Rohrer and Klingner “Alt Goldgrun” ink. Beautiful stuff. Paper is Staples eco pad, pen is an Esterbrook LJ with 9460 nib.
A couple of quick thoughts prompted by a question from @sofaboy, with a title inspired by a Plone album.
Lamy Safari/Vista/Al-Star (£15/£15/£24 respectively, roughly).
Often recommended as a first fountain pen, and with good reason. The Safari is a tough, ABS plastic pen, the Vista a transparent variant, and the Al-Star an aluminium version.
These are reliable pens that you’ll rarely have problems with in terms of hard starts or skipping, and they have an easily interchangeable nib that you can swap for anything from a planner friendly extra fine to an ink gobbling 1.9mm italic.
Readily swappable nibs (most are sold with medium, I have tried that, the 1.1mm italic and the extra fine - all have been smooth, nice writers).
Easily available - I’ve seen these in Ryman, WH Smiths, Paperchase…
Lamy cartridges are a proprietary format, and international standard cartridges won’t fit. (Although Monteverde do now offer a Lamy compatible cartridge - Ryman sell these).
The triangular grip section isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
At the time of writing, The Writing Desk (Safari, Vista, Al-Star) have the best price for these pens with the nib of your choice (EF, F, M, B, 1.1mm, 1.5mm, 1.9mm) and a convertor, should you want one. Buying on the high street is possible, but I doubt you’ll find anything other than the medium nib on offer.
Schneider Base (£12 rrp)
Where the Lamy range offers a plethora of choice, this more basic pen gives you the option of a “starter” (likely to be very firm, and designed for children just starting to write with a fountain pen that don’t know to use less pressure than they would with, say, a ballpoint), left handed, medium or broad nib.
The pen has a remarkably sturdy (and large) clip that will stand up to being used to hold papers together, or being clipped to your jeans pocket with no problem at all. The pen also takes international standard cartridges (long or short) giving you a huge choice of inks.
Takes widely available standard international cartridges.
Left Handed nib if you want one.
Styling may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Limited nib choice.
Lack of a fine, or extra fine nib might limit where you can use it.
Kaweco Classic Sport (£18/£20 rrp (with/without clip)
Whilst I don’t actually own one of these (something I’ll put right once Tiger Pens start stocking them) I’ve heard enough people sing their praises to make it worthwhile including the Classic Sport here.
This pen differs from the pens mentioned so far in that it’s a pocket pen - these are designed to be small in size when not writing, and then (either by extending, like the Rotring/Parker Esprit, or by posting the cap on the back of the pen, as in this case) larger whilst writing. The Sport measures 105mm long closed, and with the cap posted, 133mm.
The Sport comes in four versions - the Classic is a solid coloured acrylic pen, the Ice a transparent one, the Al Sport aluminium, and the Al-Carbon Sport aluminum with carbon fibre inlay - note that the latter two are far more expensive. There’s a decent range of nib choices (Extra Fine, Fine, Medium, Broad and Extra Broad). If you can find a stockist, there are 1.1mm, 1.5mm and 1.9mm italics available too. They take standard international cartridges (short only, because of the small size of the pen).
Takes widely available international cartridges.
Decent range of nib sizes available.
Pocket clip is an “extra” (for £2)
Only takes short cartridges, and you can’t carry another in the barrel
You can’t use a convertor in this pen
Parker Jotter (£12)
The Jotter fountain pen is surprisingly difficult to get hold of - I bought mine some years ago as an end of line item in Rymans. It’s not a pen that will suit everyone - it’s thin, and even I don’t like writing with it for long periods, but it is reliable, starts after being left for weeks and weeks without writing, and you can add matching pencil and ballpoint (swap the standard refill for a gel one) to it for little financial outlay.
Tiger Pens stock these at £11.95.
The nib comes in medium only, and seems to me to write wet and fairly broad - if you’re filling small spaces in pocket planners, you don’t want this. However, it’s a smooth writer with decent ink capacity in the Quink cartridges (although proprietary, you’ll find these easily in the UK).
Inexpensive for a metal bodied pen
Although Quink cartridges are proprietary, they’re readily available in the UK, and have a good ink capacity.
One nib size only
Thin body not to everyone’s taste
Nib might be a little broad & wet for small spaces and/or poor paper
Some other choices:
I’ve lumped these together because the nibs are similar - not pens I’ve used, but my daughter has a P480 that she uses for school. Smooth nibs in fine, medium or broad, and the pens take international standard cartridges.
