While the TWSBI 540 has been out a while, and others may have reviewed it, I have been using mine almost daily for the past six weeks. Consider this an elongated test of the capabilities of this particular pen. Sometimes certain characteristics of pens don’t come out until many weeks or months later and aren’t apparently obvious in an initial test or review.
Unlike other reviews, where the choice of color or pattern can be a difficult one, I found this extremely easy. While all four color options are very nice, I find the sapphire to just be a stunning looking pen. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. I like the clear, but clear seems to be the new black these days and everyone makes a clear demonstrator. I wanted something a little different. Probably part of my decision goes back to when I bought an anthracite Pelikan M200 years ago. I found myself staring at the ink in the pen practically dozens of times a day. It was a cool pen. Then a friend got one in blue. Now that was a pretty pen! The color of the plastic takes away some of the distraction of the actual color of ink inside the barrel, but still allows you to see the level of ink, and after all, isn’t that what is most important?
So, anyway, sapphire it is, and my usual choice of a Medium nib. First, let’s take a look at the overall design of the pen.
Like many, I’ve had, shall we say, experiences, with certain pens from Asia. To say they weren’t good pens is probably an understatement. Not that there aren’t good pens on that continent, just the cheap ones were, well cheap. Since during those experiences I wasn’t in a position to afford a more expensive pen (say a Namiki/Pilot, Sailor, Nakaya, or other good brand), it seemed easy to be tempted by the low prices some of them provided. Now all that prejudice aside, most of the stuff we have on a daily basis is made in China now anyway, so what’s the difference where it’s made? Heck, even the iPhone, considered to be perhaps one of the most revolutionary mobile devices on the planet, is made in China. So if you don’t like pens made from there let me tell you right now. Throw that preconceived notion out the window.
Getting back to the actual pen, it is a big one, 5-1/2″ long capped, and the barrel is 5-1/8″ long by itself. The pen is not really designed to post, but if you do, it becomes an unwieldy 7″ long. The cap opening is narrow compared the width of the piston knob, and only slips on about half way. This can lead to an unexpected movement of the piston when removing, which may or may not (depending on how full the pen is) cause ink to be pushed into the feed. Thankfully, I find the length of the pen to be long enough that I have no problems using it uncapped. For some this might be a deal breaker, but I invite you to have an open mind about it. The girth is about 9/16″ in diameter so is very comfortable in the hand. The barrel has a nice diamond design on it (hence the name) making it easy to find just the right sweet spot on the pen when writing.
The cap is nicely done, the TWSBI name laser engraved on the chrome cap band in front and Diamond 540 Taiwan in the back. Two thumbs up for not making it seem like the cap band could be a belt buckle for a rodeo cowboy. Some brands feel the need to make their name so huge in this area it really turns me off. The top of the cap is decorated with the TWSBI logo in red and silver. It is really a nice looking logo and gives the pen a bit of extra color.
The TWSBI 540 is a piston filler which immediately gives it the feel of a much more expensive pen. At $50 one would expect this to be a typical cartridge/convertor pen, or maybe cartridge only and you’d have to purchase a convertor separately. Nope. Piston. And a nice piston at that. They even give you a wrench and some silicone grease to take the whole thing apart if you wish.
Nib units are interchangeable, and come in XF, F, M, B, 1.1 mm Stub, and 1.5 mm Stub sizes. They come in nice enclosed containers so if you buy one pen and a couple of nibs, you’re not stuck wondering what to do with the extra nib units. For those with older 530’s or early model 540’s, they even include a separate inner cap with the two stub nibs as the extra width of the stubs can scratch these early inner caps. This was a running change and most of the later TWSBI 540’s already have this thinner inner cap installed. Still nice thinking by TWSBI to include this with the nib. All extra nib units come with a clear section. If you have a pen other than a clear pen, you can either use this or pop the nib unit out of the section and into your colored section.
Nibs are made by JoWo and they write well. Mine has started first time, every time since I inked it up with J. Herbin Sapphire ink (fitting, don’t you think?). The Medium seems to be on the wider side of medium, when compared to other manufacturers, but still not quite a broad. If you use some pressure, you can get a tiny bit of line variation, but the nib really wasn’t designed for this and you may end up ruining a nib by trying to get flex out of it. Your mileage may vary however. It’s really just a pretty bomb proof pen and the nib can take some abuse as well. I’ve probably handed this pen to close to 50 fellow pensters at the Baltimore and Little Rock pen shows and the tines have never gotten out of alignment or had any adverse effects. Not all people who tried it were experienced with fountain pens either, so it goes to show the stability and sturdiness of this nib. The design on the nib is ok. Nothing too fancy, but not boring either. Probably the best part is the nib size etched into the lower left corner of the nib. Some companies put this down at the bottom of the nib and it can be hard to see. Granted, a broad nib might be pretty easy to tell, but sometimes, it’s hard to tell if the nib is a fine or an extra fine.
My conclusion after a six week road test? If you’ve been thinking about it, your toughest problem is going to decide what color. There isn’t a better, well designed piston filling pen on the market in this price range. I won’t go anywhere without mine, and if you see me at a show, it will always be near me, so if you’re sitting on the fence, stop on by and give it a try!