Tag Archives: extra fine

Faber-Castell Loom Violet

Returning to the subject of more easily-acquired pens, here’s a modern review!

Looks pretty sleek to me.

Modern pens don’t always look modern — here’s looking at you Pilot — but this is one which does, and not expensively so! Faber-Castell are often overlooked in the lower range because their top-end Grafs take the spotlight, and for whatever reason, Pilot and Lamy seem to have almost-complete control of the entry-level market. But a Loom can be had for under £25, which is firmly in Al-Star territory (and even Prera if you get lucky). 

What you get for that money is a solidly built cartridge/converter pen: the body is made of a matte-finish aluminium, and the section is made of plastic that is identically finished. That fact alone swung me towards this pen instead of the slightly cheaper Basic. The raised rings on the section stop it from getting slippery. The cap is plastic, too, but this is also finished in the same manner as the body. There is a smooth version of the barrel as well as several really bright colours for the cap, but I found this just right for me.

Cartridge/converter pen, with easily-bought nib units: what’s not to like?

Somehow Faber-Castell has decided it’s a good idea to sell the lower-end pens without a converter. This is a minus in my book, but I have also been syringe-refilling cartridges, so your mileage may vary on this point. (The one in the picture above was given to me by a friend at the London monthly meet-up.)

The most important part of the pen performs incredibly, though, and if not for the body, this would be Pelikan-priced! Faber-Castell sources its nibs from JoWo, but the design on this is unusual: there is no breather hole, and the scrollwork is replaced by a series of pits that give it a really modern look. The nib size and the Faber-Castell logo are the only other things on the nib. You can buy nib units separately too; they just screw in and out of the section.

I really like this design.

And when I started writing with this I was cured of ever recommending Lamy to anybody ever again. My vote still goes to the Metro, which is an old favourite of mine, but for anyone eschewing the cigar aesthetic, the Loom is next on the list! As a plus point, it doesn’t force you to use a triangular grip. The nib itself is smooth: almost buttery, in fact, without being too wet — a real extra-fine line, almost able to compete with Pilot fines. And the firmness is great on toothy papers like the Fabriano below: 

Fantastic control and feedback too.

Last point: I find the way the threads of the metal barrel and the plastic section mesh perfectly together very very impressive. The German engineering that seems a little missing with Lamy is in full evidence here. Washing up is always a breeze.


Pelikan M320 Ruby Red

Uninked and new in box for less than $200 is a ridiculous price for this, and how could I resist?

Chunky celluloids are amazing to look at!

This is a seriously tiny pen by modern standards. The smallest of the five Souverän sizes, this is Pelikan’s pocket-pen offering, though it’ll never inhabit one of my pockets. It’s far too precious for that!

The M300 is regularly available but the five different M320s were produced as special editions from 2008–10. To my eyes,the Ruby Red has the finest colours, and the translucent cellulose acetate is really quite something to behold…

How small is that nib?

A larger version of this exists as the M600 Ruby Red special edition, though the cap on that has the newer all-gold finial design. The gold-on-black finial was phased out a few years ago and for a pen that looks like the M320’s older, bigger brother you’ll have to look up the far rarer M620 Madrid from the Cities series, which has a noticeably deeper red in its material.

The black/gold finial is exquisite.

The nib on mine originally came in a very Pelikan medium — practically a broad — though the tiny 14k two-tone nib had a surprising amount of bounce! The modern nibs I have used on the M4xx/6xx/8xx sizes have all been fairly firm, but the M320 M nib I got was almost as soft as the one that was on the M1000 I tried out once.

It writes absolutely beautifully; I had the nib ground into an extra-fine by John Sorowka. The amount of spring on the nib is great!

With normal pressure, a subtle variation is pleasantly achieved.

Because of its small size and how much tipping it has, it almost functions like a Sailor Naginata-togi nib now! But a comparison with its original incarnation as a medium nib is quite something to behold

Pelikan M100 Stormtrooper

These are not the pens you’re looking for…?

No, definitely not!

It’s a rather small pen, smaller than the M2xx series of Pelikans, though not quite as small as the pocket M3xx Souveräns. It is very light because of its size and the plastic piston, though the ink capacity is relatively huge at 1.18ml. The cap has a subtly embossed double-chick logo on the finial, and the clip is the usual pelican bill. An ink window is tucked away under the cap and can be seen when the cap is unscrewed (as in featured photo above).

The M100 Tradition (to give the proper name) comes in several colours, the most sought-after one of which is the one in white. The black model in rhodium trim was released first, followed by ones in red, blue and green, but unlike the others, the white pen has its trim painted black — very unusual for Pelikan! Even better, the nib is black chromed steel as well. Truly stunning when seen up close, my pictures hardly do it justice.

So sexy.

The white model was released beginning 1987 and the entire M100 line was discontinued in 1997. Mine, being a slightly earlier version, has W.-GERMANY on the cap lip, which features a black trim ring.

