Tag Archives: fountain pen

Karas Kustoms Starliner fountain pen review

A little bit of history Karas Kustoms have been making pens, mostly from metal, since 2011. Their first pens used gel ink but they soon began manufacturing fountain pens and have been going from strength to strength. Although they’ve made some plastic pens they continue to be best known for metal pens with a slightly industrial aesthetic.How it looks This industrial metal design is strong with the Starliner. It’s named after a Ford car and there are suggestions of a tail-light in the cap. It’s quite fifties-looking and, in fact, the Reaktor range, of which the Starliner is a part, is meant as a homage to 1950s America.

The slightly larger ‘XL’ pen has a clip of folded metal, fixed in place with Karas Kustoms’ distinctive two bolts.

There are four options: black, raw aluminium, silver with a red section, and silver with a blue section. Two of our pens came with smaller nibs but all the production pens will come with a larger #6 sized nib (although using a #5 sized feed).

How it feels Both pens are made from aluminium and are light in the hand. The cap being a push-on pull-off affair, there are no threads and so the gently shaped section is easy on the fingers. Neither pen is particularly long and the shorter version is certainly too short to comfortably hold for any length of time. Both versions would benefit from the cap being posted but as the cap posts quite deeply this doesn’t add a significant amount to the length (although one reviewer felt it added just enough). Three of our four reviewers felt the pens were too top-heavy when posted.

How it fills The XL comes with a converter and can also use international standard cartridges. The smaller pen will only accept short international standard cartridges.

Crucially, how it writes… Karas Kustoms use Bock nibs and, unfortunately, the samples we received were very inconsistent. Some wrote well but some suffered from hard starts and skipping.

Pen! What is it good for? Both pens are solidly constructed and will take a bit of a battering. They’re good if you want a pen that you don’t need to worry about protecting or keeping safe from knocks. The push-on cap (held in place with o-rings) means the cap is unlikely to accidentally come off (although one of the prototypes we had did seem to have a problem with coming loose, and most of the pens we were sent suffered from rattles).

VFM The Starliner pens are meant to fill a gap in Karas Kustom’s line-up, at $50 for the smaller pen and $55 for the larger pen. Of course by the time they’ve made their way to the UK, shipping and customs charges increase this price significantly. It’s hard to find small-batch metal pens in this price range but… opinion about this pen was sharply divided amongst our reviewers and so it’s hard to state categorically whether this pen provides good value for money or not.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost… If you’re after a good pocket pen then the evergreen Kaweco Sport is available in plastic for less money or metal for more. If you’re after a metal pen in Britain then Namisu or Mr.Pen’s offerings are both worth looking at. If you like the design but aren’t keen on the compromises Karas made to keep the price down on the Starliner, then it might be worth considering some of their other pens.

Our overall recommendation Four reviewers looked at both the Starliner pens. Two loved them and two hated them with a passion. If you don’t like how it looks then stop reading now! But if you like the looks, and don’t mind a rattly cap (something that may well be less of an issue on the production pens rather than our prototypes), and find short pens comfortable to use, then the Starliner pens are like nothing else at this price point.

Where to get hold of one Currently only from Karas Kustoms direct.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to Karas Kustoms for sending us the full Starliner range to review.

TWSBI Precision fountain pen & mechanical pencil review

A little bit of history  It’s probably safe to say that TWSBI is a Marmite brand; you either love ’em or you hate ’em. However, the Precision line is one that those who love TWSBI will warm to, but also something that those who currently don’t indulge in TWSBIfication (mainly due to their reported quality control issues) may want to give a chance, as this pen and pencil set are rather robust in their build and look likely to be reliable. We quite enjoyed them!

How it looks Some of us had our initial reservations about the fountain pen design, but it grows on you. The shape could be described as an “inverse hourglass” with a chunky middle section and thinner grip section and piston knob which almost gives it a “kit pen” aesthetic. The pencil design has more than a hint of Rotring about it, but this is in no sense a bad thing.

