I’ve gotten praise and crap from people, so I’ll let it sit for a weekend and we’ll see what the consensus is, then I’ll do a new blog post as an overview. Here’s the MP3.
Ahh, Cross. The pen company loved by everyone who doesn’t know anything about pens, and ignored by those who do. That’s not entirely true, actually. I wonder why I contradicted myself so quick. Many consider the Cross ATX to be one of the best sub $100 pens out there. I don’t own one. I did, however, for a short time, own an Aventura (a few, even), and also I now own a Cross Dubai. I was able to purchase these at Staples in 15 minutes. That’s something in this day and age.
You see, Cross is the master of inexpensive fountain pens in the United States, depending on your definition of master. If it’s ubiquity, then Cross is your man. It’s often claimed by detractors that all the fountain pens Cross makes are cheap, and feel it, but that’s okay, since they also do wildly overpriced ballpoints. I hope today to fix that impression by reviewing this soulless, mediocre pen, and show you that Cross can make cheap fountain pens that won’t make you want to poke out an eye for a fun respite from writing with them.
While often given the short shrift by fountain pen enthusiasts (though there is a large, die hard following), Cross was the first fancy pen manufacturer in the United States. That’s something. These guys beat out Parker, Sheaffer’s, Waterman, and a bunch of other smaller companies known to us fountain pen geeks like Retro 51 and Monteverde by decades. Though, to be fair, Cross wasn’t a fountain pen pioneer, but whatever. They do deserve a lot of credit in making fountain pens available to the general masses.
I decided to review this pen when a gentleman on Reddit asked a question about what the best fountain pen was that you could buy at any normal chain store.
I’d like to take a moment and call attention to the great insults we bonded over. Man, does the Aventura suck.
Anyway, Cross has managed to shoehorn its way into public awareness. As discussed on the Pen Addict podcast this week, I feel like it has name recognition behind maybe only Parker and Montblanc in the fancy pen world. They’ve also managed to shoehorn their products into practically every single office supply store. As a result, anywhere in this country, you can go buy a Cross fountain pen and get Cross refills. That’s really intense stuff. For us fountain pen fans, we should thank our lucky stars for Cross, as they may have led many people to this silly hobby.
For example, while uni-ball pens were the catalyst for me in good pens as an adult, when I was 13 or 14, I received a Cross ballpoint from a friend of mine. He had been showing it off in German class, and was telling everyone “Ja. Es ist ein Cross. Nein! Du kannst mit meinem Kuli nicht schreiben! Es kostet $30!” And we all oohed and ahhed. A $30 pen? A Cross? This was high class. So, I asked him if I could have it and he said sure. That rich jerk. Anyway, I used that Cross Century Classic until it ran out of ink and my parents’ refused to buy me a refill. I still have it. Still haven’t bought a refill.
So, the fact that anyone can go buy one at any store thanks to Cross is nice, especially when I just this week was asked what a fountain pen was. Philistine. Unfortunately, they might get stuck with a bad one, as I did with two. The Aventura was ugly up close, cheaply made, and generally unpleasant. It also wrote like a big toe covered in thistles dipped into Italian dressing. It was so cheaply made, if I constructed its body out of the outer half millimeter of popcorn, let it sit in the rain, then blow dried it, it would feel better. Though, it wasn’t all bad. As I said, it was ugly up close. Decent looking from far away. Much like Einstein.
Unlike the Lamy Safari I found at a different store with its nice little cardboard box all damaged, probably from people hitting it with ten foot poles, the Aventura packaging I got was pretty much pristine, except dusty, as it had been in the back room of the Staples since 2011. Classy. Like the Cross Aventura, however, this looks good from far away. Let’s compare.
Both look pretty good. But close up is where it both shines and looks its worst. Let’s ignore the gorgeous nib for now and look at the section.
Chrome sections are not popular on pens, and there is a reason: they almost never work well. This one looks like metal to my mom (at a cool 20/200 vision) from 5 yards, but once I got onto the porch, she saw it was actually plastic. So, if you’re a visually impaired bat who has never seen a petroleum-based product before, this looks just like real chrome.
Also here in the section area, I’m not digging a few other things, like the gapping. The gaps between the parts are so big I feel like you could shove a Pop Tart in there. Look at the end that the feed goes in. They couldn’t just make that part of the section? And if they couldn’t, could they make it wheelchair accessible, or does the stair really need to be there? There are even more gaps between the section and the mystifying black plastic ring.
That ring seems like it would be worse than it is. You see, open like this, it’s pretty obvious. But closed, it’s not so bad.
You don’t really notice the ring, I think for a few reasons. The first is that that cap is massive. The second is that big chrome butt, and the third is that the lacquer is really nice.
