Fountain Pen Review – Kaco Retro

Kaco is a pen brand that I’m not at all familiar with.  I bought my Retro from Cult Pens as a top-up to an order I was placing.  The Kaco Retro is a cheap Chinese fountain pen.  It’s also very retro in style terms (who’d have thought it?).  Pens of this sort can be a bit hit and miss in terms of quality and whether (or not) they work.  The last one of these I tried was the Moonman M2.  That turned out to be a good buy (and my most read post).  Is the Kaco Retro good enough to recommend as a beginner’s pen?  Does it offer enough to be of interest to a pen aficionado?  Read on to find out what I made of it…

What’s in the box?

For it’s £10 price tag, you get a surprising amount.  Of course there’s the pen and also a couple of anonymous short international cartridges.  So far, so predictable.  What makes the proposition more interesting is the inclusion of a converter.  These aren’t usually included with pens from major manufacturers that cost several times more, so to see one here is a definite bonus.

Contents of Kaco Retro box

I’m not in the box (anymore)

On to the pen itself…

Materials

The Retro is made from some kind of ABS-type plastic, which apparently means that it’s an opaque thermoplastic and an amorphous polymer.  Well that’s good to know.  The really good news is that there’s absolutely no danger of the term ‘precious resin’ being used in the marketing blurb.  It makes for a lightweight pen and one that feels like it was made to a price point – which, of course, it is.

The material and overall weight don’t necessarily inspire a sense that the Kaco Retro will survive long enough to become a family heirloom, but it’s tough enough for the here and now and my guess is that it will be fun while it lasts.

The pen I bought is described as ‘green’, but I’d say that turquoise would be a better description.  That said, the lid of the box says KacoGreen and the ‘KG’ is etched into the cap, so who am I to argue with that?

Form and function

The shape of the Kaco Retro is that of a rather familiar slim cigar.  It also has a hooded nib.  Of course, any resemblance between the Retro and a Parker 51 is entirely coincidental.  To be fair, rather than going all out and ripping off the Parker design in its entirety, Kaco have added one or two touches that are presumably enough to fend off a lawsuit for infringement of design rights.

Photo of capped Kaco Retro

Now which pen do you remind me of?

The hooded nib

Nibz in the hood?

The barrel and the cap are each made in single pieces, so there are no finials and no adornments at either end.  There are small indentations at each end that look like manufacturing artefacts, but these have been tidied up well enough that I have no complaints about them.

Cap detail

That’s one end of it

The section is essentially the same diameter as the barrel, so there is no step-down between the two.  Also, being a slip cap pen there are no threads to get in the way.  This smooth profile, coupled with the materials it’s made from, might make the Kaco Retro a slippery customer, but I’ve experienced no problems holding on to it while I write.  It’s also worth noting that top of the section which screws into the barrel is clear and doubles as an ink window.  I’m not sure how much use this will be, but it breaks up the otherwise uniform colour of the pen.

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Size comparison #1 (L-R: Kaweco Perkeo, Kaco Retro, TWSBI Eco)

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Size comparison #2

The clip

Normally I don’t worry much about clips on fountain pens.  Their main benefit to me is as a roll-stop to prevent pens sky diving from my desk.  Despite this, I felt it was worth highlighting the clip on the Retro.

From a design point of view, I think the clip works really well.  The simple form suits the pen.  One end vanishes inside the cap with no obvious means of attachment, the other end sports a plastic ball in a colour that contrasts the rest of the pen.  On the green (turquoise) Retro that I have, the ball is orange.  If you buy a blue Retro, you also get an orange ball.  Buy an orange pen and the ball is blue – and so on.

Clip detail

Clippety doo-dah

Where the clip is less successful is in terms of its utility.  I’d go as far as to say that as a clip and all that’s implied by that term, it’s a complete failure.  It’s extremely rigid.  It looks and feels like a nail.  The clip is so rigid, in fact, that it’s hard to lift it to clip the pen to anything.  I wrote the notes for this review in a Paperchase notebook with 100gsm paper and I couldn’t clip the pen to a single sheet of this.  My suspicion is that any attempt to persuade the clip to live up to its name would not end well.  Consequently I haven’t forced the issue.

The nib

The Kaco Retro comes with an extra fine nib.  That’s it.  You don’t get a choice of other widths.  In practice, I’d put the width as being nearer to what I would call a fine and it suits me well enough.  If you like your nibs on the broad side of things, you’ll probably be disappointed.

Handwriting sample comparing nib widths

Extra fine or fine? My money’s on fine!

At the price the Retro comes in at, the most you can hope for is that the nib will write well enough and do so without too much hassle.  It may have been luck, but mine has proved to be an excellent writer.  To be on the safe side, I inked my Retro with Pure Pens’ Celtic Sea.  This was partly to (vaguely) match the colour of the pen, but mainly because it’s a free-flowing ink and I wanted to avoid a writing experience that was dry and scratchy.

The Retro writes well on a range of papers, putting down a smooth and wet line of ink.  I’ve experienced no skipping or hard starts.  To be honest the pen hasn’t lain unused for long, but I’ve had no indications of the nib drying out or being reluctant to start.  This is probably also helped by an insert inside the cap. This incorporates a clutch ring to hold the cap on and a plastic liner that looks like it’s there to help stop the nib from drying out.

In conclusion

I tend to shy away from the ‘best pen for…’ type of recommendation, but I’ve been very pleasantly surprised and impressed by the Kaco Retro.  I find it visually appealing.  It also comes with the added bonus of functioning really well as a fountain pen.  Sure, it’s not made from the highest quality materials, but neither does it pretend to be more than it is, and it does only cost £10.

If you like the design and colour scheme, the Kaco Retro is a great place to start with fountain pens.  The fact that you get a converter thrown in is a huge bonus. Being able to buy from a reputable pen retailer like Cult Pens means that if you do have any issues (like a dud nib), you have some customer support to engage with.  All of that said, this pen has something to offer even if you already own a heap of fountain pens and want something a bit different to add to your collection.

