Snap Judgments: Hero 1202 Demonstrator

Chinese pen manufacturers are on a serious clear demonstrator kick at the moment. For those of us with a thing for naked pens, this is our time! The Hero 1202 is one such pen, readily available on eBay for $3.78 USD (including shipping!) Let’s see if it’s the hero we need, or a villain in disguise.

The Hero 1202 sits in the smaller end of the size spectrum. It’s slightly shorter than the Pilot Metropolitan when capped and uncapped.

On the scale with a partial fill of ink in the converter, the 1202 weighs in at a feather-light 9g without a cap and 14g with. This lack of heft is due to the fact that the pen is made of very thin plastic, which makes it feel cheap and uninspiring. The barrel has a faint mold line, which is usually not present on quality pens. There are also a couple of tiny opaque blemishes on the cap near the band. Compared to the Penton F10, another Chinese demonstrator pen, the 1202’s plastic just doesn’t feel as solid. Of course, neither of these pens compare well against higher quality plastic pens such as the TWSBI ECO or the Lamy Vista, but at this price point that’s to be expected.

Chinese pen manufacturers are known for churning out thousands of low quality clones of popular name-brand pens. I try to avoid clones as much as possible, but I don’t think the Hero 1202 is a clone of an already existing pen. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.) It’s reminiscent of certain Sailor pens, though the overall design feels more like the epitome of the “generic fountain pen” than anything else.

The barrel end is plain, but it’s watertight, which ought to make the eyedropper fans out there perk up and take notice.

While turning this pen into an eyedropper is an option, it comes with a converter included. The converter appears to be the standard international size, but I haven’t confirmed it. A small metal spring inside the converter acts as an agitator. The body of the converter doesn’t hold much ink, but it works well.

The 1202 comes with gold trim on the cap and section, along with a matching gold nib. The cap screws on and off in 1.5 turns, and it has a simple stamped metal clip.

You can remove the clip by unscrewing the finial.

The clip is stamped with “HERO”. I’m not sure what method was used to color the clip gold, but it seems to be holding up so far without any chipping or tarnishing. In use, the clip feels surprisingly sturdy. It takes some coaxing to get the clip to open, but once in place it feels secure.

There’s no real cap band to speak of, though there are a couple of thin gold rings printed onto the plastic along with some brand and model markings. The printing is thin and beginning to wear off in some places.

Unscrewing the cap reveals a slim, round section with a translucent feed. I love, love, love these kind of feeds. Let me see my beautiful ink!

The section is 20mm long, with a very gentle step up to the barrel. There’s a thin ring of gold trim between the section and the barrel, which has unfortunately begun to tarnish with use. The cap threads are shallow and don’t get in the way of my grip. At only 8mm in diameter at its most narrow, the section is a hair smaller than that of a Pilot Metropolitan. This is definitely a pen for those who prefer thinner sections.

In the hand, the 1202 feels balanced, but it’s one of the rare pens that I prefer to use posted as it’s almost too light to be comfortable without the extra weight of the cap.

A gold colored steel nib sits in the business end of the pen. The nib is tastefully embellished with a vine-like design and Hero brand mark. While the nib is described as a fine, it’s more of an extra-fine, putting down a thinner line than my Pilots with fine nibs. I haven’t been able to find this pen with nibs in other sizes.

The nib wrote smoothly out of the box (or wrapper in this case), but it does have that feedback common to thinner nibs. The tipping is a simple ball and the steel nib is a nail, so expect no line variation here. While the nib is thinner than I like and does my handwriting no favors, it’s a surprisingly decent nib for a pen this price.

The Hero 1202 isn’t likely to wow anyone. It feels a bit flimsy and who knows how long the trim will last before wearing off or tarnishing. But if you like EF nibs or showing off your ink, this could be a pen to take a chance on since it’s so inexpensive. I’ve been using mine to play with temperamental inks like J. Herbin Rouge Hematite, and for that purpose I’m more than satisfied.

Things I like about the Hero 1202: smooth writer (for an EF) out of the box

Things I don’t like: thin plastic, poor trim quality

This Hero 1202 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.

Advertisements

Let’s Talk About the Pilot Kaküno

The Pilot Kaküno is a pen that wouldn’t look out of place in the hands of a seven-year-old. It’s chunky and plastic. Its nib has a smiley face on it. Aurora wouldn’t make this pen, nor would Montblanc, and in a time when the majority of fountain pens seem designed for the boardroom instead of the classroom, the Kaküno’s youthfulness makes it stand out from the crowd. But can a pen for kids be any good? Let’s take a look.

