If you want a retractable fountain pen, you have to understand that you are diving into a niche within a niche. Only a tiny subset of fountain pens are retractable, so there isn’t as much competition as you’d expect, but this is still a rich and interesting segment of the pen market.
Let’s review today’s top retractable fountain pens.
What Is A Retractable Fountain Pen?
This might seem obvious, but a retractable fountain pen is a pen that uses a standard fountain pen nib but the nib goes into and out of the pen. This action happens as opposed to using a cap or in addition to using a cap. The pen’s nib commonly extends and retracts using either a click or twist mechanism.
With these pens, the nib is usually concealed behind some sort of door which prevents the it from drying out when the pen is not in use. These pens commonly use an undersized nib so that the pen doesn’t have to be extra wide to accomodate the side of the nib. Most fountain pens have a flared nib which is wider than the bottom of the pen, but this is not possible with a retractable.
Why Buy A Retractable Fountain Pen?
Fountain pens are already fickle enough, so should we really want to make them more complex? It’s all about convenience and easy of use. A screw-top fountain pen is ideal for sealing the nib and keeping it wet and ready to write, but this isn’t convenient if you want quick access to you pen. After all, convenience is a top reason why people go with a ballpoint or rollerball over a fountain pen.
Also a capped pen is almost impossible to open with a single hand, say if your other hand is holding a phone. A retractable fountain pen can fix this with a click mechanism.
Retractable fountain pens can also be smaller than standard models. With the nib going into the body and the possibility of removing the cap, then overall length of the pen can be shortened significantly if that is the designer’s goal. This is made clear with the Montblanc Boheme Doue, which is quite a small pen:
- Capped: 11 cm
- Nib Extended: 13.5 cm
- Nib Retracted: 11.5 cm
The Top Retractable Fountain Pens
Here are the most popular and recommended retractable fountains pens of 2021.
Lamy Dialog 3
Lamy’s Dialog 3 is one of the most highly regarded retractable fountain pens thanks to its reliable performance and handsome design. This pen has a twist mechanism and a sealed window that keeps the nib ready to go at a moments notice, adequately preventing hard starts.
One of the unique features of the Dialog 3 is that it uses a full-sized Lamy modular nib, which means the writing quality doesn’t suffer from an undersized nib. If that wasn’t great enough, the Dialog 3 uses Lamy’s 14K gold nib for some extra spring compared to the company’s standard stainless steel nibs.
You can expect to spend about $300 on a Dialog 3, but they are easy to find used for half that if you want to go that route.
- Read our Lamy Dialog 3 review
Pilot Vanishing Point
In the land of the retractable fountain pens, the Pilot Vanishing Point is king. This pen has been produced, in one form or another, since the 1960s and has developed a wonderful line of pens ranging from $80 for the “special alloy” steel nib version to over $800 for the limited edition Raden Maki-e body with an 18K rhodium-plated nib. There are lot of highly collectible sub-models as well, like the Namiki range, the Fermo, and so forth.
The Vanishing Point is a click retractable pen, meaning single-handed operation is easy and the pen is as accessible as any fountain pen on the market.
The downsides of the Vanishing Point are hard to deny as some problems are inherent in the design. The pen has a tiny nib that is prone to drying out and there is limited space for a converter, meaning you need to use Pilot’s CON-40 converter or — for maximum capacity — you need to use a Pilot cartridge. And then the clip is placed at the top of this inverted pen, next to the nib, so most people feel it gets in the way when writing.
You can expect to spend about $150 to get a gold nib Vanishing Point, but “Special Alloy” models are under $100. Keep in mind this pen has many versions though, so it’s easy to get down the rabbit hole and end up spending twice as much to get your preferred model.
- Read our Pilot Vanishing Point review
Pilot Capless LS
The Pilot Capless LS is a newer version of the Vanishing Point pen, in fact it’s sometimes called the “Vanishing Point LS.” It’s a variant of the original VP, not a replacement, and it features a high-end body and a classy knock/twist mechanism instead of a simple button.
The Capless LS is like a luxury version of the Vanishing Point which features a silent, slow moving mechanism that is both quieter and less prone to ink spitting than the click mechanism. The Capless LS has a smaller window for the nib to extend through and a lower profile clip, which is less bothersome when writing.
The nib is extended with a push, but retracted with a twist of a handsome metal piece at the bottom of the button. The return is slow and silent, with a feeling of craftsmanship and subtlety that the VP lacks.
The pen uses the 18k Vanishing Point nib and a similar enameled metal paint job, though there are new colors which are quite handsome and more subtle than a typical Vanishing Point. The metal hardware is improved as well, with some new components and more intricate designs.
The Capless LS is a luxury version of the Vanishing Point system, with a current price of about $400.
Despite a highly awaited release and coming from a great brand, the Platinum Curidas has been a rather disappointing pen. It’s a mostly plastic, click retractable fountain pen, which got a lot of people excited for it, but the pen has had numerous problems.
While a great idea in concept, because it could use Platinum’s modular nib system and it was priced at well under $100, the release was flawed because of a dry nib and plastic feed’s that are prone to cracking. This shook confidence in the Curidas, with what seemed to be about half of buyers having some sort of problem. The issues were compounded but overall lackluster build quality and the use of entirely plastic parts on the interior.
The pen is still available and sells for about $80. Unless you can find this one used, it’s worth waiting until version 2.0 to buy one.
- Read our Platinum Curidas review
The pens above are the primary retractable fountain pens sold today, but they aren’t the full list. Below are some pens that will be sold soon, in the case of the Lamy Dialog CC, and ones that have been sold in the past.
- Lamy Dialog CC
- Visconti Pininfarina Carbongrafite
- Hermes Nautilus
- Stipula Davinci Capless
- Hero 236
- Majohn X1 (aka Mojiang X1)
- Montblanc Boheme Doue
- Montblanc Heritage 1912
- Visconti Metropolis
Most of the pens are rare and rather expensive, with some being very expensive so they won’t be practical for most people to track them down. For example the Montblanc Heritage 1912 was a $1100 pen went it went on sale around 2015 and the Visconti Pininfarina Carbongrafite sold for $1800. So these are really here to fill out the list and as out of academic interest more than they are pens we’d recommend buying.
Hopefully this will help you with your retractable fountain pen research and buying!