Small fountain pens, a quick comparison

NB! Since I wrote this – I had to make an edit on my Moonman N1 Small pen section!

Since my fascination with pens steered me in the direction of fountain pens, I have gotten a lot of pens over the last two years. I think I’m closer to some 60 pens or so. Quite many of them are in the mid range, there are some 20 in the lower price range and many of these have been made into Franken pens (simply changing the nib – so I’m not that big on the Dr Frankenstein business yet). I have a few pens that I think is close to folly to have and own due to the price considering that it is after all simply pens we are talking about.

Anyway, part of the allure with the headings topic; smaller pens, is to be able to bring a small pen that still have the luxury writing of a fountain pen. Now, quickly I’ll add that while one of the test I tried is the quick not taking option – here I have to firmly state that I prefer standard ballpoint pens for the ease of comfort and well, such a quick note or grocery list simply won’t make me in the state of mind to appreciate what kind of pen I’m using. Hold a gun to my head, and my new to go to pen for everything not fountain pen is a Sharpie, Pilot Frixion or your standard pencil HB.

Anyway, I do own a few smaller pens and after having bought one of the smallest fountain pens out there; if not the smallest, I decided after a quick Insta poll that I would make this post. So here are the pens that I have and will compare in this post:

  • Conklin Victory Medium nib
  • Moonman N1 Short pen Extra Fine nib
  • Kaweco Sports Classic Fine nib
  • Ensso XS Fine nib
  • Moonman Wancai EF nib

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Pen: Conklin Victory (M) 

Victory Hand
Victory Hand

Filling: Cartridges International standard

The largest pen is more of a small normal pen. Just small enough to not be able to fit a standard international converter inside. Not much to be able to do so, but just enough to miss that very vital thing however. This means that I would suggest getting a syringe to be able to choose your own, or go with a small Kaweco converter perhaps. I don’t find the squeeze version very good – but well, it’s an option at least. The Conklin Victory is for a small pen not really designed to be a small pen – it is capped taller than the Diplomat Magnum Soft Touch, taller than a Jinhao X750 – both of which easily takes an international converter.
Once uncapped, it’s shorter than both. A bit weird. While the clip on the pen is good and spring fed on the top – it makes for a lot taller carry pen that necessary in my opinion.

Ease of use
Pull off cap and you can manage to use it un-posted means it is easy to use and get that first quick note off. Posting it is short of OK. The cap easily gets loose and rattles around on top. The spring-loaded clip is well-functioning.

Nib and writing
Loaded with a M&M (not the candy) Royal Blue ink, this pen writes whenever I open it to take notes. The medium nib has some feedback and it needed a wiggle to get the tines aligned. Other than that – it writes really well and behaves like a pen of this price range. Posted, when it stays posted, is how it feels like it was meant to be. Good length and good balance while still back heavy – but for from annoying. The medium nib behaves more like a European fine to me – so I’m pretty happy with the line it puts down.

Ink and keeping it in your pocket
Ink is international short cartridge, and it fits securely on the feed. Sits very tight and doesn’t move around. Feels secure to keep in your pocket overall.

Good writer
International standard
Sturdy construction
Good functionality

Too tall for a short pen.
Design choices don’t end up too well.
Posting is not a snug fit.

Pen: Moonman N1 Short (EF)

N1 hand
N1 hand

Filling: Proprietary cartridges – no converter

A slim pen that posts into the longest of them all. This brushed aluminum pen is more modern in design than the others and feels very well made. EDIT! Unfortunately it is not. The pen fits the ink cartridge poorly, and upon leakage, the ink gets stuck and eats into the metal. Unfrotunately what didn’t meet the eye this time, is that this quality is simply put crap. Read on for the INITIAL view, but my recommendation is a straong – STAY AWAY! This pen will most likely force you to be conservative with your cartridges and get a syringe since the Moonman cartridges is eBay only, and for me, adding 75 SEK and VAT for a pair will mean I would have to hamster up loads to make that deal finish. Had I known this, I would have skipped this pen, just because of it. Now, I’m glad I have the pen. Fits larger hands, as long as the grip section is OK. The grip section just is the barrel, no real tapering or wedge to rest your fingers to. Not overly Slim and I had no problem writing an A5 by hand in one go.