The cap looks like daddy’s shoes on a five year old, but its shape is nice. Pleasantly rounded without looking fat, likely due to the flattened off top. This, by itself, is probably the most attractive part of the pen. By the weight, it seems like it may actually have some metal in it somewhere, and there isn’t anything that makes me think the cap is cheap. Even that clip, unadorned and unstyled with the exception of the Cross name, looks very good.
The barrel looks short because it is. The chrome butt on the end is literally just that. It is hollow, but by that point, the pen is so thin it’s practically barely there. Like the top 20 feet of a church spire. It’s just there for effect. And the look draws the eyes, but don’t get them too close, because then you’ll see the ridges, also there for effect, and that the whole thing just looks cheap. But it is shiny.
The finish on this pen is awesome. It looks very expensive and very good if you just look at the finish. It has a sparkly sheen.
This works in Cross’s favour, as previously stated. It may be a primary motivator to potential buyers. They see the eye catching finish and that big ass chrome butt on the pen, and ignore the ugly ring. I’m sure someone well versed in design could explain the aesthetics going on in this pen that would make it desirable to first time buyers, but I’m also sure I wouldn’t understand it. If I had to describe this pen as one thing, it would be shiny. This is the disco ball of cheap pens.
The best part of the pen is the nib, which is actually shared with a few of Cross’s other cheap pens, like the Aventura. *shudder*. Cross does their nib appearance on cheap pens better than anyone else in the field, and it’s not close. Let’s take a look.
If I saw this nib on a $750 pen and was told it was white gold or something, I’d believe it and even praise it in that review. But, if I ever get enough money to have a $750 pen, you chumps won’t ever see me again. I’ll be hanging out with my new friends in a penthouse somewhere.
Those nibs were all from pens that can cost less than $20. Cross wins big time in the appearance department. Most of the pens preceding this write better than the Cross, but this is the appearance section, so who cares?
Besides those groovy (in more ways than one) lines, the nib is marked with Cross and an M in easy to see, big stamped letters. For anyone who does a lot of eBaying, you know how useful this is. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spotted a 45 online and not known the nib size. Then you have to ask the dude, and so on and so forth, then describe how he is supposed to check, and it just gets tedious. By the end of it, you don’t even want the pen and your spaghetti tastes bad for some reason.
Build Quality: 4/10?
The pen hasn’t broken, and the cap is well made, but the rest of it looks like it came in an Ikea kit and at the end there were some suspicious pieces left over. While the nib works great on this one (it is used on much more expensive pens, too), as soon as you go to use the pen, you have to feel the section. Then feel regret. The section feels like someone took a tennis ball container, chromed it, then wrapped it in a circle. Well, maybe that’s a bit unfair.
Dunlop uses much better plastic than this.
It’s pretty bad. If you compare it with the plastic section on the Pilot Metropolitan, you can tell the immense quality difference between the two – and it’s not looking good for Cross. So then why is the price the same? I don’t know.
As far as I have found out, this particular Cross pen was made in China, so they can’t claim that the quality of workmanship and labour costs forced their hand in cheap materials, especially when the Pilot wasn’t made in China, but Japan. What normally happens in these situations is moving the production to China allows the manufacturer to put in more expensive materials. So, the Chinese pen should have better stuff in it than the Japanese pen, but the Japanese pen should be better made, all else being equal. We can see this with the Baoer, Jinhao and Hero pens I have a lot of.
But remember, Cross is a company of trailblazers. This was the first fancy pen company in the US! They won’t be held to stereotypes! Expect the unexpected with Cross! They, a company of mavericks, have busted the stereotypes and made a Chinese pen with not only the standard poor workmanship, but also bucked the trend in materials, using only the worst stuff they could get their hands on. So inspiring.
Okay, I’ll shut up about the section now, but let’s move onto the plastic ring.
Not a good looking design feature, that’s for sure. It looks like it might have been made in the same factory as some other rings.
The mold lines are plentiful and evident. One can even easily be seen there in the photo. That looks like absolute crap, and shows the lack of effort put into this pen…but it also indicates a few other things.
If we look at this ring, we can see its purpose. It joins the cap and the body of the pen. Remember, the body of the pen is small, and the cap is way too big. These differed so much that Cross had to fabricate an adapter ring in order for one to be used with the other. How careless is this company? What executive okayed this action?”
“Sir, we’ve manufactured the 10000 caps, but at 150 percent size. We will need to delay the pen until we make more.”
“Screw it, man. Make a ring.”
“Sir, that would look terrible and cheap.”
“The pen will be terrible and cheap! It fits.”
“Do it. Also, I want an original rock em sock em robots for my bathroom. Find those for me.”
The cap is literally too big for the pen. It isn’t just designed to look that way, it’s literally true. Which is a shame, actually, as the cap is quite nice. It’s around 40% of the weight of the pen (I forget the exact numbers, my scale is broken and I measured it a week ago), and is well made. The clip isn’t spring loaded, but it’s nice to use. Great cap…except it’s too big and therefore necessitates that hideous ring. And this also means the pen can’t be posted. The only redeeming feature.