I got mine from Cult Pens for £9.99.  Prices on eBay and Amazon look to be broadly similar.  I couldn’t immediately spot a mainstream US retailer that carries them.  If anyone knows of one, let me know and I’ll update this post.  If money is no object, you can buy what appears to be exactly the same pen from Choosing Keeping for £18.00.  Although, if you feel the need to spend the sort of money that Choosing Keeping are charging, I’d suggest sticking with Cult Pens and buying two of them.  The orange one is next on my list…

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Notebook Review – Nero’s Notes Basics

I have an interesting relationship with pocket-sized notebooks.  I like the idea and I seem to buy a lot of them, but using them has proved more of a problem.  That’s partly down to the way I use notebooks in everyday life, but it’s also down to an irrational fear of ‘spoiling’ them by writing in them.  The result is a hoard of pocket notebooks, some of which are exquisite in their design and execution.

It’s not a straightforward case of White Page Anxiety, there’s also awe and respect for the (often) handmade nature of books like those from Back Pocket and Dapper Notes.  I know that the people behind these companies intended their notebooks to be used, but I have yet to convince myself that this is entirely OK.

Back Pocket and Field Notes editions

When notebooks look this good, why spoil them?

To try to disrupt this mindset, I’ve decided to force myself to use pocket notebooks more. To help prevent backsliding on my part, I went all in and signed up for the Nero’s Notes pocket notebook subscription.  This means a bunch of pocket notebooks turn up at my door every 3 months and can only be interrupted by active intervention on my part.

Given the difficulties I seem to have using notebooks that feature amazing artwork on their covers, Nero’s came to my rescue – albeit unintentionally.  My first shipment included a set of 3 Nero’s ‘Basics’ notebooks and set of 3 ‘1857’ notebooks (Stuart Lennon who owns Nero’s, is also one of the hosts/presenters of the excellent 1857 podcast).

Structure and Format

The term ‘Basic’ can sometimes be synonymous with cheap and nasty, but not so with these notebooks.  As the information on the inner and outer faces of the cover tells you, these notebooks are handmade in the UK using 240gsm card stock for the covers and 70gsm dot grid paper for the 36 page interior.  The books are saddle-sewn (i.e. stapled), which is pretty common for notebooks of this size.  Corners are rounded, which is a nice touch.

Front cover of Nero’s Notes Basics notebook

Keeping it simple up front…

The outside of the covers is suitably simple – the front cover sports the Nero’s logo and the word ‘Basics’, while the rear cover has the company name, the notebook’s dimensions and a legend telling you that the notebook is handmade in England.  The inside front cover allows you to record some basic information about the contents, while the inside rear cover provides some space to record your details and details of the materials used to make the notebooks.

Nero’s Notes Basics inside front cover detail

Worth making a note of

Nero’s Notes Basics inside rear cover detail

I love the idea that someone might expect a reward for returning the sort of drivel I write in my notebooks

In Use

The term ‘Basics’ distinguishes this notebook from another in the Nero’s line-up – the ‘Ink Friendly’.  The clue is in the name, with the latter being heavier weight, coated and meant to be more fountain pen-friendly.  To be honest, I haven’t found much of a problem using fountain pens with the Basics notebook.  On the face of it, the Basics notebooks are cheaper, but the page count is lower.  When this is factored in, prices are pretty similar between the 2 sets of notebooks.

Testing the ink friendliness of the Basics paper

Testing the ink-friendliness of the Basics paper

Show-through

Show-through but no major bleed-through

The paper performed pretty well, all things considered.  Based on previous experience with notebooks like Field Notes, I didn’t have particularly high expectations, but there was nothing really to complain about at all with the Nero’s notebooks.  All the fountain pens I tried performed just fine, although I didn’t use any particularly broad nibs.  The only obvious sign of feathering in my (non-exhaustive) test came with a thick OHTO Graphic Liner.

There was a fair amount of show-through, with a Sharpie being the worst offender (no real surprise there).  The Sharpie was also the only pen that gave a hint of bleed-through.  Again, not entirely surprising.

Conclusion

Nero’s themselves describe these books as simple, practical and super-stylish.  The first 2 are undoubtedly true.  The third is a little more subjective, but I must admit I like the plain and uncluttered look.  It reminds me slightly of an old school exercise book.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how the Basics notebooks have performed.  At £9 for a set of 3, they’re pretty reasonable value for money.  They’ve definitely helped me get started on using pocket notebooks, and I even left the house once with one stashed in my pocket!  That provoked another crisis about which pen to take with me, but that’s a whole other can of worms best left unopened for now.

 

Notebook Review – Endless Recorder

Front cover shot Endless Recorder

The front end(less)

At first second glance, the Endless Recorder looks like many other A5 hardcover notebooks, with faux leather covers in a range of relatively muted colours.  (The first glance highlights a cream coloured drawstring bag that holds the book.)  What (hopefully) sets the Recorder apart from the also-fans is that they’re put together around Tomoe River paper.  This paper has something between cult and legendary status in the fountain pen world but, even with some recent entrants to the market, there are still relatively few makes of Tomoe River-based notebooks out there (check out GLP Creations and Taroko Designs for some alternative offerings).

Endless notebook storage bag

Are notebook bags your bag?

It’s hard these days to be truly innovative when it comes to design and construction of notebooks, and the Recorder follows a pretty well tried and tested design.  The faux leather hard cover I mentioned earlier comes embossed with the company logo on the front and “ENDLESS” on the back.  It’s all done quite subtly and without ostentation.  This leads quite nicely to the end papers, which feature an open dot layout with a blank space to fill in with the details of your choice,  There is also a repeat of the Endless logo, which adds a touch of class.

Endless Notebook rear cover

The back end(less)

Endless Recorder end papers

Subtle, stylish end papers

Perhaps it won’t set the world alight, but it makes the Recorder smart and subtle enough for use in a work setting, but the design accents are well executed and should satisfy the stationery aficionado.

The business end of the book is made up of small, thread-bound signatures, which help the book to open flat without the need to resort to coercion or physical violence.  Page corners are rounded (as are the corners of the cover).  There is a pocket inside the back cover.  It seems to be de rigeur for this type of notebook, but I can’t recall the last time I actually used one in a notebook.  The pocket is worth exploring when you get your Recorder, because there’s a small goody in there (I won’t give the game away) along with some promotional material.

