The Custom 74 is a cartridge-converter pen with a rhodium-plated 14k gold nib, priced around $160 in the US. I borrowed this pen from a relative, and filled it with KWZ Baltic Memories.
1.Appearance and Design. Cigar pen in colorful clear plastic.
The Custom 74 is shaped like a conventional, cigar-shape pen. If you want a conventional color, you can get a Custom 74 from Japan in a Montblanc-like black plastic with gold trim. But in the US, the Custom 74 is available in more enticing options — five transparent colors with chrome-colored trim. You can choose among clear, orange, blue, violet and a dark gray called “smoke.” The US pens use smoke accents in three places: the section, the end of the cap, and the end of the pen body.
If I were buying, I would pick the blue. Or the clear. Or maybe the smoke. But I like the orange. It’s relatively subdued, not bright. For an orange, it looks professional.
The Custom 74 is transparent, but it’s not a demonstrator, not even in the modern sense of “clear and shows the ink.”
Demonstrators reveal inky areas that an opaque pen hides, so they can look messy. Pilot clearly worked to make the Custom 74 “not messy.”
Dutifully, conscientiously and strategically, Pilot interposes gray plastic to shield anything distressing. That’s why the section is smoke: so you don’t see the ink underneath. If the cap is off, and you peer carefully, you might discern a few naughty inky drops. But when the pen is capped, the plastic is not as transparent, and a gray cap liner politely covers the naked nib. There is no worry about staining the ink barrel, either, because this is a converter or cartridge pen.
In the orange Custom 74, even the ink in the converter isn’t a big element. The Con-70 converter is dominated by a large sheath of metal, and only reveals about an inch of ink. In any case, because the plastic is orange, you really just perceive the ink as “dark.” Taking into account the gray accents on the ends, the pen sitting on your desk looks essentially orange, dark gray and silver.
I like it.
It’s a professional-looking pen livened up by a little color, with a glimpse at some of the pen parts inside.
2. Construction and Quality. Seems good.
The Custom 74 seems well-constructed. It gives the impression that you can use it daily, and carry it around, with no issues. The gold nib is a step-up from stainless steel, at least in perception.
Now, it doesn’t feel like a luxury product: it’s slimmer and has more modest trim than fancier pens like the Pilot Custom 823 or the Montblanc 146/LeGrand. Plus, it’s orange. But the Custom 74 isn’t priced as top-of-the-line luxury, either.
The Custom 74 is a good example of what we think of as a “step-up pen” — a pen with a gold nib from a good brand that isn’t cheap, but doesn’t cost a fortune.
3. Weight and Dimension.
Weight of the pen capped (with full Con-70 converter): 23.2 grams. Weight of the pen body (full): 15.1 grams. Length of capped pen: about 14.3 cm or 5 5⁄8 inches. Length of pen body, excluding nib: about 10.5 cm or 4 3⁄16 inches.
The Custom 74 is a nice size and weight for most people.
Here is a comparison of the Custom 74 with four other well-known pens that are large but not oversized. From top to bottom are the full-size Sailor Professional Gear, Pilot Custom 74, Pelikan M600, Montblanc LeGrand and Lamy Safari.
And here are the same pens uncapped.
I think the Custom 74 is closest in size to the Safari, because both are slimmer.
When it comes to the pens’ weight, the Custom 74 sits right in the middle.
The Safari is the lightest; but the others are all fairly close to the Custom 74. The Custom 74 is heavier than the Safari and the Pelikan M600, both posted and unposted. But the Sailor and the Montblanc are slightly heavier than the Custom 74, both posted and unposted.
Writing feel, however, involves more than just size and weight, and it’s subjective. I have average-size hands for a woman, write with the pens unposted, and I find them all comfortable. But each pen is different.
The Custom 74 has a long section, which is nice, because it’s easy to avoid holding the section threads. The Custom 74 does feel a little weighty. I notice extra weight in the section area: there’s a sturdy metal coupler between the section and the pen body. The Custom 74 also has metal inside the top of the pen body.
The Custom 74 is a relatively long pen, and it’s relatively slim, but it’s not so slim that it feels like a Bic Stick or anything. It’s slim like the Lamy Safari. But bear in mind that the Safari is a fairly large pen.
I feel like we often lose sight of that, perhaps because modern fountain pens are larger on aveerage. For fun, here is a photo of the Custom 74 with a classic Parker 75.
So, yeah, the Custom 74 is a good-sized pen. It’s also one I think should work for a wide range of people.
4. Nib and Performance. Perfection.
I love a Pilot fine nib, and the Custom 74 is no exception. For me, the Pilot is pretty much the perfect fine nib, with a perfect (narrow) width and perfect writing characteristics. It’s a firm nib, not flexy or soft. It feels fairly smooth. You can write quickly and with a light touch. Its line is precise.
The feed puts down a moderate amount of ink, so the pen matches well with a lubricated, wetter ink — like an ink from Pilot, Sailor or KWZ. Between the feed and the fine nib, the pen handles cheaper papers with aplomb; it’s a good choice for students, or anyone who writes on paper that isn’t necessarily fountain-pen friendly.