Currently the pen is only available in one finish, which is a matte grey brushed look. It is very smooth to the touch, however. The pencil is available in both silver and black but has a more metallic finish than its fountain pen counterpart, and also comes with a rather nice knurled grip. Those who really insist can also obtain a ballpoint in a similar body to that of the pencil, although we can’t imagine why you’d want to. The barrel on both the pen and pencil are faceted, which is a distinct design feature. Here it is compared to Daniel’s Montegrappa NeroUno Linea to show the facets:

How it feels  Because of the materials used to make these instruments, they can feel reassuringly heavy in the hand once wielded. Both the pen and the pencil are nicely balanced, however, and this gives for a nice writing experience. The fountain pen cap does post, with a firm push, but this may not be the wisest move, partly for the obvious reason of making the pen top-heavy, but also because an accidental pumping of the piston may occur – and that can get very messy (Scribble’s carpet is reportedly still recovering).It’s quite easy to write with both the pen and pencil for a long time without any sort of fatigue. This is especially pleasing considering that fountain pen is a piston filler, which leads nicely on to…

How it fills  Segues! The fountain pen is, in typical TWSBI fashion, a piston filler. This gives you plenty of ink and allows you to write for quite a while. Some people do have their reservations about piston fillers as they can require a bit more maintenance when cleaning, though it isn’t too much hassle truth be told – and as is the case for all TWSBI pens, the tools required are all in the box.

TWSBI Precision

The pencil refills are standard leads that you can buy from your favourite stationer – be it online or on the high street.

Crucially, how it writes  Both the fountain pen and the pencil both write very well. In part, the pencil performance is dependent upon what lead you have in it (partly the case with inks in the pen, though not to such an extent). Because both are well balanced, you do get a nice writing experience coupled with the nib/lead. The pen is available in all the normal TWSBI steel offerings, including stub nibs. We found no problems in terms of hard starts or skips with the pen. Our bleistift expert did notice, however, that the test pencil pushed-through rather more lead than is normal beyond the sleeve, which can increase the risk of snapping.

Pen(cil)! What is it good for?  This set would find itself fitting-in nicely in a business context, as well at one’s own table for personal use. The pen design aesthetic is somewhat similar to that of the famed Lamy 2000, but without the price tag (and gold nib, of course). The pencil’s echoing of (and in some senses improvement upon) the Rotring tradition would fit it for a design studio – if you can find one which still uses pencils.

Value For Money  Coming in at around £70-80 for the pen and mid £20s for the pencil, this may be an investment for some. But it’s a reliable pen, and a piston filler too, so it has the makings of a ‘workhorse’ pen which could end up paying for itself if used enough; no overpriced cartridges here, and less plastic waste too. The pencil is decent value, especially compared to the Rotring models it is apparently pitched against.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea  There’s a lot going for this pen. If you’re looking for recommendations for something similar to this, first you’d have to consider which aspect(s) you’re most put off by. If it’s the piston fill, then look for a cartridge/converter pen (this could possibly push you into gold nib territory if you’re willing to spend a little bit extra – Platinum #3776 comes to mind, which is a fantastic pen). If you enjoy the design, the Lamy 2000, as mentioned above, may be worth looking into; this would set you back an extra ~£50 (almost twice the price of the Precision), though as is the case with the Precision, you’re looking at a reliable workhorse that is worth (to most) the investment and so you can find comfort in that fact – it also comes with a gold nib and is more streamlined if you enjoy the matte grey brushed look on the Precision that you also get on the 2000 but not the “inverse hourglass” shape. If the pencil doesn’t quite float your boat, Rotring really is the obvious place to look.

There are, of course, other pen models within the TWSBI line-up that may tickle your fancy…Our overall recommendation  The Precision FP is a good, reliable pen, which has the potential to become a trusty workhorse without breaking the bank. None of us had any problems in terms of the writing experience, and the only cause for concern were our own personal preferences when it comes to design. All in all, a thumbs up! The pencil is a slightly more mixed offering given the issue Matthias identified with excessive lead protrusion, but still great value for the price demanded.

Where to get one  TWSBI have plenty of retailers in the UK now, and they are not difficult to find on the whole, although new models can sell out quickly. Our test pen was contributed by the marvellous Write Here of Shrewsbury (who, at time of writing, have this pen on special offer!) while the pencil was procured in this case from the equally splendid Writing Desk of Bury St. Edmunds.

