What’s Your Opinion Of Pen Brands


You already know pens are not created equal. Those of us who write about them can only comment on the brands with which we have experience and that can be a limited pool given the number of pen manufacturers. If your favorite brand never gets mentioned at Inkophile, it is because I have never used a pen from that line so it would be helpful to hear your opinions to see what my collection might be missing.

Contemporary pens get frequent posts because readers can purchase the same model easily. Vintage pens get less attention because they are more difficult to acquire and have unknown backgrounds. Some have been well maintained or fine tuned by a nibmeister. Others have been abused if not mauled. Even a NOS (new old stock) pen may have been stored in inclement conditions causing stress to plastic bits and rubber sacs. But if there is consistency amongst multiple pens, remarks are in order.

With the exceptions of some obscure manufacturers with discontinued models, this is my list of pen brands.


  • Platinum – Very good build quality. Nibs are consistently excellent in the #3776 line. The music nib is tops in my book both for shape and flow.
  • Pilot – Very good build quality. Nibs are good and offered in a substantial variety of sizes and shapes. I do not recommend the Custom 742FA due to significant flow issues. The resin Pilot (Namiki) Falcon is a mainstay in my rotation, but it does need use to achieve a reasonable degree of softness. Quite worth the effort in my opinion.
  • Sailor – Excellent build quality. Feels very solid. Nibs are very firm and come in few choices. A bit overpriced, but I’ve never owned a bad one.
  • Pelikan – Excellent build quality. Very smooth nibs. The piston filler is easy to maintain. This is my favorite European pen.
  • Waterman – Good build quality. Limited nib choices but solidly built.
  • Rotring – Very sturdy.
  • Sheaffer – Good build quality with limited nib choices.
  • Levenger True Writer – Disappointing build quality. Half my collection shows damage with only ordinary use. Some nibs are very good. Others not so much.
  • Lamy – Very sturdy. Some of the nibs are outstanding.
  • Kaweco – Good build quality. I can only comment on the medium nib which is smooth and flows well.
  • Retro 1951 – Good build quality. Very rigid nib that flows well.
  • Noodler’s – Build quality in line with price. Nibs are good to very good. The flex improves with use.
  • Jinhao – Disappointing build quality. Nib is decent.
  • Baoer – Good build quality especially at the price. Nib and flow are acceptable. This is the best of the Chinese pens I’ve tested.
  • Hero – Decent build quality. The nibs I have are fairly good but the ink flow is erratic requiring adjustment to be useful.


  • Waterman – Endures the test of time admirably. The pre-WWII flex nibs are the best available.
  • Pilot – Some very attractive pens. Elite short/long pens are risky as the plastic sections even NOS can develop fractures. The fine nibs can be scratchy.
  • Sheaffer – My experience is with the Touchdown model. Excellent build and nibs.
  • Parker – Vacumatic and ’51’ models are outstanding. Nibs are very good.
  • Pelikan – Have owned a dozen of the M200 to M400 models as well as a few others. Excellent build. Well-cared for nibs can be superb.
  • Reform – Average build quality. Can’t comment on the nibs since mine have been modified.
  • Montblanc – Disappointing build quality. Mine fell apart. The nib is fabulous – smooth and loaded with iridium.
  • Esterbrook – Some have held up well while others have not. The 9000 series nibs are good with the finer ones being scratchy.
  • Wahl-Eversharp – Good build except the levers which can become loose defying repair. The stub nibs are especially sweet.

These are general observations and individual pens may perform better or worse. I’ve used too many brands to remember them all, but these are the ones in my current collection as well as a few I have sold or given away.

Vintage pens are a chancy lot so no recommendations. However, the Parker ’51’ carries less risk due to its workhorse construction. I’ve owned a number of them and only one had a stinky nib that was in all likelihood greatly abused by a former owner. Pelikan piston-fillers can need a tune-up so look for ones have been repaired recently or are functioning well at purchase. That makes Waterman, Parker and Pelikan my top three vintage brands. If you want a truly wonderful experience, buy from someone who specializes in the pen you want. That doesn’t exclude eBay where guys like Rob Morrison sell fantastic pens at auction. Just look for a depth of knowledge and rave reviews. You’ll pay more but won’t have a pricey repair just to get enjoyment out of your new/old pen.