But it’s also possible that the barrel is, in fact, too small for the cap, even though in this comparison it looks normal sized. That’s cause these are small pens. But I wonder what it looks like compared to a really small pen.
As can be seen, the barrel is practically smaller than a Kaweco Sport. The Kaweco barrel is technically shorter, but it’s wider until the end. When you unscrew with the (surprise!) subpar plastic threads, the Cross barrel, for the intents of, say, a spare cartridge, ends much much sooner than the Kaweco, which we can see has no room for a spare. Neither does the Dubai.
Refilling and Maintenance: 2/10.
Not having room for a spare small cartridge is a huge faux pas in the fountain pen world. Not fitting a converter is an even bigger one. I have a Cross converter, the orange one, and it don’t work. The cap doesn’t screw on. Nice job, Cross. Good deal designing that pen. The pen also only comes with one cartridge. I will repeat this. The complete list of stuff the pen comes with is as follows: one cartridge. No converter, no spares, no pack of 6, just one. The only reason this doesn’t get a 1 is because you can buy cross carts almost anywhere. Maybe Cross doesn’t have any confidence in themselves and they think people will stop using this pen immediately. That’s stupid, though because this pen is actually, stunningly, a mediocre writer.
I can write with this pen for like 4 pages. It can happen. It’s not the worst thing in the world. It writes smoothly, puts the ink on the paper like it should and doesn’t skip. That’s pretty good! Yeah, any pen should be able to do these things, but you know, Cross hasn’t done as good of a job of it in the past as they could have.
The problem is, the pop bottle esque section gets slipperier than snot on a glass doorknob after you just ate a pizza. So, you’re finding yourself slipping all over and taking a break in the middle of writing. What if you can’t take a break? Well, then you’re screwed. You have a slippery pen.
This is primarily because the section goes up higher than Fred Mertz’s pants.
Well, actually, it’s primarily because they made the pen basically out of laminate flooring, but if they had a smaller section, it wouldn’t be so slippery. For example, on the Sheaffer VFM.
What can be done here is simple. One can use the section easily and with no trouble, then, when it gets slippery, his hand can go right on the ring and step down. This is slightly uncomfortable, but it only needs to be done for a short time while the section is drying off. You have no such option with this pen. That sucks.
Also, the cap, again, is stupid heavy so there is no practical way to write with the pen posted, unless you hold it like a turkey baster and write from an arm’s length away and straight up and down. But, if you post your pens, you might be that strange. So, hey. Whatever.
In terms of the ink coming out of this bad boy, it’s pretty good. Nice and wet, so use fancy paper, and it’s a little broader than a normal medium. It’s very nice to write with. I would have no problem using this nib and feed on some kind of frankenpen if it were possible. It’s just hard to actually use for long enough to take advantage of how well it writes.
Normally, I’d say it’s a good value as it’s a good writer at $15 from Cross, where you can get all the accessories you want and stuff at Office Max or Staples or whatever…but we have a $15 pen problem. At that price, you can get an Ohto, or a Sheaffer VFM, or a Pilot Metropolitan, or a Parker Frontier or IM, or something. On the other hand, if someone bought this pen for $15, I wouldn’t say he got a bad deal. Pack your hands with baby powder and go on a writing journey, man. It’s all you.
The problem with this pen is that it’s just a pen. In fountain pens, that’s actually really terrible. Pens need a personality, or they need to be notable in their lack of personality. This Cross is like a person who is trying to make up for a lack of personality by being quirky, like by putting a large giraffe statue in his/her front lawn, but having no reason why other than to feel interesting. But it doesn’t. It only fools you for a second. This is an uninteresting pen that looks shiny, and writes shiny, but feels like another word that starts with s, h, and i.
So, would I buy it? No. But I wouldn’t not buy it. If you are in some kind of crazy fountain pen emergency and you must have one, this is a great option. It’s perfectly serviceable and a decent writer. So, if you want it, buy it.
Here’s some terrible writing.
I had two of these pens, one of which I paid $8 for, the other one I just sold to a friend for the same price. I made out poorer, because the pen I got I don’t think is as attractive, but, on the other hand, it writes with a medium line, which is quite a bit nicer than writing with a fine line that I had on the black gold trim pen. So, I’m pretty familiar with the pen. In my Parker Urban review, I suggested this pen instead of it, which I maintain still. If you want an intro to Parker pens, I still suggest a Parker Frontier, or 45, but this is a solid second choice.
I’m flip flopping on this thing. On a gold/black trim, it looks okay. In most others, it doesn’t. Like the one I have, for example.
I’ll be honest: I don’t know anything about design. I’m sure the cross etchings there on the cap are supposed to look like something else, or at least evoke some kind of past design style. Whatever that design style is, it’s objectively hideous. I think maybe only Catalan Modernism is uglier.
