The appreciation of a fountain pen gift - by Ivo and Delilah
We have many friendly and loyal customers, and amongst them is one customer down in Bristol. John is something of a pen enthusiast and he has been a regular customer and communicator with Mishka and Jo.
He recently bought Lamy Safari fountain pens for his grandchildren. They were so happy with their new pens that they wrote a thank you letter. To say thank you. And of course, they wrote their letters with the very same fountain pens.
John was so taken with this that he shared it with us, and said we could share it with you. So thank you Ivo and Delilah (and John) for sharing your love of Lamy pens.
It’s always wonderful to see the younger generation pickup a pen instead of spending their days flicking through endless distractions provided these days on a tablet.
At the end of the day it’s up to all of us to inspire the next age of humanity to keep on writing, thank you John for your little bit to keep it going!
So you have maybe decided to buy some new ink, but where do you start? With so much choice, it is hard to know where to turn. Are all inks essentially the same? What do you get for paying more? And what about all those technical terms?
Choosing the right ink can be a daunting process and so this article aims to make the process a lot easier by breaking it down into the various elements that will affect your choice, and to give you a guide on how to go about choosing the right ink.
We will start by looking at the basics of making a decision. These are four factors that should easily rule in or out some inks and help give a basic pointer to guide you.
At the time of writing we have 338 colours available to choose from, and this is spread across 18 choices of inks, not allowing for variations in the bottle size. 300+ colours is overwhelming, especially when you consider that the Diamine ink range has something like 27 blue inks alone.
However, colour is an important factor in choosing your ink, maybe the most important alongside price. For some people this may mean just wanting a basic blue or black ink. For others it means having a specific colour – Enzo Ferrari famously used to sign his name in his signature colour. And no, it wasn’t red – he was a purple ink man.
For others, it will extend down to matching an ink to something specific – to your notebook maybe. Others might place importance on matching the colour shade precisely as no two shades are the same. It really comes down to how specific a shade of colour you are looking for. This may mean you have to search around various different inks to find your perfect colour.
The other obvious influence on your choice of ink is likely to be cost. With some bottles costing under £7 and some costing over £30, there’s a big difference in price. The question is what do you get if you pay more? Is it a straightforward case of the higher the price, the better the ink? Er…no.
With quality brands like Diamine and Herbin costing well under £10, it clearly doesn’t follow that more expensive = better. We only sell good quality inks and so the advice on price would be to choose an ink that suits your budget. We will go on to look at other reasons why you might consider spending more on a bottle of ink later.
We previously looked at the relative costs of different inks, and with inks being sold in various sized bottles you might want to consider this as well. There is little doubt that Diamine ink is the best value, all things considered.
Size is less of an issue, but it’s worth a mention. Bottled ink tends to be around 50ml per bottle. Some inks have bigger bottles – Diamine is a whopping 80ml, KWZ is a hearty 60ml – whilst others might be a more modest 30ml.
A big bottle is going to be better value and will last a good while – an 80ml bottle of ink will fill the TWSBI Eco fountain pen about 40 times over! A big bottle of say 50ml+ is perfect when you know you’ll want to use the ink frequently, or it’s your favourite ink.
Herbin do small 10ml taster bottles which are a great way to test out colours without feeling like you’re wasting ink and even this will last you a while. The point being, size might not be so important in deciding since even a smaller bottle will last a long time.
The last of the so-called basic decision makers will be the purpose you intend to use the ink for. Some inks are more suited for specific jobs. You might want a calligraphy ink (which has properties more suited to calligraphy writing), or you might require an ink for archival purposes. You might need a waterproof ink, like Blackstone Barrister ink.
Another element to consider is drying time – if you need an ink that dries quickly then you might consider an ink like Herbin. The alternative is a wetter ink like KWZ, and you might find this proves very impractical if you need to wait ages for an ink to dry.
Your paper choice will also impact upon this – some papers are better for inks to dry quickly if time is an issue. Look at papers from:
Now this is where the choice of ink becomes really interesting. It is also where you move from choosing an ink for more more functional reasons, and find yourself taking greater pleasure from the act of writing and using ink itself.