Contemporary pens are easier to recommend – or not. The Japanese pens are consistent winners as are the Pelikan and Waterman. I only have experience with one new Sheaffer, so am a little reluctant to give it a wholehearted recommendation though I found nothing wanting in the one Sheaffer sent for review. If you can work with the grip, the Lamy is good though the calligraphy nibs can be flow challenged. Noodler’s can be good, but the flex nibs need time to reach full potential.

So that’s my list. Consider it opinion to be tossed out if it doesn’t mirror your experiences.

Now what is your favorite brand of pen and how would you evaluate its build and nib?


  1. My experiences generally mirror yours for new Sailor, Pilot, Platinum, Pelikan and Lamy.

    My Pilot Custom 742 FA flows much better now after some feed work. I have had some problems with poor nibs in brand new Pelikans so I now buy from vendors that will adjust nibs as part of purchase.


    • Lucky you. Even after a trip to a nibmeister, my 742FA has flow problems. The nib can’t decide whether it is a fine or medium. If it gets flexed, the remainder of the session will be at the medium width. Waterman flex nibs know how to snap back. The Pilot does not. Meh.

      Sorry to hear about your Pels. My most recent M400 is several years old and was perfect out of the box. Most assuredly, buying from a top vendor who adjusts each nib would be the ideal scene. If I could, I would.


  2. Outstanding. Your thoughts are well taken. You know.


    • Jeanne, thanks for the kind words. It is a long post, but hopefully a useful one.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “I have been trying to get a tangerine true writer, for year’s”!
    So, I don’t feel, as bad:after reading your blog.


    • My tangerine TW is one of the offenders. The collar is cracked making the nib unstable. It sure is pretty though.


  4. Thanks to FPN, I’ve become a big fan of Italian pens, particularly Visconti. Most of my Vicontis have been in production for only several years and it seems their quality has been up throughout that time. Some older models, here and there, have been touted as well though others were more problematic. Combing reviews has helped me isolate an older Visconti or two that behaves most excellently, such as my Voyager. I’m a very shallow collector so how the pen looks is about as critical to me as how it writes, though good aesthetics never trumps performance, even in my book. Beauty is the other reason I’m such a fan of Italian pens. My two Montegrappas are another good example of form combined with function. I prefer juicier pens, as well.

    TWSBI has been a revelation to me, and while I’m aware others have been disappointed, my 7-8 pens of varying nib types are fantastic so far. I find them much more reliable and pleasant to use over the two Lamys so far in my stable, one Fine and one 1.1mm.

    My one Sailor (demonstrator, Professional Gear) will NOT be my last Sailor. They have some truly beautiful models, though now that I know Japanese nib grades tend to be narrower than European, I’ll buy accordingly. But thinly as it writes, my Sailor is still great.

    The Waterman Expert II remains a favorite, and some of the first pens I splurged on, 20+ years ago. I’m underwhelmed with newer Watermans, however. Would like very much to try the more vintage Waterman pens you’ve mentioned. 🙂

    So far, my vintage collection is comprised of several Conway Stewarts, who I think made some of the most beautiful pens of the time. Made for everyday use, yes, but with more flair than the US and German brands of the day. Nonetheless, I have about six Esterbrooks whose versatility I love, ie swapping out nibs. Also have an Estie dip pen with multiple nibs which I use to test drive inks with.

    So many pens, so little time. 🙂


    • Thanks for the detailed reply. You’ve used a lot of pens I haven’t which was just what I’d hoped to explore. Should you venture beyond Sailor into other major Japanese brands, generally Sailor nibs are the widest with Platinum the most narrow. Pilot falls in between. In my experience, Sailor has the most flow with Platinum the most controlled. None of them are dry or stingy. I like all of them.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I only have the TWSBI Mini, but I love it to pieces! I especially love how easy it is to swap nibs and to refill with no mess if you’re using the TWSBI Diamond ink bottle. I’m the klutz who always manages to get ink all over me when refilling, otherwise. My Mini is an everyday carry for me, along with my Retro 1951 Tornado.


      • Only fountain pen users would understand that wearing ink doesn’t necessarily mean having tattoos. ;-p Haven’t tried a Mini yet! Just 580s and a Vac 700 or two.


