A few weeks ago I first noticed a new Parker pen called the Vector XL, in my local WH Smith at London’s Brent Cross shopping centre, in a range of colours. I did not buy one immediately, but whilst on holiday recently, checked out branches of WH Smith in other towns that we visited, to see whether they had them. I did not succeed in finding one until back home in London again.
I have always had a soft spot for Parker fountain pens, ever since I was a young child. I know that they are now made in China and for several years my attention has been diverted by numerous brands from Germany, Italy, Japan, USA, and other countries, brands that I would have had little or no awareness of as a child, However there is still a certain nostalgia in revisiting Parker, the brand I idolised in my younger days.
With that background, and being curious to try this new release, I took the plunge and bought one. There were four colours to chose from. Teal, Lilac, black or Silver-Blue. I narrowed these down to Teal and Silver Blue and sought advice from a nearby member of staff who was refilling the shelves. His response was to pick the Silver Blue saying “It matches your shirt”, which indeed it did. He then added “I’m not the person to ask – I go for black everything” which was evidenced by his attire of black trousers and tee shirt. I was coming down in favour of the Silver Blue as well, as looking a little more adult than the Teal perhaps.
I was aware that the pen was available for about a third less from Cult Pens, but opted for the bricks and mortar buying experience, although this was fairly impersonal at a self-service checkout till.
Sitting down outside the shop I opened the blister pack. The pen felt quite nice, with a matte, metallic finish. The cap finial contains a shiny metal disc, featuring the Parker logo. There is a Parker arrow clip. There is no cap ring but the name Parker stands out more legibly against the Silver Blue background than on the Teal.
The cap snaps on and off firmly. The section is of a matching but transparent coloured plastic through which you can see the base of the nib and the nozzle for the cartridge. Once you insert a cartridge, you can see the first centimetre of it through the section. Crucially for me, the section feels comfortable and just slightly textured.
The pen comes with a black and a blue cartridge of Parker Quink ink. I popped in the blue one, omitting the flushing stage as I was still in the shopping centre. Immediately, I could see ink seeping down through the feed and within a few shakes the pen was writing.
Initial impressions were favourable! The large, traditional shaped nib seemed an improvement on the old Vector and I preferred the girth of the XL model. There is no breather hole. The nib does have a large blob of tipping which is not flattened on the face (as it would be on a Montblanc at twenty times the price). From the naked eye, the nib looked to be in good order and it wrote smoothly and well. For a medium nib, the line is perhaps closer to a broad and may be too wide for some users but I was very happy with it. There was some line width variation between the down strokes and the cross strokes. Also a fine line was possible when “reverse writing” – using the opposite side of the nib.
- Attractive and robust aluminium finish;
- The grip section is reasonably comfortable and not too slippery and not faceted. It feels nicer than the black plastic used on the otherwise very similar Waterman Allure;
- The coloured, transparent section adds interest and is unusual for a Parker; it will also serve as an ink window;
- Smooth, rounded nib, good for under or over-writing, with good ink flow right “out of the box”;
- Decent length: 12.5cm uncapped, long enough to use unposted. The cap does post securely if you want it to, but makes the pen 16cm long and a bit unwieldy;
- There may (I hope) be a production date code on the moulded plastic barrel threads (rather than the barrel itself): mine says “U” which I think would denote 2021, if this is pursuant to Parker’s “QUALITYPEN” system of identifying the year. There is also a figure 5, but this may just be a part number.
- The XL size is to be welcomed: the original Vector felt too slim.
- For its price, there seems little to criticise. There is no converter included, although you get two cartridges. My only concern, and something which I had anticipated, is that the cap is not airtight (you can blow air through it), which I think is an anti-choking safety feature but I wonder whether this will lead to ink evaporation and hard starts. It is early days and I will watch for this;
- Parker’s proprietary cartridges can be a bit pricey (e.g. £4.99 for a pack of 5 in some places – particularly annoying if ink evaporates from the cap, which I hope it won’t), although you can refill the cartridges or use a converter.
All in all I am very happy with this, as a convenient and robust, low cost every day carry pen to use when out and about.
Edit: 24 July 2022: When I wrote this post a month ago, expressed a concern that the pen might suffer from ink evaporation and hard starts as the cap seemed not to be airtight. Well I am happy to report that a month on, the pen does not appear to have lost any significant or noticeable amount of ink due to evaporation and has not suffered from hard starts either. And this includes a week in which London has seen record-breaking temperatures, reaching 39 degrees.
This is good news for anyone who is thinking of buying one of these pens, who might have been worried about potential hard starts. As the pen is metal bodied, yet very light, and writes smoothly and reliably it makes a good pen to carry in a shirt pocket when out and about.
13 thoughts on “Early thoughts on the Parker Vector XL fountain pen.”
Very interesting first impressions review. I’ve been intrigued by the Vector XL, especially since WaskiSquirrel did a YouTube comparison between it and the Waterman Allure (he thinks they are basically the same pen with different branding). I may yet pick up a Vector XL to judge for myself, but my heart tends towards Waterman over Parker for reasons which remain nebulous. It’s good to have cost-effective fountain pens available in the average high street stationery shop – I’m not a fan of the tendency for department stores to lump their pen counters in with the jewellery/luxury goods area rather than stationery.
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Thankyou Pamela. Personally I prefer the grip section of the Vector XL. I had to scratch up the Allure to make it less slippy which rather ruined the appearance.
Also the Vector’s nib is a smooth generous medium whereas the Allure nib is a fine. All in all there are sufficient differences to justify both in the interests of science🙂.
Our John Lewis pen department has been steadily shrinking and is rather sad-looking now…just an island of two glass counters. There are fewer staff. It seems that they have stopped doing the Cross Bailey Light. I suppose it is a sign of the times…use it or lose it.
As one who has been writing with one or another Parker 51 since 1949, I tend to think of the 51 as an appropriate pen for when I am out and about. Also for when I am at my desk at home. I am therefore pleased that Rupert is curious about such pens as the Cross Bailey Light and the Vector XL.
It is gratifying to learn that the XL is perceptibly thicker than the original Vector. I am entirely all right using such exceedingly slim pens as the Aurora Hastil and the original Cross Century fountain pen, but when I’m advising younger people I am happy to be able to recommend something fatter than the most austere basic models.
It’s a further happy surprise that the XL’s nib is larger than one might expect on a Vector, and that Rupert’s example has a satisfyingly generous ball of tipping and wrote smoothly out of the box. That doesn’t always happen with rather more expensive pens. Modestly priced pens like the Vector introduce many new users to the possibilities of a fountain pen, and after reading so many reports of being disappointed by the leading brands of yesteryear, this is really good news.
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Thank you for your comments Jerome. It is a pleasure to hear from you again.
It is a useful skill, to be comfortable with slender pens. For people who like a slightly wider girth, it is good that Parker has introduced this new model Vector, still priced towards the entry level market, or for those who like a low cost pen to carry about.
It is refreshing when a pen writes well, out of the box. Also I am pleased to say that I have not noticed any problems of ink evaporation or hard starts, in my first week with the pen.
Lovely review Rupert andI’ tempted to try. Brought up on Parker’s in the 70s I moved from 45s to Jotters during the dark ages. A Burgundy Vector fountain pen cured me off that malaise in the late 80s. But it was still a bit of an on off relationship as I was also smitten by a lovely Lamy CP1 duo pen in brushed steel. Fast forward 30 years and I find a real love for Aurora pens from the 80’s – Marco Polo to Magellano. Also love the slim Diplomat Attache Fountain pens. With all the excess of the 80’s it always amazes me why Fountain pens from that era were so slim! As another of your followers mentioned every modern brand had followed the lead from Aurora in the 70s A deserved modern classic.
