Monday, April 25, 2011

TWSBI Diamond 530 fountain pen review

The TWSBI Diamond 530 is the jewel in my crown of fountain pens. This might sound like a cliche but that's how I feel about this fountain pen. Not only does the name hint to its physical beauty but it is also a king among $50 (or less) fountain pens. To summarize this review in one sentence, you'd be hard pressed to find a better fountain pen at this price point and even for $50 more.

TWSBI Diamond 530

I will spare you the story behind the TWSBI brand and the Diamond 530 but if you haven't heard already, go to FountainPenNetwork (FPN) and search for "twsbi". Essentially the brand was started by a Taiwanese gentlemen (these pens are made in Taiwan) and the Diamond 530 was created with a lot of input from the FPN community. This makes it a community project and I can see how a lot of careful thought went into its creation.

As a side note, if you're wondering how "TWSBI" is pronounced, the general consensus is "twisbee" or "twizbee".

There aren't many places where you can buy TWSBI pens. There are actually at least 2 more pens in the brand, besides the Diamond 530: a mechanical pencil and another, more expensive, fountain pen. The best place to snag one is on eBay, directly from the producer. What makes this a very sweet deal is the fact that the shipping is very low. The pen itself is $39.99 while the shipping is only $3.39.

My TWSBI is a clear demonstrator but you can buy colored demonstrators as well. The next version of this pen has been under development for a while and I believe it will be called the Diamond 550. While the 5xx generation has a piston-fill mechanism, there's also a future Diamond 700 (if I'm not mistaken) which will be a vacuum-filler.

TWSBI Diamond 530

I hesitated a long time to buy this fountain pen, not because I doubted its qualities but because I wasn't sure what nib size to get. At the time, there were 3 sizes available: M, F and EF. Finally, I settled on EF and it turns out I made the right choice. This nib is close to perfect, at least in my non-expert opinion. At present, B nibs have also become available and you can even buy the nib unit separately if you so choose. It's about $20 on eBay. The nib unit is made up of the section, the feed and the nib itself. You can just screw it on your TWSBI after unscrewing the original section. This allows you to change the pen's characteristics and writing qualities on the fly.

The modularity and serviceability of the TWSBI Diamond 530 is a big part of its appeal and a major feature of this fountain pen. Firstly, the pen was designed to be completely disassembled for servicing, and anyone can do it easily. Here's a great video from TWSBI's creator, showing how to disassemble the Diamond 530 and then put it back again:


Secondly, the pen comes with printed instructions of how to service it yourself, along with some silicone grease and a small wrench like the one you see in the video.

TWSBI Diamond 530 plastic box

The instructions, grease and wrench, along with the pen itself come in a nice acrylic display case which, although plastic, looks very high quality. I suspect part of the appeal lies in the edgy industrial design and the precisely machined parts. The plastic box, in turn, comes in a thick cardboard box with the red TWSBI logo on the lid. Very classy packaging and I challenge you to show me another $40 fountain pen which comes with such impressive packaging.

TWSBI Diamond 530 cardboard box

TWSBI Diamond 530 plastic box

TWSBI Diamond 530 plastic box

TWSBI Diamond 530 plastic box

So what kind of fountain pen is the TWSBI Diamond 530? It is a premium-looking pen, fairly large in size, with a modern, industrial design. People compare it to a Pelikan M800 and even though I haven't held a Pelikan in my life, that's how I imagine it would feel. The Diamond is very well built, and you can tell by its heft. The body isn't smooth like a normal pen but rather faceted, similar to a cut gemstone. While some people dislike this feature, I absolutely love it, not only because it make the pen look just like its namesake, the diamond, but it also prevents it from rolling off the desk.

