Pilot’s most famous fountain pen is without question the Vanishing Point (aka the Capless). This is the best selling and simply the best retractible nib fountain pen ever produced.
Many models have been introduced since the Vanishing Point’s inception in the early 1960s and the one I am reviewing today is a “Namiki” branded model with a faceted black plastic body and white metal trim. This body style was introduced in the 1970s stayed in production until the late 1990s. This particular Vanishing Point was made in 1997 right before the introduction of the current metal bodied Pilot Vanishing Point in 1998.
This older model (which I will refer to from now on as the “faceted VP”) is much more attractive with its elegantly integrated clip and slimmer faceted body. The current Vanishing Point has a much less harmonious design with bloated clumsy look to it.
The faceted VP is lighter and slimmer, weighing in at 18.5 grams and measuring just 11mm wide (clip not included). The current model weighs in at 31 grams. To my hand the faceted VP is much more comfortable to use.
The nib on this faceted VP is 14kt gold instead of 18kt gold on the current production model. The nib started life with a medium point and was ground into a butter line stub by Pendleton Brown.
This particular grind offers a great combination of usability and writing flair. I have done a number of custom grinds on medium nibs and this one my favorite so far. The nib is so smooth with just a hint of feedback…it’s luxurious.
The converter. These faceted VPs use a squeeze sac converter. It doesn’t hold enough ink so I always use cartridges with the metal cartridge cap.
The current model by comparison uses the Pilot Con-50 which is nicer to use and holds a slightly more reasonable amount of ink.
This is an awesome pen. You can find them used ranging from about $80 to $150.
The Namiki Custom Impressions line of pens was produced in the late 90s and while it predates the very popular Pilot Custom 74, it is essentially the same pen with a “celluloid” body and no markings on the cap band. These pens are cellulose acetate and not the cellulose nitrate normally associated with the word “celluloid”. The difference is that the cellulose acetate feels and can often look like a more typical plastic without the depth and oily feel of real celluloid.
The Custom Impressions came in five colors: Sapphire, Medley, Ambertone, Ruby and Emerald. I have Sapphire, Medley and Ambertone. It has been suggested (and from what I can tell rightly so) that Aurora used the same green plastic as the Emerald in their Optima. I have photographed them with a couple of Optimas…I am not certain that the Ruby is the same as Aurora’s Burgundy but they are close.
I particularly like the Sapphire and Medley colors; these to me are the most unique and beautiful.
These pens came with a con-70 converter and a 14kt gold #5 nib.
There is another variation of the Custom Impressions that very closely resembles the shape of the Custom 845, but again in “celluloid” and with a #10 instead of #15 nib. This model seems to be much more scarce and considerably more expensive than the pens I am showing here.
Like the Pilot Custom 74, the Namiki Custom Impressions make excellent workhorses. The nibs are butter smooth and wonderful writers.
To my knowledge these pens were only produced in fine, medium and broad nib grades.
I also find the nibs on the Impressions to be softer than the ones on the Custom 74. It seems to me, based on a small sample of Pilot/Namiki pens, that the pens from the 90s and early 00s have softer nibs than the ones produced more recently.
I have a decent amount of experience writing with Pilot/Namiki nibs from size #5 to size #20 and while I find all of these nib sizes to be very comfortable, the #10 seems to hit the sweet spot, with the #5 feeling a bit small and the #15 and #20 feeling a bit big. If you have big hands, which I do not, you may not like the #5 nib on these pens.
The Custom Impressions are full size pens measuring just over 13.5cm long, capped and weigh approximately 22.5 grams empty (with the con-70 installed). These pens post very well and I find them comfortable to use posted and unposted.
Prices for the Custom Impressions range a bit as they do not come up for sale all that often. If you can get one for around $150-$200 (depending on condition) I think that is a fair price but keep in mind if you prefer the look of a simple black body, a Custom 74 can be had for around $90 new.
