Tuesday, March 31, 2020

REVIEW: PILOT CUSTOM 743 FOUNTAIN PEN & FA NIB

Review: Pilot Custom 743 fountain pen + Falcon FA nib
In my - possibly neverending - search for the best possible modern flex nib, we've arrived at a very cool pen from Pilot that I've been wanting to try out for a very long time: the Pilot Custom 743. The only thing standing in my way up until this point has been Pilot Europe's ongoing ignorance (or restrictions from higher up?) of their luxury writing branch, leaving European vendors behind empty-handed on a lot of awesome products.

Early this year - about 3 years too late, mind you - the Pilot 823, 845 urushi and Custom urushi FINALLY made it over to the European market. While an improvement for sure, we're still eagerly waiting for the rest of Pilot's offerings (the Custom 912 or 743, for example) especially with Pilot's exquisite specialty nibs like the Waverly (WA), Posting (PO), Stub (SU), or the nib I'll be showing today: the Falcon (FA)!

Because chances of getting the Custom 743 here in Europe are slim for the time being, I instead sourced it from a Japan-based retailer. The only problem - as some of you will know - is that most Japanese web stores can be really difficult to navigate, even with help from Google Translate. So, luckily, I found out about PenSachi! With their English website (and English-speaking staff), PenSachi aims to make hard-to-get special and limited editions from Sailor, Platinum, and Pilot more readily available for customers outside Japan. My thanks to them for helping me get my hands on a 743 for this review!
Review: Pilot Custom 743 fountain pen + Falcon FA nib
Pilot Custom 743 (bottom) and 823 (top)
The Custom 743 leans very close to the Custom 823 (that I reviewed a few years ago), especially in terms of the overall design. But there are some key differences as well, particularly on the inside!
Review: Pilot Custom 743 fountain pen + Falcon FA nib
Enamel-filled letters on the center band complete the low-key appearance of the 743
I'd categorize the 743 as a 'business'-style design, fitting right in with the rest of Pilot's rather understated Custom and Custom Heritage pens. A no-frills, black+gold pen that doesn't try to stand out between analogs like the Montblanc Meisterstück, Sailor 1911 or Platinum Century 3776. If anything, I find that the design appears a bit more streamlined and retro than its competitors - probably due to Pilot's typical ball end clip.
Review: Pilot Custom 743 fountain pen + Falcon FA nib
Pilot Custom 743 (bottom) and 823 (top)
I think there's something to be said for the simplicity of the Custom 743. On the outside, it's an elegant and slender cigar-shaped pen in black resin, detailed with plenty of gold trim without looking gaudy. The 743 and 823 are identical except for the semi-translucent resin of the 823 (although the smoke grey 823 appears almost black in person) and a slightly longer, more tapered barrel finial on the 823 which is actually the blind cap for the vacuum filling mechanism, as opposed to just an aesthetic detail on the 743. 
Review: Pilot Custom 743 fountain pen + Falcon FA nib
The vacuum filling system of the 823 is an excellent choice when you absolutely want/need a high ink capacity (2.5 mL) for daily use. But the 743's con-70 converter is not at all a bad alternative, with more than adequate capacity (about 1 mL, almost twice as much as a standard international converter), and a practical pump filling system. Another way to look at it is this: with the 823 you have to stick to one ink for a considerable time, the 743 gives you the ability to change inks a bit more frequently.
Review: Pilot Custom 743 fountain pen + Falcon FA nib
Review: Pilot Custom 743 fountain pen + Falcon FA nib
L to R: Pelikan M805, Platinum Century 3776, Pilot Justus 95, Pilot Custom 823, Pilot Custom 743, Lamy 2000, Lamy Safari
The Pilot Custom 743 is a large pen that doesn't feel large. It's light (26 g total) and nimble in the hand, and about a fraction slimmer than a Pelikan M800. Those things, combined with the excellent grip shape and unobtrusive threads, make for an excellent pen to use. In terms of length (14.8 cm/ 5.8" capped, 13.1 cm/ 5.16" uncapped), it's a touch longer than a Montblanc 149, making it ideal even for people with larger hands (unless you have a strong preference for girthier pens). Comfort-wise, it's hard to knock these pens.
Review: Pilot Custom 743 fountain pen + Falcon FA nib
FA nib on the 743 (left), medium nib on the 823 (right)
We've finally come to the ACTUAL reason why you'd choose the 743 over the 823: the nib! Both use Pilot's 14k gold, #15-size nib (same size as a #6 nib from other brands), but as I already mentioned, the 743 gets a few more interesting options than the 823, in this case the flexible Falcon (FA) nib. Confusingly, it's not the same as Pilot's similarly named Falcon fountain pen. Whereas the Pilot Falcon PEN has a nib that's best described as springy and soft, the FA NIB on the 743 comes closer to a true modern flex nib.

