My "Best Pen" Recommendations (2019 Edition)
This year I overhauled the “Best Pens” recommendation page, swapping out several entries and updating purchase recommendations. Keep in mind that this list shouldn’t be read as a “shopping list.” I’m in no way saying that everyone needs all of these pens in their personal collection - what I’m trying to do here is to provide readers with a starting point to research purchases in various price categories and for different purposes. There's no substitute for your own personal preference and experience! Where possible, I've linked to both my review of the recommended pen and a purchasing option. If I've not reviewed a specific pen, I've linked to someone else's review that I find well-written and reliable. Finally, if you're looking for a recommendation on a "one-pen" carry setup, or a shorter read, check out my post on "Best Pens for When You Only Want One Pen."
Note: This is the updated 2019 version of my "best pens" list. I update the guide each year, but I leave previous versions live, so that everyone can see how the list changes. (See the 2018 List and the 2017 List here.) Please be advised that many of the links to purchasing options here are to paid sponsors and affiliates. I may be compensated a small percentage of any purchase you make, which is how I support the site and keep things running.
Best Fountain Pens for Beginners
Good fountain pens don't have to be expensive. You can get an excellent first writing experience for just over $10.
Platinum Plaisir. Since Pilot jacked up the price on the Metropolitan, my go-to beginner pen has been the Platinum Plaisir, which comes in an expanded range of colors and, in my opinion, features a better nib and is much more comfortable to hold than the Metropolitan. The one drawback is that the converter needs to be purchased separately, but Platinum’s high-capacity cartridges are excellent and last a very long time. (Purchase here)
Lamy Safari. The quintessential "beginner pen" from German powerhouse Lamy features interchangeable nibs and an original design that's become a classic. If the triangular section doesn't bother you, the Safari (or its aluminum cousin, the AL-Star) are both great options. (Purchase here)
Kaweco Sport. Kaweco specializes in pocket pens, and makes some great ones. Kaweco offers the Sport, their flagship pen, in multiple models at various price points, from the inexpensive classic to the pricier aluminum AL-Sport to the Carbon Fiber AC-Sport. You can purchase the Classic Sport (with gold trim) or the Skyline Sport (with chrome trim).
TWSBI Eco. I hesitated on whether to include a piston-filling pen on my list of recommendations for "beginners," but this pen is so good for the price point I couldn't leave it off. If you're not squeamish about learning to fill from an ink bottle, you can't go wrong with the Eco. (Purchase here)
Honorable Mention: This is where the “Beginners” list has changed the most, as there are many high-quality, inexpensive pens on the market that might break into the top five. As always, you won't go wrong checking out the Kaweco Perkeo or the super-cheap Platinum Preppy. I left several other pens off the list due to their filling systems: the TWSBI Go features a somewhat tricky plunger filler, the Moonman M2 is an eyedropper pen, and the very popular Wing Sung 618 and Wing Sung 698 both have a non-standard locking piston mechanisms. Maybe the best candidates to appear in a future “top five” are a series of pens from KACO: the KACO Sky, the KACO Edge, and the KACO Retro, all of which use a cartridge/converter filling system.
Best Fountain Pens Under $100
The $50-$100 price point is always the most difficult to recommend, mainly because if you’re willing to spend $50 on a pen, you can be better off moving to the $100-$150 price bracket because you will have more options and, in all likelihood, a higher-quality writing experience. That said, if you're willing to shop around, you can find excellent fountain pens for under $100 that aren't for "beginners," but still don't break the bank.
TWSBI 580. The TWSBI 580 continues to rule this category. TWSBI designed the 580 and its predecessors with input from the larger fountain pen community, and offers a reliable piston filler with interchangeable nibs at a price that can't be beat. TWSBI periodically offers the 580 with anodized aluminum trim. (Purchase here)
Faber-Castell Loom. Faber-Castell nibs are exceptional, and you can find the same nib on their lower-priced offerings as on their $100+ pens. The Loom comes in a broad array of colors and trim, though some may balk at the oversized cap and more modern design. (Purchase here)
Opus 88 Koloro. These acrylic and ebonite Japanese-style eyedropper pens burst onto the scene and could potentially be a major disrupter in the sub-$100 pen market. Featuring high quality JoWo steel nibs, they offer excellent value, as long as you don't mind filling with an eyedropper. If you don't like the ebonite bands, check out the all-acrylic "Picnic" model. (Purchase here)
Honorable Mention: If you’re into machined pens, check out the Karas Kustoms Starliner/Starliner XL, from the “Reaktor” series, as well as the Tactile Turn Gist 2.0 in Delrin. The Tactile Turn is well under the $100 price point, and the Gist is also built like a much more expensive pen.
Note: I’ve dropped both the Platinum 3776 and the Pilot Custom 74 off this specific list. While those pens can sometimes be purchased from overseas sellers (mainly Japanese) at the sub-$100 price point, the manufacturers have recently cracked down on this sort of discounting, and I've heard some reports of spotty nib quality, so for most people who don't want to have nibs worked on or take that risk, I'd simply advise them to pay a bit more and purchase from an authorized Platinum or Pilot retailer that will stand behind the nib.
