A little bit ofhistoryWhile the whole “traveller’s notebook” craze was getting very fashionable – and let’s face it, very expensive – some enterprising folks in Austria thought that they could probably do better if they took the concept and started again from scratch. We caught up with their take on the format at the London Stationery Show, and tempted by the rather lovely-looking Grand Voyageur XL version (partly because it looked like it was A5), we immediately volunteered to put a few of them to the test. Three of us have taken these out and about, pour voyages grands et petits, and here’s how they fared.
How it looksLike a traveller’s notebook made by professionals for serious writers, which is a good image to start with. The leather is available in a range of colours all the way from understated to bright and bold, and the availability of contrasting elastic closures (if preferred by the user) can make it look smarter still. The Paper Republic logo is neatly debossed on the back, and buyers can have their initials on the front for a modest extra charge. Only the frayed ends of the knotted retaining bands detracts from the professional appearance, but this may be something the makers look into improving in subsequent models.
How it feelsSmooth, supple, flexible and generally luxurious; if you’re a bit of a stationery leather fetishist you’re going to be pretty happy with this material. Thanks to vegetable-derived tanning processes it even smells good, and it seems to hold up well after vigorous use.
How it fillsWith Paper Republic’s Swedish-made refills, available in plain, lined and grid versions. This is where we encountered the one major fly in the ointment; the paper is OK, but the paper size is not as we had expected. These are not, in fact, A5 (which is 148mmX210mm), but a proprietary size of around 135mmX200mm, and that greatly limits the usefulness of the design. If you have pages of notes made in the Grand Voyageur XL which you wish to remove and file with A5 notes, it’s going to be messy. Worse still, if you wish to source your own A5 refills, perhaps because you are actually travelling and can’t arrange a Paper Republic delivery, you can’t; a full A5 refill hangs out of the cover in a thoroughly ungainly fashion. This is such a serious limitation that it is only really going to work for the sort of writer who is so disciplined that they know exactly how much writing they will do on any given expedition, and that’s a pity; other than this shortfall, we all thought it was a great product.Crucially, how it handles fountain pens…Quite well, fortunately! The manufacturer’s claim to use the best paper in the world was a bit of an exaggeration – we have certainly all used better – but that’s not say it’s bad at all. It was quite pleasant to write on and coped with every nib we threw at it with aplomb.
Pulp! What is it good for?Well, given the issue with size, it’s hard to think of what these are best used for at present. But Laura’s adaptation of one into an ink journal looks like a good place to begin.
VFMThese covers retail for €60 direct from Paper Republic, or £54 from Cult Pens in the UK; which is most affordable will depend upon how much of a mess the Pound is in on the day you wish to make a purchase, but it’s always worth checking the exchange rates first. Our view is that the quality justifies that price, but the actual value to you the consumer may depend upon whether the eccentric paper size is a help or a hindrance.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…There is also a not-quite-A5 notebook format from Germany, the X17, but while this has even more colour options, it shares the drawback of falling short in a dimension or two. The only true A5 notebook cover we have come across is from Devon; the Start Bay is only available in shades of brown but is more competitively priced and definitely does the job well. Meanwhile Paper Republic do also make a passport-sized notebook, and another which doubles as a mobile ‘phone cover, which may have wider appeal.
Our overall recommendationThis is a really well-made, impressive product which we would like to recommend without reservations. Unfortunately we do have one serious reservation, but we have already shared this with Paper Republic and they’ve told us they’re considering how to proceed. If they go ahead and produce a true A5 version – perhaps the Plus Grand Voyageur XXL – we’ll be first in the queue to buy a few.
Where to get hold of oneIf you like the format it makes a lot of sense to support the manufacturer by buying direct. However, if the consequences of foreign policy eccentricities have knocked your own currency out of kilter, Cult Pens also sell them.
A little bit ofhistory As the twentieth century grew more confident in its own artistic milieu and Art Deco architecture collided with aeronautical design, the blended lines of ‘Streamline Moderne’ emerged. It bore all sorts of results, from Morecambe’s Midland Hotel (where everyday is like Sunday, according to Mr. Morrissey), to the passenger accommodation of The Hindenburg (itself inspiration for the Diplomat Aero), and, of course, the Airstream caravan (as slow as all other caravans but at least nicer to look at). Several decades later, Jake Lazzari of Applied Pens spotted the missing category; fountain pens.
How it looksLike a pocket version of the Schienenzeppelin with a nib inside the engine bay, or a rapidly-extruded Airsteam, or, inevitably an alien mind-probe. It rather defies easy description, frankly, and it’s probably better to let the pictures do the talking on this occasion; suffice it to say that there is nothing else out there quite like it.
How it feelsIt’s big – really extraordinarily big. So much so that you might wonder if your hands are big enough. Three-quarters of our reviewing panel were, however, pleasantly surprised to find that it nevertheless felt about right in the hand, and the lightness of the materials ensures that it’s not as heavy as it looks either. The ebonite makes it warm to the touch immediately, which is also rather pleasant. But it will be just a bit too big for some.
How it fillsWith a simple Schmidt converter, and that’s perfectly reasonable. The lack of metal inside then barrel and the close threads probably means that eye-dropper conversion is also possible, if you don’t mind a few ink-burps as a result.
Crucially, how it writes…As ever with hand-made pens, that depends upon the nib you choose to add. Jake uses the Bock #6 steel nib as standard, and although the review unit we sampled had been bashed about a bit, to the detriment of writing performance in this case, Jake does test all nibs before dispatch to customers and will rectify any issues which arise after delivery. The writing position is comfortable and, with a #6 nib of your choice, this should be a very nice long-term scribbler.
