Monday, 25 May 2015

Double Review: Schneider iD Fountain Pen / Lamy Vista


(Top: Lamy Vista, Bottom: Schneider iD Fountain Pen")

I have wanted to do a review of the Lamy Vista ("the Vista") for a very long time. Chronologically, it was the second pen that I've ever owned/used (the first being the Waterman Hemisphere). It was a valentine's day gift from my wife and it has a sentimental message engraved into its barrel. 

You can therefore expect that my review of the Vista will be a tad bit biased (read that with a healthy dose of sarcasm). 

Why? Not just because it was a gift, but more so because it became my personal gateway-drug into the world of fountain pens. I liked the way it wrote and that convinced me that fountain pens were the most superior writing instrument, and that therefore fountain pens were the only writing instrument that I would ever want to use from then on. The Vista has therefore set me down the very expensive and obsessive journey of fountain pen collecting. 

I also thought it appropriate to do a double review of a very recent addition to my collection, the Schneider iD Fountain Pen ("the iD"), this is because  both pens are:

(i) German-made, 

 (very similar steel nibs)
(ii) have steel nibs,

(the Vista has angular grooves on both sides, while the iD only has it on one side)

(iii) have ergonomic grips/grooves carved into the grip section of the pens, and

(iv) both are what I would consider very good entry level fountain pens for the recently initiated.

(1) Schneider iD Fountain Pen

(1)(a) How and Where I Got it:

Overjoyed was having a sale the week before Mother's day, so I headed down to get my wife a present (I ended up getting her a TWSBI Mini) and while I was there I also picked up the iD for myself.

I got the iD because it came with a Broad nib, and I had been wanting to get a Broad nibbed pen for awhile now, simply because I didn't have one in my collection up till then.

It normally costs S$28.90 but because of the sale, I received an additional 20% off and paid only about S$23 for it (great value for money!). Given how comfortable this pen feels in my hands and how well it writes, even if I had gotten the iD at its full retail price, I would still consider it a great-value-for-money fountain pen!

There is a dual-sided iD rollerball/highlighter version as well (aptly named "iD Duo"), see link here (which also costs S$28.90).

(Finally, a quick shout-out and thanks to the staff at Overjoyed, they were extremely helpful and friendly! And I must say that Overjoyed is VERY well-stocked with Fountain Pen and Art supplies!)

(1)(b) Impressions / Aesthetics:

I would describe this pen as a "chunky" pen. It feels big and is therefore easier to grasp between your fingers. Plus the iD has a rubberised grip which is soft and comfortable to hold. There is also a groove on one side of its grip section (comes in both "right handed" and "left handed" versions) which helps you position the pen when you grasp it so that the nib point always hits the paper at its "sweet-spot" (i.e. making sure the writing experience is smooth and without any skipping).

The cap comes with a peculiar metallic loop sticking out of it. I assume its so that you can attach it to a lanyard, wear it around your neck, and have it at your disposal at all times. The cap snaps on tight and I don't foresee any problems for people who want to use it with a lanyard.

The barrel of the pen is also translucent black, it allows you to see the cartridge you may have in the barrel, but not the actual ink level that's left in the cartridge itself.

(1)(c) Feed / Nib (Writing Experience):

("B" engraved onto the left side of the nib)

As mentioned, the nib is a nice juicy "broad". There is a "B" engraved onto the side of the steel nib.

The iD also accepts standard international cartridges and converters and according to Archer's Rantings' Blog, the iD can be converted into an eyedropper pen with no trouble and leakage issues (I personally have not tried to do so). In Archer's Rantings' Blog, the author was also able remove the nib and feed from the grip section, which will make cleaning a lot easier once I figure out how to do so too.

Also, you may want to check out Ordinal's blog post with a review of the iD here.

Overall, I have absolutely no qualms with the writing performance of this pen, in fact I was pleasantly surprised with how well it wrote. Being a broad nib, I of course expected the writing to be very wet and I like how succulent the line that the iD lays down; all done with ease and without any skipping. I must say too that the rubberised and ergonomic grip makes this pen extremely comfortable to use, even over long periods of time.

