This is the second part of a series in which I’m learning to use fountain pens. For Part 1, click here.
These days, fountain pens are no longer marketed to the general public. If you want to buy one, there are very few options besides specialty shops and online stores – big box retailers simply don’t carry them. So, I was a surprised awhile back when I noticed this Zebra V-301 fountain pen at corner store a few blocks away from my apartment, where it was hanging between Pilot G-2s and BIC Stics. I bought it for about $4, and it became my second fountain pen.
The V-301 is based on the popular Zebra F-301, mimicking its stainless steel body and plastic, black trim, but as a fountain pen, it’s obviously much different. It uses what’s called a disposable, “cartridge-style” refill, which is basically just a small tube of ink. With some fountain pens, these cartridges are refillable, but disposable cartridges seem to be recommended to fountain pen newbies because they are very straight forward. You just pop the cartridge inside, and the ink starts flowing. At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen.
With this Zebra V-301, it took a lot of work to actually get the ink running. I spent at least 5 minutes scratching paper with the nib until I finally became frustrated enough to shake and bang the pen on the table. But when the ink eventually started to flow, my experience with this pen didn’t get any better.
When you look for reviews of this pen, not many people have good things to say. Azizah at Gourmet Pens calls it her “current most disliked fountain pen ever,” and the review at No Pen Intended calls it a “trainwreck of metal and ink.” And, having used it for a couple days, I fully understand their complaints.
The V-301 is very finicky about the angle at which you write. You have to hold it at a very high angle, else the ink flow cuts in and out. Oddly, the ink actually flows a lot better when holding the nib upside-down with the feed facing up, and this seems to be a common complaint. Even Zebra’s product page for the V-301 has half a dozen customer complaints about this problem, and, for what it’s worth, Zebra’s customer outreach has said that the pen will soon be fixed.
If nothing else, Zebra deserves credit for being a company that dares to try something different. Still, it’s a shame that the V-301 is such a disappointment. As one of the very few mass marketed fountain pens, it’s likely to wind up in the hands of beginners who might be so turned off as to never try another fountain pen. I, on the other hand, will persist on. And, next time, I’ll be sure to try something that works better.