TWSBI Diamond 530 plastic box

The cap is another very solid affair and all the shiny bits are actual metal. This pen feels so sturdy that sometimes I imagine it is made of glass. The cap is a twist-on affair, the way a proper cap should be (in my humble opinion). This feature is sadly shadowed by a little annoyance, namely the fact that the cap is rather tight when screwing and unscrewing. This could be due to the tight tolerances of the machining process and many people have mentioned it. The cap does loosen up a bit after using the pen for a few weeks but it is still not at the level I'd like it to be. You could try applying a little silicone grease to the threads and that will certainly help but it does make the pen sticky and it will get on your fingers.

TWSBI Diamond 530

In the end, the tightness of the cap is only a problem if you want to make it one. It doesn't bother me that much but it is a minor blemish in what could be the perfect fountain pen.

The clip is sturdy and a bit stiff but that only means that it will grab hold of anything you clip it on and won't let go easily.

The cap is topped off by TWSBI's logo which I like, though some folks might find it garish. I think it gives the pen a certain flair and adds some color to the transparent body.

TWSBI Diamond 530

At the other end we have the knob for the piston. This knob is another point of contention for certain folks because it is not protected and when the cap is posted, it rests directly on the knob. If you are not careful when un-posting the cap, you might twist the knob, thus squirting ink all over. To me, this seems like an extreme scenario for several reasons. First, I never post the cap (I'll tell you why in a minute). Second, the knob seems to be tight enough to prevent casual twisting. Third, if you do twist the knob you will learn not to do it the next time :)

TWSBI Diamond 530

The knob issue is, thus, the second flaw of the TWSBI Diamond 530 and a big one for some people. For me it is a non-issue. The tightness of the cap is of much greater concern to be than the knob and that's simply because I don't feel the slightest need to post the cap. Why? Because the cap is heavy and it messes up the balance of the pen were it posted. The pen itself is thick, long and heavy enough to not require posting. Then again, there are those who can't bear writing without posting the cap and in that case there's nothing I can say that will make them love the Diamond 530.

TWSBI Diamond 530

Moving on, the piston mechanism guarantees a larger ink capacity than your standard converter, such as the one Lamy uses. There's still a lot of space wasted by it, but this will be improved in the future Diamond 550 by a redesigned mechanism which will increase capacity by about 30%. The capacity of the Diamond 530 is another non-issue for me because the ink still lasts a long time, at my rate of writing.

TWSBI Diamond 530

One thing I usually dislike about piston fillers is that they can be hard to clean inside. Sure, you can flush them by pumping the piston two dozen times but it would be nicer to get inside the pen. The TWSBI Diamond 530 makes this easy by allowing you to unscrew the section from the body. I did mention earlier that it can be fully disassembled, right? Not only that but you can go crazy and remove the nib and feed from the section and you can also take the piston mechanism apart.

I haven't had the chance to disassemble the Diamond 530 for the simple reason that the fountain pen came perfectly calibrated right out of the box, so there was nothing to adjust. Since I'm using the same ink in it, I've had no need to take it apart for cleaning. Speaking of ink, the TWSBI Diamond 530 is dedicated to Noodler's Polar Brown which I've reviewed previously.

Moving back to the piston, you should probably know that there were several versions of it on the market. My version is known as version 1.5 and it is an improvement over the original which sometimes and under certain conditions leaked a bit from the first seal (there are two seals in the piston). Speedy, TWSBI's creator, has always been incredibly supportive of anyone who has experienced issues with the piston (or anything else for that matter) and has promptly shipped the updated piston free of charge. Such customer service is hard to find these days and it only makes me more confident in my future TWSBI purchases.

If you were to buy one of these pens now, chances are you will end up with a piston version 1.6 or even 1.7. I've kind of lost count of the different versions floating around but the point is that the pen is constantly evolving and improving.

One of the best things about the TWSBI Diamond 530 is the writing experience. Though I was a bit fearful of the EF nib, in the end it proved the correct choice. Thankfully, it is not a Japanese EF, but rather a European one. In fact the nib is made by Schmidt in Germany.

TWSBI Diamond 530

The nib is nicely engraved with the TWSBI logo along with some flourishes. There's also a tiny "EF" engraved on the side. Those who are hoping for flex will be disappointed but the nib was never advertised as having flex. Personally I find it hard as a nail but some people have reported a little bit of flex to it. If a nib is not explicitly a flex, I will always be careful not to force it in any way for fear of springing it.

A few people have also reported minor issues with their nibs, in the form of scratchiness or poor ink flow. It may be that these nibs are not entirely consistent. After all, what can you expect in such an inexpensive pen? From what I've been reading, the vast majority of TWSBI owners are very happy, even ecstatic, with their fountain pen.

TWSBI Diamond 530

Thankfully, I haven't had the slightest problem with my Diamond 530. I haven't had to adjust it in the slightest, and it worked right out of the box. It wrote beautifully from the beginning and my impression is that, with time, the nib has become even smoother. Now, it is buttery smooth and I can't wait to pop off the cap and write or draw something with it. Compared to it, the Pilot Prera, which I previously considered to be a very smooth, feels like a dry writer.

Noodler's Polar Brown ink works wonderfully in the TWSBI Diamond 530. Not only does the brown liquid give the transparent body a distinguished look but it also stains the nib slightly and gives it a golden tint. As for flow, it is perfect. Overall I'd say the pen writes on the wet side but not too wet.

Another great feature of the TWSBI is that this pen starts immediately, no matter how I store it, no matter for how long. It is always eager to write.

Here are some of the sizes I have measured, for those interested in such details.
Length capped: 14cm / 5.5in
Length un-capped: 12.8cm / 5in
Length of cap: 6cm / 2.36in
Length posted: 17.6cm / 6.9in

If raw sizes don't mean anything to you, here's a side-by-side comparison of the TWSBI Diamond 530 with Noodler's piston filler, Pilot Prera and Lamy AL-Star. As you can see, the TWSBI is just a tad longer than the Lamy, both capped and uncapped, but it is definitely heavier and feels more solid to hold. In comparison, the Prera is the shortest pen in the lineup, while the piston filler from Noodler's is the thinnest. Here's some more food for thought: the Pilot, Lamy and TWSBI all have a comparable price. They each have their strengths and weaknesses but overall I prefer the TWSBI.

Noodler's, Pilot Prera, Lamy, TWSBI fountain pens

If this review has convinced you to buy a TWSBI, I would suggest to do it now. The next, improved, version will cost an extra $10 due to rising material costs. Although the successor will have some improvements such as extra ink capacity, the reality is that future TWSBIs will cost more than the Diamond 530.

I am already contemplating to buy the vacuum filler when it becomes available. This brand has a great future as long as development and customer support continue as they have until now.

To conclude, the TWSBI Diamond 530 is probably the best fountain pen you can find at $40, or even below $100. It is not perfect and the piston knob issue might irritate some folks enough to pass on this pen. The tightness of the cap is my only dislike of the pen but I can live with it. I believe that the positives far outweigh the negatives. Finally, a poor fountain pen lover can afford something which feels and writes like a much more expensive instrument but at a fraction of the cost.

The writing samples below are the same ones I used in my review of Noodler's Polar Brown.

Noodler's Polar Brown ink review on photocopier paper

Noodler's Polar Brown ink review on Rhodia 80g

33 comments:

  1. Based on this review, I've gone ahead and purchased one of these. I do own a Pelikan M800 and, if you're interested, I can post my thoughts between the two.

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  2. Wow that was quick! I barely posted this review :)

    I sure am interested in a comparison Ron. Feel free to post your impressions here. What nib size did you get? To be honest, my next TWSBI is likely to have a B nib.

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  3. I could not agree with you more about this pen. My first one did not write smoothly, until a small chip fell out of the nib unit. After that, it was Smooth City! I like the pen so much I bought it in three colors and nib sizes. I love how the facets keep the pen from rolling, and the piston knob operates extremely smoothly.

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  4. +1 for Reader. I couldn't live without it. It has made my life so much easier.

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  5. Now I'm jealous! I don't know, I can't seem to become attracted to colored demonstrators. Though I like the different colors I'm afraid I would be forced to dedicate a single ink to each pen, to match the color of that pen.