Waterman Kultur (£12 ish?)
Available on eBay, and from French supermarkets (I got my transparent Kultur at Intermarché in Pont Audemer, for 11 euros). A budget version of the Waterman Phileas, more or less, with a nice smooth, fairly wet nib. They take international cartridges.
Noodler’s Ahab / Konrad (£20 ish including shipping).
Not sold in the UK, but US sellers like Goulet Pens will ship to the UK for a total cost that’s around £20, depending on exchange rate. Slightly more finicky than the other pens in this article (usual advice is to disassemble and clean before using - don’t worry, this is easy, and instructions come with the pen), but with a fun flexible nib that writes nicely. In normal use, you get a fine, fairly wet line, but with more pressure the nib will flex to give a degree of line variation - this makes them quite fun to sketch and doodle with. These take bottled ink only.
I’ve tried to keep these options at £20 or less, but if you’re spending more, consider;
TWSBI Diamond 540 (£42)
A piston filling, transparent pen with fantastic build quality. Takes bottled ink only, and can be disassembled, tweaked &c. TWSBI even give you the little wrench required, and “how to” videos to help. For an extra £5, you can get them in coloured transparent plastic.
I’ve omitted vintage pens entirely - although there are some that can be had for reasonable prices, and would do good work as daily writers, choosing one requires either a bit of knowledge, or luck. I’ve no time to write up even my limited knowledge, and the luck I can’t impart to you by writing about it!
Pens with proprietary cartridges will limit you to that brand of ink unless you use a convertor - however, Lamy and Parker both make a decent blue and black (I’m rather partial to Lamy Purple as well). In international cartridges, Waterman Florida/Serenity blue, Blue/Black, and virtually any Diamine will serve you well. If you write on a lot of poor quality paper, Pelikan Blue/Black works nicely, although it can feel a little “dry” in some pens. Diamine offer excellent mixed packs of cartridges that will allow you to try a large array of colours.
Bottled ink offers a huge choice, and you’re only limited by the retailer’s stock. Diamine do offer small (30ml) bottles, so you don’t have to commit to a full 80ml bottle! None of the cartridge filling pens listed come with a convertor (and the body of the the Kaweco Sport is too short to take one), so if you want to use bottled ink, you’ll need to budget £3 - £4 for the convertor as well.
Personally, I like at least two notetaking pens, with distinguishable colours in them - I tend to use a blue, blue/black or black (of varying degree of sobriety, from the cheery Diamine Turquoise, to the all business Pelikan Blue/Black, or Herbin Perle Noire) with something brighter, Diamine Monaco Red, Imperial Purple or Red Dragon are all good choices for the latter.
The paper you write on will affect the ink, and nib you choose. In general, the Clairefontaine paper in Rhodia and Quo Vadis products likes most inks, and I’ve had good luck with the less expensive Black N’ Red, and “Pukka Pad” products. Moleskine has somewhat more variable paper, and large, wet nibs, and some inks will feather and bleed on it. If you insist on using Moleskine, I find fine and extra fine nibs, and dry-ish inks (Pelikan Blue/Black) work best. Inkyjournal.com has rated many inks for Moleskine friendliness, so if you want to pay a premium for poor paper, you can do so with confidence :)
It is, apparently, national stationery day today, so here’s what came with me to work in the Carradice today;
Some Paper, Today.
Top left - on top, a Rhodia No.11 pad, with 5x5 bloc paper (in a Rhodia e-Pure cover), my pocket Filofax, & plain Moleskine pocket reporter (being used up for pencil sketches &c). Rightmost is my Nomadic PE-10 pencil case. Bottom left is a square WH Smith sketchpad, and underneath them all is an A5 Black ‘n’ Red notebook (that actually stays at work).
The No.11 Rhodia pads are great for sticking in a back pocket & carrying about for quick notes &c. They have really nice, fountain pen friendly paper too.
I use the Filofax for organising both calendar, and, in the notes pages at the back, tasks (using a modified GtD type system). I find the Pocket is better than the Personal (slightly too large) or mini (much to small) for bike carriage, personally.
You might think it odd that I carry a Moleskine, given my much tweeted disdain for their paper - having paid for the thing before I knew better, I’m determined to use it up. Besides, pencil works ok on it, after all.
