Cheap Thrills: Affordable Fountain Pens to Get You Started

Please note:  I have only mentioned pens I have personally used and have experience with.  There are plenty of Indian pens on the market that fall into these categories, loads of pens from China, and even the popular Pilot Metropolitan fits in the Around $20 category.  Although I do write with my pens, I purchase pens more for art and art exploration.  If you find this topic interesting, please check out my YouTube Channel's Fountain Pen playlist for frequent inky updates.

Other than ink samples obtained through sample exchanges with a friend, all samples shown in this review were either purchased from Goulet Pens, Massdrop, or Anderson Pens.  All pens were purchased, save for one Pilot Preppy sent from a friend.  None of these materials were provided free of charge (other than abovementioned exchanges), and this post was not sponsored.  Strangely enough, it's difficult to find sponsors for art supply blogs, so if you know of any companies interested in partnership, please pass my information along!

This post, as with ALL posts since February 2016, WAS sponsored by my wonderful Patrons on Patreon.  If you enjoy content like this, you can help make it possible by joining my art nerd community.

Their support ensures that this blog, and the sister Youtube continues, and the funds raised during the month go towards purchasing supplies for review, paying for guest content, and, should something be left over, compensating me for my time.

Back in November, I wrote about using fountain pens for lettering (as in comic lettering) and for sketching.  Since then, intrepid readers may have noticed a distinct increase in fountain pen content on the YouTube channel and on my Instagram.  Fountain pens have provided a fairly inexpensive art-tangential hobby that doesn't compete with my comic work- a colorful outlet  that puts me in contact with writers who are as invested in quality reviews as I am.

While I've known for awhile that artists sometimes use fountain pens for urban sketching (though honestly, I still prefer Pigma pens for that), inking with fountain pens isn't quite as common.  My friend, Candace, has used fountain pens to ink much of the beautiful art on her Instagram.  Inspired by her amazing art, and egged on by my other fountain pen weilding artist friends such as Kabocha and Heidi, I've been working my way through a wealth of inexpensive fountain pens and beautiful inks.

One area that I found fountain pen reviews to universally lack is a bit of creativity.  Reviews for pens, papers, have become so formalized that if you're an artist, you can't find information pertinent to your needs without a lot of research.  I've decided to compile a few short pen reviews, some ink recommendations, and other suggestions that might be of interest to artists who would like to use fountain pens and fountain pen inks in their work.  If you'd like more information, please check out my Fountain Pens playlist on Youtube- I have all sorts of interesting mini reviews and tutorials to inspire your art.

Today's pens are all under $40- you really do not need to spend a fortunate to acquire fountain pens that will suit an artist's needs.  Although most of these pens come with their own ink cartridges, the real fun comes in using the ink of your choice, be it pigmented ink or shading ink.

Under $5

Platinum Preppy

  • Cartridge Pen
  • .3 line-No flex, dead line
  • Can be converted to an eyedropper filled pen with a little silicone grease.  For a leak proof seal, use an O ring
  • Available in F and M, and EF in select colors

Mini review:

The Preppy is the only full sized fountain pen on my list for under $5, so if your hand cramps up from using tiny pocket pens, the Preppy might be the pen for you!  Japanese pens tend to run on the fine side, but the Preppy's Medium is a solid .5 nib, with the fine being a .3.  These nibs have zero give, but it's a reliable writer, and great if you have a single line weight style, or are looking for an urban sketching pen that can hold A LOT of ink.

The Preppy is also available with a marker option that can be used as a highlighter.

Available on:
Set of 7, Fine
Individual, Fine
Individual, Extra Fine
Goulet Pens

Pilot Petit 1

  • Cartridge pen
  • .3 line- no flex, dead line
  • Takes awhile to get started
  • Can be converted to an eyedropper filled pen with a little silicone grease.

Mini review:

The Petit 1 is itty bitty- a pocket pen designed to slip into a pocket or purse.  Although it comes with ink cartridges, the selection is fairly limited due to the pen's size, and you may find refilling the cartridges or converting to eyedropper fill to be preferable.  I find pens this size to be a little too small for my hand, even posted, and find them fatiguing to use for too long.

The Petit 1 is actually part of a series- Pilot has a marker tip (or sign tip) and a fude tip as well.  I reviewed the fude tip a few years ago while trying to find the perfect fude pen.  Any pens in the Petit series can be converted to eyedropper pens and filled with the fountain pen ink of your choice.

