My Favorite, and Least Favorite, Starter Fountain Pens

fountain pens

Here are my top recommendations, at least one of which you probably dislike. Which is totally fair. (I may do the same, later on, with one of your recommendations.) We’re all still friends.

My favorites:

1. Lamy Safari or Vista. My idea of an excellent starter pen. Also an everyday pen. (Huge caveat: “for most people.” See below.) The Safari and Vista are made in Germany, and well-made. A Safari or Vista will work out of the box, and it will last.

It’s a good size and weight. The cap posts, if you like. And it comes in your choice of fun colors.  It’s a good pen for experimenting, because you can buy nibs in different widths, including stub nibs, and swap those in.

But of course it’s not perfect. This is the most expensive starter pen I’m recommending. In the US, with converter, a Safari costs about $35 shipped from Jetpens. (And a converter is almost necessary, because Lamy’s proprietary cartridges limit you to Lamy ink.) Another issue is that the Safari has one of those prescriptive, molded triangular grips that some people find uncomfortable.

Not exactly a negative, but a fact, is that the nib is an absolute nail. It easily withstands beginner abuse, but it’s not exactly luxurious in feel when you’re no longer a beginner. Also, the feed design is intentionally stingy, so the pen does best with a wetter or more lubricated inks. But even so, a Safari is not a machine to show off sheeny or sparkling inks.

Lamy Safari
Lamy Safari

And the Safari design does not appeal to everyone. Like any pen.

One final problem: the Safari fountain pen is such a big seller that it has been counterfeited. Buy from a reputable fountain pen dealer who is an official Lamy dealer.

2. Kaweco Classic Sport. This is a very good starter pen. It’s also well-made and sturdy, with high-quality construction. The Kaweco Sport has a nice design, taken from a vintage pen. It’s sort of quiet-looking, but interesting and attractive.

The nibs are absolutely excellent, and easily adjustable if you want to make them a little wetter. You can swap in different nib units, even stub nibs, though not quite as cheaply as with a Safari. It is a pleasure to write with a Kaweco Classic Sport nib.

A plastic Classic Sport is less than $21 from Jetpens. You can add a converter for less than $6 if you want the mini piston converter, or less than $3 if you want the mini squeeze converter.

Kaweco Classic Sport
Kaweco Classic Sport

On the negative side, a Kaweco Sport is a small pen. By design, it’s very short when capped, and the cap is meant to be posted to extend the length to a usable size when writing. The pen is wide enough to be comfortable in the average hand. However, it’s very lightweight. (Many people eventually find themselves upscaling to the heavier AL-Sport or AC-Sport.)

Also, let’s be honest: the converters are usable, but they have a small capacity and are, in my view, subpar. (I prefer the squeeze converter, which I fill with a syringe.) But the Sport is one of only two pens on this list that takes standard international converters, which is nice.

3. Pilot Varsity. This is an easy introduction to fountain pens, and makes a great giveaway for anyone who shows an interest. A Varsity is $3, or less if you buy it in packs, and it’s widely available. It’s very much like a marker, except with a fountain pen nib. It comes in some fun ink colors, plus blue and black. The nib is excellent for the price, a Japanese medium that most of us would consider a fine. The pen is a good size, comfortable for most users. It even has an ink window. Because it sold filled with ink, and sealed, this is the easiest fountain pen for a beginner — just uncap it and write.

The primary negative is that it’s not meant to be refilled; it’s like a marker in that sense, too. Also, it’s not particularly attractive.

Pilot Varsity
Pilot Varsity

4. Sailor High Ace Neo. This is available for less than $15, though Sailor’s converter will set you back another $7 or so, when I look at Jetpens. Or you can buy Sailor’s proprietary ink cartridges.

What I like about this pen is that it’s very low-profile, and has Sailor’s excellent fine nib. It’s a great pen to take to school, because its very fine nib is great on poor paper, and the pen does not stand out. Also, at this price, if you lose it, you aren’t inconsolable — in fact, I can’t include a photograph of ours, because ours was lost at school. Unlike many cheap pens, however, I would buy this one again.

The main negative for me would be that the pen is fairly slim and lightweight.

5. Nemosine Singularity. This is about $20 at Pen Chalet (where I bought mine), with an international converter included. It offers a wide range of available nib choices. I got the stub, which is a medium stub, and a decent writer. The Singularity seems sturdy and well-made, not prone to cracking or developing any problems that I’ve seen. It’s lightweight but a good size — slightly smaller than a Safari. It’s available in clear plastic, and also clear colored plastic, always fun.