At the heart if this lies three key elements you can get from an ink – the Three S’s. Some inks will display none, some or all of these elements and discovering them is part of the pleasure. Their presence, or lack of, doesn’t makes an ink better or worse, it simply helps give an ink its true character.
At this point it worth mentioning the paper. Inks don’t exist in isolation and since it is likely you will be using them on paper, then your choice of paper is very important. The same iink will perform differently on different papers. See below for more notes on this.
So what is sheen? This is when the ink dries with with a shiny finish to it. Most ink when dry will be flat and have no ‘surface’ to it. Sheen is when the ink has an edge that catches in the light. Discovering this when using an ink is part of the pleasure, but as a guide you will find a good sheen to inks like:
If you want to get the best out of the sheen an ink has then we recommend using Tomoe River paper, which just lets the ink show off its best qualities.
Shading is where an ink dries with some variation in depth. So rather than leaving a single solid colour, the ink will be more saturated in colour in one area than another. Is that a good thing? Well that depends on what you like and want from your ink, but it is another area that you can discover more about an ink and how it performs in subtle ways to create something richer and more rewarding.
Some might argue that this comes under sheen, but it is something quite specific. Shimmer inks have a metallic sparkle to them. Literally. They have small particles in the ink which you can see in the bottle., and which will settle and need agitating before using. The result is an ink that sparkles on the page. The result can be quite varied but when it works it can be magical.
There have been a whole host of new shimmer inks released in recent years, so there is a good choice, but you might want to look at these for some good results:
Is there anything else to an ink outside the basics and how it appears on paper? Well, arguably no. Choosing an ink based on those values will likely last you a lifetime after all. But there are other factors to consider, and these may help guide you in your choice of ink.
Some inks release special or limited editions, and these can be in high demand. For some ink manufacturers this has become an annual event, and most notable amongst the limited edition inks are the Herbin Anniversary inks (this might now have become the Herbin 1798 range as of 2017) and the annual Edelstein Ink of the Year from Pelikan.
Lamy have also started to produce limited edition T52 inks to coincide with the annual launch of the limited edition Safari and Al-Star fountain pens. These tend to be very limited in supply.
Some inks acquire an almost cult-like status. Sometimes there is an obvious reason for it, other times it seems to defy reason. But no matter, if an ink has been given this lofty status then it is popular above all other colours in that range.
Some inks are worth buying because they come beautifully packaged (I’m looking at you, Kyoto ink) or have extras in the box (Colorverse ink is a perfect example here).
In other cases it is simply that the inks have that exotic something – imports from afar that you are unlikely to stumble across in your local WH Smith or inks with a story to tell. Iroshizuku and Kyoto inks come from Japan, Robert Oster and Blackstone inks are from Australia. KWZ inks are made by a husband-&-wife team in Poland. Feeling closer to the story can make you appreciate the ink in a different way.
The Kyoto inks are also just beautiful objects in their own right, from the box to the bottle. Does this affect the ink? The obvious answer is no, but then again you can gain extra enjoyment from something more than just purely functional, and an ink like this is very desirable!
Last but not least is the fact that inks are complex substance. It is no coincidence that KWZ ink is made by two chemists, or that we have worked with chemist-come-bloggers on ink reviews. The process of making an ink requires a lot of input, and not just in terms of colour choice, packaging and marketing.
Look at Iron Gall inks for a clear demonstration of how complex an ink can be – these very traditional inks require sensitive handling in your pen as they can damage it in some cases. As the name suggests, it is made with iron elements and this helps it bond with the paper to form a more permanent mark. More interestingly it is chemistry in the making when you write with it as it changes colour and darkens.
Some inks really are just a complex mixture and discovering inks can leave you somewhere between a writer and a chemist at times.
To summarise, the most powerful influence on your decision of choosing the right ink will be price. A quality ink like Diamine or Herbin comes in at under £7 and will let you choose from well over 130 colours. But once you start to find more pleasure in using inks so you will likely seek out other more expensive inks for the unique properties they can demonstrate. Whether that is the unusual colour, how it performs when used or just a desire to seek out ever new creations will depend on where you ink odessey takes you! In short, start somewhere that feels right, and let you enjoyment lead you.
