Friday, August 16, 2013

FP101: Fountain Pens for Students



It's about time to gear up for back-to-school, and I thought it might be helpful to share with you some of the best pens for students in the $50 and under price range. Keeping in mind that value, reliability, and durability are some of the key factors for student pens, here are some that I will gladly recommend.

This is the first Fountain Pen 101 video I've made in about a year, so if you haven't seen my others already, definitely check them out here.

Pilot Metropolitan, ~$15+

Pros:
  • Great value
  • Attractive
  • Durable
  • Very reliable writer
  • Good ink capacity
Cons:
  • Limited to black, gold, and silver, pretty conservative colors
  • Only available in medium nib (though it's a Japanese medium, so it's pretty fine)
  • Cartridges and converters are proprietary to the Pilot/Namiki brand

Lamy Safari/Vista/Nexx, ~$26+

Pros:
  • Workhorses, they just write
  • Lots of fun colors to choose from
  • Durable despite the worst of abuses
  • Many nibs to choose from, including stubs
  • Nibs are swappable, so you can buy one pen and a variety of nibs to vary things up
  • Ink window shows you when you need to refill ink
  • Triangular grip makes it easy to hold for beginners
Cons:
  • Converter doesn't come with the pens, you have to buy separately
  • Grip is bothersome to some, especially with larger hands
  • Cartridges and converters are proprietary to Lamy

Platinum Preppy, ~$4

Pros:
  • Great value
  • Clear, easy to see ink level
  • Eyedropper convertible, able to hold huge volume of ink
  • Versatile, accepts cartridge, converter, or eyedropper
  • Not the end of the world if lost, broken, or stolen
  • Many different colors to choose from
Cons:
  • Doesn't come with converter, costs about twice what the pen does
  • Plastic is somewhat brittle, and can fracture if handled too rough (dropped on concrete, crushed in backpack, etc)
  • Cartridges and converter are proprietary to Platinum (though can be used with adapter to accept standard international cartridges)


Pilot Varsity, ~$3

Pros:
  • Great value
  • Writes surprisingly well for the price
  • Durable
  • Refillable by hack, though marketed as disposable
  • Good ink capacity
  • Not the end of the world if lost, broken, or stolen
Cons:
  • Only one nib size
  • Come preloaded with ink, so limited color selection unless hacked and refilled

Noodler's Flex Pens (Nib Creaper, Ahab, Konrad), $14-20

Pros:
  • Great value
  • HUGE color selection
  • Durable, can drop or crush and won't crack
  • Flex nib, incredibly rare in this price range
  • Good ink capacity with piston mechanisms, no cartridges or converter needed
  • Nibs can be swapped with any #6 nib, such as the Goulet nibs for great variety
  • Easily disassembled for cleaning and maintenance
Cons:
  • Challenging to use for a newbie
  • Writes very wet, can be troublesome on cheap, absorbent paper
  • Can be finicky, requires patience on the part of the user 

Sheaffer VFM, ~$16.50

Pros:
  • Great value
  • Writes well
  • Durable
  • Lots of very fun and vibrant colors
Cons:
  • Only one nib size, medium
  • Only takes standard international cartridges, won't fit any converter 

Sheaffer 100, ~$40

Pros:
  • Classy design
  • Writes well
  • Durable
  • Comes with a converter
Cons:
  • Metal grip can be hard to hold for long writing sessions
  • Only accepts proprietary Sheaffer cartridges and converter
  • Might be a target for stealing, keep a close eye on it!

Platinum Cool, ~$42

Pros:
  • Nice fit and finish
  • Writes well
  • Insert in cap keeps nib wet very well
  • Very fine nibs, great for cheap paper
  • Flexible nibs, can make writing fun if you choose to flex it
  • Clear pens, easy to see ink level
  • Comes with a converter
Cons:
  • Only accepts proprietary Platinum cartridges and converter
  • Might be a target for stealing, keep a close eye on it!
  • Converter doesn't match the trim, but can be hacked to be made silver

TWSBI 580/Mini, ~$50-55

Pros:
  • Nice fit and finish
  • Writes well
  • Great value, for what they are
  • Insert in cap keeps nib wet very well
  • Wide variety of nibs to choose from, including stubs
  • Piston fillers, with large ink capacity
  • Clear pens, easy to see ink level
  • Easily disassembled for cleaning and maintenance
Cons:
  • Most expensive pens in this group
  • Might be a target for stealing, keep a close eye on it!