So, the Designe Uglée cap is a little off-putting, but the rest of the pen is okay, right? Yes. It is okay. There is nothing to not like about it, because it has, functionally, no design at all.
Now, it sounds like I’m insulting the pen’s design. This is because I am. However, it doesn’t mean it’s bad. Like I said, it’s okay. There are nice things to it. For example, it wasn’t designed with a ruler. It’s thicker in the middle and only slightly tapered on the ends. Compare to a Parker 45 to see a more aggressive taper, or a Vector to see some more aggressive rulering.
And that metal grip section is pretty nice. Fun texture and look to it. It’s like the reverse of what Parker does normally…except on the Vector. Now this actually makes sense. The design is actually an evolution of the Vector. For real! Once upon a time, there was a pen called the Vector.
As you can see, this pen looks very much like the IM I bought for $8. Except, somehow the chiseled metal cap looks a little better. And, actually, the section isn’t a nice brushed metal, but more of a shiny chrome. Despite the incredible and obvious similarities between these pens, however, there was a stopgap. This was called the Parker Vector XL.
So here we’re seeing the brushed section come in, and the start of the cap on the cap, but we still have a Vector style no feathered clip, this one not inherited from the Parker Arrow, but a new design entirely. The IM, in a few markets, was referred to by another name: the Vector Mk. 2. This is kind of weird, since I’m about 80% sure Parker still sells the Vector, though I might be wrong. In 2009, Parker dumped a lot of their models to focus on only a few, like the Urban and the IM, though those are functionally the same and inhabit the same price point. We lost the Latitude, 45, 100 and the Frontier for this, Parker? Come on.
Anyway, like I was saying, this pen is as inoffensive as it gets, so nothing actually wrong with it, and the section is nice.
For those familiar with Parker Flighters, you’ll notice that the brushing on this metal section of the pen is extremely coarse. The flighters are often sandblasted in addition to being brushed, but it’s still very fine. If your eyes were closed and your buddy asked you to feel the barrel of his pen, and you trust this guy (cause it’s a suspicious request for a person), you would just feel metal in a flighter pen. However, if he asked you to grab his nib section (heh), then you’d absolutely feel the texture on this. That’s how significant it is, and it looks it. I’ll go into it more in the build quality section.
You may also notice that I haven’t trashed the nib yet, despite me complaining about that exact same nib in the Pilot Metropolitan review, calling it boring. It was, on the Parker Urban, a pen that is anything but boring. Read my review on that to get my full opinion, plus a Christina Hendricks photo. Here, however, it fits. This is a smallish feeling pen though large for Parker, and the nib is small and skinny…and it somehow fits here. You get to see a bit more of it than you see in other pens fitted with this nib, too, like the Vector, the Urban, the Reflex, the Facet, the 88, the Esprit, the Beta, etc. It has some little grooves on it that look pretty good with this pen. So, the pen body itself ain’t so bad. A solid 9/10 there, because, again, there is nothing to dislike about the barrel and the section looks really good.
But the cap. My lord, the cap. This must be the ugliest thing ever put on a Parker pen.
Now, when I say that, let’s get this straight: I don’t think Parkers are almost ever ugly. At worst, they’re not notable…except for a few exceptions. This is one of them. The cap isn’t THAT ugly, but it’s a solid 3/10. Some of the other IM caps aren’t so bad, but this is not one of those, so I’m reviewing this one. Quit yer bellyachin. I think the thing that annoys me the least on the cap is the fez.
That cap looks like it should be living in Cairo helping out Indiana Jones. I really REALLY do not like how they stuck a big chrome fez on the end of the cap of the pen. It makes it unbalanced if you are a person who posts your pens, and it makes it ugly for everyone else in the room who is silently judging you for that choice. Parker has done a lot of caps in its days, but this one might be the only one with a fez on it. As a small demonstration, here are a few Parker pens, none of which cost much more than this one.
Now, what I did on this thing was align the top of the clip with the left margin line on the paper. They don’t look aligned due to perspective, but trust me on this, they are. We can see that the IM cap sticks up way farther out than other Parker caps, and, annoyingly, the clip is much smaller.
It looks it too. When eyeballing the IM, I first though “What the hell is wrong with that clip? Why’s it so small?” It’s not just smaller in comparison to the cap than the other Parkers, it’s actually legitimately smaller as well. This pen is larger than every single pen pictured. Every single goddamn one of them. And it has the smallest clip. This doesn’t do well for it. It looks like it has a tiny little face on what would otherwise be a not entirely hideous pen.
Can we look at that clip again, though?
The work put into making this cap look well built is absolutely abysmal.
Build Quality: 7/10.
The pen isn’t actually built with bad stuff, it’s just built poorly. They spared every expense to make it seem like they spared no expense. To explain, I’ll continue with the cap.