Our guide to spending a little bit more on a fountain pen
So you are considering upgrading your fountain pen for a smarter, more expensive model. But what will you get for your money? You have maybe dipped your toe in the water and bought your first fountain pen. Now persuaded of the joys of using a fountain pen, your thoughts have turned to where you go next.
So having let your mind wander to what other pens are out there and what spending a little bit more might get you, this article is an attempt at giving some basic advice in terms of what to look for when moving from an entry-level pen to a mid-range pen.
What is an entry level pen?
Typically most people will start here. This is most likely because of cost. A first pen might come in around £15-20 and even that can be a big investment when you are making the step up from say a ballpoint pen (dare I suggest you made the leap from a Bic biro to fountain pen?).
That is not to say that an entry level pen is not one that won’t last you a lifetime. Typically these pens might be something like the Lamy Safari fountain pen, the Kaweco Skyline, or maybe even a TWSBI Eco or the Pilot MR (aka the Pilot Metropolitan). All come in at under £30, some for under £20. All are great pens and will serve you well for many a year. But if you do want more…
What is a mid-range pen?
For the purposes of this article, a mid-range fountain pen has been defined as being one that costs over and above an entry-level, but not into the eye-watering levels that you can pay. So this has been set at a more modest level of between £40 and £75.
Also, since entry-level will vary from brand to brand, it is deemed to be pens that display elements of being an upgrade on a more basic pen.
Key reasons to upgrade
So why upgrade? Well it becomes ever harder to actually justify the step up purely on value for money. There are gains to be had by spending more, certainly, but it is also an emotional decision and there is no point skirting round this. Nevertheless there are some clear benefits to be had from spending a bit more.
Whilst your entry-level pen will typically be made of plastic, you would certainly expect your mid-range pen to be made of a superior material. More often that not this will be metal, likely aluminium as it is lightweight and perfect for a pen. It makes for a more solid, durable pen than plastic, yet you will not be adding any serious weight to the pen. In fact the slight extra weight might make the pen better as it adds just enough to make it feel substantial without being heavy.
You may also find that this extends to all elements of the pen – look for what the clip and grip sections are made from.
Tip – consider what material you would feel comfortable writing with, and what weight of pen would suit you, and check the full specification.
This is something that will vary from pen to pen, and a lot of mid-range pens will not necessarily have a better nib that your entry-level pen. For example many Lamy pens have the same Z50 nib, from the Safari and ABC through to a Scala or Accent. Others like the Aion do have a better nib, in this case the new Z53 nib. It is more likely that the extra cost of the pen will get you a better barrel than a better nib but it is worth checking.
Also, a more expensive pen may actually have access to a better range of nib sizes although this again will depend on each manufacturer.
Tip – how important would a better nib be at this stage? This may require you pushing your budget even further.
This will vary from pen to pen but a more expensive pen might come with a few extra features or add-ons. Certainly most Lamy pens above a certain value will come with a converter. Other entry-level pens may not come with a gift box (worth considering if it is a gift for someone).
Tip – consider all aspects of what you want from your pen – don’t just be seduced by the look!
The design of the pen is where there will be marginal gains in making the pen better – possibly a better grip section, or the way the cap can be posted or the way the clip works. Small improvements but it can make a real difference especially with a pen, which requires a good connection between hand and pen.
Tip – consider what you like the least about your current pen and in what ways it could be improved. Then consider your ‘new’ pen in light of this.
This is where the choice becomes more emotional. Typically a more expensive pen will be better designed, and may even have been designed by a well-known product designer. This might not make it a better at writing, but owning a pen that you love might make a difference. A pen you want to write with because it looks good is a pen you will enjoy writing with all the more.
Tip – this all comes down to personal preference. Only you know what you like.
If you are still unsure then read a few reviews. Think about what you don’t like with your current pen and consider whether a new pen will answer some or all of these problems. And if still unsure then see if you can try out the pen in person. We do offer a try before you buy service with pens but please do check with us first as we can’t offer this on all pens.