These are my recommendations, and take them for what they're worth. These are pens that I feel are worth consideration for students, though which pen is best for you will ultimately be your own decision. These are only pens I have experience with, and it's most certain there are others worth considering that I don't talk about here. But hopefully this will at least give you something to consider if you're a student and looking for a workhorse to help you make the most of your studies! If you have any other suggestions or questions, just let me know if the comments.

Write On,
Brian Goulet




28 comments:

  1. I'd like to add the the Platinum Preppy can also sit for days at a time and still write. Something that only Lamy pens can claim.

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  2. The Varsity, (or V- pen, as it is marketed in Europe -- given the amount of fountain pen material on the internet is USA based, I wonder if Pilot's policy of keeping separate brand identities don't harm the product by confusing potential customers) seems pretty good at avoiding drying out too.

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  3. Hi Brian,


    I have read your reviews of these pens and I have to say that a BIG reason for Rachel's and your success is your honesty. You sell these and could have just as easily given only the pros of each. Instead you gave an honest evaluation, including the negatives. I have experience with several of the pens you mention and I would pretty much agree with everything you have written here. I would not be surprised if opinions fly back and forth on these pens as we fountain pen addicts are very opinionated. (What a surprise! LOL.) It is, once again, your honesty that makes GPC so special.


    Thank you,


    Freddy

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  4. My Konrads have no problem sitting for a week...they write just fine.
    So do my more expensive pens. The last pen that I had to start up was...a Preppy!

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  5. Could I recommend a couple more?
    Pilot Prera and Pelikan Pelikano. I prefer the first one over the Metropolitan because the steep gap between the section and the barrel in the Metropolitan.
    Wonderfull video as usual.

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  6. As a grad student, I can vouch for the TWSBI Mini, which is my new best friend. I also use Safari and Preppies, and on rare occasion an Ahab, but the TWSBI Mini is my favorite - easy to stash, sturdy, low maintenance, etc. Usually, the TWSBI is filled with a dark, water resistant (not proof) writing ink, and I have another pen on hand for writing comments on print-outs, etc. The Mini has a nice weight, and a good size for my hand. It's also nicely professional looking at conferences and meetings, which is a nice bonus. (Same is true for some of the other pens on this list.)


    The Ahab is too high maintenance and too wet to use often. I would actually like *2* Minis, but haven't quite mustered the nerve.

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  7. Oh no! I was going to say that I love my Kaweco Sport from Goulet, with the downside being that if I don't want to convert it to an eyedropper, I have to refill the cartridge. But it looks like you don't carry them any more? I remember a clearance on their nibs a while back, but I can't find a blog entry or Communiqué that says you discontinued them.

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  8. They are pretty good for that, especially for the price!

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  9. I've had more mixed experiences with the Konrad, I think the ink and relative humidity is a big factor.

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  10. Yeah, I'm not sure why some companies call pens completely different names in different countries.

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  11. Oooh...These are all making me feel guilty now, as all of the fountain pens I've been using as daily drivers for school are definitely a bit...Out of the range. A Lamy 2000, Sheaffer Targa, and Sheaffer Touchdown are definitely not student material. And I have a Parker 51 Vacumatic 'Custom' to add to that list now.

    Guilt aside, I think the Lamy Logo should also definitely make the list as an alternative to the Safari - same nib, same feed, a reasonable price, and a rounded, steel barrel. Definitely a good option if the triangle grip doesn't suit you.

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  12. Thank you! I do try to be honest, as unbaised as I can, being a retailer. These opinions are really just my own, they're formed from my own experiences with the pens and from what I've heard from other enthusiasts. Honest to goodness, I didn't have any kind of sales pitch in mind with this video, in fact I literally just picked this topic off a huge video list I have going and though "hmm...it would be good to do this video today because there are probably a lot of students getting ready to go back to school", so I recorded it.


    In my view, it's short-sighted to talk glossy about these pens, if I only try to hype them up then whoever buys them with my 'advice' will only be disappointed if they think there's no downside. The reality is that with all pens, there's a tradeoff of some kind. The best way I can help is to point out the good and the bad, and let you determine for yourself what's best.

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  13. I do like the Prera, but I didn't consider it for this video because of the price, it was too expensive for what I would consider a true 'student' pen. The Pelikano works, but I don't like it as much as the very comparable Lamy Nexx.