Pen! What is it good for?Let’s keep it clean, folks. It’s for writing – really, it is. Most of us would probably keep a pen this extravagantly outré for use at home, but it would certainly look the part signing big contracts… or peace treaties with extraterrestrial civilisations.
VFMMost versions of the Streamline are available at around the £150 mark, which we think is fair for a hand-made pen with unique design and plenty of customisation options. Installing a nib which is more exotic than the steel standard will naturally add to that, but it’s still a tempting proposition for most of us who reviewed it.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…The acrylic used in the section of this review sample wasn’t quite as popular as the ebonite of the main body, but that’s no real problem as there are copious alternative options – have a look at Jake’s Etsy page (link below) for a few ideas if you need them. If you like the unique design but just can’t handle something quite this huge, Jake does make some smaller pens too. We can’t think of any other pen maker turning out anything remotely comparable, though.
Our overall recommendationIf you like big pens and you cannot lie, then make like Sir Inkalot to the website and order one; we were mightily impressed and several of us have started to muse about our own choice of materials one day. We’d like to see a version with a bigger #8 nib in the future too, but this is a pretty special pen which looks out of this world but is also very nice to wield.
Where to get hold of oneFrom Jake’s Etsy page, or the outer rings of Saturn, whichever is closer to you.
Thanks to Jake for supplying this extraordinary test sample, and offering one lucky reader the chance to take it home! The competition entailed ideas for favourite Welsh designers, with a very broad brief as to what ‘designer’ means. There were some wonderfully creative responses but the most surprising had to be the humble equals= sign. The prize is winging its way by flying saucer…
A little bit ofhistorySilvine Originals: A British icon, reinvented. Silvine has been a staple (pardon the pun) within British homes for generations. We all felt a sense of nostalgia as we opened the packages that Silvine sent to us. But Silvine’s heritage runs longer than a generation or two; their notebooks are being made by the same machines that have been in use for decades. So, how do they shape up for writing in?
How it looksThe Silvine notebooks have been dye-matched to the 1960s bold red cover that we’ve all grown to love. With 300gsm front and back covers, the notebooks feel strong and durable; far more than many other softcover notebooks out there. There are several different sizes of notebooks, each with their own particular little niche. However, the one that stood out immediately to many of us is the Exercise as it is very similar to the wririting books familiar from school. However, not every aspect of the notebooks was loved across the Inkdom. In particular, Gillian felt the blue lines within the Exercise notebook as being a little over the top. While the red margin in the Exercise book was able to calm it down a little and provide a little bit of contrast, unfortunately the Memo notebook didn’t have that cover and wasn’t so easy on the eyes.
How it feelsEveryone within the Inkdom commented on how textured the paper is. The paper is 90gsm Natural White Wave paper and you can definitely feel it on your pen. We actually rather liked this; it’s certainly not as smooth as Clairefontaine, but you can feel what you;’re doing as you move the nib across the paper. What’s more, this paper handles anything thrown at it. Gillian even mentioned that the paper might be able to hold up to watercolours! Dabiel and Scribble found that it was able to handle all the nibs that they threw at it and The Clumsy Penman also commented on how well the paper copes with inks.
Crucially, how it handles…Pages in the Silvine notebooks are hand-stitched, which gives the notebooks a very personal feel and also means that they lay flat which makes the writing experience even more pleasurable. Some of us weren’t too keen on how the stitching looked, however, as it wasn’t always clean and could look a tad messy. The exception to this is the Project notebook, which has a little bit of extra protection because of how big and heavy it is (speaking in relative terms to the other sizes, such as the itty-bitty Pocket). All the notebooks have perforated pages and they work very well as you can easily tear out the pages if you need to, but you needn’t worry about the perforations becoming weak when flipping pages in the notebook – the pages will only come out if you want them to come out.
Pulp! What is it good for?As mentioned above, each notebook fills its own little niche. You can read our individual reviews to get a better sense for what you could use them for. Daniel was was able to use the Project notebook for drawing graphs for biology illustrations, but Gillian pointed out that it doesn’t have to just be for applications like drawing out scientific apparatus. You’re bound to find the right notebook for you amongst this selection; John has even made the Pocket part of his every day carry. Some of us did identify other limitations; there is no grid option and the notebooks are all a non-standard size.
VFMTypically, the cheapest of these notebooks is the Memo, at around £4.50, with the most expensive around £14.00. However, if you consider the Pocket notebooks, which come in packs of three, the cost of each individual notebook is £2.17. John says that the notebooks are “expensive but worth it,” and that sums up the consensus view – you do pay a of a premium, but it’s worth it.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…This is a tricky one. As stated above, these notebooks aren’t really a standard size. For the smaller sizes (Pocket, Memo & Note) you could look at pocket-sized notebooks such as those from Field Notes, Word and Calepino. The Exercise notebook is a little easier to recommend an alternative to, as some of us have used Rhino notebooks previously – the lines might be a little easier on the eyes if you’re not a fan of bright blue. As for the Project, you could look at the Field Notes Arts & Sciences edition (specifically the Sciences). There are two disadvantages to this, however, the first and perhaps most annoying is that they’re no longer in production so you’ll have to be lucky enough to find one second-hand (they pop up on eBay every so often, but far pricier than the Project). The other is that the notebooks are smaller so if it’s page count and size that makes the project great for you, sadly the Arts & Sciences won’t cut it.
Our overall recommendationWe love writing in these notebooks and, as long as the non-standard size isn’t a problem for you, would recommend giving them a try.
