Category: Pen Reviews

Parker Vacumatic Debutante Emerald Green

Here’s the newest addition to my pen family. What a beauty it is. It’s a Parker Vacumatic Debutante in Emerald Green and it’s in near mint condition. I have to admit I’ve slowed down significantly in buying pens recently, focusing more on using and caring for those that I already have. I’ve shaved down my wishlist to just a handful of pens that I still want to buy at some point, but I already decided that I wouldn’t be acquiring any more pens that aren’t in my wishlist. This specific pen is in my very short wish list, so I picked it up when a friend told me about it.

There’s not a lot of discoloration on the barrel, you can still see through it. The celluloid rings are clear and pearlescent. It has a blue diamond on the clip and a striped jewel of the same celluloid material on the cap. It also has a chevron and diamond cap band. It’s amazing that something this pristine-looking was made in 1939, just a year before my maternal grandmother was born. This pen has a speedline filler, which was discontinued in 1942 because the metal was used for the war effort.

It says a lot about how vintage pens are made. They can still be enjoyed decades after not just as relics from the past but as writing implements. Here are a few more photos of the pen’s details:

Additive Pen – Double Helix

I’ve been so curious about this pen since I first saw it online, so when Everything Calligraphy offered to let me try it out, I immediately said yes. The pen came in this nondescript cardboard box and I admit that I forgot to take unboxing photos because I was so excited to try it. I inked it right away and took the photos below after the pen had been cleaned.

The pen came in this plastic tube, which I think is secure enough for transporting the pen. There’s a syringe with a blunt needle and a little container of silicon grease. I was surprised that the pen was so long. Here’s a comparison with other pens that I have. It’s 6.69 in long when capped and 5.9 in long uncapped. I’m not too crazy about the fact that the cap isn’t the same size as the barrel, it kind of sticks out when the pen is capped. It is quite easy to forget about the cap when you’ve inked the pen, it just looks so interesting.

The double helix is not your usual demonstrator. This pen is an eyedropper, with two reservoirs that form the double-helix. It’s certainly a looker. I also really liked the section on this pen, it’s long, smooth and comfortable to hold. It’s also not too heavy, so it’s great to use for long writing sessions.

The finial has the double-helix design stamped on it. I think that looked pretty cool.

The nib (Jowo) has no logo on it, just the simple filigree on the sides and the nib size.

This pen is 3D-printed, and the inside of the barrel looks textured. A bit like frosted glass. It smells strongly of nail polish. I inked this pen three times, with three different colors, just to see how it will hold up. I used Vinta Maskara, Sailor Ink Studio 123, and Parker Blue Black.

The nib is a #6 Jowo steel nib. It’s smooth with a hint of feedback and it’s a moderately wet writer. It’s not soft but it is a smooth enough writer to make the writing experience pretty enjoyable. Here’s a video of the writing sample:

It was a bit difficult to get the ink flowing in the double-helix. I read the instructions and it did indicate that you might need to add a surfactant to make the ink flow easier. It’s pretty easy to do this, I learned this little trick from Mona (of FPNPh) a few weeks ago and it really helped my dry-flowing inks to flow better. Anyway, all you need to do is to dip the tip of a toothpick in dishwashing liquid, then dip that in the ink that’s inside the pen. That’s all it takes. Don’t mix in a drop of the dishwashing liquid into the barrel. Just dip the tip, screw in the nib unit and shake it a bit. Et viola, it flows! I’ve had to do this little trick to two out of three inks that I tried. The Parker ink didn’t need the surfactant to flow, but it’s noticeably less flow-y than the other inks that had surfactants added in.

I admit that I was nervous about cleaning the pen. When it comes to demonstrators, you kind of have to be ready for the fact that you can’t keep it pristine for long. The double helix design of the pen made me wonder if the barrel would stain too terribly. I followed the cleaning instructions on the slip of paper that came with the box and it worked like a charm. All I had to do was rinse out the barrel (that was easy enough, the ink just flowed out without issues) and then fill it with isopropyl alcohol. The instructions called for 99% isopropyl but I used just 70% isopropyl, it worked just fine. I didn’t even need to soak it too long. According to the instructions, don’t leave it for longer than 4 hours. I just left it in the barrel for less than 30 minutes. Gave it a vigorous shake while covering the opening with my thumb, then emptied the barrel.

