Before I start, I should mention if anyone has additional thoughts, or can point out any mistakes, don't keep silent! I'll update this accordingly, and add stuff if I can think of anything else. Now, onto the fun!
All three of these pens are produced by Lamy. I prefer these over the more 'traditional' looking for fountain pens, which I will touch on later. These three do the job well, and it won't hurt nearly as much if one of them gets lost (which sadly already happened with the Studio), or breaks in some freak accident. I've put all three of these in one review, because I feel that it helps to be able to compare pens to see little details otherwise overlooked (and especially if you already own one and are considering a different model.) I'll review each in order of price, and then provide some comparison where applicable.
I was drawn to Lamy for the design and the price. When researching fountain pens, I stumbled across the Lamy line, and it wasn't long before I had my heart set on that brand. I just love the straight non-flashy industrial look of all of their pens. I'm not a big fan of the more 'traditional' designs offered by other brands that are designed to mimic the days of yore. (Though I wouldn't mind a Mont Blanc on my desk albeit, in a nice padlocked case with a bulletproof window.) These all have a lasting contemporary look, while being a little more discrete. I'm sure I'm not the only one that has several Lamy pens for this reason.
The pens pictured are the Safari in black, the Al-Star in silver, and the Studio in Brushed Steel. The Safari came in a paper/cardboard box whose design reflects Lamy pens nicely, and contained a blue Lamy cartridge and some Lamy warranty information. The Al-Star came in a very similar plastic case with the same internals. It opened differently, but had the same basic function. The Studios come in a hard cardboard case that fans open to the pen, a converter, a cartridge, and the Lamy papers. I was quite impressed with the case. Even though it was made with low-cost materials, it was still very attractive, and had the same clean design quality as the Lamy pens themselves.
There was not much to compare here, I knew what I was getting, and they came in very appropriate cases.
Appearance and Aesthetics
The Safari: The Safari is either made of smooth and glossy plastic, or a textured matte plastic, based on the choice of color. My particular pen was a glossy black. Even though it is smooth, I have not had problems with grip. There is a nice view window that shows 1/4th of a cartrige or 1/2 of a converter. The cap snaps on rather easily, and it's nice and snug. The clip feels rather sturdy and it is an interesting and attractive design for a clip. I believe it's made of steel. 'LAMY' is intented in the bottom of the pen on one side. This comes in a very wide range of colors, with some limited editions that come and go.
The Al-Star: The Al-Star is very similar to the Safari in shape, but it has a completely different look. I chose the Aluminum (silver) pen. The metal casing makes it slightly less angular and provides a nice reflective sheen. The 'LAMY' namespace printed at the bottom is an outlined indent, rather than a filled indent, likely due to the nature of the material. It comes in several (equally vibrant) colors with the same nice metal gradients.
The Studio: I'm not sure why they only advertised the clip, since this pen has so much more going on at the same time. I don't deny, it's a pretty snazzy-looking clip, and it does do a better-than-normal job at being a clip. Out of all of the Studio pens, I liked the Stainless Steel the best. Due to the texture, under a light, it shows a unique sharp highlight and shadow, as can be seen in the image (as opposed to the smooth gradients on the Palladium, for example.) It also doesn't show any prints anywhere on the barrel or grip. The grip has a sort of rubbery feel, and it contrasts the pen nicely in a lightly rubbery jet black. I preferred this over the grips on the Black and Palladium versions, though I fear that it might eventually rub off after a year or so. I've seen others here buy both and switch out the two grip, or use 400 grit sandpaper to give the slicker grips more of a texture. I have yet to sandpaper my Palladium, but I am going to eventually do it, since the grip can get annoying in a warm classroom with very sweaty fingers. Of course, the Stainless Steel grip really doesn't need any of this.
A very small area on the cap is untextured for the LAMY namespace. I'm impressed at their ability to subtely insert it into the design and make it look completely natural. The cap clicks into place onto either end with a hair's width of leeway. When posted, due to the way the cap snaps on, it doesn't touch the metal around it; there is a millimeter space around the barrel that the cap can be shifted about (see below). This doesn't cause any problems with the cap staying on, but a scar may form over time where the end of the cap meets the barrel. Judging on what I've seen so far, I don't think it will ever be a big problem; a very slight mark has formed on the Brushed Steel, but I doubt occasional metal on metal will grind down that much. This might be considered a flaw in the cap's design, but it doesn't worry me.
