Most seasoned readers of this blog will be familiar with Karas Kustoms, the Arizona-based manufacturers of machined pens such as the excellent Render K and the Ink fountain pen, among others. Last year, Karas launched a new "Signature Line" of pens under the mark "Karas Pen Co.," the first of which is the vintage-inspired Decograph fountain pen. I purchased one around Christmas to check out, and have been putting it through the paces of my review process for the past several months.
Design and Build
As you would expect from a shop of experienced machinists, the Decograph is a very well built pen that doesn't skimp on the details. (I'd point you to the Karas logo on the end cap, the faceted clip, and the machined aluminum tube that serves as the packaging.) True to its name, this pen exudes an art-deco, vintage vibe that you don't see very often in modern fountain pens. Since it's made entirely from thermoplastic and grade 6061 aluminum, the Decograph is also incredibly light - the designer intended this pen to be used as a daily writer.
All that said, there are a few design elements of the pen that prevent this from being an ideal "workhorse" fountain pen for me. First is the girth - the barrel of the Decograph is slightly too skinny for my personal preference, especially given it's length. I like to post my caps, and posting the fairly substantial Decograph cap onto the relatively slender barrel leaves the pen feeling a touch lopsided. Because the thermoplastic is so light, Karas could probably get away with a slightly bigger pen and a wider section. Recognizing that everyone's preferences are different, and many people find the Decograph perfectly balanced, perhaps we'll see this in another model added to the Signature Line in the future?
Nib and Writing Experience
Out of the box, the writing experience was a mixed bag. The Karas Decograph uses Bock nibs. As I've previously discussed here on the blog, most smaller pen manufacturers (and even some larger manufacturers) source their nibs from a third-party company, typically JoWo, Schmidt, or Bock. Of these three options, Bock nibs are my least favorite. In recent years, I've found the quality control to be spotty: the nibs write dry, the slits are cut unevenly, and the feeds are often misaligned. If you luck into a good Bock nib, or you purchase from a retailer who adjusts or resets the nib and feed themselves, you will get a perfectly serviceable pen, but I do wish Bock would get their act together as it causes problems for smaller companies who don't have in-house nib expertise.
My experience with the Decograph was no different. The original steel nib that shipped with the pen had the nib slit cut off center, so it skipped and wrote dry. I considered asking Karas for a replacement, but since I don't use steel Bock nibs in general, I swapped in an extra fine titanium nib from another pen and put the steel nib into the "teaching myself nibwork" bin. If you're interested in a Decograph, I would highly recommend paying the upgrade charge and going with a titanium or gold nib, especially since Karas's nib pricing is very reasonable. I've had better luck with Bock's higher-end offerings.
Once I got the nib issue sorted out, the Decograph is an exceptionally nice writer. I wasn't prepared to like this pen nearly as much as I do. The light weight makes this a pen you can easily use for hours, and it almost grows on you subconsciously - I find myself reaching for this pen all the time on my desk, even if I did wish the barrel was just a touch more substantial. I expected to purchase this pen for review and then sell it off, but this one will probably end up a keeper. If you're on the fence, I'd encourage you to borrow a Decograph from a friend or test one out at a pen show - this is definitely a pen that you have to see in person to fully appreciate.
Takeaways and Where to Buy
The Decograph represents a welcome step for Karas outside the machined metal pen market, and I look forward to seeing what they do with the line in the future. In addition to the standard colors ("Deco Black" and the "Deco Green" featured here), Karas periodically releases special edition colors such as the Decograph 1801 "Sleeping Beauty" edition. The pens can be purchased directly from the Karas Kustoms website under the "Signature Pens" category.
Price-wise, the Decograph starts at $140 for a steel nib, and you can add $25 to upgrade to titanium and $75 to upgrade to gold. While some have commented that these prices seem expensive, these are "small batch" pens made by an independently owned family company. Viewed in that light, and the higher per-pen cost of manufacture, the prices are reasonable and consistent with brands like Franklin-Christoph and the Edison Production Line.
Disclaimer: I purchased the pen featured in this review with my own funds, for my own collection. I was not compensated in any way for this review.