Fountain pens provide an amazing writing experience, customized to what you like.Read More
Catch the Pen Addict Live!
My wife and I went last spring and I posted a recap of the experience. I instantly backed this year’s project and can’t wait to go again. Backing the project includes an opportunity to see the show recorded live. It's fun to see a live recording of one of my favorite podcasts. I’m also excited to get a special Nock Co. Sapelo that holds a couple of pens and small notebooks. Looks sharp, even if the inside color is orange.**
It’s already funded, but if you are near Atlanta, want to see a Relay FM live recording and meet a bunch of podcasters that you routinely listen to, back the project today. I’ll see you there.
* This year's Kickstarter includes sending Myke to the Washington D.C. Pen Show, too. No live recording, though.
** As a Gamecock fan, I try to avoid all things orange.
Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he wonders why everyone in the pen world is obsessed with the color orange. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.
A seriously fun fountain pen
Designer Toolkit is a new weekly series on Sketchbook B that will highlight an analog tool that designers should be using.
Why designers will love the Pilot Metropolitan:
Perfect for beginners. A Pilot Metropolitan is an easy fountain pen to start with and at an affordable price point. The Pilot nibs are first rate and easy to write with. Personally, I recommend the Medium nib, but you can compare nibs at Goulet Pens.
Choose your ink. The Metropolitan works with cartridges or a converter so you can use bottled ink. You can choose from an insanely wide range of colored inks and find the perfect signature color.
Colorful and fun. The Pilot Metropolitan comes in a range of colors and patterns that are fun and anything but a traditional fountain pen look.
ThinGs to know:
Converter. The Pilot Metropolitan comes with a “squeeze” converter in the box. For most pens, this is sold separately so it’s great that Pilot includes it. But if you are going to use bottled ink, I recommend purchasing the Pilot CON-50 converter. To me, it’s easier to use and I prefer the twist mechanism over the squeeze version.
Not a lot of ink. Compared to other fountain pens that I own, the Metropolitan doesn’t hold a ton of ink. So if you write a lot, you’ll need to refill more frequently. Not necessarily a problem... just something to be aware of.
Three styles. Like the look of a Metropolitan, but not ready for a fountain pen? The Metropolitan comes in two additional styles: rollerball and ballpoint. The rollerball has a cap and the ballpoint has a twist action. (In the US, the pens are sometimes marketed under the Pilot MR name.)
Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he tries (in vain) to improve his handwriting. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.
A perfect modern, beginner fountain pen
Designer Toolkit is a new weekly series on Sketchbook B that will highlight an analog tool that designers should be using.
Why designers will love the Safari:
Colorful inks. The Lamy Safari is a fountain pen that uses ink cartridges or bottled ink. This means that you can write in an absurdly wide range of ink colors. Find a color that’s close to your favorite Pantone color.
Choose your thickness. The nibs on a Lamy Safari are interchangeable. This means that you can select a thickness that works for you. Like really thin pen strokes? Get an extra fine nib. Want to have some variation in stroke thickness? Buy a 1.1 mm caligraphy nib. Customize the writing experience to be exactly what you want.
Modern look. It’s not a “traditional” looking fountain pen. Most people think of fountain pens as archaic devices with a century old design aestitic. A Lamy Safari has a clean, modern look and comes in a range of colors. It’s definitely not an antique.
Things to know:
Converter. If you want to use bottled inks — and trust me, you do — you’ll need to by a converter. It’s a little plastic cartridge that lets you draw the ink from the bottle and costs about $5.
Taking care of your Lamy. You’ll need to spend some time cleaning your pen when you change the ink. Thankfully, there are many online resources that talk you through the process.
Cartridges and bottles. The pen comes with a blue ink cartridge, but if you want to start with a different color, you’ll need to buy some other ink cartridges or bottles of ink. If the idea of buying bottles of ink is intimidating, I recommend starting with some of the Lamy ink cartridges.
Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he endlessly searches for a perfect "Sketchbook B" green ink. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.
Finding the best tools for designers
Designers love their Moleskines, Field Notes and Sharpies. And all of these are great tools. Go to any meeting of designers, look around and that’s pretty much all you see.
