Review: Pilot Custom 823

Pilot Custom 823 not posted

I typically end the year with a “nice” pen purchase. I’ve purchased more than enough nice fountain pens during the year that this is really just an excuse, but one I’ll continue from years when I was only buying pens at year end, The Pilot Custom Series has been on my radar for a few months and I finally decided on the Pilot Custom 823. This ended up being the first of several year end purchases but this was my top choice when I had expected to pick only one.

Why I Got It

Pilot Custom 823 nib

I wanted a Japanese nib – Pilot, Sailor or Platinum/Nakaya. I ended up focusing on Pilots because I really like their nibs and of the pens that appealed to me they were also less expensive. If I didn’t already have several Sailors, including 1911s it would have been a harder choice. KMPN has a good comparison of the Pilot Custom line of fountain pens.

I picked the Pilot Custom 823 for it’s size, classic design, and the vac filling system. Generally I don’t like colored demonstrators and that was a concern here since it is translucent. I liked the amber color and think it gives the pen a bit of a vintage look so I took a chance.

I also like that it had a large nib and the Pilot #15 nib one of the largest in the current Pilot pen line. KMPN also has a good Pilot nib comparison. I like a nib that can be seen.

What I Got

It’s a Pilot Custom 823 Amber Demonstrator with a 14k gold fine nib. It’s a large pen that hold 2.2 ml of ink according to some websites (some claim 22 ml but I assume that’s a missing decimal as this is not an ink bottle).

The pen came in a large box made of heavy cardboard with a thin cloth interior. It’s nothing elaborate but it held the pen and the included 70 ml bottle of Pilot Blue ink quit nicely.

There’s also a prominent notice that the nib and feed unit cannot be removed and doing so will void the warranty. An internet search shows the nib/feed is removable but I haven’t proven this myself. Care would have to be taken to avoid cracking or wiping off the grease (not silicone) lubricant. I’ve also seen comments that warranty repairs are as costly as a new pen since Pilot replaces the whole pen rather than just the nib/feed.

In a practice I hate because it cheapens the pen, there was a sticker on the pen cap indicating that the piston needed to be opened a bit to allow ink to flow into the feed when using the pen. Getting the sticker and adhesive off without scratching the pen was a bit of a pain.

Pilot also included their typical pen care instructions along with a separate pamphlet with the specific filling instructions for this pen. The pamphlet also says only 70 ml bottle of ink can be used. The nib is large so this must be Pilot’s way of saying the ink must reach the section when filling. The included bottle of ink has an insert to allow the pen to fill when the ink gets low.

The amber color of the pen is gorgeous, I’m not a fan of gold trim or two-tone nibs but they work with this pen and complement it nicely. While I wouldn’t mistake if for a vintage pen, I think the color and classic shape give it a vintage look.

I ordered the pen from Richard Binder so the nib was checked and “Binderized” before shipping. So I can’t say how the nib works directly from Pilot. Richard seems to like wet nibs, wetter than I usually like. But I decided that it would be OK since a Pilot fine puts down a thin line. The nib isn’t a gusher but it is nice and wet. I like it.

The Numbers:

  • Length Capped:  5.8335″  (148.17 mm)
  • Length Uncapped:  5.1490″  (130.79 mm)
  • Length Posted:  4.488″  (164.80 mm)
  • Section Length:  0.7145″  (18.15 mm)
  • Section Diameter (near nib):  0.4205″  (10.68 mm)
  • Section Diameter (near threads):  0.4545″  (11.54 mm)
  • Barrel Diameter:  0.5020″  (12.75 mm)
  • Cap Diameter: 0.5970″  (15.16 mm)
  • Weight (empty): 1 oz.   (28 grams)

Using The Pen

Pilot Custom 823 Writing Sample

Since the pen was inked, tested and cleaned before shipping to me I immediately inked it up with the included Pilot Blue ink. Getting a full pen was remarkably easy. If the pen holds 2.2 ml as claimed, then I got 2.1 ml with one “plunge”. The vacuum filler is counter-intuitive since it fills on the downstroke. The Pilot ink bottle has an insert to keep the ink level high enough. This kept the ink covering the nib even as the pen filled. Granted, the bottle was full so it may become harder once the ink level drops. I’m always concerned and paranoid that I’m going to mash the nib into the bottom of the bottle while pushing down. The downstroke on the Custom 823 was so smooth and easy there was no worry there.

As the aggravating sticker on the cap warned, and like the TWSBI Vac 700, the vacuum filler has to be opened slightly so the ink can flow to the feed. The plunger opens with a couple quick twists of the blind cap and the ink can flow into the feed. This does have the benefit of sealing the pen shut when needed (such as flying).