I repeated this two more times and left the barrel to dry. There were no stains left by the end of the third rinse. I’m not sure I would be brave enough to use Baystate Blue on this, though. I’m pretty happy that the stain washed out relatively easily.

Overall, I think it’s a pretty interesting design, which comes with its own pros and cons. It does write well and holds a lot of ink. It’s fun to watch the ink sloshing around, I found myself flipping over and over just to watch it doing that, lol. I think it’s a pretty cool concept and design. It’s certainly an interesting way to challenge our perception of what a fountain pen should look like.

Additive Pens are available in Everything Calligraphy.

Hand Engraved Kaweco Liliput Brass

Last year (December 2018) I contacted master engraver, Jay Del Fierro, to ask if he can make custom engravings on a pen for me. I told him that I intended it to be a tribute pen to honor the memory of my mom who passed away a few years ago. His schedule was pretty much booked so he wanted to decline my request, but when he found out it’s a tribute pen for my mom, he graciously added me to his long list of projects. Fast forward to yesterday, when he shipped the pen over to our place all the way from Bicol.

I’m amazed at how much detail these roses have, and that they fit in such a tiny pen such as the Kaweco Liliput (the only brass pen I own). Everything is hand engraved, even the beautiful italic lettering.

I asked for a garden of roses because my mom loved those flowers, and because I have a particularly special memory of her that involved roses. The words “Lively Little Treasure” is the meaning of my name (Alva Pao-Pei). My name was the first thing that my mom gave me when I was born. She gave it a lot of thought and as soon as I’m old enough to understand, she taught me what it meant. Some of the clearest memories I have of my early childhood were of my mom taking my face in her hands, looking me in the eyes, and telling me that I’m her lively little treasure.

I wasn’t always very appreciative of my unique name. Being an extremely introverted child, I hated drawing any kind of attention to myself, and of course I hated having to explain to strangers what my name meant. I learned to love it as time went by, though. I learned to like explaining the meaning of my name to anyone who asked. After my mother passed away, I grew to treasure every evidence of thoughts that she had about me. Journal entries, letters, email messages…my name. These are all precious to me.

I waited 6 months before I got it back, but it’s really worth the wait. I love the work that Jay did on my pen. Now there’s no other Liliput quite like it. It’s as unique as my name. 🙂

Review: FPR Himalaya Ultraflex

A few weeks ago, I attended a small pen meet with fellow southies. One of them had a wonderful collection of vintage flex pens. I’ve always been so hesitant to try flex pens because I’m afraid to ruin the nib with all the flexing. I didn’t want to flex the nib too much, and I wasn’t sure what the right amount of flex was. I did buy a Noodler’s Ahab several years ago but I found it so difficult to flex, it wasn’t too enjoyable to use. During the pen meet that I attended, I bravely tried out Pat’s flexies with a very light hand, very minimal pressure. I was surprised at how beautifully they flexed and how easy it was on the hand. I decided I would give flexies another try, but since I’m on a budget, I decided to try one of those FPR Himalaya Ultraflexies that Kailash from Pengrafik was selling at the time.

The pen’s body and feed are made of ebonite. I chose the brown swirly design over the plain designs because I thought it looked really pretty. Plus, I don’t have an ebonite pen yet, I thought it would make a nice addition to my collection. The pen itself looks really simple. I like the simplicity of the design, the flat ends, the simple clip, the simple chrome-colored trims that aren’t ostentatious or flashy. The pen is light, but it wasn’t as light as I expected it would be.

I liked the length of the section, it’s comfortable to hold and the length makes it a good fit in the hand whether the cap is posted or unposted. The converter is a plunger-type design which is screwed onto the pen. You’ll notice a lot of silicone grease when you unscrew the barrel. I suggest that you don’t unscrew the converter anymore to clean out the pen. Of if you do, make sure that you apply silicone grease on the threads. Because of the ebonite body, the pen smells a little like burned rubber. I think the smell is a lot less pronounced than the Ahab, though. I don’t mind it.

