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Lamy Aion fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Lamy is a staple name in the pen community. They have the entry-level fountain pen market well-covered with the Al-Star and Safari, bringing out annual releases of those in different colours (as well as some highly coveted inks). They also have the starter gold nib niche covered with the Lamy 2000, a Bauhaus design from the 1960s which has barely changed since its conception; a real workhorse of a pen. Now we are graced with a mid-level offering from the German giants…but how does it compare?

Aion writing sample2

How it looks Daniel sees this as a “budget Lamy 2000”, while Scribble describes it as “modern – in a Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 sense”. However you see it, this pen is a sleek, business-appropriate pen while still remaining attractive enough that you’d be tempted to use it even at home. The pen currently comes in two options of black and silver, but Lamy are shaking things up in the not-too-distant future by adding dark blue and red flavours to the Aion line-up, which will give it the feeling of something a bit more fun and not as serious (or business-y), as is the case with the Lamy Al-Star and Safari pens.

How it feels This pen seemed to be quite polarising for our pool of reviewers. Scribble wasn’t too taken by the way the pen feels in the hand and had an issue with the grip section, pointing out nevertheless that how one grips a pen is a very personal thing. The pen has a coating on it that gives it a really interesting texture. Perhaps this is one you might want to try in the flesh, or certainly from a reputable retailer who’ll accept returns (make sure not to ink the pen, however!).

How it fills This is a cartridge/converter pen. Lamy have their own range of cartridges, and Monteverde also make cartridges that fit Lamy pens. You will have to use brand-specific as the filling mechanism is proprietary (so you can’t use standard international converters either). This is an irritation which we think Lamy could easily rectify by supplying a converter as a standard part of the package.

Crucially, how it writes…  While the feel of the barrel was polarising, we all agreed that this pen wrote well. The nib itself may not offer all that much in terms of aesthetic, but it does its job, and it does it well. Sometimes Lamy nibs can be hit-or-miss, but we were able to sample more than one of these pens and none of us ran into any problems (even with the finer nib grades). The nibs can also be swapped with Lamy Safari/Al-Star nibs if you prefer their more angular design to the Aion nib’s rounded profile.

Pen! What is it good for? This certainly has a business feel to it. Created by British designer Jasper Morrison, the aesthetic is something to be admired. As mentioned earlier, with the new colours that are finding their way into the market (and hopefully more in the future) this could be an interesting pen to collect, as well as giving it a more light-hearted feel. For now, though, this is a pen to take to work.

Aion writing sample3

VFM This pen comes in at £47 – so it could be seen as either a “budget 2000” or, perhaps, an “upmarket Safari”. Our view is that this is a fair price for a well-built, functional pen, although we do think it would be reasonable to expect a converter to be included at this point.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost… Lamy already have pens in the ‘affordable’ niche. This pen comes in at £47, which makes it trickier to evaluate because not too many pens are in this range. There is of course the TWSBI Eco which will save you £20 and gives you a piston filler and demonstrator design, or for the same price you could get a TWSBI 580. If you want something a bit more “fun” then you could always go for the Lamy Al-Star/Safari range and find something more suited to you there.

Our overall recommendation A thumbs-up from the United Inkdom crew, generally! Initially several of us were rather sceptical about the pen; Ant even thought it a boring offering until he tried it. But it writes well, looks distinctive and feels good if you have big hands. While this might be one that you want to try in the flesh, it may be worth the risk by pulling the trigger anyway.

Where to get hold of one Any of your favourite pen retailers are likely to have this, especially if they’re already supplying the lower-end Lamy pens.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Lamy HQ for providing an Aion for three of us to test (the other two bought their own).

Nettuno 1911

A little bit of history Nettuno 1911 (named after Neptune – a God of the Sea) are beautifully hand-crafted Itanian fountain pens, made in Bologna under the supervision of Nino Marino – a former president of the famous Delta Pen Company. Nettuno pens have a very long history originating  in the last century and perhaps Nettuno as a brand was one of the first (if not the first) fountain pen companies established in Italy.  One of their advertisements from 1911 showed Neptune holding the fountain pens as if they were his iconic trident; the model for the company’s logo was based on a famous statue of Neptune in Bologna. The 1911 series celebrates the Italian heritage of the reborn Nettuno brand.

