Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Product Review: Pilot Metropolitan

The "White Tiger" Pilot Metropolitan pen.
Lamy Safari and Lamy Al-Star fountain pens have been my basic, go-to sketching pens for the past couple years. They appeared on my Top 10 lists for both 2012 and 2013 for their general reliability and comfortable design. But one thing I’ve been annoyed by is the inconsistent quality of the nibs. Some will perform beautifully day after day, and others will be scratchy from the first stroke and will not improve over time. I’ve tried various sizes from extra fine to medium, and the inconsistency prevails. Fortunately, the interchangeable nibs can be replaced, which I’ve done a couple times. But I’ve lately become so disgruntled that I’ve been prompted to look elsewhere.

Fortunately, I discovered the Sailor “calligraphy” pen (see my review of this pen) along the way, which is rapidly becoming a favorite for its variable-width line, as well as its smooth, easy performance. But another pen I’ve recently been trying out is the Pilot Metropolitan. Like the Lamys, the Metropolitan is billed as a “starter” fountain pen for its ease of use and maintenance, as well as its cost – at 15 bucks, it’s even cheaper than the Safari.

Note the subtle tiger-stripe trim and satin finish.
When I first started using the Metropolitan, I was immediately struck by how heavy its brass body is – 26 grams – compared to the resin Lamy Safari at 17 grams. Those 9 grams of difference in weight might not seem like a lot (roughly the weight of two nickels), but when sketching, it really seemed to weigh heavily on my line. It was almost a deal-breaker. . .

. . . until I got used to it, which only took a short time. And I was willing to get used to it because of its prevailing best quality: the reliably smooth performance of the nib. I love the way it skates so effortlessly over the Canson XL cold press, Canson Montval cold press and Fabriano Studio hot press papers that I’ve been using lately.

A deal-breaker for some may be the M-size nib, which is apparently the only size it is available in (at least in the U.S.). As a Japanese pen, that M is almost as fine as a Lamy F, but it may seem too broad if you’re used to an extra-fine nib. I don’t care for super-fine nibs myself, so I’m happy with the Metropolitans M.

Sketched with Diamine Onyx Black ink on Fabriano Studio hot press
140 lb. paper. No, this bottle of Iroshizuku Momiji ink is not as asymmetrical
as I've made it look here. The bottle is actually gorgeous -- like a fine
perfume. I received this one as a Christmas gift. I'll tell you some other time
about my fetish for this line of over-priced Japanese inks.
I’ve been using the Metropolitan with waterproof Platinum Carbon ink for several weeks, and its performance has been flawless – it never clogs, it starts up immediately, and its smooth line prevails continuously. I just started using it with a sample of water-soluble Diamine Onyx Black (a new ink to me, but since it’s Diamine, I expect it to behave the same way as other Diamines I’ve used and loved), and its performance is just as flawless as it is with the Platinum.

A word about converters: When I saw that the Metropolitan comes with a “squeeze” converter, I was happy that I wouldn’t have to buy a separate converter, since I always use bottled inks instead of cartridges. I’m used to the Lamy’s hard plastic twist piston, so the squeeze converter surprised me. I made a huge mess with Platinum Carbon – twice! – first, when I inadvertently squeezed the converter while inserting it, and then again when I inadvertently squeezed it while removing it, even though by then I had figured out that I need to avoid squeezing it. After those two messes, I immediately switched to a Pilot CON-50 twist piston converter that I happened to have from another Pilot pen. The converter adds $5.50 to the cost of the pen, but given the (non-washable) mess I made, it’s worth it. (I may purchase some inexpensive Pilot cartridges and try refilling them with a syringe, which would be a cheap, easy option.)**

Although I’d like to say that esthetic qualities don’t matter to me as long as a pen performs well (after all, the Sailor I’ve come to love so much has a somewhat cheap and cheesy plastic body that belies its nib’s quality), I’d be lying if I did. The Metropolitan has a gorgeous satin finish that feels beautiful in the hand, and it comes in interesting subtle patterns like the White Tiger I chose.

The only quality I haven’t tested is how long I can leave a filled Metropolitan idle before it stops flowing well. Although all fountain pens have to be used regularly to keep them flowing well, I’ve discovered that some can be left idle longer than others. (In general, my Lamys have a relatively short idle time, although other pens I’ve tried have an even shorter idle time. My Sailors and even the ridiculously cheap Platinum Preppys seem to be able to go much longer.) If I can bear to stop using it for a few weeks, I’ll test the Metropolitan’s idle time and report back later. *

Will the Pilot Metropolitan replace the Lamy on my top 10 list in one year? Time will tell. But so far I love it.

* Updated 1/20/14: To test how the Metropolitan idles, I filled it with water-soluble Diamine Denim ink on Jan. 3, and I stopped using it on Jan. 5. Stored upright (nib pointing up), it sat in a cup on my desk untouched for 14 days. Yesterday I pulled the cap off and put the nib to paper – and it worked immediately from the first stroke as smoothly as ever. I kept writing for a page in my journal, and it never missed a beat. By comparison, I’ve had some Lamys filled with water-soluble Diamine inks sit idle for far less than two weeks – probably no more than a week – and they sometimes take a while to get flowing again. An additional test with waterproof Platinum Carbon ink had good results, too. See the complete Metropolitan idleness update. 

** Updated 2/7/14: Although I had messy problems with the squeeze converter, I found that it and the disposable Pilot cartridge both hold twice as much ink as the Pilot CON-50 twist piston converter. Except when I travel, the volume of ink my pen can contain usually isn’t an issue, but it’s an interesting reference point for a geek like me. Syringe-filling an emptied cartridge seems like the cheapest, easiest and highest-ink-volume solution.


  1. I syringe fill all my cartridges now and quite frankly it is better than the converters. Thanks to Goulet Pens for providing me with the technique!

  2. The Pilot Metropolitan now comes with the choice of a fine nib as well - I love mine - a new favourite pen.

  3. My Pilot Metropolitan lay in a drawer for over 4 weeks with Noodler's Bad Blue Heron ink. When I got home it started right up with no hesitation.


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