I won't lie - at times I've started to get a bit bored with the pen scene over the past year. While there certainly have been bursts of inspiration, occasionally I want to see something more than just the latest color Pelikan in the special edition M800 series, or another "minimalist" metal pen on Kickstarter that more or less looks the same as another one released the previous year. That's why Taiwanese manufacturer ystudio is a great addition to the market, and I'm glad to see more U.S. retailers like Vanness stocking their pens.
Design and Build
Ystudio combines contemporary Taiwanese design with traditional craftsmanship. The company has designed and manufactured these pens with a striking attention to detail. Like Kanilea Pen Co. (and Nakaya), each Ystudio portable pen arrives packed in an attractive wooden box that you can reuse for other purposes.
The pens themselves are some of the best brass and copper fountain pens that I've used, from both a design and functionality perspective. While I enjoy my Kaweco Brass Sport and Supra, neither pen pushes the envelope on design or really seeks to do anything different other than offer an existing pen model in a new material and/or size. Here, I enjoy ystudio's unique hexagonal barrel, and have probably drawn a bit too much satisfaction from playing with the cap, which opens and closes with a loud snap, in meetings.
(Editor's Note: Per the comments below, I've made a correction. Upon further review, I don't believe the cap is actually magnetic, though it does pop on and off with a very firm snap/click. The tolerances are very tight.)
The ystudio Portable Fountain Pen comes in two models: "Classic" copper and "Brassing." Both share the same hexagonal design, with a metal cap and a hole through which you can run a black or brown leather cord (both options included). Each pen also comes with a separate wooden "carry box," which is actually a wooden tube with a slit in the top through which you can fit the "tab" on the Portable's cap and secure with the leather cord, forming a more secure pen case for travel and rougher daily carry (especially if you worry that the cap will pop off).
As you may have read elsewhere, all ystudio "Brassing" pens arrives with a sheet of fine grit sandpaper that you can use to remove the black coating from your brass pen and create unique "wear patterns," per your preference. Though this is a major selling point of the "Brassing" design, I've decided not to sand off any of the coating because I like the look of the pen as-is, and would rather allow the lacquer to wear off naturally. It will probably take some time. While I've accumulated a few micro-scratches here and there, this black coating was thickly applied.
Nib and Writing Experience
You can't post the ystudio Portable, so it ends up being a shorter fountain pen. In general, I like my metal pens to be a bit shorter than your traditional full-size fountain pen, since the shorter length offsets the heavier weight and creates better balance. These pens are a viable option for pocket carry and jotting down short notes in a pocket notebook when I'm out running around. Though I usually don't like to carry a fountain pen in my pocket, I've ventured outside my comfort zone a bit with the ystudios and have enjoyed the experience. So far, the cap has stayed put, with no pocket inksplosions.
Ystudio uses No. 5 stainless steel Schmidt nibs - smooth and reliable but somewhat unremarkable. Currently, only fine and medium nib sizes are available. Both pens featured here are mediums, and they write on the narrower side of that designation. Some have criticized ystudio for using "generic" Schmidt nibs on a pen at this price point, but I feel that faulting the company for this choice is a bit off-base. Pen makers have limited third-party sourcing options to begin with, and Schmidt nibs are as good as any. To expect a company to launch their first fountain pen with a house-made nib is not only unrealistic from a logistical perspective, but it would drive the price of the pen up to a point where an company with no previous track record would have a hard time gaining a foothold in the market, not to mention nightmarish quality control issues. Here, ystudio's focus has plainly been on creating a line of well-made, functional writing instruments with a unique aesthetic, for that purpose the Schmidt nib works fine.
Takeaways and Where to Buy
I've enjoyed using the ystudio Portable fountain pens over the past month or so, and they've become a regular addition to my daily writing kit. I appreciate them both as pens and as design objects that have attracted quite a bit of attention on my desk at work, and I can see myself carrying these pens long after this review is complete.
That said, there needs to be some discussion of the price. At $160, these pens aren't inexpensive. My initial impression - probably colored by commentary I've read elsewhere - was that the price point is too high, but after thinking it through I'm not so sure. In light of the craftsmanship and what you're getting in the overall package (stained wood boxes, leather cords, brass beads, etc.), this pricing doesn't seem excessive and lines up with Kaweco's pricing on its brass pens. (The Kaweco Brass Sport sells for $100, the Kaweco Brass Special for $130, and the Kaweco Supra for $140.) Copper pens are generally more expensive than brass, and the process of applying the black lacquer to the "Brassing" model justifies a small premium as well.
You can purchase the ystudio Portable Fountain Pens from Vanness Pens, currently available in both the "Classic" copper and the black "Brassing" models. Vanness carries the full range of ystudio products, including not only the Portable Fountain Pens but also the ystudio "Classic" copper and black "Brassing" Desk Pens and ballpoints and mechanical pencils. Many thanks to Lisa and Mike at Vanness for making this review possible.
Disclaimer: Vanness Pens sent me these two ystudio Portable Fountain Pens free of charge for review purposes.