Fountain pens can get super decorative and run in to the hundreds of dollars. Even for a pen enthusiast you have to be selective when choosing the right pen. With a little research you will often find that one of the major break points for fountain pen makers is around $100. This is where the mechanics of the pen get good and where the aesthetics are good but not outrageous.
Most pens in this range will primarily be made with metal and lacquer components. There are still some elements made of durable plastics but those will still often look good. These pens will usually feel a little more solid overall.
This is getting into the range where precious metals will be used as accents on the pens. Often times rings, and clips will be made of gold or plated with a small amount of it. In some cases gold accents instead of less precious metal will increase the price just slightly when choosing the finish on a pen but it isn’t always cheaper to opt for one without gold.
This is also the level where you start seeing the use of gold and rhodium in the nibs. Usually this is just plating over the stainless steel. While that means they aren’t as soft as solid gold nibs, it usually also means that more care was taken in machining them. It’s very rare to get a nib at this level that doesn’t write smoothly.
One of the biggest advantages to a pen at this level is the ink flow. It doesn’t matter if it is a cartridge or piston filler; the ink feed should be really smooth. As long as the nib is set correctly there shouldn’t be any skips or stops until you run out of ink.
Deciding to get a nice fountain pen is deciding to get a writing tool that will be with you through thousands of letters. The quality of production at this level will probably last you more than a decade. With that in mind here are a few good choices to benchmark your decisions:
Home Office Genius Pick For Best Fountain Pen Under $100
Pelikan’s M200 is a classic fountain pen with a really classy feel. Typically priced right about $100, though it can be slightly more for some of the more elaborate finishes. The underlying quality of the pen is what’s really important.
Part of what you are paying for at this level is aesthetics. The black resin body of the pen has a smooth clean feel. The accents of the pen are plated in gold. The details of the ornamentation are very precise with the Pelikan bill on the clip and the logo engraved in the nib.
The body of the pen is uniformly rounded and gives a solid feel in your hand. The threads before the grip are small and almost unnoticeable. Having a slight curve in the grip is enough to keep the pen from sliding but doesn’t feel like constrained ergonomics.
The cap screws on securely and can also be posted on the back. It is long enough to work without the cap posted, but the balance when posted is exceptional. The cap sits low enough to be secure without feeling like it gets in the way.
This piston filler mechanism was is built into this pen giving it a better ink capacity than cartridge converters. It fills smoothly and quickly. The ink level can be seen in the viewing window with the cap off.
The nib has a comfortable minor flex to it. The gold is plated onto stainless steel so it is still a little on the stiff side. Ink flows well through the nib, giving a bit thicker feel to the line. This makes it easy to write fast without any skips or stops.
This pen is a joy to write with and elegant to look at. It’s the kind of tool that brings confidence and a little flair to my writing.
The Sonnet series of pen from Parker is a solid choice for the pen aficionado or for the dilatant. While not all models of the Sonnet fall in the price range we are looking at it’s good to know that the same basics and mechanics are good enough to be the inner workings for fountain pens that are twice the price.
Without getting into the ornate finishes, the Sonnet series is constructed with a metal body and a smooth lacquer coating. It is accented with gold on the rings and has a gold arrow for the clip. The design is clean and professional without being ostentatious.
The metal body gives it a solid feel in the hand. The cap posts securely on the back and doesn’t feel loose even during long writing sessions. With the cap posted the balance feels wonderful and makes pen strokes almost effortless.
The nib is steel with gold plating. This makes it stiffer than a nib of just gold but it’s still gives good feedback. It’s only available in a fine or medium nib but both sizes are for the most part true to their size.
The ink flow with either the fine or the medium nib is very smooth. This can lead to lines bleeding slightly thicker on absorbent paper. More importantly it makes it so that the pen won’t skip or stop if you are writing quickly.
The Parker Sonnet is a quality pen. It’s worth the premium price and whether or not you choose one of the more elaborate finishes you still get a pen you will love.
Waterman lays claim to being the original fountain pen maker and 130 years of experience really keeps their quality high. Any of their pens look and feel exquisite. The fact that you get the Waterman Expert for under $100 is wonderful.
The gold trim on this pen is well placed and feels like a little more than an accent. Other versions use palladium, which still has a brilliant shine. The lacquer has a lustrous shine and a smooth feel. The Waterman mark is distinctive without dominating the design of the pen.
The smooth cigar shape of the body fits nicely into the hand. The finger rest is the same lacquer as the body. It feels smooth but still won’t slide around in your fingers.
The cap can post on the back with the same secure click that you get when closing the pen. This actually makes the back of the pen a little heavy but doesn’t throw off the balance too much. The body is long enough that you can leave the cap unposted without the pen feeling short.
The Expert has a cartridge system that holds a good capacity. Still it’s worth making the upgrade to a piston converter. Waterman makes a good selection of ink colors in cartridges but with such a nice pen you will probably want to expand your color choices.
While the nib comes with nice gold plating on it, it is steel underneath. It has reasonable flex to it and a very smooth flow. The medium never feels scratchy. The flow may be a bit much if you have compact handwriting. In which case you probably prefer the fine nib. Either way the Expert will keep up no matter how fast you write.
The Waterman Expert is an exceptional writing tool. The reputation for quality is well deserved. With one of these you will be scrawling out beautiful letters for years to come.
The Sailor Profit is a well engineered Japanese fountain pen. The plastic body of the pen doesn’t feel overly expensive but it’s still nicely made. The production quality is more in the inner workings of the pen.
The body of the pen is fairly narrow. This works well for detailed work but wouldn’t be the right choice if you have bigger hands. So many fountain pens feel robust, where this feels delicate without being fragile.
The cap screws on securely when closed on posts easily on the back. Having the cap posted takes away the fragile feeling to some degree. It feels balanced and secure and still very light in the hand.
The nib is gold plated steel. It’s extremely smooth even on fairly rough paper. It’s generally a finer line than your average nib. I works really well if you have compact handwriting and I would guess it’s ideal for writing Asian characters.
The ink cartridge or piston converter upgrade are both easy to use. Even with such a thin line the nib doesn’t skip or feel scratchy. The flow is smooth, even when writing quickly.
This pen is a great option for people interested in fountain pens but not interested in big flowing script. It doesn’t have the capacity for flourishes, rather it is ideal for delicate lines. It’s a precision pen that embodies Japanese standards.
The Pilot Custom Heritage 91 has several of the features of more expensive pens without quite the same flash. I’m impressed not only by the pen, but also by the options available within this single model. These days you can find variations that previously were only available in Japan.
The Heritage 91 is comfortable in the hand. It feels a little on the narrow side but no so much that you will have hand fatigue unless you have really big hands. The cap screws on securely and will post neatly on the back.
The body of the pen is polished resin with a nice shine to it. The metal accents are subtle but elegant. It’s quality that becomes more apparent the more you look at it.
While the Heritage 91 is also available with a built in piston system, the cartridge system often less expensive even with a piston converter. Pilot makes two sizes of converter that will both fit in this pen, the CON 50 and CON 70. Either will work but the CON 70 will give you more ink capacity.
There are several nib choices available here. The ‘soft’ nibs will give you more flex and variation in your writing. The standard nibs will be stiffer and have more direct feedback. You can get a thicker line with a little extra pressure on either of them but the soft nibs will function more like a calligraphy pen.
The nibs are gold with rhodium plating. This keeps the flexibility and takes away some of the glamor. Generally the nibs write on the narrow side. This is common with pens made in Asia to make it easier to write complex characters. The nib has good flow and doesn’t skip or scratch the page.
Pilot has a lot of good pens on the market. Variations of the Heritage 91 that come out under $100 are a real deal. They are the kind of comfortable precise tool that makes you want to keep in touch with old pen pals.