Today: a look at Lamy’s AL-Star mechanical pencil. The AL-Star…
Fine or Extra Fine? That is the question. We’re frequently asked about the various nib widths of our fountain pens and we fully understand your curiosity. After all, the most important thing about a pen is how it writes. Over the years we’ve discovered nib widths can vary quite significantly between manufacturers. An extra fine nib for one company may fall into the fine range for another. What’s more, different writers using the same nib can achieve slightly different results depending on how they use the pen.
Due to the absence of a convenient universal standard and because we’re a curious bunch, we’ve devised a testing technique that combines handwriting with our latest member of the team, a writing robot. Our part-human, part-machine comparison test can help us put different nibs through their paces with superhuman consistency.
Over time we’ll be putting our most popular nibs, pens and inks to the test, but where to start? Luckily this decision was made for us when a customer got in touch to ask us to compare some of our extra fine nibs. More specifically the round-tipped, extra-fine, stainless steel nibs we have available as spare parts. So that’s what we’ve done.
If there’s a nib type or pen you’d like to see tested, let us know by leaving a message on this post and we’ll do what we can to make it so.
With a bit of luck, what now follows is a useful nib test, complete with robotic consistency to allow for accurate comparisons and… without wanting to put too fine a point on it (unavoidable pun), a comprehensive review, full and rich enough in detail to help you choose a nib with confidence. Please let us know any suggestions and feedback you have on the testing method as we’re always on the lookout for ways to improve the process.
Extra fine nibs
Extra fine nibs are the nib of choice for those of you with small handwriting, allowing for small lettering without your counter shapes (the white spaces inside your letters) joining up. They are also ideal for writers looking to fit a lot of words into a small space, such as a week-to-view diary. Despite lending themselves to small, precise and detailed writing, for the most part extra fine nibs are chosen purely due to the personal preference of the writer. They give your handwriting a certain lightness, creating a clear and uncluttered appearance on the page.
The three nibs being tested are round-tipped, stainless-steel nibs, so you can expect durability and consistent line widths. Whilst for the purposes of this test we’re looking at extra fine nibs, it is worth mentioning all these nibs are available in at least 4 nib widths, with some ranges also including stub nibs, left-handed nibs and infant nibs. Something for everyone.
Kaweco 060 – threaded nib unit for Liliput, Sport, Student, Allrounder, Dia & Elegance pens
Lamy z50 – a replacement nib suitable for all Lamy steel nibbed fountain pens
Faber-Castell Ambition/e-motion/Ondoro – Three nib units that combine identical nibs with grips specific to each model
In the interests of a fair test we’ve decided to choose an ink and stick with it. Diamine’s blue-black fountain pen ink is a great ink, straddles the divide between the most common colour preferences and falls well within the affordability range for an everyday ink.
For paper we’re sticking clear of using anything fancy for now. We appreciate not everyone will be buying the best paper available for fountain pens. We’ll be using standard 80gsm copy paper.
Our pressure test compares the nibs under three different writing pressures. We begin with minimal downward pressure, where the maximum weight on the nib is that of the pen itself, much of which will actually be supported by the writer, leaving approximately 5 to 10 grams of weight on the nib. This helps to show you how the well the feed supplies ink to the nib and whether additional pressure is needed to encourage ink to flow.
Medium pressure tests the nib under standard writing pressure, which our initial testing has shown us to be somewhere around 50 to 70g grams. The extreme pressure level tells us how the nib performs under exaggerated pressure, such as the forces applied whilst inscribing your most flamboyant signature, with a maximum of around 105 grams.
We’re looking at two things here; what kind of line widths you can expect from the nibs and how much flexibility they have. As the pressure on the nibs increases we’d expect the tines of the nib to flex and split further apart, so a more flexible nib will give you a greater variation in line width.
We’re expecting consistent line widths from round-tipped nibs and the Faber-Castell certainly gave us this, showing almost no variation in line width between the pressures – 0.04mm to be exact. You can expect to be writing lines between 0.86-0.90mm, making the Faber-Castell both the thinnest under heavy pressure and the thickest under lightest pressure. It is without doubt the firmest of the nibs. If you like a solid nib, this is the one for you.
The Lamy and the Kaweco both showed a lot more flex than the Faber-Castell. The Lamy showed a width variation of 0.22mm, writing from 0.81mm-1.03mm, landing somewhere in the middle of the range for light and medium pressures but with even more flex under exaggerated force. If flexibility is your ultimate goal then the Kaweco nib is the winner, writing with a width variation of 0.25mm, producing lines from to 0.76mm to 1.01mm.
