Kaco Retro

It’s been awhile, but I’m back with a really cool, inexpensive pen!

Kaco seems to be a new-ish Chinese stationary company, founded in 2011 and headquartered in Shanghai. At least according to their website.

Kaco seems to be making unique designs, including a bunch of interesting looking fountain pens that I’ll check out in the future.

I like pens with hooded nibs and I have a sub-collection of them going on, so as soon as the Retro appeared on my radar I bought one. It only set me back $16, so I figured I wouldn’t be out much if the pen was crap. To my surprise, this pen is nothing but crap–it is a solid, well-made, and inexpensive workhorse of a pen.

This pen is an original design. It’s not trying to copy a Parker 51–rounded ends and a hooded nib are not enough for me to classify it thusly. There are no fake clutch cap rings, no arrow clips, nothing like that. I have reviewed several pens that are clearly trying to copy Parker’s design. This isn’t one of them. But with a name like Retro, obviously they’re at least acknowledging that it is a homage.

The pen came in a simple box with two black standard international short cartridges and one genuine German-made Schmidt K1 converter. I was already pretty impressed at this point–here we have a sub-$20 pen with honest-to-goodness standard international cartridges and a decent converter!

The pen came in a simple plastic box with a converter and two black cartridges.
The pen also came with some filling instructions below the tray written in Chinese, not shown.

All too often with Chinese pens in this price range, I see semi-proprietary standard international-ish cartridges (if any) and flimsy mystery converters that work some of the time. Many pens above this price range from other common brands don’t even come with converters–Like Lamy. Well done, Kaco.

The pen came with a Schmidt K1 converter. Not fancy, but reliable and functional.
The pen can be filled with a full-size standard international converter, short standard cartridge, or long standard cartridge. The barrel has enough room to accommodate a second short cartridge if so desired.

The pen is simple and very lightweight. It’s not exactly the pinnacle of pens–it still feels like a cheap, brittle plastic pen–but the fit and finish are surprisingly on point. The plastic is very nicely polished. The section threads are smooth and satisfying to use. It wrote without hassle or adjustment. Other than the injection molding marks on the cap finial and the end of the pen, I’d go so far as to say the fit and finish was flawless out of the box. There are very few brands that can make that claim, and fewer yet in the sub-$20 category.

The threads are clear and form a sort of ink window by the section, but it is not really useful for determining the ink level of the converter. Too small and too low on the converter. I do get the sense that one could convert this pen into an eye dropper with some silicone grease on the threads, which would make the ink viewing window more useful.
The only feature on the end of the pen is this injection molding mark.

The cap uses a slider/pseudo-clutch type cap not unlike the system used by the Pilot E95s. The mechanism is smooth and satisfying and keeps the cap in place during capping or posting. The cap also seals well. No dry-outs or other weirdness with this one.

Likewise, the cap finial is rounded with an injection molding mark.

One of my favorite elements of this pen is the clip–a simple, bent wire with a plastic sphere on the end. It holds the pen tightly in a pocket and is whimsical and practical.

I really like the clip. It’s a simple bent wire with a plastic ball at the end. It’s functional and quirky.

As stated, the pen wrote without drama out of the box. It’s not the greatest writing experience ever–it’s a standard P51-style steel nib that writes with a bit of feedback and is fairly position-sensitive but otherwise gets the job done. The pen can suffer from a bit of ink starvation with long writing sessions, but it is fully tolerable.

The nib appears to be a simple, folded steel P51 style nib. It wrote just fine out of the box. I tried to remove the hood from the pen to see what the internals were like but I was not able to do so (non-destructively.)

There is not much more I can say about this pen. I was genuinely impressed–and that takes some doing nowadays.

Pros:

  • Comes with everything you need.
  • Fit and finish are impressive for the cost.
  • Really, this is a high-value pen.

Cons:

  • The ink window doesn’t work.
  • It feels plasticky.
  • The whimsical design may not be for everyone.

Alternatives:

If you’re looking for a cheap Parker 51-esque pen or pen with a hooded nib for under $20, this is your ticket. There’s not another one out there that even comes close to competing with the Kaco Retro in build quality. That said, the Wing Sung 601 or 618 pens are worth considering if you prefer their aesthetics or want a pen with a filling system other than a cartridge/converter set up.

If you are a newbie just looking for a fountain pen to get started on, the Kaco Retro should be high-up on your list, along with the often mentioned Pilot MR series or Lamy Safari/Vista. Also consider the Pilot Kakuno.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Plastic with wire clip.
    • Clutch-type closure mechanism.
    • Posts very deeply and securely.
  • Nib:
    • P51-style folded steel nib.
    • Sold to me as an extra-fine, but I’d say it’s closer to a fine or medium.
  • Body:
    • Injection molded plastic.
    • Shown in orange.
    • Available in red, blue, white, black, and turquoise.
  • Filling system:
    • Standard international cartridge or converter.
    • Compatible with long international cartridges.
    • Can store a second short international cartridge in the barrel if so inclined.
    • I haven’t tried it, but I’m willing to bet that one could eyedropper this pen with some silicone grease.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 146mm
    • Uncapped: 127mm
    • Posted: 147mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 15g
    • Pen: 9g
    • Cap: 6g
  • Section diameter:
    • 9-11.5mm
Top to bottom: Pilot MR Retro Pop (Metropolitan), Kaco Retro, Lamy Safari.
Top to bottom: Pilot MR Retro Pop (Metropolitan), Kaco Retro, Lamy Safari.
Top to bottom: Pilot MR Retro Pop (Metropolitan), Kaco Retro, Lamy Safari.
Written with Iroshizuku Fuyu-Gaki. Writing appears broader than normal for this pen because the ink is so wet and it appears way, way more pink in these scans than it does in person. See photos above for the ink color–it is almost a perfect match to the pen itself when viewed live.

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MatB

I am a fountain pen enthusiast.

2 thoughts on “Kaco Retro”

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