Are Modern Japanese Flex Nibs Created Equal?02/17/2013
Japanese pens are known not only for extra-fine nibs but also for variety. There aren’t many flexible nibs manufactured in the west so if flex sounds interesting, here are a few options.
The pen most often mentioned at online communities is the Namiki Falcon made by Pilot. It comes in three nib sizes, soft fine (SF), soft medium (SM), and soft broad (SB) and is readily available in the U.S. The Pilot Custom 742 Falcon (FA) is more flexible but can have an erratic flow resulting in inconsistent flex writing. The Platinum #3776 Century comes in several nib sizes including a fine flexible (FF) model that is easily the most narrow nib of the lot.
The flex nib pens in my collection have had enough use to be all they can be except the Platinum Century. It will need more time in my hand to reach its full potential. With a light touch it shouldn’t change dramatically through it should get a little softer. With a heavier hand, the nib would flex a bit more. Since I have the other pens, I’m inclined to let the Century remain the pen with less flex and a finer line.
The inks are Iroshizuku fuyu-syogun, Diamine China Blue, Diamine Violet, and Noodler’s Black Swan in Australian Roses. None of the colors are particularly accurate but the relative line widths are portrayed well except the Century. That one can make even finer lines than depicted but that takes a bit of practice and control.
Each of the nibs has its positive attributes. Though the line widths appear quite similar, there are some differences. The degree of softness or flexibility dictates the amount of pressure needed to achieve the widest line. The Century requires the most effort and the 742FA the least. For those who prefer extra-fine to fine nibs, the Century is more than capable of filling that niche. The Namiki falls somewhere between the two. It will never be as soft as the 742FA and it is quite rigid when new. Give it time and it will soften producing nice variation.
Again, I will attach a caveat to the Pilot Custom 742FA. While the build quality is very good and the nib well-suited to flex writing, the flow cannot keep up. I doubt this is an issue with other 742 nib models but the Falcon nib needs a more consistent flow. Even after a professional adjustment, my 742 requires slow writing to avoid unfilled spaces. The problem might be the converter. It needs frequent priming as in twisting the knob to push the ink closer to the feed. The nib deposits so much ink when asked to fully flex, that priming must be done all too often. Pilot makes two other converter models, but in my tests these produced no improvement in performance.
Leigh Reyes thinks Pilot should offer the 742FA as an eyedropper so there would be no flow restriction. Another benefit is that it would maximize the amount of ink per fill. That might be the best solution though my Waterman 54 Pink Nib, one of the best flex nibs ever made, is a lever-filler without flow problems. Converters are convenient but not suited to all situations.
Using flex nibs requires some adjustment to achieve good results. Writing slowly and applying more or less pressure correctly is key. Upstroke = no pressure. Downstroke = more pressure. Practice up-down strokes with /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\. Many pens that aren’t flex will produce a bit of flair with that sort of exercise. Try it with your signature once you’ve gotten the way of it.
Should you become totally enamored with flex writing, vintage fountain pens will become a necessity. There just is no modern nib that compares unless you get it modified by a nibmeister. Oh, and there are many dip nibs that flex beautifully but that’s another subject entirely.