Details of the binding

In case you lose your thread

There is no index and pages aren’t numbered, but I don’t find it that much of a chore to make my own index and number pages as I go.

Tomoe River 68gsm paper

Round corners, no page numbers

The ribbon and elastic closure come in a pleasantly contrasting turquoise colour.  I bought two Recorders, one in dark blue and one in red, and the ribbon and elastic are the same colour in both books.

The paper itself

There’s not much more to say about Tomoe River paper that hasn’t already been said.  In the case of the Endless Recorder, you get the thicker 68gsm paper, rather than the 52gsm you’ll find in things like the Hobonichi Techo or Seven Seas notebooks.  It takes pretty much any ink you care to throw at it from any width of nib, without feathering or bleed-through.  The coating means that dry times are not particularly quick, and I tend to have a piece of blotting paper to hand when I’m writing my journal.  It will also come as no surprise that there is some show-through, but this is just something you have to embrace if you’re going to write on Tomoe River paper.  It’s certainly less noticeable with the 68gsm than with the 52gsm paper.

Currently inked on Tomoe River paper

I’ll take any ink you can throw at me…

The paper in the Recorder is off-white.  I bought mine from Pen Venture in Romania, which gave me the choice of either blank or with a dot grid layout.  I bought dot gridded ones.  I used to think that dot grids were the best layout since whatever the last best layout was.  Over time, I’m less convinced of this, particularly when I’m using it for journaling.  I can see the merits in some applications, but I’m starting to come back to ruled or even blank for journaling. If you buy the blank notebook, you get a guide sheet included.  If I buy any more Recorders I might well try the blank version.

 

If you buy direct from Endless Works you get a choice of 4 layouts – blank, ruled, grid and dot.

I paid around €24 for each book from Pen Venture, rather than the £18 that Endless Works charge if you buy direct.  My reasoning was that buying from mainland Europe would be cheaper and less hassle than buying from the US.  It may have been less hassle, but my only option was some DHL priority service which added substantially to my bill.  Maybe I’ll buy direct from the US next time.

Practicalities of ownership

I’ve finished one of the two books I bought and didn’t experience any major issues.  I found that there was a little bit of lift on one corner of the cover material cover where it’s gathered and folded over.  My Endless Recorder didn’t travel further than between my desk and the living room sofa, but if you were to take it further afield maybe this points to it being a bit less durable than desired.  The ribbon page marker has also ended up looking a little fluffy and ragged.  This doesn’t bother me too much, but if you like a book that remains pristine looking through thick and thin, you might want to think more carefully.

Beyond that I had no issues with the Endless Recorder.  The book opened flat and the binding has never shown any indication of falling apart.  I mentioned the absence of page numbers or an index.  In practice, most notebooks I’ve ever bought haven’t had page numbers or an index and I haven’t felt like there has been a hole in my life as a consequence.

The Tomoe River paper does its job as you might expect.  I experienced no problems beyond the show-through, which I was expecting.

It’s not a criticism of Endless, but I wish someone would take this approach to notebooks, but with the 52gsm Tomoe River instead.  Whether it’s a cost thing or the sheer hassle of dealing with a paper that creases when you look at it, I don’t know, but I can’t believe there wouldn’t be a demand for it.

I’d certainly buy some.

Update

Since I published this post, Endless Works got in touch to let me know that they’ve recently updated the Recorder so that it now has an index and numbered pages.  There is also a block of perforated pages that allow you to remove them easily, if needed.  I’m happy to set the record straight. 😀

The Lamy 2000 – a long-term companion

I noted the other day that Bauhaus is 100 years old.  Not the pale-faced, pointy-cheekboned goth outfit fronted by Pete Murphy, but the German art and design movement founded by Walter Gropius.

This got me thinking about a pen that has become one of my long-term companions on my particular bus ride – the Lamy 2000.  This is a fountain pen that has often been seen as embodying  the Bauhaus aesthetic, even if technically it missed that particular bus by 30-odd years.  It was also pretty much my first ‘posh’ fountain pen, by which I mean it cost over £100, had a gold nib and filled using a piston mechanism.  This was all unknown territory for me at the time, but the 2000 exuded class and almost everything I read said it was great pen and a classic design that any self-respecting penthusiast should have in their collection.

So it was that I gave Cult Pens what seemed (at the time) like a lot of money and they sent me a pen.  I chose a fine nib and seem to recall that this was the first time that I’d really given consideration to picking a nib size other than medium.  Due to a fortunate combination of personal preference (I think it looks way better) and price, I picked the black Makrolon finish instead of the alternative of brushed steel.

Capped Lamy 2000

The Lamy 2000 in all its sleek, simple beauty

Pens achieve cult status for all kinds of reasons; some more justified than others.  In the case of the Lamy 2000 (first introduced in 1966), I think this is deserved.  Capped, its lines are simple and appealing, with flat ends and a brushed metal clip on which you’ll find the only bit of Lamy branding, subtly etched near where the clip attaches to the cap.

Lamy 2000 clip detail

In case you forget who made the pen…

The only other accent you’ll find is a brushed metal disc at the tip of the barrel.

Piston cap detail

Piston cap inlay

It’s a slip cap, so a slight pull is all that is needed to uncap the pen and get writing.  Removing the cap really reveals what all the fuss is about.  There are no steps between elements or weird changes of angle, just a simple and continuous curve from where the nib emerges from the section to the end of the barrel.

The sleek lines of the Lamy 2000

Follow the lines…

Perhaps the only thing that jars ever so slightly is a pair of tabs that protrude a fraction of a millimetre from either side of the section a little below the ink window.

Lamy 2000 cap clutch tab

If the cap fits… One of the two cap clutch tabs

I was never really sure what these were for, but in doing some background research I discover they are part of a clutch ring for the cap.  In that sense they do their job perfectly well and don’t intrude on the writing experience.  My thumb sits right on top of one of them when I hold the pen and I can’t say I’ve ever really noticed it, let alone felt any discomfort even for long writing sessions.

This also marks the point where the section attaches to the barrel.  The design of this (and the piston cap) is such that you can barely see the join where the two elements meet.  The cleverness of the piston cap end of things was highlighted in a recent post by Anthony over at UK Fountain Pens.

That blind piston cap

Can you spot the join?

