I feel like I go back a long way with Karas Kustoms. I backed their Render K machined ballpoint pen way back in 2011 (although it’s long-since sold). Yet despite many hours spent configuring colour combinations, I’ve never actually pulled the trigger on one of their fountain pens.
Partly that’s because I’ve drifted away from metal-bodied pens over the years, and that’s always been Karas’s domain. Until the Decograph came along, that is.
Plastic with a metal soul
The Decograph is part of a new line of “Signature” pens in the Karas range. It’s a plastic pen that manages to carry the design ethos of KK: in the metal machined finials on cap and body, in the machined clip, and perhaps most visibly in the machined aluminium tube that the pen arrives in.
I personally love the tube. It lends a real air of occasion to the unboxing, and takes up much less space than the usual generic pen box.
The Decograph is a decent-sized pen, not oversized, not small. Seen here next to another machined plastic USA-made pen, the Franklin-Christoph 02, it’s narrower but of similar length in body and section. Note the colour balance of my Google Pixel 2 XL was utterly fooled by the colour of the Decograph and rendered it a bright blue — it’s actually got more green in it, as in the other photos.
I’d like to say the design is understated, but… One look at this crazy limited edition turquoise swirl plastic in this “1801” edition kinda obscures the underlying simplicity of the pen.
But the simplicity is there. Notice there’s no cap band — the cap material is thick enough, and the threads far enough from the lip, that the chances of the cap cracking are minimal. In fact, the whole pen feels stout and solid. Because the material is so thick, you only see any translucency under the strongest of backlighting.
See in the image above that the serial number is lightly engraved just behind the threads? It’s a neat little touch. Aside from that, the only other markings on the pen are the K logo on one of the finials.
Even with the metal clip and finials it’s a light pen. Karas claims 20g, and I see no need to doubt them. Inside is a generic but functional Schmidt converter, so there’s no brass piston mechanism to add heft as on a similarly sized Pelikan M800, for instance.
The cap unscrews in precisely two rotations, which isn’t super fast but will do. The threads run very smoothly, no wiggle, and once seated closed the cap feels extremely secure. I never post my pens, but if you do, you’ll be pleased to know that this one posts just fine.
Unscrewing the section takes forever — there are so many threads, and they’re quite tight. This one won’t be coming loose unless you want it to.
Speaking of the section, it’s noticeably concave so you get a secure grip. The threads are moderately sharp, but are far enough back to be out of the way.
The nib is a #6 steel from Bock, so I won’t spend much time talking about it here. Under a loupe my example (kindly on loan from another United Inkdom member) had slightly misaligned tines but nonetheless wrote pretty well, neither too wet nor dry, and somewhere between a medium and a fine (it’s not marked on the nib itself).
If I was buying one myself, I’d choose a Ti nib in EF at a $45 premium (gold will set you back $105), although it wouldn’t go with the aluminium fittings so well as this steel one does. Karas offers a huge choice of nibs from a dropdown menu, and of course you can swap nibs any time you like.
I found the clip a bit disappointing. Unlike the crazy one-piece machined clip on the Ink, this one is two-piece, with a thin folded steel part clamped under the finial, and the machined aluminium clip itself riveted to it. Face on, this looks fine, but from the side it’s somewhat inelegant. I can understand why they did it this way — steel is more elastic than aluminium — but actually I’d prefer the clip to be stronger and stiffer. It didn’t clamp very hard.
All the surfaces — plastic, finials, clip — bear very subtle machining marks. I rather like this, since it reveals the handmade, industrial aesthetic of earlier KK pens. It also shows that this is a turned pen, not a cast one.
The Decograph costs $165. That’s about on par with the competition: the Edison Collier is $169, the Franklin-Christoph models range from $150 up. And they too are C/C models with generic nibs, made in the USA. So it’s competitive.
Karas is already offering a range of colours — this 1801 is a limited edition of 100, not sold out at time of writing — and this approach is bang on trend for the pen industry. We’re obsessed with limited editions.
I personally find the standard green model rather alluring.
Or this sexy grey and red combo, which unfortunately is sold out.
My prejudices as a pen-lover have gradually hardened over the years. I like in-house nibs, integral filling mechanisms, and large, heavy pens.
I’m also not a fan of loud swirly plastics.
So the Decograph should’ve been doomed from the moment I opened the box. Or rather, unscrewed its aluminium time capsule.
But I actually found myself quite liking it. While the internals are generic, the rest of the pen shows plenty of care and machining skill, and surprisingly the old Karas DNA does shine through. Perhaps most importantly, the design is classic, the proportions are great and it’s simply comfortable to hold and write with. I personally have got used to thicker sections, but even so I was quite happy to stick with the Decograph through a day of meetings without complaint.
With a discount code and a favourable exchange rate, the Decograph comes in under a hundred quid. At that price, I’d think seriously about getting one, and I’d certainly put the Decograph in the running against a Franklin-Christoph or Edison, which is high praise.
The Karas Kustoms Decograph was loaned to me by a fellow blogger. Check out Ian’s review here (extra incentive: he’ll be giving this very pen away in a couple of weeks). No money changed hands. Check out my ethics.