Why Are Some Pens So Expensive?

We’ve all been there. You walk into an office supply store and see an aisle with what seems like dozens of pen options. You look around and notice that some of them are, well, way more expensive than the others. So… why are some pens so expensive?

While some pens are made of cheap products, other pens are made from better quality materials, are bigger, and may be easier to refill. Quality, expensive pens tend to last much longer than their inexpensive counterparts, making them ideal for anyone looking to buy a pen that will write beautifully and last a long time. 

Waterman Expert Rollerball pen sitting in Gift Case
Waterman Expert Rollerball Pen – Around $75

Interested in exactly what makes some pens so expensive? And most importantly, why would you want to invest that money into a pen when a cheaper one still leaves a permanent mark on your paper? The rest of this article will go over each reason you may find that one pen is much more expensive than another. 

But first, let’s get a working knowledge of many of the parts of a fountain pen.

Why Are Some Pens So Expensive?

When looking at expensive pens, you’ll likely find that fountain pens are one of the most expensive types of pens on the market. Although they write beautifully and are a stunning staple for any pen enthusiast, you may find yourself wondering if the steep price is worth it, especially since a cheaper pen still writes, right? 

So, what makes these beautiful pens so expensive? Well, a lot of things. Let’s go over each reason quality fountain pens are expensive. 

The Anatomy of a Fountain Pen

Fountain pens are some of the most beautiful, well-loved pens you can buy… but they’re also some of the most expensive. Why is there such a price difference? Well, more expensive pens use better materials. 

To understand how better-quality materials lead to a better, smoother writing experience, you must first understand the anatomy of the pen. This is because the main difference between inexpensive pens and expensive pens is going to be the materials used to make each part of the pen. 

But is that worth it? How do other materials make a pen work better? 

Here is a breakdown of each part of a pen and the parts that create it, so you can better understand later how quality materials will change your writing experience:

The Cap

The Best Pen Under $500 - Aurora Optima

The cap of a fountain pen is the part that covers and protects the nib while it’s not in use. The cap attaches to the body of the pen, and is made of four parts:

  • The clip- ever attach your pen to your shirt? To do this, you likely used the clip, a metal piece towards the top of the cap that allows you to clip your pen to shirt pockets, papers, and more. Many companies use plastic clips that break easily, while more expensive pens will have better-quality metal clips.
  • Finial: This is the very top of the cap, and usually includes the brand’s logo.
  • Insert: This is the liner on the inside of certain pen caps that seal the nib, allowing it to not dry out when the cap is on. The better quality this is, the better, so your pen will have a longer lifespan.
  • Lip: The open end of the cap where the body and the threads fit, effectively closing the pen. You’ll likely find that many cheap pens have cheap lips that don’t allow for the pen to securely close. This helps to ensure your pen does not dry out.
  • Center band: A metal, usually decorative ring near the bottom of the cap. Although mainly just for decoration, this piece can sometimes reinforce the cap threads.

The Barrel

The barrel of a fountain pen is the long part of the main body. It is used to house the ink reservoir. This piece usually has five pieces:

  • Threads: These are the grooves cut into the pen that allows for the parts to be securely held together. If these are not done properly, the pen will not fit together well.
  • Body: This is the length of the barrel. It typically houses the ink reservoir.
  • Trim Ring: these mainly serve an aesthetic purpose and are accents on your pen.
  • Step: Place on the barrel where threads “step up” to the body. This is important when you are holding a pen. The quality of this will make or break your experience when writing with a fountain pen, and therefore should be better quality.

