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