So, we can see the fletching is not only indistinct, but it’s also uneven. Some of the feathers are longer than others, and the spacing and angle is screwed up. In addition to this, the lines accenting the cap look less like they were done with a butter knife by a toddler, so that’s good. They look more like they were done with a butter knife by an adult. Hint: this is still bad.
If we continue to look at the cap, we can see the Parker logo and the date code, both stamped with the same level of incompetence and/or apathy. The definition is so bad, it looks like what you’d see on a fake. Except I bought one of these from a reputable dealer before I got rid of it, and it was the same way. So there. This is real.
Now, the thing is, this pen feels really nice, and you can tell it was made with good materials. For example, my pen weighs exactly one ounce. That was designed and engineered well, and is the perfect pen weight. It’s got very little plastic in it, too. The lacquer is top notch, and I don’t see any blemishes on the finish.
It actually reminds me very much of a Chinese pen. Those pens often use good materials, are nice and hefty, and are finished okay, but once you get down to brass tacks, are about as well made as a Play-Doh hamburger from your niece. The pen doesn’t have any made in France or UK markings on it, and Parker has opened a Chinese factory, so there’s a non zero probability that this is a Chinese pen.
But, even in the section with metal on metal threads, something of a quality rarely found in these pens, the crappiness of workmanship is seen. The threads on the section are wavy, rough, and uneven. I do not like it when my metal pen doesn’t screw in as well as a plastic Jinhao. That’s just silly.
If we continue going around the pen, we see a little more of the wildly variable build quality. The section does feel nice, and it is all metal. Here, the crappy part is actually a feature: because the brushed nature of the metal on the section is so rough, it actually keeps your fingers where they should be on the pen for however long they should be there. It doesn’t get slippery or anything. That was a happy accident. It’s also an easy wipe off for refilling.
Refilling and Maintenance: 7/10.
It’s nigh impossible to remove the nib. But they don’t have any aftermarket options, either, so who cares? The pen can be flushed easily using the included converter, and Parker carts are all over the place. This is not a hard pen to refill, which you’ll be doing a lot, because the pen is strangely a very fun writer.
The pen skips sometimes. It is also loud. These are things that have ruined pens for me in the past…but somehow on this one it doesn’t matter much. The skipping is for maybe a half a letter per page, and the loudness doesn’t translate into scratchiness, but there is feedback. I don’t normally like any of this stuff…but on this pen, it’s great. The pen is not, objectively, a good writer, I don’t think, but it is somehow desperately fun to use. It is so fun, I brought it to school the other day to power through a few pages of notes, and then stayed up last night just writing in my notebook for fun. What the heck is wrong with me? I had even filled it with black ink, an ink I don’t like! If I were to go to my notebook right now, and pick up a pen to write with, it would actually be this stupid little pen I don’t want to like. GRAHH.
The line it writes is a standard medium.
So, in the above picture, we can even see some of the skipping the pen does. It’s really not this pronounced normally. We can also see my Monteverde Impressa also skipped, and that rarely happens. I wonder if this paper is a little screwy? Regardless, like I said, the pen is objectively mediocre, but subjectively it is fantastic. I cannot explain it.
The pen normally runs $19-20. Sometimes you can see them on places like Goulet Pens with special finishes for more money, but that’s out of the norm. Because of the fact that this pen is not terrible for that price, is fun to use, and looks all right from really far away, then I’m okay with that.
In a long line of 7s, this should come as no surprise. I posted in my Urban review that I would recommend this pen over the Urban every time for a new Parker, and I do. But…that’s only if you want a brand new Parker. There are much much better pens in this price range. The Pilot Metropolitan, some new old stock Frontiers or 45s, that Herlitz Tornado if you like plastic, and if you buy a Baoer 388 and replace its nib with a Knox nib, you can get out paying slightly less for a much better pen.
So, buy it if you want to have fun writing, or if you want a brand new Parker and don’t want to drop the dough for a Sonnet.
Here’s some terrible writing.
In my continuing series where I review pens nobody at all cares about, here we have the Herlitz Tornado fountain pen. I’m about 90% sure I am the only one who’s ever reviewed this pen. I can’t find any online.
This pen costs $9 in Germany (like €6,59), and I have seen it in a train station in Saarbrücken. At this time, I didn’t buy any because I had had bad experiences with fountain pens, and so didn’t desire any.
However, as the years have gone by, I’ve grown to enjoy fountain pens, and Peyton Street Pens had a few of these bad lads in stock on their website, so I picked one up, and it’s great. Truly a great pen.
This isn’t an ugly pen, but it’s not particularly good looking either. It looks pretty similar to similar (albeit pricier) school pens like the Parker Frontier with the translucent casing…of which I have zero because I think those Frontiers are ugly.
As we can see here, other than that translucent blue barrel on my copy, this pen is dull to the point of being worth noting. Remember how I talked about how lame dull nibs were in the Pilot Metropolitan review? It can go the other way when the nib and pen are so unfathomably dull it looks purposeful. Here, take a look at the nib on this pen.