The Nib

When looking at the quality of a fountain pen, the nib is one of the most important elements that can make the most difference. It is generally made from nine parts:

  • Nib: This is the metal tip of a fountain pen and the only part that touches and marks the paper.
  • Tipping Material: Each nib has a tipping welded to the end of the nib. This can vary in material (and will add or take away from the cost).
  • Slit: The thin cut that runs from the breather hole to the tip of the nib. This is what carries ink from the feed to the tip of the nib.
  • Tines: Two front pieces that taper towards the tip.
  • Breather Hole: the hole in the nib at the end of the slit that assists in ink flow by allowing air in. This can also be called a vent hole.
  • Shoulder: The widest part of the nib
  • Body: Typically imprinted, this is the main part of the nib.
  • Base: The bottom end of the nib where it fits into the pen.

The Feed

The feed is the piece of material that hugs the back of the nib. It assists with ink delivery from the reservoir. This piece is usually made up of four parts:

  • Wings: The widest part of the feed. This matches up to the nib shoulder.
  • Fins: These are the thin, small pieces on the feed that assist in allowing the ink to saturate into air channels. They act as air regulators that allow for consistent flow no matter how fast you’re writing.
  • Post: The back and of the feed that feeds ink from the reservoir to the channel.
  • Ink Channel: this is a thin slit in the feed that provides a channel for the ink to flow through.

The Section

The section is the part of the pen that the nib fits into. It attaches to the barrel. This is usually made from three parts:

  • Grip: Front section where the writer grips the pen, around where the nib fits.
  • Threads: The thin grooves cut into a pen that allows for it to be held together.
  • Trim Ring: Generally only serves aesthetic purposes, it’s a ring just over the grip.

The Converter

The converter is the filling mechanism that fits into a pen. It also generally accepts cartridges. This part is usually made up of six parts:

  • Mouth: The opening that fits onto the feed. This holds the converter in place.
  • Ink Reservoir: This is the cavity inside the pen that is used to hold ink.
  • Seal: Piece that creates a vacuum that draws ink into the reservoir.
  • Shroud: Metal covering that holds piston mechanism. This causes the seal to move up and down when the knob is turned.
  • Rod: Threaded portion of piston mechanism that causes the seal to move up and down
  • Knob: part of converter that turns to move piston seal up and down.

Are Expensive Pens Really Worth It?

Why are Montblanc pens so expensive?

Although expensive and inexpensive pens both can get the job done, expensive pens allow you to get the job done faster with fewer hiccups than inexpensive options. 

Cheaper pens likely have the same parts as expensive pens- although if they are missing any, they’re likely the decorative pieces- but many of the pieces are likely made from better materials that allow for smoother writing, or help to keep your pen working right for a longer period. 

So what are the main differences?

Nibs

By Hige-hige-Japan – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45905178

One of the biggest reasons a pen may be much more expensive than another is the quality of the nib. While cheap fountain pens usually use steel nibs, more expensive fountain pens will usually use nibs made from precious material. This can be 14K gold, 18K gold, or even sometimes titanium. 

Per gram, 14K gold is valued at $33.01, while steel is valued at $4.99 per gram. That’s a steep jump! 

Additionally, the nibs of more expensive because they will usually be tipped with a hard-wearing alloy. Because the better-quality nib materials are usually much softer, this allows for the nib to be protected, not wear down, and resist corrosion. 

Why Does This Matter?

Gold and other precious metals are more expensive than steel, but they’re also more flexible. This allows for a better writing experience, and also allows for the user to change the line pressure and width. If you’re writing with a cheap fountain pen and an expensive fountain pen, you’ll certainly feel the difference.

Additionally, cheap bibs may not be coated with an alloy at all, which can result in a more scratchy writing experience.

Feeds

While less expensive fountain pens tend to use plastic feeds, you’ll likely find that more expensive versions use ebonite. This can also be a fairly steep price difference but will provide a much better-quality pen.

Why Does This Matter?

Pens with ebonite feeds generally have better ink flow, and have also been known to be better fitted to the nib. Overall, it creates a much better, smoother writing experience.

Body Material

The popular Parker Vacumatic Pen
Parker Vacumatic

When thinking about the price difference between expensive pens and inexpensive pens, you’ll likely think of the type of material the body is made from, first. This is because it’s the most obvious, and largest part of the pen!