Nemosine Singularity
Nemosine Singularity

In terms of negatives, I don’t find the Nemosine Singularity attractive. Worse, I don’t see that any effort was put into its design to make it attractive. (Even the Pilot Varsity has cute rounded ends.) The Nemosine Singularity is more a solid user than a pen you’ll ever feel affection for.

My “Maybes” or “Almosts”

1. Platinum Plaisir. This looks actually quite good, and people have said positive things, but I’ve never used it, so I can’t actually recommend it. The Plaisir is nice-looking, and looks well-constructed. What I’d want to evaluate is the nib. But the Plaisir is $14.25 at Jetpens, plus $8.25 (!) for the converter. I can’t justify buying a Plaisir myself at this stage. Were I just starting out, I’d probably give this a whirl. It seems like a reasonable alternative to the Nemosine Singularity. Update: Since I first wrote this, I’ve purchased a Plaisir, and used it, and think it’s a fine starter pen. Click here for my review.

2. TWSBI Eco. It’s decently priced at around $30. The problem is, I didn’t like the Eco very much when I owned one. It was too large, or something, and it never felt perfectly comfortable. The nibs are standard in quality. I had the medium stub, which was a dry writer, like every TWSBI nib I’ve ever had, but it was decent. The Eco is a piston filler, though the pen’s design makes it hard to clean ink out fully.

The Eco is fine. My bottom-line is that I think the Eco is comparable in components and quality to the Nemosine Singularity. Except the Nemosine Singularity is $10 less and felt more comfortable in my hand. So I picked the Singularity. But the Eco is certainly recommendable.

3. Sailor and Platinum Desk Pens. These are excellent pens, around $10 to $15 depending on where you buy them. (Plus converter or cartridges.) The main thing that makes them not a “best beginner pen,” for me, is that they are desk pens, so not made to be carried around. The excellent nibs are Japanese fine or extra-fine — I’ve seen it both ways, but mine are extra-fine.

Platinum and Sailor Desk Pens
Platinum and Sailor Desk Pens

My “No”s

Here are the pens I often see recommended to newbies, but that I cannot myself recommend for various reasons, ranging from “not comfortable” to “not good for newbies” to “dreck.”

1. Pilot Metropolitan. The price is good in the US. Further, I like the nibs — the nibs that Pilot uses in all its lower-price pens are good. But I find the Metropolitan fatally uncomfortable because of the step-down in the section, and because the metal body is fairly heavy for its size. Plus, the design is basic. That cannot be redeemed by pretty colors. And don’t get me started on the animal print bands. But it’s still the best on this particular list.

2. Pelikan Twist. Nice-looking pen in a CAD world. But also kind of odd-looking, for a pen. It will be noticed, and it looks more adult, and cool, than the Pelikano pens. Reasonably priced. Decent nib, the same on all Pelikan beginner pens. You can use a converter, but the converter doesn’t attach securely, which is true for all Pelikan’s beginner pens. The Twist, however, is too large for me to use happily, and I have to think that would be true for most.

3. Platinum Preppy.  Maybe it’s been updated, but when I used these some years back, I found their nibs horribly unpleasant. Not to mention that the caps would spontaneously crack. Or how ugly they were. In a “hell, we didn’t even try” kind of way. I think of the Preppy as the Yugo of pens.

I know a Preppy is dirt cheap. (Bless its heart.) But in my opinion it’s abominable dreck. (Or was — I haven’t used one in years.)

Platinum Preppy
Platinum Preppy

The problem is, people recommend the Preppy, or buy it, based on its dirt-cheap price and its online availability. And I swear, no one buys just one. But if you add up the costs of enough dirt-cheap pens that crack in the cap, or are punishment to use, you find you’ve spent enough to fund a pen from the first list, which you’d still be using.

Every other Platinum I’ve ever used has been excellent. This is such a plummet down the mineshaft that I’m not even persuaded the Preppy is made by Platinum. Were I in charge of Platinum, I’d launch the Preppy into the sun. Except maybe that would be bad for the sun.

Newbies deserve better.

