TWSBI Eco Fountain Pen Review

TWSBI Eco Fountain Pen

The highly anticipated TWSBI Eco is the company’s most affordable fountain pen to date at $28.99.  The Eco features a clear demonstrator body with a piston filling mechanism; these attributes combined with its low price make for a very enticing pen.

The Eco is a full size pen at just under 14cm long capped.  The Eco comes in only two colors white/clear and black/clear.  I opted for the black.

Like most TWSBIs, the Eco’s design offers a lot to digest.  The cap and piston knob are made of a faceted black plastic while the body is made of a round clear plastic allowing you to see the internal piston mechanism and the feed.

TWSBI Eco Fountain Pen

The Eco features a small stainless steel JoWo nib (the same that is used on the TWSBI Mini and Classic).   For a full sized pen the nib is on the smaller side but at this price point it’s a pretty minor gripe.  I ordered my pen with an extra fine nib and it is a delight to use.  I was surprised how smooth it was; in fact it puts my medium nib Safari to shame.

TWSBI Eco Fountain Pen

The Eco does post but the cap doesn’t seat very far down on the body making it a bit too long.  The pen feels solid in hand and overall the pen is well finished.  A Lamy Safari by comparison looks a feels cheap.

TWSBI Eco Fountain Pen

The Eco is designed to be user serviceable and as such comes with silicon grease and a wrench along with directions for servicing your pen.

TWSBI Eco Fountain Pen

This is my new favorite entry level pen.  To me is far better than the Lamy Safari and Kaweco Sport.

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Namiki Nippon Art Flower Basket Fountain Pen Review

Namiki Nippon Art Flower Basket Fountain Pen

The Nippon Art series is Namiki’s entry level line of maki-e pens.  The pens are screened and on my Flower Basket version I do not believe any of the artwork to be done by hand. It’s “Hira” or flat maki-e and it really is flat to look at. I also see no gold sprinkles which makes me question if it should actually be considered “maki-e”, which I am told translates roughly to “sprinkle picture”.

Namiki Nippon Art Flower Basket Fountain Pen

The body of the pen is plastic covered in urushi lacquer and has a gold plated clip and thin cap band.  The pen is very simple and elegant; it looks great despite the dull hira maki-e.  The section has a seam on it and I do not believe it to be painted with urushi.  The pen is signed “Kokkokai” which is not a specific artist but rather a group of artists.

Namiki Nippon Art Flower Basket Fountain Pen
“Kokkokai” signature

The pen is very well balanced and feels great in hand.  It weighs about 32 grams with converter and measures 5.6” long capped.  This is a full-sized and very comfortable pen despite being the smallest in Namiki’s lineup.

Namiki Yukari Royale, Namiki Nippon Art
Nippon Art pictured with a Namiki Yukari Royale

The inside of the cap has a soft fuzzy material near the lip.  This is done so that when posted the cap does not scratch the lacquer body (a very nice touch).  Like the Pilot Custom 743 , the Nippon Art’s gold nib is lighter in color than the gold trim.

Namiki Nippon Art Flower Basket Fountain Pen

The pen has a #10 size nib and despite the different decoration, I believe this nib to be the same as a standard Pilot #10 (I am going off of a appearances only, so please correct me if I am wrong).  The Namiki #20 nib is the same size as the Pilot #15 but has a different shape and breather hole.

Namiki Yukari Royale nib above the Nippon Art nib
Namiki Yukari Royale nib above the Nippon Art nib
Namiki Nippon Art Flower Basket Fountain Pen
You can see the date stamp “a405” on the side of the nib. The “a” refers to the welding machine used at the Hiratsuka and “405” refers to April 2005.

The 14kt gold medium nib is ultra smooth and soft. It’s a wet nib and I find that it is a bit wider than your average Japanese medium.

Namiki Nippon Art Flower Basket Fountain Pen

 

Hiratsuka

The Nippon Art comes with the Pilot Con-70 vacuum fill converter.  The Con-70 holds 1.1ml of ink (more than twice as much as an average converter).  After using a good number of these Con-70s I have found that some work better than others.  I always fill them with a syringe for this reason.  I also find them more difficult to clean but the huge capacity outweighs any of these of these drawbacks.