A little bit ofhistoryAre you sitting comfortably? The history here is a quite a long one. When Padraig was kidnapped by pirates and taken to slavery in Ireland – prior to his subsequent visit which, in the long run, elevated him as Saint Patrick – some accounts record that his sister Lupita was carried away with him. Her life story is obscure indeed, but somehow legends ascribed to or connected with her found their home at the edge of Lough Ennell. What may have been an isolated area of the now-drained bog at the edge could conceivably been named in shaky Norman French as L’Isle de Lupita, but this too is conjecture; somehow, nevertheless, the name was corrupted to Lilliput. Many centuries later the Dean of a cathedral – St.Patrick’s Cathedral, as it happens, for in our world all things are connected – was staying by the lake when he looked across and saw tiny figures, diminished by perspective, on the far side of the shore. According to literary legend, there an idea was born; for that Dean was none other than Jonathan Swift.A little bit more history Jonathan Swift was a rapier-sharp satirist in his time (see ‘A Modest Proposal‘ for his critique of the way some governments behave towards the poor), but his best-known work these days is a rather subtler satire on tribal folly, Gulliver’s Travels. Lemuel Gulliver’s first port of call, of course, is Lilliput, where the people are astonishingly diminutive – around six inches in height, typically. If the fountain pen had been available at this point, a good century and a half before its invention, the proportionate writing implement for a true Lilliputian would have been about 1cm in length. In setting out to make an exceptionally minuscule fountain pen it is greatly to the relief of all diligent scribes that Messrs Koch, Weber and Company of Nuremberg, late of Heidelberg, aspired to virtues beyond mere portability…How it looksOh alright, it’s still tiny – just not quite as tiny as that! This simple metal tube (well, simple in most versions, at least) is the smallest serious fountain pen currently in production. It looks small and, at least in basic black, inconspicuous. Unscrew the cap, screw it onto the back to extend to the pen’s full length, and it looks a bit more like the pen concept we’re all familiar with. Then different finishes separate the subtle from the unsubtle; the plain black aluminium gives way to flashy pink and purple versions, encounters with flame-throwers turn the stainless steel version into ‘fireblue’, and the rippled finish of the ‘brass wave’ turns a basic pipe into something which looks like it just fell out of a grandfather clock. There’s a lot of visual variety for such a small pen. Oddly, a typographical error misses the third ‘L’ in Lilliput from the barrel imprint, but Swift’s own spelling was so haphazard that he probably wouldn’t mind too much.
How it feelsDid we mention this thing is small? It really feels it! For most of our reviewers, the Lilliput is ideal for a light, unobtrusive pocket pen which does a good job of taking quick notes. One of our reviewers found it too small to do anything much with, while another actually wrote an entire examination paper with one. This is certainly a size and shape which divides opinion quite sharply.
How it fillsThere is room for a small international cartridge in the barrel, and that’s all. Kaweco’s new small converter does fit into the section, but with little free space in the barrel the piston cannot be safely pulled far enough to get more than about 0.1ml drawn up, so that’s unlikely to be helpful. Thankfully, a wide range of decent tints are available in cartridge form these days, including all ten of Kaweco’s own inks, and refilling an empty cartridge from a bottle with a syringe is fairly straightforward.
Crucially, how it writes… As ever, that depends upon the nib you choose. The Lilliput uses the same nib as most other small-ish Kaweco fountain pens including the Sport, Student, Special and Dia, and the whole nib, feed and collar assembly is a simple screw-fit so you can swap and change to your heart’s content. The standard steel units are usually pretty good, and if the quality consistency is perhaps not quite as stellar as that achieved by Diplomat and Faber-Castell, the enthusiastic and friendly customer service more than makes up for it; no Kaweco pen owner is left for long without a pen they can use, in our experience. The gold-coloured nibs work similarly well, while the black-painted nibs tend to run a little drier but can be coaxed back into life by refilling with a very wet ink, such as KWZ. If you really want to go crazy and spend more on a nib than you did on the pen, you can even fit one of the excellent gold nibs – and those are indeed not cheap, but Bock gold is very reliable.
Pen! What is it good for?For most people, this is a trusty little stand-by pen to write quick notes with. True eccentrics (sorry, Jam) will write reams with the thing, but it’s a free world and we love the variety!
VFMThis depends upon the finish you go for, and how far it fits your writing style. The brass wave and ‘fireblue’ versions do take considerable expertise and time to make, and are priced quite reasonably for what they are – but perhaps only represent good value if you are actually going to use them. The more basic aluminium versions are incontestably good value as robust but real pocket fountain pens.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost… Buy a bigger pen. Seriously, there is very little of comparable size and quality in the current market. There are some tiny vintage pens, which you may find if you’re lucky, and some other cheap and rather less durable pocket pens from a few other manufacturers are still around, but if you want an ultra-small pocket fountain pen which will last the distance this is probably the best option. If you like the minimalist shape of the Lilliput and just want it scaled-up for comfort in the hand, however, you might consider its larger sibling, the Brobdingnag*.
Our overall recommendationIf you have a need for a pocket pen and are determined to avoid the wretched Ballpoints of Blefuscu, Lilliput is the destination for you. One contributor to this meta-review’s team is returning their sample as too small for their needs, but probably a good half of our bloggers have a Lilliput tucked into a pocket somewhere. Pick up a friend’s before you buy, test-drive one at a shop, or purchase one from a dealer you can trust to take it back if it’s just too, errm, Lilliputian for you.
Where to get hold of oneAny number of fountain pen specialist sellers – in fact, nearly all of them – carry the Lilliput. However, the purple, pink and champagne versions are only available from Mostwanted Pens.
