Pilot Custom 823 Fountain Pen

Pilot Custom 823 Fountain Pen

It’s been a while since I bought a new fountain pen. This is about the Pilot Custom 823.

Literally every review I’ve read says the same things: “It’s not a looker, but what a great writer!” I can only resist that kind of consensus for so long, so I bought one. I have the “smoke” color with a fine nib. I ordered it from JetPens for $270. I’d say this puts it well into significant purchase territory, so I was very excited when it arrived. I’ve been journaling quite a lot recently and was looking forward to spending time with what reviewers call one of the best every day writers.

I’d like to tell you that it was love at first write, but that wasn’t the case. The pen looks fine, if a little boring. I didn’t get it for its looks, so I don’t mind. The pen feels very good in hand, too. This is important. It’s not too heavy or unbalanced, either with the cap posted or not.

It’s a vacuum filler, which is apparently unusual but I’m not sure why, as it’s super easy to fill. It holds a lot of ink, too. This does make it more difficult to switch inks, but I don’t switch often so this isn’t a problem.

So what’s not to love, then? Well, I didn’t love how it wrote. I bought the pen to write with and not look at, so this was a problem. It felt somewhat scratchy and skipped more often than I’m used to. At first I thought of it simply as “feedback” but it was worse than just feedback. It felt dry. I’m left-handed, so any scratchiness in a pen is amplified. This was disappointing.

I thought maybe I had received a bum copy, but I’m loathe to ship things back and wait so I’d try a few things before giving up.

First, I ran it with wetter ink. I typically use one of the quick-drying Nooder inks like Bernanke Blue, but thought something wetter might fare better. I ordered Pilot iroshizuku kon-pecki ink and it was an immediate improvement. Also, what a great ink!

Pilot iroshizuku “kon-peki”

Then, I spent some time writing in a Midori notebook. Maybe I got an off copy of the Leuchtturm notebook I have been using, but writing in the Midori made a huge improvement.

So the problem wasn’t with the pen, necessarily. It was just a combination of the fine nib, dry ink, mediocre paper, and being left-handed.

Things were much better, but I still wasn’t thrilled with how it wrote. I wondered if maybe the nib was simply too fine. Japanese pen makers’ idea of “fine” is different than that of the German pen makers. Here’s a comparison between the fine nib on the Pilot and that on the Pelikan M400.

Left: Pilot Custom 823 Fine. Right: Pelikan Souverine M400 Fine.

I had to find out, so I ordered another Custom 823, but with a medium nib. After a day with the new pen, I’ve concluded that it’s perfect. The combination of better paper, wetter ink, and broader nib is wonderful. This is my new favorite crew.

Pilot Custom 823, Pilot “kon-peki” ink, and Midori MD notebook.