Let’s Talk About the Lamy Vista

Ah, the oft-overlooked Lamy Vista. The odd pen out in the Lamy Safari/AL-star family, the Vista is a pen for those who like the Safari’s aesthetic and want to see it in demonstrator form.

I received this Vista as a gift, and it holds considerable sentimental value. This has undoubtedly influenced my opinion, so take this post with a grain of salt.

The Lamy Vista is the clear demonstrator version of the Lamy Safari. Aside from the color difference, the Vista is a Safari in every other way, right down to the ink level cutouts in the barrel, which are of course made completely unnecessary by the Vista’s transparent plastic.

The Vista accepts proprietary Lamy ink cartridges as well as the Z24 and Z28 converters. I’ve used this pen with both cartridges and a converter, and I prefer the cartridges because they hold more ink and because I don’t like the red knob on the converter.

Red clashes; black goes with everything. Why, Lamy, why? (photo source: lamy.com)

While I understand why the Vista has the ink cutout windows, they create a huge missed opportunity. Can you imagine this pen as an eyedropper? You’d probably have enough ink to write Ulysses. As it is, you’ll have to settle for admiring your ink from within a cartridge or converter.

The cap is mostly clear plastic, with the classic U-shaped Safari clip and black plastic “+” finial. The inner cap is metal, with a black seal that fits snugly around the shoulders of the section. While the metal inner cap does disrupt the demonstrator aesthetic, it makes up for it by securely sealing the nib when the pen is capped. Even after sitting for several weeks, this pen has started on the first stroke every time.

(Note: the streak of green in this photo is a stray reflection. There’s no actual green anywhere on this pen.)

The cap can be posted, and it fits on the barrel deeply and securely. In my smaller hands, posting the cap makes the pen feel unbalanced, so I prefer to use my Vista unposted.

The Vista is what I’d call a typically sized modern pen. Indeed, Safaris/AL-stars/Vistas are so ubiquitous that most pen reviews have at least one in their size comparison photos as a standard of reference. As I tend to favor smaller pens, this Vista is one of the larger pens in my collection.

L to R: TWSBI Diamond Mini Classic, Lamy Vista, vintage Sheaffer Balance
L to R: TWSBI Diamond Mini Classic, Lamy Vista, vintage Sheaffer Balance

For a mostly-plastic pen, the Vista feels substantial but not overly heavy. It’s heavier than the Pilot Kakuno, the Jinhao 992, and the Hero 1202, but it’s lighter than the Pilot Metropolitan. For me, the unposted Vista is in that sweet spot of weight and balance that makes it well-suited for long writing sessions.

Aside from their looks, perhaps the most controversial thing about the Safari/Vista is the shaped section. Most pen folks seem to love shaped sections or hate them.

I find the Vista’s section comfortable, but I have small hands and hold my pens in the standard tripod grip. For this reason, I strongly suggest trying a Safari/AL-star/Vista in person before buying one.

This particular Vista came to me with an EF nib. Lamy nibs tend to run wide in sizing, and I’d describe this EF as similar to a Japanese medium. This Vista’s nib suits my teeny-tiny handwriting just fine.

The nib is made of steel, with its tipping shaped into a rounded ball. The result is consistent lines with no variation.

In my experience, this nib writes on the dry side with most inks. It has a bit of feedback that I liked more than I thought I would. It’s not at all scratchy, but also not as smooth as a Japanese nib. The nib on this Vista wrote perfectly out of the box.

A nice thing about Safaris/AL-stars/Vistas is that their nibs are interchangeable and easily swapped. Buy one pen and a bunch of different nibs, and you could go from an EF to a 1.9mm stub without breaking the bank.

This Lamy Vista is the most reliable pen in my collection. It starts up every time and never skips. It works so well it’s almost boring. I’m pretty sure the Germans would call that a success, and I can see why these pens are a modern classic.

That said, I don’t feel compelled to add an AL-star or Safari to my collection, though this year’s Safari Petrol limited edition was awfully tempting because I liked the color. But I’m not sure I want to fall down the rabbit hole of acquiring multiples of the same pen in different colors. I’d rather invest in a wide array of nib sizes instead.

Since nearly everyone has at least one Safari, AL-star, or Vista in their collection, I’d love to hear what you think about yours.

This Lamy Vista was given to me as a gift. My opinions on this blog are always my own. Please see my review ethics statement for more details.

