I had my dream job for a couple of years back in the early 80’s. The office supplies buyer for a big company. That role has gone the way of big discounts with major chains but back in the day there was a fair amount of negotiations, product comparisons and competition going on and I loved it. Where I got a little sideways was probably my overzealous testing of writing instruments that we paid $.72 a dozen for, I will never forget the winning product that won based solely on price, those pens were awful and they are still sold today (Could they really be that awful then?). If we were going to buy cheap pens I wanted them to at least write good. They didn’t, and it just wasn’t a priority to the organization as a whole. I reluctantly bought into the rationale that most of the pens would have been lost, walked home or broke before they ran out of ink. In the end they proved adequate and we bought container loads of them. Another part of my job was questioning the justification of requests for higher quality pens on smaller purchase scales, we just called them “specials”. Yes I was THAT GUY that told the office admin that the company was not going to spend the money for G2’s, Uni-balls or GASP Cross pens, even for retirement gifts. I was a good corporate soldier and bought the pens I wanted to write with using my own money and even tucked my tail when a corporate exec would come over the top of the organization and demand a better writing experience at the company’s expense. Memorable times.
During that period, and still to this day, my subjective testing criteria for a pen has been fundamentally the same. I want them to lay down a solid line of ink with minimal pressure on the tip and be comfortable to hold. Nice aesthetics, as a purchase criteria, didn’t land on my checklist until many years later.
Today the writing part is pretty easy to attain as the technology has improved a lot with even cheap disposable pens from the major brands and many of the private label offerings, I still love the Staples Sonix product. Where my tastes have expanded over the years is in the aesthetics area and the source of the pen.
When I can try a pen here are my bulletized criteria. The showstoppers for me are:
- Does the ink flow skip?
- Does the pen require a lot pressure to get a saturated line of ink on the page?
- Does it leak?
- Does it start as soon as I place the tip to the paper?
- Is the pen body and section slippery to hold?
- Does the cap go on and off easily and have good retention while on the pen
When none of the above are issues then it gets even more subjective and I may have more leniency in these areas:
- Do I just like the looks?
- Is it a brand I have never tried before?
- Is the maker somebody I like and respect or just starting out and could use the support?
- Is it a limited edition that I am FOMO’ing over?
- Is this a new model for the maker/brand and I just want everything they make?
- For fountain pens how easy is it to clean?
Size comes in to play for me when I’m shopping for an enjoyment pen. I think I have average size hands for a 6’ male. I have some minor arthritis so a large pen is more comfortable for me. Both in length and diameter.
You may notice an absence of any consideration given to a clip. I don’t clip a pen to anything so unless the clip is just hideously ugly it rarely carries any weight for my choices.
Some of these questions are ignored when I’m buying a machined pen or similar that will take standardized refills because I know the writing portion can be fixed with a Parker, G2 or D1 type refill. Additionally a fountain pen that I really fall in love with may get a pass in the ink to paper area since that can be fixed with nib tuning if all the other characteristics of the pen grab my attention. Though I have lamented before I strongly dislike buying a brand new pen that has to be sent off for nib work.
The above lists have worked well for me and I don’t seeing it changing any time in the future. The pen is a pretty simple concept. A stick with an ink reservoir.
Anything else you consider when shopping for your next pen? Maybe I’m missing something.
Remember: Write something nice……
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