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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pen Review: Stipula Passporto FPN LE

In the spotlight for review today is the long awaited, Limited Edition, Fountain Pen Network - Stipula Passporto!

This brand new (and already sold out) pen has been long in the making, and has been extremely anticipated for the last few months.

Being a special production pen from Stipula Italy, made just for the Fountain Pen Network, I have high expectations. We'll see how this pen does! Read on for the overview:

I'm giving the FPN Stipula Passporto a solid 84/100 rating.

Pen: Stipula Passporto - FPN Limited Edition
Nib: 1.1mm Italic (steel)
Color: Azure blue
Filling system: Eyedropper
Size: 3.5" capped, 5" posted
Price: approx. $80.00

The good:
  • Very portable and small, yet extends to the perfect size for writing when capped.
  • It's a FPN pen!
  • Design is very simple, yet extremely elegant.
  • Eyedropper - holds a LOT of ink especially for it's size!
The Bad:
  • Out of the box, the nib was less than good.
  • For the price, you're not getting a whole lot of pen.
  • Ink flow can be very slightly inconsistent due to being an eyedropper.

The FPN Stipula Passporto is a very special pen, and has been very long in the making. With so many expectations and ideas, I was surprised and pleased with the results.

This is not a good choice of pen for someone who's looking for a casual pocket pen to carry around. Make no mistake, this is an LE pen, and is priced like one. With that in mind it is fairly inexpensive for an LE, and I feel it's well worth the money.

As a commemorative pen for the Fountain Pen Network, this pen means a lot to me personally, and that's the real reason I bought it. If you love FPN, want to support them, and you want one of the less expensive LE's they're offering, this is your best bet.

Let's get right into the review.

The first aspect I always cover in my reviews. My pens must look good! It's absolutely mandatory. Function over form indeed, but I'll always be on the lookout for the "best in class". If there's a line-up of ten pens that all perform the same, I'll disregard price and pick the nicest looking one every time (granted I can afford it of course).

Now, that being said, how does this pen line up in my opinion of beautiful pens?

This pen was quite a pleasant surprise, to say the least. I ordered my Passporto with chrome trim, in a blue color. I believe gold trim was also offered. I chose chrome, as I will always do. I feel gold trim is to "warm" looking for most pens. Silver trim is more clean and cool in my eyes.

The pen body itself is a lovely color-mix of dark blue, with very subtle light blue swirls throughout. These swirls are very hard to capture on camera, but in person they add amazing depth and beauty to the pen. I was expecting the pen to be solid blue, so this part was a real treat for me.

Showing off the imprint: FPN 2011 -78/200

One of my critiques for the design would be that Stipula chose to leave both imprints/engravings empty. I think white paint, as used for most pens would have really made them stand out. As of now, they're a bit hard to see actually. No matter though, as I can chalk them in white myself if I feel the need too. :)

You can faintly see below Stipula's company imprint.

One of my favorite parts of the design, indeed the centerpiece of it, is the cap band on this pen. It's a large chunk of delightfully shiny chrome with Stipula's beautiful leaf logo on it. The logo is deeply imprinted on the band, giving it a very expensive feel.

So shiny I can see my reflection in it with ease! 

Aside from that, there's really not much to this design. It's very basic, but not quite what I'd call minimalistic (like the Lamy 2000). There is definitely a certain "feel" to it that is characteristic of expensive pens. This is expected for the price point and LE status.

Overall I would be wrong to give this pen any less than 23/25 for design.

It is beautiful, simple, and elegant without being distracting from whatever your writing. It's one of the prettiest pens I own!

As usual, this part of the review is extremely subjective. I will try to give the facts, and keep my opinions at a minimum.

First, let me say that this pen is small! When capped is measures a meager 3.5"! here's a quick comparison photo of it next to my daily users:

Uncapped and unposted, this pen is dwarfed by it's neighbors in my collection!

Though a very small pen when capped, the Stipula Passporto is just the right size posted!
This size however is amazingly 100% advantage and 0% disadvantage! Stipula made the wise choice of putting threads on the back of the pen to allow for the cap to be easily and securely posted during writing.

With the cap posted this pen extends to a "just-right" 5" long. The perfect size for what I need.

