Disposable Fountain Pens

A Pile of Disposable Fountain PensI’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)

7-Pack of the Pilot Varsity Disposable Fountain PensThis 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.

Thornton's Office Supply Novice 12 pack

Itoya Blade

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.

Itoya Blade 2 Pack

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.

Pilot Varsity

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

Itoya Blade

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.

Itoya PaperSkater Galaxy Pen (Itoya Blade disposable in a aluminum sleeve

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.


This Week’s Favorite

Sheaffer Custom Legacy and R&K Salix inkIt was time to flush out the Sheaffer Custom Legacy with R&K Salix today. The pen went dry just as I hit the two week limit I have for Iron Gall inks. This is the pen I kept reaching for this past week and it was a clear favorite.

The ink is a little slow to dry so I had a couple smudges in my work notes, but nothing too bad. Once dry the iron gall based ink is water proof.

The extra fine nib does resemble a nail but it is smooth and problem free. It puts down a consistent line with a light touch. The inlaid nib retains ink so it’s slow to evaporate, allowing longer pauses while writing. A trait I value when taking notes at work.

The pen has an aerometric (squeeze) converter which held enough ink for a week of light use and a second week of heavier use.

As I look to thin my accumulation I’m evaluating each pen I use to determine if it’s a keeper or not. This is a clear keeper based on both looks and performance.

Writing sample of the pen and ink

Writing Sample

TWSBI Vac 700 Oil & Lube

TWSI Vac 700

Disassembled with the TWSBI wrench and silicon grease.

I use my TWSBI Vac 700 for my ink sampling and with all the different inks, and multiple nib changes for each ink, the pen gets filled and emptied a lot. The Vac mechanism has easily gone through over 100 cycles even without considering pen cleaning. The filling rod was getting very stiff and sticking. I was afraid I’d break the pen or slip and send an ink bottle across the table or crush a nib.

I had put the pen aside until I had proper time to tackle the issue. In retrospect it wasn’t such a big issue. But it was the first time and I was hesitant.

First issue, what happens if I get the silicone grease in the pen? In a round about way it came to me that nothing would happen. A recent Goulet Q&A included a question about why metal pens couldn’t be converted to an eye drop filler yet the Vac 700 had a metal filler rod. I’d never though about it myself and basically the answer was what I expected. The metal used is picked to not react with the ink. What’s this got to do with silicone grease? Well, a bell went off and I realized silicone grease is used exactly because it’s inert when mixed with ink. While I wouldn’t want to shove it into the feed, or pour it over the metal rod there wouldn’t be a problem with just enough to loosen things up.

I used the included silicone grease and applied a little to the rod and worked the mechanism without taking the pen apart and that helped greatly, but it still stuck a little. So I opened the pen with the included wrench and applied a little silicone grease below the rear cap and worked the mechanism a few more times. The included silicone grease (from TWSBI, received with the pen) was in a dropper bottle so it was easy to just apply a little.

The only catch is to extend the plunger about half way and insert the seal into the pen before screwing on the rear cap. I screwed on the cap with the seal right against it and the seal was wedged into the top of the pen. No sense having to force it.


Insert the seal into the pen body before screwing on the rear cap

Vintage Notes: Parker Duofold Senior (c.1928)

Oarker Duofold c1928 uncappedFor me the Parker Duofold “Big Red” has always been the classic fountain pen. That was even before I knew what a Parker Duofold was and I still considered it orange. In 2011 I added a Bexley Poseidon in “Duofold Red” and figured that was the closest I’d get.

This year I discovered vintage pens and expanded my horizons. I just added a 1928 Parker Duofold Senior with an eBay purchase, The dual bands and flat tops date it around 1928 or 1929. Another pen considerably older than me so clearly vintage.

It doesn’t make much sense to do a formal review of a vintage pen. Both because each one would be different and because I just starting my vintage education.

I filled the pen with Pelikan Brilliant Black and have been using it since. It holds a lot of ink which it drinks in using a button filler. Thanks to all that ink I’m still on the first fill.

The pen is in good shape, especially considering its age. I hope I’m in such good shape when I get to be its age. But it’s not perfect. I’ve found ink inside the cap.There’s also ink along the wings of the nib and along the slit. It doesn’t seem to be an outright leak, but it also seems to be too much for simple nib creep, especially since I haven’t experienced any nib creep with Brilliant Black in other pens. There hasn’t been so much ink that it’s leaked onto the paper or my fingers. I have trusted the pen enough to use it at work, but not to bring it into meetings or carry it in my pocket.

The pen is very comfortable to write with. Being made of plastic hard rubber (I’ve no idea where I got plastic from, fixed now), it’s light despite its size. Even posted its light and well balanced. I’d have not trouble using it posted if I wanted to. The nib is stiff which is a quality I like since flex is wasted with me. The pen fits comfortably in my hand. Flow is consistent without skipping or hard starts. It’s a fairly wet writer for a thin nib. The nib is about as thick and wet as I would want in a daily writer. I’d actually prefer it to be a little drier but I can probably handle that with a different ink.

The nib is 14kt. gold and labelled “Parker Duofold Pen”. I don’t know it’s official designation but it writes like a fine which is my nib of choice. As mentioned, it’s also a stiff nib.

The pen is still on its first fill. Well, first fill for me. The Pelikan Brillant Black does evaporate off this nib fairly quickly. Pauses over a minute can cause skipping on the first letter after the pause. But just placing the cap on the pen, without bothering to tighten it, solved this problem.

