Thursday, June 20, 2013

Pilot Vanishing Point Review

Do you remember reading comic books as a kid (or an adult) and waiting with anxiety for the cross over?  It was when Batman teamed up with Superman or Wolverine teamed up with Spiderman.  Well, a few weeks ago I had this idea that I would contact my internet friend and super nice guy, Brad Dowdy, THE Pen Addict, and see if he would like to do a cross over review.  I'd review his luxe fountain pen of choice, the Pilot Vanishing Point, and he'd review one of my favorite knives, the Chris Reeve Sebenza.  It was a good chance for both of us to dip our toes into the high end of another hobby without having to drop a wad of cash.  Brad, ever the good sport, agreed and a mail swap later, the coolest pen on the planet arrived with a handwritten (of course) note from Brad himself.   Unfortunately, after this swap, I AM going to drop a wad of cash on my on Vanishing Point, but hey at least I got to test drive one first.

The Pilot Vanishing Point is a fountain pen.  That means it will not write on concrete or under water.  It is, well, a bit fragile.  But it is also a retractable pen, meaning that it is a bit more durable and convenient than the normal fountain pen.  This is my first fountain pen review, but my second fountain pen I have used extensively (I have been using the Lamy Safari for months now).  In many ways this is the ideal EDC pen.  The writing experience is truly supernal and yet the pen remains incredibly convenient.  If you are someone that places an emphasis on the pen part of "EDC pen" then this is definitely something you should consider when buying your next writing instrument.  If you are a person that emphasizes the EDC part of "EDC pen" well, then, you might be disappointed.  This is not the County Comm Embassy pen.  But in my testing, which took place over about two weeks of regular use, the Vanishing Point held up extremely well, better than the Safari does.  This is no wuss pen, no desk pen.  This is a real world, use everyday pen that just happens to write like the ink is angel's tears, the nib is unicorn horn, and the paper is glass.  Smooth and effortless do not BEGIN to describe this pen's writing experience.  

Here is the Vanishing Point's product page.  There are about a dozen variations with different barrels.  It comes in four nib sizes, Broad, Medium, Fine, and Extra-Fine, all Japanese sizes (generally smaller than German nibs, so a Japanese Medium is a German Fine).  Here is Brad's review.  Here is a video review.  You can buy the Vanishing Point through Amazon and all of the proceeds benefit the site by using this link:



Finally, here is Brad's Matte Black Vanishing Point, my review sample:

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Twitter Review Summary: Capless Convenience and Unparalleled Writing Performance

Design: 2

There are other retractable fountain pens out there, the Lamy Dialog for example, but none are as svelte or a graceful in the hand or as appealing to the eye as the Vanishing Point.  This is a master class in pen design, from the shape of the grip area, to the outside the box thinking on the clip, to the subtle lines of the pen barrel--every single detail, ever bit of minutiae has been tailored to a superior writing experience.

Here is the magic of the pen: the gliding nib that hides in the pen:

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Brad's pen came with a Fine nib, two steps down from the Medium German nib on my Lamy and I was a little scared, but after using this the superior nib design has convinced me that even if the needle point sizes, this is a great writing instrument.

Clever, graceful, and gorgeous.  This is everything I like about good design, all in one pen. 

Fit and Finish: 2

The Lamy Safari is a good writing pen, it just isn't the most solid or finest fitting pen on the planet.  The nib sweats like a whore in church and the threading is merely meh.  But on the Vanishing Point there was never any ink sweat on the nib and the knock depressed and clicked down with shotgun rack-like authority.  The pen threaded well and there was no real rattle either when the nib is in or out.  I would compare this to the fit and finish on a McGizmo flashlight and that is saying a lot.

Carry: 2

In an amazing feat of engineering this is a solid pen, but not a heavy one.  Additionally the clip is conservative in appearance, but very effective. 

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Finally, the clip is in the reverse position from most pens resulting in a nib up configuration in your pocket, giving you one small bit of security from a leaking nib.   Overall, the pen worked well in my pocket, sliding in and out easily and not really being a hassle at all.  It also absorbed hits from other pocket companions with ease.  This is a really solid tool. 