This meta review references:

Thanks to Write Here for sending a pen our way before their initial stock sold out!

Faber-Castell E-Motion fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Faber-Castell is a well-known brand, but their mid-range fountain pens are too often overlooked. Many of us are already fans of the E-Motion, and when Executive Pens Direct offered a rather attractively-finished parquet black version to test we certainly weren’t going to miss the chance.

How it looks  It’s a tricky finish to capture on camera, but it looks decidedly smart. The pen itself is as sturdy-looking and ergonomically-shaped as ever. There’s no mistaking it for any other pen, really.

How it feels  Well weighted, and poised to write. That shiny section offer more grip than you might expect, too.

How it fills  This a straightforward cartridge/converter number, and that seems to work well.

Crucially, how it writes…  The pen looks great, but writing performance is what really seals the deal as far as we’re concerned. Faber-Castell use #5 Bock steel nibs in many models including this one, and that’s a promising starting point but their quality control and fitting are second to none. We find these nibs write reliably, and smoothly, without exception – this is as good as a steel nib can get, essentially!

Pen! What is it good for?  This pen would definitely not look out of place in a board-room, but there’s nothing to stop you using it anywhere else. Some of us already own an E-Motion of our own and have found the design robust and reliable – including that big spring clip.

VFM  Very good indeed; around £80 is typical for this handsome, well-made pen. The nibs are excellent, and the body is likely to last for a few decades with normal use too. ‘Nothing to complaint about there.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Then there are plenty of options. If you like the sound of that smooth steel nib but this material doesn’t quite do it for you, then the pure black or wood-finish versions of the E-Motion are worth a look. If the shape doesn’t quite float your boat, there are several other Faber-Castell fountain pens which use the same nib – even down to the super-affordable Basic. If you love the shape but would prefer a gold nib this is a little trickier, as the company saves gold for its up-market Graf von Faber-Castell range, presumably upon the numerical advice of neighbouring aristocrat Count von Count. But a Bock #5 from Beaufort Ink should fit, and even a JoWo #5 can be made to play nicely with a bit of careful fettling.

Our overall recommendation  This gets a unanimous thumbs-up from all our reviewers; a nice to pen to use, attractive to look at, and great to write with. We think the price is about right too.

Where to get hold of one  This is not the most difficult pen to find, but since ours was donated by Executive Pens Direct, and they’re selling it for a rather reasonable £78, we’ll include a link to their page here.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Executive Pens Direct for the sample.

Divine Design Eyedropper fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Before there were pistons, vacuums, pneumatic blast-poppers or funky crescent levers, there was but one filling system – the humble eye-dropper. Like its fellow Taiwanese offering from Opus 88, the Divine Design Eyedropper goes back to the  roots, albeit with a syringe rather than a pipette in the box. It is apparently only distributed within the Iberian peninsula at present (for reasons we can’t quite fathom, but there it is), but of course that geography neatly includes the marvellous fpnibs.com, and they know a thing or two about interesting pens.

How it looks  Very plain and straightforward: black cap and ends, transparent barrel, undistinguished clip. This is either helpfully minimalist, or a bit boring, according to taste – but we all agreed that this much ink sloshing around inside was a pleasant view.

How it feels  Unposted, it’s a fairly big pen, but not oversized – so comfortable for most hands. That cap does post, but this makes it a bit top-heavy in our opinion(s).

How it fills  Here is this pen’s first party trick – no less than three filling options. Why you’d put a puny cartridge in a beast like this is hard to imagine, but it’s nice to know that the capability is there for real emergencies. The box comes with a decent converter, which is considerate, but also somewhat redundant – because this thing is made to be filled to the brim. Open the barrel, which has nice long threads and an o-ring already fitted – and you can get a whopping 4ml of ink in there, which is enough to write for days.

Crucially, how it writes…  Here is the pen’s second party trick; it takes a JoWo #6, and fpnibs stock a lot of those. For fun, and to make interesting photographs, we went for one of their colour-lacquered offerings, but any of their steel options would do – or you could even push the boat out and choose a gold upgrade. We’ve yet to encounter the JoWo #6 which  writes badly. The purple lacquer did start to wear off once it reached its fourth reviewer, but the tip carried on writing just as well.