The seal does not need to be opened to write a few lines. But if the pen is used throughout the day for a few lines each time the nib will eventually dry out. The seal is tight. But my experience is I can leave the blind cap open throughout the day and carry the pen around without any problems. This way the pen is always ready. I’ve also carried the pen in my bag with the seal open and there was no leakage or extra ink in the cap despite the extra jostling.

The 14k gold fine nib was nice and smooth as it put down a wet line. It’s wetter than I typically want but in this case I like it and the line put down is a consistent fine. This is not unexpected for a Pilot nib that was tuned by Richard Binder before delivery.

The pen doesn’t feel like common plastic. Officially the pen is made of resin, but plastic is a resin. It does look and feel like plastic, but good quality plastic so I’m willing to call it resin. The build quality is solid, with no seams in the plastic and a solid fit between the section and barrel. Unscrewing the blind cap and working the plunger doesn’t take any effort.

The pen is light despite its size and feels comfortable when I write with it. Because of the size and easy ink flow I don’t find myself subconsciously gripping the pen harder as I tend to do with light and thin pens. I wrote for over an hour without feeling any fatigue at all. I was also able to put the pen down for over 5 minutes and it wrote immediately when I put the nib to paper. If I hold the end of the pen and drag the nib across the paper the weight of the pen is enough to put down a consistent line.

I’ve seen this pen described as having a “springy” nib which is a good enough word but could leave the wrong impression. The 14k gold nib isn’t a nail and it has a soft touch on the paper. I can flex the nib a bit by adding some pressure, but to me “springy” implies it flexes routinely and easily. The nib does “spring” back after some pressure but there’s no change of line width and maybe just a little more ink. I don’t use the word “flex” to mean a traditional flex nib where the tines spread to vary line width and shading, This nib flexes up and down. I prefer to think of the nib as having a soft touch on the paper rather than springy.

The Pilot Custom 823 has never skipped or had a false start, even after sitting unused for 5 days. Well, it did skip once but that was when I forgot to unscrew the blind cap to open the seal after those 5 days it was sitting unused. I got a little over 1/2 page of writing before it skipped. Normal operation returned as soon as I opened the seal. I do make occasional quick notes without opening the seal, but usually I open the seal at the beginning of the day and leave it upon until the end of the day.

The pen can be posted although my preference is to not post my pens. The Pilot Custom 823 is still well balanced and light when posted. The cap stays on with friction but it doesn’t seem all that secure to me, unless it’s really pressed down onto the barrel. I’d always be concerned that that the cap would start cracking after years of posting. Those of you that post regularly may not share my concern. There is a cap band to help prevent cracking.

Cleaning The Pen

Pilot Custom 823 vac extended for ink

The pen holds a lot of ink and even though the nib is one of my wetter fine nibs, it is still a fine nib that sips ink. One fill lasts a long time. The Pilot Blue ink had been in the pen just over a month when it came time to write this review. There was a little ink left in the barrel but I decided to go ahead and clean the pen before it went completely dry.

I drained the extra ink first before adding any water. I did this by slowly lowering the plunger a few times. Then I continued the process but filling it with water then emptying it into the sink to avoid recycling inky water. After about 5 minutes the water appeared clear.

But a few “thermometer Flicks” into a tissue showed traces ink. So I held the nib in the ultrasonic cleaner and a small stream of ink came out. Then it was a few more flushes and thermometer flicks into a tissue to get all traces of the ink out. This was another 5 minutes. If I was refilling the pen, even with another color ink, I would have stopped before the ultrasonic cleaner as there wasn’t enough ink left to be noticed or affect the next ink. If I didn’t have the UC a few more flushes and flicks would have gotten the ink out.

There wasn’t any traces of staining around the seal or ink caught up near the blind cap. It does look like there are traces of ink on the grease that seals the section threads. I would expect this to stain a bit over time but not enough to affect the pen and I really have to look hard with a loupe to see it. Stains on the sealing grease wouldn’t bother me. Ink caught above the seal (plunger) is something that would annoy me and there wasn’t any ink trapped there yet.

Inks Used

The Pilot Blue ink, that came with the pen, is the only inked used so far. Despite being a blue ink, not my favorite color family, I like the ink and may use it as the regular ink for this pen. This is the same Namiki Blue ink that I previously reviewed. Since cleaning a vac filler can be tedious without dis-assembly I stick to inks that are easy to flush from a pen and this qualifies.