If you note the picture of the writing sample above, I noted that according to the iD's description on the overjoyed page, it came with a cartridge of Schneider's Royal Blue Erasable ink. However, I was unable to "erase" what I'd wrote even after trying vigorously with a rubber eraser. Unless I am doing it wrong, I am not quite sure if the ink truly is "erasable".

(2) Lamy Vista:

Firstly, I wish to state that the Lamy Vista, the Lamy Safari and the Lamy Al-Star are more or less the same fountain pens (I have tried all, and the writing experience does not differ at all, except with the Al-Star being perceptibly heavier and feeling more rigid given that its barrel and cap are made entirely of metal).

In reality, the Vista is the clear demonstrator version, the Safari being the coloured plastic versions and the Al-Star being the aluminium versions of the same pen design. However, as I've discovered, some websites simply list the Lamy Vista as being a "Clear Plastic / Transparent" Safari.

(2)(a) How and Where I Got it:

From the official Lamy boutique in Orchard 313 shopping centre. Believe it cost my wife about S$50.00 (with a free engraving service). I subsequently purchased the Z24 Lamy converter from Evergreen Bookshop (Raffles One branch) for S$8.00.

(2)(b) Impressions / Aesthetics:

I personally love clear demonstrator fountain pens, and I simply love the way the red end of the converter looks in the clear plastic barrel.

The only thing that kind of irks me is the 2 slots that have been cut out of the barrel (see picture above). I would understand the need for the 2 slots on the Lamy Safari (as mentioned earlier) due to the fact that the Safaris have opaque coloured-plastic barrels and therefore having an ink window is crucial and convenient. However, on the clear demonstrator Vista, the 2 slots seem rather pointless to me and simply prevents the Vista from becoming an eyedropper pen (which I would love!).

Note: that there are people who have successfully converted their Vistas into eyedroppers. See Analog Dog's blog here. Basically, it is possible to swap out your Fountain Pen Vista's barrel for that of the Rollerball Vista's Barrel (which does not have the ink window slits cut out of the barrel) and thereafter applying some epoxy / sealant to the end of the barrel (where there is a tiny air hole). I personally do not know where in Singapore I'd be able to get my hands on a spare Vista Rollerball barrel and at this juncture, I would not want to spend anymore money on my Vista, unless I want to risk it becoming a S$100+ fountain pen (as I foresee having to buy another Vista Rollerball just for its barrel).

The Vista also uses Lamy's proprietary cartridge / converter systems, which Stationery Traffic has expressed great disdain over (because the tapered end of a Lamy cartridge traps ink and makes it very difficult to clean / swap inks). I noted too Stationery Traffic's dislike (or rather his "hatred") for the Safaris, as he's had scratchy writing experiences with almost all the nibs / Safaris he's purchased.

(2)(c) Feed / Nib (Writing Experience):

That being said, there is ALOT of praise for the Lamy Vista / Safari / Al-Star online. Many enjoy the way the pen writes and have made the Vista / Safari / Al-Star their everyday carry pens ("EDC Pens"). A lot has also been said with how easily the Lamy nibs are interchangeable (similar to the Platinum Preppy, you simply slide the steel nibs on and off the black plastic feed section).

Check out StrangeKnight's very detailed review of the Vista here

For me personally, I like the way my Vista writes. I do not have trouble holding the triangular grooves on the grip section and I find the Vista a pleasure to write with even during long writing sessions (I once wrote 20 pages non-stop at a break-neck-pace while at work and I had absolutely no problems whatsoever). 

(3) Final Thoughts / Combined Conclusion:

I think both pens make great introductory fountain pens for someone who is just starting to appreciate using and collecting them.

I don't think it would be fair to compare the writing experience of the Vista and the iD given that one is a medium nib and the other is a broad nib respectively. In summation, I will just say that both pens write smoothly and that I like the way both pens perform; there are no starting issues or skipping during mid-writing.

Overall, I think it all boils down to the price at this stage.