How it looks  The finish of the Nettuno 1911 models we tested is called Tritone. It features a pearlescent shimmering silvery grey resin body with grip section and finials made from dark blue resin. These are complemented with rhodium accents. On the cap there are three polished bands whereas the barrel contains two wider rings, with the relief patterns of arched windows referring to ancient Roman architecture. These bands are made from the same metal as the clip and have a matte texture. The finial on the cap has a metal ring with a wave pattern. The pen is equipped with a rhodium-plated steel nib.

The ornaments on the nib are rather minimalist, but effective. There is a large stylised capital ‘N’ from the Nettuno logo left on the etched, matte-textured surface, which matches nicely with the other trims present on the barrel. All parts are very well-made, with real attention to detail; the resin elements, for instance, are nicely smooth with a glossy finish.  The Nettuno 1911 Tritone is a very elegant fountain pen indeed. 

The Nettuno 1911 comes in a black cardboard sleeve and aesthetically pleasing presentation box. The box is rather unusual; a beautifully printed cover lid has to be rotated around a pin to open it, while an elastic band keeps lid and the box tightly closed . Each pen is numbered but not limited. The Netunno 1911 collection consista of ten different models currently available . The type of resin, finish and trim colour and nib coating vary from one model to another.

How it fills The Nettuno 1911 uses a threaded converter, which can be accessed via the ‘blind cap’ on the barrel (which gives access to the converter knob). Because the cartridge converter is screwed into the section, it stays in place during refilling. This is a simple but quite effective solution which effectively produces a captured converter filling solution – much like a piston mechanism, in use.

How it feels Despite its fair weight (36g capped), the Netunno 1911 feels comfortable in the hand. We found its weight to be balanced, but if you lean more towards light-weight Japanese pens (e.g. Sailor or Pilot) then the Nettuno 1911 may feel a little on the heavy side.  The step on the barrel/section as well as the threads are rather smooth, but the deeply-etched trim may became noticeable during longer writing sessions, especially to those who tend to hold pens on the upper part of the grip section. Theoretically the pen can be used with the cap posted, although this makes it too heavy and unbalanced in our view.

Crucially, how it writes…  The fitted steel nib writes well, and the writing experience we all had was positive. This nib is not quite as rigid as might often be expected from steel. There is a decent amount of springiness which enhances the overall writing experience. The model we tested was equipped withe a medium nib. If pressed gently,  some line variation may be achieved but with regular pressure the line width is rather consistent. Interestingly,  we have noticed some small problems with the ink flow which manifested as occasional ‘skipping’, which may be attributable to many things including ink properties, paper quality, etc. It may be just this unit, too. Overall, the Nettuno 1911 writes well, but on the other hand there is nothing really special and exciting about this nib either.

Pen! What is it good for?The Netunno 1911 is definitely a pen to have on the table during important business meetings. It looks elegant and shows its class. It is definitely a good ‘general use’ fountain pen, including for note taking, but perhaps not ideal as a daily, ‘all task work-horse’ pen. For those purposes it should have exceptionally good ink flow, be very ergonomic and perhaps lightweight too – and here the emphasis is a bit more upon show. There is, however, plenty that owners will want to show.

VFM £219.00 feels quite expensive for a pen with a humble steel nib; for this price many customers would expect either a full piston-filling mechanism and/or a gold nib. The nib size is unfortunately limited to western medium (M) and fine (F) only. However, the Nettuno 1911 Tritone is very well-built and the materials used are great quality too. The overall design is quite distinctive with great attention to detail, especially as regards trims.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  If this particular design is not not to your taste but you still fancy a beautiful Italian pen which performs well albeit for significantly less money, then the Leonardo Officina Italiana Momento Zero or Furore may be worth a look.

Our overall recommendation  If you are looking for an interesting well-made pen with a characteristic themed design then the Nettuno 1911 could be a good choice. The craftsmanship and choice of materials are excellent, giving this pen a premium feel.  Beautiful and somehow unique presentation enhances its ‘high street’ appearance. However, if writing experience is more important to you than the aesthetics then there are many significantly less expensive pens equipped with good quality steel nibs out there. 

Where to get hold of one Nettuno 1911 is available in the UK from iZods Ink who are the official Nettuno 1911 official retailer. The price tag on this pen and other models in the series is £219.99.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Roy at Izods for sending us this pen to play with.

