What’s The Best Fountain Pen For Beginners?

John BosleyFountain Pen Reviews4 Comments

Pilot Metropolitan best fountain pen for beginners

If you’re buying your first fountain pen, the options can be pretty overwhelming. Fear not, dear reader. I’ve rounded up some of the most popular fountain pens for beginners and have had people with little or no fountain pen experience test them out. In this article I’ll discuss some of the most popular pens that are usually recommended for your first purchase, let you know how my testers liked each one, and then I will make my recommendation for which is the best fountain pen for beginners.

What Fountain Pens Did I Test?

best fountain pen for beginners lineup

From L to R: Platinum Preppy, Pilot Varsity, Pilot Petit-1, Kaweco Sport, Lamy Safari, Pilot Metropolitan/MR

For this article, I looked in many different places to see which pens were typically recommended for beginners. It seemed like the same 5 kept popping up every time. These 5 are as follows (in no particular order):

As a companion to the Varsity and Preppy, and since it’s a shorter pen, I also added the Pilot Petit-1 to the test to provide a bit of a comparison to the Kaweco.

In this lineup there are three pens that are typically considered disposable fountain pens (the Varsity, Preppy and Petit-1) and three that are considered more standard, basic fountain pens (the Kaweco, Metropolitan and Safari). The disposables can be found for under $5 each and the basics can be found for under $25 each.

Out of the 6 pens, 5 of them take cartridges. The Varsity is the only true disposable and does not accept cartridges, but with a little work can be refilled. The Metropolitan comes with an included converter that allows you to use bottled ink, while the Safari and Kaweco have one that’s available but not usually included with just the pen.

How Did I Test Them?

I found 4 different friends who had little or no experience using a fountain pen. I had them sit down, try out each pen and give me their impressions (both on how they thought the pens looked and how they wrote). I had them test the pens in two groups: the disposables first and then the basics. I let everyone know that the pens were available in different colors, so they shouldn’t visually judge them on the color. I also let them know that the ink was the color that came with the pen, but some pens had different ink cartridges available or could use bottled inks as well.

After they gave me their impressions of each pen, I asked which they liked best and why. I also then told them how much each pen cost and asked if they would actually buy the pen they said they liked.

For consistency’s sake, I had each person write with the same pens on the same paper. I didn’t tell them what to write or how long to write. I just had them sit down and write until they had a good feel for the pen.

What Did The Testers Have To Say?

 Pilot VarsityPlatinum PreppyPilot Petit-1Kaweco SportPilot Metropolitan/MRLamy Safari
Initial ImpressionLooks cheap.It's a grown up pen.Looks like a toy.Don't like that it unscrews. It's a hipster pen.Seems very grown up. It's hefty.Really like the look.
LooksIt's a cute pen.Like the looks the most.Looks like middle school.Looks like lipstick. Looks fun.Like the designDon't like the clip or grip. It's not good looking. Looks modern.
Ergonomics/ExperienceMore natural. Easy to write with. Smooth.Soft and silky.Writes nice.Lightweight.Comfortable. Like the weight. Feels permanent.Doesn't feel right. Really like the grip. Nice grip.
Final ThoughtsLike how it writes.Writes better in Korean than in English.Mature pen in a fun outfit. I like it more than I thought I would.Sexy as hell.A joy to write with.Feels good.

As you can see from the above table, opinions varied quite a bit for the different pens. While reactions were fairly consistent for some pens like the Metropolitan, reactions for other pens (like the Safari) were mixed. For the disposable pens, 3 out of 4 people chose the Platinum Preppy as their favorite. For the basic pens, 3 out of 4 people chose the Pilot Metropolitan as their favorite. They all said they would actually purchase their favorite pen if they were going to buy a fountain pen.

Here are the summaries for each pen:
Pilot Varsity: Everyone thought this pen was fine, but nothing special. Reactions were very positive but no one was excited by it.

best fountain pen for beginners pilot varsity

Pilot Varsity

Platinum Preppy: Everyone was generally impressed by this pen. They liked it’s looks and the way it writes.
best fountain pen for beginners platinum preppy

Platinum Preppy

Pilot Petit-1: Initially, most people didn’t like this pen, but once they used it they changed their minds. Some thought it would make a great pocket or purse pen due to its size.
best fountain pen for beginners platinum petit-1

Pilot Petit-1

Kaweco Sport: The general reaction was that this looked more like makeup than a pen. Two people really liked it (one person picked it as their favorite), but two really did not like it (one for it’s looks and one because the cap screws on). Strangely enough, it’s lack of a clip didn’t bother anyone.
best fountain pen for beginners kaweco sport

Kaweco Sport

Pilot Metropolitan/MR: This was the overall favorite. Everyone really liked the looks and feel of this pen. They all agreed that it was a great writer as well.
best fountain pen for beginners Pilot MR

Pilot Metropolitan/MR

Lamy Safari: People were very divided over this pen. Some really did not like the way it looked, while others didn’t mind it. The grip was also a point of contention, with some people liking it and others who could hardly use the pen because of it.
best fountain pen for beginners lamy safari

Lamy Safari/Vista

What’s My Take On Each Pen?

As someone who’s been using fountain pens for around 20 years, my take on each pen should be different than someone who has never used one before. If you’re buying your first fountain pen, you’re in the same boat as my testers, but hopefully you’ll still find my opinions helpful as well.