If you are able to get the iD from Overjoyed during a sale (which I hear is about to happen again very soon) then I think paying S$23 for an eyedropper convertible pen is extremely good value for money. Whereas, I think paying about S$60 (Vista & an additional Converter) of course would make a lot less sense in comparison.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Review: Pilot Metropolitan (and a surprise find: a Pilot Hi-Techpoint V5 Eyedropper)

(1) Pilot Metropolitan:

The Metropolitan has been strongly recommended and raved about by Mr. Brian Goulet of the Goulet Pen Company (see Ink Nouveau videos here and here). In his 2012 Youtube video Mr. Goulet said that it would become "known as one of the best starter pens out there in the fountain pen community". In my humble opinion, I think his prediction was spot on.

See also The Pen Habit's Youtube video here, where he goes into detail of his dislike of proprietary converters, which I do agree with to a certain extent - I will talk more about this later below.

(Pilot's proprietary squeeze converter)

Lastly see also Peninkcillin's very detailed review here (where there is a comparison between the Prera and a "M" Nib and "F" Nib Metropolitan).

When I first started getting into fountain pens, I had heard so many good things about the Metropolitan, i.e. how cheap and solid it was, and how smooth it wrote. I had wanted to get one for the longest time, but it somehow was never one of those pens that I "hunted" for. It was more of a "if-I-see-it-I'll-get-it" type of pen for me personally. I wasn't excited about getting it, but somehow I felt that no respectable novice fountain pen aficionado could call his collection complete without a Metropolitan.

(a) Price and Where I got it:

(photo from, but I believe this is the Terminal 3 outlet)

I bought it from Relay Bookstore in Changi Airport's Departure Terminal, Terminal 2 (only accessible after you've passed through immigration) for S$30 (on it is going for US$15). I was able to get it on a recent business trip to China.

I think it would be an appropriate point here to say too that the Relay Bookstore in Changi Airport Terminal 2 is FANTASTIC because:

  • It is open 24 hours a day (only the Terminal 2 branch);
  • It carries a large variety of fountain pen brands (Lamy, Faber Castell, Pilot (even the high-end Namiki Maki-E series of fountain pens), Cross, Parker and Caran d'Ache) - there may be more as I am writing this based solely on my own sketchy memory;
  • It usually is cheaper than other boutiques / stores in Singapore (I suspect this may be the case as it is a "tax and duty-free" zone as the staff do check your flight details prior to your purchases) - for example I bought my Franklin Covey Lexington from Times Bookstore for S$33, but I saw it at Relay going for about S$28 and I also bought a bottle of Waterman Ink for S$13.80 when I saw it going for about S$16 outside (if I am not wrong ... at the Waterman counter in Takashimaya);
  • It has great packaged deals - there was also a "Pilot Metropolitan" gift pack which comprised of the (i) mechanical pencil, (ii) ballpoint pen and (iii) fountain pen for only S$59 (it is normally S$20 - 30 each). There were also packaged deals / gift sets for Faber Castell, Parker and almost every other brand sold in the store. With the prices in Relay being generally cheaper than anywhere else in Singapore, the packaged deals are even more value for money!

(b) Impressions and Nib:

I have to confirm what a lot of other bloggers / vloggers have already said about the Metropolitan; it is great value for money (it comes with a squeeze converter), it feels great in the hands (comfortable with a healthy heft to it) and it writes smoothly.

My Metropolitan came with a Japanese "F" (fine) nib, which makes it an "Extra Fine" nib in comparison to other continental / western fountain pens. For me, this has been great because I had been looking for a very fine pen for awhile to stave off feathering on cheap paper. Currently this is the thinnest / finest nib that I have in my fountain pen collection (see writing sample below).

(c) Finish: 

"Black Crocodile" and the body of the pen is made of metal and coated with a matte black paint finish. The cap is a snap-on one, and the pen is tapered at both ends. Undeniably, this is a sleek looking modern pen.

(d) What I Like about the Metropolitan:

  • The Nib and Feed are friction-fit, but if you'll notice in the picture above, the nib has a "locking" mechanism to keep it in place (the extra protrusion at the end of the metal section of the nib sits into a groove in the plastic feed), this ensures that the nib is always centred and in the ideal position when you push it back into the grip section of the pen. For me this was ingenious - if you've struggled to get the sweet spot on another friction fit nib/feed, you'll know what I mean;
  • The grip section of the pen is made of plastic and not the same "matte black" metal as the rest of the body, I like this because it doesn't cause the pen to become too slippery when I am writing for long periods of time, as compared with an all metal grip; and
  • The Metropolitan clearly has a lot of care and attention put into its quality, precision of manufacture and aesthetic finishes.