I can certainly remember looking at my newly acquired Lamy 2000 and wondering how I was meant to fill it.  As it was my first piston filler, I duly read the instructions, but remained stumped as to where the cap that I was meant to unscrew actually was.  Of course now it seems so easy (it always is when you know how), but what impresses me is that even after several years of use and numerous fills, everything has remained tight and these transitions still appear seamless.  A tribute to the design, the materials and the manufacturing.

As a counter to all that black Makrolon, there is a short brushed metal section which leads the eye down to a small, partially hooded 14K rhodium-plated gold nib.  The only departure from curved lines comes with the underside of the section, which angles up more sharply towards the underside of the feed.  Cunningly, this conceals the breather hole – another good piece of design.

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The 14K nib in all its glory.  Where’s the breather hole?

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There it is!

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That slight change of angle…

It may have been good fortune, but the nib on mine has written flawlessly since I got it.  I have read that some people had bad experiences with theirs, but I have absolutely no complaints with mine and I’m not the greatest lover of Lamy nibs.  It’s not the thinnest ‘fine’ I’ve ever owned, but it suits my writing just – well – fine.  Mine copes with pretty much whatever ink I throw at it, but it is a very wet writer, so can be a good choice for use with drier inks.

I have to say it, I really love my Lamy 2000.  It looks fantastic, writes well and seldom goes uninked for any length of time.  It’s also pleasing that Lamy haven’t tried to do anything silly with this pen.  The design wears its age well and has evolved by remaining essentially unchanged over the 53 years of its life so far.

The Lamy 2000 is smart enough to use in any setting and, although not cheap, I’ve never felt uncomfortable taking it with me to work.  Sure it’s not as glamorous as some other pens, but it does its job with quiet efficiency and (I like to think) pride in being able to do its job well.  Definitely a pen where all the plaudits are entirely justified.  If you don’t own one already, I’d recommend giving some serious thought to rectifying that oversight.

If you want to know more about the Lamy 2000, when I was doing some researchI came across this amazingly thorough piece on FPN  It covers pretty much every aspect of the pen from its design origins through to how to strip it down.  Whatever you think of the pen it is well worth a read.

Learning to stay on the bus

When I started my blog, I was in part looking for a creative outlet that could serve as a substitute for photography.  Sure I’ve liked and used fountain pens for years, but it never occurred to me that I would start collecting them in earnest, or writing about them, or (here was the big surprise) finding that other people might actually want to read what I had to say about them.

Black and white photo of a Hosta flower

Hosta flower

I’ve never really taken to digital photography beyond the acceptance that these days it’s a convenient way to take photographs.  And while I still can’t be persuaded to spend hours in front of a computer tweaking images, I never had that problem standing for hours in a cramped, darkened space under a red safelight making prints in a darkroom.  Maybe it was the smell of the chemicals, but I’d like to think it was the childlike wonder of watching an image gradually materialising on the paper as it rocked gently in the tray of developer and thinking “I did that”.  Of course, it applied equally when things went wrong, but I’m pleased to say that this sense of magic has never gone away.

Black and white photo of a waterfall

Waterfall (Cwmorthin, North Wales)

I can’t pretend to be a very good photographer but I need to be able to believe I still am one.  Unfortunately, the time needed for taking and making photographs has not been compatible with work and family commitments in recent years.  I’m hopeful that one day this will change, and that when it does it will actually still be possible to buy film and photographic paper and get back to something that I really love.  In the meantime, my darkroom is mothballed and my beloved Sinar Norma and Mamiya RB67 are more like ornaments in the corner of a room than tools of the trade.  All the gear – no idea when I’m going to get to put it to good use…

Black and white long exposure seascape

Seascape

What does any of this have to do with buses?

On the face of it, not a lot.

I’ve never been to Helsinki and I’ve certainly never seen its bus station, but I’m more familiar with it than any other Scandinavian transportation hub as a result of a lecture given by Amo Rafael Minkkinen a number of years ago.  He was talking about the creative process, the development of one’s own style as a photographer and how it could be compared to taking a journey from Helsinki’s central bus station. You can read a transcript about the Helsinki Bus Station Theory here.  (It’s worth taking the time, I think.)

Old Helsinki main bus terminal

Google tells me this is the old Helsinki bus station… (Courtesy of JIP at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0])

In a nutshell, he argued that you will spend years making photographs that look like the work of others, but eventually (and here’s where the bus analogy punchline arrives) your personal route will start to diverge from these others as the journey progresses and your own style will start to become distinct from those around you.  The trick is to stay on the bus and see the journey through.  Going back to the bus station and starting again on another route to see if that offers a better option will just waste precious time and end up leaving you no further forward than before – just on a different route.

This resonated with me at the time, being inspired by the work of photographers like John Davies, Fay Godwin, John Blakemore, Igor Svibilsky and many others while I tried to work out what sort of photographs I wanted to make.  However, I’ve recently found myself reflecting on it in the context of writing my blog and how the focus of my interest in pens, paper and ink has changed with time, practice and seeing what interests other people.

Do I stick with what I’m doing?

Should I follow what I see going on elsewhere?

Sure, at times I’ve followed the same routes as other people, even jumping on the occasional bandwagon.  What I think I’ve learnt along the way is that you should trust your own judgement, follow what interests you and learn from your experiences as you go.  I’ve also learnt that my list of favourite pens (owned or aspirational) or inks and, to a lesser extent, paper now looks nothing like it did a couple of years ago.  Also, I’m fairly confident that my list will almost certainly never entirely match anyone else’s. At first glance there might be similarities, but look at the detail and you’ll start to see the differences.  That’s one of the wonders of this hobby and the wonderfully diverse group of people out there who practice it.

So, whatever your creative endeavour, whether it be one that you do in private or share publicly, you’ll get where you’re going eventually.  Stick with it and try to enjoy the ride.

As Minkkinen himself said – “Stay on the bus.  Stay on the f*cking bus!”

