Laura's First TWSBI! -- Exploring the World of TWSBI Fountain Pens

Laura's First TWSBI! -- Exploring the World of TWSBI Fountain Pens


TWSBI Passion and TWSBI Trepidation

I know this sounds weird, but I have never owned a TWSBI before, and was actually kind of scared of them. It's hard to explain why. TWSBIs are very well-loved at Pen Boutique, both by customers and among my colleagues, and the Eco (short for "eco-nomical") model in particular is a popular entry-level fountain pen and collector pen. Every time a new color is released, TWSBI fans get excited and come into the store asking to see it. The Eco is only $32.99, and the interesting colors and transparent barrels inspire ink lovers to get creative with mixing and matching their favorite inks to the pens, so, more often than not, my TWSBI-loving customer walks out with a fun new pen to add to their collection and brighten their day!  As one of our new regulars, Emily, put it on Saturday, "My mother always said, 'If you have a bad day, go buy a lipstick.' But instead, I go buy a TWSBI."  

TWSBIs use nice smooth JoWo nibs that are available in EF, F, M, B, stub 1.1 widths, and customers love owning them in a variety of nib sizes so they can use different TWSBIs with different inks and for different purposes.  Broad and stub nib TWSBIs are especially popular for people who like to experiment with shimmer inks because they don't easily clog and because it's so beautiful to see your pretty ink glistening inside the barrel. Extra fine, fine, and medium are perfect as daily writers, and customers love keeping different ink colors in each pen, so they have a selection to inspire them as they go about their week. People love them as daily carry pens because they perform well, hold a lot of ink, and aren't painful to replace if the pen gets lost, stolen, or damaged.   

The most remarkable thing about TWSBIs is that they give you a piston fill experience for as little as $32.99, and TWSBI's vacuum-fill models start at $60!  The next lowest-price piston fillers we sell are the Penlux Masterpiece and Pelikan M200 and M205 series, and the least expensive vacuum-fillers are the Pilot Custom 823 and Pineider Avatar UR Traveler. All these pens are well over $100, and other piston and vacuum fillers' prices are even higher. Being able to fill your pen directly from a bottle without needing a cartridge or converter is usually a feature only available in higher end pens, but TWSBI makes it accessible, and, not only that, almost all the TWSBIs we carry allow you to understand how the filling mechanism works because you can see it right through the barrel.

I've often thought that getting my first TWSBI would make an interesting blog article, but all the subtly different TWSBI models confused me, and, because TWSBI and Montblanc are the only two brands we carry that don't allow dip testing, I had never played around with the TWSBIs we have on display in the store to get to know them better. We do have tester pens in each nib size that are loaded with ink, but TWSBI's strict rules intimidated me, as did their packaging, which includes a wrench, silicone grease, and manual with somewhat cryptic pictures that encourage you take the pen apart and put it back together.  Yes, I work in a fountain pen store, and I love pens, but my brain is good at knowing how to make sentences flow, not at understanding how physical objects fit together structurally.  

The product descriptions from TWSBI stress that the pens have all detachable parts, and TWSBI says, "We felt that it was important to allow the user to disassemble and reassemble the pen and completely experience the traditional aspects of owning and using a fountain pen." Okay, that's very cool, but I'm not mechanically-inclined and I don't want to break my fountain pen!  Also, although their clear barrels are a big reason why TWSBIs are popular with their fans, I have always been ambivalent about demonstrator pens. As I confessed in my blog article on the Pilot Custom 74 and Custom 823 (both wonderful pens that I highly recommend!), translucent pens have never really appealed to me aesthetically.  I also wasn't sure how I felt about TWSBI's modern, industrial-looking design.  They look so different from all my other pens.  Could I get over my close-mindedness and learn to love a TWSBI?  Until now, I wasn't so sure.

I changed my mind when I saw the new Diamond Mini AL in Grape. Right away, I knew it was the TWSBI I had been waiting for.  I love purple, especially metallic purple, and I love smaller pens; plus, the facets on the barrel give the Diamond series pens a more complex shape and texture. I decided to finally go for it and overcome my TWSBI phobia once and for all! 

Talking TWSBIs

Of course, the first thing I needed to decide about my new pen was:  which nib size should I get? All the different TWSBI nibs are popular with my customers, but I felt that if I was going to get my first pen with a clear barrel that shows off the ink, I should really embrace the whole concept and go for a broad or a stub so I could fill the pen with shimmer ink.  After trying our store tester pens and discussing the choices with my colleague Leila, I decided on a broad because I found the stub nib a little tricky to write with.  Stub nibs can be picky about the way you hold your pen, and since I was already a little nervous about trying the TWSBI, I wanted a nib that would be easy for me to love right away.

