Tag Archives: fountain pen review

Dex big ‘soft’ pens

A little bit of history  The Pen Shop have been going since 1858 or thereabouts, but it didn’t quite take that long to produce this meta-review.  In fact, we’ve already reviewed the younger sibling of the Dex and it passed with flying colours, so to follow-up the Pen Shop profile from last week it was the natural place to go next.

How it looks  Nicely rounded.  It’s a straightforward, simple and pretty classic shape.  So it immediately competes with the styling of many popular pens, and that’s a good thing – it looks like a fountain pen ought to.    The body is made by Helit, who own the Diplomat brand – so they know their stuff.

Dex acid green

How it feels  Warm and nicely textured; it’s light plastic, and not especially squishy but it does indeed feel fairly ‘soft’.Ruth's pink Dex

How it fills  This is one of those designs which takes two small ‘international’ cartridges, and indeed two are provided with each pen – but it will also thandle a converter quite comfortably.  NB long Waterman cartridges have a bit of a habit of getting stuck.

Crucially, how it writes…  Tucked-away into that plain black section is a Bock nib, and the standard M is a real treat, as you’d expect from the same stable as Diplomat really.  It readily competes with any other similarly-priced starter pen, and at least two of our reviewing team have had one ‘borrowed’ by our better halves because it wrote so nicely.  F, B italic and left-handed nibs are also available, but at the moment only in person at Pen Shop branches – a bit less convenient, but it does make it easier to make sure you get a nice smooth one again.  A prototype purple nib also came our way; there’s no word yet on whether that’s joining the range, but it’s getting lots of attention already.  There’s also a left-handed nib (presumably known as the Sin).

F and M nibs side-by-side

Pen! What is it good for?   We’re often asked (particularly via the Fountain Pens UK Facebook group) for starter pen recommendations, and usually the same two stand-by solutions come up; the Lamy Safari and the Pilot MR (or Metropolitan, in some markets). But this as Rob pointed out in his comprehensive review (link below), that’s a hotly-contested niche, and to it we now need to add the Dex.  The standard Dex M nib is impressively smooth, it looks good and is uncomplicated to use, it’s cheaper by far than the MR, and unlike the Safari uses cartridges which are available everywhere.  That’s not to say that the other two are bad pens – far from it – but this is arguably a safer, and more interesting, place to start.  The Dex is robust enough to put up with some demanding professional purposes, too – and has been seen marking huge piles of homework, for instance.

VFM  The big Dex is extremely good value for money at £12, and exceeds in quality anything you’re likely to find in a high street stationery shop for that sort of money. It’s not a luxury pen, of course, and you may find the odd bit of extruded plastic which needs smoothing-off or even, very occasionally, a less than perfect nib, but the key strength is that despite being a budget pen it’s backed up by strong customer service; if you’re unlucky and a duffer gets through, The Pen Shop just whizz into action and replace it without further ado.  The range of colours has something for all tastes, and to get a good Bock nib at this price is definitely not to be sneezed at.

A prototype Uber-Dex with metal section (borrowed from the Manuscript Master) and experimental purple nib

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Well, if the medium-sized proportions of the Dex by Kingsley Plum Smooth Soft Fountain Pen don’t appeal – even if it takes the best part of a week to say the name out loud – you could try the shorter Dex by Kingsley Purple Compact Soft Fountain Pen.  The names could perhaps do with some shortening too, but essentially it’s the same proposition in a slightly more compact body.  If you like either size of Dex but fancy a different nib, work is under way to make that possible, we’re told; it’s a pity that swaps can only be carried-out at Pen Shop shops at the moment, but on the plus side at least there’s no extra charge for the service.

Our overall recommendation  For this money, you can’t go wrong really.  For the person in your life who finds your interest in fountain pens hard to understand, this is a simple way to reel them in.

Where to get hold of one  From a branch of The Pen Shop, their website or the new Penwrite project, where there’s an introductory 10% discount offer at the moment.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to Hannah and Louise at The Pen Shop for getting some Dex samples out to us.

If you’d like to win one then Ian put together a tempting ‘starter kit’ including both sizes of Dex, with double the chance of winning by leaving comments before here and there. That competition has now closed, but Ruth is also giving one away  via her Instagram channel!

