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Cheap Pen Shootout

inexpensive cheap pen shootout comparison

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#1 gmcalabr

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Posted 30 May 2013 - 00:33

Cheap Pen Shootout

 

I've decided to do a shootout of my lower-cost new normal writing pens.  I've wanted to review most of these before, but haven't been up to giving each one its own review.  I will be reviewing these in approximate price order, from $0 to $30, and scoring them in these categories (each from 0-10 points): Aesthetics, Functionality, Value, Desire, respectively.

 

Pilot Varsity: A: 4, F: 6, V: 8, D: 3

These pens are the cheapest fountain pen money can buy, and are available in most office supply stores.  The pen feels cheap, but sturdy.  The nib is reasonably smooth and writes a nice medium wet line.  Unfortunately, it's only available in a medium nib, which is fatter than I usually like to use.  Some users remove the nib/feed and refill the pens, but I’ve tried this and won’t be doing that again after snapping one of the feeds.  These are highly reliable pens.

 

Platinum Preppy: A: 5, F: 7, V: 9,  D: 5

This is a great little, nearly disposable pen.  It's the only commonly available pen at this price with a proper fine nib (and also medium).  Aesthetically, it's a modern clear plastic-y pen, but it still feels nicer than any blister-pack BP or RB.  The nib is slightly on the dry side, but extremely reliable, and the price can't be beaten considering that it takes cartridges or converters.  That, combined with a removable nib/feed make it worth cleaning and refilling.  I have also eyedropper-converted one, and it’s awesome and has probably about a month’s worth of ink in it.  I've marked the Aesthetics category a 5 instead of a 6 for the annoying graphics wrap on the barrel.  *note, the free Preppy that comes with Noodler’s Ink at Gouletpens does not have this wrap and looks MUCH better.

 

Pilot Petit1: A: 6, F: 8, V: 8, D: 7

This is functionally a Varisty (same nib/feed) with the following differences: mini-size, removable nib/feed, cartridge/eyedropper.  These make a big difference to me.  Also, the feed is made of clear plastic, so you can see the ink in/under the collector and feed.  Well worth the $4 price tag, and available in many colors. Extra points to Pilot for molding small bumps on the back of the barrel so that the cap clicks firmly on the very back of the pen, extending its size and sturdiness.

 

Hero 626: A: 5, F: 3, V: 4, D: 5

This is an interesting Parker 61 quasi-knockoff.  Much thinner and lighter than the original, and the little hood arrow isn't nearly as pretty.  It feels like it's more expensive than it is, but not by a ton.  Very light, and the nib is a tiny little pin.  When it works, it's not terribly smooth, but writes a wet EF line.  Unfortunately, it often doesn't write at all in my experience.  I've only been able to make Parker Quink Black to work, not Noodler's black, or other inks.  That said, with the Quink, it writes fine and even started up just fine after I forgot about the pen for a couple of months.  It's cheap enough to play around with, but a pen that doesn't write and isn't worthy of a display case isn't generally worth having.

 

Hero 159:  A: 7, F: 8, V: 9, D: 8

This thing is phenomenal.  For $9 shipped from China, this is a great deal. It’s such a big, heavy pen that I cannot write with the cap on for more than a couple of minutes, but it feels perfect with the cap unposted.  The nib is glassy smooth, even on cheap paper, and although the nib is a wet medium, I enjoy it enough to still write with it regularly even though it’s a bit too broad.  The threads that hold the cap on are a hair rough, but that's a small gripe for a cheap pen.  This is clearly a MB 149 rip-off, but it’s so well done for so little money.  Overall, this is one of my best purchases.  Also, if you don't like the nib, replacements can be found fairly easily.

 

Hero 001-360: A: 5, F: 3, V: 4, D: 4

This is a very interesting low-cost pen.  Aesthetically, the pen is simple, and although not expensive looking, it is nice to look at.  It has a lightweight aluminum body which is on the thin side.  The cap clicks firmly on both ends of the pen, and the pen is best balanced with the cap posted.  The section is a slick chrome, which is a little slick, but not bad.  The clip is spring- loaded, which is a nice feature on such a cheap pen.   Then there's the writing.  This pen has been less than reliable for one big reason: the spring cap does not have an inner cap liner, so the ink can dry out through the slots cut in the cap for the clip.  I haven’t figured out how to deal with this yet, but silicone, wax, and rubbery glues will be tested.  When it’s working, the nib writes a very wet line, and I imagine that it would be nearly impossible.  Aerometric Filler works best when the steel guard is removed.  Overall, I imagine that the trident is a much better pen as the 90 degree slit angle in the 360 produces some starting or writing issues, but as a ~$10 alternative, it's a good carbon copy pen.  I understand that there is a newer version of this pen that looks a bit different, so there are options there too.

