Charles Daly

Writer

Tag: reviews

Bic and Beyond: 5 Alternatives to Fountain Pens

As much as love writing with a fountain pen, it’s not always the right tool for the job. For jotting random notes, you’re better off with something you don’t have to uncap. Obviously the Pilot Vanishing Point  can do that, but its price kind of rules it out as the pocket pen that might end up in the wash.

Something about note taking or making grocery lists with a fountain pen feels like a slight to the instrument. Part of the fun of fountain pens is the ritual aspect. It’s nice to have a pen that’s just for long form writing.

That said, my fountain pen habit has raised my standards for what writing should feel like. I don’t have to  use a fountain pen, but I can’t settle for any old pen. Fortunately, I don’t have to settle. There are some excellent jotters out there that are cheap, easy to find, and smooth. here are my favorites.

 

Pilot G2

pilot g2 gel pen

The current go-to in my pen cup and the #1 pen on Amazon, the Pilot G2 excels at being average and dependable. This is the Honda Civic option. It’s reliable, everyone has one, and for those of us who move on to something nicer, this was often our first experience of a good pen.

I like it because it’s everywhere. This is the best pen you can buy at Rite-Aid or Walgreens. It’s cheap, and you’ll lose it before it runs out of ink.

Charles daly Irish lifeboat pen cup

My bouquet of G2s

There are smoother pens out there, even in the disposable category, but what brings me back to the Pilot again and again is its wide availability. For a look at its downsides, check out Office Supply Geek.

 

Bic Orange Ball Pen

Like Bic lighters, Bic pens are classics of functional thrift that outclass everything in their price range and many above it. They’re made insanely well and priced ludicrously cheap.

Bic orange

The Cristal  and Orange Ball models have hexagonal barrels rather than round ones which make them more comfortable to grip than the round Bics, that is until you get writer’s cramp anyway because, after all, you’re writing with a ball point pen.

 

Bic claims their ball points contain enough ink to lay down 2km worth of ink. But that doesn’t matter, because you’ll never be attached enough to a single Bic to do that much writing with it. At around $5 for a pack of 20, these cost $0.25 apiece.

 

Zebra F-701

zebra 701 tactical pen

Or the Jason Bourne option… The Zebra’s barrel is made of solid steel, so it’s indestructible. This pen could save your life. It can be used to punch out glass to escape a wrecked or sinking car or as a last-ditch self defense weapon. But it’s also available wherever cheap pens are sold.

zebra 701 tactical pen

This recommendation comes from retired commando Clint Emerson’s book, 100 Deadly Skills.

Uni-ball Signo

 

Japan’s Uni-ball makes a line of inexpensive gel pens, some of which are widely available in the States, all of which are a joy to write with. If you’re not into fountain pens, but want a smooth writing experience, look no further. I like the Signo because it clicks open and makes for a great pocket pen, but for some reason, the UM151 and the Vision tend to write better and feel more substantial in the hand.

uni ball signo gel pen

According to JetPen’s Comprehensive Guide to Uni-Ball, these pens owe their smoothness to an edgeless tip with rounded corners where the rolling ball meets the housing at the tip of the pen. The result is zero scratchiness no matter what angle you write at. Few fountain pens write this well.

 

Blackwing 601 Pencil

 

John Steinbeck wrote about this pencil, calling “the best he’s ever found.” Quincy Jones used it to correct his sheet music, Nabokov wrote with it–in lawn chairs and passenger seats while his wife, Vera, drove—and the creators of MadMen put it in the hands of the copywriters and the art department on that show. The cult following of this pen has a home online at BlackwingPages.

blackwing pencil

If you’re into fountain pens for the history and the heritage, the Blackwing delivers that in an erasable media. It was discontinued in 1998, but you can still buy it online.

 

DISCLAIMER: This post contains affiliate links. All Amazon prices and availability are subject to change, and only current as of the time of publication of this review.

Pen Review: Pilot Metropolitan

This week I’m checking out the Pilot Metropolitan: the number one fountain pen on Amazon and arguably the best beginner’s fountain pen ever made. This is the Honda Civic of pens. Like a Honda Civic, it delivers unrivaled quality for it’s price ($13) and it lasts forever even if you mistreat it.

The Writing Experience

I wanted to love this pen. A part of me even wanted it to usurp last week’s pen, the Kaweco Sport, as my go-to. But there’s one fatal flaw–for me at least–that makes this the five star pen I’m going to re-gift at the first opportunity.

Like so many great writers, the Pilot Metropolitan is severely unbalanced. The barrel and cap are made out of brass. There’s a commanding heft to it, which I do like. But when the cap is posted, all the heft makes the pen top heavy. Your experience may differ, but I couldn’t find a comfortable way to write with the cap posted. Even with the cap completely off–where it will inevitably go missing–the barrel is still so much heavier than the plastic grip.

This has more to do with the way I write and my personal taste than any fault in the design. But if this sounds like a writing experience you wouldn’t enjoy, may I suggest the Kaweco, which you could probably balance on your nose.

Design and Looks

On your desk or in your hand, this is a gorgeous writing instrument. No pen under $20–and very few at any price–can compete with the Metropolitan in the looks department.

Mine is from the Retro Pop series. Accented with an orange hippy flower print, it looks like the Porsche Janis Joplin died in. There’s also an Animal Print series, featuring white tiger, leopard, lizard, python, and crocodile. Those look a little goofy, if you ask me.

Pilot-metropolitan

The presentation is something special. It comes in a padded tin box and a boutique-ish little bag. The effect is charming like “awwww, you didn’t have to do that.”
Pilot-Metropolitan

The Nib

The Metro has a steel nib that still manages to give you some warmth and just the right amount of feedback. It’s not scratchy, but it doesn’t let you forget that paper has a grain and texture.

It’s a Japanese medium, which is more like a German fine. The “sweet spot” is generous, you can write from almost any angle and still get a clean line. It’s not super wet

pilot-metropolitan

When I varied the pressure, I could control the line in a way that reminded me of writing with a calligraphy pen. I don’t have the penmanship to make the most of this, but it would be a treat for someone who does.

The nib is long, like a less boxy Lamy Safari nib. This length could be where some of the springiness comes from. I found the Metro favors a vertical writing style, closer to an ordinary pen. I could see this being handy for a beginner who’s never given any thought to the angle of their writing utensil.

Looks wise, the nib is precisely engineered but totally generic. It’s about as exciting as the suspension on a Honda Civic. That’s the point.

The Ink

Mine takes an international short cartridge. I found this out after canvasing the city for Pilot cartridges, having read that it only takes those. (Weird that it didn’t come with one, I’ve since seen other Metros that do include ink.)

I have no experience with the converter, but the Goulet Pen Company had good things to say about it in their video review.

The Bottom Line

I didn’t like this pen but you’ll love it.

Everything about the Metropolitan is designed to give a good first impression to new fountain pen users and a reliable everyday writing experience to the ones who’ve moved on to something different. And you will move on. To go back to the Honda Civic analogy: you could say it’s reliable, you could say it’s boring. In either case, you’d be right.

 

 

DISCLAIMER: This post contains affiliate links. All Amazon prices and availability are subject to change, and only current as of the time of publication of this review.

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