Since I love ink even more than I love pens, I was very excited about choosing an ink for my Grape Diamond Mini AL.  I looked through our ink swatch book and found several different inks that match the beautiful purple color really well, including Taccia Murasaki, which I splatted on the same day the pen was released.  However, when I saw Colorverse Hayabusa Glistening, I knew I'd found the ideal ink for my pen, and I bought a mini bottle of it to take home.  

I didn't ink my new pen right away, though, or even open the pen box. The new Grape color wasn't supposed to be released until Friday, so, although it was available for pre-order on the Wednesday I got it, I thought it only proper to wait for Friday and open it on the same day as everyone else. Yes, I was excited, but I'm also good at restraint. While I was driving to work on Thursday thinking about my new/future pen and blog topic, I had a cool idea.  I knew that several of my favorite customers are huge TWSBI fans and own more than one of them, so I decided to ask them if I could interview them about their TWSBIs. As I drove, I came up with a list of four customers I thought would be interesting to talk to:  Erik, Natalie and Mikele (sisters), and James. I also hoped to ask some of my colleagues, including Leila, who I had been getting to know over the past several weeks by working closely with her in the store.

As soon as I unlocked the store's front door, serendipity struck!  Erik was waiting outside to come in and check out a Monteverde MVP, a cute pocket pen that comes in three colors. Erik often stops by Pen Boutique on his way to work, and I love talking with him because he's very passionate about the fountain pen hobby and is always telling me about his current daily carry pen/ink combos and sharing the latest news from the online pen community. Erik is in his early 20s and very active in the fountain pen discussion group on Reddit, so he gives me an excellent insight into this important and growing demographic. He's also a great fountain pen evangelist and loves sharing his love of pens with his family, friends, and co-workers.  Viva fountain pens, and viva enthusiastic young people like Erik!  

I asked him if he had a few minutes to quickly discuss his TWSBI experience before he had to leave for work, and he gladly obliged.  Erik told me he owns six TWSBIs so far:  a fine and a medium Eco ("go for at least a medium if you want to use shimmer ink," he advised), a Prussian Blue Diamond 580 in 1.1 stub ("writing with a stub can be affected by angle and paper," so keep this in mind), two Swipes (broad and 1.1 stub), and a broad Vac700R, which he describes as "the one to bring with you if you want to keep writing and writing and writing and writing and writing...." because it holds an incredible amount of ink.

Erik is paying off his car and needs to be budget-conscious with his fountain pen spending, so he loves that TWSBIs have an "excellent price point" and that you "get a lot of pen for your buck," reasons that some of the other people I talked with brought up as well.  He described his TWSBIs as "excellent pocket pens with great ink capacity" and told me he constantly uses his pens and appreciates the TWSBIs' large ink reservoirs because he doesn't need to take bottles of ink with him to refill them. (Erik's TWSBIs aren't tiny "pocket pens," but are literally pens he carries in his shirt pocket so he can access them quickly.)

I asked Erik how he feels about the fact that TWSBI pens have all detachable parts and come with a wrench and manual that encourages you to disassemble and reassemble them.  Erik's response was very insightful.  He described it as a "double-edge sword," saying he likes that he is given full freedom to take the pens apart, and appreciates that almost everything has a replacement part available, but added that although it's fun to disassemble the pen, you might break it and "you probably will have to pay for [replacement parts] yourself."  Fortunately, he assured me, with the pens' great prices, if you do break your pen, it's not the end of the world, and you can learn a lot about how fountain pens work through the process. When I expressed trepidation about dismantling my new pen, Erik said, "They give you all the tools, but you don't have to take it apart!" Hm, good point!

Erik also mentioned that he loves not being stuck with the nib that comes with the pen; if you change your mind and regret the nib size you chose, you don't have to buy a whole new pen. We sell TWSBI nib sets for the Diamond Mini, Diamond 530/540/580, and Vac Mini, and TWSBIs use standard JoWo nibs so they are reliable and easy to find.

Before he left, Erik sagely advised me, "What you see online... take it with a grain of salt. Don't judge by the hive mind."  Thanks, Erik!  After talking with him, I started to feel much less nervous about my new acquisition.