A step by step guide to how to make a Star Wars Day Stormtrooper Pen
The perceptive among you are very likely to have noticed something wasn’t quite right about the Lamy Safari fountain pen featured in my review back in April – it is in fact quite non-standard. A little movie came out last year that you may or may not have seen – Star Wars Episode VII. I’ve been a huge fan of Star Wars since I was very small, and as I had just recently been introduced to the world of Lamy pens (and the modular, repairable nature of the Safari and Al-Star lines) I decided a Stormtrooper themed pen would be a fun little project. In the spirit of Star Wars Day landing on a Stationery Wednesday today, I thought it’d be the perfect time to write up a step-by-step for the pen – with a chance to win it too! Look out for a competition coming up soon on this…
Disclaimer: It’s very possible to end up with a less-than-functional pen, with a loose cap, wobbly clip, or worse – continue at your own risk! This is a “what if?” project that explores the possibilities of modifying Lamy pens – during the process the integrity of the pen will be compromised.
Episode I: The Preparation Menace
You’ll need a few very hi-tech tools before we start, and it’s a good idea to take inventory of which parts you’ll need. For parts and tools you’ll need:
A wooden dowel/pencil/biro – something with a 3mm diameter
*if you happen to have spare pens lying around, feel free to salvage the parts from these! You can also make quite an ugly pen with the leftovers – otherwise we have all of these parts available as special orders direct from Lamy.
**My original pen uses an Al-Star nib unit – unfortunately these do not come with the black plastic spacer, as it is molded into the barrel of the Al-Star pen. If you want the pen to look the same, you’ll need to source the spacer from either another pen or a Safari nib unit. Alternatively you could use two full Safari pens plus an Al-Star nib unit.
Episode II: Attack of the Barrel
I like to start with the easy part, and it doesn’t get much easier than this. Simply screw the Al-Star nib unit along with the black plastic spacer on to the Safari barrel, job done! The barrel (along with the cap) represents the iconic glossy white armour of the Stormtroopers, while I decided to go for the Al-Star nib unit to represent the smoked black eyepieces of the helmet in addition to helping break up all the white. Alternatively, you can just use the Safari Black nib unit.
Episode III: Revenge of the End Cap
This part is decidedly trickier than the last. You’ll need the previously mentioned coin, dowel/pencil, and elbow grease for this part as we’ll be removing the metal clips from the pen caps. Modern Safari caps consist of 5 separate pieces, the larger of the two being the cap body itself and the metal clip. Inside, are three extra parts – the cross-shaped end cap, a rubber o-ring, and a soft-plastic internal piece for keeping the cap secure on the pen.
We’ll begin by using the coin to help loosen the crossed end cap – the cap is actually a push clip so unfortunately we can’t just unscrew it, but this should make it a bit easier to pop out. Now, using your instrument of choice, we’ll be pushing the end cap out from the inside. This is where you’re most likely to damage the pen – the interior section is unfortunately made of fairly soft plastic, and the action of removing the push clip of the end cap can cause damage to this piece. If you do this part slowly, with a steady amount of force then the piece should pop up without taking much of the internal section with it. You might find some small parts of the rim of the internal section break off, but I’ve found that this hasn’t affected my pen in any way (such as drying out or the cap not staying on. Be sure to keep an eye out for the o-ring, as it has a tendency to pop up along with the end cap!
Repeat this step for the other cap, once again taking care not to damage the internal section (this is where spare caps come in handy).
Step IV: A New Clip
Now that we have the caps dismantled, we can go about swapping the clips. Due to the curved nature of the clip, you want to remove one end at a time. Start by gently turning one end out of the cap, then twist the clip end up and over the lip of the cap, where the end cap had just been sitting. Then, with the clip perpendicular to the cap, simply turn the other end of the metal clip out of its hole and slide the clip off the cap. Do this for both caps.
To put the clip back on the caps, just reverse the process, doing one end at a time. You may find that you need to flex the clip a bit to get it in the holes. Be careful to not scratch the finish of the cap during this step, as the ends of the metal wire clip are fairly sharp!
