Friday, February 4, 2011

In Which Dr. Inkenstein Redefines Cheap 'n' Cheerful Fountain Pens

You all know by now that Dr. Inkenstein is the Chief Engineer on the Cheap 'n' Cheerful Fountain Pen Express.

And that I always jump to recommend this pen or that pen (usually a pen that costs under $10).
But I've been thinking about this. At times, when I follow my instincts, I don't always know what I'm doing, until later in the process. Now I do: I've been experimenting with nib, fit, and finish, trying to see what suits me and why.
I thought that I wanted needle-fine nibs exclusively but that turns out not to be true, though they're still good for certain applications, like practicing Vertical Manuscript/Business hand, and for editing.
I find myself leaning more toward the inclusion of 'garden hoses' and italic nibs. I have some peculiar needs with the girth and weight of a pen that outweighs almost every other consideration but the nib and 'writeability.' And I'm beginning to get the picture.  Some pens feel too cheap and plastic-y even for me.
That said, there are still certain cheapies I like.
Fountain pens that always make that go-to list include:
Pelikano Jr. : Running from about $9-15, depending where you buy them, they are remarkably smooth writers for the money. I have an older, opaque two-tone flat top model with an ink window, but also many  more current models with the bullet-y translucent plastic bodies and caps. All clipless, and the newer models have rubber-grippy stuff on the section. The long Pelikan carts have a huge ink capacity.
Platinum Preppy: About $3 for a clear-view flat-top, comes in many colors, and two nib widths, .03 and .05. These pens will usually write even after being left on the shelf for months. Eminently refillable, with Plat's big ink capacity cart.
Pilot Petit 1: Abt. $5. Again, a clear barrel, but smaller, and a fat little cigar shape. Cute and a half. Wild colors; the carts are refillable if you have a pipette. Fine-ish nib. Certain colors seem to write a bit dry.
Pilot Plumix: About $7 at Target. A stiff italic nib in a clear-or-tinted plastic body that looks sort of like a squid. No clip, huge ink capacity in the cart, cart can be refilled.
Hero 616: If you get the genuine article, running from $3-$10 each depending on whether you buy in bulk.  Good writers, and so inexpensive you won't bemoan the loss of one or two should you misplace them. Bulb/aero-type filler, and you will get more ink per fill if you remove the metal tube before filling. The nib is fine-ish and dryish, and lately I have been wanting broader, wetter nibs, but I ALWAYS have one inked.
(Now for some older pens, still available somewhere as NOS):
Hero 366: Ran about $4 each in bulk. This is a mini-pen, cigar-shaped, slightly smoother and wetter nib than the 616, a cute little bulb-filler.
Stypen Creeks: Abt. $3/each in bulk, if you can still find them. Take standard international carts and come in a small bullet-shaped version and a longer flat-top version. Colorful, plastic-y and way up there on the cute list. The nib is a medium-fine and seems to write dry. I have successfully stubbed two of them and they seem ideal candidates for such experimentation.
Sheaffer No Nonsense, OLD STOCK ONLY: About $5-$25 each, depending where you can find them. The new ones are horrible, the old ones have easily interchangeable nib sections running from EF to VERY broad italic. Flat-top, many colors, have clips, standard Sheaffer cart-fillers. If you see one of the old-style NN Calligraphy kits at a yard sale, grab it! 
 A glass of cheap 'n' cute, grabbed at random, which all HAPPENED to be red:

Now I am NOT proposing that any of these pens are the equal of, say, a Sheaffer Legacy or Waterman Carene.
What I am saying is that more often than not, what gets inked is not the Legacy or Carene. Especially if I'm trying out a new, possibly DANGEROUS ink.
(Though the more expensive a Pilot is, the less I like writing with it. I prefer the Petit and Plumix to the 78G, and I was REALLY disappointed in the Falcon. Felt cheap and the nib wrote chalky.)

Yes. There are big differences in finish and quality. The Hero 616 and some others do have a cheap finish and the 616 caps don't always mate well with the barrels. But---FOR THE MONEY---they are all good, reliable writers and no one should be ashamed of using them.
As for Lamy, I just don't care for their fountain pens. It's personal. Don't like the triangle grip, don't like the proprietary cart, and though I am content with the nib on my charcoal italic Safari, I've heard enough complaints about wildly varying QC to say nope, not for me. Other pens at the same price point seem better all-around:  Chinese pens (Hero, Jinhao, Kaigelu) costing more than, say, $15, can be splendid bargains, with fit and finish the equal of pens costing, well, way more.

Lamy fans, don't sue.  ;-p


  1. I'm with you on liking particular cheap pens... most of which are already on your list. Here are my favorite inexpensive pens:

    Sheaffer NoNonsense (I have 3 of them now)
    Pilot 78G (Fine and Medium, want a broad stub)
    Pilot Plumix
    Hero 616 (mine is wet, surprisingly)
    Parker Frontier (I paid $14 although the MSRP is higher)
    Noodler's Flex Nib Creaper
    Platinum Preppy (03 is my preferred size)

  2. Having no opinion on how well various fountain pens write, my only comment is that I like the way that YOU write. ;-)

  3. Thanks. The Pilot B (stub) is a niiice little pen. It can write a bit dry with Pilot inks, though.

  4. What's your take on the Pilot G-2 07 pens? I like the gels but here's my only complaint: the ink tends to run out more quickly than say, some of my other pens. Thoughts from Dr. Ink?

  5. Pilot G-2: Dr. Inkenstein LIIIIKE.