The Kaküno has been around long enough that volumes have already been written about it. I’m not going to rehash all those reviews — if you’re interested in reading more, I’ve linked to several of them at the end of this post. Instead, I’m going to discuss my experience with the two Kakünos I own.

First, some basics if you’ve never seen this pen before. The Pilot Kaküno is a lightweight plastic fountain pen with a steel nib that takes Pilot proprietary ink cartridges or converters. The cap is clipless, but has a roll stop. The section has a rounded hexagonal shape, ostensibly for teaching children the proper grip.

Everything about the Kaküno is super kawaii. The packaging is colorful and easy to open, and the instruction pamphlet features cartoon drawings that are easy to understand even though I’m an American who doesn’t speak a lick of Japanese. And just look at these nibs…

THEY PUT A SMILEY FACE ON THE NIB.

This is what I look like whenever I see this pen:

Most people will either love how the Kaküno looks or hate it.

Back in Japan, Pilot sells the Kaküno in a wide array of color combinations. Unfortunately, they’ve chosen not to import all the available colorways to the US. Kakünos with light grey or white barrels and brightly colored caps can be found in the United States for less than $20, and often less than $12. If you want a different color, you’ll have to import it yourself, like I did with this clear version.

I just can’t resist a clear demonstrator.

The Kaküno is a compact pen, but when it’s uncapped, it’s comparable in size to the Pilot Metropolitan and the Lamy Safari/AL-star/Vista.

L to R: Pilot Metropolitan, Pilot Kaküno, Lamy Vista
L to R: Pilot Metropolitan, Pilot Kaküno, Lamy Vista

As an all-plastic pen, it weighs about as much as a feather in a gentle summer’s breeze, but don’t take that to mean it’s insubstantial. On the contrary, it feels well constructed. The plastic is comparable to the Lamy Vista’s, and far better than the dollar Jinhaos and Wing Sungs I’ve been playing with lately.

“YES THAT’S NICE, BUT HOW DOES IT WRITE?” I can hear you asking.

The Pilot Kaküno writes… okay.

I know that sounds tepid. But this pen can be a beautifully smooth writer, with a couple big caveats. First caveat: both of my pens needed their nibs to be tuned before they wrote nicely. The first Kaküno I bought had horrible baby’s bottom from the start. Bummer. The second Kaküno isn’t as bad; it writes smoothly, but still has an occasional skip, even with inks that behave well in other pens. Double bummer. I realize that two nibs is a small sample size, but I’ve never had this problem with other Pilot pens. Maybe the factory thinks little kids don’t care about the occasional hard start?

The second caveat is the hexagonal section. I use a traditional tripod grip, so much so that the Lamy Safari’s shaped section doesn’t bother me at all. But when I use my normal grip with the Kaküno’s section, the nib is slightly rotated to the left. This means that both tines don’t touch the paper evenly, and the nib is scratchy. I end up rotating the pen in my fingers, against the shape of the section, in order to find the nib’s sweet spot. I’ve found a grip that works for me, but it’s not comfortable for long writing sessions.

Based on my experiences, I can’t recommend the Pilot Kaküno to beginners as a first pen. However, I do consider it to be a good tinkerer’s pen. Like the nib but hate the section? Swap it into a Metropolitan or a Plumix. Or maybe you’re like me and really love how this pen looks and know how to tune a nib. It’s inexpensive enough to take a chance on, but I recommend trying one in person before you buy.

Some good reviews of the Pilot Kaküno:

Do you have a Kaküno? Did it write perfectly out of the box? Did I just get unlucky with these two?

I paid for both of my Pilot Kakünos with my own funds. My opinions on this blog are always my own. Please see my review ethics statement for more details.

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:

Maybe the Jinhao 992 Ain’t All It’s Cracked up to Be

I was ready to sing the praises of my latest ridiculously-cheap pen acquisition, the Jinhao 992 (aka the 922, aka the Spiral, aka the drunken sailor), when I glanced at my pen and spotted a curious glint at the end of the barrel…

Those would be cracks. I’ve kept this pen on my desk for the week I’ve had it, and it’s never been dropped or mishandled while in my possession. Though I can’t say for certain the cracks were there when the pen arrived, I can count three cracks today when there were only two yesterday. That’s not good.

According to this thread on FPN, I’m not the only one seeing cracking issues with their 992s, including some reports of catastrophic failures that involved caps and barrels snapping in half. This is some early-TWSBI-level crackery.

So I feel confident in saying that the Jinhao 992 is a pen you should avoid.

It’s a damn shame, since the pen is an otherwise wonderful writer with a nice, smooth nib. I guess paying $1.50 for a fountain pen (including shipping! including a converter!) really is too good to be true.

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