As you use up ink in a fountain pen, the only thing that changes is the ink. The rest of the pen–the nib and feed (what moves ink from the reservoir to the nib)–stays the same. The writing experience stays relatively consistent.* With ball pens, such as ball points, rollerballs, and gel pens, all of the parts that put ink on paper get swapped out. Put in the snobbiest fashion, all a ball pen is a a fancy holder for a refill. That is a bit unfair, as the barrel and cap influence the balance and grip of the pen. Still, how the writing looks on the page is driven primarily by the refill.
One advantage is that a single pen body can take on a variety of characteristics, if a suitable refill is produced. There are several Kickstart pens based on this premise. Some can take refills of different designs (I’ve considered purchasing one simply to burn off a few refills I’ve accumulated over the years).
Alternately, some refill designs are almost de facto standards, designed by one manufacturer, but copied and used in a variety of pens. The Parker ballpoint refill, originally designed for their Jotter pen, turns up in a variety of pens, ranging from cheap give-away pens, all the way up to high end Duofolds. It is one option for my beloved Retro 1951 Tornados, for instance. The refill may be made by a variety of manufactures and materials, and filled with different material, but has the same dimensions and shape. Some examples:
- Ballpoint ink, which is more of a paste, produced by any number of companies.
- The Fisher Space Pen refill fits in Parker-compatible pens with the addition of an included plastic adapter.
- During the Palm Pilot era, there were refills with plastic tips to be pressure sensative styluses.
- Parker made a gel refill, with others following suit.
This is not the sole refill with these options–the D1 refill shows up in many pens. Given that most men are issued at least one Cross Century upon graduating high school, many companies make refills compatible with Cross pens. Parker, however, seems to be the most common refill, in the widest variety of pens.
I recently learned that Parker has added a new option for users of such refills, the QuinkFlow. I confess that I’m a bit late to the party, as this has been out since 2010. While I’m a huge fan of vintage Parker pens, modern ones (since the late Nineties) don’t show up on my radar; ball pens even more-so. Their designs went from classic to modern in a cheesy sense.
What got my attention was that the QuinkFlow uses hybrid ink. As I’ve mentioned in the past, the idea of hybrid ink is to combine some of the desirable characteristics of ballpoint ink (long life even without a cap) with those of a rollerball or gel (vibrant colors and smooth writing). As this refill could fit many pens, I decided to get one, and try it out.
Though I have a couple Parker ballpoints, both are a bit smaller than I typically go for pens these days. I’m happy to use them in my daily aresenal, but, for a test, I wanted something that matched by best case writing experience. I put my specimen, a medium blue QuinkFlow, into my titanium Retro 1951 Tornado.
Right out of the gate, it was the smoothest ball pen refill I’ve ever used, rollerball or ball point. Don’t get me wrong–it’s no Lamy 2000, but there are ((very) rare) times when a fountain pen isn’t the right tool for the job. But there is very low friction, letting the ball glide against the paper.
The ink itself is quite nice. It is more vibrant, in my opinion, than most ballpoint ink, though perhaps not as vibrant as most rollerballs–it falls into the middle. It starts a bit more consistently than most of the ballpoints I compared it to, which is definitely a plus.
I will say it smelled a bit more like a ballpoint. I find that at once a reminder of my youth, before my communications were primarily either with liquid ink or ones and zeros, and a bit of a turn-off. For ballpoints, it takes a page or so of writing before that kicks in with me. The QuinkFlow is not nearly as strong, making it a very tolerable choice for that.
Since I just got it, I can’t comment on service life. My hope is that it will last longer than a rollerball, which seems to be the common experience among hybrid ink pens.
Overall, I’d say the QuickFill refill is an upgrade for pens that use Parker-style refills. It is perhaps the best thing to come out of Parker since the Sonnet fountain pen. Given the ubiquity of pens that can use it, it’s bound to find a place in your pocket.
*Different inks behave differently, and the same ink may work better in some pens than others. In general, though…
Happy Mardi Gras!!!
On February 7, I helped with Arepafest at Eli’s BBQ.
— Retro 1951 (@Retro1951) February 18, 2014
Dig the new header?
International Correspondence Writing Month (InCoWriMo) is a wrap! I’m proud to say that I successfully wrote twenty-eight pieces of correspondence. About a half were to folks I knew; the balance were people who are new to me. I sent mail to four countries, which marks some of my rare instances of international post.
So far, I’ve received four replies, most of them this week. I confess the lack of replies until now got a bit disheartening, but I think everyone participating had a lot of letters to write. It’s been fun to read the mail.
It has been an interesting experience. It was certainly a bit odd writing people you don’t know, and have no real reason to write (unlike, say, an email for work). I think that bit of confidence is a good skill to have.
Most of the people involved are fellow pen geeks. They all have commented, either in letters or on the forum, that it was a good excuse to pull out the pens they love. While one of my pens accompanies to work everyday, it almost exclusively serves to write in one of my notebooks, for my soul consumption. It was nice to share the writing, particularly with people who would be impressed by them. I also was glad to pull out stationery. Most of my inbound mail is bulk, printed with thousands of units in mind. Holding a letter on good paper made it feel extremely special. I think I might have to share this with more people.
I’m not sure if I’ll do this next year, though I do intend to write back those who have written me so far. The personal touch is definitely something Outlook lacks.
Three weeks and twenty-three letters into International correspondence Writing Month (InCoWriMo). It’s been a fun project. This last week, as I noted, has been mostly people I don’t know–simply pulled from the InCoWriMo forum. They do have a post, “These 28 People Would Love to Receive your InCoWriMo Correspondence.” This has led to fan letters to a few of my favorite pen companies. Naturally, these were written with examples of their products. A bit geeky, I admit, but, as long as I’ve been using some of the products from these companies, it makes sense, given the context.
As I’ve mentioned, this has been a good excuse to use my pens, stationery, and other fun writing gear. Yes, I’m geeky enough to track what letters get sent, and what gear was used. I’ve managed to use a different pen for each letter, and expect to do so.
There is still a week left if you want snail mail from me–I was thrilled to write an old friend from college who reached out to me. Just email me an address (my gmail.com address is mrguilt), and I’ll be happy to select a pen, ink, and paper just for you!