The Disposables

These are all good pens. If you’re worried about whether or not you’ll even be able to write with a fountain pen and only want to spend $5, buying one of these is a great choice. They’ll give you an idea of what it’s like to write with a nib and liquid ink. While the nibs aren’t as nice as on the basic pens, they should be nice enough for you to know if you want to spend more money on a basic pen or switch back to a rollerball or gel pen.

While the Preppy is the tester’s favorite pen (and the favorite of most people online as well), I personally prefer the Varsity for one reason. Preppys can dry out after not being used for a few days, while the Varsitys are famous for not drying out (even over many years). As a new fountain pen user, you should expect a quality fountain pen to write immediately and not require coaxing to get it started. Still, I can’t deny that the Preppy is a great pen. The fact that it takes cartridges makes it much easier to experiment with new ink colors, which is one of the main attractions fountain pens hold for many people. I also think that the nib on a Preppy is a bit better than the nib on a Varsity. Still, for pure ease of use, I like the Varsity the best.

The Basics

Again, these are all great pens. The step-up in quality from a $5 pen to a $25 pen is very noticeable. Not only do the pens physically look and feel better, but they also feel noticeably better when you write with them. The fact that they all have converters available, which will allow you to use bottled ink with them, makes them great pens that can last you for many years to come. One thing to note: the Pilot, Kaweco and Lamy all use different sizes of ink cartridges. The Lamy and Pilot use proprietary cartridges that only work with their particular brand of pens, while the Kaweco uses an international sized cartridge that works with many different brands of pens.

The Kaweco Sport is an interesting pen. It’s a short pen and doesn’t include a clip or converter, although they are both available for purchase separately. Another thing that some of you might find interesting is that you can purchase different nib units for these pens. That means if you eventually want to change from a medium to a fine nib, you don’t have to buy a new pen. Instead, you can just buy a new nib.

The Lamy Safari is also an interesting pen. Some people will immediately be turned off because of the way that it looks, while it’s looks won’t bother other people. If you can get past the looks, the next hurdle is the triangular grip. Again, this just bothers some people too much to consider the Safari. If the looks and grip don’t bother you, you’ll find the Safari to be a great pen. Like the Kaweco Sport, Safaris also have replaceable nibs.

The Pilot Metropolitan is what most people imagine when they think of a fountain pen. From the shape to the size to the feel, the Metropolitan is a basic but solid pen. Where the Safari and Kaweco push boundaries with their shape and size, the Metropolitan sticks with tradition. While some people might find it a bit heavy, others will be reassured by its weight. The nib is as smooth as the Safari and Kaweco, but can not be replaced. You’re stuck with whichever nib comes with the pen when you buy it.

So Which One Is The Best Fountain Pen For Beginners?

best fountain pen for beginners Pilot Metropolitan

In my opinion, the Pilot Metropolitan is the best fountain pen for beginners.

Ask anyone or look anywhere online for what people recommend as the best fountain pen for beginners and you’ll consistently see one pen that shows up every time: the Pilot Metropolitan. It’s an attractive, well-made pen, so it’s no surprise people like it. But what makes it stand out over so many other different pens at the same price-point? In my opinion, the pen just has a size, weight, material and nib combination that works for almost everyone. All of my testers who used it instantly commented on how nice it felt to hold, and then again instantly commented on how nice it was to write with.

With that being said, I would also recommend the Pilot Metropolitan as the best fountain pen for beginners. While you can change the nibs on the Safari and Kaweco Sport, most beginners probably won’t be worried about changing nibs for a while, which makes this less of a consideration than it might be for a more advanced user. Additionally, it comes with an included converter, so if you get the urge to buy a bottle of ink, you don’t have to remember to also purchase a converter as well. Finally, there’s the price. I mentioned that all three basic pens can be purchased for under $25, but it’s fairly easy to find the Metropolitan for around $15! Considering it is extremely rare to find a Kaewco or Safari for under $20, this makes it an amazing value!

On a personal note, I had never used a Pilot Metropolitan before buying one for this test. My first impressions were very similar to my testers’. I immediately noticed how nice it felt to hold. Once I wrote with it, I was impressed with how smooth the nib was. After using many different fountain pens over the years, I find it amazing that Pilot has made such an inexpensive fountain pen that feels so luxurious.

Please note:

  • The Lamy used in this review is the Lamy Vista, but it is the exact same pen as the Lamy Safari. The only difference is the Vista is clear, while the Safari is available in different colors.
  • The Pilot Metropolitan is also called the Pilot MR. They are both the exact same pen.
  • All of the pens tested in this article include ink when you purchase them, so you can start writing as soon as you receive your pen!

Hi, my name is John. I’m a Colorado-born professional photographer who currently lives in San Francisco. I’ve been using and collecting fountain pens for over 20 years. I got my first one in college when I got bored taking notes with ballpoints and pencils. Since then I’ve bought and sold hundreds of pens, but have consistency in my love of Esterbrooks.

4 Comments on “What’s The Best Fountain Pen For Beginners?”

  1. John – why didn’t you include a Jinhao 599 costing approx. $1? There some nice 70 cent non-disposables on ebay, and I can’t find anything wrong with them.

    1. Noel, there are definitely plenty of pens I could have included in this list. One of the main reasons I chose the pens that I did include is because they are widely available, both online and in stores, and are almost always recommended as great pens for beginners. Maybe one of these days I can do a follow up to this post and include a lot of other pens like the Jinhao you mentioned!

    1. Thanks! I figured it made a lot more sense, given the intent of the article, to get new users to tell me what they thought rather than me telling them what I thought.

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