The Yukari Royale is an oversize fountain pen similar in size and shape to a Montblanc 149. Despite it’s oversize form the Yukari Royale sits mid-pack in the Namiki line-up; there is the standard full-size Yukari and the comically enormous Emperor.
Earlier this year in Japan I tried both the Yukari Royale and the Emperor in person. I quickly ruled out the baseball-bat-sized Emperor but the Yukari Royale I struggled with for a little while. I thought “how could a pen so big and heavy be so comfortable?”; ultimately I decided not to take the risk on such an expensive pen and I bought a Platinum Izumo Yagumonuri instead.
Fast forward a few months and I was still thinking about the Yukari Royale and at the same time feeling disenchanted with the Izumo (the Izumo has a long section with a large step down that causes me discomfort in long writing sessions).
I ended up going for the Yukari Royale (thank you to Pen Chalet for making this possible).
The Yukari Royale has a large brass torpedo-shape body covered in vermilion (red) urushi lacquer (also available in black). The cap has Namiki’s (Pilot’s) ball clip and a very thin gold band at the end of the cap. The simple shape and minimal trim make for a very elegant pen.
The fit and finish of this pen is flawless. It really is perfect to the point where I genuinely question if it is in fact hand painted. Next to a Nakaya the difference is night and day. That is not to say that there is anything wrong with a Nakaya, there isn’t, a Nakaya has more of an organic beauty.
This pen weighs a hefty 45 grams but it is so well balanced in my hand that I don’t feel any fatigue from its weight. My other Namiki pens, a Nippon Art and a Yukari (non-Royale) share this same wonderful balance.
The Yukari Royale measures 5.8” capped. You can post this pen but it becomes too long for me. The grip section is about .4” in diameter which is thick but not as thick as a Montblanc 149s which measures over half an inch.
Here you can see the Royale with a variety of Pilot/Namiki pens:
The Yukari Royale is the only pen pictured above to feature an urushi painted metal section. All of the other pens (even the more expensive Yukari Nightline) have unpainted plastic sections with visible seams.
The Yukari Royale (using Pilot’s sizes) is a #20.
Interestingly, it is the same size as a Pilot #15 but with a different shape and an oblong breather hole as well as a red plastic feed.
The nib is made of 18kt gold and is quite soft. The performance is excellent. No skipping no hard starting; this pen just works. Out of all of my modern pens this is by far my favorite stock nib in my collection; it’s character is unique and lovely. Compared to my other Pilot and Namiki medium nibs which are butter smooth, the number 20 has a small amount of feedback which I love. It sort of reminds me of the feedback from an Aurora Optima nib with the softness of a Montblanc 149 nib…in other words this is a dream nib (for me at least).
With it’s large nib and feed this is a thirsty pen.
It uses a Con-70 converter that holds 1.1ml of ink and even with this large capacity I find that I run out of ink rather quickly. I also must admit that I am not as huge a fan of the Con-70 as I once was.
While it holds a lot of ink, it is the most difficult to use and the most difficult to clean converter on the market. I fill and clean mine with a blunt tip syringe.
So what about the price?
As I said earlier this is an expensive pen. The street price is $1,200 ($1,500 full retail). I get a lot of enjoyment of the Yukari Royale and while I have a lot of wonderful pens this is the only one that I have refilled six times in a row…I just don’t want to put it away and to date I haven’t yet.
Is it worth it for you? Rationalizing a pen this expensive is a fool’s errand (though I have tried in past reviews, see Nakaya Naka-ai).
The Yukari Royale is a wonderful jewel of a pen to behold.
A special thank you once again to Pen Chalet for making this review possible. If you buy a pen as nice as this you will want to purchase from a reputable authorized dealer with great customer service like Pen Chalet.
The Nippon Art series is Namiki’s entry level line of maki-e pens. The pens are screened and on my Flower Basket version I do not believe any of the artwork to be done by hand. It’s “Hira” or flat maki-e and it really is flat to look at. I also see no gold sprinkles which makes me question if it should actually be considered “maki-e”, which I am told translates roughly to “sprinkle picture”.