Prior to using the pen, I heat-set the ebonite feed first. Here is the tutorial I used to do this. It’s important to heat set the feed, so do not skip this step. If you don’t heat set the feed, the pen will not write well. Mine railroaded a lot and alternated with burping blobs of ink and not writing at all until I heat set it a few times. After it was properly prepared, I inked it up and the magic began.

Cursive is just not in my comfort zone, but it’s always fun to try something new. The ultraflex nib is so soft, it’s almost effortless to use. Of course it’s not the same as vintage wet noodles but as far as steel nibs go, this one is pretty soft. It’s a far cry from the Noodler’s Ahab that I owned. You can use it for regular writing or if you want to add line variations in block letters. Normal writing feels great on it. You can’t really get very thin hairlines like how you would if you used nibs for pointed pen calligraphy, but the fine lines do look (and feel) like you’re writing with an XF nib. Lots of nice feedback and the ink flow is consistent. If you use a wet ink, the hairlines may look thicker.

I haven’t really had the time to start studying calligraphy yet, but I do enjoy my wobbly figure eights. If the pen railroads a lot, try heatsetting it until you get a better flow. I noticed that you need to get into the rhythm of writing to avoid railroading too. Here’s a video of the writing sample. You can see that the pen keeps up with my hand pretty well. It took a bit of practice to get the speed and angle right, and I had to heat set until I’m happy with how it writes.

It’s important that you’re not afraid to tinker with the pen if you want to try this. It’s a lot of fun, really. Since it’s an ultraflex nib, it kinda guzzles a lot of ink, but it also shows off the beauty and character of the inks that I use. If you want to dabble in calligraphy but don’t have the moolah for vintage flexies or if you want to give your handwriting a bit of line variation from the bouncy nib (it feels like it’s bouncing as you write), or if you just want to zone out while writing figure 8’s on your notebook, this may be the pen for you. It also has a flexy variant but I wasn’t able to try that out.

FPR pens are available at Pengrafik.

Opus 88 Fantasia Review

The last of the Opus 88 pens that I tried is the Fantasia. Read my reviews on the Picnic and Koloro. Everything Calligraphy sent a fine nibbed pen for me to try but I really liked how this pen looked so I asked for a medium nib for this one. It was delivered the next day after I requested it.

Like the Koloro, the Fantasia is a combination of acrylic and ebonite. I love the way it looks, especially the color bands on the ebonite cap. The color on Everything Calligraphy’s site is “brick red”, but on other sites it’s called brown or terracotta. Whatever it’s called, I really love this color. It’s like espresso. 🙂 Of course I inked it with something that complements the color–Montblanc Toffee Brown. Dark brown in some areas, a bit of orange in lighter strokes.

It has a smaller knob for the piston that locks the shutoff valve, so the top of the cap has this little screwdriver-like line you can use to turn it. Not really necessary, though, because I find it easy enough to turn the knob without this. It does make a pretty cool finial.

The cap can be screwed to the end of the barrel if you want to post it. I think it’s a tad too short if unposted, as you can see below.

The length of the pen when posted is about 5.7 inches. When unposted, it’s about 4 inches. The section is smaller and less comfortable compared to Picnic and Koloro. It’s not that it’s uncomfortable to hold, but the sections of Picnic and Koloro are longer and would be more comfortable especially for people with bigger hands.

Like the Picnic and Koloro, this comes with a glass pipette-thingamajig, which I find less convenient to use than a syringe.

I like the clip on this model. It’s just square and short and stumpy. It also slips through the pen loop easily, like the clips on the Picnic and Koloro. The clip is attached to the cap with a thin chrome-colored band, I’m happy that’s the only chrome-colored material on the pen’s build.

The nib is the same as the other two models and it’s a very smooth medium, steel nib. I quite enjoy writing with it. It has a smidge of feedback and it’s firm, not too springy. I think that the medium nib is a lot more pleasant to use than the fine nib, but of course I’ve always enjoyed medium nibs more. Here is a writing sample. The ink color is a perfect match. <3

I picked this pen over the Picnic and Koloro because I think the size is so cute, and it looks different from all my other pens. The striped cap, the color accents, the combination of materials, these are unique to it. I don’t consider myself a pen collector by any stretch, but this one’s a great addition to my daily carry. It is a smooth writer and (being an eyedropper), it carries a lot of ink. Some people might not like the fact that you need to screw the cap to post it, but I don’t really mind at all. Would I recommend it? Definitely.

