My "Best Pen" Recommendations (2018 Edition)
"What's the best pen at XXX price point?" "What's the best pen, period?" Sometimes it seems that I'm asked this question on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Building on my own responses to these questions and blog posts I've written over the years, I created this reference guide. Your mileage may vary with these recommendations: there's no substitute for your own personal preference and experience. Buying and trying lots of pens is the fun part of this hobby! Where possible, I've linked to both my review of the recommended pen and a purchasing option (some of which are affiliate links). If I've not reviewed a specific pen, I've linked to someone else's review that I find well-written and reliable. Finally, if you're looking for a recommendation on a "one-pen" carry setup, or a shorter read, check out my post on "Best Pens for When You Only Want One Pen."
Note: This is the updated 2018 version of my "best pens" list. I update the guide each year, but this year I've decided to leave the previous year's version live, at least for a while, so that everyone can see how the list changes. Please be advised that many of the links to purchasing options here are to paid sponsors and affiliates. I may be compensated a small percentage of any purchase you make, which is how I support the site and keep things running.
Best Fountain Pens for Beginners
Good fountain pens don't have to be expensive. You can get an excellent first writing experience for as little as $10.
Pilot Metropolitan. The Pilot Metropolitan is not just a pen for first-time fountain pen users - it's a pen for everyone. These days, the Pilot Metropolitan is even available at Staples and other big box office supply stores. A reliable writer that's a bargain, and the only true no-brainer in any of these categories. (Purchase here)
Lamy Safari. The quintessential "beginner pen" from German powerhouse Lamy features interchangeable nibs and an original design that's become a classic. If the triangular section doesn't bother you, the Safari (or its aluminum cousin, the AL-Star) are both great options. (Purchase here)
Kaweco Sport. Kaweco specializes in pocket pens, and makes some great ones. Kaweco offers the Sport, their flagship pen, in multiple models at various price points, from the inexpensive classic to the pricier aluminum AL-Sport to the Carbon Fiber AC-Sport. You can purchase the Classic Sport (with gold trim) or the Skyline Sport (with chrome trim).
TWSBI Eco. I hesitated on whether to include a piston-filling pen on my list of recommendations for "beginners," but this pen is so good for the price point I couldn't leave it off. If you're not squeamish about learning to fill from an ink bottle, you can't go wrong with the Eco. (Purchase here)
Honorable Mention: I actually had a hard time making the decision to keep this list the same. There are some excellent sub-$25 pens out there on the market, but I don't think their track record is quite as good as these five. Still, you won't go wrong checking out the Kaweco Perkeo, the Platinum Plaisir, or, if you really want to go as inexpensive as possible, the Platinum Preppy.
Best Fountain Pens Under $100
If you're willing to shop around, you can find excellent fountain pens for under $100 that aren't for "beginners," but still don't break the bank.
TWSBI 580. TWSBI designed the 580 and its predecessors with input from the larger fountain pen community, and offers a reliable piston filler with interchangeable nibs at a price that can't be beat. TWSBI periodically offers the 580 with anodized aluminum trim. (Purchase here)
Pilot Custom 74 (Clear Demonstrator). A gold-nibbed bargain. You can find the clear demonstrator pen for under $100 direct from Japan. If you want the color demonstrators, it will cost you more than a Benjamin. (Purchase here)
Opus 88 Koloro. These acrylic and ebonite Japanese-style eyedropper pens burst onto the scene and could potentially be a major disrupter in the sub-$100 pen market. Featuring high quality JoWo steel nibs, they offer excellent value, as long as you don't mind filling with an eyedropper. If you don't like the ebonite bands, check out the all-acrylic "Picnic" model. (Purchase here)
Note: You may ask why Platinum 3776 dropped off this list. While that pen can be purchased directly from some Japanese sellers at the sub-$100 price point, I've recently heard some reports of spotty nib quality, so for most people who don't want to have nibs worked on or take that risk, I'd simply advise them to pay a bit more and purchase from an authorized Platinum retailer that will stand behind the nib.
Best First fountain Pen over $100 (Steel Nibs)
Many people have a set expectation that once you go over the $100 price point, a fountain pen should have a gold nib to be “worth the money.” When I was first starting out in this hobby I shared that viewpoint. Over the past few years, my views have evolved, and I now finally believe this is the wrong way to look at things. The German companies (and even Sailor) make extremely high quality steel nibs that can be indistinguishable from gold, in terms of the writing experience they offer.
Faber-Castell Ambition. Faber-Castell pens are some of the best bargains in the fountain pen world, in my opinion. For just over $100, you can get a pen like the Ambition, which is not only an exceptional writer but comes in a wide array of unique designs, including barrels made from exotic woods. (Purchase here)
Faber-Castell E-Motion. If you find the Ambition too slender, consider the e-Motion, which is a chunky, heftier pen that nonetheless has exceptional balance posted or unposted. (Purchase here) I'm also a fan of the "Pure Black" edition, which I recently reviewed. The "Pure Black" is slightly pricier but features a comfortable textured barrel.
Diplomat Aero. Diplomat is a great example of how sticking with steel nibs can allow companies to be a bit more adventurous in design while still keeping the price relatively low. Diplomat also features some of the best-tuned stainless steel JoWo nibs that I’ve used. (Purchase here)
Pelikan Tradition 200/M205. I can’t leave the entry-level Pelikan piston-filler off this list. Pelikan nibs are interchangeable, giving you the option to “upgrade” to a gold nib at a later point in time if you so desire. Watch for the special edition M205 demonstrators in various colors. (Purchase here)
Franklin Christoph Model 20 or Model 02. Which one you go with depends on your style preference, and whether you want a slip-on cap (Model 20) or a threaded cap (Model 02). Franklin-Christoph offers a variety of nib choices, including some custom stub and italic grinds. (Purchase Here)
Honorable Mention: Otto Hutt Design 06 and Cleo Skribent. Otto Hutt and Cleo Skribent are both smaller German brands that make excellent pens, but for whatever reason tend to be difficult to find outside of Europe. Otto Hutt also sits at the higher end of the $100-200 price range.
