TWSBI has been one of the more interesting pen companies in the world for more than a few years. Driving down prices, unleashing weird and interesting designs, and producing eminently writing-friendly pens, TWSBI has had a ton of potential for years. TWSBI’s stumbling block has always been durability. For a long time it seemed like they were built by the same folks that made the mission briefing disks for Mission: Impossible (and Inspector Gadget)—after use they disintegrated. My first TWSBI was like that. Now it sits as pile of loosely related parts, non-functional and clogged with year old ink, in a desk drawer. I was waiting to harvest parts from it in the event that I got another TWSBI. It was a back up, knowing that if history and reputation remained the same, that I would need the spare parts to rehabilitate the pen equivalent of a car’s crumple zone—they seem all but designed to fall apart.
My experience was so bad, however, that I waited two years to dip my toe back in the inky waters of the TWSBI product line up. Unwilling to shell out big bucks, and lured in by promises of a simpler, heartier design, I got the Eco. I have now used it for over a year. I am very reticient to put out a TWSBI review without taking the pen through some serious paces. During that year I have been positively merciless. At one point, during a very long trial, I took close to 170 pages of handwritten notes (all on the excellent Levenger annotations paper) with the TWSBI. It has happily traveled to jails and prisons with me. And, unlike any other TWSBI, it has been rock solid.
When you combine this surprising, if not shocking, durability with the always excellent TWSBI writing experience and a bargain basement price tag, the Eco is uniquely situated in the fountain pen market. This is an amazing writing tool, deserves to be in your EDC rotation. And if you have never had a fountain pen before, and go for the Eco. This could be your only fountain pen ever and you’d be very, very happy.
Here is the product page. The Eco comes in a variety of colors and there is traingular gripped version (also in many colors) called the Eco T. Here is a written review of the Eco. Here is a video review of the Eco. You can purchase the Eco on Amazon and help support the blog. Here is my review sample (given to me as a birthday gift):
Twitter Review Summary: A TWSBI you can finally buy with confidence.
Simplify, simplify, simplify. Its a great design motto and one that TWSBI took to heart with the design of the Eco. My original TWSBI, the Classic, seemed to have a million little parts that screwed together or snapped in place, resulting in a pen that was overly fiddly and not terribly snug. If something is made of 10 parts, each with a bit of slop in them, that’s one thing. With five or ten times that number of parts, things start to get dicey. The Eco feels solid. It lacks that creaking ship feel that the Classic did. And it has proven to be vastly more robust than its more complex and more expensive brother. In a year of heavy use, only one thing has come undone, the silver band around the cap of the pen. It was clearly loc-tited in place, and after abotu 6 months of use, it fell off. I was able to repair it quickly and the Eco has remained solid since.
The pen is a simple piston-filler with a demonstrator body. There are no frills really, everything is plastic, but for the nib, the clip, and the band that came off. Its a very straightforward design and one that just works. In the end, I am very happy with the Eco. A year of nearly daily use has only made it better, as the nib has smoothed out a bit. The Eco is a true design success for TWSBI. It is an exceptional value (more on that below) and yet it does not feel even a smidge like a cheap knife.
Fit and Finish: 2
Given the materials—polycarbonate and other forms of plastic and rubber—the Eco is finished quite nicely. The threads are smooth and tight. The barrel, section, and cap all had a nice amount of polish. TWSBIs, in my experience, always look nice and the Eco is no exception. The major difference here is the fact that these good looks are backed up by good build quality.
Thanks to a clean and simple clip and a not-too long nor too-fat body, the TWSBI Eco is a delight to carry. The lack of metal and ornamentation means that the entire pen is relatively light as well. All together the Eco is one of my very favorite pens to EDC, fountain pen or not.
While pen addicts can probably name a dozen pens that are more beautiful, ornate, or complex, it is hard to deny the aesthetic pleasure of a demonstrator body paired with black and chrome accents. This pen looks like a more expensive design and for the general public, it merits positive comments. Its not a classic beauty like a Parker 51 nor does it bear the snow cap that most associate with high end writing instruments, but for what it is, a budget fountain pen, it is truly excellent looking.
The band on the cap came off. There is a significant, yet hard to photograph chip in the cap. And...that’s it. The one was fixed by me screwing it back in place and the other was my fault, dropping the pen on pavement. A normal fountain pen would likely have been killed by that fall.
I was never going to review another TWSBI without first putting it through some significant paces. I promised myself that I would give the Eco a year and it has been just that or a little more. The end result is review that I have confidence is correct. This is a pen that is surprisingly durable. In fact, I would got out on a limb and say that the Eco is actually more durable than the average fountain pen. How strange is that? A TWSBI noted for its durability. The plastic body and simplified design soak on dents and drops with ease, something that some of the more finicky, higher end fountain pens seemed to not do as well. Additionally, the polycarbonate body was much sturdier than some of the thinner, more fragile acrylic pen bodies out there, some of which seem to flex during use. If you have held off on a TWSBI because of durability concerns, you don’t need to anymore—the Eco is a solid pen. A year of use, and a quick check of other reviews, confirm it—the Eco is built to last.