Namiki Nippon Art Flower Basket Fountain Pen

This is my favorite Pilot/Namiki fountain pen I have used so far…the elegant design, balance, and wonderful nib have won me over.

Namiki Nippon Art Flower Basket Fountain Pen

The retail price for these pens is a staggering $750!  That is quite a lot of money for this pen.  I paid around $200 for mine second hand.  In my opinion these pens are a good buy at around $200-$350.  Some designs are more attractive than others and some have more handiwork.

Marlen Rainbow Over Hong Kong Fountain Pen Review

Marlen Rainbow Over Hong Kong Fountain Pen

Marlen is an Italian pen manufacturer that doesn’t get much attention.  They make weird pens…not sure how else to put it.  Their designs are unconventional and polarizing.  I never had much interest in them but early one morning while fighting off some jet lag I started perusing fountain pens on eBay and I came across the pen I am reviewing today, a Marlen Rainbow Over Hong Kong.

It was new old stock and had an 18kt gold nib for a bit over $50…I figured why not?  Some background on this odd pen.  First of all, this pen was sold in a set of seven pens (yes seven pens!) in the colors of the rainbow.  These pens were produced to celebrate the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997 and as such they made 97 sets in 1997.  Not surprisingly, few people bought the sets (who wants seven of the same pen?) and now today you can purchase new individual pens from the set for very cheap.

My pen is made from a beautiful red plastic and has a tapered shape that continues from the end of the barrel through to the cap.  The end of the barrel is threaded so that the cap can screw onto the back.  It’s not a brilliant look if I am honest but it’s functional.

Marlen Rainbow Over Hong Kong Fountain Pen

The cap features a solid sterling silver clip with a Greek column design.  The cap band is done in rainbow colors with sterling trim and looks a bit sloppy, the colors are not very uniform and in some spots overlaps the sterling silver.

Marlen Rainbow Over Hong Kong Fountain Pen

Unscrew the cap and you will see a small bulbous grip section and a small gold nib.  This is the only pen I have owned where the threading on the grip section is used to secure both the barrel AND the cap.  I could be wrong but this seems like a cheap shortcut.  The downside is you end up with a small grip section and nib.

Marlen Rainbow Over Hong Kong Fountain Pen

The nib is 18kt yellow gold which does not match the other metal furniture.  The nib has a column design with what to me looks like an ear of corn on top (if someone knows what it actually is please let me know).

Marlen Rainbow Over Hong Kong Fountain Pen

The nib is unbelievably soft and springy.  The only other semi-modern pen I can think of with a nib like this is the first year of the Pelikan M600 with the mono-tone 18kt gold nib.  It’s an amazing nib.

Marlen Rainbow Over Hong Kong Fountain Pen

Empty this pen weighs a comfortable 23 grams and measures 14cm long capped.  I found the small grip section to be comfortable enough though I found myself gripping the pen on the barrel which this pen doesn’t like.  Because of the cheap single threading when pressure is applied to the nib from the barrel the section moves slightly and clicks occasionally…this is annoying for sure.

My apologies for the poor picture I had trouble photographing the engraving.

The pen is numbered and I have number 81 of 97.  The red plastic has a bit of translucency to it and you can see on the cap there is a line where some of the color has worn away.

See that dark line going around the cap?
See that dark line going around the cap?

Marlen Rainbow Over Hong Kong Fountain Pen

So what do I think of this pen?  It’s not made very well but it has a fantastic 18kt gold nib and can be had for around $50-$80 new old stock…if you can get past the design and it’s quirks it’s not bad.

Waterman Carene Black Sea Fountain Pen Review

Waterman Carene Black Sea Fountain Pen

Mild curiosity mixed with a very good deal got the better of me and I now have a Waterman Carene.

Waterman Carene Black Sea Fountain Pen

The Carene is one of the older pens in the Waterman lineup and features an inlaid nib like their flagship Edson pen.  Carene in French means “hull” and the literature for this pen states that the Carene is inspired by “luxury yacht design”.   The ends of this pen do bear resemblance to the bow and stern of a yacht but other than that there are no cues to signify a nautical theme.

