Fountain Pens From My Collection: Lamy AL-Star

John Bosley Fountain Pen Reviews 23 Comments

Lamy pens, specifically the Safari and AL-Star, tend to get mixed reviews from people. It’s not because of the pens themselves and how they write, but because of the pen design and the uniquely-shaped grip. Before I owned one, I was squarely in the “don’t like them” camp, but then I received one as a gift and quickly realized what great pens they actually are. I now own a few AL-Stars and a Lamy Vista (essentially a clear Safari). What was it about these pens that made me go from “no thanks” to “yes please”? I’ll tell you.

Lamy AL-Star

Similar to the Kaweco AL Sport that I previously wrote about, the AL in AL-Star stands for aluminum. That’s right, apparently I have a type, and that is aluminum fountain pens. Unlike the AL Sport, which is completely made of aluminum, the AL-Sport has a plastic grip section. I feel like it would be a really outstanding pen if it was entirely aluminum, but as it is I still prefer it to the all-plastic Safari or Vista.

Unlike the AL Sport, this is a full-sized pen. In fact, because it is somewhat ubiquitous, many people use it as the standard pen when comparing pen sizes. I find that it’s a great size for me and I’m able to write with it unposted (no cap on the end of the barrel), which is my preferred way of writing with a fountain pen. This is by no means a large pen, though. In fact, compared to many modern pens, it is fairly small. Still, what matters the most to me is how the pen feels to hold and use and this pen just works for me.

Since it is made of aluminum, this is a fairly light pen. If you are sensitive to writing fatigue due to the weight of your pen, this would be a great pen to consider. I feel like I can write with it for quite a while with no issues. The triangular-shaped grip is one thing that many people don’t like about these pens. Personally, it doesn’t bother me at all, but I’m sure if you hold your pen in a nontraditional way it could be an issue.

Lamy AL-Star fountain pen grip shape

The overall design of the pen is another one of those things that some people don’t like. I used to be in that camp before I owned one, but now that I have a few I have found that I don’t really mind the looks at all. In fact, I like the sleek, simple cap and body, particularly the flat sides of the body, and only really have a gripe with the clip. Looking back, the clip is the main thing that I disliked about these pens before owning one and it is still the part of the pen that I like the least. It does work very well, but I think it just looks childish. It also adds a lot of girth to the pen, so fitting it into a tight pen sleeve can be difficult.

Lamy AL-Star fountain pen body shape
Lamy AL-Star fountain pen clip

One thing that I have really grown to love about the AL-Star and Safari lineup of pens is how easy it is to swap nibs. It is literally a 5-second process, as they simply slide off and onto the feed. They are also fairly easy to find and quite inexpensive, although inexpensive is a relative term, as they can coast anywhere from half the price to the full price of a new Safari (approximately $10-20 USD). Having a few different nib sizes is a great way to quickly and easily get a different writing experience from the same pen.

Lamy AL-Star fountain pen nib removal

Speaking of nibs, how do these write? I find that they tend to write very well. They’re no luxury pens, mind you, but for an inexpensive, mass-produced pen with a steel nib, they get the job done. I find them to be on the wetter side of writing and have enjoyed using their medium, broad and even an oblique double-broad! That one really lays down a nice, wet line. Since the nibs are so easy to remove, they are also quite easy to tune, although I feel like extra care needs to be taken with them to prevent bending if you are working on the nibs while not installed on the pen.

These pens are filled by either a cartridge or converter. They do take a proprietary cartridge, so you’re limited to Lamy inks (unless you want to refill the empty cartridges with an ink of your choice). You can also use a converter, which is an inexpensive option and my preferred method of filling these pens. Both the cartridge and converter hold a decent amount of ink and should last most people a good amount of time. The body comes with a cutout in the side so you can see what your current ink level is.

Lamy AL-Star fountain pen converter
Lamy AL-Star fountain pen ink window

I’m not a huge fan of multi-colored pens, but I do like that the AL-Stars come in so many different colors. I feel like the solid, metallic options are much more my style than some of the more swirly, glittery options available today. Of course, those are typically hand-made pens, each one unique, while an AL-Star is a mass-produced pen that is in no way unique. Still, they work for me and add a little color to my otherwise mostly-black pen collection.

