Welcome back to Fountain Pen 101, and happy Fountain Pen Friday! This week, I’m taking a look at what I think are the best pens with which to start your fountain pen journey. This one is rather long, but I wanted to give you a good overview of each pen.
If you’ve never touched a fountain pen before, I’d suggest trying out the Platinum Preppy or the Pilot Metropolitan. They are both solid pens, with far more benefits than detriments. Another good pen, although a “step up” price-wise from the Preppy and Metropolitan is the Lamy Safari. It’s another solid pen that’s unlikely to let you down.
EDIT 2/12/2021: Since writing this post, I’ve changed my mind about the Safari being the best “step up” pen. I’m leaving the review below, because it’s not a bad pen by any means. However, there are two pens that, in my opinion, beat it out for top “step up” pen: the TWSBI 580 series and the Kaweco Sport series.
I’m leaving out the disposable Pilot Varsity, because, although inexpensive, it abandons the best parts of fountain pen use: changing inks and re-usability.
I’ll be rating each of the three pen on reliability (in terms of writing), appearance, durability, ink (both the availability of cartridges and the converter quality/style), nibs, and ease of cleaning.
I also took a look at several major retailers to see who offers the best deal for a “starter pack” of pen, pack of cartridges, and a converter. Prices listed below are in US dollars with the total price first, and the price of standard shipping to Maryland, United States — included in the total price — in parentheses.
With as cheap as the Preppy is, it’s no surprise that you don’t get any packaging if you purchase a single pen. If I recall correctly (it’s been a while since I purchased it), the set come with a soft plastic “case”. Every Preppy comes with a single ink cartridge that matches the color of the pen (e.g. Red pen, red ink).
As an extra plus, if you decide you don’t like fountain pens, you can convert a Preppy to a highlighter or felt-tip marker by swapping the nib with a different tip. JetPens has a comprehensive guide to the entire Platinum Preppy line, including the highlighters and markers.
The Preppy is, in my opinion, the most reliable “cheap pen”. Whether that makes it the best depends on what aspect of pens you rate most highly. I’ve misplaced Preppys before, only to find them months — or in one case, a year — later, and they still wrote beautifully. This is thanks to Platinum’s “Slip & Seal” cap mechanism.
The Preppy is a very inexpensive pen, and it looks like it. It’s not an “ugly” pen, but it’s not beautiful. It’s fine for its price. The Preppy was recently redesigned, and I like the new design better, so that iteration gets an extra star.
The Preppy is basic plastic. This means it’s more fragile than other pens. I broke one a while back by over tightening the body. You don’t have to be super careful with them, but be aware that they aren’t the most durable pens in the world.
Like other Platinum pens, the Preppy uses the proprietary Platinum cartridges and converters. A quick online search revealed 10 different cartridge colors available. However, you can also purchase an adapter that will let you use any international standard short cartridge which significantly broadens the range of cartridges available. The Platinum converter comes in silver or gold trim and holds .61ml. The Preppy is also very popular among people who enjoy converting their pens to eyedropper fill. I’ll cover that later, but if you’re curious, a quick Google search will get you all the directions you could want.
The Preppy comes in three nib sizes: Extra Fine (02), Fine (03), and Medium (05). The full range of colors is only available in 03, but you should be able to swap nibs between pens. Although there are replacement tips available for the highlighters and felt tip markers, the fountain pen nibs are not sold separately.
Cleaning the Preppy is a pain-in-the-butt. The feed is built into the pen, and it’s hard to get all of the ink out of it. But, on the plus side, the clear plastic section means you can see if there’s any ink left in the feed.
The Preppy alone will run you around $4 before shipping. If you’re looking at one more than that, go check a different store.
1 Red Platinum Preppy, Fine Nib (03); 1 gold trim converter; 1 adapter; 1 pack of two Platinum Red ink cartridges.
Anderson Pens: $26.65 ($7)
Goulet Pen Company: $24.15 ($4.50)
JetPens.com: $20.90 ($5)
Vanness, Inc.: $19.20 ($4.50) An adapter is not included in this price because Vanness doesn’t carry it.
The pilot Metropolitan comes in a rounded black plastic case and includes a converter and a black ink cartridge. Although the presentation isn’t fabulous, it’s nice for entry-level pen gifting. JetPens.com also has a comprehensive guide to the Metropolitan if you want to know more. NOTE: An additional collection has been added to the Metropolitan range featuring the colors of the Classic Collection, but with patterns on the band.
I’ve never left an inked Metropolitan unused for longer than a couple of weeks, so I don’t know how they handle extended disuse, but I’ve yet to have a pen dry out on me.
The Metropolitan has several different “collections” (Retro Pop, Animal, Classic, Pattern) that should make it possible for just about everyone to find one they like. Being a metal-bodied pen, they have a bit of weight to them (26g) that belies its price. The Metropolitan really looks more expensive than it is.
Because it’s metal, the integrity of the body is hard to compromise. But, because it’s lacquered brass, the pen can get scratched fairly easily.
Like other Pilot pens, the Metropolitan uses the proprietary Pilot cartridges and converters. A quick online search revealed 14 different cartridge colors available. The bladder converter it comes with will hold roughly .9ml of ink, but I typically discard it because I don’t care for bladder converters. I tend to use the .6ml capacity Con-50 converter — which has sadly been discontinued — and the .4ml capacity Con-40 converter. For more information about Pilot converters, Goulet Pens has an interesting video on their YouTube channel. It does not, however, feature the Con-40, as that converter is relatively new.
