Fountain pens that write first time

Platinum Preppy

It might seem a simple thing but when you own a good pen you want to be able to pick it up and write, first time … no scribbling on paper, no shaking, no dipping in water to get it going … just take the darn cap off and write. It shouldn’t be a difficult thing but even great fountain pens can have what’s known as “dry starts” or “stutter” if you leave them for a long time so I thought I’d look at my pens and check which ones are better than others. These are just random musings based on my own pens but here goes …

There are a few factors to bear in mind when doing tests like this and the ink you use will have a huge effect on the pen’s apparent reliability. Shimmer inks contain tiny bits of glitter which can clog the feed and gum even the best pen up but if you use them in pens with really good flow and a broad or stub nib then they shouldn’t be a problem. Sheening, colour-shifting inks are some of my favourites but they are very often quite oily and can “dry” while still remaining liquid on the surface. So, for me the only reliable inks to test with are bog-standard, wet-flowing, normal inks. If a pen fails with a sheening ink then I’d say it hasn’t failed properly but if it fails with a wet ink then it has problems. For this reason most of my pens haven’t been adequately tested because I haven’t had a chance to use different inks in all them. 

Probably the biggest factor is how well the pen seals the nib into the cap. If the nib is left open to the air then the ink will quickly dry onto it and eventually the feed will even get clogged. Then you’ll have to dip of soak it in water to restart it. But if your pen has a really clever cap design that seals the nib inside its own moist atmosphere then it shouldn’t dry up for a very long time … sometimes years! 


Faber-Castell Fresh

The Faber-Castel Fresh was actually the first fountain pen I’d bought for probably 40 years, just as a bit of an experiment and to show our 10yo what people used to write with “in the olden days”! But I liked it so much that I bought a few more and then started to look around for other pens. I hardly ever write with them now but that makes them a great test and literally ever time I go and try one it writes perfectly. Just goes to show that dry-starting has nothing to do with price. 


TWSBI Eco & Eco T


TWSBI is a Taiwanese maker that has been around for a little while and their pens all range from about £20 to £150, so from economy to mid-range, in my opinion. One of the first fountain pens I bought was a TWSBI Eco and since then I have bought Eco, Eco T, Swipe & Diamon 580 models and, despite the cheap price tag, I’ve found that they can just be put away for months and they still write first time – they’re all good. 


Lamy 2000

My Lamy 2000 is one of my favourite pens but it tends to split opinions amongst collectors. The classic Bauhaus design is subtle and understated, with a smooth sweeping brushed macrolon body and brushed aluminium section. The pen just works for me and I love it but others say that they find it a bit finicky and they can’t find a good writing angle with it. 

Lamy Al-Star and Safari also have a great reputation for reliability.


Parker 51 Deluxe

I actually don’t have a lot of modern Parker pens except the Parker 51 Deluxe, the modern reworking of the classic Parker 51 design. The modern version hasn’t been accepted well by collectors and enthusiasts but I like it and I’ve found it to be very reliable too. The vintage Parker 51s on the other hand are superb writers but they do dry up if left and the same goes for Parker Vacumatics and most vintage pens, to be honest.


Pilot Custom 823

This brand makes some of my favourite pens and I will have to admit to being a big fan so it wouldn’t surprise you that one of the reasons is that they write reliably. 

The Capless / Vanishing Point was invented in 1963 but still remains the most reliable design of one-hand opening fountain pens. Combining the ease of the button activated ballpoint and the smooth ink flow of the fountain pen, this is still a lovely pen to write with and I keep one specifically for jobs where I will write something, pause to do something else, then write again. 

The Custom series is Pilots premium range with pens that are supposed to fit into your hand like a custom-designed pen. There are very many models which all seem to be as reliable as each other but I have long experience of the Custom 74 and Custom 823 (one of the finest pens in my collection); then the Custom Heritage 92 and Custom Heritage 912 (one of the nicest modern flex-nibbed pens) are utterly flawless too.

The Elabo / Falcon is an oddity in the range because it looks like it should be a flexible nib but it’s actually just a soft-fine. That aside though, it’s a superb and reliable writer. 

Lastly no list of Pilot pens would be complete without the Elite / e95s, the pocket pen in the range. Pocket pens were incredibly fashionable from the 1960s (when single-breast-pocketed shirts were introduced) through to the 1990s. Even though it is a speciality pen it still proves to be an incredibly reliable writer and something I’d always keep in my office bag.  


Platinum Century #3776

This is the next Japanese brand in my list and I have to say that they aren’t always good starters but the Century #3776 line with their slip-n-seal caps are brilliant. The cap mechanism maintains a perfect seal so they just write every time. 

The Preppy is also one of the most reliable and cheap entry-level student pen available. Incredibly cheap and they write first time – just don’t treat them roughly because they can be a bit fragile. 


I’ve had an Souveran M600 for over a year now and it’s a really great pen – I even prefer it to my M800, which I find a bit top-heavy for my hands. That said, the M800 is a very good pen and is very reliable – I just made the mistake of using a sheening ink with a very fast drying time which means it can dry between writing 2 sentences.


Sailor is the last of the “big 3” Japanese pen companies btu it certainly isn’t the least – being one of the most popular brands. I have the 1911 Standard & 1911 Profit and they are incredibly reliable and easy writers. 


Montblanc Meisterstuck 146

Montblanc is one of the premium makers, known for their very expensive luxury pens. Probably their most popular pen though is the classic black Meisterstuck 146 so I bought a second hand one in 2023 and have been really impressed. Now I can see why so many people trust Montblanc because it just works … every … single … time.