Learning From Leila

Now that I was officially a TWSBI owner and on a mission to get to know the brand better, I knew I needed to learn to recognize the different models in our display case. I learn by doing, so I decided to organize all the TWSBIs into categories and make a key representing each TWSBI model that we carry:  Diamond 580, Diamond 580AL, Diamond Mini, Diamond Mini AL, Vac 700R, Vac Mini, Precision, Eco, Eco-T, and Swipe.  My colleague Joy helped me tremendously by writing a list of all the different types and which colors we had in stock for each one.  Thank you, Joy!

That's a lot of models! At the end of this article, I will give you an overview of the most popular ones, but, before I got bogged down by details, I just wanted to get a feel for what it was like to be passionate about TWSBIs and have fun with them, so, later that morning, I talked with Leila, my newest colleague. Leila is a great addition to our Pen Boutique team:  smart, enthusiastic, creative, quirky, and, like Erik, a relatively new fountain pen lover, so she's passionate about pens and about learning more.  Unlike Erik, she's in her mid-30s, so she has a different perspective on pens and on life.

When I asked her about her TWSBIs, Leila told me she owned "four and counting." She wanted her next acquisition to be the Prussian Blue Swipe, because she was curious about the filling mechanism, which is different from the piston-filling and vac-filling TWSBIs.  The Swipe comes with an ink cartridge and two converter options: a standard twist converter and a spring-loaded converter. "I am easily amused by design choices like that," she laughed. 

Leila went on to tell me her whole TWSBI story.  "My gateway TWSBI was a Diamond Mini that was gifted to me by a dear friend in the height of the pandemic to encourage me to write." It was the clear model, with a broad nib.  She loved the pen, so she put the Iris Diamond 580 on her wishlist, and her parents bought it for her birthday. This pen features a faceted transparent barrel and aluminum trim with a colorful, iridescent finish that catches the light and reflects back the colors of the rainbow. Even the steel nib has this eye-catching finish, a thoughtful detail that elevates the pen to a whole other level.  Her new pen had a fine nib, because she wanted to experience different nib sizes in a TWSBI, and she found that the fine worked just as nicely as the broad.  At that point, she thought, "This might be the pen for me."

Leila purchased two more TWSBIs since then, both the Eco model.  One is a broad nib Saffron Eco-T and the other is a the Persian Green Eco in medium. She carries her pens in a Punilabo case, and currently has her Saffron pen inked with Monteverde Sweet Life Strawberry Shortcake, a happy and whimsical orangey-red.

When I asked her about her favorite nib size, she said it depends on what she's using them for.  "If I'm writing quickly, I like a fine because not as much ink is deposited and it dries more quickly, so I'm less likely to smear it." On the other hand, she goes with broad if she's taking notes and can write at a more controlled pace.  She likes how the broad nib writes extra smoothly and how it shows off the ink.  She especially likes to use her broad nib for writing holiday cards with a shimmering ink, but says her very favorite ink is Diamine Writer's Blood.  Leila loves seeing her ink inside the clear plastic ink reservoir, but rather than matching her inks to the pens, she often likes to contrast her ink and pen color; for example, she currently has her Persian Green Eco inked with Monteverde Birthday Cake, a pretty purple that looks great sloshing around between the green cap and filler knob.

My final question to Leila was, "Have you taken apart your TWSBIs?"  She laughed.  "I hated LEGOs as a kid, I hated K'nex... I don't like tinkering with things... but, when the time comes to take apart my TWSBI, I will do it under the gentle instruction of a YouTube video."  That definitely made me feel a lot better about my lack of desire to disassemble mine!


TWSBI Tinkering

My next interviewee had a very different perspective from Leila, however. He's an engineer who became a science journalist, so, as he puts it, "I like gadgets and I like tinkering.  One of the first things I do [when I get a new TWSBI] is take it apart and put on the silicone grease."

I got to know James when he came into the store a few months ago with an interesting challenge for Aurora and me.  He told us he had just finished a book and that he wanted to buy an ink that would match the purple in the image on the cover, so he could use it in his Transparent Purple stub nib TWSBI Eco during book signings.  He wanted the ink to be fairly dry, so it wouldn't smear or feather. He'd tried Waterman Tender Purple, which is one of my favorite inks, but it was too wet for this purpose. We recommended Pelikan 4001 Violet, which turned out to be perfect. He loaned me a copy of his book, and I featured it in my article on the Waterman Carene. James told me in a follow-up e-mail, "I've signed a lot of books, and many people ask about the purple ink. Of course, I tell them all about Pen Boutique each time." A short time later, James came in to buy a clear Vac Mini and signed a copy of his book for Pen Boutique, so I got to see his purple Eco and ink in action.  It is indeed a great combination!

