So after doing a number of introductory posts – why use a fountain pen, what makes a good fountain pen, how to use a fountain pen, how to choose a fountain pen – we are now finally going to look at some pens. Yay!
There are a lot of pens on the market that are suitable to sketch with, and there are a lot of amazing in-depth reviews on individual pens. What I want to do is to compare a number of popular ‘basic’ sketching pens in the one place. Each pens I have used for my own sketching and are all good for sketching and writing but have limited line variation. We will be looking at ‘line variation pens’ in Parts 6 and 7.
I do recommend that people start with one of these ‘basic’ pens and really get to know what they can do before investigating the more complex alternatives.
At the end of this post I will be making some specific recommendations based on what I believe is the outstanding feature of each pen. Although I use Lamy pens predominantly I have a lot of great things to say about the other pens – but I won’t steal my own thunder….
I am very excited that Goulet Pens has put together a shopping guide based on my recommendations. This guide lists the exact models, colours and nib sizes that I would choose (eg. I like clear demonstrator pens) but if you would like to see the full range and make a selection to suit yourself, please click on the “full range” link under the pen description. For comparison purposes I have included the current list price* of each pen but please check the price on Goulet Pens’ site. Just a reminder that this is not a sponsored post nor are there any affiliated links. Please feel free to do your own searches for the best deal in your country, but I do recommend that you follow the links to Goulet Pen’s site so that you can read customer reviews and watch Brian’s videos.
And I am even more excited that Goulet have put together a special package set of my favourite pen – the Lamy Joy – the set includes a 1.1 calligraphy nib that comes with the pen, a fine nib and a converter at a special price.
For each pen I have taken a few photos and done a quick test to show the variations that I was able to achieve and how it writes. This is a little diagram showing what I was testing with each pen.
Please note: Be careful how much pressure you apply to your nib as you can push the tines out of alignment. Most of the nibs I am testing are well used and I know how much pressure to apply without bending the nib – firm pressure but I am not pressing hard. Some of my nibs are VERY well used and my normal pressure is very light! (In general you use fountain pens with a lot less pressure than you do with a rollerball pen.) If you have a new nib there will be less variation than there will be after you have done a few hundred sketches!
I will list a few features I think are the most relevant for sketching and then a few personal comments. Please consider whether my personal preferences agree with your thinking and usage – note particularly that I have a very sensitive hand so heavier and thicker pens do not suit me. I will add links to further reviews so if a pen takes your fancy you can look into it in more detail.
Okay let’s get going…
Platinum Preppy (and the Plaisir)
Current List Price* ~$4
Full Range at Goulet Pens here
- The Preppy is the budget option in my recommendations – a lightweight clear plastic pen with labels on the barrel
- Comes with a standard Platinum cartridge but will also fit the Platinum Carbon Black Ink cartridges (permanent ink). You could also add a Platinum converter (list price $7.50 – twice the price of the pen). Please note: If you are new to Permanent Ink designed for fountain pens refer to the section on Permanent Ink here.
- Although a cheap pen, it’s writes and draws remarkably well but doesn’t generate a lot of line variation.
- It comes in three sizes, Extra Fine (0.20), Fine (0.3) and Medium (0.5). The standard size 0.3 is very handy and the 0.2 nib is very fine – I think the finest I own.
- This pen is a great option to convert into an eyedropper pen (the bottom image shows the entire barrel filled with ink).
- The nib is quite stiff but it starts and writes well.
The Platinum Plaisir is a metal bodied version of the same pen.
Current List Price*~ $20
Full Range at Goulet Pens here
- I think the Preppy is a great starter pen for someone on a limited budget.
- The fact that you can put Platinum Carbon Ink cartridges into the pen makes it a hassle-free option.
- I really love writing with the Preppy pens and have a number of pens scattered around the place. I particularly like the eyedropper version – the black ink makes a lot of the labeling on the barrel disappear.
