Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lamy AL-Star fountain pen review

The Lamy AL-Star fountain pen was my first of two pens, along with the Pilot Prera I reviewed a while back. I got the aluminum version, with an EF (Extra Fine) nib. I went for the EF nib because I knew European nibs were at least one size larger than their Japanese equivalent.

Note:  Note Booker, Esq pointed out in the comments that all AL-Star Lamys are made from aluminum. He's right but when I mentioned that I got the aluminum version I was referring to the finish of the pen, not the material from which it is made.

This particular Lamy proved to be not only one of the most expensive pens in my small collection but also the most obnoxious. My woes with this pen are documented here. In short, the AL-Star was almost DOA. It wrote poorly with the included blue cartridge but when I switched to the converter and various other inks, it went from poor to unusable. Luckily, I managed to fix it somehow though at this point I'm still not 100% sure how I did it. In any case, you can read about it by following the post I just linked.

Lamy AL-Star fountain pen

After going through all that trouble with the AL-Star, I swore I wouldn't buy another Lamy product in my life. Now, I am tempted to buy a few more. Indeed, it looks like I was one of the very few who experienced these issues and Lamy fountain pens have a very large following.

Speaking of the Lamy family and its fans, the AL-Star is identical to the Vista and Safari lines, except for the fact that the barrel and cap are made from aluminum. Hence the AL-Star designation. Now the fans, they are a crazy bunch. Some have collected every single Safari, Vista and AL-Star pen ever produced. Others like to collect all the colors. And who can blame them? These German-made fountain pens have a great looking industrial design that is practically ageless, not to mention trendy. The geometric angles are modern looking and instantly make the pen recognizable. The etched "LAMY" logo on the barrel contributes to this even more.

If there's one thing I like most about the Lamy AL-Star is the quality of the construction and the materials used. The satin aluminum body feels very nice to the touch although, truth be told, the material is a bit thin. But this also makes the pen lighter than it's size would indicate.

Lamy AL-Star fountain pen

This line of Lamy fountain pens is known for its hefty appearance and this is true for both length and girth, yet it makes for a comfortable writing experience. Thanks to its length and thickness, I don't feel the need to post the cap while writing. The Lamy used to be my biggest pen but it is now slightly dwarfed by the TWSBI Diamond 530.

Some may disagree but I find the triangular-shaped section very ergonomic. It helps the fingers grip the section securely and there is no way in which it could slip while holding.

Lamy AL-Star fountain pen

The AL-Star with the aluminum body comes standard with a blue ink cartridge but I also bought the Z24 converter because, well, I like to use my own inks. This is where the pen gets a negative mark. I don't understand why this type of pen doesn't come with a converter as standard. It's probably so that the manufacturer can milk the customer for some extra cash.

Lamy AL-Star fountain pen

Two other thing I would like to mention before moving on to the writing experience.

First, notice the ink viewing window that's carved in the barrel. It works pretty well for what it's intended: to show the ink level. With a bright ink such as the Diamine Orange, which was loaded in it when I took the pictures, it looks pretty cool.

Second, the clip may look funky to some but I like it. It's certainly the most interesting clip in my collection but I think it works very well with the modern design of the Lamy AL-Star. I haven't used the clip yet and I doubt I ever will since my fountain pens don't leave my home desk. The cap itself is a snap-on type and it shuts with a tiny click which, although secure, could stand to gain more firmness. As I mentioned before, the cap posts firmly but I never post it because the pen is long and heavy enough that I don't need to.

My AL-Star has an EF (Extra Fine) nib, colored in black. I would have preferred a silver nib to go with the aluminum body but I guess the black one matches the dark section. (By the way, the section itself is transparent, though smoky colored).

At present, the AL-Star is loaded with Diamine Orange which I just reviewed a few days ago. I loaded the ink into the old blue cartridge (which was of course cleaned) with the help of a syringe. I didn't use the converter because I wanted to see if the pen wrote better with the cartridge.

Lamy AL-Star fountain pen

I'm afraid I can't be very accurate in my assessment of the EF nib and that's because in my attempts to get the pen working, I tried widening the spacing between the tines. In the process, I believe that the EF nib has become at least a size larger. In the end, it doesn't really matter because the pen now writes like a champ.

Yes, whatever I did, it worked. The DOA Lamy AL-Star writes butter-smooth and I can confidently say that it is smoother than the Pilot Prera which was the former smoothness champion. All this with the caveat that it uses Diamine Orange and the nib is thicker than the Japanese M nib.

After I finish this load of Diamine Orange, I will be testing other inks to see how well they perform in the AL-Star. All three Noodler's inks (Gruene Cactus Eel, Heart of Darkness and Navajo Turquoise) I tried in it prior to adjusting the nib failed to write. I intend to switch back to some type of Noodler's ink to see if the ink brand really makes a difference.

