The Jinhao 991 Is a Wolf in Uni-ball’s Clothing

Sometimes a pen is just a pen. And sometimes a pen looks just like another pen, a rollerball pen, a pen made by a famous company, but when you take that pen in your hand and uncap it, you discover that it’s actually a fountain pen with a certain chariot logo stamped on its nib.

No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you, Little Red Riding Hood. It’s not a Uni-ball Vision — it’s a Jinhao 991. (Or as I like to do: take a deep breath, throw my head back, and howl “JINHAOOOOOOOOOOOO!” into the sky.)

I won’t call the Uni-ball Vision an iconic pen, but it’s ubiquitous enough that even I recognized the 991 as a rip-off as soon as I opened the mailing envelope it arrived in. (This 991 was part of the same order as the Jinhao 992 I reviewed a while back, so I failed doubly so at my stated goal of avoiding clone pens. I really need to look at the pictures in these eBay listings more closely!)

Since this is a clone pen, I’m not going to bother commenting on the design aspects of the Jinhao 991 other than to say it’s a plastic pen with a metal clip and a steel nib. The proportions of the pen are long and slim, and it’s comparable in size to the Lamy Safari.

L to R: Kaweco Sport, Jinhao 991, Lamy Vista/Safari
L to R: Kaweco Sport, Jinhao 991, Lamy Vista/Safari
L to R: Kaweco Sport, Jinhao 991, Lamy Vista/Safari

The 991 is available in a variety of colors, both solid and translucent. I chose the clear frosted version. The plastic feels nice and sturdy, and I didn’t find any bubbles or blemishes other than some faint molding marks. There were no cracks of any kind when I received the pen, nor have any cracks appeared in the several months since.

The cap snaps on and off from the barrel, and it can be easily and securely posted. A “Jinhao” wordmark is stamped on the clip.

There’s a liner within the cap to help keep the nib from drying out.

The 991 is a cartridge/converter pen that comes with a piston-style converter. The included converter appears to be standard international size, but I can’t confirm that as I haven’t tried converters from other brands in this particular pen. Jinhao converters have performed well for me, and this one is no exception.

There are no metal parts in the section or barrel and the barrel is watertight, so the 991 is a candidate for an eyedropper conversion.

The section is slim, on par with the Pilot Metropolitan. It’s round in shape and has a slight lip where the nib meets the feed. The section is generous in length and smooth overall, so it should be suitable for those who like to hold their pens higher up. As someone with a standard tripod grip and small hands, I found the 991 to be very comfortable, and nicely balanced despite its light weight. When I use it unposted, as is my preference, the pen is the perfect length.

Let’s discuss the business end of the pen: the nib. The 991 shares the same nib as the 992, and I’m happy to report that the nib on this 991 is just as good as the ones on the 992s I’ve tried. It might be a steel nib on a cheap pen, but it’s a lovely writer: smooth, with excellent ink flow. The nib comes in two sizes, EF and F. The F nib on my pen produces a line between a Japanese and Western fine, with no line variation due to the round tipping on the nib.

While doing research for this post, I discovered that there’s another version of the 991 with a hooded nib. If you have this hooded 991, I’d love to hear your thoughts about it.

I purchased my 991 on eBay for $3.60, including shipping. Suffice to say, the nib itself is worth the price of admission.

The JINHAOOOOOOOOOOOO 991 is howlingly good nib trapped in a meh body. If you can get over the fact that it’s a clone, it’s a nice, all-purpose pen, suitable for writing a long letter, loaning to a friend, or trying out some temperamental inks, at a price that won’t make you sad if something bad happens to it.

Dear Jinhao, if you’re reading this, please make a pen with the same nib and feed as the 991, and put it inside an original design of your own creation. All the pieces are there, just waiting for you to make something special.

This Jinhao 991 was paid for with my own funds. My opinions on this blog are always my own. Please see my review ethics statement for more details.


The Penton F20 Demonstrator Will Bring You a Barrel Full of Sadness

I don’t often come across a pen with no redeeming qualities, but the Penton F20 is one such example. I certainly won’t begrudge you if you decide to stop reading this now instead of wasting your time on this horrible pen, but for those of you who like a good pen rant, I’m about to tell you all the ways this pen sucks.

