In a world of fountain pens that cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, the term “disposable fountain pen” might seem like an oxymoron. Indeed, they may go against everything that fountain pens seem to stand for… quality, permanence and luxury. Don’t let the term fool you, though. Disposable fountain pens are actually quite capable little pens! Surprisingly, there are actually quite a few different models to choose from, so let’s try to figure out which one is the best disposable fountain pen.
Why Would You Want A Disposable Fountain Pen?
First things first, why would you even want a disposable fountain pen? If you’re a regular fountain pen user, you surely have plenty of other options available to you. When would you ever grab one of these $5 pens instead of your $500 pen? One time might be when there’s a risk of damaging or losing your pen. In that situation, it would make sense to use a pen that is disposable. Another time might be if you’re teaching someone how to use a fountain pen. People who have never used a fountain pen, especially children, don’t understand how delicate they can be. A bent nib on a $5 pen isn’t a big deal, while a bent nib on a $100 pen surely is. Finally, people who enjoy using fountain pens typically enjoy using any type of fountain pen. A disposable pen can feel like a fun and easy treat to any pen lover.
So, now that we’ve figured out why you might want a disposable fountain pen in the first place, let’s take a look at the contenders for the title of Best Disposable Fountain Pen.
The current lineup of contenders consists of 4 different pens. Each will be rated on the same criteria on a scale of 1-3 (1 being the lowest, 3 the highest):
Quality: How well is the pen made?
Availability: How easily can you purchase the pen and refills?
Color Selection: How many colors does this pen come in?
Nib Selection: How many different nib sizes are there?
Other: Any other qualities the pen may have that make it stand out.
Each pen was tested over the course of a week. The pens were first uncapped and, in the case of the cartridge pens, inked on Day 1. They were used and tested throughout the week to see if they had dried out or changed at all.
The Pilot Varsity (or Vpen as it is known outside of the United States) is a full-sized disposable fountain pen. The barrel and cap have a black and grey design. The ends of the cap and barrel are color-coded to match the ink color. The plastic that it is made out of is more flexible than the clear plastic of the Preppy or Petit1, which means it stands a better chance of not cracking or getting damaged. This is a good thing since the ink is stored directly inside of the barrel and not in a cartridge.
I have a long history with these pens. In 2010 I filled a bunch of these “disposable” pens up with ink for an ink testing station at an event at the Smithsonian Air and Postal Museum. Much to my surprise, 7 years and 2 moves later and I still have a few that have not evaporated and write just fine! With that being said, I don’t think you’ll experience any drying out or leaks with a Varsity.
These pens tend to write with a very wet line. On some paper the Varsity will feather just a little bit, but on most paper you’ll just get a nice line of ink. Of all the pens in this roundup, I think the Varsity has the most saturated ink (at least the two blues that I tested).
One other benefit is that you can refill a Pilot Varsity. By gripping the nib and pulling it out of the barrel (you’ll want to use something to grip it without damaging it), you’ll be able to fill the pen with ink like you would an eyedropper. Now you can use any color of ink you want!
Color Selection: 2 (7 colors)
Nib Selection: 1 (Medium only)
Other: 3 (easily refilled, never dry out)
Platinum PreppyThe Platinum Preppy is a full-sized disposable fountain pen. The barrel and cap are clear plastic, allowing you to see the ink cartridge and nib even when the pen is capped. The end of the cap and clip are color-coded to match the ink color. There is a bunch of text that’s on the barrel (warnings, a bar code, etc…) that detract from the appearance of the pen.
The Preppy seems to be the Varsity’s biggest competition. You’ll regularly hear them referred to in the same breath. When it comes down to it, they are fairly similar pens. They are roughly the same size, have similar nibs and come in nearly the same ink colors. The biggest difference between the two is that the Preppy takes cartridges, which means it can be easily refilled. Platinum also makes a converter, which allows you to use any ink you’d like. To get the ink flowing, push the included cartridge onto the back of the section.
