I thought I was done with fountain pens. But like Michael Corleone said… Well, you know. I blame the German gents at Faber-Castell, who offered to send over one of their new Essentio models. Priced in the sub-$50 tier formerly occupied by the Loom, this blue metal beauty was too much to resist. Great looks and affordability? Heiliger strohsack!
I’d like to begin this review by offering my sincere apologies to Faber-Castell. After shipping one complimentary tester to my former address in New Mexico (where someone got a free pen, I’m assuming), they sent another example to my new home in Wisconsin. I offered to pay for the lost pen, but their consumer relations staff refused. So, this tester will be donated to a Nick Shabazz charity auction in the near future, along with a full bottle of ink. Anyway, on to the review.
Let’s cover a few of the Essentio’s options before discussing this particular tester. Faber-Castell offers the pen in multiple colors (black, rose, blue, metallic) and body types (carbon, leather, aluminum). There’s also the regular assortment of steel nibs, from Extra-Fine to Broad.
Coincidentally, the review sample lines up with my personal preferences. It features a blue aluminum chassis, with a broad nib up front. Here are a few measurements, as well as a comparison photo:
Body Diameter: 11.9mm (0.5in)
Cap Diameter: 14.8mm (0.6in) without clip
Grip Diameter: 10.6mm (0.4in)
Body Length: 133.8mm (5.3in)
Capped Length: 139.4mm (5.5in)
Posted Length: 190.4mm (7.5in)
Weight: 24g (0.8oz)
As shown in the comparison photo, the Essentio is longer and slimmer than the Loom. Its aluminum frame feels slightly more refined in the hand, and it repels fingerprints far better than its polished cousin. Overall, the in-hand feel is superb.
The cap is an area of special interest. I like the arc and spring of the clip, and the snap-on process is easy and secure. The fidgetter in me prefers threaded caps, but this is one of the better push/pull options I’ve encountered. Unlike the Loom, which could be a bit sticky, the Essentio’s cap is easy to remove and secure.
The Essentio has the best grip of any pen in my collection, bar none. The forward section is exquisitely ridged, allowing for easy purchase without some of the aggravating sharp edges found on my Platinum and TWSBI. Wunderbar!
4.5 stars out of 5
You know the feeling of waking up from a really good dream? You remember the broad strokes of the experience, but not a lot of the texture or detail. Writing with the Essentio is sort of like that.
The “Broad” nib on this pen may as well stand for “Bold.” It feels like you hit CTRL + B on your stationary, producing letters and lines with a girth that belies the pen’s slim profile. It’s a wet, lush writer, reminiscent of a cheap bottle of California red. You don’t get a lot of subtle line or color variation, but that deep flavor of the ink (De Atramentis Giuseppe Verdi) is still there.
Let’s go back to that wine comment. In her excellent book “Drink This: Wine Made Simple,” Dara Moskowitz-Grumdahl offers an interesting description of the varietal known as Merlot:
“If Merlot was a couch, it would be a deep, velvety, very comfortable one… In its worst guises, Merlot is like that big velvety couch, but with all the supports blown out: You sink in, and it’s flabby, has no structure, and threatens to suffocate you with dull lushness. That said, dull and lush is not the worst thing a wine could be, and when you’re stuck at the theater and jockeying for wine during intermission Merlot is likely to be superior to the other cheap and mysterious wines you’re offered.”
Don’t drink your ink, folks. What I’m getting at is this – The Essentio writes like a fever dream. Your ink may lose some of its texture in the thick, wet lines of the broad nib, but the richness of the experience more than compensates for the lack of subtlety.
A minor nitpick – While the Essentio was a solid writer out of the box, I detected a subtle hint of feedback. This was solved with a few quick passes across a $5 sheet of micro-mesh purchased from Goulet Pens. A patient break-in process would’ve produce the same results, but this quick fix worked wonders. The nib immediately opened up, taking the Verdi’s blue lines from tenor to baritone.
There is one rather significant flaw here. While you can certainly use the standard international refill cartridges, I sense that most folks will opt for bottled ink. This calls for the purchase of a refill converter, which costs another $5 at Goulet Pens or slightly more on Amazon. My issue isn’t so much with the outside expense (it pays off in the long run), but the experience of actually installing the converter. Take a look below:
See that? The converter’s fit is rather tight, yanking it off the feed every time you unscrew the barrel. You’re then required to pinch and pull to extract it from the aft section, getting ink all over your fingers. This is less than ideal. The pen hasn’t leaked or otherwise failed, but this is a significant annoyance when paired with the Essentio’s gusher of a nib. I can generally make it through 10-12 pages of stationary before the big bold starts thirsting for ink. So, be prepared for some stains on your skin.
There’s another downside to the Essentio’s thin, elongated profile – It’s not well suited for writing with the cap posted. Just look at that – The cap is almost half as long as the rest of the pen, stretching the posted length to 7.5-inches. This isn’t a big deal for me, but it is something to consider. I personally prefer this svelte chassis as opposed to the thicker Loom.
Complaints aside, this pen is a spectacular writer. I’m more than willing to endure the occasional inky fingers in exchange for its style, comfort, and beautiful lines.
4.25 stars out of 5
With its aluminum body, steel nib, and solid build quality, I have no doubts as to the Essentio’s longevity. My sole concern here lies in the converter situation. Will its repeated twisting against the feed increase long term wear? Perhaps, but I think the refill converter will fail before the pen does.
Whatever the case, I’m satisfied with the outlook on the Essentio. It captures the solidity of the Loom while shedding some of its bulbous awkwardness.
4.5 stars out of 5
My price quibble is the same here as it was with the Loom: I would like to see the pen come with a refill converter. But, let’s set that aside for now. If we’re considering all $48 to be invested in the pen alone, this comes out as the best under-$50 writer I’ve tested. It beats the pants off the Pilot Metropolitan and Lamy Safari, while edging out the Loom and TWSBI ECO by virtue of its broad nib. I would not hesitate to put down my hard-earned cash on the Essentio. And, by the time this review is live, another one will probably be on the way.
There is another cost to consider here: Premium paper. This broad nib will absolutely soak standard printer stock, and bleed like Otello at the end of Act 4. It’s par for the course with fountain pens, and won’t actually affect the overall score. But, if you’re looking to upgrade your writing experience, be sure you have the paper to match it. Here are a few: Strathmore, Clairefontaine, and (most economically) the “M” Gold Series from Staples.
4.5 stars out of 5
After more than 1,300 words, let’s boil this down to basics: The Essentio is a superb pen. It’s better in-hand than the Loom, which has been topping the “Best Pens Under $50” lists for years. I love the grip, the body, and the nib. And while the tightness of the converter is annoying, I’ve found myself reaching for this pen over every other. As good as the Loom was, the Essentio is better.
Thanks again to Faber-Castell for sending it my way (twice) – You’ve earned my business in the near future. As for this pen, its tour will continue with a west coast swing to noted critic Nick Shabazz. Well, maybe after I write one more letter. Or two.
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