Manuscript Lettering Pencil

A little bit of history:  The Manuscript Pen Co Ltd are based in Shropshire, where they have been producing nibs and calligraphy pens since 1856. Despite their vintage they evidently love coming up with new products and this holder with interchangeable leads set is one of their latest.

manuscript pack

How it looks:  The big pack arrives in one of those tricksy-to-open plastic blisters, packed with everything that you need to get cracking on your pencil calligraphy; a lead-holder, five different lead colours (including graphite) for you to play with and a nifty glass ‘sharpener’ to help you keep a good edge on your leads. There’s also a more select pack for those who just want a lead-holder and some italic graphite.

Crucially, how it writes:  Uniquely! When have you ever seen big wide italic lead before? It takes some getting used to, and perhaps as a factor of the rectangular manufacturing  process the graphite/crayon is remarkably hard. While our reviewers had fun with it and it DOES work, some felt that their own calligraphy skills were not good enough to show the product off to its best advantage. The coloured lines produced were quite faint. So, while it could be fun for kids, a concern might be whether the results will look smart enough to encourage them to take calligraphy further. However, a good calligrapher could create something special with this.

scribble.jpg

Lead! What is it good for? It’s an innovative product that offers a less messy way for beginners to try their hand at calligraphy. It could be especially fun for children and using the coloured leads instead of inks means that parents can relax without worrying about their soft furnishings being ruined.  In the hands of a good calligrapher, the results from this pack could be a contemporary blend of the rustic and the stylish.

manuscript colour

VFM: At the moment, a version of this product can be purchased from John Lewis for £20.00. We think that’s quite steep for a pencil, but also not crazy money for a product as unusual as this.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost: then why not try calligraphy with an ordinary pencil? Any pencil that is blacker, rather than harder (ie B rather than H) will be fun to try calligraphy with. Try anything from 2B to 5B or maybe 6B. But watch out for smudges! The softer the lead, the more smudges you can make, so protect your paper as you work. Or just let the kids go crazy – the choice is yours!

Alternatively, it is possible to buy the italic leads on their own from Manuscript direct, and they should work with any 5.6mm lead-holder you already have.

Our overall recommendation:  The Manuscript Calligraphy Lettering Pencil is a fun and innovative product for a style of writing that has remained popular for hundreds of years.  In the hands of a good calligrapher it could perform marvels – but we think caution is advised for beginners, as if your lettering skills aren’t that wonderful, the initial results may leave you less than enthusiastic to pursue calligraphy further.

See our reviewers’ individual reviews:

Nick Stewart’s CMYK fountain pen ink blending kit

A little bit of history  Nick Stewart is a creative designer, artist, calligrapher and educator from historic Rochester, on the Thames estuary in Kent. Nick also actively contributes to United Inkdom. As an artist he is very passionate about inks, especially their chromatic properties, breaking down all possible hues and tonal ranges present in any ink he works with. He has tested hundreds and hundreds of inks which allowed him to understand how they are made and what factors are affecting specific properties. There is a hint of alchemy in his work, especially when Nick experiments with bleach to test how the destructive process which results can create something new and exciting.

Nick has been working closely with Britain’s best-known fountain pen ink manufacturer to design his own custom-made inks, and we have already reviewed the first result, the beautiful Randall Blue-Black ink. Recently, he also came up with set of four mixable inks which mimic the CMYK colour model which many of us know better from printers. By blending them together, with specific ratios, the whole range of secondary and tertiary colours can be obtained. The idea was to create inks which generate a wide enough palette of colours that anyone can simply take them for a journey in a rucksack along with an art journal or watercolour paper pad. In principle it works in the same way as the simple watercolour sets you can find in any art shop and blend together using water. Because the majority of inks are made using dyes, the properties and final effects are different from those which pigment-based paints generate and are an interesting alternative to them.

How it looks  Nick’s set contains four independent 30ml inks. The intended purpose is to blend them together to obtain new colours, but each ink can be used separately as a stand-alone fountain pen ink. The colours available in the set are: Berber Blue (C), Desert Rose (M), Yellow Dune (Y) and Twilight Black (K). These are not ‘pure’ CMYK colours, and each ink has its own unique characteristics. However, when mixed together they still create a full range of secondary and tertiary colours.