One other feature I really like in this family of Lamy fountain pens is the fact that the nibs can be easily swapped for other types. Lamy makes a variety of nib sizes including EF, F, M, B, LH (Left Handed) and a few others. But some of the most exciting ones are the italic calligraphy nibs in 1.1mm, 1.5mm and 1.9mm sizes.

It so happens that after I fixed my Lamy, I craved an italic nib so badly that I ordered all 3 sizes. Here's where the versatility of this pen comes into effect. The nib is so easy to swap, that you can do it with your bare hand, or rather the tips of your fingers. Or you can use your nails to pull the nib out. Or, if it hasn't been swapped before and it's a little tight, you could use a little sticky tape to help you pull it out.

And all this can be done on the fly. I tested all three italic nibs as soon as I got them, one after the other, with the pen loaded with ink. So with a single fountain pen you can pretty much write in as many different styles as you have nibs. Amazing! You can consider the Lamy a dip pen: the fountain pen itself is the nib holder and you can swap nibs at will.

A review of the three italic nibs will come later. For now, I am concentrating solely on the stock Lamy AL-Star.

As far as ink flow is concerned, there's nothing I can find fault with. The ink flows smoothly and consistently and the pen starts right away, even though I store it with the nib pointing up. I use the Lamy almost exclusively for drawing and the lightest touch on paper makes the ink flow.

Finally, there isn't much else to say about the writing experience except what I already mentioned: now that it's fixed, it writes incredibly smooth. You can check out the two writing samples I used for reviewing the Diamine Orange ink. Notice that there is no skipping whatsoever, but the line width seems thicker than what one might expect from an EF.

So there you have it: yet another favorable review of the Lamy AL-Star, with the mention that, had it worked perfectly from the beginning, I would have loved it even more. I guess that's the price you pay for mass-manufactured and inexpensive goods: lackluster quality control.

Diamine Orange ink review on photocopier paper

Diamine Orange ink review on Staples journal


  1. 'Cillin,

    I think ALL of the AL-Stars are aluminum, aren't they? Isn't that what the "AL" in AL-Star is?

    I agree one of the best features of these pens is the ease with which you can change the nibs. That is why I use a Safari or AL-Star to try out new inks - I can do so with 7 different nibs in the course of a few minutes!

  2. @Note Booker, Esq sorry I wasn't referring to the material itself but rather the finish. I should have specified that. Now when you're testing these inks don't you have to finish a full cartridge first? Or are you using a converter?

    @Speedmaster thanks!

  3. Nice Review. Some comments...

    * I prefer the Safaris to the Al-Stars, they are heavier, feel better constructed, and don't scratch as easily. Oh yes, and they're cheaper.

    * My favorite is the Vista, which is the demonstrator (clear bodied) version of the Safari. Next in-line comes the charcoal black Safari.

    * Where I live (Jakarta) all Safari's etc. seem to be sold off-the-shelf with the converter. The price is a tad higher as a result. I agree, these pens should always come stock with a converter. But there's nothing to stop a retailer from removing the converter and selling it to you at a high mark-up anyway.


  4. @Anonymous I agree 100%. I wouldn't buy another AL-Star just because of the price. The material is nice but the pen is a bit light. I do love the Vista so if I were to get another one, I'd go for the Vista first, and then for the matte black Safari.

    As for converters, I won't go out of my way to get a converter again because I can just refill cartridges with whatever ink I want.

  5. where did you buy a lamy in jakarta? i've been looking everywhere!

  6. I bought a Safari EF recently. I started out with the cartridge that came with it and thought it was one of the smoothest writing pens I've ever had. Then it just dried up. I couldn't get it to write at all. I'd not used it that much so I couldn't believe that it had run out of ink. I got a converter with mine, which I'd initially tried and couldn't get to work. So I pulled the cartridge, cleaned the pen and pushed in the converter. This time it filled fine and the pen works again. There seems to be plenty of ink in the cartridge, so all I can figure is that it plugged up somehow. Very strange. 

  7. I had my own issues with the pen (not sure if you read that article already). The problem with yours might have been due to the manufacturing oils which still coated the insides. A thorough flushing should fix it.

  8. All my Lamys have been great performer right out of the box, and never had an issue with a nib. They are very sturdy, and practical, really great pens. The cartridges resist many refills, the converter is reasonably priced and the nibs very esily exchanged.

    I like better the feel and look af the All Stars but they get dinged while The Vista and Safari resist years and years of use like new.

  9. It seems that I was one of the unlucky ones with my Lamy. Luckily it was fixed and I didn't have any issues with the italic nibs. In retrospect I made a mistake buying the AL-Star. I should've bought a Vista or Safari.

  10. Of course one reason for Lamy's pricing is they are among the few manufactures still offering lifetime warranties. Some of the high priced pens are down to only 3 years.