UNICEF Fountain Pen–the Children Deserve Better

This pen is a human rights violation.

 

On my last day in Spain, I went to the post office to send postcards to new subscribers. Waiting in line for stamps, I noticed a cup of fountain pens for sale on the counter. They were €7 and the proceeds went to UNICEF. I picked out the blue one to test out on my train ride to the airport.

 

I love discovering fountain pens in places I don’t expect to find them. I wanted to like this one. Unfortunately, the pen was terrible. I say “was”–past tense–because I have no intention of writing with it again, and I wouldn’t gift it to my worst enemy. It’s so bad. The profits may go to charity, but this pen is a human rights violation.

 

The problems began when I tried to identify the pen. It has the UNICEF logo stamped on the barrel, but they don’t make pens, as far as I know, so there must be some lowest bidder behind this one. There’s something etched on the nib (poorly) and eventually I deciphered it. “STYB.” It turns out this is a Spanish stationary company located not too far from Valencia. Their homepage is the website equivalent of this pen. I get the sense that they just don’t care, even though their “about” section boasts of their dedication to quality and the global trust their brand has earned. Their slogan is “passion for writing.”

The Writing Experience

unicef-fountain-pen

The nib is built to suck. Its tines are  at such a sharp angle that the pen scratches constantly no matter how you hold it. There is no sweet spot. There’s no breaking it in.

It has a good deal of flex, but that doesn’t do much for line variation, it just makes the pen leak more ink onto the page and lay down a wetter line that’s no wider.

Design and Looks

Design-wise, I couldn’t find too much wrong with it, apart from the cheap nib. This is a pocket-sized pen, just a couple centimeters longer than the Kaweco Sport.

 

The clip is flimsy.  If you’re lucky, it’ll just fall out of your pocket one day and you’ll have to replace it with something not so horrible.

Ink

It takes an international short cartridge and or converter. This would probably make a great eye-dropper pen if it were worth writing with in the first place.

 

If you want to donate to UNICEF, just send them some money, and maybe see if one of the trick-or-treaters collecting for them has a pen she’s willing to give you.

 

If you’re in the market for a cheap pen, I suggest the Platinum Preppy or the Pilot Varsity. Both of these are cheaper than the UNICEF pen and they write way above their price-point.

As if this one hadn’t given me enough issues, it exploded on the flight home.

 

Cape Cod, 2017

Pen Review: Kaweco AL Sport

Kaweco is the Swatch of fountain pens.

This week, I’m breaking away from budget pens to bring you a splurge option: the Kaweco AL Sport.

“Al” stands for aluminum–as you may remember from the periodic table–and that’s what it’s made of. Other than the material, everything abut it is identical to the plastic Kaweco Classic Sport. But the metal  makes a difference in terms of writing experience, looks, and price. At $65, this is an entry into the world of so-called “fine” pens or pens that would make you say “who the fuck would pay that much for a pen?” depending on how you look at it.

The Nib 

See my review of the Classic Sport and my thoughts on paper fickleness. The two pens have the same nib in different colors.

Kaweco-sport

The Writing Experience 

This is a hefty pen. It’s not overweight. It’s not unbalanced. It’s just substantial. A light touch is all you need because the AL writes under its own weight. This saves your hand over long writing sessions.

So far this has been a smooth, reliable, no nonsense writer.

The medium nib feels a little bit too much like a magic marker sometimes, and the extra weight makes for a bold line. If had known that, I would have gone with an extra fine–which, in Kaweco’s case, isn’t all that fine.

Looks & Design

It’s gorgeous. Kaweco over-delivers in the looks department. Even their cheaper pens have an attention to detail way beyond their price point.

The Nibs are gorgeous. The parts you never look at, like the back of the feed, are stamped with the logo.

The AL improves upon one  minor aesthetic issues with the Classic. there are no cheap-looking seams on the body where it unscrews from the section.

There are more affordable aluminum metal-bodied pens out there–like the Pilot Metropolitan–but what sets this one apart is the matte finish. It feels amazing in the hand–closer to the Lammy 2000 than its plastic counterpart.

kaweco-al-sport-fountain-pen

From what I’ve seen so far, this is a durable little writing tool. It reminds me of those tactical pens that are popular at the moment.

It comes in a delightful, and useful tin box.

kaweco-al-sport

Also Available in Denim…

I love what Kaweco has done with the Sport line. They’re fun, they’re collectable, they give the impression that the company wants to innovate and delight rather than just cash in on their legacy. Kaweco is like the Swatch of fountain pens.

The AL Sport Stonewashed is the color of faded blue jeans, with the paint strategically worn and chipped away. This makes me excited to see how my AL weathers from years of abuse. The AL Raw Aluminum looks how they may have pictured pens of the future back in 1925.

The Bottom line

This is my pick for the best EDC (everyday carry) pen. Period. It’s unbreakable, reliable, and the design lives up to the Kaweco Sport slogan: “small in your pocket, big in your hand.”

Whether the advantages over the Classic Sport are worth the significant price difference is a personal thing. But if you’re ready for a more expensive pen, I can’t think of a better option in the $50-100 range.

 

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.

Kaweco Sport Followup: one Issue

My fountain pen reviews have found an audience on Reddit where they’ve prompted a discussion that has been extremely educational for me. It blows my mind how much there is to know about pens and how civil pen people are talking about them online.

In response to my review of the Kaweco Sport, one Redditor (/U/oyogen) pointed out an issue I forgot to mention about the pen.

“Kaweco nibs are often over-polished, leading to hard starts on smoother papers. I’ve tried on copier paper, it starts easier, but still skips a part of the stroke.”

