Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 fountain pen of the year

Well, another year has passed and while we don't know what 2012 will bring, I can say that 2011 was fairly kind to me. 2011 also marks the year when I got into this whole fountain pen and ink business. As such, I'm  not a big expert on the subject but I have learned a lot about the hobby this past year.

I have decided, on these last days of the year, to show you which fountain pen I consider to be the best I've used in 2011, or ever, for that matter. I have reviewed a fair number of fountain pens these past months but the winner is very easy to pick.

By a wide margin, I declare the TWSBI Diamond 530 (and later the 540) to be the king of my collection and the best fountain pen I have used in 2011.

TWSBI Diamond 530

The TWSBI is so good, in fact, that I have a feeling it could easily grab a "$50 or less fountain pen of the year" award if such a thing existed.

It is not hard to see why the TWSBI is such a big hit. If you haven't already, read my review, but here are some quick bullet points:
  • very good build quality for a very affordable price ($40 for the 530 and $50 for the improved version, the 540)
  • impressive industrial design which is both modern and timeless, comparing favorably to the Pelikan M800 both in size and weight
  • very comfortable to hold thanks to the large size
  • great writing quality and an easily replaceable nib unit in BB, B, M, F and EF sizes
  • great modularity which makes it easy to disassemble for cleaning or repair
  • great customer service which became apparent when the owner, Speedy, replaced any component that failed, without hesitation, no questions asked
The 530 wasn't perfect. A minor quibble was the fact that the cap threads were too tight but that was easily fixed with some abrasive paste. Another "flaw" was the lack of secure posting for the cap, which for some people was a deal-breaker. For me this was a non-issue because I never post the cap since the pen is so hefty. And then there's the issue of certain defects like small leaks from the piston or tiny cracks in the plastic. I never experienced any of these but this pen is so new that certain problems were to be expected. Nevertheless, as I already mentioned, the owner was amazing in replacing any defective part at his own cost.

In conclusion, the TWSBI Diamond 530 has really won my heart in 2011. My only fear is that I won't find another pen in the next year or two that offers such great value for my money.

But wait, there's more. If I were to pick a second favorite pen, it wouldn't be too hard. This happens to be one that I bought recently and I am referring, of course, to Noodler's Ahab. Once again, if a "$20 or less fountain pen of the year" award existed, the Ahab would win it hands down.

Noodler's Ahab

Compared to previous Noodler's fountain pens, the Ahab is a big improvement in quality and usability. At $20, it is also the most inexpensive modern flex pen, disregarding the original $14 flex pen to which the Ahab is such an improvement that it is worth every extra penny.

The Ahab's body is "fat" and very comfortable to hold for long periods of time. The piston plunger ink system is innovative and has a large capacity, not to mention that the pen can be easily converted to an eyedropper for even bigger capacity. The pen can be very easily taken apart which makes cleaning a cinch. The nib is not a wet noodle but it's a great intro to the art of flexing.

These are just two of the fountain pens that I have bought and used in 2011 but they are among the best that you can find on the market for $50 and $20 respectively. The future looks every brighter: both TWSBI and Noodler's are slated to introduce new models and designs in 2012. I can't wait to be a part of this future! What was your favorite fountain pen in 2011?


  1. I definitely have to agree with you on the TWSBI as my favorite.  I think my second favorite is my orange and aluminum Ohto Rook.  It is small enough to take anywhere and I have now left my ballpoint at home when out and about.  It has some flaws but for an inexpensive pen ($16.50) it writes like a dream for note taking.  It puts down a smooth line even on my Los Angeles Times daily crossword puzzle! :-)  If it can write decently on newsprint that makes it a winner in my book.

  2. The TWSBI is fatally flawed - it cannot be safely posted. I lobbied for this to be fixed with the advent of the 540; but alas - no. So, you may think the TWSBI 530/540 is the pen of the year - but there isn't one on my horizon, and I'm not alone.

  3. I think the TWSBI is a very nice demonstrator.  Certainly superior to the Ahab clear demonstrator which has an off-clear tint.  The Ahab just looks drab compared to it (or any other demonstrator for that matter)

    But the Ahab, due to its flexible nib, produces a more interesting line.  For that reason I have to rate it higher than the TWSBI as a personal favorite.  I have pens that look better than the TWSBI, and I have pens that write more interestingly than it, which leaves it sort of in the middle of the pack for me.

    I think that the Creaper Flex, Noodlers's smaller flex pen, hits a nice balance of appearance and interesting line.

  4. The Pelikan M205 is my personal favorite right now, though it is more in the $90 range. I do like my TWSBI 530, for the most part, but my EF nib is fairly scratchy, which I do not enjoy. 

    I will be picking up a F nib at some point to see if that is the sweet spot on this one. 

  5. Maybe you need to try to some better quality pens - all those you list look to be cheap pens and so i am not surprised the TWSBI won. I have 3 530s and one 540 and whilst they are ok pens, they fall far short of pelikan's, duofolds, MBs, visconti etc..........