Best First Fountain Pen Over $100 (Gold Nibs)
The price of gold is still high, but you can find many affordable options for a fountain pen with a gold nib in the $100-200 range. Crossing the century mark for the first time can be a daunting experience, but I don't think you can go wrong with any of these options.
Sailor Professional Gear. The most expensive option on this list might be my favorite pen of all time. If you want to buy one pricey pen and stop there, I'd recommend either the Pro Gear or the Lamy 2000. (Purchase here)
Lamy Studio (14k Nib Option). Lamy's bouncy gold nib is a joy to write with, and has finally convinced me that the "upgraded" version of the Lamy Studio is an excellent option. These pens can be hard to come by, and the color option changes every year, but they're worth the money. (Purchase here)
Honorable Mention: the Pilot Vanishing Point is one of the few options for a retractable-nib fountain pen, and it's a good one. Due to the position of the clip on the "nib end" of the pen, it can be hard for some people to write with. The price point, however, is very reasonable, and I still recommend the Vanishing Point and the smaller Pilot Decimo (collectively referred to as Pilot's "Capless" pens) on a "try before you buy" basis.
My Favorite Fountain Pens
There's no price limitation here, just my pure, unadorned opinion.
Montblanc 146. Ignore the haters, and also ignore Montblanc's sometimes over-the-top marketing. The 146 is a solid piston-filler fountain pen that has become my go-to daily workhorse, and I love the look of the platinum-trim versions. In recent years, Montblanc has introduced new special editions of the 146 with minimal mark-ups, including the UNICEF special edition and the new "Le Petit Prince" edition. (Purchase here)
Honorable Mention: Pelikan M600/M400. The Montblanc 146 has pushed Pelikan out of my personal "Top 5," but I still enjoy the smaller Pelikan Souveran pens because of how nicely they sit in a shirt pocket. The Delta Fusion 82, while still a great pen, unfortunately can only be found on the secondary market as the company went bankrupt.
Note: You can sometimes find lower prices on the Pro Gear Imperial Black, Black Luster, and Custom 823 by purchasing directly from Japan. However, given the higher price point of these products, I won't officially recommend that people do this unless they are willing to accept the risk. If at all possible, use a method of payment that offers buyer protection in the event of a problem.
Best Pocket Pens and Pencils
The majority of the writing I do on a day-to-day basis is note-taking, so I use a lot of pocket pens and pencils. Here are my favorites.
Fisher Space Pen. While I once preferred the "bullet" version, my current favorite is the "Astronaut" or "Shuttle" model of the Fisher Space Pen, which is still small enough to stick in a pocket. This pressurized ballpoint refill will write anywhere (even underwater, supposedly). (Purchase here)
Best Disposable Pens for Everyday Use
I can't use fountain pens all the time at work. These are the gel pens, ballpoints, and fineliners that you will find me using on a day-to-day basis. I may break this list into different categories of pens in the future, but here's what's currently on my desk.
Pilot G2. People love to hate this pen because it's a more conventional choice, but I've always found the Pilot G2 to be smooth, reliable, and cheap. Though the .7mm writes a very clean line, the .5mm and the .38mm tips are my favorite. (Purchase here)
Pokka Pen. The pocketable Pokka Pen (pun intended) has become my go-to ballpoint, not just a great pocket pen. They're inexpensive, come in a range of fun colors, and you don't need to worry about losing them. (Purchase here)
Honorable Mention: You can't go wrong with a good all-purpose hybrid ballpoint like the Uniball Jetstream or the Pilot Acroball (though I do find them a bit boring). I typically order the .5mm versions online, though the .7mm pens are easily found in most office supply stores. After the Pilot G2, the Pentel Energel in .5mm needle-tip is my go-to gel pen.
Best Refillable Ballpoints and Rollerballs
Sometimes you don't want to use a disposable pen, but a fountain pen just won't work for whatever situation you find yourself in. All of these pens will acquit themselves admirably.
Baron Fig Squire. Baron Fig's first pen is a winner. I like the form factor better than the Retro 51 Tornado, which uses the same refill. Since I last published this list, Baron Fig has released the squire in an array of new colors, and also recently released a Squire "click" version, if you prefer a clicky knock. (Purchase here)
Lamy 2000 Ballpoint/4-Color Ballpoint. The Lamy 2000 isn't just one of my favorite fountain pens, it's one of my favorite overall pen concepts. Lamy's ballpoint and 4-Color multifunction versions of its flagship are reasonably priced workhorses that will be with you for the long haul. (Purchase Ballpoint here / Multi pen here)
Sailor Imperial Black Multifunction Pen. I'm a huge fan of multifunction pens, and I find myself using them more than stand-alone ballpoints and rollerballs because they allow me to switch colors on the fly. If you need a multi pen with a mechanical pencil option, this Sailor is excellent. (Purchase here)
Ti Arto Universal Refill Pen. The Ti Arto has become my universal go-to recommendation for a versatile pen body that accepts nearly every refill in existence. There is also a portable "EDC" version. (Purchase here)
Honorable Mention: Everyone seems to like the Retro 51 Tornado, and it's a great pen, but I prefer the Baron Fig Squire in terms of balance and overall functionality. Both pens accept either the Schmidt p8126 rollerball refill or the Schmidt Easyflow 9000 ballpoint refill, both of which are outstanding.
These lists were last updated on April 28, 2018. If you'd like to see how my personal tastes and preferences have evolved over time, check out my original blog posts: