What does less than $20 get you these days in a fountain pen? Well, on the one hand, you have the so-called “kids’ pens” that many people use but which are plainly geared towards the education market (the Pilot Kakuno and the Pelikan Pelikano Jr., for example), as well as quasi-disposable pens like the Platinum Preppy. Otherwise, the pickings are fairly slim from the “traditional” pen companies. Platinum arguably leads the way with its upcoming Prefounte, as well as the excellent Plaisir. The Kaweco Perkeo is also a good choice for a very inexpensive fountain pen, as is the TWSBI Go, but my point remains: pickings are slim, and most of these pens look, well, kind of cheap.
I’ve asked the question before: At what point do Chinese pens enter the discussion as serious contenders on par with pens from European and Japanese companies? Believe me, I understand the skepticism. When I was starting out, I too got eBay burned by $1.99 Jinhaos, Baoers, and even Kaigelus, which had a reputation for a while as the “good” eBay pen. I even dedicated a post to my experiences. But it’s not just about $2 knockoffs anymore: Chinese companies such as PenBBS, Moonman, and KACO are releasing quality fountain pens in original designs, many of which start at or just below the $20 price point. I’ve reviewed several PenBBS pens, including a vacuum filler (Model 456) and a syringe filler (Model 355), and come away impressed with all of them, both as well-made, usable writing instruments and value propositions.
But what about the “entry level” PenBBS pen: the Model 308, a straight-up cartridge-converter fountain pen? To me, the real test of a pen brand is whether their lower-end models write as well as their higher-end pens. Is the nib scratchy? Does the converter allow for adequate ink flow, or is the pen a spotty, dry writer? Does it feel cheap in the hand?
As with every other PenBBS pen I’ve reviewed, the answer to all of these questions is “No.” The Model 308 comes fitted with the same slightly upturned nib as the other PenBBS pens I’ve reviewed, and both pens arrived writing exceptionally well out of the box. Again, if you’ve ever used a Sheaffer “dophin-style” nib that appeared on certain snorkels and touchdown fillers, you’ll understand how pleasant this type of nib is to write with. I also experienced no trouble with the converter, which supplied generous ink flow.
In terms of build, the Model 308 feels solid, with no hint of the thin, cheap acrylic that marks so many inexpensive pens. The materials themselves have quite a bit of depth. Typically, at this price point you are restricted to solid colors or and clear demonstrators, whereas with PenBBS you have available a wide variety of unique patterns, many of which I have not seen used in other pens. Case in point: the “99 Manjusaka” acrylic featured here, which is clear resin interspersed with what looks like red webbing. It’s gorgeous. The Model 308 is the second pen I’ve purchased in this material, with the first being my Model 469, the double-ended eyedropper. I have to say, as someone who loves red pens, I will probably purchase one of every pen that PenBBS releases in this material. It’s that good. (The silver pen pictured here isn’t too shabby either, with plenty of depth and different tones throughout. This particular material is a limited run called “Niangao Is A Cat,” which comes in both gold and silver trim.)
Takeaways and Where to Buy
In short, I consider the Model 308 another smash hit from PenBBS. My mind is spinning as I figure out how I’m going to rework my various “Best Pen” recommendations for 2020. Look for at least two PenBBS models to make the cut, probably in multiple categories.
Lately I’ve been purchasing all of my PenBBS pens directly from the PenBBS Etsy store, which is where I have seen the best pricing. The Model 308 cartridge/converter pens range from $13.99 (an absolute steal) to $29.99 for some of the more limited acrylics. The red “99 Manjusaka” pen featured here is currently available for $19.99, and the limited edition silver “Niangao Is A Cat” pen sits at the higher $29.99 price point.
Disclaimer: I purchased the pens featured in this review with my own funds, for my own use. This post contains affiliate links, which I use to support the blog. Please see our Privacy and Cookie Policies for additional information.