 

Dolce Vita Naranja: A: 9, F: 7, V: 8, D: 9

This is a great, albeit a knockoff.  This is easily one of my best looking pens at any price, and it's a reasonably smooth and reliable writer.  Like most cheap/knockoff pens, it's only available in a medium nib, but again, I’m told it takes a standard #5 nib (not verified).  It's a heavy pen, though not nearly as much as the 159, but it still feels good to write with.  The nib is a bit small, but not totally disproportionate.  Other users have complained about the cap taking a lot of force to pull off, but I've had the opposite problem.  The cap doesn't slip off for no reason, but it has dropped the pen in my pocket, which is no good.  Best for shallow shirt pockets, not pants pockets.

 

Pilot 78G: A: 5, F: 8, V: 7, D: 4

This Pilot is a wonderful pen.  The nib/feed is the same as many other Pilots in the $10-$50 range, but the rest of the pen is very cheap in look and feel.  I very much enjoy writing with the slightly dry, very fine F nib.  The stub nib is a great medium for the price.  The design of the pen makes it look like it’s trying to keep up with an MB or something, but the cheap plastic and gold trim rings and clip are gaudy and cheap looking.  I've even tried sanding the pen down to give it a matte finish and make it look more honest about its price range (which helped).  If you don't mind the looks, this is an incredible pen for the money, but I can't get over the looks and will either retire or give away at least one of mine.  FYI, my Prera is in my top 5 rotation.

 

Nemosine Singularity:  A: 8, F: 8, V: 9, D: 7

This is definitely a great pen.  Good size, good looks, good writing.  I don't like how this looks in anything but demonstrator (I normally don't like demos), and is a light, slightly above average sized pen.  The plastic body and cap are very crystal clear and don't feel cheap at all.  The nib is very large, but properly sized for the pen.  I have the EF and 0.9mm stub nib, both of which are great.  The EF is a proper EF, (think Pilot/Sailor F), and the stub is very smooth.  Both write a hair dry, but adjust easily.  This uses standard INT cartridges and comes with a converter.  ED conversion looks like a strong possibility.  Replacement nibs are available all over and for cheap.  This pen is an incredible value that I would recommend to anyone.

 

Lamy Safari:  A: 6, F: 9, V: 5, D: 6

Probably the #1 default newby pen, the Safari has earned the title.  It's a perfect tool; it's reliable, writes a fairly smooth wet line no matter which one of the many available nibs you have, and is a cartridge/converter.  You’ll need Lamy-specific cartridges or converters.  It's also quite comfortable; slightly larger than normal girth, fairly long pen, but light enough that the cap feels good posted on the barrel.  The triangular grip section is very comfortable in my hands.  On the down side, there isn't much to look at.  Weight distribution is good, and although the plastic is a hair on the cheap side, it feels sturdy.  This is a true German no-frills tool of a pen and a perfect workhorse.  Also, they come in many colors, including the Vista demo and Al-Star aluminums.  Despite everything, I have a hard time taking this over one of the other pens as it makes no fashion statement whatsoever.  $30 isn't steep as pens go, but it's almost 3 times the price of everything else here, and I don't think that I can justify that.  One last thing, the EF nib is unusably broad for small hand writing; I would probably rate this a medium, MAYBE a fine.  Oddly enough, the 1.1mm stub that I now use regularly writes much more legibly in my hands.

 

 

In general, I'd say that I have a hard time deciding between the Preppy ED and the Petit1 ED if I'm limited to $5, and either the Dolce or the 159 for under $15.  I've heard that some people don't have such QC luck with those two Chinese knockoffs, but that's slightly less of an issue if you don't mind fiddling and polishing the nibs and feeds.

 

 



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#2 sethk

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Posted 30 May 2013 - 01:17

Thanks so much for the round-up. I greatly appreciate it as a cheap-pen geek. Most of these are on my list for checking out. One question though. I can't find a Hero 159. Is it the Jinhao 159, or do I need ro search harder for that model of Hero?

#3 parilla

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Posted 30 May 2013 - 03:19

I have tried many cheap pens over the years and nothing comes close to a Baoer 519 in my opinion. The appearance, functionality and build quality are oustanding.



#4 wastelanded

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Posted 30 May 2013 - 03:33

Thanks for the enlightening review! The 78G is one of my faves.

 

 

I have tried many cheap pens over the years and nothing comes close to a Baoer 519 in my opinion. The appearance, functionality and build quality are oustanding.

 

Agreed. My 519 is definitely one of my keepers, best six bucks I ever spent.