I love this pen. I want to avoid saying “favorite pen” every time I write about a pen. And I have to acknowledge the thrill of having this his classic pen hasn’t worn off. But I’m going to say it – this is destined to remain one of my favorite pens. I can clearly see myself getting additional Parker Duofolds, even a similar model. I’ve crossed over from accumulating to collecting, at least for vintage Parkers. Although, if I think about it, maybe I’m just a more focused accumulator.

Parker Duofold c1928

Addtional Information

There’s a lot of information about Vintage Parkers out there. Jim Mamoulides’ PenHeo.com website is one great source of information including a nice article about the Parker Duofold  Flattops of the 1920’s.

ParkerCollector.com (aka ParkerPens.net) also has a lot of good info.

I was able to find a used copy of the out of print “Parker Duofold” by David Shepherd and Dan Zazove at a reasonable price. Lot’s of good info.


My First Nib Adjustments

Pens selected for nib tuningFresh off the motivating Tweaks for Geeks on nib tuning I did my first nib adjustments tonight. The hard part was picking the pen to be the first guinea pig. I had put aside two Conklins since they were such horrible writers (which explained why they were dirt cheap). But they have gold nibs which seemed like a bad choice to be first. Other pens I had issues with were also gold nibs.

I finally found a Parker that seemed to have mis-aligned tines. I don’t think I ever used the pen so I put in cartridge to giver it a try. It was pretty bad, making it the perfect choice.

I watched the video again over dinner then went at it. Once tine was lowered but wouldn’t seem to go any lower. So the other tine was raised. A little too much so it was lowered. There was a little more back and forth but I eventually got them aligned. A writing test showed a vast improvement. Good flow and no skipping.

Next was the lapping film for the smoothing. First the courser green then the finer white as shown in the video. Even smoother when I got done.

Based on that success I decided to tackle the gold nibbed Conklin. The pen had serious flow issues due to the notorious feed and converter and I didn’t expect to change that. But even when the nib was saturated the pen skipped terribly, mostly on the down-stroke.

Again the tines were misaligned so I started there. I had a harder time with this one, a lot more back and forth with the tines. I just couldn’t seem to get them aligned but eventually it worked out. Like the Parker, there was significant improvement once the tines were aligned.

This time I used the buff stick for the smoothing although still finished with the white lapping film. This improved the feel of the nib a bit more. I expect the flow problems to return but I’ve written two frustration-free pages using the pen.

Now I almost want to find a scratchy nib. It’s a fun way to relax after work.

Ink Notes: Edison Herald with Diamine Golden Brown Ink

Photo of the Edison HeraldI spent a lot of time using the Edison Herald with a fine nib and Diamine Golden Brown ink during the past week. I filled four Edison Pens with brown ink and alternated their use until I eventually gravitated to this one. I was easily the most used pen this week. Not so much because I liked it the best. Rather, it was for almost the opposite reason – I was undecided whether or not I liked the combo.

When it first hit the paper I thought the ink was too light. Golden Brown is a good name for it, with an emphasis on “Gold”. But I found it easy enough to read on the various papers I used, all of which tended to be a variation of white. While it doesn’t rise to the level of favorite, the color grew on me over time and I kind of like it. Well, at least I don’t dislike it.

As for the ink/pen combo? Hmmm. I didn’t have any actual performance issues. It wrote without hesitation or skipping from first time the nib hit the paper to the last word. The ink is a very dry ink, at least compared to other inks I’ve used, without much saturation. This does mean it dries fast. It was under 5 seconds on the paper I used, except for Rhodia where it was 5 or 6 seconds.

The ink wasn’t flowing very freely in the converter but that didn’t seem to be the cause of the dry lines. But after writing a couple pages the pen did begin to feel like it was straining to put ink on the paper and the line was even drier and lighter.

I still have some of the sample left so for its next pen I’ll pick a thicker and wetter nib and see how it handles that.

Bottom Line: The ink is nice but a little light for my personal taste. I’d also prefer a little more saturation. Maybe I’ll like it more in a thicker nib. But in any event, I don’t expect I’ll like the ink enough to invest in a bottle.

As for the pen: Like all my Edisons it writes without any problems and I like the color a lot. That iPhone picture makes it look much darker than it really is. The pen is about as small as I feel comfortable writing with. I don’t post my pens and while this is post-able I’d always be concerned the cap would eventually mar the finish if it’s posted tight enough not to fall off.

This is one pen/ink combo I won’t repeat even though the ink color complements the pen color nicely.

Additional Reading: FPN Reviews here and here


Pleasant Surprises

On Monday I wrote about my pen disappointments of 2012. Now it’s time to get more upbeat with the pleasant pen surprises of 2012. Like the disappointments I limited myself to pens I received in 2012. Like the disappointments this is completely subjective and  based on my expectations.

My first pleasant surprise came in March in the form pf an Antique Marble Edison Collier with an extra fine nib. This was my first Edison pen and while I had read good things about them I didn’t really know what to expect. What I got was a great looking, well built pen. The steel nib writes great without any issues.

That first Edison triggered an addiction and I’ve added three more Edison pens. Plus I have two more on order including a Signature Line pen.

My second pleasant surprise was in July. This time it was the Franklin-Christoph Model 66 Stabilis Desk Pen with an extra fine steel nib. This was my first F-C pen so I didn’t know what to expect. There was even less info than there was about Edison, although what I found was positive about the company and their other pens. I absolutely loved the pen and reviewed it here. This pen also triggered an addiction and I added four more Franklin-Christoph pens to my accumulation.

That was it for 2012 pleasant surprises. They offset the two disappointments. Of course, now that my expectations for Edison and Franklin-Christoph pens are so high they probably won’t make this list in 2013.

What were your 2012 pleasant pen surprises?