Saturday, February 22, 2014

Cheap, Idle Pen Throwdown: Petit1 and Preppy with Carbon Ink

Pilot Petit1 Mini (left) and Platinum Preppy
What is it with cheap fountain pens?

A while back I noticed the ridiculously inexpensive fountain pens on the market, even from highly regarded manufacturers that also make high-end pens. Are they just a way to bring in a new audience used to buying rollerballs and ballpoints for a few bucks? Or could they possibly be any good?

I had to find out. I used the under-$10 sorting on and picked out some Platinum Preppys and Pilot Petit1 Minis for less than $4 each. (I also got a Pilot Plumix for $7.25, but its tiny, annoying screw-on cap kept me from using it beyond the first scribble.) Both the Preppy and the Petit1 Mini turned out to be solid sketching and writing pens (although I found the Preppys to have inconsistent nib quality: Of the five I bought, three had good nibs, and two were scratchy). If luring in fresh victims to the fountain pen market is the goal, I’d say these inexpensive starters are probably successful.

But that’s not why I’m writing about the Preppy and Petit1 Mini today. That they write decently wasn’t too much of a surprise (they come from good manufacturers, after all). The real surprise came when I had unintentionally tested the Petit1 for idleness – leaving it ink-filled and unused for nearly a year yet discovering it could write as smoothly as the day I filled it. That got me curious, so I ran a more formal test of the Petit1 and found it to be a great idle pen (just as good as the more expensive Pilot Metropolitan, which continually beats my Lamys in idleness field tests).

All of this is preamble to today’s test results, which are about waterproof Platinum Carbon Black ink – a tough ink in terms of idleness. The same pigment-based qualities that make the ink excellent to use with water media also tend to clog up fountain pens. Because I use Platinum Carbon regularly in the field, I don’t usually leave a pen filled with it idle for long, but occasionally the one on my desk gets left unused for a couple of weeks at a time, so it was worth testing. Here’s what I did:

On Feb. 7, 2014, I filled a Platinum Preppy and a Pilot Petit1 Mini with Platinum Carbon ink. I stored both in a cup, nib pointing up, and left them untouched until yesterday, Feb. 21, when I wrote with each. The Preppy stuttered a bit at first, but it was still able to write immediately. I gave the pen a shake (the cartridge contains an agitator), and it smoothed out considerably – completely, actually. I could write with it without flushing it at all.

The Petit1 tested even more impressively: not scratchy or skippy at all, even on the first stroke! That’s two full weeks of standing upright with waterproof ink in it! For $3.80!

So what is it about cheap pens that makes them perform unexpectedly well in terms of idleness? Maybe the manufacturers want them to appeal to those ballpoint/rollerball crossovers, so they know the pens have to be idle-ready? I’m curious, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter. The upshot is that in circumstances when I might need to keep a pen idle for a while (a spare while traveling, in my fitness-walking bag, in my studio during the summer when I hardly sketch indoors), these under-$4 pens will be my go-to’s.

Here’s the full list of my recent idle fountain pen tests and related product reviews referenced above:

Fountain Pen Idleness Updates: Pilot Metropolitan and Petit1

Updated 6/21/14: Its official: Both the Preppy and the Petit1 have idle times that are practically indefinite, and the Petit1 is the all-time champ! Both have been filled with Platinum Carbon ever since my test in February, standing nib end up in a cup since then, completely forgotten. Today I saw them and gave each a scribble, expecting them to be completely dried up. The Preppy stuttered just a bit at first, just like it did during my test  but after that, it was as smooth as ever. The Petit1? Smooth from the very first scribble, no stutter at all. Id say thats stellar performance for a fountain pen that costs less than than 4 bucks!


  1. Interesting results, Tina. Maybe I'll try a few of the cheaper ones. That way I can have different inks in a few more pens.

  2. My experience with these pens has been similar, Tina. I've found that every Pilot pen I've owned has been very reliable, which is why my favorite pens are still my Pilot Preras, whether I fill them with Platinum Carbon Black or Noodler's Lexington Gray. It's sort of fun to have the brush (jude) pen version of the Petit as well as the fountain pen version, filling both with the same ink.

    Cheers --- Larry

  3. i wanted to buy a pilot petit fp specifically to use platinum carbon black with and have asked around if there would be adverse effects such as clogging; no one has answered, but i’m so glad you’ve answered this query before i had even gotten into fountain pens

    1. Happy to hear that my post was helpful! Happy sketching!


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