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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Pen Review: The TWSBI Vac700!

Without a doubt, this is one of the most highly anticipated pens, and reviews of the year. I have personally been eagerly looking forward to the arrival of the Vac700 ever since I first heard about it.

For those of you who've been waiting for an initial review before buying, wait no longer! Here's the official Tyler Dahl review of the TWSBI Vac700.


With it's elegant design, high value for dollar, and unique filling system, the Vac700 is exactly what pen of this price point should be. 92/100

A high score? Yes it is. But before you disregard my entire review, and call me a TWSBI fan-boy, blinded by my love for the company, you better give me a chance to explain. Be sure you read the entire review, as I do touch on all points, both good and bad. Bear in mind that I do not give this pen high marks "just because". This pen has earned it's "Amazing" rating, and if you're willing to read on you'll find out why!

Technical Specs (taken mostly from
  • Price: $80.00 - $85.00
  • Body Material: Plastic demonstrator, available in Blue, Amber, Smoke, and (coming soon) clear
  • Nib Material: Steel
  • Nib Size: Extra Fine, Fine, Medium, and Broad
  • Cap Type: Screw-cap (For those who are curious: The pen does post, but I personally wouldn't want to post it ever. Far to top-heavy)
  • Filling Mechanism: Vacuum-fill
  • Overall Weight: 32g (1.13oz)
  • Cap Weight: 13g (0.46oz)
  • Body Weight: 19g (0.67oz)
  • Overall Length (capped): 147mm (5.79in)
  • Overall Length (posted): 175mm (6.89in)
  • Body Length: 134mm (5.28in)
  • Cap Diameter (no clip): 16mm (0.63in)
  • Cap Diameter (with clip): 18mm (0.70in)
  • Body Diameter: 15mm (0.59in)
  • Nib Length: 24mm (0.95in)

The good:
  • Beautiful design from TWSBI - modern yet elegant
  • Very low price point for a vac-filling fountain pen
  • TWSBI has done a superb job of creating a modern vac-filling mechanism.
  • The entire pen is user serviceable, and TWSBI encourages this
The bad:
  • The step between the barrel and grip section may be uncomfortable for some users
  • The grip section is a tad slippery.
The ugly:
  • Out of the box, these nibs are not to be trusted. I hate to say that, but you'll see why later on.

Notes: All flaws considered, this pen still deserves a high rating. While the nibs are bad out of the box, they are easily fixed. The problem with the nibs, which I will describe later on in this review, is very simple. TWSBI could easily remedy this if they get enough feedback from us. That aside however, there is next-to-nothing to not love about this pen. As with any pen, there are design quirks that some users will love, and others will dislike. But the general population is going to love the TWSBI Vac700.

Right from the start I'll say that I prefer the Vac700 design over the TWSBI 540. It is more beautiful by  being simpler, and elegant. The 540 is good looking, no doubt about it, but I always thought it was a tad crowded. The Vac700 stripes away the extras, and leaves you with a clean design, worthy of your attention. Trust me, you'll enjoy staring at this pen for a while when you first take it out of the box. Let's hit some specific details that I particularly enjoy:

The overall pen is beautiful to look at, especially in this Sapphire blue color! The currently available colors are Sapphire (Blue), Amber (Orange-ish/Yellow), and Smoke (Black). All three colors are partial demonstrators, meaning they're see-through to some extent. I find the smoke the most opaque. The other two are average for a colored demonstrator.
It should also be noted that a fully clear version of the pen is scheduled for release in a few months...

The clip is unique and contrasting to the rest of the pen, by way of a matte finish. I love the shape, and while at first I questioned the clip's finish, I've now grown quite fond of it. It feels very sturdy, and the matte finish in theory will prevent it from slipping off your pocket as easily as a smooth clip.

Same top design as the 540, though the Vac700 has a slightly sharper bevel. The cap sports the same "diamond" patterning as the 540, while the body is smooth.

The blind cap also shares the "diamond" patterning, and is accompanied by a tastefully placed steel trim-ring. The shaped blind cap allows for very easy gripping when you're filling the pen.

Lastly, the big thick cap band! I love these thick cap bands that TWSBI does. This one has TWSBI on one side, and VAC 700 TAIWAN on the other.

There is very little to dislike about the TWSBI Vac700's design. It is gorgeous on so many levels, and it should appeal to a large audience. It has just the right blend of elegance, utility, and simplicity.

I can't help but rate this pen at 24/25 in design.

I'd almost rate it 25/25, but no pen is perfect. :) As you all know, I am a sucker for beautifully designed pens. This one really nails it for me, and I thoroughly enjoy having a Vac700 in my pen case every time I go to admire my collection.

Size and weight:
Here's the super-subjective part of the review. I'll share my experiences with the pen, and give a little comparison with a few others. I'll leave it to you to make your own judgments on how the pen will fit your hand.

The pen is long, but not thick. Longer than an Edison Pearl, TWSBI 540, and Pilot VP.

