The Tachikawa School G fountain pen is one of my favourite sketching tools. It is also one of the most annoying drawing instruments out there.
Like so many other artists (Dan Berry and Dustin Harbin come to mind), I’ve found myself searching for the perfect on-the-go replacement for pen and ink for ages. Nothing will ever replace my love for dip pens, I think, but since bringing a bottle of ink along can be problematic, other solutions are preferable for sketching in the wild. After a long quest which presented several close calls (the Platinum Carbon Pen and the Namiki Falcon came close, but neither have quite the same sharp line a good nib can give you), I found the Tachikawa School G on Jetpens.com. (Europeans will want to order it from Jstuff.de, with much lower shipping costs, while Dutch users have an even cheaper option by buying it at penstore.nl, who provided me with some cartridges for the pen free of charge when I was in desperate need of some!). There are a couple of different versions of the pen: the fine point with black ink, the fine point with sepia ink, and the extra fine with black ink. This review is for the fine point with black ink only, though I’ll make some remarks on the other versions at the end of the review.
The pen is cheap, and so is the build quality. Everything besides the steel nib is plastic, and not very good quality at that. The cap features a clip which will break off easily if you clip the pen to a thicker sketchbook cover, or if you put too much pressure on it. The writing/decal on the barrel will rub off in a few months, as you can see in the photo above. The back of the feed can snap off easily if you’re not paying attention when placing a cartridge. The nib is good and will last a long time (though, since it appears to be simple steel, it will not last as long as a real fountain pen) but because of its thin nature it can snap if you press down on it too hard. However, the low price of the pen makes the low quality of the pen understandable. Tachikawa have slightly altered the design of the pen recently, with a longer cap covering more of the barrel. However, as far as I can tell, there haven’t been any changes in terms of quality.
Like the pen, the cartridges also sell for a low price. There is no ink converter that I know of, so if you want to fill it with a different ink, you’ll have to empty one of the cartridges and fill that one. I wouldn’t recommend this, though: the pen is very singular, and the ink cartridges are already problematic enough. The ink is waterproof (after a solid period of drying) and heavily pigmented, more so than Platinum Carbon Ink. If you open a cartridge you will see the ink has a pretty high viscosity. You can also see that the cartridges aren’t filled to the brim with ink. In fact, you can empty a cartridge pretty quickly when using it constantly.
Feed and nib/ink flow
The feed is a bit different than other fountain pens, due to the waterproof ink: there’s some sort of pad between the feed and the nib which keeps the ink from drying in the feed. I’m not entirely sure whether it’s all that succesful: the inkflow is the biggest problem of the pen. Despite the very fine and pretty stiff nib (though it will give you a decent bit of flex after you break in the pen), it can still easily railroad due to the inconsistent inkflow. The inkflow problems are also caused by the nature of the nib though, as, unlike most other fountain pen nibs, there is no ball at the end of the School G’s nib: it has a very sharp point, and that point can easily get caught in paper. The inkflow will improve over time with consistent use, though every time you start a new cartridge it will take a bit of effort to get the inkflow back to where it was, shaking the pen will definitely help (also, the inkflow can be rather too free when you approach the end of a cartridge due to air expansion in the now nearly empty cartridge. That said, when I brought it along on a flight to London, it did not suffer any leaks on the plane, which pleasantly surprised me).
You’ll need a smooth paper to get anywhere with this pen. Most cartridge paper sketchbooks have too much tooth, and will definitely disrupt the inkflow by clogging the nib with paper fibers. You will need a smooth bristol board or specific pen and ink paper to get the best results (in recent months I’ve started using it with Clairefontaine Paint ON Multi-Techniques sketchpads), though there are some sketchbooks that give good to great results:
- Moleskine sketchbooks are good for this pen, though, as with all non indian inks, the paper soaks up the ink so much that it’ll turn a dull grey.
- Derwent travel sketchbooks/journals are the best I’ve used with this pen, there’s relatively little catching the nib on this very smooth cartridge paper. Plus, unlike Moleskines (which these sketchbooks closely resemble), this paper allows inkwash and watercolour. There will be some feathering though, as the paper stock is of uneven quality. Newer versions of the sketchbook come with a pen loop on its back, which might not be the best place for such a thing, but is very handy for keeping it with your book and more trustworthy than the easily broken pen clip of the Tachikawa.
- Strathmore Mixed Media Journal (smooth). Since this has a smooth bristol paper in it, it does work well with the School G. The paper is rather low quality though, and ink lines can easily feather.
Keep the paper as flat as possible, putting the paper at an angle definitely doesn’t improve the inkflow and makes it more likely to catch in the paper.
Also, don’t forget to wipe down the nib after use with a cloth or piece of kitchen towel, just like you would a dip nib. keeping the nib clean definitely helps with the ink flow.
Here’s the thing though. When it works, it has the best line quality I’ve EVER seen in a non-dip nib pen. It’s sharp, but not angular. Quite stiff, but not lifeless. There’s a beauty to it that might feel utterly archaic to most, but appeals to me so much. Like with nibs, it is utterly analogue. While I greatly appreciate the digital nibs in Manga Studio (especially with Ray Frenden’s brush packs), they’ll never get that tactile feeling a dip nib gives you. This is the only pen that does. I realize that for many people, a pen that is as scratchy and difficult as a nib can be isn’t necessarily a good thing. But for me, it is one of the best, warts and all.
- You can use an eyedropper to put a drop of water on the eye of the nib if the inkflow has stopped after a longer period of disuse. However, due to the waterproof nature and high viscosity of the ink, I recommend not leaving it unused for more than a week.
- The sepia version is also very nice, though all of the faults of the black ink version have been carried over. I have never tried the extra fine version, but I have never read a positive review of that one. The nib is so sharp that it is nearly unuseable, and with a worse inkflow.