October 19, 2012

Pilot Varsity Disposable Fountain Pens

My kid understands that I have a bad habit of acquiring stuff. He hoards Pokémon cards, and I hoard everything else . . . fair enough. He's been tracking my online interest in writing instruments, I've given him a few pens that I no longer use or like, and he really likes my Lamy Vista fountain pen. So I wasn't too surprised when he asked me to buy him a fountain pen. I couldn't say no to such a reasonable request, but I wanted to get him something super foolproof, cheap, and relatively child-proof. Enter the Pilot Varsity disposable fountain pen!

These pens can be purchased online for about three bucks each, and I found a 7-pack of assorted colors for only $15.00. I thought it would be an inexpensive way to sample the different ink colors available from Pilot while satisfying my son's request.

I've seen a few articles and posts related to the Pilot Varsity pen, and the pen tends to get generally favorable reviews. I am an absolute fountain pen rookie, and am wholly unqualified to critique these pens in any meaningful way. Instead, I'll show a few pictures and point out some of their features. For example, the snap-on caps are color coded:

Each pen is outfitted with a medium size nib (unless the "M" marking stands for Minuscule or Monstrous or Mega-Large):

Each pen has a little ink window, but I found it difficult to see the dark ink colors. One interesting observation: when a pen is held nib-down, the ink level doesn't even rise to the top of the ink window. Seems like a waste of space . . . come on, Pilot, fill that sucker up!

As mentioned above, I don't have much fountain pen experience. Realistically, I can only compare the Pilot Varsity to two other fountain pens that I've used: Platinum Preppy (fine nib); and Lamy Vista (extra fine nib). Compared to the Preppy and the Vista, the Varsity writes like a sloppy drooling puppy floating on a cloud of cotton candy. I don't know how the Varsity does it, but each one wrote a solid, consistent, super smooth wet line immediately after uncapping. I'm sure this must be due to the medium size nib, although the Internet tells me that Japanese nib sizes run finer than advertised, so I'm all kinds of confused by this (I was expecting the Varsity to write as fine as the Lamy extra fine nib, but no such luck). Perhaps the Varsity's performance and line thickness has something to do with the odd looking nib, which appears to have a ball bearing precariously balanced on its tip. I analyzed the tip of the nib, and can confirm that the ball does not move like a rollerball or ballpoint tip, lol.

My conclusion: the Varsity is great, especially considering the price. For someone looking to try a fountain pen for the first time, I would totally recommend the Varsity over the Platinum Preppy. Sure, the Varsity is disposable, but it's an impressive "gateway" into the world of fountain pens. The only negative mark (which is subjective) relates to the girth of the medium nib. I would really like to score a fountain pen with a fine or extra fine nib that writes as smooth as the Varsity.

And my son? He loves them. Actually, he had to share them with his sister, and they both love them. In fact, my son was temporarily elevated to superstar status at school (so he says) after he showed off the Varsity pens to his buddies.

I'll end this post with a writing sample to appease any fountain pen dorks who may be lurking:


  1. Just wanted to say thank you for posting this (: Cuz I recently got a Varsity pen too! It's black though and it is my 1st time using it ^^
    I had some concerns wondering if the pen will spill or leak? I heard it was possible to refill a disposable pen, but may be messy thou. . Also do you know any good pens that are very easy to refill??? Thanks! (:

  2. The pen shouldn't leak if you keep it capped and don't abuse it. It is possible to refill the Varsity, but why bother? If you are interested in a good "refillable" fountain pen, then take a look at something that uses a cartridge or converter. Some decent and inexpensive cartridge/converter pens are: Platinum Preppy; Pilot 78G; Lamy Safari; and Kaweco Sport. Ink cartridges are very easy to use because you simply remove the old one and pop in a new one.

  3. Still a Varsity fan? Come join our Facebook group?

    Pilot Varsity Fountain Pens