My Unexpected Love Affair with the Faber-Castell Hexo

My Unexpected Love Affair with the Faber-Castell Hexo

Nuts about Notebooks Reading My Unexpected Love Affair with the Faber-Castell Hexo 17 minutes Next Fun with Water Resistant Inks

An Experiment

We were short-staffed recently, so I couldn't schedule a day to work from home and prepare the blog. I was very busy in the store, but that doesn't mean I wasn't thinking about my upcoming blog! It struck me that it would be a good opportunity to take advantage of the additional lead time and chose a pen to give a true test-drive as an everyday carry pen. Instead of just trying it quickly as I do in my big reviews where I cover lots of pens, I could focus on experiencing the pen over time in a real world situation. 

When the store closed for the day, I ran my idea by my colleague Joy. She thought it was a great plan, and we quickly brainstormed pens. I wanted to pick one that isn't overly expensive so it would be okay for me to take one and use it for real like I did with the notebooks, and I also wanted to focus on a brand that doesn't get as much attention as it should.

She suggested Faber-Castell, which was perfect because I had never tried a Faber-Castell fountain pen. Faber-Castell is a German brand that was founded in 1761 at Stein near Nuremberg as the A.W. Faber Company.  It has remained in the Faber family for eight generations, and took on the name Faber-Castell when the Faber heiress Freiin Ottilie "Tilly" von Faber married Alexander Graf zu Castell-Rüdenhausen, a count. ("Graf" is the German word for "count.")  Their new logo combined the Faber motto, "Since 1761," with the jousting knights from the Castells' coat-of-arms. Faber-Castell is famous for their pencils and pens, and the luxury pens in their elite Graf von Faber-Castell line are some of the finest in the world. The regular Faber-Castell line is less fancy, but are high-quality, well-made writing instruments with over 260 years of history behind them.

After briefly considering a few other models, I decided on a Hexo. We sell the Hexo for $44, so it's not a cheap pen, but it isn't "next level," either.  At under $50, it would be a reasonable first fountain pen, or a nice pen to add to a growing collection. It's also in the perfect price range for an everyday pen that you can use at work, at school, or on the go, where you want good performance but wouldn't be devastated if the pen were to suffer an early demise.

(Left to right: Hexo in Blue, Rose, Bronze, Black, and Silver. We also just got in a brand-new color while I was home writing this blog:  Matte Black!) 

I looked over the Hexos on display in our store and quickly dip-tested a fine and a broad to compare their nib sizes, then decided on a Rose Hexo with a medium nib. I'm extremely fond of this kind of metallic rose color, and the pens seemed to write well, but I honestly did not spend very much time choosing this pen, which is quite unlike me.

Normally if I were to buy a new pen for myself, I would think long and hard about it, read lots of reviews online, watch videos, pore over photos, and imagine how it would fit in with the rest of the members of my pen family. But this was a last-minute idea late in the day when it was almost time for us to go home, and I wanted to take the pen with me that night to ink and use at work the next morning.  We grabbed one from the warehouse and Joy created an order for me so that it would be taken out of stock and I would not need to treat it any differently than the rest of my pens. I told her I planned to try it with a vial of Sailor Sou-boku pigmented ink that a customer had given me, so she said I needed a converter and grabbed one of those, too. Although I have owned over 30 fountain pens, I had never used a converter before (weird, but true!), so that would be part of the new experience, too!

The Hexo wasn't even a pen I'd paid much attention to while spending time in the store. I knew it existed, but I didn't remember ever selling one to a customer or helping a customer dip test one. It wasn't a pen I'd admired through the glass, or a pen I took out of the case to examine more closely. I didn't dislike the Hexo, but there are so many more charismatic pens at Pen Boutique, I had never thought much about it. Little did I know how much I would love the Hexo I had chosen almost by chance!


Trying the Hexo

Although I was tired that night after dinner, naturally I couldn't resist trying the new pen. It was too late at night to use the converter (because I wanted to take a photo of it first), so I just dip tested the Hexo and wrote in the little Maruman Mnemosyne notebook I had been using from my notebooks blog.

I had liked the pens that I'd quickly sampled in the store, but all I had written with them was "this is a test" and a few xs and loops.  Sitting at my desk and focusing on the experience of my Hexo, I wrote, "Wow, I didn't know what to expect, but I love this pen right away! It feels so comfortable. I am completely exhausted right now, and it actually feels relaxing to write with. I love the shape of the grip, the weight, and the thickness, which surprises me because it's much thicker than my other pens."

The Hexo is thicker than I'd normally choose for myself, and it looks nothing like my other pens, most of which have a retro look.  The streamlined tapered body of the Hexo is made from smooth anodized aluminum and looks sleek and modern, more like a piece of furniture, electronic device, or car that I'd buy. The more I used the Hexo, the more I grew attached to its appearance and realized how perfect it is for me.

