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How To Choose Your Second Fountain Pen (and Why It Should Be A Japanese One)

You have your first fountain pen now, how do you choose your second one?

There’s a lot online about choosing your first fountain pen, but not much about choosing your second. Why second? Because when you buy your first fountain pen, you really don’t know whether you will enjoy using a fountain pen or not yet. However, by the time you decide that you want another fountain pen, you’re more likely to be certain that, yes, fountain pens are indeed great instruments of writing.

I think there’s much thought to be put into the second fountain pen. Unless you were gifted a fountain pen or inherited one from your family, most people’s first is exploratory and is likely something that is fairly affordable yet practical. In other words, you have purchased something that you actively want to seek out more of. You don’t necessarily want to spend a significant amount of money on your first pen, but I think you should definitely invest in your second.

  1. Regardless of what your first fountain pen was, your second should be one of quality and pride.
    • Quality because you have committed to using more fountain pens, and therefore this one should be one that can last in your possession for many years to come. It should be something that brings you joy every time you pick it up and reminds you that this is indeed the right path to walk.
    • On the other hand, it should be something that you are proud of using. It’s a manifestation of your new discovery, and it should make you feel excited about the pen and the hobby.
    • Be sure you choose something that you think will represent you well. When people look at the pen, they should immediately think of you!
    • Do not buy a pen just because of “the hype”. Only buy your second pen when you’ve done the research and connect with the product.
    • Think about how you want to use the pen. Do you want to write with it in print? cursive? Will you use it for headers? bullet journaling? drawing? all-round writing? All of these factors will help you narrow down and determine what nib to choose. Whatever nib you choose, it will not do everything, so be thoughtful when it comes to selecting the nib to fit what you’d like to use it for.
    • What size hands do you have? If your hand hurts from holding smaller pens, you should look for something with enough girth around the section, whereas if it doesn’t matter all too much then you have a lot more choices.
  2. It should be a gold nibbed pen.
    • There are steel nibs that write just as well as a gold nib, it’s true. However, there are also rollerball pens that write just as well as a fountain pen. The point is not that a gold nib will be radically transformative, but rather that owning and writing with a gold nib pen is a quintessential part of the fountain pen lifestyle. It’s the same reason why people buy cameras even though an iPhone can take pictures just as well. Owning a gold nibbed pen is part of a fountain pen tradition that spans over a century. It’s what nibs were made of back when everybody used fountain pens and ink, and it connects you to the rich history and tradition of fountain pens.
    • You can feel safe using any fountain pen ink with a gold nib without fear of damage (however, still do not use inks not intended for fountain pens)”. Iron gall inks are semi-permanent inks that include some iron content that bonds with the paper. This is the kinds of ink that people in the past used to use for record keeping, and is perfect for people who want to write journals to pass onto their loved ones. However, iron gall inks, due to the iron content, can be potentially corrosive to steel nibs. Older steel nibs in particular are prone to corrosion by iron gall inks, and although steel nib technology has advanced to the point where it is relatively safe to use most iron gall inks with them, it is still a risk that most would prefer to avoid. Gold, however, is a non-reactive metal, and therefore it is perfectly safe to use iron gall inks with nibs that have more than 14k (58.5%) gold content. It is with a gold nib that you can truly and fully explore the wonderful world of inks.
    • It will be something that you will be able to pass on. Gold nibs generally have better longevity due to it being a stable metal that is non-reactive. This means that the writing point is resistant to more sustained use (in the sense of being wet, not in the sense of hard writing pressure which is bad). You can often find older vintage steel nibs with white crust on them, which more often than not means that those nibs are goners, whereas even gold nibs that develop a patina can be easily polished to it’s shiny original state without damage.
    • Pens with gold nibs are often, but not always, made with higher quality materials. This is because gold is much more expensive than steel in general, so most manufacturers who use gold nibs tend to be more careful with even the other materials used overall. For example, many steel nibbed pens come with chrome trims, whereas gold nibbed pens are usually equipped with trims that are plated rhodium or gold. These small details of quality can go a long way in preserving the look and feel of your pen.
  3. It should be a Japanese pen
    • Japanese pens have by far the largest diversity when it comes to nib options. The vast majority of pens made in Chinese and western markets use the same generic nibs made by Jowo/Schmitt, Bock, or Shanghai Jingdian. However, the 3 big Japanese manufacturers all make their nibs in house. This means that they have developed proprietary alloys, nib shapes, imprints, in house finishing, etc. that make a real difference in the writing experience. An Opus 88 and an Esterbrook, while being different brands, would both use the same Jowo nib unit, and therefore write very similarly. However, Pilot, Sailor, and Platinum all make their own nibs and finish them in house, so pens from those manufacturers would not only write differently from each other, but also from the other standard nibs.
    • Japan has a long history of pen manufacturing. In fact, Sailor’s history stretches back to 1911. That’s even before the establishment of many countries. The know how and expertise of these companies shine through in their products so you know that you are holding a quality product.
    • Japanese fountain pens drop the fluff for actual manufacturing excellence. There’s very little marketing pomp surrounding the standard Japanese fountain pens. On the websites of Japanese pen manufacturers, you won’t find an ad copy of their latest collaboration with street style fashion brands, but you will find pages and pages dedicated to the history of their devotion to quality.
    • Japanese pens are relatively affordable, especially when it comes to gold nibbed pens. The basic line of gold nib pens will run you around 100-150 USD (as of November 2021), which is what many western steel nibbed pens are asking for.