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Thank you Paul. Like you, I also used Parker 45s in the 1970’s, until moving to Sheaffer No Nonsense pens for college. Later I used Waterman Experts for several years.
I think it is fair to say that, what was a standard or typical sized fountain pen in the 1960s may be regarded as small or medium size now. I am not familiar with the Aurora Marco Polo or Magellano, or the Diplomat Attache, although I have a slim Diplomat Traveller which writes very well if you are comfortable with the narrow girth.
Somewhat to my own surprise, I can offer what suddenly strikes me as a plausible explanation for all those slim pens, beginning with the Aurora Hastil in 1969.
During the 1930s and 1940s many somewhat bulbous fountain pens were introduced to the market. They were shorter than today’s fashionable fountain pens, but they weren’t very thin. And at first they seemed to be a normal writing instrument.
The ballpoint pen was introduced to the mass market in 1945. By the middle1960s some schoolchildren were still required to learn to write with a fountain pen by their primary schools, but most of those children gave up the fountain pen as soon as they could, and chose to write with a ballpoint pen.
Those were and are very slim. But they are what regular people consider to be a regular pen. It occurs to me that if le moyen punter thinks a normal pen is a very slim thing, fountain-pen manufacturers might think it clever to offer fountain pens that weren’t so different from what people were used to.
By now the fountain pen is if anything farther from the mainstream than it was in 1970, and it can seem less novel and clever to offer very slim FPs. (Although there still are some, including the ordinary Vector.) Looking a what seemed normal half a century ago, I can easily imagine that slim fountain pens might appear to be a good marketing solution. And in fact they did sell..
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Yes that sounds plausible. Slim pens do look stylish and attractive. For those used to a wood case pencil or a Bic biro, a slim fountain pen may feel comfortable. It depends what you are used to. Personally, although I want to likes slim pens, I still prefer a medium girth pen.
Made in China? Immediately Vector XL fountain pens (clones?) appeared on Ebay with a gold-tone nib and clip and an opaque black plastic section for $15.99 each with “FREE SpeedPAK” two to three week shipping to the U.S. from Yiwu, East-Central China. The Ebay sale page says: “Excellent Parker Fountain Pen U Pick Color Vector XL Series 0.5mm Fine Nib”. The Chinese pens come in four colors: Red, Black, Blue, and Stainless Steel. All the colors are matte and in my opinion do not look like the Parker official finishes. I have not seen cheap matching Vector XL Rollerball pens on Ebay – yet.
1. Excellent Parker Fountain Pen U Pick Color Vector XL – Ebay
2. Vector XL – Parker
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Thankyou for these links. I could not say whether these pens sold on ebay are clones or the real deal: they are branded Parker and look similar to the versions sold in the UK save for the difference in colour, and in having a gold coloured nib plating. They could well be genuine Parker products.
Yes, made in China. Parker has been manufacturing its less expensive models in China for some time now. I believe the Sonnet and the various current Duofolds are still made in France. Also, from what people have posted to message boards, the new version of the Parker 51.
Just to add my 2¢…I bought a Vector XL a couple of months ago while in Rennes, France. I really like the looks and feel of this pen. It’s comparable to many of my more expensive ones. (Note: None of the others are more than $100.) However, I was plagued with hard starts and skipping.
Since I had originally just popped the cartridge in the pen without flushing it, when I returned home to the US, I thoroughly cleaned the pen and the Quink cartridge which I reloaded with Lamy Peridot ink. Things seemed fine for a while and then the hard starts started up again. Perhaps the cap on mine allows just enough evaporation to cause the hard starts and occasional skipping. I will be sure to check that out when I get home later.
Thank you for your thorough review.
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Thank you. Hard starts are frustrating. I have been fortunate with my Parker Vector XL: I feared that I would have problems but it has been fine. It can depend on several factors – the ink used, the temperature, how the pen is stored or carried – and how long the pen is left between uses. One of the downsides of having multiple pens inked at one time is that there may be longer intervals between use and more risk of nibs and feeds drying up.