The UKFP buyer’s guide

Looking for a fountain pen? You’ve come to the right place. Well, one of them. There are no shortage of people on the internet looking to give you advice about which pen to buy.

I’m going to set a few rules of engagement here.

  1. I’m talking about pens that you can buy domestically in the UK, from known manufacturers and known retailers, at common street prices. If you’re reading a buyer’s guide, you’re probably not up for importing or going for completely unknown brands.
  2. I’m going to list out pens that I think are “contenders” in a given category; this will absolutely not be a comprehensive list.
  3. I’ll only comment on pens that I’ve tested or feel that I have a solid opinion on. This will consciously exclude certain brands — I have a deep instinctive loathing for Cross, for some reason, for example. Think I’ve missed something? Write in.
  4. I’ll stop at £250. If you’re spending more than that, you’re either a rich idiot buying your first pen, or you have some experience with pens and can guide yourself to individual reviews to validate the pens you’re interested in. You don’t need a buyer’s guide.

First pen: £10–£20

With the influx of Chinese pens like the Jinhao 992 you can now buy a perfectly serviceable steel-nibbed fountain pen, with converter, for less than a cup of coffee from Starbucks.

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The range of models is changing and growing all the time. There are even Japanese pens like the Platinum Preppy under this price range. I’ll say it straight: unless you’re really struggling financially you do not need advice from me about which pen under £5 to get. Buy a couple each month, try them out, give them to kids at your local school.

But, if you’re looking to buy your first pen around £15, it can seem like a big investment. Buy the wrong one and you might have a horrible experience of fountain pens and go back to ballpoints. This decision matters.

The contenders:

Lamy Safari: £18

The default recommendation is one of Lamy’s bright and breezy pens. I’ve never owned a Safari — I jumped straight to the aluminium version, known as the Al Star, which is out of this price range. But I have owned some of Lamy’s other budget offers, all of which use the same nib and basic formula. You have the choice of the Safari in its dozens of plastic colours, but it’s also available in transparent guide as the Vista,  in kid-friendly guise as the ABC, and in funky alu+plastic as the Nexx, all in this price range. I’ve always had a good experience with Lamy steel nibs, from extra fine up to broad. Build quality is good, they take very competent converters, and you can pick one up in your local branch of Paperchase for less than £20. In the hand they’re a good size — the only thing you need to figure out is whether you like the triangular shaped grip.

Kaweco Sport: £18

I really like the Sport design and have two of them at the moment (an Art and Al), but I’ll dismiss the basic one pretty quickly. Unless you are explicitly on the lookout for a “pocket pen”, you’ll probably find the Sport a bad first pen, because it’s quite small (same reason I won’t recommend the Al Sport or the Liliput in later categories). But there are three other reasons to skip over it: first, in my experience Kaweco nib quality control is hit-and-miss, so as a beginner you’re more likely to end up with a pen that doesn’t write well. Second, finding a good converter for the Sport is a bit tricky, and the quicker you get off cartridges into the wonderful world of bottled ink, the better! Third, the nib unit on the basic Sport isn’t swappable, which limits you for all kinds of reasons.

Kaweco Perkeo: £15

The Perkeo is a better choice than the Sport, because it’s larger and — from my experience and others — it has a better nib than the Sport, too. Only downside is that it doesn’t have a clip.

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My recommendation:

I’d either go for the Lamy Nexx or the Kaweco Perkeo.

Stepping up: £20–£50

This is where pens get interesting and the choice gets much wider. You’re still in steel-nib territory, of course, but the materials and build quality are superior. This is the sweet spot for many people. One key omission here is the Caran d’Ache 849 — I’ve not tried it because I don’t like how it looks and it’ll be way too narrow for me.

Lamy Al Star or LX: £25+

The LX is overpriced — you’re paying for packaging. The Al Star is a better deal, giving you the Safari experience but with a more robust aluminium shell, which comes in some snazzy colours. I had a beautiful orange one; the Pacific Blue is also lovely.

Lamy Aion: £49

The Aion is built like a tank, beautiful in an understated way, has a proper designer’s name on it, and most importantly writes wonderfully. Mine has one of the best EF nibs I’ve ever used. You could keep this pen in your work bag and never want for another.

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TWSBI Eco: £30

To me the Eco is the clear winner in TWSBI’s range. It has none of the fragility of the Classic, the fussiness of the Diamonds, or the difficulty of cleaning that plagues the Vacs. And it’s cheaper than all of them.

