I pride myself on my rational thought, my insight, my critical eye and my consistency. The new Reaktor Starliner pens from Karas Pens have made a mockery of that.
But let’s rewind. The Starliner and Starliner XL are two of the new ‘Reaktor’ budget pens from Karas Pens, whose Decograph I recently reviewed. With the naming and design there’s a bit of a Fallout-style, mid-50s, automotive, space-age vibe going on and that’s right up my street already.
Essentially, they’re turned aluminium fountain pens with slip caps. The two sizes have a lot in common — in fact, the parts are basically interchangeable — but the XL is differentiated by having a clip on the cap, and a longer barrel. The shorter Starliner is not much longer than a Kaweco Sport, and reminded me very much of my old Franklin-Christoph Model 45.
Unlike Karas’s other metal pens, which are available in a gazillion finishes, you only have a few choices with the Reaktors. This keeps costs down. I received an all-black version of the pocket Starliner, and a silver Starliner XL with a pretty bright blue section. This won me over immediately. The other options are a silver with red section, and an all-tumbled version.
The designs are very basic, but not without design flourish. The ends have a little rise, they’re not totally flat.
A series of bands are engraved around the cap and barrel forming a subtle pre-launch countdown motif.
To cap it all off
In the case of the XL, the bent-steel clip is industrial-looking, held on with two torx screws. It seems to be the same clip as on the Render K. It’s incredibly stiff and goes with the design not one jot, but it does a good job as a roll-stopper. The smaller Starliner often makes a bid for freedom.
The slip-cap mechanism uses an o-ring buried deep in the cap. It feels great to me: there’s a definite positive click when opening or closing, and the cap seems very secure. The only downside, and it may be a dealbreaker for some, is a significant amount of play, even rattle, between the cap and pen when installed. Both my pens suffer from it.
Of course, the biggest advantage of a slip cap is that there are no pesky threads to break up the lines of the pen. And this is where the Starliner won me over. There is a seam between the barrel and section, but it’s subtle, and the line swoops down to a narrow neck before the section flares out prominently above the nib.
As a result I found the Starliners to be very comfortable, even though they’re both on the small side (XL is a misnomer).
Because they’re fully aluminium, these are light pens, so even though the smooth finish can be slippery, I still felt in control when writing.
The caps post, and you’d expect this to help on a pocket pen like the Starliner. But actually the cap posts so deeply that it doesn’t add much to the length, and instead just adds a lot of weight to the back. Don’t post this pen.
Under the hood
Both sizes of pen have the same size screw-in nib units from Bock, the 076 size that looks nicely in proportion with the design.
The XL came with a medium width, which performed beautifully well loaded with Colorverse Supernova using the included converter (a perfect match for the space theme and the bright colour of the section). The fine nib in the small Starliner writes a little drier, and I loaded it with a cartridge of Caran d’Ache Infinite Grey (it’s too small for a normal converter).
Winning the space race
I say time and again that I don’t much like metal pens, I like large pens, and large in-house nibs. But I found the Starliner (in particular the XL) very charming. These are pens without pretention, and I really enjoyed the comfort and writing experience of the XL.
Points for improvement? I found the design of the cap to be a little… square-looking, with the flat-top design. The play in the slip mechanism is a problem. And the clip just looks like a parts-bin special. But take the cap off and what you have is a lovely little pen. The best bit is that (once they’re released in a month or so) the XL will retail for $55 and the base Starliner for $50 (including US shipping). For a hand-made, made in USA pen I think that’s a pretty good deal.