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Daiso’s Little $1.50 Marvel

Yesterday, I posted about a $1.50 pen that had some problems with cracking plastic. Today, I figured I’d balance things out with some thoughts on a different $1.50 pen that’s given me two years of enjoyment: Daiso’s house-branded pen.

My first fountain pen wasn’t a Pilot Metropolitan, or a Lamy Safari, or a Parker Duofold that I found tucked in the back of grandma’s knickknack drawer. My first fountain pen entered my life at Daiso.

If you’re unfamiliar with Daiso, it’s the Japanese version of a dollar store, except everything’s $1.50 (blame the exchange rate for the Yen.) Most of the items in the store are Daiso’s house brand, like this fountain pen I found in the stationery section and purchased on a lark. I’d been a diehard Pilot G2 user for years but was curious about fountain pens and figured this one was worth a try.

I’ve never been able to determine the official name of this pen. Since it cost me the princely sum of $1.50 (and ignoring the few pennies for sales tax), I’ve dubbed it the “Daiso Buck Fifty”.

First, some facts. The Daiso Buck Fifty is a cartridge converter pen with a steel nib. It comes with one short cartridge filled with a blue ink of unknown origin. Unfortunately, I don’t have a sample of that ink as it’s long been used up. I also don’t know what other cartridges fit this pen. Waterman short and long international cartridges are said to fit, but I haven’t personally confirmed it. I’ve been refilling the original cartridge via syringe and it’s still going strong after two years.

The Daiso Buck Fifty is a small pen. It’s a few millimeters shorter than a Pilot Metropolitan when capped and uncapped.

(L to R) Lamy Vista, Daiso Buck Fifty, Pilot Metropolitan, TWSBI Diamond Mini
(L to R) Lamy Vista, Daiso Buck Fifty, Pilot Metropolitan, TWSBI Diamond Mini

The Daiso’s section is 1mm smaller in diameter than the Metropolitan’s. Like the Metro, the Daiso is heavier than it looks due to its metal barrel, weighing in at 17g without a full cartridge of ink.

The Daiso Buck Fifty’s design is clean and unpretentious. It only comes in one color: white pearlescent metallic. The finish has remained intact despite two years of use. The white is complemented by silver furniture on the cap and barrel.

The cap is a snap-on style that clicks to the barrel securely but doesn’t take an excessive amount of effort to remove. While the cap can technically post, it’s not secure and will slip off the end of the barrel. The clip is firm but springy. It inspires confidence that it’ll remain attached to whatever it’s clipped to.

Uncapping the pen reveals a section made of black plastic with silver trim. I have small hands, and I find the section comfortable to hold for writing sessions up to a few pages in length. I’d prefer a wider section for longer writing sessions, however.

The step-up from the section to the barrel is gradual, unlike the harsher steps on the Pilot Metro.

The nib is a generic iridium point made of steel. I’d call it a Western medium, but the line produced varies with the ink in the pen, and I’ve seen it range from fine to broad. This pen wrote smoothly fresh out of the wrapper with no tuning required.



When I first got this pen, it was a slightly dry writer. After I learned more about pens, I adjusted the tines to lay down a juicy line with most inks. After two years together, I know this pen inside and out, and I now use it as my primary ink testing pen.

The Daiso $1.50 Pen, aka “The Buck Fifty”

This pen is an excellent performer at a minuscule price. It’s a smooth writer. No flex, of course, but that’s not the point of this workhorse.

It’s remarkable that a pen this good can cost so little.

Tomoe River paper, De Atramentis Red Roses

I’m fortunate that the Daiso Buck Fifty was my first fountain pen, as a lesser one might have put me off fountain pens entirely. It’s an excellent pen for its price. The only downside is that it’s not the easiest pen to find. Goulet Pens sells them in a 2-pack, but at a significant markup. (Boo!)

If you ever find yourself in a Daiso, keep an eye out for these pens and pick up a few or several if you see them. Hand them out to friends and create some more fountain pen addicts. Go on, the first hit’s only a buck fifty…

This pen was purchased with my own funds. My opinions on this blog are always my own. Please see my review ethics statement for more details.

Read more about this pen:

Snap Judgments: Penton F10 Demonstrator

As much as I’ve been flirting with vintage Sheaffers lately, I still have my eye on cheap pens. I came across this thread on FPN a while back about a cheap demonstrator pen called the “Penton F10” that cost $3 including shipping. At that price, I had to give it a try.