A little bit ofhistoryPocket Notebooks, as covered in last week’s quick profile piece, specialise in, well, pocket notebooks. These have been making quite a resurgence in recent years and there’s ample competition. But which is going to work best with your juiciest fountain pen? Our team set out to investigate…
How they lookApart from the slight variations in size, they do range from the wild to the very subtle in cover artwork. Clairefontaine have gone to town with retro geometry, while right at the other end of the scale Darkstar are understated to the point of nearly anonymous – but not quite! Of course this isn’t so important if you’re planning to put the notebook into a cover for added durability, but it does add to the visual experience of that ‘unboxing’ moment.
How they feelStuart was wise to send our reviewers smooth enough paper to handle the rigours of proper nibs, and most of the paper stocks felt pleasant to write on – but this can be quite the opposite experience with the similarly-sized Field Notes, so beware. Thanks to stitched spines, the Clairefontaine and Silvine offerings felt a bit more robust to use too. Due to an apparent lack of size standardisation (none seem to be quite proper A6) some feel distinctly smaller than others, particularly the Silvine pocket book. But they don’t feel cheap, despite their impressive affordability.
Crucially, how they work with a fountain pen…On the whole, very well. The overall winner looks like the Clairefontaine Retro Nova, with the Silvine coming a close second and honourable mentions going to the California notebook using Tomoe River paper and feisty upstart Darkstar. None can quite survive the Clumsy Penman’s atomic-standard Baystate Blue test, but no-one in their right mind uses that ink for everyday writing anyway. The key point is that these are good enough to write on and let your thoughts wander, without having to resort to a wretched ballpoint (or ‘Biro of Beelzebub’ as it’s known amongst discriminating audiences).
John, our chief paper-pusher for this exercise, reports the following results from individual tests:
California Journals These come in two different styles, the Tomoe River paper version and the ‘Backpocket Journal’. Mateusz, Gillian and John received these to have a look through, and our conclusions were very similar. Tomoe River is Tomoe River, and there’s little more to be said about it; it’s excellent paper for writing on but does occasionally need a blotter to make sure you’re not smudging with the wetter inks. On the other hand, the Backpocket Journal could occasionally be used as a blotter, such is the density and absorbency of the paper in question.Story Supply notebook An interesting one this, with the attention to detail that many notebooks just don’t concern themselves with, such as a section in the front for all your details, resilient paper, and a hard wearing cover. Laura, Mateusz and John all received these to work with, and it has to be said that all were pleased with this Journal, so much so in Laura’s case that marriage may be on the cards… You saw it here first.So what’s so good about it? It’s got fine lines, which is a must when you write small, but even in broader hands, proves to be a good choice for those who enjoy writing copiously. It wouldn’t be so good for those who write with stub nibs or italics, but for everyone who uses it as an everyday note book, the lines (0.5 from 0.7 standard) were very popular. It’s a thirsty notebook (by which we mean that if you leave your pen on it, it may take a drink…), but the paper is excellent quality and writes well, just so long as you remember to keep going rather than taking a break.
Clairefontaine 1951 Retro nova Notebook Coming from a brand with the history of Clairefontaine, anything new has both the recommendation of past excellence to chivvy it along, but also the weight of ensuring that it passes muster in the face of the old guard. Laura, Gillian, Mateusz and John all got this one, and while the new stylings were interesting, what you have here is another quality product from Clairefontaine, the paper is what we’ve come to expect, equally the binding and the cover. It doesn’t distinguish itself from the other notebooks that Clairefontaine produce though, merely adding a spin on the style of an already classic notebook.
Inky fingers Journal Something of an oddity when compared to the other Journals with its shiny cover, both Gillian and John received one of these and while it’s a reasonable book to write in, it didn’t fire the imagination in the way that the others had done, and the price was not conducive towards considering it essential. That said, it’s an interesting journal and the paper has the feel of being recycled without having the usual associated bleed through that goes with it. Worth taking a look at, but it wasn’t our favourite of the bunch.
Dark Star Nomad Journal Aside from having the most epic name of the journals we looked at, the Nomad also had good reactions from Gillian, Mateusz and John, although Mateusz was more circumspect about the quality of the paper. At 100gsm, the paper is some of the thickest that we looked at in the journals, with all the attendant ease of writing that provides whilst not being absorbent like many thicker papers are. John uses a Darkstar as an ink journal, so his own proclivities are well known on the matter, but Gillian had similar thoughts too.
Word, Calepino, Moleskine, and Whitelines. Fewer of our team received these, so the simplest summary is to report that Moleskine was actually not as bad as feared, and refer readers to Laura’s excellent summary (see links below). It has to be said though, she still wants to marry the Story Supply…
And that brings us to the Pale Horse of this particular meta-review…
Silvine Pocket notebook. This little journal took many of us by surprise. From the classic brand of Silvine, the pocket notebook was not only the smallest of the books offered us to take a look at, but also the one that for many of us left the strongest impression.
Gillian, Mateusz and John received one of these, and to be honest none had expected it to be anything all that special. First contact soon put that assumption to the test. The Silvine Pocket is a utilitarian notebook, every page perforated, sewn bindings (not just bound in, properly sewn), and a paper that resisted every type of feathering that we tried on it, then came back for more, all the while holding the colours perfectly. The paper had a slight texture to it, and doesn’t quite compare to papers such as Tomoe (what does…?) when it comes to smoothness, but the textured feel encouraged writing upon it for all those who got it, and it emerged as a surprise success story for all three reviewers.
Pulp! What is it good for?Well, as the retailer’s own slogan has it “forget the app; there’s a notebook for that”. Twinned with a decent little fountain pen, these are great for a quick digital-free creative moment when you’re out and about. You probably wouldn’t want to write a whole novel in one, but for a bit of travel diary-writing they’re not bad either. Plus, they signal your inherent taste and savoir-faire to any of other member of the stationery cognoscenti who you happen to encounter. Generally, a good pocket notebook is going to become a staple (even the stitched variety!).