Since I knew James really likes TWSBIs, I e-mailed him on Thursday asking if I could ask him a few questions for my blog article.  He replied Friday morning, saying that he'd love to talk about his TWSBIs and that he'd be in the area and would be able to stop by the store that afternoon. Things worked out perfectly, and he came during a very quiet time, so, not only was he able to tell me about his pens, he ended up helping me take apart my new pen and reassemble it, then bought one for himself!  I did know purple is his favorite color, but it was not all a ruse to sell him the Grape Diamond Mini AL, I swear!

James told me he loves the Vac Mini he'd bought during his previous visit because it fits in his pocket so nicely. "I take it with me everywhere because it's compact and has an incredible reservoir." He added that it's perfect for travel because it has the largest ink capacity of any of the pens he owns, and he doesn't have to worry about running out of ink, even when he travels for a week at a time.  He also likes being able to close the safety valve when flying, which adds "an extra layer of security and confidence so you know it's not going to leak."

Despite appreciating the portability of compact Minis, full-sized TWSBIs are what James enjoys most.  Along with the Transparent Purple 1.1 stub Eco that he uses for book signings, he has a Black medium Eco that started as a stub.  TWSBI doesn't offer replacement nib units for the Eco and Eco-T, but, if you know what you're doing, you can pull out the nibs and feeds and replace them with those from the Diamond Mini or the Vac Mini. Don't try this without researching it thoroughly, because it's easy to damage the delicate fins on your feed. For most people, making a swap like this is not a good idea, but James enjoyed the challenge.

When it comes to color choices, he told me he loves the purple Eco because "there's a lot of flair, a lot of commenting on the pen."  When he uses it, people notice, and he tells them about the book and how he chose its color scheme.  James isn't a flashy dresser, so the bright purple pen stands out, and I can tell that just looking at it makes him happy.

James doesn't match his other pens to ink, and chose a conservative-colored Vac Mini "travel pen" because he wanted it to look more professional and sophisticated when taking notes.  For this pen, he loves the pigmented Sailor Seiboku Blue ink that I recommended to him, because it's waterproof once it bonds with the page, so he doesn't have to worry about his notes being ruined if they get wet.  He noted that the Pilot Vanishing Point is his real "professional pen" when he really wants to look serious, but TWSBIs are his "pleasure pen, [his] fiddling pen."

I totally get why TWSBIs appeal to James so much.  I can't really relate to it, but I love the idea of it. The mechanics of fountain pens are such a fun aspect of the hobby if you're the kind of person who loves understanding how things work. James described to me how he'd made minute adjustments to his TWSBIs to tweak the depth of the internal piston mechanism's plunger on his Eco and the alignment of his Mini's nib with the clip when the cap is screwed onto the back of the pen.  So cool.  "I'm usually covered in ink," he added, "but I like that. I like the fiddling and the tinkering.  I clean them when they don't need to be cleaned."

I really don't think owning a TWSBI is going to turn me into the kind of person who likes taking things apart and putting them back together or cleaning pens for the fun of it, but I figured it would be good to do it at least once, so I could better understand the pens and answer questions from customers.  I knew I'd be frustrated if I tried to do it on my own, so having James there to walk me through the process was another instance of serendipity.

I was feeling a little uncoordinated that day, and my eyes were bothering me so I was having trouble focusing, but I managed to do it, under James' instruction!  Even though the new pen didn't really need it, I used the wrench to take it apart, applied a little of the silicone grease to the outer rim of the plunger just to see how it was done, then screwed it back together using the wrench again. James explained to me that when you're disassembling the pen, you need to turn the wrench in the opposite direction of the way the knob unscrews to extend the piston. Although loosening something by turning it clockwise seems counter-intuitive, this is a design feature so that you don't unintentionally take apart the pen when turning the knob to fill the pen. That makes sense!  He showed me where to insert the wrench and got it started for me, then talked me through the rest.

The pen went back together just fine, and I didn't break anything, but, as I researched TWSBIs more, I realized this isn't something you really need to do unless your pen actually needs maintenance. (Or unless you're a tinkerer like James who can't resist, of course.)