Writing Performance/Refill: 2
Oh the joys of a TWSBI skating across the page. When I was cursing the 580, it was because the writing experience was so tantalizingly good yet the pen leaked, creaked, and flummoxed me at every turn. Here, you don’t have to tolerate all of that finicky stuff, you just get the sublime writing experience. I don’t know exactly what TWSBI does, but having had more than a few fountain pens pass through my hands, only the Pilot Vanishing Point’s gold nib was even close in terms of page feel. My Eco, which bears a 1.1 mm stub nib makes writing a joy and results in a stunning, brilliant looking text. I used Pilot Iroshizuku ink and Mont Blanc’s Pacific Blue quite a bit and both flowed onto the page with simplicity, consistency, and almost balletic grace. If you want to see what all the fuss is regarding fountain pens, the Eco is a great place to start. If you are not seduced by writing with the Eco, especially with a stub nib, your soul is made of stone.
I would note here that the refill mechanism while similar to the 580 worked much better. I had no problems with unthreading the piston nor did the opening leak or get clogged prompting messy refills. Someone with more technical knowledge of how a fountain pen works could tell you why the Eco does better here, but for me, a year of refilling it (usually around once every two to three weeks—I write a lot), it is proven to be significantly less messy. Just be aware—this is a bottle ink only kind of pen. You can’t get a converter for cartridges. That’s not great for a beginner, but it is not bad either, as the value a bottle of ink represents over cartridges is huge. A $8 bottle of ink will last a year. The same spent on cartridges will last a month.
Balance/In Hand Feel: 2
The Eco is a snappy pen to write with because it is so light. Balance is really not much of an issue here because entire pen is a featherweight. If it were made of metal or other material, it may require some fine tuning, but as an almost fully plastic pen, the Eco feels great in the hand.
The grip is nicely shaped, with a distinct taper ending in a ridge that tells your fingers to go no further lest they be ink covered. Its not complex, but as is always the case, simple is most effective.
I am a demonstrator convert. I used to think they were overly messy looking, but I am not firmly in the pro-demonstrator camp. They look beautiful with the right ink (though there are shimmer inks, I like how the sunlight catches a nice blue, MB’s Pacific Blue in all of the pictures). Plus, they makes sure you never run out of ink. Yes, yes the received wisdom of the pen community was correct—demonstrators are great. I would LOVE a demonstrator Vanishing Point, if that were possible.
Again, with the received wisdom. I used to think that caps were bad because they were just another part to lose, but I have come around to the idea that caps are better than nocks in that they give you much more piece of mind that you pen won’t leak. The cap here is really secure it threads down quite tight. Based on my experience with the Eco I am now firmly believe in the “fountain pens must have caps” orthodoxy. Only truly inspired designs like the Vanishing Point can get away with bucking that trend.
Fidget Factor: high: All well made pens will score high here. They are designed for your fingers to manipulate and with its smooth surfaces and gleaming facets, the Eco is no different. But make no mistake, all of that is just a preview for the wonderful experience of writing with a good nib.
Fett Effect: low: These materials and designs do not look good worn. Fortunately, the materials here hide wear quite well. Boba Fett was not a gentlemen of fine distinction and so it is not surprising that fountain pens that show wear just look bad. After all, most ransom notes, as we all know, aren’t handwritten but made from a collage of letters cut out from magazines.
Value: very high: There is no way around it—the Eco has reset the scale for value in fountain pens. You have to really jump, like three times the price, to find something significantly better.
Score: 20 out of 20, PERFECT
The TWSBI Eco is an ideal EDC fountain pen—durable, easy to use, and good looking. It writes like a dream and finally it lasts over time. I really can’t see risking any other TWSBI at this point because the Eco writes so well and the others have fit and finish issues. Plus, what are you really upgrading? One kind of plastic for another? Its not like with other brands where the premium models offer something extraordinary (see Pilot Metropolitan v. Pilot Vanishing Point). This is a superb tool and one that you should buy if you use a pen on a regular basis. If not stick with a ballpoint, either the Tactile Turn Shaker or the MaxMadCo Bolt Action pen. Its not as beguiling as the Vanishing Point, but it costs $125 less. The Eco is awesome and I have no hesitation after a year of use to award it a perfect score.
While there are other pens in this price range—the Pilot Metropolitan, the Lamy Safari, and the Kaweco Sport—none are really competition. The nib here was substantially better than the nibs on all three of those pens. And, unlike before with TWSBIs, this pen lasts. Its as durable as the Sport but writes much better. If you are looking for a budget fountain pen and don’t end up with the Eco you did something wrong.