Waterman Carene Black Sea Fountain Pen

The pen has a metal body covered in black lacquer and weighs a hefty 33 grams.  The Carene measures 5.7″ capped and is a nicely balanced pen posted or unposted.  I did find that you have to push the cap onto the barrel with a bit of effort for it to stay posted. The real star of this pen is it’s beautiful inlaid nib.  It is solid 18kt gold with a stub point made in house by Waterman.  The nib is a nail but performs very nicely.  It is on the finer side for a stub and is quite forgiving on paper.  The downside is that you get a little bit less flare but more usability overall.

Waterman Carene Black Sea Fountain Pen  nib

The Carene like all modern Watermans uses a cartridge converter system.  The pens comes with a Waterman branded converter as well as a box of 6 Waterman ink cartridges.

Waterman Carene Black Sea Fountain Pen

The build quality of the pen is excellent.  There are no flaws in any of the materials.  The section has two rubber o-rings on the threading and I found that these made it difficult to get the nib in line with the gold tail of the barrel.

Waterman Carene Black Sea Fountain Pen

Amazon UK (no affiliation) had this pen for sale brand new for 60 GBP (approximately $90 USD) and at that price I couldn’t pass it up.  Even though this is an excellent pen by all accounts, I didn’t end up bonding with it; it’s boring.  If this pen had some personality it would be a home run.   With a street price around $220 it’s definitely a pass for me.  At $90-$100? It is a lot of pen for the money but I get more enjoyment out of pens like the TWSBI Vac 700  and the Pelikan M200 even though they are not made as well nor adorned with gold nibs.

Waterman Carene Black Sea Fountain Pen

 

Here are some other great reviews of the Waterman Carene:

(I have no affiliation with any of the sites linked below)

Pen Classics – Waterman Carene

Leigh Reyes. My Life As A Verb – Waterman Carene, now with stub

TWSBI Vac 700 Fountain Pen Review

TWSBI Vac 700 Fountain Pen

TWSBI is a Taiwanese fountain pen manufacturer that has been around for about half a decade now and for some reason they never really called my name.  While in Taipei earlier this year I wandered into a fountain pen shop and walked out with a couple of TWSBIs, a Vac 700 and a Micarta.

When I picked up the Vac 700 for the first time I was impressed with how nice the pen felt.  The body is made out of a laminated polycarbonate and compared to my other plastic and even celluloid pens it feels much nicer; more sturdy and more satisfying to interact with.

TWSBI Vac 700 Fountain Pen

The design of the Vac is a bit of a pigs breakfast, mixing a bunch of different materials and shapes and yet somehow it actually looks pretty good (maybe not elegant but attractive in it’s own way).  The polycarbonate is ultra clear and as a result the pen looks quite beautiful when filled with ink.  The cap and the blind cap have a sort of diamond shaped faceting to them while the barrel is rounded with a slight taper to accommodate the vacuum mechanism.

TWSBI Vac 700 Fountain Pen

The section and blind cap are made out of a translucent grey polycarbonate and all of the furniture except the clip is chrome.  The clip has a very rough almost sandblasted aluminum look to it.  It is rough to the touch but feels quite solid.  The finial has a red jewel with the TWSBI logo.  The cap band has big inelegant branding on it.

TWSBI Vac 700 Fountain Pen

The vacuum filing system holds a good amount of ink and with some practice you can get about 2ml of ink into the body which is four times the capacity of your average converter.  With the blind cap screwed down tight, air is shut off from the filing system making it airplane friendly. So far I have flow with it on eleven flights and can report that there have been no problems.  It doesn’t leak and it works beautifully at altitude.  The downside to the air shut off is that if you wish to write more than a couple of pages the blind cap needs to be unscrewed to keep the ink flowing.

TWSBI Vac 700 Fountain Pen

The Vac 700 is  about 14.5cm long and weighs a hefty 32.6 grams.  The pen posts nicely but for my smaller hands it throws off the balance so I use it uncapped.

TWSBI Vac 700 Fountain Pen

The large Jowo nib is nicely proportioned with the rest of the body.  The 1.1mm stub point is a joy to use.  No performance issues to speak of.

