Although most people think the best fountain pens can be found in the $100+ range, there’s a price bracket way, way below that often, but shouldn’t, get ignored. Disposable fountain pens aren’t exactly common, but a few brands sell them because some people simply don’t want to fork out anything over $5.00 for a writing instrument, but enjoy using a fountain pen. Now the term “disposable” is loosely used, as many of these pens can be refilled one way or another. That word simply refers to how inexpensive they are.
The main contenders today can all be found at JetPens, a site you all should know about (and perhaps love!), and are available for under $5.00 each. I’m here to show you which one is best, from the view of a fountain pen enthusiast, but also from the view of a ballpoint user looking for a cheap entry point into fountain pens. I’ll compare each of them with each other, more expensive pens, and the common rollerballs and ballpoint pens you often see on people’s desks. Let’s go!
The Art of a Cheap Fountain Pen
When I say “cheap”, I mean inexpensive, and none of that other stuff that people associate with the word cheap. These pens are not “dodgy”, they won’t break easily, and they don’t write like a nail on a chalkboard. No, they don’t leak everywhere, and don’t come in a limited range. They are pens that everyone should own, or at least try!
The pens I am talking about are the…
(Prices in USD, from www.jetpens.com)
The Platinum Preppy
Ah, the preppy. Just about the most versatile pen on the planet; when you buy one pen, you buy three! You see, the preppy comes in highlighter, marker, and fountain pen versions! And all you have to do is swap the tips of the pen and you have completely changed the whole use of the pen. Very clever, very cheap, and very cool.
– Filling System
The one on the left has been filled via eyedropper, which leads to a huge reservoir of ink!
The Preppy fills via fountain pen cartridges; the same found in the more expensive pens from the Platinum range, such as the #3776. This means that converters also fit. Now why is this so great? This means that not only can you use whatever fountain pen ink you like in the Preppy, but your inks will work even if you have the highlighter or marker tips on. This is the genius of the Preppy design: a disposable fountain pen that’s as reusable as a pen costing hundreds of dollars. Not only that, but with some silicone grease you can make the pen into an eyedropper filler, which uses the entire body as a cartridge. Huge!
– The Materials and Design
Note the coloured feed on the highlighter
Every Preppy is transparent, so you can always see the inner workings of the pen and how much ink you have left. The material is a very durable plastic, and feels great in your hands. Not only is the Preppy light, but also durable and good looking whilst being very comfortable to use.
– Interchangeable Tips
The highlighter tip and the marker tips are made from very strong felt, so it’s very difficult to wear them out!
The Preppy comes in marker, highlighter, and fountain pen versions, with the only differences being the tip type, available colours for each, and the highlighters having a coloured feed (vs grey for the other two types). Changing your Preppy from fountain pen to highlighter is as easy as:
- Pull the old tip straight out
- Push the new tip in
- Wait for the ink to flow into the tip
This versatility also means that when your marker tip gets worn out, just pop it out and pop in a new one for a like new pen! Check out JetPens for tip replacement packs here, and see the full range here.
Pentel Pulaman JM20
The Pulaman JM20 is very unique in that it has a plastic nib. In fact it’s the only pen I know of with a nib made from plastic.
JM20’s come in 3 ink colours, indicated by a plastic strip on the top of the clip. The body is a maroon brown, glossy, cheap plastic found on many similarly designed pens. The clip is flat and made from metal, easily clipping on anything from jeans pockets to pen loops securely.
The grip tapers smoothly to the nib and is made from the same maroon plastic (in fact it is all one piece – no refilling this one!). The nib is more of a porous point and is actually quite smooth considering it’s plastic! It’s a white blade of flexible plastic seated between two protruding arms, much like a spear; a design that allows the pen to be used in any position. It’s light and comfortable to hold, and the cap posts easily on the back.
One little niggle is that when writing it does tend to have a “squeak” much like a felt tip does. The ink flows fairly dry, but consistently, and tends to dry in under 2 seconds. I’d say the line width is much like a Western fine/Japanese medium, but it actually gets thinner if you rotate the pen slightly.
Taking a look at the Varsity next to its more modern sibling, the VPen, and you would think that the two are interchangeable. That’s true for the most part, but there are subtle differences.
The design is quite classic, with a great looking matte finish and transparent grip section, finishing with silver stripes and a big “Varsity” logo. The flexible plastic clip, however, is not going to win any awards. The colour of the pen is indicated by a dome on the top of the cap, with the current ink level visible via a semi-transparent window on the body.
These pens are technically not refillable; they can be refilled in a difficult fashion by somehow forcing ink through the end and sucking the air out (via the use of a large syringe or other means), but I wouldn’t recommend going to all the hassle for such a cheap pen.