Compared directly to the 540. Everything is slightly longer. The barrel, the cap, the nib, and the grip section. I personally prefer the longer grip section and nib, as the distance from the paper it provides helps keep my hands in the proper position for writing.

Comparison of the grip sections. I'll be honest, I wish the Vac700 grip section was a tad thicker, but I know it would appeal to less people that way, so TWSBI made the best choice. I am glad that it does not have the typical section taper, but is more straight instead. I find this more helpful for keeping my fingers from getting tired.

The Pen is not too heavy, or to light, but strikes a good balance in between. And thanks to the tapered design, most of the weight is near the nib end, which is always my preference. This Vac700 weighs in at 5g more than the 540. Not extremely noticeable, but it's there.

Overall I find the weight and size to be very good for me. I'd prefer a thicker grip section, but aside from that everything else is perfect as is. 

My extremely user-subjective rating is then set at: 23/25.

Now if only TWSBI could make an optional grip section that was thicker, I'd really have the perfect pen in hand. :) For now though, it's still one of my most comfortable pens for long writing periods.

TWSBI has set a lot of market standards ever since the release of the 530, proving that an excellent pen with good mechanics could be sold for under $50.00

Now, with the Vac700, they've aimed to prove yet again that pens with complex and elegant filling mechanics can be sold for a reasonable price. I'm here to tell you that they've succeeded. They've not only succeeded, but they've done it in such a way as to put to shame other pens of a similar price point. Indeed, my Monte Verde Invincia Stylus cowers in shame with it's little c/c filler when compared to the Vac700's grand vacuum filler. :) That being said, let's hit on some of the details:

The first thing I need to do is make note of the threads of the pen! TWSBI has listened, and they have improved yet again. The threads of this pen are perfect. The are butter-smooth to operate, but as with the 540, the cap seals on extremely well when it's screwed on fully. An o-ring provides an airtight seal, which is a nice touch. The only set of threads that beats this one is on my Edison Pearl, but for a factory pen this one beats all others. I enjoy it every time I get to uncap my Vac700.

We already talked about the clip, but I'll mention again how sturdy it feels. The matte finish adds just the right amount of grip to prevent it from sliding out of slick shirt pockets.

The blind cap. An essential part of this pen's mechanism. Threads are smooth, and the faceted shape of the knob allows for a very good grip. Best of all, this entire mechanism is removable by the user, with tools provided by TWSBI, included with the pen. How often is it that a manufacture gives you tools to service your own pen, gives you a manual too, as well as encouragement? TWSBI has made this a pen for fountain pen users and enthusiasts. It's not a show pen.

The nibs are unscrewable and easy to swap! New units are not available for sale yet, but soon enough they should be. The nib unit has a nice o-ring on the back that will prevent any leakage.

Filling system:
I won't spend a lot of time here, but I want to make special mention of the filling system, as this is one of the pen's main selling points. The TWSBI Vac700 fills via a vacuum filling mechanism. For those who are unfamiliar with this, the basic concept is as follow:

A rod with a gasket is pushed down the barrel of the pen, creating a vacuum behind it. Once it hits the end of it's stroke, the pen widens, and the gasket breaks its seal. This allows ink to rush past it, into the empty vacuum created int he barrel of the pen. Check out this video here to see one getting filled.

So, people keep asking why this mechanism is so special. It's not! But most of us fountain pen geeks like a pen that has a more interesting mechanism than your typical c/c filler. A vac-fill pen is a lot of fun to operate. There's nothing quite like seeing all that ink whoosh into the pen. :) Aside from that, vac-fillers do hold a great deal of ink. It's not magic, and it's not the best filling system ever... But it's fun, and most fountain pen users and geeks will love it.

Now, the filling system is not without flaws. If you watched the above video, you'll note that it shows you how to get a maximum fill with your vacuum-filling pen. Unfortunately vac-fillers almost never fill to %100.00 on the first stroke. The Vac700 usually gets about 70% - 80% for me. I could use the trick in the above video, and get it all the way full, but I have no desire to. I change inks often, and thus I prefer to run out a little quicker. If this matters to you a great deal, keep that in mind - you won't get a 100% fill without using this little trick.

All quirks considered, the Vac700 is a well oiled machine! It functions as expected, and operates smooth enough to please the most demanding users. I am quite happy with the overall mechanics of the pen. 

That in mind, I will give the Vac700 a 23/25 in this category.

The nib:
Time for the most important part of the review. Best for last as they say. :) Well, I'll secretly admit that the design portion is my favorite part actually... But anyways!

This nib is the same as the 540, but it's bigger! I like it bigger, and it really looks better with this pen.

Now, like I said at the beginning of the review, out of the box, I must sadly admit that these nibs can't be trusted. That's not to say that they're all bad, but it is to say that QC is far too sketchy to ensure you'll get a good one. I hate even having to say this in my review, but that's how it is. Let's talk about how it writes, and what the problem with it is.

I have now had three Vac700s is my hands to work on, and all three had the exact same problem. No ink flow at all. But why? Very, very simple. So simple, it frustrates me, because TWSBI could so easily fix the situation. The tines of the nib are too tight! That's it. Nothing more. No complex feeding issues. Just too tightly spaced tines. This prevents any ink from reaching the paper.

