Pilot Plumix fountain pen review: this is a weird pen.

Borderline NSFW. I make a couple of slightly crude jokes.

So, there’s this thing called a Pilot Plumix, and it looks like a sex toy. Unfortunately, it’s actually just a pen, though it can be used for other things if you’re creative. For example, actually, this weekend I was fixing my car, and I couldn’t get my finger into a position to put a screw in a hole I had just drilled. So, I actually whipped out my Plumix and shoved it in there, and the Plumix successfully guided the screw in the hole. Amazing! Then, I lost my Plumix somewhere in my car, and I hadn’t yet taken any of the pictures for this review, so I had to postpone it. I found it a few minutes ago in the innards of my car. Now we’re back and better than ever, though, so here we go.

I have literally no memory of where I bought this thing, but I did get it a while ago. Today, you can get it from Jetpens for $7.25, or isellpens and Goulet closer to $9. In fact, while I buy a lot of stuff from isellpens, increasingly I am discovering that the truly inexpensive pens are best bought at Jetpens…or from China on eBay. You know how I roll.

Some quick housekeeping: Remember, the blog is pens.funkmon.com now, so update your feed, and we have a poll in the sidebar where you can say what kind of pen you want reviewed. There’s an “other” option, too. Also: if you have terrible and negative comments, please write them in response to the blog posts. Oh, also, I’m about 85% sure I’m going to do an under $5 pen shootout. Good idea? Thanks. Review time.

Appearance: 9/10 if you’re PZ Meyers, 5/10 if you are a normal person.

Oh wait. That might…that’s not the pen. What is that?

Oh, no here it is. You can tell because this one is ribbed for her pleasure.

Oh, no here it is. You can tell because this one is ribbed for her pleasure.

This is a truly weird looking pen. It’s equal parts squid lure, Jell-O mold, unmentionable stuff, desk pen, and calligraphy pen. The barrel is long and thins as it goes farther out, like a desk pen, the cap is clearly a squid, the whole thing is weirdly translucent, and it has ribbed texture exactly where you don’t hold the pen. The whole thing’s a little strange. Let’s start at the top and work our way down.

The cap appears to collect condensation. Bad design or the result of being in my engine block after a rain? You decide.

The cap appears to collect condensation. Bad design or the result of being in my car’s underbelly after a rain? You decide.

I’m really upset I blew my Squidward gag on the Parker IM review, when this is the one that could use it. The cap is clearly reminiscent of the body of a squid or cuttlefish. I thought this was really stupid, until I realized that they shoot ink! That actually fits! I’ll allow that! No complaints here. The only problem is that when you look at the capped pen, it actually is a little too reminiscent of a squid, in my opinion.

I could catch a fish with this pen. Oh, is this not the pen either? Man, it looks just like a squid with a stupid face.

And don't you deny it.

And don’t you deny it.

In fact, this pen looks so much like a squid that when I had it in my pocket (and the top was peeking out) people have asked me about why I have a squid pen. That’s a little something you don’t want to hear, I don’t think. If you want a big novelty pen, you buy a big novelty pen. This is not supposed to be that.

That said, it’s not unattractive once you get past the fact that it looks like a squid, something my last girlfriend has said about me which I think fits here. The section looks really cool, despite the fact that it was completely ripped off from the Lamy Vista, but the nib ain’t so hot.

If I went back in time to 1924, and told a no name pen company to give me a nib with zero design, this is what I'd get.

If I went back in time to 1924, and told a no name pen company to give me a nib with zero design, this is what I’d get.

Oh, it’s super quality? Thanks, Pilot. I wouldn’t have bought the pen if I wasn’t assured super quality. What year is this? When was this nib made? It’s entirely functional and lame looking, which is fine for an $8, but not fine when the $8 pen looks like it just got hauled in by some druggist who just dropped some acid. Why add a business suit to a squid?

At least Octodad’s got that power tie.

The barrel, as is fitting for a 10 armed creature, has 7 grooves in it. Go ahead and scroll up and count them. I’ll wait. I can imagine what possessed the designers to add these things in.

“Yes, it looks like a squid, but it’s much too easy to put into your pocket. Maybe we should add some fins to make it harder.”

“That sounds like a plan. Oh, also, if you’re carrying it on the roof of the car, it will be more aerodynamic this way, and so you will have better gas mileage!”

“Brilliant! Let’s move to production!”

“Wait, wait! I don’t think I could shove this in any orifices very comfortably. Can we add a long soft taper to the end as well?”

“Sure!”

And thus came the Pilot Plumix.

Build Quality: 8/10.

When not being thrown on the ice at Red Wings games, the Plumix enjoys sitting there, not rolling off the table because of the wings on the cap.

When not being thrown on the ice at Red Wings games, the Plumix enjoys sitting there, not rolling off the table because of the wings on the cap.

The pen is all plastic, but it’s really sturdy plastic. I have had no problems at all with this thing in general.

The cap design is strange. It’s a screw on cap, which I actually don’t normally like, especially in a cheap pen. This pen is cheap enough that you carry it around with you in case you need to predict world cup matches or something, and bothering to unscrew the tiny little cap makes you less inclined to use it. In the past week when I’ve had it with me, I’ve more frequently gotten out my 50 gram Sheaffer and given my whole arm a workout than grabbed this, because it’s just not fun for quick notes as a result of unscrewing. Or maybe I’m way too picky. We’ll see.

The cap also picks up condensation, which is a negative, BUT keeps the pen from falling off the table, a nice design feature. So I’ll call that a wash.

Except it is still lame because that cap is SMALL. Look at it up there. It’s barely bigger than a penny. It’s so inconsequential as to possibly be lost or forgotten, which I do all the time. Of course, you could post it, but that’s even stupider (totally a word) than normal.

Somehow, this looks even more like a squid.

I know this should be in the appearance section, but it’s my review, I can do what I want. A lot of pens are beautiful posted, like the Monteverde Intima. This ain’t one of them. This pen posted looks like someone made a horrible, horrible mistake, and needed to cap two wires they twisted together at the end of the pen. It seriously looks like the world’s fanciest wire nut.

Cap to twisted wire pair, or cap to $8 pen? If you don’t know, you haven’t been reading closely. Shame on you.

It sticks on about that well, too. Mine, if I press it on there too hard, which I do sometimes just to laugh about the design of the pen, won’t come off until I put a significant amount of pressure on it. That’s fine if you have a proper cap and you can get more than a finger tip on it, but this one’s like trying to pull a pebble out of your dog’s mouth. You can do it, but the people watching you will giggle.

They also giggle because of the size of the pen.

It's actually not objectively huge or long, but it is the longest pen of these pens I've collected here, and the shape makes it look even longer still. Top to bottom, Parker Reflex, Jinhao 599, Pilot Varsity, Pilot 78G, Bic Disposable, Cthulu, Faber Castell Basic, Parker 51, Sheaffer 300, and Parker Frontier.

It’s actually not objectively huge or long, but it is the longest pen of these pens I’ve collected here (including some really long pens) and the shape makes it look even longer still. Top to bottom, Parker Reflex, Jinhao 599, Pilot Varsity, Pilot 78G, Bic Disposable, The Watcher of Moria, Faber Castell Basic, Parker 51, Sheaffer 300, and Parker Frontier.

So, while Cthulu here isn’t cartoonishly long, it is the longest of my collection of normal pens, including, as we can see, some really big pens like the Basic. But, it doesn’t look big. It looks long and skinny, like a long and skinny tree. What an analogy. As a result, the pen feels weird in the pants pocket, and looks weird in the shirt pocket. It writes fine, as the plastic is so light the weight works out.

There’s also no clip on the pen, but with a pen this size, it’s not like you’re going to lose it somewhere and have it bounce around in your shirt pocket, so I don’t care that much, However, if the incredible size and dumb shape didn’t deter you from using this pen with your Midori notebook, then the lack of clip will eliminate the possibility for you. It doesn’t matter much to me, but I have been in situations where the lack of clip was lamentable, and hence it’s being noted here.

Let’s move on to the section, which is, in my opinion, the best part of the pen. It’s also the best part of the Lamy Vista.

The worst pen with the best section? I think so. I should probably review one of these at some point. Readers, if you have some you don’t care about (and why would you), send em in.

If you look at that section there, and then look here at this section…

The section of the Plumix is the same transparent plastic with nearly the same shape as the Safari demonstrator, the Vista. It's triangular, with the bottom side being rounded, exactly like the Safari. If you're wondering why my hands are so dirty, it's because I just fished this stupid pen out of my engine block.

The section of the Plumix is the same transparent plastic with nearly the same shape as the Safari demonstrator, the Vista. It’s triangular, with the bottom side being rounded, exactly like the Safari. If you’re wondering why my hands are so dirty, it’s because I just fished this stupid pen out of my engine block.

You’ll notice they’re broadly similar. The triangular section is absolutely fabulous to use. That was top of the line design. I’m really glad Pilot stole it for this pen. Now why isn’t it on all their pens? It’s very curious. Even much more expensive pens like the Metropolitan, or … uhhhh, you know, whatever else they have, don’t have this nifty section, and as a result they are worse to write with. And it’s not that they can’t do it. This is the same feed and nib that are in a bunch of Pilot products, like the Metropolitan and the 78G, and…their other stuff. Okay, I’m not well versed in Pilots. So sue me. Please. I would love the publicity from that lawsuit.

Refilling and Maintenance: 7/10.

This is the pen with the back taken off...it looks even weirder like this, doesn't it? Like the bad guys in the water levels of Mario.

This is the pen with the back taken off…it looks even weirder like this, doesn’t it? Like the bad guys in the water levels of Mario.

Normally, for a 7, this pen would need to come with a converter. It doesn’t. But, one can be bought for like $3, so no big deal. Also, this feed and nib are basically used on all of Pilot’s inexpensive pens, so if you want a different kind of nib, you just buy one. It may require buying a 78G on eBay or a Metropolitan or something, but it is possible. You can easily get fine, medium, and broad italics (or in the real world parlance, medium fine italics) from these other pens, then shove it right into Oswald, here. That’s utility.

Performance: 7/10.

Okay, this is an italic nib, so we’re not going to get much higher than stale Oreo on the food smoothness scale, and this is right up there at somewhere between unripe pear and saltine cracker.

For those who don’t know what an italic nib is, it’s a nib that lacks that ball on the end, the tipping, that makes it a smooth writer. This is why you can see in the above picture that downstrokes with this pen, the 78G, and the Frontier are thicker than the side strokes, because the ball shaped tipping isn’t there to even out all the strokes, as can be seen in the Basic pen and below.

This pen is marked as an italic medium nib, though it writes more like a fine. This is actually good if you want to do italic writing, but write small, like in a narrow ruled notebook. It gives you a great effect without filling in your letters, like what happened in my Frontier’s writing. However, if you do do italic writing, you will look like a complete jerk.

This owl’s such a cock.

But, if you use normal rounded script, the italic nib does lend a lot to it. It makes your handwriting simultaneously worse to read but seem better, like adding more sugar to your carrot cake.

Let’s talk about this for a minute. It used to be that carrot cakes tasted good because they were good. I got one for my birthday this year that probably had a family sized shampoo bottle of frosting on the top, plus a 4 inch high carrot, plus the cake itself was so sugary as to be practically uneatable. I still ate the whole thing in one hour, BUT I DIDN’T LIKE IT. Let’s move on from this in carrot cakes, world. Some stuff can be sweet, like chocolate. Let’s just leave carrot cakes alone.

This is a letter I'm sending to a new penpal. Much of it was written with the Plumix. All of it was written by me, making it practically unintelligible.

This is a letter I’m sending to a new penpal. Much of it was written with the Plumix. All of it was written by me, making it practically unintelligible. I am counting on this, because if she can understand what I’m saying, she’ll probably realize how dull of a person I actually am. I crave approval.

