Beginner Fountain Pens – Pilot Varsity Disposable Fountain Pen Review

The Pilot Varsity Disposable Fountain Pen with Medium Nib.The Pilot Varsity Disposable Fountain Pen with Medium Nib.

I have been getting questions from people that are interested in fountain pens, but they are hesitant to commit to trying one, so I’ve decided to do a few reviews of what I would consider to be good beginner or inexpensive fountain pens to try.  I have to say, I dont usually see people using fountain pens as “office supplies” but I know that people like to experiment with different writing tools, so hopefully I can do my part in getting more people to consider them as viable options.  I will probably review 3 of them, in addition to a review that I previously did on the Pilot Petit1.  The first beginner fountain pen that I will be reviewing is the Pilot Varsity Disposable.

The Pilot Varsity Fountain Pen Uncapped.The Pilot Varsity Fountain Pen Uncapped

The Pilot Varsity is the first fountain pen that I ever tried, and it is the one that I can say is responsible for me wanting to commit to spending the money on a “real” fountain pen.  The writing experience I had with it was very enjoyable and my initial thought was that if I could enjoy a $3 fountain pen, any of the more expensive ones that I was researching must be even better.  I am not a huge fan of the design and look of the Pilot Varsity Fountain Pen, but when I originally ordered some other stuff from Colorado Pen Direct, they were offering a free Pilot Varisty with the order, so its not like I was going to turn that down.

When I received the pen in the mail with the rest of the items I ordered, I was excited to give it a try since I had never written with a fountain pen before.  I was pleasantly surprised by how smoothly it wrote, and I didnt have any trouble getting a solid line with no skips or white areas, which for some reason I thought might be a problem.  The only thing I didnt like (which I quickly got over) was the fact that this was a Medium size nib and it wrote fairly large for my taste.  Understanding that fountain pens came with different size nibs, I didnt allow myself to get hung up on the fact that this pen forced me to write a bit larger than I was comfortable with, and I instead focused on things like the pressure required, the smoothness of the nib, and the quality of the line it put on the paper.  The Pilot Varsity nailed each of these three criteria in a way that I honestly didnt expect.  I was amazed by the smooth writing and solid lines put down by such an inexpensive fountain pen, I had incorrectly assumed that the only quality fountain pen experience would have to come from a more expensive model.

The first Pilot Varsity writing sample done in a Mead 5 Star Notebook.

The first Pilot Varsity writing sample done in a Mead 5 Star Notebook.

As you can see from the above writing sample, the Pilot Varsity puts down a very bold and vibrant line, you really dont see any white spots where the nib has skipped or scratched at the paper.  It is also surprising to see that this $3.00 fountain pen wrote so well in such a basic and non-fountain pen specific notebook.  The Mead paper is usually fine for your basic ballpoint, rollerball, gel, or pencil, but I did not expect such great results for a fountain pen.  My gut instinct was that there would be a significant amount of feathering or bleed through on this paper with a fountain pen.  For the most part, you probably wouldnt want to write on the other side of the paper because the bleed through is noticeable, but I have definitely seen worse.  As for the feathering that I had expected, there is virtually none.

Close up of the Pilot Varsity Fountain Pen Medium Nib.

Close up of the Pilot Varsity Fountain Pen Medium Nib.

The one thing that is both a plus and a minus for the Pilot Varsity as a beginner fountain pen is that it does not have a cartridge or a converter for the ink.  It is designed as a non-refillable system, although our friend Seth over at the Good Pens Blog, did a very nice walk through of how to refill one of these if you want to.  If you are just looking for a really quick way to find out if you like how a fountain pen writes, then this pen is for you, however if you want to find out how easy/hard it is to refill, then with this pen you wont be able to get the true experience there.

The one thing I dont like about this pen is the ink itself.  Although it does write very nicely, I would STRONGLY suggest that you DO NOT use this pen for any check or legal documents, as the ink comes off very easily.  A simple running of water over the paper removed close to 80% of the ink, so I cant imagine how easy it must be for a seasoned criminal to wash a check or document filled out with this pen.  If you just want a fountain pen to do some basic writing with, head on over to Amazon.com where you can pick up a variety of individual or packages of the Pilot Varsity Fountain Pen.

The next two beginner fountain pens that I review will be slightly more expensive and have a little more flexibility in options that will help the beginner get started with fountain pen use.

©2014, Brian Greene. All rights reserved.

Comments

  1. 1
    bardharlock says:

    Great review as always! I am really looking forward to the other entry level FP reviews. I have been “hanging out” at the Fountain Pen Network forums a lot of late as I research more fountain pens and I finally found a few that might suit my needs, so I plopped down the money.