VFMTerrific; some of these are sold individually, others in packs of three, but you can certainly get a pocket notebook for pocket money. The stand-out product from this meta-review, the ‘Retro Nova’, is available at Pocket Notebooks at a substantially lower price than that offered by most of our otherwise favoured stationery retailers. The equivalent retail value of the subscription box, too, is often rather more than subscribers actually pay, and that’s not to be sneezed at.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…Then you could do a lot worse than to try the subscription box concept – there’ll be new notebooks coming along on as regular a basis as you like, and one of them will probably suit your style. Alternatively, if it’s just the size that’s the issue, there are rumours that A5 may be on the cards for similar treatment some time soon.
Our overall recommendationIf you’re a notebook floozy who flits from one paper stock to another with gay abandon, then a hand-selected box set like this can be a great way of working out which one to settle down with eventually. For those more inclined to the stationery equivalent of the ‘silver ring thing’, read some detailed reviews of potential suitors (like Laura has provided) before taking the plunge.
A little bit ofhistoryAs a still fairly new ink brand, KWZ has received a lot of attention in the last two years as it took the fountain pen world by storm. KWZ is operated by a lovely couple of professionally-trained chemists from Poland, Konrad Żurawski and his wife Agnieszka. That enigmatic name, KWZ, is simply Konrad’s initials. Konrad’s journey with ink manufacturing started as a hobby few years ago and quickly became his and his wife’s passion. Being a synthetic chemist specialising in polymers and organic chemistry, Konrad decided to experiment (which is not unusual for chemists) with formulae and reactions to create his own unique inks from scratch. Initially, he was mainly interested in making permanent iron gall (‘IG’) inks, which due to specific chemical reactions occurring over time have fascinating properties and behaviour, but he soon extended his laboratory’s range to ‘standard’ dye-based inks too. After many trials and tests Konrad came up with several inks which he and his wife decided to take to the Polish market first, then further afield. Agnieszka tells us that on the first outing to the Polish Pen Show, they were literally cutting-out KWZ Ink bottle labels while they were still on the train. During next few months KWZ inks started to get rave reviews on various fountain pen websites, blogs and social media channels, and with anticipation and demand growing quickly, the KWZ brand was formally registered in 2015. The range grew fast, even as Konrad and Agnieszka continued their scientific careers, and at the time of writing they have created an impressive range of 62 unique colours including 41 standard dye-based inks and 21 iron gall inks.
How it looksand How it writesKonrad is a fountain pen user as a well as a chemist, so understands how physical properties like surface tension, appropriate viscosity, flow, etc. are important for a satisfying writing experience. There is nothing worse than beautiful ink which is completely unusable, and when the flow or capillary action is limited one can struggle to write even on the best-quality paper. Konrad goes to great lengths in selecting, testing and applying ingredients and in this respect the KWZ brand has raised the bar for ink manufacturing more widely.The United Inkdom reviewers all found that aside from the impressively broad colour palette the crucial difference for KWZ ink is its flow properties. Of course writing experience depends on many things like paper, pen, nib, how the feed keeps up with the ink and also one’s writing style itself. People who have very a light touch need ink which flows well to keep up, otherwise pen will skip – but interestingly, heavy-handed writers also require a ‘wet’ ink in order to produce thicker and uniform line. This is especially true for those who use semi-flexible or flexible nibs; pens like Noodler’s Ahab or Konrad (fittingly) tend to tramline/railroad massively if a dry ink is selected. In this respect we found that KWZ inks are some of the best available; the flow is excellent, and in even the most gushing of flex-nib feeds it can keep up. We found the writing experience very pleasant with all types of pens all we tried the ink in, including those with particularly fine nibs as well as broad and flexible ones. On good-quality paper KWZ inks behave very well, tending not to feather and bleed through. This may not be the case with cheap absorbent alternatives such as photocopy/printer paper, but of course all fountain pen inks struggle on those surfaces. Because KWZ inks are highly saturated some ‘ghosting’ may occur especially on very thin paper, such as that made by Tomoe River. We found that many inks from KWZ we tested gave a decent amount gradual shading, but in some cases shading is very impressive, although in general KWZ inks do not exhibit a sheen. They are fairly wet inks, so drying time is not the strongest feature, but once they do dry completely there is not smudging.
Let’s have a look at some of the particular colours we tested. Obviously we have not tried all the inks KWZ offers, but we picked a few which are good representatives of this broad and diverse palette.
This is one of the KWZ inks that Mateusz and Laura enjoyed the most. A beautiful combination of red-purple with hint of bright light blue makes this ink quite unique. If you like aubergine, plum or beetroot like colours, this KWZ ink will please you. When it dries on the paper it looks less vibrant and flattened, but with this subtle gradual shading Brown Pink is a ‘must have’ in any ink collection – and its popularity already reflects this.
Compared to Brown Pink, Grey Plum is darker and more purple. The blend of purple, dark grey and bright blue gives a very interesting and pleasing result. With wet juicy nibs it looks almost black.
Honey is probably one of the most popular KWZ inks and for a while it was not easy to obtain it, because it kept selling out. Honey is a warm looking golden-brown ink, which gained its popularity because of the lovely shading it produces. This is particularly pronounced on smooth, good-quality paper, where the greatest colour gradation happens. Daniel, Ruth and Mateusz love it, but interestingly Laura doesn’t believe the hype.