- There is not much line variation but if you want a very fine line, the 0.2 Extra Fine is impressive.
- I am not sure why you would bother with the Plaisir when there are other options available in a similar price range.
Other reviews: Parkablogs – Plaisir
Platinum Carbon Desk Pen
Current List Price* ~$12 Full
Range at Goulet Pens here
- This is a very popular sketching pen because once again it is a great price and can fit the Platinum Carbon Black Ink cartridges (permanent ink) or a Platinum converter (list price $7.50)
- Its main distinctive is its extra fine nib – which is very extra fine!
- The barrel has a long tail which prevents the cap from posting but if you are happy to attack your pen you can do what Cathy Johnson did.
- The nib starts and draws well but doesn’t flex much.
- The pen also comes in a medium nib.
- This is a great economical pen and having permanent ink cartridges is such such a bonus especially when you are travelling.
- The pen is light and feels good in the hand but although I normally like long tailed pens, I find this one a little too tapered (the Lamy Joy barrel has a better balance for me).
- I find that when I have this pen in my hand I want to do lots of light loopy loose lines…a little in the style of Marc Taro Holmes who uses this pen for fine detail.
- Although I have not used my pen a lot, I have already ‘worn it in’ enough that I have lost the super fineness of the nib as I was applying some good pressure to check the line variation. If you want to keep a nib producing an extra fine line go easy on the pressure!
Lamy Safari, Vista, Joy
- Huge range of colours and variety of finishes. You can choose between a clear Vista, a bright coloured Safari, a long tailed Joy pen or a Aluminum (coloured) Alstar. (Note: the Alstar is one pen I do not own!)
- All the pens have the distinctive Lamy triangular grip designed to help people hold the pen in a standard way so the nib is straight on.
- A range of nibs EF, F, M, B and calligraphy 1.1, 1.5, 1.9 – and they are all inter-changeable! This is a really great feature – I don’t know how many times I have swapped a nib!
- Comes with a large standard cartridge (I replace the ink with permanent) and a converter is available (list price $5) and I like the addition of an ink window to check on the supply.
- All pens can be used posted (Lamy Joy is not 100% securely posted)
- Nibs draw well and are smooth. After a little use will start to produce some variation. Drawing with the back of the nib can be a little harder with this pen due to the triangular grip.
- A well built robust plastic pen
The Lamy range of pens hardly needs much introduction as it is the most commonly used sketching pen, and you all know that I am extremely attached to my White Joy. However one of the main reasons for doing this series on Fountain Pens is that I wanted to explore the question “Why use a Lamy?” I wanted to seriously compare it with other options. Although there are other fantastic pens on the market there are still good reasons why Lamys are so popular.
- They are so readily available worldwide with a huge range of options (nibs, colours and finishes) to suit everyone. This makes it a good ‘easy to find’ starter pen.
- The build quality is good and the nibs write/draw well and start immediately. I have used numerous EF, F and M nibs over the years and never had a problem. Note: if you happen to have had a ‘scratchy nib’ please check out the end of Part 3 – this applies for any pen as well, but I know a lot of my readers have Safari’s.
- I did the above pen test with a fairly new EF nib and I was able to get some variation with a reasonable pressure on the pen, but the more I use it the better it will get.
- I love the grip – I find it to be the most comfortable grip of any pen I use!
- I love the balance of the Joy (unposted) – the weight and the length of the pen makes me want to start sketching, but I also use the standard bodied Safari/Vista as well.
- I like the ease of swapping nibs and also find it a good pen to clean (thanks to my trusty bulb syringe!)
Ok… that’s enough. I know that the Lamy pens are not for everyone but I still think that they are great all-rounders.
Other reviews: Parkablogs – Lamy Vista
Current List Price* ~$15
Full Range at Goulet Pens here
- An incredibly affordable top quality metal bodied pen (it is heavier than all the other options included in this post).
- Comes with a squeeze type converter (not keen on these as you can’t see the level of ink) but can be fitted with the more practical piston convertor CON-50 (current list price: $5.50) or of course you can refill a standard Pilot cartridge which is of a good size.
- Smooth great flowing nib available in Fine and Med.
- The Pilot Fine nib is closer to a Lamy Extra Fine nib and it writes and draws really well.
- A good range of different colours and trims all with a classic design and rounded edges.
- I first discovered the Metropolitan pen thanks to Larry Marshall who is a huge fan of this pen and I thought that I better get one since he raved so much about it. The Goulet team are pretty keen on the range as well. And honestly it is an incredible pen for the price – well built solid metal pen with a great smooth nib.
- I have had my pen for about a year but haven’t used it much, simply because it is a little too heavy for my sensitive hand. So this pen test doesn’t represent a well used pen and because it is a little uncomfortable to use, I didn’t have as much freedom with my lines. But for those of you wanting a solid pen this is an option to seriously consider!
- Whilst it is a beautifully designed pen, I probably wouldn’t choose this pen as my favourite design (black on black, what was I thinking?) but there is a turquoise pen in the range so they get a gold star for that!
Current List Price* ~$56
Full Range at Goulet Pens here
This pen was not on my radar at all when I planned this series of blog posts. However a few weeks ago wandering aimlessly (dangerously) through the pen aisle of Officeworks I saw a Pilot Prera on the shelf. Wow! Nice pen, good price ($50AUD) and what a surprise to find it in Officeworks!
- It has similar features to the Metropolitan (the same nib) but came with a CON-50 converter.
- The difference is in the body (and the price!) a shorter acrylic body which is much lighter.
- The pen is a little short to use unposted, but feels well balanced with the cap on.
- The quality is really nice, but the cap has the curious design feature of a white inset.
- I really like this pen as it has the performance of the Metropolitan but with a much morecomfortable design. The shorter length was fine for me even unposted.
- The nib is very smooth and a joy to draw with.
- My major question about choosing this pen is the price – I am not sure it is worth the additional cost, especially considering the third Pilot pen I want to talk about...
Other Reviews: Parkablogs – Prera
Coming next year to Goulet and expected to be a similar price to the Metropolitan.
- This is a affordable plastic pen with lots of great features.
- It is designed for younger users and has a smiley face on the nib – too cute! But it is a top quality nib.
- It comes in a range of colours – more pastel than the Lamy range.
- The grip section is slightly faceted but you can rotate the nib so that it suits your grip
- Like any other Pilot pen this nib is great to use, very smooth.
- My pen came with a cartridge so I have added a CON-50 converter to it.
- I discovered this pen earlier in the year thanks to Helen, an USKer from Hong Kong. As soon as I held it in my hand and drew a few lines, I knew that this was a pen to test! How I ended up with a medium dull grey version I am not sure (possibly the best deal on eBay at the time) but I recently added a Fine Lilac coloured Kakuno to my collection. It is very cute and a perfect match for the newly released De Atrementis Document Violet ink.
- This pen is GREAT – and a serious contender with the Lamy Safari, particularly if you don’t like the Lamy triangular grip but want a lightweight pen.
- Do I need to say that the nib makes me smile – crazy design including that smiley face. But seriously this is a great smooth nib. I was surprised at how wet and beautifully the ink flowed with my medium nib. The fine nib writes really well also (more like a Lamy Extra Fine).
- I am happy to use this pen posted or not – feels great in my hand.
Other reviews: Parkablogs
Kaweco Sport (Classic or Ice Range)
Current List Price* ~$25
Full Range at Goulet Pens here
- A very compact pen with a clever design so that the pen when posted is similar to a standard size pen
- Available with a squeeze style converter (visible in the orange pen) or standard cartridge size. I prefer to refill cartridges than use that converter. Just found out that you can do a eyedropper conversion to this pen as well – so I might try that soon.