You get a stout plastic box with all the tools and instructions you need for disassembly. It comes in a few colour variants, but all with a demonstrator barrel, and the nibs I’ve used (F and B) have been absolutely fantastic. Cleaning is a breeze and the only annoyance you’ll find is people mistaking your pen for a vape.

Faber-Castell Ambition or Loom: £28+

I’ve never owned either of these pens, but I have owned an Ondoro, which has the same nibs. Others say it, and I agree: FC makes some of the best steel nibs out there (although I didn’t like the Ondoro for other reasons). Definitely check these out if you like the styling.

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Lamy Studio: £46

This is an unpopular opinion but I don’t much like the Studio. I owned one and enjoyed it, but ultimately sold it. The step-down from barrel to section bothered me. The Aion is ultimately the superior pen.

My recommendation:

At the bottom end of this price range, go for an Eco. If you want something with a bit more weight to it, go for the Aion.

Getting serious: £50–£100

The choice here is getting broad and look, I’ll be honest, there are a lot of pens I haven’t reviewed here. Conklins, Karas, Loclen, Cleo Skribent, Visconti Rembrandt…

Some of the pens I’ve previously mentioned (and dismissed) fall into this category. The Al Sport, Ondoro, TWSBI Vac and Classic, etc. So what follows is ALL NEW.

Tactile Turn Gist: £69+

The Gist is an incredibly well thought-out and innovative design, with a grippy finish, square-cut threads, and interesting material choices. It has a strong clip, long section and tight finishing.

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Pelikan M200: £88+

I like big pens but can’t let go of my M205. It’s a nice smooth piston-filler with a wet steel nib. Sure, it’s small and the design is pretty unassuming, but it is just a great writer.

Platinum 3776: £99

YES. At Cult Pens, you can get a 3776 for less than a hundred quid. And that’s including all the crazy special nibs like the ultra extra fine, the soft fine, and the extra broad. You’re getting an in-house gold nib, one of the best around, plus a practical slip-and-seal cap that will keep your ink from drying out. Sure, the 3776 doesn’t feel as premium as some other pens, but it’s an absolute steal.

My recommendation:

For Chrissake, get a Platinum 3776.

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Going for gold: £100–£175

At this price range, you have a metric ton of choice. I mean, loads. Just from the pens I’ve reviewed, you’ll find the Karas Decograph, Edison Beaumont (and other models), most of the small Pilots when bought from the UK (91, 92, possibly 912), Ystudio’s metal designs… and then there’s the Waterman Carene, Parker Sonnet, Visconti Van Gogh, Platinum President, Conklin Mark Twain, Graf Tamitio, Diplomat Aero… the list just grows.

If you want to avoid madness, I’d recommend considering just the following:

Lamy 2000: £122+

I won’t pull a cliffhanger here: this is the pen I’d recommend. Every collection deserves a 2000. The design really is the definition of iconic. The Makrolon and stainless steel is classy and comfortable. It’s a piston filler with ink window, the hooded gold nib is wet and smooth, the slip cap practical.

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Pilot Capless: £149+

Most people end up at some point wanting and getting a Capless/Vanishing Point, or one of its variations, the slimline Decimo or twisty Fermo. There are a gazillion colours and finishes to choose from. I personally find the modern Vanishing Point design ugly and uncomfortable. Others love it. What’s indisputable is that again, it’s an iconic design and engineering feat, and you get a gold nib.

Pilot 92: £155

A handsome demonstrator, gold-nib piston filler with Pilot build quality. I found it a bit small and a bit dry in the end, but if you want a gold piston filler at this price range, you’ve got a choice of the 2000 or this.

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Franklin-Christoph: £125+ (dollar converted)

I’ve owned two Franklin-Christoph pens, and I can’t say enough good things about the inventive materials and innovative designs this small US company produces. Putting giant threads right at the end of the pen is an inspired decision for comfort and distinctiveness. I really like the Pocket 66 and Model 02 designs, but you can take your pick. The only thing to note is that at this price, you’re getting a steel nib. Franklin-Christoph designs not floating your boat? Try Edison for some more traditional styles.

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My recommendation:

For Chrissake, get a Lamy 2000.

Topping out: £175–250

Lamy Dialog 3:

Sailor Pro Gear:

Pelikan M400/M600: