Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Fountain Pen Beginner's Guide - It's Quality Bro Edition

A few quick notes before we get into the meat of the post. FREE SHIPPING is live on our website for orders over $120.00, so if you plan on getting a few items and want free shipping, you now have that option. The initial Stonewashed Series sale via @karaspenco went very well, so well we are going to do more from time to time, potentially one at the end of this week depending on if we can get some more pens “stonewashed”. I am going to keep teasing this until I can actually announce it, but the Fountain K is going to have some huge news around it, stuff that you won’t want to miss out on if you are interested in that pen or Karas as a whole. That being said follow this blog, our Instagram accounts and sign up for the newsletter to get the news as soon as it’s released. Full review of Art’s Nibs coming early August with pictures and some more details on how to get his nibs in your pens. Lastly, @karaskustoms Instagram account recently reached 10k followers, we are going to be running a HUGE giveaway to celebrate. How huge? We have partnered with numerous Instagram small businesses that have given us product to giveaway. It’s a smorgasbord of cool stuff, ranging from beard products, to handmade EDC knucks and beads, to specially patina’d pens. However, the grand prize is going to be HUGE, next level stuff, it’s going to involve a truly handmade Karas Kustom pen. If you want to be able to win any of those prizes you have to follow @karaskustoms. Now on to your regularly scheduled program

As we sit around the shop and discuss certain topics that would be beneficial to our customers, we often come back to beginner’s tips to using and appreciating pens. This applies more to fountain pens than our line of ballpoint and rollerball pens, but we would touch on those as the need arises. My hesitancy around getting into any kind of beginner’s guide is due to the fact that so many already exist, and quite a few of them are REALLY good. So I have decided to not do a conventional “beginner’s guide to fountain pens” rather I am going to run you through “my experiences as a n00b with fountain pens with bonus content”. I am sure it will be beneficial to some, hopefully I won’t alienate anyone due to my departure from the tried and true method of teaching new users but I wanted an alternative to what already exists. On with today’s lesson…

Question 1. “Why should I buy/use a fountain pen?”

Answer 1a. Because disposable pens are nothing more than a piece of plastic holding an indeterminate amount of ink that allows you to scrawl your thoughts down if you remember to carry a disposable pen with you. Due to the very nature of the product, you probably don’t carry a pen on you and therefore when you need one you end up asking someone else for one. Owning a fountain pen, or any non-disposable writing instrument means you view writing as an important process, you care enough to invest time, money and space on your person, and you have thoroughly evaluated the product you are purchasing. This process reshapes your thinking about everything related to a pen, you spend time writing and considering what you write. You now have assigned a permanence and importance to annotating data, notes or thoughts; and as a result you will likely be a more thoughtful, creative person.

Answer 1b. Using a fountain pen will likely improve your penmanship and potentially make you a more responsible person. My own journey into fountain pens was primarily as a way to improve my horrendous handwriting. But with that came a desire to repair and maintain fountain pens. I put a lot of time, energy and money into my pens and therefore I treat them with the respect they deserve. Sure they are tools, but they are tools that allow us to create art and collect memories and that is something to be cherished in a world that is all about the here and now, something designed to last multiple lifetimes that has the ability to collect hundreds of years’ worth of memories is a truly amazing product. 

Q2. “Why are fountain pens so expensive?”

A2. Fountain pens aren’t all expensive. Some wonderful fountain pens can be purchased for less than three drinks from Starbucks, and will perform wonderfully for hundreds of years if maintained. But fountain pens can cost a lot of money. While there is some debate on whether more expensive pens truly outperform the cheaper pens, there is no debate that some fountain pens merely exist because they are luxury items and are priced accordingly. I have found some sub-20 dollar fountain pens that outperform my 150 dollar pens all day long. I have also found several pens in the 80-150 dollar range that consistently perform as I would expect them to perform, heads and tails above their peers. Fountain pens aren’t expensive, most of the time you get what you pay for, and if you buy an 8 dollar pen from Asia, you are going to get the performance associated with that price.

Q3. “Why would I ever need more than one pen, let alone more than one fountain pen?”