But about a year ago, I discovered the Pen Addict podcast and an entirely new world of pens, pencils and paper. A range of outstanding tools for writing and sketching that I never knew existed. Modern fountain pens. Japanese pens you can’t get in the standard US retail channels. Nice mechanical pencils. Wooden pencils. Sharpeners. New notebook brands.
Very few designers seem to know about the range of options that are out there and I really think designers would enjoy these writing instruments.
So I’m starting a new weekly series: Designer Toolkit.
Each Friday, I’ll profile a pen, pencil or paper product and tell you why designers should try it out. (The first post — about the Kuru Toga mechanical pencil — is already up.) And since many of these materials aren’t available in your local office supply store, I’ll let you know where you can get them.
These new tools may or may not replace your Moleskines, Field Notes and Sharpies. But they will open up a whole world of tools that you didn’t even know existed.
Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he talks too much about pens and pencils. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.
A little over a year ago, I started listening to the Upgrade podcast with Jason Snell and Myke Hurley on the Relay FM network. I knew all about Jason from listening to the Incomparable and reading his work on Macworld. I loved the show and the banter between Myke and Jason. But best of all, it introduced me to selection of other podcasts on Relay FM and the Incomparable.
One of these shows was the Pen Addict, hosted by Myke and Brad Dowdy. I tuned in for episode #152, just after the 2015 Atlanta Pen Show. Ironically, the topic was mechanical pencils. I was hooked and I've been listening weekly ever since. (I’ve also been buying pens and pencils ever since…)
When the 2016 Atlanta Pen Show rolled around, I knew I had to go. Brad lives near Atlanta and Myke flies in from London for the show. This year, they recorded the 200th episode of the Pen Addict live in front of an audience.
My wife joined me on the (reasonably easy) trek down I-20 from Columbia. I always make Liz listen to podcasts on long trips and she wanted to put faces with the voices she'd heard.*
We spent Saturday at the show and attended the episode recording that evening. It was a wonderful experience and we may have to make the Atlanta Pen Show an annual tradition. I figured I share some thoughts on the experience of attending the Atlanta Pen Show and Pen Addict live broadcast:
The Atlanta Pen Show
It's a little bit overwhelming for a first time visitor. All the vendors were exceptionally nice and willing to answer questions.** But there are just so many pens. Three large rooms with tables and vendors everywhere. New and vintage. Inexpensive and very, very expensive. Stock and custom. Inks, nib grinders, cases, paper and more. (Several vendors noted that the D.C. Pen Show is much bigger and crazier.) I enjoyed it, but it was a lot to take in and absorb. I've only been buying pens for about a year and I've got a lot to learn.
I got to check out pens I've never seen. There isn't a pen store in Columbia so I rarely have a chance to check out nice fountain pens in person. But there is a great selection at the Atlanta Pen Show. I fell in love with the Pilot Vanishing Point. I got to check out some Lamys that I haven't had a chance to hold... a Lamy 2000, a Studio and even an Imporium. The Karas Kustoms clipless Ink is also a beauty. I definitely prefer the cleaner, more minimalist designs.
I didn't buy a pen. I almost bought a Pilot Vanishing Point — green, of course — but decided to wait. And I was tempted by a Lamy Studio. I must have circled the Anderson Pens table a dozen times. I'm looking at more expensive pens and these pens aren't an impulse buy. Instead I bought some ink from Vanness Pens, a Nock Fodderstack XL and some notepads to try.
I'm terrified of vintage pens. I love the idea of vintage pens, but I was overwhelmed by the selection. I had no idea what I was looking at. I'll need to do a fair amount of research before I feel comfortable investing in a classic design.
The Pen Addict's 200th Episode
Friendly folks. Myke and Brad were joined on the episode by Ana Reinert from the Well-Appointed Desk. Stephen Hackett from Liftoff and Connected came down to run the technical side of the broadcast. They were all very approachable and made an effort to talk to everyone. (I even got an impromptu review of Myke's new nylon Apple Watch band.) It's nice to find out that the people that you listen to every week are really as awesome as they seem on the podcast.