A Helsinki bus

A Helsinki bus. Consider staying on it… (Courtesy of AleWi [CC0])

Sailor Shikiori Rikyucha Ink Review

Sailor Rikyucha ink doodle

In case you were in any doubt about which ink I’m talking about

Rikyucha (Green Tea Brown) is part of Sailor’s Shikiori (Four Seasons) range of inks.  Although it is a new ink to me, a bit of research suggests it was part of the Sailor line-up for a while, before disappearing to wherever discontinued inks go.  The translation of Rikyucha is a good one in terms of describing what is quite a complex ink.  It’s also a more palatable descriptor than some that might be applied to it.  Any resemblance between this ink and something that you might find lurking at the bottom of a pond is, of course, entirely coincidental…

Lookalikes

My interest in inks of this colour started with a couple of Diamine inks – Safari and Salamander.  While I’ve liked the colour of these inks, I’ve found them a little dry for my liking.  In a quest for something more to my liking I tried Robert Oster Bronze.  I love the colour of this ink, but again it’s a bit too dry for me.

Comparison swatches

Can you pick out the culprit from this lineup?

Close-up of ink swatches

The same swatches in closer detail

As you might expect from an ink made by Sailor, Rikyucha is a well-behaved, low maintenance ink.  That said, I suspect it’s the kind of colour that will polarise opinions.  I may well be biased, but it was appealing enough to make me buy a bottle.  As I’ve used it in anger I’ve grown increasingly fond of it.

As well as these basic properties, Rikyucha has one or two extra tricks up its sleeve.  The most on noticeable thing is that it looks dark green with a slight hint of blue while wet, but dries to a much browner shade.  I tried to capture this difference, but failed miserably so you’ll have to take my word for it.

Sailor Rikyucha writing sample

Some of my favourite literary villains and yet another chance to flaunt my awful handwriting

On top of the colour shift, there’s a cheeky bit of sheen thrown into the package.  Like a number of other Sailor inks I’ve used, it’s not the raison d’etre of this ink, but it’s a nice addition without dominating proceedings.  I used some ink splats to highlight this, but (on the right paper) broader, wetter nibs will also show this off.

Rikyucha ink splats and sheen

The obligatory ink splats to highlight the sheen

As befits an ink with these properties, its make up is a bit complicated and unexpected.  Some simple kitchen chromatography shows a range of colours.  I certainly wasn’t expecting the blue component…

Sailor Rikyucha chromatography

There’s more to Rikyucha than meets the eye

Economics

This is one of the first bottles of Sailor ink that I’ve bought in the new, smaller bottles that are replacing the old 50ml ones.  I like the design of the bottles and I’m generally a fan of smaller ink bottles.  I already have more ink than I’m likely to get through in my lifetime, so not having to add another 50ml to my list of guilty excess is to be welcomed.  What is not so welcome is the big shift in the unit cost of Sailor inks.  In the UK, a 50ml bottle of the old Sailor Jentle Four Seasons ink cost in the order of £16-20, which I thought was pretty good value for money for the quality of the ink.

The new 20ml bottles, however pretty they might be, weigh in at around £11 or £12, which shifts the cost from around 35p per ml to approximately 60p per ml.  Much as I love Sailor inks, this will certainly make me a little more selective about future purchases.

Sailor Shikiori Rikyucha box and bottle

Is it small or just very far away?

 

Conclusion

Overall I really like this ink.  I like the new packaging and bottles and I definitely like how Rikyucha behaves and how it looks on the page.  The colour shift as the ink dries and the sheen add to the interest, so if the colour of this ink appeals I’d recommend checking it out.  The only fly in the ointment is the pricing.  To be frank, the jump in price per ml seems excessive to me.  I get that smaller volumes will be relatively more expensive, but this is going a bit far.  That said, none of the other inks I’ve tried in this corner of the colour chart have worked nearly so well for me, so I’m prepared to live with the relatively high price.

Fountain Pen Review: Faber Castell Loom

The makings of this review have been hanging around for the best part of a year.  I even started a draft back in April of last year, but couldn’t find the right approach.  Fast forward 8 months or so and a comment on Rupert Arzeian’s excellent blog and I figure it’s time to have another go.  After something of a fallow period in terms of posts, I had to start somewhere.  So here it is, a review of the Faber-Castell Loom fountain pen.  Well, 2 of them, actually.

Overview

F-C Loom

Looming on the horizon after 8 months…

For a company with such a long history of making writing instruments, it’s always struck me that the design of a lot of Faber-Castell’s fountain pens is remarkably contemporary.  So it is with the Loom.  Its clean lines and distinctive shape make for an interesting starting point.  I’d admired the Loom for a while before I bought my first one.  Owning that one didn’t deter me and I’ve since bought a second.  My first Loom came in a matt silver finish, but these don’t seem to be very widely available any more.  The second came in a gloss silver finish, which I think looks more stylish.  There are also some options in a gunmetal finish, although these command a premium on price.

The Loom is quite widely available from the usual sources.  In UK pricing terms, the gunmetal version costs around £40, with the silver version coming in at around £30.

A Sense of Proportion

The Loom is not overly long, but looks stocky.  The constant diameter of the barrel coupled with the limited taper of the section make it feel quite chunky.  The photos below show some comparisons.

Pen size comparison

Capped size comparison.  L-R: Sailor Pro Gear Earth, Faber-Castell Loom, Faber-Castell Loom, Pelikan M400 White Tortoise, Pelikan M600 Vibrant Orange, Platinum 3776 Kumpoo. (Polar bear not to scale)

Pen size comparison

Uncapped size comparison…

Some Details

If the Loom was a more high end pen, the barrel might be milled from a single rod of metal.  Instead, it comes as a plastic-lined cylinder with a concave plug at the end. It’s all well finished and it gets the job done, but it does look a little unusual.  The plug looks a little less attractive  on the matt version compared to the gloss.  Luckily the pen posts easily and without any negative effects on balance so you can at least cover this up whilst writing.

Once you’ve decided on finish, the only other option to consider is what colour you’d like the cap.  When I bought my orange one there was quite a wide range of colours, but this seems to have reduced over the past couple of years with more of a focus on muted and pastel shades.  Not as much fun, but there are still options.  The lack of threads is a bit of a giveaway – the cap is a snap on, rather than screw-on and it does so with a very satisfying ‘click’.  You’re left in absolutely no doubt when the Loom is safely capped.