These pens can be purchased via this eBay listing. I handed over my six dollars, sent the seller a message with my color and nib size choices, and two weeks later a package containing two pens showed up.

Both pens ended up performing the same, so for the sake of expediency I’m only going to focus on one of them: a clear pen with a fine nib.

The Penton F10 is a slim pen made of clear plastic. Measurement-wise, it’s almost a dead ringer for the Pilot Metropolitan; the capped length, uncapped length, and section diameter are the same between the two pens.

The cap secures by snapping onto the pen’s body, and it can be posted by slipping it on the end of the barrel, which is shaped for that purpose. The Penton F10 doesn’t have the prettiest cap and finial, and the clip is utilitarian looking stamped metal, but it’s sturdy and has the right amount of spring to keep it securely in place when you clip it to something.

A piston-style cartridge converter is included, but the pen can also be converted to an eyedropper using an included o-ring. In fact, most of the promo photos in the eBay listing show the pen being used that way. I haven’t yet tried it as an eyedropper but I’m sure it’ll happen eventually.

The nib is described as a “0.5mm fine” and I found that to be accurate. So, it’s more of a Western-style fine. It wrote smoothly out of the box without any tuning required.

Visually, the design of the nib looks very similar to the Lamy Safari. And the nib writes like a Safari too, with a bit of feedback on Tomoe River paper and little to no flex.

The pen is very light. For me, it’s most comfortable when unposted, and I didn’t feel fatigued after writing several pages with it.

It’s risky buying a pen from an unknown manufacturer, but this one is a pleasant surprise. In fact, the only flaw I can find with it is a tiny bit of molding sprue left on the section, but even that is on an edge where it won’t bother your fingers, and I was able to remove it easily with a razor blade. The cartridge converter doesn’t hold much ink, but the pen is intended to be an eyedropper anyway.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that I haven’t mentioned this pen’s country of origin yet. Care to guess where it’s from?

If you said China, you’d be right. I’ve heard Chinese pens can be hit-or-miss, but this one is a hit. It’ll probably be my new ink testing pen because I like how the cap and barrel are completely clear — it really shows off the color loaded inside.

This pen performs surprisingly well for its price: a mere $3, including shipping. The nib is smooth and required no tuning out of the box. There is a hint of feedback reminiscent of another nib that’s similar to this one in design and appearance — the Lamy Safari. A cartridge converter is included, but the pen also comes with an o-ring for eyedropper conversion.

An excellent value pen!

Pelikan Edelstein Mandarin on Tomoe River paper

Snap Judgments: TWSBI ECO

Bob at My Pen Needs Ink graciously loaned me his TWSBI ECO so I could try it out. The ECO is an entry-level demonstrator type pen, and since “ECO” ostensibly stands for “economical,” it’s perfectly aligned with my interests!

Aesthetics are in the eye of the beholder, but I think the white ECO looks very classy.

The cap has silver metal accents. TWSBI branding is etched into the cap ring, but I don’t find it obnoxious. At least they chose a nice, clean font.

The cap is hexagonally shaped, which I found useful as I don’t usually post my pens. It takes slightly more than one full turn to unscrew the cap. The clip is not springloaded, and it’s too stiff for easy use. I needed two hands to clip it to anything.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this pen is how the white cap and piston knob make inks inside the barrel pop with color. It’s a cool effect, especially with an ink like Iroshizuku Kon-Peki.

The red TWSBI logo on the end of the cap reminds me of a traditional signature seal.

I have smaller hands, and the unposted ECO is almost the perfect length for me. It’s a lighter pen in terms of weight, and I had no trouble writing for long periods with it.

The ECO was balanced in my hand when unposted, but posting the cap threw the weight distribution off in an unpleasant manner. Again, I have small hands so your experience may vary.

This pen has a steel nib that was smooth but offered some feedback. I’m used to Pilot’s silky-smooth nibs so the feedback was a nice change of pace. Since this was a loaner pen, I did not try to test the flex of the nib, but in regular writing it seemed on the stiffer side.

The flow was very good. This nib is more broad than I prefer given my handwriting, but it laid down a nice line and was enjoyable to write with.

I did not experience any hard starts or skips during my time with this pen.

Shaped sections are a point of contention, and the ECO’s section has a slight triangular shape, not as extreme as a LAMY Safari or a Pilot Kakuno, but there just the same. I use a traditional tripod grasp and I found the shape of the section to be unoffensive. The section’s diameter is on par with the Pilot Metropolitan and smaller than the Pilot Kakuno.

