Pilot’s most famous fountain pen is without question the Vanishing Point (aka the Capless). This is the best selling and simply the best retractible nib fountain pen ever produced.
Many models have been introduced since the Vanishing Point’s inception in the early 1960s and the one I am reviewing today is a “Namiki” branded model with a faceted black plastic body and white metal trim. This body style was introduced in the 1970s stayed in production until the late 1990s. This particular Vanishing Point was made in 1997 right before the introduction of the current metal bodied Pilot Vanishing Point in 1998.
This older model (which I will refer to from now on as the “faceted VP”) is much more attractive with its elegantly integrated clip and slimmer faceted body. The current Vanishing Point has a much less harmonious design with bloated clumsy look to it.
The faceted VP is lighter and slimmer, weighing in at 18.5 grams and measuring just 11mm wide (clip not included). The current model weighs in at 31 grams. To my hand the faceted VP is much more comfortable to use.
The nib on this faceted VP is 14kt gold instead of 18kt gold on the current production model. The nib started life with a medium point and was ground into a butter line stub by Pendleton Brown.
This particular grind offers a great combination of usability and writing flair. I have done a number of custom grinds on medium nibs and this one my favorite so far. The nib is so smooth with just a hint of feedback…it’s luxurious.
The converter. These faceted VPs use a squeeze sac converter. It doesn’t hold enough ink so I always use cartridges with the metal cartridge cap.
The current model by comparison uses the Pilot Con-50 which is nicer to use and holds a slightly more reasonable amount of ink.
This is an awesome pen. You can find them used ranging from about $80 to $150.
Pilot’s Iroshizuku line of inks has become incredibly popular in the last couple of years thanks to its agreeable performance and excellent color palette. Despite Iroshizuku’s success Pilot still produces it’s original more affordable ink line that is simply branded as “Pilot” (or “Namiki …or “Pilot/Namiki”).
It is my understanding that these inks have a ph of over 7 making them basic and as such I would caution against putting them in a pen where ink makes direct contact with celluloid.
This line comes in bottle and cartridge formats. The cartridges only fit Pilot and Namiki pens. There are seven colors produced in the cartridge format. In bottle format I have only seen three colors: blue, black, and blue black.
Pilot Blue Black is a bit pale for my tastes but the upshot is some nice subtle shading. The ink provides some good lubrication, making it a great choice for dryer writing pens. I had no issues with bleeding or feathering. I also saw no nib creep (as is common for lubricating inks). I found that this ink was easy to clean out unlike Pilot Blue which has a tendency to stain.
Packs of 12 cartridges go for $7 and 60ml bottles go for $12. The affordable price makes Pilot Blue Black a great workhorse ink that would be appropriate for the office and general correspondence.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is my favorite Pilot/Namiki fountain pen I have used so far…the elegant design, balance, and wonderful nib have won me over.
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.
The Pilot Frixion Ball 4 Wood is one of the many pens I picked up on my trip to Japan that I have yet to review.
The Frixion Ball 4 Wood is a multi-pen that features four erasable gel ball points, a wood grip and an attractive brown and black body.
This is one of the best looking multi-pens I have used and it has a very high quality feel, weighing in at 26.7 grams. It is a well built pen with a satin brown plastic body that is completely free of seams. The section is made of wood and metal and is what gives the pen its nice weight.
It is fair to say I love everything about this pen except for the way it writes. The erasable Frixion ink looks nasty. The colors are washed out and the lines aren’t particularly clean. It is a smooth writer especially for a 0.5mm pen but it’s not a winner for me.
The price is also prohibitive at 3,000 YEN (just under $30USD); that is three time the price of the Uni Pure Malt which while not as nicely made offers a better writing experience with Uni Jetstream ink.
I am quite smitten with the body so I am going to try and see what other refills will work in the Frixion Ball 4 Wood.
The Custom 845 is Pilot’s top of the line fountain pen (limited editions and Namiki branded pens not included). The 845 retails for an eye-watering 500,000 YEN (approximately $495 USD) and has received some mixed reviews. People have questioned whether it should command a price near an entry-level Nakaya.
What do you get for $500?
You get Pilot’s largest (Pilot branded) #15 nib in two tone 18kt gold with a large “gem” carved ebonite body and urushi lacquer finish. You also get a black painted Con-70 converter and an upgraded box.
While in Japan I was able to play with a number of Pilot/Namiki pens and I ended up loving the Custom 845. Now that I have had a few weeks to put it through its paces let’s see how it stacks up.
The Custom 845 is a classic looking executive pen with a black body and yellow gold furniture. The cap has a flat top with a clip that starts broad and narrows ending with a ball.
The gold band at the bottom of the cap reads “* * * CUSTOM 845 * * * PILOT MADE IN JAPAN”. The letters are filled in with black (paint?) so they look nice and crisp. The back of the cap has “URUSHI” in gold letters.
The large two-tone #15 nib looks great and features some nice scrollwork on the silver center. I really like that Pilot puts a date stamp on these nibs. The left bottom corner of the nib is stamped “813” which translates to August 2013.
It’s hard to look at a pen like this and not think about Montblanc. The 845 with its flat top clearly isn’t a Meisterstück but it clearly is a Japanese take on a German style pen and that is definitely not a bad thing.
