PenBBS 355

PenBBS is, apparently, a Chinese fountain pen community that also manufactures or contracts with someone to manufacture fountain pens. The brand is ubiquitous and has grown in popularity over the past couple of years, and for good reason.

The 355 is a very interesting pen. It is quite long but has a fairly standard diameter, so it feels substantial. The section itself is also long and tapered; the pen is very comfortable to hold and use. The section is easily removed, making cleaning the pen a trivial task.

The cap is a simple, threaded design that takes 1.75 turns to remove. It does post, but the pen becomes long and unwieldy, so I don’t think most users will routinely post this pen.

I like the shape of the clip. It is functional and secure.
The cap features a simple band with the brand engraved in it.
Reverse of the cap band.
The finial is the same material as the rest of the pen.

The 355 is the brand’s example of a syringe filler, not unlike Conid’s patented Bulkfiller system. It features an ink shutoff valve that, when completely closed, prevents ink from reaching the nib and feed. I have a Pilot Custom 823 that has a similar feature, and I find it very useful for traveling because it is easy insurance against leaks caused by pressure or temperature changes. The pen holds a bucket of ink–2.4mL for a typical fill or a maximum of 3mL if the pen is inverted, the residual air is expelled, and the pen is filled again. I don’t really bother with getting a full ink fill because I invariably flush pens before they’re empty, but a lot of writers love huge ink capacities and only use one ink. This pen would be a good choice for those users, or someone who flies a lot and doesn’t want to carry refills.

There’s been some discussion online about weather PenBBS ripped-off, copied, cloned, or etc. Conid’s system, but the reality is that the original concept of a telescoping/reciprocating syringe-filling system was originally patented by G.H. Means in 1898 and both Conid and PenBBS have made their own unique improvements to the filling system, so it’s not really relevant at this point.

The idea has been around for awhile. Curiously, Mr. Means’s design also included a button to make his pen write wetter or drier.

The pen features a very attractive two-toned nib, and it writes fairly well. It’s not my favorite nib ever, but it is adequate for the price of this pen. It is folded steel–the writing point is made by folding the nib onto itself and polishing that rather than attaching a separate pellet of tipping material and shaping that into a point. This is an old technique for making cheaper nibs, but the nibs’ profiles end up being squarish with smaller “sweet spots” than conventional nibs. Technicalities aside, the pen wrote just fine out of the box with no drama.

In its defense, the nib is very pretty and writes well enough, for what it is.
Closeup of the nib’s profile. The square edges are well polished on this pen, but it has a small sweet spot, so the pen is not forgiving as far as rotation is concerned.
The plastic feed is simple and effective.

What really attracted me to this pen was the finish–mine is the galaxy acrylic. The pen is available in a number of finishes, but potential buyers might have to search around a bit to find the one they want.

Closeup of the material.
Same section of the pen as above, except rotated.
Same section of the pen, but rotated again. There is a lot of depth and character in this material, and the pen is very attractive for it.

PenBBS pens, including the 355, are often used as platforms for JoWo, Aurora, Platinum, Sailor, or other nibs by enterprising tinkerers, likely because of their low cost, attractive finishes, enhanced cool factor, and bland nibs. I could see this pen being really cool with a Platinum 3776 nib on it, quite frankly.

Another shot of the cap.

For the price, this is a sweet deal. It’s a pen by fountain pen people, for fountain pen people. The fit and finish are fantastic, the pen is attractive and feels good in the hand, and it writes correctly, even if the nib isn’t really inspiring. Other companies would happily charge $150 or $200 more for the same thing. I strongly recommend checking out this pen.

Pros:

  • Very attractive material.
  • No nib drama. It just wrote, and continues to write.
  • Fit and finish are spot-on.
  • Incredible value. I paid $46 shipped!
  • A+ fountain pen. This is how you build a sub-$50 pen.

Cons:

  • The nib is functional and practical, but uninspiring–stiff, small sweet spot, and too fat to really be a fine. It’s not a bad nib per se, it’s just not my favorite.
  • This is more of a personal note than a true con: while I think the idea of this pen’s filling system is great, in practice unscrewing the piston rod, engaging the plunger, and otherwise actually using the pen is incredibly fiddly compared to a piston or vacuum filler or even an eyedropper pen with an ink shutoff valve, like an Opus 88. This is compounded slightly by my pen not being a demonstrator, so it’s impossible to see what’s going on in the pen. Again, not really a true con, and once the pen has ink in it it’s basically irrelevant.

Alternatives:

Roughly cheapest to most expensive:

  • The most obvious are PenBBS’s other pen models.
  • TWSBI Vac models.
  • Opus 88
  • Pilot Custom 823

While they are not presently in production, Conid Bulkfillers are, apparently, really cool. I never personally bothered because I hold Bock nibs in total contempt and Conids are exorbitant, but that’s just me.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Threaded.
    • 1.75 turns to remove.
  • Nib:
    • Folded steel nib.
    • Only available in Fine, it seems, and it’s not especially fine.
  • Body:
    • Acrylic, shown in the galaxy finish.
    • There are seemingly dozens of finishes available.
  • Filling system:
    • PenBBS doesn’t appear to have a name for it and I’m pretty sure Bulkfiller is trademarked by Conid, so I’m calling it a “reciprocating syringe filler.”
    • Ink capacity is around 2.5mL.
    • Includes an ink shutoff valve feature.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 146.5mm
    • Uncapped: 131mm
    • Posted: a hilariously long 173.5mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 29g
    • Pen: 17g
    • Cap: 12g
  • Section diameter:
    • 10-11mm
Shown with a Lamy Safari.
The pen is not comfortable when posted.
Ink is the lovely Diamine Asa Blue.

Published by

MatB

I am a fountain pen enthusiast.

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