TWSBI Vac 700 Fountain Pen

I LOVE this pen.  This is my new favorite sub $100 pen that I have tried and I am hard pressed to think of a $200 pen that I like better.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen Review

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen

When I discovered the Romillo Pen brand last year I knew I had to have one.  On the surface Romillo embodied my perfect pen; one with no frills, just a simple pen focused on writing pleasure through a giant hand-made nib.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen

After some back and forth with the pen maker, Álvaro Romillo, I decided on an Essential #9 in blue/black hard rubber with a semi-flexible #9 italic nib with rhodium trim and a solid silver lentil.

The lead time was only 1 month and after half a year with this pen I am finally ready to review it.

Appearance

The design of the Essential is ultra simple, flat ends, slight taper on the cap and barrel, and a rhodium plated solid silver roller stopper.  The blue and black mottled rubber has a nice semi-matte finish.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen

The rhodium plated 18kt gold nib is enormous and paired with the skinny the long skinny pen body it really stands out.  The nib features hand engraved wings and the Romillo logo.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen

I am very fond of the Essential’s simple shape, it’s not flashy, it’s subtle.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen
Swirled mottled rubber on the top of the cap

Score: 5/5

Build Quality

The Essential is all hand made and this shows for better or worse.  The fit and finish of hard rubber is excellent with not flaws that I could detect.  It is a beautiful material.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen

There is an engraved number on the end of the barrel that isn’t well aligned and while it does not bother me, I point it out simply because I have never seen a pen numbered in this (sloppy?) way.

387 is the number of my Essential
My Essential is #387

The cap material is very thin but so far no issues to report.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen

The finish on the nib is not perfect.  There is a dirty area on the left side at the base of the nib.  It is some sort of flaw in the finish.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen

On the left tine if you look closely you can see what I am guessing is an air bubble in the rhodium finish.  Neither of these imperfections are really noticeable.  My fingerprint on the nib looks much worse than any of these flaws.  If you turn the nib upside down you can see that the underside of the tines are badly finished.  This flaw stands out the most.

Badly finished tines
Badly finished tines

There is a lot more handiwork that goes into making this nib than I have seen with other “handmade” pens.  I suspect that these flaws are a byproduct of more manual processes.  These imperfections could likely be avoided but the end result is still a beautiful and unique handmade nib.

When I think of the best fountain pens made today, I think of Japan and brands like Hakase, Nakaya, Ohashi-Do and Pilot/Namiki; while their nibs are of excellent quality they are all more or less based on a mass produced nib and that is where Romillo really stands out.

Score: 3/5

Size & Weight

The Romillo Essential #9 can be ordered in a custom length for no additional fee.  I went for the standard 153mm length (capped).  The Essential is a very long pen.  It’s longer than my Nakaya Naka-ai and my Montblanc 149, yet it is skinner than both of them.  At it’s widest point its about 14mm.

Left to right: Nakaya Naka-ai, Romillo Essential #9, Montblanc 149
Left to right: Nakaya Naka-ai, Romillo Essential #9, Montblanc 149

Uncapped the Essential measures just under 15mm.  The pen can be posted but the cap doesn’t sit very far onto the back of the barrel.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen

The Essential weighs a 26 grams empty.  Because of the brass threading it is not well balanced and makes for a nib heavy pen even when posted.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen

The nib is nearly 30mm long and I found “finger writing” to be quite uncomfortable with this pen. When I use my arms to write (as one should) I found no discomfort after 5 pages of writing.

Left to right: Aurora Afrika, Nakaya Naka-ai, Romillo Essential #9, Montblanc 149, Soennecken 1 Extra
Left to right: Aurora Afrika, Nakaya Naka-ai, Romillo Essential #9, Montblanc 149, Soennecken 1 Extra

If I were to do it again I would opt for the smaller #7 size nib as there are times when I do revert back to finger writing.

Score: 2/5

Performance

Performance is what a Romillo is supposed to be all about.  My nib was setup to be a “semi-flexible” 0.7mm italic with a generous flow.  First things first, it is not semi-flexible in the way that a vintage nib can be.  The tines do spread with ease compared to a modern rigid nib but it is no where near as soft as a vintage nib.

