Advice for fountain pen n00b - smoothest-writing FP sub-$50?
April 27, 2013 10:56 PM   Subscribe

I want to buy a fountain pen. A fountain pen that writes really smoothly.

I have used only one fountain pen before: this cheap Pilot Varsity pen I got as a gift. These pens are <$2 each if you buy several of them, ~$3 for one, so very cheap. I'm tempted to just buy the same thing again, because I like it a lot, but I can't help wonder: if I paid 10x the price, would the writing experience be 10x better?

What I like about the Pilot Varsity is how little pen-to-paper pressure it requires. I have an RSI-type problem with my hands, which writing with any kind of normal (ie ballpoint) pen exacerbates, so my question really is: what is the smoothest-writing pen? What pen do you just sort of hold in the general vicinity of a piece of paper and the ink commences flowing aided only by the tiny waft of breeze created by your hand's merest velleity?

I'd like to spend no more than maybe $50, ideally more like $25-30, but I'd consider $50+ too.

I've looked at the "Good & Cheap (or Cheap & Good)" thread at, but didn't find it that helpful.

Also, I don't know the first thing about fountain pens and refilling ink and similar jazz so I'd very much appreciate n00bspeak with respect to how the pen interacts with its refills and whatever other variables may be relevant.

posted by skwt to Shopping (27 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I have been trying to settle on an inexpensive fountain pen for a long time, and just last week I finally broke down and bought a Lamy Safari. It was $22 on Amazon, and I bought five ink cartridges for $5. Most fountain pens nowadays are cartridge pens, but if you want to use an ink pot, you can usually buy a converter, which is usually a screw piston reservoir. Since I don't have a fixed place that I write, I stick with cartridges, even though it is more expensive.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 11:15 PM on April 27, 2013

My two favorite pens in your desired price range are the Pilot Prera and the Lamy Safari. Both come in a variety of colors with different nib options (fine, medium, even a wide italic nib). I think the Prera might be a little smoother, but but for a noob, I think the Lamy is a bit more reliable, less fussy. You have a couple of options for refills. You can just buy cartridges and put a new one in when the old one is empty. You'll probably want to rinse the pen clean once in a while, or if you switch colors. Your color options will be more limited, but it's safe and easy. You can also get a converter, a little thing that looks like a cartridge, but you can fill with any ink. This opens up a whole world of possibilities as there are so so many brands and colors of bottled ink. I think there's nothing wrong with using cartridges at first and then branching out into bottled ink as you become more comfortable, it's a rabbit hole of inky delight.

I think both of those pens are a better writing experience than the Varsity. But fwiw, there's this little pen by Pilot, that I believe has the same kind of nib as a Varsity, but it's refillable. I have several of them and like them quite a bit. I have a syringe that I use to refill the cartridges they come with, using my own ink. Although it's small when capped, when you post the cap on the end of the pen, it's a normal sized pen.
posted by upatree at 11:20 PM on April 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Can I ask what issues might come up with the 'reliability' of the Prera? Looking at those two, I'm attracted to the mid-size tip available for the Prera, which seems intuitively smoother than the extra fine tip the Safari is only available in? Am I just making that difference up? Does nib size predict smoothness or are they just two different things?
posted by skwt at 11:51 PM on April 27, 2013

Response by poster: Also--thanks for answers so far
posted by skwt at 11:52 PM on April 27, 2013

The Safari comes in extra fine, fine, medium, and broad nib. And yes, finer nibs tend to be scratchier. I settled on medium but YMMV.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 12:01 AM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Well, the Safari has lots of nib sizes, I should have linked here instead. And yes, I think that in general, a wider nib is going to allow more ink flow and smoother writing. I really love my Prera, it's a really nice writer, but it leaks sometimes. It's not a *huge* deal, I've never had it go crazy leaking, but sometimes there's ink inside the cap when I open it, and I sometimes get ink on my fingers when writing, although I hold it way down, if I held my fingers up higher, it wouldn't happen (if you look at the close-up view of the uncapped pen, it's where the silver ring meets the base of the nib, I get inked from there). My Lamy pens have never leaked.
posted by upatree at 12:05 AM on April 28, 2013

I've recently picked up a Kaweco that's the smoothest pen I've ever used- I like the Safaris but these are quite bit smoother flowing. It's plastic and an odd short fat size I find really comfortable. They use standard short cartridges you can pick up anywhere.
posted by Erasmouse at 2:17 AM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a Lamy Safari as well.

If you just want a smooth writing pen, have you considered trying a gel pen? I love how smoothly they write!
posted by xmts at 3:06 AM on April 28, 2013

Another vote for the Safari. Excellent, inexpensive fountain pen.
posted by jeather at 3:55 AM on April 28, 2013

nth-ing Lamy Safari - I've had two, one with an extra fine nib and one with a 1.1mm italic nib. Both write very smoothly. The italic nib a little moreso just by virtue of the fact that it's laying down more ink. A piston converter for bottled ink will cost another $5.00. I've never had any leakage with them.

The Moleskine discussion on the blue earlier this month prompted me to drop $5 on a Hero 616, which is more or less a clone of the much-lauded (and long discontinued) Parker 51. It's another smooth writer, but the nib is pretty fine; not quite as much flow as my Hero 329. One thing I learned about Hero pens in that thread is that there is apparently enough of a market for them that there are fake ones floating around, so buyer beware. I got mine from this seller and it's the real deal. (Judging by the carboard presentation box it arrived in, it might actually be new old stock.)
posted by usonian at 5:18 AM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have had excellent luck with Safaris. I have a Prera in a fine point that actually tends to be a bit scratchy, especially on poor-quality paper; it would probably be better in a medium. It's a lovely pen otherwise.