So how thick exactly is an extra fine nib? This test helps us say with a fair amount of confidence (0.03mm of confidence to be exact), that writing with a natural amount of pressure produces a 0.90mm line with any of the round-tipped steel nibs we’re testing here. The variety in line width is due to the flexibility of the nib, so if you’re looking for consistency go for the Faber-Castell. If you like the width of your writing to be more responsive to the pressure you’re applying consider the Lamy or the Kaweco.
Under PressureLine width under different writing pressures
|Width variation (Extreme - light)||Light (average width)||Medium (average width)||Extreme (average width)||Robot (average width)|
Writing Robot Test
Our writing robot has quickly become a treasured member of the team, providing a consistent writing output that couldn’t be matched by even the most steady-handed scribe. We use this consistency for direct comparisons between the nibs. Each robot test is exactly the same, so the only thing creating a difference in results is the nib.
The directional strokes show how the nib writes when used in every direction; down, up, right and left. The clockwise and anticlockwise strokes are often used when repairing nibs to test for any scratchiness or variation in flow.
We’ve used a selection of fonts from a very small script right up to larger caps to equate to a few different handwriting styles and sizes and we’ve set our robot up to write at the average adult handwriting speed (68 letters per minute). Drag the sliders below to compare the looks achieved by the different nibs.
Another advantage of our robot consistently running the exact same test using identical ink and paper is our ability to see the effect of the nib and feed on ink shading. The pressure and speed of the test is the same in every instance, so the shape and flexibility of the nib and the amount of ink the feed provides are the only major differences.
Locating the darkest and lightest points on each robot-written test and figuring out the darkness as a percentage lets us measure the shading – the difference between the darkest and lightest shades.
Lamy darkest = 85%, lightest = 60%, shading = 25%
Faber darkest = 86%, lightest = 66%, shading = 20%
Kaweco darkest = 85%, lightest = 66%, shading = 19%
As you might expect, the darkest shade is almost identical for all three nibs; you can’t get darker than full ink saturation and all three nibs achieved this. The Lamy z50 achieved the greatest shading with a 25% difference between the darkest and lightest shades. The feed of the Safari fountain pen we used for testing provides ample ink even under the lightest pressures, so we think the shading is more likely to be caused by the shape of the nib allowing the ink to bead and be dragged along, to be deposited later at the end of strokes when the pen begins to lift.
The Faber-Castell and Kaweco nibs have greater consistency in their shading and gave very similar results. The Faber nibs creates strokes with a 20% shading and the Kaweco 060 is the most consistent, creating uniform strokes with 19% shading. This test does show us that flexibility doesn’t always lead to shading, with the firmest nib (Faber-Castell) producing slightly more shading than the most flexible (Kaweco). The ink feed and the shape of the nib are clearly important factors.
Some people love the look of shading and others do their best to avoid it. Whichever your preference, for these three nibs you now know what to expect.
No pen test would be complete without taking it for a traditional test drive, no matter how wobbly our handwriting might be. We’ve repeated the robot test, this time by human hand to give you a better idea of how the nibs perform under standard use.
Extra Fine nib comparison - ResultsSide-by-side comparison of the 3 extra fine nibs
|Shading||Standard line width||Flexibility||Width variation||Min. line width||Max. line width|
So what have we discovered? The 3 nibs we’ve tested all write at around 0.90mm under standard handwriting pressure, however there’s a large difference in flexibility between them. If you like consistency, choose the firm Faber-Castell nib. If you like variation in your line width go for the more flexible Lamy or Kaweco nibs.
If you’re looking to achieve more shading in your lettering consider the Lamy z50. The Kaweco 060 is the most consistent followed closely by the Faber-Castell Ambition/e-motion/Ondoro. As you’d expect from this caliber of manufacturers the nibs all performed fantastically, felt great to write with and there was never the slightest sign of scratchiness. The ink flowed easily even under the lightest of pressures and all 3 nibs stood up to the exaggerated pressure test without even a hint of discomfort. If you’re looking for a round-tipped extra fine nib, have a think about your own preferences for flexibility and shading, match them against the table above and get exactly what you hoped for.
Every now and then we’ll be putting more pens, nibs and inks through their paces with our part-human, part-robot review process. Let us know anything you’d like to see tested. Also, if you have any feedback, suggestions or requests let us know in the comments below or over on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.