A huge thirsty ebonite feed
A huge thirsty ebonite feed

In addition to the enormous nib there is an enormous feed and I found that when freshly filled it can take a little while to get going.  Once it starts flowing there is no interruption in service and the pen performs beautifully.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen

Again, there is an issue with “finger writing”.  The nib, like most italics, has a sweet spot but unlike other italics I have come across, the Romillo doesn’t provide the same sharp feedback, so initially, I found it difficult to get the pen writing properly without skipping.

If you write (again, as you should) with your arm and not your fingers the nib works flawlessly.

The biggest success of this pen is the nib, it feels like none other.

Score: 4/5

Filling System

Pens fitted with #9 nibs are only offered as eyedroppers and I was told that was because a converter could not provide enough ink flow to the feed.  The #9 is indeed very thirsty. The Essential has a large 2.1 ml ink capacity (roughly four times as much as a standard converter) and despite this I find myself having to refill this pen quite often.

Unlike other eyedroppers I have seen this one uses brass threading and a rubber o-ring to seal the pen.

Brass threading and O-ring
Brass threading and O-ring

I don’t know if the brass will do anything to the ink or if the ink will do anything to brass but to me this is an unusual application of brass.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen

When filling this pen I recommend being conservative with the amount of ink you fill it with.  1.7ml is pretty safe.  If you fill up to the O-ring you are going to have a mess on your hands as when the section is threaded in O-ring is pushed down approximately 5mm into the barrel.

The section in this picture is not fully screwed down
The section in this picture is not fully screwed down

Lastly, it should be noted that screwing the section onto the barrel needs to be done with care.  I found that the section needs to be quite tight on the barrel so I had to twist it on more tightly than other eyedroppers I have had to use.

Score: 2/5

Value

With shipping from Spain the Essential cost 965€, that is a whole lot of money for a pen.  It is hard to call the Essential a value as there are pens that perform as well for much less money; what those pens will lack though is the personality and feel of a Romillo.

So how does it compare to the likes of my similarly priced Montblanc 149 and Nakaya?

Left to right: Montblanc 149, Romillo Essential #9, Nakaya Naka-ai
Left to right: Montblanc 149, Romillo Essential #9, Nakaya Naka-ai

From a writing perspective the 149 is the closest.  The 149 has an oversized nib and even larger ink capacity.  The 14C OB nib on the 149 is softer, and being from the 1970s it has more of a vintage nib feel.  The Nakaya shares a similar handmade feel to Romillo.

The Romillo is the least practical of these three pens because it’s the hardest to fill and runs out of ink the fastest.  That said, no other bespoke pen maker that I am aware of makes their own nibs; that is reason enough to own one.

Score: 3/5

Bottom Line

The Essential #9 has a unique feel and enough charm to make you forgive its faults.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen

Final Score 19/30

Aurora 88 Fountain Pen Quick Review

Aurora 88 Fountain Pen
Aurora 88 with Nikargenta Cap

The Aurora 88 is one of the best Italian fountain pens ever produced and is, without question, the most commercially successful Italian fountain pen of all time.

The 88 was designed by architect Marcello Nizzoli in the late 1940s and features a streamlined style with a hooded nib and a metal slip cap much like the Parker 51.

Aurora 88 Fountain Pen

Because of its commercial success the Aurora 88 is not a rare pen and as such prices are reasonable (unlike most vintage Italian pens).  Nice examples of the original 88 model can be had for $100-$200.  I particularly like the Nikargenta capped version as this silver material was only available on the original model unlike the rolled gold, chrome and solid gold versions.

Aurora 88 Fountain Pen

The Aurora 88 is a true workhorse and makes an excellent everyday pen. Compared to the standard-size Parker 51, the 88 is slightly fatter and heavier.  The added weight and girth make the 88 feel more expensive than the 51.

Aurora 88 Fountain Pen

The 88’s 14kt hooded nib is more exposed than the Parker 51s allowing more flexibility and line variation.  The 88 also features a piston filler with an ink view window.

Aurora 88 Fountain Pen

I had a hard time coming up with negatives for the 88…it’s a really good pen all around.  It’s (relatively) affordable, it’s hard working, it writes well, it looks and feels good…

Aurora 88 Fountain Pen

I suspect that the (aerometric) Parker 51 is a slightly tougher pen with it’s ultra durable filling system and more protected nib but the Aurora is more fun to write with.

I highly recommend the Aurora 88, it is excellent.