Montblanc Meisterstuck 320P

I have also been buying the 1960s-2000s “Classic” series (12/14, 22/24, 32/34, 121, 221, 220, 320 etc), which were the cheaper non-student pens in the Montblanc line-up but were still relatively expensive in their day. Anyway, they can often be picked up fairly cheaply and it turns out they make exceptionally good writers too. The nibs are often soft and bouncy and very smooth indeed. 

Not quite as successful though was the Montblanc Classique 144 that I bought, which has always dry started, so it’s not an unqualified success for Montblanc.


I don’t have many of these but I’ve been super impressed with the Phileas that I bought a few months ago, second hand. Sadly this model was discontinued, much to the annoyance of Waterman fans, but they come up regularly on the second hand market and I think Waterman is generally considered a good pen brand. 


Benu Hexagon-D

I have only recently been using a Benu Hexagon-D but every time I pick it up from my desk it writes first time and I’m really loving the Schmidtt nib – slight pencil feedback but no scratch. 

Chinese pens

Most Chinese pen companies are making excellent pens these days but they also make some really bad ones too and it’s not always apparent which are going to be good and which will dry up really quickly so it’s very hit & miss.

Wingsung: I’ve found the Wingsung 699 to be incredibly reliable but then it is a copy of the Pilot Custom 823, which is one of the best pens in the world. Similarly the Wingsung 601, which is a modern take on the Parker 51 Vacumatic, is another very reliable pen that just works all the time. The Wingsung 3013 is a wonderfully reliable vacuum filler and the 

PenBBS: The PenBBS 309 is one of my favourite Chinese pens – a simple piston filler but it just does the job. Similar the PenBBS 500 (spring filler), PenBBS 355 (bulk filler) & PenBBS 268 (vacuum filler) are also incredibly reliable and are beautiful writers. The PenBBS 489 (touchdown filler) should also be good but sadly I have only had a mega-sheening ink in it and so I do have to dip it in water to restart it each time, but I feel this is more the ink than the pen. 

Caliarts Ego v2 is an oddity because I can’t find any other model made by this company but it writes brilliantly, every time. 

Majohn C3 is an exceptionally lovely pen and it writs brilliantly too. I also have an M2 which is usually very good but it is a bit dry if kept nib-up, but it quickly restarted. 

Asvine v126 is also a gorgeous pen – I have the frosted clear one and the red ink in it looks amazing. I have found that it can be a bit sticky/dry if inked with a mega-sheenign ink and then stored nib-up. But if laid flat it writes every time. 

Hongdian also make some great pens but I haven’t tried enough to know which are best.

Pens that dry up if left

Most other pens will actually dry up at the nib at some time if you leave them for ages or near heat etc. But the vast majority will just restart if you dip the nib in water and leave it a few seconds/minutes. 

Leonardo MZ – yes the lovely Italian pens from Leonardo might look beautiful and write beautifully but if you do leave them then they dry-start, but not badly.

Franklin-Christoph – I have a #46 with a lovely cursive italic nib and it’s a great writer but it has dried up when left. 

Pretty much ANY vintage pen will dry up, whether they are Parker 51, 21, Duofold or Vacumatic; Mabie-Todd Swan & Blackbird – I’ve tried them all and they dry quite quickly. 

Jinhao 100/Century, 9019 & x750 – lovely pens but they dry-start very quickly. Jinhao 990 were also a bit hit & miss – some were fine but others dried up.

Most Wingsung pens were good but I found the 3008 & 3003 were just unreliable – sometimes working well while sometimes being dry. 

Some Majohn were fine but the Majohn M600S Celluloid dried when left with a wet ink in it.

Lanbitou 3059 (super-cheap TWSBI Eco clones) were the very worst in my tests – not only did some of them dry-start but a few actually leaked their ink out through the cap or the entire ink reservoir dried up.


Price isn’t a factor but the design is. Some pens are designed to look great and write well but they neglect the cap sealing and this will mean that you should use the pen often to prevent dry starts. That said, it’s fairly true to say that the long-established brands like Montblanc, Pelikan, Parker, Pilot, Platinum & Sailor seem to have perfected their designs over time and they are consistently good. Even the cheaper pens in these brands write well.

Ironically, just in my experience, the brands that seem to dry-up quickest (bar the cheapest of the mass-produced Chinese ones) are the artesan, low-volume, high-style brands like Leonardo and Franklin-Christoph. This might be because they focus on producing pens that look beautiful but they haven’t invested time in designing very special cap-sealing mechanisms. Their pens don’t dry fast but they are just not as good as brands like TWSBI or Pilot where they seem to have better cap-liners. 

These are just my own opinions and thoughts though, based on the pens I own, and your experiences might differ. 

Here are some things you can do to reduce dry-starts:

  • Use a wet, easy-flowing ink and this will help to keep the nib wet – Waterman, Parker, Iroshizuku, Diamine (the low sheen, no shimmer inks), Rohrer and Klingner & J.Herbin (not shimmer) all make really great inks that flow well.
  • Use pens with a good cap-sealing mechanism – any air-gaps will cause the pen to dry out quicker
  • Store the pen flat rather than nib-up – this might sound obvious but storing pens in cups or vertical racks seems logical but it leaves the feed to empty back into the ink chamber. It’s not necessary to store pens nib-down though and this could cause big problems with shimmer inks. 
  • Don’t store pens next to heat sources or in the sun – seems obvious but it took me ages to understand my my pens were drying out, until I realised my desk had a radiator behind it! 
  • Use one pen at a time so that the pen isn’t left for any length of time. This is easier said than done when you love buying pens and trying them out, but it really is the best way to enjoy your best pens and the more you use them the less chance they will have to dry out! 

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