(e) What I Dislike about the Metropolitan:

Only really 1 thing; the proprietary squeeze converter that it comes with, which is opaque. 

You can't see how much ink you have left in the converter, and as I've mentioned several times this really, really, really irks me. I hate not knowing how much ink I have left in my pen before I take it into a meeting with me and with this converter there is no way that I can check; even if I were to open the barrel up and take a peep inside the pen.

Also, in a regular twist converter (like any other regular standard international converter) it is easy to give it a little twist to push ink down into the nib and feed to saturate it when the pen is a tad bit dry. However, you don't often have that level of precise control (i.e. how much or how little you want to saturate the feed) with a squeeze converter. As has happened to me, I have accidentally squeezed too hard and had a drop of ink drip out from the feed and nib.

At the moment I have the squeeze converter swapped out for a regular Pilot ink cartridge (and which I am hoping to be able to swap out for a CON-50 one day soon, for more information on Pilot Converter's see the GouletPens' blog post here), which I got from a Pilot Hi-Techpoint V5 pen (see picture above). At least now I can monitor how much ink I have left since the cartridge is transparent. 

(2) Pilot Hi-Techpoint V5 Cartridge / Eyedropper Pen (see picture below)

This is also an opportune time for me to segue into the other cool discovery I stumbled upon while I was in China!

In Singapore the Pilot Hi-Techpoint is as common as dirt. 

I dare say that every single office in Singapore would have at least 1 (if not a 100) of these. However, all the ones I have ever seen are disposable (see picture below, i.e. where the ink is enclosed in the body of the pen itself and which will have to be thrown away once the ink has been used up), and I have never seen one with a refillable cartridge system!

I was able to convert one of them to an eyedropper with the same "Platinum Preppy" trick; silicone and a rubber o-ring (see picture below). Which is super cool too since it comes with a little clear window for you to monitor when your ink is low!

Friday, 1 May 2015

Onishi Seisakusho Celluloid Fountain Pen (Invaluable Pens Part 2 of 3)

As a starting point, let me just say that currently, among the few pens in my meagre collection, I consider the Onishi Seisakusho Celluloid Fountain Pen ("the Onishi") to be at the very pinnacle. I love this pen for several reasons, namely:

(1) It is handmade in japan;

(2) It writes amazingly;

(3) It looks pretty; and

(4) It is dependable and trust-worthy.

In summary, the Onishi does what it's supposed to do 100% of the time and it does it fantastically well.

(A) Background:

I first got to know about this pen because I stumbled upon this youtube video here some 3 to 4 months back:

It is a video of the late Mr. Kiyoshi Kato of Kato Seisakusho Co., a master artisan pen-maker, toiling away in his workshop. I loved the intricacy and delicacy that went into the making of every single one of his pens. There was also a rustic charm that immediately endeared me to their Celluloid pens. It came from seeing Mr. Kato, hunched over his lathe, expertly spinning out barrels in a matter of seconds. There and then, I made up my mind: I was going to get one, no matter the cost or inconvenience.

If you know anything about Japanese people, you'll know that they are awe-inspiring craftsmen. They are fanatically dedicated and they take a lot of pride in their life's work. The results of which show through in the final product. In my lifetime, I have come to trust and respect products labelled with the words "made in Japan", especially anything handmade

From the first moment I held the Onishi, I was not disappointed, in fact it surpassed all my expectations.

It would be a good time at this juncture to remind myself (and you my readers) that the nib and feed that comes with the Onishi is actually German-made; Schmidt (see picture above). My fascination with the Japanese craftsmanship therefore pertains to the look and feel of the Onishi only.

(B) Where I bought it and how much it cost:

I started scouring the web for more information on "Kato Seisakusho" pens, however I was saddened to learn that Mr. Kato had passed away sometime in 2010. I also learnt that the Mr. Kato's legacy and workshop had been passed on to Mr. Onishi, and their fountain pens were now sold under the "Onishi Seisakusho" moniker.