Getting Inky With the Sisters

Natalie and Mikele, two wonderful sisters who love to come into the store and talk ink, also agreed to my interview proposal.  They're both rocking a little bit of gray hair, but have a totally infectious youthful enthusiasm for fountain pens and ink and are always pen-abling each other.  My work from home day was Saturday that week, which ended up being perfect because both sisters would be home from work and said they'd be available in the afternoon for phone interviews. I usually talk to Mikele and Natalie together, so it was very interesting being able to focus on each one separately.  I found out that, although they love sharing ink and sometimes buy matching pens, they actually have very different preferences when it comes to their TWSBIs!

My first phone call was with Mikele, and we talked over FaceTime.  It was her birthday, which made the call seem even more special.  When I asked her which TWSBIs she owns, she named six or seven different Ecos, a blue Swipe, and a Diamond 580.   

(White, Cerulean Blue, Jade, Glow Green, and Saffron, just a few of the Ecos in Mikele's collection!  She also has Persian Green and Transparent Yellow.)

The Eco is Mikele's favorite TWSBI model, and not just because it's inexpensive, although she does appreciate the low price.  She just finds the pen extremely comfortable to use, and prefers it to the Diamond 580. "I love the Eco," she stated unequivocally, adding that she has them in different nib sizes:  EF, F, M, and B.  Her absolute favorite is the fine, because, as she puts it, "I feel like I get a cleaner writing experience.  It doesn't feel cumbersome.  I feel like I can write quicker and crisper."  She stated several times how much she loves this wonderful "crisp" feeling, and I knew exactly what she meant. Although I don't have a fine TWSBI, I have started to gravitate toward finer nibs recently, too. Medium feels "heavier" to Mikele, and she likes her broad Eco for shimmer inks.

I asked her if she has a specific ink she pairs with each pen, or if she likes to mix it up, and she replied that she does mix it up, but it's by color family--for example, she doesn't try to match the exact shade of the pen, but she likes to put a green ink in a green pen. She told me the only ink she's ever found to be incompatible with her TWSBIs was Colorverse Soul, which was too dry in her medium white Eco. Right now, she's loving TWSBI Prairie Green in her Glow Green Eco, Ferris Wheel Press Goose Poupon in her Yellow Eco, Diamine Golden Ivy shimmer ink in her broad Diamond 580, Sailor Ink Studio 373 ("a brownish-peachish color") in her White Eco, Ferris Wheel Press Blushing Mushroom shimmer ("for doodling") in her medium Cerulean Blue Eco, and she always keeps Sailor Manyo Haha in her Ice Blue Swipe.  She is thinking of using Sailor Manyo Koke in her Persian Green Eco, but it's a new pen that she hasn't inked yet.  I love that Mikele is into such unusual shades of ink!  Very, very cool.

Although Mikele adores TWSBIs, she loves collecting other entry-level fountain pens, too. She says the Eco is in her top three favorite pens, along with the Pilot Metropolitan, Faber-Castell Hexo, and Kaweco Sport (um, that's four pens, Mikele!).  She loves the Kaweco in B and BB.  

She says the reason she loves TWSBIs so much is that she feels like she gets a $300 pen writing experience out of a $32 pen.  "I've tried some $300 and $500 pens, and it feels good, but I can go back to my TWSBI, and I don't feel the difference.  With some of my other pens, yeah... I can feel it.  But with the TWSBI, I don't."

Of course I had to ask Mikele, "Do you take your TWSBIs apart?"  She laughed.  "I took one apart once and it took me forever to figure out how to put it back together." I remember this, because she came into the store asking for help!  After that, she watched a video on how to properly clean a TWSBI and she no longer tries to take them apart. "I don't feel like it's necessary."  Instead, she rinses the nib, fills and de-fills the pen with water until it runs clear, and ends with a final filling and emptying with pen flush solution followed by water.

We discussed this a little, and I told her about my experience taking mine apart with James' guidance.  But, as she correctly pointed out, with most other pens you can't necessarily take them apart to clean them, and you don't feel like you need to.  Yes, I agreed, "With most pens you don't.  I guess it's just that TWSBI gives you that option if you think it's cool, but you don't have to do it." Natalie laughed. "I'm not taking them apart, Laura.  I'm not.  I'm not."

My final question to Mikele was whether she likes collecting Ecos in different colors, or if she feels like, "Okay, I've got enough now."  She responded vehemently, "I do!  I do! I just feel like... this is an innocent hobby. Who am I really hurting? But yeah, I want them in all the colors."  We both broke up laughing.  Yeah, I get it.  Collecting is fun!

After I got off the phone with Mikele, I called Natalie.  The sisters were planning one of their joint outings to the store for later that afternoon, so I didn't want to take up too much more of their time, but talking with Natalie was just as interesting as my video call with Mikele.  Natalie told me she owns three Diamond 580s, two Vac 700Rs, seven or eight Ecos, and one Go (a TWSBI model we don't carry).  Wow, that's a lot of TWSBIs!  