I ordered my F20 with excitement after my favorable experience with the Penton F10 demonstrator. And once the slow boat from China brought the F20 to my mailbox, things seemed to be going well as I removed the plastic wrapper and found a decent-looking pen.

Is this a rip-off of another pen’s design? I have no idea. It’s vaguely Prera-esque, though larger in size and with a different clip and cap band.

Design particulars aside, the F20 is a clear plastic demonstrator, with a clear feed and a steel nib.

It’s comparable in size with the Lamy Safari.

L to R: Kaweco Sport, Penton F20, Lamy Safari/Vista
L to R: Kaweco Sport, Penton F20, Lamy Safari/Vista
L to R: Kaweco Sport, Penton F20, Lamy Safari/Vista

The cap is clear plastic with silver metal fittings and no cap liner. Removing the cap requires a couple of complete turns, which I find annoying as I like to be able to uncap a pen quickly. The finial has visible threads where it screws onto the cap body, and this is where the clip is secured to the pen.

Penton should have left the clip off entirely, as it’s the worst I’ve ever seen on a pen. It measures less than an inch long, which is odd enough, and it’s far too stiff to be usable. I broke a fingernail trying to lift the clip just to slide a piece of paper under it, and I ended up using a screwdriver to pry it open. Its only functional feature is as a roll-stop.

The cap band is unoffensive, though the “Penton” branding is stamped upside down.

The plastic used in the F20 is thin and flimsy, and I found dirt-like specks embedded in several places. They proved difficult to photograph clearly, but I can see them and they drive me crazy. There are also machining marks and scratches all over the barrel.

Compared to the build quality of the F10, the F20 is a huge disappointment.

There’s a blind cap at the end of the barrel that holds a slim, silver ring of trim in place. The blind cap is secured with screw threads, and there’s an o-ring inside that keeps the F20 eligible for eyedropper conversion.

The F20 comes with a converter, though most of the marketing photos show the pen being used as an eyedropper. The converter appears to be a standard international size. I’ve used several converters from Chinese manufacturers, and this one is the worst of the lot. It’s poorly made, the parts feel wobbly, and ink quickly began to leak behind its piston.

The section is round and slim. I’d say it’s comparable in size to the section on a Pilot Metropolitan. The section is reasonably long, and the screw threads for the cap are gentle, so those of you with unorthodox grips can also subject yourselves to this terrible pen if you’re feeling masochistic.

In the hand, the F20 feels insubstantial and cheap. I suppose you could say it’s balanced, but there’s hardly any plastic there to balance. Anyway, I didn’t spend much time thinking about how it felt to write with the F20 because I could hardly get it to write at all.

The F20 comes with a generic steel “iridium point” nib, and the one on my pen is a very hard starter. Out of the dozen Chinese pens I’ve purchased so far, the F20 is the first pen that didn’t write perfectly out of the box. When I could get it to write, it produced a line in that middle ground between a Japanese and Western fine.

I’m not afraid to try tuning a nib on a cheap pen, and I spent 30 minutes with some micromesh and two different well-behaved inks (Pilot Blue-Black and Iroshizuku Yu-yake) and still couldn’t get it to start consistently.

After that, I was done. I’m sure a more experienced nib tuner could get this pen working, but after dealing with the annoying clip, the scratched plastic, and the janky converter, I’m not willing to spend any more time on a $6 pen when I have so many other, more compelling pens in my collection.

With the F10, Penton showed it can make a good fountain pen, but the F20 is a failure in nearly every way. I suggest you give it a hard pass, and spend your six bucks elsewhere.

This Penton F20 was paid for with my own funds. My opinions on this blog are always my own. Please see my review ethics statement for more details.

The Pilot Plumix Is the Porpoise of the Inky Seas

Any way you splash it, the Pilot Plumix is an ugly pen. So it’s a good thing I don’t judge pens by their blubber, because I’d be missing out on one of the cheapest ways to try a cursive italic nib.