Many people, including myself, rave about Pilot’s build quality. I hadn’t spent much time with the Custom line before these last three weeks and while I still maintain that Pilot builds exceptional quality pens I do have some issues with the Custom 845 and the Custom 743 (review to come later).
To start let’s talk about the body of the 845. Above I said this pen has a lacquered ebonite body and it does….mostly, except for the section, the end of the body and the ends of the cap, which are plastic, or “resin” if that sounds more appetizing.
The plastic parts are not painted with urushi lacquer but nonetheless they do blend together well. The section has two visible seams and this to me is just wrong on a $500 pen.
To be fair these “issues” aren’t actual build quality problems but more an indication that this pen was built to a price. If you could build this pen without plastic and paint the entire pen in lacquer why wouldn’t you?
Other than the seams the fit and finish are flawless. The pen is sturdy and does not have the delicate feeling that a Nakaya has. With the 845, Pilot took a very practical design and really brought it to the next level by adding multiple coats of urushi lacquer. It is a wonderful pen to touch.
I compared the 845 to my Montblanc 149 and based on superficial fit and finish alone the Montblanc wins. The engraving on the ring of the 149 to me looks nicer and the Montblanc has no seams on its body despite being made entirely out of plastic.
I suspect that in the long-term the Pilot will hold up better than a 149 as the lacquer is much more scratch resistant than plastic and I have seen real problems with Montblanc quality. I have had plating issues with Montblancs as well as nib issues on brand new Montblanc pens; both things I have yet to see with any Pilot.
Size & Weight
The Custom 845 measures 5.7” capped and about 5.2” uncapped. At its widest point it is about 0.6” and weighs about 28.8 grams. The 845 is a good sized pen similar in girth to a 146 but closer to the 149 in length.
The 845 posts well and does have a good balance posted but for long writing sessions I prefer the 845 unposted. I believe most people would find the 845 to be a comfortable pen.
I sampled the fine, medium and broad nibs and found that the medium to be my favorite. Being Japanese, the medium is closer to a western fine. The Pilot-made # 15 18kt gold nib writes beautifully. I haven’t had any issues with skipping, hard starting or poor flow. The nib is somewhat soft for a standard nib and it is ultra smooth and responsive. It writes like a $500 pen should. The feel is phenomenal; in fact I believe it’s the best writing stock round tipped nib I have come across on a modern pen.
The Custom 845 uses Pilot’s famous Con-70 converter which is considered by many to be the best converter money can buy; despite this, the 845’s cartridge/converter filling system tends to receive some criticism as many people feel that the $200 cheaper Custom 823 offers more value with it’s vacuum filling system.
It is true that the vacuum filing system holds more ink and it is likely a more expensive mechanism but as a cartridge/converter lover the black Con-70 is pretty much perfect. The Con-70 holds more ink than most converters and has a unique push button mechanism that you push four times to fill.
The problem here is what do you compare the 845 to? At $550 a Nakaya is a great value and I know that because there are a lot of similar pens to compare it to.
The 845 is different, it’s more usable, it’s more solid feeling than a Nakaya, to me it’s an urushi Montblanc sans the status and for someone who wants that there aren’t many alternatives in this price range. I think $495 is about right for this pen. You will be hard pressed to find another high quality urushi fountain pen for less money and while it’s hard to call the 845 a steal it’s also hard to call it overpriced.
My ratings for this pen have been pretty harsh but I would like to mention that when I bought this pen I tired a TON of pens at the store including much more expensive Namiki pens with #20 and #50 nibs as well as a number of Sailors and Platinum pens. I liked the feel of the 845’s nib the best and I think I would pick the 845 again given the chance.
If a Montblanc and a Nakaya had a baby it would be the Pilot Custom 845.
The Pilot Precise Rolling Ball pen is the predecessor to the very popular Pilot Precise V5 (and V7) and has been one of my favorite roller balls for quite a while now. Compared to the V5, the Precise is more satisfying to write with; to me it provides the right combination of smoothness and feedback.
The basic beige plastic body wont turn any heads but its understated looks really appeal to me. The Precise features a durable tungsten carbide ball and stainless steel point as well as the same clip and overall shape of the V5. Unlike the V5, it does not have an ink window or a visible feed. You wont find the Precise in most office supply stores anymore but they can easily be bought online. I still highly recommend this pen.
The Pilot VBall BeGreen is a roller ball pen with a body made from “81.6% recycled content”. First off, this isn’t the VBall I remember enjoying years ago; the design is much better but the pen as a whole is worse.
I really love the clean and elegant design of this pen; the inset metallic branding and the blue plastic cap combined with the translucent body and feed are excellent. For a disposable pen the VBall BeGreen gets an A+ in design.
As for writing, the VBall is quite scratchy. I compared it to the Uni Ball Micro Deluxe (another traditional liquid ink roller ball) and the difference was night and day. The Uni glided across the paper with more ease and left a cleaner line on the page. As I spent more time with the Vball I noticed that some parts of the tip were smoother than others; by twisting I could find both smooth and scratchy parts of the tip which makes me think I may have gotten a bad one.
I haven’t come across many duds that were made by Pilot in Japan but this might be one.
Here is a great review of the Pilot VBall BeGreen:
(I have no affiliation with the site linked below)