When searching for budget-friendly fountain pens with flex nibs, most people immediately turn to Noodler’s. Fountain Pen Revolution may be a lesser-known brand, but after using several of their pens, I’ve been rather impressed with the bang-for-the-buck they offer. So when I saw that they offer a flex nib pen for under $20, I had to see if it was my cup of tea.
Materials & Construction
The Darjeeling is made of acrylic that FPR offers in a variety of solid colors, as well as a clear demonstrator version. The acrylic is sturdy but definitely has a budget feel to it. It also has a distinctive smell that’s similar to what you’d find with Noodler’s resin pens, though it’s certainly not as pungent. Don’t expect the odor to fade anytime soon, though; I’ve had this pen for almost six months and the smell is just as strong as the day I received it.
Also Read: Opus 88 Koloro Demonstrator Review
The cap screws on and takes 1.75 twists to remove. It features a clip and cap bands that are made of metal and they protrude slightly from the rest of the cap, to the point where you can definitely notice them when running your fingers across. It’s possible that this may be the result of a design decision, but it feels more like the result of imprecise manufacturing tolerances. This suspicion is bolstered by the fact that the cap rings themselves are loose on my pen and can easily be wiggled back and forth within their grooves. On the plus side, the clip is quite flexible and I find it to be a pleasure to use.
One thing I’m certainly not fond of is the included converter, which failed on me the first time I inked it up. Specifically, it started leaking from the slide mechanism that operates the piston. On their website, FPR claims they inspect every pen they sell, but I’m left wondering if that inspection also extends to the included converters. Failure aside, I don’t enjoy the design of the converter, either. Because the converter uses a sliding mechanism to move the piston rather than a twisting one, it’s harder to make finer adjustments such as when you might want to prime the feed. I tend to prime the feed relatively frequently on budget flex pens to prevent railroading, so any obstacle to doing that can result in frustration. Fortunately, because the Darjeeling accepts standard international converters, I was able to use a spare converter I had, but it’s safe to say the leaky converter didn’t exactly leave the best first impression on me.
Given the pen’s non-metal, seamless construction, it would seem to be a solid candidate for use as an eyedropper, and I can report that it is…with a few caveats. The barrel’s one-piece construction means it won’t leak, but using silicone grease on the threads that pair the section to the barrel is a must. I tried going without it, and the pen quickly started leaking at this seam.
The Darjeeling’s design features a combination of angular elements with curved components, and I’m not sure it works for me. Let’s start with the cap. The finial has a conical design that leads to a rather pronounced point. I wouldn’t call it ‘sharp,’ but it’s certainly a very defined tip. The cap flares outward toward the midsection of the pen, then gently rolls inward at the base of the cap.
The end of the barrel mimics the conical shape of the cap’s finial but has a softer, gentler slope that’s less visually jarring. The tip of the barrel is also less pronounced than the tip of the cap and feels more blunt to the touch. From there, the barrel has a subtle outward flare toward its center and then tapers back inward as it approaches the section. The step down to the section is very minimal and results in a clean look. The section has a very mild flare towards the nib but has another relatively sharp ridge on its edge.
The clip has the same tapered, triangular design that seems to be ubiquitous among fountain pens. One notable difference appears on the ball-shaped tip: whereas many pens have a completely round sphere at the end of the clip, the Darjeeling makes use of a series of down-turned flares that create a vaguely spherical shape. It’s an unrefined look that lends an unnecessarily cheap vibe to the pen.
In the Hand
At around 137mm capped, the Darjeeling is on the shorter side. Uncapped and unposted, the pen is around 130mm, which is long enough to be comfortable in my hands. The cap does post and posts securely, but at almost 169mm it feels a little unwieldy so I tend to use the pen unposted.
At 12g uncapped, the pen is quite light and very easy to use for prolonged writing sessions. It also has good balance for the most part, though it’s ever so slightly back-weighted toward the end of the barrel. Because the cap weighs half as much as the rest of the pen, posting the pen only exacerbates this issue, which is another reason I tend to avoid posting this pen.
