Under a Fiver

Cheap Pen Review

Browsing a well-known, Chinese, online emporium recently, I stumbled on several very cheap, but rather interesting looking fountain pens. It seemed rude not to give them a try, given the prices, and I thought they might make a change from high end, branded pens. Variety is always welcome, right? So I came away with a ballpoint-style retractable fountain pen, one with a supposedly 360 degree nib and one where I just liked its style. Three pens and change from £15, but would they be any good? Time for a cheap pen review.

First impressions

Fountain pen aficionados will know that it is possible to get really cheap pens, but may be tempted to assume that they won’t be any good. Certainly this is not always the case, as owners of Jinhao x450 and x750 pens will confirm. I have a small collection of these well-built, solid workhorses myself, and have reviewed some of my budget pens in the past.

This batch were all quite dainty and fairly slim, and of varying quality. The seller didn’t admit to the branding and model, merely a description, so it was a surprise to discover the brands and models when they arrived.

Taking them in turn from the bottom…

The 360

Careful examination of the pen revealed that this pen is a Hero 001. I’ve heard of Hero, but don’t have any great experience of them beyond once buying some Parker 51 style pens that were disappointingly small and unappealing to me. This is the smallest of the set and made from lightweight metal (probably aluminium), I was sufficiently intrigued by the claim of a 360 degree nib to ink it up first.

The section on the Hero 001 is metal and some may find this slim, small pen a little slippery.  It has a squeeze converter that seems to be fixed in place, so it might prove to be a difficult pen to clean. Time will tell, though my daughter has already tried to walk off with this one, so it may not be my problem!

But, you’re dying to know about the nib, right?  Close examination reveals a kind of nib sandwich, where back to back, or rather, front to front, nibs are stuck together between two narrow solid feeds.

The nibs are both tipped and the sides where they abutt are shaped so as to create a tipped edge as well. This means that there is effectively a tipped cube.

Is it really 360 degree? Not absolutely. If you hold the pen vertically, then it works passably, but nobody does that, do they? If you hold your pen at an angle, then it will work better at some angles than others. However, a slight twist and you are back in the flow zone. It works best where one or other feed is in the traditional position. It also works, albeit slightly less well, at the side positions, i.e., at 90 degrees to the feed. If you catch it between those positions, rather less so.

Verdict:

The Hero 001’s 360 degree nib is an intriguing idea, though I may be tempted to sacrifice this pen to a nibmeister, to see if these black spots can be corrected. I’d certainly be interested to see some further development along these lines. On the whole, I quite like the pen, though the writing experience is a bit hit and miss, and the novelty factor will undoubtedly wear off.

The Lady

The pen, it seems, is a Lanbitou 3072. My brass 3069 with a hooded nib, is one of my favourite pocket pens, and this pen has done nothing to shake my good opinion of this little known brand*.

In size and shape this one reminded me of a Lady Sheaffer. The metal body is reassuringly sturdy and a nice weight, whereas the textured finish is really tactile and rather pleasing. It can be hard to see what you are getting with online shops. Whilst the nib, at a passing glance, could be mistaken for an inlaid nib, this is just an illusion. There is a metal overlay on the section, concealing all but the tip of the nib. It does look quite classy though.

*A little research revealed that Lan bi tou means “worn pen nib”, which made me smile. 

Despite its small size, I am reluctant to post the cap, having seen the damage done to Lady Sheaffer barrels. It is rather a nice little writer though, and I happily penned a whole page with the smooth nib. My only niggle with it is the indentation on the section just before the join with the barrel. This happens to be where I hold the pen and, although not excessively uncomfortable, it does start to become noticable after a while.

Verdict:

Given that this was the cheapest of the three pens, it is surprising that it is by far the best quality. I really rather like this little Lanbitou 3072. It is a pleasing weight and texture, writes smoothly and looks stylish. What is not to like?

The “Biro”

Stickers on the pen body identified this as a Luoshi (nope, I’ve never head of them either) 3859, with a 0.28mm EF nib. You would be forgiven for mistaking this pen for a ballpoint. Everything from the click top and the straight cylindrical shape, to the very fine nib looks like, well, a biro. The only giveaway that there might be something else going on here, is the little clear plastic cap over the business end.  This pen does exude all the charm of a metal biro and the cheap slide converter does nothing to improve this impression. Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so how did it perform?

The click opener feels reassuringly firm and the nib doesn’t collide with the plastic cap if you forget to remove it, so that’s a good start. When you open the pen, the whole nib and converter unit comes out,  as with the Pilot VP. There is a spring covering the nib, just like on a biro.  I guess you are supposed to remove the converter to fill it up. I don’t particularly like this arrangement, even though I usually remove the converter to fill it with most of my pens. The spring does shave the advantage of protecting the nib though.

Screwing it back together I just couldn’t seem to align it so that the clip wasn’t resting on my hand. Perhaps there is a knack, but I haven’t mastered it. This niggle aside, I was pleasantly surprised to find writing with the nib a rather smooth and enjoyable experience. The ink began to flow immediately, which was also good.

Verdict:

The Luoshi 3859 writes well enough and, ignoring a few niggles, is largely inoffensive. I don’t think this will ever be my favourite pen, largely because of the clip and it just looks too much like a biro. As a novelty item I don’t mind losing in the depths of my bag though, why not?

In Summary

On the whole, I was pleasantly surprised by these pens. I had no great expectations of quality for the price, but actually all of them are reasonably well made and entirely functional. To be honest, I’ve seen worse quality in much more expensive pens. Perhaps I was just lucky with this purchase.

Of the three,  the Lanbitou 3072 was both the cheapest and by far the best. The nib was smooth and the pen sturdy, and stylish. The  Luoshi 3859 and the Hero 001 have largely novelty value and a certain disposability given the price. Of the two, the Luoshi is probably the better writer, though the Hero has its moments, particularly if you tend to hold your pen fairly upright.

If you like big, chonky pens, then these are definitely not for you. On the other hand, if you like a slim, pocketable pen that isn’t going to break the bank balance, you are in luck. At these prices, you may not weep if you lose them, but then again, they are quite endearing in their own way, and you just might.

Who is it for
  • Bargain lovers
  • Novelty seekers
  • Patient purchasers
  • Lovers of slim and dainty pens
The lowdown

These pens were purchased together from a single seller on Aliexpress and took about 3 weeks to arrive from China. The extremely low prices meant that they didn’t attract any customs charges. Each pen was under £5 including VAT and with free shipping, though prices may fluctuate due to exchange rates.

A word of caution when buying from Aliexpress. The Chinese are quite innovative and do produce many good quality pens which are original in design. They are also no great respecters of copyright and produce many blatant copies and counterfeits, of which there are many on Aliexpress. Whilst these may be appealing, they are also likely to be too good to be true, and may disappoint. None of the pens reviewed here, to the best of my knowledge, are a copy of any existing design, but please do let me know if that is not the case.

 

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