Step V: The End Cap Strikes Back
We’ll be putting the end cap back in the top of the cap, so get the elbow grease ready again! This part can be tricky, as the force of putting the push clip back in can force the internal section out of the cap.
Start by making sure the curve of the clip is flush against the plastic of the cap, and reseat the rubber o-ring. Next, find the right end cap (black for the white cap!) and slowly push it back into the cap. You’ll likely find that the push clip forces the interior section out, so try bracing it against the rubber end of a pencil with the rubber removed – anything wider than the 3mm diameter of the push clip, but not wide enough to get stuck in the cap! You also want to avoid plugging the hole of the internal piece where the end cap clips in as you’ll be trying for eternity – hence the pencil sans rubber.
You’ll know that the end cap is in once you feel a dull click, and the end cap itself will stick out of the cap by about 1mm – only the chamfered edge should stick out. If everything was done correctly, the metal clip of the pen should be secure enough to use. Unfortunately, during this process it’s very easy to accidentally damage or widen the interior section, making the cap not sit as securely on the pen as you’d like – the downside of a vanity project!
Step VI: Return of the Safari
That’s it! Hopefully you have a pen that’s in one piece, leak free and without a loose cap or wobbly clip. If you fancy your chances at winning the pen featured, click on to the competition page to enter – and may the Force be with you!
Last week was amazing. We have been delighted to see our friends celebrate National Stationery Week! World Stationery Day fell on Wednesday, the day of the show.
Unlike other people, I did not go to sleep the night before the show because I was buzzing with excitement 🙂
I have walked around and talked to people, had a really nice time. Following stationery got my attention and I would like to share them with you:
Amodex ink & stain remover is a great product that Bureau sells already, perhaps more people should know about it. If you ever get an ink stain on your shirt, all you have to do is to throw it away and buy another one. Just kidding! Apply Amodex for couple of minutes and give it a wipe. Stain will be gone. It works on all sorts of surfaces and will remove Sharpie even from the white boards (yes, we have all been there…) My only beef with Amodex is that it is a single serving friend…stains happen, especially with ink. So they came out with a travel size* which looks like a mascara (don’t mix with real mascara) and you get around 5 uses out of them. If you like watching demonstrating videos on Youtube, then definitely search for Amodex, it’s good fun! 🙂
*NB – this isn’t on sale at Bureau Direct yet – due soon we hope!
I have seen hundreds of different MT tape designs. This tape has found it’s way to every house hold and every bag. If you haven’t heard of washi tape you need to ask youself: Where have you lived in the past year? The number of MT tape rolls I own are now in double digits, yet I still need more. Jo, could we please get the Airmail one?
Another American stationery that I was curious to see in real life was Quiver, leather pen holder. Their products are so neat and very much loved in USA…perhaps we will carry them one day. (I am not a one pen person, but maybe you are…) According to Bob from Quiver, these make amazing corporate gifts – over to you Faisal 🙂
It was really nice to talk to Fisher Spacepen people. I had informed them, that their video about “How a Fisher Space Pen helped save The Apollo 11 Mission” is trending. What a better marketing than pen saving lives in space?! Beat that!
Had a quick pit stop at the Lamy stand. I am a big fan of Lamy. They had their two big releases of the year 2015 already (Copperorange Al-Star and Neonlime Safari) but apparently there is one more surprise waiting for us in September. (disclaimer: please do not expect a purple Safari…)
Next up, long chat with ink makers J. Herbin. I have invited myself to their factory and introduced myself as Herbin 1670 Anniversary ink ambassador 🙂 Stormy Grey has been the most anticipated product of the year and got a lot of people back to writing with fountain pens. And for that they deserve a medal. It was also nice to hear that Bureau had sold the most Stormy Grey of all retailers in the world. Nice one!
