, the Great Glen Fault formed. Wind forward a few aeons and the trench this left cuts a swathe across Scotland, including the very well-known Loch Ness and, just to the south, the rather tautologous Loch Lochy, near which is the home of Beaufort Ink. Despite the name, Beaufort Ink have made their way in the world selling nibs and pen-turning parts rather than ink – until now. Now they’re making up for lost time, and then some!

How it looks As an ensemble, this is a set of inks which immediately conjure up visual memories of the Highlands – which the creator insists is entirely accidental, but we’re not complaining! They deserve a brief review one by one, and they shall jolly well have it too.

Peacock This is where the whole range started, as the Beaufort supremo is a confirmed teal-head. A deep, rich and very dark turquoise, this is somewhat reminiscent of Sheaffer’s long-lamented Peacock Blue – and has won plenty of fans in the United Inkdom ranks.

Zodiac Blue nicely echoes the blue of Arctic waters, as viewed from a Zodiac boat. It’s a long way from boring old ‘school’ blue, that’s for sure.

Blue Black is not often a label which gets people excited; usually, that’s the ink you use at work and then set aside in favour of something more exciting as soon as you get home. Somehow, though, this recipe manages to capture the dark blue of a loch without being dull.

Obsidian is a refined grey-black with a spot of sheen too – not a jet-black ink, but a nicely saturated sort of black nevertheless.

Scots Pine is an earthy, dark green which could be as valuable to artists as to writers. Not so many testers found this one their favourite, but it’s certainly distinctive.

Roasted Red convincingly summons-up the hue of roasted red peppers with a sprinkling of paprika. A sophisticated shade to complete the collection.

Crucially, how it writes…  Smoothly! The formulation was selected for good flow as well as reliable saturation, and it shows.

Ink! What is it good for?  Most of these inks could actually be sneaked into the office without too much risk, but they also look just the thing for getting a vintage pen back into action.

VFM At £8.35 for 45ml, this is twice the farthings-per-millilitres that standard Diamine would cost, but that’s still not stratospherically expensive – and arguably good value because it works well and you’ll actually want to write with it enough to get to the end of the bottle.If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost… Beaufort have indicated that other colours may join the collection if there’s sufficient demand. Unsubtle hints about the urgent need for Purple Heather have already been lodged. The case for Made In Scotland From Girders Orange, meanwhile, awaits a longer label as well as copyright permission!

Where to get hold of some Straight from Beaufort Ink.This meta-review references:

Thanks to Beaufort Ink for kindly providing samples of the whole range.

Scrikss Noble 35 fountain pen review

A little bit of history: Although Scrikss fountain pens are now produced in Turkey, this wasn’t always the case. Originally, the pens were produced in Spain for the Turkish market and the word ‘Scrikss’ derives from the Catalan verb ‘to write’, scribir.

DSC00507

This particular pen, the Noble 35 in ‘titanium’ finish, was introduced to their fairly extensive range of fountain pens in 2014.

How it looks: Initially one might be tempted to head for a fountain pen with a bit more obvious pzzazz, but its classic styling is reminiscent of a Cross or Sheaffer and the mix of chrome and titanium-plated finish urges you to look more closely. The nib is not too shabby either – steel with an iridium tip, in medium only. The Noble 35 is available in a variety of finishes, including a pearl white, so check out their website to see the full range.  Remember to click the EN language option (just underneath their logo) or you’ll have to puzzle your way through the Turkish language version.

How it feels: Light, sturdy and comfortable in the hand.

Crucially, how it writes: As well as any pen in the Diplomat range. It has some bounce from its flex nib and gives a juicy inky down-stroke and a finer upstroke.

Pens! What is it good for?: With a 99 year warranty on their pens, Scrikss appear to have confidence in their products and so should you; the Noble 35 shows itself to be a trustworthy and reliable performer for everyday pen use.

Ideally wielded by: The discerning fountain pen fanatic in their business environment – the Noble 35 in this titanium finish is understated and svelte – and to those in the know, you will have the kudos of writing with a little bit of ‘Turkish delight’.

scribble-pen.png

Want to know more? Check out the United Inkdom reviewers:

Berlin Notebook

A little bit of history  A handful of trading posts in Brandenburg gradually became the capital of Prussia, and thus the command post of the more-or-less unified Germany that Bismarck brought about, until things crashed to a halt in 1918 for obvious reasons. After that, Berlin had a brief flowering as a centre of the liberal arts and alternative lifestyles (think Cabaret), then very bad things happened from the 1930s until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Now it’s back to its Bohemian (OK, that was technically a different Germanic state, but like Prussia no longer exists) best, and producing art, thought, and alternative lifestyles galore. Just where you’d expect a recycled notebook fit for nib-twiddling hipsters to come from, of course.

