My Favorite, and Least Favorite, Starter Fountain Pens

fountain pens

Starter fountain pens: let’s get into it. Everyone loves a “what starter fountain pen should I buy” question. I am no exception: I have a few suggestions. The problem is, I also have a few I really don’t suggest, even though they are commonly recommended for beginners.

My choices are based on my own preferences, my own experience and my own tastes. Feel free to disagree. Different opinions and experiences are part of the fun.

For a starter fountain pen, I want a pen with a fairly low price. That encourages people to take the chance. And if you don’t get the hang of writing with the fountain pen, or don’t like it, or you lose your pen, it’s not the end of the world. I only consider new pens, not vintage pens, for ease of purchase and ease of use.

But another requirement for me is that the pen be capable of providing lasting satisfaction. My ideal starter fountain pen can be used regularly even when you’ve moved past the starter stage. Because fountain pens don’t have to be expensive or precious, in my opinion.

So let’s jump in the pool.

(click Page 2 below to continue)

25 thoughts on “My Favorite, and Least Favorite, Starter Fountain Pens

  1. I like your blog!! Thank you for your efforts, and I KNOW the time it takes.

    And AT LAST!! Somebody else! I’ve never liked the Pilot Metropolitan either… but then I seem to be in a minority of one because, I’ve never met a Lamy I’ve liked the look of, in any shape or color; and the same goes for Kaweco. And if anybody had ever recommended a Varsity, I don’t think I’d have used another fountain pen since.

    I love the TWSBI Ecos though, maybe it’s because I’ve got big hands, and I’ve always had the luck to get nicely wet, and very smooth nibs. And if people like them, then the Diamond 580AL provides an excellent upgrade path.

    I’ve had a Platinum Plaisir or two… and the nibs have been AWFUL, but after a little rubbing down, they’re great. But you can’t expect a beginner to do that.

    Whenever I get asked, I’m afraid I always come back to, “spend a little bit more money and get something you’ll REALLY like.” You can get Platinum Century 3776’s on Amazon, with 14K gold nibs for less $65 at the moment, or maybe the Platinum Balance or Cool for about the same.

    I kind of think that we sometimes mistake “beginner” for “cheap” and vice versa, when what we really want is a nice writing experience that we can rely on.

    Thanks again for the blog.

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  2. I’m quite fond of Varsities, even though they are so cheap. I once saw a blog post on how to refill them and now I keep empties around for high-staining inks (like the Noodler’s Baystate series) or inks that might possibly be contaminated with something. Try the ink out in a Varsity for a few months (it won’t evaporate, thanks to their design) and if no weird fuzzies form, it’s probably alright! And if calamity befalls the pen, then just toss it and you’re out $3.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh I almost forgot, there is another starter pen out there right now. It is the Sheaffer-Sagaris. You can get the plain ones for about 25 dollars online right now. Sheaffer decided to discontinue them. The nib is great, the body is great, the section is a little narrow, but it is decent. These also make nice pens for testing ink colors out, and come with a converter. They have a snap cap, and it is snug. I wouldn’t post it though.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. PS I have bought the limited edition Lamy Pacific Blue, matching cartridges and a single Laurige pen case in turquoise as a couple of gifts for newbies. What a success! They are thrilled and I am covered in glory.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. But you don’t mention one of the chief hazards of starting with a Lamy Safari… it leads to more Safaris and Al-Stars and before you know where you are there are dozens of the little darlings cheering up your desk. I’m happy to indulge this habit as I like using a different colour each day and not having to shout at the cat when he pats one to the floor.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I recommend the Eco or any TWSBI over other options as of late, because a demonstrator piston, though a little more expensive, solves some beginner issues. I was initially put off by fountain pens because of bad experiences with cartridges that would dry out immediately or not yield their ink. I like converters just fine, but beginners I have given pens to find them a little intimidating (they have to “take apart” the pen) and no matter if there is an ink observation slot, it’s difficult to see if there is any ink left.

    The Eco, on the other hand, has a very visible ink supply, and the beginner may not be interested in changing ink at all at first (or ever), so just glancing at the pen and knowing it will write is perhaps worth more than the versatility of the converter. I recommend a converter for the second pen.

    I like my Singularities, but the first one I got began to write badly and no cleaning or nib replacement helped. The second one I got is really smooth and nice. Small sample size, but concerning. And when they first came out people did have cracking issues, but I think mostly micro/cosmetic.

    My Al-Sport writes inconsistently, and again, on the basis of my small sample, I’d not recommend a Sport for that reason.