(The Hexo with two of my other favorite fountain pens, the Pilot e95s and the Pelikan M205.)

(Hexo with some other Pen Boutique pens in the same general range:  Monteverde Ritma, Pilot Metropolitan, TWSBI Eco, Cross Beverly, Platinum Plaisir, Lamy AL-Star, and Kaweco Sport.)


The Hexo Feel

The Hexo's hexagonal shape is a homage to Faber-Castell's famous graphite pencil, which I also love. I own a number of sparkle pencils, as well as a Grip Ballpoint that I use with a ceramic gel refill (it's my favorite when I have to write checks), and, although the Hexo is a much more sophisticated writing instrument than this pen or pencil, my primary reason for loving them all is the same:  the comfortable and functional design. They remind me of a classic drafting pencil used by an architect or designer. The shape of all three enables easier gripping during use and prevents them from rolling away. They are angular and tactile, with a pleasing feel and a light weight that allows for long and precise use without tiring the hand. 

I am not exaggerating when I say that Hexo has the most comfortable hold I have ever experienced in a pen. I noticed it right away, and I continued to appreciate it every time I picked up the pen. The thick, gently curved grip section is simultaneously smooth and soft, with an organic feel that has just the right amount of give and provides traction for your fingers so they won't slide. I don't know how this is achieved, but the black material, while not flexible, reminds me of a piece of sporting equipment designed to allow you control with wet hands or while performing fast-moving action. Although the pen is stockier than any of my others, it doesn't feel too large in my hand, and the balance is perfect, both with the cap posted on the back of the pen and with the cap set to the side. The thicker body paired with supremely lightweight and strong aluminum is relaxing to hold and encourages me to loosen my grip so my hand doesn't cramp during long writing sessions.

This grip section doesn't force your hand into a specific position like a pen with a triangular grip such as the Lamy Safari or Pelikan Twist, which are designed to teach you how to hold the pen at an ideal angle for optimal nib contact with your paper, but the angled Hexo barrel does subtly guide your hand into a comfortable and ergonomic hold as the flat sides rest lightly against your hand. While a triangular grip can be very helpful to someone learning to use a fountain pen, it can also feel awkward if you have an unconventional way of holding your pen--for example, if you are left handed. When I showed the Hexo to my left-handed architect neighbor, he was pleased by the friendly feel, and also commented that he liked the flat sides that stayed put where he set it down, "like a carpenter's pencil."

My other favorite thing about the Hexo's design is that the cap facets always line up with the facets on the pen's body, both when you cap it and when you post it, no matter which direction you face the clip.  This is not the case for other faceted pens such as those from Caran d'Ache and YStudio. While those brands make gorgeous and very striking pens, they require intent if you want the flat sides of the cap and body to line up. The Hexo's alignment happens naturally, thanks to raised ridges hidden inside the cap, and if you attempt to force the cap onto the pen with the facets not aligned, the Hexo will gently correct you, landing perfectly every time. 


Hexo in Action

As I started using my new Hexo as an everyday pen, I grew to love it more and more.  I installed the cartridge converter and loaded it with Sailor Sou-boku,  which immediately felt like the perfect ink for the pen.  (I am planning to talk about this ink and other water-resistant inks in depth in my next blog article.) I've always either refilled my cartridges with a blunt syringe or used a piston-filling pen, but trying a converter for the first time was super easy and I didn't worry about the ink potentially staining it like I would if I were using a piston filling pen. Yes, the converter might get stained, but, if it does and that bothers me, I can always buy a new one for a little over $5.

(Check out the Instagram video I made demonstrating how to use the converter. As usual, I have ink all over my hands, but that wasn't the fault of the pen or the converter!)

In the store, I used my new Hexo with the small Maruman Mnemosyne notebook to write a list of the Graf von Faber-Castell inks that we'd splatted so far, so I could choose a new one for the daily ink splat without repeating. I scribbled down the SKUs of pens that customers wanted to buy, Colorverse mini inks to restock, and ideas for video scripts to write for Instagram.

At first I wasn't sure about the wide flat clip, but I soon decided it was perfect for attaching the Hexo to the thin and sturdy plastic cover of the notebook, so they were always together and handy.

(I put a piece of washi tape on the notebook I'm using, so I won't mix it up with the ones for sale in the store!)

With the pen clipped to the notebook, I was ready to pull out both and jot down ideas for the blog when I took a walk during my coffee break this afternoon, and I didn't worry about losing track of the pen in the store when I left it on the counter. The strong clip always holds on tight, and it doesn't catch on anything when I throw it in my bag. Like the rest of the pen, it's impervious to fingerprints. 

