Fountain Pen Review

TWSBI GO Fountain Pen Review

TWSBI is known for producing some of the best bang-for-your-buck pens on the market. The TWSBI 580AL fountain pen was my first “fancy” pen purchase (read-greater than $20), and it’s still the best value pen in my collection. TWSBI recently introduced the TWSBI GO fountain pen at its least expensive price point yet. How does it compare to its more expensive counterparts? Read on to find out.

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The TWSBI GO fountain pen offers many of the same benefits of other TWSBI pens, without the frills of its more expensive brothers and sisters. Most metal parts have been replaced with plastic, aside from the nib itself, piston spring, and ink chamber seal. The pen is still sturdy and well-built, and the heavy plastic helps it maintain a nice heft in hand. Most TWSBI pens have a twist-operated piston, but this has been replaced by a sturdy metal spring-loaded piston in the GO. It’s less finicky than a twist piston and won’t need to be greased every now and then, but it does give the pen a cheaper appearance.

To fill the pen, dip it into your favorite bottle of ink and press the piston. The TWSBI GO is a bit thicker, so I did have some trouble getting it past the halfway mark in my smaller Diamine bottles. It turns out TWSBI has developed its own solution for this issue, but unfortunately, the GO doesn’t work with TWSBI’s easy fill mechanism in the top of its inkwells. You're just going to have to fill this pen the old-fashion way.

TWSBI GO Foutain Pen Review Closeup Uncapped.jpg

TWSBI pens-or any piston fillers for that matter-aren’t designed to use ink cartridges. This might scare away fountain pen novices, but the huge ink capacity is worth the tradeoff, in my opinion. If you’re considering purchasing this pen as your first fountain pen, check out my Penventory page for ink recommendations. Diamine inks are a great place to start, since they perform well and are affordable.

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Although the TWSBI GO does compromise in certain areas, the nib writes just as well as any TWSBI nib I’ve ever used. I usually rely on F (fine) nibs but purchased an EF (extra fine) nib and have been very pleased with its performance. TWSBI nibs tend to run broad, like most European nibs, and are wet writers in most instances. I have to admit, I think I may prefer the EF nib to the F.

TWSBI 580AL (top) and TWSBI GO (bottom)

TWSBI 580AL (top) and TWSBI GO (bottom)

This brings me to my only true issue with the pen—its grip design. Most TWSBI grips are smooth, and slipperiness is something that comes with the territory. The TWSBI GO grip is tapered and smooth, except for a molded grip at the base of the nib. I typically don’t grip the pen this low, since its uncomfortable and tends to result in inky fingers, but the GO grip somewhat forces you into this position. I wish the grip design was either fully molded, like the Lamy Vista and Safari, or completely smooth, like the TWSBI 580AL.

TWSBI 580AL (left) and TWSBI GO (right)

TWSBI 580AL (left) and TWSBI GO (right)

Instead of a clip, the TWSBI GO fountain pen comes with a keychain loop. If you absolutely must have a clip but want a TWSBI, try the TWSBI Eco. Personally, I like clip-less designs since I carry most pens in a Nock Co. Sinclair Pen Case. The pen also caps and posts securely and the cap relies on a snap mechanism, instead of a twist mechanism, so no need to worry about pocket leaks.

Overall, the TWSBI GO fountain pen is a competent addition to the $20 and under category. Those looking for an affordable piston filler will be hard pressed to find a pen that offers such a high quality writing experience for such a low price.

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Pilot Vanishing Point Fountain Pen Review

When I think of U.S. campus bookstores, I imagine overly-priced flimsy spiral notebooks, cheaply made coffee mugs, and sports apparel. This isn't a place to go to find the best writing instruments or paper. Japanese campus stores are vastly different. I visited Kyoto Sangyo University, for a conference in 2015, and was amazed by the campus store. There were rows upon rows of notebooks, as well as a wide range of pens and pen cases. While this was drool-worthy in itself, it was the pen at the bottom of a glass display case that caught my attention. I had never seen a Pilot Vanishing Point in person before, but there it sat, shining in the florescent store lights. $200 seemed like an outrageous price at the time, but the experience cemented the Vanishing Point in the back of my mind.