Certain TWSBI pens have a reputation for having issues with cracking, but this pen did not have any cracks that I could see. I believe this particular pen is a little over a year old at the time of this writing.

A fairly smooth writer with just the right amount of feedback. The broad nib is a little too wide for my liking. It lays down a nice wet line when using Iroshizuku Kon-Peki. The section has a bit of shape to it but I found it comfortable. This pen is really sharp looking by itself, but it’s a stunner filled with a beautiful ink like Kon-Peki. I thought I’d want an all-clear demonstrator, but the white cap and piston knob look great and compliment whatever ink is in the barrel. The TWSBI ECO is a lot of pen for the price, and I’m definitely adding one to my “to buy” list.

Many thanks to Bob for letting me borrow this pen!

Three Good Reviews of the TWSBI ECO:

The Metro and the Kid: Pilot’s sub-$15 Wonder Duo

kakuno_smile

Fifteen dollars may not stretch as far as it once did, but it can get you a workhorse fountain pen that you’ll want to use every day, thanks to Pilot Corporation and its Metropolitan and Kakuno pens.

Many reviews have already been written about both these pens, so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel by reviewing them here. Instead, I’m going to discuss some features of interest in each pen, and point out some differences that might help you choose between them.

Pilot Metropolitan

The Pilot Metropolitan has an MSRP of $18.75 USD, but it’s easily found for less than $15. It’s a refillable pen that includes a Pilot-proprietary ink cartridge and a CON-20 squeeze-style converter that’ll allow you to use bottled ink right from the start.

The Metropolitan’s brass barrel adds some heft to a pen that’s not particularly imposing out of the box. It has plain, but classy, styling that would be suitable in a professional environment. The weight of the pen in the hand, plus its impeccable build quality, makes the Metropolitan feel like a far more expensive pen than it actually is.

But how does it write? Excellently, thanks to its fantastic nib. (It actually uses the same nib as the Kakuno, which makes choosing between these two pens mostly a matter of personal preference.) My Metropolitan wrote as smooth as silk from its first inking. The nib is stainless steel, with little to no flex, so don’t expect miracles in terms of being able to vary your line widths. If this is your first Pilot fountain pen, be aware that Japanese nibs tend to run thinner than their European and American counterparts. A Pilot fine nib creates a line approximating a 0.5mm gel pen, and a medium nib is close to 0.7mm.

The Metropolitan’s section (i.e. gripping area) is smooth, round plastic. It’s sized comfortably for smaller hands, but may not be large enough for folks with bigger fingers or those who prefer their grip higher up on a pen. The cap of the pen can be posted (i.e. slipped onto the end of the barrel) when writing.

Three Good Reviews of the Pilot Metropolitan:

Pilot Kakuno

The Pilot Kakuno has an MSRP of $13.50 USD, and that’s the price point you’ll usually find them offered at. It’s a refillable pen that comes with a Pilot-proprietary ink cartridge, but it does not include a converter. You’ll need to purchase a Pilot-compatible converter separately to use bottled ink.

The Kakuno is a plastic pen with a hexagonal shaped barrel. Due to its plastic construction, it feels light and less substantial in the hand. The flat sides of the Kakuno will keep it from rolling off a table, which is helpful because the cap does not have a clip. (Instead, the cap has a small nub to further prevent accidental roll-offs.) Pilot designed this pen for the children’s market, and the available colors and styling reflect “fun” more than “professional” — there’s even a smiley face on the nib.

As mentioned previously, the Kakuno’s nib is the same as the one found in the Metro, so both pens offer a similarly excellent writing experience.

The Kakuno’s section is plastic, and it’s molded into a somewhat triangular shape intended to guide you into a proper grip. Despite being designed with children in mind, the section is fatter than the one on the Metropolitan, and those with larger hands may find it more comfortable. The Kakuno’s cap can be securely posted on to the end of the barrel.

Three Good Reviews of the Pilot Kakuno:

In Summary

Choose the Metropolitan if…

  • you prefer a round grip section
  • you need a more professional looking pen
  • you prefer a pen that feels heavier in the hand
  • you’d like to use bottled ink immediately without buying a separate converter

Choose the Kakuno if…

  • you prefer a shaped grip section
  • you like fun, bright colors
  • you prefer a lighter pen
  • you don’t mind if the cap doesn’t have a clip