Shoot-out Review: 3 Cheap Fountain Pens, Part III - Parker Reflex

Cheap Fountain PensIn my quest to find an inexpensive and economical fountain pen, I've previously looked at two options. The Pilot Vpen (a.k.a., Varsity) is quite an ordinary looking pen with a good nib, but no way of refilling its ink, and the unique look of Bic Select X Pen was otherwise betrayed by its cheap materials and the various ergonomic factors that made my hand cramp. Last on my list is the Parker Reflex (the red pen on the left). Can Parker pull off a quality starter pen for less than $10, or will all three of these writing instruments be confined to my junk drawer (a.k.a., the pen graveyard)?

Whereas the body of the Vpen looks like a regular wavy-paint dollar-store rollerball and the X Pen looks like a retro submarine, the Parker Reflex is much more spartan in its design. Its unassuming outside appearance is essentially a long and thick coloured stick, its only design attributes being a glossy plastic body, an inlaid matte black plastic round at either end, and a wide stainless steel spring clip in the shape of a stylized arrow (a Parker trademark). The plastic on my candy apple red model is somewhat pearlescent under bright light, a not unpleasant effect when matched against the clip and end pieces.

However, when the cap is posted on the end, the pen takes on a more refined look. A steel band divides the body from the black section (the "grip"), which is inlaid with a criss-crossed firm rubber material. The section is tapered, which means that it's not only fairly ergonomic for me (and I prefer fat pens) and also for those who prefer slimmer pens, simply on the basis of where the fingers grip the pen. In hand-writing an article of about eight pages in one sitting, I experienced almost no cramping --a rarity for me, given my touch of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

The steel nib of the Reflex is a "semi-hooded" type, more a curved triangle than the classic fountain pen nib shape. The steel and black feed are minimal, but perfectly compliment the section and band. The thickness of its line is referred to as a medium, but like many other fountain pens, that's often dependent upon the absorption rate of the paper. Using the standard Parker Quink ink cartridges and various scraps of paper ranging from a Moleskine to index cards to standard inkjet paper, a comparison of the line thickness ranges from that of a Lamy Safari fine nib to that of a Pilot G2 0.7mm. In short, quite thin. Thankfully, the flow proved very steady, with almost no variation or skipping, often an issue with cheaper fine-nibbed pens. While I wouldn't consider this nib to be an extremely smooth writer, there is no discernible scratchiness nor catching on the paper.

Unlike the Pilot Vpen, which flies into the face of environmental concern by forcing you to discard the whole pen after it runs out of ink, the Reflex takes standard Parker Quink cartridges (not international cartridges, as I thought at first -- see comments below). Of course, an even better option is to use a standard adapter/converter along with the bottled ink of your choice.

In my standard test of leaving the pen standing up and unattended for a week, the Reflex came out mid-way between the Pilot and the Bic. (The former wrote perfectly, the latter was dry and wouldn't write without help.) The nib was a little dry, but pressing down just a little bit (to spread the nib) allowed the ink to flow again fairly quickly. If it was left for longer, I'd likely need to either dampen the nib or squeeze the cartridge or converter a little. Which, frankly, is no different than most of my more expensive pens.

So, would I recommend the Reflex as a starter pen or an inexpensive secondary pen? Yes, certainly. I don't feel bad about tossing it in a backpack, it writes fairly well, the ergonomics aren't awkward, and the endless cheap refills make economic sense. In this match-up against the Vpen and the X Pen, these qualities are reason enough to declare the Parker Reflex the winner.

The Parker Reflex can be found in most big-box office supply stores, generally retailing for between $6 and $9 with one large ink cartridge included.

Pros: very inexpensive; simple good looks in either red, black or blue; tapered and textured grip; very sturdy body; ergonomic for different size hands; consistent, quality nib; very economical to refill with different inks and colours.

Cons: simple good looks = very plain; nib could be smoother; pen is fairly large.

Verdict: A true winner among sub-$10 pens, and an ideal starter pen for those taking their first tentative steps into fountain pens.

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International cartridges?

Does the Parker use international cartridges or Parker cartridges? The two aren't the same.

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flexiblefine
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Thanks for the review

Though I agree that the Reflex nib is quite good, I find it writes rather fatly, but I'm am extra-fine fan, and the Reflex only comes in M. The Reflex is a good pen from the assembly down. Unfortunately, the body is not so good. It's quite flimsy plastic and the cap splits just by looking at it. That is a deal-breaker for me. In fact, the ease with which it breaks makes me detests the thing.

Varsity Disposable Pens

I've never used a varsity long enough for it running out of ink to be a problem. More recently I've wondered if one couldn't drill out the top of the pen and use a syringe for loading it back up with decent bottled ink, then plug it with epoxy or silicone. Has anybody tried that?

The Parker sounds like a reasonably decent pen to try out. I'm partial to the Lamy Safari because it fits so nicely into my grip and my hand doesn't cramp much with it. Thanks for the review.