A3. Inevitably this question wanders off the path of n00b pen use, but I found myself asking this question early on in my own fountain pen journey, similar questions/comments have been made to me by non-fountain pen people recently. This is going to be my opinion only, but here goes. It comes down to two answers to this question. First, you will purchase a fountain pen and within a relatively short amount of time you realize you want nothing to do with a fountain pen and you move back to ballpoint/rollerball territory. Second, you buy one fountain pen, then a short time later find yourself buying a second and within a year or two you have a “collection” of fountain pens ranging between 3 and 3,000. The first type of person is someone who will never truly appreciate a fountain pen for the intricacies and elegance inherent in the pen. The second is the true fountain pen user that is at heart a collector and has found their collecting niche. Granted there is a small outlying group of people that are satisfied with owning one or two fountain pens, and while I understand the first group and am a member of the second group, I literally can’t understand the third group.

Q4.  “As a n00b, what fountain pen should I buy first?”

A4. The obvious answer to this question is the Karas Kustoms INK and Karas Kustoms Fountain K. Actually, to be honest once the Fountain K is available, it will immediately make my “Fountain Pen Recommendation List”. Its size, weight and overall functionality make it a great beginner fountain pen. Plus it is nearly indestructible and that’s a big plus when thinking about buying your first fountain pen. I am not going to go through my entire list, but considering the Fountain K will be in my top 5 I will go through the other 4 pens in my top five fountain pens for n00bs. And these are in no particular order.

Pilot Metropolitan – For price, functionality and quality, this pen practically can’t be beat. If you are diligent about where you shop and what deals you find, you can get a Metro shipped to your door for 10-12 bucks. The nibs are like most Japanese nibs and “finer” than their German counterparts, but are extremely well made and perform quite well out of the box.

Lamy Safari – This is a love it or hate it pen. The entire pen has a very unique design that doesn’t appeal to everybody, but the ease of use and nib swap and overall quality is definitely there. It should be included on any recommendation list.

Parker 45 – I had to have a vintage pen on this list, and this one makes the most all around sense. They are relatively easy to find, accept cartridges and converters still in production and are not very expensive. Plus they don’t normally need any real repair beyond a good soak and rinse. Combine all of those things with an iconic design and you have an awesome pen.

Pelikan M200 – Until recently I wasn’t the biggest Pelikan fan, I had heard all of the hype but never used one of their products. Then I had the chance to borrow one for a week; that week changed my life and I went out and purchased one. The one I purchased was even better than the one I borrowed. This pen could be considered price restrictive for a first fountain pen purchase, but if you are diligent you can find good sales on Amazon for this item or a new one on Ebay for less than 80 dollars. If you can get one for less than 100, I think you have the best sub-100 dollar non-metal pen on the market as far as quality is concerned.

Q5. “What about fountain pen accessories, inks, nib sizes, pen rolls, there’s just so much out there what do I do?”

A5. Keep Calm and Write On. You don’t need to be concerned with all that during your initial pen purchase (see below for inks). You may want a pen sleeve or something to carry your one pen in. If your first fountain pen is one of our pens, you can merely tighten the cap down good and hard and slip it into your pants pocket. It will be just fine, trust me I worked retail management for over a year with a Karas INK in my pants pocket every day. Didn’t damage the pen at all and my pants survived if I kept the cap on tight.

Q6. “Umm, inks?”

A6. Yup there are LOTS of inks. For all kinds of uses. Here’s the quick down and dirty and two recommendations for first ink purchases. Don’t go crazy with ink. If you plan on carrying and using your fountain pen for work or school no crazy colors, keep it simple. Do some research on individual ink make up you don’t want to slap Iron Gall into your brand new pen and then forget about it for 6 months. Likewise you don’t want your first bottle of ink to be Baystate Blue, lots of people have made that mistake and gone on to rue that day. Here’s the recommendations I have for two fairly friendly beginner inks. Waterman’s Blue is a classic blue and can be found even in some office supply stores. It’s not flashy but it looks good and plays nice in any pen I have used it in. Noodler’s X-Feather is perfect for anyone that is going to be using a fountain pen frequently with really crappy paper i.e. you are a broke student that buys the 5 cent notebooks for all of your classes and spent all your money on your new pen; get a bottle of X-Feather as it will make your new pen work with your “oh so crappy” paper.

Regardless of whether you get into fountain pens and stay in the hobby, testing out whether a fountain pen is right for you is something I believe everyone should do. It’s an otherworldly experience learning to write with a fountain pen. It doesn’t feel like writing with a regular pen. The process is that much different. The paper and the pen almost speak back to you as you feel the feedback through the pen. I might be waxing a little poetic but no two pens write exactly the same. They all feel slightly different on paper, and that feeling is one of the more personal aspect that a fountain pen can provide the user. Something that a ballpoint/rollerball can’t provide. It is one more reason I prefer fountain pens.

I say all of that just to come around to the following statement: “A pen is a tool that has many uses. At its core, a pen is nothing more than an implement to record thoughts and ideas. It has been largely devalued in a technological society. A fountain pen or even a non-disposable ballpoint/rollerball, can and will change your perspective on pens, writing, and the art of creating that inhabits all of us. We make pens so that our customers can slow down just a bit and realize these concepts, then adopt them in their lives. And furthermore that the pens our customers buy can and will be handed down for generations, cataloging numerous descendants’ thoughts, dreams, ambitions and memories is an added bonus. A pen can be mediocre and meaningless, or it can be a life changing tool that enables a person to realize the dream of writing a novel, penning a love letter or creating a timeless piece of art. We want our pens to help change lives, mold futures and allow for great creations; we hope you feel that when you pick one up.”

Below you will find a list of resources that are more the “usual” beginner guide to fountain pens. Read them at your leisure. You will also find a link to a few spots I return to fountain pen advice and minutiae, these resources might be even more helpful to you.

Beginner’s Guides

Goulet Pens Fountain Pen 101 - the best resource in my opinion as it has video to go along with it.

The Well-Appointed Desk: Ask the Desk - Our friend Ana gives her ideas on the best beginner fountain pens, her blog is a must read for any fountain pen user

Writer's Bloc - List of beginner fountain pen posts that I read early on in my fountain pen search, quite informative.

Fountain Pen References

Jetpens Guide to Choosing a Fountain Pen - Jetpens is a great place to buy stuff, which is why it's here and not above, they do articles like this as well and there is good information on their site but they are first and foremost a business.

FountainPenNetwork - The largest forum/network of fountain pen users in the world. If this forum doesn't have what your looking for, likely the resource isn't available on the internet. This is the entire swimming pool from the kiddie side to the deep, DEEP end when it comes to fountain pens so it can get complicated and technical at times, but if you stay with fountain pens at any time you will want to be a member of this forum.

Richard's Pens Reference Pages - Richard Binder is one of the biggest names in fountain pen knowledge in the world. So big he has been featured on several major news networks in the past. His knowledge, especially on vintage fountain pens and fountain pen history is IMMENSE. His reference pages are a collection of decades worth of research all in one place. If you need something, and he doesn't have the answer, you likely won't get the answer anywhere. His site should be bookmarked by anyone that uses fountain pens as a place to look first for any fountain pen related topics.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Introducing the Karas Pen Co Stonewashed Series...Plus lots of NEWS!

Some big things are happening here at Karas Kustoms. Things that we are really excited about, and we hope you will be just as excited about them as well. We have been teasing some of them via Instagram but we have quite a few other topics to discuss in brief this week before we begin to expound on everything. So on to the news!

Karas Pen Co is proud to announce the Stonewashed Series. What’s that you ask, well here’s a little background on this series of pens. We had some downtime on one of our machines and decided to run a few of our pens through this “stonewashing” process. The result was awesome as you all saw in our previous blog post. The pen looks like it has had a lifetime of use, with softened edges of the aluminum peeking through. My favorite aspect is the actual feel of the pen. The ‘stonewashing’ process makes the anodizing feel “warm” and “soft” when compared to a one of our regular pens of the same color. 

After writing with a few of these pens and giving a few away, we realized there might be a desire for these among our followers and fans. The issue is that they tend to take up a lot of time in a machine that is usually used on our other products. This is the reason for the small batches. We decided to run off a combination of extra pens that we had lying around in pieces. Every batch we send out to anodize we get parts that are unusable and their corresponding caps, tips, etc. get set aside as spare parts. We have been doing this long enough that we have quite a few of these spare parts. Perfect for use in some small batch pen wizardry! And that’s how we got the pens parts for the Stonewashed Series.

What does this mean? It means that we might do a color or material combination that won’t be done again for years. It just depends on the parts. It also means, when we are sold out of the stock that we have, we have to wait for some downtime on that particular machine. So you are going to have to jump on these if you want them. Lastly it means we really can’t create custom website space to sell these on. Our website doesn’t work that way and would require hours of work for us to list a single pen. So we are going to be selling these a little differently. We will be selling them via the @karaspenco Instagram account exclusively, so if you don't follow that you may want to. 

How is that going to work?!?! Well we will announce the sale in advance and give you a time that we will go live. We will then post particular images with instructions on how to purchase. And it all depends on how quickly you respond following the instructions. This is the easiest way for us to get these into your hands without having you all be blog followers and selling them directly off the Karas Kustoms Blog. So that’s the skinny on the Stonewashed Pens. We have a second small batch of pens that need to be assembled, you can check out a quick photo of those below.

Moving right along with some other exciting news.

If you don’t know who Nock Co. is you might want to remedy that now. Nock Co. are the creators of some stellar pen accessories, specifically pouches and cases for pens and notebooks along with a few limited release pens. We use their pouches exclusively and recommend them to anyone looking for quality Made in USA pen accessories. They carry a limited “Red, White and Blue” Render K G2 that is currently in stock on their website. I suggest you head over and take a look!

For all the fountain pen geeks, this one’s for you. Nope it’s not about the Fountain K, look for an update on that further down the blog. This is all about the NIB baby! We have long thought that only offering our nibs in Fine, Medium and Broad was a disservice to our loyal fountain pen customers. Dan and I began to actively look at ways to change that. Merely offering other nib point sizes wasn’t an option as Schmidt controls all of that. So we looked at custom ground nibs. If you are into fountain pens at all then you are familiar with the concept. Having been a fountain pen nerd for a little bit, I was familiar but had never tried a ground nib. Let me tell you, once I did my life changed. I have a hard time writing with my stock nibs now. I almost always reach for a stub or italic grind as my nib of choice. Why all the hoopla on nib grinds. 


We are proud to announce that we will be carrying custom ground nibs from Arthur Van Haselen. Who’s that, you ask? Art (@arts_nibs) is the sole proprietor and nib guru at Art’s Nibs. He is a self-taught nib grinder that also does nib modifications, tuning and fountain pen repair. His work is quality, and I don’t say that lightly. I have used Mottishaw and Masayama ground nibs, and personally I prefer a nib ground by Art not only because of the lack of wait time, but also because he gets the feel just write for my hand. It wasn’t hard for us to come to the decision to work with Art, having tried some of his nibs we knew right away that we had to have nibs ground by him. So he has a number of our nibs right now and is working away at grinding them. As soon as they are in our hands we will add them to the website and you guys can snatch them up. If you have more questions about Art’s nibs you can contact him here or if you need to contact us about our availability of these Karas nibs done by Art hit us up here.

More fountain pen news! We are also pretty excited to announce that you can now purchase standard international cartridges when you get an INK. Or if you want to just have some cartridges around for easy use, you can buy them in packs of 5 for a total of two dollars and fifty cents. We are currently offering Monteverde cartridges in Black, Blue and Blue-Black. I know it’s not a huge piece of news, but it’s important for us to know that we are trying to address some of the feedback that we get from our customers, this is one of those areas of feedback that was relatively easy to fix. These are available right now via one our website -> Here.

Fountain K News! Fountain K News! 

Yes you have been seeing images all over the place of the Fountain K. Whether you follow us or Dan Smith aka The Nibsmith, Ana at WellAppointedDesk, or several other people that we consider to be our initial product testers; you have been inundated with teaser photos of this pen. So we figured we could give you an update on the actual project. Things are moving along nicely. After receiving feedback from the above mentioned people, we realized that we needed to make some minor, MINOR, design changes to improve ease of use and overall aesthetics. These aren’t “back to the drawing board” kind of design changes, they are relatively small tweaks to our overall machining design. And they are being done to legitimately improve the pens overall function. So we are at a very tiny hiatus but are actively working on the pens knowing that you are all eagerly awaiting the release.