It’s very subtle and depends on lighting.

What a nib! Laying down a juicy line, there is no flex at all, and while not quite a nail, it is very firm indeed. It feels almost as hard as my carbon-paper manifold Pelikan from the 1950s. And even with all that, it writes so smoothly… it almost makes me wish the modern nibs went all the way with their firmness.

Really comfortable, too.

Below: a size comparison of all the Pelikans I own (at end of 2016)!

Update, 10th February 2017: Have since sold the M nib and bought an EF… and it simply glides over paper like a dream!

Wing Sung 659

Welcome to the land of cheapo fakes and clones!

Also, eyedropper demonstrators are pretty great.

Already name-dropped in my review on the Pilot Metro, the Wing Sung 659 is a Pilot 78G clone. Plenty underpriced, you can get them off eBay in a whole range of colours, and in both silver and gold trims. The important thing (for me) was that it came with a spare nib and section: one gets two nibs in total, one F and one EF. A converter is included as well. The fine nib is what I have fitted on today; the other section and feed has gone into cosmetically upgrading my Pilot Metro.

And how does it compare? Well, quality control is hugely lacking, of course. The rings on the cap are printed onto the plastic, and scrape off easily. Unlike the 78G, there are holes at the bottom of the barrel; I had to seal them before I could eyedropper the pen. And the nib is designed to copy Pilot’s — in place of PILOT on the original, we have WINGS. Funnily enough, the clip has PILOT replaced by LUCKY instead. Not even the same “brand”!

This state of wear brought to you by two washings…

The only really neat thing about the Wing Sung 659 is the transparent feed, seen in the featured photo up top. The barrel is surprisingly sturdy, which is a plus, and the inner facets at the end cause some pretty interesting visual effects.

Bits of sealant floating in the ink, too.

The nibs are decent, though the particular specimen I ordered did not show any difference in size between EF and F. Others have reported real Pilot-sized EFs as well as F nibs that write like Western mediums. Mine is comparable to the kind of line laid down by a Japanese medium, like those on the Pilot Metro.

Fabriano paper, as usual, and a very firm nib.

I ended up buying three more to give to friends as “gateway drugs” into the world of fountain pens. For how cheap these are, they function surprisingly well! For people who like fine nibs, I would actually recommend this pen over the Lamy Safari, since it comes in at almost a quarter the price. (Just kidding. Buy the Pilot 78G or the Metro.)

Esterbrook SJ (1950s)

If ever there was an entry-level workhorse vintage pen, this would be it.

So much depth in that copper colour.

Esterbrook was a hugely-respected company that made so many cheap pens that it’s not hard to find a specimen or two for almost the same kind of money one would spend on a modern entry-level. The J/LJ/SJ models are by far the most common, and they are the easiest to find these days, only differing in size. J is the longest and fattest pen, the LJ slightly shorter, and the SJ both shorter and slimmer.

I actually bought 3 Esterbrooks in total, one blue J and two copper SJs, but gifted the other two to stationery-enthusiast friends. This here is the first one I received.

Mine is in incredible condition for its age!

The best thing about these Esterbrooks is that they operate on a one-size-fits all model: the nibs are swappable, and there is an absolutely staggering array of nibs to choose from. From a super extra fine cartographic nib (#8440) to several kinds of broad nibs (flexible, firm, rigid, or stub), an Esterbrook user usually ends up with a few to choose from. They even take nibs from other brands: a Pelikan M2xx nib fits in these pens, as do the Osmiroid nibs. Pictured below are three from my collection:

Left: #1550 Extra Fine / Right: #9128 Extra Flexible Extra Fine / Front: #3668 (English) gold-plated Firm Medium

I was lucky enough to come across not one, but two #9128s nibs for a steal  they now cost upwards of $40 on eBay. The different nibs were made to different specifications: the old #1xxx and #2xxx series were untipped and made for disposable use; the newer #9xxx ones were tipped. My #3668 is a rarer English variant of the usual steel “sunburst” nib, which also exists in an even rarer frosted/matte version. And so on…

Given the age of these nibs and pens, there is a lot of variation between individual specimens. My pen uncaps in 1 1/4 turns, while the other two I gave away opened with 1 turn. New old stock (NOS) still exists and might be found if extremely lucky, while there are easily thousands of nibs that still exist unopened in their little original cardboard boxes. The writing sample below thus represents how my nibs write. My #9128 is just a little fragile and I have been told that the #1550 nib I own writes with an especially fine line.

Just like Lego!

Sometimes I am tempted to go on eBay and pick up another one in a different colour, but then I realise I would probably end up with another three or four of these nibs. I have way too much fun swapping nibs, sometimes on the fly… It never ends!

Pelikan M205 Amethyst

I actually bought this pen before the Stola in the previous article, but reserved it for my birthday before allowing myself the luxury of opening it. It sat in its bubble-wrap envelope in my locker at university for two whole months! The seller had very kindly included a free bottle of 4001 Blue-Black, since I had stated that it was “for a birthday”. I also ordered the Edelstein Amethyst ink from a different seller, ending up with the pen & ink set for less than RRP.