The Metropolitan comes in three nib sizes: Fine (F), Medium (M), and Stub/Medium Italic/Cursive Medium (CM). You’ll want to keep in mind that these are Japanese nibs, so the F is like a European EF. I’ve tried all three nib sizes, and the Cursive Medium is finicky. It has a very limited “sweet spot” to get a good line when writing. The Metropolitan can swap nibs with any other Metropolitan as well as the Pilot Plumix and the Pilot Penmanship. However, to the best of my knowledge, you cannot buy the nibs separately.
The Metropolitan is probably the easiest pen to clean I have ever encountered. Simply pull out the nib and feed, rinse them and the section, rinse out the converter — if you’re using one — reassemble the pen, and you’re ready to go. sbrebrown has a great video on YouTube about disassembling and reassembling the Metropolitan.
The Metropolitan alone will run you $18.50 before shipping.
1 Pilot Metropolitan Retro Pop Red Wave, Fine Nib; 1 Con-40 converter; 1 pack of six Pilot Namiki Red ink cartridges.
Anderson Pens: $33.30 ($7)
Goulet Pen Company: $32.55 ($4.75)
JetPens.com: $27.75 ($0) JetPens has free shipping after you reach $25.
Vanness, Inc.: $35.50 ($7)
The Safari comes in a minimalist cardboard box and includes a blue ink cartridge. The biggest downside to the Safari is that you have to watch out for fakes. JetPens also has a comprehensive guide on the full Safari line of fountain pens, rollerballs, and pencils (yep, you can get a fully matched set).
While the Safari writes nicely, it’s not quite as reliable as the Preppy and Metropolitan. If you leave a Safari sitting unused for too long, it will dry and require a bit of scribbling, or perhaps some of water on its nib, to start writing again. From personal experience, I’d place “drying time” at somewhere between two and three weeks. That’s not bad, and hopefully you aren’t leaving pens unused that often, but it’s worth mentioning.
The standard Safari line includes 6 colors in a shiny finish and a dark gray “charcoal” in a textured matte finish. Lamy also releases a special edition color every year. The last three were in the textured matte finish, but the eight before that were in the shiny finish. I have to say I’ve only owned the textured matte finish pens. While I like the design of the Safari, several of my pen friends have expressed displeasure with the finger depressions on the grip, so you may want to go into a store to hold one before you purchase it.
The Safari is made from ABS plastic, the same stuff as Legos. It’s made to last. The Dark Lilac (2016 special edition) was my first fountain pen over $5 and has been part of my everyday carry (EDC) since I purchased it over two years ago. It still looks as good as it did the day I bought it. No scratches, dents, etc. I don’t know if the shiny plastic is as durable, as I’ve never owned one, but I think it’s a fairly safe assumption that it is.
Like other Lamy cartridge/converter pens, the Safari uses the proprietary Lamy cartridges and converters. A quick online search revealed 26 different Lamy cartridge colors available. However, Monteverde makes double-ended cartridges in 11 different colors that are compatible with Lamy pens. The Lamy converter holds .8ml and features nubs on the side that snap into the pen for extra security.
The Safari is available in four different nib sizes, but one of the pen’s biggest benefits is that you can buy nibs separately, in three materials and eight nib sizes, and swap them out with ease.
14K Gold Two-Tone: Extra Fine (EF), Fine (F), Medium (M), and Broad (B)
Black Steel: EF, F, M, B, and Left Handed (LH)
Silver Steel: EF, F, M, B, LH, 1.1mm Stub, 1.5mm Stub, 1.9mm Stub
The Safari is faster to clean than the Preppy, but not quite as quick to clean as the Metropolitan. I’d say it’s about average in the pen world in ease and speed of cleaning. It helps to remove the nib during cleaning to ensure all ink is voided.
The Lamy Safari alone will run you around $30 before shipping.
1 Lamy Safari Charcoal, Medium Nib; 1 Z28 converter; 1 pack of five Lamy Black ink cartridges.
Anderson Pens: $47.10 ($7)
Goulet Pen Company: $50.85 ($4.75)
JetPens.com: $39.10 ($0)
Vanness, Inc.: $40.10 ($0) I had to substitute the special edition All Black Safari because Vanness was out of the Charcoal, but they were listed as the same price.
JetPens.com being the clear winner on price, I have to mention that they aren’t always the cheapest. Nor are they the “best” store. If you have a local store (more on brick and mortar stores later), go to them first, because nothing is better than talking to pen experts and seeing/holding a pen in person. How a pen feels in your hand is important, especially once you start graduating to more expensive pens.
I know first-hand that the Goulet Pen Company and Anderson Pens both have fabulous customer service, and their owners are lovely people. I’ve heard from many in the pen community that Vanness is great as well. I’ve ordered from them before, and haven’t had a single problem.
I didn’t intend to link to JetPens so much when I started writing this, but they have some really good information in their Guides section, and I’m all for sharing good info.
I want to remind you that these are MY choices for best beginner fountain pens. I would, and have, recommend these to pen newbies. You don’t have to agree with me. And if you don’t, feel free to leave me a comment with your favorite beginner pen and why it’s your favorite.