Pilot Custom 823

This pen has been reviewed ad nauseam, so this is going to be short. I’m mostly doing it for the sake of completion on my end.

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If you have your heart set on this pen, buy it. In my experience, Pilot’s nibs are pretty true to size, so if you want a fine, buy a fine (or whatever.) If you want a fine and buy a medium, it might be too fat.

nib

Mine had an over polished nib out of the box and barely wrote. This is pretty strange for a Pilot. Mine was originally a medium nib; I’ve since reground a bit finer. I used my Pelikan m1000 nib as a reference, as Mike Masuyama had tuned it for me, and now my 823 writes like a million bucks. I could have taken advantage of Pilot’s excellent customer service, but I didn’t feel like it.

A few things worth mentioning: this is a hefty pen–it does have a big metal rod running through it. I think its proportions are a little strange because the pen has the length of an oversized pen, but not the girth. It’s longer than a Pelikan m1000 when capped, so pocket carry in a shirt pocket isn’t optimal. Posting the pen throws the balance in a weird way. The dimensions are just strange on this pen.

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Some people do not like the ink shutoff feature, but there are videos on how to disable it. Personally, it’s not that big of deal to undo the blind cap a bit to open the valve in everyday writing, but it is a huge boon when traveling. This is one of my favorite pens to travel with because it holds a bucket of ink (2.2mL!) and is virtually leak-proof with the cutoff valve engaged.

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This is about how much the cap needs to be unscrewed to open the ink valve.
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Ink valve open.

Overall, it’s a good pen. It didn’t blow me away, but it is a very practical piece.

Pros:

  • Cool filling system. Let’s be honest, most people who are going to buy this pen do it because it’s a vac filler.
  • Huge ink capacity. The largest capacity of any self-filling pen I own, let alone a cartridge/converter pen.

Cons:

  • Mine needed work out of the box. What the hell, Pilot?
  • It takes some finagling to make use of the pen’s entire capacity; there’s plenty of videos on how to do this. It’s not that hard, but the more fiddling it takes to fill a pen the more likely one is to have inky fingers.
  • It sort of has weird proportions, at least to me. Too skinny for its length, and not in “super balanced comfy desk pen” kind of way. Short, stubby section. Long and back-heavy when posted. It’s comfortable enough, I just think it could be better.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Screw cap, push to post.
    • 1.75 turns to remove.
  • Nib:
    • 14k gold Pilot #15.
    • In North America, it’s commonly available in fine, medium, and broad.
    • If buying from Japan, one has access to Pilot’s entire nib lineup except the music nib, as far as I can tell. Soft fine, fine medium, soft fine medium, soft medium, double broad, coarse (sort of like a 3B nib), posting, waverly, stub and falcon.
  • Body:
    • Injection molded resin.
    • Available in amber or smoke (shown) in North America, additionally there is clear demonstrator available in the Japanese market.
  • Filling system:
    • Vacuum filler with ink shutoff valve.
    • Measured total ink capacity is 2.2mL. A typical fill is a bit less than this.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 150mm
    • Uncapped: 131mm
    • Posted: 164mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 30g
    • Pen: 21g
    • Cap: 9g
  • Section diameter:
    • 10.5-11.5mm

Alternatives:

  • Vintage pens sometimes use the vac system, most notably Sheaffers.
  • TWSBI Vac 700 series pens.
  • Visconti pens with the “Power Filler” system.
  • Penbbs makes some vacuum fillers. They have several models.
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Top to bottom: Pelikan m1000, Pilot Custom 823, Lamy Safari.
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The artifacts are from the rain I received while photographing the pen.

Pilot E95S

Edit: Public Service Announcement: Always check your pockets before doing laundry. In loving memory of Mat’s Pilot E95s, 2017-2021. RIP, my sweet prince.

Update: It’s back from the dead but it was a huge PITA; basically a complete restoration. The nib was bent up and not attached to the pen. Ink and scuffs everywhere. It was a nightmare, but now IT LIVES. Don’t put your pens through the laundry.

Pilot is among my favorite pen makers. They’re by the far the largest of the Japanese pen companies and have a massive selection of writing instruments for any taste or budget, ranging from a few dollars to tens of thousands of dollars in their Namiki line.