It was definitely worth the wait! It came in a small cardboard box inside a flexible white pleather case, both of which are sitting in storage now. I use the pen almost daily, so it lives in my everyday pen wrap.

What a colour.

The cap and body are made out of the same translucent deep purple resin, with rhodium-plated furniture. Pelikan’s modern M2xx series has an ink capacity of approximately 1.3ml, which is plenty, so I like to half-fill it just to watch the ink slosh around in the barrel.

It’s really satisfying.

The black finial with the silver-coloured logo fit really well with the aesthetic of the pen, lending it a very warm luxurious feel. The pen itself looks black where there are things beneath the resin anyway, like around the nib unit and parts of the piston, so this all fits within the colour scheme. (Pity the same can’t really be said about this year’s Aquamarine edition…)

There is a surprising amount of depth in the resin colour. Also, I love purple.

Many other reviewers have commented about the springiness of Pelikan’s M2xx steel nibs, and my experience was no different from theirs. My choice of EF was merely so I could get as close to a Japanese fine as possible, which is my favoured size, but the amount of tipping Pelikan puts on their modern nibs makes this EF a particularly fat one. Mine had a little baby’s bottom out of the box, but some smoothing with very fine micromesh solved that problem and now I have a smooth writer that isn’t lacking in feedback and control at all.

All in all, the M205 is one of my favourite pens. It does not feel cheap, even with its rather light weight and small size, and the writing experience is very pleasurable. One can, with some care, even get a little line variation out of the nib!

I would totally bring this around all day if I didn’t feel compelled to rotate…

Strangely, Pelikan has announced the 2018 ink of the year before the 2017 one, so it’s already known that the pen will be a deep olive-green…

Lamy Al-Star/Safari

Welcome to the first non-flex review on this site! After the first three incredible flex pens, I stumbled an almost-new Lamy Al-Star on eBay, mostly because it was purple, came with a nice EF nib, and was a little cheaper than buying a new one from online stores. And as this is a well-known starter/workhorse pen, I won’t really have much to contribute to the great chunk of Lamy reviews already on the Internet.

However, I will include my other Al-Star and also the Lamy Safari in the same post:

In order of acquisition from top (earliest) to bottom.

I acquired the dark lilac Safari along with some cartridges when it was first released, but later regretted not going for the ink bottle; a kind Canadian on the r/fountainpens Discord chat tracked down a bottle for me, costing me 42 of those dollars. All of these three pens have taken some beating in my pencil case, since I mistakenly left a Muji fountain pen inside — with its nail-file grip section! — and are consequently less than pristine.

The best thing about the Safari/Al-Star, in my opinion, is the swappable nib, which is cheap to replace, easy to take out, and even easier to clean. All one has to do is put a little bit of tape on the nib and pull it off the section, but if you’re like me and bring nibs around without tape in my bag, you can also pry it off gently with a fingernail and some jiggling.

These nibs come in EF, F, M and B sizes as well as 1.1, 1.5 and 1.9mm stubs. There are even 14k gold options! (I haven’t handled one of the gold ones though.) All of these nibs are swappable between pens which use the same mount, and so you can have a gold nib on a Safari and a steel nib on an Imporium if you so wish.

That said, the nibs are well-known for having slightly questionable quality control: my two EF nibs sit on either side of my F width, and one of my Ms is more like an F. As you can see, I’ve put the fatter EF onto the dark lilac Safari, and it writes roughly the same size as the F on the blue Al-Star. These results are the same regardless of which inks I use. The 1.1mm stub nib is on the purple Al-Star. 

Hmmmm. Questionable QC right there. (Paper: Fabriano A5 dotpad.)

The Lamys write a little on the dry side, and the nibs are very firm, almost like writing with an inky nail. The stubs are true stubs, with rounded edges, and are quite forgiving with regards to writing angle. None of the Lamy nibs I have tried come close to having any sort of give at all, and they all have a toothy sort of feedback; my black EF nib is especially susceptible to laying down really dry lines. That said, the scratchiness could be entirely down to how fine I like my nibs to be…

Seriously? They really do.

But it is relatively cheap and easy to get a steel nib replacement, should one be unsatisfied with their fat EF or their thin B. I own quite a few nibs myself, though one day I would very much like to splash out on a gold nib for one of these pens as a permanent upgrade.

All that aside: writing sample! Inks used are Lamy Dark Lilac, Pilot Iroshizuku Tsuyu-kusa and Pilot Iroshizuku Chiku-rin. The Chiku-rin definitely suffers from being in such a dry nib, since the shading is wonderful in my other pens.

One day I will be able to tell you how their gold nib feels. One day!

Here’s a little more handwriting, as well as a preview of the subject of a future entry…