Faber-Castell Loom cap detail

If the cap fits…

The cap is engraved with the company name and logo down one ‘side’ (relative to the clip).  There’s no separate finial, but the part of the clip where it fits into the cap is engraved with the Faber-Castell logo as well.  As seems to be the case with a number of Faber-Castell pens, the Loom’s clip is a fully-functional and substantial affair.

F-C Loom cap detail

Cap detail

The cap is slightly bulbous in shape.  From its widest point at mid-height, it tapers slightly towards the base and slightly more markedly towards its tip.  I find the profile easy on the eye, and when the pen is capped it breaks up what would otherwise be a very angular profile to the Loom.

I mentioned the contemporary look of several Faber-Castell fountain pens, and one area the company seems to have gone its own way on is in the design of the section.  On first reading, cylindrical and slightly tapered sounds pretty conventional, but I haven’t  come across a design quite like this before.  On both of my Looms, the finish of the section matches that of the barrel so there’s no concession there to promote grip.  There’s also a slightly disconcerting lack of any flaring to stop your fingers sliding off the end of the section and onto the nib.  The only feature to help keep your hand where it should be is a series of 5 rings that act as ridges to provide something to grip.

F-C Loom section

The section won’t be to everyone’s taste

This works perfectly well in terms of stopping the Loom from sliding out of your grasp.  Even so, I do find the section a bit ‘squirrely’.  It has a slight tendency to try and rotate in your grip.  That persists with use, but you do get used to it and everything settles down.  I wrote the first draft of this review by hand with the Loom (and in 1 sitting) and it was fine.  I don’t find that I have to grip the section any more tightly than normal and I haven’t experienced any noticeable fatigue as a result.

The Sharp End

I’ve spent a bit of time now highlighting some of the Loom’s quirks and (ahem) features, but it does have a trick up its metaphorical sleeve – the nib.

Faber-Castell has a reputation for high quality steel nibs, and the units I’ve got on my Looms are crackers.  The nib is a #5 in size and suits the proportions of the Loom well.  I think it’s the same as used in a number of other Faber-Castell pens, including the Ondoro and eMotion.  Absence of a breather hole and a stippled finish in the form of a chevron add to the attraction, but at the end of the day it’s the performance that counts.

 

F-C Loom nib

Nib details

Nib detail

The nib housing protrudes a bit from the section…

I have a fine and a broad nib and both have worked flawlessly out of the box.  Ink flow is good, even with drier inks.  Both nibs give feedback on a range of papers, but it’s not too intrusive.

Writing samples

The obligatory writing samples

The Loom takes either an international cartridge or converter, meaning there is a wide range of ink options available.  As a slight note of caution, I’ve found that not all international converters fit equally well, so a bit of trial and error might be needed if you’re thinking of re-purposing another brand of converter.

Conclusion

I can see the Faber-Castell Loom being a pen that divides opinions.  I’ve highlighted a number of ‘quirks’ in the design and execution of the Loom.  The overall design might not appeal to everyone.  Similarly the shape of the section won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.  While none of them are likely to be killer blows in isolation, I could see how they might start to accumulate in the ‘deficit’ column of any evaluation of the Loom.

My take is that the overall design and feel of the pen, coupled with the quality of the nibs, make the Loom worth having.  To reject it on the grounds of some kind of cumulative scoring system would be rather harsh.

Don’t smash the Loom! (As Ned Ludd almost certainly didn’t say.)

Initial thoughts – my first Pelikan

I was going to call this a review, but since it lacks the sort of details that you might expect to find in a review, I’ve gone with something more mundane.

If you have any interest in fountain pens, you’ll have heard of Pelikan.  Some people collect Pelikans to the extent of obsession, owning every regular and limited edition going.  There’s even a collective noun for them – a flock.  (If you want chapter and verse on Pelikan pens, you could do worse than to start with the excellent Pelikans Perch).  I could always see why people liked them – a strong pedigree, well made, (mainly) gold-nibbed and piston filled, but for me something about them never quite clicked.

That’s changed a little in that I now own a Pelikan – an M400 White Tortoise.  Even that wasn’t entirely straightforward…

Pelikan M400 White Tortoise

The seldom spotted White Tortoise

On the one hand, photos of the green tortoiseshell that makes up most of the barrel of this pen were intriguing.  On the other hand, “everyone” (whoever they are) says that the M400 is too small and any right-thinking person would start at the (larger) M600.  One of the reasons for going to the Bristol pen show back in February of this year was to be hands on and get my head round the relative sizing of Pelikans.

Green tortoiseshell detail

That tortoiseshell…

All of this combined to confirm that, despite the looks of the White Tortoise, I shouldn’t buy it.  It was too small and didn’t look right in my hand.

OK…

Fair enough…

Decision made…

Since I didn’t much like any of the options in the M600 range at the time either, it left me concluding that about the only Pelikan I could consider buying was the M805 Stresemann.  Perfectly rational, but the price meant that it got put on the long list of pens to buy one day, rather than anytime soon.

So far, so logical.  But despite this, I couldn’t quite get the White Tortoise out of my head.  Fast forward to the summer of this year and an unfortunate combination of circumstances trampled logic into the dirt, turned and blew a raspberry in its dusty face and led me to buying the same said White Tortoise.  The lure for this particular ambush was set out by Anthony from UK Fountain Pens, who posted a photo on Instagram of a White Tortoise he’d just bought.  The trap was then sprung by Cult Pens, who had the nerve to offer 10% off an already competitive price and throw in a free Pelikan case.

My already non-ferrous will collapsed at this and I gave in to the inevitable and pushed the button.

Pelikan White Tortoise plus case

It was hard enough resisting the pen, the prospect of a free case tipped the balance…

The one thing that photos of pens and even picking them up un-inked can’t tell you is how they will write, and this for me has been the revelation with the White Tortoise.  I have lots of pens that give me pleasure to use, but I own a far smaller number that you feel just “want” to write.  My new Pelikan is one such pen.  The nib is unbelievably smooth, inks flow ridiculously well and actually it feels pretty good in the hand.

