Time for a digitally driven fountain pen nib?

February 17, 2012 § 1 Comment

The principles of the fountain pen have been established and refined over the last 150 years. Put simply, an ink reservoir feeds ink into a delivery tube, through a series of capillary tracts, through to the tip of the nib, where contact with the writing surface causes the ink to be deposited. Although a fairly crude process by comparison to the writing technologies of today, the fountain pen, either because of its idiosyncrasies or in spite of them, remains the most rewarding way to put words onto paper for others to read.

Much has been written about the attributes of different styles of nib fabricated from almost every conceivable type of resistant material but, ultimately, beauty remains in the eye of the beholder. At PenFountain, what is very clear is that the current trend towards one-size-fits-all ‘medium’ nibs is eroding the very market that the fountain pen works for.

When asked for advice about pens with alternative nibs, sizes, and formats, the conversation invariably contains the caveat ‘without spending a fortune…’, to which only one reply is currently available, Lamy.  Regular readers of my blog will be familiar with my faith in Lamy’s interchangeable nib system with its low cost and reliability. However, even with its greatness, the design of the Lamy pen range can be a little too contemporarily radical for what may be described as an inherently conservative market. In an ideal world, perhaps the solution could be to put the Lamy nib system into pens of a slightly more conservative style such as, Waterman. Keep the price below £50 and you could have a commercial winner. While we’re designing the perfect commercial fountain pen, the range could possibly be extended to include some oblique nibs. We have been surprised at the number of fountain pen users requesting italic and oblique nibs and, even with Lamy’s ‘calligraphy’ pen nibs, which are technically italic, the 1.1mm nib does not offer sufficient variation between major and minor line widths and yet the 1.5mm major line width tends to suit people with larger writing. Conversely, the broad italics and obliques from the other major players tend to be neither wide enough and, being predominantly18ct gold, too expensive.

We understand the issues associated with production costs, tooling, and economies of scale but surely in the age of CNC manufacturing it would be possible to develop a digitally controlled tool to create a range of nibs that meet the fullest market requirements without prohibitive cost?

Would this be your ideal solution?  Please let us know.

Fountain Pen nib choice is on the wane.

October 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

There is an increasing trend among fountain pen manufacturers to reduce nib options, even on their core pen products.  This year has seen Cross discontinuing production of the broad nib option from their range, although stock remains available at the time of writing.

Lamy then followed suit announcing the demise of the extra fine nib across their range.  They treated their customers rather differently, announcing the discontinuation after stocks had been exhausted preventing retailers from stock piling these niche nibs to prolong the availability a little longer.

At PenFountain.com, we pride ourselves in our nib range and believe that one of the great things about fountain pens is the joy of different writing experiences afforded by a change of nib or pen.  It is a great disappointment when, presumably for production-cost reduction reasons, these nibs are discontinued.  However, pens retailers in general are becoming more focused on the supply of medium, one-size-fits-all, nibs and are therefore contributing to the demise of the great variety fountain pen choices.

Skipping and irregular inking

June 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Let’s be honest, the fountain pen, although proven technology, is still relatively crude in its operation.  The ink is held in a reservoir and, under gravity, it runs through a tube into a network of fine capillary chambers and, still using capillary action, to the writing tip of the nib where its is distributed across the nib’s contact surface with the paper.  Reliable action is dependent on a lot of quite fine variables which, in the most part, come together and produce that sublime writing experience that we all love.  Occasionally, particularly with a new pen, the experience is not as giving as we would like. This can manifest itself as anything from no ink at all to the occasional, initial skip on a down- or cross-stroke.  They are all equally frustrating at a level only normally found with recalcitrant computers!

On a new pen the first problem can be as simple as an impatient user.  On first fill, the capillaries do take time to fully flood and ensure a reliable ink flow to the nib. However, when using a new nib, once fully inked, another issue causing inconsistent flow can be that during manufacture, the smallest piece of production debris may have found its way into the capillaries and can result in irregular flow.  This can be addressed using a pressurised ink flow such as, pumping ink back and forth using a converter and a bottle of ink, or by filling the feeder-tube end of the nib with a little tepid water and gently blowing the water through the nib.

Caran d'Ache Leman nib - one of the finest made

Caran d'Ache Leman nib, in our opinion, one of the finest made, fully tested before leaving the factory

Clearly there are other factors that can influence ink flow such as ink type and paper surface.  These can be eliminated by substitution, trying alternative products to determine the effect.  The user may also find that their writing style may be part of the cause.  Particularly when using unfamiliar italic or oblique nibs, the angle of contact between nib and paper can be critical, as can the downward pressure.  If irregular inking occurs, try adjusting the relative position of nib to paper and gently increase the downward pressure.

If all else fails, contact the pen’s supplier and discuss your issues.  But, so that you don’t have the hassle of losing your pen a for a few days while it’s returned to the factory, do try the other suggestions first.

At PenFountain.com we are happy to discuss issues with your pens and, where we can, offer remedies.