Best First fountain Pen over $100 (Steel Nibs)
Many people have a set expectation that once you go over the $100 price point, a fountain pen should have a gold nib to be “worth the money.” When I was first starting out in this hobby I shared that viewpoint. Over the past few years, my views have evolved, and I now finally believe this is the wrong way to look at things. The German companies (and even Sailor) make extremely high quality steel nibs that can be indistinguishable from gold, in terms of the writing experience they offer.
Faber-Castell Ambition or E-Motion. Faber-Castell pens are some of the best bargains in the fountain pen world, in my opinion. For just over $100, you can get a pen like the Ambition, which is not only an exceptional writer but comes in a wide array of unique designs, including barrels made from exotic woods. (Purchase here) If you find the Ambition too slender, consider the E-Motion, which is a chunky, heftier pen that nonetheless has exceptional balance posted or unposted. (Purchase here) I'm also a fan of the "Pure Black" version of the E-Motion, which I recently reviewed. The "Pure Black" is slightly pricier but features a comfortable textured barrel.
Esterbrook “Estie". Kenro’s resurrection of Esterbrook is an example of how to rebuild a brand the right way. Though some initially complained about the price point of these pens, the quality is superb. A new emerald green color was just released, and I expect they will release more in the future as the brand gains traction. An oversize version of the Estie is available at a slightly higher price point. (Purchase here)
Pelikan Tradition 200/M205. I can’t leave the entry-level Pelikan piston-filler off this list. Pelikan nibs are interchangeable, giving you the option to “upgrade” to a gold nib at a later point in time if you so desire. Watch for the special edition M205 demonstrators in various colors. (Purchase here)
Franklin Christoph Model 20 or Model 02. Which one you go with depends on your style preference, and whether you want a slip-on cap (Model 20) or a threaded cap (Model 02). Franklin-Christoph offers a variety of nib choices, including some custom stub and italic grinds. (Purchase here)
Leonardo Momento Zero. It’s rare that I’ll include a pen on this list before I’ve formally reviewed it, but I’m making an exception here because I’ve acquired several of these pens and they are all excellent. Leonardo Oficina Italiana emerged from the ruins of Italian pen company Delta after it shut down a couple of years ago. Leonardo has since released two fountain pens, the Momento Zero and the Furore, both of which have received rave reviews, but the Momento Zero is my personal favorite (Purchase here)
Honorable Mention: Cleo Skribent. Cleo Skribent is a smaller German brands that makes excellent pens, but for whatever reason tends to be difficult to find outside of Europe. Otto Hutt is another smaller German maker that receives less attention, but I will note that I had an unexpected quality control issue with a pen that I ordered this year.
Best First Fountain Pen Over $100 (Gold Nibs)
The price of gold is still high, but you can find many affordable options for a fountain pen with a gold nib in the $100-200 range. Crossing the century mark for the first time can be a daunting experience, but I don't think you can go wrong with any of these options.
Pilot Custom 74. It upsets me that the Custom 74 often goes overlooked at pen shows. Pilot pens represent the peak of reliability, even if their design typically doesn’t change much over the years because Pilot rarely chases trends. The Custom 74 features an excellent 14k nib and utilizes Pilot’s higher-capacity CON-70 pump converter. (Purchase here)
Platinum 3776. Platinum’s answer to the Pilot Custom 74, though Platinum has expanded this line in recent years to include more colors and limited and special editions. The Platinum 3776 also offers more nib options, including “soft” nibs and a music nib. (Purchase here)
Lamy Studio (14k Nib Option). Lamy's bouncy gold nib is a joy to write with, and has finally convinced me that the "upgraded" version of the Lamy Studio is an excellent option. These pens can be hard to come by, and the color option changes every year, but they're worth the money. (Purchase here)
Pilot Custom Heritage 92. This pen sits at the bottom of the “Top 5” only because it pushes the upper limit of the price point in this category, but you can work that down with a coupon code or by waiting for a periodic sale. Still, around $200 for a Pilot piston filler with a gold nib? If I were forced to choose, this could easily become my daily workhorse. (Purchase here)
Honorable Mention: The Pilot Vanishing Point is one of the few options for a retractable-nib fountain pen, and it's a good one. Due to the position of the clip on the "nib end" of the pen, it can be hard for some people to write with. I personally prefer the slimmer Pilot Decimo as I find the design to be more portable and conducive to short notes. The price point on both is very reasonable, and I still recommend both the Vanishing Point and the smaller Pilot Decimo (collectively referred to as Pilot's "Capless" pens) on a "try before you buy" basis.
My Favorite Fountain Pens
There's no price limitation here, just my pure, unadorned opinion.