So, if you write normal like this, and you don’t have the handwriting skill of a squirrel with two fingers chopped off or worse, like myself, the italic nib isn’t hard to use, and it adds spice to your writing. As a bonus, because it’s finer than, say, my Frontier nib, you don’t need to refill it with ink every page. I managed to plow through a cartridge in about 20 pages, but on my Frontier, I literally do have to refill every single page. No joke. That thing’s an ink hose…but I love it.

I was able to write those 20 pages because the pen was so well balanced and the section was so nice. It’s lighter than a Safari by a few grams, and even easier to write with, if my memory serves me right, so it wasn’t tiring. Where my Safari would get all weird and slippery, this pen never did, and I never got bored with writing with it.

A nice happy medium is the 78G, one of the crappiest pens I’ve ever used. It’s leaky and cheap and ugh. So, I’d find that thing online with a B italic nib, and shove that nib on this pen, and then you’re in business with a fun writer that’s really eye catching. Then you must, for the love of god, destroy the 78G. Cut it up and burn the pieces. Mail them to the four corners of the Earth with a curse on the box.

It’s not necessary to go get the broader nib, though. The Plumix, as it is, is subtle and easy to use for an italic (it’s a cursive italic), and that’s pretty good. But, it IS an italic, and it’s your only factory option. I just can’t give a score better than 7 to a pen that forces you into a niche nib. I like how I say that as if these numbers mean anything.

Value: 7/10.

Yes, this pen is cheap, and yes it writes fine, but I wouldn’t recommend it over, say, a Reflex or a 599, or even a Bic or Varsity, or any other cheap pens there are out there. If you want to do Calligraphy, I’d suggest a Sheaffer Viewpoint, a pen specifically made for that which is about the same price. This pen is so weird, I don’t know if I could ever recommend it to someone, and there is where it holds its value. It’s cheap enough that it holds value purely as novelty, which is why it gets a 7/10, plus it’s the only cursive italic (rounded italic) nib at this price point, I think.

Conclusion: 7.6/10.

This pen is perfect if you’re a fan of cephalopods, sex toys, desk pens that you can take with you, and/or cheap cursive italic nibs. This pen is absolutely not recommended for anyone else. But, its novelty is enough for me to say it’s an interesting buy, and there is nothing else like it. So, if you have $8 burning a hole in your pocket, give it a shot. Otherwise, save up for a better pen.

The terrible writing? I actually embedded this one in Performance.

Podcast feedback review and site update!

Okay, so I got a lot of feedback from people who checked out my blog but were not its usual audience: actually wildly positive. Initial results were not good, some people claiming I was too mean to Cross. Over the course of the past week, it’s actually been extremely positive in the long run. A lot of people dig the site. I like that. GOOD. That means I won’t change anything.

Now we’re doing a poll. I already have conducted an informal poll on Twitter with a few people agreeing, but here’s a real one. So, vote, and we’ll see how it goes. It’s looking like a Plumix so far. I’ll embed this poll in the sidebar.

In other news, I’ve moved this to a subdomain on my funkmon.com domain, so I’m hosting it now and am therefore not limited by wordpress.com. All the old links should still work, but you should probably change your RSS feed to http://pens.funkmon.com/feed/

I’ve also added sites to the blogroll.

The Cross Dubai Review

 

Ahh, Cross. The pen company loved by everyone who doesn’t know anything about pens, and ignored by those who do. That’s not entirely true, actually. I wonder why I contradicted myself so quick. Many consider the Cross ATX to be one of the best sub $100 pens out there. I don’t own one. I did, however, for a short time, own an Aventura (a few, even), and also I now own a Cross Dubai. I was able to purchase these at Staples  in 15 minutes. That’s something in this day and age.

You see, Cross is the master of inexpensive fountain pens in the United States, depending on your definition of master. If it’s ubiquity, then Cross is your man. It’s often claimed by detractors that all the fountain pens Cross makes are cheap, and feel it, but that’s okay, since they also do wildly overpriced ballpoints. I hope today to fix that impression by reviewing this soulless, mediocre pen, and show you that Cross can make cheap fountain pens that won’t make you want to poke out an eye for a fun respite from writing with them.

While often given the short shrift by fountain pen enthusiasts (though there is a large, die hard following), Cross was the first fancy pen manufacturer in the United States. That’s something. These guys beat out Parker, Sheaffer’s, Waterman, and a bunch of other smaller companies known to us fountain pen geeks like Retro 51 and Monteverde by decades. Though, to be fair, Cross wasn’t a fountain pen pioneer, but whatever. They do deserve a lot of credit in making fountain pens available to the general masses.

I decided to review this pen when a gentleman on Reddit asked a question about what the best fountain pen was that you could buy at any normal chain store.

As we can see, besides the Aventura bashing we all enjoyed apropos of nothing, I did remember the Dubai...and then I went and bought it.

As we can see, besides the Aventura bashing we all enjoyed apropos of nothing, I did remember the Dubai…and then I went and bought it.

I’d like to take a moment and call attention to the great insults we bonded over. Man, does the Aventura suck.

Anyway, Cross has managed to shoehorn its way into public awareness. As discussed on the Pen Addict podcast this week, I feel like it has name recognition behind maybe only Parker and Montblanc in the fancy pen world. They’ve also managed to shoehorn their products into practically every single office supply store. As a result, anywhere in this country, you can go buy a Cross fountain pen and get Cross refills. That’s really intense stuff. For us fountain pen fans, we should thank our lucky stars for Cross, as they may have led many people to this silly hobby.

For example, while uni-ball pens were the catalyst for me in good pens as an adult, when I was 13 or 14, I received a Cross ballpoint from a friend of mine. He had been showing it off in German class, and was telling everyone “Ja. Es ist ein Cross. Nein! Du kannst mit meinem Kuli nicht schreiben! Es kostet $30!” And we all oohed and ahhed. A $30 pen? A Cross? This was high class. So, I asked him if I could have it and he said sure. That rich jerk. Anyway, I used that Cross Century Classic until it ran out of ink and my parents’ refused to buy me a refill. I still have it. Still haven’t bought a refill.

So, the fact that anyone can go buy one at any store thanks to Cross is nice, especially when I just this week was asked what a fountain pen was. Philistine. Unfortunately, they might get stuck with a bad one, as I did with two. The Aventura was ugly up close, cheaply made, and generally unpleasant. It also wrote like a big toe covered in thistles dipped into Italian dressing. It was so cheaply made, if I constructed its body out of the outer half millimeter of popcorn, let it sit in the rain, then blow dried it, it would feel better. Though, it wasn’t all bad. As I said, it was ugly up close. Decent looking from far away. Much like Einstein.

Physics just got a lot more interesting. (Squint at the picture or walk to the opposite side of the room.)

Appearance: 6/10

The Cross Aventura, uncapped. Not...terrible, but also not good. Like the last Twilight movie.

The Cross Aventura, uncapped. Not…terrible, but also not good. Like the last Twilight movie.

Unlike the Lamy Safari I found at a different store with its nice little cardboard box all damaged, probably from people hitting it with ten foot poles, the Aventura packaging I got was pretty much pristine, except dusty, as it had been in the back room of the Staples since 2011. Classy. Like the Cross Aventura, however, this looks good from far away. Let’s compare.

As we can see, the Dubai is in fact the tallest structure in Dubai.

As we can see, the Cross Dubai is in fact the tallest structure in Dubai.

And the Aventura is a very nice pen used by heads of state. Note: the pen is posted.

And the Aventura is a very nice pen used by heads of state.
Note: the pen is posted.

Both look pretty good. But close up is where it both shines and looks its worst. Let’s ignore the gorgeous nib for now and look at the section.

You can't get fingerprints from pictures, can you?

You can’t get fingerprints from pictures, can you?

Chrome sections are not popular on pens, and there is a reason: they almost never work well. This one looks like metal to my mom (at a cool 20/200 vision) from 5 yards, but once I got onto the porch, she saw it was actually plastic. So, if you’re a visually impaired bat who has never seen a petroleum-based product before, this looks just like real chrome.

Also here in the section area, I’m not digging a few other things, like the gapping. The gaps between the parts are so big I feel like you could shove a Pop Tart in there. Look at the end that the feed goes in. They couldn’t just make that part of the section? And if they couldn’t, could they make it wheelchair accessible, or does the stair really need to be there? There are even more gaps between the section and the mystifying black plastic ring.

That ring seems like it would be worse than it is. You see, open like this, it’s pretty obvious. But closed, it’s not so bad.

Well, that's a nice looking pen. I mean, the barrel looks like it belongs on a much smaller pen, and the cap looks like it belongs on a much larger pen, but somehow, it's not so bad.

Well, that’s a nice looking pen. I mean, the barrel looks like it belongs on a much smaller pen, and the cap looks like it belongs on a much larger pen, but somehow, it’s not so bad. As I said.

You don’t really notice the ring, I think for a few reasons. The first is that that cap is massive. The second is that big chrome butt, and the third is that the lacquer is really nice.

The cap looks like daddy’s shoes on a five year old, but its shape is nice. Pleasantly rounded without looking fat, likely due to the flattened off top. This, by itself, is probably the most attractive part of the pen. By the weight, it seems like it may actually have some metal in it somewhere, and there isn’t anything that makes me think the cap is cheap. Even that clip, unadorned and unstyled with the exception of the Cross name, looks very good.

The barrel looks short because it is. The chrome butt on the end is literally just that. It is hollow, but by that point, the pen is so thin it’s practically barely there. Like the top 20 feet of a church spire. It’s just there for effect. And the look draws the eyes, but don’t get them too close, because then you’ll see the ridges, also there for effect, and that the whole thing just looks cheap. But it is shiny.

The finish on this pen is awesome. It looks very expensive and very good if you just look at the finish. It has a sparkly sheen.

A closeup of the shiny finish compared to the comparatively dull finish of its pricemate, the Pilot Metropolitan, in purple.

A closeup of the shiny finish compared to the comparatively dull finish of its pricemate, the Pilot Metropolitan, in purple.

This works in Cross’s favour, as previously stated. It may be a primary motivator to potential buyers. They see the eye catching finish and that big ass chrome butt on the pen, and ignore the ugly ring. I’m sure someone well versed in design could explain the aesthetics going on in this pen that would make it desirable to first time buyers, but I’m also sure I wouldn’t understand it. If I had to describe this pen as one thing, it would be shiny. This is the disco ball of cheap pens.

The best part of the pen is the nib, which is actually shared with a few of Cross’s other cheap pens, like the Aventura. *shudder*. Cross does their nib appearance on cheap pens better than anyone else in the field, and it’s not close. Let’s take a look.

The Sheaffer VFM. I have one of these now. Look for a review soon, plus a comparison with the Pilot Metropolitan.

Here's the nib from the Metropolitan. It has those nice carrots next to the , which at this price, is pretty nice, AND it has some detail accentuating the lines of the nib.

The Pilot Metropolitan. I have one of these too. Look for it soon with…you can figure this out. Why the heck does Pilot put those carrot things around the M. Can anyone explain this to me? It makes no sense. It somehow adds to the nib, though.

 

Boring Parker nib. This pen costs $40, and comes from an Urban. I have reviewed the Urban already. Great looks, meh pen.

Ahh, the beautiful Urban, with an ugly nib. Weirdly, this nib looks great on the IM.

The Jinhao X450. The design is great, but as we can see, the quality control is lacking. It looks like it was plated by a three year old who hasn't figured out how to colour within the lines yet. This picture is from Pen Habit, BTW.

The Jinhao X450. The design is great, but as we can see, the quality control is lacking. It looks like it was plated by a three year old who hasn’t figured out how to colour within the lines yet. This picture is from Pen Habit, BTW.

The Parker Frontier. This is nice...but kind of plain. Like a ham sandwich. There's no danger or fanfare.

The Parker Frontier. This is nice…but kind of plain. Like a ham sandwich. There’s no danger or fanfare. This is from Paul’s Pens Canada, by the way.

My god. Now that's a nib.

My god. Also featured: terrible build quality in the section.

If I saw this nib on a $750 pen and was told it was white gold or something, I’d believe it and even praise it in that review. But, if I ever get enough money to have a $750 pen, you chumps won’t ever see me again. I’ll be hanging out with my new friends in a penthouse somewhere.