Watching the Pen Addict live was amazing. Being able to see how Myke, Brad and Ana interact on the show was wonderful. It was like a couple of friends just talking about pens... with a bunch of spectators and a whole lot of technology.
Thanks for all the hard work. It's got to be hard to record a podcast every week and not really know what people think. This show ended with a standing ovation and tears from Brad and Ana. I didn't really think about it until that moment, but I'm glad we as an audience got to let Brad and Myke know — in person — how much we appreciate the show. I really do look forward to it each week.
I won a door prize. Which probably doesn't come as a surprise to those who know me well.*** Ana donated an awesome prize pack with a bottle of green Pilot Iroshizuku ink, a notepad for work****, a stamp, a magic pencil, some limited edition XOXO Field Notes and some wicked chocolate that was not melted. Thanks, Ana! I'll put it all to good use.
Liz and I had a great time. If our schedule permits, we'll absolutely head down to Atlanta for the 2017 edition. (April is always a busy time of year for us, though.) If you are interested in pens and writing utensils, attending a pen show is a great way to check out your options if you don't have a pen store near you.
* She was disappointed that Jason Snell and Serenity Caldwell weren't there. I told her Jason would never attend a pen show.
** There was one pushy dude who was kind of obnoxious.
*** I win a lot of door prizes. It all started when I won a jet ski in 7th grade...
**** My wife was disappointed that she can't take it to her work, but a notepad with the "s-word" on it won't fly in kindergarten. I, however, love it.
I'm a big fan of both Lamy fountain pens and the color green. So when Lamy announced a limited edition "Charged Green" AL-Star and a matching ink, it jumped to the top of my wish list. My pen and ink arrived last week so here are my quick first impressions.
It's a Lamy. If you've used a Lamy Safari or another AL-Star, it's exactly what you expect. Clean lines. Functional. Polarizing grip. (Personally, I love the grip.)
Charged Green. The finish is a nice shade of green, but a tad lighter than I was expecting. Very pretty and sophisticated shade. Much classier than my other green pen, a Neon Lime Lamy Safari.
Extra fine. I ordered an extra fine nib, but pretty much planned to replace it with a 1.1 mm calligraphy nib. I gave the Lamy extra fine nib a chance though and I love it. The 1.1 is still my favorite, but the extra fine is a very close second. (One of the awesome things about Lamy pens is the interchangeable nibs. I love being able to switch out nibs and try out new widths. Now that I've got an extra fine nib, I've got all the Lamy nib sizes except for the 1.7 mm calligraphy.)
Too light. While the pen is wonderful, the Charged Green ink is disappointing. I inked up my Neon Lime Lamy Safari with the Charged Green ink and a wide, 1.5 mm calligraphy nib. Even with the wide nib, the ink almost disappears into the page. It's far too light to use regularly. Like last year's neon lime ink, it's almost a highlighter ink.
Classic bottle. While I may be disappointed in the color of the ink, I love the Lamy ink bottle. It's a sharp, functional design and even sports an integrated roll of blotting paper. Too bad I have a massive amount of ink that I will rarely use...
I've got my new Charged Green Lamy AL-Star inked up with Noodler's General of the Armies. I'm going to leave on the extra fine nib and use it as my everyday pen. I'm really happy with the pen so far, but still looking for that perfect green ink.
Last week, Pantone released their Colors of the Year for 2016: Rose Quartz and Serenity. Pantone’s product line and army of licensing parters has expanded over the last decade. They’ve never been scared to extend their brand to another product line. And so it’s surprising to me that Pantone has never offered ink for fountain pens.
There are all sorts of products that have licensed the Pantone brand including hotels and restaurants. They’ve expanded their brand from providing a common color reference for printers and designers to becoming a worldwide authority on color.
Considering their expertise with press inks, it would seem like a natural fit. Partner with a company like Lamy, Pilot or J. Herbin to offer a range of fountain pen inks that match the most popular Pantone colors. I personally would purchase several bottles of Pantone 202* ink to use at work.
They could leverage the color of the year by releasing an annual limited edition ink color based on the Pantone Color of the Year. Maybe even some special limited edition pens. I would buy a Lamy Safari Limited Edition Pantone Color of the Year pen.
