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.