Available on:

Both the Platinum Preppy and the Pilot Petit 1 are handy pens for testing ink samples or inks that might potentially ruin more expensive pens.

Honorable Mention: 

Jinhao x750

  • Between $4-$7, usually includes shipping and cost of converter
  • Stock nib is a size 6 nib-performs fairly decently out of the box, but really shines if you have the know how to convert it to a G Nib.
  • Available in a wide range of colors
  • Metal bodied pen
  • Fairly substantial pen

Mini Review:

I purchased a Jinhao x750 for the purposes of modifying it with a G nib, so I never inked it up with the stock nib.  Please check the Second Opinions section for outside reviews.

Available on:

Under $10

Jetpens Chibi and Converter

  • Cartridge pen
  • Very fine nib, around a .3 line.  Handles a bit like a scratchy Hi Tec-C gel pen. No flex, dead line
  • Only available in Japanese Fine
  • Scratchy writer
  • Needs significant modification (fill the holes in the back of the body) before it can be converted to a eyedropper pen.

Mini review:
The Jetpens Chibi is intriguing- it's tiny, it's clear, and it's oh so cheap.  Of course, once you add in the converter, it's not quite so cheap- $2.99 for the pen, $2.50 for the converter, pushing it just out of the Under $5 range.  Due to the fine line, shading and shimmering inks are far less impressive in a Chibi, and shimmering and pigmented inks may clog your Chibi (more on all three types of inks below).

I recently bruised my hands doing ink tests with Jetpens Chibi fountain pens.  I find them a bit scratchy in general, and sometimes the nib needs to be primed (push the converter's plunger to expel additional ink, should flow issues arise).

Available On:

Pilot Plumix

  • Can be converted to an eyedropper pen easily
  • Available in Fine, Medium, Medium handles like an italic (Goulet has it listed as a 1mm stub)
  • Unlikely to railroad, but may sputter out mid word
  • No real flex

Mini Review:
The Plumix is an interesting pen.  The body is ergonomically designed- not too thick, not too small, so it's comfortable to hold, but the nib itself is like writing with a nail-absolutely no give.  For cheap pens, its a bit of  an oddity, in that you can get it with a Medium nib (cheaper pens tend to default to Fine)  While you can purchase a converter for the Plumix, there's really no need, as you can easily fill this pen from an eyedropper, and it will hold a large capacity of ink.

I've had some minor leak issues with Bleu Parvence, but none on the page while writing.  I have not tested this pen with Bulletproof Black or Platinum Carbon Black.

Available on:
Goulet Pens

Jinhao x750 modded with a G nib

  • (only under $10 if you learn how to mod your own pens, but I promise, it's not too difficult)
  • Converter pen
  • Variable lineweight because it uses a G nib- very flexible
  • Prone to railroading, hard starts
  • May need significant modification and patience to get working

Mini review:
This is a bit disingenuous, as your modded Jinhao will vary with who modded it, and how handy you are with your own modifications.  I modded my own Jinhao x750, and it took a lot of patience, a pair of stronger hands than mine, and heatsetting the feed a couple times to get it to work properly.  My modded Jinhao x750 also improved with use, but it still requires coaxing to get it to work (dip the nib and feed under running warm water to remove dried ink and reactivate the flow, keep a cup of warm water nearby should your pen start railroading).   I currently only use heavier pigment inks (discussed below) in my Jinhao x750.

Jinhao x750's are fairly hefty metal and enamel pens, and you may find them tiring to use if you have smaller hands.

If this sounds tantalizing, but somewhat frustrating, I recommend you consider an Ackerman pump action (or fountain pen, although I have not tried the fountain pen body) G-nib.

Read the Second Opinions section for information on how modify your own Jinhao.