This is a nice warm-looking brown which also gives nice shading. Daniel was very impressed with how KWZ Cappuccino looks next to blue inks.
El Dorado is an another example of a great shading ink. The colour varies between darker yellow and orange. This may be a good alternative to Noodler’s Apache Sunset, and Scribble describes it as a nice blend of caramel and honey.
This is very interesting ink. Out of the bottle it looks like a warm orange, but being an iron gall ink it undergoes drastic metamorphosis and quickly becomes a darker brown…pure magic.
If you like military, camouflage colours similar to Diamine Safari, than Green Gold may be for you. This is a wonderful blend of earthy, almost olive green with yellow.
This is a blue/green or green/blue ink which verges upon teal. Daniel thinks that this is one of this inks you should ‘just get’. Of course, if you are not into fountain pen inks, go and get a bottle of Absinthe instead!
Green #3 and Foggy Green
Green#3 may be easily classified as a ‘standard’ green which according to Gillian give some nice shading too.
Foggy Green is rather difficult to describe; a murky, faded dark green with a significant amount of grey. It could be best to use this only in drier pens as it otherwise comes out very dark. This may be an interesting option for those who do not like flashy inks which stand out from the paper.
If you like deep cerulean blue/turquoise inks which remind one of blue lagoons, Azure#3 is absolutely a must. Ruth loves slightly darker brother Azure #4 too.
This is a gorgeous deep blue which offers some pretty shading. This may be a perfect day-to-day ink. Both Laura and Scribble were delighted how this well-lubricated ink performs with picky Sailor pens.
Turquoise (standard and IG)
Love magic? Iron Gall Turquoise will help you to trick people. This fresh deep turquoise blue ink dries to a wonderfully dark teal. This is definitely one for Daniel to try; he hasn’t yet, but he would love it…for sure.
However, if you are not so adventurous then the beautiful standard turquoise is a safer option. Moreover, it has been proven that it is happy in flexible nibs, and
Gummiberry juice gives the ability to bounce at unusual heights. Like the idea? Us too! This is wild and crazy name for such a pretty purple ink. Ruth definitely loves it – no surprises there. John loves it too. The big surprise is that Laura, who is generally is that not much into ‘girly’ colours enjoyed it too. It works very well with Scribble’s Pilot Custom 742 FA. John was also very pleased by flawless performance of his Sailor EF pen.
There’s an iron gall version of this in development, too:
Thief’s Red and Flame Red
Many of us love red and red orange inks – the more disturbing the better! Be careful if you decide to work in the office or anywhere public these two. Thief’s Red is more red-towards-pink:
…while Flame Red is definitely red/orange:
KWZ Grapefruit is a bold and vibrant orange with light touch of pink – we thought it a very appropriate name.
Last but not least is the rich and saturated Maroon, which even gives a hint of sheen, uncommon among KWZ inks. This is a very pretty colour indeed.
How it smells Well, in general KWZ inks have very a distinctive and recognisable scent which for some is reminiscent of vanilla, whereas for other it reminds them of thyme. The smell will eventually disappear (at least form the paper). The characteristic aroma of a KWZ ink comes from the antifungal/anti-mould agent which KWZ uses in the formulation. In contrast to the phenols used as a preservative by some manufacturers, the anti-fungal chemical used in KWZ inks is not toxic. This is great news, but not all of us have been enamoured of the pungent smell, especially during longer writing sessions. Despite problems with staining TWSBI pens (especially the ECO model) as reported by Daniel, it is generally relatively easy to clean pens from KWZ inks, but at the same time is also very difficult to eliminate the smell. Agnieszka and Konrad are certainly aware of this issue and they are continuously working on better, more satisfying formulation. We have been told recently, that since September 2016 all KWZ inks have different component which gives rather sweet and less irritating ‘chemical’ scent compared to as it was before.
Our observation regarding the KWZ ‘perfume’ is in line what we have seen reported and discussed by other users elsewhere; responses are sharply divided between those actually quite like this this smell and those who can barely stand it all. It is worth mentioning that the KWZ inks we were testing came from both ‘old’ and ‘new’ batches respectively, so it is not surprising that our experiences are different. Interestingly, within our team of reviewers Ruth found this smell pleasant, whereas Laura and Gillian have completely opposite experiences, and while Scribble can handle it, his other half will only let him use it outdoors. Daniel was able to compare side-by-side the aroma of old and new batches of Honey, and reports that the new formula does not have characteristic ‘KWZ smell’ anymore, which in his opinion is disappointing because he enjoys it (that shows how olfactory perception can vary from person to person). Our assessment is that as soon as Konrad and Agnieszka standardise the new ‘neutral’ formula, KWZ will become a solid brand for the wider market – but until then, writers may be well-advised to try a sample before committing to a full bottle.
Regarding problems related to the TWSBI ECO line, where several issues with permanent staining were reported, we have been told that the KWZ team has investigated this and have already switched an ingredient which was unfortunately reacting with the polymer used in these pens.
Ink! What is it good for? This really is a very subjective matter. Because the colour range KWZ offers is so broad, picking the right colour for your needs should not be too difficult. All those who likes classic colours for office/businesses will be satisfied as well as those who are adventurous enough to use more exotic colours. Again, the only concern is that characteristic smell, which is not to everyone’s taste and may not be appreciated by all around you. Apart from that, this is ink fit for just about any every-day fountain pen purpose.
VFMKWZ inks are not the cheapest. In the UK you may get a 60ml bottle of KWZ Ink for around £12-13, depending which retailer you pick. This is almost double what you will spent on 80 ml bottle of standard Diamine ink, so it is not easy to justify on colour grounds alone, but for users of flex nibs or drier feeds the flow properties may make the investment worth it.