4. Pilot Penmanship and Plumix. Good price. Nice nibs. Feed and ink flow is only so-so. Grip is fine. Thin but with decent ergonomics. And they seem to have tried with the design, at least. But the designer appears to have been either a committee, or Satan. On a bad day. When his eyesight was failing. Sure, these jaunty plastic spears won’t offend anyone used to the look of cheap ballpoints. But they won’t make any newcomer want to use fountain pens, either.

Pilot Plumix
Pilot Plumix

5. Noodler’s Ahab. One of the reasons I grew darkly disillusioned with fountain pen forums was seeing how every green newbie was told to buy an Ahab.

Here’s a counterpoint: don’t. Don’t buy these as a beginner; don’t recommend these to beginners. Ahabs often require a lot of work to get and keep working, which is far beyond a newbie’s skill and will only serve to make them think that all fountain pens are fussy and not for them. Any paragraph ending with “… and then you reset the feed in boiling water” should not be addressed to a newbie.

6. Various sub-$5 fountain pens made in Pakistan or China. I’ve used some. Not even close to all. But all that I’ve used have lacked any element of delight. If they work — which not all of mine did out of the box — they’d be perfectly adequate to try an unknown ink, or as tester pens. But they offered no pleasure in the writing experience. So why bother? Just use a free ballpoint. Or a slightly more expensive pen from the same brand that’s a lot better.

Conclusion:

All five of my recommended pens are sturdy enough to stand up to a newbie’s unknowing abuse, and all are good enough writers, and comfortable enough to use, that a person won’t hate writing with them.

I’ve realized that I think a good starter pen should be, first and foremost, a good pen. Because it seems to me that a newbie needs to experience a little bit of the magic of writing with fountain pens, if she or he is going to catch the bug.

I do know that when it comes to buying a pen for themselves, many experienced fountain pen people buy my “no” pens.  Of course. For many people who aren’t beginners, there’s fun in buying something new, which may or may not work out, but “hey, it’s only $5.” Or maybe you want a sacrificial pen to learn nib work, or to use a high-maintenance ink, or you seek out an Ahab so you can practice adjusting feeds. That all makes sense. Just not so much for a beginner, in my view.

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

  1. I suggest an update. I have a Kaweco Perkeo with an M nib and I love it. Far more than the Lamy Safari / Al-Star and Kaweco Sport I have or have had.
    The size, the weight, the ergonomics, the fact that it takes standard cartridges. Even the look. I am no beginner and I am considering buying a second one, or maybe 2 or 3 more.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great list! Bookrmarking for reference, because when put on the spot for a recommendation I can only ever remember the Safari (controversial design), the Kaweco Sport (“what, that’s IT?”) and the Sheaffer No-Nonsense (unhelpful, as discontinued).

    I especially agree on the Ahab. I’m not a beginner, just not confident about any tinkering more invasive than a thorough cleaning, and I haven’t tried the Ahab because I’ve been scared off by one too many forum threads where someone needs help getting theirs to work.

    The Sailor HighAce reminds me a little of the Parker Vector, which is another pen that’s cheap and cheerful but looks good enough to keep when you have nicer stuff. They’re smallish too, while not being an actual mini pen like the Kaweco Sport. Do you guys have them in the US? In Europe they’re pretty much ubiquitous wherever people use fountain pens a lot, especially in schools.

    I’m not sure how much they cost, it varies depending on specific model and if it’s a set (it often is), but it’s cheap enough that I’ve been known to buy a set because I want the single-pen pouch that comes with it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We do have the Vector, but unfortunately it’s not ubiquitous, and I mostly see rollerballs, when I see the Vector here. Did you guys get the Black & White Vectors? Those were from a few decades ago — kind of fun-looking, and there were some in an estate I helped with.

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      1. I’ve only ever seen solid coloured vectors, no! Too bad, because the really regular shape of the barrel and the way the cap and barrel form a long unbroken cylinder when posted, that’s a perfect canvas for all kinds of patterns and designs. Maybe they could even do a custom-printing service! Come to think of it, that might be a way to play around with a basic vector, dress it up with wash tape or something.

        Are these these the black and white you mentioned? (Third photo down). They’re pretty great!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with you for the Pilot Metropolitain. The brass section is too much heavy .
    The Platinum Plaisir body rigid, uncomfortable for my hand. I don’t remember if the converter is adaptable.
    Thank you for your great review.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. 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.

    Like

  5. 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

  6. 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

  7. 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

  8. 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

  9. 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

  10. 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

  11. 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

  12. 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

  13. 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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