The Pilot Plumix is a plastic fountain pen with unusual proportions. I’d call it “high-waisted” but a marketer would probably spin that as “streamlined.” The pen has a short, stubby cap that screws onto the section. There is no clip, and the cap has two protruding wings on either side which prevent it from rolling away on a desk. While it’s possible to post the cap, it results in a pen that looks even more comical. (You’ll see a photo of that later on.)

The barrel is long, slim, and asymmetrical in shape, much to the annoyance of every pen blogger who’s tried to photograph this critter.

This is a long pen, especially when capped or unposted. When posted, it’s the second longest pen in my collection after the Lamy Vista/Safari.

L to R: Kaweco Sport, Pilot Plumix, Lamy Vista/Safari
L to R: Kaweco Sport, Pilot Plumix, Lamy Vista/Safari
L to R: Kaweco Sport, Pilot Plumix, Lamy Vista/Safari

Like its cousin the Pilot Kaküno, the Plumix has a triangular-shaped section. However, its edges are more rounded than the Kaküno’s section, and I found the Plumix to be the more comfortable pen after writing several pages with my standard tripod grip.

In terms of width, the Plumix’s section is comparable to the Kaküno’s, which in turn is slightly wider than the Pilot Metropolitan’s. Due to the presence of cap threads, the section on the Plumix is pushed further back from the point of the nib, so those of you who like to grip your pens as close to the paper as possible might find it disconcerting. The Plumix definitely forced my grip a little higher than I’m used to, but not enough to be a dealbreaker. The pen is very lightweight, but balanced when unposted. As always, I must mention that I have smaller hands, so your experience may differ.

Like most modern Pilots, ink is stored in a Pilot-proprietary converter or cartridge. The barrel is watertight so an eyedropper conversion is possible, though I haven’t personally tried it. The Plumix comes with a cartridge of Pilot Blue ink to get you started. I used up the cartridge that came with my pen long ago, so in this post, you’ll see a cartridge I filled with Diamine Ancient Copper.

The Plumix is available with a variety of nibs, but the star of the show is the “1.0mm medium stub”, which is closer to a cursive italic in practice.

It’s a Pilot steel nib, and this one is up to Pilot’s usual excellence, as it’s a smooth writer with no flex. However, all the cursive italic (CI) caveats apply: your experience will largely depend on your grip and writing angle. If you don’t hold a CI pen just so, you’ll find the nib to be scratchy and it’ll catch on the paper. But once you find that sweet spot, this nib really sings.

I forgot to take a picture of a good writing sample before I went overseas (doh!) but here’s a partial one. The words “Packing has begun!” and “Pens are being cleaned!” were written with the Plumix. You can see a clear difference between the Plumix’s CI nib and a typical F nib.

I’ve seen the Plumix on sale for as little as $7.25, which makes it the most inexpensive entry point to cursive italic nibs I know of. Even better, the Plumix shares the same nib as the Pilot Metropolitan, Kaküno, Prera, and Penmanship, so if you have one of those pens you can do some nib swapping and try a CI nib on the pen you like.

The Pilot Plumix isn’t the cutest critter in the inky seas, but it’s a great way to get a nice CI nib on the cheap, and for that it gets my stamp of approval.

Updated Friday, Jan 19, 10:50am EET: Added Pilot Penmanship to the list of pens that the Plumix’s nib can be swapped into. (Thanks to Julie Paradise for the info!)

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

The Wing Sung 618 Is the Good Kind of Chimera

To behold a Wing Sung 618 is to behold a chimera: that Parker-esque clip, that Sailor-esque cap band, that TWSBI-esque piston mechanism. With all these -esques, is it any surprise this pen is made in China?

But the Wing Sung 618 isn’t the typical Chinese clone, and in fact I hesitate to call it a clone at all. It’s more of a mash-up of good ideas from some very good pens, and the big question is: did Wing Sung put them all together to make a coherent whole?

Let’s start with the basics. The 618 is a plastic pen with a piston filling mechanism. Originally available as a clear demonstrator, there are now several different colors to choose from, all demonstrators, ranging from red and blue to sparkly pink and green. The trim is available in silver or gold. There’s even a 12k gold nib option if you’re feeling extra fancy.

