P-p-p-pick up a Prefounte? A look at one of Platinum’s budget fountain pens

I stumbled on the Platinum Prefounte as I was browsing Cult Pens’ website a couple of months ago. I’ve previously enjoyed the Plaisir from the more budget-friendly end of Platinum’s line-up and for under £10 (£8.99 to be precise) I thought I’d see how the Prefounte fared. In fact, I bought two – a fine in ‘Vermillion Orange‘ and a medium in ‘Night Sea‘.

In terms of presentation, the Prefounte comes in some fairly simple plastic and card packaging. It’s inoffesnive and appropriate for the price of the pen, but doesn’t really have a second use and mine went straight into the recycling once I’d unpacked the pen.

Prefounte packaging
The Prefounte comes in plain, simple packaging
Two of the Prefounte colour options – Vermillion Orange and Night Sea

Quick on the uptake as ever, I also realised that (with the exception of the very different Curidas), all of Platinum’s readily available steel-nibbed pens have names starting with a ‘P’ – even the PGB-3000A ‘Cool’. Cool name? Definitely. Well…maybe…

Anyway, back to the Prefounte. It’s a fairly slim and lightweight pen with a translucent cap and barrel, which makes it look more up-market than the Preppy and (arguably), not as smart as the Plaisir. Price-wise, between these two pens is exactly where the Prefounte sits – the Preppy is about half the price (around £4-5) and the Plaisir around 50% more expensive (around £13-15). As other reviewers have noted, whether there was a genuine gap in the line-up that needed filling is open to debate.

Of nibs and feeds

Keeping the Preppy and Plaisir in mind, all three pens share a common section, nib and feed, meaning that switching nibs is dead easy. I’ve always been intrigued by Platinum’s approach of incorporating the feed into the grip section. By making the section translucent as well, you can see the arrangement of fins within. This set-up makes the already small nib unit look more like it could be a replacement unit for a fibre-tip pen than a fountain pen, but in practice it all fits together nicely and works well.

Detail of Platinum's steel nib, feed and section
Platinum’s ubiquitous steel nib and feed/section

Staying on the subject of the nib, the business end of this pen is great. It may be small and plain to look at, but I think the simple approach works well here. The key question is ’how does it write?’ The answer to that is – ‘really well!’ I’ve had 5 of these nib units in various pens over the years and all have been excellent writers – very smooth with no scratchiness or hard starts. I did read some reports of problems with the Prefounte, but that doesn’t match my experience.

I’ve mentioned the translucent barrel and cap already, and I have to say I really like both the colours I picked. If neither of these appeal, you can also have Crimson, Dark Emerald or Graphite Blue.

The barrel is smoothly cylindrical, with a slight taper. The cap is a slip fit and snaps on and off crisply. The name ‘Prefounte’ is painted on just below the metal clip and the ‘opposite’ side of the cap tells you the nib width – 03F (or 05M) together with Platinum’s name and logo and the fact that the pen is made in Japan.

Being translucent means you can see the cartridge or converter in the barrel as well as the nib and feed in the section. You can also see the spring inner cap that makes up the ‘Slip and Seal’ mechanism. I like the fact that Platinum has extended this design right the way down its range of pens – even the Preppy has it. Platinum claim that you can leave a pen inked for a year and it won’t dry out. I haven’t fully tested this claim, but it certainly holds true for several months.

Filling options

The Prefounte comes supplied with a Platinum ink cartridge, because as with many Japanese pen brands, Platinum uses a proprietary fitting. This means you’re (mostly) restricted to using their own cartridges which in the UK come in a very limited selection of colours.

If you want to extend your choice of ink, you could clean and refill an empty Platinum cartridge, but that has ‘faff’ written all over it. Another alternative is to use a Platinum converter, but unless you have a spare one lying around the price of buying a new one (£6-9) can be almost as much as the cost of the pen itself! A more economical solution is to consider Platinum’s adapter for international cartridges at around £1.50. These do what the name suggests and open up a much wider set of options in terms of ink brands and colours.