The body of the pen is plastic covered in urushi lacquer and has a gold plated clip and thin cap band. The pen is very simple and elegant; it looks great despite the dull hira maki-e. The section has a seam on it and I do not believe it to be painted with urushi. The pen is signed “Kokkokai” which is not a specific artist but rather a group of artists.
The pen is very well balanced and feels great in hand. It weighs about 32 grams with converter and measures 5.6” long capped. This is a full-sized and very comfortable pen despite being the smallest in Namiki’s lineup.
The inside of the cap has a soft fuzzy material near the lip. This is done so that when posted the cap does not scratch the lacquer body (a very nice touch). Like the Pilot Custom 743 , the Nippon Art’s gold nib is lighter in color than the gold trim.
The pen has a #10 size nib and despite the different decoration, I believe this nib to be the same as a standard Pilot #10 (I am going off of a appearances only, so please correct me if I am wrong). The Namiki #20 nib is the same size as the Pilot #15 but has a different shape and breather hole.
The 14kt gold medium nib is ultra smooth and soft. It’s a wet nib and I find that it is a bit wider than your average Japanese medium.
The Nippon Art comes with the Pilot Con-70 vacuum fill converter. The Con-70 holds 1.1ml of ink (more than twice as much as an average converter). After using a good number of these Con-70s I have found that some work better than others. I always fill them with a syringe for this reason. I also find them more difficult to clean but the huge capacity outweighs any of these of these drawbacks.
This is my favorite Pilot/Namiki fountain pen I have used so far…the elegant design, balance, and wonderful nib have won me over.
The retail price for these pens is a staggering $750! That is quite a lot of money for this pen. I paid around $200 for mine second hand. In my opinion these pens are a good buy at around $200-$350. Some designs are more attractive than others and some have more handiwork.
There are a couple of cheap fountain pens on the market for around $3-$4 but in my experience there is only one good one and that is the Pilot Varsity (or V-Pen as it is know in other markets).
The Pilot Varsity is cheap disposable plastic-bodied fountain pen with a stainless steel nib. They come in seven colors and in only one nib grade: medium. [Edit: It has been brought to my attention that the Pilot “V-Pen” branded version is available with a fine nib (thank you Mark for the tip).]
The problem with most cheap fountain pens is a lack of quality control (and at $4 what do you expect?). Most of them work very poorly; the Platinum Preppy and Sailor Clear Candy immediately come to mind.
I have been using Varsity fountain pens for years now and I have only had one bad one. I have had closer to a 50% success rate with the Preppy.
The Varsity’s laser cut stainless steel nib is very smooth and quite springy. You can also write just as easily with the nib upside down. The medium point is on the finer side and should be agreeable to most users.
The ink is not waterproof and to my knowledge there is no way to refill a Varsity. Because of the rollerball-style feed you don’t have to worry (as much) about leaks or spills. These pens are as airplane friendly as your standard issue rollerball.
The body has a translucent grip section allowing you to see the feed and the body has a small ink view window.
The Varsity I photographed is the old pinstriped livery but everything else is the same on the current model.
The Varsity looks and feels inexpensive and as long as I can remember they have always been quite ugly. The new design is hideous as are the V-Pen branded models but they work well and that’s what counts.
If you want a cheap worry free fountain pen it’s hard to beat the Pilot Varsity.
About a year or so ago I saw the Pilot Super Ultra 500 on the Fountain Pen Network and I was blown away by its beautiful design. The hunt began and in September I was able to locate one in Italy.
The filling system needed a new sac so I sent it over to John Mottishaw for refurbishment. Now that I have had it in my hands for a few months I thought I would share my thoughts on this awesome pen.