Pilot Varsity

The Pilot Varsity was my first FP and I thought it wrote fairly well, and actually well enough to convince me to buy a "real" FP. My logic was that if a cheap $3 disposable which probably lacked any real quality and personality was nice to write with, then all of the nicely designed ones with style and good quality materials would be great to write with in comparison, especially with the ability to select my own ink.

I decided to pick up a Lamy Studio EF in blue, and I absolutely love writing with it, the quality is great and I love the way it writes. I am glad that Pilot makes the Varsity, because without it, I probably never would have bought my Lamy, nor would I be looking to buy at least one more FP.

I will probably use the Pilot going forward to let people try writing with it to see if they might be convinced to upgrade in the way that I was.

Great review of these three options though, thanks for sharing.

new best pen

dr grip gel pen with a mont blanc refill in it

Ex-owner of Reflex here

The Reflex is everything that you say it is. I had black ones, they looked excellent: quiet, unassuming, elegant. They also wrote tremendously; never skipped; nice medium thickness line.

My one problem with them is that they leak. I do not mind that the plastic breaks easily (I lent it to a friend to write a sentence with, and he cracked the cap when replacing it). But they leak. I owned no less than 4, always hoping it was just a bad batch, and had to return each of them to the store.

If this doesn't become a problem for you (I suspect it may have been a temperature difference issue -- I sleep with the window open a bit at night) then it is a superb pen. It was just unacceptable for me to have inky hands all the time. The leaks came from around the ring too, not just at the nib, so the whole rubber grip would get inky (it looked a little bronze-coloured). I'd have to rinse the pen every few days. And they all leaked.

I eventually just invested in an old stainless steel Parker 45 from the 70s from ebay. Takes the same refills (or there's a converter), but the workmanship is better. I expect it'll last me many decades.

V-pen

I must say that I am now using the V-pen exclusively. I had a Reflex but found it difficult to maintain - it was not the kind of pen that I could take anywhere, and found it 'sensitive' - i.e. it was rather delicate. I found the V-pen recently and it cost me R25.99 - that is about $2.56! The Reflex costs about R200 (about $20) and the ink is about R100 for a bottle. So I have decided to stay with the V-pen - it writes beautifully, it doesn't leak, it is easy to use and it is hardy.

The Reflex is discontinued, Parker cartridges, fine nibs, etc.

1. Parker discontinued the Reflex in 2005. It's not as available as it was four years ago.

2. The Parker Quink cartridge is not the same as the standard international cartridge. The Parker cartridge is proprietary as are the optional Parker converters.

3. I was able to get fine nib sections for my Reflexes by calling the Parker Service Center at (800)523-2486. But, that was back in 2005. You'd have to call to see if they have any left.

4. The Pilot Varsity has a medium nib. The Vpen has a fine nib. They are not the same pen.

HTH.

Clarification

Thanks for the clarifications, Bluesea.

I did not know that about the Parker Quink cartridges being different. I bought a large lot of (supposedly) international cartridges and they fit the Reflex, so perhaps they weren't the standard international type after all.

The Reflex is still everywhere here in the Staples in Canada, but I can't speak for elsewhere.

And thanks for identifying the difference between the Vpen and the Varsity. I couldn't find any documentation online regarding this, and my email to Pilot has thus far been unanswered.

all my best,
dj

How about a review of the Platinum Preppy?

It meets the cheap ($3) requirement, uses cartridges, and can use a converter. Hmm... maybe I should provide a review? I know ygor likes it too.

Walter

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"If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything." - Mark Twain

More than that !

I promised a review, so I will get in out shortly.
Thanks for the kick :)
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"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

Pix of pens

Hi ygor,

Cool. Please proceed. I emailed jetpens.com and asked for permission to use their website's photos of the Preppy in anticipation of writing a review. I was too lazy to take photos, and theirs' are better. They said permission granted if credit to them is given and linked to their website.

You can follow up with Joy in customer service at jetpens@jetpens.com if you like.

Her response was:
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Thanks for your e-mail and interest in our products. And you are more than welcome to use our images as long as your credit Jetpens and link back to our site.

Please let us know if you need further assistance.

Have a great day!

Best,
Joy
JetPens

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http://www.jetpens.com/
Japanese Pens and Stationery
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BTW, don't forget to mention that one can refill those very nice Platinum cartridges with your favorite ink. The carts are sealed with a stainless steel ball that, after pushing the cart onto the nipple, rolls around inside the cart to break the surface tension and keep the ink flowing to the nib. It really works. Worth recycling those carts. Besides, the converter costs as much as 2 Preppys! Jetpens has the 0.5 mm medium nib Preppy. I haven't seen that elsewhere. Others usually have the 0.3 mm fine nib version, which I don't like as much as the medium.

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"If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything." - Mark Twain

Thanks, but I have a camera

and other "secrets" - like you do not even have to use a cartridge if you do not want to !
nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more
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"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

Pilot disposable fountain pens

The pilot pens are refillable, you just need pliers to pull out the nib and attached assembly.