"I was cut off from the world. There was no one to confuse or torment me, and I was forced to become original." - Franz Joseph Haydn 1732 - 1809

#5 gmcalabr

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Posted 30 May 2013 - 03:42

Thanks so much for the round-up. I greatly appreciate it as a cheap-pen geek. Most of these are on my list for checking out. One question though. I can't find a Hero 159. Is it the Jinhao 159, or do I need ro search harder for that model of Hero?

Yes, I'm sorry, Jinhao!  I wrote this up on my Droid using a bluetooth keyboard, and later attempted to edit on my new work laptop.  Guess I missed it.

 

I've never heard of or seen the 519, but now that I look, it may fit the bill for a birthday gift for my brother.  He's no pen nut like me, but after me getting a bunch of cool pens, he started to want in.  Considering he's 99% likely not to really engage, I was thinking a Picasso 916 in Carolina Blue fountain (UNC is his alma matter), a 519 rollerball with MB fineliners, and my Preppy eyedropper.  I was also considering the Safari since I never use it anymore.  Thoughts?

 

I also meant to involve the Baoer Skywalker (rollerball) in this review, but I was so disappointed in its use that I don't think I'll bother.  It's ok, but definitely too cheap even for the $12.  It's killed my desire to get a real Skywalker, but mostly because I realize that screw on back caps only belong on hooded nibs (won't dry out) or very short pens that need the rigidity.

 

Greg



#6 gmcalabr

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Posted 30 May 2013 - 03:45

Thanks for the enlightening review! The 78G is one of my faves.

 

Sorry to give it such a tough review.  It should be said that I have two, and very much enjoyed using them until I found some other better looking pens.  I want to like it so bad cause it's such an incredible pen for the money, but the Preppy looks and feels less cheap.  That alone makes me want to leave it alone in the box and pick up something else.

 

Greg



#7 circlepattern

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Posted 30 May 2013 - 05:04

Anyone tried the 308? Very bad starting problem and tiny feed just contributes to the problem, not to mention I used pigment ink on it! My ultimate horrid combination.



#8 wastelanded

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Posted 30 May 2013 - 10:31

 

Sorry to give it such a tough review.  It should be said that I have two, and very much enjoyed using them until I found some other better looking pens.  I want to like it so bad cause it's such an incredible pen for the money, but the Preppy looks and feels less cheap.  That alone makes me want to leave it alone in the box and pick up something else.

 

Greg

 

Oh, I know it tries a little too hard to be something it's not: your review was bang on. But that B nib, loaded with Tsuki-yo... :cloud9:

 

One day I'll get a nice Prera for the nib to live in, but for now it does nicely.


"I was cut off from the world. There was no one to confuse or torment me, and I was forced to become original." - Franz Joseph Haydn 1732 - 1809

#9 TSherbs

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Posted 30 May 2013 - 10:59

I have several of these pens and agree with your assessments. Those looking for very inexpensive pens can rely on this set of reviews. 



#10 Sailor Kenshin

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Posted 30 May 2013 - 11:26

Thanks so much for the round-up. I greatly appreciate it as a cheap-pen geek.


What he said! I think I have all of these but the Naranja and the Heros (I do have many other Hero models, like the 616 and 329). Thanks.

#11 Gloucesterman

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Posted 30 May 2013 - 16:30

Found the Dolce Vita Naranja n eBay for $12.00. The next lowest in cost was $142.00! The one after that was $310.00!!!!

Wonder how much difference there is in the quality of the writing?


Edited by brgmarketing, 31 May 2013 - 15:36.

“Don't put off till tomorrow what you can do today, because if you do it today and like it, you can do again tomorrow!”


#12 gmcalabr

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Posted 31 May 2013 - 01:16

Found the Dolce Vita Naranja n eBay for $12.00. The next lowest in cost was $142.00! The none after that was $310.00!!!!

Wonder how much difference there is in the quality of the writing?

 

I imagine that's difference between the Dolce Vita Naranja (translated: Sweet Life Orange) and the Delta Dolce Vita.  The Delta is one hell of a pen, from what I understand (I will likely never know just how nice).  I have no idea who actually makes the DVN version that I have, no one seems to talk about that.

 

I imagine that the DVN compares to the real Delta like the Jinhao 159 compares to the MB 149.  They're definitely not the real things, but they're nice pens, and they look good.

 

Maybe this isn't the place to grandstand on the imitation vs. real pen debate, but it's probably something worth thinking about when looking at these or other pens in this price range.  I personally don't have trouble personally with using "fakes" that aren't marketed as 'real' MB or Delta pens.  I think it's like downloading a picture of a famous print instead of buying the print; it's not the real thing, and the real thing is worth real money and is much nicer than the picture you saw on a website.  The art itself is part of humanity's wealth, but the artwork belongs only to the people who are willing to fork up the money.  Artists do deserve monetary credit, but the manufacturers don't deserve 95% profit margins on those designs.