Appearance: 2

The clip's unusually positioning is a hint at just how different this pen is in design, but in terms of appearance it is actually quite classic (other than clip placement).  The pen is very understated in the Matte finish, but when the metal is chromed out, the clip looks amazing against the body.  Flashier finishes make this one hell of a looker, but the Matte is there if you don't want to draw attention to yourself.  Good looking no matter the finish.  I myself will probably drop dough on the Carbonesque finish, though saving up for the Raden is pretty tempting.

Durability: 2

I was genuinely surprised at how well this thing held up.  I was paranoid because this was not just a review sample but a friend's favorite.  I emailed Brad about carry and the like and he assured me this was a tough cookie.  My two weeks showed that was the case.  I said it before, this is no wuss pen.  This goes back to the solid feel.  The metal body and the heavy knock paired with the turtle nib make this about as durable a fountain pen as you can get.  Still, it is a fountain pen.  Comparing it to something like the TuffWriter is simply not fair--like comparing a car to a tank in terms of durability.  But if you are willing to accept the limitations on durability necessitated by the fountain pen form, this is one tough hombre compared to the wilting lilies found elsewhere in the fountain pen. 

Writing Performance/Refill: 2

Oh my god.  OH MY GOD.  Writing with this pen for the first time was a revelation, like Saul on the Road to Damascus revelation.  I thought the Lamy wrote nice, and it does, but this is in a different class altogether.  I had no idea something like this was even possible in a pen.  Writing is effortless and the results are beautiful:

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There are so few times in life when something is this much better than the competition.  I haven't used a four figure pen, but I have used $300 and $400 pens and this is their peer.  This is one hell of a pen and if you have never used a fountain pen before it will blow your mind.  It will take some getting used to.  You need to use like 1/1000th the pressure, but once you do get over the hump, it is insane.  My hands have cramped less.  I can write for ages.  Over and over again I stunned at how a good pen makes my handwriting better and makes handwriting FUN.  This pen made writing a joy.

The page feel, how much feedback and feel for the paper you get from the pen, is insane.  Normally pens this smooth reduce page feel by using viscous, lubricated inks, resulting in a "skates on ice" feel, smooth and almost slippery, or an oil slick feel.  Here you get neither, just fluid grace.  But you can still feel the page, the texture of the paper, meaning you have control and precision in a way that no other pen I have used provides. This is the benchmark for page feel. 

Balance/In Hand Feel: 2

The fountain pen portion of the pen was probably very heavy--the nib, bladder, and ink cartridge seem like they would weigh a good bit, plus the retractable nib mechanism can't be all that light.  But instead of just letting that bog the pen down, Pilot put some weight in the back end as well.  The knock feels heavy and the overall weightiness of the pen is very balanced.  I said this before, but it bears repeating: this is a solid, but not all that heavy pen.  It is not as heavy as the TuffWriters and it is more balanced than the Lamy Safari (which is both a featherweight and kind of flimsy in the hand).  Ingenious work by Pilot here, as this is great pen to write with and rarely causes fatigue.  Hours of note taking never slowed down thanks to both the sublime writing experience and the gymnast-like balance.  

Grip: 2

There are a lot of ways to deal with design issues.  For reasons related to the type of pen, it was probably best that the overall design be oriented tip up in your pocket, but that meant that Pilot would have to put the clip on the "wrong" end of the pen.  But genius does not see a limitation--it sees only a challenge.  Here, Pilot's "challenge" gives rise to one of the most comfortable pen grips I have ever used.  I have a very conventional grip, as you can see:

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but the clip orients my hand and fingers quite nicely.  In fact, after going back to other pens, I sorely missed the clip.  I love the grip of this pen and the fact that it was borne out of a design problem but became a design asset is a testament to just how smart the Pilot engineers and product designers are.    If you have an unconventional grip, this may be an issue, but probably not.  

Barrel: 2

Barrels are sometimes an afterthought and other times a canvas for decoration, but here, like with everything on the Vanishing Point, the barrel is designed to promote the writing experience.  There are no weird rings or drop offs, not sharp edges or places to get hung up on.  The barrel is perfectly sized.  It is smooth and rounded.  It falls in the cradle between your finger and thumb comfortably and never, ever causes complaints.  I genuinely like the simple design and on higher end models, like the Raden, the simple barrel does work as a canvas for ornamentation.  In the Matte version, it is just steathly goodness.