With that ability, this makes for a pen that is super convenient to carry around, but still manages to be a full sized writing instrument. Good work Stipula.

The weight of the pen has never been much of an issue or a consideration for me, but this pen seems to be right in between. Not heavy, but not overly light. Still feels like a high quality writing instrument. You know the weight is just right when you don't notice it at all, which is the case for this pen.

The thickness of the pen seems right about average, which is good because due to it's size I was afraid it might be tiny. One of the few areas where I am picky when it comes to weight and size is the thickness of the grip-section. Once again, this pen comes in at being just right, for most users anyway. I'll always prefer my grip sections just a bit thicker, but I doubt anyone will have problems with this unless they have huge hands.

Overall I'd say the FPN Stipula Passporto has earned itself a good 24/25 in weight/size!

Only thing I'd change, based completely on personal preference, is the thickness of the grip. A wee bit bigger would've made it perfect.

Like it's design, the functionality of this pen is very simple. There are basically no mechanics, as it's an eyedropper-filled pen.

Simplicity is a good thing, as pens that are simple are much less prone to errors and malfunctions. I'll hit on some key points here. This is a list of my favorite functionality-features that this pen offers:

  • Like any good eyedropper, it has a proper rubber gasket on the barrel threads to prevent leakage without having to use silicone grease. Of course, greasing the gasket once in a great while doesn't hurt.
  • You'll notice (pictured below) the finely cut threads on the end of the barrel. These allow for the cap to screw on when posted, thus making it much more secure than most pens.
  • The aluminum threads on the section: I prefer these over plastic cut threads. They look good as a design element, and I feel they'll outlast typical plastic threads.

Notice the detailed threads cut into the end of the barrel for posting the cap.

The filling system:
Not a full category, but this is an important sub-category of function. This pen fills via an eyedropper, which is basically the simplest of all filling systems.

I love and hate eyedroppers, as they can be wonderful and painful at the same time. I'll touch on some pros and cons here:

  • Extremely easy to use. No instructions needed - you put ink into the barrel of the pen, and done!
  • Easy to clean. No complex feeders, mechanisms, or contraptions to hold onto ink and prevent thorough cleaning.
  • Holds a lot of ink. Amazingly for it's size, this pen holds more ink that any average or large sized c/c filling pen.
  • Messy. I find this filling system can be rather messy. Hard to describe, but once you've tried it you'll know what I mean...
  • Can be very prone to flow "glitches". We all (most of us anyway) know it - eyedroppers can have some serious flow issues. Anything from dripping ink onto the page to drying up and gushing intermittently. I can luckily say that mine has shown none of these issues in about 2 weeks of ownership. I expect it will remain this way.
Overall, with a high quality pen like this, I don't worry to much about ink blops or leaks. Were it a cheaper pen I might be concerned, but coming from Stipula I feel pretty safe with this in my pocket.

Here is the provided eyedropper, as well as a standard short cartridge. The eyedropper is nice high-quality glass.

With the ability to pop in a cartridge, and the fact that I've had (and am confident I won't) no ink-flow problems, I'm very pleased with this pen filling mechanism. I'd prefer this over a c/c filler any day.

One last thing to go over real quick before we wrap up the function category: This pen has no clip! This was not a concern for me, as I rarely find myself using the clips on my pens. Still, it is something to consider when purchasing this pen. If you use your clips often, and you need one for (x) reason, you may want to look at some of Stipula's other options.

Overall I feel good giving this pen a 20/25 for function.

I have extremely high expectations for a pens function, so don't be surprised at my rating - few pens get higher than this. Things I'd change:
  • A provided c/c filler in the box would be a nice option for those who wish to not go for the eyedropper filling, but still don't want to use a cartridge.
  • Nothing outstanding - the pen functions great as a whole, but there's really nothing "Oh wow!" about it. For an LE, I was hoping for a few more outstanding features. Just a minor quibble really.

The nib:
I chose a 1.1mm italic nib for my pen. I've recently moved away from larger nibs, but this pen was an exception. I did not intend for this pen to be a note-taker or workhorse. It it simply meant for luxury, period. :)

Now it's time for me to get a little down on this pen. It's rare that I do this, but it's necessary. It's my goal to give you the honest truth, no matter how much I like a pen. Here it is:

Out of the box, this nib was less than good, it was downright bad. There I said it. Now let me explain in better detail so you understand why.