As a designer, the Pantone brand is well connected to my professional life. I really do think that partnering with Pantone to offer products for fountain pens would seriously increase interest in fountain pens and inks from designers.
I don’t know enough about the economics of fountain pens and inks to know if there is enough profit margin in the industry to make it feasible. But personally, I’d love to see Pantone fountain pen ink on the market.
* Pantone 202 is the official color of the University of South Carolina – my alma mater and my employer.
When I purchased my second fountain pen, I started to think about purchasing a case to hold my pens, but I wasn’t impressed with most of the options on the market. They didn’t really fit my style and needs.
Finally, I came across cases from Nock Co., co-owned by Brad Dowdy from the Pen Addict podcast. Their cases were exactly what I was looking for. I also love that Nock Co. is located a few hours down I-20 from me in Atlanta* and all of their products are manufactured in the USA.
I was instantly drawn to the Brasstown, a durable nylon case zippered case with a fold out insert that holds six pens. (Material-wise, it reminds me of my beloved Timbuktu messenger bag.) The Brasstown looked perfect, but it seemed like overkill for my two pens so I ended up not buying anything.
Fast forward a few months and my collection of writing instruments had grown. I started looking for a case again, and this time, the Brasstown made sense.
Nock offers their cases in a selection of “colorways” — pairings of colors that span across all their products. I liked a couple of the options, but wasn’t sure which one to get. When I finally decided to order, though, all of the Brasstowns were out of stock.
After a couple of weeks, they restocked – and this time – with a new colorway: Red/Midnight. I instantly fell in love and ordered one.
On the Red/Midnight Brasstown, the outside of the case is a bright red with a navy blue insert. The insert is sewn into the case and unrolls to reveal six slots. Each slot holds a single fountain pen but you can fit two smaller pens into each pocket if you want to.
The stitching is gray and looks sharp, especially on the navy insert. The zipper has two sliders and seems sturdy.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much the Brasstown holds. As expected, it easily holds my three fountain pens, my mechanical pencils and a couple of gel pens. But you can also put other pens and accessories in the main compartment. I’ve got mechanical pencil lead, erasers and more in the bag. And there is plenty of room for more. I can’t imagine ever needing another bag.**
The Brasstown is $35 and I highly recommend one if you are looking for a larger case to tote around your precious writing instruments. I’m very happy with mine.
* Their cases are named for mountains in Georgia. Nice touch.
** If they ever release a black/neon green or garnet/black colorway, I’ll be buying the entire line.
Designers tend to be selective about what pens they use. I've recently fallen in love with fountain pens, but I rarely see other designers using them. A fountain pen is a great addition to a designer's arsenal of writing implements.
Fountain pens allow you to select a design and color that fits you, a nib that works for your writing style and an unique ink color.
If you are a designer thinking about buying a fountain pen, here's a quick guide to getting started.
Where do I buy a fountain pen
Depending on where you live, a local specialty store may be an option. There isn't a store here in Columbia, but there's a great store up the road in Asheville, NC. The obvious benefit of buying from a store is being able to see and try things out and talk to a knowledgable staff.
Fountain pens range in price from a few bucks to hundreds of dollars. You'll find pens made from just about every material -- from plastic to gold.
The least expensive pens are disposable, but the real fun comes with reusable pens.
At first the number of choices can be overwhelming, but there are lots of resources online where you can research your options. I'd start with a blog like the Pen Addict, where they review pens and inks. The online retailers like Goulet Pens have blog posts detailing options for beginners.
There are pens for every design aesthetic. Clean and machined. Ornate and classic. Simple and practical. And everything in between. Some pens are skinny and light and others are more substantial.
Pick something that matches your personal style. I decided to start with a Lamy Safari. It's on all the beginner pen lists and comes highly recommended. A Safari costs about $30 -- not the cheapest entry level pen, but still affordable. Easy to use, writes wonderfully and comes in a number of colors and nib styles. I also own a Lamy AL-Star, which is similar in design to the Safari, but aluminum.
FYI: Podcasts and blogs sometimes offer discount codes that will save you 10% to 15% off your purchase.