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Fast forward a year and my pen hobby has teetered towards obsession. I worked my way up to the Vanishing Point over time and finally decided to pick up a Desert Orange Vanishing Point from Amazon. It's difficult to gage the orange color from pictures, but it's a subtle orange with shades of brown. Since this color is a part of the Metallic series, it has small flecks in the pen body which shimmer in the light. Overall, I wish that the orange was more vibrant, but it's still my favorite color out of the bunch.

The Pilot Vanishing Point's metal body gives it a nice heft. Although the smooth lacquered body would be slippery to grip on its own, the matte black tip provides a subtly-textured surface that grips well. The Vanishing Point is capless and uses a nock mechanism (the clicky thing) to reveal the tip, similar to a standard capless ballpoint. The pen clip is attached to the pen body at the grip area and has two small finger indentations, which allow for fingers to slide into place and grip the pen comfortably. The clip was my biggest concern, but I've been pleasantly surprised by how comfortable the pen is to hold. I am right-handed, so lefties should definitely try the pen themselves or refer to a lefty review before purchasing.

There are only a few capless fountain pens in the wild for a reason; they're hard to design. Pens like the early versions of the Lamy Dialog have received negative reviews, due to dried out nibs, but the Vanishing Point seems to have gotten this right. Depressing the nock pushes the nib through a small metal door, which moves out of the way and exposes the nib. Clicking the nock again recesses the nib and closes the metal door, keeping air out of the pen chamber. Side note, the nock's click is extremely satisfying.

The nib for the Desert Orange Vanishing Point is a sleek black color, but the nib color varies by body color style. Although the pen comes with a gold nib, there's little flex, since the nib itself has to be slender enough to retract into the pen. Nib units can be easily swapped between Vanishing Points, much like a traditional ink refill in a capless ballpoint pen. I chose the medium nib, since Japanese nibs run finer than their European counterparts, and the medium nib is on par with a western fine nib. The writing experience is smooth, although the nib has more of a marker feel on paper, compared to my Lamy 2000, which feels like writing on glass.

Speaking of the Lamy 2000, I'm sure that some readers of this review will want to know whether they should choose a Lamy 2000 or a Vanishing Point, since both are similar price points and popular choices when leveling up your pen game. The short answer to this question is that you should choose the pen that has the best features for you. The Vanishing Point's capless design makes it easy to grab and use one-handed, and you can store it in a pocket or bag without fear of losing the cap. The Vanishing Point uses a cartridge or converter, so it holds much less ink than the Lamy 2000, and the clip grip may be a turnoff for some users. The grip itself is a touch wider than that of the Lamy 2000. The base model of the Lamy 2000 comes in one color, while the Vanishing Point come in a wide range of colors. All of these factors are worth considering, but there is no objective answer to which pen is better. Both the Pilot Vanishing Point and Lamy 2000 are excellent pens for the price.


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Jinhao 159 Fountain Pen Review

Made in China

We see these words on a daily basis, on most of the things that we own. The tea mug that I'm drinking from is made in China. The chair that I'm sitting in is made in China. My laptop, iPad and iPhone are made in China. There are only a few places in my life that have been completely free from anything made in China, and one of them has been my pen case. I can't help but feel that Made in China is a dirty phrase in the pen world, especially considering things like the recent Esterbrook controversy, where the revamped American pen company tried to obscure the fact that its revamped pens would be made in China. Despite the negative associations with Chinese pens to poor quality, there's a name that keeps popping up in my news feed and has even made it to mainstream pen sites like Goulet Pens, and that's Jinhao. I set out to test just how well Jinhao held up to its western competitors and wanted to see just how much bang I could get for my buck.