I had read about this in some negative reviews of the Sport. When I got mine home and inked it, I noticed that it was skipping on a glossy legal pad. When I switched to my Leuchturm notebook, it wrote fine. I was so stoked about my new pen that I forgot about the false start and attributed it to the paper. Having tested it on glossy paper again, I can say this is an issue with the Sport.

So, should this scare you off the Kaweco? It depends. If you’re attached to one particular brand of paper, then you might want to test it and see if the nib agrees with your paper first. But if you’re not picky, this shouldn’t be a problem. You can always write on something different. As luck would have it, the paper that does work with this pen tends to be cheaper and more abundant.

 

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: Platinum Preppy–the FREE Pen

That’s right, FREE. Noodler’s gives away the Platinum Preppy with their inks.

Alternatively, you can buy the Preppy on its own for $4.50 or a seven pack, in all the colors of the rainbow, for $16.

As for my review, it’d be tempting to say “what do you want? it’s a free pen.” But the fact is, this pen over-delivers in every way and outperforms most pens under $50.

The Writing Experience

…is awesome. I’m gonna be controversial and say this writes better than everyone’s favorite budget pen, the Lamy Safari. But it costs five times less than the Lamy.

platinum-preppy-fountain-pen

The nib isn’t overly springy but it doesn’t feel like writing with a nail either (cough cough –Safari–cough cough.)   Like other Japanese nibs, this one lays down a fine line. There is an “05” (medium) option but that’s harder to come by. The default is a western fine.

There’s no line variation whatsoever. So the preppy is not a budget option for fine writing.

Design and Looks

The barrel is covered in Japanese writing–at least on mine, which I bought in Japan–this is kind of fun, but it definitely marks it as a cheap pen. Like the Varsity, there’s a barcode on the barrel.

On the plus side, the barrel is transparent, so you always know exactly how much ink you have left.

The best feature of this pen–the one I wish other manufacturers would copy–is the air-tight cap. I’ve picked up my Preppy after many months of neglect and disuse and the nib was still wet. This makes it no more temperamental than  a ballpoint pen.

Ink

The Preppy uses a proprietary cartridge that has a tiny metal ball in it. Not sure what that’s for, but it means This is to break the surface tension of the ink and improve the flow, but it means there’s  a slight rattling in your pen.

I haven’t tried the Noodler’s option, but the Heart of Darkness, that includes this pen, is one of the most praised inks out there. It’s made in the USA and it’s permanent.

The coolest option is to convert your Preppy into an eyedropper pen. With a simple modification, you can fill the entire barrel with ink. Doing it this way gives you 2-3 times the capacity of a cartridge or or converter. The Noodler’s bottle comes with an eye dropper for just this purpose.

This video from Goulet Pens shows you how to convert your preppy:

How to Eyedropper Convert a Platinum Preppy

One of the best values in the fountain pen world is converting a Platinum Preppy fountain pen into an eyedropper pen, and here’s how. All you need is an o-ri…

The Bottom Line

Get yourself a Preppy, no matter who you are:

New to fountain pens? Start with the Preppy, it’s the perfect first pen.

So into fountain pens that you don’t want to write with anything else? Make the Preppy your everyday beater, fill your cup with Preppys.

Can’t justify an expensive pen but don’t like throwing your Varsities away? Get a preppy for $2 more.

Gifting a fountain pen? Buy a dozen Preppies and give them to all your friends. That’s what I did when I was in Japan.

Want to modify your pen or covert it to an eyedropper? the Preppy’s price means your experiments will never be too costly if they go wrong.

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 Varsity

The Pilot Varsity is a disposable fountain pen. I have to keep reminding myself of that fact as I review it.

It’s a disposable fountain pen, I don’t need to go too in-depth…

It’s a disposable fountain pen, maybe I should hold it to a different standard…

It’s a disposable fountain pen, isn’t that an oxymoron…

The Writing Experience

I mean, it’s designed to end up in the trash. That said, the Varsity is not an awful writer. Pilot seems to have made up for the cheapness by designing a very tolerant nib. It’s basically a ball that allows you to write from just about any angle. This is probably helpful for a newbie who’s used to holding a ballpoint pen vertically. I’ve given these to friends who write with the nib upside-down (metal facing the page) with no trouble.

pilot-varsity-fountain-pen

But a nib that doesn’t care which way you hold it doesn’t give you much of a writing experience. There’s no line variation even when you practically press it through the page. Based on feeling alone I don’t know that I could tell the difference between a Varsity and a gel pen.

Design and Looks

Not too bad, considering it has a barcode printed on the barrel. The lines are super clean and it’s much more balanced that the Pilot Metropolitan, which costs eight times as much.

Pilot-varsity-fountain-pen

This feels like a fountain pen, not just a cheap pen with a nib at the business end of it, which is more than you can say for a lot of the more expensive models.

The Ink

I’ve owned a ton of these and I’ve never had one run out of ink. But then again, I’ve never been attached enough to write one dry. There’s a lot of ink in there, I know that much. Whether it’s enough to be cheaper than buying cartridges for a non-disposable pen–I doubt it.

The Bottom Line

There’s two kinds of people who will love this pen:

Someone who thinks $2 is expensive for a pen.

Someone who refuses to use anything but a fountain pen, even for grocery lists and whatnot.
You can buy the Pilot Varsity in bulk. A seven-pack goes for $12 and a set of three is $8. You can find these at Rite Aid and Staples.

 

Pilot-varsity-fountain-pen-seven-pack

 

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.