 

But yeah, I totally understand and respect those who won't touch the cheapo remake pens, and would imagine that the Nemosine and some of those Pilots become much better options.



#13 gmcalabr

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Posted 31 May 2013 - 01:28

Thanks for the enlightening review! The 78G is one of my faves.

 

 

 

Agreed. My 519 is definitely one of my keepers, best six bucks I ever spent.

BTW, do you have a plain black or the "leather wrap" version?  At first, the "leather" version looked silly, but it's growing on me.  I'm curious how it is to write with.



#14 Sailor Kenshin

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Posted 31 May 2013 - 13:50

Theyre not 'fakes' or knock-offs, because they are clearly marked with their own brand. They're homages. I would not go for outright fakes either.

#15 Pengrump

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Posted 31 May 2013 - 17:01

I just got a Pilot Metropolitan for $13.  How does that measure up to other cheap pens? 

 

i've given up on the Preppy after two cracked.  I gave the third one as a gift, figuring the cracking must be something I did.  Then it cracked too.



#16 TMac

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Posted 31 May 2013 - 17:25

Greg, really good review. I purchase a Dolce Vita Narajana after reading the Chinese fountain pen thread. I was surprised at what a good pen it is. A friend has a Delta and it definitely is a better pen but when I told him what I paid, he just shook his head.

As your reviews so aptly pointed out, there are some good daily writers to be found in the cheap end of the pen spectrum.

#17 gmcalabr

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Posted 31 May 2013 - 17:36

Theyre not 'fakes' or knock-offs, because they are clearly marked with their own brand. They're homages. I would not go for outright fakes either.

 

That's a better word.  Homages.  Kinda like a cheap print of the Mona Lisa honors the work, but then again is a copy of it.  I also have referred to them as a Me-too, but this is a bit more loaded.

 

I just got a Pilot Metropolitan for $13.  How does that measure up to other cheap pens? 

 

i've given up on the Preppy after two cracked.  I gave the third one as a gift, figuring the cracking must be something I did.  Then it cracked too.

 

Pilot Metro ~= Pilot Prera/Knight/Penmanship/Plume/78G/....   They're all very good daily writer pens.

 

As for the Preppy, I have two that cracked.  I assumed the cap on one of them was my fault, and the barrel was cracked during a drill sanding session to remove the text from the barrel.  If this is common, this may be a potentially hazardous issue for anyone EDing these (especially since I have BSB in mine right now).

 

 

In other news, I've located the holes in the caps of both the Hero 61 'homage' and then Hero 360 and am waiting for the rubber cement to dry.  I'll let you know how that goes.  If well, then they may be more usable, although having to repair these pens like that really isn't worth it when there are quality alternatives around.

 

I've noticed that I've forgotten both the Crocodile 232 and my Sailor HighAce.  The HighAce is easily one of my favorites in category, so I may have to edit the original post and follow up on that soon.



#18 EvadtheSlayer

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Posted 31 May 2013 - 18:28

I have found the Lami converter to be very poor.  No real piston suction.  Unfortunately for the beginning fountain pen user, this is a real negative.  What ever happened to proper inbuilt pistons such as those used by Pelikan and MB?  Why is it that $250 and up fountain pens continue to hand us converters instead of inbuilt pistons?  A real turn off since I have found the quality of converters to be incredibly awful.  If you can't supply a converter that actually draws ink, what  is the point?



#19 EvadtheSlayer

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Posted 31 May 2013 - 18:31

Does the Noodler's line quality as cheap?



#20 Sailor Kenshin

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Posted 31 May 2013 - 18:35

That's a better word.  Homages.  Kinda like a cheap print of the Mona Lisa honors the work, but then again is a copy of it.  I also have referred to them as a Me-too, but this is a bit more loaded.
 

 
Pilot Metro ~= Pilot Prera/Knight/Penmanship/Plume/78G/....   They're all very good daily writer pens.
 
As for the Preppy, I have two that cracked.  I assumed the cap on one of them was my fault, and the barrel was cracked during a drill sanding session to remove the text from the barrel.  If this is common, this may be a potentially hazardous issue for anyone EDing these (especially since I have BSB in mine right now).
 
 
In other news, I've located the holes in the caps of both the Hero 61 'homage' and then Hero 360 and am waiting for the rubber cement to dry.  I'll let you know how that goes.  If well, then they may be more usable, although having to repair these pens like that really isn't worth it when there are quality alternatives around.
 
I've noticed that I've forgotten both the Crocodile 232 and my Sailor HighAce.  The HighAce is easily one of my favorites in category, so I may have to edit the original post and follow up on that soon.


Have you tried hot glue for plugging cap holes?





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