Opus 88 Koloro Review

Last week I tried three different kinds of Opus 88 pens. Here’s the review I wrote for the Opus 88 Picnic. Today I’m going to write a short review for the Koloro. The Koloro and the Fantasia both use acrylic and ebonite in their design. I understand that some people don’t like the combination, but I find the textural variation to be very pleasant. I like the way that it looks. Like the Picnic and Fantasia, the Koloro’s acrylic is pretty thick and nicely polished. It doesn’t feel too plasticky or thin.

I like the shape of the pen, it’s sort of flat at the ends, but has a little point or flair to it so that it’s not completely flat. The barrel and the cap has a slight swell to them. The length of the pen is about 5.5 inches capped and almost 5 inches uncapped. It has chrome trims, very simple and unassuming.

The clip is the same as the Picnic’s. It snaps right through and pulls off a pen loop without any problems. The translucent strip of acrylic on the cap shows a silhouette of the nib.

The section is long and has a bit of flair at the end, just like the Picnic. It’s so comfortable to hold. The weight is pleasant too, especially when inked. It’s not too light, considering the materials used for it.

I enjoyed trying out both the Picnic and Koloro because the section is so comfortable. If you have large hands, you probably won’t have a hard time holding it.

The Koloro also uses a shutoff valve that can be adjusted through a piston mechanism at the end of the barrel. It reduces the likelihood of leaking and burping while in transit.

The end of the barrel is made of ebonite. Just twist it a bit (about a turn and a half) to release the ink into the feed. Twist it back to depress the rubber gasket and seal off the feed again.

The nib of the unit that I tried is Fine, which feels like a European XF for me. It’s firm and smooth, with a little bit of feedback.

I would put the flow at a little bit dry to moderate. If you enjoy wet nibs like I do, I recommend either using a wet ink (like I did in this writing sample) or tune the nib to write a bit wetter. The pen writes well, though, the steel nib is reliable and pleasant to use.

Overall, it’s a nice pen. I like the design and the interesting textures of acrylic and ebonite. I like that it writes well and is pleasant and comfortable in the hand. Thanks to the wonderful people at Everything Calligraphy for letting me try it out.

Opus 88 Picnic Review

L-R: Opus 88 Picnic, Fantasia, Koloro

Last week I was able to try three different kinds of Opus 88 pens.These are all steel-nibbed pens, so the nibs write the same, more or less. They’re all eyedropper pens too, which means that you transfer ink into the barrel instead of through converter, piston, or cartridge. Since I have eyedroppered many pens before, I went right to eyedroppering it and testing the pen. After two pages, it stopped writing. Hence, the importance of reading instructions. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Opus 88 Picnic comes in a grey box with a white sleeve. The box is very minimalist. Not too many bells and whistles here.

Open the box and viola! A pipette-looking thing thing and the beautiful, translucent blue pen. There’s also that little piece of booklet that I should have read first before using the pen.

The first impression I had on the pen is that it’s shaped nicely, and the acrylic is pretty nice too. It doesn’t feel thin and cheap. I also wondered what that little mechanism you see through the acrylic could be, but since I didn’t read the little booklet, I just went ahead and disassembled the pen parts before I inked it.

The pen’s length when capped is about 5.6 inches capped and 5 inches uncapped. It has chrome-colored trims on both ends of the barrel and a chrome-colored clip.

The clip has little ridges around it, and it’s a bit curvy. It’s tight but it’s very usable. Slips right through my pen loops and pockets without a problem.

The section is long and comfortable to hold. I liked it right away, and for a person with a medium-sized hand, the girth makes it very comfortable to hold. The section has a slight flare towards the end, near the nib. You can post the pen if you like, but I’m not sure how the acrylic will hold up to that. I prefer to use my pens unposted.