Side note: It has occurred to me on a number of occasions that it is a bit silly to use a point rating system in my reviews as they are arbitrary despite my efforts to be objective as possible. I have found reviews of vintage pens to be the most problematic as the qualities of the same make and model can vary dramatically from one pen to the other and as such, it would be a mistake to fully extrapolate my experience (of one example) to another
The black plastic version is the most beautiful (and luckily the most common) 500. The ones with gold filled caps lose the wonderful mirrored design that make this pen so fantastic.
The inlaid gold nib is gorgeous and despite all of this beauty that I keep harping on about the pen is a reserved and understated elegance that I find very appealing.
This pen ticks all of the design boxes for me.
The majority of products that come out of Japan today are of a very high quality and I am certainly happy to pay a premium for a “made in Japan” product but in 1958 the sentiment was different; Japan was considered an emerging market that produced more affordable products. Does this have an affect on the quality of pens coming out of Japan in the late 50? I don’t know BUT I can confidently say that the 500 is of a high quality. Would consider it superior to a Montblanc or OMAS from the same time period? No, not really.
The black plastic body has held up quite well and the rolled 14kt gold trim is well done, though there is wear on the bottom of the cap ring.
From reading Bruno Taut’s wonderful articles on the 500 (please see the links to his site, Crónicas Estilográficas, at the bottom of this review) I learned that the 500 was considered to costly to manufacture and as a result was only produced for a couple of years.
Size & Weight
The 500 measures 14.1cm long capped and 12.7cm uncapped and 1.2cm at its widest point. The 500 weighs a comfortable 18.3 grams. This is a very nicely sized pen that I have had no problem writing with for extended periods of time.
The nib writes with an extra fine line by western standards but find the nib to be quite smooth despite it’s point size.
With a bit of pressure the solid 14kt gold nib does offer some line variation, though I am cautious not to push too hard as any damage to this nib would be a small tragedy.
I have not had any issues with hard starting or skipping. It is by all accounts a great nib.
The 500 has what is known as a “switch” or “quarter turn” filling system. To fill you insert the nib into a bottle of ink and move the notch 90 degrees, this makes the pressure bar squeeze the sac just like on a regular lever filler.
When I received the 500 I tested the mechanism and the sac had dried out. I asked a couple of well known restorers/nib meisters and to my surprise the first three said they wouldn’t work on the pen, not having worked on one before. John Mottishaw agreed to do the work and upon return the pen functioned beautifully.
When the pen ran out of ink I flushed it a few times and RATS! the pressure bar detached from the switch and back to Mottishaw again it went. This time he beefed up the internals a bit and it seems to be working.
This pen holds a good amount of ink but I wish the mechanism was more robust.
I picked up this pen for right around $600 and that is quite a lot of money for an old black pen. I have consulted with a few collectors and I was told that I got a decent deal.
The pen is beautiful but you really have to appreciate the design to justify spending the money. I want to use and enjoy this pen but if it breaks on me again I may have to let it go because what good is a pen that you can’t use?
The beautiful and rare 500 is a great writer that’s only hitch seems to be it’s fragile filling system.
Final Score 20/30
I would like to thank Mr. Bruno Taut for his excellent articles on the Pilot Super Ultra 500. Here are links to those articles (including disassembly instructions Ultra (III)).
When I heard that Richard Binder was winding down his retail business I knew it was finally time to give one of his “ItaliFine” nibs a go. For those of you who do not know, an ItaliFine nib is a combination nib that offers an italic point on one side and a fine point on the other.
As you can see from the pictures this nib started life as a standard 18kt gold broad nib which Mr. Binder customized into an ItaliFine.
With the nib right side up the nib writes with an italic point. This nib is a true 0.9mm italic and as such is quite sharp and offers a good deal of line variation.
With the nib upside down the nib writes with a fine point. I have found the fine side to be a bit more tricky than the italic. The fine side does not like pressure and will skip with anything but the lightest pressure.
