How much do you have to pay for a fountain pen that writes consistently? I used to think that you had to pay a whopping £16 for a LAMY Safari, and then be tied into their proprietary cartridges or make the leap to bottled ink. It turns out that I was wrong, for only £12.50 you can get a cracking little pen that writes really well and takes normal international cartridges.

The two most commonly discussed starter fountain pens are the LAMY Safari (or AL Star for a few more pounds) and the Pilot MR (Metropolitan) and the debate rages on as to which is best, usually due to the triangular grip section of the Safari being a bit like marmite. So onto some stats:

Pen Length (unposted) Standard Nibs Cartridge Type Cost (GBP)
Dex Smooth Soft 124mm Medium International Standard £12.50
LAMY Safari 130mm F, M, B, LH LAMY Proprietary £16.00
Pilot MR / Metropolitan 126mm Medium International Standard £25.50

Capped Pens Uncapped Pens

One of the interesting things about LAMY is that the nibs are interchangeable across almost the entire range. You pay more for different pen designs but the feeds and nibs generally remain the same. This effectively means that if you like the way they write then you can find something to match your style and budget. For example you can look around and get a Steel LAMY Logo for only £20 which has a much more traditional shape.

However in general you cannot go wrong with either of these, they both write excellently and are built really well. The Pilot has a slightly better nib in my opinion, but the injection moulding of the grip leaves a few uncomfortable joins for your fingers to rub against.

Dex Smooth Soft

So it looks like the Dex Smooth Soft pen is entering a market segment that is both highly competitive and has a couple of gems already. How can it hope to compete? Well for starters it is quite a bit cheaper and when you are not sure if you want a fountain pen this does matter. It looks good for the price, with a nice range of colours and it takes cartridges that you can pick up all over the place. The nib is the best thing by far about this pen, I believe it is a Bock nib which usually means good things and the execution here is no exception. It writes with a beautifully smooth and wet medium line and, unlike the Safari and Pilot, I have left this uncapped for 5 minutes and it still writes without any skips or hard starts which is great for a first pen.

The Dex has a textured surface which gives it the 'soft touch' feel that it is named for. The barrel and cap are a tiny bit slippery (no more so than the Safari) but the black grip section is considerably grippier and feels great in the hand. A bit small when used unposted, but pretty great when the cap is in place, it balances nicely in the hand and is light weight so will not cause fatigue. It does however feel like a much cheaper pen than the competition. It is slightly lighter and combined with the material choice, in hand you instantly know this is an entry level pen.

Uncapped Dex

The pen that I received had some injection moulding artefacts, there were some sharp edges and extra bits of plastic, but a bit of work with a finger nail and a sharp knife took those off and it looked and felt better afterwards. I think that this is borderline ok for a pen at this cost, but a bit more attention to detail at the factory would see this go away.

So it feels ok but nothing special in the hand but when you start writing it is clear that the money went on the right thing, the nib. It is plain, simple and the most uninteresting medium you can imagine but it just works and works and works. Pick it up a couple of days after the last use and it starts no matter how you stored it. The only time I noticed an issue was when I ran out of ink, but you can hardly expect a pen to write with thin air.

The barrel can hold two cartridges or a standard international converter, so you can get going with the wide range of colours available in cartridge form and then try bottled ink if you want (you will have to buy the converter separately) at a later date.

I have lots of other pens, but this one would still see quite a bit of use as an ink testing pen as it is easy to clean and very consistent. I say 'would' because my wife has decided she quite likes it, so I will order another one in black.

It would be great if this pen could be ordered with a range of nib sizes but for the time being it is only available online in a medium finish. I hear that in store there are a few more options, but I haven't got a 'The Pen Shop' near where I currently live.

Dex Nib

If you are looking for your first fountain pen or want one that you can use and abuse without worrying about ruining something expensive this would be great. I used to recommend the steel LAMY Logo without hesitation as the best starter pen, now I am not so sure as this Dex has a lot going for it. The fact that it takes standard cartridges and doesn't seem to dry up quickly when uncapped makes it more forgiving and probably a better choice, if the finish was better then it would be a no brainer.

Where to buy:

My thanks to The Pen Shop for supplying this pen for review. I grew up in Morpeth and frequently visited the T&G Allan's on Newgate street, the small chain from which The Pen Store sprung from many years ago. The service is great every time I visit and the range seems to go from strength to strength. They may now be a large chain of stores but their attention to detail is superb.