How it looks  Rough, ready, lo-fi and under-stated – but really cool. The attention paid to the typeface has paid off, and at only a touch larger than A6 size it will fit in most pockets.

How it feels  Now here’s the surprise – that paper is smooth. This is a bit of a shock!

Crucially, how it handles a fountain pen…  The surprise continues as you break out your wettest nibs and test the thing. The off-grey paper feels smooth to write on too, bleed-through is respectably limited, and the whole package is pretty much indestructible.

Pulp! What is it good for?  Travel notes, preliminary sketches, brainstorming and the like. This is the ‘rough draft’ notebook par excellence.

VFM  At £11.50 for a pack of three this is good value which competes well with other pocket notebooks, and it works with real pens so it won’t end up abandonned at the back of a cupboard.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  That’s a toughy, as there’s not much else out there quite like this just yet. Hopefully it will start a trend!

Our overall recommendation  If you like being a bit eco-friendly and don’t mind the paper not being the absolute whitest white, this is a bit of a marvel. Give ’em a go!

Where to get hold of one  Direct from Nero’s Notebooks 

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Nero for asking one of his biped assistants to send a few handy samples our way.

Kaweco Perkeo fountain pen review

A little bit of history: Kaweco has a long association with fountain pens. Originally established in the German town of Heidelberg in 1883 as a manufacturer of wooden dip pens, it first introduced a pen called the Perkeo back in the 1920s. The design has evolved since then, of course…

How it looks: While retaining the easily recognisable octagonal Kaweco shape in the cap, this pen is quite a departure from the look of their existing lines with some natty new bright colour combos, and is a goodly size rather than a pocket pen. It’s available with a Fine or Medium nib.

How it feels: It has a triangular grip, so if you like a Safari then you’ll like this grip too. It’s really light to hold, and perfectly suited for endless hours of essay-writing.

How it fills: The pen comes with three Kaweco cartridges and you can even stash a spare ink cartridge within the main body for emergency refills – or you can use a standard fountain pen converter filled with the ink of your choice.

Crucially, how it writes: The pen itself gives a little scratchy feedback but can also deliver some line variation with that Kaweco nib, but you do need to give it some pressure.

Pen! What is it good for?: Students, pupils, or anyone who just wants a lightweight, different-looking fun pen, really.

VFM: Sure, you can get less expensive pens from the far east, but this is a real German-made pen and you can have all that history and fountain pen experience for about £15. It represents very good value for a European pen.

Perkeo colourways:  Bad Taste, Cotton Candy, Old Chambray, Indian Summer

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea … you could try a Lamy Nexx fountain pen, which is at a similar price point and comes in a wide variety of fun colours (although it will only accommodate proprietary cartridges and converters, so bear that in mind).

Where to get hold of one: Most good on-line fountain pen retailers stock the Perkeo; see Kaweco’s own site for a list of retailers.

This meta-review references:

  • Scribble’s review, written using both nibs so you can clearly see whether Fine or Medium is for you (and for a spot of purple ink, of course!)
  • Ant’s review at UK Fountain Pens.
  • Mathias’s Bleistift blog, which reveals the mysterious link between the Perkeo and BBC TV’s cult comedy classic Red Dwarf.
  • Alison’s historical investigations to find out who the heck Perkeo was in the first place, at Her Nibs.

Thanks to Kaweco for the samples that Alison and Scribble tested.

Karas Kustoms Decograph meta-review

A little bit of history Karas Kustoms first dipped their toes into the world of pens via Kickstarter back in 2011. That pen was a machined aluminium affair that used the Hi-Tec-C refill. In the following years they branched out into different styles, including fountain pens, but nearly always using metal. The Decograph, therefore, is unusual in being a Karas Kustoms pen made from a different material: thermoplastic, no less.

How it looks This particular model is called ‘Sleeping Beauty’, after a kind of turquoise found in Karas Kustoms’ home state of Arizona. The stone has a reputation for being very beautiful and Karas have done it justice, with a stunning cap and barrel of blue with black swirls. It’s complemented well with metal finials and clip. In short, it’s a stunner.

How it feels The Decograph is a light pen but doesn’t feel flimsy. Being so light, balance isn’t an issue whether posted or not. It’s a good length, too. It’s comfortable to hold.