I set a few parameters for my Jinhao pen search:

  • The total cost of the pen, including shipping, should be less than $5.
  • The pen should be larger. I've always wanted to try a larger pen, but I prefer smaller pens for everyday writing. There's no way that I would spend a large amount on a large pen, but I was willing to spend $5.
  • The pen must be orange. There's no rational reason for this, except that I like orange.

My search led to the Jinhao 159, a large fountain pen with a bright orange enamel. I managed to find one on Amazon for a grand total of, I kid you not, $3.28 including shipping. I chose a medium nib, since the fine-nib version was nearly three times the price. The order came with a month ship time and little guarantee that it would ever arrive. I've been burned by ordering items directly from China in the past, so I had no expectation of ever seeing my bright orange Chinese friend. I was shocked when the pen arrived in less than two weeks, all for the low-low price of $3.28. The Pen Economics blog has an excellent article on how this low pricing might be possible, but I figured that its pricing was just reflective of the pen's crappy quality.

I removed my Jinhao 159 from its cheap shipping envelope and was greeted by a bright orange pen that actually appeared to be well made. The pen's metal body had a surprising heft. The pen has shiny chrome accents that recess nicely into the pen body, and the clip, although not quite my taste aesthetically, is very sturdy. The Jinhao has the appearance of a $50-$100 pen from a distance and mostly holds up to closer scrutiny. There is a small manufacturing defect in the enamel, where the clip meets the pen cap, and the pen has a plastic cap insert that cheapens the look, but these require close inspection to notice.

The Jinhao 159's grip is a standard smooth black plastic grip. It's a fatter grip than I'm used to, but I'm surprised by just how much I enjoy it. Like most smooth plastic grips, the Jinhao's grip becomes very slippery during long writing sessions; however, I'll leave my novel writing to pens like the Lamy 2000.

The cap of the Jinhao 159 has a threaded fit and caps very securely. The pen can be posted, but the cap wobbles too much for it to be comfortable, and ratcheting down the cap will likely damage the enamel. Since the 159 is a large pen, it nestles comfortably in the webbing between my thumb and index finger without the cap.

The Jinhao 159 comes with a standard piston converter, which holds a hilariously small amount of ink, compared to the pen's size. The pen's size can also make it difficult to fill with smaller ink bottles or ink samples, and the grip of the pen is too large to fit in the 30ml bottles of Diamine that I typically use. Fortunately, it's pretty easy to pop the converter out, fill it with an ink bottle, and then pop it back into the pen. This certainly isn't ideal, so make sure you have some larger bottles of ink on hand for easy filling.

I've read some terrible things about the nib quality of Jinhao pens, so I had zero expectations for the nib's performance. I was pleasantly surprised when the medium nib slid smoothly across the page. The nib is hard as nails, but that's to be expected from a steel nib. The Jinhao medium reminds me of a TWSBI fine, which leaves a slightly thicker line than a western fine. There may be manufacturing differences in nib quality, but the one that I received functioned perfectly. After writing an entire article and playing around with the Jinhao 159 for several days, I'm pleasantly surprised by just how will it performs for under $4. Those looking for a better nib quality should turn to a standard replacement #6 nib, which you can find on sites like Goulet Pens.

Although the Jinhao 159 won't make it into my daily rotation, I may keep it in my office, or somewhere where I may need a pen but don't want to risk losing a more expensive one. The Jinhao 159 is certainly worth the $3.00-$5.00 Amazon price tag, and it's even a great value for $10-$15, if you go through official channels like Goulet Pens. It's a great starter pen for those who want to try a cheap fountain pen before moving on to a more expensive model.


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RIIND Pen Prototype Review

Kickstarter continues to be a place for new and innovative pen designs. I reviewed the Tactile Turn Gist a few weeks ago, which is an impressive fountain pen built for everyday carry. This week, I have the pleasure of offering a sneak peak review of The Pen, an ambitious everyday carry Kickstarter pen, created by the folks at RIIND. RIIND provided several pens, at no charge, for the purpose of this review.

