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?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 Varsity||Platinum Preppy||Pilot Petit-1||Kaweco Sport||Pilot Metropolitan/MR||Lamy Safari|
|Initial Impression||Looks 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.|
|Looks||It's a cute pen.||Like the looks the most.||Looks like middle school.||Looks like lipstick. Looks fun.||Like the design||Don't like the clip or grip. It's not good looking. Looks modern.|
|Ergonomics/Experience||More 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 Thoughts||Like 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?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.
- 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!
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.
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!
Nice review. I like the idea of getting opinions from first time users in order to assess best first time pen. Smart!
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.
Love this blog. Definitely will help me figure out which pen to buy! 🙂
Glad you found it helpful, Jennifer! Happy writing!
I own the metro and absolutely love it, I send this to everyone looking for a first pen!
It’s such a great pen! Thank you for helping spread the word!
Funny to read people didn’t like the triangular grip of the Lamy. Actually the triangular shape helps develop a good pengrip. In most schools I know (Netherlands) children start writing with a fountain pen, and all school pens have comparable grips. Eg. Stabilo, Pelikan, Faber-Castell and Lamy.
Hanneke, I think it’s because most people in the United States have never held a pen with a triangular grip, so it feels very unusual to them. I know it felt strange to me the first time I used one, but I quickly adjusted and now don’t even notice. Thanks for reading!
Would love to see the TWSBI Eco and/or TWSBI GO on this list 🙂
Good call. I initially considered the Eco, but thought it was a bit too expensive to be considered a beginner pen. The GO didn’t exist when I wrote this, so maybe it’s time to update it?
I like pens with some heft, and by sheer luck my first fountain pen was a Pilot Metropolitan. So smooth, and perfectly balanced!
That’s a great pen that just feels good in your hand. I like a little heft as well!
I completely agree, though I am partial to the Kaweco Sport for my own use.
The more I’ve used my Kaweco AL Sport, the more I enjoy it. I’m still not sold on the regular ones, though. Still, they’re loved by many people!
I always recommend the twsbi eco or go
Those are both solid recommendations, Eric.
Nice, I have the same opinion with you, but Lamy Safari are my favorite
Lamy Safari’s are fantastic pens. I can’t argue with you!
The Metro is probably my most recommended pen to penable newbies. Such a consistent and reliable writer
Exactly, Sakshi. Plus, so many fun colors!
There’s are so many pens one could consider for people just beginning to use fountain pens. I think you made a good list.
Thanks Pastor Ron! It’s not an easy list to make.
The Pilot Metropolitan was one of my first when I started to write w fountain pen again. Very decent metal pen with a fine nip. Loved it.
I think a lot of people have had the same experience, Esther. Nothing like a quality pen to get started with!
I should share this with people we’re trying to penable. I find that people are really divided on the Lamy grip. Some people I talk to like it because it helps them practice holding the pen at the proper angle. Others find it uncomfortable. It’s best to try before you buy!
Please do share it! I definitely agree with the Lamy grip. At first it was weird for me, but now I don’t even notice it. Still, trying before buying is a great recommendation!
Very nice test! I do believe the preppy has a sealing cap mechanism though, so it should also last for months 😉 (Mine do)
I personally like the preppy, but own more of its aluminium cousins, the plaisir 🙂
This article makes me want to ink up my metropolitan 🤣
I’ve never tried a Plaisir, Janine. I’ll have to track one down!
Ink up that Metro! I’m sure it’s feeling lonely.
I was surprised to read that your Preppies dry out, because mine are the opposite. I can leave them sitting for weeks and weeks and they start writing immediately. Maybe that’s because I have them eyedroppered? They are surprisingly good writers IMO, although I agree with you that the Pilot Metro is great too. Next update, you might switch to the Platinum Prefounte, which I know was not out when you wrote this. It’s just a bit nicer looking than the Preppy and still affordable at $10.
I was a bit surprised as well, Marilyn. To be honest, others that I’ve had have not dried out at all, but just having one that did means that it’s likely others could as well. I’ll have to try out a Prefounte. I think this blog post is due for an update!
I just embarked on this journey. Started with a preppy and a jinhao. Now I have a EF kakuno(which bleeds into almost all my papers) and a Petit1. Oh and a real cheap one from Daiso.
Will keep the Metropolitan in mind if I get itchy….
It’s a fun and enjoyable journey, KC. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the Metropolitan if you end up getting one. Happy writing!
Pilot Metro was my first fountain pen and it is a reliable pe
So true, Mannuturi. It’s a great little pen!
I love my Pilot Metropolitans so much, I bought one of each! I’m only missing a few older colors.
That would be a fun collection! I’d also enjoy the challenge of finding the older colors.