Perhaps my biggest issue with this pen’s ergonomics is the numerous sharp edges to which I’ve alluded. There’s a bit of a sharp ridge at the end of the barrel, the edge of the section that faces the nib, and the underside of the cap. On a few occasions, these sharp edges will catch against my skin and the result is a feeling that’s just unpleasant. A little additional sanding would go a long way on this pen.
Material & Design
FPR offers a wide variety of nibs for the Darjeeling and their other pens. You can choose from extra fine, fine, medium, broad, and 1mm stub options, as well as flex nibs offered in both steel and gold. Note that the broad, stub, and flex nib options do add an additional fee to the base price of the pen. On the plus side, the Darjeeling accepts #6 size nibs, so if you have spare #6 nibs, they can likely be swapped into the Darjeeling with ease.
The steel flex nib featured on this pen may remind you of Noodler’s steel flex nibs: there’s a long slit that spans the majority of the nib’s length, and there’s no breather hole. Fortunately, FPR’s flex nibs have a more attractive design, though only barely so. Two chevrons span the tines and some light scrollwork is featured in between. ‘FPR’ is written on one side of the nib slit, while ‘flex’ is written on the other in what appears to be Lucida Handwriting font. I’m not a huge fan of the font choice, but I suppose that’s being a bit nitpicky.
If you’ve used a Noodler’s flex pen, the Darjeeling may feel familiar to you. Due to the rigidity of the steel flex nib, a higher degree of pressure is required to flex than would be required for a gold nib. Having said that, it’s still possible to achieve decent line variation with this nib if you work it properly. The key is to go slow to minimize railroading. I definitely do experience railroading with this pen, but it’s less frequent than what I get from my Noodler’s Ahab and certainly better than what I got out of the Conklin Duraflex.
I mentioned before that I’m not a fan of the slide-piston converter that’s included with the Darjeeling. That point rings especially true when using this pen for flex writing. Because the best way to remedy railroading is priming the feed, having a twist-piston converter becomes even more important to allow for finer adjustment and to avoid spewing ink. With a freshly-primed feed, the Darjeeling actually performs quite well and can give impressive results. Moreover, it lasts longer than other budget flex pens I’ve tested before you have to re-prime the feed.
The Darjeeling also performs well when used for standard non-flex writing. The pen puts down a relatively wet line that’s close to a Western medium in size. Despite being a flex nib, I don’t get much in the way of line variation in my normal writing; the nib just requires more pressure than what I typically exert to get any organic spring from it. There is a bit of feedback, which is to be expected considering the tines often won’t be in precise alignment after being used for flex writing. My eyes may be deceiving me, but it looks like the Darjeeling’s nib has slightly more tipping material to it than the Ahab’s nib, and I suspect that contributes to the improved writing experience. From time to time I do get skips on the initial downstroke of a word, and that has been a little frustrating, but if I’m being honest I didn’t really buy this pen for non-flex writing.
As of the time of this writing, the base price for the Darjeeling is $15 and there’s a $4 upcharge for a broad, stub, or steel flex nib. There’s also the option to add a 14K gold flex nib for an additional $119, but I suspect most purchasers won’t be interested in pairing such an expensive nib with such an inexpensive pen. At $19 for this pen, the Noodler’s Ahab is the natural comparison and I think the Darjeeling is the better value. The Darjeeling is technically $4 cheaper than the Ahab, but ultimately I think it’s a wash, as the converter that’s included with the Darjeeling is so bad that you should probably just factor in the price of a new one from the get-go. With that said, the Darjeeling does offer better flex performance and has a variety of nib options if you aren’t interested in flex writing, so I think it gets the nod in terms of value.
Final Thoughts & Score
- decent flex nib performance
- wide variety of nib sizes; #6 size nibs
- affordable price
- included converter failed immediately
- bland materials; unattractive design
- sharp edges on various parts of the pen