Pelikan M120 fountain pen review

A little bit of history  This special edition harks back half a century, apparently to a school pen originally.  It won’t be around for too long, we suspect…

How it looks  It looks distinctly vintage, which is probably the intention.  One for those who prefer understated class rather than in-your-face bling, for sure, but it does stand out from modern designs.Pelikan M120 profile

How it feels  Based on the M200 (from which it borrows its mechanicals and proportions), this is a very light pen, even when full of ink.  It still feels fairly robustly constructed, nevertheless.  This is a small pen in terms of length, which also has an unusually narrow section; whether that’s desirable is very much a matter of personal taste.

How it fills  This is fitted with Pelikan’s rightly famed piston mechanism, which shouldn’t raise any concerns.  In an emergency, you can also unscrew the nib and pour in some ink from syringe or pipette, eyedropper-style.  The barrel holds enough for everyday purposes, and includes an ink window so there’s adequate warning when you’re running low.

Pelikan-M120-ink-window

Crucially, how it writes…  Well enough, for most.  This is a gold-plated steel nib with some rather nice engraved squiggles on it, and it has a bit of ‘bounce’ as well as the usual Pelikan smoothness.  The unit we tested doesn’t always work happily with all inks, and even some of Pelikan’s own ink was a bit dry.

Pen! What is it good for?   Vintage enthusiasts, we imagine, and especially those who aren’t concerned about getting a gold nib and want something which looks distinctly different from many modern pens.M120 RuthVFM  £120 is not too bad for an unusual and well-made pen like this, we think.  It’s possible to get a piston-filling fountain pen with a gold nib for the same sort of money, it’s true, but it’s unlikely to have quite these distinctive looks.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Buy it anyway – there’s very little immediate competition, other than vintage Pelikans.Pelikan M120 writing sampleOur overall recommendation  If this floats your boat, don’t delay – it looks unlikely to be around for ever.  But if you just want a small Pelikan and would rather not pay quite so much, a standard M200 is also worth considering.

Where to get hold of one  Pelikan specials go to Pelikan specialists.  As Pure Pens lent us this test unit, naturally enough we’d suggest that as a first port of call.  We know that The Writing Desk, Cult Pens and Andy’s Pens also have M120s in too – although at the time of writing one of these retailers had already run out stock!Pelikan-M120-nibThis meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Pure Pens for lending us the M120 – they still have just a few left.

Noodler’s Ahab fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Back in the heyday of the flex nib, one that flexed as readily as a slice of soggy pasta was known as a ‘wet noodle’ (whereas non-flex piston-fillers were, of course, dry fusilli).  Then, many years later, a nice chap by the name of Nathan Tardiff started making inks designed to work well in a flex nib, and decided to claim all the enterprise as one for Noodler’s everywhere.  Well, fair enough – we’ll feature some of those inks next week.  But one thing led to another and sooner or later a few pens to accompany those inks were, surely, inevitable. There’s quite a range of these Noodler’s pens now, but the model we’ve all tried is the Moby-Dick themed Ahab.Ahab blue2How it looks  A large rounded-end pen with a clip which faintly resembles a whale floating on the sea’s surface, about to dive.  The demonstrator versions are translucent rather than transparent, and there are some marbled opaque versions available now too.

How it feels  Big, but not uncomfortably so, and the resin is usually warm to the touch. For flexing purposes the grip is about right, even if the body is perhaps a little light; all the down-force is going have come from your own muscles.Ahab writing sample blueHow it smells This is admittedly an unusual category for a United Inkdom meta-review to consider, but in this case we’d probably be ignoring the elephant in the room if we didn’t mention the Ahab’s distinctive olfactory appeal.  Actually, it’s not so much an elephant in the room as a goose – it honks.  There is just no ignoring the distinctive whiff of the vegetal resin used to make the Ahab (and several other of the Noodler’s pens), and it seems to be one of those love-it-or-hate-it things.  Ross at Pure pens has got used to it, but tells us he always knows which part of his stock-room he’s in because the Ahab draw is detectable even with his eyes shut.  Ian finds it so objectionable that he’d be embarrassed to turn up with such malodorous matter at meetings.  It’s a hard aroma to describe but imagine, if you will, a rubber sack of forest fruits that’s been left out in the sun for a couple of days.  It does fade over time, and inexplicably some of us actually rather like it.  There is also the odd distinction that, alongside the recycle-ready steel fitments, the rest of the pen is biodegradable – although why you’d want to do that to a pen we can’t imagine.  Still, it’s not a plume-perfume for everyone, it’s fair to say.