Also the fine side of this nib is position sensitive as its opposite side is fatter and straight cut. For me there was a short learning curve with this nib and now that I have it down, it is a wonderful nib that has transformed my Pilot Vanishing Point into a pen that is now a joy to use. The cost of this nib while still available is $125 and that is expensive for a VP nib but it really works as two nibs that you can use in the same pen on the fly…it’s worth it.
Side Note: Some of you may have noticed that I have been gone for a little while. I have been in the process of moving and I am still working on getting my office (The Unroyal Warrant HQ) set up but as of today I am mostly operational, a new computer and some new furniture is on its way but I will be able to provide regular content 1-3 times a week going forward.
The Pilot Frixion Ball 4 Wood is one of the many pens I picked up on my trip to Japan that I have yet to review.
The Frixion Ball 4 Wood is a multi-pen that features four erasable gel ball points, a wood grip and an attractive brown and black body.
This is one of the best looking multi-pens I have used and it has a very high quality feel, weighing in at 26.7 grams. It is a well built pen with a satin brown plastic body that is completely free of seams. The section is made of wood and metal and is what gives the pen its nice weight.
It is fair to say I love everything about this pen except for the way it writes. The erasable Frixion ink looks nasty. The colors are washed out and the lines aren’t particularly clean. It is a smooth writer especially for a 0.5mm pen but it’s not a winner for me.
The price is also prohibitive at 3,000 YEN (just under $30USD); that is three time the price of the Uni Pure Malt which while not as nicely made offers a better writing experience with Uni Jetstream ink.
I am quite smitten with the body so I am going to try and see what other refills will work in the Frixion Ball 4 Wood.
In the last few years a lot of interesting pens have come to the market via Kickstarter and one of the most appealing pens launched is the Render K by Karas Kustoms. I am a bit late to the game on this one but nonetheless it remains a simple and beautiful pen that is worthy of your attention.
The Render K is an American-made pen crafted out of solid aluminum. The original (Kickstarter launched) Render K utilizes Parker-style refills that provides customers with an enormous range of refill options. The Render K G2 is designed to take the ultra popular Pilot G2 refill. Without modification I have been able to use Montblanc rollerball and fineliner refills in the the Render K G2.
The pen is sold without a refill because the manufacturer want’s you to choose the refill that suits you best. The pen comes with a piece of plastic tubing that is designed to be cut to accommodate other refills that maybe a bit too short for the Render K G2 unmodified.
The Render K’s metal body and knurling on the top of the cap reminds me of the Retro 51 Tornado Lincoln Copper fountain pen I reviewed earlier this year. The Render K’s minimalistic design is very attractive; there is no ugly branding or unnecessary fluff to clutter the design…it’s pure function.
Capped the pen measures just over 5″ long and weighs 34.4 grams with a Pilot G2 refill installed.
On many pens I find the clip to be a weak point; I have bent dozens of them by clipping them to my pants pocket or notebook. The stiff stainless steel clip on the Render K is ultra strong and because it is secured by two exposed screws it can be easily replaced if you happen to damage it.
I have been using the Render K for a couple of days now and it’s a strangely satisfying pen. Screwing the cap onto the body reminds me of screwing a nut on to a bolt; the feel is very similar and I love it.
I am also quite fond of how tight the cap fits on to the body when fully screwed on…it’s lovely.
The standard aluminum Render K G2 sells for $45 and comes in various colors. The Render K G2 is also made in solid brass for $65 and solid copper for $95. Overall I am impressed by this pen, it’s enjoyable to use and built to last. It’s not cheap but for a high quality piece of American craftsmanship, it’s not hard to justify the price.
Please note: this pen was provided to me at no charge by Karas Kustoms for purposes of review.
Here are some great reviews of the Render K (original and G2):
(I have no affiliation with the sites linked below)
The Pilot Custom 743 is the only pen to use Pilot’s full line of #15 size nibs. In the store I tried three of the more unusual nibs: a music nib, a Waverly nib and a falcon nib. I ended up picking the falcon nib, which is a soft flexible nib.