The FA certainly has the design cues of a flex nib: a slender profile with long and strongly tapered tines, cutouts on the side, and very minimal branding on the nib face (I was told once that the less intricate stamping is done to prevent structural weak points, which is of course very important on a flexible nib!). It may look a bit bland in comparison to the regular scrollwork on Pilot's nibs, but that's a trade-off I'm willing to make for a flexible writing experience.
Review: Pilot Custom 743 fountain pen + Falcon FA nib
The FA nib is definitely suitable for everyday use, provide you don't have a heavy hand. With normal writing pressure, the nib is just stiff enough to still provide a pretty comfortable writing experience. The EF-F tipping provides a noticeable (and audible) amount of feedback while writing.

Looking at the FA purely for flex writing, it does come with a little side note: since it's a Japanese-made nib, it's designed for the short brush-like strokes of Japanese calligraphy, not really for Western writing styles. Continuously flexing the nib will make it railroad because the feed isn't designed to keep up.

If you take it slowly though, this nib is pleasantly springy and responsive and produces excellent results as far as line variation goes. The tines open up quite easily to a little over 1mm, or 1.3mm when pushed to the limit. It's probably worth suggesting, given that this is not a cheap pen like a Noodler's or the FPR Himalaya I reviewed last week, I'd probably suggest not pushing the nib to the limit (never a great idea). Still, variation from EF to BB is nothing to be scoffed at. Because it starts off as a rather fine line, that's more than enough variation to give a dramatic effect to your writing.
Review: Pilot Custom 743 fountain pen + Falcon FA nib
I'm generally not one to make a case for matching pen and ink of the same manufacturer. However, with some Pilot pens, like this one, I've noticed slight improvements sticking with Iroshizuku inks (I haven't really systematically tested this theory though, so your mileage may vary!). I wrote this review with Pelikan Edelstein Onyx (generally a good performing ink for flex nibs), but there were some occasional skips on downstrokes and as expected the feed starved after writing a few words with heavy flexing (pushing the limits of the nib, mind you). Switching to Iroshizuku Tsuki-Yo made a noticeable improvement. Even with fast flex writing, the feed seemed to recover faster from getting starved (It will still railroad periodically, but the flow immediately picks up again), and the nib no longer skipped.
Review: Pilot Custom 743 fountain pen + Falcon FA nib
The Pilot 743, just like the 823, manages to impress in so many ways. The no-frills, workhorse design means serious business, and under the hood, it packs some serious performance. The FA nib adds a bit of playfulness to the mix. It's an excellent option to get your hands on modern flex: a pleasantly soft and responsive flex nib, that gives plenty of line variation.

Given that the 743 and 823 are identical in design and price - both retail for 265$ at PenSachi - deciding between the two will boil down to choosing either a high-capacity filling system or one of Pilot's many interesting specialty nibs, you can't have both. Either way, you're getting a lot of pen for essentially (less than) half the price of a Pelikan M800 or Montblanc 146!