Those nibs were all from pens that can cost less than $20. Cross wins big time in the appearance department. Most of the pens preceding this write better than the Cross, but this is the appearance section, so who cares?

Besides those groovy (in more ways than one) lines, the nib is marked with Cross and an M in easy to see, big stamped letters. For anyone who does a lot of eBaying, you know how useful this is. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spotted a 45 online and not known the nib size. Then you have to ask the dude, and so on and so forth, then describe how he is supposed to check, and it just gets tedious. By the end of it, you don’t even want the pen and your spaghetti tastes bad for some reason.

GRAVITY NEAR MY NOTEBOOK HAS BEEN REVERSED! AHH

GRAVITY NEAR MY NOTEBOOK HAS BEEN REVERSED! AHH!

Build Quality: 4/10?

The pen hasn’t broken, and the cap is well made, but the rest of it looks like it came in an Ikea kit and at the end there were some suspicious pieces left over. While the nib works great on this one (it is used on much more expensive pens, too), as soon as you go to use the pen, you have to feel the section. Then feel regret. The section feels like someone took a tennis ball container, chromed it, then wrapped it in a circle. Well, maybe that’s a bit unfair.

Dunlop uses much better plastic than this.

Maybe Wilson tennis balls?

It’s pretty bad. If you compare it with the plastic section on the Pilot Metropolitan, you can tell the immense quality difference between the two – and it’s not looking good for Cross. So then why is the price the same? I don’t know.

As far as I have found out, this particular Cross pen was made in China, so they can’t claim that the quality of workmanship and labour costs forced their hand in cheap materials, especially when the Pilot wasn’t made in China, but Japan. What normally happens in these situations is moving the production to China allows the manufacturer to put in more expensive materials. So, the Chinese pen should have better stuff in it than the Japanese pen, but the Japanese pen should be better made, all else being equal. We can see this with the Baoer, Jinhao and Hero pens I have a lot of.

But remember, Cross is a company of trailblazers. This was the first fancy pen company in the US! They won’t be held to stereotypes! Expect the unexpected with Cross! They, a company of mavericks, have busted the stereotypes and made a Chinese pen with not only the standard poor workmanship, but also bucked the trend in materials, using only the worst stuff they could get their hands on. So inspiring.

Cross: showing America is the world’s leading innovator in poorly made Chinese products.

Okay, I’ll shut up about the section now, but let’s move onto the plastic ring.

Oh god, there's so much wrong here.

Oh god, there’s so much wrong here.

Not a good looking design feature, that’s for sure. It looks like it might have been made in the same factory as some other rings.

50 cents?! Man, inflation sure has taken its toll.

The mold lines are plentiful and evident. One can even easily be seen there in the photo. That looks like absolute crap, and shows the lack of effort put into this pen…but it also indicates a few other things.

If we look at this ring, we can see its purpose. It joins the cap and the body of the pen. Remember, the body of the pen is small, and the cap is way too big. These differed so much that Cross had to fabricate an adapter ring in order for one to be used with the other. How careless is this company? What executive okayed this action?”

“Sir, we’ve manufactured the 10000 caps, but at 150 percent size. We will need to delay the pen until we make more.”

“Screw it, man. Make a ring.”

“Sir, that would look terrible and cheap.”

“The pen will be terrible and cheap! It fits.”

“Sir…”

“Do it. Also, I want an original rock em sock em robots for my bathroom. Find those for me.”

End scene.

Oh, Billy is doing his Dubai impression! How cute!

The cap is literally too big for the pen. It isn’t just designed to look that way, it’s literally true. Which is a shame, actually, as the cap is quite nice. It’s around 40% of the weight of the pen (I forget the exact numbers, my scale is broken and I measured it a week ago), and is well made. The clip isn’t spring loaded, but it’s nice to use. Great cap…except it’s too big and therefore necessitates that hideous ring. And this also means the pen can’t be posted. The only redeeming feature.

The pen with a few of its price competitors, which all run about $15 online. Sheaffer VFM, Pilot Metropolitan, Parker Frontier (to be fair, this is a much rarer version of that pen), and of course, the jewel of the UAE, this Cross pen.

The pen with a few of its price competitors, which all run about $15 online. Sheaffer VFM, Pilot Metropolitan, Parker Frontier (to be fair, this is a much rarer version of that pen), and of course, the jewel of the UAE, this Cross pen.

But it’s also possible that the barrel is, in fact, too small for the cap, even though in this comparison it looks normal sized. That’s cause these are small pens. But I wonder what it looks like compared to a really small pen.

A Kaweco Sport, a pen so small is is required that it be posted (and it's designed in such a way that the cap is less a cap and more of a body) and the Dubai.

A Kaweco Sport, a pen so small is is required that it be posted (and it’s designed in such a way that the cap is less a cap and more of a body) and the Dubai.

As can be seen, the barrel is practically smaller than a Kaweco Sport. The Kaweco barrel is technically shorter, but it’s wider until the end. When you unscrew with the (surprise!) subpar plastic threads, the Cross barrel, for the intents of, say, a spare cartridge, ends much much sooner than the Kaweco, which we can see has no room for a spare. Neither does the Dubai.

Refilling and Maintenance: 2/10.

The barrel is so thick it makes it end far too early. Also, you're pretty much stuck using cartridges. Luckily, the box comes with all you'll ever need. 1.

The barrel is so thick it makes it end far too early. Also, you’re pretty much stuck using cartridges. Luckily, the box comes with all you’ll ever need. One.

Not having room for a spare small cartridge is a huge faux pas in the fountain pen world. Not fitting a converter is an even bigger one. I have a Cross converter, the orange one, and it don’t work. The cap doesn’t screw on. Nice job, Cross. Good deal designing that pen. The pen also only comes with one cartridge. I will repeat this. The complete list of stuff the pen comes with is as follows: one cartridge. No converter, no spares, no pack of 6, just one. The only reason this doesn’t get a 1 is because you can buy cross carts almost anywhere. Maybe Cross doesn’t have any confidence in themselves and they think people will stop using this pen immediately. That’s stupid, though because this pen is actually, stunningly, a mediocre writer.

 

dun dun DUN

Performance: 7/10

 

A new breed of cat is called the Ocicat. It was developed near my hometown in the 1960s. They look wild but are basically just normal cats. I like those kitties. I had one called Monkey Suit who would growl while he was asleep.

A new breed of cat is called the Ocicat. It was developed near my hometown in the 1960s. They look wild but are basically just normal cats. I like those kitties. I had one called Monkey Suit who would growl while he was asleep and puff up all his hair. Then he would attack the arm chair. He also ate the other cats’ puke. What a good cat.

I can write with this pen for like 4 pages. It can happen. It’s not the worst thing in the world. It writes smoothly, puts the ink on the paper like it should and doesn’t skip. That’s pretty good! Yeah, any pen should be able to do these things, but you know, Cross hasn’t done as good of a job of it in the past as they could have.

But, I bet that if they made a 10 foot tall Aventura and sold it to road companies, they’d sell like hotcakes, as one wouldn’t even have to lift the pen off the road for the dashed lines. These ideas are why they pay me the big bucks.

The problem is, the pop bottle esque section gets slipperier than snot on a glass doorknob after you just ate a pizza. So, you’re finding yourself slipping all over and taking a break in the middle of writing. What if you can’t take a break? Well, then you’re screwed. You have a slippery pen.

This is primarily because the section goes up higher than Fred Mertz’s pants.

Go ahead. Scroll up and look at the Kaweco picture. Am I right or am I right?

Well, actually, it’s primarily because they made the pen basically out of laminate flooring, but if they had a smaller section, it wouldn’t be so slippery. For example, on the Sheaffer VFM.

The nib and section of a VFM. A much shorter section. Note too the step down. Also that pretty purple. That is the colour my pen was supposed to be. It is much more pink in real life.

The nib and section of a VFM. A much shorter section. Note too the step down. Also that pretty purple. That is the colour my pen was supposed to be. It is much more pink in real life.

What can be done here is simple. One can use the section easily and with no trouble, then, when it gets slippery, his hand can go right on the ring and step down. This is slightly uncomfortable, but it only needs to be done for a short time while the section is drying off. You have no such option with this pen. That sucks.

Also, the cap, again, is stupid heavy so there is no practical way to write with the pen posted, unless you hold it like a turkey baster and write from an arm’s length away and straight up and down. But, if you post your pens, you might be that strange. So, hey. Whatever.

In terms of the ink coming out of this bad boy, it’s pretty good. Nice and wet, so use fancy paper, and it’s a little broader than a normal medium. It’s very nice to write with. I would have no problem using this nib and feed on some kind of frankenpen if it were possible. It’s just hard to actually use for long enough to take advantage of how well it writes.

Value: 6/10.

Normally, I’d say it’s a good value as it’s a good writer at $15 from Cross, where you can get all the accessories you want and stuff at Office Max or Staples or whatever…but we have a $15 pen problem. At that price, you can get an Ohto, or a Sheaffer VFM, or a Pilot Metropolitan, or a Parker Frontier or IM, or something. On the other hand, if someone bought this pen for $15, I wouldn’t say he got a bad deal. Pack your hands with baby powder and go on a writing journey, man. It’s all you.

Conclusion: 5.5/10.

The problem with this pen is that it’s just a pen. In fountain pens, that’s actually really terrible. Pens need a personality, or they need to be notable in their lack of personality. This Cross is like a person who is trying to make up for a lack of personality by being quirky, like by putting a large giraffe statue in his/her front lawn, but having no reason why other than to feel interesting. But it doesn’t. It only fools you for a second. This is an uninteresting pen that looks shiny, and writes shiny, but feels like another word that starts with s, h, and i.

So, would I buy it? No. But I wouldn’t not buy it. If you are in some kind of crazy fountain pen emergency and you must have one, this is a great option. It’s perfectly serviceable and a decent writer. So, if you want it, buy it.

If you don’t, and I can’t see why you would, buy a Sheaffer VFM or a Metropolitan. Save yourself the heartache.

Here’s some terrible writing.

IMG_20140531_021539

Parker IM Review

I had two of these pens, one of which I paid $8 for, the other one I just sold to a friend for the same price. I made out poorer, because the pen I got I don’t think is as attractive, but, on the other hand, it writes with a medium line, which is quite a bit nicer than writing with a fine line that I had on the black gold trim pen. So, I’m pretty familiar with the pen. In my Parker Urban review, I suggested this pen instead of it, which I maintain still. If you want an intro to Parker pens, I still suggest a Parker Frontier, or 45, but this is a solid second choice.

Appearance: 7/10.

I’m flip flopping on this thing. On a gold/black trim, it looks okay. In most others, it doesn’t. Like the one I have, for example.

Eugh!

I’ll be honest: I don’t know anything about design. I’m sure the cross etchings there on the cap are supposed to look like something else, or at least evoke some kind of past design style. Whatever that design style is, it’s objectively hideous. I think maybe only Catalan Modernism is uglier.

What a hack Gaudi was.

So, the Designe Uglée cap is a little off-putting, but the rest of the pen is okay, right? Yes. It is okay. There is nothing to not like about it, because it has, functionally, no design at all.

Whoever designed this pen must have been told “Make a pen for the most boring man in the world.” But then, when he did it, they realized they needed something extra, then told some intern to make the cap to try to breathe some life in it. Unfortunately, the cap has SARS.

Now, it sounds like I’m insulting the pen’s design. This is because I am. However, it doesn’t mean it’s bad. Like I said, it’s okay. There are nice things to it. For example, it wasn’t designed with a ruler. It’s thicker in the middle and only slightly tapered on the ends. Compare to a Parker 45 to see a more aggressive taper, or a Vector to see some more aggressive rulering.

I'm switching up those quarters, dude. Look at that!

A Parker 45. I’m switching up those quarters, dude. Look at that!

And that metal grip section is pretty nice. Fun texture and look to it. It’s like the reverse of what Parker does normally…except on the Vector. Now this actually makes sense. The design is actually an evolution of the Vector. For real! Once upon a time, there was a pen called the Vector.