It pays to be adaptable

One of my preferences is to use less expensive Platinum pens like the Prefounte with Platinum’s Carbon Black ink cartridges. Carbon Black is a fantastic waterproof, pigment ink which I love but don’t use a huge amount. A pen like the Prefounte is a great choice here. The basic writing experience is great and worst case, if it does get clogged up because of the ink particles, it’s not going to be too traumatic a loss. So far that hasn’t happened because the Slip and Seal cap is great at preventing the pen from drying out and the ball bearing that’s used to seal the cartridges gets punched out when you fit the cartridge and helps keep the ink in the cartridge agitated.

What/who is the Prefounte for?

This was essentially the theme of some of the reviews that I read. Was it a necessary addition to Platinum’s range of pens? Who is the target market? I did wonder whether the Prefounte is considered to be a school pen. It’s not marketed as such, but maybe that’s its purpose? Within Platinum’s range you already have the Preppy if keeping costs down is your only consideration, or if you have a little more cash available you could have the Plaisir. If you really don’t want a metal pen like the Plaisir, I guess the Prefounte offers something more aesthetically pleasing than the Preppy and made with nicer materials.

Platinum Preppy, Prefounte and Plaisir
Where does the Prefounte fit into Platinum’s line-up? Right there…

The Prefounte is just about smart enough to be used in a work context and you could probably lend it to a friend or colleague and not worry if it got lost or damaged as it’s cheap to replace .

You probably wouldn’t lend some of these pens to a friend or a colleague!

In isolation, I find it really hard to dislike the Prefounte. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it. It’s a nice enough looking pen, without being distinctive and it feels good in the hand. Platinum have got the writing experience with their steel nibs completely sorted, so that’s not an issue. It’s only when you start to think of it alongside other pens that you start to think about why you might buy it. There’s certainly lots of competition at this end of the market.

I bought mine as a bit of an experiment to see what they were like. If you were in the market for your first fountain pen, you could definitely do worse than pick the Prefounte. At least if your usage is going to be low/infrequent you can be comfortably certain that your pen won’t dry out when not in use.

While the usual recommendations for a first fountain pen are the Lamy Safari or Kaweco Perkeo, these will cost you quite a bit more (in relative terms). It’s arguable that you are getting better design and materials for your money and a better selection of inks that can be used with those pens, so there are other factors to consider here besides price.

At almost the same price as for the Prefounte, you could have the Kaco Retro. Based on my experience, deciding between these two is a much more marginal call. Price-wise there’s hardly anything in it. Both are fun designs and remarkably competent performers for such cheap pens. The Retro comes in some fun colours and has a converter as standard, but there’s only one nib size. The Prefounte colour choices may be slightly less fun, but I really like them, plus the Prefounte has interchangeable nibs and Slip and Seal. Here I’d say it really comes down to which one you prefer the look of. Neither has let me down and I’d recommend either.

Platinum Prefounte and Kaco Retro side-by-side
Prefounte or Retro? Your choice.

I’ve always enjoyed writing with Platinum’s budget steel-nibbed pens, and the Prefounte has lived up admirably to those expectations. Whether it has enough going for it in the face of competition is a more tricky question to answer.

Ink Review – Diamine Graphite

Diamine Graphite bottle and Pilot Custom Heritage 91

Diamine Graphite and Pilot Custom Heritage 91

Here goes with my first ever ink review…

I don’t know whether it has anything to do with the time of year or the weather, but here at Slightly Unnerved Towers darker, more muted ink colours seem to be the flavour of the month.  I’m gradually working through a bunch of these, but Diamine’s Graphite is one that’s caught my eye recently.

Diamine Graphite is a dark grey ink with an element of green to it.  It could have been called slate without raising too many eyebrows.  Either way it’s much darker than other grey inks I’ve tried to date and it lacks the blue tint that a lot of greys seem to have.

A bit of kitchen chromatography confirms that what you see is what you get and there’s nothing out of the ordinary or dramatic about it.

Diamine Graphite chromatogram

That could be seen as a negative if you like your inks filled with drama, but I don’t mind.  In its understated way, Graphite gets on with the job.  It’s subtle and straightforward enough to be used in a work context, but it also shades enough to provide some interest.