Our overall recommendation Our reviewers all agreed that KWZ Inks are very interesting and even have potential to be market leaders in the future. KWZ inks are generally wet and well lubricating. All the inks we tested flow nicely and gave us a good writing experience, even with pens which normally tend to run dry – and that viscosity helps to maintain a fast flow which is particularly noticeable with more demanding flexible or semi-flexible nibs. Colours are saturated and many exhibit great shading (e.g. Honey). However, if you are sensitive to the rather powerful pong of the current KWZ ink formula, getting cheaper Diamine ink or investing slightly more for Robert Oster’s Signature inks may be a wise alternative.
Where to get hold of someKWZ inks are not yet as widely available as some other popular brands. However, several specialist online retailers do stock them, and in the UK a wide selection of colours (including Iron Gall inks) is available exclusively from Pure Pens and Bureau Direct.
Thanks to Pure Pens, Bureau Direct and KWZ Ink themselves for providing inks to several of our bloggers previously – and big thanks to Pure Pens for furnishing even more of us with samples specifically for this meta-review exercise.
A little bit ofhistoryLast year we made contact (via Matthias) with the remarkable Super5 in Germany, and a select band of bloggers got to grips with their novel range of pens and inks. It’s such a distinctive collection that just this once we’re reviewing a whole brand, rather than just one product. The range includes fountain pens, rollerballs, and FP-friendly permanent inks – you can see why we couldn’t resist!
How it looksThe Super5 pen, in all its variants, looks a lot like the Kingsley Dex and the Manuscript Master, which is hardly surprising as it shares its basic Helit body with both. Like the Master, it has a nice metal sections too, and the useless but fun screw-off blind cap which could, just about, allow access to the turning knob of a converter if you wanted it to (but you won’t want it to, honestly). This is a comfortable, appealing shape and there’s a decent range of colour schemes too. The inks looks like they come in Rohrer&Klingner bottles, because that’s precisely what they are.
How it feelsThe pen’s body is a combination of warm plastic and firm but comfortable metal (in the section). ‘Nothing to complain about there.
How it fillsPop in a cartridge, or if you want to make the most of the Super5 ink range, a normal ‘international’ converter. It’s all very straightforward.
Crucially, how it writes…Very well, and quite differently from many other affordable fountain pens. The round nib has iridium tipping but the italic versions have none – just polished steel. Of course, that’s just fine if calligraphy is your style. If you really can’t handle fountain pens, which seems unlikely if you’re reading this but let’s roll with it anyway, there’s also a rollerball version which accepts the same cartridges or converters so you can use fountain pen ink.
Pen! What is it good for?The italic nibs (0.5mm and 0.7mm respectively) are particularly good for fast semi-calligraphic writing. They work with the Super5 permanent inks, too, so they’re pretty handy.
Ink! What is it good for?While the names of some of the inks baffled us a bit, we all thought they worked very well in the Super5 pens, flowing impressively well for such a thick ink. So, it’s good stuff for calligraphy – as long as you give your pen an occasional flush-through afterwards.
VFMThese have to be imported, and they are only procured in relatively small batches, so the pens are inevitably not going to be quite as affordable as the humble Dex – indeed, they’re about twice the price. That’s still not ridiculous money for pens which work well and can handle some punishment, though. The ink is a little steeper, but still fair value if a coloured permanent ink is just what you need.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…The Dex and Manuscript Master are pens worth a look instead. KWZ are working on some permanent inks which could prove competition in the refill department.
Our overall recommendationIt’s all worth a look – and if you want something no-one else in the office is likely to have, this is a sure-fire bet.
Where to get hold of oneDirect from ‘Papierlabor‘ is the only way.
A little bit ofhistoryGlaciers, weathering and tectonic plates were all involved to a greater or lesser extent in separating the Lothian volcanoes from the kingdom of Fife, but ever since the Forth Bridge became the world’s largest project management metaphor, both sides of the firth have been part of an on-and-off industrial heartland. That engineering heritage was recently sparked in to life in one local business unit by the Kickstarter project which brought Namisu into being, and they’re now producing a couple of models in an increasingly diverse range of materials. Some of us have been interested since those heady Kickstarter days, but the word is spreading fast…
How it looksLike a streamlined version of the Nakaya-esque ‘bullet’ shape, polished-up for use as a prop in 1950s sci-fi B-movies – which is a long way round to saying that it’s minimalist, and we like that very much. It looks exceedingly cool, whatever the material it’s cast in. The only catch is that said minimalist tube does rather like to roll off any surface you place it on!
How it feelsLarge but really rather comfortable. Obviously, the different materials available make a quite a difference; the aluminium version is sturdy and light, the ebonite version is very warm to the touch, and the brass version is satisfyingly heavy – probably too heavy for many writers, but marvellous if you like a weightier pen.
How it smellsThis criterion doesn’t feature in every meta-review, but appears here thanks to the ebonite version which Namisu kindly lent several of us to test. Ebonite is a rather old-school material for a fountain pen, and it’s essentially just very hard rubber. That makes it tactile, light and warm to hold, which are all good things, but for those with sensitive noses there is also the detectable whiff of burnt tyres on a warm summer’s day. Of course, whether that’s a noxious pong or a nostalgic aroma is very much a matter of olfactory taste.
How it fillsCartridge/converter. There should be space in there for a longer international cartridge, and Namisu often provide a good Schmitt converter with the Nova too.