Pelikan M400 nib detail

View from the sharp end

My first outing with it involved inking with Pilot Iroshizuku Kon-peki, a long-time favourite both for colour and for ease of use.  I was wary of anything that might stain the barrel and ruin the looks of the White Tortoise, but Kon-peki has always proved easy to clean out.  This highlighted one “issue”.  With an ink that flows well, output from the nib is so high that the fine nib I bought looked more like a generous medium.  Not unmanageable, but not quite what I wanted.  I’ve since tried some “drier” inks and things are definitely more to my liking with this change.

It still tests the definition of what I’d call ‘fine’, but I can happily live with that.

Sample text

The obligatory writing example

 

I was reflecting recently on one of the first posts I wrote on this blog about the Conklin Duragraph and how I realised that initial troubles I had with that pen were due to the poor flow of the ink I was using – Diamine Silver Fox.  Now I haven’t touched this ink since that fateful trial, but I wondered whether my new Pelikan could be elevated to the status of miracle worker and get something useful from Silver Fox.  It turns out not, but I won’t hold it against the White Tortoise and Silver Fox will just have to forever remain on the inky equivalent of the naughty step.

Back to the White Tortoise.  Since I’ve had it, only a couple of days have gone by when it hasn’t been inked and it continues to be a source of joy and pleasure.  It’s made me realise that Pelikan might know something about pens after all and “made” me put my name on the waiting list for the soon-to-be-released M600 Vibrant Orange.  That is an M600 I could really like.

Conclusion

I suppose I’m meant to draw some kind of conclusion out of this.  Aside from the obvious “Pelikan pens are not what I thought they were”, there’s the wider realisation that “monkey see, monkey want” is not all there is to this wonderful world of fountain pens and all that goes with them.   Sometimes a longer courtship, coupled with denial and, ultimately, ignorance of reasoned argument is required to make you really appreciate what’s in front of you.

Also, temptation from enablers and discounted prices are a wicked (interpret that how you will) combination.

Will that do?

Roll up! Roll up! – Rickshaw Bagworks Hemingway Graphic Pen Roll

If you’re a fountain pen collector/hoarder like me, the question of how to keep them safe can become a bit of an issue.  One potential solution is the humble pen wrap/roll.  Enter the Hemingway from Rickshaw Bagworks.

Hemingway Graphic Pen Roll

Give me a wave

Is it a wrap?  Is it a roll?  Both terms seem to get used for objects of this sort.  In using the Hemingway, there are elements of both wrapping and rolling.  So, like a sightless Cervid, I have no idea.  Rickshaw call the Hemingway a pen roll, so that’s good enough for me.  Pen roll it is.

The Origin Story

The Hemingway, like Rickshaw’s other products is made at their workshop in San Francisco.  It comes in two flavours – Standard and Graphic.  The Standard can be had in a range of colours and retails at $39.  You can customise the finish for an extra $10.  The Graphic also comes in at $49, and you can now have all manner of finishes.  The graphic started out as a series of rolls themed around oriental dragon designs, which Mark from Rickshaw posted on Instagram a while back.  Inspired by this, I asked whether it would be possible to produce a roll based on the famous Hokusai woodblock print of the Great Wave off Kanagawa.

As it turned out, the answer was – “yes”.  Within 2 days of posing the question on Instagram, the fabric had been printed, cut and a prototype stitched.  Pretty impressive.

Outer of Hemingway Graphic pen roll

Block and roll.  Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa – woodblock meets pen roll.

I placed my order and, within a few days, my Hemingway was en route.  Not surprisingly, the longest wait was for various postal organisations to get their act together and move it from the West Coast of the US to the UK.  Eventually it landed safe and sound in the UK and, once I’d paid over the ransome to the Royal Mail to get my goods released, it was duly delivered.

Construction

The cutting and stitching are of high quality and everything is well finished.  The printed fabric is described as a polyester canvas.  It feels a slightly smoother than regular cordura , but there’s nothing to suggest that it lacks the necessary robustness to look after your precious pens.  Rickshaw call their lining material “Royal Plush” and it lives up to the name, being incredibly soft and sumptuous.  Mine comes in dark blue, which matches up nicely with the indigo and Prussian Blue used in the Great Wave.  As you might hope,  the quality of the image itself is also very good.

1BDD45C5-ADE2-4563-B321-29F01E8A7C3B

Double vision

In use

The Hemingway does all the things you’d expect a pen roll to do.  As with many other pen rolls, it holds 6 pens, although you can get versions that hold 8, 10 or 12 pens.  I like the idea of a roll that can hold more pens, but I can imagine that this might become a bit bulky and cumbersome.  The largest pen I own is a Conklin All American, and the Hemingway swallowed this with room to spare.  How much bigger you can go before things get a little too snug – I can’t really say for sure.

1E6D5027-056D-49E0-8DA4-93C149C3AB49

In all their pampered glory

64D624D0-3C00-465E-A926-7642DC764F71

Gratuitous detail of the plush lining

 

Rolled up Hemingway

It’s a wrap? On a roll?

Once you’ve finished your wrapping and rolling, the Hemingway is secured by a loop of elastic cord and cord lock which will allow you to cinch the cord up if you need to.  Rickshaw claim that the Hemingway is machine washable, which is handy if things go a bit wrong.  I’m less certain how colour-fast the fabrics are and what you’d end up with after letting your washing machine loose on this.  Still, it’s nice to have as back-up.

Conclusion

If this was “just” a regular Rickshaw Hemingway, I’d be seriously impressed.  Whatever the finish, it’s well made, does its job effectively and the plush lining material is truly sumptuous.  You could rest assured that your pens were being suitably pampered as you went about your business.  That said, I feel a much stronger degree of connection towards this one, because an element of it was my idea.  As an acknowledgement of this, Mark was kind enought to include a dragon pen sleeve in the package at no extra cost.

Hats off to Mark and the team at Rickshaw for both a great product and for their responsiveness.  One of the things that impresses me about the fountain pen world is that there are so many companies willing to engage with their customers and go that bit further.  I definitely put Rickshaw Bagworks in this category.  Based on my experience as a customer and with the range of cool designs they now have on offer, I suspect this may not be the last Hemingway Graphic that I buy.

Ink review – Krishna ink round up

Overview

Krishna inks are made in a place called Palakkad in Kerala, India and are the brainchild of a Dr Sreekumar.  Their trademark features are some interesting names and some vivid colours.  There is a reasonably large (and growing) line-up and they are becoming more widely available outside India.

