article was originally written for an all-ages pen pal 'zine
called "Cool World," published quarterly. This will,
I hope, explain the plain language I use in this article.
It also explains the perspective of this article. I wasn't
writing it exclusively for fountain pen users. I was writing
it for pen pallers, who may be far more familiar with gel
pens than with fountain pens.
with keen observational skills will note I forgot the Sheaffer
"Cartridge" comes with two refills. Piston-filler
and converter users who would like to conduct similar comparisons
with their pens are advised the Sheaffer service people told
me one of their cartridges contains about a milliliter (one
ml, or one cubic centimeter) of ink. If you want subscription
information for "Cool World," or have any questions
about this article, please e-mail me, Robert Leone, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am also on the January 31st, 2001 snailmail list.
Spotlight on Stationery
(Note: This article would not have been possible without the
wisdom of my high
school chemistry teacher, Mr. Gault, who constantly said "Let
the units work
Pen vs. Gel Ink Pen
long thought fountain pens were more economical and environmentally
friendly than the new Gel ink pens. I wanted to prove this,
so I ran a head-to-head pen test in October.
sample fountain pen I chose a Sheaffer "Cartridge"
fountain pen. This pen is probably the most widely available
fountain pen in the U.S. It's also inexpensive: I've seen
them priced from $3.49 at a university student co-op to $4.79
(Long's Drugs). The "Cartridge" is currently made
with a transparent body, which aids in checking ink levels.
The refill cartridges are also widely available, as fountain
pen cartridges go, with prices from $1.46 to $1.99 for a box
of five cartridges.The gel ink pen for this text was a Sanford
Uni-Gel Stick Pen. This refillable gel pen is priced at $1.49
in the Office Depot catalog. It too has a clear barrel. I
chose this pen for several reasons: It is refillable and widely
available.Refills are $2.89 for two. Long's Drugs didn't have
the specific refill from Sanford for this pen, but DID have
a two-refill pack from Eversharp, for $1.79, that could be
converted to fit a wide range of refillable gel ink pens.
I did not test these refills.Both pens used in this test had
"medium" points or nibs.
I was writing a letter to a pen pal who lives abroad. I used
Eaton Air Mail Paper, monarch sized (7 1/4 " by 10 3/8
inch), both sides, with a very fine grid (14 lines every three
inches) as a guide. I wrote one page with the Uni-Gel pen,
one page with the Cartridge pen, then another page with the
Uni-Gel and another page with the Cartridge.The refill in
the Uni-Gel pen contains 90 mm of ink. Each page written decreased
the Uni-Gel's ink level by 5 mm. Division indicates a refill
from the Sanford Uni-Gel has eighteen test pages in it.The
Cartridge pen's level declined by about 2 mm after the first
page, and by 5 mm after both pages. The Sheaffer cartridge's
ink space is 50 mm. Sheaffer cartridges usually have about
2 mm to 5 mm of empty space in them before they are installed.
Assuming an average use of 2.5 mm for each test page, and
subtractingthe UPPER range of the airspace in a fresh cartridge
(5 mm) gives a yield of eighteen pages per cartridge.So, in
terms of writing life, one Sheaffer Skrip Cartridge1 is equivalent
to one Sanford Uni-Gel medium point refill. What about the
ecological and economic comparison?
should come first! The Sheaffer cartridge, when empty, is
a transparent plastic cylinder with a small hole at one end
and a thin foam of ink on the inside. The Sanford Uni-Gel
refill is an open-ended transparent plastic tube with one
open end, a layer of clear gel that capped the 90 mm of ink,
a solid plastic feed section and a metal point. Throwing the
Sanford refill away involves more material, and more different
kinds of material. Further, a friend reports success in reusing
fountain pen cartridges, refilling them from a bottle! The
Uni-Gel refill does not seem to be refillable.Now it's time
for the economics. The cost of the ink for a test page from
the fountain pen is $1.99 per refill pack divided by (18 pages
per cartridge times 5 cartridges per refill pack). That comes
to 2.2 cents per page. The price per page for the Uni-Gel
refill is $2.89 per refill pack divided by (18 pages per refill
times 2 refills per refill pack). That's 8 cents per page
for the Uni-Gel.
5.8 cents less to write a page with the fountain pen than
with the gel pen. However, the initial purchase price of the
Sheaffer Cartridge fountain pen is higher. The "break
even" point, where the real cost of writing with that
fountain pen is as expensive as with the gel pen is ($4.79
per Sheaffer pen minus $1.49 per Sanford Uni-Gel Stick Pen)
divided by (8 cents per page minus 2.2 cents per page). That's
57 pages.If you write lots of long letters, the Sheaffer Cartridge
pen will save you money compared to the Sanford Uni-Gel Stick