Note: PenSachi provided this product at a discount, so I could write this review. I was in no way influenced in the making of this review, the opinions shared in this review are completely my own! This post does not contain affiliate links.
Review: Pilot Custom 743 fountain pen + Falcon FA nib

Monday, March 23, 2020

REVIEW: ASTON LEATHER PEN CASE

REVIEW: ASTON LEATHER ZIPPERED PEN CASE
Despite the name of this website, pen cases and storage options have never been my number one priority. I've reviewed a couple throughout the years (Visconti Dreamtouch case, Franklin-Christoph Penvelope, Frara Road pen roll, One Star Leather pen sleeves,...), but we're going to do things a bit more seriously from now on. Let the search for the ultimate pen case begin!

Today's review took me to Goulet Pens, to take a look at a very traditional style of carrying (fountain) pens: the zippered, folio-style pen case. More specific, the 10 pen case by Aston Leather. "Why this particular brand?", one might ask. Well, if you've followed the Goulet Pens YouTube channel  (which used to be just founder Brian Goulet, filming from his kitchen table!) long enough, you'll undoubtedly have seen Brian using these exact cases for his personal daily carry. Besides having a nice premium appearance, what has always stuck with me is that these Aston cases use a slightly different setup inside to hold the pens, that differentiates this case from the rest -at least in my opinion.
REVIEW: ASTON LEATHER ZIPPERED PEN CASE
Aston uses 'top grain' leather for this case. For those that aren't familiar, top grain is when full-grain leather (which is the complete skin) is sanded down to remove the textured top layer. So top grain DOESN'T have a top layer? [CONFUSING] Because of the sanding step, the leather that's left behind is easier to work with because it's thinner, and it has fairly little texture. The leather is coated and sealed more so than full-grain, to add a protective barrier, which creates a shiny and uniform look on the leather surface. 

The treated leather gives the case a classy appearance that matches well with the traditional and rather conservative overall design (as far as these folio-style zippered cases go, they all look roughly the same). The leather is dyed and can be had in four earthy brown or black colors (this is the 'Cognac'). The case is unbranded on the outside and is finished with a plastic zipper and weathered brass zipper pull. It's simple and unassuming on the outside, which I think is a positive. 
REVIEW: ASTON LEATHER ZIPPERED PEN CASE
The only design choice I don't necessarily love is how the zipper is actually a single piece that wraps all the way around the edge and folds over at the top of the spine. I think it would've looked classier if it was tucked into the lining of the case (as it's done on the other end of the case). On the plus side, it does perhaps allow the case to open up flat a bit easier.
REVIEW: ASTON LEATHER ZIPPERED PEN CASE
REVIEW: ASTON LEATHER ZIPPERED PEN CASE
L to R: Aston 10 pen case, Franklin-Christoph Penvelope 6, Visconti Dreamtouch 6, Frara Road 6 pen roll. Note that the Frara Road roll would be considerably thicker when filled with pens!
The Aston 10 pen case is surprisingly compact considering its generous 10 pen capacity. Measuring about 23 cm (9") by 19 cm (7.5"), with a thickness of 4 cm (1.6"), it's roughly the size of a book and so it's still very much able to fit in a bag or backpack. Compared to the Franklin-Christoph Penvelope 6, Visconti Dreamtouch 6, and Frara Road pen roll - all built to hold 6 pens - the Aston case is not that much larger, despite holding almost twice as many pens!
REVIEW: ASTON LEATHER ZIPPERED PEN CASE
REVIEW: ASTON LEATHER ZIPPERED PEN CASE
Build quality on this case is quite good. Everything is stitched together cleanly with a fine thread that matches the color of the case. The elastic loops are attached straight and the slots are evenly spaced. On the inside of the case, the spine of the case is reinforced with an extra piece of leather.
REVIEW: ASTON LEATHER ZIPPERED PEN CASE
As I said at the beginning of this review, the reason why I chose to review the Aston case, is their different approach on the inside. Aston's cases feature double elastic bands per pen. If you know me, you know that I'm incredibly OCD about avoiding my pens hitting each other, which is what happens when they're kept in place by a single elastic band. The double elastic is a feature that you don't see very often at all (to my knowledge only three brands that do this: Franklin-Christoph, Girologio, and this one), so Aston immediately scores some bonus points for that.