Twins!

As you can see, this pen looks very much like the IM I bought for $8. Except, somehow the chiseled metal cap looks a little better. And, actually, the section isn’t a nice brushed metal, but more of a shiny chrome. Despite the incredible and obvious similarities between these pens, however, there was a stopgap. This was called the Parker Vector XL.

If the Vector and the IM had a child, and the child joined a Las Vegas based percussion performance group, this would be it.

So here we’re seeing the brushed section come in, and the start of the cap on the cap, but we still have a Vector style no feathered clip, this one not inherited from the Parker Arrow, but a new design entirely. The IM, in a few markets, was referred to by another name: the Vector Mk. 2. This is kind of weird, since I’m about 80% sure Parker still sells the Vector, though I might be wrong. In 2009, Parker dumped a lot of their models to focus on only a few, like the Urban and the IM, though those are functionally the same and inhabit the same price point. We lost the Latitude, 45, 100 and the Frontier for this, Parker? Come on.

Anyway, like I was saying, this pen is as inoffensive as it gets, so nothing actually wrong with it, and the section is nice.

The IM section and nib. Actually the best looking part of this pen, and it's not close, either. This is the Rock N Rye of the Faygo variety pack.

The IM section and nib. Actually the best looking part of this pen, and it’s not close, either. This is the Rock N Rye of the Faygo variety pack that is this pen.

For those familiar with Parker Flighters, you’ll notice that the brushing on this metal section of the pen is extremely coarse. The flighters are often sandblasted in addition to being brushed, but it’s still very fine. If your eyes were closed and your buddy asked you to feel the barrel of his pen, and you trust this guy (cause it’s a suspicious request for a person), you would just feel metal in a flighter pen. However, if he asked you to grab his nib section (heh), then you’d absolutely feel the texture on this. That’s how significant it is, and it looks it. I’ll go into it more in the build quality section.

You may also notice that I haven’t trashed the nib yet, despite me complaining about that exact same nib in the Pilot Metropolitan review, calling it boring. It was, on the Parker Urban, a pen that is anything but boring. Read my review on that to get my full opinion, plus a Christina Hendricks photo. Here, however, it fits. This is a smallish feeling pen though large for Parker, and the nib is small and skinny…and it somehow fits here. You get to see a bit more of it than you see in other pens fitted with this nib, too, like the Vector, the Urban, the Reflex, the Facet, the 88, the Esprit, the Beta, etc. It has some little grooves on it that look pretty good with this pen. So, the pen body itself ain’t so bad. A solid 9/10 there, because, again, there is nothing to dislike about the barrel and the section looks really good.

But the cap. My lord, the cap. This must be the ugliest thing ever put on a Parker pen.

Okay. Maybe not the ugliest. BUT BESIDES THE REFLEX PARALLELOGRAM CLIP, the ugliest thing on a Parker Pen.

Where do I start? The chrome fez? The tiny clip? The terrible lines? The fact that it looks like squidward?

Where do I start? The chrome fez? The tiny clip? The terrible lines? The fact that it looks like a depressed Squidward?

 

Told you.

Told you. Man, I have hit a low point. I just put three pictures in a row, one of them a Squidward painting I did on the toilet.

Now, when I say that, let’s get this straight: I don’t think Parkers are almost ever ugly. At worst, they’re not notable…except for a few exceptions. This is one of them. The cap isn’t THAT ugly, but it’s a solid 3/10. Some of the other IM caps aren’t so bad, but this is not one of those, so I’m reviewing this one. Quit yer bellyachin. I think the thing that annoys me the least on the cap is the fez.

That cap looks like it should be living in Cairo helping out Indiana Jones. I really REALLY do not like how they stuck a big chrome fez on the end of the cap of the pen. It makes it unbalanced if you are a person who posts your pens, and it makes it ugly for everyone else in the room who is silently judging you for that choice. Parker has done a lot of caps in its days, but this one might be the only one with a fez on it. As a small demonstration, here are a few Parker pens, none of which cost much more than this one.

Huh. Only one has a conehead.

Looking at this pile of Parkers, the cap cap looks less like a fez and more like Dan Aykroyd circa 1978. We have, top to bottom, a Vector, and Arrow, an Urban, a Frontier, a Reflex, the IM, and a 45.

Now, what I did on this thing was align the top of the clip with the left margin line on the paper. They don’t look aligned due to perspective, but trust me on this, they are. We can see that the IM cap sticks up way farther out than other Parker caps, and, annoyingly, the clip is much smaller.

It looks it too. When eyeballing the IM, I first though “What the hell is wrong with that clip? Why’s it so small?” It’s not just smaller in comparison to the cap than the other Parkers, it’s actually legitimately smaller as well. This pen is larger than every single pen pictured. Every single goddamn one of them. And it has the smallest clip. This doesn’t do well for it. It looks like it has a tiny little face on what would otherwise be a not entirely hideous pen.

“Hello. I’m tiny faced Mitt Romney. I’ll be your Parker IM for the evening.”

Can we look at that clip again, though?

Where do I start? The chrome fez? The tiny clip? The terrible lines? The fact that it looks like squidward?

Note the fletching on the arrow. Was it done with a butter knife by an arthritic toddler? It’s almost undefined. My $1 Chinese Sonnet look alike I have has a better clip than this. See my Parker Urban review for some pictures of that pen.

The work put into making this cap look well built is absolutely abysmal.

Build Quality: 7/10.

The pen isn’t actually built with bad stuff, it’s just built poorly. They spared every expense to make it seem like they spared no expense. To explain, I’ll continue with the cap.

So, we can see the fletching is not only indistinct, but it’s also uneven. Some of the feathers are longer than others, and the spacing and angle is screwed up. In addition to this, the lines accenting the cap look less like they were done with a butter knife by a toddler, so that’s good. They look more like they were done with a butter knife by an adult. Hint: this is still bad.

Man. Those...those are lines.

Man. Those…those are lines.

If we continue to look at the cap, we can see the Parker logo and the date code, both stamped with the same level of incompetence and/or apathy. The definition is so bad, it looks like what you’d see on a fake. Except I bought one of these from a reputable dealer before I got rid of it, and it was the same way. So there. This is real.

Now, the thing is, this pen feels really nice, and you can tell it was made with good materials. For example, my pen weighs exactly one ounce. That was designed and engineered well, and is the perfect pen weight. It’s got very little plastic in it, too. The lacquer is top notch, and I don’t see any blemishes on the finish.

It actually reminds me very much of a Chinese pen. Those pens often use good materials, are nice and hefty, and are finished okay, but once you get down to brass tacks, are about as well made as a Play-Doh hamburger from your niece. The pen doesn’t have any made in France or UK markings on it, and Parker has opened a Chinese factory, so there’s a non zero probability that this is a Chinese pen.

Both the section AND the barrel have metal threads. Great materials here.

Both the section AND the barrel have metal threads. Great materials here.

But, even in the section with metal on metal threads, something of a quality rarely found in these pens, the crappiness of workmanship is seen. The threads on the section are wavy, rough, and uneven. I do not like it when my metal pen doesn’t screw in as well as a plastic Jinhao. That’s just silly.

If we continue going around the pen, we see a little more of the wildly variable build quality. The section does feel nice, and it is all metal. Here, the crappy part is actually a feature: because the brushed nature of the metal on the section is so rough, it actually keeps your fingers where they should be on the pen for however long they should be there. It doesn’t get slippery or anything. That was a happy accident. It’s also an easy wipe off for refilling.

Refilling and Maintenance: 7/10.

It’s nigh impossible to remove the nib. But they don’t have any aftermarket options, either, so who cares? The pen can be flushed easily using the included converter, and Parker carts are all over the place. This is not a hard pen to refill, which you’ll be doing a lot, because the pen is strangely a very fun writer.

Performance: 8/10.

The pen uses the same modified Vector nib as many of Parker's other cheap pens. This means problems.

The pen uses the same modified Vector nib as many of Parker’s other cheap pens. This normally means problems.

The pen skips sometimes. It is also loud. These are things that have ruined pens for me in the past…but somehow on this one it doesn’t matter much. The skipping is for maybe a half a letter per page, and the loudness doesn’t translate into scratchiness, but there is feedback. I don’t normally like any of this stuff…but on this pen, it’s great. The pen is not, objectively, a good writer, I don’t think, but it is somehow desperately fun to use. It is so fun, I brought it to school the other day to power through a few pages of notes, and then stayed up last night just writing in my notebook for fun. What the heck is wrong with me? I had even filled it with black ink, an ink I don’t like! If I were to go to my notebook right now, and pick up a pen to write with, it would actually be this stupid little pen I don’t want to like. GRAHH.

The line it writes is a standard medium.

Fine, B, B, M, M, M, from top. You know what my favourite kind of kitten is? Scottish fold munchkin cats. Here's some Youtube videos. You can thank me later.

F, B, B, M, M, M, from top. You know what my favourite kind of kitten is? Scottish fold munchkin cats. Here’s some Youtube videos. You can thank me later.

So, in the above picture, we can even see some of the skipping the pen does. It’s really not this pronounced normally. We can also see my Monteverde Impressa also skipped, and that rarely happens. I wonder if this paper is a little screwy? Regardless, like I said, the pen is objectively mediocre, but subjectively it is fantastic. I cannot explain it.

Value: 7/10.

The pen normally runs $19-20. Sometimes you can see them on places like Goulet Pens with special finishes for more money, but that’s out of the norm. Because of the fact that this pen is not terrible for that price, is fun to use, and looks all right from really far away, then I’m okay with that.

Conclusion: 7.2/10.

In a long line of 7s, this should come as no surprise. I posted in my Urban review that I would recommend this pen over the Urban every time for a new Parker, and I do. But…that’s only if you want a brand new Parker. There are much much better pens in this price range. The Pilot Metropolitan, some new old stock Frontiers or 45s, that Herlitz Tornado if you like plastic, and if you buy a Baoer 388 and replace its nib with a Knox nib, you can get out paying slightly less for a much better pen.

So, buy it if you want to have fun writing, or if you want a brand new Parker and don’t want to drop the dough for a Sonnet.

Here’s some terrible writing.

CAM00599 - Edited

 

Herlitz Tornado Classic review

In my continuing series where I review pens nobody at all cares about, here we have the Herlitz Tornado fountain pen. I’m about 90% sure I am the only one who’s ever reviewed this pen. I can’t find any online.

This pen costs $9 in Germany (like €6,59), and I have seen it in a train station in Saarbrücken. At this time, I didn’t buy any because I had had bad experiences with fountain pens, and so didn’t desire any.

However, as the years have gone by, I’ve grown to enjoy fountain pens, and Peyton Street Pens had a few of these bad lads in stock on their website, so I picked one up, and it’s great. Truly a great pen.

Appearance: 7/10.

This isn’t an ugly pen, but it’s not particularly good looking either. It looks pretty similar to similar (albeit pricier) school pens like the Parker Frontier with the translucent casing…of which I have zero because I think those Frontiers are ugly.

Here we have the pen. The cap is on the left, the barrel on the right. Closer to the camera is a quarter. In the background is the writing sample. This photograph was taken using a CMOS sensor, which has many benefits or traditional digital camera sensors, usually made of CCDs. Butts.

Here we have the pen. The cap is on the left, the barrel on the right. Closer to the camera is a quarter. In the background is the writing sample. This photograph was taken using a CMOS sensor, which has many benefits or traditional digital camera sensors, usually made of CCDs. Butts.

As we can see here, other than that translucent blue barrel on my copy, this pen is dull to the point of being worth noting. Remember how I talked about how lame dull nibs were in the Pilot Metropolitan review? It can go the other way when the nib and pen are so unfathomably dull it looks purposeful. Here, take a look at the nib on this pen.

Other pans have the courtesy to put on actual words or letters. Herlitz stamps that logo in there and calls it a day.

Other pans have the courtesy to put on actual words or letters. Herlitz stamps that logo in there and calls it a day.