The WH Smith sketchpad isn’t normally resident in this bag, but I had an idea I’d hoped to work on at lunch today that its square format is perfect for.
Some pens, pencils &c Today.
Most of these live in the Nomadic case - the exception is the leftmost pen, a Pelikan Steno that resides in the pen loop of my pocket Filofax. Sadly discontinued, this is a terrific little pen with an interesting extra fine flexible nib. Its intended use is shorthand notation (Pitman), and the flex allows the line variation this script relies on to convey meanings. This pen is filled with the businesslike Pelikan Blue/Black ink, this, and the EF nib are a great combination for the small spaces in my planner.
Next along the line is a Staedtler Marsmicro mechanical pencil. This is the 0.9mm version, with Pentel AIN lead (B grade).
Then we have the Uni Ball Signo Broad, with white Pigment ink. A lot of fun on dark papers, and one of the few white ink pens to lay down a nicely opaque line.
Next to the Signo is my old Staedtler Marsmatic (0.5mm). I filled this in a fit of nostalgia, having forgotten just how scratchy it is - once I’ve run the ink down, I think it’ll go back in the pen drawer.
A trio of Stainless Steel Parker Jotters is next. Ballpoint (with a Parker Gel ink refill, much nicer than the standard one), fountain pen (filled with Parker Quink Black, this writes a wet, medium width line), and pencil (0.5mm Pentel AIN lead, in 2H grade).
Lastly, a Staedtler Rasoplast eraser, and a cartridge that’s probably Diamine Dark Brown, and one that definitely is.
Some stuff, today.
At the top of the picture are my post-it index tabs. I find these really useful for marking pages.
Below those are three cartridges, Parker Quink black, Lamy black, and Lamy purple.
Next is my blue Worther Shorty clutch pencil. I love these little things, and have three - they take a soft (7B) 3.15mm lead, and are great for quick, loose sketches.
Below that is my Rotring Esprit - an interesting telescopic mini pen (although not as compact as something like the Kaweco Sport). Long discontinued under the Rotring name, they were briefly sold as the Parker Esprit (also discontinued). They still turn up “new old stock” on eBay from time to time. Mine is filled with Monteverde Burgundy ink at the moment.
Then we have my Schneider Base - despite the limitation of coming in medium (or left handed medium) only, this is an inexpensive, reliable daily writer. At the moment, it has Diamine Turquoise in, a colour just the right side of business like, but fun nonetheless. It’s my only “left handed” pen.
Lastly, a Lamy Vista. Essentially a transparent Safari, this is a wonderfully reliable workhorse pen. Mine has an EF nib (again, those small planner spaces), but the beauty of the Lamy Safari, Vista and AL-Star is that nibs are readily swapped in and out, right up to the wide calligraphy nibs used by the Lamy Joy pens. I’d recommend getting your Safari or Vista from the link (I get no kickback from that) as The Writing Desk will ship with the nib width you request (even the calligraphy nib) saving you £4 buying the nib separately. Their price for Vistas, Safaris and Al-Stars with convertors (for using bottled ink) is excellent too.
One of the habits I’ve tried to sustain this year is writing *something* about my day, each day. A diary (as in a proper diary sometimes called a daily planner, with printed dates on each page) makes this a bit easier for me - an unprinted book would doubtless lead me into the most terrible backsliding.
So far, I’ve used Moleskine Daily Planners (2009, 2010, pocket size - they’ve been surprisingly ok, given how poor the paper is in their notebooks, but are expensive) and a Ciak Daily Planner (2011). The Ciak was a bit disappointing, with thin paper that had a lot of show & bleedthrough through for some inks.
For 2012, I bought a Black N Red Day to Page diary in the A5 size. UK readers with decent stationery cupboards will be familiar with Black N Red, who make a series of spiral bound and casebound notebooks that are generally well regarded. The diaries use a 90gsm “Optik” paper, and come in a range of sizes up to A4 (which seems to me to be massive - even I would struggle to fill an A4 page with my pointless wibbling each day).The front cover - I think the “Oxford” logo is new, I can’t remember seeing it on Black N Red products before.
The rear cover is rather busier, with product information, barcode, and so on.
