Over time, I’ve used many different fountain pens, expensive and inexpensive ones. Today, I’ll highlight the 5 best value pens that won’t break the bank. It’s particularly good if you don’t know if a fountain pen is right for you so we focus on low price, easy maintenance, easy writing, and overall, a good experience at a minimal investment.
Even though it might seem different, fountain pens need not be intimidating, expensive, or maintenance intensive. You can really find a lot of fountain pens that are inexpensive. The problem is some are bad and some are good.
In the US, most adults never get acquainted with fountain pens unless they intentionally seek them out. In Germany where I grew up, it’s part of the school curriculum so I first wrote with fountain pens when I was 5 years old.
Fountain Pen Terminology
Just like with any hobby, there’s a lingo in the fountain pen world that you need to understand so you can distinguish between the different pens.
The first important and probably the most important part is the nib. The nib is this little metal piece at the tip of a fountain pen that you write with on a piece of paper. Basically, a fountain pen uses capillary action as well as gravity to get the ink from the inside of the pen through the nib onto the paper.
The Ink Feed
Right below the nib, you can find the ink feed which helps the capillary action and to get the ink onto the paper. Unlike ballpoint or rollerball pens, nibs come in different widths. The finest ones are EF which means extra fine then there’s F for fine. The most common nib is M for medium. If you want a broader nib, you get a B, an even wider is a BB nib, and if you want it really broad which is usually only used for signatures, you get a 03b nib. Sometimes, you can also find oblique nibs which means they’re angled at the tip and that would, for example, be an OB which is an oblique broad nib. When you start for the first time, I suggest you maybe go with a medium nib, a fine or an extra fine nib, because they’re easiest to learn with and later on, you can upgrade and invest in more pens with broader nibs.
Unlike a ballpoint pen, most fountain pens don’t come pre-loaded with ink and you can either get cartridges but they’re more expensive on a per-use cost and instead, you can use a converter so you can choose from any kind of ink you want and you can just fill the ink into it. Usually, they cost anywhere from one to five dollars but you’ll save money over time compared to a cartridge which is usually a one-time use.
This one doesn’t have a cartridge and you simply turn the knob at the end of the fountain pen to basically suck ink in or push it back out. Normally, you find this kind of mechanism in more expensive fountain pens. Personally, I am a big fan of the piston fillers or the converters because down the line, they’re less expensive than cartridges and they’re also less hard on the environment because you have less waste.
5 Highly-Recommended Beginner Fountain Pens
1. Pilot Metropolitan
The first really inexpensive fountain pen is the Pilot Metropolitan which retails at around $15. It was introduced in 2012 and it was universally praised as a really good fountain pen especially at the price point. It comes in a nice gift box, has a nice weight, very clean lines, and you can even choose between different nib widths which is not something you often find in this price range. It uses proprietary cartridges and converters but when you buy a new one, it comes with a converter where you just have to squeeze and let go which sucks up the ink into the fountain pen.
Personally, I think it’s a very good pen that comes in different finishes so you can personalize it to your taste. The nib is made out of steel, made in Japan, and I think for what it is, it is really good, it’s not harsh, it is definitely a pen that we recommend to anyone who just wants to start out and who’s not sure if he wants to invest hundreds of dollars into a fountain pen.
2. Pilot Varsity – The Most Inexpensive Fountain Pen
Usually, it’s sold in a five pack for ten dollars and it has a nib, it looks pretty cheap like a typical rollerball and it is all plastic. It’s considered a disposable fountain pen that you can’t refill once the ink is all gone. Now if you look at YouTube, you may find people who have actually hacked that and were able to refill it. That being said, the plastic is so cheap that over time, it will probably break anyway, so if you think that you might use the pen for a longer time, I suggest going with the Metropolitan over the Varsity. The good part about it is that it has a great nib, consistency, and it’s not scratchy.
3. Jinhao X450 – Huge Bang For The Buck
These pens cost approximately $5 each and most people are shocked by how low the prices are and how valuable it seems in comparison. If you want a huge bang for the buck, Jinhao is definitely worth a look. Unlike the pilot Metropolitan, the Jinhao pens are larger and the 450 is also a lot heavier. Now if you write a lot, that can tire out your hand more quickly but if you just use it for signatures, it’s really nice to have a certain weight. The nib of the X 450 looks pretty similar to a Montblanc nib, however, it’s just gold-plated and not made out of solid gold. Right out of the plastic bag, it even comes with an ink converter which is rather nice and unexpected in that price segment. Overall, it doesn’t look like a high-end fountain pen, at the same time, it doesn’t look like a five-dollar pen either.
4. Jinhao X750 – Inexpensive Fountain Pen Made in China
On the other hand, the X 750 has kind of a brushed stainless steel look in platinum color the nib is likewise in the same color. It has a nice lid that clicks on and seems quite tight even though over time, I don’t quite think it will stand the test of time. The name engraving on it looks rather cheap but at the end of the day, it is a cheap fountain pen. In my opinion, it’s very similar to the x450. It’s just lighter in weight and frankly, if you want to try them out, you get both for just about 10 bucks which is really inexpensive.
5. Lamy Safari – Inexpensive Fountain Pen Made in Germany
It’s made in Germany in Heidelberg which is very close to my home state and when I was in third grade, this is the fountain pen I used. Because of its sleek design and look, you can even see sometimes people today wearing it with their bespoke suits which I find quite ironic because it was a school pen that I used. For the same reason, I just can’t get myself to use that pen today because it always makes me feel like a little school pupil.
The standard version of the Safari is made out of plastic. You can also find different versions of metals such as aluminum but in my experience, they dent very easily and scratch so they don’t look very well. Going with the original plastic version is just fine. The styling is definitely the most industrial one but it’s very comfortable in your hand and it’s very easy to grip for small hands as well as medium hands. If you have really large hands, I find the Lamy Safari is not quite the right pen for you. Lamy was quite smart and they introduced the proprietary ink cartridges which are much larger than regular ones but also more expensive.
They also have ink converters but you have to buy them separately and they are not part of the package as for the Jinhao. Unlike the other pens in our line up, the Lamy Safari has a convenient ink window so you can see if the pen is dried in or if you simply ran out of ink. The Lamy Safari nib is smooth right out of the box and it comes in different nib widths as well. It’s also easy to exchange the nibs in different widths and because it is such a popular pen, it comes in many different colors and patterns and varieties. The Lamy Safari is most expensive of the bunch and cost between $20-$25 dollars depending on where you buy.
If I had to choose just one fountain pen out of the five, it would probably be the Pilot Metropolitan in a F or fine nib because medium is something that you find in a lot of nibs so fine is a little different. It also has an ink flow that it’s not as strong so you can basically write on it with any paper without risking it to bleed and it also has a heavier weight than the Lamy Safari and to me, it’s a more professional looking pen and it doesn’t have that schoolboy image.
All the Pens mentioned here can be used by right-handed and left-handed people but it’s really a personal preference and so I suggest you go out and try them out, you can even buy two or three different ones to see which ones you like more and then write it up for a little bit. If you really fall in love with them, you’ll probably want to invest in a more expensive piece that has nicer materials and a nicer nib because that way, it remains a good investment.