This unabashed admittance of cheapness in the pen is something I like. This is a utilitarian pen designed to be inoffensive and it’s not parading itself as something better than it is. It’s just a stupid pen that comes in stupid paper packaging, and this is the stupid nib.
Interestingly, though, the nib does have a small quirk I don’t necessarily like, but adds a little something. Take a look.
And the clip is running the same kind of game.
Ostensibly unadorned with the Herlitz name/logo on it right?
WRONG. Actually, no, you’re right. But it has a weird shape to it as well.
That is like, the opposite of the wedge shape. It’s really weird. Nothing is shaped like that.
So we’ve covered the clip, the general design, the nib…uhhh…oh right. That ugly grip section. Please refer back to where, in the caption, I told you to ignore it.
The grip section is a medium, I’ll say 40%, grey, and it’s not very good looking. This would be excusable if it offered a more pleasant pen holding experience, but it doesn’t. It also moves around on there a bit too much. Spinning about and whatnot. Some may call this a feature, but I call it lame. Wait. I’m referring to build quality and design. That means I’m in the wrong section.
Build Quality and Design: 5/10. The build quality is what I would call adequate. The cap clicks on, the clip clips, the nib nibs, and the barrel barrels. The grip don’t grip though.
To go back to that grip, it does spin around about on the section, which means you may orient it in whichever way you want. This, again, may be considered a feature if you are, for example, feeble-minded. But, for those of us living in the real world, this is just an annoyance.
“But Funkmon,” I hear you say, “What about us doofuses who write inverted, and are therefore so useless that we cannot even use a Lamy Safari?” To you I say FEH! Look, I appreciate your desire to be weird. Different strokes for different folks, even when those strokes are dry, thin and scratchy because you’re holding your pen wrong. Herlitz does not appreciate you, though. They have done something for which I think they should be applauded. They have effectively removed those who write inverted from their userbase.
Remember Sam Eagle? I defy you to write comfortably with a pen that turns upward. I don’t think it can be done. Which means you cannot write inverted, which means the spinny grip is a piece of bad design or bad build quality. It cannot be a feature.
Another piece of good design/bad build quality or vice versa is this weird metal ring. I like metal rings. They just make you feel good inside. I like knowing they’re there. This one goes where the cap clicks onto the barrel and over the section. I don’t know why it’s there, and it moves around and is loose. It doesn’t appear to serve any purpose.
Other than that, it’s just about what you’d expect for a pen this cost. Plastic everywhere, but it holds together solidly. Well balanced because it can’t possibly be more than a few grams off in any way because it’s so light (except when you post it, but we don’t do that here). It’s got all the cheap pen hallmarks, down to even being an unassuming size. The only thing it’s really got going for it is that groovy metal cap.
Refilling and maintenance: 6/10.
The pen doesn’t come with a converter, but it comes with a few international ink cartridges, some hollow for some reason.
Luckily, both international ink cartridges and international converters are ubiquitous. Also, don’t try to change the nib. Please. It’s so good.
As I mentioned in my 599 review, this Herlitz is possibly the best writing cheap pen I own. It’s very smooth. If we go to the food smoothness scale, I would put it at the level of a hot White Castle burger. It must be hot, and it must be White Castle. When refrigerated, White Castles kinda get gelatinous in the bun and hard in the meat (heh), so it doesn’t work. But nice and hot fresh from White Castle, that’s what this pen is like. If you only have Krystal near you, imagine that, but a liiiiittle bit softer.
The line is a perfect western medium with no line variation, but that’s okay, since I’m paying $9.
It actually sounds a bit rougher on the sheet of paper. I can’t explain how that works, but it sounds like a guy across the room making voiceless labiodental fricatives at you in time with your pen moving across the paper. You could probably fool him by miming some writing just above the paper, but it doesn’t work. Anyway, trust me, it’s hot White Castle smooth.
So if we take a look at that section again, with the definitely not a feature spinny grip, it isn’t actually that bad. Its triangular grip sections allow you to write like a normal (albeit fundamentally annoyed) person for hours on end. The grip is a bit loose on the section, so it is always squeezed in a little bit before you get any resistance, like you hugged a fat guy. Hugging fat guys ain’t so bad, and neither is this…if you only had to do it once. But, every time you lift your finger, you must hug the fat guy again.
To continue with the fat guy analogy, now pretend he’s the Michelin man wearing a bra. Now you’ve simulated the entirely too large bumps in the grip section. This pen is therefore both exceptionally comfortable to use and mildly infuriating, like a chair that makes your left leg go numb after an hour.
