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.

Lamy Extra Fine Nibs discontinued

September 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

We have been advised today that Lamy are discontinuing their Extra Fine nibs in all but their high-end pens.  In effect, the superb stainless steel nib range is being reduced to fine, medium, broad, and left-handed, in the core products with 1.1, 1.5, and 1.9mm in the calligraphy type nibs. The steel nibs are renowned for their ease of changing.

The 14ct gold inlaid nib in extra fine will continue to be available for the foreseeable future.

At PenFountain.com we are disappointed to learn of this change because it was a popular nib for the finer characters used in many Asian scripts.  We will maintain stocks of the steel nibs for as long as possible.

Lamy Safari Reviewed

August 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Lamy Safari and its success as a school fountain pen is well-known.  But lying behind this success is a combination of design and manufacturing quality together with features that make this an attractive pen from the outset.

From picking the pen up at just 18 grams in working order, the quality of the ABS moulding is immediately noticeable.  The Lamy Safari uses the same polymer that is used in the manufacture of  Lego bricks, offering the same high quality, and durable finish.  Its round-sectioned barrel is finished with facing flat sections and an ink level window.  Whilst the grip, also round in cross-section, has 2 asymmetric flat recesses to accommodate the thumb and forefingers in an ideal position for optimum control.  The stainless steel nib, shared with the Lamy family up to around £80 pens, offers excellent writing characteristics from its range of widths from extra fine through to 1.9mm square-cut italic calligraphy style.  There is also a left-handed nib available.

Filling the Safari is by conventional, proprietary ink cartridges or by optional screw-piston pump ink converter to allow use of bottled inks.  The best thing about the Safari is that it works reliably with a smooth performance which, particularly for the uninitiated, exceeds expectation for a relatively low-budget pen.  The Safari also uses a rubber o-ring as a final seal to its click-on cap contributing to the reliability of its initial ink flow.

Lamy Safari fountain pen with cartridges

Lamy Safari fountain pen with cartridges

The detail adds to the Safari’s difference.  The ability to change the nib with minimal cost and simplicity is well-known, using the Lamy slide-on mounting system.  This offers 2 principle benefits including, replacement of a damaged nib or selection of an alternative nib width or style. The cartridge has a small reserve ink supply in the final constriction at the top of the cartridge where, when you’re down to your last drop, a little flick of the end will release the ink from its designed-in air-lock.

By the way, when you get your first Safari fountain pen, please remove the cardboard spacer from the barrel – it’s only there to prevent premature puncturing of the sealed ink cartridge before use.  You’d be surprised at how many customer have complained at not being able to get their new pens working!

The Lamy Safari is currently on Special Offer at PenFountain.com for £9.95 until 5 September.

How can we win?

August 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

We’ve just had a customer in our Cranleigh retail shop, PenFountain.com, to buy a LamyNexx for his son.  However, his wife had advised not to buy the Lamy cartridges from us because they would be cheaper in the local WHS.  How can we win?  Smiths’ price is £4.99 (with the additional benefit of buy one get the second at half price!).  Our price is £1.53.

Lamy Fountain pen cartridges at low prices

Lamy Fountain pen cartridges at low prices

The bigger picture is more worrying.  At those prices young writers will be discouraged from buying a Lamy fountain pen because of the cost of refills.  And yet, this is one of the best pens to encourage the joy of hand writing among young students.  Whilst, on the flip-side, the perception appears to be that you get a better deal buying from our competitors.

You can draw your own conclusions as to which is the better deal!

Oh, and another thing about Lamy…

June 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Gold is regarded as the finest metal for fountain pen nibs.  They offer softness, malleability, and even a degree of springiness to mould their way in your personal style of writing.  Arguably therefore, gold is the optimum material for the finest writing experience.  However, its attributes are also its weaknesses. When you knock the pen off the desk the law of Mr. Sod comes into play and it always goes down, nib first, onto a hard floor.

Replacement nib for a Waterman Carene required!

Waterman Carene having experienced the thick end of a lever arch file mechanism!

Gold ain’t cheap!  And under most circumstances, unless you know a highly skilled nib-smith and go without your pen until they can fit it in, it’s a new nib.

At PenFountain.com we have had our share of returned pens under warranty with tines splayed at 30 degrees to each other claiming ‘It’s never been dropped or abused’.  The tines obviously just fell apart on first use!  Sorry folks, it’s a new nib.  Nibs are the most significant component of the pen and therefore, represent an equally significant proportion of the cost of a complete replacement pen making them relatively expensive. To many pen users the risk is enough to put them off using their favourite pen on a regular basis.