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  14. Tested in the field, awesome! I'm glad you like it, and even though it's on the pricey end of the student pens, it totally deserves to be in this group.

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  15. Oh gosh, we discontinued carry Kaweco about a year and a half ago, and we just found out the distributor we used to buy through recently discontinued bringing Kaweco into the US anyway, so we couldn't get them now if we wanted to.

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  16. Those are all great pens, but a little out of the budget of what I classified for my student pens. But definitely ones worth considering if in your price range! As for the Logo, that's a very viable option. I don't personally like it as much as the other Lamy's I mentioned, that's all.

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  17. I found that the Preppys dried out the WORST, especially once you've had the pen for awhile and the cap cracks, then it dries out and the cap never stays on, or the ink flow keeps going because it's touching your notes, or cloth inside your bag. And the caps always do crack.

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  18. There is a mini squeeze converter made for the Kaweco Sport pens that fits the Sheaffer VFM.

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  19. Ah, I have heard of this but haven't actually seen one for myself yet. I heard they're pretty flimsy, but I guess that would do the trick! I know Monteverde makes a mini converter, but even it is too long to really be useful in the VFM. It's a shame, I actually really like the VFM otherwise.

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  20. I would include the Monteverde Artista in here. it's a good solid pen, comes with a converter, uses standard cartridges. The con would be that it only has a medium nib.

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  21. They do feel a bit flimsy and can be hard to fill more than 1/3 of the way, but they do the job for sure. The VFM is a nice pen, it's great to be able to have an option at least

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  22. What an excellent list -- I really appreciate being able to see all these most inexpensive pens lined up and compared, with brief pros and cons. I am an independent music teacher, and in the last year I have started writing student assignments and notes with my multiple fountain pens and inks. Students are quite intrigued -- 'ooh look, an old-fashioned pen -- can I try writing with it?!' and I am happy to be able to corrup----- er, educate the young ones coming up about the fun and satisfaction of using good writing instruments. Ahem. I am considering getting a couple of the least expensive pens as prizes for our annual motivational contest this year, and this list is just what need. Thanks so much!

    I'm wondering if you might do some similar videos in the future, within discrete price ranges? Also, is there any chance you might ever carry Pelikans? I have two and I love, love, love them. I know they also have an inexpensive, student-type model as well.

    You fan, as ever.......

    ps I wrote a post on my blog about my childhood piano teacher/fountain pen (if I can do a link ...... http://arabellasgarden.blogspot.com/2013_01_01_archive.html

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  23. I thought I read somewhere that the Noodler's Ink Creaper takes a #2 nib? Could I have read wrong? Can I use a regular Goulet nib in the Creaper?

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  24. Fantastic roundup!

    I have some very nice pens indeed (finally bit the bullet and bought a Nakaya, which is as great as I always imagined), but I still love my Lamy Safaris. It's just a damn fine little pen. Fantastic value, and I can lend them to my kiddo without freaking out.



    Been having fun with my Noodlers, but half of them (I have 4) still need some tweaking to really be right.

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  25. I would also add the Parker Frontier as a good cost effective student
    pen. They seem to be able to be found for about $10 online but only come
    in a medium nib.

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  26. I've used a Pilot 78G for a while, and from what I see about the Metropolitan it looks like the 78G's slightly bigger cousin - metal instead of plastic, but very similar with the converter and nib. Reliable pens, but the con I keep running into is the lack of an ink window: it's very frustrating to start taking notes and have the ink run out after a few minutes.

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  27. You're correct Marc - the Nib Creaper (the "original" Noodler's Flex Pen) takes a #2 nib -- the Goulet Nibs won't fit in these pens.

    The other Noodlers pens currently in production (Ahab and Konrad) both take #6 nibs, and the Goulet nibs fit great (though it may take some fiddling).

    If you're considering a Noodler's pen I would highly recommend the Konrad over the Nib Creaper (I've got two of the ebonite Konrads which have become my daily work pens).

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  28. Just got my first TWSBI (F). I'd avoided them because I like a snap-on
    cap rather than twist. I use my fountain pens at work and I write intermittently so screwing a cap on and off can be tedious. Thanks for this
    list. I have many fountains pens....my first serious fp was a Namiki
    vanishing point. Still love that one. Other favorites are any of the
    Lamys....mostly the safaris. I'm interested in your q&a videos.
    People have posed many questions that have never occurred to me. Thanks
    for your work!

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