Ease of use
This pen has a very tall cap, and seems like a modern take on the Pilot E95, Sailor slim pens where the cap is clearly designed to be posted for the pen to be in prime condition. It has a spring-loaded clip that feels like it will break when open it up to fasten the pen to your shirt or whatever. To post it takes a bit longer than most of the others, and for me it is just on the verge to be too short to take a quick note or more un-posted.

Nib and writing
Once posted, you will note that the nib is really good for a Chinese pen. Smooth, ink is flowing well, no skips or drying or need to shake it. Apart from a rickety feel from the posted cap, this is a really good writer once you get going. Plus here is definitely the nib.

Ink and keeping it in your pocket
Pen feels very secure with a tight-fitting cartridge and a small compartment with a long unscrew hinge. Toppled with a small ring for fastening the cap and to then reversely post it, it feels really safe to put in your pocket. EDIT! Yet again, this is the pen that had a leakage and ink all up in the entire barrel without walking around, simply from poor cartridge to nib section.

Nice EF nib.
Long and well-balanced.
Weight is well-balanced and not overly back heavy.
Stylish looking

Proprietary cartridges is a damned sin – especially for off-brands
Not securely fitting once posted, despite an O-ring on the butt end of the barrel.
O-rings in design makes for the unease of loosing them. Don’t like.

Pen: Kaweco Sport Classic (F)

Kaweco hand
Kaweco hand

Filling: International cartridge (or Kaweco small converter optional)

One of the more ‘famous’ pens on this list. The Kaweco is a nice and easy to use pen. Light weight (this is the plastic version) and opted for a clip (which is extra). Clip is a springy slide on. Does its job, may be a bit stiff in the beginning. The Kaweco pens comes with Bock nibs that have a penchant for being ground into a sweet spot (very strict angle and way to hold the pen to get it to write well) but are generally considered to be very smooth. This pen is no exception to this.

Ease of use
Screw off cap makes that first note a bit in the making. It posts very well and quickly though and once done, it is a nice enough pen to write with. This pen is perhaps 5 mm longer than the Moonman N1 without cap posted – and that is exactly on the verge to comfortably take a quick note without posting the pen.

Nib and writing
As mentioned above, it has a sweet spot, is smooth and if you are lucky, your grip and angle will be right with that sweet spot and then you are in for a smooth ride. If not, you may get unnecessary skips and line breaking. Sometimes it won’t write as you start etc. Once you get writing, I had no trouble writing an entire A5 in a go.

Ink and keeping it in your pocket
Ouch! The cartridge sits only on the nib feed directly and wiggles easily around in there. Makes it sometimes necessary to open it up and fasten the cartridge again. The cap sits a bit loosely on the pen, no snug fit over the barrel, and these things makes me reluctant to simply toss it in a bag or in a pocket – which seems to be the entire idea of the pen.

Bock nibs are smooth (usually)
Comfortable once posted.
Can be used quickly without posting pen. Barely and not for larger hands.
Relatively cheap pen, easy to come by and has a lot of accessories.

Cartridge sits loosely inside the barrel
Sweet spot is a known problem
Screw Cap makes for a longer first line on paper…


Ensso hand
Ensso hand

Filling: International cartridge

Designed to be small, this is the overall smallest pen of them all. While the Wancai is shorter, it has a lot more girth than any of the other pens here. The XS is slimmer and short. Faceted design keeps it from rolling away on your desk. There is an optional clip – I didn’t get it via the kickstarter page, because I cheaped out. Mine is the all black version with a Stealth nib by Bock. The pen is ridiculously slim and small.

Ease of use
Except the O-ring trouble, this pen is pull off cap, post and ready to go. However, it relies on O-rings; one on the back to secure the posting and one where the grip section ends to secure capping it. The O-rings have a tendency to get lost, and you get two extra and a comment to find a hardware store to buy more. Hardware stores? It seems to me like a design decision that didn’t really go all the way here.