Now, there's a good and a bad about double elastics. The good is obviously that it does a better job keeping your pens in place (especially narrow pens that would otherwise have too much wiggle room). The bad is that it's twice as hard to get pens in and out of the case, while also maneuvering around the zipper. It's a double-edged sword, and whichever type you like best depends completely on your personal preferences and needs. Personally, I'll gladly take the extra hassle, knowing my pens are secure and protected.

If I'm being really picky here, I feel like the wider elastic band on top is maybe a bit overkill. Two narrow loops would probably require less effort to get pens in and out of the case, while still keeping them securely strapped in place.
REVIEW: ASTON LEATHER ZIPPERED PEN CASE
Another positive is the velvet divider in between the two layers of pens. It's quite thick and does a good job protecting the two layers of pens. The divider is attached to the outermost left edge of the case, so you can fold it back to reveal all 10 (or 20, if you opt for the larger 20-pen case) pens at once. The divider has a small business card pocket in leather which could be useful in some cases (for example to leave a note with your contact info, should you lose it), but it also makes the divider stiffer and thicker than it needs to be. As I said, the case opens up all the way to allow it to lay open completely flat.
REVIEW: ASTON LEATHER ZIPPERED PEN CASE
L to R: Pelikan Souverän M805, Pelikan M1005, Lamy 2000, Opus 88 Omar, Montblanc Meisterstück 149
The 10 pen case fits 10 (duh!) relatively large pens. I say relatively because yes, it will fit a chunky MB 149 or Opus Omar, as demonstrated above, but it's a tight squeeze and also adds considerable bulk to the case when closed. You won't be able to fit 10 massive pens like this comfortably, but a balanced mix of larger and smaller pens should not be an issue. More averagely-sized and less girthy pens like the Pelikan M800, Lamy 2000 or most Pilot pens, fit effortlessly. Noteworthy is that -because of the generous height of the case- it can easily deal with very long pens if they aren't too thick. The ASC Bologna Extra for example, a 16 cm (6.3") long pen that barely fits the Visconti Dreamtouch case, easily fits in here. Not bad!
REVIEW: ASTON LEATHER ZIPPERED PEN CASE
Zippered folio-style pen cases are ubiquitous in our hobby. If you've ever been to a pen show, almost every vendor and trader swears by them. There's a lot of reasons to pick one up: they fit a ton of pens in a small space, provide very decent protection, and are generally quite affordable (especially price-per-pen!).

The Aston Leather pen case adds to that the small and practical 10-pen form factor. The more secure double pen loop setup gives some additional piece-of-mind, making me more inclined to recommend this along with cases like the Visconti Dreamtouch or Franklin-Christoph Penvelope if you're looking for the best possible protection. On top of all that, the Aston Leather 10 pen case comes in at just 64$ (90$ for the 20-pen version), which is very competitively priced compared to the alternatives from Visconti and Franklin-Christoph, mentioned above!

Note: This product was provided by The Goulet Pen Company, free of charge, so I could write this review.  I was in no way influenced in the making of this review, the opinions shared in this review are completely my own! This post does not contain affiliate links.

Monday, March 16, 2020

REVIEW: FOUNTAIN PEN REVOLUTION HIMALAYA ULTRA FLEX FOUNTAIN PEN

REVIEW: FOUNTAIN PEN REVOLUTION HIMALAYA ULTRA FLEX FOUNTAIN PEN
Ok. I'll admit, Indian fountain pens are a blind spot of mine. They have always been on my radar, but I didn't get around to actually trying some. It's never too late to change though, so for today, we're taking a look at an excellent option for getting into Indian pens: the Fountain Pen Revolution Himalaya.

