In the past I’ve written about how the act of writing can be a transcendent experience, and why I feel that the writing instrument can positively or negatively impact that experience. As a wrap up to 2017, I’m going to put together a list of pens, refills, and paper that I feel make for some truly amazing writing experiences. These won’t all be Karas Pen Co products as we don’t make refills and paper, and even the pens won’t all be our pens, but the list is more as a guide to my preferences as a person that frequently writes by putting pen to paper.
I’ll start by listing my preferences as a writer, i.e. what I consider to be the perfect writing conditions. First off, I’m primarily a fountain pen user. That being said, many situations I am in where I need to take notes or even jot something down don’t favor the use of this type of pen. Some don’t favor a pen at all. Being a full time college student as well as working full time, I encounter a broad spectrum of “types” of writing I have to do every day. So I have writing instruments for each set of circumstances. In a perfect world, I’d want to only use a rather wet writing fountain pen, that is somewhere around a Western Fine nib size, and has just a tiny bit of feedback on the page. I’d want the ink to be a nice rich blue, it doesn’t need to shade too much, but I do enjoy a bit of red sheen in my blue ink. The paper would be anything Tomoe River preferably dot grid in an A5 format. But I rarely find myself in this perfect situation. So I’ve found a variety of options for just about any situation. I’ll break down this list in three categories: Writing Instruments, Refills/Inks, and Paper. Let’s start
I find subcategories are helpful with pens specifically since I use fountain pens, ballpoint/rollerballs, and pencils on a daily basis. It makes it easy to tackle writing instruments in a way that makes sense if I do a little sub-dividing. I’ll start with fountain pens.
Without fail, people will expect some justification for my choices or some rhyme or reason behind why I’ve picked these pens out of all the others. Honestly, I’ve chosen the three modern fountain pens that I’ve used or reach for on a daily basis that write the way I want them to. I haven’t taken into account price, though there is one “entry-level” fountain pen on this list. Nor have I really considered filling mechanism when choosing these. I will start the list with the “One Pen To Rule Them All”, the Lamy 2000 (L2K). It’s my opinion that the L2K is quite possibly the perfect pen. It hits every mark that I consider when thinking about a truly amazing pen. Of the 12 or so I’ve written with they all have performed above average as far as nib and flow are concerned. Easy capping, posts well (even though I don’t post my pens), huge ink capacity, durable, unique looking. The list goes on and on. If I had to get rid of all of my other fountain pens and could only keep one, the L2K is the pen I would keep.
The TWSBI Eco is another pen I think outshines its competitors in most, if not all, categories. I think I have owned 7 Ecos and currently own 3 since I’ve gifted the others. Out of the box the nibs are simply outstanding, I’ve yet to have an issue with writing performance or ink flow on any of them. Even though the pen is plastic, it’s pretty durable, especially when compared to other TWSBI offerings. Again this pen holds massive amounts of ink, and it has the added bonus of being a demonstrator so you can see the ink sloshing around in the pen. The piston mechanism is easy to clean and functions quite well. For less than $30 dollars you really can’t go wrong with this one.
Finally I’ll wrap up with a Karas Pen Co pen. It’s often hard for me to decide on which one of our fountain pens I prefer. I love my original INK, it’s nearly a perfect size, the weight is awesome, and it’s just a beast that I can bang around without worrying about it breaking. The Fountain K is a bit too small for me to use on a regular basis, and I’m not personally a fan of the nibs we use in the Fountain K. But when it really comes down to it, the Decograph is the fountain pen we make that I reach for more often than any other. It’s not because it’s new and shiny, or because it’s plastic, or because it posts. All of those are great reasons to love this pen, it’s really because the pen looks, feels, and writes a notch above our other pens. Specifically the Decograph with a 14K gold nib. The overall style of the pen speaks to the fountain pen collector in me that got his start with vintage pens. The lines and look of the Decograph make remind me of all the vintage pens I’ve owned or repaired in my fountain pen days. The weight is perfect for me. A lot of people have remarked about how light the pen is, but to me it’s a weight that is right there where I don’t notice I’m holding a pen. With that in mind, and outfitted with a gold nib, the pen simply glides across the page laying down wonderfully wet lines. It’s honestly an amazing experience.
Now to the ballpoint/rollerball world. For the longest time I tried to use only fountain pens when taking notes at school. But in Arizona with the heat of the late spring and early fall causing sweat and oil to transfer from the side of my hand onto the paper as I would write, fountain pen ink just won’t work in those conditions. I would find myself frustrated and finally moved completely to using a traditional ballpoint in these circumstances. My go to pen that’s always in my pocket is an EDK with a Schmidt Easyflow 9000 refill. While not the most elegant of refills, it will write on anything and is smoother than most other options on the market. I also like the compact size of the EDK and ability to carry it in my jeans pocket.
A close second to this option is the Uni Ball Jetstream SX217 ballpoint pen. I stumbled across this pen completely by chance, and really ended up liking it. I love the 1.0mm refill most, but it’s impractical for a lot of writing, and the 0.7mm is just a tiny step below. The pen is cheap and you can buy them by the buttload, and you don’t have to worry about people stealing them. I’d love to have a Karas pen that takes that refill but it’s rather proprietary in its engineering that makes it hard to adapt a pen to. Not a big deal since these are so cheap.
Lastly I really enjoy a good Bic Round Stic with a 1.0mm refill. I know it’s like writing with a crayon, but it’s so smooth and writes on nearly anything. Plus you can steal one of these pens pretty much anywhere (not that I’m advocating petty theft, just saying they are readily available). For a pen that writes really well on ANY paper, this is the one that gets it done!
As far as pencils are concerned there’s really only one that I use ALL the time. I’m picky about pencils because I hate using them. I honestly can’t stand pencil lead and how it feels, plus pencil erasers are largely garbage. I am NOT a fan of wood-case pencils as many people are because they are never sharp enough. But with many classes I really have to use a pencil because of sketching and the fact I often need to correct mistakes or amend my notes. I’ve settled on the Paper Mate Clearpoint Elite in 0.5mm lead really for two reasons. The pen is a really nice size and comfortable to write with and it has a MASSIVE eraser. That’s a bit point with me, I don’t want to have to carry around a separate eraser for use with my pencils. I’m kind of a hot mess with the stuff I carry around for school, more because I have two backpacks full of books and not a lot of space for incidentals. So a large eraser is a must for me and the Clearpoint has that. For those people that love metal mechanical pencils, I just can’t do it, they are far too small in diameter for me to write comfortably. Which is why I stick with this pencil as my EDC pencil.
As far as refills are concerned there’s really only two that I gravitate to in terms of seeking them out for specific pens. They are both 110mm refills and I use them in my Render K and Retrakt pens. I despise the stock Pilot G2 refill, they are dry and catch on almost any paper I use them on. Since I love a nice wet writing experience I’ve found to refills that easily fit in my G2 pens.
The first is the Pilot Precise V5 RT refill and it’s my favorite of the two. I like it so much we did a refill “hack” video for the Karas Pen Co YouTube channel. It’s wet and smooth and doesn’t pose a lot of the problems I find with the G2 refill. For that reason this is my go to rollerball swap refill.
The second refill I really gravitate to is the Ohto C-304 ceramic rollerball refill. I’ve tried other similar ceramic rollerball refills, but for some reason they don’t perform as well as the Ohto branded refills do. This one in particular is really find at 0.4mm but it’s perfectly wet and doesn’t catch on paper like a lot of the other ceramic rollerballs I’ve tried have a tendency to do. You can’t find these refills everywhere and they are a bit pricey but they are worth the price in my opinion.
As far as fountain pen inks are concerned, I have one favorite brand to recommend, and two inks that I feel are superior. I’m talking bottled inks here, not cartridges. I really don’t like cartridges because they never flow right, I’d rather use a converter or eyedropper a Decograph than mess with a cartridge.
