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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
First, I appreciate that this is a fountain pen blog. The Parker Ingenuity is not what most people would call a fountain pen. “It is a pen, Jim, but not as we know it”.
Instead of applying ink to paper with a nib, this uses Parker’s “5th generation” cartridge refills, and is a fineliner, or fibre-tip pen.
Construction and design.
The model I have, called the Core Black and gold, is a large pen, in metal with a glossy black lacquer finish and gold plated fittings. I believe the gold areas to be PVD coated, rather than plated, although I read that this process creates a more durable finish. On the outside the pen looks quite traditional, even rather vintage perhaps, with a gold coloured finial, Parker arrow and cap band, which bears only the name Parker and logo. The gold colour disk in the finial feels textured and on closer inspection appears to have a spiral groove, like a vinyl record.
I gather that the Ingenuity has been around now since 2011, in various designs, featuring the 5th generation refill housed under a distinctive metal hood, which looks rather like a fountain pen nib. The underside of this looks rather like a feed, with rows of fins but these are not part of the pen but are part of the refill. They are also clean and dry and not inky!
The gently tapering barrel has a flat end, with another gold coloured disk but this time it is smooth and shiny.
The cap pulls off, quite stiffly and is pushed back on, with a click. When closed, it is snug and flush with the barrel. It can be posted securely but not very deeply (only covering about 16mm of the barrel) but the pen is long enough to use unposted.
Removing the cap reveals a long, metal, gently tapering and grooved grip section, then a raised rim (for the cap closing mechanism) and then, rather controversially, what looks like a fountain pen nib but is not, all in the same gold finish.
The “nib” bears the Parker name and some elegant decorative pattern, and there is a slit, between two tines. However, this is not a nib at all and protruding at the end of it, is a fineliner tip, with about 1.3mm of the tip showing beyond a metal collar.
So, this is a fineliner then, but there are some differences. The metal hood is instead a housing to lock the refill into the same position every time. When a refill is inserted, with its feed-like fins, it will rotate itself into the correct position and can only go in one way round. The tip will therefore always stay at the same writing angle.
Also, if you apply pressure as you write, there is a little give or flex available but the refill is then braced against the metal hood. If you hold the pen vertically and apply pressure then there is some bounce, from a spring located in the back of the barrel.
The section unscrews from the barrel. Plastic threads on the section meet more plastic threads on the inside of the metal barrel. I found the date code “IY” just after the plastic threads, which I believe denotes the third quarter of 2016 (the system being that “Y” is the 7th letter of QUALITYPEN counting from zero and that the “I” means that there is one quarter of the year remaining). I read that the Ingenuity was revised in 2015 and so mine is one of the later versions although I do not know what changes were made. Now that we are in 2020 I would like to see a new Parker with a Q date code, the first letter of the date series.
5th generation refills.
Replacement fineliner cartridges for the Ingenuity are made only by Parker. Also they are available only in black or blue and in two widths, Medium and Fine.
The writing experience.
This is a fineliner with a difference. First, it is contained in a much larger, heavier, more luxurious body. The black lacquer and the gold PVD coated section create an air of luxury. It is supposed to be like a fountain pen but without the fuss and so is presumably not targeted at fountain pen enthusiasts who actually like the fuss.
Secondly, the idea is that the refill will very quickly adjust to your angle of writing and will then form a flat writing surface, for smooth, lubricated, effortless writing. This is interesting for a fineliner. We are all familiar with the Parker Jotter ball point pens, the refills of which are designed to rotate each time the button is pressed, so as to allow for even wear on the ball. With the Ingenuity the opposite is true: it does not write with a ball but with a fibre tip point which is intended to adjust to form a flattened surface at the writer’s angle (like a fountain pen, but much faster) and to always present that same edge to the paper if you hold the pen consistently.
Thirdly there is supposed to be some interraction between the refill and the metal hood, bracing the tip against the “tines”and allowing some pressure to be applied although it would take a lot of pressure to get the tines to flex.
Weights and measurements.
This model is around 140mm closed, 127mm open, and weighs a substantial 43 grams with a refill inside. Uncapped, it weighs around 29.5 grams (including refill) and the cap on its own weighs around 12.5g. I find the size and weight very comfortable.
Likes and dislikes.
I must admit, that when I first encountered the Ingenuity some years ago, with a high price tag, I took no interest. It was only upon seeing this one at John Lewis in the January clearance sale, at well below half price, that I was tempted to finally give one a try. As well as the very generous price reduction, John Lewis offers a 35 days period in which to return the item, so there is little to worry about.
At full price, this is an expensive pen, arguably perhaps, too expensive for what it is. The bit that writes costs only about £6.00 and so you are paying a lot for the cap, barrel and section.
The refills are made only by Parker and so we have to hope that they go on making them. Also they are not as readily available as Parker ink cartridges or bottled ink.
The refills are available only in two colours, blue or black and in only two widths, Medium and Fine. (Bear in mind though that once the nib has adjusted to your angle, you can always turn the pen over and get a thinner line by “reverse writing”).
The cap is quite stiff. (Open the pen with your thumbs parallel to the barrel, not at right angles to it, that is my advice), which may detract a little from its practicality for quick notes, or any short writing session. Perhaps soft-capping is the answer here, when making occasional notes.
The biggest issue however, is the tendency of the ink to feather and to bleed through on some types of paper if you are not careful, especially if you hold the pen in one place and let it linger on the paper.
This is a good sized pen, comfortable and pleasant to hold.
The textured grip works well and the pen does not slip in the hand.
The PVD gold coating is attractive and gives a luxurious hard-wearing finish.
The tip very quickly molds to the writer’s angle of writing and so becomes more smooth and lubricated. I hope that this is achieved by a compression of the fibres and not by wear, otherwise the tip is going to wear down to the metal collar very quickly.
The pen writes effortlessly and gives a pleasant line, more attractive than ball-point pen and also requiring no downward pressure.
There are times when it is not very practical to use a fountain pen and the fineliner might be a good alternative.
There are some papers which, although smooth, have a draggy resistance when using fountain pens and I have found some paper which provides a much better writing experience with the Ingenuity than when using a fountain pen.
You can very easily switch refills, between blue and black and they all come with a clear plastic cap to prevent them from drying out.
I would not have bought one of these pens at its full price. Having bought it, I did encounter some “Buyer’s remorse” initially. However this soon passed as I got to appreciate the pen and it has swiftly grown on me, as I enjoy the smooth writing experience, which is even smoother on some papers, than my fountain pens.
This turning point came when I convinced myself that although the pen was (even at less than half price), still more expensive than I thought reasonable, it was perhaps not so much more. The full list price of this model is over £190.00. I could not see why it was so much more expensive than, say, a Parker IM in black lacquered metal with a steel nib. However the Ingenuity does have a large area of PVD gold coating, and is also a much larger pen.
So instead of harbouring thoughts of returning the pen, I invested in a few more 5th generation refills (which were on a special offer from Cult Pens, with 20% off). The pen came with a single black medium refill but I bought a fine tip version and also a couple of blue ones.
The pen has aroused my curiosity. I am interested to see how the tips will wear after extended use and also, for how many pages the ink may last. Paired with the right paper, this is a useful and enjoyable pen and I am glad to have overcome my prejudices and finally bought one. It will not replace my fountain pens but it is a useful tool and can be pleasurable to use, on suitable paper.