If you’ve been in the pen game for a few years, you’ve probably bought at least one glass dip pen, lured in by the artistry, the pretty colours… and the functional advantage of having an easy-clean tool for playing with ‘specialist’ inks, doing swatches, and so on.
I must have bought half a dozen over the years, and while glass dip pens are fun, they’re certainly not perfect. I (and my daughter) have chipped several, because glass is fragile. They’re unpredictable in their line size because they’re handmade. They develop flatspots and sharp edges over time. The ones we get over here in the west have no cap, so they dry out and can only really be used at home.
Drillog is the glass dip nib, reinvented by machinists. And the Japanese company behind it, Shion, sent me a couple of them to review.
So what on earth is Drillog?
Drillog is really a system rather than a single product.
It’s based around precisely machined steel nibs, which are modelled after glass nibs in that they have spiralling channels cut into them to hold ink through surface tension, leading to a tip.
The nibs are available in two tip sizes, 0.5mm and 0.8mm, and they screw into a metal pen body. More on that in a moment.
The Drillog components are not cheap. While a regular glass dip pen is readily available for about £15, the Drillog nibs are about £90 each, the bodies are between £75 and £110, and the accessories like palettes and pen stands are £15-£20. You can buy a starter set as a Kickstarter pledge for about £150.
As a result, this really feels like a different category of product, not just a cheap glass dip pen replacement. You’re paying proper pen money, and you’re getting a proper pen: one with a cap, where you can choose the size of the nib, and use it for years without wearing it out or damaging it. (And of course, with the Drillog system, if you do damage a nib, you can replace the nib unit easily).
What are they like to use?
The pen bodies are dramatically styled. They look great, like alien artifacts. It’s wonderful to see a set of designs so playful and unencumbered by legacy.
I was sent the Mirage, which is a finned design, very short but broad. It looks like a lightsaber handle.
The cap doesn’t post, but the body alone is just about long enough for me.
The fins are not uncomfortable as such, but you definitely feel them. I really like the electric blue colour and how the fins show it off.
I was also sent the Twins Spiral A. This has a twelve-sided twisted design with a rather complex hexagonal profile.
It’s striking and pretty, especially when twirled in the light.
The central spiral section has a nib fitting on each end.
It also has therefore two caps, which are identical and can post on each other. It’s a versatile design.
I was glad of the fatter central section because the cap portions are very skinny (although not as skinny as the Herbin glass pen). The ridges are noticeable under the fingers.
There are several other body designs to choose from, in lots of colours, some that post, some that have two nib sockets.
And Drillog has ensured that all the components are interchangeable, so you really can go nuts with customisation.
My advice would be to get the Classical Material barrel, which is plain but probably most comfortable.
Having used these pens for a couple of weeks in a variety of configurations, comfort overall is so-so, but the pens are light and I doubt you’ll be writing page after page with a dip pen anyway.
The machining is good, and these are clearly robust designs intended to be used. But there were chips on the anodising straight out of the box on both pens, and I wonder just how the finish will hold up after banging around in a pencil case with art supplies.
For me, the Drillogs have all the simplicity and advantages of a glass pen, but practically none of the drawbacks. They’re super easy to clean under the tap and you don’t have to worry about what ink you’re using with them.
You can tinkle the nib around inside a glass without worrying about chipping the tip, and having a proper sealing cap is a revelation — you can leave a Drillog wet overnight and still use it in the morning, or even use it at work with pauses between meeting notes.
And the writing experience?
The machined steel nib really does work, at least as well as a good glass nib. Just like a glass nib the flow is heavier straight after dipping, and it gradually runs dry — this is no miracle feed.
You’ll get about half an A5 page of text from a good dip of ‘normal’ ink, in my experience. Regardless, towards the end of a fill you may have to rotate the pen to find a channel that still has some ink.
Both sizes of nibs are free of sweet spots and work consistently in any rotation, but they do have some of the temperamental nature of glass nibs, where you sometimes have to coax ink back down to the tip, or readjust your grip to get the ink flowing again. A thicker ink seems to help with performance.
The tips themselves are not glassy smooth, there’s a little feedback, and I think this is magnified by the lightness and rigidity of the pen bodies. Vibration resonates without any damping, and the pens ‘sing’ a bit when writing fast.
But Drillog did a good job avoiding scratchiness, and I actually preferred writing with the 0.5mm nib, which is really rather fine. The 0.8 was a bit too heavy for me, especially when freshly dipped, and it runs out noticeably faster.
The last word
Functionally, Drillog has made a product here that really works, and genuinely improves on all aspects of the glass dip pen — as well as coming at the challenge with a totally different aesthetic. If you do art with unusual inks, spend time swatching and playing with inks, or just like something different in your pen tray, this is a killer product.
For me, I’m tempted to dismiss the Drillog pens as a fun toy, that I pull out every now and again to muck about with, and appreciate the engineering of those fabulous steel nibs.
But actually, with their robust design, tough nibs, decent capacity and protective caps, they’re not far from being usable for journalling or desk use in lieu of a traditional fountain pen, in a way that I simply wouldn’t consider a glass pen.
The key benefit for me is that this is a dip pen you don’t have to be nervous about. Until I used the Drillog I didn’t realise how much of a compromise glass pens had been for me: sure, they’re easy to clean, but they’re so fragile and unpredictable and messy. It takes an engineer to solve that problem. The Drillog pens are more consistent, neater, and you don’t ever have to worry about breaking them. That peace of mind is wonderful.
Of course, it comes at a price. Do you need a dip pen that costs £150? I’ll leave that up to you.