How it mixes For drawing, probably the best way to mix and blend inks together would be to use small portable paint trays, as  employed by artists for watercolour or acrylic paints. The only problem is to figure out the best way of taking small amounts (or even drops) of each ink from the set bottles and transferring these to the mixing tray. With watercolour and acrylic paints it’s easy enough, since these are often available in small tubes or as solid blocks. Picking the ink directly from the bottle using a brush might not be the best idea; it would be very easy to cross-contaminate (unless you use several brushes).  Pouring inks directly from the bottle may be risky, and cause splattery surprises. Plastic pipettes (or little eyedroppers) seem to be ideal for this, although you’ll need to carry a few of them. In future, we think it might be a good idea to make the set available with small eyedroppers mounted directly on the cap.

All four inks mix nicely together, and if necessary they can be easily diluted with water. For watercolour paper it’s helpful to apply thin layer of water as a medium, so the inks will flow better on the paper. Water brushes are also good for blending and washes.

Crucially, how it writes…  All four inks are very good quality. They flow well in fountain pens and the overall writing experience is pleasant. We have not noticed any unnecessary bleeding through, ghosting or feathering. As expected, the same observations apply for custom-mixed inks made with this set.

Ink! What is it good for?  These are multi-purpose inks. The primary purpose of any fountain pen ink is writing, of course; all four base colours are nice on their own, but why not to create your unique combination of colours simply by experimenting and mixing base inks together as you like? However, the secret trick this set has appears as soon as they are diverted to use in painting and illustration – they blend well and the resulting colours are well-saturated and vivid. These inks are also water-soluble, so can be used for washes too.

VFM  The set is available for £20, which looks like decent value to us. You get four 30ml inks which are high quality in their own right and work very well with fountain pens, brushes and almost any other media you can find. Once you figure out how to mix them to obtain your preferred custom colours, this much ink should last quite a while.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Blending colours is great fun and even if you don’t feel you have bags of artistic skill or unsure about the theory of colour mixing, you should definitely give it a go.  Experimenting with colours is fascinating and maybe accidentally (magically) you will create the favourite ink colour you have always been searching for. Who knows? Try it and let the magic happen!

Our overall recommendation If you are illustrating, journalling or drawing when travelling and if you like different mixed-media to create art, then Nick’s ‘CMYK’ set is designed for you. If mixing colours doesn’t immediately sound like your cup of tea, we’d say you’re missing out. Take a leap and try it!

Where to get hold of some  The set of CMYK inks is available directly from Nick Stewart’s website where you can find all the details. 

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Nick himself for getting some samples out to us.

Inventery modular fountain pen review

A little bit of history  No-one’s quite sure when and where the concept of modular design first arose. Architecture has a fairly strong claim to being the founding school, and Brunel’s prefabricated hospitals created for despatch to the Crimea get frequent mentions, but the Norman prefabricated castles shipped over the Channel in 1066 shared many characteristics and, as you won’t be surprised to hear that the Romans had thought of something similar, the essentials of the concept are there in Vitruvius too. What perhaps is surprising is that it’s taken this long to take hold in the fountain pen world. So American firm The Inventery got on with making up for lost time, and sent us one or two to check out.

How it looks  Like a short plain tube or a slightly longer plain tube, depending upon whether you choose to install the extender section. The shape is otherwise fairly featureless, but there’s a fair range of materials and finishes, from plain aluminium and matt black to shiny brass.

How it feels  Small, to be direct about it.  Unextended, it’s just about long enough for brief use as long as the cap is posted. With the extender fitted, it’s long enough to use like a standard pen, but a little top-heavy with the cap posted.How it fills The ‘pocket’ configuration will fit only a small international cartridge, but the extended version has space for a proper twist converter.

Crucially, how it writes…  Tolerably. The small steel Schmidt nib is nothing fancy, but does the job adequately enough as long as you’re not after flex or flair. There is also a rollerball tip in the pack, if you’re into that sort of thing –  which, seeing as you’re reading a fountain pen website, is less than guaranteed, but moving swiftly on…Pen! What is it good for?  It’s good for, depending upon your point of view, customisers who like to regularly reconfigure and re-invent their pocket pen, or for terminally indecisive fidgets!

VFM  This is probably not Inventery’s strongest point, at least when it comes to fountain pens. There are plenty of surplus attachments in the kit to play with, but once you have found the formula which works for you the chances are that you’ll stick with it – and that inevitably means that there will be waste. Waste can be expensive, too; for what this admittedly curious and interesting combo costs, you could get one of the solid metal versions of Kaweco’s proven Sport and be most of the way to acquiring a high-quality gold nib for it too.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Try some different shapes and sizes of fountain pen and, when you find one which you like enough to put it in your pocket straight away, buy that.

