I believe that the shape of a pen’s section is probably the single biggest determinant in whether the pen is comfortable for you or not.
Other major factors include the length of the nib and the weight/balance of the pen, but ultimately the section is where your fingers sit. If it’s too small, too wide, too short, too tapered, you’ll feel it, and if your grip isn’t comfortable there, it’ll affect how you feel about the rest of the pen, too.
On most pens the section is just, you know, there.
It probably narrows a little towards the nib. It’s maybe slightly concave in profile, perhaps has a slight flare or ridge by the nib. It will be sized proportionate to the overall size of the pen, with cap threads behind and nib in front.
This describes everything from the Pilot 912 to the Platinum 3776, Montblanc 146 to Visconti Homo Sapiens, Lamy Studio to Visconti Van Gogh, Esterbrook Estie to Parker Duofold.
That may work for most people, but what if you’re not most people? Here are a few different kinds of sections that you can look for, and some manufacturers and models that use them.
I’ve had a go at grouping a few. And I’ve taken standardised shots of my pens so you can see for yourself.
1: Ski-slope: Aurora
Aurora’s sections are very long (especially relative to the overall size of the pen), have a pronounced taper, and a significant flare, for a concave profile. The extra finger space keeps your skin away from the cap threads and lets you find the right grip for you.
There are plenty of similar models out there if Aurora doesn’t take your fancy: Desiderata Soubriquet, Karas Starliner, Namisu Ixion, Yard o Led Grand Viceroy….
2: Triangular: Lamy Safari and AL-Star
The long sections of common Lamys like the Safari, Al-Star and Nexx has a triangular shape; TWSBI has followed suit with its Eco. The shape should promote a consistent grip; others, often lefties, find it uncomfortable.
3: Seamless bullet: Lamy 2000
On pens like the Lamy 2000, the barrel takes a torpedo shape with the nib on the end. There are no steps and often no threads to interrupt the taper all the way from the barrel to the end of the section. In theory this means you get a nice broad section wherever you choose to hold on, with no irritating sharp bits.
The list of pens that take this approach is huge. Think of the Sheaffer Legacy, Waterman Carene, Pilot Myu, Esterbrook Phaeton, Conid Minimalistica, Lamy Aion, or Pilot Vanishing Point (if you can excuse the clip).
4: End threads: Ancora
Several manufacturers have released pens with the cap screwthreads at the end of the section, between you and the nib. This helps set your fingers further back away from the page and means you don’t have to worry about sharp threads under your fingers.
Think here of many Franklin-Christoph models, the Oldwin Art Deco and Classic, Montblanc Heritage series 1912 and Rouge et Noir, and probably many others. The one I’m thinking of here is the unusual Ancora Cielo, which not only has end threads but a steep taper before them, locking your fingers in right by the threads.
5: Short: Pelikan
Relative to the length of the pen and the diameter of the section, Pelikan grips are short. It’s undeniable. They’re about half the length of Aurora’s sections. If you like the extra purchase you get from holding the threads, or if you like to grip right down by the nib, Pelikans are for you.
I’ve found that many Kawecos — principally the Sport — have similarly short sections.
6: Mid-section step-down: Leonardo
Pens like the Momento Zero have a sudden slope down to a slimmer plateau toward the nib. I’ve not handled many pens with this kind of section shape, and it shouldn’t be comfortable — but in my experience, it is.
7: Skinny: Graf Classic
Some pens take their inspiration from pencils. The Graf Classic, for example. It has a very long, skinny section. There are plenty of pens with thin sections — like the Kaweco Lilliput — but few that are so skinny relative to their length, rather than just being small pens overall.
8: Straight: Montblanc 1912
Unlike the ‘bullet’ pens described above, there’s a whole bunch of pens that are straight (or nearly straight) all the way from the barrel to the nib. The Montblanc 1912 is a great example: you can hold it more or less anywhere down the length and it’ll feel the same. The Graf Intuition is similar (although there’s a slightly concave indentation where the ‘expected’ hold would be). The Muji aluminium fountain pen is straight from grip to barrel, albeit with knurling. And the Lamy Dialog 3 is perhaps the zenith of this design approach.
9: Deep curve: Conid Regular
Some pens go beyond the usual subtle waist of the section, or a simple flare on the end. They design in a clear and irresistible concave profile, and your fingers will fall into it no matter what you do about it. The Conid Regular Bulkfiller is one example from my collection. The Faber-Castell Ondoro also springs to mind, the Pineider La Grande Bellezza, or even the Karas Ink.
10: The long taper: Lamy Imporium
Finally, these pens have a step-down from the barrel, then a long section that noticeably narrows to the tip — importantly, with no flare. These often aim to have grippy sections. The ribbed Lamy Imporium is one example; the ridged Tactile Turn Gist is another. Then there are those with plainer textures: the Diplomat Aero or ystudio portable.
Unfortunately, I have none of these right now!
So, dear reader: what kinds of sections work for you?