During the time that I used the Preppy, it tended to dry out a little. I don’t know if it was just this particular pen or of others would do the same thing, but it happened on more than one occasion. Sometimes it would write perfectly fine, while others it would seem dry.
As for the feel of the pen, I think the Preppy feels like the highest quality pen of the bunch. It’s the largest pen, both in length and in grip size, so if you have larger hands you’ll probably find it the most comfortable.
Color Selection: 2 (7 colors)
Nib Selection: 3 (Extra Fine, Fine and Medium)
Other: 3 (takes cartridges and has an available converter)
The Petit1 is another Pilot pen, but is significantly different from the Varsity. To start with, it’s much smaller, what some people might refer to as a pocket or purse pen. It’s also a cartridge filler, which means it can be refilled with the appropriate cartridges. While the Varsity only comes with Medium nibs, the Petit1 only comes with Fine nibs.
To install the cartridge, you’ll first need to remove the protective piece on the tip of the cartridge. Once the cartridge is installed, you can enjoy watching the ink flow into the clear feed for the first time. Even though it looked like it was inked and ready to write, it took a few scribbles to get the ink flowing. Although I was initially a little worried, the pen’s small size not an issue for writing comfort.
Color Selection: 2 (8 colors)
Nib Selection: 1 (Fine only)
Other: 2 (takes cartridges, so while it’s not disposable, you are limited to which inks you can use)
Thornton’s Office Supplies Novice
The Thornton’s Novice is a full-sized disposable fountain pen. The barrel and cap are glossy black with silver accents. The ends of the cap and barrel are color-coded to match the ink color. This is not a cartridge-filler.
While many would consider this to be the best looking pen of the bunch, I’m not particularly attracted to it. One reason is that the glossy black surface shows fingerprints much more easily than any of the other pens. They are also not the highest quality pens. I couldn’t get one of the pens in the 12 pack to write. The nibs are also weaker and bend more easily than the other pens. Unlike the Pilot Varsity, the Novice can’t be refilled due to a taper of the barrel that makes the nib impossible to remove.
Color Selection: 3 (12 colors)
Nib Selection: 1
Other: 1 (can’t be refilled)
So Which Is The Best Disposable Fountain Pen?
The win has to go to the Pilot Varsity/Vpen. In my mind, this is the ultimate disposable fountain pen. Maybe it’s because it was the first one I ever purchased, but I feel like it is the best all-around pen. Not only does it do a solid job at writing, but it’s also the toughest of the bunch. Add to that the fact that it can be refilled with any ink you want without having to purchase new cartridges and it’s clear that this is a great pen for beginners and experienced pen-users alike.
The runner up would have to be the Platinum Preppy. It has just about everything seasoned pen users might want… a variety of colors and nib sizes, it’s easily refillable via ink cartridges and you can buy a converter to use any ink you desire. Because I experienced some drying out and it’s not as tough or attractive as the Pilot Varsity, I hesitate to give it my top recommendation, but it’s still a wonderful pen at a great price.
The Pilot Petit1 is a great little pen. It’s fun and easy to use and many people will be attracted to it simply because of it’s size. Don’t let it’s cute looks fool you… it’s still comfortable to use, even if you don’t have small hands.
Finally, I wouldn’t recommend the Thornton’s Novice. While they aren’t bad pens, there is the illusion of value with the number of pens you get for the price. Unfortunately, they just don’t hold up when compared to a set of Varsity, Preppy or even Petit1 pens. They’re not bad pens, by any means, but the Novice are truly the only disposable pens of the bunch, as they are impossible to easily refill.
I hope you found this review useful! Please let me know in the comments section if you’ve used any other disposable fountain pens that I’ve missed.
The Best Disposable Fountain Pens
Hi, my name is John. I’m a Colorado-born professional photographer who recently moved back to Denver after spending 3 years 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.