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…