This ink is well lubricated and flows nicely.  I’ve used it in several pens and not yet had a bad experience.  Like most Diamine inks, it’s not waterproof, but for my purposes that not a problem.  Particularly with being a left-hander, I haven’t had any issues with drying times – a little over 20 seconds to fully dry on Tomoe River paper.

Here’s what it looks like on Tomoe River paper:

Tomoe River sample

Here’s what it looks like on Clairefontaine 1951 paper:

Diamine Graphite Clairefontaine 1951 paper

As with other Diamine inks, Graphite is pretty widely available in either 30ml or 80ml bottles, with the 80ml size being good value at around £6.00/$15.00 a bottle.  That said I really like the fact that you can buy the smaller bottles.  It’s great for inks that you might only use occasionally or still aren’t quite sure of.  Diamine have revamped the design of their labels, but not their bottles.  The best you can say about the 30ml bottles is that they’re functional.  They certainly won’t win any design awards, but at this price point it’s something most people should be able to live with.

Grey inks are not to everyone’s taste, but if you’re thinking of trying some out Diamine Graphite is well worth putting on the list.

Kaweco Liliput Converter – A Review

In the fountain pen world, Kaweco is probably best known for its Sport range of pens.  Renowned for their small, portable size when capped, but fully functional when posted.  True pocket pens.  Not content with this achievement, Kaweco went a step further and introduced the Liliput – a pen with smaller vital statistics, but arguably even more charm.

I own three of these diminutive delights and I’ll talk more about them in another post.  The purpose of this post is to introduce the first converter designed specifically for the Liliput.  Up until now, one notable constraint of the Liliput has been the fact that its size means that it can’t accommodate a converter and has to run on short international cartridges.

Pricing and sources

The good news is that the converter for the Liliput is cheap – around £2.50 in the UK ($3 in the US).  I got mine from Cult Pens, but Bureau Direct and Andy’s Pens in the UK also sell them.  In the US, you can get one from Jet Pens or Pen Chalet.

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Liliput converter with an international short cartridge for comparison

I think it’s fair to say that the converter won’t be winning many design awards.  It’s functional, but no great looker.  The adaptor end is made of polypropylene or a similar plastic.  I haven’t been able to figure out what the soft flexible material is that makes up the bulb, but it does what it is supposed to.  The two elements are joined by a metal collar, engraved with the Kaweco name.

To some extent it reminds me of a stripped-down old school Parker bulb filler, minus its metal frame.

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Converter vs cartridge – Brass vs Copper

In use

The key question is “does it work?”  I’m pleased to say that the answer is – ‘Yes’.  Mostly.

It’s not perfect in use, but let’s face it, the reason for buying this is to use bottled ink in a pen that was previously off-limits.  As such I suspect most people will live with the shortcomings.

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Ink on board

The small volume and softness of the bulb make it very difficult to fill completely by compressing the bulb.  The photo above shows the best result I managed to achieve.  I haven’t measured precisely how much ink I got into the pen, but with what’s in the feed I suspect it’s about what you would get from using a cartridge.

I don’t have a syringe/needle set-up, but if you do it may be an easier route to filling the converter.

For a first outing I inked my brass Liliput with some Diamine Twilight that I got as a Christmas present.

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Using the converter in anger

It’s hard to get too excited about an ink converter, but as someone who has used a Liliput for the last few years, it’s great to know that I can now use my favourite inks in this pen and no longer have to settle for the restrictions imposed by having to use cartridges.

Conclusion (Part 1)

This is the point where I’d be wrapping things up and recommending that, for the sum required to buy one of these, it’s a no-brainer to do so.  If you want a full size pen with a big ink capacity, look elsewhere.  If you’re a fan of the Liliput, it’s pretty much a must-have.  Coupled with the news that Kaweco are issuing a clip for the Liliput, things are on the up for this pen.

This review then became a little more rose-tinted.  Read on to find out more…

Conclusion (Part 2)

As I mentioned, for my first use of the new converter, I inked my Liliput with Diamine Twilight.  It was the first time I had used this ink and I have to report I like the colour and the way it behaves in getting from pen to page.

As I was taking photos for this review of the Liliput converter, I discovered that this ink and converter seem to have a very special relationship.  Around 24 hours after first inking the pen, I opened it up to find that the material that makes up the bulb had turned an interesting shade of pink!