So having said all this, below are my recommendations for your second fountain pen in no particular order.

  • Pilot Custom 74/Pilot Custom Heritage 91
    • A slim and elegant pen, the black Custom 74 has the largest variety of nib options to choose from out of the pens on this list. You can most certainly find something that suits your hand with this model.
    • The Custom Heritage 91 is essentially the same as the Custom 74, but with flat ends and a sword shaped clip rather than a ball shaped one.
    • 132 USD at the time of writing.
  • Pilot Custom Heritage 92
    • The Custom Heritage 92 is the translucent version of the Custom Heritage 91. A pen for people who are serious about writing a lot, while also enjoying a filling technology usually reserved for pens at double the cost. The smoothness of the Custom Heritage 92 piston is extremely satisfying.
    • 165 USD at the time of writing.
  • Pilot Custom 823
    • An outlier on this list and the most expensive pen here, many Japanese pen fans consider the Pilot Custom 823 to be the ultimate pen. It’s not because there aren’t any fancier pens (there are), and nor is it because there aren’t any better writing pens (there are). However, the Custom 823 sits in that sweet spot of price to value where everything just makes sense. A large and responsive nib that is backed by an enormous ink capacity thanks to the plunger vacuum filler, this pen is perfect for people who think they want the second pen to be the last (good luck with that though).
    • 330 USD at the time of writing.
  • Pilot Capless Vanishing Point/Decimo
    • Do you want a fountain pen that is as handy and easy to use as a ballpoint pen? Look no further than the Capless series. This model enables you to press a knock mechanism to engage the nib unit just like many ballpoint pens. This pen is perfect for jotting down quick notes in meetings without having to fumble around with the cap, not to mention that the click feels extremely satisfactory.
    • Both the Vanishing Point and the Decimo start at 165 USD at the time of writing.
  • Sailor Profit 1911 Slim/Sailor Pro Gear Slim
    • The Standard/Slim line is not the entry model to Sailor’s gold nib lineup, that would be the Profit Lite. However, unlike the Lite, the Standard/Slim line features their premium trim just like the more expensive Full size models. Sailor nibs are known to have more feedback due to the way that they finish their nibs, and many fans love Sailor pens for this exact reason.
    • The Pro Gear is the flat topped version of the Profit/1911
    • 143 USD at the time of writing.
  • Platinum 3776 Century
    • The 3776 Century is Platinum’s most recognisable model and the most popular fountain pen in Japan by sales due to it’s large nib at a relatively low price. This pen is perfect for people who prefer an extremely stiff writing nib and is the pen that I would recommend for those with a heavy hand. However, the tradeoff for it’s price is the quality control, which is sometime lacking when compared to the other Japanes peers.
    • 165 USD at the time of writing

Any other hints for choosing your second pen? Leave a comment and let me know!

15 replies on “How To Choose Your Second Fountain Pen (and Why It Should Be A Japanese One)”

Hi CY. I really enjoy your podcast. I totally agree with the sentiment here. Your post prompted me to do some online searching about the question of whether rhodium plating makes a gold nib more susceptible to corrosion with highly acidic or alkaline inks. I couldn’t find a definitive answer. My thinking is that any time you allow a liquid in contact with an interface between different metals with different oxidation states, you make it more susceptible to oxidising. However, I suspect that in reality Rh is so non-reactive that it doesn’t make a practical difference, and that it’s absolutely still going to be way less reactive than chromium/nickel-plated steel. In my reading I was really surprised to learn how much more expensive rhodium is than gold!


