Fountain Pen Buying Guide: 7 Options Under $30

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If the pen is mightier than the sword, the fountain pen might seem like the canon: outdated, unwieldy, and total overkill. But these nibbed scribblers have their benefits. For one, their refillable design is the antithesis to the plastic ballpoint’s planned obsolescence. But the biggest advantage becomes clear the moment you sign your name with one: the fountain pen offers a completely different sensory experience than any other pen, pencil, or stylus. There’s an art to using one well, which adds a little weightiness to the act of writing. Be honest: If you could sign an important contract with a fountain pen or a clicky-top ballpoint, there’s really no choice, is there?

You can spend $100 on a fountain pen that will last you a lifetime, but those fancier pens come with hidden costs: new nibs, rare ink colors, writing notebooks, and customized ink converters. We’ve rounded up seven inexpensive fountain pens (all are under $30; one is only $3) that either are disposable or employ swappable cartridges to make refilling simple and tidy.

01

Platinum Preppy

It has the looks of a neon-colored syringe, but the Platinum Preppy is more about comfort than aesthetics. At $3 to $4 a pop, this is the best entry-level fountain pen on the market. The low price also makes it a perfect gateway pen for the fountain-curious who’ve been scared off by price. They’re so cheap, you should buy a few—both to take advantage of their fun range of ink colors, and to get a feel for whether you like fine- or medium-sized nibs. $3 and up

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It has the looks of a neon-colored syringe, but the Platinum Preppy is more about comfort than aesthetics. At $3 to $4 a pop, this is the best entry-level fountain pen on the market. The low price also makes it a perfect gateway pen for the fountain-curious who’ve been scared off by price. They’re so cheap, you should buy a few—both to take advantage of their fun range of ink colors, and to get a feel for whether you like fine- or medium-sized nibs. $3 and up

02

Pilot MR (Metropolitan)

The Pilot brand has been around for almost 100 years in one form or another. The company’s pens are well-made (usually in France, Japan, or the US) and cost only a smidge more than a Bic. The Pilot MR (also called the Metropolitan) is a step up from the disposable Varsity, which costs $3 but is perhaps a touch too flimsy in its build quality. The MR has a black plastic barrel and cap with metal accents, and feels much heftier than other plastic pens. It comes with Pilot’s ink cartridges, but, unlike other pens at this price, a converter for bottled ink is included. $11 and up

Amazon

The Pilot brand has been around for almost 100 years in one form or another. The company’s pens are well-made (usually in France, Japan, or the US) and cost only a smidge more than a Bic. The Pilot MR (also called the Metropolitan) is a step up from the disposable Varsity, which costs $3 but is perhaps a touch too flimsy in its build quality. The MR has a black plastic barrel and cap with metal accents, and feels much heftier than other plastic pens. It comes with Pilot’s ink cartridges, but, unlike other pens at this price, a converter for bottled ink is included. $11 and up

03

Muji Aluminum Round

The name Muji translates from the Japanese language as, “No brand quality goods.” The first part is especially true in its aluminum-bodied fountain pen, which has the sharp, anonymous appeal of an engineering tool. The barrel of the pen is lightweight and bare except for a small textured grip near the nib. There’s no taper to the body. Its nib writes wet and large, with a tip size between a medium and broad. This size is ideal for smooth writing, but it can turn things into a smear-fest for left-handed writers. $18 and up

The name Muji translates from the Japanese language as, “No brand quality goods.” The first part is especially true in its aluminum-bodied fountain pen, which has the sharp, anonymous appeal of an engineering tool. The barrel of the pen is lightweight and bare except for a small textured grip near the nib. There’s no taper to the body. Its nib writes wet and large, with a tip size between a medium and broad. This size is ideal for smooth writing, but it can turn things into a smear-fest for left-handed writers. $18 and up

04

Kaweco Classic Sport

The perfect everyday-carry fountain pen. A condensed barrel makes the Kaweco Sport shorter than the average fountain pen, even with its screw-on cap posted. The plastic barrel and cap won’t be damaged by drops or scraps with keychains. (Kaweco also makes the pen in aluminum and brass, which are both fan favorites but increase cost.) Pen nerds praise the extra-fine nib version as truer to the size than other pens, though some find it chicken-scratchy. Choose from one of eight different colors, from black to green to burgundy to transparent. $21 and up

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The perfect everyday-carry fountain pen. A condensed barrel makes the Kaweco Sport shorter than the average fountain pen, even with its screw-on cap posted. The plastic barrel and cap won’t be damaged by drops or scraps with keychains. (Kaweco also makes the pen in aluminum and brass, which are both fan favorites but increase cost.) Pen nerds praise the extra-fine nib version as truer to the size than other pens, though some find it chicken-scratchy. Choose from one of eight different colors, from black to green to burgundy to transparent. $21 and up

05

Nemosine Neutrino

Nemosine makes pens for scientists: each box has the pen’s corresponding equation printed on it. The Neutrino’s box says “the proton:proton reaction that generates neutrinos in the sun through nuclear fission.” But it’s a pen you can appreciate even if you failed out of nuclear physics. The Neutrino is Nemosine’s mid-priced model, with a metal body and chrome trim that has the right weight and hand feel for long writing sessions—solving a long proof, perhaps. Despite the weight, it’s smaller than it looks, which could spell trouble for writers with larger hands. $25

Amazon

Nemosine makes pens for scientists: each box has the pen’s corresponding equation printed on it. The Neutrino’s box says “the proton:proton reaction that generates neutrinos in the sun through nuclear fission.” But it’s a pen you can appreciate even if you failed out of nuclear physics. The Neutrino is Nemosine’s mid-priced model, with a metal body and chrome trim that has the right weight and hand feel for long writing sessions—solving a long proof, perhaps. Despite the weight, it’s smaller than it looks, which could spell trouble for writers with larger hands. $25

06

Lamy Safari

Lamy pens are unapologetically plastic. The Safari, the brand’s entry-level pen, uses ABS (think LEGO material) to its fullest advantage. The lightweight construction makes it easy to carry in a breast pocket without making you look saggy. It also makes the pen comfortable to write with. Even though it costs just $25, it looks more upscale with a stylized clip, triangle-style grip and subtle ink window. A savvy option for the price of a pair of movie tickets. $25 and up

Amazon

Lamy pens are unapologetically plastic. The Safari, the brand’s entry-level pen, uses ABS (think LEGO material) to its fullest advantage. The lightweight construction makes it easy to carry in a breast pocket without making you look saggy. It also makes the pen comfortable to write with. Even though it costs just $25, it looks more upscale with a stylized clip, triangle-style grip and subtle ink window. A savvy option for the price of a pair of movie tickets. $25 and up

07

Parker Urban

The Parker Urban is a great pen… if you can find it at the right price. While special editions like the Urban Premium Metallic Chiselled have considerable heft and flashy looks, they tick up into the $80-$90 range. Not the best deal—at that price, the better buy is the $100 Parker Sonnet. The base model Urban, however, can be found on Amazon and eBay for between $30 and $50. For those looking for the classic Parker bullet shape with a heavier anodized aluminum and lacquer barrel, that’s the right price. $30 and up

Amazon

The Parker Urban is a great pen… if you can find it at the right price. While special editions like the Urban Premium Metallic Chiselled have considerable heft and flashy looks, they tick up into the $80-$90 range. Not the best deal—at that price, the better buy is the $100 Parker Sonnet. The base model Urban, however, can be found on Amazon and eBay for between $30 and $50. For those looking for the classic Parker bullet shape with a heavier anodized aluminum and lacquer barrel, that’s the right price. $30 and up