I’ve been using fountain pens for years now. I picked up my first set from jetpens.com to replace my microns (which I found myself often frustrated by in terms of line quality) for lettering and mono-line drawings and I still love those pens to this day. Four years later, I still have those original pens.
But I wanted something that would give me a little more line variation. Something I could throw in my bag and take with me anywhere. Sure, you have a variety of disposable brush pens to choose from, but I wanted something that would mimic my experience with dip pens.
There are two kinds of flex fountain pens: the modern, steel nib brands that are readily available and the antique gold nib brands. I’m going to discuss the former, because the latter run anywhere from 100 to 300 USD on ebay, and for that price, a pen better draw a picture all on its own, says I…
The above is a test sheet for four of the readily available flex pen types. I’m going to do a rundown on each, because they all have their plusses and minuses.
The Good: The Konrad is a nice, sturdy pen with a very reliable ink flow. It hatches very well, so if you are a hatcher, this is the pen for you. The nib has a stiffer feel then some of the others I will list, but it still has a nice line range: from approx. 0.1pt to 2pt. I find I use this pen the most, because it has a sturdy feel, almost never leaks (a severe drop in temperature will cause many fountain pens to leak), doesn’t skip and letters very nicely. You can easily disassemble it for cleaning and it is piston filled, which means no fumbling with awkward eyedroppers.
The Bad: It has a weird smell out of the box. No, I’m not kidding… something about the biodegradable material they use to make the pen has a strange smell. Three months later, it has faded to nearly nothing, but I imagine it may be off putting to some people. Also, it will railroad more easily than some of the other pens listed. That is, if you open the tines as far as they will go and make a continuous line, this pen will drop the line after an inch or two. Which, for me, isn’t a deal breaker. I’m not usually spreading the tines that far for that long, and the line is so reliable otherwise, it far outweighs the failed “railroad test”.
The Good: This is also a fairly reliable pen. I find, that it skips when you are pressing lightly, so it’s not so great for hatchers, but the ink flow is reliable and the nib has a softer feel than the Konrad. I seems like it goes from 0 to 60 in no time. I will usually load this pen up with an alternate color and use it with brown or blue ink, so I am not constantly filling and cleaning the Konrad. Performance wise, it barely railroads ever. It really is great for slow drawing with a lot of varying line weight. It can go from a super thin 0.2 pt to 2 pt quite easily. This is a thinner pen, so it would probably be good for people with small hands. I have small hands, but I ink with sumi brushes, so a thick pen doesn’t throw me off. Piston filled.
The Bad: Not for hatching. It will skip with only light pressure. Also, this pen “feels” much cheaper. The plastic is a little more lightweight, and while you can clean and disassemble it, the nib and feed are stuck tight. The first time I had to clean it, I had to pull on that nib and feed pretty hard. Also, all FPR pens take two weeks to arrive, no matter where you are. They are located in Kentucky and I am in Philadelphia and they took two weeks to get here. But, I can forgive them. They’re a small company.
The Good: At fourteen bucks, it’s a steal. If you like messing around with your nib and feed to get a variety of results, this is a good pen for you. The line is pretty reliable and the nib is a tiny no. 2, so you can get thinner lines out of it. Easy to clean. Piston filled.
The Bad: The good is also the bad. This is a cheap little pen that you have to mess with a lot to get it working properly. I find it nice for writing and slow, careful calligraphy, but it skips a lot when I’m drawing. So, I’unno. I bought this pen to test out so I could talk to my students about this stuff, but this is the pen I put wacky colored ink in and write with.
The Good: This is a cheap little pen. With the flex option, it only runs about 12 dollars. Line weight wise, it performs similarly to the Dilli, but with and easy to disassemble body.
The Bad: In addition to “the bad” from the Dilli (cheaper construction, skipping when pressing lightly, 2 weeks to arrive…) this pen dumps ink at random intervals. So, again, the good is the bad: it’s a cheap pen, and sometimes performs like a cheap pen (even though I do like the FPR nibs). Lately, I have been filing down dip pen nibs and making this a frankenpen, but that is not a hobby for the faint of heart (or someone who wants clean hands).
Most fountain pen ink is NOT waterproof or fade proof. This may not be a deal breaker for some people, but it is for someone who likes to watercolor over their drawings. For a good, waterproof black: Platinum Carbon Black is the way to go. I used Carbon Black on all of my tests above. No feathering, no bleeding. A nice, black ink. It runs about 20 bucks a bottle, but that bottle will last you a while. Platinum also makes colored pigmented inks that are near waterproof. They sometimes feather if you’re really scrubbing that color down or laying in a wet wash. I suggest blowdrying the ink dry or letting it dry for 24 hours to reduce feathering. You can also mix the blue and brown with the carbon black to make a navy blue and a dark brown.
Noodler’s also makes a nice range of permanent colors, though I’ve found their “bulletproof” inks to be not-so-waterproof. So, if you are inking after, or if you are only inking, Noodler’s inks may be the way to go. Yea, they run 18USD a bottle, but you get a LOT of ink. I mean, I don’t think I can finish all the ink in a bottle in a year, it’s that much.
Also keep in mind that you can use fountain pen ink in dip pens if you clean your nibs with rubbing alcohol (this helps thinner ink stick to the nib). Goulet Pens (another small company) sells little ink test tubes for a buck or two a pop, and it’s fun to try colors out with a dip pen. Noodler’s has a really wide range of colors, but keep in mind, not all are fade proof. This means, 20 years from now (or 20 days in full sunlight), the color will fade.
So, that’s it for my post on flex fountain pens. I’ve found the Konrad and the Dilli to be a nice addition to my sketching and lettering box. The other two… well, some folks may really like them, but I found them kind of fussy. Still, they are nice to write with. And remember: no pen makes up for good ol’ drawing time. Art materials are tools, not magic.
Until next time: Happy Drawing!