How it fills  The Ahab comes fitted with a proprietary syringe-style piston.  This is simple to use and has an impressive capacity, so it’s a good way to get started.  Once you find an ink you want to write with all the time, it’s a fairly straightforward job to convert the barrel to an ‘eye-dropper’; Pure Pens also sell the o-rings recommended to make the seal watertight, and the ink capacity which results is huge, even if – like all eye-droppers – the price to pay is the occasional ink-burp on the page.Ruth's Ahab

Crucially, how it writes…  The best reason – and honestly, probably the only reason – to reach for an Ahab is in order to try your hand at flex writing without the experiment costing you a fortune.  This it achieves quite comfortably.  The nib is semi-flex really, but it’s a good introduction to the process of generating line variation with differential pressure, and unlike exotic gold flex nibs it’s cheap enough that you can afford to give it some abuse while you’re putting it through its paces.  The results can be rather impressive, once you get used to it!  These days a lot of Ahabs are despatched with a non-flex nib included too, which is a considerate touch even if it’s a bit pointless really; if you want a non-flex nib, there are plenty of other choices out there in this price range.

Pen! What is it good for?  It’s great for trying a flex nib for the first time.  Once you’ve got the bug and started moving on to posher flex nibs, as is quite likely (be warned!), it’s good for jotting shopping lists and the like.Ahab honeyVFM  Even if it should really come with a free nose-peg, this is impressively inexpensive for what it does. Only FPR flex options really compete.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Then have a look at the many flex-nibbed models available from FountainPenRevolution.  Some of those are a little ‘aromatic’ too, but starting flex the affordable way makes good sense.Ahab writing sample purpleOur overall recommendation  If you’ve always wondered what the flex fuss is all about, don’t want to spend a fortune, and aren’t too particular about your choice of cologne, go for it.

Where to get hold of one  Naturally we’d recommend heading to Pure Pens, the sole ‘proper’ UK stockist – if for some reason they don’t have the colour you’re after, they’re happy to order in more stock too.  Ebay is also a useful import source at times, but the waiting times can drag rather.Ahab purple2

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Pure Pens for lending Ruth an Ahab and selling Scribble one too.

Fosfor Bangalore fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Esther and Pablo at FPnibs evidently delight in bringing something usefully unusual to the market, and Fosfor pens are no exception.  We’ve covered the affordable-but-quite-nice end of Indian fountain pen production in our previous Fountain Pen Revolution article, but Fosfor is quite a different proposition; the brand is essentially one man, Manoj, hand-making pens from scratch in Pune.Banga1How it looks  Like a work of art, which is what it is – or, at the very least, the product of expert craftsmanship and painstaking care.  The material (polyester, in this case) supports some wildly contrasting colours, and every one is essentially unique.orange writing sample 3How it feels  Warm, light… and large.  This isn’t one for grabbing in a hurry to jot notes; for one thing, it takes a while to unscrew (somewhat to Ruth’s frustration!), and that big #6 nib lends itself to calm composed writing rather than hasty scribbles.  Despite the generous proportions, it doesn’t feel overbalanced, and those who like their pens on the big side will find it handles very well.

still unscrewing
Still unscrewing!

How it fills  This is a straightforward cartridge/converter model, and none the worse for that.

Crucially, how it writes…  Of course that depends upon the nib, but the #6 JoWo steel nib which this test unit was fitted with was impressively smooth.  Pablo will happily fit a gold alternative if you prefer, including one of his hand-finished semi-flex nibs – indeed, the video demonstrating the semi-flex nib was filmed with this very pen.Ruth writing with the Fosfor

Pen! What is it good for?  There’s no clip, and the vivid colour-schemes perhaps don’t naturally lend themselves to the office, so this is perhaps ideal for journalling, note-taking or doodling at home.

VFM  It’s not cheap, but it’s far from exorbitant either; prices compare well with hand-made pens from John Twiss or Edison, for example – and so does the quality, we think.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Well, Manoj takes on personal commissions, if your budget will stretch to bespoke design.  His triangular pen, for example, is quite something to behold.orange writing sample 1

Our overall recommendation  If large pens in vibrant hues are your thing, Fosfor pens are worth checking out.