Nib and writing
Wow – where to begin – with a wait – flush, rinse, clean dry and change to another ink. Yeah, seems the Monteverde ink that came with the pen is very dry – and since I had serious skipping, drying out situation, they told me to clean and change ink to Diamine and Pelikan or similar. I’m going with a very eye-catching Pilot Edelstein I think. Nope, I went with Iroshizuku Fuyu-Gaki, or winter persimmon or something.. Now, the pen writes better, a lot better. At least on par with the Kaweco pen.
Right, apart from that, the pen is a bit “spongy” and bends when you write and apply pressure. I know, that’s not the way to use a fountain pen, but mine won’t write unless I do. Posted, it should be of efficient length for most to be able to use it. However, I could not finish an A5 in one go with this pen. To thin and cramp-inducing grip section.

Ink and keeping it in your pocket
Cartridge sits slightly tighter than the Kaweco. And it doesn’t rattle, because the pen is so thin. And as long as you have your O-ring on, yeah, this is what it’s supposed to do and feels like this is actually the kind of pen you drop in a pocket and off you go. The cap sits pretty securely so the biggest risk I can imagine is forgetting the pen and move in weird ways? Sprinting after the bus or jump down a cliff to make up for that extra Instagram post before going to work? Well, this would be the pen you actually could forget being smaller than your keys.

Definitely small
I mean really small
Feels well made

Sensitive with dry inks.
Not sturdy
Too thin to write anything longer

Pen: Moonman Wancai (F)

Wancai hand
Wancai hand

Filling: Eyedropper

The only demonstrator eyedropper in the test is the shortest, but by far the thickest. The cap is screwed on the back so it is the slowest pen to first line on paper. Moonman holds a crazy amount of ink compared to the others in this test. It is also very comfortable while being small. The rather girth-y design makes it difficult to hold in a smaller pen-lope for your calendar or other quick note designs you might be running. The see through makes me a bit nervous, seeing all that ink – that could end out in your jeans pocket… *Gulp*

Ease of use
Twist off the cap, twist on to post, and you are ready to go. The pen works great so once this is done, you are ready to go. There are O-rings in the design, but nothing to really care for until you clean it. There is no clip though, and it is round – so prepare for some desktop chasing around.

Nib and Writing
Moonman has only disappointed me once, the M80, which in my opinion had a crap nib and writing feeling. This is a very nice experience. The nib is smooth and flow is good. It writes immediately and pleasantly so. The line is what you can expect from a fine – somewhat close to a European fine, without the excess some brands have, mind you. I could go on and write for a long time with this pen. An A5, no problems. The entire posted pen is on the short side, especially if you prefer posted style to write – but part from that – this is the most comfortable pen for me in the test.

Eyedropper – chose whatever ink and go!
Good nib
Plenty of ink

Eyedropper scary!
Girth (this is also a bonus – for me, but it makes it a bit bulky for some EDC uses)

Some sort of summary…
Is this the good time to admit that I don’t really have ONE EDC pen? I have a duo pen holder that I pack for a week or two – then I get bored and switch pens and inks around. Yeah, that’s me. So, a very small compact pen has what appeal to me? Well, it’s a pen, isn’t it? Also, said pen is fun, could be fun and could open new vistas.
So, what do I take away from all this? That the Victory pen probably shouldn’t be on the list – but it is sort of failed small pen. The ENSSO XS is pushing it close to extremes and the three pens in the middle, Kaweco, Wancai and Moonman N1 are pretty decent choices. Now, if you live in US and Europe – the Moonman proprietary cartridge might be off-setting. I know it is to me. More so, the slightly rickety posted cap. For me, the Kaweco or the Wancai are the true winners. Affordable and comfortable to write with. Both have the slower screw on cap, but in the end of the day – I don’t really Lucky Luke my notes that way anyway. If you do, a quick twist off – or why not a regular ballpoint pen? I mean, honestly? Fountain pens are fun – but there are limits as to when to use them. At least to me. I do find the pushing frontiers pretty fun though.
Both the Wancai and Sport Classic are pens that you can end up writing for longer periods of time with. I see these two as good companions for a longer visit to a coffee shop, sit and take notes or gathering your thoughts. Write a page or two for work or leisure. They’re good get out of the house pens in my opinion.

One thought on “Small fountain pens, a quick comparison

  1. Pingback: MOONMAN PENS – BadlyDrawnWolf

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