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Art fountain pen: Tachikawa School-G (review & fix)

posted Apr 25, 2015, 1:00 AM by Juan Jose Garcia-Ripoll   [ updated Apr 26, 2015, 12:23 AM ]
In the last months I have rediscovered the pleasure of drawing and sketching, assisted by tools that I normally had disregarded by those tasks, such as my conference notebooks, rollerbals and, more recently, some fountain pens that I have been collecting. These are right now my preferred tools for both writing and drawing.

Fountain pens are great because they sit in a comfortable niche between technical pens and rollerballs, with a consistent linewidth, and more expressive tools, such as ink brush pens. They can be carried anywhere and, if you use a converter (i.e. an adapter to reload the pen from a bottle of ink) they are quite cost-effective.

Unfortunately, most shops and retailers I know are focused around expensive pens, collectible items, luxurious items and calligraphy, and not so much on their artistic potential. When reading in designer forums, many ink and comic artists prefer to use technical one-use pens, Copics, or other tools that I am not interested in, and only a few entries in the blogosphere seem to deal with sketching uses.

Despite this, there are references around to cheap fountain pens that have been routinely used for drawing, such as the Rotring ArtPen, the Tachikawa School G, the Hero fude pens, etc. Since I have some of those and I am now using them to re-learn drawing, I am posting here some of my findings, in case someone finds them useful. It is an amateurish work and also work in progress, as I will still be searching and trying new pens in the coming months.

I begin with the Tachikawa School G, a relatively inexpensive pen that looks like a disposable rollerball in its plastic design. It comes with one standard size cartridge that contains a waterproof ink which does seem quite thick. The pen is advertised as useful for Manga, which seems like a good start. I ordered it via Amazon and got it one week later in a nice package with two extra cartridges, all together under $20.

Initial fixes

The pen looks cheap'o, and indeed it is, but it also feels good on my small hands, which are used to Pilots and other cheap writing devices. I plugged the cartridge into the nib and started scribbling. The result was thin, straight and consistent lines, very similar in color and precision to those of a 0.2 mechanical pencil. I was astonished by that, but after one page of test strokes and hatching, which seemed too thin and too volatile to be true, the ink stopped running.

Further research revealed some problems: The point was scratching the paper, which was of moderate quality but not problematic for other pens. The scrathing caused threads to enter the nib, mix with the ink (which dries super-fast) and clog it. Dripping the pen in water helped momentarily, revealing what should be the actual linewidth of the pen, but it stopped working again for the same reasons.

Fortunately for us the internet is full of solutions. One is this: take a simple grinding paper, very fine one, such as 2000, and cut a small piece. Drip the paper in some water and start writing circles with the pen. Write a couple of circles or eights; go back to a normal paper and test. Again and again, always softly, always keeping the grinding paper soft and trying different angles. This smooths the pen, restoring it to its ideal state, and removing imperfections that were not detected in the fabrication process or quality assurance control (after all it is a very cheap pen). Some people will argue that 2000 is to coarse, but that's all I have and I routinely use it to polish my nails before playing guitar, so it is really not that bad. In any case, if you are worried, you can wear off the paper first by scratching one piece of paper against another until it feels smoother.

Tachikawa School G nib

Finally working

Fixing the nib as explained above was not traumatic at all for the pen. The nib itself is very fine and quality controls for such a cheap pen cannot be that good: I just got a bad sample. Once the nib was smoothed, however, I got a very nice working pen that produces the right kind of line for my purposes.

Below I show some line samples of the Tachikawa School G, a rollerbal pen from the inexpensive brand Muji, and my loved Rotring ArtPen EF, which I have been using for the past month. The nib drawing shows the direction of the pen when sketching and the "inverted" sample means that we put the pen upside down and write with the back of the nib to get a finer line.

Tachikawa School G line tests, with other pens
As seen in this picture, the line width of the Tachikawa pen seems to vary between 0.8 and something like 0.3, depending on how we press and orient the nib. This is great for drawing, though a bit more flexing would be even more useful.

The ultra-fine marks when drawing upside down are as fine as a 0.2 mechanical pencil, and you may even get them finer by pressing less. This is good for fine detail, early sketches and creating softer shadings.
Line samples of the Tachikawa School G and the Rotring Art Pen EF
Apart from the pen, one should pay attention to the ink. The different flow of the ink in the paper creates marked differences between the School-G and the Rotring, which you can seen through the "feathering" of the horizontal lines in this medium-grain paper of the Rotring; not so much feathering in the School G, which looks sharper.

Tachikawa School G waterproof test
The School G's ink is waterproof as advertised, provided that you wait long enough for it to dry. I have tested it by smudging the paper later on with a brush and some water. Compare the effect in the Rotring ink (which I love for shading drawings) with that of the School G. The fact that the lines remain sharp and clear is a plus for using this pen in sketches that also involve watercolors.

Finally, a simple sketch that shows the amazingly fine lines that this pen is capable of. Note that the picture is 1/2 of an A5 paper. The lines are so thin that they match those of the finest pencils I have owned.
Sample sketch with Tachikawa School G


Overall, I am now happy with this tool and hope to see how it evolves. The finer lines are very useful, specially because I had been so far limited by the Rotring's ArtPen darker tones, even in simple learning exercies for hatching, shading, etc.

On the other hand, to be fair, while the pen is fine, both in the literal and in the figurative sense,  somehow the ink does not cooperate well with it, which is the biggest annoyance. I keep it in my drawing kit and I am combining it with the Rotring, but I always have to remember testing the pen in a separate paper to see whether it needs to be restarted --which you do by dipping the nib in some water and doing some random initial lines elsewere.

If you wish to comment or provide some feedback on this review, please do so at the Fountain Pen Network post I started there