Where to get hold of one  Now that’s a little tougher, as rather inconveniently FPnibs have just sold out of Fosfor stock!  But you can contact Esther and Pablo directly via their site if you’d like to ask them to get some more in, or you could head straight to Fosfor’s own site of course.orange writing sample 2

This meta-reviews references:

Fosfor on woodThanks to  Esther and Pablo at FPnibs.com for supplying the Bangalore we reviewed – and letting us give it away!  To enter, we asked readers for their ideas for what Manoj should consider having a crack at next – whether that was new colours, new shapes, or a return of something old but good.  There’s more on that in the comments below…

 

Platinum PTL-5000 fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Those unfamiliar with British cuisine (stop sniggering at the back!) may not have come across the strange substance that is Marmite – a ‘yeast extract’, (a brewing by-product, in other words) with a pungent flavour when spread on toast which divides opinion straight down the line; people either love it or hate it.  Platinum, a Japanese brand whose attempts to bring affordable quality to the market have already met with our attention a couple of times, tried to produce a budget gold nibbed-pen, and it’s fair to say that the result is, well, a Marmite proposition.PTL

How it looks  This is built down to a price, and the impression given is that looks were not a high priority.  It’s boring and black, frankly – although those unassuming looks do mean that no-one’s likely to think there’s a gold nib worth pilfering hidden in there.

How it feels  Light and small.  Again, making a gold nib affordable was the overriding consideration so no more material has been expended on the body than the minimum required to make a functional pen.  This is something of a disappointment when you’ve picked up a Plaisir and know that Platinum can make good metal bodies on a budget too, but if you like a slender pen which doesn’t take much effort to wield it should be ideal.PTL-5000-nib

How it fills  Platinum cartridges or their sturdy converter – no problems there.

Crucially, how it writes…  Now this all depends on whether you like Marmite!  If you’re an enthusiast for all things gold in the nib department and like a bit of tooth with a just a touch of springiness, you’ll love it.  But if you’re used to the smoothness of a ‘premium’ Platinum nib and prefer nibs to be either definitely stiff or definitely flexy, you’ll possibly hate it.  There really is no in-between; Scribble likes his so much that it’s become one of this ‘everyday carry’ pens, and Ian was so unimpressed that he tried to send it back whence it came.PTL writing sample

Pen! What is it good for?  Obviously this too depends upon your stance vis-a-vis the aforementioned yeast extract, but if you like it, it’s great for jotting notes when out and about. If you don’t like it, it’s probably not a lot of use for anything in particular, to be honest.

VFM  As this was the point of the exercise, value for money is rather good; there are, let’s be fair, no other ready-to-write pens with a gold nib which can be bought new for as little as £45. Whether it presents good value to you personally depends… well, we’re back to the Marmite thing again here.Ruth reviewing the PTL

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  If you just want to experience a really good gold nib from Platinum, our advice is to save up a bit more cash and go for a #3776.  If you desire a new Japanese pen with a gold nib and can stretch the budget to just £10 more, some of Pilot’s Capless and Custom 74 models can usually be picked up for about that sum via ‘grey import’ channels (you know the ones we mean). Alternatively, if you want a really good gold nib and have a TWSBI to hand (which you surely do!), you can spend your £45 on JoWo gold replacement from FPnibs, and that will probably impress you far more than the PTL’s variable love-it-or-hate-it performance.

Our overall recommendation  We think this has been designed and finished to fit a tight budget, and while that’s a fine example of what Japanese lean production methods can achieve, the limitations of the design (and perhaps some inconsistent quality control) mean that it won’t be everyone’s dream choice. So if you can, try one before you commit to  buying it; there is just a chance, of course, that you’ll love it!PTL-close-up

Where to get hold of one  There are relatively few UK purveyors of this particular delicacy, and the only fountain pen specialist retailer we know who stocks it is Cult Pens; because of the risk of you loving it or hating it, we’d recommend a retailer with their good customer service if you do want to take the plunge.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Cult Pens for getting some review samples to us – and sharing our varied tastes in toast-topping condiments.