The diary is casebound, with stitched signatures, and the cover is a nicely textured cloth over board. The contrasting spine appears taped, although it isn’t. A red woven ribbon is glued into the binding for use as a place marker. All of the pages (save the end papers) have perforated corners, which you can remove to allow quick location of the current day (assuming you remove the corners after each day, of course).A Sample Page
The diary begins with a page for contact details, followed by a two page year planner for 2012. After the planner, it’s straight into the daily pages, an example of which is above. Note that Black N Red don’t put Saturday and Sunday on one page, which some daily planners do to save space. At the end of the diary (the last dated page is 3rd January 2013) is another two page year planner (for 2013), a page of country information, a page of weights and measures and mileages, a page of international telephone codes and time zones and then 6 pages for notes. It’s fairly restrained in this respect, (no tube map, for example) and I quite like that, having never really appreciated the pages and pages of junk I never use that crops up at the beginning and end of some dairies.
The main diary pages have three months of calendar on the top left hand side, showing the previous month, current month and coming month. The main part of the page has appointment times from 07:00 to 20:00, split into half hours. Below this are “Quick Note” spaces. (I should say that I don’t use these planning features, I just write on the pages, so can’t really comment on how useful it is). Lines are dark ruled, at a fairly narrow 5mm spacing - the paper is a bright white that ink shows up very nicely on.
The amount of writing space is slightly larger than my medium Ciak planner (much larger if one writes beyond the lines and into the notes spaces on the Black N Red pages), despite the Black N Red being a larger book. This is because of the rather busier page layout in the Black N Red diary - I don’t think it’s fair to criticise that, because the product is, I think, intended to be a planner rather than a journal or personal diary.
I bought my diary from Ryman, for £9.99, although they’re fairly widely available, and the price doesn’t seem to vary much between stockists.
Note that I’ve done my ink tests on the “Notes” pages at the back of the diary - I’m assuming the paper quality is consistent throughout.
Showthrough (how visible your writing is with a blank page over it).
On showthrough, I think the diary is slightly less impressive than this scan shows - not terrible, but there is some ghosting through the facing page.
It’s a similar story on bleedthrough, although the scan gives a fairer (possibly *slightly* unfair) picture here. There’s a small amount of ghosting, with the beginnings of bleedthrough at a couple of points from Amazing Amethyst and Pousserie De Lune ink.
I think the ink tests tell the best story of this paper though - compare inks like Amazing Amethyst, Pousserie De Lune and Havana Brown with their performance in previous reviews, and the superiority of Black N Red’s paper is evident. I can’t make out any feathering, even from problem inks in close ups, and for that, I’ll put up with the small amount of ghosting on facing and reverse pages.
For the page count, and the cost, I think the Black N Red diary is a great buy - the paper is better than any day per page diary I’ve used, and it costs less than a lot of premium daily planners/diaries. If you can live with the slightly utilitarian styling (these books always remind me of being at work, but that could just be an association I have), busy page layout, and lack of premium notebook fripperies (soft cover, rounded corners, elastic closure &c) you’ll not regret getting one.
The Staples “Eco Easy” notebook is a spiral bound notebook, with 160 ruled pages (80 sheets), and board covers. Its pages are Bagasse paper, made from 80% recycled sugar cane processing waste, hence the “Eco” title. I bought mine in their Manchester store, for the rrp of £2.49. The cover you see in the picture above is a brown paper foldover cover, that can be removed to reveal a plainer board cover.
For those of you worried about the variability of the paper in these (mentioned in some other reviews) the product code on this notebook is #37537-EUThe front of the book, with a Moleskine pocket notebook on it for scale.
Inside the front cover is a “pocket page” formed from a heavier brown paper page, folded back on itself with a third or so of the lower portion folded up to make a crude pocket. It’s not something I’d use, personally, but I rarely use the pockets in other notebooks, so may not be the best judge of the utility of this feature!
The sheets are perforated, and double punched to allow them to be removed and stored in ring binders.The binding, again with a Moleskine pocket notebook for scale.
The spiral binding is done with what seems to me to be a pretty big coil - my personal feeling is that this makes the book a bit of a pain to carry around, although the pages do turn easily compared to books with more compact spirals (Pukka Pads, for example). The spiral doesn’t seem to interfere with writing on the page, so long as you write to the long side of the perforation and margin; you may find it more problematic if you like to use the entire page. The beefiness of the coil does give me some confidence that it wouldn’t be damaged by relatively rough treatment - you could throw this pad in the bottom of a bag, and be reasonably confident you could still turn the pages after the rest of your posessions had tried to squash the spiral!