This unabashed admittance of cheapness in the pen is something I like. This is a utilitarian pen designed to be inoffensive and it’s not parading itself as something better than it is. It’s just a stupid pen that comes in stupid paper packaging, and this is the stupid nib.

Interestingly, though, the nib does have a small quirk I don’t necessarily like, but adds a little something. Take a look.

The nib, as you can see, has a pronounced downward turn, leading to an interesting aesthetic.

The nib, as you can see, has a pronounced downward turn, leading to an interesting aesthetic.

That aesthetic is something I like to call Sam the eagle.

An aesthetic I like to call Sam the eagle.

And the clip is running the same kind of game.

This is a clip. It sticks in your shirt. That's all it does. Good job, clip.

This is a clip. It sticks in your shirt. That’s all it does. Good job, clip.

Ostensibly unadorned with the Herlitz name/logo on it right?

WRONG. Actually, no, you’re right. But it has a weird shape to it as well.

Ignore, for a moment, the hideous grey coloured grip on the pen and look at the shape of the clip. I guess it's kind of wedge shaped.

Ignore, for a moment, the hideous grey coloured grip on the pen and look at the shape of the clip. Thick on the leading edge and thin on other edge.

That is like, the opposite of the wedge shape. It’s really weird. Nothing is shaped like that.

A cheese wedge. Note leading edge skinnier.

A cheese wedge. Note leading edge skinnier.

A shoe wedge. Note leading edge skinnier.

A shoe wedge. Note leading edge skinnier.

A sand wedge from Ping. Note leading edge...er...well, you know. Maybe.

A sand wedge from Ping. Note leading edge…er…well, you know. Maybe.

A series of rock formations in the Kaskaskia cratonic sequence in West Virginia as a result of the clastic wedge formed from the erosion after the Acadian orogeny. For those international readers, the Mississippian period is the beginning of the carboniferous period, but it only shows up in North America, as it’s dominated by carbonate depositional environments quite unlike the normal depositional environments in the carboniferous period elsewhere. The Pennsylvanian period is more similar to your carboniferous period. Both of them, however, are entirely unlike the clip on the Herlitz Tornado fountain pen.

So we’ve covered the clip, the general design, the nib…uhhh…oh right. That ugly grip section. Please refer back to where, in the caption, I told you to ignore it.

The grip section is a medium, I’ll say 40%, grey, and it’s not very good looking. This would be excusable if it offered a more pleasant pen holding experience, but it doesn’t. It also moves around on there a bit too much. Spinning about and whatnot. Some may call this a feature, but I call it lame. Wait. I’m referring to build quality and design. That means I’m in the wrong section.

Build Quality and Design: 5/10. The build quality is what I would call adequate. The cap clicks on, the clip clips, the nib nibs, and the barrel barrels. The grip don’t grip though.

To go back to that grip, it does spin around about on the section, which means you may orient it in whichever way you want. This, again, may be considered a feature if you are, for example, feeble-minded. But, for those of us living in the real world, this is just an annoyance.

“But Funkmon,” I hear you say, “What about us doofuses who write inverted, and are therefore so useless that we cannot even use a Lamy Safari?” To you I say FEH! Look, I appreciate your desire to be weird. Different strokes for different folks, even when those strokes are dry, thin and scratchy because you’re holding your pen wrong. Herlitz does not appreciate you, though. They have done something for which I think they should be applauded. They have effectively removed those who write inverted from their userbase.

Remember Sam Eagle? I defy you to write comfortably with a pen that turns upward. I don’t think it can be done. Which means you cannot write inverted, which means the spinny grip is a piece of bad design or bad build quality. It cannot be a feature.

Another piece of good design/bad build quality or vice versa is this weird metal ring. I like metal rings. They just make you feel good inside. I like knowing they’re there. This one goes where the cap clicks onto the barrel and over the section. I don’t know why it’s there, and it moves around and is loose. It doesn’t appear to serve any purpose.

Other than that, it’s just about what you’d expect for a pen this cost. Plastic everywhere, but it holds together solidly. Well balanced because it can’t possibly be more than a few grams off in any way because it’s so light (except when you post it, but we don’t do that here). It’s got all the cheap pen hallmarks, down to even being an unassuming size. The only thing it’s really got going for it is that groovy metal cap.

I have no idea what I was thinking when this was photographed. Honestly. I did this a few weeks ago. We have here, from top to bottom, a Parker Arrow, a Parker Frontier with a mismatched cap (?!), the Herlitz Tornado, a Parker Frontier Pencil (?!), and a Jinhao 599, a close competitor.

I have no idea what I was thinking when this was photographed. Honestly. I did this a few weeks ago. We have here, from top to bottom, a Parker Arrow, a Parker Frontier with a mismatched cap (?!), the Herlitz Tornado, a Parker Frontier Pencil (?!), and a Jinhao 599, a close competitor.

Refilling and maintenance: 6/10.

The pen doesn’t come with a converter, but it comes with a few international ink cartridges, some hollow for some reason.

Yeah, I've got the Herlitz cart in there, but I did test it with some standard international converters, and they actually work, not like on Faber Castell pens. Come on FC, get with it.

Yeah, I’ve got the Herlitz cart in there, but I did test it with some standard international converters, and they actually work, not like on Faber Castell pens or the Sheaffer VFM. Come on FC, get with it. You too, Sheaffer. What the hell, man. You have your own proprietary cartridge and converter system, and you make a pen incompatible with both, then also make it incompatible with a converter? What gives?

Luckily, both international ink cartridges and international converters are ubiquitous. Also, don’t try to change the nib. Please. It’s so good.

Performance: 9/10.

As I mentioned in my 599 review, this Herlitz is possibly the best writing cheap pen I own. It’s very smooth. If we go to the food smoothness scale, I would put it at the level of a hot White Castle burger. It must be hot, and it must be White Castle. When refrigerated, White Castles kinda get gelatinous in the bun and hard in the meat (heh), so it doesn’t work. But nice and hot fresh from White Castle, that’s what this pen is like. If you only have Krystal near you, imagine that, but a liiiiittle bit softer.

The line is a perfect western medium with no line variation, but that’s okay, since I’m paying $9.

I don't even know why I caption these line thingies any more since I label them in the image. I think next time I do this, I'll talk about kittens.

I don’t even know why I caption these line thingies any more since I label them in the image. I think next time I do this, I’ll talk about kittens. EDIT: Upon looking at this image a little more…all of these pens have the exact same line, basically. Holy crap. How does that happen?

It actually sounds a bit rougher on the sheet of paper. I can’t explain how that works, but it sounds like a guy across the room making voiceless labiodental fricatives at you in time with your pen moving across the paper. You could probably fool him by miming some writing just above the paper, but it doesn’t work. Anyway, trust me, it’s hot White Castle smooth.

I called this image herlizpointyend.jpg

I called this image herlizpointyend.jpg. No joke. Click the link.

So if we take a look at that section again, with the definitely not a feature spinny grip, it isn’t actually that bad. Its triangular grip sections allow you to write like a normal (albeit fundamentally annoyed) person for hours on end. The grip is a bit loose on the section, so it is always squeezed in a little bit before you get any resistance, like you hugged a fat guy. Hugging fat guys ain’t so bad, and neither is this…if you only had to do it once. But, every time you lift your finger, you must hug the fat guy again.

To continue with the fat guy analogy, now pretend he’s the Michelin man wearing a bra. Now you’ve simulated the entirely too large bumps in the grip section. This pen is therefore both exceptionally comfortable to use and mildly infuriating, like a chair that makes your left leg go numb after an hour.

But, to reiterate, the pen is well balanced and a great writer. The pen has never once skipped on me, and it always starts right up again. I have a Parker Arrow, shown above (that picture has finally become convenient), with a similar size nib. This is smoother and more reliable, and it costs 5 times less. I have a Sheaffer 100 which also costs around $50. This nib is smoother and more reliable. Uhhhhhhhhhh…I guess my Latitude also technically runs about that price. This nib is smoother and more reliable. But just. It’s also better than all of the Parkers with the Vector nib. Duh.

Value: 10/10. Not only does this pen come with ink, but it comes with an eradicator. That’s nice.

Bonus: free weird hollow ink cartridge.

Bonus: free weird hollow ink cartridge.

You will notice that the packaging is upside down here. There’s a reason for that: I couldn’t be bothered to flip it on my computer.

Anyway, that eradicator it comes with works on the same stuff as the Pelikan Super Pirats I have, and it also has the nifty permanent side. I love it when a pen comes with one of these things, mostly so when people give me smug advice like “I’d do that in pencil,” I can tell them to shove it where the sun don’t shine and erase the insult I wrote them on my sheet of paper.

This ability to passive aggressively insult others adds a lot of value, in addition to the fact that this pen writes really well. For $9.

Conclusion: 9.0/10

I don’t really like Chinese pens, despite me owning about a billion, and I think it’s due to the immense variability in their craftsmanship. They can use expensive materials and junk, but they often don’t have the same level of consistent goodness as their European or American rivals, and I think that’s exemplified here. Outwardly a very cheap pen, but it writes like nobody’s business. This is a sleeper car of school pens.

Buy it.

Here’s some bad writing I spilled some stuff on.

herlitzsample

Jinhao 599 review

599colours

I’ve gone on about how much I don’t like Jinhao pens a lot. My 250 is scratchy, my 500 leaks, my 1200 skips, my X450 is dry, skips and is a hard starter.  So I got the 599 from isellpens in the same shipment as the Metropolitan. I couldn’t tell you why I thought that was a good idea.

It turns out, though, that it was. The pen is easily the best writing Jinhao I have ever had, though that’s not saying much as a rock with some blood on it could produce a better and more consistent line than those, but it’s more than that. This is as good of a writer as any of my non American cheap pens with only a single exception. The Herlitz pen I mentioned in that Duke 961 review. We’re going to give that one more time. First, we’ll chat about Jinhao.

Not much is definitively known about Jinhao here in the west, other than they’re a Chinese brand, currently based in Shanghai. They’re fairly new, only a few decades old, and they have a reputation for excellent build quality at cheap prices, which I have not experienced. That said, the parent company of Jinhao manufactures Baoer pens, which I have had much more luck with in the past.

Anyway, let’s get into the review.

Appearance: 3/10.

I hate how Lamy Safaris look. I just absolutely hate em. They are ugly shaped, they are aesthetically on par with a lacquered frozen dog turd, and are so unfathomably loud and cheap looking, I can’t not judge a person I see using them.

Nobody actually likes these, right?

Eugh. I’m talking about the Lamy Safari because the Jinhao 599 is a Safari copy. There are a few other Safari copies out there, like the Hero summer colours pen, but this is the only one I bothered to get.

The Hero I don’t like. Totally stolen from http://isellpens.com[/caption%5D

Now, you may be wondering why I’d get the 599 versus the Hero pen. I’ll tell you. The appearance.

 

[caption id="attachment_107" align="aligncenter" width="640"]This is the Jinhao 599 uncapped. We can begin to note the similarities and differences here. The nib, for example, looks normal. The Jinhao punched into the side of the pen is clearly different form the Lamy. The clip is made of a flatter sheet of metal instead of a bent cylinder. This is the Jinhao 599 uncapped. We can begin to note the similarities and differences here. The nib, for example, looks normal. The Jinhao punched into the side of the pen is clearly different form the Lamy. The clip is made of a flatter sheet of metal instead of a bent cylinder.

Okay, yes. This still looks, fundamentally, like a Lamy Safari. But, it’s slightly better. The nib looks more normal, the clip is a little bit different, and has a different mounting mechanism. Regardless of these things, it’s still ugly as sin. This is like a 1979 Escort completely rusted out and looking like it’s hours away from destruction, but the owner painted the hood.

Or scissor doors on an Aztek. You know, my dad almost bought one of these…and I kind of wanted him to. I liked that car a lot.

Regardless, it is still a little bit better than the normal Safari.