Pen! What is it good for?  It’s probably just the thing for when you don’t need to show off, but do need to write for a long stint without refilling. There are other ways to achieve that aim, but let’s face it  – this solution is a tenth of the price of a Conid.

VFM  With the nib and a bit of VAT inside the EU (for the time being, at least) this comes to about £45. Not dirt cheap, but pretty fair value for a useful pen, if not the glitziest. The box includes a syringe, converter, and instrucciones (in Español), so it covers all the bases and  even provides a diverting translation challenge if, for some inexplicable reason, you’re the sort of fountain pen enthusiast who knows everything apart from where the ink goes.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Have a shop-around for eye-droppers. They are making a gradual comeback – take the Opus 88, for instance.

Our overall recommendation  We like the way it works, for the most part, even if we’re not all blown-away by its plain looks. A safe choice as long as you don’t insist upon posting all your caps.

Where to get hold of one  Direct from fpnibs.com is probably the simplest route.

This meta-review references:

Cleo ‘Skribent’ fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Cleo Skribent is the company which kept fountain pen manufacturing going behind the iron curtain, and now make affordable daily drivers like the capable Classic which we tested last year. Their most enthusiastic retailers in the UK, the aptly named Write Here, were determined to persuade us to try one of their more exotic offerings.  Well, we didn’t take THAT much persuading…How it looks  Quite distinctive, with a tapered barrel which is reminiscent of a desk pen, and that impressively over-engineered clip. The gold finish wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but a chrome trim alternative and a nicely blue version are also available.

How it feels  Light but well-poised and ready to write. It’s hard to resist the urge to try a few squiggles when you pick this up, even if you have nothing in particular to write – but as Skribent roughly translates as ‘scribble’ that’s perhaps appropriate.

How it fills  Somewhat disappointingly, given the piston option of the reasonably priced Classic, the Skribent is a cartridge/converter number. However, the converter does screw in for greater security, which is a smart move.

Crucially, how it writes…  Ah, here is where the Skribent changes opinions quite quickly. The looks might not win everyone over, but that nib does! It’s small but perfectly formed, with a gentle bounce usually only encountered on a Japanese ‘soft’ nib, and although it offers only modest line variation it is a real joy to write with.Pen! What is it good for?  This is a proper ‘writer’s pen’, this one; it is well-built and could cope with whole reams of text. ‘Just the thing for writing that novel you’ve been meaning to get around to…

VFM  This is the one area where the Skribent struggles a bit, at the moment. It’s a nice pen with a really excellent nib, and deserves a premium price, but £300 is an awful lot of money. For that kind of cash one could buy a piston-filler, with a bigger nib, from a famous name, and it’s hard to escape the sense that Cleo have been a little over-ambitious with the RRP. If this was closer to the £220 mark we’d be recommending it with enthusiasm, though.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Cleo makes a wide range of fountain pens, and we do aim to review more of them over the next couple of years. But probably the nearest writing experience to that available from the Skribent would be a Platinum #3776 with an SM nib – if you can find one.Our overall recommendation  If you do have a yearning to write a book long-hand, and you can afford a luxury ‘daily driver’, you could do a lot worse than the Skribent – and you’re sure to fall in love with the nib. We think that Cleo would be wise to reconsider the price positioning, however.

Where to get hold of one  There are few Cleo stockists in the UK so, review samples not withstanding, it does make sense to go straight to a specialist.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Write Here for lending us the Skribent to play with!

 

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

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.

 

 

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.

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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’.

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

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!

Cleo Skribent Classic fountain pen meta-review

A little bit of history: While other German manufacturers such as Pelikan and Kaweco have been around since the 19th century, Cleo Skribent is a company that found itself established in the 20th century, shortly after the Second World War. The pens were made in Germany, initially in the founder’s garage “behind the iron curtain”. Once the curtain had been lifted, Cleo Skribent saw a booming business and the company continues to manufacture pens to this day. The name Cleo refers to the Egyptian pharaoh, Cleopatra, with whom the company identifies with due to the innovation and design of the Egyptian pyramids (though Daniel does point out Cleopatra lived closer to the launch of the iPhone than she did the pyramids).