Leonardo Momento Zero. Since purchasing my first Momento Zero pens in early January, this pen has shot to the top of my daily carry. I consider the Momento Zero to be the “spiritual successor” to the Delta Fusion 82, a favorite pen of mine that unfortunately has long since been discontinued when Delta went under. (Purchase here)
Montblanc 146. Ignore the haters, and also ignore Montblanc's sometimes over-the-top marketing. The 146 is a solid piston-filler fountain pen that has become my go-to daily workhorse, and I love the look of the platinum-trim versions. In recent years, Montblanc has introduced new special editions of the 146 with minimal mark-ups, including the UNICEF special edition and the new "Le Petit Prince" edition. (Purchase here)
Sailor Professional Gear Imperial Black Edition. It might be my favorite pen of all time, in my favorite color scheme of all time, though the Momento Zero might give it a run for its money. (Purchase here)
Honorable Mention: Pelikan M600/M400. The Montblanc 146 has pushed Pelikan out of my personal "Top 5," but I still enjoy the smaller Pelikan Souveran pens because of how nicely they sit in a shirt pocket. Similarly, the Pilot Custom 823 still warrants mention due to its excellent Pilot nib and a unique, high-capacity filling mechanism.
Note: You can sometimes find lower prices on the Pro Gear Imperial Black, Black Luster, and Custom 823 by purchasing directly from Japan, though it’s less common now as Pilot and Sailor apparently have cracked down on online discounting. Given the higher price point of these products, I won't officially recommend that people do this unless they are willing to accept the risk. If at all possible, use a method of payment that offers buyer protection in the event of a problem.
Best Pocket Pens and Pencils
The majority of the writing I do on a day-to-day basis is note-taking, so I use a lot of pocket pens and pencils. Here are my favorites.
Fisher Space Pen. While I once preferred the "bullet" version, my current favorite is the "Astronaut" or "Shuttle" model of the Fisher Space Pen, which is still small enough to stick in a pocket. This pressurized ballpoint refill will write anywhere (even underwater, supposedly). (Purchase here)
Honorable Mention: The Inventery Pocket Fountain Pen is a high-quality machined metal fountain pen that you can also fit with a rollerball tip. In the past, I’ve also enjoyed using the Kaweco Supra, which features a larger No. 6 nib. Both of these pens ship with extenders, so you can adjust the length depending on your preference.
Best Disposable Pens for Everyday Use
I can't use fountain pens all the time at work. These are the gel pens, ballpoints, and fineliners that you will find me using on a day-to-day basis. I may break this list into different categories of pens in the future, but here's what's currently on my desk.
Pilot G2. People love to hate this pen because it's a more conventional choice, but I've always found the Pilot G2 to be smooth, reliable, and cheap. Though the .7mm writes a very clean line, the .5mm and the .38mm tips are my favorite. (Purchase here)
Pokka Pen. The pocketable Pokka Pen (pun intended) has become my go-to ballpoint, not just a great pocket pen. They're inexpensive, come in a range of fun colors, and you don't need to worry about losing them. (Purchase here)
Honorable Mention: You can't go wrong with a good all-purpose hybrid ballpoint like the Uniball Jetstream or the Pilot Acroball (though I do find them a bit boring). I typically order the .5mm versions online, though the .7mm pens are easily found in most office supply stores. After the Pilot G2, the Pentel Energel in .5mm needle-tip is my go-to gel pen.
Best Refillable Ballpoints and Rollerballs
Sometimes you don't want to use a disposable pen, but a fountain pen just won't work for whatever situation you find yourself in. All of these pens will acquit themselves admirably.
Baron Fig Squire. Baron Fig's first pen is a winner. I like the form factor better than the Retro 51 Tornado, which uses the same refill. Since I last published this list, Baron Fig has released the squire in an array of new colors, and also recently released a Squire "click" version, if you prefer a clicky knock. (Purchase here)
Lamy 2000 Ballpoint/4-Color Ballpoint. The Lamy 2000 isn't just one of my favorite fountain pens, it's one of my favorite overall pen concepts. Lamy's ballpoint and 4-Color multifunction versions of its flagship are reasonably priced workhorses that will be with you for the long haul. (Purchase Ballpoint here / Multi pen here)
Sailor Imperial Black Multifunction Pen. I'm a huge fan of multifunction pens, and I find myself using them more than stand-alone ballpoints and rollerballs because they allow me to switch colors on the fly. If you need a multi pen with a mechanical pencil option, this Sailor is excellent. (Purchase here)
Ti Arto Universal Refill Pen. The Ti Arto has become my universal go-to recommendation for a versatile pen body that accepts nearly every refill in existence. There is also a portable "EDC" version. (Purchase here)
Honorable Mention: Everyone seems to like the Retro 51 Tornado, and it's a great pen, but I prefer the Baron Fig Squire in terms of balance and overall functionality. Both pens accept either the Schmidt p8126 rollerball refill or the Schmidt Easyflow 9000 ballpoint refill, both of which are outstanding.
These lists were last updated on April 19, 2019. If you'd like to see how my personal tastes and preferences have evolved over time, check out my original blog posts: