Hello people of FPN! It’s been over a year since I’ve last posted here, I’ve been busy with my first year and a half of college. In the last month or so, though, I’ve started lurking around reading the forums again, and I’ve been wanting to write another review. I just needed to find a pen that was the right balance of inexpensive and interesting, and luckily I found just the thing.
As I was browsing the shelves of my college’s bookstore, procrastinating studying for my final exams, the blister pack these pens came in caught my eye. Zebra fountain pens. “An easier fountain pen” the box proudly states. I wasn’t aware that writing with pens was difficult, but that’s neither here nor there. I bought them (obviously, who wouldn’t buy a pack of 4 fountain pens you’ve never seen before for $8), and rushed them home to see what was in store.
The single most important and obvious thing about these pens is that they were clearly designed to be a direct competitor to the pilot varsity. They’re made of the same materials with even the same shaped nib. They come in the same colors, and they’re sold on adjacent shelves. Zebra wanted to have a product in the disposable fountain pen market, so they emulated the most popular example of that market. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the varsity, so I’ll always be happy to see more Varsity-style pens enter the market as simple starter pens to help people make the switch and understand what fountain pens are all about.
Because these pens were clearly designed to emulate the varsity, and most people have used a Varsity at some point, I’ll be comparing the pens to Varsities for the majority of this review. First off, in terms of appearance these pens aren’t terrible, but they fall short of the Varsity’s design in my opinion. There’s certainly nothing hideously ugly about them, and beauty is subjective so you’ll be able to see the pictures and make your own conclusions about the appearance, but for me the design on the Zebra’s just seems cheap. They are cheap, so that’s fine, but it would have been nice to have a design that’s a bit more clean and polished.
The pen compared to a sailor procolor as a reference for size.
The pens come in at least four colors (they were only offered in a four pack of purple, pink, blue, and black where I bought them, I’m not sure if more colors exist). The black is a fairly standard black, reminiscent of Parker Quink in shade. It’s not particularly dark, but it is definitely a black. The blue ink is very reminiscent of the typical blue ink you’d find in the average blue ballpoint pen. At first glance of writing with the blue pen, you might expect that it came from a ballpoint. I’m not familiar enough with pink inks to make a good comparison, but it’s what I would call a fairly standard, not too bright but not too pastel pink. As someone who doesn’t usually like pink things, I actually really like this ink color, and I plan on using it in the future. The fourth color, purple, is a pretty dark purple. It’s not so dark that it could be considered a purple-black, but it is definitely a very deep color, and in poor light conditions it can even look black.
By now, you may have noticed that I’ve used a lot of words and still haven’t mentioned the most important part of any pen: how it writes. It’s complicated. Pilot Varsities are, in my experience, remarkably consistent. Especially within a particular color, every pen is exactly the same in how it writes and feels. Throughout my freshman year of college, I worked through a box of 12 Varsities, and all 12 felt exactly identical. These pens are not that. Don’t get me wrong, they all write well, and none of them are bad pens by any means, but the nibs on the four pens from the same blister pack offer vastly different writing experiences.
Here is a writing sample with the four pens. Please excuse my horrific handwriting and cursive.
The black and pink pens are the most similar to each other, and I have the least to say about them. They are pretty much a drier version of a Varsity. Slightly less smooth (probably because they’re more dry) but around the same width and writing behavior. The width is marked on the box as 0.6mm, and I’d call it around a Western Fine / Japanese Medium.
The purple pen is wildly different from the black and pink pens. It is a very wet nib, more than a pilot varsity, and the thickness is equivalent to a western medium. Additionally, the purple pen came out of the box with ink on the inside of the cap and some ink on the grip, which may be due to a mix of the pens wetness and being moved around during shipping, but none of the other pens had that happen. There is some texture to the way it writes, it is not perfectly smooth, but the wetness makes up for any scratchiness in the nib itself and offers an enjoyable writing experience.
The purple pen arrived with ink on the inside of the cap, the nib, and the grip.
The blue pen is again, wildly different. This time, though, it is absolutely exceptional. The width of the pen is what pretty much every manufacturer would call an Extra Fine, and it’s incredibly smooth. I own a number of pilots with 14k fine nibs, and a number of western pens with extra fines of around the same width. This is unequivocally the best writing pen I’ve ever seen at this width. The problem is, these pens are so inconsistent that I don’t think I’d ever find another pen like it from them, no matter how many packs I opened. Still, I plan on using this pen for as long as I can (which I think will be a while with how thin the nib is and how large the ink reservoir is), and then hoping I can find another nib like it sometime in the years to come.
All in all, I would recommend these pens. I would have paid the full $8 (and then some) for just the blue pen, but even without that likely fluke, these pens are a solid disposable pen. I plan on buying another pack at some point, and if the blue is like the blue in this pack then I would recommend these pens 100 times out of ten over the Varsity. That being said, if the blue I got really was a fluke, and you have a choice between these and some Varsities for around the same price, I’d probably take the Pilots.