Stipula does not do a good job of removing manufacturing oils from the pen after it's done being "built". This is unfortunate, as it's really a simple fix, especially for Stipula.

These oils left in the pen cause skipping and severe flow issues. When I first inked the pen, it wrote as dry as the dessert, and that dry flow, bad as it was, was inconsistent at best.

The fix? The silly part is, the fix for this nib is so extremely simple! All you need to do is remove the nib and feed, and rinse them in soapy water. Then rinse them of in clean water, pop them back in the pen, and you're golden! Why can Stipula not do this at the factory?

The little troublemaker - manufactures oil residue left in the feed...

Now, once cleaned thoroughly, here are my thoughts on the nib:

Yes, it's a good nib! This nib was fairly smooth, abut 5/10 wetness, had had pretty decent line variation for a factory italic. If I was just rating the nib, I'd probably give it a 6/10. To be honest though, I wasn't impressed with the nib. I liked it enough, but it wasn't making that "wow" connection that I wanted.

You know me - I took it out to my workshop, gave it a good one-over for about 15 minutes, and came back in to try it out. The results - Much, much improved! This nib responded very well to my tuning. I increased the flow, smoothed it, and touched up the nib shape to achieve more variation.

Now, with the nib tuned up, I can easily give it a 9/10! This nib has now become a favorite of mine. I really love it.

But, to be fair, not everyone can go out and professionally home-tune their pens.

To be honest, I have to overall score the Stipula Passporto's nib at 17/25.

Ouch, that hurts a bit, especially for a Limited Edition pen at this price point. But factor in the skipping problems at the start (bad presentation from Stipula), and the only decent writing quality, I have to give it that score.

Now for a writing sample! This is the nib after I tuned it. The variation is diminished slightly, because I didn't use my good paper like I should have. :)

NOTE: In the comparison below, the pens used are:
Blue ink - Stipula Passporto
Thin brown line - TWSBI F
Thin Magenta line - Pilot VP F
Dark Brown wide line - Lamy 2000 B

The extra category:
My reviews typically feature 4 categories, but for LE pens, I give an extra one. This category will cover the presentation and "pack-ins" that come with this pen. I don't want to spend too much time on this (it's the pen that I care about!), but here goes:

Nice faux leather box - good company imprint, secure magnetic closure. I care little about the box...

Pack ins! A manual, with info on all of Stipula's different filling systems, a "certificate LE thingy", an eyedropper, and a cartridge.

There it is, a genuine FPN Passporto. Mine is 78/200 (yes, I know it looks like 900). I have to admit, I was disappointed about one thing: This is written with a ballpoint! What!? Stipula needs to make it mandatory for their employees to use fountain pens for this job. :)

Very good quality glass eyedropper.

Comes with a single short cartridge, in case you don't want to do bottled ink.

Overall I think the extra pack-ins are perfect, or very close to it. It's what I expected from an LE, but it's not overly obnoxious. No frills, very simplistic, yet I still feel like I'm getting what I paid for, with a Limited Edition fountain pen.

Overall, nib issues aside now that they're fixed, I'm extremely pleased with this purchase. I would recommend this pen to anyone looking for a special pen, specifically to commemorate FPN.

This pen has a lot of personality for such a little guy, and I find myself using it more and more these days.

For the price you aren't getting a whole lot for your money, that's true. A 3.5" pen with a steel nib. But, knowing that I'm helping support Fountain Pen Network with my purchase made it more than worth it for me. Also, it's an LE, so once these are sold, (they already are!) they're gone.

If you're interested in buying one of these though, I recommend you watch the FPN market-place very carefully. I guarantee you there will be folks selling these soon enough. I also guarantee that they'll be snatched up very fast when they do get put up for sale!

If any of you folks have one of these pens, I'd love to hear you thoughts in the comments below. Did yours have nib issues? If so, were they easily fixed with the same trick I used?

Thanks for reading everyone! I hope you enjoyed this review. Of course you're more than welcome to leave me a comment too and let me know what you think of the review. I'd love to hear from you!

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Have a good one everybody!

Tyler Dahl

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