Fountain Pen Revolution is a USA-based company that both sells Indian brands like Kanwrite, Guider, and Airmail, and also partnering with these manufacturers to create their own line of affordable, Indian-made fountain pens, sold under their own brand name. The Fountain Pen Revolution (FPR) pens start at just 7$, which is commendable on its own, but it also turns out that they have some excellent options if you're looking for an affordable flex pen... so that's more or less what we'll focus on in this review!
REVIEW: FOUNTAIN PEN REVOLUTION HIMALAYA ULTRA FLEX FOUNTAIN PEN
Just to be clear, the Fountain Pen Revolution Himalaya costs more than 7$, but it still sits at a very budget-friendly entry-level price point. You can tell that it's more expensive because they used a fancier acrylic instead of injection-molded parts. It's actually a good-looking pen, I have to say. The acrylic is a dark greyish-green with white swirls and beautiful pearlescent streaks throughout. It certainly doesn't come across as a budget pen, at least not from afar. 

Looking closer though, the metal trim kind of gives away that this isn't a 100$+ pen. The finish on the center band is a bit rough, and the cap lip is a bit sharp. The bent metal clip looks and feels a bit flimsy. Although in its defense, it IS nice and springy and therefore very easy to use. This particular pen had "gold plated" trims, but the plating is not great at all, it's even just non-existent in certain areas. The plating came right off with a quick polish, and I frankly like it a lot better now that it has a uniform chrome color. Chrome trim is an option as standard, so I'd pick that any day of the week.
REVIEW: FOUNTAIN PEN REVOLUTION HIMALAYA ULTRA FLEX FOUNTAIN PEN
Apart from the mediocre metal trim, the overall build quality is actually quite good. I expect that this pen -like many other Indian pens- is made by hand, which is pretty impressive at the price point we're seeing, but it also means that it's not all as impeccable as if it were injection-molded and completely machine-made (like a Lamy Safari, for example). Even so, the build quality is quite good. Every part fits together precisely, feels solid, and has a nicely polished finish
REVIEW: FOUNTAIN PEN REVOLUTION HIMALAYA ULTRA FLEX FOUNTAIN PEN
REVIEW: FOUNTAIN PEN REVOLUTION HIMALAYA ULTRA FLEX FOUNTAIN PEN
L to R: Pelikan M805, Pilot 78G, Platinum Prefounte, FPR Himalaya, Lamy 2000, Lamy Safari.
The Himalaya is a medium-sized pen that strikes an excellent balance between a not-too-large form factor, and still being very comfortable in the hand. It measures 13.4 cm (5.2") closed, and 12.4 cm (4.88") uncapped. Despite not typically posting my pens, this is one that does post quite comfortably without adding weight or too much length. At just 16 grams, it's a very lightweight pen. It's a fairly slender pen but the section retains a comfortable diameter and has a pleasant tapered shape. There's hardly any transition from section to barrel, and the threads are noticeable but not sharp to the touch -overall, this pen has all the right ingredients for a comfortable writing experience.
REVIEW: FOUNTAIN PEN REVOLUTION HIMALAYA ULTRA FLEX FOUNTAIN PEN
The piston is made from the typical smelly plastic you often find in Indian-made pens, and discolors quite easily.
For this review, I was sent the first version of the Himalaya, but they made some minor improvements shortly after. Both versions one and two are currently available for purchase, but I'd recommend paying the 3 to 6 dollars extra to get the updated version. 

Aesthetically, they remained completely identical, but the new version receives a more traditional screw-type converter. My review pen still has the push-pull piston converter, and it's a tricky one to get a full fill with it (even after multiple attempts). Another option would be to remove the converter altogether and use the pen as an eyedropper (some silicon grease on the barrel threads is all it takes to get a proper seal), but I'm not a huge fan of eyedroppers for daily use. 
REVIEW: FOUNTAIN PEN REVOLUTION HIMALAYA ULTRA FLEX FOUNTAIN PEN
An ebonite feed, impressive on a pen this price!
Let's talk about the part that actually impressed me most about this pen: the nib!

