Nearly 3 years ago, I wrote the third installment to my Fountain Pen 101 series: Where to Start (With Pens). In it, I recommended the Pilot Metropolitan and Platinum Preppy as the best starter pens. I also promoted the Lamy Safari as the best “step up” pen.
While I stand by my assertions about the Preppy and Metropolitan, I’ve changed my mind about the Safari. This is because 2 years ago, I tried a TWSBI Diamond 580AL. In my opinion, it is by far the better “step up” pen. I now own 11 of the 580 series pens (full sized and mini), and I love them! In fact, if some freak occurrence were to lose me my collection, I’d likely just buy a few 580s and call it quits.
A quick note before jumping into the meat of this post. There is a third contender for best “step up” pen: The Kaweco Sport series. I’d put it as the second best, due to price and nib selection, and should have a post about it in the next week or two.
OK, But Why?
So what is it that I love so much? The nib! The big difference for me is the smoothness of the nib. The TWSBI simply glides across the page like butter, floating on a lucious stream of ink. It’s SO wet that, on good paper, you can get fabulous shading even with an EF nib. The Lamy nibs are significantly drier, and, even opened up some for additional ink flow, just don’t have that luscious glide.
Like the Lamy, you can buy replacement TWSBI 580 nibs for roughly 1/3 the price of the pen. Note: Lamy steel nib prices vary widely — $8 to $14 depending purchase location — so I’m going off the median price. And the nib selection is fairly comparable: EF to 1.1mm stub for TWSBI and EF to 1.9mm stub and left-handed for Lamy.
But, there are additional benefits. The ink capacity of the full-sized TWSBI is over double the capacity of a standard Z28 converter — a whopping 1.98ml. Another benefit to the TWSBI is the ability to completely disassemble it. While you wouldn’t want to do that all the time, it’s quite useful for cleaning the pen thoroughly (like after using shimmer inks), which you can’t do with the Safari.
But It’s Not Perfect
Admittedly, there is one downside to the TWSBI that may put off a pen newbie: the price. The TWSBI is nearly double the price of the Safari (ranging from $50 for the standard models to $90 for the full-sized rose gold special edition). But in my opinion, it’s well worth the extra money. The TWSBI will give you the best experience of the benefits of fountain pens for the price — assuming you’re using good paper.
I need to caution that the 580 series IS NOT the same as the budget ECO series. I’ve owned 2 ECO series pens, and both had nib issues. I realize that isn’t exactly a large sample group, but compared to zero issues with the 580 series, it’s a significant difference.
To be true to the Fountain Pen 101 post, here’s my mini TWSBI 580 series review.
The TWSBI 580 series comes in a clear plastic case that, itself, is in a brown cardboard box. The case includes a wrench for disassembly, silicone grease, and a short user guide. It’s a nice presentation, and I especially appreciate that the cardboard boxes are each labeled with which pen came in it.
The TWSBI has, to me, been an “always ready to write” pen. However, haven’t left it inked for an extended period of time without use. I think the longest I’ve had a TWSBI inked is maybe 3 weeks, and I never had an issue with it. That said, I don’t think I left it more than a couple of days without use. For this reason, I can’t, in good conscience give it more than 4 stars, but, if I hear anecdotal evidence that it’s better, I’d be happy to change the score.
The standard TWSBI 580 line includes 3 full sized (clear, silver AL, silver ALR) and 3 mini sized (clear, silver, “classic” [AKA black]) models. TWSBI seems to release 1-4 full sized special edition colors each year, and (maybe) 1 mini special edition each year. The full sized 580 has three grip types: plastic (580), aluminum (580AL), and ridged aluminum (580ALR). The ridges on the ALR models are narrow enough that I don’t notice them while writing, although they do add some “grippiness” to the section. The mini, which is approximately 1 inch shorter than the full, thus far only has plastic (Mini) and aluminum (Mini AL) grip section models.
The body of the pens, with only one exception — to my knowledge — are clear, making them the ultimate demonstrators with their massive ink capacity.
According to TWSBI’s website:
“We actually use polycarbonate with a protective coating heat treated onto the pen. This allows for the plastic to have a hard shell, scratch resistant, and clear crystal look.”
Mine certainly seem to be pretty sturdy pens. As I understand it, the previous models (530 and 540) had some breakage issues, but the 580s seem to do alright, assuming you take decent care of your pens. The only pen I have with any issues is one I bought second hand, so I have no idea how the previous user treated their pens. That pen has some cracked and broken bits along the inner cap threads, but, thankfully, it still closes tightly. I haven’t noticed any scratches on my pens, and they’ve been in regular rotational use for the past 2 years.
TWSBI produces 11 different ink colors in different bottle sizes. However, as a piston pen, you can use ANY ink you want, no converter necessary. Even shimmer inks aren’t a problem, since you can fully disassemble the pen to get all the pesky shimmer particles out.
The TWSBI is available in 5 different nib sizes — Extra Fine (EF), Fine (F), Medium (M), Broad (B), and 1.1mm Stub. And, like the Lamy Safari, one of the pen’s biggest benefits is that you can buy nibs separately and swap them out with ease. Even better is that each nib comes in a carrying case. So, if you want all the nibs but only one pen, you can get all the sizes and store them safely when not in use.
While the overall variety of available nibs might make you think the 580 series is only worthy of 4 stars, the quality of the nibs easily earns it the extra star. Really, what else can I give a nib that shades even with an EF?
The TWSBI is pretty easy to clean out. Quickest option is to unscrew the nib and use a syringe filled with water to blast the ink out of the body. If you need to clean it better than that, follow the included directions — or JetPens’ handy video — to fully disassemble the pen.
A word of caution: While the nibs do come out of the housing, the first time is ALWAYS very difficult. If you aren’t careful, you could damage the “wings” on the back of the feed. Realistically, this does nothing to the performance of the pen, but it does mess up aesthetics. You should be able to just flush the nib with water.
The standard clear versions of the TWSBI 580 and 580 Mini alone will each run you $50 (+$5 for Stub nib) before shipping.
TWSBI: $50 ($0)
Anderson Pens: $50 ($0)
Lemur Ink: $50 ($0)
Dromgoole’s: $50 ($0)
- The TWSBI 580 series has the better nib, larger ink capacity, and can be disassembled.
- The Lamy Safari is significantly cheaper.
- Both have changeable nibs.
- In my opinion: the TWSBI 580 series is better for experiencing the best parts of using fountain pens (shading, smooth nibs, etc.)
My ultimate suggestion: when you (or a friend) are ready to take a step up from the super-cheap intro pens, go with a TWSBI 580 series. The step up in price is well worth it. But remember, this is entirely subjective and based on my and my friends’ personal experiences.