    I can't wait to get a B and if we're lucky they might also implement that mythical titanium flex nib. But I'm waiting for the vacuum filler since I don't have too many funds at my disposal.

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  6. The main impetus for my purchase was that it's a piston filler. My work pen, a Sensa Meridian, is a converter filler with a relatively small resevoir. This is compounded by the pen being built in such a way that you cannot see how much ink you have gotten into the converter or how much you have remaining. Sometimes you pick up the pen and it just doesn't work.

    So I was looking for an inexpensive non-eyedropper with unambiguous display of ink levels, a healthy reservoir, and a low enough price point that I won't go apoplectic should it disappear from work.

    My Meridian, though relatively inexpensive for a fountain pen, has a great deal of sentimental value since it was the pen I used for note taking in college. Uncapped, it's a great note taker: neither too heavy nor light and incredibly comfortable.

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  7. I don't know how the people at your workplace are but I have a couple of co-workers who will just grab anything off the desk without asking so I have to be very careful with my more expensive pens. Since my TWSBI is my most expensive fountain pen, it stays home. For work I use a Pilot Varsity that I refill with my own ink.

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  8. Dear Peninkcillin !
    Thanks for your detailed review about TWSBI 530. On January I ordred one TWSBI 530 on eBay for my blog review that will introduce it to turkish FP addicts. but they refused to ship it for Turkey.
    Its very painful subject. I fill my self like a dog who waits at the front of the store. NO DOGS NO TURKS

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  9. Hi im thinking of buying this pen thoguh im not sure whether to pick fine or medium. i want to ask is fine the same as fine for ballpoint and vice versa for medium?

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  10. I'm really sorry to head that Ali. Don't blame yourself, it's always who think they know how you should run your life, better than you do.

    Try contacting Speedy directly to see if you can arrange shipping outside of ebay. If not, Goldspot Pens (http://www.goldspot.com/Twsbi_pens/Diamond_530.html) also sells the TWSBI, though it is more expensive on their site. See if they are willing to ship it to Turkey.

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  11. Hi Luke. I don't think you should compare the F in a fountain pen with the F in a ballpoint. Nib sizes are not consistent even in the fountain pen world, much less if we bring in ballpoints into the mix. A manufacturer might call a tip F because it's the finest one they have. F could mean 0.5mm or 0.7mm. It all depends.

    Second, as I mentioned in the review, the TWSBI nib is European, meaning it is thicker than a Japanese nib of the same designation. So the TWSBI EF is about the same as a Japanese M (at least in my opinion).

    Third, I've heard people say that there isn't a big difference between the TWSBI EF, F and M. So my advice is this: if you prefer finer tips, go for the EF. If you prefer broader ones, go for the M or even the B. If you're not sure, go for the F.

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  12. Excellent and thorough review. Everyone seems to rave about the TWSBI. The brown ink looks amazing in the reservoir, mostly because of your photography, which I always enjoy. On that note, what are your thoughts on a relatively inexpensive camera that is able to achieve decent closeups?

    Again, great work on this review. I will be ordering a TWSBI soon.

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  13. Hey thanks Alex! Glad you like my photos.

    What size nib are you thinking to get?

    About cameras... "inexpensive" is a relative term. It depends on your budget and what you intend to accomplish. Is it for professional use or just for a hobby or for fun?

    I will assume that you need a point-and-shoot camera for non-professional use.

    Myself, I have a DSLR with various lenses which cover all possible situations but for all the photos on this site I use a much cheaper setup, in the form of a Canon G11 (P&S), a tripod and a cheap-but-excellent Chinese remote trigger.

    I was going to write an article on how to take decent shots of pens so if I do that, I will give more details there but I'll try to give you some pointers.