The Varsity sports the same nib type found on the VPen, and other inexpensive Pilot pens such as the Petit. It may seem cheap to the eye, but these nibs write very well, with a nice, even flow and a smooth line comparable with pens costing ten times as much. There are an array of ink colours available, and many of them are fairly quick drying (< 5 seconds). The nibs tend to run at a width closer to Western sizes, with the Medium more of a true medium (similar to a Lamy Safari M). The Varsity is available in a wide array of colours from JetPens (click here!), with the full 7 colour set available here.
The VPen is the Non-USA version of the Varsity, so it is more commonly available. It comes in the same great colours as the Varsity and the nibs are essentially the same. The main difference is the look of the pen, with a more modern style to the body. The whole pen is made from a sparkly grey plastic, and actually has the ink colour displayed on both the end of the body and on the cap, with an ink window in the swirl on the body too. The aesthetics are essentially the same, however.
The VPen is available in 7 colours from Jetpens here.
Comparing the Lot
Here’s where they all go head to head, comparing features, writing ability, ink properties, and comfort. I’ll also compare them to a few disposable rollerball pens and ballpoints, so you know what to expect if you’re making the switch!
– Writing Ability
Winner: Pilot Varsity
2nd: Platinum Preppy
3rd: Pentel Pulaman JM20
4th: Pilot VPen
This was a difficult one to judge. The Varsity won because the flow was consistent, the nib super smooth, and it writes well at any angle from the paper and even upside-down. The Preppy came second, mainly due to it not being as smooth as the Varsity with the same nib width, but the flow and angle sensitivity was roughly the same. The Pulaman, surpassing the VPen, had quite a dry flow, but it was fairly consistent. Jagged lines cropped up, and the nib makes a weird noise, but they write fairly smoothly! This VPen must have some issues, because despite having the same nib as the Varsity (supposedly), it was a bit scratchy and the flow was uneven.
Winner: Pentel Pulaman
2nd: Pilot Varsity
3rd: Platinum Preppy
4th: Pilot VPen
The outright winner was the Pulaman here. The seamless flow from the grip to the body and the larger size when posted meant that there weren’t any jagged bits touching my hands whilst writing, and very little fatigue arose. The Varsity was nice to use, as the matte texture feels a lot better, but the base of the cap did rub against my hand. The Preppy was good, but a little top-heavy when posted. The VPen actually had scratchy bits along the base of the cap that were quite annoying whilst writing posted, they rubbed against my fingers.
Winner: Platinum Preppy
2nd: Pilot VPen
3rd: Pilot Varsity
4th: Pentel Pulaman JM20
The features we looked at were things like material choice, ink windows, refillability, and so on. The Preppy wins outright because of its huge feature set, of course. The VPen was next up, because the ink colour is on both the top of the cap and the bottom of the body, the lack of the body indicator is what pushed the Varsity to a close third. These two also sported metal nibs and ink windows. The JM20, whilst having the ability to write at any angle, is really a barebones pen.
Testing against similarly priced ballpoint pens, these pens hold their own and they do it very well. In fact, I wonder why people even bother with ballpoints altogether if you have the choice to buy one of these fountain pens instead. Not only were they more comfortable to hold, but also fountain pens allow you to spread out your hand a bit more and write at a lower angle, rather than screwing up your hand in the wrong way with a ballpoint, resulting in better, easier writing.
I could easily ramble on about the reasons why fountain pens are “just better”, but the best way to have you convince yourself why is to just go out and buy one!
The overall winner here was definitely the Platinum Preppy, for many reasons. However, that doesn’t mean you should drop all your pens and buy 300 Preppy’s, no. Every pen tested here is great in its own way, so you should really choose the one you like best, and the most suitable pen for the job.
For example, if you are marking papers or annotating something, the Pulaman JM20’s drier flow means you won’t have to worry about smearing the ink as you flick between pages, and the red colour is SUPER RED! If you are having a marathon writing session, a Varsity or VPen would suit because of their higher “ink tank” like ink capacity. So, in conclusion:
Buy one of each! (or two!!)
Or… you could simply win some in our GIVEAWAY!
Thanks to JetPens, we have a cheap-pen prize pack to give away to one lucky reader! This prize consists of one Pentel Pulaman JM20 Black, a Pilot Varsity in Red, one medium-nib Platinum Preppy with blue-black ink, and also a green Platinum Preppy highlighter! This is the perfect student pen set, and to win all you have to do is answer the following question:
If you had $5.00 to spend, what would you get from JetPens and why?
Enter via the comments on this post, post it to our Facebook page, or jump onto Twitter and post your answer with the hashtag #pentorium. We will select the most creative/funny/witty answer to win! Note that you may only enter once, and multiple entries will be ignored. The contest will end on next Wednesday (12th Sep 2012) at 5:00PM AEST, so get your entries in quick!!
Oh, the competition is open worldwide too! Good luck everyone!!