The E95s, or Elite 95, is an underrated gem.

It’s modeled after the Japanese pocket pens of the 1960’s, which were designed to be short when capped and full sized when posted. They usually had semi-hooded or inset nibs, appealing to the streamlined, futuristic tastes of the time. Pilot, Sailor, and Platinum all made pens in this style, as did other now-defunct or obscure companies like Morison. I’m sure that other companies made pens in this style as well.

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The E95 feels like a standard-sized pen that was designed to be smaller when stowed, unlike other pocket pens that are either intentionally small and designed to be larger when in use or are merely scaled-down variants of bigger pens. It’s not nearly as compact because of this but it’s more comfortable in use, at least to me.

My E95 is the black version and it is made from plastic with some metal components inside that do not affect the pen’s balance. The cap is a soft metal, lacquered black on my model. The burgundy model has a brushed appearance, but I do not have that one to compare. The clip is spring-loaded and works well. The cap is somewhat hard to describe: it is a pseudo-clutch-type mechanism that stays tight whether the pen is capped or posted. In any case, it’s unique, effective, and satisfying to use.

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The 14 carat gold nib is inset, which I personally like but not everyone does. It comes in extra fine, fine, and medium; mine is a fine. The nib is stiff enough to be a practical and a smooth writer but isn’t so stiff as to feel lifeless. It was a flawless performer out of the box with a lovely balance of wetness, smoothness, and feedback. The line produced by this fine nib is about what one would expect out of a Pilot–a bit finer than an equivalent German nib, but not a needle point.

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E95 writing is line 5.

The soft metal cap is easily dented, so I don’t consider this a hard-use pocket pen like a Kaweco Sport or similar. This pen uses Pilot’s proprietary cartridge/converter system and the only converter that officially fits is the Pilot Con-40. The converter rattles, has a low capacity, and the pen’s design makes it impossible to check your ink level while it’s installed. I hope Pilot re-visits their small pen converter, but for the time being it will allow the pen to fill from a bottle. The now discontinued Con-20 also fits. Pilot’s cartridges work perfectly in this pen and would be my choice if this were going to be my one and only everyday pen due to their better capacity and Pilot’s high quality ink. Pilot cartridges are becoming increasingly available at office supply stores and they allow one to monitor the ink level in this pen while holding up well to refill and reuse. Edit: Pilot is now selling the Con-B, which is the old “cleaning converter” that comes with the Parallel, MR line, and probably a few others. It is perfectly adequate for this pen and would be my preference in lieu of the Con-40, although both do what they’re supposed to. Anyone with a latex allergy would need to avoid the Con-B, though.

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Cannot check ink level when filled with the Con-40. All that’s visible here is the operating knob and threads of the piston.

The E95s retails in the United States for $136–which is a very attractive price in the competitive sub-$200 category. Anyone looking for a “step-up” pen should strongly consider this pen.

Pros:

  • Clever design.
  • Light and well balanced.
  • Fits in a shirt pocket but isn’t too small in use.
  • Flawless performance.
  • Great value.

Cons:

  • The Con-40 is trash, so a user would have to live with it or use cartridges.
  • Edit: Or get a Con-B. Or source an old Con-20, but those are going for 10x more than the Con-B right now.
  • Not as robust as some pocket pens. This should be considered a “shirt pocket” pen, not a “jeans pocket” pen.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Postable aluminum sliding cap with spring-loaded clip.
  • Nib:
    • 14k inset fine.
    • Also available in extra fine and medium.
  • Body:
    • Polished black resin.
    • Also available in burgundy.
  • Filling system:
    • Pilot Con-40 or cartridge.
    • Con-40 capacity is 0.4mL by my calculations.
    • Cartridge capacity is around 1.1mL.
    • The discontinued Con-20 works in the pen, as does the “cleaning converter” that comes with some Pilot pens. edit: AKA the Con-B, now available for sale.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 121mm
    • Uncapped: 114mm
    • Posted: 149mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 15g
    • Pen: 10g
    • Cap: 5g
  • Section diameter: 9-12mm.
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Common step-up pen super review–Pilot Vanishing Point, Platinum 3776, Lamy 2000

There isn’t much I can add about these pens–they have been reviewed thousands of times. They are pens that are common for second pens, or first pens with gold nibs, or step-up pens, or whatever. They’re recommended often because they’re solid pens.