Other Similar Lamy Models

While I’ve mostly talked about the AL-Star, I do want to briefly mention the other similar models that Lamy makes. The Safari is exactly the same as the AL-Star, only it is entirely made out of plastic. The Vista is just a Safari that is entirely clear. There is also a line of metal pens that is more expensive than the AL-Star called the Lamy Lx. They are still aluminum, but are anodized with “precious metals” instead. They also come with a black steel nib instead of the standard steel nib and a solid, matching storage tube. The Lx pens run around 2-3 times the price of an AL-Star. I bought one at a great price once and must say that, unless you really love the color, are not worth the extra cost. There is zero benefit to spending the extra money unless you really want a storage tube instead of a cardboard box.

best fountain pen for beginners lamy safari
apica cd notebook with lamy lx fountain pen

Conclusions

Lamy AL-Stars (and Safaris for that matter) are fountain pens that many people have quite a number of. They come in so many different colors and are fairly inexpensive, it’s hard not to have more than one. That is, assuming you like them. They tend to draw a mixed reaction from people, ranging from a dislike of the overall style or the shaped grip section to a love of the variety of colors and low price. As I said, after receiving one as a gift and giving it a try, I moved from a dislike of the pens to owning more than one. I love how easy it is to swap out nibs and find that they write really well for such an inexpensive pen. I also really enjoy the feel of the pen. For some reason aluminum pens just do it for me. If you’re one of those people who has never given a Lamy AL-Star a chance, I would highly encourage you to try one out. If you don’t love it, you’re not out a lot of money and I’m sure you can pass it along to someone else who will enjoy it. Who knows, maybe you can use it to get someone else started with fountain pens?

Note: I want to write these posts as a way to share my perspective on pens that I regularly use. I don’t intend them to be in-depth reviews, but instead give my thoughts on the pens that I like and why I like them.

Comments 23

  1. Nice review John. I’m afraid I’m still in the “don’t like” category of pen users. My son asked me a few years ago for a suggestion for my birthday present and I had seen a lot of good things about the Safari so he got one for me. The nib was excellent but the grip section drove me to distraction. I hold a pen very traditionally but was never able to use this pen comfortably so it sits with a dozen or so “never to be used” pens. One day I’d like to find someone to gift it to and maybe introduce them to fountain pens.

    1. Thanks, Geof. That’s too bad you didn’t enjoy it. Hopefully you can find someone to gift it to! Now you’ve got me wondering about the other pens you have that are “never to be used” and why they fall into that category.

  2. Hi, John. I enjoyed your review! I’m an unapologetic fan of the Al-Star and Safari. They were my entry into fountain pen world, and many years, pens, and $$$ later, the Lamys remain my daily go-to pen. I love all the style and function elements you discussed (except, like you, the clip, but I never use it, so it’s a non-issue). I actually appreciate the plastic section on the Al-Star–my fingers tend to slide downward with a metal section. I avoid them. The triangular grip is my favorite feature. It’s comfortable and magically transforms my handwriting into something better than it is with any other pen.

    1. Thank you, Linda! I’d agree that they are a great daily pen. That’s interesting about the plastic section. I hadn’t thought about it, but it does make a difference, especially compared to a pen like the Lamy Studio that has a slick metal section. Now if only it would magically transform my handwriting. Oh well, can’t have it all!

  3. I think that would require a little more time😂 some are too light in weight, my Faber Castell has an awful section and a few I screwed up trying to adjust the nibs😱

  4. My first fountain pen was a Safari. I gave up on fountain pens for over a year because of it. Thankfully I decided to give them a second try and ordered a twsbi. Game changer. Love that pen.

    I found the safari incredibly dry to write with- so much so that it wouldn’t even write with certain inks. I had to buy very wet inks for it to work properly. The grip made my handwriting shaky, and it was terrible to clean out.

