I’ve had disposable fountain pens around, on and off since I started using fountain pens regularly 20 or so years ago. Back then it was exclusively the offering from Pilot, I’m not sure if it was called the Varsity back then, but it was the only brand available in brick & mortar stores.) Back then I used them because they were an inexpensive option for a nice writing pen.
My later use case and my current reason for the search is that they provide a variety of ink colors without the pain and suffering of maintaining all those pens.
While a variety of colors close at hand is my primary reason, I do have other motivations. The disposable pens are great to have on hand if a non-fountain pen user wants to borrow a pen. If they bust the nib, it’s no significant loss. It’s also a great option to evangelize fountain pens as they are cheap enough to give away. It’s a sure bet that they write better than the cheap pens the recipient is using.
After finding that Pilot Varsity pens were no longer available in my local office supply stores, I went online. That led me down a rathole to five different disposable fountain pen brands. The five brands are listed below, I bought pens from the first three brands, but passed on the others.
Pilot Varsity (aka V Pen)
This pen is the Varsity in the United States and the V Pen everywhere else. They have slightly different skins but are the same pen. The V Pen costs more in the U.S. because it comes from a different (non-US) source, not because it’s an improved version. I couldn’t find any fine nib version of the Varsity in my recent search, but the V Pen did have fine nibs available. I don’t know if my search was lacking, or if the fine nib version is no longer officially imported into the U.S.
Thornton’s Office Supply Novice
I don’t know anything about the Thornton’s Office Supply brand, but they sell various office supplies through many online retailers. Their disposable fountain pens are available with fine or medium nibs. Twelve colors are available. There’s a twelve-pack with one of each color. But, unlike the Pilot Varsity, there are also twelve-packs for many of the colors. The possessive is part of the brand name, which drives my grammar checker nuts.
I always thought of Itoya as the U.S. distributor of Sailor. I also vaguely remember some expensive Itoya branded pens from a pen show (but my memory could be faulty). Their website is half-baked (looks good, until you start clicking links) but they (Itoya of America) are a subsidiary of the Japanese retailer Ito-ya Ltd.
So, I don’t know if their disposable fountain pens are new products, or just new to me. They only offer disposable pens with blue or black ink.
Bic Disposable Fountain Pen
These appear to be primarily sold in the U.K. and are expensive from U.S. online retailers. I’ve seen these with blue or black ink. Office Supply Geek reviewed these pens back in 2014.
Malarkey Disposable Fountain Pen
I’ve only seen these on eBay and Amazon. The ink color isn’t mentioned but my first guess would be black and my second would be blue. They have a great name and a low price. Unlike the other four brands, these come with a cartridge (which they call an inkwell). There’s a fountain pen network review here.
Quick Look at the Pens
As I mentioned, I purchased disposable pens for the first three brands. The Bic was too expensive here in the U.S. and didn’t provide anything the others didn’t offer. The Malarkey, while different and cheap, didn’t appeal to me and I already had the other pens.
None of the disposable brands I bought appear to be knock-offs or rebranded versions of the same pen. The Thornton’s and Bic could be siblings (but not twins), although I’ve only seen pictures of the Bic.
A tried and true disposable fountain pen that I’ve used for over 20 years. It’s been a consistently good performer and a great value. My experience is they are durable and survive well when bouncing around in a briefcase or computer bag. The seal is good, and they don’t evaporate ink, surviving months in a desk drawer and then immediately writing when needed. The nibs are consistent, as is the ink flow.
There’s a translucent stripe down the barrel so you can check the ink level.
Despite my praise, of the disposable brands, these are my least favorite to use. It’s the smallest and lightest of the pens and therefore the least comfortable for me after using it a bit. Purely a subjective option, your mileage may vary.
The specs on the Pilot Varsity are:
- Length Posted: 149.25 mm
- Length Unposted: 115.50 mm
- The gripping section is 21.4 mm long and has a girth that tapers from 10.25 mm to 9.95 mm
- The barrel has a girth of 10.8 mm
Thornton’s Office Supply Novice
While they are different, the Novice has the same design aesthetic as the Varsities. Plastic, with finials the color of the ink. With the Novice the clip also matches the ink color. There’s no way to monitor the ink level.
I haven’t used the Novice enough to comment on durability. All twelve pens in my set have consistently good nibs and put down a consistent, fine line. A Thornton’s 12-pack costs slightly less than a varsity 7-pack ($11.16 vs. $12.98).
The Specs on the Novice are:
- Length Posted: 154 mm
- Length Unposted: 122.60 mm
- The gripping section is 27.39 mm long and has a girth that tapers from 10.88 mm to 10.28 mm
- The barrel has a girth of 11.84 mm
The Anderson Pens podcast often costs me money. This time it was when they mentioned the Itoya Blade disposable fountain pen. (Actually, a companion product that I’ll get to in a moment.)
The Blade is available with only black or blue ink. The two pack has one of each for $8; single pens cost $4.50. A fine nib is the only available option, which is fine with me. (Sorry!)
While the Blade is plastic, it has a more business-like appearance with a lot of metallic looking silver and chrome. The cap is clear.
There’s a viewing window to check the ink level, although it doesn’t extend all the way to the feed. There’s an inner cap that provides a tight seal over the nib to prevent evaporation. Because of this tight inner cap, it takes more force to cap and uncap the pen than the other disposables. I have noticed some ink splatter inside the inner cap.
I’ve had the Blade even less time than the Novice so I can’t speak to durability, but it seems well built, and I expect it to last, and not let the ink evaporate.
The Blade has a companion product called the PaperSkater Galaxy. It’s an aluminum pen sheath that holds an Itoya Blade or Pilot Varsity disposable fountain pen. The Varsity uses an adapter/spacer that is included. It includes a Blade fountain pen (black ink). It gives the pen a bit more weight and girth, which I like. It also gives the pen a classy look. I do have trouble wrapping my head around buying (for $34) an aluminum sleeve to wrap around a disposable pen. But I was intrigued enough to buy one. Well, actually two. I may do a fuller review (although there’s probably not much to say) after I have used it for awhile.
Size Comparisons (Click on photos for full size):
Writing Samples (Click on photos for full size):
All three of the disposable fountain pen brands that I tried are good values. The Bic is too expensive in the U.S., and the Malarkey doesn’t appeal to me.
The Pilot Varsity (V Pen) is the disposable gold standard. Maybe earned more because of availability, but it doesn’t lack performance or value. Despite this, it’s my least favorite of the three pens due to it’s smaller size. Entirely subjective so you may prefer it. I recall one or too poor performing Varsities over the years but, at this price level, I think it’s forgivable.
The Itoya Blade and Thorton’s Novice are about the same size. I like the look of the blade much better, and the feel a little better. But the Blade only has two ink colors, and only the Novice fills my many colors requirement. Plus fine nib Novices are cheaper than fine nib V Pens here in the U.S.
In closing, these disposable fountain pens write better out of the box than some “real” fountain pens that I’ve owned.