How it fills A standard international converter or cartridge.

Crucially, how it writes… The Decograph uses a stainless steel #6 Bock nib. The one in our pen was great. It was smooth and had excellent flow. It was a real pleasure to use.

Pen! What is it good for? The Decograph is a pen that will make you want to pick it up and write. It’s perhaps a little too jolly for a staid business meeting but it will surely bring out the poet in you.

VFM At $165 this isn’t a cheap pen, particularly if buying from the UK, with exchange rates and shipping and the potential for import charges. There’s a case to be made for it having a gold nib at this price. However, it’s beautiful, writes well, is made by a company that really cares about what it does, and is a limited edition, too.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost… If you’re in the UK then, once you’ve taken into account the cost of getting this pen into the country, you’re in the same price bracket as a custom made Twiss pen, with all the interesting barrel options available there. Alternatively, there are dozens of pens at this price or lower that use steel nibs and are made with lovely acrylics, as well as Platinum (in the UK) or Pilot (in the USA) that have gold nibs but (often) less inspiring designs.

Our overall recommendation Despite being made from plastic, this is a pen that still manages to be a Karas Kustoms pen. It’s expensive, especially this side of the pond, but it’s well made and lovely.

Where to get hold of one Direct from Karas Kustoms

This meta-review references:
Ian’s mostly photos review
Scribble’s handwritten review
Daniel’s text and photos review
Ant’s text and photos review

Thanks to Karas Kustoms for sending us this pen to review.

Online Newood calligraphy fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Online may be a bit of an unlikely name for a company which sells analogue tools digitally, but it’s working well enough for this German brand to be all over the schools and hobbyist market – in German-speaking countries, at least. As well as fountain pens for pupils who want to write properly, they’ve been branching-out to the calligraphy world for a couple of years – and as is often the case calligraphy is a synonym for ‘italic’. They handed a calligraphy kit to each blogger attending the Insights-X stationery fair in Nuremberg back in October, and since one of the United Inkdom team was there and a couple of locals (relatively speaking) wanted to join in, it was always going to be tempting to give it the full treatment. So, thanks to Natascha and Christian, it’s time for United Inkdom’s first pan-European meta-review!

How it looks  The first thing you see is a rather handsome bamboo box, which looks hardy enough to store the pen and spare nibs for a good few years. The pen itself looks like it’s largely made of wood; whether that’s solid wood or a composite, we couldn’t really tell, but either way there’s certainly some lignin in there. The cap and barrel both flare at the ends, so it’s the diametrical opposite to the over-used ‘cigar’ shape, and that makes a refreshing change too.

How it feels  Warm and comfortable, for the most part, as you’d expect from a wood finish. As a professional calligrapher, Natascha did find that the metal section was a little too short for total comfort in long writing sessions. Overall it’s a sensible size, though.

How it fills  It’s a standard cartridge/converter job, and impressively the kit comes with both. The small blue international cartridge may not get much of a look-in once you notice that there’s also a decent converter and even a bottle of brown ink included.

Crucially, how it writes…  There are three italic nibs of varying sizes; 0.8, 1.4 and 1.8mm, and they all write well, with a nice bit of bounce. The shape creates fairly crisp lines without having sharp corners which can tear up the paper, which is a good balance of attributes. The 0.8mm nib in particular can be used for every-day writing if you are an italic enthusiast, while the two wider nibs can do impressive things in the hands of an ambitious experimenter.

Pen! What is it good for?  This one’s for amateur calligraphers rather than professional, but it’s a promising way to get started. With the 0.8mm nib fitted, it wouldn’t be too outré to sneak this into a business meeting – depending upon the nature of your business, of course.

VFM  At around £50 this is not the cheapest calligraphy starter set out there, by any means. Nevertheless, it’s not bad value; the pen itself is well-made , those are surprisingly good nibs and the storage box is a desirable accessory itself.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Online make a lot of other calligraphy sets, and there are comparable offerings from Sheaffer, Lamy, Kaweco and even Shropshire’s own Manuscript. Most of the cheaper alternatives are plastic, though.

Our overall recommendation  If you know someone who wants to get into italics and likes a kit which is well-presented, this is a good bet. It’s a pen for enthusiasts rather than professionals, but only a few of us can really aspire to earning our living from calligraphy anyway!

Where to get hold of one  This is easy enough on the continent, but surprisingly tricky in the UK. The surest method is probably to buy from Online, ermm, on-line.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Online for donating the review samples – and of course Natascha and Christian for being our international correspondents!