  5. So I am curious… How did you come to be in the “Before I owned one, I was squarely in the “don’t like them” camp” without owning one? Visually or had you picked one up?
    Not a fan of Safari’s but thankfully my husband likes them so they are not shop pens for him. I LOVE Alstars and Joys, however. I tend toward broader nibs or stubs so can’t comment on the tiny nibs, but find they work well with all my inks, and because they are not in the $200 range, feel fine tossing them into my purse. I was initially afraid they would scratch in my side pockets. but the aluminum finish is strong.

    1. It was definitely all visual for me. I was used to the styling of vintage pens and these pens just looked so out of place to me, I didn’t like them at all. As you have discovered, they are great pens for daily carry, as the price is such that you don’t have to worry about wear and tear nearly as much as with more expensive pens.

  6. John, thanks for another helpful review. I also like this pen, my first fountain pen because of its price. I like the grip, but that is a matter of taste, I know. The only thing I don’t like is the converter only holds a tiny amount of ink, for my use. I write 25 – 30 pages per week, sometimes more and the converter will run dry after only 10 days sometimes. Do you have a recommendation of a pen that holds a lot of ink? I know pens get more expensive as they get bigger, but I wouldn’t mind splurging on a pen I wouldn’t have to refill / clean as often.

    1. That’s a lot of writing, Billy! You might look into a TWSBI Eco or other model, as they hold significantly more ink and don’t cost much more than an AL-Star. If you like Lamy, you can’t go wrong with a Lamy 2000.

      1. Yes! I hand write my casenotes and changing out pens and papers makes them a lot more fun. I do have a TWSBI Diamond 580 and it is the Super-tanker of my pens. Glad to hear I’m on the right track.

  7. If you’re willing to spend more, the Opus 88 Koloro clear demonstrator pen hold more ink than any other pen I own. Mine has a medium nib and tends to put down a pretty wet line, but I’ve come to understand they may not all be so wet as mine. This pen is always in my rotation, and because it holds so much ink, is always filled with an ink I truly love.

  8. I have many Safaris and a few AL-stars. You’re right about the clip. But wasn’t this pen originally considered a school pen? Might explain the oversized clip. My biggest grip with the pen is that the cap doesn’t seal air away from the nib. To explain: I typically have a lot of pens inked at one time. (Really, a lot.) I used them for journaling and letter-writing, and change pens/inks just about every time I change the subject in my writing. But they can also go unused for a week or more. The Safaris and AL-Stars tend to have significant ink evaporation. I’ll use them when I travel, but otherwise, I’ve stopped using them for this reason, despite the fact I find writing with them really comfortable. I consider them to be a bit drier writers, and I prefer wet writers, so I tuned them to be wetter.

  9. I used to have a matte black Lamy Safari. I loved the way it wrote; it never had a bad start. I loved the ease of removing and replacing the nib. The grip did not bother me. The one detail that I could not get past was the large clip. It gave the pen (in my opinion) an awkward look. I gave it to a friend, along with a converter and a bottle of black ink.

    1. Glad to hear it, Monica! I feel like they’re a rite of passage for fountain pen users. It seems that everyone has had one at some point, so now you’ll be “in the club”! 🙂

  10. I just stumbled onto your blog! Enjoying it. I have a safari and a couple of Al-Stars. I love them. My very first fountain pen was a safari. It was bright yellow, and it was a revelation. I have to admit that the reason I bought it in the first place was a boy. He was a fountain pen fanatic, and I desperately wanted to impress him. Turned out I just love fountain lens though so it’s all good!

    I’m a little intrigued at all the comments from ppl who hate the way these pens look. I like them. Honestly it was probably the looks that drew me to the pen in the first place. They’re so distinctive, and the weird grip thing helps my handwriting. I like fat pens though— some nerve damage in my hand. Skinny pens hurt!

    I see you’ve also reviewed my other current pen fave ie the Kaweco al sport. Off to check out that review!

    1. Glad to hear it, Barbara! That’s a great story and I’m sure you’re not the first person to buy a pen to get the attention of someone else. Sounds like it all worked out in the end!

  11. Hi John,
    Your most recent blog post on Fountain Pen Day is broken. I couldn’t comment there (because it’s broken) so I’m commenting here instead, just to make you aware of that. Feel free to delete this once you’ve read it.

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