Cult Pens mini fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Once upon a time there was a little birdy, and it flew away.  We refer of course to the Pilot Birdie fountain pen, which by all accounts positively flew off the shelves, and which has sadly now flapped off into oblivion.  But that missing link in the fountain pen family tree has now been filled, thanks to a remarkable collaborative effort by Cult Pens and Kaweco.  With two names we know and love already involved, we naturally had to check it out.

How it looks  The current version has a brushed grey aluminium finish which, as Ian points out, is more than faintly reminiscent of 1970s design, but in a good way.  If it wouldn’t look out of place clipped into a boiler-suit pocket donned by one of Blake’s Seven, well who are we to complain?

Cult Pens mini

How it feels  Solid, and well-screwed-together – but small.  There’s no getting away from that issue; it is big enough for scribbling quick notes, but most people will find it just a bit too petite for extended writing sessions.  That suits its function, though; this is a pocket back-up pen, and it does that supremely well.

How it fills  A small international cartridge is the most sensible option.  In principle, the short Kaweco squeeze converter also fits, but we recommend syringe-filling cartridges rather than bothering with the latter option – the diminutive ink capacity doesn’t justify the inconvenience.

with converter

Crucially, how it writes…  That depends upon the nib, and there’s quite a choice; all of the smaller Kaweco units screw in (or out) as suits your requirements.  The wider italics have a habit of running rather dry, but the standard round nibs are usually pretty good. You could even go crazy and bolt on a gold nib, if you want to!

Ruth writing

Pen! What is it good for?  Keeping in the pocket as a back-up, of course.  Oh, and looking cool – although of course that’s never a consideration for us deadly-serious fountain pen connoisseurs, ‘honest Guv.

VFM  Pretty good.  It’s not dirt-cheap, but the components are well-engineered and it will take a good bit of knocking-about – so decent value, in our view.

Stuart's mini

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  One of Kaweco’s own small models may be worthy of consideration; this is somewhere between the Lilliput and the Sport in size.

Our overall recommendation  If you need a metal pocket pen and don’t want to spend a fortune, give this a try!

CP mini writing sample

Where to get hold of one  Cult Pens, obviously – and until the end of March, you can get 10% off with this code: CULT10 (make sure you enter it in capitals).  Incidentally, that code also works for Cult Pens’ other ‘own-brand’ specials, including the Deep Dark inks which we’ll be turning our attention to next week.

This meta-reviews references:

engraving

Thanks to  Cult Pens, for providing review samples and that handy discount code.

Kaweco Elite fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Kaweco got the United Inkdom meta-reviews started last year with the brilliant brass version of their timeless Sport, an instant classic if ever there was one. So the temptation came upon several of us, one by one, to try out Kaweco’s ‘premium’ offering, the Elite – and although we all played with it at different points, we had sufficient comparable (and contrasting) views to make a fresh meta-review of a Kaweco a good way to start the year too.

Kaweco tell us that this design is based on the Kaweco Special of 1940, the designs for which had been kept in the company archive and then rejuvenated by Horst Gutberlet in 1996.  The modern Kaweco range also includes a pen called the Special, which is a lot slimmer and less imposing although there continue to be some shared details, such as the milled end to the barrel.  Materials are, it’s probably fair to say, available in more ready supply now than they would may have been in 1940, so the Elite is composed in a number of staged processes – but the nib and feed, being Bock, remain definitely German.

Elite capped

How it looks  Octagonal, which  is quite cool.  With the chrome cap it has a passing resemblance to the Faber-Castell Ondoro (which came later than the Elite),  although the Ondoro uses a much smaller nib.  Unlike the minuscule nib employed by most Kawecos from Lilliput to Allrounder, the Elite sports a nice big #6 which really looks the part.

How it feels  A tiny bit like a TWSBI 580, and that’s a good thing; it’s ergonomically thought-through and very comfortable to wield, as long as you leave the cap on the table – posting is possible, but it rather knocks the balance off.

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How it fills  This is a fairly standard cartridge/converter number, although in a nice touch Kaweco supply not only a a good converter, but a spring to hold it firmly in place and stop any rattling-about in the pocket.  We like those thoughtful details.