 What’s that?
Free what?

Free Shipping is coming. Yes you heard me right we are hard at work on the logistics of implementing a free shipping option. There will be some minimum purchase requirements and other normal hoops that retailers use when offering free shipping, but we are working on making this a reality. We will still offer shipping upgrades at the normal rates (3 Day Ground, 2nd Day Air, etc.) but the ability to offer free shipping has been something we have wanted to offer. We just have to nail down the specifics. If you are interested in learning more you should sign up for our newsletter, as this will be officially announced in a Newsletter post.

So that’s all the down and dirty for this week. Make sure to like our Facebook page, follow our two Instagram accounts, @karaskustoms and @karaspenco as they are designed to act in different ways. In fact, our original account is quickly approaching 10,000 followers and we have been prepping for a HUGE giveaway. You might be skeptical, but trust me this giveaway is going to be EPIC, next level stuff. We have partnered with other "Made in USA" small companies who have graciously decided to help provide some of the giveaway prizes. Yep, I said “some of the” and “prizes” that means multiple prizes, lots of ‘em. You will not want to miss the opportunity. And the grand prize is going to be one of the BEST pens to come off our machines.

Until next time, keep writing, keep creating. Show us your pens, we want to see them. We want to see your artwork, your journals and your doodles. Post them to our FB page and our Instagram, we love seeing what you are doing with our pens.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Well Worn or is it Stonewashed..the Debate is on!

In an attempt to do a few things a little different, and with the idea that sometimes a pen needs to look a little less refined, a bit more "loved"; we ran off a few prototypes of pens that fit that mold. The entire idea came about when we were looking at some of the first run Render Ks that the guys use in the shop. The anodized colors had faded nicely and on the corners of the pen, lovely silver tints were winking at us. The more we looked at the pens, the nicer we felt they looked. Often times our pens can come off cold and harsh due to the fact that they are all metal, but the worn finish on our older pens made the pens "feel" warmer. Plus they just look freakin' cool. So below we have some of the initial prototypes of these pens. We have been tossing around the idea of "well worn" or "stonewashed" as a way to separate them from the rest of our pens. We will put some thought into the name while you guys can get a good look at these and give us your thoughts.

We were going for a look that would make you feel as if you had carried the pen in your pants pocket for a while. That it had been out on a job site with you, carried and banged around in multiple purses or used to write essays for your entire college career.

Keeping that in mind we spent some time using different mediums to soften the colors but not necessarily damage the overall look of the anodizing.

You can see that how this comes through is often concentrated around the edges or lips of the pen itself and the main body doesn't show as much. Though the tops of the caps seem to show it a little more than the bottom of the barrels.

It really pops on the threads, showing the bright silver of the aluminum. There is also an actual difference to the way this "well worn" anodizing feels when compared directly to one of our other pens. The machining marks often present on our pens are lessened and the metal actually feels "softer" to the touch.

Leave a comment below or email us with questions. Hopefully you guys are digging this as much as we are.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

"SUPER" Pens Make an Appearance in the Karas Kustom Nerd Room

Dan Bishop and I have a long and storied past with comic books and science fiction movies. We were the quintessential nerds growing and that nerdiness carried into our adult lives. So it’s not outside the realm of possibility that we tend to carry an air of nerd with us wherever we go and often find ways of incorporating that into the ideas we have for products. Recently we began fiddling with some “super” themed pens just to see how they would turn out. Here’s some photos of those pens just to give you an idea of how our minds work. 

So there's a little eye candy for you.  These are all mock ups we did for our own entertainment and to see what the concepts would/could look like. If you have any questions or ideas feel free to leave a comment. Want to see one of these in other colors, we just might do that. 

Look for more crazy ideas coming soon. If you don't follow us on Instagram trust me, you should! We do product giveaways for every 1000 visitors, new product feature photos and we have some pretty cool giveaways coming up in the near future. If that sounds like something up your alley, you need to get on that! Look for some of that to flow over into the blog soon too. We want to make sure we are looping all of you. 

Keep checking back, we are gonna have a really cool feature coming in the next few weeks. I promise you won't want to miss this one