Wrapping Up

Not being able to take the pen apart (without potentially  voiding the warranty) is a downside, especially with a demonstrator. Some ink caught above the plunger could annoy me. I’d be blissfully ignorant on a solid pen, but I’d see it on the demonstrator. Even though cleaning could be easier with dis-assembly I try to avoid that anyway since it it would be only a matter of time before I was careless and lost a part down the drain or damaged the pen.

This is a pen that makes me want to thin my accumulation in the coming year. Not because I don’t like it, but because it joins a growing list of pens I want to use regularly. It was depressing to clean it up and put it back in the pen tray so that other pens could have a chance.

As I work to thin my accumulation this year I’m deciding if my pens are “keepers” or not. The Pilot Custom 823 with a fine nib is a definite keeper.

Additional Reading

The Dizzy Pen

Saint Austin’s Pub

Stylophiles Online Magazine

19 thoughts on “Review: Pilot Custom 823

    • Serge,
      I’m definitely going to have a lot of keepers, but I expect there are a few that can move on to better homes. The really hard part will be actually parting with them.

      Thanks for reading,

  1. Great review thanks. I own an example of each model in Pilot’s less expensive lines and have always been impressed with them right out of the box. I need to break out and buy a premium pilot like this one soon.

    • Bob M,
      I’m always impressed with the Pilot pens, especially the nibs. It does mean it’s harder to justify the added cost over the lower priced models since they are so good. But personally I think this pen is worth the money.

      Thanks for reading,

  2. Thanks for the review. I wish you had posted a close up picture of the blind cap unscrewed to allow ink flow when normally writing.

    • Hi,
      I read your opinion on this pen and i have one too. A few days ago I couldn’t fill the pen and I noticed the upper part of the plunger was cracked, as a result the vacuum didn’t build up. Do you have an idea where I can buy a plunger?
      Thanks so much,

      • Hi Joseph,

        Sorry about your pen. I don’t know any source for parts. Pilot doesn’t consider this pen user serviceable so I doubt they make parts available. Maybe a parts pen from eBay but that may be more hassle/risk than it’s worth. Might be worth contacting your seller or Pilot themselves to get a repair cost if no longer under warranty. One of these pen repairers may be able to repair it. Ron Zorn (Main Street Pens) is where I would start for a cracked pen but he probably has very, very long turn-around times.

        Good luck

  3. Pingback: Fountain Pens with Soul « Atramental Otaku

    • Hi George, the paper is a Black n’ Red notebook I picked up in Staples. The paper can vary so I only buy them in brick & mortar stores. This one is labeled made in Germany and is the A4 (8 1/4″ X 11 3/4″) size.

      Thanks for reading.

  4. I have this pen on order. Given your review and others, I expect to like it. I’ve yet to find a Pilot that disappointed at the price. In my experience, they usually outperform all but OMAS pens which are far more expensive and sadly no more. What Pilot lacks in visual appeal, they more than makeup in writing performance. Thank you for this informative review.

    • The nib/feed are friction fit but Pilot provides not parts or support. It’s a plastic feed and not anything close to standard. It might match other Pilot pens but that would be all.

  5. Great and thorough review! I have one on it’s way right now in broad.

    Reading your thoughts makes me want it to arrive now!

    Oh, shouldn’t wish our lives away!

  6. Very good review. The Custom 823 is just about the only pen, of any kind, that actually seems to have improved my handwriting, which was yet another mind- blowing discovery with this pen…so much so that I recently cobbled the bucks together to buy a second one. (Technically, this is actually my third 823, as the very first one I purchased over eight years ago mysteriously disappeared few years later, much to my heartbreak.) That one was black/smoke with M nib that was a ridiculously good writer; its replacement was identical in every way save for the nib: I chose an F that time around, and the first time I wrote with it I thought I’d made a mistake – the nib had a good deal more tooth, reminiscent of every other F nib I’ve used in the past, and the reason I’d avoided them up to this point. But as I continued to write, there was a revelation: yes, there was more feedback, but somehow it fell well short of the scratchiness I’d come to know and hate with those other F nibs. How in Hades did Pilot pull this off? And the more I wrote with it, the better things got.

    This latest 823 is amber, with a M nib: I almost had to get used to the reduced tooth in this one, almost to the point where I thought there was a problem with it. But the more I wrote with it, on different paper, I realized all was well, and wonderful. Other than my matte-black Vanishing Point (and, where necessary, a ballpoint here and there) these are pretty much all I write with.

  7. Late to the party, but appreciated this review as it mirrors my own assessment of this pen. It was not on my radar until Neil Gaiman recommended it to me, and it has become one of my “desert island” pens.

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