Crucially, how it writes…This is very much dependent upon whether you go for one of Namisu’s nibs or fit your own. Namisu stocks Bock nibs, usually either the standard steel (occasionally black-coated, as above) or titanium. The Bock #6 steel nibs are firm but quite pleasant to use, while the titanium option offers a bit of flex – although we had mixed feelings as to how smooth they were on the paper. The feed and collar unscrew, and any other Bock #6 assembly will screw back in, so if you happen to have spare nibs from the larger Kaweco or Diplomat pens, for example, they’ll be easy to swap. It’s also possible to buy unbranded Bock replacement nibs from sources such as Beaufort, although the gold option is as pricey as you might expect. Helpfully, the actual metal is a standard shape, so other #6 nibs, for instance those made by JoWo, can be transplanted into the Bock feed and collar assembly without too much difficulty; these can be acquired more affordably from FPnibs.com.
Pen! What is it good for?The aluminium and ebonite versions are both good for longer writing sessions or quick note-taking – as long as you put the cap somewhere safe! The brass version could probably double up as some form of defensive weapon, but we wouldn’t recommend doing that with it.
VFMAt £45 the aluminium version is really very good value for a distinctive British-built fountain pen. The brass and titanium versions get pricier, but are both still quite competitive for enthusiasts of those metals. Ebonite nudges the ticket into three figures, which seemed a little steep to us for a pen which only has a basic steel nib, but it’s an unusual material, and while rather expensive this is hardly daylight robbery. Match a Nova with a really good nib of your choice and you get something truly splendid for the outlay.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…Namisu also make the Orion, a fairly similar shape but one which hasn’t appealed so much to us. Or, if you like the look of the titanium Nova and want to spend ten times as much, there’s a Nakaya made from the same material. Hmm.
Our overall recommendationGo ahead and get one while you can! The aluminium version is an affordable design classic, and you can always upgrade to other materials later on. If you covet the brass version, though, move fast; Namisu took some persuading to make it at all and we understand that it is intended as a one-off at the moment (you could prove them wrong, of course).Where to get hold of oneRight now, buying from Namisu directly is the only way.
Here in the United Inkdom, us poms and near neighbours are sometimes lucky enough to receive some bonzer gear to play with – sometimes pens, sometimes paper, and sometimes… sometimes ink!
And here’s the thing about that; a pen will convey the message, the paper will carry the message, but it’s the ink that brings the message to life. So when we get inks to play with, all of us tend to get a bit over-excited.
Robert Oster Signature inks are fairly new to Blighty, but an Australian brand that’s quickly developing a strong following over here, and it’s easy to see why.
They’re not the fastest drying of inks, averaging between ten and fifteen seconds for full dryness on good paper. As you might expect from an ink that wet the flow on them is superb, coverage on the page is complete, there’s no stutter, even from very fine nibs, but when you have an ink as rich and fulsome as these, you want something a little thicker to enjoy the tones upon the paper.
It’s also rare that all of us agree on the nature and quality of an ink – we’re an eclectic bunch with a wide variety of tastes – but universally, these colours have us inspired. The inks have interesting names which give a nod to the inspiration of the creator, and as you’ll see in the many individual reviews linked below, they don’t disappoint.
But as a little teaser…
The full range isn’t available in the UK yet, but it will be soon, and we’re both anticipating that (because these really are to die for), and dreading it (because we all have to eat sometime…) in equal measure. They’re not the cheapest of inks, retailing at £14.50 for a single bottle, but with the viscosity of the ink in question, that bottle will last some time. They can be found at iZods, who kindly donated some samples for this review exercise (thanks again Roy), and we gather other suppliers are also coming on-stream as we speak.
So without further ado, we present the combined reviews of United Inkdom for the Robert Oster Signature inks…
When we first heard about this book from the excellent All Things Stationery blog, we knew we had to take a look – and thankfully the publishers (part of Penguin) were kind enough to send some review copies our way. Here’s what we made of it…
New Year’s Resolutions can involve all sorts of horrid self-denying ordinances and temporary punishments, but a rather better promise to yourself is to take the time to develop handwriting that you’re happy with, and maybe even a little bit proud of! Dipping a toe into the world of ‘modern calligraphy’ is not a bad way to get started, and Chiara Perano has been offering direct assistance through the day courses she runs at her base, mysteriously entitled ‘Lamplighter’, in London. This book sprang from those courses, apparently, and like them aims to offer a user-friendly and accessible way in to going beyond hasty squiggle to mastery of the mystic curve.
Modern calligraphy is a little hard to define exactly, but broadly speaking it’s calligraphy which you can use in the here and now, without the hours and hours of tiresome exercises that stylistic dictators like Spencer would require, and with results that look a bit less like an obscure nineteenth-century legal text. This book assumes that readers will attempt to follow Chiara’s letter-forms with a dip pen, and provides plenty of practical advice on how to do so. Alternatively, it’s perfectly possible to play along using a flex-nibbed fountain pen (as Sarah and Scribble did with their Heritage 912s),
This is fun to work with, and the encouragement to write directly in the book feels nicely transgressive. The number of letter-form options doesn’t become overwhelming, and the examples map out just what route the nib should take – it’s easy to follow, and there is lots of encouragement to practice, experiment, practice some more, and arrive at a style which is very much your own.
There are a few improvements which we’d like to see in the next edition including more FP-friendly paper (we’re told this is in hand already), a better proportion of content to filler (there are a rather cheeky number of practice pages), and perhaps a move to a loose-leaf format (maybe bound with Atoma discs?) so that it can properly fold-flat for writing in. But these are relatively minor quibbles in what we felt was, overall, a…
Getting hold of a copy for yourself is easy enough either straight from the author’s own website or via your book retailer of choice; the ‘street price’ is around £9, which looks like decent value to us. You can download the handy guide sheets to print here.