I picked up the Moonman Starry Night glass dip pen in Neptune from Jetpens recently.
Moonman is a Chinese brand that’s produced a variety of low cost fountain pens and related products in the last few years. There’s no relevant branding on the packaging for this pen though, and the pen itself matches numerous others on Amazon in shape.
A friend gifted me an artisan-made glass dip pen from a market vendor a few years ago. That was my first glass dip pen, but it had a unique artist-specific nib, and I felt that I really needed a “normal” glass dip pen establish baseline expectations. The Moonman dip pen seemed like a good candidate for that.
Traditional dip pens hold ink in the hole (or vent) of the metal nib, which feeds to the tip of the nib via the split between the tines. Glass dip pens do not have holes or tines. Instead, they have spiral designs that that converge at the tip of the nib. When dipped into ink, the spirals hold ink via capillary action.
Since the whole pen is one solid piece, it’s actually more intuitive to use a glass dip pen than a traditional one. Just dip in ink and go! The Moonman glass dip pen writes smoothly and has a consistent line width, with most of the variation occurring due to ink flow or viscosity.
The spiral section of the glass nib is about 3 cm long — this has a huge ink capacity. You can go much longer on a single dip here than you ever can with a traditional dip pen. The round, bulbous grip section has flattened sides where your thumb and index finger go, which does a pretty good job of encouraging you to hold the pen there… It’s very comfortable to hold the pen where it wants you to, but that’s not where I want to hold the pen.
I grip pens pretty low, I guess?
You get more control when you grip lower. The higher up your hand is, the further away from the nib your point of control is and the harder it is to accurately gauge where the nib is actually writing. The higher you grip, the further away from the page you are. It’s disorienting.
Both fountain pen nibs and traditional dip pen nibs are usually ~2 cm, and I grip right above that, right around 3 cm from the point of the nib.
I want to grip the Moonman glass dip pen such that my thumb and index finger are around the clear bulb at the base of the nib. Obviously, gripping there will result in inky fingers if I dip the nib anywhere near capacity, but it’s not so bad if I dip the nib into ink just a centimeter.
The pen is designed for me to grip higher.
It’s easy enough to ignore, but it’s still frustrating. The pen feels right when I hold it where it wants me to, but it doesn’t write right that way — for me, at least.
It’s weirdly difficult to tell when the Moonman dip pen is about to run out of ink. You’d think with the ink just hanging out on the outside of the nib, it’d be easy to tell, but no? Often there will still be ink visible on the nib, but it isn’t flowing down to the nib anymore.
Sometimes rotating the pen (and nib) will get you access to a little more of the ink already on the pen, but it’s inconsistent and can lead to obvious differences in ink saturation in your writing. I’ve found that it’s better practice to just dip again before you think you need to.
The Moonman glass dip pen only comes in one size and the nib seems a smidgen thicker than a Pilot medium nib, but thinner than the “05 medium” of the Pilot Preppy.
It’s pretty comparable to the Daiso fountain pen‘s nib, and again, it’s fairly consistent as long as you can get a handle on the ink flow.
The Moonman glass pen is pretty fun to draw with in the same way I think blunted felt-tip brush pens and large tech pens (08+) are fun to draw with — it’s great for that “dead line” style and for repetitive lines and dots. The pen is better suited for drawings that don’t require a lot of line variation, but while glass nibs can’t flex, but it’s still possible to achieve some variation in line width with feathering1.
The main downside is you have to be very conscious of where your hand is because it’s very easy to smear freshly dipped ink, but this is the a downside of using a traditional dip pen, too. Rotating the paper as you draw helps, but sometimes you just gotta wait for ink to dry.
1 In this context, “feathering” means lifting the pen slightly at the end of the stroke, so the end of the stroke is thinner than the start of the stroke. There are far too many different uses and definitions of feathering that all relate to drawing/pens/art though…
The Moonman is intended for (dye- and water-based) fountain pen inks, but it being glass means you can easily use it with any ink. Thicker, pigment-based inks won’t clog the feed because there is no feed!
Cleaning off the nib is the same no matter what ink you’re using — just wipe it off with a towel. A lazy person’s dream! In some cases, you may want some extra fine grit sandpaper to clean out dried ink between the spirals, but frankly, a little bit of dried ink there isn’t going to disrupt the capillary action and it won’t cause lasting damage to the glass like it would a metal nib.
India ink works just fine with the glass dip pen, though the thickness of the ink compared to less viscous fountain pen inks can take some getting used to. Sometimes you may need to get rid of excess ink on the nib by scribbling on a test sheet; otherwise, drawing with the ink pooled towards the bottom of the nib can result in overthick, wet lines.
Fountain pens should be cleaned regularly to keep ink from clogging their feeds and staining their nibs, particularly if the pen isn’t used very frequently, or if more particle-heavy inks, like shimmer inks, are used. This can be a huge hassle, especially if you have a lot of different pens (so you can write in a lot of different colors, of course).
Traditional dip pens are even more work and should be cleaned after every use. Otherwise, dried ink can seal the nib in the nib holder, or ink can dry on the nib, clog the vent hole, and cause damage. Permanent, pigment-based inks like India ink can be especially difficult to clean out once dry (which is also why you should never put India ink in fountain pens).
Glass dip pens have none of these problems. You should still clean it after every use, but it’s way faster to wipe down a glass nib than to scrub half-dried ink off a metal dip pen nib. And if you forget? Cleaning the glass nib later is also way easier. You can scrub off dried India ink without worrying about being too rough and damaging the tines or whatever. There are no tines!
Glass dip pens are fun! And often quite beautiful, too.
Jetpens has the Moonman glass dip pen for $10. Some similar pens on Amazon go for as low as $5, but many are similarly priced. Comparatively, most artist-made and name brand glass pens go for at least $20-30.
The recent deluge of cheaply available Chinese manufactured pens has been confusing because there are so many brands, and so many of them seem to have identical, or near-identical, products. It doesn’t help that many of these items don’t really have names and are available almost exclusively through shady-looking Amazon and Ebay listings stuffed with keywords.
Moonman has made its way to many respectable online pen retailers, but they don’t seem to have any official standalone website or a way to look up their full catalog, and many doppelgangers can still be found.
Moonman and other Chinese brands offer a cheap entry point into a variety of products that can otherwise be very pricey, like alcohol-based markers. That availability can be really valuable when trying new things!
I just wish these companies would establish themselves more properly, instead of flooding the market with confusing, identical products, which are sometimes inconsistent quality-wise. The whole enterprise just has a veneer of disregard to it, with a business model dependent on customers dismissing any lapse in quality with the fact that the product was very low cost. And if one brand name gets a bad rep, well, no matter, there are more names where that came from.
Still, while cheaply made fountain pens have more potential problems (more parts, more problems!), it’s a lot harder to mess up a single piece glass pen unless it straight-up arrives broken — but that’s a risk with any glass pen unless you buy it in person, so I think the Moonman (et al) glass dip pen is as good a bet as any.