Pilot Metropolitan Review
The Pilot Metropolitan is one of the first fountain pens I ever purchased. It’s widely hailed as one of the very best budget options and, for many, it serves as a point of first impression on fountain pens as a whole. Now that I’ve had a chance to experience plenty of other pens, it’s time to revisit the Metropolitan and see if it retains the charm that originally lured me to it.
Materials & Construction
The Metropolitan’s character results in large part from its composite materials. Though the section is made of plastic, the cap and barrel are lacquered metal, resulting in a pen that feels relatively hefty at 26 grams. I wouldn’t call the Metropolitan “heavy” per se, but it is heavier than both the LAMY Safari and TWSBI Eco, two pens it frequently competes with in the budget tier. Combine that with the fact that the Metropolitan is also a tad shorter than those two competitors, and what you’re left with is a pen that feels dense. To many people, especially newer fountain pen users, that density will be associated with higher quality, and I remember thinking as much when I first got the pen. Nowadays, I generally prefer a lighter pen, but the density of the Metropolitan does still hit that sweet spot where it feels like it’s punching up a class without being annoyingly heavy.
The Metropolitan uses a cartridge/converter filling system and includes one black ink cartridge and a squeeze converter in the box. The squeeze converter warrants a bit of discussion. Though it performs adequately, it’s not exactly a pleasure to use. Because the sac on the converter is opaque, it’s difficult to tell just how much ink it contains at any given time, which can make filling a chore. Moreover, cleaning this converter is more cumbersome than traditional piston-style converters for that same reason.
Fortunately, Pilot offers other converters that can be used with the Metropolitan, such as the CON-40, and I strongly encourage you to promptly swap out the squeeze converter for a piston-style converter if you plan on using your Metropolitan with bottled ink. The improved converter makes the pen far more pleasurable to use and clean. Unfortunately, a CON-40 runs about $5-$6, which adds another 50% to the price of the pen, but I do still feel it’s worth it.
Build quality on the Metropolitan is great. The cap snaps with a very satisfying click (though not quite as satisfying as on the Pilot Prera). The clip has nice spring to it and can be used effortlessly, but it does feel a little flimsy. The fit on the nib, feed, and converter is solid and has never given me any issue. Finally, the threads that join the section and barrel mesh cleanly and quietly.
The Metropolitan has a fairly conservative design that is spruced up on certain versions. To start, Pilot offers “plain” versions of the Metropolitan in black, silver, and gold. These versions have matte caps and barrels, with a polished, color-matched band in between and a polished black section. Pilot also offers versions of the Metropolitan in more vibrant colors such as red, purple, and lime green, and these colored versions have a pattern on the band that adds even more visual flair. The patterns can range from animal prints to geometric shapes, all of which are more playful than the standard plain versions.
The profile on the Metro is a simple, tapered, cigar shape with rounded ends. The cap has an unadorned finial and a simple, tapered clip. The clip itself is also relatively unadorned: it’s stamped with “PILOT” on one side, “JAPAN” on the other, and a series of three parallel lines flank either side of its end. “PILOT” and “JAPAN” are also inscribed at the base of the cap, which feels a bit redundant and detracts from the design in my opinion. On the barrel you’ll find the same unadorned, rounded finial which tapers toward the polished band at the center of the pen.
From the band, there is a relatively sharp step-down to the section, which is exacerbated by the use of a metal tenon joining the two. While the tenon isn’t sharp, it’s also not that comfortable, and I find myself wishing that Pilot had coated the exterior of this tenon to give a more pleasing texture. Finally, the section is also tapered, with a gentle flare towards the nib to help prevent finger slippage.
All in all I would describe the design of this pen as ‘inoffensive.’ It’s not particularly inspiring, but it’s also hard to take issue with it. Apart from the sudden step-down and narrow section, I mostly enjoy the look of the Metropolitan, but it’s not anything I’d write home about.
In the Hand
Ergonomics on the Metropolitan are sound, with a few caveats. At approximately 13mm at the widest portion, the Metropolitan is on the slimmer side, and at approximately 138mm in length (capped), it’s also not that long. Having said that, the resulting profile is still entirely comfortable to use and feels more ‘compact’ than ‘diminutive.’
The pen can be posted quite easily and feels secure when doing so. Posting the cap only adds about 15mm to the pen’s overall length, so the Metropolitan is easy to use both posted and unposted. Because the cap constitutes almost 35% of the pen’s overall weight, posting it can make the Metropolitan feel slightly back-weighted, but I find I can still achieve good balance by adjusting my grip ever so slightly backward. I tend to use the pen posted more often than not.