But, to reiterate, the pen is well balanced and a great writer. The pen has never once skipped on me, and it always starts right up again. I have a Parker Arrow, shown above (that picture has finally become convenient), with a similar size nib. This is smoother and more reliable, and it costs 5 times less. I have a Sheaffer 100 which also costs around $50. This nib is smoother and more reliable. Uhhhhhhhhhh…I guess my Latitude also technically runs about that price. This nib is smoother and more reliable. But just. It’s also better than all of the Parkers with the Vector nib. Duh.
Value: 10/10. Not only does this pen come with ink, but it comes with an eradicator. That’s nice.
You will notice that the packaging is upside down here. There’s a reason for that: I couldn’t be bothered to flip it on my computer.
Anyway, that eradicator it comes with works on the same stuff as the Pelikan Super Pirats I have, and it also has the nifty permanent side. I love it when a pen comes with one of these things, mostly so when people give me smug advice like “I’d do that in pencil,” I can tell them to shove it where the sun don’t shine and erase the insult I wrote them on my sheet of paper.
This ability to passive aggressively insult others adds a lot of value, in addition to the fact that this pen writes really well. For $9.
I don’t really like Chinese pens, despite me owning about a billion, and I think it’s due to the immense variability in their craftsmanship. They can use expensive materials and junk, but they often don’t have the same level of consistent goodness as their European or American rivals, and I think that’s exemplified here. Outwardly a very cheap pen, but it writes like nobody’s business. This is a sleeper car of school pens.
Here’s some bad writing I spilled some stuff on.
I’ve gone on about how much I don’t like Jinhao pens a lot. My 250 is scratchy, my 500 leaks, my 1200 skips, my X450 is dry, skips and is a hard starter. So I got the 599 from isellpens in the same shipment as the Metropolitan. I couldn’t tell you why I thought that was a good idea.
It turns out, though, that it was. The pen is easily the best writing Jinhao I have ever had, though that’s not saying much as a rock with some blood on it could produce a better and more consistent line than those, but it’s more than that. This is as good of a writer as any of my non American cheap pens with only a single exception. The Herlitz pen I mentioned in that Duke 961 review. We’re going to give that one more time. First, we’ll chat about Jinhao.
Not much is definitively known about Jinhao here in the west, other than they’re a Chinese brand, currently based in Shanghai. They’re fairly new, only a few decades old, and they have a reputation for excellent build quality at cheap prices, which I have not experienced. That said, the parent company of Jinhao manufactures Baoer pens, which I have had much more luck with in the past.
Anyway, let’s get into the review.
I hate how Lamy Safaris look. I just absolutely hate em. They are ugly shaped, they are aesthetically on par with a lacquered frozen dog turd, and are so unfathomably loud and cheap looking, I can’t not judge a person I see using them.
Eugh. I’m talking about the Lamy Safari because the Jinhao 599 is a Safari copy. There are a few other Safari copies out there, like the Hero summer colours pen, but this is the only one I bothered to get.
Now, you may be wondering why I’d get the 599 versus the Hero pen. I’ll tell you. The appearance.
Okay, yes. This still looks, fundamentally, like a Lamy Safari. But, it’s slightly better. The nib looks more normal, the clip is a little bit different, and has a different mounting mechanism. Regardless of these things, it’s still ugly as sin. This is like a 1979 Escort completely rusted out and looking like it’s hours away from destruction, but the owner painted the hood.
Regardless, it is still a little bit better than the normal Safari.
For those of you who have never owned a Safari, and good for you, it has an interesting shape. The cap is circular, but the back part of the pen’s body has two parallel sides, like they were cut out of the circle. This is actually a useful design feature to keep the pen from rolling, and it keeps the pen from looking like it cost $ .10.
The nib section is triangular on the top of a Lamy Safari with a round portion underneath it, preventing a person from comfortably using the pen inverted, but who does that anyway? In this feature, actually, the Jinhao departs…slightly. The Safari section is like a 60 degree angle where one side of the triangle is a curve. This pen is more like a circle with two flat sides cut out at 60 degrees from one another. Examine the above picture. I guess what I’m trying to say is that on the Jinhao the finger hold spots are a bit smaller.
On to that nib, then!
The nib is an okay looking nib with little flourishes around the outside, but nothing particularly special going on here. But, at least it’s not just a square with some tines at the end, like the Lamy nib.
This may be a good time to bring up the fact that I have a specific variant of the 599, the all plastic one. There are also aluminum ones that look like the Lamy Al-Star and have a Lamy-esque nib to match. You can see that variant, which is also the most widely reviewed one, on isellpens.
That nib is…all right. It actually reminds me of the $3 Pilot Varsity pens.
The rest of the pen is pretty ugly. The semi triangular grip section, the loud colours, the everything. It’s really bad. The pen looks like it costs 50 cents (which is more than ten), and the design was terrible. You can see the converter’s edge in the ink preview window. Who thought that was a good idea?
By the way, I normally wouldn’t bring up the converter until later, but Jinhao has made a special one just for this pan, and I think it’s actually really remarkable.