The writing point of a fountain pen is called a nib. While each manufacturer classifies their nibs a little differently, they typically start at Extra Fine and go through Broad. You can also get a calligraphy nib.
Many pens have interchangeable nibs, which is great if you aren't sure what kind of nib you'll like.
I started with a fine nib and I'm now looking forward to trying out some different options. Lamy offers a bunch of nib options for my Safari and AL- Star. Personally, I'd like to pick up a broad nib and a calligraphy nib to play around with lettering styles.
One of the best things about fountain pens is the wide variety of inks available. All sorts of colors are offered, from traditional colors like black and blue through less traditional options like purple and green. You can get permanent, waterproof inks, fast drying inks and even specially inks with odd color properties or embedded gold flakes.
Some pens companies use cartridges, like Lamy or Pilot. They offer a limited number of colors in easy to replace cartridges. If you buy a cartridge pen, you can often buy a converter (only about $5) that allows you to use any fountain pen ink you like.
When you buy online, it's sometimes tough to tell what an ink is going to look like. There is no Pantone guide for ink colors, so it's a little bit of trial and error. One of the first inks I purchased was a neon green, which is actually more of a highlighter ink. Oops. I've got another ink that is grey and looks like pencil when it dries.
Changing ink colors requires you to clean out the previous ink. It's an easy process, but you need to let the pen dry before you add the new ink.
What kind of paper should you use?
If designers are particular about their paper, then fountain pen fans are fanatical. Writing with a fountain pen is a different experience than writing with a quality gel ink pen. Ink dries a little more slowly and can bleed through the page.
You will find no shortage of opinions on the best papers for use with fountain pens. I still use a Moleskine for note taking, although many folks feel there are better options. Some folks love designer-favorite Field Notes while others feel the paper is too thin. I have a new Rhodia pad that works great with a fountain pen.
In general, thick paper with a smooth surface seems to work better. My recommendation is to try paper, notebooks and pads that you like and see what you think. It all comes down to personal preference.
Remember: Be open to new options. As you wade into the fountain pen world, you'll likely hear of brands you've never heard of before. Don't be afraid to try them out. (I'd never heard of Rhodia before I got into fountain pens. Now it's one of my favorite paper options.)
But I hate my handwriting...
I know many designers that hate their handwriting. I think we hold ourselves up to a standard of artistic perfection.
I'm one of those people that can't stand my handwriting. (That's why I design typefaces.) But I can honestly say that after writing for a few months with a fountain pen, I'm starting to like my handwriting again.
I don't know if I'm just paying more attention to my handwriting or if the better pen really makes a difference. I seriously have no idea. But I enjoy writing on paper now, and that's something that hasn't been true for a long time.
But I like my current pen.
Most designers have a vast assortment of pens. I love a good pen and I'm a fan of gel ink pens like Uniball Signo 207's and Pilot G2's. (I like mechanical pencils, too, but that's another blog post.)
It's not an "either or" decision. A fountain pen is great for writing. I prefer the gel pens for sketching out concepts. And you'll still need a Sharpie because everyone needs a Sharpie or two in their bag.
Bonus: Using a reusable fountain pen means you aren't throwing away as many disposable pens, which is obviously a good thing.
That's a cool pen...
Be prepared to talk about your choice of pen when you head to meetings. A fountain pen rarely goes unnoticed.
I'm hooked. What next?
Once you start with a nice fountain pen, you won't want to go back. Obviously, you'll probably want to experiment with different pen types and inks. Companies offer whole ranges of cases and accessories for fountain pen users. And if you get really serious, there are services and vendors that let you customize pens and nibs.
Blogs like the Pen Addict and edjelley.com are a great place to start. Retailers like Goulet Pens and Jet Pens all have blogs that detail new products and review pens, inks and accessories. Many pen and ink manufacturers also have blogs.
I love the Pen Addict podcast. It's one of my favorites. So if you listen to podcasts and are interested in pens, it's one you should check out.
Let me know how it's going...
I'm still pretty new to the fountain pen addiction, so if you have questions or discover something cool, please mention it in the comments below or shoot me a note on Twitter at @sketchbookb.