An ASC for under $200
When I saw The Pen Family announcing the ASC Studio Collection on social media, I was a little shocked. ASC sells high-end pens, mainly from celluloids like Arco, with gold nibs and price tags hovering around £1k. I have one, the Gladiatore Medio Arco.
By contrast, the Studio Collection has an RRP of $195 (EU retailers are listing at €179; the Pen Family’s own site converts to £143, on which the usual import duties will be levied). In a market where luxury goods seem to be performing strongly, it’s a bold move to dive into the ultra-competitive midmarket.
But as a strategy, it’s helpful to have a gateway product for customers new to your brand, especially as companies like Leonardo start moving upmarket with pens like the Cuspide, competing for ASC’s normal clientele.
And on paper the Studio is the perfect candidate for a gateway product. It retains many of the key ingredients of ASC’s grander designs: fancy Italian resin, piston filler, even the familiar nib imprint and Greek key design on the cap band, and clip with roller end.
Of course, to cut the price by 80%, there are some spec sheet compromises. The nib is a steel job from Bock with plastic feed, instead of gold and ebonite. The body is resin, not celluloid. These pens are made in Miami, not Italy. But if that’s all that’s compromised, these pens could be a great competitor for the likes of Leonardo, Maiora and Tibaldi, which don’t offer a piston filler at this price point.
So, let’s find out if there’s a catch. Since these pens are a new design, I’ll step through in some detail. Bear with me.
The first thing you notice about the Studio Collection is its diverse range of colourful resins. Since they’ll be a big part of your decision about whether to buy one, let’s start here. The Pen Family helpfully sent me a sample of all five, covering both gold and silver trim.
Left to right is Green Guatemala, Blue Pinnacle, Blue Coral, Yellow Pinnacle, and Arlecchino.
All five pens were perfectly polished, showing the resins off to their best — although I have to say these patterns are certainly not all to my taste. In particular the flat ‘crazy camo’ of the Arlecchino put me off. I had a similar initial reaction against the Guatemala but actually grew to like it a lot. Anyway, there’s something here for everyone, unless you like black pens!
There are a few things to note if you’re considering which colour to pick:
Green Guatemala is very translucent, which is good if you like demonstrators, but also shows all the opaque white glue around the cap band.
Yellow and Blue Pinnacle are the very same material type as Leonardo uses in its Cuspide.
This is a highly directional material, and unfortunately ASC hasn’t made the effort to align the pattern across piston knob, barrel, section, clip or cap. This may or may not bother you — it bothered me.
The rest of the appearance and construction are pretty much flawless. All the components and trim fit flush all the way around. The ink window is beautifully clear and large and well integrated.
The clips are a good size and have a roller, but they are very easy to bend. My Green Guatemala arrived with the clip not touching the cap, so the roller rattled. I unscrewed the clip from inside the barrel, bent it and reseated it.
These pens are heavy on the trim, in particular the cap finial and cap band, with its Greek key design. The plating is thick and even, but aesthetically it was the weak point of these pens for me. I like patterns to look crisp and clear; text to be legible. The trim here looks rounded and almost too shiny, like the plated cast plastic on a 1980s toy. Compare it to the trim on the Gladiatore Medio.
Luckily, the beautiful patterning on the nib, which I enjoy so much on my Gladiatore, is just as sharp and attractive here.
Comfort and practicality
The Studio is a medium-sized pen, and unsurprisingly close in proportions compared to the Gladiatore Medio.
I found it just a smidgeon smaller than I would like, and I think that’s because the section pinches subtly to be quite narrow…
…and the nib is just a millimetre or two shorter than a normal number 6, like on the Gladiatore. Or rather, it seems to be recessed slightly in the section.
Otherwise, comfort is very good. The threads are very nice under the fingers, and the edge of the ink window that marks the barrel step is well rounded.
It does post, but not deeply, and it becomes quite long indeed.
Weight is unremarkable, and the Studio feels balanced.
The cap unscrews in 2.5 turns, which is more than I’d like, but the threads perform well.
The Studio fills with a true integrated piston mechanism, apparently made of brass. There’s no blind cap. There are metal flats that can be used (although I haven’t tried) to unscrew the piston mechanism rather like a TWSBI.
The piston ran smoothly on all five pens. I didn’t measure the capacity, but it looks generous. The ink window is completely clear and plenty large enough, and it’s visible when the pen is capped too. You’ll have no issues with running out unexpectedly.
The Studio Collection is available with nibs in F, M and B grades and I received two Fs, two Ms and a B, which gave me an interesting opportunity to check out consistency from pen to pen. Under a loupe, these nibs mostly look good, with just a little misalignment on the tips of a couple.
The writing experience is generally wet and smooth, which is what I expected and hoped for.
With the exception of one of the fine nibs, on the Yellow, all four ran on the wider end of European grades, which is my experience with ASC pens in the past too. But I found variability between the two F and two M nibs, so who knows what you’ll get.
Ignore the dried out first line — I’ll come to that in a second — and notice how the two fines are quite different, the two mediums are quite different, and the second medium is wider than the broad. (Note: it’s “Blue Coral” but I keep writing “Red Coral”… oops!). Not all of this is down to differences in ink; you can feel it in the tipping contact patch.
I found that the flow varied on most of these pens, with some paragraphs almost unusably wet and others just fine.
I attempted a little pressure to get some line variation, but there was none to speak of, and I didn’t push it, given how wet these nibs already are.
The plastic feeds are not standard Bock; they’re numbered beneath just like the feeds I’ve had on Nettuno and Loft Pens. I assume the nib units screw out but I haven’t attempted disassembly.
I left the pens sat capped for a few days in a case, and in a couple of them I had a little hard-starting when I went to use them again. I’ve also had random issues — like with the yellow fine shown above — where ink seems to retreat away from the tip after just a few hours sat, and needs coaxing down with a little pressure. Others, like the blue, have shown no hesitation.
Over a longer rest I expect they’d all show some signs of drying out. There’s no true inner cap on these pens, and there’s a hole for the clip to come through. But based on my experience so far, the evaporation is not as bad as some pens I’ve used, for sure.
The Studio Collection presents a few obvious compromises, but actually no true dealbreakers.
The compromises? The trim looks cheap in my eyes, the resin patterns don’t line up on the Pinnacle pens, and the nibs are a little inconsistent and temperamental. Personally I would have liked an extra millimetre of diameter on the section, and half a turn less of threading on the cap.
But even taking this into account, actually these are nice little pens, and they give you a lot of bang for the buck. You get a proper piston filler, some unusual resins, an ink window and what (so far) seems to be a really good standard of build quality and finishing, for about 180 euros.
I love my gold-nibbed, ebonite-fed, crisply engraved Gladiatore Medio, with its lustrous arco bronze celluloid, but it costs more than all five of these pens put together. And actually with its slightly sticky threads and lack of ink window, it falls short of the Studio pens in some respects.
What about the competition? To get a piston-filling Leonardo Momento Zero Grande or Furore Grande with a steel nib you’re looking at £250. Tibaldi offers the beautiful Bononia for 195 euros, with an ebonite feed, but no piston filler. Maiora and Nettuno come in around £160, but again they’re converter-filled. Montegrappa offers the Monte Grappa with piston filler, but that’s around £250 with steel nib and may be discontinued. All in all I’m not sure there’s another Italian-style piston filler out there at this price.
The Pen Family Europe sent me these pens to review. You can find out more and buy direct from here.