It’s very very similar to the Lamy converter. It has the same shape as the barrel of the pen, flat on two sides and round on two sizes, with one part of it showing the Jinhao name. This is very close to the Lamy converter.
So that’s actually nice. The design of the thing you will never see. If we go back to the 79 Escort analogy, now you’ve put in leather seats. Except leather seats are functional. This converter is extremely difficult to use, borderline sisyphean, but I’ll get into that later.
So, yeah, I’m trashing the looks of the pen, but if you buy into, and like, the Safari looks, you will like the looks of this pen. I don’t know how you can write if you’re blind, but you’ll like it. They are very similar.
Build Quality: 5/10.
This finish looks absolutely terrible.
We can see seams and places it’s broken off from others, not sanded down. Yes, we’re paying $6 for a pen, but do you think uni-ball would allow this shoddy workmanship in any of their $.40 pens? I don’t. And it’s not just the plastic that’s terrible.
There are metal clips on dozens of pens that cost less than a dollar, and this one can’t be chromed correctly for six?
The top of the cap, too, isn’t so good. The plastic top, in which Hero has their logo and Lamy a cross, is, here, just a black plastic top. No problem with that. But, it looks like the hole in which it was stuck was cut by a homeless guy with a meat cleaver. It’s pretty rough.
And again, WHO THOUGHT SEEING THE CONVERTER IN THE INK WINDOW WAS A GOOD IDEA?
Because we have dropped off a good millimeter of resolution on this thing, it’s effectively like your gas gauge saying empty at a quarter tank. Yeah, at that point, you should refill it, but how much longer do you have? 5 miles? 50 miles? Can you run to the store? You won’t know.
So then you have to unscrew the stupid pen. Luckily, this part is okay. The threads were designed with a stop at the end so you can’t go past the cutout in the ink window to see the ink. Well designed. It’s not particularly pleasant to use, since it’s plastic on plastic, but what’re you going to do?
Other things that are all right are the cap and clip in function. The cap is friction fit and clicks in well and silently. It’s pretty strong, but not hard to close. The clip is stiff but with the low gradient and wide opening at the end, it can probably clip onto anything. If I needed a pen to clip onto a fish, this would be on my short list.
Something that’s actually good is its solidity. It’s made poorly, but it seems like the plastic quality isn’t lacking, despite its looks. It’s stiff. hard, and doesn’t feel like it’ll break. It’s also fabulously well balanced even if it’s posted. A very well done pen in that regard.
So, even though it looks terrible, it runs fine.
Refilling and Maintenance: 6/10.
I’ve kind of gotten a standard thing going for the reviews, and if a pen has an easily replaceable #6 nib, international converters and cartridges, it gets a ten. Just international converters and cartridges? 7/10. This one meets those criteria, but it has that special converter…so it’s worse.
Have you ever tried to twist in a wood screw with your hands? Then you’ve basically tried to use the Jinhao 599 converter. The special design keeps the user from being able to have a good grip on it, like any other converter anywhere. (Except for Lamy).
This wouldn’t be so bad, as it isn’t in Lamy’s converters, if the torque necessary to turn the thing could be provided by something less powerful than a two stroke at full throttle, like, say, the average person’s hand. The Jinhao converter was so annoying to use I am considering just putting in my cartridges. which is too bad since the pen writes like a gosh darn dream.
That’s right, on a Jinhao. One that I own, even! This pen performs better than my Baoer 507, any of my Dukes, and is even better than the Pilot Metropolitan. This pen writes like a $40 pen, easy. I am loving that thing. It writes a true medium line, unlike most of the medium fine lines that eastern pens tend to write.
And, this pen is smooth smooth smooth. It’s probably the smoothest M nibbed pen I own that isn’t a Parker. Except maybe that Herlitz. It’s sure as hell a much smoother writer than my formerly owned Safari, which was about as smooth as public restroom toilet paper, which I’m pretty sure is made of small shards of glass stuck into a 2 ply 6 gsm roll.
This one is just a pleasure to write with, though. It has never skipped and starts right up even when it’s been a day just sitting there. I did three pages with it today even, and that isn’t just due to the great ink delivery, it also has a lot to do with the design. As much as I hate the appearance of this pen and its build quality, it’s so light and well balanced with such an easy to use section it’s hard to not love writing with the pen.
The pen writes great for this price, but you pay for it with all the other crappy stuff about it. You’d need to get lucky on a Parker Beta for a pen that writes this well in this price range, but those nibs (the same as the Vector) are sketchy at best. For performance value, it’s second to none. For show off value, it’s worse than a Pentel rollerball. Ugh.
Yeah, I spent most of the review taking a dump on this fugly pen, but it writes so unbelievably well for so unbelievably cheap I cannot help but recommend that you buy it. It’s truly a great pen, and is going to go with me in my bag to be pulled out in dark rooms where nobody can see me using it.
Here’s some terrible writing.