Like most pens in the Custom series, the 743 is a very traditional and classic looking executive pen with a black plastic body and yellow gold furniture. The trim level is the same as you get on the Custom 823 and they look almost identical. The trim ring on the bottom of the body is closer to the end of the pen than on the 823 (the 743 has vacuum mechanism to accommodate) but otherwise they look the same.
The cap has a rounded top with a clip that starts broad and narrows ending with a ball; this is the classic Pilot/Namiki clip and I think it looks great. The gold band at the bottom of the cap reads “* * * CUSTOM 743 * * * PILOT MADE IN JAPAN”. The letters are filled in with black (paint?) just as you would see on the Custom 845 and Custom 823. The large 14ct gold #15 nib is plain, with no decoration to speak of. The cuts on the sides of the nib help to increase flexibility and in my opinion make up for the lack of decoration.
The gold trim is much more yellow in color than the 14ct gold nib. This is quite apparent with the cap posted. I would like to have seen the gold match a bit better but it’s not a big deal.
All things considered, the Custom 743 is a clean looking pen with no strangeness to its proportions. It’s not going to score any points for originality but it’s a nice looking pen nonetheless. Score: 3/5
The build quality like most Pilot products is quite good. The section (as on the Custom 845) has two big seams that just look cheap on a $300 pen.
Unlike the Custom 845, the 743 also suffers from seams on the body as well. They are clearly defined in the threading on the body and then they disappear about a quarter of an inch in on the glossy part of the body. You wouldn’t really notice any of this unless you are looking closely. The fit and finish is otherwise quite good and I suspect this pen will last a long time. Score: 2.5/5
Size & Weight
The Custom 743 measures about 5.9” capped and about 5.2” uncapped. At its widest point it is about 0.6” and weighs about 25.6 grams with a converter full of ink. Like the 845, the 743 is a good sized pen similar in girth to a Montblanc 146 but closer to the 149 in length. I find the 743 to be well balanced in my hand. It looks quite long posted but it remains comfortable. Score: 4/5
I think it is fair to say that this pen will not be for everyone. I was lucky enough to try it in a store in Japan before I purchased it. It would be a mistake to think you are getting a new pen that is going to write like a vintage flex pen; it does not and I haven’t seen a modern flex pen that does.
The falcon nib is a bit on the scratchy side, not unpleasantly so but there is a good amount of feedback. With little or no pressure the nib writes with a pretty fine line, definitely an extra fine by western standards.
If apply some pressure you can get the line to become broad but this will require more force than you would need on most vintage flex pens. I find that with nib flexed and writing slowly (as you should) the pen has a tendency to railroad by which I mean produce two thin parallel lines instead of one fat line. The feed seems unable to keep up with the pen.
I have been experimenting with different inks and I have found Diamine inks to work the so far. I tried Noodler’s Blue Eel as I thought that might help with the railroad situation but alas it performed the same as the Waterman and Pilot inks I tried.
In normal writing there are no real performance issues and I can get some nice (not huge) line variation with medium pressure without causing any problems but if you want to make extra extra fine lines and triple broad lines the Falcon nib isn’t going to cut it. With a careful hand (sadly not something I possess) I have seen some beautiful western writing with the 743 Falcon. Score: 2/5
The Custom 743 uses Pilot’s top-of-the-line Con-70 converter that is considered by many to be the best converter on the market. It holds a good amount of ink and is quite easy to use.
The 743 has the standard metal Con-70 which is not quite as nice as the black one you get in the Pilot Custom 845 and most Namiki pens but the function is the same. Score: 3.5/5
I bought my Custom 743 in the low $200s, which I think is a pretty reasonable price for this pen. The retail price is 30,000 Yen (approximately $295 USD) is pretty high. If the pen had no seams and the gold trim matched the nib nicely I could easily justify a $300 price tag for the 743. Score: 3/5
The feed prevents the 743 Falcon from living up to its full potential as a “flex” pen.