(Picture from Rakuten - Amazing "Acetate Sakura" finish with an embedded Swarovski crystal in the cap  - click here to buy)

I did a search on Rakuten (click here to see all the search results, there are many different finishes available! See picture above) and placed my order through vendor AT-N Nagasaka Ltd. I paid S$108 (JPY 9,524) for the pen (which came with a free Schmidt converter - see picture below) and an additional S$10 (JPY 900) for Japan Post's priority postage; EMS or Express Mail Service.I pause here to also take this opportunity to comment how efficient and fast Japan Post's EMS is, it only took about 6 days for the pen to reach me here in Singapore!

For the more price conscious, please note that on Pen-House LIMELUX Co. Ltd.'s page the same pen, listed as the "850 Series" Celluloid Fountain Pen, is going for S$101.58. There is also another version of the Celluloid Pen with a clear acrylic window to monitor your ink levels (click here to see the "800 Series" Celluloid Pen - see picture below).

(Picture from Rakuten)

Before I get into the review proper, please also check out AltecGreen's FPN Thread / Review of 2 Kato Seisakusho pens. In AltecGreen's post, besides the awesome photos, he goes into a great amount of detail of his impressions and observations of his Kato pens. Overall, I agree with AltecGreen's post, in that these pens may not offer the greatest or cleanest of finishes. This might lead some people to even describe the Onishi as being "cheap". 

However, I find that the blemishes and irregularities are part of the charm of having a genuinely "handmade" pen (as with any other handmade object). If this appeals to you, then I would highly recommend getting it, and even though the Onishi can indeed feel "cheap" at times (I attribute this most to the Onishi's light-weight) I have never once thought that it was not worth its price (i.e. not value for money), bear in mind that I too currently have a self-imposed rule not to spend more than S$100 for a pen, and that therefore getting the Onishi was a huge deal for me personally (it was a birthday gift to myself). 

This says a lot about the Onishi; as in comparison I have bought much cheaper pens which eventually made me feel like I had completely wasted my hard-earned money in acquiring it. If you've ever experienced that feeling with a certain pen in your collection, you'd know that this sours your affinity with the pen and detracts significantly from your writing experience with that particular pen (for me, that would be my Parker Vector). Obviously, this was not the case with the Onishi.

(C) Aesthetics / Impressions:

The Onishi that I got came in a "green" marbled Celluloid. Under bright lighting, it sparkles and gleams. Under close inspection one can also study the depth in the layering of the different colours and "flakes" of the Celluloid. Needless to say, the Onishi looks splendid.

The tip of the cap is glossy black, there is also a small black tip at the end of the barrel. The clip is gold-coloured and there is also a band of gold at the end (see picture above).

My Gripes with the Onishi:

As for the "feel" of the pen, as I mentioned earlier the Onishi feels very "light", and this contributes to it feeling "cheap". Besides this, there were two more things which I also took issue with. 

First was that the converter tended to rattle in the barrel and made a "clacking" noise. This can be quite worrying as it gives the (slightly paranoid) user the impression that the converter is loose and that the ink could quite possibly leak even though that's not the case at all.

Second, the pen being made from Celluloid, had an extremely strong "chemical" smell. As I have read, the smell comes from the Camphor and Nitrocellulose used to make the body of the pen.

The smell does fade over time, and I had been advised by a senior pen collector to give the Celluloid parts a wash and to thereafter let it dry by letting it "bask" in the sun for about half an hour (not too long or the heat might cause the Celluloid to warp).

After doing this, and after having used the Onishi for about 2 months, the smell is almost completely gone (only a faint whiff from time to time).

(D) Writing Experience

I have absolutely no complains about the way this pen writes. In fact, as I had mentioned, this pen is currently the smoothest writer in my collection at the moment.

I did note that this was the "same" type of Schmidt Steel Iridium Point nib as the one that came with the Muji Aluminium Round Fountain Pen (see my previous review here), but the writing experience is completely different! The Onishi Schmidt nib is springier (and allows for some flex and line variation) and is also much smoother than the Schmidt nib that came with the Muji Fountain Pen.

(E) Conclusion

I love the Onishi. I love how it looks. I love how it writes. I love that it is handmade and that it has the history of a legendary pen maker behind it. This has therefore become one of the invaluable heirloom pens in my collection.