It doesn't take cartridges, so you'll have to fill it out of the bottle, but TWSBI makes some really good pens in the $40-50 range.
posted by Jeanne at 5:19 AM on April 28, 2013

I used - and loved - my Safari for years. I only stopped using it because my boyfriend got me a Visconti Rembrandt. I bought a converter and an inkwell for the Safari and it saved me a ton of money.
posted by nerdfish at 5:19 AM on April 28, 2013

+1 on the Safari. Broad nib. Lovely. Use proper paper like Rhodia/Clairefontaine, none of that barely-sized Moleskine shite.

The great thing about Lamy pens — or the utterly crap thing about Parker pens, including my alarmingly expensive Sonnet — is that the cap is sealed, so it'll still write if you put it down for a few days. Sure, a Lamy might sneeze a little ink in thundery weather, but it won't be all dry and scratchy after a weekend.
posted by scruss at 5:55 AM on April 28, 2013

I love my Safari, but my broad nib Kaweco Sport has really edged it out for smoothness and speed.

JetPens carries it, and also has information that's targeted toward newbie fountain pen users. Example: Here's a video on how to install a cartridge in a Kaweco.
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:59 AM on April 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

As if there weren't already a bunch of people saying it, I'll say it as well - Lamy Safari.

Addtionally, the free pen that comes with most 4.5 oz bottles of Noodler's ink is a decent pen. It's usually either a non-branded Platinum Preppy or some Noodler's brand pen.
posted by Gev at 7:01 AM on April 28, 2013

Go find an office supply store that sells fountain pens! If you are anywhere near Chapel Hill, I'd suggest Office Supplies and More, off of Weaver Dairy Rd.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:47 AM on April 28, 2013

The Waterman Phileas is often recommended as a very good starter fountain pen. I've had one for years and am very fond of it.
posted by Lexica at 10:42 AM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm going to point you in a different direction: Chinese fountain pens. I've ordered a few pens from His Nibs, and found them to be attractive and good-writing, at very cheap prices. Buying American these days you pay a premium because no one uses fountain pens any more, whereas the exchange rate (and maybe cultural prevalence, I'm not sure) makes Chinese pens pleasantly inexpensive. The finish on these isn't amazing compared to expensive fountain pens, but that's not what we're talking about here. My favorite are the Hero brand pens, but I haven't gotten a dud in the six I've ordered.
posted by lhputtgrass at 10:47 AM on April 28, 2013

I'm going to point you back again. Chinese pens tend to have dreadful nibs and poor build quality. You buy cheap, you get cheap.
posted by epo at 11:06 AM on April 28, 2013

I'll push back on that a bit. I don't know about buying from China, but the guy at the site I linked (I don't know him, but have had pleasant interactions) makes sure the nibs are lined up. They tend to have finer nibs than Western, and, as I said, aren't as nice as the truly expensive Western pens I've tried, but I don't think you can write them all off quite that simply. I'm sure if you emailed the proprieter to ask what he had that wrote most smoothly, there would be a couple good choices well within OP's price range. If you're buying a sub $50 fountain pen, you could do worse than a good Chinese pen. There are certainly a lot of duds, but a couple I have are true gems.
posted by lhputtgrass at 11:15 AM on April 28, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you all very much. This has been extremely helpful.

I don't know what to mark as best answer at this point, but I will say I've ordered a $15 Nemosine as rec'd by phatkitten. I admit I gave extra weight to opinions of people who said they’d tried the seemingly consensus-choice of the Safari but still knew of something smoother. I'll see how that one goes, and might get a Safari if I don't like that one.

I'm also currently bidding on 2 dirt-cheap Jinhao x450s on eBay, as reviewed here, just to see what they’re like.
posted by skwt at 11:47 AM on April 28, 2013

(I'll also stick up for the Chinese Hero 329 I bought from His Nibs. It's a very good pen for what I spent, I think about $15. One of my smoothest writing too. Fit and finish are solid and I've had it going on five years, no signs of wear and tear.)
posted by usonian at 6:08 PM on April 28, 2013

I've been writing with a pelikan junior for several months. I use parker international size ink cartridges and the ink flow is steady and writing goes smooth even on somewhat abrasive cotton fiber paper. I've been using it more than the lamy I own.
posted by bertran at 6:20 PM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

A correction to the above; it's pelikan ink cartridges I've been happy using with the junior, not parker. It takes standard international size, so there's lots of brands of ink cartridge that can be used. Different brands vary in consistency and feel.
posted by bertran at 12:16 AM on April 29, 2013

I've not used one for a few years, but I used to swear by the Rotring Artpen—I had two or three with different nibs, depending on what I was working on. Very comfortable in the hand as well, and as the name implies they're as good for drawing as they are for writing. Not sure if they're easily available outside Europe.
posted by Hogshead at 2:40 AM on April 29, 2013

little pen-to-paper pressure it requires. I have an RSI-type problem with my hands, which writing with any kind of normal (ie ballpoint) pen exacerbates, so my question really is: what is the smoothest-writing pen?

Lamy Safari, broad nib
Lamy Nexx, broad nib

That said, with the exception of the Lamy 2000, most Lamy fountain pens will write super-smoothly right out of the box. The Lamy 2000 takes a little getting used to, but it is by far my favorite.

I write this as a high school teacher who uses three fountain pens a day for grading, writing, and various things.
posted by vkxmai at 7:36 AM on April 30, 2013

I wanted to amend my earlier answer: After reading this thread, I went and bought a Nemosine demonstrator pen with a medium nib on Amazon for $15, and I am pretty sure I like it better than my Lamy Safari; it seems to leak a little more, but it is less scratchy, and the price includes a piston converter for the pen, as well as six standard ink cartridges. Once the cartridges run out I will probably go buy an inkpot.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 1:47 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

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