My 618 is the clear version with silver trim and a steel nib.

The cap opens just shy of a single turn, revealing something interesting: a hooded nib in demonstrator form.

A clear feed with a hooded nib? INSTANT HEART EYES. 😍

The section is generally narrow, but its conical shape means the diameter varies depending on where you hold it. I’d say that the section width ranges from a Pilot Metropolitan to the Lamy Safari in size.

In terms of dimensions, the 618 is comparable with the Lamy Safari/Vista.

I found the 618 comfortable to use for all kinds of writing, from short notes to multiple pages. It’s not a heavy pen, but it still feels substantial. When writing with it unposted, it’s nicely balanced in my hand. Posting the cap threw the balance off in a way I found unpleasant. I also couldn’t make the cap post securely without it wiggling loose after a while. Lucky for me, I only post pens for science.

The cap is transparent, accented with silver-colored fittings. The clip is a clear knockoff of the venerable Parker arrow. It’s nothing special, just a simple one-piece with a bend into the finial, but it’s secure without being too tight. The cap finial is a simple silver dome. Inside is a cap liner made from a slightly smoky-colored plastic. It’s one of the better cap liners I’ve seen in a demonstrator because the nib is still easy to see when the pen is capped.

The cap band is another design knockoff, this time from Sailor. It’s engraved with “WING SUNG 618 MADE IN CHINA”.

I don’t know what the fittings are made from, but in the two months I’ve had this pen, they’ve kept their silver color.

Demonstrator fans will enjoy looking at the barrel end of the 618, because there’s a lot to see. There’s a piston mechanism that’s similar to the ones in TWSBI pens, and a blind cap that operates the piston when twisted.

It’s here that Wing Sung has added a feature that I’ve never seen on a piston pen: a locking blind cap. Look closely at the next photo, and note the notch in the silver ring where the blind cap meets the barrel.

This notch has a corresponding mate on the blind cap itself. To unlock the blind cap, pull it away from the barrel. To lock it, line up the notches and push the cap in until it clicks. It’s a simple design that keeps the blind cap from rattling and spinning around.

Once you understand how the blind cap locks and unlocks, filling this pen is a breeze. Unlock the blind cap, dunk the nib into the ink far enough to cover the opening in the hood, and twist until the pen loads up about a gallon of ink. Lock the blind cap and you’ll be writing for a long time before you need a refill.

The nib on this pen is steel, though the 618 is also available with a 12k gold nib for five times the price of the steel nib version ($50 vs $10.)

This pen was advertised as having a fine nib and it makes a line somewhere between a Japanese fine and a Japanese medium. Like most steel nibs, it’s a nail, so don’t expect any flex or line variation. The nib wrote smoothly out of the box and didn’t require any tuning. I enjoy writing with it, though I wish it was a smidge wider. Fine and extra fine nibs are available for the 618, but nothing else, alas.

The overall construction is excellent. The plastic appears to be high-quality, and there were no mold lines or sprue left over from the manufacturing process. In my opinion, this pen is better constructed than the pens offered by the major manufacturers in the $20-$40 price range.

As with most Chinese pens, if you want a 618 and you don’t speak Chinese, you’ll have to look on eBay. Buyer beware: it’s like the Wild West out there, and counterfeits of Wing Sung pens do exist. FPN is a good resource for locating reputable eBay sellers. I purchased my 618 for $12.90 from seller art-pen-book-dy. The price has actually dropped to $9.52 since I bought mine in September, making the 618 an even better deal today. I like my 618 so much I’m not even mad I missed the lower price.

The Wing Sung 618 is like a Parker 51 and a TWSBI ECO got together and made a beautiful baby. It’s the best parts of other pens put together and the end result is perfectly executed. And you can buy one for less than $10! Hot damn, I want to see more of this from Chinese manufacturers. More mashups, less clones!

This Wing Sung 618 was paid for with my own funds. My opinions on this blog are always my own. Please see my review ethics statement for more details.

The Kaweco Sport Puts a Workhorse In Your Pocket

Why hello there! I’ve just rolled out from under a small mountain of Thanksgiving leftovers, and all that feasting has put me in need of a digestif. Some pen talk about this minty-fresh Kaweco Skyline Sport sounds just about perfect.

