I finally caved on a proper calligraphy pen.
The Pilot Parallel was the obvious choice. Like many of Pilot’s beginner fountain pens, the Parallel is very affordable at just eight dollars. There are four sizes available, the 1.5mm, 2.4mm, 3.8mm, and the gigantic 6.0mm, and each pen comes with two ink cartridges, a “converter” cleaner, a nib cleaning thingamajig, and a nice information sheet about the pen and calligraphy in general.
I went for the 3.8mm partially because, after using the Pilot Plumix, I wanted a pen that was really obviously intended for calligraphy purposes. None of this medium italic nib that can still be used for normal writing stuff! I want a big nib! But 6.0mm seemed monstrous, so I went a size down. (The other partial reason is that the 3.8mm is the green one, and green is my favourite color.)
Getting a proper calligraphy pen was a plunge off the deep end though, lemme tell ya what. (omg, this review is 1500+ words long. How. WHY.)
I’ve basically not set the pen down since I got it.
I went through five ink cartridges the first week. Five! A little over two weeks later, I’ve lost track of the refills, but I’ve filled up an entire 40 page sketchbook and have a huge stack of loose sheets all filled with nothing but calligraphy doodles.
I’m a complete newb at calligraphy, but I think one of the reasons I went completely nuts with this pen is because the included info sheet is actually really, really useful. It describes the pen’s various features, including the ability to gradate inks if you’ve got two pens, but the two-sided sheet also includes everything you need in a crash course for calligraphy.
In particular, stroke-by-stroke references for how to form letters in italic, Roman, and Gothic styles were fantastic to have. I was surprised at how easy and intuitive it was to form some of the letters, so off I went on a crazy calligraphic rampage.
For the most part, the pen performs perfectly.
The ink flows very generously, ensuring very saturated and rich letters when you’re writing with the whole nib. It’s a lot rougher though, when you’re doing small, thin, decorative strokes with the corner of the nib. In those instances, the Parallel is pretty random about when it wants to drop ink, and there were a lot of times where I was scratching up my paper for a while trying to add decorative doodads to my letters before the ink finally flowed again. The effect is kind of charming when you’re straight-up doing letters with the nib corner, but for decorative marks, it’s pretty frustrating.
The nib of the pen is two parallel plates squished together with ink flowing between them, hence the pen’s name. I don’t know anything about calligraphy nibs, but I do think that this design helps minimize ink splotches. The Parallel is well-marked with the size — it’s on the end of the cap and on…whatever that part is called that’s between the nib and the cartridge. Most of the pen body is grey, but there’s a small demonstrator section where you can see the bottom third of the ink cartridge. Helpful, though to be honest I’m really not used to checking ink levels and am usually caught my surprise when I run out of ink. On the other hand, I’ve gone through so many ink cartridges in the Parallel that I can almost guess about when they’ll run out now…
Paper will get caught between the nib plates if you’re rough with the nib and/or using rough paper. I haven’t had too much of an issue since I got the hang of the nib, but if paper does get stuck in there, the nib cleaner thingy the pen comes with is basically a thin piece of plastic that you can wedge in between the nib plates. You’re basically flossing your nib? Super basic, but it gets the job done, and it’s neat that it’s included.
The “converter” cleaner the Parallel comes with is intended to clean the nib but flushing it with water. I put converter in quotes because while that’s what the instructions call it, “converter” is usually understood to mean a means of using different inks with a pen that takes a specific refill cartridge, and that’s not what this thing does. Instead, it’s a sponge thing that you can soak up water with and then squeeze it through the nib? I’m not really sure what the benefit of using it is over just running the whole thing under the faucet, but I haven’t actually used it! Cleaning out the nib between ink refills is useful if you’re changing ink colors and don’t want them to mix, but if you do want them to mix…
Since I had just one pen, I only got to see ink gradation when I changed out ink cartridges. The pen came with a black and a red cartridge, and I had a bunch of black-blues on hand. The transition between colors is really nice! I’ve never really been big on color transitions (or colors in general) in my lettering work, but the smoothness of the gradations allowed by the Parallel and the ease by which it’s achieved makes me want to play with it more.
And I think that’s what I like best about this pen. It makes me want to explore by making it so easy for me to do so. Have no idea how to calligraphy? Bam, here’s a guide! How do form letters? Bam, here’s a stroke-by-stroke reference! Colors?? Bam, you just have to swap out your inks. So easy! It’s the perfect beginner’s pen.
Naturally, I bought a second one at the first opportunity.
I went with the 2.4mm pen next, and I think these might be the only two I need, actually.
3.8mm was a good starting pen for me because it made obvious the angles of my strokes and the way I was forming my letters. It was the big, obvious calligraphy pen I wanted. It did definitely get hard fitting things on pages sometimes because of the size though, so I went the size down for my second pen. The 2.4mm is still obviously a calligraphy pen, but it’s not as in-your-face as the 3.8mm. Especially now that I’ve gotten some mileage in with my 3.8mm, I’m more familiar with how letter shapes are formed, etc, so even if certain shapes aren’t as obvious with the 2.4mm, I still know they’re there, if that makes sense.
I threw in the Pilot Plumix for comparison. I don’t know the actual size of the nib, but I’ll guess around 1.0mm? Now that I know how to make letters in certain styles, the italic nib is a bit more interesting, but it still frustrates me that the resulting lettering isn’t as obvious. That’s why I probably don’t need the 1.5mm Pilot Parallel. If I’m gonna do calligraphy, I want it to be obvious! And if I’m just gonna write todo lists, then I don’t need fancy. The Plumix is a good pen, but it’s kind of in a frustrating in-between spot.
As for the 6.0mm Pilot Parallel…well, I don’t really like to work big, so that seems pretty pretty unnecessary, haha.
Now that I have two pens though, I can do gradation the way it was intended! And that’s by vertically holding one pen’s nib against the other’s, haha. Very basic! The ink flows down from the first pen and into the nib of the second, so when you write with that second pen, it starts off with the other pen’s ink color, then gradually goes back to its original color.
The Blick store only had pink ink in stock when I went, so unfortunately pink to blue-black (and vice versa) gradations is all I can do for a while. I think the gradation is a lot less smooth done this nib-to-nib way, but it’s a helluva lot easier to do (and less messy) than swapping ink cartridges. It could also just be the paper I was using for this test though, which is a cheap scratchpad I have. The rate of gradation seems like it’ll be a hard thing to control, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to figure out a workable correlation between the number of seconds I hold the nibs together and how quickly the inks gradate.
Once I get some different colored inks, I also want to play with subtler gradations like between green and blue or something…and maybe three-way gradations? Shoot, I’d need to get another pen to do that… Maybe I’ll pick up the 6.0mm Parallel after all…
YOU SEE HOW THIS WAS A PLUNGE OFF THE DEEP END?
tl;dr: This is a great intro-to-calligraphy pen. It makes you really want to explore both the many capabilities of the pen and calligraphy as an art. I love this pen a lot.