I have tried a lot of different papers too. It’s amazing to have so many to chose from. All of them got inked with my Broad Japanese Pilot Vanishing Point. Some of them couldn’t take the wet line, some of them could…what really surprised me was a tiny Midori wirebound A7 journal with colour paper (green of course). It handled the ink like a pro, looked super cute and the brass wire looked stunning. I really hope we will be able to get those one day. For now I will cherish mine which came with a sausage dog D-clip, SCORE!
It was a nice surprise to see Herlitz making it’s way…perhaps less known in UK, but it is the brand that I grew up with and I would buy it again.
Journals and diaries are absolute essentials these days. It was interesting to see Filofax and their fountain pen friendly paper. Paper is cut in a special way, so it can be removed and then put back/filed. Not bad, not bad at all…
But the one diary that I would like us to carry comes from Organise-Us. Interesting September to December format (which might not be for everyone), beautiful leather covers, pearlescent insides, all made in UK, even the box. We should put that on a map. Champagne gold ‘Notes before bed’ is one of my favourite items from the show.
I would like to end this virtual tour with four outstanding stationery bytes 🙂
Wow effect prize goes to Pentel Energel quick drying gel pen. I could not believe my eyes…this ink dries out instantly. No more smearing, no more inky hands – that’s great news for all you lefties out there. I also have to mention that their colours are bright and very well saturated. I have landed this amazing orange pen and I LOVE IT!
Prize for the most desirable item of the show…tough one….no, not really 🙂 The world stopped spinning as soon as I saw Hobonichi. Japanese journal with Tomoe River paper. For some reason it reminds me of Bible… Paper, pen and ink are my Holy Trinity, so why not. I don’t journal, but to have one of these in my hands I wanted to. I was so inspired that I wanted to start writing right away. To quote one of my instagram friends Gabriel: “I didn’t know I need one, but now I do” sums up Midori and what they do…it’s just perfect.
The best writer of the show…again, this one is a no brainer. I love fountain pens, so this was a perfect opportunity to
try e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. And I did 🙂 New ink which contains glycerin, rare Kaweco gold nib, prototype fire kissed nib
too…but, none of those wrote as well as Stabilo Easybirdy. The concept is fantastic – everybody has a different grip, so why not have a pen with adjustable nib which helps with writing experience. I will have to present this pen (once it
arrives, thank you Stabilo!) to my handwriting tutor and see what she thinks : are we making things too easy for kids? Or are we actually helping their little hands?
And finally…the must buy…well this one is going to be quite obvious, it’s a pen. Not any pen, Mark Twain’s Conklin Crescent filler pen. It’s a modern reproduction of a famous vintage pen. Work of art, And yes, I need to have it…
One last thing, I have been challenged by Charlie from Manuscript to turn his pen into an eye-dropper aka demonstrator (along with Lamy Vista). Challenge accepted!
ps: I have left quite a few of my birdys around the stationery show 🙂 Here are few of them:
I have written about this before, and each year I try to do an updated summary of the history of the latest special edition Lamy Safari fountain pen colour. 2015 is no different, and the trend continues this year with the addition of a matching ink.
We found out some months back that not only would there be a World Stationery Day, but that it would be held on a Wednesday. Maybe we shouldn’t have been so surprised, since Wednesday is fast becoming ‘stationery day’ but it was a nice endorsement nonetheless.
We felt we couldn’t possibly let such an event slip by without celebrating it in appropriate style, so we have created a stationery-lovers stationery hamper to tempt even the most un-temptable of people. Worth over £300 (£331 to be precise), the hamper includes the latest special edition stationery from Lamy and Field Notes as well as Stormy Grey ink from Herbin and the special edition gold Leuchtturm notebook.
Here is an update on a post from 2011 and a re-post in 2013. The limited edition Lamy Safari fountain pens are an annual event and because even I have trouble remembering which pen was from which year and in what order, it’s a nice bit of housekeeping to have a list of them all. This year (about to sell out) was Neon Coral.
2014 – neon coral
2013 – neon yellow
2012 – apple
2011 – aqua
2009/2010 – pink
2009? – orange2008 – lime2007 – white
2007 – black
2006? – blue/red
If anyone has any more photos of previous limited editions, or even of their favourite limited edition, please do send them in and we’ll post them for you.