Oddly enough, this pen is definitely a bit on the obscure side in our community it seems. Being a sub-$5 fountain pen, it doesn’t get a lot of press.
Sometime last year I saw a Tweet from Zebra about how they had changed the V-301 to have a different, more hooded style nib so I wanted to check it out.
I recall buying a Zebra V-301 a long time ago from a Walgreens drug store. Probably my FIRST fountain pen ever actually. (wow, that realization just came to mind…crazy) This was way before The Clicky Post or my foray into fountain pens at all. It looked interesting so I bought it and tried it out. At the time I didn’t quite “understand” fountain pens and probably tried to use it for something like writing on a Post-it (which totally stinks with fountain pens) and then went back to my ballpoint or gel at the time. Needless to say, it didn’t stick with me and was nearly forgotten.
This seriously is a pen I give little to no thought to, but after seeing their post it made me want to give it a fair shake. Is it a good pen? Zebra is still making them, so they must be selling a decent number of them? And for 5 bucks?…
The V-301 is definitely a made for the pen aisle sort of pen as it comes in a blister pack like a gel or ballpoint. That isn’t a criticism, but it isn’t meant to be fancy, and that’s ok.
I’ve got to admit, all of the stainless series pens from Zebra like the 301s, 402s, 701s in their various forms are really good looking pens. The shiny metal look gives them a presence and appeal, like they look like a nice pen. Maybe even a little futuristic.
Performance wise they are usually pretty good, but are probably one of the better looking cheap pens on the market. Not to mention how the F-701 has been taking the EDC crowd by storm for years since you could hack them to fit a Fisher Space refill. (I have a whole post about some hacks from a few years ago)
Even though the V-301 is made with a lot of metal components, they are really thin which makes it super light weight. Inked up it only comes in at 0.5 oz with the cap and 0.2 oz uncapped. 0.2! That is so light.
Although, even with it’s airy composition it is pretty comfortable. It is a good size and the length fits nicely in the hand.
The grip section is a molded plastic with ribs/grooves throughout which provides some texture. For my grip I find that I try to put my fingers closer to the nib where they meet a pretty sharp dropoff where the cap seats when closed. This is a pretty sharp edge and not very comfortable, so it forces me to move my grip back a little more than I’d prefer.
Along with the fountain pen the blister pack comes with two cartridges. One of these is touted as a “bonus” which is nice. Shoot, most expensive pens only give you one… +1 Zebra.
These cartridges are a proprietary size, so no swapping internationals in here. If someone really wanted to they could syringe fill the old carts with their own ink.
And, being a strange size and a really inexpensive pen I highly doubt that there is a converter that you can purchase to go with it.
The packaging says to push the cartridge until you “hear the click”; that thing wasn’t going in super easy, so I ended up pushing the cart against the top of my desk until it snapped in.
Next, the instructions say to give the pen “a few shakes” to get the ink flowing… a few didn’t really cut it. I decided to do quick sharp “shakes” in intervals of 10. “1, 2, 3, 4…. 10” to try and get it going.
It took 60 shakes.
How did it write? Ok I suppose for a sub $5 pen. I wouldn’t call it great, but ok. It is a pretty dry writer (for me), and at certain angles it is on the scratchy side. But from other angles it is glassy and pretty good.
I’ve seen some product ratings for the pen where people had a lot of skipping with theirs. Some slow starts with mine, but not problematic in my experience. It may vary from pen to pen with these…
It works, but I wouldn’t say it impressed or surprised me in any way. No, “Wow! For $5 this thing is awesome.”
From a line width standpoint I’d put it in the “fine” range (it doesn’t say on the packaging but read 0.7mm online). My personal preference in Japanese pens is somewhere in the medium range, particularly with light pens. If it is really light and really fine, I find it takes some effort for me to get the sort of flow and lines that I like. For someone who really likes narrower line widths, this would probably be ok.
Being one of the cheapest, refillable fountain pens on the market it is hard to give it too many gripes. It looks cool and it does write ok. What’s wrong with that?
Would I recommend this pen as someones first fountain pen? Only if they were willing to buy a couple of other cheap pens to try alongside it...
When someone is used to writing with ultra smooth ballpoints or really rich dark lines from a rollerball or gel, trying out their “first” fountain pen experience is really touchy. People already have preconceived notions on how a pen should behave and the fountain pen is an unknown. They may think it should feel better than those other pens they like and are used to or that their mind is going to be blown when using it and will instantly be in love.
I think back to my original Walgreens V-301 experience mentioned before… I had my favorite gel pens that I loved and that worked well for me. I inked up and tried the V-301 and was immediately indifferent to it or maybe even didn’t like it and never went back to it. It didn’t have enough in common with my regular writing for me to maintain an attraction, where a different starter fountain pen might.
I must be an exception to the rule of “coming back” to fountain pens since, well, here we are at The Clicky Post and I’m now writing reviews on fountain pens. If I went back to my old Walgreens V-301 trying self and told him that I bet he’d say I’m crazy.
Being only $5 I would say someone could be safe to try it with very little risk, but would certainly put some caveats in there that it isn’t the Rolls Royce of pens and to keep an open mind. Probably a GREAT pen to get for someone to learn how fountain pens work for extremely cheap that doesn’t want to spend a lot, or even for a kid that wants to have their own.
What are your thoughts on the V-301?