  5. I have a lot of experience with OMAS pens both vintage and new. In my opinion the vintage 1960s and earlier pens are some of the finest Italian pens ever made. Beautiful designs, celluloid and innovations. I have OMAS pens from the 1930s that I use as every day writers…beautiful hand forged nibs.

    The modern OMAS pens from the 1980s on are beautiful pens but I have had enough problems and poor service from OMAS that I no longer have any in my collection save for one piece of sentimental value. The once great family owned company has now changed hands too many times…it mostly survives today on beautiful celluloid and classic designs but poor QC and customer service warrant caution.


    • Good to know. Is there another Italian pen maker deserving of mention?


      • Aurora is an excellent producer. Their modern pens are some of the highest quality. Better than Montblanc and easily on par with Pilot and S.T. Dupont. Aurora makes all of their nibs in house and while they are nails they have an unique character. Their stubs, italics, and obliques are all wonderfully sharp.

        Vintage Aurora pens are of equal high quality though their most well know vintage pens like the Optima are rare and extremely expensive. One of the things I like about vintage Auroras is that they were all quite fat so the smaller sized models are very comfortable to use unlike the smaller pens from many makers (both Montblanc and OMAS come to mind).


        • Years ago I had an Aurora Ipsilon that had been modified so I can’t comment on the quality of the nibs. It was overbalanced in my hand when posted and less than comfortable unposted. But that’s a low-end model. Perhaps a different model would be more comfortable to use. Thanks for the remarks on the nibs. I had no idea they could be so good.


  6. I have a number of Jinhao pens. I bought five ‘149’s for presents and kept them all, it was the best £20 I ever spent.
    Only one has a dodgy filler so I swapped it from another old pen. I have had no problems with them in three years. Whilst writing a letter in a cafè, a chap asked me about it, I let him try it then sold him one for £25. He was very happy with the deal, but not as happy as me!


    • Well done! There’s nothing like making pens pay for themselves.


  7. I love Pilot’s cheap pens! The quality control is excellent even at the level of the little disposable Vpens.

    I wonder for other brands whether reliability varies by price point?

    I find Lamy very reliable, and again, across all price points – from the cheaper Safari/Vista to the L2k. (However a nibmeister can make a huge difference even to the L2k. It’s okay out of the box – superb if tweaked.)


    • Pilot does make some nice, inexpensive pens. But good value for money along with a decent writing experience can be the gateway to more expensive pens. Trust me. I know.


  8. […] What’s Your Opinion Of Pen Brands (via Inkophile) […]


  9. I just ordered my first Lamy, so I can’t comment on it. 🙂

    My current favorite pens are the Retro 1951 Tornado, which has excellent build quality, very sturdy and with a nice heft to it, and the TWSBI Mini, which also has an excellent build quality. I’m usually a medium nib person, but I ended up swapping out my TWSBI medium for a fine nib. Ink flow on both the Tornado and the Mini are excellent.

    I loved the Sensa fountain pens when they first came out, but as they’ve been discontinued, I would no longer recommend them to people. The build quality was only so-so (I have two and broke both plastic lids by over-tightening) but the ink flow was outstanding, even if it had been a couple of weeks since I used the pen!

    I started out with Waterman pens, and enjoyed them enough to get into the heftier pens. I like more weight to my pens.

    Weight is one of the reasons I don’t do TrueWriter anymore. I bought a TrueWriter in the Levenger Chicago store, and the body is a nice sturdy metal with excellent build quality. Then I made the mistake of buying a resin TrueWriter off eBay, and maybe it’s because it was used, but I loathe that pen. I just bought a pen cleaning and tuning kit from Goulet Pens, and I’m thinking about tackling that, because I like my other TrueWriter so much, but I just don’t know…

    I have a Kaweco sport roller ball but haven’t ventured into their fountain pens. I LOVE Kaweco ink, though, so when I have some extra cash I will probably buy a converter-capable Kaweco pen of some sort.


  10. Great review. I agree with all the ones I have owned from your list. I would add from my experience the Edison and Bexley. Small producers but attention to detail is good and customer service has always been outstanding to me.


    • Someday I’ll try an Edison or Bexley. Good to know they are good ones.


  11. […] What’s Your Opinion Of Pen Brands – An Inkophile’s Blog […]


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