- Very smooth and wet nib that is springy – it feels great, giving some good variation for a standard nib. I really love these nibs!
- Range of sizes and finishes – from transparent to opaque colours, to aluminum.
- Optional clip (I prefer it with a clip).
- Very comfortable and lightweight pen for writing and sketching.
- I bought this pen purely because of the design – I saw it as a gift idea in an architectural magazine and couldn’t resist! It is a seriously cute pen!
- But it is a great performing pen as well. I love how smooth the nib is, particularly the medium version.
- I love how well my De Atramentis mixed Raw Sienna ink matches the clear Classic Sport Pen.
- The small size doesn’t bother me, in fact I find it quite comfortable to use posted. I would also like to try sketching with this pen unposted using an overhand grip as you would use if holding charcoal.
- While writing this review I am wondering why I am not using this pen more. Maybe I will set up a minimal sketch with the black Classic Sport and my mini palette!
Other reviews: Parkablogs
Current List Price* ~$30
Full Range at Goulet Pens here
- A gorgeous demonstrator style piston filling pen that is a new addition to the TWSBI range. BTW Eco is short for economical. I don’t know much about the TWSBI range ( the Diamond 580 and the Mini look good too!) but I have been very impressed with this pen.
- A good range of nibs : EF, F.M,B and calligraphy.
- Very good quality, solid pen that is beautifully designed.
- Large capacity ink piston storage system.
- Good starting and sketching pen.
- After a month of using the pen I am getting some line variation.
- Oh ah! I am in love with this pen! There is something about the quality, the design and the way it writes that is special. However, my White Joy is not really threatened by the Eco as it isn’t as comfortable – the barrel is a little thicker than I would like.
- I also prefer cartridges or converters over piston systems because of the ease of cleaning and changing inks.
- I love what it does to my writing but found it hard to draw with initially. I have used this pen every couple of days in the past month and over that time have gotten used to how it handles, and I feel as if I can achieve my normal linework now.
- I am a little paranoid that I will accidentally twist the end of the pen which moves the piston and end up with ink everywhere – but I won’t do anything as silly as that, will I?
Ok… are you still with me? Here are some final comments…
Final Recommendations: Which pen should you choose?
All the pens listed above are really good pens and I am very happy with the performance of each. But just to make a few definitive ‘one liners’ about them…
- Lamy Safari/ Vista/Joy – I still believe these are the best all-round pens as they have so many options, are comfortable to hold (for some of us!) and are reliable.
- Pilot Metropolitan – Fantastic value for money and great if you are looking for a pen with some weight.
- Pilot Kakuno – Serious alternative to the Lamy pens so perfect for those who can’t use the Lamy grip.
- Platinum Carbon Desk Pen – Perfect if you are after a very fine pen and/or don’t want to be bothered with bottled ink.
- Kaweco Sport – The ultimate compact pen with clever design!
- TWSBI Eco – If you want a lot of ink capacity this is the pen for you. Beautiful design for an affordable pen too!
- Platnium Preppy – This pen is great if you are on a tight budget and don’t want to be bother with bottled ink or if you want a mega capacity as a eye dropper pen. A great writer but the least robust of all these option.
- Pilot Prera – Great performing, good quality compact pen. I do like this pen but not sure that it has a stand out feature to justify its additional cost. (It did gate crash the party a little anyway!)
And of course if you just like the look of any pen, that is a good reason to choose it too!
Note: Please take these summary statements in the light of all the other comments I have made about each pen and also consider the aspects that are most important to you as we looked at in Part 4.
Now, this has been another mega post and I know there are pens I haven’t mentioned so feel free to tell me about your favourite pen.
Stay tuned for Part 6 when I will be talking about Noodlers Pens, Pilot Falcon and my Lamy gold nib and more!
Once you have a fountain pen you will have to start drawing with it!
If you would like to learn the fundamentals and the start urban sketching please check out my Foundations online course.
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