My nib was bone dry out of the box, but with my fingers I was able to open it up to around 5/10 wetness. Most folks will not know how to do this though, and that's where you might run into problems.

Now lucky for you, TWSBI excels at customer service, so if you get a bad nib, they'll replace it for free, and they'll do it in record time. Still it's an inconvenience that you should not have to deal with.

Now, simple flow adjustment issues aside, allow me to praise the nib for how well it does write once you get it going. My broad nib is incredibly smooth, easily rivaling most pens in my case. The F nib I tried was also smooth, and on the same level as other companies such as Pilot.

Here's a quick writing sample to prove that mine does write. :) Super-smooth, and a joy to write with once the tines have been properly spaced.

So my conclusion on the nib is this: The nibs are fabulous, if you get one without flow issues. If not, then you've got an excellent nib with tines that are too close. Get a nibmeister to tune it for you, or get a replacement from TWSBI. This is a true inconvenience, but it's not going to be a deal breaker for most of us.

I am content to give this nib a 21/25.

Had the tines simply been spread enough to allow for proper ink flow, I'd raise this to 24/25 in a heartbeat. Many of you will call me crazy for giving a nib that doesn't write a 21/25 rating. The only reason I do is because the fix is so simple. Unlike many other pens, such as the Noodlers Ahab, this one takes about 35 seconds to remedy if you know what you're doing. Also, be sure to use caution when reading my experiences with pen nibs. Remember that I, as a nibmeister, see the worst of everything. What you hear from me is the worst of it, and normally things are much better. :)

Packaging and extras:
The Vac700 comes with some nice packaging, and a few extras that are worth mentioning briefly.

The packaging is the exact same as the 530/540, and the extras are essentially the same too. For those who are new to TWSBI, the packaging is very Apple-esque. The pen arrives in a white plastic box, with a transparent lid. Nested inside sitting on a lovely transparent stand, is the Vac700. I don't have a photo, but take a look at my old TWSBI 530 review. The packaging is the exact same.

Here is the removable tray from bottom view. This is where you'll find your goodies. A bottle of silicone grease, a wrench for servicing the pen, and spare o-rings!

I have to add an extra point to my overall score for the superb packaging and goodies that TWSBI includes with your purchase.

I'll make this quick, but I feel it's important to add this. While there are many mixed feelings on this pen's price point, let's all be honest - we were spoiled with the TWSBI 530 and 540. Never before had a pen been sold for so cheap that was so well made. Ever since then however, I've heard lots of complaints about other pen's prices, including some TWSBI releases, such as the Micarta.

Let me set things into perspective for the Vac700. There are just a few other modern made vac-filling pens on the market today. To name a few, we've got the popular Pilot Custom 823, the Visconti Homo Sapiens, as well as a few other Viscontis, and more pens I can't name at the moment. Let's take a quick look at some pricing for these vac-filling pens:

Pilot 823: $250.00
Visconti homo Sapiens: $400.00 - $500.00
TWSBI Vac700: $85.00

Let's really compare the Vac700 to the Pilot 823. They both come in Amber, and they're both very similar in general. Essentially, you're paying an additional $165.00 for a gold nib. That's the only noticeable difference between the pens that's in favor of the Pilot.

The fact is that if like the vacuum filling mechanism, and you don't want to spend a years worth of pen money, the Vac700 is a bargain. For the amount of pen you get, as well as TWSBI's incredible customer service, I'd say it's a whole lot of pen for the money. Is it worth more than the 540? Absolutely. If it costs more for TWSBI to manufacture, then it's worth more. I'm personally happy to pay the extra for what I feel is a much better pen overall.

How can I conclude such a review about such a great pen? I know! I'm going to list to you all the reasons you wouldn't want to buy this pen:

  1. You hate TWSBI...
  2. You hate great pens...
  3. ...
In short, I cannot think of any reason that a fountain pen enthusiast could resist adding this pen to his/her collection! It has quickly secured a good spot in my pen case, and is there to stay for a long while, most likely forever. I love the design, the shape, the mechanics, and once fixed, even the nib.

TWBI has created another winning design, and I am proud to support their efforts. No, I am not affiliated with TWSBI, and no, I don't get payed a single penny for my reviews. :) But I am a big fan of TWSBI, and I love this pen. I am looking forward to the clear version of the Vac700 when it arrives, and for that matter, all future TWSBI products.

This pen can be purchased directly from TWSBI here.

Likewise you can get it from everyone's favorite retailer here. If you haven't guessed it, yes, I'm speaking of the Goulet Pen Company. :)

End review!

I sure hope you enjoyed this review! It took a lot of writing and time to finish, but I am very happy to have it up. If you'd be so kind, please leave me a comment below and let me know what you think of the pen, and the review. Did I miss something important? What are your thoughts on the Vac700? Looking forward to hearing from you all!

Don't forget to subscribe to the blog to stay up-to-date on all my latest reviews!

And lastly, have a great day everyone. :)

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