    Luckily these days most P&S cameras have good macro settings which allow you to shoot from very close up. I'm a Canon guy so I can recommend Canon cameras with confidence. Among the Canon P&S cameras, the best one is the G series (G12 is the latest model). The second best is the S95 which, although produces the same quality as the G12, lacks certain features such as a flash hotshoe and a swivel screen, which is awesome for shooting from a tripod.

    But the G12 is about $450, so again it depends on what your budget is. If this is too expensive, there are cheaper Canon models which don't have all the bells and whistles but can do the job almost as well. Just remember that these lesser models won't produce the same image quality as the G and S series because the sensor is smaller in physical size (among other things).

    At the minimum you should get a camera with manual controls (P, A, S, M settings) and the ability to change the exposure compensation.

    I will try to expand on this in a future article. Let me know if you have other questions.

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  14. Thanks for responding to my question so quickly. I will most likely go with the EF, which is my typical preference given my writing size.

    I've heard many good things about the S95, so I will probably go with that model. The price range I have been considering is under $300.00.

    I look forward to reading your tutorial, and I am sure many other bloggers are, too.

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  15. I'm afraid the S95 is a bit above the $300 mark but if you can make the financial effort to get that camera you won't regret it.

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  16. Ali might also try the Writing Desk, a UK based supplier of fine writing instruments, who hooked me up with my TWSBI. I'm loving it.

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  17. Dear Peninkcillin !
    Many thanks I will try the source giving by you for obtaining TWSBI.

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  18. Dear Barry !
    Many thanks for the efforts . I will try the source giving by you for obtaining TWSBI.

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  19. Thanks for this review! I was so close to buying a TWSBI but I hadn't decided yet. Mainly financial reasons. This review was the last-straw. I couldn't resist any longer! So many good pictures you have included here. Very well-done and thorough review! Great job!

    Now I just have to wait for the mailman... :)Regards,777 - Tyler Dahl

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  20. Thank you Tyler and congrats! Which nib did you get? Also, clear or colored?

    Mine was delivered very quickly, I got it in about 3 days. That seems to be the norm.

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  21. Hello again,

    I got one with a M nib cause they didn't come in with the broad pre-installed. Then I ordered a separate broad one. The medium will become a CI and the broad a stub. I've been grinding nibs for a while now and it's super fun... I just ground a B TWSBI nib for somebody else. That's what made me want to get one for myself. The B nibs seem to have a very slight degree of flex. It was nice-n-springy making it very comfortable for writing!

    I chose clear cause I've always wanted a Pelikan m800 demo but couldn't afford it. This is almost the same and at a fraction of the cost!

    I hope mine comes in three days. That would be great! :)

    Regards,
    777 - Tyler Dahl

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  22. Nice! I wish I had the skills to grind more expensive nibs. I wouldn't risk anything on my TWSBI, but I might give it a try on a Pilot Varsity.

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  23. A great review. I ordered one. A great pen at a good price. Ali Ikizkaya seems to be taking Ebay's inability to ship to Turkey rather personally. Ebay will not ship the Diamond 530 to most countries in the world. I had to order directly from TWSBI to get my pen sent to Korea (only positive things to say about their customer service).

    Many thanks for the detailed and eye-catching review.

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  24. Thank you Neill! I guess TWSBI owes me something for driving so many customers to them :) Nah, kidding.

    I'm not a big ebay expert but I believe that it's up to the seller which countries they wish to ship to. Personally whenever I sell something I only ship to the continental US (not even Alaska or Hawaii). It's less trouble that way and I won't lose too much on shipping (though I still lose some).

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  25. Great review. I ordered several (one for me and two for friends) and it's proved to be a new favorite. The nib is very smooth and the pen is solidly built. The o-rings in the cap make for a snug screw-in fit, but do a good job to keep the nib from drying out. Impressive debut from a new pen maker. It's a very techy looking pen and gets a lot of admiring comments. The main thing is that it writes very well and reliably. One of the best buys on the block, especially if you get it from their eBay store. Thanks!

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  26. Thanks for your impressions! What size nibs did you get?

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  27. I am just amazed that so much can be written about one pen! Congratulations.