For those of you who have never owned a Safari, and good for you, it has an interesting shape. The cap is circular, but the back part of the pen’s body has two parallel sides, like they were cut out of the circle. This is actually a useful design feature to keep the pen from rolling, and it keeps the pen from looking like it cost $ .10.

The nib section is triangular on the top of a Lamy Safari with a round portion underneath it, preventing a person from comfortably using the pen inverted, but who does that anyway? In this feature, actually, the Jinhao departs…slightly. The Safari section is like a 60 degree angle where one side of the triangle is a curve. This pen is more like a circle with two flat sides cut out at 60 degrees from one another. Examine the above picture. I guess what I’m trying to say is that on the Jinhao the finger hold spots are a bit smaller.

On to that nib, then!

 

As we can see, this is one of Jinhao's normal nibs, normally available in a two tone gold/silver look. This is still printed with 18kgp...yeah. Sure it is, Jinhao.

As we can see, this is one of Jinhao’s normal nibs, normally available in a two tone gold/silver look. This is still printed with 18kgp…yeah. Sure it is, Jinhao. Pardon the ink all over the damn thing, I had just filled up with Baystate Blue, a hell of a hard ink to use.

The nib is an okay looking nib with little flourishes around the outside, but nothing particularly special going on here. But, at least it’s not just a square with some tines at the end, like the Lamy nib.

This may be a good time to bring up the fact that I have a specific variant of the 599, the all plastic one. There are also aluminum ones that look like the Lamy Al-Star and have a Lamy-esque nib to match. You can see that variant, which is also the most widely reviewed one, on isellpens.

Note the nib difference, and the lack of breather hole.

That nib is…all right. It actually reminds me of the $3 Pilot Varsity pens.

See the similar shape? It’s not just me, is it?

The rest of the pen is pretty ugly. The semi triangular grip section, the loud colours, the everything. It’s really bad. The pen looks like it costs 50 cents (which is more than ten), and the design was terrible. You can see the converter’s edge in the ink preview window. Who thought that was a good idea?

By the way, I normally wouldn’t bring up the converter until later, but Jinhao has made a special one just for this pan, and I think it’s actually really remarkable.

Take a look at that specially designed converter made just for this pen. It's made to mimic the Lamy converter.

Take a look at that specially designed converter made just for this pen. It’s made to mimic the Lamy converter.

It’s very very similar to the Lamy converter. It has the same shape as the barrel of the pen, flat on two sides and round on two sizes, with one part of it showing the Jinhao name. This is very close to the Lamy converter.

Note the holdy part’s similarity. What’s the term for this? The grip?

So that’s actually nice. The design of the thing you will never see. If we go back to the 79 Escort analogy, now you’ve put in leather seats. Except leather seats are functional. This converter is extremely difficult to use, borderline sisyphean, but I’ll get into that later.

So, yeah, I’m trashing the looks of the pen, but if you buy into, and like, the Safari looks, you will like the looks of this pen. I don’t know how you can write if you’re blind, but you’ll like it. They are very similar.

Build Quality: 5/10.

This finish looks absolutely terrible.

Here we have a terribly finished cap and super evident mold lines. It looks like they made it in the plastic army men factory.

Here we have a terribly finished cap and super evident mold lines. It looks like they made it in the plastic army men factory.

We can see seams and places it’s broken off from others, not sanded down. Yes, we’re paying $6 for a pen, but do you think uni-ball would allow this shoddy workmanship in any of their $.40 pens? I don’t. And it’s not just the plastic that’s terrible.

The clip missed some chrome plating. How hard is this to do? Seriously? There are metal clips on dozens of pens that cost less than a dollar, and this one can't do it?

The clip missed some chrome plating. How hard is this to do? Seriously?

There are metal clips on dozens of pens that cost less than a dollar, and this one can’t be chromed correctly for six?

The top of the cap, too, isn’t so good. The plastic top, in which Hero has their logo and Lamy a cross, is, here, just a black plastic top. No problem with that. But, it looks like the hole in which it was stuck was cut by a homeless guy with a meat cleaver. It’s pretty rough.

And again, WHO THOUGHT SEEING THE CONVERTER IN THE INK WINDOW WAS A GOOD IDEA?

This is dumb. What it's effectively done is make the ink preview window less useful. We can see it disappear, but we don't know how far down it is.

This is dumb. What it’s effectively done is make the ink preview window less useful. We can see it disappear, but we don’t know how far down it is.

Because we have dropped off a good millimeter of resolution on this thing, it’s effectively like your gas gauge saying empty at a quarter tank. Yeah, at that point, you should refill it, but how much longer do you have? 5 miles? 50 miles? Can you run to the store? You won’t know.

So then you have to unscrew the stupid pen. Luckily, this part is okay. The threads were designed with a stop at the end so you can’t go past the cutout in the ink window to see the ink. Well designed. It’s not particularly pleasant to use, since it’s plastic on plastic, but what’re you going to do?

Other things that are all right are the cap and clip in function. The cap is friction fit and clicks in well and silently. It’s pretty strong, but not hard to close. The clip is stiff but with the low gradient and wide opening at the end, it can probably clip onto anything. If I needed a pen to clip onto a fish, this would be on my short list.

Something that’s actually good is its solidity. It’s made poorly, but it seems like the plastic quality isn’t lacking, despite its looks. It’s stiff. hard, and doesn’t feel like it’ll break. It’s also fabulously well balanced even if it’s posted. A very well done pen in that regard.

So, even though it looks terrible, it runs fine.

Refilling and Maintenance: 6/10.

Take a look at that specially designed converter made just for this pen. It's made to mimic the Lamy converter. Is anyone getting déjà vu?

Take a look at that specially designed converter made just for this pen. It’s made to mimic the Lamy converter.
Is anyone getting déjà vu?

I’ve kind of gotten a standard thing going for the reviews, and if a pen has an easily replaceable #6 nib, international converters and cartridges, it gets a ten. Just international converters and cartridges? 7/10. This one meets those criteria, but it has that special converter…so it’s worse.

Have you ever tried to twist in a wood screw with your hands? Then you’ve basically tried to use the Jinhao 599 converter. The special design keeps the user from being able to have a good grip on it, like any other converter anywhere. (Except for Lamy).

A typical converter, this one by Pelikan. Look, the twisty part has SOMETHING WITH WHICH TO GRIP IT.

This wouldn’t be so bad, as it isn’t in Lamy’s converters, if the torque necessary to turn the thing could be provided by something less powerful than a two stroke at full throttle, like, say, the average person’s hand. The Jinhao converter was so annoying to use I am considering just putting in my cartridges. which is too bad since the pen writes like a gosh darn dream.

Performance: 10/10.

That’s right, on a Jinhao. One that I own, even! This pen performs better than my Baoer 507, any of my Dukes, and is even better than the Pilot Metropolitan. This pen writes like a $40 pen, easy. I am loving that thing. It writes a true medium line, unlike most of the medium fine lines that eastern pens tend to write.

As we can see, all the indicated M nibs are a little different. The 599 on top and the Duke 209 are about even, with the Parker Latitude writing a little bit thicker. The Metropolitan writes a standard eastern medium, or a medium fine to us.

As we can see, all the indicated M nibs are a little different. The 599 on top and the Duke 209 are about even, with the Parker Latitude writing a little bit thicker. The Metropolitan writes a standard eastern medium, or a medium fine to us.

And, this pen is smooth smooth smooth. It’s probably the smoothest M nibbed pen I own that isn’t a Parker. Except maybe that Herlitz. It’s sure as hell a much smoother writer than my formerly owned Safari, which was about as smooth as public restroom toilet paper, which I’m pretty sure is made of small shards of glass stuck into a 2 ply 6 gsm roll.

This one is just a pleasure to write with, though. It has never skipped and starts right up even when it’s been a day just sitting there. I did three pages with it today even, and that isn’t just due to the great ink delivery, it also has a lot to do with the design. As much as I hate the appearance of this pen and its build quality, it’s so light and well balanced with such an easy to use section it’s hard to not love writing with the pen.

Value: 8/10.

The pen writes great for this price, but you pay for it with all the other crappy stuff about it. You’d need to get lucky on a Parker Beta for a pen that writes this well in this price range, but those nibs (the same as the Vector) are sketchy at best. For performance value, it’s second to none. For show off value, it’s worse than a Pentel rollerball. Ugh.

Conclusion: 9.0/10.

Yeah, I spent most of the review taking a dump on this fugly pen, but it writes so unbelievably well for so unbelievably cheap I cannot help but recommend that you buy it. It’s truly a great pen, and is going to go with me in my bag to be pulled out in dark rooms where nobody can see me using it.

 

Here’s some terrible writing.

599sample

Pilot Metropolitan Review

In the world of fountain pens, there are a few rock stars. There’s timeless classics like the Parker 51, mid priced fantasms like the Parker Sonnet, ubiquitous school pens like the Lamy Safari, and there are inexpensive heros like this pen, the Pilot Metropolitan. The Metropolitan exists in a world where the fountain pen is becoming increasingly irrelevant, and also increasingly a status item…I don’t really know where I’m going with this.

The Metropolitan is a new pen from Pilot (as in only a couple years old), and it’s been making waves. In the fountain pen community, people are talking about this pen as much as (if not more than) any other pen out there, and that’s for two reasons: it’s cheap, and it’s good. Not just cheap good, but real life normal good.

I bought this pen brand new for $15 from Todd “isellpens” Nussbaum (where I was mostly going to look for a Hero pen I wanted to buy (also, Phoenix represent!)) on a whim. That’s a nice feeling. And it’s bloody good. Let’s get into it.

Appearance: 9/10. As we can see above, this is a classic, inoffensive pen shape with classic, inoffensive pen accents. When closed, it has a nice little chrome metal ring around where the body and the cap meet. That’s nice. Then, right next to it, you have a little accent ring. It doesn’t look like much in the above photo because it isn’t much. In some pens, it’s just a slick shiny plastic section that contrasts with the brushed metal section of the rest of the pen. However, the Pilot isn’t just available in boring black.

My goodness. Look at those bad mothers. Image from Jetpens.

This pen comes in some cool colours! Silver, gold, black, white, and…purple. That one’s a little weird. Who would buy purple?

Well, you caught me. I bought the purple one.

Well, you caught me. I bought the purple one.

I’m not personally a fan of the leopard spots in the accent ring here, it’s a little too Kardashian, but the colour is very cool. I don’t have any pens like this, I normally go for a flighter look, and colours aren’t usually something that makes me happy since they are typically paired with pens that are plastic and ugly, or the colour is put in an assload of lacquer. This one still has some paint on it, but the metal is clearly felt underneath. Now, about that inset.

Oh, sorry, that’s the cover of Dollhouse, the book “written” by the Kardashians.

Let’s try that again.

As we can see here, the texture on the plastic ring is beveled. You can actually FEEL the leopard spots. It's very nice.

As we can see here, the texture on the plastic ring is beveled. You can actually FEEL the leopard spots. It’s very nice.

So, while I enjoy the colour far more than the inset, it’s well done enough that I don’t mind. It might be more attractive to some of the opposite gender. The nib, though, is attractive to anyone.

Normally, fountain pen nibs for these inexpensive fountain pens are wildly dull. Nothing going on, nothing to look at. And, if you’re trying to impress the guy across the table, he’s looking at that nib saying “what the hell?” so I like a little bit of celebration there. Here are a few examples of how to do it wrong.

Boring Lamy nib. This pen costs $25. This comes from a Lamy Safari, a pen I've had before. It was stunningly mediocre, borderline bad.

Boring Lamy nib. This pen costs $25. This comes from a Lamy Safari, a pen I’ve had before. It was stunningly mediocre, borderline bad. But, this nib is used on MANY of Lamy’s pens which cost much much more.

Boring Parker nib. This pen costs $40, and comes from an Urban. I have reviewed the Urban already. Great looks, meh pen.

Boring Parker nib. This pen costs $40, and comes from an Urban. I have reviewed the Urban already. Great looks, meh pen.

Boring Sheaffer nib. This pen costs $18. This comes from a VFM. I want to try this pen.