The Pen is intimidating, at first glance. It's larger than most of the pens that I own, and I initially expected it to be heavy and hard to use. Despite my initial concerns, The Pen is incredibly light. The body is made from anodized aluminum, which is very durable but lightweight. Even though The Pen is longer and thicker than the Retro 51 Tornado Slim that I traditionally carry, it actually feels lighter in hand.

From top to bottom: RIIND Pen, Pilot Vanishing Point, TWSBI Diamond 580AL, Retro 51 Tornado Slim

From top to bottom: RIIND Pen, Pilot Vanishing Point, TWSBI Diamond 580AL, Retro 51 Tornado Slim

The Pen's twist mechanism is easily the most interesting part of its design. A half-turn in any direction extends or retracts the tip. While it's easy enough to twist the cap with a thumb and index finger, the mechanism stays firmly in place, with a satisfying click. I do wish that there was less play in the twist mechanism, since it wiggles with pressure, but it's well designed and stable overall. The twist nob has a knurled finish (scoring), which allows fingers to easily grip and twist. This design is shared by The Pen's grip and does an excellent job of preventing finger slippage. While the design provides excellent grip, it doesn't protrude enough from the barrel to be painful or leave marks on the hand. I did notice some finger fatigue after longer writing sessions; however, the writing experience was pleasurable overall. I traditionally prefer slim grips, so I was surprised by just how comfortable The Pen is to hold.

I have a confession to make; I hate pen clips. They're a necessary evil but often seem to be afterthoughts in pen design. The Lamy 2000 is a pleasant exception to this rule, but I don't love the clips on my TWSBI 580 nor Tactile Turn Gist. I say this so that the next sentence carries more weight. I simply love The Pen's clip. The asymmetrical clip design fits in well with The Pen's overall machined look, but also serves an interesting mechanical purpose. Unlike some stiff-as-nails clips, the clip is easy to move and has incredible range, but still keeps the pen firmly clipped and secure. I prefer the black pen body with matching clip; however, the other color combinations look great as well.

The Pen is manufactured with incredibly tight tolerances that make for a great writing experience. The tip unscrews smoothly to reveal access to the ink cartridge, and The Pen accommodates an impressive number of different cartridges. It includes a G2, which sits snuggly in the barrel, with zero wiggling or clicking when writing.

Should you back this pen? That's the question that probably brought you here. I had two main qualms with The Pen, the slight wiggle in the cap and the price. The first isn't worth a second thought, but at $125, The Pen is an expensive investment. It's certainly within range of other projects, like the Pen Type-B, but it's worth asking yourself if this is a pen that you plan to use all the time. If the answer is yes, then absolutely back it. If The Pen seems too expensive for you, then I have some great news that may change your mind. In response to criticisms regarding The Pen's price, the folks at RIIND have lowered the entry pledge from $125 to $95. If you were on the fence, this may well push you over the edge, and it should, in my opinion. Kudos to RIIND for listening to feedback and making changes based on community recommendations.

If you like the overall design and listed features of The Pen, I can assure you that it lives up to the promises and claims on the Kickstarter page. Yes, you can even squeeze a sideways penny underneath the clip. The Pen is well designed, durable, and would make a great everyday carry addition. I'm not typically a fan of larger pens, but The Pen hits a few sweet spots for me. The grip is certainly thicker than, say a Retro 51 Tornado, but it's comfortable and won't slide if it gets wet from the environment or sweaty palms. The quality is top notch, and the twist mechanism and clip are pretty dang cool. Considering these features and the recent price drop, I'd absolutely recommend backing The Pen, if its size and overall design appeal to you. Thanks again to RIIND for letting me preview their latest creation. If you're interested in backing this project or learning more, please visit The Pen's project page on Kickstarter.

Still not sure? Check out these other RIIND Pen reviews:


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