Here’s the inside of the barrel and the section. If I had read the booklet first, I would have learned that the pen has a locking mechanism for the ink. This right here acts like a stopper that pushes itself into the section and locks the ink out. This is to prevent ink burping when you’re in transit. Eyedropper pens carry a larger amount of ink in the barrel, but they’re also a bit prone to burping (bless you), especially if you’re traveling by air.

I inked this one with Colorverse Strelka, because…blue.

I didn’t like the pipette much because it only sucks up about a bit of ink at a time, and some ink stays in it after you squeeze it out. I think a more economical and faster way to fill up an eyedropper is through a syringe. Lesser ink wastage, faster filling. No muss, no fuss. That being said, of course it’s nice of them to include this in the package, for people who don’t yet have syringes.

The steel nib actually wrote pretty well. It’s a fine nib but it feels more like an xf to me. There’s a bit of feedback, and the nib is firm, without much bounce. It wrote consistently, then after about two pages, it stopped writing. After a few minutes of shaking, trying to coax out the ink, I finally read the little booklet and lo and behold, I missed that important instruction of releasing a bit of the piston mechanism at the end of the barrel.

I twisted it just a smidge (not like the one in the photo below, lol). I just turned it about a turn and a half.

Ah, that did the trick. You can actually just leave the pen un-twisted if you prefer it that way, and just close it off when you’re going to be traveling. I thought it’s such a clever touch to add to an eyedropper pen. I also wonder if it’s going to prevent burping 100%, I’ll need to test it longer to find out.

Overall, I think the Opus 88 Picnic is a pretty pen, it writes well enough for a steel nib, and has an interesting take on an eyedropper system. It’s super comfortable to hold and light enough not to tire out the hand for long writing sessions.

All the Opus 88 pens I tried were from Everything Calligraphy.

Architect Grind

Last September I was able to try my friend JP’s pen with an Architect nib grind, something I asked him to look into making a few years ago. It was love at first write, when I tried out his TWSBI Vac with the architect nib. I remembered that I do have one pen with a broad nib, my Sailor Progear Mini Morita, so I sent it to him for a regrind. I got it back yesterday and I really love how it turned out.

If you’re wondering what an architect nib grind looks like compared to a stub or a cursive italic nib, here’s a comparison. That’s a left oblique cursive italic, since I like to hold the pen at an angle when using wide nibs.

Architect nibs are ideal for people who like to write with block letters, like I do. It produces different line variations when upright and slanted. It’s basically the opposite of a cursive italic nib, producing wide horizontal strokes and thin vertical strokes. Here’s are a few close ups of the writing sample of an architect nib.

The line variation is more pronounced when you write with upright characters. When slanted, it’s almost like you’re writing with a boxy nib.

By comparison, here’s a close up of a 1.1mm stub (Bexley Corona with a Goulet #6 stub). The line variation is virtually the opposite of an architect grind (narrow horizontal lines, wide vertical lines), though I hold my pen at an angle so it appears a bit slanted. The resulting edges are more rounded than the architect nib’s crisp edges.

Here’s a close up of the left oblique cursive italic nib (Cross Century II, medium, reground by JP). It’s a crisp cursive italic but customized for a right-handed writer who wants to use it at a tilted angle. Here’s a blog entry I wrote about my first left oblique cursive italic nib.

Here’s a photo of the nib’s profile. The architect nib is also called Hebrew and Arabic nib because the line variations produced is suitable for their characters. It’s actually also quite suitable for Baybayin. If you want your pen reground to an architect nib, it’s best to provide JP with a broad nib. Anything smaller wouldn’t show off the line variation as well as a broad nib would. This one’s a Japanese broad (so, more like a medium, really).

Overall, I love it because it gives my block letters a different look and feel from stubs and CIs. It has a very unique character to it, and it suits my handwriting very well. If you’re not fond of block letters and you like to write in script, you might find this kind of grind hard to use, though I would still recommend that you try it. I’m glad JP did such a good job on my pen. I’ll probably buy a TWSBI and get that reground to another architect nib. 🙂

If you’re in the Philippines and you’d like to have your fountain pen nibs reground or repaired, you may visit JP’s Facebook page at JP’s Pen Spa and Nibworks.