Unlike Mikele, she said the Vac is her favorite pen because she loves the larger #6 size nib.  She also loves the feeling of the vacuum mechanism and says, "It's just really cool." I asked her if she's had any trouble filling it, and she said no, then added, "I haven't had any trouble with any of my TWSBIs. They are easy to take care of, fun to use, colorful, smooth writers.  I really like TWSBI and really like the aesthetic.  I love demonstrator pens and have others as well. I like being able to see the ink swashing around, especially glittering inks."

Natalie also loves the Vac's huge ink capacity and likes not having to fill them as often.  She has F, M, B, and Stub nibs, and says she will use shimmer inks with broad and stub only.  Her #1 favorite ink to use with TWSBI is Iroshizuku Yama-budo, which "lives in her Iris"), but she also loves Colorverse Supernova, and the Diamine shimmer inks Golden Ivy, Magenta Flash, and Enchanted Ocean.  (I agree! Yama-budo, Supernova, and Enchanted Ocean are particular favorites of mine, too, and the others are also gorgeous.)  Her other favorite shimmer ink is Ferris Wheel Press Queen & Castle.

Natalie told me that she journals a lot, and uses her pens for journaling, as well as at work for taking notes.  Other favorite inks she mentioned are Diamine Earl Grey, Sailor Ink Studio 123, Butterfly Nebula and Anti-Matter from Colorverse, Sailor Yurameku Yoi ("love!"), Iroshizuku Fuyu-Syogun, Robert Oster Barossa Gilt, Diamine Moon Dust, and Diamine Memory Lane from the 2022 Inkvent Calendar ("so beautiful").  Colorverse Sunspot is her go-to black ink--a "beautiful black that writes like a dream." I love Natalie's taste in ink, and can't wait to try Sunspot!

Natalie changes her inks every month, and she also likes matte textured Lamy Safaris and Kaweco Sports, but says, "TWSBIs are my absolute favorite pen."  Every ink she's tried has been compatible with her TWSBIs, and she's crazy about broads and stubs. "I prefer a broad nib because it makes my sloppy handwriting look really nice," she laughed, adding that she also likes showing off the beautiful properties of her inks, like shading, sheen, and shimmer. When I asked her if she matches her pens and ink color, she responded enthusiastically, "Absolutely!  Yes I do! Oh yes, I love doing that.  It is so much fun." See why I love my customers?

She went on to say that matching inks to her pens is part of why she loves TWSBIs so much, and she got all excited when I mentioned that I had paired Colorverse Hayabusa Glistening with my Grape Mini AL.  She already owned Hayabusa, and said, "I can't wait to get my hands on it!" about the new Mini.  She ended up buying it that afternoon and pairing it with the same ink, which she agreed "is the best shade for this lovely pen."

Of course, I had to ask. "Do you take apart your TWSBIs?"  "I've done it all.  Taken apart, silicone grease, put together.  I've gotten good at it." She watched YouTube videos to learn how, and says she takes her TWSBIs apart for practical purposes, like when switching colors.  She likes to fully disassemble them to get out shimmer particles.  Natalie started her fountain pen journey last August with six pens, and is now closing in on 70.

(Pictured above:  Prussian Green Eco, Diamond Mini AL in Grape, Diamond 580 in Iris, and Clear Vac 700R, laid out on an Ink Splatter pen case from Rickshaw.)


What About Me?

So, what about me?  After all that, did I end up liking my Diamond Mini AL?  Well, what do you think?  It took a few days to fully grow on me, but yes, my TWSBI is now a loved and valued member of my pen family.  The clear barrel doesn't seem weird to me anymore, and in fact I love seeing my ink inside the pen.  Since I'm using a glistening ink, being able to see the ink helps me know if the shimmer is well distributed, and I love turning the pen in my fingers to mix the particles when they settle to the bottom.  The first time I filled the pen, I made a slight mess on my kitchen counter, but that was because I was filling it on camera from the small vial I had poured my mini bottle of Coloververse ink into.

I've been using the pen to take notes and do silly little sketches for several weeks now, and haven't had any problems with it. I refilled it yesterday and got a much fuller fill the second time. When I first started writing with it, I thought maybe the broad nib was too wet, because my ink was feathering a little in my Mnemosyne notebook, but after a day it settled down and wrote beautifully.  The combination of the Hayabusa and the metallic purple trim on the pen is indeed gorgeous, and I really enjoy the writing experience.  The pen size is very comfortable for me.  At first I thought the aluminum grip was a little slippery, but after a while I stopped noticing it.  