First of all, every FPR pen comes with a hand-cut ebonite feed. You'll typically only see ebonite feeds on very high-end pens, so this is a very nice thing to see on a pen this price.

The Himalaya v1 is available with a slightly smaller #5.5 (roughly the same as a #5 nib) or an upgraded #6-sized nib. The new version (v2) does away with the #5.5 nib option, which I think is a good decision because the larger nib fits the pen better, aesthetically.

Nib options are extensive: EF to M, B (+4$), stub (+4$), flex (+4$) and EF ultra flex nibs (+14$) are available in stainless steel, as well as fine, medium and flex in 14k gold (+119$). I went with the ultra flex nib for this pen because I'm currently exploring modern flex nib options (Spoiler alert, more flex pen reviews are coming in the near future!).
REVIEW: FOUNTAIN PEN REVOLUTION HIMALAYA ULTRA FLEX FOUNTAIN PEN
So what does "Ultra" flex mean? For 10$ extra, Kevin from FPR manually modifies each nib with additional cutouts on the sides of the nib and a widened ink channel on the ebonite feed. This improves the flexibility of the nib and creates a wetter ink flow that can keep up with the more demanding nib setup.

Line variation with this modified nib is impressive. VERY impressive even, down to the point where it can start to seriously compete with vintage flex -no small feat! You're looking at line variation from a western fine, to almost 2mm at the very maximum. The most impressive part is that it doesn't require nearly as much pressure as I expected. The cutouts effectively give this steel nibs a much more springy character than similar nibs without the modification, and it also seems a bit more forgiving in terms of snapback.

BUT, there is a catch! Affordable flex nib fountain pens like this one, have a reputation for being a bit finicky (think about Noodlers pens, for example), and may or may not require some work to get the most out of them. I think the nib and feed are heat-set out of the box, but I did it again a couple of times to optimize the position of the feed for the best possible ink flow. Heat-setting ebonite feeds is actually not that difficult (there are plenty of tutorials online, FPR also has instruction videos on their own website!), but it takes some time and willingness to tinker a little bit, which is not something every fountain pen user is looking for when buying a new pen.

Even when I was satisfied with the heat-set, ink flow could still sometimes behave temperamentally. Especially with heavy flex writing, it is prone to railroading and hard starting, and you can starve the ink flow when writing too fast. It's very picky about the ink you're using, the paper you're writing on, and even your writing angle... In short: there are a lot of factors that influence its behavior. 
REVIEW: FOUNTAIN PEN REVOLUTION HIMALAYA ULTRA FLEX FOUNTAIN PEN
Before buying, make sure that you're willing to tinker and experiment with this pen (that's part of the fun, even). This is certainly not the kind of 'plug-and-play' modern flex nib fountain pen that writes perfectly out of the box. In fact, one could argue that the perfect modern flex fountain pen doesn't even exist, there's always some kind of trade-off. In this case, you're giving up some ease-of-use and reliability in exchange for pretty excellent line variation.

With those sidenotes out of the way, would I still buy this pen? Yes. From what I've seen and tried so far, the FPR Himalaya Ultra Flex comes extremely close to the kind of line variation you'd expect from a vintage wet noodle flex nib. That's impressive for a 49$ pen (35$ for the pen + 14$ for the ultra flex nib), no matter how you look at it.

NOTE: This product was provided by Fountain Pen Revolution, so I could write this review. I was in no way influenced in the making of this review, the opinions shared in this review are completely my own. This post does not contain affiliate links.
REVIEW: FOUNTAIN PEN REVOLUTION HIMALAYA ULTRA FLEX FOUNTAIN PEN