A test drive from a drawing perspective
18 July 2017 | 17 July 2017fountain pens
My recent addiction to fountain pens has reached new heights. I happened to talk about pens with a dear colleague and she asked if I also had pens with a flexible nib. Posing such a question usually requires some basic knowledge about types of nibs, and it turned out that her friend is another fountain pen enthusiast who owns a bunch of really neat looking (and writing) pens. I was very excited when she proposed to let me try some of his special nibs. As I did not want to keep these pens around for too long (they are expensive and not mine), I only got around to testing them for a couple of hours, so this is by no means an elaborate review, more of a quick look.
Pen enthusiasts could be roughly categorized as follows:
- The collector. Gotta catch ‘em all…
- The shower. The more expensive, the better. Look at my penz! Owns Mont Blancs.
- The functional/workhouse user. Owns only a couple but uses it daily. Writes with a LAMY 2000.
What I am looking for in a pen
I’d consider myself to be part of the last category, but usually once the addiction kicks in you’re converging to the first one. I’m looking for a few “holy grail” fountain pens that do everything that I need:
- I want one pen to rule them all for writing.
- A couple of pens for drawing. These need to be able to put out variable line widths and handle a lot of ink well.
The first requirement could be tackled with a LAMY 2000, a Pilot custom 823 or a Platinum 3776. But the second requirement got me into the sailor specialty nibs: they can be turned upside down to produce lush, broad strokes, and be used normally for fine strokes suitable for details or hatching.
And then Liesel, my colleague, gave me a Sailor Cross Concord and Naginata Togi to test. My hart skipped a beat. I’ve read rumors about those nibs, rumors like limited or no supplies, difficulties of getting hold of those pens, and of course - the price (and don’t forget import taxes). Be advised: I am not in any way an expert at fountain pens and this is a highly subjective matter.
The pens - from left to right
CONID Bulkfiller - Titanium nib
The CONID is actually made in Antwerp, I didn’t even know we Belgians had our own fountain pens! It’s available as steel, titanium and gold nibs. The CONID has a special filling system that maximizes the ink capacity I’ve ever seen (3ml!!). It’s also a demonstrator and has a sleek modern design, especially with the titanium nib. The nib is quite springy and puts out a lot of ink while writing. I can’t remember if this was a medium or fine nib but it wrote quite smooth with minimal feedback - not as buttery smooth as the Togi below but that might not be what you’re looking for. I honestly think this could be an everyday powerhouse writer because of the ink capacity and the durability - it’s a great alternative to the timeless LAMY 2000. It’s also a bit of a geeky pen for fountain pen enthusiasts: it can be completely disassembled, like TWSBI pens.
This might not be the best choice if you’re not writing on fountain pen friendly paper. And you will not if you’re using it as your daily writer. I found the nib to be too broad for my liking - the springiness might be a disadvantage here - ink needs to dry longer compared to my cheap LAMY Al-Star with a fine nib. I know, comparing a 20 EUR pen with a 320 EUR is a bit ridiculous but LAMY nibs are very smooth and I like that for writing. You can see the slit in the picture from the breather hole to the top is quite broad.
Pilot Custom Heritage 912 - PO nib
The anti-broad pen for extremely fine writing. The PO nib works like a needle and produces very fine, very quick drying lines, especially useful for office paper. But needles have feedback: indeed, this nib is very scratchy. I found it to be too thin and too scratchy to write comfortably and I couldn’t find a reason to write that small. Japanese fine nibs are already quite small, but my Pilot Metropolitan is smoother than this pen. At 200 EUR, you’d need a very good reason to write that small. It can however also write upside down and produces smoother, somewhat thicker lines, a bit like the Cross Concord below, but the difference is not big enough for me to bother.
I do like the Custom Heritage 912 body though, it fits perfectly into my hand and writes well capped or uncapped. It’s a bit boring compared to the CONID. The Pilot CON70 converted holds a good amount of ink and small nibs will obviously last longer.
Pilot Custom Heritage 912 - Music nib
The same well balanced body as the previous pen, so that’s good. But this nib is a special stub: it has two slits and three tines to produce a consistent flow of ink - it’s a very juicy writer and I liked it a lot. This stub is tipped: it still requires you to hold your pen ad the right angle to write but it’s not as bad as my TWSBI ECO 1.1 stub. I’m a leftie and hold pens at a slight angle so this will take some time to get used to.