Deployment Method/Cap: 2

The fact that the pen retracts is its big feature, but it does it so well, you might forget just how hard it is to make a fountain pen that does this.  The knock is so solid and smooth.  It also requires a good deal of force and has a good deal of travel to it, meaning you are very unlikely to accidentally push the nib out the front.  Additionally, there is a small door that closes, sealing the nib inside the barrel to prevent it from accidentally drying out.  

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Additionally, there is a small door that closes, sealing the nib inside the barrel to prevent it from accidentally drying out.  Overall, this is incredibly impressive given how rare it is and how hard it is to use.   

Overall Score: 20 out of 20

This is a really great pen.  GREAT, GREAT, GREAT.  Go check the gushing reviews on Amazon.  There is nothing but good stuff.  I'd give it a perfect, but I know so little about fountain pens I am uncomfortable doing so.  That said, I can easily see this as a Perfect score winner in the 1 year update.  This is a design that is both unusual and incredible, a paradigm shift (to employ the only phrase more overused than "tactical") in pens.  Every single thing is focused on the writing experience and that experience is second to none.  The fact that a host of special changes were made to accommodate the pen's retractable nib, but it only makes the pen BETTER is incredible.   This is an amazing experience and if you are looking for something that can handle day to day use but writes better than a Fisher insert or anything else for that matter, look no further--the Vanishing Point is for you.  If your not willing to deal with the hassle of a fountain pen, there are other pens out there, but if you can tolerate a little messiness you are rewarded with an angelic writing experience. 


12 comments:

  1. Just curious, what ink did you use with it?

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  2. Brad's choice of blue/black ink cartridge from Pilot, I think.

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  3. Well, if there was ever any doubt about what pen was next on my list to get, thats gone! What a great review, and what a convincing case presented in favor of the Vanishing point,
    thanks!

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  4. Good review, I recently bought a Decimo (thinner barrelled version for my stubby fingers) and it is great at work. It comes with the adaptor to allow you to fill from bottles of ink, which I find is best for fountain pens(I have loads of bottles around the house). Hopefully future cross-collaborations will be as good.

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  5. Fascinating review. I'm past my days of heavy writing load, but this might have become my mainstay in my career. People who don't write much don't understand what a good writing instrument means, nor do they grasp why anybody would own 20 ballpoint pens, other than ink color choices. Feel, fineness, smoothness, agility, all matter after several hours of pushing a writing instrument.

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  6. Dear Tony,

    Your friend brad will have seen it before:

    Starting with a Safari. Going on to Vanishing Point. You think you can give it up at any time. Pelicans will come along the way. Sooner or later Richard Binder or another nibmeister's nibs will be discovered (hint: RB also does speciality nibs for VP but you may want to check the inexpensive italic nibs for the safari first to see whether you like the concept). I think it is already too late. Welcome to the fountain pen addiction.

    I am hugely enjoying your reviews, and I am grateful for them. Thanks!




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  7. Thanks for the review - now officially taking a second look at this pen. I have recently gotten into fountain pens, and bought a slew of cheaper ones, now interested to take the next step up into something a little nicer - lately that means looking at the Namiki Falcon, Visconti Rembrandt, Cross Townsend and a couple of others. Good to know the clip doesn't detract from the experience, as this is the sole reason I initially discounted this pen. The carbonesque finish that is available is gorgeous to boot...this could be in my future.

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  8. Woa, your reviewing is great!

    I have bought a Pilot Vanishing Point, Fine nib. I feel that Fine nib is not smooth as I expected, maybe because I put too much pressure when I write. Also, the Fine nib is finer than Lamy Fine nib.
    But your writing sample look really great.
    Could you tell me what is your size nib? Is this a Fine nib?
    What kind of paper you use?

    I am getting worried and dissapointed with my Pilot Vanishing Fine nib, and plan to by a Medium to replace.

    Thank you so much!

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  9. My wife has had a Namiki Vanishing point for almost 20 years. Doesn't use it as much anymore, but she does still love it...

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  10. I have had a Pilot VP as my EDC for 12 years. It is the only pen I use. They are remarkably durable and mine still looks as good as new. I don't baby it and just carry it in my pocket or bag along with all of my other stuff. They are a masterpiece of design and the only criticism one could have is the rather low capacity of the converter. If you use cartridges that won't be a problem.

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