Our overall recommendation Is to think carefully about why you’re contemplating buying this. If it’s a present for someone who perhaps isn’t a huge pen addict but really enjoys dismantling and rebuilding things, it might go down very well. If you’re a fountain pen aficionado, though, we’d say that this is fun and interesting, but maybe not a high-priority purchase.

Where to get hold of one  Direct from Inventery is simplest. Alternatively, we’ll be giving away one of the kits we tested as part of our Yule frenzy, which is only a few months away after all – so keep watching!

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Inventery for sending us some samples to test.

 

 

BeNu Friendly Chameleon fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Based in Moscow, Benu burst into the pen scene last year with a range of striking designs. When they offered us one to try, we said да!

 

How it looks  The Friendly Chameleon itself is indeed very striking. The barrel is a squared off triangle, with a matching cap. The resin is beautiful with a whole lot of shimmer and sparkle. It truly is chameleon-like, changing appearance as it catches the light at different angles. All our reviewers loved this resin but some felt the overall appearance was let down slightly by the black plastic centre and grip sections. It’s all a matter of taste and a pen with these kinds of looks is bound to provoke a wide range of reactions.

How it feels  Surprisingly comfortable. There’s quite a step down from the barrel to the section but the section’s long and so your fingers are safely out of the way. The pen’s width and light weight mean it’s comfortable to hold for extended periods. The cap is light and so doesn’t throw off the balance when posted. The shape also means the pen won’t roll away – always a plus with a clipless pen.

How it fills  Benu very sensibly use an international standard cartridge or converter.

Crucially, how it writes…  The nib is a generic steel Schmidt #5. The one on our review unit had good flow and behaved itself very well with no skipping or hard starts. It had some feedback which we felt was just the right side of acceptable but might not be for everyone. It isn’t the greatest nib but it works well and is easily replaced.

Pen! What is it good for?  The Friendly Chameleon writes well and is comfortable in the hand and so, fortunately, is an excellent pen for doing lots of writing! It’s also good for just gazing into, while waiting for inspiration to strike.

VFM  At $90 (plus another $5 for a converter) this isn’t a cheap pen but it’s unique in shape and colour. It would be good to see a higher quality nib but if you like the design (and, let’s be honest, you’re going to either love it or hate it!) then a pen that works well and is this unusual is good value at this price.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  It’s hard to find a pen with these kinds of looks at this price. You’d usually be looking at something bespoke, for a lot more money. So if you almost like this pen but aren’t quite sure then you might be best off looking at the rest of Benu’s range.

Our overall recommendation  The Benu Friendly Chameleon is a good pen and all our reviewers would recommend it, if you’re seduced by its looks!

Where to get hold of one  Benu sell internationally direct from their website.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Kate in Moscow for sending us the pen to try out.

Elrohir notebook covers

A little bit of history  Tolkien left more entertainment for etymologists than anthropologists in his writings, and the latter would probably not be wildly impressed at the idea of a being who was half knight, and half elf. Such, however, was supposedly the provenance of Elrohir, and it’s a fitting name to borrow for a product made in a stable, using saddle-making techniques – although we can confirm that no elves were employed in the making of this review.  The Elrohir operation is in fact run by a very nice human called Mischa, based in Wales rather than Rivendell, and we were encouraged to find out more about what she does by one of our regular readers from Middle Earth (well, Melton Mowbray, but it’s near enough). What came our way were two remarkable notebook covers; an A6 steampunk number and a blue A5 mandala affair, complete with multiple interesting refills.

How they look  Frankly astonishing. Everyone we show these to responds with some variety of ‘wow’. The designs are embossed, so they’re quite tactile too.  The range is quite a challenge to describe, so a quick look at Elrohir’s Etsy page is worthwhile now. No, seriously, right now!

How it feels  Weighty, rugged, and ready to last a life-time – and yet remarkably refined. Like the sort of saddle you’d put on a thoroughbred, probably.

How it fills  With as many simple cahier-style exercise book refills as you care to thread in. The A5 version we tested could take five or six, which did make it a bit tough to hold flat and write in – but of course thinner versions can be made available with a swift email to Mischa. Customisation is very much encouraged.