I think the TWSBI eco is also a good first fountain pen. I had the metropolitans but didn’t like they way they wrote and the filler is the worst.
True, Emil, the Eco would be a fine first fountain pen for many people.
Linked this to a friend I’ve been meaning to penable. 🙂 I’d recommend the Pilot Metro, too, for people who are used to gel pens.
Thanks so much for sharing!
Very helpful review. I’ve been considering the Kaweco Sport and didn’t know you could change out the nib. I’m partial to the Lamy Safari and Vista and find the triangular grip very comfy. But I like other pens with a regular grip too.
I fell like there are so many little tricks with pens, Linda, that it takes forever to learn them all. Hopefully now you can pick up a new nib for your Kaweco and feel like you have a brand new pen!
The Preppy is a perfect first fountain pen. No real investment and, to me, it is the perfect size and weight. This article is very thorough. My only quibble is that the Metropolitan is not my cup of tea, but I understand why it is recommended as the perfect first f.p. The price point won’t scare anyone away and it is solid. Metal pens are a bit too heavy for me.
I can see your point about the Preppy vs Metropolitan, Erin. Most people are used to lightweight pens, so a Preppy might be a bit more appealing than a heavier Metropolitan.
John, this blog is very interesting and useful. I’m trying to get my nine year old grandson into using a fountain pen. Last year, in the second grade, they started teaching the kids how to write in cursive. This year he changed School districts and they are not teaching cursive. This is a shame because he was quite excited about it and even developed a stylized signature. In order to help him out I am planning to send him a fountain pen and one of the books on Amazon about learning how to write cursive for children. I was planning on sending him a package of the varsity pens in the multiple colors because I thought that would interest him and also would avoid him spilling ink on the carpet because there are no cartridges or converters necessary. However, after reading this article I am thinking about maybe just getting him a pilot metropolitan Or even the Lamy Safari. I noticed that the Lamie grip might be better for teaching a youngster how to hold a pen but personally, I have a Lamie pen and it hurts my middle finger when I write more than a page or two with that. I think I am holding it too tight because of the size of the grip.
So, with these things in mind, what do you think would be best for a nine-year-old boy with a very basic introduction to cursive writing?
Thanks for The advice. Rick
Hi Rick, glad you’re finding it useful! It is sad that so many schools are not teaching cursive these days. If I were making a purchase for a 9-year-old, I’d probably go with a pack of Varsity pens. Multiple colors, no filling needed and inexpensive. If he learns how to use them and enjoys writing with them, I’d move up to a nicer pen. I think the Lamy pens are made to teach proper grip, but also have an easily-replaceable nib if it were to get damaged, so that may be your best bet.
I’m really enjoying your website! I came here through your article about notebooks that lay flat well, and now I’ve fallen into the getting curious about fountain pens. Looking forward to experimenting a little, so thank you for all the in-depth information.
I’m glad to hear it, Nicole! Hope you enjoy your experience with fountain pens and find more helpful info here. Happy writing!
Hi John, did you all try out the Metro with a fine or medium nib? And which do you think is better for beginners? Thanks!
Hi Dave, the Pilot Metro had a medium nib on it. I honestly think that either a fine or medium would work for beginners. It really depends on their writing style. Also, if someone is not using good paper, a fine nib is probably better than a medium nib because it shouldn’t feather and bleed as much.
Nice article John. I’d like to also throw out there the Scriveiner fountain pens. They’re well made and write about as smoothly as my Montblanc for much MUCH less. They also come with a converter and cartridges as well so the owner can choose which they want to use. I’ve been extremely happy with mine and use it as my primary pen these days.
Thank you, Chris! I’ll have to look into Scriveiner pens. I’ve never tried one before. It’s always good to have a new pen to track down!
Out of curiosity, have you tried the Pilot Kakuno or Penmanship? I like Metropolitan, but those two are not only cheaper, but have triangular grips as well (Penmanship grip being very defined, whereas Kakuno grip appears to be a subtler, rounder grip). I’m looking for my first real fountain pen, I’m currently using a cheap no-name calligraphy one from an old kit my sister got and never used (main issue was corners making it feel a bit scratchy, hence why I’m looking for a normal rounded nib now). I have carpal tunnel (not to mention really bad handwriting) so I’d like a more defined grip to help encourage good practice. I keep hearing conflicting information about whether the nibs on these pens are the same as those found on the MR, I’d like to hear your thoughts on them.
Hi Ray, I actually haven’t tried either of those. I know they’re quite popular, but for some reason I haven’t ever picked one up. I do know that a lot of people love the Kakuno, so I’d guess you can’t go wrong with one of those. I’m not sure if the nib is the same or not, but to be honest, even if they’re not I think you’ll find them quite usable for your first fountain pen. Good luck and happy writing!