For me, the biggest issue in terms of ergonomics is the section. At approximately 8.5mm just before the flare towards the nib, the section is quite narrow. I think this is why I prefer to use the pen posted. Because I adjust my grip backward to compensate for the additional weight from posting the cap, I’m able to grip a slightly wider portion of the section. Nevertheless, the entirety of the section is narrower than I’d prefer. Moreover, the polished plastic on the section doesn’t do wonders for grip. I wish that Pilot would give the section the same matte finish as on the cap and the barrel; even that minimal additional texture would help with the grip issue.
Material & Design
The Metropolitan uses a steel nib that can be had in fine, medium, and medium italic sizes. Personally, I’d really love to see a broad option, but I recognize that broad nibs tend to be less popular, so I’m not that surprised to see that Pilot omits this option.
The nib’s design reflects the overall aesthetic of the pen, which is to say it’s simple to the point of almost being bland. A pattern of stacked bars are etched on the tines in a way that matches their curvature and, while it’s somewhat unique, I don’t find it particularly attractive. Apart from that design, “PILOT” and “JAPAN” once again make an appearance below the breather hole, with the nib’s size designation in between. Did I mention that this pen is made by Pilot in Japan?
The feed on the Metropolitan is made of plastic but has a different appearance from what you’d find on many budget fountain pens. In lieu of a rounded design, the feed on the Metropolitan is rather flat and makes use of grooves rather than fins on the underside. Functionally it gets the job done just the same, and I do appreciate that it feels a bit sturdier as there are no flimsy fins to break off accidentally, but it does seem a bit less attractive than the more typical rounded design.
“A pen this cheap shouldn’t perform this well.”
That was one of the first thoughts I had when I began writing this review. See, the Metropolitan was one of the first fountain pens I ever purchased and as my collection has grown, it’s been awhile since I’ve spent significant time writing with it. Now that I’m forcing myself to revisit it for this review, I’m reminded of just how much of a pleasure it is to use.
To start, this pen just flat out writes consistently. It never dries out or gives hard starts, even when going unused for prolonged periods of time. Ink flows consistently no matter which brands I use. The nib never skips or gives me any other issues. It’s just flat-out reliable in almost every way, something I can’t say of pens that cost many, many times more than the Metro.
The fine nib is true to my expectation of a Japanese fine. Line width is quite narrow, to the point where the ‘fine’ nib on my Metropolitan is significantly finer than the ‘extra fine’ on my LAMY Safari. While that’s generally to be expected when comparing Japanese and Western nib sizes, I’ve come to realize that I prefer mediums and broads now, and using the fine nib on the Metropolitan confirms that. However, that’s really just a matter of personal preference and not something I hold against this pen.
As of the time of this writing, you can pick up a Pilot Metropolitan for around $11 on Amazon. At that price, the Metropolitan is one of the best value propositions among pens in the budget tier. Sure, you could spend a little less and get a Jinhao or Wing Sung, but in my experience the offerings from these Chinese manufacturers have fit and finish far below what you’ll find from Pilot. Alternatively, you could spend a little more and get a pen with more interesting materials or design, but the writing performance may not be any better, and often can be significantly worse.
There are a few factors that detract from the value, however. Specifically, because Pilot makes use of a proprietary standard for their cartridges and converters, you won’t be able to use other cartridges or converters you may have lying around unless they also happen to be Pilot’s. Additionally, Pilot doesn’t really follow the ‘standard’ nib sizes (such as #5, #6, etc.), so you won’t be able to swap in other nibs (again, unless they happen to be from certain other Pilot pens that share the size and shape used in the Metropolitan). Though these points are unfortunate, they’re certainly not deal-breakers, particularly given the eminently affordable price of the pen itself.
Ultimately, I have absolutely no qualms recommending this pen to anyone who may be interested in purchasing it. Though most experienced fountain pen users are likely familiar with the Metropolitan by now, I frequently find myself recommending it to newer users. In fact, not that long ago a co-worker of mine took an interest in buying her first fountain pen after seeing me use them repeatedly in various office meetings. She asked me for a recommendation and I quickly pointed her to the Metropolitan. Though there are other budget pens I personally prefer over the Metro, the combination of low price, great quality, and wide availability make the Metropolitan the easiest to recommend to newbies. This rings especially true for new users who are price-conscious and unsure if fountain pens are really going to be for them, as it’s much easier to write off an $11 loss than a $30 one. Even when you factor in the cost of an additional CON-40, the Metropolitan holds its own against competitors in the budget tier. The LAMY Safari (without converter), TWSBI Eco, and Faber-Castell Loom cost twice as much or more, and the Nemosine Singularity uses less premium materials at a modestly higher price point.
Final Thoughts & Score
- Affordable price, tremendous value
- Materials and build quality provide a premium feel that exceed expectations at this price point
- Almost always gives a good first impression to those who are new to fountain pens
- Narrow section can be uncomfortable for some
- Included squeeze converter is adequate, but not a joy to use
- Proprietary cartridges/converters (at least on US versions)