Crucially, how it writes…  As ever, much depends upon which nib you go for.  The standard Bock steel nib is perfectly decent, if not really special – competent, rather than elite.  The gold nib is 14k so has plenty of spring to it, and it feels much more luxurious  (if you like that sort of thing).

Elite review in progress

Pen! What is it good for?  This has got to be one for flashing about in the office, hasn’t it? Certain other highly-prized (and highly-priced) German brands don’t look nearly as cool…

VFM  Now this one’s a bit tougher.  With the standard steel nib, it’s a fairly expensive proposition for what is a well-made and handsome but not exactly extraordinary pen. With the gold nib, which comes at a rather inflated RRP (close to £140), the overall package would comes to over £200 – and even for a pen as lovely as this is, that’s a rather challenging proposition.  In future we think it ought to be possible – perhaps by trimming retail margins a little and switching to JoWo for the nibs – to sell the Elite with a gold nib fitted for quite a bit less than that, and we’re talking that over with Kaweco and see what can be done.

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If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  As noted above, the body does have some stylistic similarities with the Faber-Castell Ondoro, although that is fitted with a smaller nib.  Alternatively, if you just want a well-made plastic pen with a good German steel nib, you could do a lot worse than a TWSBI 580AL; the current retail price of the Elite would cover two of those plus a couple of bottles of decent ink.  If you love the looks of the Elite, want a gold nib, and can’t justify the price of the Bock, you could just pick up an alternative #6 gold JoWo from FPnibs.com – which as well as being more affordable is available in a wider range of point/tip size options.

Our overall recommendation  This is a handsome, well-made pen which looks good on the desk and does the job competently with a steel nib, although we think the recommended retail price is a getting a bit high. With a gold nib, it’s a really lovely writer, but that’s harder to obtain at the moment, so our advice would be to buy one direct from the Kaweco-run direct-selling site Mostwanted  (the one place where you can buy the Elite with a gold nib fitted, at the moment) or transplant a third-party #6 .

Steel nib close-up

Where to get hold of one  Some of the UK specialist retailers, e.g. Cult Pens and Andy’s Pens, stock the Elite, although it’s certainly harder to find than the famous Sport.  If you want the ‘official’ gold nib then Mostwanted is your only option at present, but suitable #6 alternatives are available from a number of sources.

This meta-reviews references:

The blunt end

Thanks to Kaweco for getting some test samples to us – especially the gold nib, which we couldn’t have got hold of otherwise.  Two of us liked the Elite so much we bought one!

Platinum #3776 fountain pen review

A little bit of history  It’s Winter Solstice today, so Happy Saturnalia/Yule/etcetera to all our readers.  One of the traditions on both solstices is to climb a tall hill in order to watch the sun come up, and if you were doing this in Japan the tallest available would be Mount Fuji, standing at 3776 metres high, which seems a perfectly reasonable excuse to review the Japanese pen named after it.   They’ve been making a whole series of models named the #3776 since 1978, so it’s about time we got around to it!

There’s a nib and a half – or two and half tines, at least!

How it looks  That all depends upon what edition you opt for!  The original version had one of those sci-fi style ribbed bodies supposedly intended to avoid sweat building up on your hand as you write, but we haven’t managed to bag one of those yet.  More recent versions, labelled as part of the ‘Century’ series, have an inner slip cap to prevent the feed drying out but also have much more visible differences in the colour and transparency of the plastic (and, more recently the trim).  But all of them look professionally-executed and are certainly not going to shame a posh fountain pen collection – we’re a bit split over which looks most gorgeous, but one of the Francophone Chartres or Bourgogne numbers is probably going to claim the prize.

Chartres
Chartres in gold trim

How it feels  Not enormous, but not too small either- this is just about the right size of pen for everyday writing, for most of us.  As a mostly plastic pen it’s not too heavy, and what weight there is pulls down where you want it to, at the business end.

writing samples SF
Writing sample with Soft Fine nib

How it fills  Either Platinum’s own cartridges (also available with pigment ink, which you can use fairly safely in the Century versions), or a simple and reliable converter.