    I like my TWSBIs,  but the nibs are not at all impressive and on two have been replaced with other brands' nibs. It'll be interesting to see what the TWSBI price is like when decent (gold) nibs are used - I for one am looking forward to that day.

  6. I am really enjoying reading about everyone's favorite pens.  Ah, so many pens, so little time. (And let's not even get into favorite inks, LOL.)

  7. David, I did mention that the TWSBI has that one flaw: it can't be posted safely. I have always been aware of that, even before I bought it. I realize that this is important for some people but for me it is irrelevant because I never post the cap on this pen. For my modestly-sized hands it feels perfectly balanced without posting. Anyway, the "2011 pen of the year" is from my purely subjective point of view.

  8. The TWSBI is definitely better than the Ahab but the price is more than double. They are each great for their particular price niche. Even with the Ahab's line variation, I find it rather tiresome to concentrate on flexing it for long intervals because it's not a wet noodle. For me, an italic nib also produces a very interesting line and I don't have to concentrate so much to use it.

  9. Ah, I'm not so deep in the hobby as to buy (or afford) pens more expensive than ~$50. I wish I could buy an M205 but I simply can't justify it since I don't write enough and my pens sit unused most of the time.

  10. Well, even with these cheap pens I'm already suffering from some buyer's remorse. The fact is that I'm not a high profile collector and I'm not prepared to invest a lot of money in expensive pens. I do realize that there are much better pens out there but with prices to match. So that's why I'm concentrating on inexpensive - but fun - pens. And let's face it, even a cheap fountain pen is leagues ahead of a ballpoint pen (which I've learned to loathe).

  11. I think you forgot to add "and so little money" :)

  12. I do hope you're using Noodler's X-Feather for your crossword puzzles :)

  13. Actually, no.  Just the black standard international cartridge that came with the pen! :-)

  14. Oh yes, definitely that, too. LOL.

  15. I heard that X-Feather is the bee's knees as far as crosswords are concerned.

  16. I shall definitely look forward to that review. :-)

  17. Havana Brown has been on my to-try list almost since I got interested in
    fountain pens and ink a couple of years ago. Your review made me want
    to try it even more. I like inks that look dark and rather sombre til you look closer and see that there actually is a vibrant colour there. Havana Brown seem to be one of those, as well as my 2011 favourite below and my very first favourite ink, Diamine Damson.

    My favourite ink of the year has to be Noodler's Zhivago. It is somber
    enough to use daily but still fun and lots of shading capabilities for
    drawing with and without water-washes. Here is a link to a scan of a
    detail of a drawing from my blog, using only Zhivago and water:
    (I didn't manage to add an image with Disqus for some reason...)

  18. I'm glad you liked Havana Brown. I love your art, it's awesomely steampunkish. I'm thinking Havana would work well with your wet noodles.

    I kept meaning to buy a sample of Zhivago but I'll put it on my list.

  19. Thanks!
    I have sort of gotten stuck on J Herbin Cacao de Bresil when it comes to browns. Also Kiowa pecan when I want a warmer brown. Havana I think is more reddish and classic. For a brownish green (or greenish brown) try Burma Road Brown if you are looking for interesting browns. I have a sample of J Herbins Lie de The as well. Maybe it is time for  a sample presentation of my browns in a post! Hm... :)

  20. Cacao de Bresil is very intriguing. I heard good things about it. Havana is indeed reddish, as I stated in my review, but I like that. I didn't like Burma Road Brown (review) because it was very dry and it barely flowed in my pen.

    Is there any wet noodle fountain pen you would recommend? Something which doesn't break the bank?

  21. I own only one wet noodle, a true sumgai find I got together with a very ugly pen stand and several other pens on an online auction site for about 15 euro. Apart from that the only nibs I have approaching wet noodles are loose steel nibs. In my limited experience the music nibs with two slits are sometimes very flexy, but would probably not be considered wet noodles. The best bet of getting high quality gold flexible nibs is buying broken pens and repair them or put the nibs on other pens. Sometimes the old pens with warranted nibs go rather cheap. All metal Wahl-Eversharps are sometimes to be found for a good price as ell (say 50 dollars). Seem to not be very popular right now. They often have good flex, but of course some luck is needed as well to get a really good one.

  22. You were lucky to get that pen for so little. My problem is I wouldn't know if a nib is flexy or not. It's hard to trust ebay with these kinds of things.

  23. I purchased the TWSBI fountain pen on your recommendation. This is the first medium-ranged fountain pen. I find it smooth writing and everything I'd want in a pen except the comfort. The pen tires my fingers, maybe because of my big hands. It's not the only pen that does that. I find the Cross and Shaffer fountain pens do the same thing. The only one that does not tire my hand is a cheap Pilot Plumix. Your thoughts?

  24. I'm sorry you didn't find it a good fit for your hands. For me it's very comfortable. Not perfect but close. I have fairly long, thin fingers. What I dread most is buying a very expensive fountain pen and THEN finding out that it's terrible to grip. I guess it also depends how much you write. I only take notes throughout the day with my pens so I'm not an intense user. That's part of the reason why my ink reviews are few and far between.