The ink brand I always recommend is Sailor Inks (along with their custom inks done for Bungubox and Kobe). I’m not a big fan of their pens, though there is nothing wrong with their pens as a whole, I just find them to be a bit underwhelming. But the inks are amazing, and they have TONS of them. If they don’t have a color for you then I’m not sure it exists. They lean on the wet side in my experience, many of them shade and quite a few of them sheen nicely. In all they are far superior to most of the inks on the market.
That brings me to my first specific ink recommendations and that would be SailorSouten. The perfect shade of blue ink, nice and rich. You can usually get a bottle for about 18 dollars on Amazon. It is wet, and even in my dry writing pens performs wonderfully. Best of all it sheens red even when it comes from Extrafine nibs. Simply the nicest ink I’ve ever used.
The last ink I recommend is a limited edition ink from Montblanc that you may still be able to find, and that’s Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red. Generally speaking I hate red inks, but this red ink speaks to my soul. I love the way it looks and how it performs. So much I have four bottles of it. It’s really a remarkable ink. I’m not a big fan of Montblanc inks outside of their limited edition inks, but those LE inks are really outstanding. It used to be you could get a decent sized bottle for $20 bucks, but Montblanc switched to a larger sized bottle and raised the price to over $40, which still isn’t bad for some of the nicer colors. But if you can find the Velvet Red I highly recommend it.
My last section on this horrendously long list, is paper. You’ll thank me for only briefly covering my three go to paper options, that way I can finish typing this and you can finish reading it, if you’ve gotten this far. I’ll start that way we can both be done…
My first choice for writing outside of notes at school is a Nanami PaperCrossfield A5. I find A5 the best size for journaling and poetry and the Crossfield is Effin’ amazing. Tomoe River paper with dot grid makes it extremely user friendly. The lay flat design is awesome. This is my preferred option when it comes to sitting down to write anything personal.
As far as 3 or 5 subject notebooks for use at school, I only buy and use MiquelRius books. They used to be easy to find and relatively cheap. I think the first year I bought them I got single subject books for just over a dollar at Target on clearance. Now I get the 5 subject books at Target for $13 bucks, BUT they are worth it. Why, you ask? Cause they are fountain pen friendly! Yup, you can find extremely fountain pen friendly, college ruled, standard notebooks at a retail outlet near you. That’s enough to make me stock up on them every semester.
Lastly is a pocket option. I debated a LONG time on whether or not to add this. I really don’t like pocket notebooks. I find them asinine in that they are rarely functional. In a jean pocket they fall apart before I can use them. Most of them have TERRIBLE paper. They tend to cost between $3 and $5 dollars per book. In all it’s mostly just a waste of money. Then I found Story Supply Conotebooks and all that changed. Thick stock covers give them extra durability. Upgraded fountain pen friendly paper means I can use ANY of my pens with them. They sell a really utilitarian leather notebook cover that means my notebook can be in my ass pocket of my jeans and not get waterlogged in the heat in Arizona. So I recommend the Story Supply Co notebooks so much so we ordered custom notebooks from them just a few weeks ago.
There you have it. These are the products I turn to most often when I’m writing and the reasons behind my love for them. This list is completely subjective and I’ve intentionally written it that way. It’s not my intention to alienate other brands or people that prefer other options. Rather I’ve been pretty up front in my choice of words to make sure you, the reader, understands that I’m giving you my opinion. Hopefully you didn’t get too bored reading this. If you want to suggest something for me to try, post a comment below and next time I buy some writing instruments or gear I’ll grab whatever it is you recommended. Thanks for reading this and may you have an amazing holiday season and Happy New Year. I’ll be back in 2018.
PS – For those of you that look to this blog for content, much of what I would normally cover on here has been or will be moved to our YouTube channel. It’s just easier for me to TALK about stuff rather than to type about it. Plus I don’t have to edit myself too much. While I really don’t like being in front of the camera, it takes far less of my time to sit down and share my thoughts on a topic or introduce something on video rather than sitting down and typing up a blog post. I’ll still post on here 4-6 times a year and more if the opportunity arises, but if you want content from us, please subscribe to our YouTube channel.