Design and Materials
I purchased the glossy Black Safari. It's made of colored ABS plastic with a metal clip and steel nib. The Al-Star has a very similar design but the body is made of aluminum. The feed, clip, and nib are all otherwise the same. They both can really take a beating. I bumped the Al-Star around daily for 3+ months in a hoodie pocket with 2 other writing utensils and 10+ coins, and it hardly has any battle scars to speak of. There is a very slight difference in thickness of the two pens, but I wouldn't notice unless I used them back-to-back. Without the cap, at the widest point on the body, the Safari is about 11mm and the Al-Star is closer to 12mm.
I chose the Brushed Steel Studio, which, if the name is accurate, is made of brushed steel. It is definitely heavier than the Al-Star, likely due to the material. As expected, it can take a beating as well. The walls are noticably thinner, especially in the cap, but it doesn't have any give when I apply pressure to the sides. It flares out towards the middle with a thickness of about 1.3cm and .9cm on each end. This pen is smaller than the other two. Posted, it's more than a centimeter shorter than the other two pens. However, it's considerably heavier than the other two. I personally prefer the weight, but it does fatigue the hand a little faster.
I find that all three pens fit comfortably in my hand either posted or uncapped. I usually post if I intend to write a large amount, and just off-hand the cap if I'm jotting down quick notes. I've measured them to the best of my ability, but leave a millimeter margin of error in either direction.
Safari: uncapped 12.8cm, capped 13.7cm, posted 16.6cm
Al-Star: uncapped 13cm, capped 13.9cm, and posted 16.8cm
Studio: uncapped 12.7cm, capped 13.9cm, and posted 15.5cm
For the shape, pictures speak better than words (below). The Studio is a graded cylinder and there isn't much out of the ordinary to talk about there, and enough can be inferred from previous photos. The Al-Star and Safari do have very distinct lines. I find the flattened cylinder shape of the body doesn't detract from the pen, both in looks and performance. Some people don't care for the 'forced grip' on the head, but I find it quite comfortable. This one comes down to preference, and if you hold your pen at an uncommon angle. The Studio, of course, doesn't suffer from this problem. The Studio is uniform all around, and it fits comfortably in the hand.
I do have to mention why I prefer the Al-Star over the Safari. The first time I picked up the Safari, even without comparing, I immediately noticed the difference in weight. It wasn't largely significant, but enough for me to notice. With one in each hand, it's pretty obvious. If weight is an issue (as it can be with me), I would take an Al-Star over the Safari. However, from what I've read, most people don't seem to notice, or have a problem with it. If you might be as picky as I am, this is definitely something to consider when buying your first Lamy pen. (The Studio is heavier than both, but I'm comparing these two due to the similarites in design and price.) As soon as the converter in my Safari runs out, it's getting flushed and put into storage. It's a great pen, but I have two others that I simply prefer more.
All three have the same type of nib (speaking about the regular Studio) and I will review the EF and F nibs here. Note that the Lamy nibs all tend to write on the thicker side, so the F nib may be closer compared to a stiff M nib from other brands. I also find that all Lamy nibs have a bit of nib creep, and even more so with Noodler's Ink. This is important to know for some people.
The EF nib provides rather tactile feedback on normal office-grade paper (I generally use 20-24lb inkjet.) While writing, I am very aware it is metal against paper, but it glides without any problems. This could best be described as scratchy, but I don't mean that in any negative sort of way. After it starts conforming to the writer's angle, it gets smoother. It's very dry writer, which may be a plus for lefties. That is, under a normal hand, Lamy blue from an EF dries within a second, with pooled spots drying within two. Also note, there is quite a bit of nib creep. I'm mainly using Noodler's, which likely contributes to it, but I find that these nibs are prone to nib creep on their own. It hardly shows up against black, and I actually like how it looks on silver, but I do wipe it periodically. You should be able to see it in several of the photos.
The F nib is one of my favorite nibs of all I've tried so far for general use. It is nice and smooth on every paper I've tried It provides some slight feedback, but glides very easily. It does write a tiny bit on the wet side, depending on pressure. As a result of the smoothness, it's a great note-taker or letter-writer. As a result, I ended up switching the black EF onto the new Safari, keeping the Al-Star for general writing. This is exactly what a nib should feel like, in my mind.
Lamy nibs are great in how easily they can be slipped off for cleaning or changing. With a piece of sellotape or scotch tape across the top, it can be removed easily, and the same nibs can be used for all three pens (including the gold Studio nib.) You can buy replacement nibs from some places, though I haven't bought any myself. There is an silver gash on the black nib below. When I first tried this, it was stuck, so I tried to pull of the nib with a knife when I was switching them for the first time. That was a mistake learned the hard way though it hasn't seemed to affect performance. I'm just happy I didn't damage it any more than that scratch.