Has your pen experienced magnetron sputtering – or is it just a Cross Spire

March 10, 2011 § 1 Comment

Be assured, magnetron sputtering is not a fault but a sophisticated electro-magnetic process.  It is used in an advanced surface coating system that offers a fine, high-gloss, durable finish, without filling-in even the finest detail on etched or engraved surface decoration.  Magnetron sputtering is used in the Physical Vapour Deposition (PVD) process.  PVD offers the benefit of being a relatively green process with little release of volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the application process compared with conventional spraying or plating techniques.

 The new Cross Spire range has been finished with PVD in 3 colours, Caviar Black, Golden Shimmer and Icy Chrome. On close inspection of each of the 3 colours, it is impossible to confirm that the chrome and gold finishes are not conventionally plated, even with the fine diamond pattern engraved surfaces.

The Cross Spire pen range in 3 PVD finishes

However, it is not the finish that grabs the attention first with the Cross Spire, but the slender barrels of each format, including the fountain pen. At just 8mm diameter, the fountain pen feels exactly the same as using a slightly weighty conventional lead pencil.  The screw-top cap is removed and posted with a corresponding male thread machined into the top end.  This functions in 2 ways, extending the length of the pen to a significant 153mm and adjusting the balance on a very light pen of just 18 grams.

The nib is quite special for such a small pen.  Visually, it looks almost out of place because of its size – a full sized-nib on a miniature pen. When compared to the Cross Apogee nib, the Spire’s nib is virtually identical across the width and even a little longer!  But this is the real deal.  18ct gold with colour coded finishes in gold and rhodium as appropriate, although, Cross seem less forthcoming about the finish on the black nib. The writing experience itself is everything that would be expected of a pen at this price point. The Spire fountain pen at full price is £155.00 (PenFountain.com price £139.50).  The first sample I tried which, to be fair, was a pre-production model, was quite generous in its inking whilst the subsequent production model sampled was a little more reticent, but quite acceptable.  The Spire also shares the same 0.5mm line width as for other medium nibs from the Cross range.  It is available with the standard fine, medium and broad nib width options.

The Cross Spire full sized nib compared with a Cross Apogee

Because of the overall dimensions of the Cross Spire, the writing experience is a little unusual with the diminutive barrel taking some getting used to.  However, for the more copious fountain pen writer, the combination of small diameter, light-weight and length may offer an exciting alternative to the more conventional pens from other manufacturers. The Spire is offered in 3 colour schemes all finished with the PVD coatings.  The black is a particularly interesting option with an all black, gloss finish including trim and nib making this diminutive pen more acceptable to a potential male market.

As may be gathered from my comments here, I am quite impressed with this latest offering from Cross.  But, this is a cartridge only pen using dedicated Cross Spire cartridges and only available in either blue, blue-black or black inks. On the mechanical side, the screw cap-posting facility is let down by the random positions of the clip when tightened, none of which line the clip with the nib.  For writers with smaller hands this is unlikely to be a problem. For larger hands, it may have the clip catching the crook of the thumb.

In summary, if you write extensively and are looking for a fountain pen that doesn’t tire your hands or, you want to use a real fountain pen with discretion, the Cross Spire is worth looking into.  But the cartridges and the clip may prove a drawback.  The Cross Spire is available from PenFountain.com, or in our Cranleigh shop, in fountain pen,  ballpoint and rollerball formats.

Stories from the gash Lamy

July 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

I have a Lamy Studio fountain pen that lives on my desk. It’s an everyday pen with numerous dings in the barrel where it has been generally abused and, while I enjoy writing with its 1.5mm calligraphy nib, it is also used to demonstrate Lamy’s nib changing capability. It’s fitted with a convertor so it

Lamy reliability

Lamy Studio everyday gash pen

can be used to test different inks and is currently enjoying an outing with Diamine Damson (which has proved to be a bit variable between a delicious damson colour and black). The pen’s looks belie what a smooth writing experience it offers.

The beauty of the fountain pen is that it is used for drafting copy before typing. It encourages more planning of what to write and gives more thinking time. If the communication is (brief!) to a customer then I think, coming from a fountain pen retailer, it should be written in ink.

If you would like to try my rewarding gash pen to see what your pen is unlikely to become, just drop in if you’re passing through Cranleigh!   Why not give your favourite pen an outing to show us?

Bob Melvin

G.Lalo Verge de France Writing Pad Performance

June 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

The G.Lalo Verge de France writing pads have received many plaudits in the Fountain Pen Network and other blogs but there’s nothing like trying the products at first hand.  At our retail shop, PenFountain.com in Cranleigh, not only do we offer the opportunity to try pens before purchase, we also offer some sample papers.

G.Lalo Verge de France Ivory pad with fountain pen ink

G.Lalo Verge de France Ivory performance demonstration - front

G.Lalo Verge de France performance - rear

 The sample shown here is one of our Verge de France Ivory pads written with a Lamy Studio running a 1.5mm nib and Diamine Damson ink.  The pen writes with generous inking through this broad nib but the Verge de France, with its high quality pulp and 25% cotton content, handles the ink beautifully, without any spidering, despite its laid finish.  From the reverse, the sheet has minimal show-through and no bleeding.

It would be fair to say that the laid finish is not everybody’s taste but, in our experience, the surface does perform well with with numerous fountain pens we have tried.  The pads are available in a range of colours with matching envelopes from PenFountain.com  We endeavour to keep the colours offered in stock.

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