Presentation-wise they come in 20ml glass bottles, which are perfectly functional but which won’t win any design awards.  Packaging is similarly, how shall I put this, simple.

Simple packaging

Prize-winning packaging? Not really

Given that many of the ones I’ve tried are a little (ahem) flamboyant and may not always be suitable for everyday use, the relatively small size makes them quite an attractive proposition.  It also makes it easy to justify buying multiple inks, which is how I’ve ended up with 7 of them so far.

Jungle Volcano, Anokhi and Sumukhi

Rumble in the jungle

Silent Night Sky, Moonview, Snake Boat, Pencil

Bad Moon Rising

My overriding impression of Krishna inks so far is that they flow well and major on sheen.  The latter feature is subject to some confirmation bias in that I mainly chose inks that looked like they would sheen.  If you do like some sheen with your inks, you’ll find plenty to interest you in this range.

I’ve tried these inks over a number of weeks and in a variety of pens, but I’m just going to give a brief summary of each one.  I may get round to writing up more detailed reviews at some point, but given how long it’s taken me to pull this together, hopefully there’s enough here to whet appetites.

Moonview

Krishna Moonview

Krishna Moonview

I’ll kick things off with Moonview as it’s perhaps the easiest one to relate to other inks.  It is a rich blue ink with a strong red/pink sheen.  When I say strong sheen, what I mean is that Moonview is another sheen monster in the same vein as Diamine Skull and Roses or Organics Studio Nitrogen Royal Blue.  It flows well and I’d say it’s better behaved than OS Nitrogen Royal Blue, but you might not feel the need to add it to your collection if you already have a number of inks of this nature.

Anokhi

Krishna Anokhi

I’m not normally a big fan of purple inks, but I’ve quite enjoyed dabbling with this one.  On top of the purple base colour, there’s a hefty dose of green sheen to accompany it.

Snake Boat

Krishna Snake Boat

Aside from the fantastic name, which raises all sorts of questions about its meaning, Snake Boat has a sort of muddy purple as a base colour, but with a green sheen.  Again, there’s a really strong component of sheen, but the resultant combination is intriguing.   Of the two, I’d probably choose this one over Anokhi because it’s not such an obvious purple and the overall result appeals to me much more.

Sumukhi

Krishna Sumukhi

Sumukhi is a bright pink ink with some green sheen to further spice it up.  I’ll come clean – I have no idea why I picked this ink.  It’s definitely not a colour I would ever consider using for normal writing purposes.  I have used it in ink doodles, though, and it’s proved to be quite good fun for that.

Pencil

Krishna Pencil

This is a seemingly random name for an ink, and based on the swatch it seems a bit of a misnomer.  You can see the logic when the ink is wet as there is a grey look to it, but when dry the colour is more of a washed-out purple.  I was drawn to this ink as it reminded me of Robert Oster Summer Storm, an ink that I love the colour of.  My problem with Summer Storm is that I find it dry, verging on arid, and difficult to get on with.  Pencil, on the other hand, has worked well with both fine and broad nibs, giving quite varied properties.

Silent Night Sky

Silent Night Sky is perhaps the most mundane of the Krishna inks that I’ve tried.  So much so that I forgot to photograph it.  To help conjure up a mental image, it’s quite a rich purple, but it’s also quite ‘safe’ compared to some of its stable-mates with only a little sheen.  (That helped, didn’t it?). To be frank I haven’t felt anything resembling a strong urge to do much with this ink.

Jungle Volcano

Krishna Jungle Volcano

Perhaps saving the best until last, Jungle Volcano is ink making at its brilliantly bonkers best.  I seem to recall it got its name as a result of a competition on Instagram, but it’s a name that suits.  It has attracted quite a lot of attention and I have yet to read a review by anyone who didn’t like it.  I love orange inks, but often find them a bit too ‘thin’ in practice.  It may explain why I like darker, more complex inks like Monteverde Fireopal and Diamine Ancient Copper.  Jungle Volcano is a similarly complex orange ink, further enhanced by some crazy green sheen.  Using it is proper fun and brings a smile to your face. I can’t imagine a situation where it would be suitable for work purposes, but it’s an ink you may well find yourself looking for excuses to use.

All fun and games?

Well it is until someone loses an eye (see the book of the same name by Christopher Brookmyre for that one).  While my overriding experience of using Krishna inks has been a positive one, it hasn’t entirely been plain sailing.  It was probably too much to expect that such richly coloured and highly-sheening inks would be trouble-free and I have had a couple of issues.  I inked a TWSBI Eco with Sumukhi and it was fine in use, but when I came to clean the pen I found the feed to be quite gunked up and some staining in the barrel.  They good news is that the staining isn’t permanent, the bad news is that it took about 4 days of soaking and flushing with water to shift this.  I inked another Eco with Snake Boat, and although it has been fascinating to look at the ink while it has sloshed about in the pen, I fully anticipate another pain in the proverbial to clean this out when the time comes.

 

Jungle Volcano was also a little problematic.  I didn’t have any noticeable staining issues, but there was some nib creep (not uncommon with orange inks) and a bit of gunking up of the feed.  Again it took a bit of soaking to shift this.

In the interests of balance, I’ve also cleaned Moonview and Anokhi out of other pens, and these were pretty well behaved and straightforward by comparison.

Availability and pricing

Krishna inks are reasonably widely available.  In the UK, Izods seems to be the only supplier.  Unfortunately, I found their website so frustrating to use that I went a bit further afield, namely Belgium (Sakura Fountain Pen Gallery and Germany (Fountainfeder).  In both instances, the process was smooth and quick with excellent customer service (a hand-written note and some chocolate always helps).  I paid around €8 a bottle, plus shipping, on both occasions.  In the US, you can buy from Vanness at around $8 a bottle.

Summary

Of the 7 Krishna inks I’ve dabbled with, only Silent Night Sky hasn’t really hit the mark.  I’ll probably struggle to get through Sumukhi, but that’s a matter of colour preference.  The remainder will continue to get use.  In terms of favourites, Jungle Volcano is great fun, Moonview is probably the most ‘practical’, while Snake Boat and Pencil are probably the most complex and interesting.