The lines produced by these two nibs have always been nice and bold, and they seem like the perfect note-takers. They are safe to leave in open air for a while. I'll often forget to cap the pen while listening to a lecture, but the line returns within a stroke of a letter. Sometimes, the lines will break up when writing lightly. I don't run into this frequently, and it's fixed by removing and swabbing under the nib to remove any dried ink. That seems to restore it to it's former glory.
One of my favorite things about these nibs is the varying line width with pressure. That is, if I press down, I get a nice bold quality. You can also flip over the pen and it will provide a (for lack of a more accurate term) hairline. I actually use it often when I need to write very small, lightly underline something, or need something to stand out while notetaking. With the EF, I can actively get from 0.25mm to 0.45mm (.2 upside down) and about 0.4mm to 0.6mm on the F nib. This will probably change based on the kind of paper or how soft the surface you are writing on is. I usually have at least 3 sheets of paper under my actual page, for example. This might make it clearer (arranged all nice onto one image):
By mistake, I included everything except the nib type on the pens, which was the whole point of writing that out. To restate, the Safari in blue is EF, and the other two are F. The area of most interest is probably the line widths on the side. The inks in the example are the inks in the pens when I happened to use them. It would be more accurate to use the same ink across the board, but the idea is clear. The Heart of Darkness mixes are quite literally just a drop into the base color. In small amounts, it's perfect at darkening a color without drastically altering the color... but that's for another review.
All three of these pens use cartridges or converters. My Safari and Al-Star both came with blue Lamy carts and I purchased one converter. I use the carts in the Safari and the converter in the Al-Star. The converter probably has about half the capacity, which works out, since I actually like refilling my pens. (I probably shouldn't enjoy mixing inks as much as I do, but I love it; I blame it on the artist in me.) I fill both by syringe (which I got from FPN member, CMaxx) since it's less messy, and I don't feel like I'm wasting ink or tainting it when returning it to the bottle from the syringe. I also prefer the converter since I feel it was really made for inserting and removing, though the carts have yet to show signs of problems due to reuse. The Studios come with both a blue cart and a converter, which means no extra purchase needed. As far as I can see, the carts are interchangable between pens, but the converter is specific to certain sets of Lamy pens.
The Safari is definitely worth the very low price for a very reliable fountain pen. It feels just a perfect starter pen for a student, though that's not to say it's not a great pen for anyone. The Al-Star justifies the $10 increase in price to me by build, material, and weight. The Studio was very good, as it feels like a nice step up from a budget pen to a more professional pen, yet the price is still quite reasonable. I'll also throw in there, the Studio Palladium has the benefit of the gold tip for $50 or so more, which is nice to have, but I could honestly go with either. I don't really notice the difference between the two. (I actually got the Studios on sale, so it was all the better.) I purchased all three from isellpens.com. The gentleman there, Todd Nussbaum, has always been very responsive (as in, fast emails) and ships very quickly (as in, always same day before 5:00). I have no affiliation, I just appreciate the service. I've bought everything from him after my first purchase, and I'll be coming back to him for later purchases, I'm sure.
Conclusion and Final Thoughts
Individual Pros and Cons (from a general perspective)
Safari+: interesting design, very inexpensive, longevity, huge range of colors to choose from, interchangable nibs
Safari-: lightweight, feels cheap due to plastic, only one way to hold it due to grip
Al-Star+: interesting design, inexpensive, longevity, good materials, several color options (7+), interchangable nibs
Al-Star-: only one way to hold it due to grip
Studio+: several professional colors (5+), contemporary design, longevity, good materials, interchangable nibs with the option of gold nibs
Studio-: cap doesn't feel completely snug, heavy weight can be tiring
The Al-Star was a great starting pen for me because it's casual, yet a little out of the ordinary. Being my first pen, out of the box, it did not disappoint. The Safari wasn't for me, but I think it'd be a great pen for other people who aren't as picky as me about weight. The Studio is the perfect pen for me. It has a nice weight, it's made of good sturdy material, and it has a simple contemporary look.
I give all three of these my full endorsement for people who want pens they can use everyday without worrying too much about dropping them or banging them around. All three of these pens boast high quality and a large assortment of colors per model. I feel that one of the strongest selling points is their survivability and appropriateness for everyday use. The Safari is a great inexpensive pen and it comes with quite a range of colors colors to choose from. The Al-Star is a step up from that for people who prefer the slightly 'more professional' look or the added weight/size. And finally, the Studio is a great pen for people who prefer a very attractive professional pen, but still want cartridges/converters/money in the pocket.
Edited by Iziem, 12 July 2008 - 23:24.