Around $20

Noodler's Flex

  • Piston filled pen
  • Vegetable resin
  • Small flex nib
  • Fairly flexible nib, not as flexible as a dip pen

Mini review:  If you're an artist and an inker, I highly recommend you try a Noodler's Flex, or it's bigger brother, the Noodler's Ahab for yourself.  In the world of modern fountain pens, flexible pens are unusual, expensive, and often highly desired.  The Flex and the Ahab are exceptions- they feature 'creeper' nibs (meaning the ink creeps towards the front of the nib, this isn't a flaw), with a fairly generous amount of flex.  The Flex is much smaller than the Ahab, and people with large hands may find it difficult to use.
Noodler's pens are meant to be noodled with, and feature removable ebonite (hardened rubber) feeds and nibs.  If you find your Flex isn't working quite to your liking, feel free to tamper with it!  I recommend checking out the Goulet Pens (link) Youtube channel, or Fountain Pen Network for instructions on modding.

Available On:

Nemosine Singularity

  • Writes great, but prone to leaking.
  • Converter filled
  • Available in Fine, Medium nibs
  • European nib- broader than Japanese nibs
  • Non flexible nib

Mini review:

My Nemosine is a very leaky pen- very prone to dripping and dropping while I write.  The only ink that works fairly well (that I've tested) has been Sailor Storia's Dancer, which is a bit too dry for my other pens anyway.  Even inks recommended for the drippy Singularity have been too wet for the feed, so while I enjoy my Singularity, I cannot recommend it.

Available on:
Goulet Pens

Noodler's Ahab

  • Larger than the Flex in all ways- larger ink capacity, larger flex nib, larger pen body.
  • Piston filled.
  • Large flex nib
  • Fairly flexible nib, not as flexible as a dip pen
  • Can be converted to an eyedropper fill for larger ink capacity
  • Vegetal resin

Mini review:

I LOVE my Ahab.  It's given me very few issues, other than some minor fiddling to get the nib in place.  It has loved every ink I've given it (save for Sailor Storia Dancer, which tends to run a bit dry in most pens), and is fun to ink lineart with, especially if you're using the Storia inks (might I recommend Lion?)  The larger flex nib has a fair amount of variation and if you're using the Ahab for writing, I recommend trying Emerald of Chivor

Available on:
Paper and Ink Arts
Goulet Pens

Noodler's Konrad:

  • Piston filled
  • Like a big version of the Flex
  • Larger nib than flex (size 6)
  • Can be converted to a G-Nib mod
  • Slightly smaller body than the Ahab
  • Vegetal resin, more expensive models are acrylic

Available on:
Goulet Pens

I know there are loads of great inexpensive fountain pens on the market- so if you have a favorite, feel free to tweet it at me (@Nattosoup) or email me using the side bar form!  I'd love to hear your suggestions!

Materials Needed for Eyedropper Conversion
Why convert:

For the right pen, it means an enormous ink capacity- in your choice of ink.  This is a great way to use the ink samples you order from Goulet or Anderson Pens.

How to convert: 

1. Clean out your pen using the method outlined beline
2. Liberally smear grease on your cotton bud or other application impliment
3. Liberally smear said grease onto the threads of your pen, both on the inside of the barrel, and the outside of the section
4. Fill your pen with the ink of your choice using an eyedropper
5. Screw the barrel to the section

Should your pen leak, you can reapply the silicone grease, or give O rings a shot!

Note:  This is not really recommended for pens you plan on traveling with.  I've had no issues with leaking, but I'd hate for these pens to ruin your bag or pocket.

Ink Samples:

Are a great way to try out new inks- new colors, formulas, and brands.  Unlike with art supplies and art supply companies, many fountain pen stores are eager to convert new customers, and ink samples are a very affordable way to find your new favorite ink!  Ranging from $1.25-$2, you can try before you commit to a whole bottle, so this is a perfect way to pair ink with pens.

Materials Needed to Clean Fountain Pens
Infant Nasal Flush (optional)
Dish Soap (just a drop)
Warm water
Pen Flush (optional)

Before first use:

I flush my pen with soapy water (one drop dishsoap to a cup of water) a few times, then flush it with clean water multiple times before first use. 

After I've finished using my ink (it's run out, time to switch a color, or has been in the barrel a couple weeks), I flush it out under clean running water, drawing water into the body of the pen, and then allow the nib, feed, and body of pen to soak in soapy water overnight.  I flush the pen with clean water multiple times afterwards.

For stubborn inks, like pigmented inks which can leave a residue, you may want to use a Q-tip to clean the inside of your pen after removing the nib and feed (when possible).