Boring Sheaffer nib. This pen costs $18. This comes from a VFM. I want to try this pen.

Now let’s take a look at one done right.

Here's the nib from the Metropolitan. It has those nice carrots next to the , which at this price, is pretty nice, AND it has some detail accentuating the lines of the nib.

Here’s the nib from the Metropolitan. It has those nice carrots next to the m, which at this price, is pretty nice, AND it has some detail accentuating the lines of the nib.

Yeah, they’re just little lines, but it adds a lot to a pen at this price point, especially when compared to the preceding examples I gave. Pilot is doing this in varying places all over the pen. Even the spartan clip, which seems unadorned, isn’t.

Here's the clip on the Metropolitan. Where they could have gone with just smooth metal, they added a few more lines to draw attention to the subtle design elements.

Here’s the clip on the Metropolitan. Where they could have gone with just smooth metal, they added a few more lines to draw attention to the subtle design elements.

In fact, just looking at that clip makes me think of a Chrysler Airflow. I think these guys, whether they know it or not, have stumbled upon to some slight bit of streamline moderne, evoking thoughts and design of the heyday of fountain pens.

Look, it’s like they turned the ball on the clip into a toaster! Okay, this is a bit of a push, but still.

This kind of stuff makes you feel just a little bit better about using a cheap pen: it’s well done, it’s got a unique but not loud colour, the nib is nice, and they don’t skimp on design.

Build Quality: 9/10. As stated in the previous section, the attention to detail with the aesthetic elements is without peer at this level of fountain pens. They textured the accent, they put lines on the clip, they made a good looking nib that performs well, and nothing is out of place. Stuff I didn’t get into there that does add to its good appearance are things like smoothness. If you read my Duke 961 review, you will know I hated the cap on that pen because it seemed unfinished. On the Metropolitan, it looks perfect. I don’t see any lines, and nothing’s unfinished.

Nifty little box. That background's totally not important: I was trying to practice a new way to write and improve my handwriting.

Nifty little box. That background’s totally not important: I was trying to practice a new way to write and improve my handwriting.

The pen comes in a nifty little box, which is saying something, since most pens at this price point come in a nifty little bag, or, if they come in a box, it’s like the Nemosine box.

Nemosine box, courtesy of savingbirds on FPN: I couldn’t be bothered to take a shot of the few I have. The box is a thin paper box that opens on one end like a spaghetti box.

The Metropolitan box, on the other hand, opens exactly like a spaghetti box doesn’t.

Oh, that's pleasant! There's even a faux satin thingy that the pen comes in.

Oh, that’s pleasant! There’s even a faux satin thingy that the pen comes in.

Once you take the pen out of the box, though, you can feel its heft. It’s not heavy, it’s actually about 29 grams, which I consider the perfect middle of the road weight for a fountain pen, even if I tend to like them a little heavier. Excellent. It’s also a great middle of the road size when compared to other pens, at about five and a half inches in length.

Here we have a Pilot Metropolitan at the bottom leaning on a little Clairfontaine notepad, with a Parker Latitude above it, a Duke 209 above that, and a Jinhao 599 above that. And words on a sheet of paper beneath them all.

Here we have a Pilot Metropolitan at the bottom leaning on a little Clairfontaine notepad, with a Parker Latitude above it, a Duke 209 above that, and a Jinhao 599 above that. And words on a sheet of paper beneath them all.

Because of this, it’s easy to hold, and pleasant to write with. However, once you take the cap off and start writing, there may be the single build quality issue of the pen, which is more like a design issue.

The Pilot Metropolitan with the cap posted. Now, make sure you don't do this, or you hate freedom. But, look at the huge step down from the body of the pen to the nib section, and its relative slimness compared to the size of the pen.

The Pilot Metropolitan with the cap posted. Now, make sure you don’t cap YOUR pen, or you hate freedom.
But, look at the huge step down from the body of the pen to the nib section, and its relative slimness compared to the size of the pen.

The problem isn’t with the cap itself, no, the friction fit cap is very nice to use. It’s easy to pull off, and easy to put on. Some pens, like my Baoer 388, require you to hunker down and assume a position before pulling the cap off, and even some of my Parkers require you at least downshift to second in order to get the cap off. On this one, it just comes off. That’s nice. No thinking about it at all. This is how a cap should be.

But, like I said, that’s not the problem. The problem exists with the lip after the section. It’s so big, it’s almost impossible to be comfortable if you hold then pen farther back than the average person. It’s not finished roughly, it’s just goddamn huge. No problem, you think, I don’t hold my pen that far back. But, the section tapers to a small enough area that it may be uncomfortable for some of you. Not Starwalker thin, mind you, but still plenty thin enough to get other reviewers all upset. I am not one of those reviewers. It works fine for me, and I wear XXXL gloves, so that’s saying something.

I don’t think it’s a major problem. At this price, you don’t expect metal threads in the nib section and you don’t get them…kind of. If we take a look at the pen all unscrewed…

The Metropolitan taken apart and junk. And a quarter.

The Metropolitan taken apart and junk. And a quarter.

… even though we can see the plastic threads on the section, the body’s threads are, in fact, metal, just like the body. We can also see that that massive lip is actually WITHIN the body piece of the pen. WHY? This, to me, indicated that perhaps the nib and feed were actually designed for another pen and it was simply transplanted onto this one for cost saving measures. I mean, they have to cut costs somewhere, right? This leads me into

Refilling and Maintenance: 6/10. The pen has the same feed as a few of the other Pilot pens, which means it can take those nibs, and they’re cheap. Indeed, the Pilot Plumix can be purchased for like $9 and its nib can be put on here. Therefore, you have a choice of a medium italic, a medium, and a fine. That’s not bad, and they’re not expensive. But, it’s not good.

You know what else isn’t good? That converter. It’s proprietary, and so are the cartridges. They also don’t come a dime a dozen at Staples, either. They’re pretty expensive. But, considering the pen comes with an aerometric converter, it’s no skin off my nose. A few people have had bad things to say about the ink sac, and I understand why. I don’t like the ones in many Chinese pens or old Parkers as it requires the finger strength of the end boss in Super Smash Bros.

The intended user of a Parker 51

But, on this pen, it’s actually a very good design and a very easy converter to use. It has the ink sac placed in the center of the converter, with two metal bars on either side that move in a clamping/scissoring motion to compress the sac from two ends. The sac is larger than the normal reservoir in converters, so to me, this is a benefit. To other reviewers, it’s the worst thing in the world. Shout out to Pen Habit on Youtube.

But, since the cartridges are hard to find for a person who’s not going to be buying these things on eBay and the nib selection is small and hacky, this isn’t a win in this category.

Performance: 9/10. Zero surprises when writing with this pen. It’s just the right amount of smooth and the right amount of feedback. In my food smoothness scale, this pen is a peanut butter jelly sandwich that you left out for a few hours so the bread is a little bit crusty. You can feel it when you bite into it, but the people you invite around to hear you crunch into the sandwich because of how stale it is will sit disappointed as it’s not an audibly crunchy sandwich yet. Or, like, an Oreo you didn’t let sit in the milk long enough. Yeah, that’s it.

Where was I? Oh, right. This is a smooth writing pen with a medium line. Take a look here.

Some lines and comparisons with other pens. Top to bottom: Parker Latitude with an M nib, the Monteverde Impressa with a B nib, the Duke 209 with an M nib, a Frontier with an M nib, the Metropolitan with the M nib, and the Frontier with the B nib that I like so much.

Some lines and comparisons with other pens. Top to bottom: Parker Latitude with an M nib (I know the Latitude line always looks bold. Trust me, I’ll deal with it in the Latitude review), the Monteverde Impressa with a B nib, the Duke 209 with an M nib, a Frontier with an M nib, the Metropolitan with the M nib, and the Frontier with the B nib that I like so much.

The pen doesn’t skip, even while I was writing a five page letter today, and it has no line variation, either. This thing’s as unchanging as an interstate in Nebraska. To some, this may mean that the pen has no “soul.” To me, the soul is in the neato colour I got. The writing is very good. It’s not perfect, but it’s really good.

It strikes me as I write this that when a pen is a good writer, there’s not much to say, but I can go on for hours about a bad one. Huh.

Value: 10/10. It’s $15, and that’s cheap…but it’s not as cheap as some of those Chinese pens out there that write pretty well. The extra value is added beyond the $7 of a good Chinese pen when you look at all the attention to detail and the almost robotic stability of the line. This is it, man.

Conclusion: 9.1/10. The pen performs really well, it looks good (in my colour), it’s built well, it’s well detailed, it’s not hard to refill, and it’s cheap. There are just a few niggling issues that keep this pen from being a perfect one.

 

Here’s some bad writing.

metrosampleMy god, this was a long review.

Duke 961 review

 

I was really tired when I wrote this review and when I wrote the writing sample. My god. I mean, even right now it’s 6 AM. What am I doing up? This is silly. Oh well. I bought the 961 pen from Teri at Peyton Street Pens. PSP’s one of the good ones. If at all possible, you should totally buy stuff from there. I just got another pen from there today! Some kind of school pen they sell in train stations in Germany.

Aren’t they adorable?

The added benefit is that it comes with an eradicator stick, so I don’t have to buy them from Todd at isellpens and pay $3 in shipping. Where was I?

Oh right, the Duke 961. I like me some Duke pens. They’re a Chinese manufacturer of fountain pens that claim they have an R&D department in Germany. I don’t know if this is true, but some of the reports from their higher priced ($60 or so) pens are very good, so I might believe it. Despite this, even their cheaper pens are the best of the Chinese cheap pens, in my opinion, in almost every regard. I have a love affair with the Duke 209, yet to be reviewed, for example. This Duke, however, is not my favourite.

By the way, remember how I said that that Baoer pen was the best performing Chinese pen I owned? It’s kind of true true, but it got lucky, and it’s only because sometimes the Dukes can be temperamental, whereas the Baoer will take anything I throw at it. Anyway, let’s get into the review a little bit.

Performance: 7/10. The pen writes smooth, when it writes. It’s not like the Urban I complained about earlier which skips. I mean, when the 961 is writing, it keeps writing. But, it’s stupidly easy to clog and dries out quickly. This is mostly not a problem if you use the pen every day. But, if you keep it in a pen case filled with Diamine Oxblood to use on special occasions, don’t expect this bad lad to start up. Like, ever. But, once it starts up, no skipping.

It hits a medium-fine line, which is nice. A very inoffensive line, nothing worth noting there. I can write with the pen for only a little while because it’s painfully small. 🙁

We've got some lines from some pens. Looks like the Nemosine Singularity with a B nib on the bottom, some other pen I forgot above that, a Duke 209, the 961 I'm reviewing, and the pen I hold all other pens up to, the Parker Frontier with the broad nib, made in America. WOO!

We’ve got some lines from some pens. Looks like the Nemosine Singularity with a B nib on the bottom, some other pen I forgot above that, a Duke 209, the 961 I’m reviewing, and the pen I hold all other pens up to, the Parker Frontier with the broad nib, made in America. WOO!

Appearance: 7/10. My favourite part about this pen’s appearance is its nib. It’s got pretty pictures on it, and it’s small, just like the pen. And the feed that feeds it (heh) is small, too. Adorable! The thing isn’t stamped with the clarity and definition of a western manufacturer, but let’s be honest: who looks that closely? I sure as hell don’t. In fact, if you open the pen and shove the cap in your pocket, it’s a good looking pen.

Dude, click this for a MASSIVE version of the picture. It's pretty intense. But, you see those flowery things all over the nib? Isn't that nice? It makes it look like a pretty high end pen if it didn't say IRIDIUM POINT GERMANY on it. But, you're not going to be impressing a pen expert with this thing anyway, you're looking to impress the guy across the table. And he thinks it's cool.

Dude, click this for a MASSIVE version of the picture. It’s pretty intense. But, you see those flowery things all over the nib? Isn’t that nice? It makes it look like a pretty high end pen if it didn’t say IRIDIUM POINT GERMANY on it. But, you’re not going to be impressing a pen expert with this thing anyway, you’re looking to impress the guy across the table. And he thinks it’s cool.

