Pilot Varsity - low cost, smooth writing fountain pen

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/04/28/pilot-varsity-low-cost-smoo.html

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This was my gateway drug to fountain pens. They are a reasonable value for the cost, which is only improved by the fact that you can refill them by removing the nib/bung cartridge from the pen with a pair of pliers and refill them as many times as you want. Fountain pen ink is cheap and lasts fooooreeeeveeer.


Exact same set on Amazon UK costs 80 quid.

that’s a third-party seller with a ridiculous price for some reason.

if you look elsewhere you can probably find them for a lot less. or look for the “platinum preppy” which is similar though maybe not as smooth. i didn’t like the preppy much, but i haven’t tried the pilot varsity to compare.

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They look a bit “butch” – is there a slightly smaller, more sparkly version available?

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While low-cost and smooth-writing, these things have a rather large point. If you like writing rather large script, these are fine. For anything detailed, the point may be to big.

I am still on the search for an inexpensive fine-nib pen.

I recently got this for the cool factor:

The problem is that, even though the tip is “iridium point Germany,” it is a cheap Chinese nib. I thought that “Germany” on a nib actually meant that it was made in Germany – what a stupid assumption to make.

Anybody got a recommendation for something with a decently small nib for under $25 or so?

Lowest price is 30 quid, including postage. Still three times the price (you can’t get it post free as it’s not shipped by Amazon).

As someone who writes small sized text as part of my living (my lab notebook as an electrical engineer), I treasured my Namiki Vanishing Point pen with the fine tip for eleven years until it was lost. At ~US$130 discounted, I’ve not justified replacing it yet, especially as they’ve changed the design significantly. So I’m muddling along with Pilot G-2 0.5 blue/black gel pens for now (yes, I tried the UniBall Jetstream 0.7 - nice but blobs up my writing unacceptably).

The Namiki (now Pilot) vanishing point is incredibly handy: just click and use like any ballpoint. The only downsides were incompatibility with carbonless forms which need high pressure and use in the tropics of Indonesia, where the ink took a very long time to dry. But that last hasn’t been an issue for decades for me…

The main surprise for me with the Pilot Varsity was the quality of the nib - writes first time, every time. Few inexpensive fountain pens have done that for me. The Pembrooke fine point pens did but their cap seal would fail in a year or two.

Any other suggestions are most welcome!

meh, what can i say? a lot of things priced as $X in the US are priced as £X in the UK. other things are priced closer to the correct exchange. i have no idea why.

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They also do a 0.3.

I have some of the Bic disposable fountain pens and am happy enough with them. Caps can crack and have problems staying on (I use tape when this happens to “fix” the cap)

After getting hooked on the Pilot Varsity, I found another great inexpensive Pilot fountain pen called the Kakuno. The Fine nib is small, comparable to any other Pilot/Namiki Fine nib.

The Kakuno is an import only item, but they are available from Jetpens, Amazon, and other importers for $15-$17. They come in many colors and have an appealingly simple design.

Jetpens is the store you need. Just about any Japanese pen listed as fine will be finer than most anything you may have experienced fountain pen-wise, judging by your Varsity and Iridium point Germany experience (which I’ve sampled).

This isn’t a fancy one (Penmanship EF), but since you mentioned fine point, I figured I’d recommend it. It is like a damn engraving tool, but still smooth. IMO you can’t go wrong with Pilot fountain pens. The nibs are even interchangeable on many of them if you want to get your hands dirty. Stay away from anything you can just buy at a brick and mortar place, they’re all blunt crayons (goes for most forms of pens - though more places stock 0.38/0.4 size gel pens now).

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I love my two vanishing points, you really get to use a FP more often when it’s retractable.

For your tiny writing needs, if you can stand a cap, check out Pilot Prera or the Pilot Penmanship (both on jetpens - you can actually swap nibs between them). I’m sure you know your Namiki was really a Pilot, you’ll get just about the same feel with these still nibs (as opposed to the vanishing point gold): a tiny bit harder, a tiny bit finer, but just as smooth.

BoingBoing is directly responsible for my obsession with fountain pens, I’ll have you know. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

A coworker gave me a Varsity. I very promptly lost it (not on purpose) but before I lost it I did try it out. Fountain pens on crappy paper tend to feather heavily but the flow on a Varsity is over the top enough that I found it more or less unusable. That gift saved me a lot of wasted effort because I had given some thought to buying some and using the dropper method to throw in some of my favorite inks.

I wouldn’t say there’s no such thing as a worthwhile $5 pen but for a little bit more you can get a much more solid pen that will, theoretically anyway, last you long enough to recoup the extra money spent buying one pen rather than a bunch of cheap ones.

If you’re looking for a ~$20 pen, I can’t possibly overstate how much I enjoy my Ohto Dude (throw in a Monteverde 31076 converter and you’re up to about $30 but, for me, it was totally worth it). I feel it writes a bit thick for a Fine but it makes a nice contrast to my Lamy Safari EF.

If you really want a Pilot or don’t like the Dude for whatever reason, Pilot’s Metropolitan is a really solid line with nigh endless options so you can get one that fits your tastes pretty easily. I just don’t like the converter it comes with. Find myself refilling it what feels like constantly. It is, however, less expensive than the Ohto while not feeling cheap at all. It’s a really nice inexpensive pen. I just hate aerometric converters apparently.

On my next order, I’m going to do my best to find a piston converter for the Metro. :weary:

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Bah, you striplings with your fancy high tech pens. All you need is a goose quill and an inkwell. The quill is free for the price of a pecking, the ink is free for the squeezing of a squid.


Pilot does make some terrific fountain pens, and even better than the Varsity — in fact, the best disposable fountain pen I have ever used — is the Pilot Petit1, which JetPens also sells, for $3.80 each. They come in eight colours, and the ink is variable (blue-black is fantastic, red is terrible) but you can easily empty that out and refill it with your own ink using a syringe.

The Petit1 is almost as long as a standard pen when the cap is posted to the end, and they never, ever dry out: I have a bunch of them that have been inked for nearly two years and they still write whenever I need them to. I haven’t had the plastic crack on one yet (more than I can say for the Platinum Preppy), and I really treat them rough — I throw a few in my satchel every day so I’ll have a choice of inks. You absolutely cannot do better for an inexpensive, quality fountain pen.

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Any lefty want to weigh in on how these pens have worked with your sinister hand? I generally have a hard time with almost all pens feeling scratchy in a way the rightys don’t seem to complain about. I like how smoothly gel pens flow, but the ink is blobby and like @MTBooks mentioned, they feel like blunt crayons. Any good recommendations for a southpaw? I don’t have a hook, so I don’t need super quick-drying ink.

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