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  28. Thanks! I've seen even bigger articles though. If you can imagine...

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  29. I'm suprised there is no mention to the many and repeated flaws of this pen and its sequel the 540. Pistons leak no matter what improved version they are. The policabonate cracks but itself, even in the box. For a pen that advertised itself with a video and throwing it to the floor, and now hammering it, well....The nibs still are quite poor, no matter if Smith or Bock. Price has gone up susbtancially, and if you live outside the US or Taiwan, it gets ridiculous for such a pen, you can buy Pilots and Sailors with gold nibs even for less. And yup, it's a piston filler. That hold at maximun 1.3/1.5ml of ink, like any long international converter ( less than the usual two small ones combo that so many student pens feture in Europe).
    My money won't be going to this company anymore, despite repeated changes, the replacement pieces still break.

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  30. Well, I mentioned some of the flaws in my review. So far mine hasn't cracked although I've heard of people complaining of that. Customer service has been outstanding for those folks and their defective parts were replaced promptly, at no cost to them.

    I'm not used to expensive pens so the EF and B nibs on my 530 are excellent, to me.

    I'm a bit disappointed that the price has gone up. Like you said, I doubt I'll be buying another TWSBI because there are pens from more established manufacturers for the same price or less.

    I continue to believe that at $40, this pen was a steal.

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  31. Hey Peninkcillin!

    First off, I really appreciate your blog. It's been very helpful to me! Secondly, I'm completely ignorant on fountain pens, but I want to pursue getting one. I love the TWSBI pens, but I'm wondering if you could answer a few questions for me about fountain pens in general (and maybe about the TWSBI in specific).

    1. Typically how many pages of writing could you get out of one fill? For reference, your last image on this post (with "Rhodia 80g" in the top left corner)--how many pages of JUST writing could you get?

    2. How often do nibs need to be replaced?

    3. Can you explain the nib sizes to me?

    4. How much do you spend on ink/nibs per year outside of testing purposes? Basically I'm trying to get a feel for what the cost would be to maintain using a fountain pen yearly with perhaps...400 standard, letter-size pages filled yearly.

    5. What are some of the benefits, in your opinion, of using a fountain pen over a roller ball pen?

    Thanks so much!

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  32. Hey Drew and sorry about the very late reply. I've been out of touch with the blog for a while. That's quite a lot of questions you have for me there but I'll try to answer them even though I'm not an expert in fountain pens. Oh and thanks for your kind words!

    1. This varies from pen to pen. It boils down to a few variables: how big the ink reservoir is, how thick the nib and how freely the ink flows. The bigger the reservoir, the finer the nib and the drier the ink, the more pages you will get. I don't write so much so I can't give you an exact number but I would estimate that a fountain pen with a decent reservoir and a medium nib should last you about as long as a typical ballpoint pen.

    2. I wouldn't worry about replacing nibs, unless you damage them intentionally. A nib will last you for years under normal writing conditions.

    3. That's too much for me to explain and I'm not very knowledgeable myself so here's a good link for you:
    http://www.richardspens.com/?page=ref/nibs/primer.htm


    4. Well, that can vary wildly. Depends a lot on how much you want to spend on your fountain pens. You could buy a cheap $20-30 pen and a bottle of ink and the ink could last you a couple of years. Or you could buy a $1000 pen every year, that's up to you. But typically you would get a lot of pages out of a bottle of ink. For example, for everything I have reviewed on this blog I must have spent not more than $250.


    5. Fountain pens are great. If you care about your handwriting, there's nothing that beats a fountain pen. It teaches you how to write properly and is especially great for writing cursively. Unfortunately cursive writing is a dying art but a fountain pen can really help. The nib doesn't slip on paper the way ballpoints do. Besides, I get joy from feeling and seeing the fresh wet ink on paper and then watching it dry up. And then, of course, there are hundreds of ink colors out there to experiment with. Not least, it makes you part of a select club of cool people who still appreciate a classic and elegant instrument.

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