When it comes to line width, this is a standard Japanese fine nib, and I say that with pleasure, but no surprise, because every Pilot, Sailor or Platinum fine nib I’ve used has been right on. Subject to sample variation, it’s a general rule of thumb that a Japanese nib will be about one step narrower than a Bock or Jowo type nib used on most modern European pens.
However, I’ve noticed that modern Japanese nib widths are similar to those from older or vintage pens. For example, here’s a writing sample from the Pilot Custom 74 and a Parker 75 with fine nib.
This is my ideal fine nib width. It writes perfectly, too.
5. Filling System and Maintenance. Proprietary cartridge-converter.
At least in the US, the Custom 74 comes with a Pilot Con-70 converter. Or you can use proprietary Pilot cartridges. I would not use the Custom 74 as an eyedropper, because there is a metal section coupler, and more metal inside the top of the pen body.
I always prefer a cartridge-converter system. It’s easy to use, and easy to clean. But I have to admit that the Pilot Con-70 converter isn’t my favorite converter.
I find the Con-70 slightly awkward to use. To either clean or fill the converter, you have to attach the converter to the pen’s section, nib and feed unit. That seems cumbersome and slower when cleaning. On the other hand, filling is easier than with most converters: instead of twisting a piston, you only have to press the black button a few times.
So it’s an unusual converter. Whatever. I have Sheaffer PFMs, which have the complicated snorkel filling system. I’m not going to drag the Con-70 converter.
6. Cost and Value. Pretty good, I think.
There are so many pens, but the Custom 74 sits in a nice sweet spot — all the features of a more expensive pen, at a more entry-level price (for gold nib pens).
I’m going to mention a more expensive pen first. Some years ago, I owned a Pilot Custom 823 with fine nib. That’s a higher-end Pilot; it’s bigger and has a larger-sized nib. I absolutely loved the fine nib on that pen; I still think of it as one of my favorite fine nibs ever.
But I didn’t mesh with the Custom 823’s filling system. It’s an excellent vacuum filler, that fills easily and efficiently, taking in a lot of ink, even if you try to partially fill it. That’s great if you depend on one pen, or use a broad nib; but it’s not as great if you like to rotate inks and pens, and use a fine nib.
Nor is the Custom 823 great for neatniks. The ink chamber is the barrel, sealed with a generous amount of silicone, but you can’t take the pen apart to clean it. My Custom 823 was a transparent amber, not even clear. But nonetheless, inside the barrel, clinging to the silicone, I could see bright, splashy traces of Pilot Iroshizuku Ku-jaku, the first ink I had ever used in it. That never went away.
The Custom 823 costs between $250 and $288 in the US. The Custom 74 is $160. On some metrics, the Custom 823 is a better value. I do think it’s the better pen.
But the Custom 74 is the one I’d buy.
Because a converter system is better for someone like me, and, I suspect, for most pen users. The Custom 74 is cheaper. And the Custom 74’s fine nib is excellent, too.
I think the Custom 74 also stacks up well against cartridge-converter pens from Sailor.
Comparable Sailor pens come in two sizes, with two models each, with complicated names. So it’s simpler to just think of them as small and large. The small Sailor pens (the Professional Gear Slim and the regular 1911) are priced closer to the Custom 74. But they are smaller than the Custom 74: better for a shirt pocket, but not quite as comfortable when writing, for me.
The larger Sailor pens are the Professional Gear and 1911 Large, and they are similar in size to the Custom 74. Great pens, great nibs, great size for me. But the larger Sailors are about $100 more than a Custom 74.
Another comparable pen would be Pilot’s own Vanishing Point, a little cheaper, and with a different, softer nib. I find the Vanishing Point too heavy, and I don’t like the soft nib as much, but others will feel the opposite.
Among lower priced pens, you could broadly compare the Custom 74 to various Kaweco AL-Sports and the Kaweco Dia2. Also the Lamy Studio and the Pelikan M200. All those pens are good choices, at lower prices, with one feature the Custom 74 lacks, which is the ability to easily swap in different nibs. However, most of those pens have stainless steel nibs, except for some of the Studios.
Perhaps the best comparable to the Custom 74 is the Lamy 2000. Both are “step-up pens” that you may just keep forever. They both have an outstanding gold nib, and they are about the same price. I think the choice would probably come down to which style appealed more.
In any case, I’d put the Pilot Custom 74 on a short list of excellent modern pens with a gold nib at a relatively reasonable price.
But the question I sought to answer was: Should I buy a Custom 74?
For me, the answer is … no. Not at this point. It’s an excellent pen with a great fine nib. But I don’t need it.
The thing is, I already have pens with similarly excellent, similarly fine nibs. Among those are a Sailor Professional Gear, a few Parker 75s and even a few Aurora Optimas. So I wouldn’t use a Custom 74 enough. Not at this point.
But I wish I had bought one at an earlier stage in fountain pens. If I could turn back the clock, I would have been better off with a Custom 74 instead of some of the pens I actually bought — those that ended up being too small, or too heavy, or which didn’t have such a good nib.
Hindsight is 20-20. At the time, I was buying pens online, a little blindly. As one does
The Custom 74 seems like a broadly appealing pen, fitting a lot of different people. I think it’s a pen that you’d buy, use and keep as the years pass. That makes it a safer and better choice than most pens in that price range. If you love a fine nib, then what I say goes double.