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

How it looks: The Classic measures 134mm uncapped and 163mm posted. Some of us found the pen to be large, while others considered it small. The pen is also slim, which gives it a refined and sleek look, though this may not be to everyone’s tastes. The pens come in a range of colours of white, black or red and each come with their own option of gold or chrome furniture which means there’s something for everyone. The design, depending on who it is you’re asking, could be described as “understated”, or just simply “boring”. Though, the white and gold option does offer something “the same but different” as it’s still a conservative looking design but going about it in a different way. If you want something a bit more “out there” and unconventional, perhaps the red would tickle your fancy. The various options that you get are a fantastic selling point. For example, Daniel enjoyed the white and gold aesthetic, while Sarah thought the gold and silver looked better. There’s choice for everyone (that is, so long as you like white, black or red pens).

On the top of the cap is the Cleo Skribent logo.

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

The piston filler versions of the pen come with an ink window, which is very handy.

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

How it feels: The Classic weighs 18g capped, so this is an extremely lightweight pen. For some of us, that put us off a little bit. However, it is certainly well balanced and if you wish to post the pen, it does so very well. The cap screws off, but the step up to the section is minimal and due to the long section, you can bet on having a very nice grip on the pen.

How it fills: You have the option of a cartridge/converter pen or a ‘piston’ filling pen. The cartridge/converter is compatible with standard international fittings.

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

The piston is essentially a captured converter. You unscrew the blind cap at the end of the pen to get to the converter inside and you then twist it like a normal converter. However, the piston filler does hold more ink than the standard international converter (which screws in, by the way, so you avoid any ink spillages by the converter coming loose!). By using the piston filler, it does make it harder to clean out (though not impossible or by any means tedious).

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

Crucially, how it writes: Not all of us got on with the nib initially. Several of us noticed hard starts and skips at first, which perhaps isn’t something you would expect from a pen in this price range. The nib is also on the dry side when first ‘out of the box’ – but Scribble reports much wetter, softer action after the 14k nib has written a few thousand words.

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

Because we were testing the gold nib options, we did find a bit of spring and bounce which is characteristic of gold nibs, however this fell short in early use when we found the feed didn’t keep up with the flow. However, a super-wet ink helped a little – and in at least one case prolonged use fixed it completely.

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

Pen! What is it good for? The Classic is, simply put, a classic design. It’s slightly more streamlined than other pens, so you get a slightly different aesthetic to the typical cigar shaped pen. This is certainly something you could take into a business or more professional setting. Because of the wide number of choices that you can have, you can choose the exact specifications that suit your needs and would also make it a very good journalling pen or something that you carry around with you due to the lightweight characteristic (also makes it good for extended writing sessions).

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost: The price of this range goes from £75 with a steel nib and cartridge converter filling system to £155 with a 14k gold nib and a piston filler, so it occupies a range in the market. For a gold nib, you can’t go too far wrong with the Platinum #3776, which you can pick up for £99 if you look in the right places (even cheaper, if you’re on the grey market) which comes with a  gold nib and is a pen known for fantastic quality. This is, however, a cartridge converter. The TWSBI Vac 700R is also an option, which has a larger ink capacity, though with a steel nib. If a good, reliable gold nib pen is something you’re after then the #3776 is a very good pen to consider. If the ink capacity is more your concern and you’re looking around this price point, you can’t really beat the Vac 700R at this level. Of course, Cleo make all sorts of other interesting models too, like the Ebonite.

Our overall recommendation: This is a pen which wants to work for its living, and a potentially promising choice if you’re looking for a work-horse; it responds best after a good wearing-in. That can be an unusual experience if you’re used to pens working perfectly right away, though, so this probably won’t be a pen to everyone’s tastes. If you want to use and abuse an old-fashioned pen which will probably last for life, this is the Trabant of the fountain pen world. If you know you don’t have the patience to tinker under the bonnet, though, this might not be the perfect vehicle for your pearls of wisdom.

Where to get hold of one: You can view the Classic line Write Here (see what we did there?), which is also where these pens were kindly donated to the United Inkdom reviewers for review purposes. There are also other pens offered by Cleo Skribent that may tickle your fancy, such as the ebonite version which you can also find a review of below.

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