Purple: Pilot Music nib
Green: TWSBI ECO 1.1 stub
Music nibs are also fun to draw with: they keep up well with fast drawers and have some line variation as a downward stroke is broad but a horizontal stroke is thin. The Pilot music nib has a decent amount of feedback I couldn’t get used to. However, one hour to test drive a pen is a very short amount of time. Tina Koyama reviewed the Platinum 3776 music nib for drawing and I agree with her: this is not thé pen for drawing if you also want to be able to produce fine lines. And it’s a bit too broad for daily writing, the CONID felt snappier.
Sailor Naginata Togi MF
Next up: a specialty nib from Sailor, the Naginata Togi Medium Fine. I have to say, this is one of the smoothest pens I’ve ever written with. My expectations were high but were also met in an instant. The Togi is even able to produce different thicknesses based on the angle you hold the pen at (see brown in photo above). It puts out a lot of ink while writing and it came with a Pro Gear body. The body is a bit on the short side, and compared to the Pilot custom Heritage, not that fitting for my hand. It’s a bit thick capped and too small uncapped. The converter hold a pitiful amount of ink: I haven’t tried how many pages you can write with it but I reckon it won’t be a lot.
Take a look at the writing above the sketch of my dog where I compare the thickness of the Togi with the music nib. The pen is held at an angle of 45 degrees. It’s an all-rounder and also suitable for drawing: the left foot comes from the Naginata Togi.
Sailor Cross Concord
Another specialty nib from Sailor. The cross in Cross Concord indicates a second nib on top of the main nib with a horizontal slit. The second slit guarantees a consistent ink flow required for the broad upside down strokes you’re making with the concord but it does mean that it’s a stiff nib.
If you’re looking for a unique fountain pen, this is it. It writes with (very) fine lines when in normal use with a lot of feedback - not as much as the PO nib but not exactly smooth, thanks to the downward faced beak shape of the nib. When turned upside down, however, you get a double broad line. Angling your pen means thinner strokes but still quite broad. It’s a lot of fun to use for quick sketches. Details can be filled in with the fine line. This pen is one of those drawing pens I can imagine being in my pen case for daily use.
The black sketches come from the Cross Concord: look at the thickness of those strokes compared to the very fine hatches inside the foot on the right. It’s as you can see luckily not as thick as my cheap Fude pen held at 45 degrees. The black writing on the top right page is from the Pilot PO nib and smaller than the fine Concord lines.
The problem with those nibs is the availability. These are hand crafted by Japanese experts and they are deeply back ordered. Importing from Japan could burn an even greater hole in your wallet: in Belgium import rates go as high as 50%!
Mastery is in short supply nowadays, a consequence of our multi-tasking, bucket-listing world. A Microsoft study released this May claims the human attention span is now eight seconds, one second short of a goldfish. Disposable culture may feed the needs of the moment, but still leave the spirit hungry for something more. (Leigh Reyes)
Pilot Justus 95
I spent too much time playing with the Sailor nibs and only tried a few sentences with this adjustable nib. You can turn the nib to it’s soft or hard side as it providers more ore less flex. Compared to the Pilot Falcon nib, this feels like a nice but unneeded novelty. It’s a very soft nib and will react to the slightest amount of pressure you put on it, a lot more than the CONID nib. When drawing, I disliked the amount of feedback when applying pressure to produce a thicker line. I’m not a flexer when it comes to sketching so this will not be my everyday pen, and I cannot imagine myself using this daily as a workhorse, so it doesn’t fit either category that would qualify for myself personally to buy an expensive fountain pen like this (312 USD at Goulet Pens).
I had a lot of fun testing these pens, thank you very much Filip and Liesel! The Sailors stay in my top wanted list, I can’t get them out of my head. The Togi could even take up the role as an everyday writer if it would be fitted with a piston filler like the Realo body. I still need to try out the Naginata Fude and the Cross Point in order to make a decision (or maybe just get all three?). Now that I’m writing this blog post and doing some research, I regret not having spent more time with the CONID. I just need to come up with an excuse to lend them again…
The steep prices of the pens should, in my view, be justified by their exceptional performance. If I can’t feel a clear difference between an expensive nib and a cheap one, then I don’t see a reason to boast with a golden nib and a cool brand.