So we can see here that it’s got great looks to the layman. Until the layman sees the cap. Holy jeebus. That is not even Pilot Varsity level quality there. The edge of the cap sharpens to a point with no barrier or edging, and is unlined and unpainted inside. You can see it clearly in the above photo.

Now, when I first saw that, I thought I was making too big a deal out of it when it was so jarring to me, since it’s such a little thing. But then I looked at some of my other pens.

Here we've got a 25 cent piece, the Duke cap, a cap from a Nemosine Fission, a cap from a Duke 960 Crane pen, an Impressa cap, and a Baoer 79 Starwalker cap. What do all the ones on the right have in common? They don't suck.

Here we’ve got a 25 cent piece, the Duke cap, a cap from a Nemosine Fission, a cap from a Duke 960 Crane pen, an Impressa cap, and a Baoer 79 Starwalker cap. What do all the ones on the right have in common? They don’t suck.

The other pens are smoothed on the edge, are painted inside, or have a plastic cap within that keeps you from looking at that ugly interior sheet metal they bought from the lowest bidder. The Nemosine Fission costs $30 and the Impressa costs $40, sure, but the 960 is the same price and the Baoer 79 cost me $3.19 on eBay including shipping. If they can do it, why can’t Duke do it on their other pen? Maybe dump some of the cheap “DUKE” engraving on the clip like on the 960 and put a little effort into making the pen not look like I did it in my basement. Anyway…

Build Quality: 5/10. At this price, it’s mediocre. The clip works, the pen doesn’t fall apart, but there’re little things that will remind you of cheapness. For example, the nib metal is so thin that it’ll get bent by a strong fart at 3 yards and won’t go back to its original shape. And, somehow, every single time you go to open the pen the barrel is a half turn off from being tight onto the section. And that’s in addition to the rough cap. And the pen is stupid tiny. It’s nigh on unusable for a large hand without posting, and I don’t post because I’m a good person. But, it’s all metal and it has a weight roughly equal to the larger Parker Frontier, with metal threads! Even though those threads don’t keep the pen closed.

Here we have...gosh, this thumbnail is small. Well, on top it's a Parker Frontier, followed by that one Hero I use a lot, then a Baoer 79, then the Duke 960, then...oh wait...THAT'S the Hero I use a lot. Whatever. Then the Duke in question leaning on that intrusive quarter. It's very small.

Here we have…gosh, this thumbnail is small. Well, on top it’s a Parker Frontier, followed by that one Hero I use a lot, then a Baoer 79, then the Duke 960, then…oh wait…THAT’S the Hero I use a lot. Whatever. Then the Duke in question leaning on that intrusive quarter. It’s very small.

The pen in its natural habitat: unscrewed.

The pen in its natural habitat: unscrewed.

Refilling and Maintenance: 7/10. It’s got a hole for an international converter/cartridge but a weird ass nib and a weird ass feed. Boom. 7/10.

Value: 6/10. It’s a meh pen at $12. It would be great at $8. I know $4 doesn’t seem like much, but imagine if a Parker Sonnet started at $150 instead of $100. It’s a whole different ballgame there. I just feel like the pen tried to upmarket itself from a cheaper pen, like a 209, but went classy in all the wrong spots.

Conclusion: 5/10. Still not an average. Ain’t nothing special about this pen. Get the 960 or a Parker Vector for this price.

 

Here’s some terrible writing.

dukesample

Parker Urban Review

The pen. Look at that curvy mofo.

I got this pen for Christmas as part of a kit. It was neat! I got the matte black gold trim version as shown here, but it also was available in a few other colours and trims. Here’s what the Parker webpage has.

Look at those prices, by the way. HOLY MOLY. Remember, this is a pen whose functional parts are directly from a $10 pen.

Look at those prices, by the way. HOLY MOLY. Remember, this is a pen whose functional parts are directly from a $10 pen.

I’ll admit, those prices are high, but boy howdy is that a swell looking pen. Once the Chinese companies steal this design, I’m definitely going to buy a few of those. I hope they do, at least. And look at that one on the right, using the blue/gold contrast.

Gold/blue contrast. Google it.

These are some good looking pens, I’ll tell you. Yes, you have eyes. But, my taste is at least twice as good as yours, so you must admit, I am objectively correct in that these are good looking pens. Some of the best looking. Ever. All right, I’ll try to be more objective. Anyway, this is one of Parker’s new pens, slotting in above the IM and below the Sonnet. For more (outdated) information on Parker pens, you should totally hit up Parkerpens.net. It’s a great site. Anyway, onto the quick review.

Performance: 6/10. Yeah, the worst comes first. Those kind of rhyme. That’s neat. Anyway, this pen, you might think, is a Parker. Of COURSE it has some problems performing. To you, I say FEH. I have quite a few Parkers and this is the only one that has issues. What are its issues? It’s a hard starter and it skips. These may seem minor to you, and other reviewers also consider these things minor, but let’s be honest: for $40, you could buy FOUR HUNDRED ballpoints from the dollar store. And you know what? They’re probably not going to be hard starters. Under zero circumstances should we as pen buyers tolerate any skipping of any kind, either. The pen has ONE JOB. TO WRITE. If it skips, then it’s failing at its job. If it skips once, it’s failed.

Of course, this isn’t that unlike real life. If the pen is flaky, but really good when you get it to work, then some things can be looked over. Yeah, the lawn mowing service may have run over your cat, but boy is that lawn looking nice, eh? The HOA best manicured yard awards don’t just get thrown around willy nilly. You can get a new cat, but best yard from 2009 to 2011 is forever. Besides, Fluffy always peed on the carpet anyway, and she chewed up that coaxial cable. She basically had it coming.

In much the same way, even though every five lines you’ll have to rewrite a letter or two with this pen, the interim moments are very nice. The pen is smoother than a sloppy joe, but not quite as smooth as butter yet. In the world of food smoothness, that’s pretty good. A little bit smoother than a hard boiled egg sandwich on wheat, BUT, not quite as smooth as a hard boiled egg sandwich with thinly cut slices on white. I think the analogy is pretty clear. What were we talking about? Oh shit, yeah.

Pens. Anyway, the line this guy writes is ostensibly a medium, but it’s a pretty broad medium. As was seen in the Eight Horses review, this writes a line a little bit wider than a broad Monteverde nib, but definitely not as broad as a Frontier broad. It’s also built well enough that I have written pages and pages of notes at a time and there has been zero cramping or fatigue in my hands. This pen eats up the pages. RIP in peace Clairefontaine notebook.

The Urban with a few buddies, as labelled. Those S things that everyone does in these reviews. Is that to show line variation in angle of the writing? I don't really know. I did em anyway.

The Urban with a few buddies, as labelled. Those S things that everyone does in these reviews. Is that to show line variation in angle of the writing? I don’t really know. I did ’em anyway.

Appearance: 8/10. Despite me thinking that this is one of the hippest looking pens to come out of Parker, some have called this pen girly. Those people are wrong. This pen looks awesome. However, it doesn’t get a ten for two reasons.

The first is the lack of flighter. THIS IS A PARKER. I REQUIRE A GOLD TRIM STAINLESS STEEL PEN. I have some pretty low end Parkers that are still flighters. I mean, the 45 was, the Latitude was, the Inflection was, the Frontier was. For serial, dude. I love them things. I feel like they might be throwing away a little bit of money not putting that option in for this pen.

It's best to look at this through a mirror, lest you be turned to stone. Okay, it's not Medusa bad, but it's definitely 2001 Lexus SC430 bad.

It’s best to look at this through a mirror, lest you be turned to stone.
Okay, it’s not Medusa bad, but it’s definitely 2001 Lexus SC430 bad.

The second is that clip. I hate that clip. I also hate the Latitude and Inflection clips, but less so. What is this crap? That no longer looks like an arrow. The fletching must be farther out than the shaft. Here, it’s a smooth transition: a nice curved line. Don’t give me that crap. The fletching should be easily distinguishable in silhouette. I know these are minor quibbles, but Parker has screwed itself by being so fabulously well designed in the past that such a major departure from that is annoying to me. I don’t know. I might be crazy.

But those lines make up for these problems I have and keep the score high. You know what this pen reminds me of? Christina Hendricks.

Exactly the same.

Exactly the same.

You may notice that most of the pictures have the top off if you google it. The pen, I mean. You sicko. The pen’s press pictures have the top off and posted on the back. It does look better that way, I’ll admit. But, I don’t think it works well posted: too top heavy. That is another reason the appearance is only an eight and not a ten.

Build Quality: 8/10. The pen’s solid. Rock solid. A good rock, like granite, or basalt. Not slate or shale. That stuff breaks like it’s going out of style. You drop shale onto your floor, you’re going to be sweeping up Devonian age dust off your linoleum for the next five weeks. I actually have dropped this pen from my pen cupboard, about six feet up, and guess what? It’s still fine.

It’s also in that sweet spot for weight, at about 30 grams. Probably ten of that is in the cap, but still. When not posted, the pen is perfectly balanced, which is nice. The converter (a slide converter) sits in there snugly, and so do the cartridges, which I often refill for their extremely generous size. The problems arise in the grip section, which feels like cheap plastic, and the threads on the body, which also appear to be plastic. At this price point, especially when skimping on the nib, we should expect some more metal in the important parts of the pen, or at least a nice rubberized grip section, like a Parker Reflex, which is half the price. Come on, Parker.

The section in question. Surprisingly comfortable, but only in the way that occasionally you get a good folding chair at an outdoor social gathering.

The section in question. Surprisingly comfortable, but only in the way that occasionally you get a good folding chair at an outdoor social gathering.

My tastes are varied and colourful.  From top to bottom we have these: a Hero 68, a Duke 209, a Jinhao X450, some Chinese pen I bought cause it looks like a Sonnet for $1 (It's an unwieldy name, to be sure. They should rebrand that), the Urban about which this review was written, and a quarter from the nineteen seventies.

My tastes are varied and colourful.
From top to bottom we have these: a Hero 68, a Duke 209, a Jinhao X450, some Chinese pen I bought cause it looks like a Sonnet for $1 (It’s an unwieldy name, to be sure. They should rebrand that), the Urban about which this review was written, and a quarter from the nineteen seventies.

Refilling and Maintenance: 6/10. Parker supplies a converter with the pen, and one can buy Parker cartridges and bottled Quink at virtually any office supply store around. It’s not hard at all to find them. Because of this, I’ll say that refilling is pretty good. The cartridges are huge, too, so that’s nice. You can go a long time without putting in a new one, even using this pen exclusively. However, due to the small nib, it’s very difficult to take the feed out, and you can’t replace it or the nib but with other Parker nib sections. Since most people don’t bother doing this, I’m going to say that this is still on the good side of middle of the road. No concern here at all, but it’s nothing to write home about.

Look at the size of the Parker cartridges! This isn't Parker ink, either. I filled it up with Hero ink with a blunt syringe. Not bad. Works well. Don't need to change ink for weeks.

Look at the size of the Parker cartridges! This isn’t Parker ink, either. I filled it up with Hero ink with a blunt syringe. Not bad. Works well. Don’t need to change ink for weeks. Ask me about my vacation clothes washing strategy later.

Value: 4/10. You know how I said worst was first before? I totally lied. This is the worst. The pen costs $40, but it’s only about at the level of a Sheaffer VFM, which is $18. Or, in fact, the Parker IM, which hangs around a more reasonable $20 in stores. These are basically the same pen, but where the IM is more…straight. I guess.

Same pen inside, but the carpet matches the drapes outside. And it’s half the price.

Conclusion: 6.1/10. Great pen, but twice the price it should be. Other pens at the same level but cheaper: Nemosine Fission. Sheaffer VFM. Pilot Metropolitan. Or, if you want a Parker, get the IM. I would recommend that every time over the Urban.

So is there a situation I would recommend the Urban?

Yes. If you really like Christina Hendricks.

urbansample

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