Crucially, how it copes with a fountain pen…  Mischa’s own inserts come in a variety  of plain and coloured papers, and all we’ve tested so far seem happy making friends with a proper nib. They look the part next to a real pen, too.

Book! What is it good for?  These are built to last, but we think maybe a little too lovely to take to work (unless you work with elves, of course). For a travel journal, recipe collection or grimoire-in-development, though, it’s almost certainly exactly the thing.

VFM  These cost about 30% more than the equivalent standard product from Start Bay – so not cheap, but nevertheless remarkably reasonable for such an unusual product. We certainly couldn’t complain.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  These are two very fine examples of Mischa’s craft, but if you prefer something a bit different – a cover depicting bats flitting through the night sky, perhaps – it’s worth having a look at the Elrohir range. We’ve yet to come across anything quite comparable from another maker.

Our overall recommendation  Have a browse, save a few pennies, and get one. If you’re after a robustly decorative notebook cover, these will take some beating.

Where to get hold of one  Go straight to the source and talk to Mischa! Her Etsy page is a good place to start.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Mischa for getting a couple of amazing samples our way. Most of us didn’t want to let them go, and that’s a recommendation!

Sheeny blue inks shoot-out

A little bit of history  Once upon a time in the west, or the western hemisphere at least, there were fine upstanding fountain pen makers like Parker, whose Penmanship Blue had a nice, subtle, red sheen on it, which made handwriting shimmer gently in the right light and, thirty years later, made otherwise sensible shoppers absolutely do a nut-job and blow staggering piles of cash on half-empty bottles just to dip their nibs in this apparently magical writing elixir. It got a bit silly, frankly. Then ink specialists here in this century started making their own, and things became calm and sensible once more. Well, mostly. Here are three of the new contenders, from Amurrka, Oz and Blighty, slugging it out head-to-head – as if civilised ink would stoop to anything of the sort! Tsk.

How it looks  Our three selected inks all look like high-quality, but ordinary, blue inks as they go on to the page. Robert Oster’s Fire & Ice is a light blue verging on turquoise, Diamine’s Germany-only Skull & Roses is a richer ‘royal’ blue, and Organics Studio’s Nitrogen Blue is somewhere in between. Then, once dried, they exhibit a red sheen when you twist them in oblique light. It’s a neat trick.

How it behaves on the paper Perfectly well; these all come from serious ink manufacturers with reputations to protect, so there are no major problems. Drying times can occasionally be longer than expected, however, particularity for Nitrogen.How it behaves in the pen  Again, pretty much as standard fountain pen ink does, although sheen inks can lead to a build-up of sediment eventually – and several of us have found ebonite feeds turning a fetching shade of red! Fortunately, it’s nothing that a good rinse won’t fix.

Ink! What is it good for?  The art of correspondence may be dying fast, but if anything’s going to bring it back it must surely be the excuse to use inks as alluring as these. It makes boring blue interesting again, after all.

VFM  Good quality sheening ink is generally a ‘premium’ product at present so you may have to pay a little more – but if you enjoy the effect, you’re unlikely to find the modest uplift a major penalty.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  There are more ink makers jumping on this band-wagon all the time – for instance, we’re hearing good things about Krishna Moonview. Or you could mortgage your home, sell a couple of major organs and buy some Parker Penmanship, of course…

Our overall recommendation  Give it a go. The effect is very pleasing and the ink is easy to live with, even in fussy thoroughbred pens. Skull & Roses is the trickiest to get hold of despite being made here in the UK, but that’s just the result of an exclusive deal – and Diamine could undoubtedly come up with something even better for full global distribution in due course. In the meantime, Fire &Ice if you like Turquoise, or Nitrogen if you like full-on royal blue with all the trimmings, are well worth a try.

Where to get hold of some  For Skull & Roses, you have to buy from Germany – but there are numerous tintenshoppingspecialisten (Nein, das ist kein Neologismus!) on the web, or even Amazon if you really get stuck. Executive Pens Direct stocks Fire & Ice, while The Writing Desk carries Nitrogen amongst a a fairly wide range of Organics inks. A bit of internet research will produce the goods without too much heavy trawling.

This shoot-out meta-review references:

Thanks to  Diamine for the rare sample of Skull & Roses, Executive Pens Direct for the sample of Robert Oster’s Fire & Ice, and The Writing Desk for shipping some Nitrogen this side of the pond.

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!