Writing with the Fine nib

Crucially, how it writes…  That all depends on which nib you aim for – and there’s quite a range.  The standard F, M and B gold nibs are all pretty good as long as your luck holds; it is not completely unknown for a scratchy one to get past quality control, but as long as you buy from a Platinum-recognised dealer replacements are usually handled swiftly.  If you have a taste for the more exotic, the SF and SM nibs are nicely springy (and offer a little bit of line variation too), and the #3776 offers what is by common consent the best Music nib there is, its three tines supplying enough ink to scribble all over the place with – or even compose that symphony you’ve been meaning to get around to if only you could find the right pen, presumably.

cap detail
The internal cap is spring-loaded to provide an airtight seal around the nib and feed.

Pen! What is it good for?  The nib and trim options are so extensive that the uses range all the way from artistic accoutrements to business-friendly ‘daily drivers’.  Despite looking positively dainty in some guises, the #3776 is quite robust and will survive the travails of popping in and out of the briefcase if you want something a bit fun at work.

Have you really not started lusting after the music nib yet?

VFM  Reasonable, given the interesting range of nibs and thoughtful execution of the cap and body.  These are not the cheapest pens out there, and declining to provide any non-gold nib options does limit the potential to provide a more affordable way in – but then again, at least one major Japanese manufacturer will try to charge you twice as much for a pen of the same quality when it comes to putting nib to paper.

writing sample Music
Are you feeling composed?

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Then it may be worth a look at the #3776’s slightly bigger sibling, the President, which offers the same robust quality, even if the nib range appears more limited at present.  Or, if you like this size and just want to consider other Japanese pens, you could do a lot worse to consider the Pilot Custom 74.

Now that’s just showing off really, isn’t it?

Our overall recommendation  If you’re a fairly serious fountain pen enthusiast, your collection is arguably incomplete without one of these (although four is a bit excessive, naming no names!).  Explore the range of nib options carefully and then go for it; we’ve got seven or eight of them between us… that ought to give you a clue.

writing sample SM
Writing sample with the SM nib

Where to get hold of one  There are some decent discounts from Japanese direct sellers, but if you’re unlucky and get one of the scratchy nibs you may not have much recourse. The Platinum officially-recognised retailer in the UK is Cult Pens, and on this occasion we’d honestly advise starting your search with them.

writing samples M
Writing sample with the standard Medium nib

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Black Diamond (a slightly translucent black) in chrome trim

Thanks to  Cult Pens for providing some of these pens at a discount (and swapping a few nibs around) to allow us to cover the full range.

Chartres CT, B nib
The Chartres body in chrome trim, with a B nib

Platinum Plaisir fountain pen review

A little bit of history By now most of us have come across or used a Platinum Preppy – it has that smooth nib and a well-earned reputation for great value for money.  There is, however, no getting away from the cheap feel that the pen has, particularly due to the printed barrel.  The Plaisir is the natural next step up, and it’s been recently updated by removing the matching coloured nibs, giving it a more professional look.Red Plaisir profile

How it looks  There is a wide choice of colours available and we were each sent a different one to take a look at.  The cap and barrel has a nice sheen to it, and the grip section is translucent allowing you to see the ink flowing through to the nib.  Whether you like this combination or not is a matter of taste, but there are definitely members of each of our households that have a keen eye on this pen.

Silver Plaisir profile

How it feels  For an inexpensive pen we all felt it was well built.  It’s a very lightweight pen with a secure seal on the cap.

Blue Plaisir profile

How it fills  This can either be used with dedicated Platinum cartridges or with a Platinum converter which needs to be purchased separately.

Platinum Plaisir nib

Crucially, how it writes…  The Plaisir is available with either a 0.5mm or 0.3mm nib. Great writing experiences were had by us all with both nib sizes.  It wrote very, very smoothly. This pen costs less than £10 … for this price we haven’t had a better writing experience.

Plaisir in action

Pen! What is it good for?  A great starter fountain pen which will give users a pleasurable experience, and an everyday workhorse for daily duties.Plaisir writing sample

VFM  Well … the question almost doesn’t need answering.  It’s fantastic value for money.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  You won’t find better for the bucks!  If it’s a little too ‘sparkly’ for your tastes you could look at the Lamy Safari range or the Faber Castell Basic, but you will have to part with a few more Pounds for these two.  It is Christmas soon,  however, and for that reason sparkle should always be welcomed!