Our belief in Lamy pens has been well documented in earlier blogs, with the Studio having been discussed in the blog,  Lamy’s  Gold Standard.  Not only is this a beautiful, contemporary pen with its 14kt gold inlaid nib, it is also practical.  Lamy, unlike other manufacturers, offer a part exchange service on damaged gold nibs.  If you have had the unspeakable happen to your gold nibbed Lamy, we can return it to the factory and have the nib replaced, usually for the price of another manufacturers’ replacement steel nib.  Usually within a couple of weeks you can have your pen returned ready to be Sellotaped to the desk to stop a repeat performance.

Lamy’s New Limited Editions in Stock

April 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

The eagerly awaited Special Edition coloured Lamy Safari is now available from stock at PenFountain.com. 

The Lamy Safari fountain pen is the highly respected pen manufactured from ABS resin to a design by Lamy designer, Wolfgang Fabian.  The front end grip and nib assembly is common to the Safari, the Joy and the Al-Star ranges and offers an ergonomic design for greater comfort and to assist young hands attain the correct writing grip.  Much has been written about the Lamy nibs and their unique nib mounting system that allows easy nib interchange.  However, it would be fair to say that not everyone gets on with the tri-lobal grip design, especially older writers who have less conventional gripping positions with their fountain pens!

Lamy have established quite a reputation for producing a Special Edition coloured Safari each year with the caveat that this for a limited time/production run. They are a little more reticent about revealing times or volumes presumably so that if the colour does well they can produce another batch – or am I just cynical? The Safari Special Edition for this year is a beautiful Aquamarine fountain pen with chrome trim.

Lamy Safari fountain pen Special Edition in Aquamarine blue

Lamy Safari fountain pen Special Edition in Aquamarine blue

2011 has had a wealth of surprises with the release of the Special Edition White version of their successful Joy calligraphy fountain pen.  This may be seen as ideal for wedding invitations although a little late for the forthcoming Royal event!

Lamy Joy Special Edition White calligraphy fountain pen

Lamy Joy Special Edition White calligraphy fountain pen

Both pens come with the usual selection of nibs and don’t even attract a premium price!  When ordering, don’t forget to include any cartridges and converters you may want.

Wringing out the ink

March 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

For many users, bottled ink is the lifeblood of their fountain pens and getting the best fill for their converter is vitally important.  To this end, there are numerous videos on You Tube of varying qualities (and degrees of condescension!) offering advice on how to get the best results.  In essence, ensure the nib is fully immersed in the ink and fill by gently lifting the plunger, either by screw thread or by slide, dependent on type.  To ensure maximum filling, push the plunger back downwards and upwards a couple of times to express any airlocks.   Hey presto!  A video script.

fountain pen ink, Lamy fountain pen ink, Pelikan Edlestein ink, Waterman fountain pen

Ink bottle design - more than just aesthetics

What is not covered on these videos is that, in addition to the quality of the ink, there are more designs of ink bottle than you can shake a nib at.  Each bottle is designed around a specific brand requirement, some of them even take into account the needs of filling a pen.   However, ink bottle design is not just about aesthetics but about practicality and useability.  Once you have drawn a significant amount of ink from the bottle, covering the nib can become a problem.  But, with a little thought in bottle design, the amount of ink it is possible to draw can vary significantly. Possibly the best design for an ink bottle is Lamy’s with its central well in the base, shown without its plastic support cover, allows the ink  to flow to the point where it is needed.  At the other end of the spectrum ( no name – no price tag)  is the cuboid glass bottle with the little dish that bearly covers a nib when full.

The choice is yours!  

Not sure?  Come to PenFountain.com in Cranleigh and have look for yourself.

Lamy’s Gold Standard

February 19, 2011 § 1 Comment

Much has been written about the superb qualities of the Lamy steel nib.  Its excellent writing characteristics, low price,  range, ease of changing and interchangeability across the range of Lamy fountain pens, sets standards unmatched by any other manufacturer.  The pens themselves are just as good from the entry-level Safari with its excellent grip, styling and practical materials, through to the Accent with its metal components and grip variations.  But, for a really wonderful writing experience, wait until the nib has enjoyed a little mileage and see how even a steel nib can be broken-in.  I have written about my Lamy Studio gash pen in an earlier blog, but having swapped nibs for a new calligraphy 1.5 to demonstrate the characteristics to a customer, the degree of edginess surprised even me.  Restoring my faithful nib to its rightful place, all was well with the world! 