Thanks for the kind comments! Yes, Rhodium is EXTREMELY expensive. A small 50ml bottle of plating liquid runs me several hundred USD. Plating itself wouldn’t impact corrosion if the base is non reactive. However, plating loss can be the result of light corrosion/patina.


Ah, Japanese pens…hate Pilot, hate their designs and the “just good enough for a generic bloke” approach of a deadpan consumer company…still somehow end up being the pens I use most throughout life. Starting with a Birdie in middle school, moving on to a Capless as the pen introducing me to the hobby, finally reaching the point when you start amassing 80 year old nibs to fit in a random half-dead pen you found on the street.
Sailor on the other hand, is a company of contrasts. It’s a company that can’t be bothered to polish the seams on a 500€ pen, a company that barely figured out a piston filler, except they still suck and half of them don’t even leave the factory. Somehow they still end up being my favourite pens.
One point that a find a little far-fetched though…take a Delta, a Dupont Olympia and a palladium Visconti. They’re all just size 6 Bocks. Do they really feel the same though?


The post refers to those nibs that are interchangeable, such as Esterbrook and Kanilea, for example. Those with custom specifications may have some variance, but still nowhere as clear in difference as the Japanese pens in my opinion.

Pilot makes fantastic pens, definitely don’t think they’re a deadpan consumer company. In Japan they still make cool and innovative stuff, even if a lot of it remains in the domestic market.


Great post. Chock full of good information just like the podcast. I do happen to think that some non-Japanese pens, i.e. Pelikan, would be a good choice for second pens, BUT they will cost more $$$.


Thanks and glad to know that you’re also enjoying the podcast!

I agree that Pelikans would be a great option too, M400 for the gold option. I did have to represent Japanese pens on the blog though since, y’know!!! I’m Tokyo Station Pens haha!!


This would have been a very useful article for me a long time ago… I guess I need to get a Custom 92, as it is the only pen you recommend that I don’t have at least one of!

I would put a plug in for the Pilot Custom 743, as it has the size of the 823, the wonderful #15 size nibs, but offers the full range of fifteen different nibs that Pilot makes (as you know, the 823 only has three nib sizes available). It’s the only pen I own that is always inked.

I love the podcast and am always interested to hear what you and Jacob are reporting. I hope to get back to Japan whenever travel is a good idea again.


I have fountain pens from “The Big Three” Japanese pen manufacturers. I enjoy writing with their nibs. I hold them with high regard to their quality and feel when writing.

My first fountain pen had a steel nib. It was messy and the ink was horrible. I have since moved far away from this experience. (Scripto for those who want to know).

My first gold nib pen was the Parker “180”. Fascinating pen with the two nibs. But my hands have gotten to the point that the slimness of the pen makes it difficult to use for a long time.

My first Japanese pen was the Sailor King of Pen. Mine has a Broad nib, ground to a Fine by Sailor’s nib meister. It was an honor to watch this gentleman work and produce an excellent nib.

I now have a Pilot and Platinum pen. I enjoy both very much. I have them with the Soft Fine nib on each.

Gold nib pens have a feel when writing that is different than steel nibs. True, these nibs are similar to gold but not the same. You notice the difference.

I have one pen with the Bock Titanium nib. It works wonderfully. Neither steel nor gold nibs have the same feel. I still prefer gold nibs, though.

Thank you again for an excellent essay.


I’d add the Pilot E95S to the list. It’s a bit different, being a long-short pen, and has a limited choice of nibs, but they are some of my nicest-writing pens.
They are also a gateway into the world of Japanese long-short pens… so caveat emptor: if you buy one, you may find yourself on eBay buying vintage Elites, Myus, and long-shorts from Sailor and Platinum.
Then, there’s the legendary White Stripes Myu to find..,


My first FP was a Waterman Hemisphere, second was a TWSBI 580ALR, third was a Pilot Metal Falcon. The writing experience with the Falcon’s soft nib is lovely.


I bought a pilot custom 74 with a signature nib because of this article I am absolutely in love with it! This is my first year in the hobby and tried 8 ink samples before finally deciding shin ryoku was my favorite ink because it’s just plain green and wet. Enjoy this blog especially the piece you did on oblique nibs. I might get my twsbi ground to an oblique before touching my pilot.


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