The sleek black nib is steel, but it's very smooth and behaved perfectly every time. I've been using it for three weeks now, and not once has it skipped, hard started, or gotten ink on my fingers. It's always ready to go, with no nib creep, no scratchiness, and no drying up or clogging. I used it with Sailor Sou-boku for a couple weeks, tried Sei-boku and loved it even more, and finally put in the royal blue ink cartridge that came with the pen, and all of them wrote great! The Hexo takes standard international ink cartridges, so even if you prefer using cartridges, you have tons of options. I felt like the ink in the supplied cartridge was a little too wet for the pen, and I'm looking forward to trying more choices to make a list of my new pen's favorite inks.

My one complaint about this well-designed pen is the limited color options. The colors that are available are nice in a subtle and reserved way that I appreciate, but I long for more choices. What about a nice frosty wintergreen or peppermint blue? A metallic pink grapefruit or orchid? Or even just gold! Come on Faber-Castell, I know you aren't afraid of color... the new matte black texture is really nice, but give us a new Hexo that isn't another shade of black next time! 


Fun with Hexo

Over the long Memorial Day weekend, I took the opportunity to let my mind wander with a stream-of-consciousness ink painting, something I haven't done in over a year. I used the Hexo for the outlines of my drawing, then painted over the top with a watercolor paintbrush and diluted fountain pen ink. In the past, I'd always had to wait for the painting to dry and add the ink lines last, but with the nano-pigmented Sailor ink, I could work in a more natural order and the ink didn't run at all!  I loved drawing with the Hexo, and felt more relaxed than I had in a long time.


(What does it mean?  Only Hexo knows!  I used a blank A4 sized Maruman Mnemosyne Notebook for this diversion.)

I also took Hexo with me out to dinner with a friend, and used it to write down the ingredients of the delicious drink I ordered.  I used a Write Pocket Ledger this time!

Naturally, I asked my friend to try the Hexo. He's a nightly journaler, but doesn't use a fountain pen. He was very impressed by how smooth it was and how easy and natural it felt to use!

Back in the store, I had more fun with the Hexo by using a bronze colored model to experiment with Platinum Classic Lavender Black ink and test its reaction to being doused in water.  I had my co-worker Austin record me writing with the pen so we could watch the color change as it dried, and then continue filming as I poured water over the words.  (This is another ink I'll cover in my upcoming blog on water resistant inks.) I liked the Hexo so much, it was hard for me to resist using it for everything!


An Instant Hit

The other thing that was hard for me to resist was sharing my Hexo with people in the store.  If a customer wanted to sample one of the notebooks featured in my previous blog and hadn't brought her favorite pen with her, I'd say, "Here, try my pen!"  If another one needed to write down his phone number so Joy could call him when an out of stock item comes in, I'd hand him my Hexo.  If Winnie wanted to modify one of my video scripts to tighten up the dialogue, I gave her my Hexo.  Without fail, they loved how it felt in their hands and how it wrote! 

My favorite Hexo encounters were with two different customers who came in the same week.  Both told me that they had owned a fountain pen in the past but had stopped using it because they didn't like getting ink on their hands and hated when it wouldn't always write reliably.  They wanted to try a fountain pen again but asked me to recommend one that wouldn't skip or hard start and wasn't too expensive.  (Skipping is when a pen sometimes fails to write part of a letter--usually on the downstroke.  Hard starting is when you pick up your pen to write, and the ink won't flow. Both can be very frustrating!) 

In both cases, I immediately pulled out my Hexo and told them how well-behaved it had been for me.  I also explained to them that I loved how comfortable it felt in my hand, the shape of the grip, the weight, the balance, and how the cap and barrel automatically line up.  I asked them to try it, and, as soon as they picked up the pen, they agreed with me!  Both customers instantly loved the way the Hexo felt, and both were extremely impressed after they filled a page with it writing on one of our tester pads.  The two customers were nothing alike and had completely different writing styles and ways of holding their pens, but they both had flawless results, loved the feel, and decided to buy the Hexo after trying it for less than a minute.  I was amazed and elated by the easy sales!  I delightedly told Joy later, "I can't believe how great the Hexo is!  It practically sells itself!"  She laughed, pleased by how much of a success my spontaneous pen experiment had turned out to be.

I don't know if you'll want to try a Hexo after reading about my experience, but I hope so. I realize it's not the kind of flashy pen people drool over and dream about owning.  It wasn't even on my radar until I chose it almost randomly. But I'm glad I did. Now I look forward to using the Hexo every day and I can't imagine living without it. No, it doesn't look like my other pens, but that's okay!  Hexo is unique.

As Faber-Castell puts it on their website, "Hexo is the new tool that lets ideas grow. A special companion, as individual as we are: with its hexagonal shape and feel, it brings entirely new perspectives into creative writing, sketching and drafting. It is made in Europe and available in black, silver, [blue, bronze,] and rose."  The Hexo also comes in ballpoint and rollerball, but try the fountain, even if it's your first one!  Hexo will be your friend both at work and at rest.

-Laura P.