Top 5 Starter Fountain Pens for 2021

Looking to get started with your first pen? Or want to pen-able someone with a writing instrument that will serve them well for years to come? Here are five pens that in my experience make excellent departure points for the neophyte fountain pen enthusiast.

Diplomat Magnum
This pen is all about the nib. Rarely has a pen in this price range given me a writing experience that rivals some of my favorite up-market pens. The nib is surprisingly flexible and springy for steel – giving me a feeling that I’m not used to receiving until I’m spending gold nib money on a pen. I wish that Diplomat modeled all of their nibs on the feel that this one provides. Tip size choices run the gamut from extra-fine to broad. ($23.20)

PenBBS 308
In my opinion, this is simply the best value per dollar pen on the market today across a variety of criteria. It comes with a converter included and the necessary o-rings pre-installed to make this pen eye-dropper ready. Over 50 turned acrylic materials are available to choose from, so the aesthetics are versatile enough to suit any style (and adds an excellent collectibility factor to this pen). Many of these are the same materials available on higher-end PenBBS models – giving you access to a pen that looks and feels far more expensive than it is. I currently own three of these, and while they are not my favorite PenBBS model, I find that they are mainstays of my pen rotation — I almost always have at least one inked amongst several more pens of higher perceived cache. Nibs are available in EF, F, and M.

Waiting for these to arrive from China can be a bit of a hassle when you buy direct from their official Etsy store, but they are slowly starting to be carried by more Western retailers. ($15.99-$31.99 depending on the material/finish)

TWSBI Eco
The Eco has been my go-to work pen for a while now. A piston filler with high ink capacity, the ECO is a great inexpensive and durable pen that I love to travel with or have on a photo shoot set. Knowing that I can likely go weeks without refilling my ink has always made this a favorite of mine, and I find that I’ve had no issues with them on planes with some preparation and care. All of my Eco’s have been smooth, slightly wet writers that are always a pleasure to journal with on the road. The Eco is also my top choice for when you positively have to draw everyone’s attention by showing off that badass new ink sloshing around in your barrel (shimmer ink fans take note) ($30.99)

Lamy Safari
I’m a fan of the Safari molded grip that so many people gripe about, but I can certainly understand that it is a polarizing design feature. Past that, I think that Lamy has created a rock-solid pen for beginners and advanced users alike. It’s a perfect size, and the easily interchangeable Lamy nibs make it a great first pen for those that like to tinker. The slight texturing of the plastic materials helps you keep a comfortable grip when writing. Lamy constantly releases the pen in exciting new colors each year.

This pen used to sit higher on my list — but I got downgraded because of the tense games of Lamy nib QA roulette that some friends and I have had to play with recent purchases. Will it be one of those perfect Lamy nibs that feels like writing on wet glass? Or will you end with one of the razor-sharp misaligned nibs that I see people complaining about more and more with this brand? Getting your nib replaced or tuned won’t generally be a problem, but it will be inconvenient if you have to wait a few extra days to have a writable pen in hand. Despite this, I still love Lamy – especially when you get into some of their higher-end lines like the studio and 2000. ($29.60)

Platinum Prefounte (And to a Lesser Degree the Preppy and Plasir)
The grown-up version of the Platinum preppy, the Prefounte, occupies a nice middle space between the overbranded all plastic Preppy and the slightly more expensive but aesthetically prettier Plasir. From a technical standpoint, all three of these pens are pretty similar in terms of writing performance — excellent nibs and feeds that are super smooth at an incredibly affordable price. The primary differentiation comes in terms of looks and hardware. I’m not a fan of plastic clips or having to peel stickers off of my pens — so the preppy is generally a no-go for me. On the other hand, I do genuinely like the Plasir, I think it’s a nice pen, and I like the option of having a metal body for a minimal price increase. I wish they would put a little more into it, though, and make it more of an actual step between the Prefounte and the Procyon – something in the thirty dollar range with some more stepped up features/finish and not just the guts of a preppy in a metal body.

The Prefounte is where this range of introductory pens from Platinum finds balance, in my opinion. Not too hot, not too cold, this is the bowl of porridge that’s just right. ($11.00)

Honorable Mentions

Hongdien Forest
Erin swears by this as her favorite fountain pen. They write exceptionally well out of the box, and the slim metal body comes in some excellent color options. My biggest issue is one of aesthetics and durability — the finish started to flake off pretty quickly on any of the ones I’ve owned, especially around the back end of the pen when posting the cap.

Kaweco Sport
Sports are rock-solid pens with a unique design that are great writers. I find that the pocket pens aspect can be polarizing, and so as much as I like them, I’ve kept it on honorable mention for its more niche appeal across a broader swathe of users.

Moonman T1
The Moonman T1 was the first Chinese pen I ever bought and is still one I use today. While this is available in a few colors, I’m a fan of the Vintage Brass finish for its weight and style. A beautiful-looking piston filler, the T1 writes very well and offers an interesting fude nib option too. I love the solidity of how it is built, and the styling has made it an ideal pen to gift others that never fails to impress.

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