0.3 nib

Our overall recommendation  Go for it.  Whether you are looking to buy a gift for a friend at Christmas who is starting out, or just looking for a good writing experience in a pen you wouldn’t worry too much about if it was ‘accidentally’ picked up by a colleague or family member.Champagne Plaisir& ink

Where to get hold of one  We got our models from Cult Pens, who are one of a few on-line retailers here in the UK offering this model.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Cult Pens for providing us with samples and ink for this review.

Diplomat Aero fountain pen review

A little bit of history  War, according the the Prussian theorist Carl von Clausewitz, is the continuation of diplomacy by other means – and it’s just as well that he created that memorable quote or the idea of a German brand named Diplomat launching a pen shaped like a Zeppelin would seem awfully ironic.  Maybe it’s a just a very subtle joke.  But the design does make for a highly desirable pen, and when Diplomat tipped us off that they were making a gold nib available, and launching a third colour-scheme for the pen too, we had to fire up the engines.

Black Aero profile

How it looks  Like an iconic Teutonic dirigible with a payload of serious nibbage – and in this case, appearances do not deceive.  Seriously though, this is an instantly recognisable design, but still a huge departure from Diplomat’s usual clean, sober business lines.  At least one of these has sauntered down the Thames during the test period (without being shot at this time), but it’s probably still fair to say that you’ll either love the design or loathe it.  Having said that, we’ve yet to encounter anyone who thinks it’s anything other than massively cool, and that goes for the handsome aluminium box it comes in, too.  That matt finish does make it hard to take a decent snap of, though!

Brown Aero

How it feels  Sturdy, and solid; the body is aluminium all the way.  That cap can take a bit of effort to lift off, but then again it does make it less likely to come loose in your pocket. But the grip is quite tactile and the weight is not extreme, by any means.  Long writing sessions are comfortable, and despite the showy looks this is still a pen built for real writing.  ‘Just the thing for recording notes during those long flights over the Atlantic, then.

White Aero

How it fills  With a cartridge or a converter.  The supplied converter is well-made and holds enough ink for a typical day in the office.

Crucially, how it writes…  This is what Diplomat are famous for; their steel nibs are an advert for steel nibs!  We tried every size going and found them all splendiferously smooth. The gold nib (no prizes for guessing which of us bagged that) is a different proposition altogether; it’s still smooth, but it sings while it slides and produces a modest amount of line variation too.  All four options came out well in our tests.

Aero gold nib writing sample

Pen! What is it good for?  Come on, you have to take this to work, don’t you?  Next time some bore is banging on about their new mobile phone, put an Aero into action and watch everyone’s attention wander over to some old-tech.  It may be shaped like a bomber but it’s not one for, erm, stealth…

F nib in action

VFM  Well, it’s not cheap, and for most of us this will be a pen to save up for.  On the strength of this four-person review, we think you’re unlikely to feel disappointed, even if the prices tend to be right at the upper end of what it would be reasonable to pay for a steel nib – usually £100 to £120 (although some very competitive deals are available on-line).  We don’t have official UK retail prices for the gold nibbed Aero yet, but our recommendation to retailers would be to avoid a big mark-up; if the price can be kept down to around £150 for the gold nib these ought to fly off the shelves while still making a fair return.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Then perhaps you shouldn’t don’t buy a fountain pen shaped like a hydrogen-filled balloon.  The alternative options include… every other fountain pen ever made!  But if you like the Diplomat style generally and those very smooth steel nibs, they do have less airborne designs, some of them for prices down at ground level, too.  There is also a pencil variant of the Aero, which they really should have called the Lead Zeppelin, but someone didn’t get the memo (communication breakdown – it’s always the same).Broad nib

Our overall recommendation  Happy Christmas, war is over – spend the peace dividend on one of these!  Put it this way; we all purchased one (admittedly with a much-appreciated discount) to carry out this meta-review, and none of us are surrendering ours. If you’ve lusted after one of these for ages and were just waiting the white and brown finishes to be joined by a black version, your wait is over.

Where to get hold of one  Cardington Sheds 1 and 2, or failing that, any good pen retailer. Many of our favourite UK pen shops already carry the steel-tipped Aero, and we hope some will start selling the gold-nibbed version soon.

Medium nib

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Thanks to  The very helpful team at Helit (the company which owns the Diplomat brand) for getting a sample of every nib and every colour to us, just as the black finish was released – and for a little assistance in making the review affordable too.