 However, what happens when you want to move to the next level.  Lamy has most of the trump cards but you want the slightly softer characteristics and flexibility usually only found in a gold nib.  Enter the Lamy Studio 68.  This has the same modern styling of its brothers but  finished in matt anthracite, a warm dark grey colour with a fine lacquered finish.  The nib is a 14 carat, bi-coloured, gold unit but with styling common to the lower priced all-steel nib.  However, start writing with it and its softer side becomes immediately apparent.  It is a bit like my well-worn 1.5 calligraphy number in smoothness, but with a little extra spring. 

The Lamy Gold Nib with its family

Despite the superb characteristics of both the steel and gold nibs, the Lamy brand struggles to achieve recognition for its higher-priced models.  Although I might suggest that some of the higher-end Accents fail to live up to their price tag in the detail of their finish, the Studio 68 , in my opinion, at £110.00 must represent the best value for money for an entry-level gold nibbed fountain pen.  Unlike its gold-nibbed competitors in this price band, the Studio 68 is also available in a range of nib fittings from extra fine through to broad, oblique medium and oblique broad, but only to order.  However, unlike the Lamy steel nibs, Lamy do not recommend changing the gold nibs because of their inherent softness making them easy to distort during the removal process.   If you are considering your next move up the fountain pen hierarchy, we recommend considering the Studio 68.  It is contemporary and stylish, with high quality of finishing detail.  Although not featured on our website at present also available to order in platinum and matt palladium finishes at £230 and £110 respectively.


November 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

Occasionally, we are asked for a pen with a hooded nib.  The request is usually based on prior experience, either directly or through the treasured possession of a family member. While there are a few refurbished Parker 51’s around, generally there is little to offer in this style. The nearest fit would probably be the Lamy 2000 but, despite its quality and track record, this tends to be too contemporary for an enquirer despite having been originally designed in the mid-1960’s.

Lamy 2000 Nib

Lamy 2000 nib-nearest to a hooded nib currently available

The question of nibs and fashion is intriguing.  Personally, my experience of hooded nibs was the ubiquitous Osmiroid during my school days.  Like most people, the experience of pens at school clouded opinion of fountain pens as a whole.  It was only later in life that I found the joy of writing with real ink.  The Osmiroid, in my hands at least, was not a positive experience recognising clearly that neither pen nor the user were quite ready for each other.  As a generalisation, the hooded nib was a passing, albeit lengthy, phase.  But why?  Is it fashion? The pens performed admirably, had the required presence and balance, and did not attract any significant price premium and yet are now generally unavailable.

The nearest similarly styled nib is the 18ct gold inlaid type favoured by both Sheaffer and Waterman’s Carene.  These offer a compromise between the hooded number and a full conventional nib.  Sheaffer have been using the inlaid nib in their top-end pens for over 50 years, currently offering it in their Valor and Legacy Heritage models. In both applications they offer a very pleasant writing experience with the nib length imbuing the writing tip with an inherent flexibility rarely found in conventional nibs.  The Sheaffer nib widths and ink flow are both quite generous and, particularly with the various limited editions of the Legacy Heritage, such as the Victorian and 1920’s, the presence of the pen is unquestionable.  The Valor series currently offers one of the most competitive entry-level 18 carat gold nibbed pens in our range. However, under commercial pressures, the disappointment is that the range of nib styles has been restricted to the standard small medium and large.

Sheaffer Legacy Heritage Nib

Sheaffer Legacy Heritage Nib - flexibility is its key

The Waterman Carene’s inlaid nib offers a smooth, comfortable writing experience but has not capitalised on the potential flexibility of the inlaid style nib.  Like almost everything fountain pen, it comes down to personal taste and the Carene is neither better nor worse than the Sheaffer; just different.  Waterman have a policy of offering a comprehensive range of nibs with all of their higher-end pens with the Carene starting with extra fine through to broad, stub, and obliques.

Carene Silver Nib

Waterman Carene Silver plated nib available in a range of styles

The question is that, having lost the once ubiquitous hooded nib, is the inlaid nib likely to go the same way?  I sincerely hope not.  Fashion is a fickle beast but difference surely lies at the very heart of fountain pen usage? As always, we recommend trying the options in our shop, where practical.

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