Recommended Inks for Artists

Pigmented Inks for Fountain Pens (water resistant)
Platinum Carbon Black
Platinum Rose Red
Platinum Blue Black
Sailor Storia
Sailor Nano

Inked with Sailor Storia in Magic (Purple)

Inked with Sailor Storia in Dancer

Inked with Sailor Storia in Lion

Inked with Platinum pigment ink in Rose Red

What can Pigmented inks do for you:
Pigmented inks are more water resistant than dye based inks.  Your average fountain pen ink is waterbased and dye based, and will bleed as soon as water hits the ink.  Although pigment based inks are not 100% waterproof, they are more water resistant than most fountain pen inks.
Pigment inks are harder on your fountain pens than dye based inks, as the pigment can sediment out and are harder to clean.  Pigment inks are more prone to hard starts (inkflow issues at start of writing) and to skipping, and take longer to dry than dye based inks.

Other waterproof inks:

This list is in progress, as I put these inks through their watercolor paces.  These inks have been tested on at least two cellulose based watercolor papers- Fluid, Cotman, Holbein, or Maruman.

Noodler's Inks:
Kung te-Cheng
La Reine Mauve
54th Massachusetts

Iron Gall Inks:

These require special treatment in several ways, and may be worth playing with when you're more experienced with fountain pen inks.

Shading Inks
Noodler's Apache Sunset
Sailor Storia Lion
J Herbin Vert Olive

What can Shading inks do for you:
Shading inks appear darker in some areas than others- this is an intended effect, and not a defect in the ink.  This can be used to your advantage once you understand when your ink is prone to shading.
Most shading inks are dye based, although I did list one Pigment ink as a shading ink.  The dye based shading inks can be used for interesting inkwash effects.

Shimmery inks for Interesting Water Effects
Emerald of Chivor
Diamine Shimmertastic Inks

What can Shimmering inks do for you:
If you like glimmer and glitter, shimmering inks are great for you!  Most shimmering inks are dye based and include mica.  Leftover ink (say, the last few drops remaining in your cartridge) can be added to a small spritzer of water for a shimmer spray mist.  Shimmer mists are water reactive, and can be used for interesting ink washes, or as final accents on finished pieces.

Want more information about fountain pens for artists?  Then head on over to my Youtube channel!

My Youtube channel is a fantastic resource for all sorts of arty things!  From demonstrations to tutorials, from reviews to hacks, there's always something interesting up on the channel for you to enjoy!    I have a fountain pen specific playlist intended to help fellow artists not only discover fountain pens, but hack their pens into useful and affordable art tools.

Today's Sponsor

Today's sponsor is Shooting-Stars, a wonderful Photoshop brush resource!  All brushes on Shooting-Stars are free to use, provided you follow the license.

Shooting-Stars is run entirely by the wonderful Kabocha, a fellow comic artist, art supply enthusiast, and friend of mine.  You can check out more of her wonderful work by reading her webcomic, Linked.

Second Opinions and Outside Resources:

Pen Reviews:

Platinum Preppy
Best Fountain Pen
Office Supply Geek
A Better Desk
Iron Ion

Pilot Petit 1
Tyler Dahl Pens
Office Supply Geek
Pen Habit

Jetpens Chibi
Note:  The Chibi has undergone quite a few modifications over the years, so your version may differ
Office Supply Geek (old version)
Fountain Pen Network
Gourmet Pens

Office Supply Geek
Pen Addict
East West Everywhere
Fountain Pen Network
Well Appointed Desk

Jinhao x740
Fountain Pen Network
Goulet Pens
My Pen Needs Ink

Nemosine Singularity
The Pen Habit
Hand over that Pen
The Serial Doodler
The Fountain Pen Network

Noodler's Flex
Gourmet Pens
Wonder Pens

Noodler's Ahab
Tyler Dahl Pens
Well Appointed Desk

Noodler's Konrad
Gourmet Pens
Fountain Pen Network
Fountain Pen Network
Built from Ink and Tea

How to Modify a Jinhao x750
Teoh Yi Chie (video)

Other Artists on Fountain Pens
Teoh Yi Chie- Choosing a Fountain Pen for Art
TWSBI Mini: The Ideal Urban Sketching Pen?
Sharon Cullen- My Fountain Pens Used in Urban Sketching
Urban Sketching: Panoramas in Pen and Ink and Watercolor
How Do I Clean My Fountain Pen


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