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Pretty in pink

I emptied the pen and flushed it thoroughly with water to find that the pink colour seems to be a permanent fixture.  I contacted Cult Pens, (who I’d bought it from) and they haven’t had any other reports of this.  They kindly sent me a free replacement,though, and have passed my photos on to Kaweco to see if they have any thoughts on the subject.

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Still pink after washing

As this was the first time I had used Diamine’s Twilight, I didn’t have much to go on in terms of the ink’s properties.  Some quick and dirty chromatography identified a dye in this ink that looks a pretty close match to the colour of the converter.  It seems the two have ‘bonded’ in some way.

I’ve emailed Diamine to see if they’ll tell me what this dye is, but as yet, no response.

As far as I can tell, the bulb of the converter is as soft as it was before, so no obvious change in physical properties.  I haven’t had a chance to try washing it with anything other than water, but will try to get hold of some alcohol or acetone to see if that shifts it.

I’ll try the replacement that I was sent with some other inks to see if I get any similar reactions.  It would be nice to hear back from Diamine as to what the troublesome dye is, but I’m not holding my breath.

I have to say I’m enjoying the opportunity to turn detective, even if it is only in a small-time way.  It’s certainly a curiosity that I’d like to get to the bottom of!

 

 

 

What’s in the bag?

I thought I’d kick things off with a look at what accompanies me to work…

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Pens

My  ‘workhorse’ pens are a TWSBI Vac 700 and a Conklin Duragraph in Cracked Ice finish.  The Vac 700 has so far only been inked with Pilot Iroshizuku kon-peki, but it needs refilling so I’ve cleaned it and will see how it fares with a different ink.  The Duragraph has lived mainly on a diet of J. Herbin Perle Noir, but I’ve recently been trialing another Iroshizuku ink: ku-jaku.

Until recently I hadn’t contemplated the world of vintage pens, but an impulse buy from eBay left me the owner of a slightly dog-eared MontBlanc No. 24.  It’s a piston filler that I  think dates from the 1960s, but I know next to nothing about MontBlancs (never thought I could afford one).  So far I’ve been impressed.

The next pen is both vintage and brand new. Sounds odd, but it’s a 1940’s Eversharp Skyline that never made it out the shop that stocked it.  These pens seem well regarded and the nib supposedly has a bit of flex to it.  I haven’t used it much so far and will write up something more detailed in the near future.

Next up is my collection of Kaweco pens – 2 Liliputs and a Skyline Classic Sport.  The Liliputs are solid brass and copper and I’ve had them a while as you can tell from the patina.  I love these pens, the all metal construction gives these tiny pens some weight.  The Skyline is relatively new and I’m still trying to work it into my pen rotation.

Notebooks

My main journal/notebook is a Hobonichi Techo diary/planner.  I came across this gem a couple of years ago and have been hooked ever since.  At present I don’t use mine for much beyond a work diary and planner, but can’t see myself going back to a standard issue diary.  Its major selling point is the Tomoe River paper it’s made from – ultra thin and beautiful to write on.  Even with a leather cover, at a day to a page it’s still less than 2cm thick.

The two green notebooks are CIAK Appuntinos.  I’ve been experimenting with small to medium format notebooks and this pair caught my eye on the Journal Shop website.  Apart from the textured cover, it was the dot grid paper that took my interest.  I’ll write some more detailed thoughts about these books shortly.

Like many people, I was introduced to Midori through their Traveler’s notebooks.  They also produce a range of other notebooks, all on high quality, fountain pen-friendly paper.  I’m attempting to keep a journal and using this A5 MD Notebook to jot down my thoughts.  I went for grid paper rather than ruled.

Pencils

I’ll confess, I hardly use a pencil these days but I still carry a couple on the off chance I’ll need them.  I bought a Pentel Graphlet for this purpose and then acquired a Uni Kuru Toga M5 from Cult Pens as freebie on top of an order I placed.

Pencil case

My pens and pencils get transported in a Nomadic PN-01 pencil case. For a comparatively simple and straightforward design you can fit a lot in.  I’m still looking for the ideal pencil/pen case, but this does the job for now.