I originally wanted to open this post with a size joke about the “wee little Ka-wee-co Sport” but I’ve been told by a German-speaker that’s it’s actually “Kah-veh-ko”. So much for that joke, but I learned something new, and maybe so have you.

The pen we call the modern Kaweco Sport has been around nearly twenty years. In that time, the model range has expanded enough to require things like this comprehensive guide that covers every model of the Kaweco Sport from fountain pen to mechanical pencil and every color from classic black to carbon-fiber-and-ferrari. (That last one is the name I made up for the red AC Sport.)

This is a pen that’s been thoroughly talked about, reviewed, and recommended as a beginner and entry-level pen, and now that I’ve had my Sport for a few months I’m ready to weigh in with some thoughts of my own.

First of all, this pen is truly a wee little thing. It’s adorable.

Spin the cap slightly more than a turn and it’ll slide free, and like a magician’s trick it reveals a pen barely larger than the cap protecting it, crowned by a tiny, tiny nib. It’s almost comical.

I knew this was a small pen after reading about its dimensions, but seeing numbers on a screen is not the same as holding the actual object in your hands. It’s one of those rare pens that I have to post to use comfortably. When posted, the pen is a perfect fit for me, but I have smaller hands than most. This is definitely a “try it before you buy it” pen due to its weird proportions.

Your first instinct upon opening this pen is going to be to post it, even if you’re like me and rarely ever post your pens. It’s okay, this pen’s made to be posted. The downside for me is that posting this pen brings out some of my latent OCD tendencies. I have to have the “Kaweco Sport” logo on the cap in line with the nib slit or it drives me bonkers.

For a plastic pen that costs around $20, Kaweco has managed to make it feel like a more expensive offering. Much of that has to do with the design, which is unique and visually interesting. The faceted cap also adds a tactile dimension; I often find myself using this pen as an impromptu fidget toy, spinning it around in my fingers. This is something I just don’t do with other pens.

The design details continue with the silver-colored finial set into the end of the cap and the clean font used for the “made in germany” at the end of the barrel. It’s here that you can see the dimple and molding sprue left over from the manufacturing process. This is a cheap plastic pen! But it doesn’t feel like one.

Compared to a Kaweco Sport, the TWSBI Diamond Mini looks big, and the Lamy Vista looks enormous.

The Sport is a cartridge/converter pen. I’ve been using the cartridge of Kaweco Blue that came with it, and I don’t plan to buy a converter as I have plenty of short international size cartridges. There’s no metal in the barrel or section so an eyedropper conversion is an option.

I found the Sport’s section to be wider than I expected. It’s slightly wider than a Pilot Metropolitan’s section, and it’s comfortable to hold. The cap threads aren’t sharp and there’s not a large step up to the barrel. However, the section itself is rather short, and those with larger fingers might find it constricting.

The only flaw with this pen is that it has visible mold lines on either side of the section. You can see one of the lines in the next photo. They’re prominent enough for me to feel them when I grip the pen, but not so annoying that I don’t want to write with it.

As for the writing experience, the Kaweco Sport is fine. Not spectacular, not awful, just fine. I was slightly surprised that I didn’t need to adjust the nib out of the box, given the reputation of Kaweco nibs.

The nib is a steel nail, with a smidge of feedback reminiscent of a Lamy Safari nib. It’s a bit on the dry side. The only thing I don’t like about this pen is that it’s a hard starter if I pause too long between words. The nib dries out so quickly that I end up priming it over and over and over again, which is annoying. It’s a good pen for quick notes, but not so good for writing long, thoughtful pieces. The cap does a good job of sealing the nib during storage as the pen starts up nicely after being uncapped.

My pen has a fine nib, and it puts down a Western fine line.

I can definitely see why the Kaweco Sport is so popular. It’s not too expensive, it’s a decent writer, and it has a unique look. But it really has that it factor that all classic pens have. Not bad for a pocket-sized workhorse.

This Kaweco Skyline Sport was paid for with my own funds. My opinions on this blog are always my own. Please see my review ethics statement for more details.