When looking at a cheap fountain pen, you’ll likely find that it is made from a solid-colored body made entirely of plastic. On the flip side, expensive pens will likely be made from some type of metal. For example, the price of a plastic fountain pen may be $25, but the price of a pen that’s almost identical but made from brass may be $100.

Additionally, some pens may be made from even more expensive metals and may be hand-painted. These are going to cost even more because of the time and effort that was put into creating them.

Montblanc Pen Source: https://robbreport.com/

Although not usually for the everyday fountain pen user, some pen bodies may even feature precious metals or gems for decoration.

Why Does This Matter?

Well, depending on who you are and what you value… this part doesn’t matter that much. If you’re a pen collector who loves unique pens, you may find value in beautiful, hand-painted pens. That being said, if you’re an everyday fountain pen user, you likely won’t care about the body material that much.

Size

It’s not hard to understand that the bigger the pen, the more expensive it will likely be. This is because bigger pens are generally the main pens a certain company sells and will come with more options such as gold nibs, bigger nibs, and even better body materials. 

Why Does This Matter?

Many companies will sell smaller, cheaper pens that may be made from cheaper materials. That being said, it’s always nice to invest in a great pen that allows for optimal customizations to fit your needs.

Country Of Origin

It’s easy to pick up a pack of pens made in China, made with cheap materials that will stop working fairly fast. 

The price of a pen is going to vary largely depending on where it was made, and what the price of those materials is in that country. If it’s a unique, rare pen from a country where a certain material is priced way above other countries, that pen is going to be a lot more expensive. 

Why Does This Matter?

If you’re looking for quality fountain pens, you may want to look at where it was made. Additionally, the same pen could be made in two countries and be priced completely differently depending on the availability of certain materials. If you’re serious about pens, it’s worth looking into.

Brand

As always, the brand of the pen can greatly influence how much it goes for. Just like any designer item, some pens are going to be much more expensive simply for the name attached to them. While some brands are priced more for their quality, others may just simply be due to name.

That being said, some well-known brands do offer additional benefits such as nib swaps and pen tuning, which can largely factor into the price.

Why Does This Matter?

Most of the time, it may not matter at all. That being said, just like many luxury goods, some pens may be priced high simply for the name. That’s why it’s so important to know what the true difference between expensive pens and inexpensive pens is. You’ll be able to tell if a pen is truly worth the price!

Filling Mechanism

You’ll likely find that many inexpensive pens use ink cartridges. These consist of fewer parts and cost way less. The filling system of a fountain pen will greatly increase the price of the pen since they are more complicated and consist of more parts.

Why Does This Matter?

As touched on when going over the anatomy of a fountain pen, the filling system is complex and can make or break the speed at which you’ll be able to write, and the quality of the writing itself. It allows for the ink to flow out through the mouth.

Uniqueness

To some people, especially pen collectors, the uniqueness of pen matters. While some pens may feature retractable nibs, they may be considered unique, since it’s a feature not many have.

Are tactile turn pens good
Tactile Turn’s Special Release The Fairway

Additionally, some pen companies release limited edition pens that may come in special colors, and designs, or feature certain metals.

Why Does This Matter?

This isn’t going to matter for many, but it will for many pen collectors who care about having unique, beautiful pieces in their collection.

Other Pens

Although we mainly talked about fountain pens, this same idea will apply to other types, such as rollerball and ballpoint pens. The better the materials used to make them are, the more expensive the pen is going to be.

Final Thoughts: Why Are Some Pens So Expensive?

Certain pens are so expensive because of the materials they are made from, while others may be more expensive because of the brand that makes them. 

The reality of the situation is, that it all depends on what you as a consumer value. While you may just be looking for a quality pen that will last, another person may be a pen collector looking for the next piece in their collection and want a beautiful limited edition piece they can pass down for generations. 

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