I’m known among my author friends as a pen crack dealer and lets face it, I’m not gonna lie, I kinda am. I love fountain pens. I would go as far as saying I’m obsessed with them. If you’ve followed my Instagram feed, you’d know that it’s almost entirely full of FPs these days in different shapes, sizes, and colors. And yes, I also restore and repair fountain pens.
So I feel like I’m in a pretty good position to wax poetical about fountain pens and of course, one of the first things people always ask me beyond the most obvious question which is “How many fountain pens do you own, Shawnee? To which I reply, “Not enough,” is that they ask me where should they start if they wanted to get into fountain pens.
I always err on the side of caution when suggesting pens and that’s primarily because they do require work. It takes effort to own a fountain pen. You must feed them and care for them and FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY, CLEAN THEM, PEOPLE. Seriously, I better never catch you throwing one into the back of the desk drawer full of ink . . . but if you understand that fountain pens require some care and you’re undeterred, then here are some fountain pens that you can pick up on Amazon for less than $20.
ONE THING TO NOTE: This is just the tip of the iceberg for fountain pens and is not an exhaustive list of pens under $20 – I culled the list down to just the ones that I could happily recommend for writing out of the box 95% of the time.
Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about this little workhorse of a pen. I love Platinum pens anyhow, but to get Platinum quality for just around $5-8 is something pretty special. There are a couple of other Japanese pens in this price range from Pilot, but the Preppy is by far the best of the bunch.
What really makes this pen great is the nib. Steel, of course, but it has the characteristics that you get from higher end Japanese pens and they pretty much write right out of the box 99% of the time, which is not something you can say for some of the other counterparts on this list (see Wing Sung below). Yes, Platinum has it’s own proprietary cartridge meaning it won’t take a universal ink cartridge, but most people I know turn them into eyedroppers with just a little bit of silicon grease on the threads and that gives you a lot more ink capacity. It also means you can use whatever ink you want. Bonus!
If you get only one pen on this list, I’d get this one and I’d go for a medium nib. You can get it in blue-black from Amazon by clicking here.
This is my least favorite pen on the list and also one of the most expensive coming in at around the $15 range, which is not too bad for this pen. Cheapest you’re likely to see it is around $13 and it can go as high as around $30 if you don’t shop around.
While I personally don’t like this pen, lots of people LOVE the Metropolitan and you get quite a bit of pen for your money. Unlike the rest of the pens on this list which have plastic barrels and sections, the Metropolitan actually has a metal body. It is probably the no. 1 starter pen on the market for the obvious reason – you’re getting a solid, well-made pen from Pilot in this price range.
I’m not such a big fan because all that metal does come with a cost . . . in weight. It’s a heavy pen and if you’re journaling a lot like me then hand fatigue sets in quickly with this pen. Also, weirdly enough, this is the only pen I’ve ever owned that made my hand sweat. But having said all of that, it does work out of the box and it can take a real beating. I’ve found it for you on Amazon for right around $13 – click here.
Chinese manufacturers get a bad rap these days and you can’t join a fountain pen Facebook group without running across at least one ongoing fight about Chinese manufacturers ripping off designs from other pen makers. I tend to shy away from those conversations because I think regardless of where you stand on the debate, the one good thing that makers like Wing Sung and Jinhao have brought to the table is that they’ve opened up the market so that anyone can afford to buy a pen and that’s creating whole new generations of fountain pen lovers, which is marvelous (See? I am a pen enabler.)
Having said that, cheap also comes at a price and that price is quality. You may be able to get a half a dozen Wing Sungs for the price of one Metropolitan, but I can pretty much guarantee you that at least 30% of those pens aren’t going to write on your first attempt and maybe not even your third or fourth if you’ve never owned a fountain pen before.
So I say this with a caveat – buyer be aware when buying cheap brands like Wing Sung and Jinhao. You may get a dud or two in the mix that you will have to tweak. I’ll explain what I mean with the Wing Sung 3001.
First off, the Wing Sung 3001 is a clone of the Pilot 78g. Secondly, it’s cheap as chips and you can buy, get this, 5 for $13.99 on Amazon which is kinda nuts. Problem is that with the “EF” nib set that I got (EF stands for extra-fine), the first two that I tried to ink wouldn’t write at all without first pulling the nib and the feed out of the section. That’s gonna scare some of you, but I’ve got you, it’s easy and in fact I would STRONGLY RECOMMEND YOU DO 2 THINGS before you ink a cheaper Chinese pen –
- Remove the nib and the feed from where they slot into the section of the barrel and rinse under the kitchen tap running with good flow (STOPPER THE SINK FIRST IN CASE YOU DROP THEM); the nib is the metal two-tined point of the pen and the feed is located directly behind it. Grip the two together and gently pull out. It should be easy on a Wing Wung 3001. Once you’ve rinsed them well, put them back together and gently push back into the section. The nib sits nicely in an indent in the feed if you put it back together properly.
- When you’re ready to fill this pen, this pen uses a converter and takes ink from a bottle. Unscrew the body of the barrel from the section. You should now just have the section, the converter, plus the nib and feed. The converter has a knob that you can turn to suck ink up into the converter which holds the ink as you use the pen. BUT I suggest you tug the converter off, manually fill it in your bottle of ink and then push it back onto the tail end of the feed which is housed inside the section (basically put it back from whence it came) AND this is the important part, when you put the pen back together before you screw the body of the pen back on, prime the feed and the nib by twisting the converter down enough that ink floods behind the feed and down the tines and to the tip. If a drop of ink comes out and splashes on the paper, that’s okay. You want to make sure that you’ve got the best chance of getting this pen started without doing something you’ll regret like pushing down too hard on the paper and bending the nib or splattering ink everywhere are you flick you’re wrist too hard trying to get the ink to come out.
There are other issues that you may have with Wing Sungs, but the great thing about them is that they SUPER CHEAP so don’t be too precious with them. Be prepared to destroy a few as you get to understand how a fountain pen works and watch lots of Youtube videos. I think having a few Wing Sungs in your collection is worth it. When they work, they work great!
I love the Jinhao 992, I really do. I first came across the Jinhao 992 in Richard Binder’s nib smoothing class at the Baltimore-Washington Pen Show and I have to say that it’s such a great pen and cheap as chips – you can get 6 of them on Amazon for just $13.60! It reminds me a lot of a Sailor Pro Color 500 which makes me a little squeamish on the inside given how big of a Sailor Fan Girl I am, but honestly, it’s an amazing sparkly gem when it works* (see note about Wing Sung). If I had to pick between two Chinese pen makers, it’d be no contest – Jinhao would win every time. The more I use my Jinhaos, the more I love them.
Okay, this pen is at the top end of the bracket, but worth every penny. This is another Chinese manufacturer, but there is something about Moonman that just speaks better quality to me. Some penheads will point out that its more like the rich man’s PENBBS, but given that I don’t have any of the latter, I can’t really say. What I can say is that I love the Moonman Wancai Mini. I have 2 – this one pictured above and then the clear demonstrator (it comes in two more flavors) and they both worked right out of the box and are a real conversation starter at shows. And the $19.99 price tag? I would gladly pay it over and over again. It’s such a cute thing that the girlie part of me squeeeeeeees everytime I see it. And being an eyedropper has its advantages – I don’t have to cart a whole bunch of ink to every author event I go to because like most new eyedroppers I own they hold quite a bit of ink. If you don’t like this pen, then you can send me hate mail, but I think for the price tag and it’s general cuteness, it can’t be beat. BUY IT NOW.
Good lord, it’s taken me all day to write this post. Patrick Dugan – I did this for you!
xo – Shawnee