    I have bought Safaris for people, because I like them, but as mentioned elsewhere the tripod grip doesn’t suit everyone. I think they are a good second pen if they come with a gift receipt.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I found myself agreeing with so much of this well argued and thoroughly enjoyable piece. I was interested to hear of a few pens that I do not come across in the UK. I was delighted with a matt black Pilot Metropolitan when I first found one in a shop, but after the initial joy of the smooth fine nib I soon began to notice that it was uncomfortable to hold and I don’t think I filled it more than once or twice.
    My advice to a newbie would be to go for a Safari or AL-star with a converter, but the prices here seem much lower than in the U S, at around £16 for the Safari or £25 for the AL-star. If you are lucky with the nib then it really is all that most of us need. Having said that, I get bored if I use it all the time and like to have some other choice inked too.
    I also echo Jon’s comments on the Sheaffer No Nonsense. I used them all through three years of college taking lecture notes and got through about five or six of them buying a new one whenever the nib was worn down flat.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. There’s so much YES in this post: yes to pens not needing to be expensive or precious, yes to the Ahab being a horrible starter pen, yes to ultra-cheap Chinese/Pakistani pens being better suited to more experienced users with particular goals in mind like ink testing… We’ll have to disagree about the Metro (loving that pen really depends on your particular grip style) but this is a great overview.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. The world would come closer to perfection if the Safari had a round, not triangular grip, and the K Sport was 25% or so wider in the section. I find those two limits far worse than the step in the Metropolitan, and as a result simple can’t use either pen (and I *really* wanted to like the Sport for it’s compactness). But I’ll echo what someone else said: Job #1 in a starter pen is that it writes well out of the box, first time every time. Nothing else will sour a new user than a pen that doesn’t write well.

    If they stick around and keep making them, that Wing Sung piston-filler (698?) is an awfully good pen, especially for the money. Frankly, if there has ever been a great starter pen it’s the Sheaffer No-Nonsense. It doesn’t have ANY of the caveats we’ve discussed, and examples of them that have lasted until today are still bomb-proof writers. I wish someone would simply copy *that* design and make it as well.

    Thanks for the survey. The best part is that there is an assortment of starter pens!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Did you know you can still buy the No-Nonsense as a calligraphy set from big box stores? It’s not very good. Sheaffer’s more recent beginner pens were made in China, and I thought they were decent (e.g., VFM).

      The Safari grip is not ideal, agreed. The silly Plumix actually has a great grip, which is similar to the Safari’s, except Pilot reshapes and softens it, and it’s comfortable. But many pens have bad grips — for instance, the Parker 75. Maybe we are more willing to put up with it on pens we otherwise like? That’s true for me, at least.

      The Sport is the size of the vintage Kaweco it was modeled on. I don’t think that’s changing. (See also, Pelikan M200 and M400.) It is interesting how so many of us feel these classic sizes are too narrow, when they were standard for decades. Even ballpoints are getting wider and more ergonomic.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I really enjoyed reading the blog today. Excellent points to consider. My first pen was a Pilot Prera. I think it is also an excellent pen to start out with. You mentioned a couple that I had not even heard about. The main thing is a newbie pen needs to write well right out of the box. Most likely the person who is just starting out will make a decision with THAT pen, whether fountain pens are for them or not. Luckily my pen wrote well straight out of the box. If you have a pen friend who can tune a pen for you, that is great. Most people do not, and that first pen is critical in my opinion.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You are so right. Quality is critical. And that if you have a friend or family member to set up a pen, and show you how to use it and clean it, and maybe fiddle with the nib, that’s best, and opens up more options. But like you, I’m assuming most beginners are not in that situation.

      Good call on the Prera! I didn’t recommend it because at the time I bought ours, they were closer to $50, and so that’s still how I think of them. 🙂 But you are right! The Prera is only $25 or so on Amazon now (plus converter). That’s a great suggestion! They may be a touch small for some people, and, unfortunately, three of mine have not held up to everyday carry usage, so it’s not the best backpack pen for students. But it’s good if you keep it mostly at home. The nibs are great, and the pens come in fun colors. And as you say, these pens will work out of the box (we’ve had four or five in our family). Same excellent nibs as the Metropolitan (and Plumix, etc.).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My first Prera did come from Amazon, and I got an excellent price on it. It was close to half of what the pen stores here wanted. The demonstrator one I got came with the converter too. I kept mine at home, so no problem with that. Later I liked it so much I bought another one. You can get a pen case for it, if you plan to throw it in a backpack. I always post my Prera, so the shortness is not an issue. Sadly my first pen met an untimely demise. I was going to fill it, but the cat was in my chair. So I put the pen on the desk, and pushed the cat off of my chair. While my back was turned, I heard the nib and converter hit the hard floor. It fell nib down of course, and broke off part of the tip of the nib. I was furious to say the least. I can buy one of their cheaper models that has the same nib, but the smiley face doesn’t do much for me…lol. Lesson learned, I don’t want a repeat of that.
        I know what you mean about the Ahab not being a good starter pen. (nor a Konrad either) Those pens are great for someone who likes to fiddle. You Tube videos on how to heat set the ebonite feed are great…such as the Goulet Pen video. Once you have been into pens for a little while, THEN try the Noodler pens. If you already have a pen friend who can set the pen up for you, no issues. It would make a good starter pen in that case, in my opinion.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. The only reason I don’t consider the Prera is a good carry-around pen is that I’ve had two or three of them develop loose nibs/feeds, which leads to ink leaking into the cap, which leads to (surprise) ink mess all over your fingers when you uncap the pen. This has happened with pens I’ve carried around in my purse or briefcase — not loose but clipped nib upright in a pen slot or pocket. The friction fit nibs/feeds must have loosened over time. Perhaps it’s from vibration, from the train or a car; perhaps just from jostling when I walk; perhaps from temperature changes. Whatever the cause, it’s no longer a pen I’d carry around daily. (I switched to a Lamy Pico ballpoint.)

          Liked by 1 person

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