Pen Review: Moonman Wancai Mini
If you happen to follow the r/fountainpens subreddit, you probably know that the Moonman brand has quickly become a bit of a fan favorite. Though the M2 model tends to get the majority of the attention, I quickly became fascinated with its diminutive cousin, the Wancai Mini.
Materials & Construction
The Wancai Mini is a compact pocket pen that's currently available in a variety of acrylic finishes. There's the transparent version that't the subject of this review, as well as two green-tinted translucent versions. The lighter of the green-tinted models is reminiscent of Franklin-Christoph's "Antique Glass" finish which is, in turn, inspired by the look of vintage Coca-Cola bottles. Moonman also makes the light green version available with mint-colored swirls embedded in the material. The dark green version is closer to teal in color, but equally striking in my opinion. Recently, I've also seen ebonite versions of the pen pop up on eBay, but I'm personally more fond of the acrylic demonstrator versions.
The acrylic is thick enough to give me confidence that the material won't crack when I carry the pen with me, a critically important quality in any pocket pen. The material is also finished well: there are no sharp edges, and the transparency of my clear demonstrator version is nice and clean without any unintended frostiness or clouding. Having said that, the material can 'fog up' with condensation in warmer environments, something I experienced first hand when trying to shoot photos of the pen.
If I do have to name a complaint about the material, it's that the acrylic has picked up a few minor scratches. If I'm being fair, though, I have carried this pen in the same pocket as my keys on occasion, so scratches like these shouldn't be totally unexpected. With more gentle usage, I suspect the material will hold up just fine.
The cap takes approximately 1.25 rotations to remove and just under 1 turn to post to the back end of the pen. The latter figure is important, as I don't ordinarily enjoy caps that screw to post. Fortunately, because the cap's threads mesh cleanly and only require 1 rotation to attach, posting the pen doesn't really feel like a hassle. Considering that most people will find posting the cap to be a necessary pre-condition of writing with this pen, I'm glad that Moonman got it right and didn't make posting the cap a chore.
The pen is an eyedropper and a well-designed one at that. Because Moonman makes use of an o-ring to seal off the ink in the barrel, no silicone grease is required to prevent leaking. The o-ring creates a visible seal that walls off the ink in the barrel (except for where it flows to the feed), and seeing this seal alleviates my concerns about potential leaks. As was the case with acrylic material, the o-ring gives me confidence that there won't be any unfortunate surprises when carrying this pen.
Filling the pen is a straightforward affair; you simply unscrew the section and use an ink syringe or pipette to deposit ink directly into the barrel. Moonman includes three pipettes in the box: two disposable plastic ones, as well as a glass one that's a bit nicer. Though I call the plastic ones 'disposable,' you could certainly flush them with water and re-use them, though my guess is they would wear out eventually. You can technically also use short standard international ink cartridges with the Wancai Mini, but I fail to see the appeal in doing that.
The Wancai Mini has a sleek, modern, minimalist aesthetic. Two design decisions are particularly consequential. The first is the uniformly cylindrical profile of the pen. Because the pen is perfectly round and omits a clip, it rolls everywhere. More often than not, I have to prop this pen against another object to keep it from rolling around. I've resorted to several different strategies to try and address this, including: sandwiching the Wancai Mini between two other pens; nesting it in the crevices between keys on my keyboard; and resting it in the spine of an open notebook. You would think that if you placed the pen down gently on a level surface, you could keep it from rolling, but that just isn't the case. Between the sloshing of the ink and the asymmetrical weight distribution created by the nib and feed, the pen rolls unless there's another object actively preventing it from doing so. It’s a bit of a hassle, and an unavoidable consequence of the pen’s design.
The other design choice that has an impact is the domed tenon that's used to post the cap on the end of the barrel. Because this tenon is rounded, the pen doesn't stand up on its end. While that's ordinarily not a concern to me, on several occasions when filling the Wancai Mini I wanted to place the barrel on a flat surface and use a pipette to fill it. This was especially true when when I was re-inking the pen. In that scenario, you're usually dealing with a section that has ink on it, and you may not have a convenient place to set it down. That means you end up holding the barrel in one hand, and the inky section in the other, but you still need to manage the pipette with one of those hands, so you end up having to do some finger gymnastics. It's a minor complaint, and one that can be completely avoided with a little planning, but I do feel it warrants comment. Lastly on this point, if the tenon were flat instead of domed, it would also provide a solution to the rolling issue: you could simply stand the pen up on its end to keep it stationary.
Apart from those points, there's not much to say. The section is a bit narrower than I'd prefer, but it has enough length to it to still be comfortable. It does feature a double step-down (one from the barrel to the threads, and another from the threads to the section), but again, I haven't found it to impair usability.
In the Hand
Without question, the Wancai Mini is the shortest pen in my collection. At around 88mm capped, it’s significantly shorter than a capped or uncapped Kaweco Sport, the next shortest pen I own. Remove the cap and you're met with a pen that's downright tiny at approximately 83mm. Trying to write with the Wancai Mini unposted is neither pretty nor comfortable. It requires me to hold the pen with a claw-like grip where the end of the pen sits within my palm rather than resting in the crook of my thumb and index finger. In my opinion the pen isn’t really usable unposted, at least not comfortably.
Posting the pen changes everything and suddenly transforms the Wancai Mini into an eminently usable pen. At around 120mm posted, the Wancai Mini's dimensions become comparable to an uncapped Pilot Metropolitan, though the Wancai Mini is still a tad shorter. The pen also strikes a nice balance when posted. Because the ink only occupies the lower half of the pen's posted length, it's ever so slightly front-weighted, but in a pleasant way. I've used the Wancai Mini to take notes during several lengthy meetings and never felt any fatigue during prolonged use.
Material & Design
The Wancai Mini comes fitted with a generic #5 size steel nib that’s gold in color. It’s unbranded but stamped with “Iridium Point.” Personally, I find this designation to be rather meaningless, as it has little to no correlation to a nib's writing performance or any reliable expectation of quality. With that said, I do think the abundance of text does detract from the aesthetic qualities of the nib, and I would much prefer a cleaner look. The nib also features some light scrollwork.
The size designation rests at the base of the nib. I’ve only seen the pen listed with a fine nib, which is a bit of a shame, as I’d love to have it in a medium or broad. Despite being listed as a 'fine,' my pen wrote closer to a Japanese extra fine out of the box. In general I think nib designations on inexpensive Chinese fountain pens are a bit of a crapshoot, especially when they're listed on eBay. I've purchased pens listed with 'broad' nibs that wrote like to a Japanese fine and vice versa. For me, it's not the end of the world, but it's something you may want to keep in mind if you are an absolute stickler for a certain line width.
Out of the box, the nib on my Wancai Mini wrote adequately, but not admirably. First, it provided more feedback than I normally prefer. I wouldn’t call it ‘scratchy,’ as the tines were properly aligned, but the nib certainly didn’t glide across the page. More importantly, though, the nib wrote much too dry for my liking. The tines were too tight, and spreading them out just a touch vastly improved the writing experience. As I mentioned above, the line width was finer than I was expecting. Spreading the tines also helped in this regard, as it now writes more like a true Japanese fine.
To be clear, the adjustments I mention above were only performed as a matter of personal preference. The Wancai Mini wrote totally adequately from the get-go and did not give me any issues with hard starts, skipping, ink starvation, or otherwise. After a little bit of tuning (separating the tines and smoothing the tipping material with micro-mesh), the pen writes like a dream. The nib puts down a juicy wet line and floats across the page effortlessly. The feed keeps up well and the ample ink supply means you can keep writing without worrying about refilling. What's been pleasantly surprising is that the pen performs without hiccup even when the ink volume is low. I was somewhat concerned that there might be issues with burping, especially given the eyedropper design, but the nib and feed are seated tightly enough that I haven't encountered any issues.
As of the time of this writing, the Wancai Mini sells for $13-$18 on eBay. This price usually includes shipping straight from China, but of course that also means you’ll have to wait 3-4 weeks to get it (at least if you’re in the United States). If you’re like me and don’t have the patience to wait that long, the pen can also be found on Amazon for a slightly higher price (~$24). At either price point, the pen offers good value and punches far above its weight. The natural comparison is to the Kaweco Sport, and I personally favor the Wancai Mini in almost every respect, including its more compact design and superior writing performance. If you’re OK with the wait time, nabbing this pen for $13 is an absolute bargain.
Final Thoughts & Score
- compact size is extremely portable
- eyedropper filling system allows for ample ink capacity even at this small size
- build quality and components give confidence the pen won’t leak
- nib could do with some adjustments out of the box
- pen rolls even more than Neymar
- very uncomfortable ergonomics unposted