I own quit a few budget pens and I thought it was about time they came under scrutiny. Just to be clear when I say ‘budget pen’ I mean a pen that normally costs less than $, £, €15 and my only criteria is reliability; so if I forget where I have left the pen for a week I can then just pick it up and start writing.
What I will do now is go through a some of pens I own and offer a few thoughts on each of them and then my conclusion on budget pens.
First up is the Platinum Preppy. I loaded this one with Montblanc Corn Poppy Red (a lovely red ink, if you haven’t tried it and are in the market for a red ink try this one) in a standard Platinum converter and just like my more expensive Platinum pen this one is a very smooth writer.
This is a perfectly reliable pen if somewhat overly generous when it comes to ink flow so don’t be surprised if you find ink in the cap etc. However, if you want to try out Platinum pens before committing to an expensive purchase this is a good place to start.
The only advice I would offer with this pen is go for a ‘dry’ ink and always buy more than one converter; so far the Platinum converters I have bought have a perfect 50% failure rate. Personally I think Platinum need to take lessons from someone like Lamy or Schmidt on how to make converters, but that’s a story for another day.
Having said all that, if you’re not sure stick to cartridges. Oh, and order them with the pen, they’re specific to Platinum pens.
Wing Sum 698
The Wing Sum 698 has already been well reviewed but for the purposes of this piece I wanted to include it as it is the only proper piston filler in my collection that is within the ‘budget’ criteria.
I like this pen because it is well made and is reminiscent of my Pilot Custom Heritage 92; it fills easily holding a good supply of ink and the end cap has a neat little safety catch that you click into place once it is loaded. It is easy to flush using the piston and as I later found out the nib section is removable making it even easier to rinse out!
It writes well, it is definitely a fine nib, too fine for me as an everyday pen but very useful for annotating documents. Again like the Dex frequency/infrequency of use did not affect a reliable flow of ink making this a very usable pen.
The Kingsley Dex was a real curve ball (also my first demonstrator) and for no reason at all I thought, immediately after buying it, I’d made a mistake so I dropped in my pen box and forgot about it for a while.
Turned out I was wrong, this inexpensive little pen has been 100% reliable, no skipping, no hard starts just a smooth writing experience every single time. It lays down a nice even layer of ink, perhaps a little wet but it was loaded with Diamine Orange which I find a little wet anyway. It has one really neat trick up it’s sleeve; this is a pocket sized pen that is designed to be posted, the end of the barrel is shaped to allow you to post the cap which helps to make this pocket pen a lot more user friendly. I used it both posted and unposted without any difficulty.
So if you’re passing a store that sells Kingsley drop in and choose your colour/s and add a couple to your collection, I don’t regret having one as an everyday pen.
This was my first Chinese pen and if you’re not familiar with it, it is the one that was ‘inspired’ by the Montblanc 149 and the one most people buy to help them decide if they like the large size pen before taking the plunge and buying the MB 149.
The 159 looks and performs like a pen many times more expensive than it is, mine is loaded with a regular Waterman cartridge and it just glides across the whatever paper I use. I will admit that this will not be a pen for everyone, it is a large chunky pen and it’s not as light as some of its contemporaries but it has good balance (unposted) when you are writing so I would recommend you spend a few $’s and buy a couple to play with.
Next up is one of my personal favourites the Jinhao 992 demonstrator which has been, without a doubt, reliable; as long as there is ink in it it works.
They come in a range of colours, they are inexpensive, the nib writes well and delivers a nice steady flow of ink. They are available either individually or in bulk; I bought six for around $15 inc. shipping from eBay seller jewelrymathematics, service is excellent but for anyone in the UK make sure you access his site via eBay.com.
I’m aware some people have experienced small cracks in the body (this does not affect use unless you wanted to eyedropper the pen) but I’ve owned over a dozen of them with no problem. If you like lots of different inks get the clear ones it makes it very easy to see what you are working with.
To be fair I should say that Oliver came as part of a group buy when I ordered the Ranga 4C; it was a very unexpected find when I opened the pen box and found not just my 4C but also Oliver.
It’s a plucky little pen that in reality is a cap, a nib section and converter that doubles as the body of the pen and that’s Oliver.
I must say I was sceptical about how well this pen would perform and upon first use the nib was bit scratchy. I’m not sure if this was me or Oliver but one or both of us have adjusted and it has smoothed out. Oliver is one of those pens that isn’t fancy in design, isn’t made from expensive materials but Oliver just works.
So, having scouted around the internet Oliver doesn’t seem to be easy to come by; I found many listings accompanied by the phrase ‘out of stock’; so if you see them in stock buy a couple they are worth it.
Lastly and by no means least the Pilot Plumix. This pen was a bit of a surprise, I’d seen it mentioned in a few posts here and there but done no research when I ordered it through Amazon; my primary reason, at the time, for pulling the trigger was it that it was the first Pilot pen I’d seen that accepted standard cartridges.
It’s a nice well put together pen that easily disassembles for cleaning so I assume, if required, the nib could be replaced, I mention this because at the time of purchase I didn’t realise it was an italic nib. However, it writes well and is fun to use but I wouldn’t consider it for everyday note taking et cetera but it might work well as a dip pen for testing new inks.
In summary, it’s a well-made, inexpensive italic pen that is ideal as a calligraphy starter pen with the big advantage that it takes standard cartridges.
So which one would I recommend?
It’s a tough choice, they are all very reliable which makes it even harder to choose one above the others but for now if I had to put a pen in my pocket it would be the Jinhao 992; it’s reliable, it writes nicely and you can’t really ask for more.
So in answer to the question I posed at the beginning of this ‘Are budget pens worth it?’; I would have to say yes.
Disclaimer: The pens were purchased with my own funds at retail price for my own collection. The opinions expressed in this review are my own; and I am not connected with any retailer or manufacturer in any way.