There are other pens that could be in this review–Pilot Custom 74 comes to mind, maybe Pelikan m200. Some Faber-Castell pens might be in here, too. Maybe the cheaper Sailors. Probably a bunch of others. But I don’t have those and outside of the Custom 74, these pens are more commonly recommended. I seriously think that the Aurora Ipsilon and Pilot e95 are solid step-up pens, too, but they aren’t as commonly recommended either and I want to cover those separately.

First up, the Vanishing Point. These are great workhorse pens and with the capless design they deploy quickly for notes on the go. The pen’s body itself is more of a carrier that holds the nib unit, which is shared by all of the capless pens by Pilot. They fill via Pilot’s cartridges or converters. I have the Pilot CON-50 converters in mine because they are a bit older, but Pilot’s new CON-40 is a dumpster fire–they hold a tiny amount of ink, rattle because of the stupid agitators, and are basically impossible to fill completely. I’d refill Pilot cartridges for a higher ink capacity and no annoying, rattly balls if that was my only option, but I like the CON-50.

One more thing I could comment on: the fountain pen community has long said “Japanese pens are finer! Consider ordering a size up!” This advice is perhaps somewhat true, but it sucks. Nib sizes are not standardized a differ between manufactures. We should be telling people, however, that German pens–Lamy, Pelikan, or pens equipped with JoWo nibs–are a size up and people should order down. I know this advice would have saved me a lot trouble. If you want a fine, dear reader, and you are ordering a Pilot or Platinum, just order a fine. If you are really on the fence, find a brick and mortar store or a vendor or company with a nib exchange policy. Ink and paper selection can impact this quite a bit, too.

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These Japanese nibs aren’t atom-splitting skinny–they’re actually fairly comparable to nib grades from other companies. Lamy, on the other hand, is generally thicker. Ink selection can impact this, too, but I’ve still found this to be mostly true.

The Platinum 3776 is the most “fountain pen-like” pen of this bunch. Classic design, twist-off cap, lovely 14K open nib with a heart-shaped breather hole. They fill with Platinum’s cartridge/converters–which is my favorite system of the big three Japanese manufacturers. These pens, while small and light, are meant to write and are a fantastic bargain.

They are toothy writers, though. Feedback, or tooth, is the audio-tactile sensation of “feeling” the nib on paper–it’s not scratchy. A pen can be a smooth writer and still be toothy or have feedback. Some compare it to writing with a pencil. My rule of thumb is that if the sensation seems diminished while writing with headphones on, it’s feedback. Scratch is unpleasant and damages paper.

I love some tooth, so I love the way Platinum pens write. Some people hate it. Everyone has to try it in person to figure it out.

The 3776 is a solid choice.

The Lamy 2000 is my favorite of the three–hooded nibs, smooth writers, no bullshit filling system, and basically indestructible. They’ve been in production since the 1960’s. They are classic. The snap cap makes it quick to get it to paper, but not as quick as the Vanishing Point.

The nibs on these pens are fat and wet, though. One has to consider this when deciding what nib size to get. My broad Lamy 2000 is borderline ridiculous and not especially practical for use on the standard crappy paper that one encounters in the wild–it’s like writing with Sharpie and it will bleed through mediocre paper. It’s still an awesome nib, just not that practical. I’ve found my Lamy 2000 with a fine nib to be more practical.

Speaking of which, all three of these pens have a ton of nib options:

Vanishing Point:

  • Extra Fine
  • Fine
  • Medium
  • Broad
  • 1.0 mm Stub

3776:

  • Ultra Extra Fine
  • Extra Fine
  • Fine
  • Soft Fine
  • Medium
  • Soft Medium
  • Broad
  • Coarse (basically a double broad)
  • Music

2000:

  • Extra Fine
  • Fine
  • Medium
  • Oblique Medium
  • Broad
  • Oblique Broad
  • Double Broad
  • Oblique Double Broad

There’s something for everyone with these pens, which make them even more fun as step-up pens.

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