The paper is an orangey sort of cream colour to my eye, and the ruling is a complimentary orangey brown, spaced at 8mm. A margin is ruled on the left of the page, at 14.5 mm from the perforation, and 29mm from the bound side’s edge of the page. My feeling is that paper has more “tooth” (the “scratchy” feeling as a nib moves over the page) than the paper in my Rhodia bloc pads, but not to an unpleasant degree.
INK TESTS:The paper handles most inks pretty well - there’s some feathering from Waterman’s Havana Brown, and Diamine Amazing Amethyst, which I’d expect, after tests of these inks on other papers. I detect a small amount of feathering from Quink Black, but only if I look at closeups.
I think the only inks with “unzoomed” noticeable feathering are Diamine Dark Brown, and J. Herbin’s Pousserie de Lune - even that doesn’t seem too bad compared to their behaviour on the Moleskine & Ryman books I tested previously.
and the top set;Note that the lowest green ink is “Diamine Emerald”, not “Emerale”. That’s what you get for writing ink test pages too late in the day, I guess. The paper feels pretty thin, and that’s borne out by the showthrough scan above (how visible the ink is when covered by a single sheet of blank paper). The reverse of the pages show up the thin paper too, with the inks clearly legible from the reverse side of the page. This is a more controlled, less blotchy reverse page than I saw on either the Ryman or Moleskine though, and I think overall, that’s better.
If you like spiral bound pads, this is a good bet at a relatively cheap price, if you can live with a somewhat over engineered coil in the binding, and the relatively thin paper. Do bear in mind that the paper in these pads has been known to vary in quality - the usual advice is to check the product code, and country of origin, and buy pads from the same batch, if you like your sample!
Ryman are a UK stationers, with both High Street stores, and an internet shopping presence. The notebook featured here is also available in an A5 size, which costs £5.99 (and is included in the current 2 for 1 offer, making the A5 book effectively £3).
Ryman’s pocket notebook (as tested here) currently costs £4.99 (although with their buy one get one free they are effectively £2.50 each). A pocket Moleskine costs between £6 (Amazon) and £10.
Both pocket and A5 Ryman books come in Purple, Red, Brown and Black covers, each having 192 sheets of cream paper.Side by side - hopefully you can see that the Ryman notebook (right) is just slightly larger. The Moleskine here is a hardcover, although comparison with my softcover Moleskine planners suggest that the Ryman cover is somewhat stiffer than the equivalent Moleskine’s softcover. Both books have 192 pages (96 sheets). As you can see, the Ryman book is slightly thicker, indicating a heavier weight of paper. This is borne out by the feel of the pages - the pages in the Ryman are smoother, and do seem thicker. The ruling is darker than in the Moleskine, and spaced at 6mm. The rear is stamped with Ryman’s logotype. Neither this, nor the smooth cover look quite as nice as the Moleskine logotype & cover. The Ryman book has an elastic closure, a woven ribbon as a placemarker, and a pocket at the rear cover, just like any notebook of this type. (The brown is actually darker than it appears here).
In all images, the top page is from the Ryman book, the lower from the Moleskine.Bleed through test - the reverse of the pages after being written on. Show through test - how visible the writing is when underneath a blank page.
The Ryman beats the Mole on showthrough (can you see writing through the facing page) and is slightly better (I think) on bleedthrough (can you see what you’ve written when you look at the back of the written page) although neither is great in that respect.
The Ryman loses on feathering for some inks (Waterman Havana Brown, Diamine Amazing Amethyst, and J. Herbin’s Pousserie De Lune), although the Mole feathers more consistently (weird, tendril like growths from the letters, as though the ink is following the paper fibres). The Moleskine is definitely better at handling J. Herbin’s Pousserie de Lune than the Ryman book.
Some closeups - Ink in the Ryman;
And the same inks in the Moleskine;
The top set from the Ryman;
and the Moleskine;
Neither book is a patch on Ciak, Rhodia or Quo Vadis products, which have far better paper - and to be fair, neither Ryman nor Moleskine position themselves as “fountain pen friendly” notebooks. However, the Ryman notebook, despite being cheaper, performs better than the pocket Moleskine for all but a couple of the inks I tested. The Moleskine is worse for show and bleedthrough than the Ryman product.