Tactile Turn Gist

I bought this pen at Everything Calligraphy’s Writ3C event last month. I’ve been curious about this pen for a while now, especially since it looks so minimalist and it has that industrial look that I like. There’s also a whole range of materials to mix and match. I got the one with the bronze finial and section. I really wanted the damascus finial and section but it was out of stock at the time.

The pen came in a very simple cardboard box with nothing much inside except the pen and the protective foam around it. The packaging is very sparse, I appreciate that it’s no-frills and uses very little packing materials. There’s not even any literature aside from the label on the lid of the  box.

The first thing you’ll notice on the pen is the texture of the material. If it feels familiar somehow, it’s because the body is polycarbonate markrolon. The material feels really sturdy. Here’s a close up of the barrel:

It has a continuous groove around it which gives it that tactile feel. At first it felt like the cap was difficult to twist out of the section, but after two or three times of capping and uncapping it, it stopped feeling so grippy and began to have just the right amount of tightness to make it feel snug. Here is a closeup photo of the bronze section. The grooves are just deep enough to give the section a uniform texture with the body. It’s not uncomfortable to hold at all. It actually helps make the pen a lot easier to grip while writing.

The nib is a medium steel Bock nib. I kinda wish it’s at least gold-plated to match the color of the section, but it’s alright. The performance of the nib is actually pretty awesome.

It writes consistently wet, and the nib is sufficiently smooth with just a hint of feedback. I think it’s my second favorite steel nib (next to Faber Castell nibs). So far I’ve inked the pen with 4 different kinds of inks from different brands and the pen wrote well with all of them.

Here’s a video of the writing sample.

The pen uses a standard international converter and it takes about 8 turns to remove the barrel from the section (about 3 turns to uncap). I like that the pen is light but the bronze section makes it heavy near the nib. So you feel some weight while writing without making the pen top heavy. It’s comfortable to use for long writing sessions, it didn’t tire out my hand at all.

The only issue I encountered with it was that the clip wiggled a teeny-tiny bit. It was just the slightest wiggle but it drove me nuts. I admit I didn’t inspect the item too well before I bought it, I just glanced at it briefly and didn’t even take it out of the box. I have no doubt Everything Calligraphy would have replaced it but it’s the last stock they had of that specific pen and I didn’t want to have to ship it back to them and wait for a new pen to be shipped to me. So I disassembled the pen’s cap and tightened the clip. It was a pretty simple fix and took less than 5 minutes to finish.

Overall, I think this is a great option if you want a simple, no-frills pen that is scratch-resistant and can take a beating. It writes really well too, I’m pretty happy with it.

Pen Review: IWI Safari

The last of the IWI pens that I tried is the Safari which is nothing like the other famous Safari pen. 🙂 If the Essential and Handscript are all about being minimalist, having clean and straight lines and an industrial feel to them, the Safari is all about smooth curves.

It has a smooth, lacquered finish and a zebra print for the trim above the section. It’s not blingy or outrageously designed, but it is somewhat flashier than its more low-key siblings.

The body is also metal, but it tapers at the end and the cap. It has a solid feel to it, the weight is pleasant in the hand. Like the Essential and Handscript, though, it tends to feel top heavy when you post the cap while writing. The section is smooth metal, but also has a comfortable length for holding while writing. Since it’s smooth, people whose hands tend to be sweaty might find it a bit slippery.The nib is also a steel Bock, XF, but this is colored gold.

The photo below shows a writing sample of the nib. I wrote both pages in one sitting and the nib wrote consistently, without drying or thinning out towards the end. It also uses a short international sized cartridge, like the other IWI pen models. The ink I used below is Noodler’s Liberty’s Elysium, which flows moderate to wet, depending on the pen. I haven’t tried using another ink on it yet.

This may be the flashier sibling of the Handscript and Essential but it’s still a simple design that works well. The snap-on cap is pretty secure, this time without o-rings at the end of the barrel. Like the other IWI pens, the steel nib also writes pretty decently. It’s not hard as a nail, it has a very slight bounce to it, and not an unpleasant feedback.

Check it out at Everything Calligraphy.