Inky pursuits: some non-fountain pen tinkerings.

Feeling a little tired from the week’s work, I began this Saturday morning sampling a few different fountain pens on a pad of A4 paper, to see which would give the best writing experience for a forthcoming letter writing session. After writing a paragraph with each of six different pens, I thought to try to a few rollerball and fibre-tip pens, to see how they compared.

The Mitsubishi uni-ball AIR.

Mitsubishi uni-ball AIR, Broad.

The Mitsubishi uni-ball AIR, with a Broad tip, claims on the packaging to write like a fountain pen. It does allow effortless writing with no pressure and provides a thicker line when a little pressure is applied to the tip, so you benefit from some line variation. It also writes smoothly even when held at a lower angle to the paper, in contrast to some other rollerballs that I have tried. Also, at about 131mm uncapped, it is a good length to use unposted. The clear plastic cap can be posted deeply and securely and provides a roll-stop. The grip section looks opaque to the casual glance, but in fact is translucent giving a view of the feed system if lit from behind. Also, in the Broad tip version (the one with the white barrel) the dark stripes are ink windows although again, need to be held against a light.

Checking your ink level, lit from behind.

The fine tip version is called the Micro and has a black barrel, with nice geometric patterns but no ink viewing window. But whilst appearing rather plain, the uni-ball AIR pens are brimming with technology and worthy of respect.

Mitsubishi uni-ball AIR, Micro.

Pilot V Sign pen.

A few months ago, in a newsagent’s/ stationer’s in St John’s Wood, I found a display of Pilot pens and picked up a couple of their “V Sign” pens. These look similar to their single use fountain pen, the V Pen, but instead have a fibre tip. This is quite broad, like a Sharpie marker pen, good for labelling but could be used for normal writing if you like the extra bold look. The black part of the barrel is actually translucent and gives a good view of the ink level, when held up to the light. I had not seen these pens before and bought one in blue and one in red.

The Pilot V Sign pen. A liquid ink, fibre tip pen.

Parker Ingenuity.

After using a few different lightweight disposable pens, holding the Parker Ingenuity fibre-tip pen felt luxurious, with its wide girth and hefty metal body and PVD gold plated grip section. I am now on my second refill, since buying the pen just over a year ago. My preference is for the blue refills, in medium. I had been rather dismissive of the Ingenuity for several years until the chance presented itself to pick one up for about half price at my local John Lewis and I am very glad that I did. Once the fibre tip starts to wear in, it forms a nice chisel edge at your writing angle which always stays constant as the refill will fit in only one way. The benefit of this is super-smooth writing at your normal angle and the option of extra fine lines if you turn the pen over.

The Parker Ingenuity. A fine liner in a heavy, durable body.

With certain types of paper, particular those which feel coated and too smooth for fountain pens, the Ingenuity can sometimes be the best tool for the job. And being housed in the handsome black and gold body, it is still an attractive pen to grow old with.

Looking at my Parker Ingenuity, it occurred to me that it would make a nice set with the Parker IM ball pen which is also black and gold. They are not quite from the same family, but are both roughly the same age with Y (2016) production date codes. They make a good travelling pair.

These are not a couple but could be. The Parker Ingenuity with the Parker IM ball pen.

The Parker IM in this black and gold version, makes a very comfortable vehicle for the Parker ball pen refill, having a noticeably wider girth than the Parker Jotter. And the refills seem to last forever.

Writing samples. On WH Smith A4 file paper

Parker IM, black lacquer and gold trim. New version. First impressions

I was quite excited when news reached me recently, that Parker had launched a new version of the IM fountain pen. I have the basic, earlier model in gun metal finish as well as the twin metal chiselled (chrome cap) version which is in the premium range. Both are quite worthy, work-horse type pens although I was not overly keen on the design of the grip section. Also the nib is basically the same as you get on the Parker Vector. I have had mixed fortunes with these nibs. Sometimes they perform beautifully from day one, but otherwise you need to tinker and persevere with them to get better flow.

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This is a metal bodied pen with stainless steel nib. The new version however, has a much nicer, wider diameter grip section in matching metal with black lacquer finish and what appears to be a totally new nib, in stainless steel and available in medium or fine. I have seen online that there is a range of colours although so far in London I have found only the black with gold trim, black with silver trim or the brushed stainless steel version.

They sell for £39.99 in London. However a current promotion in Rymans means that with every new Parker pen, you get a gift box with a hard-backed note book bearing the Parker name.

I had read reviews of the old version IM black and gold version on Amazon, where people reported the gold plating coming off. Nevertheless, being a sucker for black and gold pens and in the interests of science, I decided upon this finish for my new IM and a medium nib. I shall watch for wear in the gold coloured fittings with interest.

I had read on FPN that the IM stands for Instant Modern, although I have found no verification of this as yet on Parker’s packaging. You would think it would say this on the box if you buy one, without having to find out from FPN.

The pen came in a small cardboard pack with a transparent plastic front, with a plastic tag to enable it to hang up on a display. However it was too difficult to open the box and see the pen in the shop without tearing the cardboard and so I took a chance on the nib being ok, hoping optimistically that with the new design, there might have been greater attention to quality control.

At home, magnifying glass to hand, the pen looked very attractive with a beautiful high gloss black lacquer finish and the gold decorative clip and rings contrasting nicely with the stainless steel nib. The nib had three chevrons vaguely reminiscent of the Parker arrow emblem on the Duofolds of old.

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I was very pleased to find that the production date code on the cap ring was IY, the Y denoting 2016 (hurray!) from the QUALITYPEN year codes (starting from Q for 2010) and the “I” meaning (I think) the third quarter of the year. As I understand it, the code III means first quarter (on the basis that there are three quarters of the year left to go); II is the second quarter, I is the third quarter and no mark means the fourth quarter (no quarters left to go). When I bought my previous IM in July 2015, the date code showed it to have been made in 2011 and so it had been waiting around for a while before I gave it a home.

As for the nib, there was a visible slit, albeit very small, running from the breather hole all the way to the tip such that you could see light between the tines even at the tip. This can make for a very wet writer. Also the pellet of tipping material seemed, under high magnification, to be very round, not flattened on top and so looked a bit like a clown’s nose, although you do not notice this with the naked eye.

I was slightly apprehensive on dipping the pen that the nib was going to produce an overly wet line. I chose a half full, trusty bottle of Parker Quink, black ink which seemed the obvious choice. The cap is a slip on one, as with the old version and posts securely to give a very comfortable length and weight. To my relief and delight, it wrote very nicely indeed and one prolonged dip kept me going for a good couple of pages of an A5 notebook. I have not yet filled the pen properly but do not expect any problems now. The pen comes with one blue cartridge but no converter and so this would need to be bought separately.

I had read of people encountering hard starts with the IM and suggestions that this might be due to a rectangular hole in the cap which is hidden beneath the top end of the pocket clip. I think this might be an anti-choking measure so that the hole stays open even if you find yourself having swallowed your cap. One reviewer said that he managed to stop the hard starts by taping over this. If the pen is in regular use there should not be a problem but I shall watch out for this.

As for the gift box, this has inserts for your new Parker pen and for the complimentary notebook. This is an attractive and sturdy cardboard box to keep for pen-related bits and pieces if you remove the plastic insert. The hardback pocket notebook, with cloth cover and elastic closing loop,  is almost too nice to use and I have not seen one before with the Parker name embossed on the cover. Beneath the notebook, is a small booklet with a nice rubberised cover, with some diagrams and filling instructions and nice affirming messages from Parker about your new purchase.

The price seems compatible with other metal bodied steel nibbed pens such as the Cross Bailey. It is more than double the price of the old basic version IM but for the improvements in nib and section alone, I think this is a fair price to pay.

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