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Six Characteristics of a Good Pen

Nancy Olson

Once you’ve written with a high-quality writing instrument, there is no going back to the average pen. The feel of a well-made pen in the hand and the smoothness of its stroke on the page is a tangible luxury. For those seeking a fine writing instrument, here are six key features to consider.

  1. Look for fit. Just as in buying clothes, good fit is a mark of quality and style. Check to make sure your prospective dream pen has no loose or ill-fitting parts. The cap should either snap, twist, or pressure fit smoothly and snugly, with no pronounced wiggle or gap. Cap bands and other decorations should be secure, and the pocket clip should remain straight and strong and snap back into place when given a slight tug.
  2. Finish first. These days, there is a variety of pen finishes from which to choose: resins, metals, celluloid, wood, and more. But whether your tastes run toward colorful plastics or luxuriously engraved metal—or a combination of both?always check the finish for quality. Patterns should align on the cap and barrel when the pen is closed. Run your fingers along the length of the pen to check for obvious burrs or rough edges. Make sure the pen has been evenly polished with a consistent gloss or matte finish. Also, know what you are getting: Acrylic and celluloid may look alike to the untrained eye, but the latter is less common and requires specific manufacturing techniques. Rhodium- or platinum-plated base metal looks much like sterling silver.
  3. Find balance. Place the pen in the crook of your thumb and index finger as if you were ready to write, and hold it lightly. There should be no obvious excess weight toward the back of the pen or toward the front. If the pen has a cap, and it is designed to be posted (secured to the back), do so. Then try this balancing act again. Well-made pens, whether they are light or heavy, are comfortable to use, and comfort has a lot to do with overall balance.
  4. Make a point. Now check the business end of the pen. If it’s a fountain pen, know whether you are buying a gold nib or a steel one. Both work well, depending upon your taste, but a gold nib obviously adds more to the overall price of the pen. Next, try running the nib of the un-inked pen over a piece of paper. It should feel smooth, with no dragging or scratching. Capless roller-ball pens, ballpoint, and gel pens should have a smooth mechanism for extending and retracting the writing point, and once extended the point should stay firmly in place.
  5. A little insurance. Better manufacturers offer limited or lifetime guarantees for defects. Also, check with the retail site from which you are purchasing your pen to learn about its policies. Many boutique stores will exchange a fountain-pen nib or even take a return on a used pen within a short time after purchase.
  6. Be dazzled. You think you’ve found the perfect pen according to these guidelines. It’s a high-polish sterling silver model that is solid as a rock, has beautifully executed appointments, and its body is exquisitely engineered. It is well-balanced and writes like a dream—and it’s priced right. But what if you’ve always eschewed metal pens, preferring bold and colorful plastics instead? Keep looking. Your perfect match is still out there waiting for you.
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