I get a lot of pleasure out of touching the faceted diamond texture on the barrel, and I also love how it looks when the facets catch the light and pick up nearby colors.  The clear plastic cap isn't my favorite, because I don't especially like seeing the upper lining or little drops of ink that sometimes get stuck inside the cap, but I do like seeing the metallic purple grip through the cap, so, overall, I don't mind it.  The red TWSBI logo on the cap's end finial is also pretty, and I like the 3D-effect of seeing it beneath a shallow clear dome.  The pen feels sturdy and I think the $60 price is very good.  Plus, there's just something about it that's hard to pin down.  It's an endearing pen with a lot of personality.  I'm fond of it, and I'm not scared of TWSBIs anymore. TSWBIs are fun.   

I'm going to end the "real" part of this story on that happy note, but I also wanted to share the details about the most popular TWSBI models that I learned when researching this article.  I hope you find them helpful when picking out your next TWSBI!

-Laura P.


Diamond 580, 580AL, and 580ALR

TWSBI has made a lot of different models in the Diamond line, including the Diamond 530 and Diamond 540. The 580 is the latest model, so it has the highest number.  This pen has a piston ink-filling mechanism and a faceted clear barrel that catches the light as you turn the pen in your hand, reflecting back nearby colors the way a diamond does.  Despite my misgivings about demonstrator pens, as soon as I began to play with the Diamond TWSBIs for this article, I started to find this effect quite pretty!  The facets feel nice if you turn the pen between your thumb and index finger, and they also help keep the pen from rolling away when you set it down.

The 580 holds about 1.8 ml of ink, which is a lot!  Most cartridges hold between 0.7 and 1.2 ml. The Diamond 580 isn't meant to be posted, and it feels unbalanced and precarious if you do.  The length uncapped is 12.9 cm / 5.1 inches, and, with the cap on, it's 14.2 cm / 5.6 inches. We have four regular Diamond 580 colors:  Clear, Smoke Rose Gold II, White Rose Gold II, and Iris.

The Diamond 580AL is a variation on the Diamond 580 model; as is the case with the Lamy AL-Star and Kaweco AL-Sport, the AL stands for "aluminum."  The 580 AL pens have colored aluminum accents instead of plastic.  There's  also a further variation on the AL pens:  the ALR, which has a matte finish.  The R stands for “ribbed,” because the grip section and cap have subtle grooved detailing instead of being smooth like on other 580 models.  I didn't take separate AL and ALR photos!

Our Diamond 580 AL pens are Silver and Rose, and the ALR models are Nickel Gray, Prussian Blue, Navy Blue, and Punch Pink.

The nib, cap metal accents, inner mechanism, and end cap metal accents are all Rose Gold plated on the Rose Gold model.  The limited-edition Iris model features metal accents with a beautiful and unique rainbow finish. This finish varies from pen to pen, so no two pens will have the exact same color pattern. Even the nib includes the finish near the tip!

Diamond Mini

The Mini versions of the Diamond pen have the same pretty faceted design and piston filling mechanism, but they hold 1.0 ml of ink and are about an inch shorter than a Diamond 580. The cap is designed to be posted, and screws securely onto threads at the top of the filling knob at the back of the pen.  When posted, its length is 13.9 cm / 5.5 inches, a very comfortable length. It feels well balanced and I like the weight.  I can also use mine unposted, and I often do this if I'm just jotting something down quickly, but, if you have a larger hand, this might feel uncomfortable for you.  

Like the 580, the Mini comes in both regular and AL versions. These are the Classic (Black), Clear, and White Rose Gold II, along with the Silver AL and new Grape AL. (Mine!)

Vac 700R and Vac Mini

Like the piston-filled Diamond, TWSBI's vacuum-filled pen comes in a full-sized and a mini version.  There are a lot more differences between the Vac 700R and the Vac Mini than between the two Diamonds, though.  The 700R has a very different looking clip than the other pens, and also a much larger nib.  From what I've read, many people seem to prefer the Mini's balance and proportions, although the full-sized Vac definitely has its followers, too. The 700R is a heavy and oversized pen, while the Mini is more of a standard size when posted.  Comparing the two pens would be a whole article in itself, and I don't have enough experience with them to get into that, but suffice to say that what you need to know the most about these pens is that they are vacuum-fillers and they both have very large ink capacities.  The Vac 700R has a maximum ink capacity of over 2.3ml, while the Vac Mini can hold 2ml.  Both are quite impressive volumes!