    Some people think of fountain pens as expensive. I would like to point out to anyone considering one that they tend to not only hold their value, but to increase in value as time goes on and they become “vintage”. Try reselling your Uni-Ball Jetstream for $200 in 25 years…

    On top of that, they can use any color of ink you can imagine and if you use a converter or refill your old cartridges, you actually have less waste than with a ballpoint or gel pen refill! If you use one for years, in the long run, they can be cheaper than other types of pens, create less waste, and be more flexible in usage, all while writing more smoothly than any disposable pen. Watch OSG’s blogs if the Varsity doesn’t strike you, maybe one of the other cheap fountain pens will!

  2. 2

    Excellent review! I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised with this pen. I didn’t expect much from a disposable FP, but the Pilot Varsity is a great value. I don’t think I’ll try the refill process on one, but it’s good to know that you can refill it, with a little work.

  3. 3
    Cat says:

    It’s funny that you’re reviewing this pen today because I purchased a 3-pack of these pens over the weekend. I didn’t think I’d be able to find them in a B&M, but I was at Borders and there they were with the rest of the “school supplies”. They’re priced at $9.99 for three colors – blue, black, purple – and I used a 30% off coupon on it, too! I have to agree that this is a smooth-writing fountain pen. In the past when I’ve tried to write with an FP, the tip would skip and splatter ink spots on my paper. Definitely a good beginner pen for those that want to write with a fountain pen.

    @caffyne

  4. 4
    Kim says:

    Did you try flipping it over and writing with the back of the nib to get a surprisingly smoooth thin line? :)

  5. 5

    @bardharlock – Good to hear from you, I always enjoy your comments and feedback. You bring up some really good points about the cost/value and the environmental factor too.

    @John Johnston – Thanks for stopping by and thanks for the feedback. I have not tried the refill process myself, I think Ill leave that one alone too. :)

    @Cat – Sounds like you got yourself a good deal there! Surprised they didnt have a lighter color mixed in there, those are all some pretty dark colors. Curious to know what fountain pens you have had trouble with in the past, I never had those problems, might have just been bad luck for you.

    @Kim – Thanks for the tip! I just tried it now. It was a tiny bit scratchy but not bad, and the line was solid and finer.

  6. 6
    RedPiano1 says:

    I’m with you on the medium nib making a bit too bold of a line for me.

    Upside to this pen: I actually kept them in my car with no ill effect. Didn’t dry out quicky like a ballpoint would in that heat.

    Downside: it’s the only fountain pen I ever used that would bleed through Levenger Circa paper. At that point I retired mine (and I had a small bundle!)

    I’d be willing to test again with a F or XF nib because they are a very comfortable smooth pen, not “scratchy.”

    Isn’t there something a little oxymoronic about refilling a $1.79 disposable pen? Yea it’s “green” and all, but to be uber-green, why not spent $10 on a pen constructed to be refilled?

  7. 7
    Cat says:

    Honestly, I’m not sure what pen it was. This was years ago. And when I say years ago, I mean when I was around 15 and didn’t appreciate a good pen =/ Really, it could have been a calligraphy pen now that I think about it. Years ago. haha

  8. 8

    @RedPiano1 – Interesting about the ability to react well to the warm conditions. Did you ever see my post where I froze my Pilot Varsity along with a few other pens? :) It was a 3 part review, so you have to check out all 3 to appreciate it. :) Here is the link to part 1, which will lead you to 2 and 3 if you are still interested.

    http://officesupplygeek.com/pen-review/uni-ball-power-tank-ballpoint-pen-pt-1/

    @Cat – Thats understandable, I dont remember what I ate for dinner 2 days ago, let alone what pen I used years ago. :)

  9. 9

    [...] first time and not willing to commit to the real deal yet? Get a beginner’s taste with the Pilot Varsity Disposable Fountain Pen. At only $3.00, it will help you to decide whether or not you want to graduate to more authentic [...]

  10. 10
    weemeng says:

    Here’s another method of refilling the Pilot varsity without damaging the pen: http://leewm.freeshell.org/penstuff/refill%20pilot%20varsity%20with%20syringe.html
    Alternatively you can go to youtube and search for “refill pilot varsity pen”.
    I’ve refilled my varsity pen 4 times already with Parker Quink ink and and it’s still going strong :)

  11. 11

    @weemeng – Very nice, I’ve never really understood the concept of a disposable fountain pen, I like to see people reusing them like you have here.

  12. 12
    Tyler says:

    While picking up a notebook from the stationery store yesterday, I asked what sort of fountain pens they stock, since I’ve become curious about switching to them. The proprietor suggested picking up a Varsity to see how a fountain pen works without a lot of investment.

    So far I’m liking how it writes, but I see we have some thoughts in common, like the width of line a medium nib creates. I’m glad I know that now, as I would have bought a medium nib if I leaped straight to a full-on model.

  13. 13
    Betsy says:

    I think that the Pilot Varsity is the best pen for beginners! I still love to write with them and I with that Pilot had a better grade pen with the feel of the Varsity nib!

    The Varsity, also, gives folks the chance to have a bit of fun with color inks….navy and black can be too funereal!

    So, as you can tell Pilot Varsity gets my vote!

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