The vacuum filling mechanism is operated by twisting the knob at the end of the barrel counter-clockwise, pulling back the plunger, then submerging the nib in ink and pushing down the plunger to create a vacuum that sucks the ink up into the barrel. 

My colleague Aurora, who owns all the different types of TWSBIs that we carry (except the Precision and Swipe), told me she enjoys the Vac filling pens and piston fillers equally and doesn't have a favorite.  She did warn me that you shouldn't operate the Vac's plunger while there is ink in the pen, because when you pull it out, it expels the ink!  She also told me that she finds it easier to fill the Vac models from a filler than from a regular bottle of ink, because you can hold the bottle upside down above the pen and get a much fuller fill. Using a filler bottle is also a very neat and clean way to fill the pen. She recommends the TWSBI Vac 20A ink bottle and the Pineider Pen Filler.  She actually loves these filler bottles for filling many different fountain pens, not just a vacuum-filler.

The other important thing to know about vacuum-filled pens is that they feature an ink shut-off valve, which seals the ink chamber when the knob is fully tightened. The metal rod that makes up the filler mechanism has a small O-ring at the end, which seals the nib and feed and prevents leaks when the end cap is closed all the way.  This prevents the pen from leaking if you take it on an airplane, and you can also use it anytime you are carrying the pen. However, you must remember that if you use the pen to write more than brief notes (about half a page), the ink will stop flowing, so you need to open the valve to allow a continuous flow of ink.  To do this, twist the knob counterclockwise until it is loosened, but do not pull back the plunger. I don't own a vacuum-filled pen yet, but it's not as complicated as it sounds, and three out of four of the TWSBI fan customers that I talked to about their pens said they own at least one Vac model and love it!

The Vac 700R pens are available in Clear and Iris, and the Vac Mini comes in Clear and Smoke.

Eco and Eco-T

The most popular TWSBI models that we sell are Eco and Eco-T. They are very economical, and hold about 1.5 ml of ink with a standard fill from a regular bottle of ink.  You can get them even fuller if you use one of the special filling bottles I talked about above.  Again, this is an impressive amount of ink, and Eco fans love getting creative matching or contrasting their ink choices with the pens' many fun and interesting colors. The Eco is available in by far the widest array of colors, and they are not just any old boring colors, either.  

As with the Diamond models, the Eco pens' piston filling mechanism is easy to operate and fully visible inside the clear barrel.  All you have to do is twist the knob at the end of the barrel counter-clockwise to extend the piston, submerge the nib in ink, then screw the knob back shut to retract the piston, drawing ink into the pen from the bottle.

Before I started writing this article, I didn't know there were two different types of Eco. Leila owns one of each, so together we compared her Eco-T and regular Eco.  The Eco-T has a rounded triangular shaped cap and end finial, while the regular Eco's design is hexagonal.  The Eco-T also has a slightly more pronounced grip section. TWSBI says this grip is perfect for beginner writers learning proper grip, new writing enthusiasts, and anyone who prefers a more structured grip."  I think they are both comfortable, and Leila confessed that she didn't really notice any difference when using her pens.  When I pressed her about it, she compared her writing experience with both and said the Eco felt a little more slippery to her, whereas the Eco-T gave her a little more grip to work with.  To her, it's a negligible difference, but she said someone else might notice more of a benefit from one versus the other.  For what it's worth, Mikele also told me she doesn't really notice the difference between her Eco and Eco-T pens.

(Mint Blue Eco-T on the left, Glow Purple Eco on the right. As you can see, the difference in the grips is very subtle.)

The Eco comes in Black, Clear, White, White with Rose Gold trim, Smoke with Rose Gold trim, Transparent Blue, Transparent Purple, Transparent Yellow, Cerulean Blue, Glow Green, Glow Purple, and Persian Green.

The two "Glow" colors glow in the dark after they have been exposed to light!  The glowing green color is brighter, but they are both very cool. The Glow Purple pen's glow is blue. So fun!

The Eco-T is available in Clear, Mint Blue, Saffron, and in the deluxe Royal Jade set that comes with a bottle of ink and features Rose Gold trim.

Which TWSBI model is your favorite?

I love comments on my blog!  Please leave comments if you like the articles, and, if you have any questions about this article, or any of the other blog articles, you can e-mail support @  Thank you! - Laura P.