Pen Review: Karas Kustoms Ink
Material: Aluminum & Copper
Nib: Steel Medium Nib
Filling System: Standard International Cartridge/Converter
Length (Capped): 137.2mm
Length (Uncapped): 126.2mm
Length (Posted): 177.3mm
Section Diameter: 10.2mm
Barrel Max Diameter: 14.6mm
Cap Max Diameter: 14.6mm
Weight, Uncapped (with ink and/or converter): 30g
Weight, Capped (with ink and/or converter):47g
One of the things I like most about the use of fountain pens is that they are a nearly infinitely customizable experience. Nibs can be adjusted. Feeds can be heat set. Points can be ground. Fountain pens, from early in their manufacture, also made excellent use of interchangeable parts. Waterman did it with their color nibs on the Ideal No. 7. Esterbrook took it to a whole new level with their dozens and dozens of easily removable and replaceable nibs.
These days, as fountain pens have moved into a smaller niche market, offering a wide array of customizations is less viable from a financial perspective than it once was. The economies of scale just aren’t there anymore. Nevertheless, today’s consumers have developed an appetite for getting what they want, customized to their specific requirements. I call it the “Have it your way” effect. (Thanks, Burger King.)
One company in the modern fountain pen community that is really reviving and running with the interchangeable parts model is the Arizona-based machine shop and pen maker, Karas Kustoms. The author of several very successful Kickstarter campaigns, they have risen to prominence in the fountain pen community through their lines of machined metal pens coupled with very highly respected customer service.
I generally don’t buy into Kickstarter campaigns as a contributor, so I missed the opportunity to get involved with the Karas Kustoms Ink when it become available. I was, however, able to get a hold of one of these pens at the 2016 LA Show, and so far, I have to admit I am duly impressed.
The Karas Kustoms Ink is a metal-bodied pen whose parts are most often made from aluminum (in a whole range of anodized color finishes), brass, or copper. You can mix and match the colors and materials of the body/cap and section. I, for instance, picked up an olive green aluminum cap and body, but paired it with a copper section. You can also pick your choice of #6 steel or titanium Bock nibs.
The pen’s cap features a very industrial, cleanly-machined shape. It actually reminds me a lot of the space station scenes in the Mass Effect video games. The machined clip is completely rigid with no give or spring. It sits in a groove cut into the top of the cap, and is held in place by two small bolts. The seam between the cap and the barrel is flush, with the barrel then tapering down in diameter a bit until it comes to a flat bottom with a beveled “corner.”
It takes 1 3/4 turns to remove the cap on smooth threads. I actually have to give kudos to Karas Kustoms for the threads on this pen: metal on metal threads can be a bit problematic. These are smooth and slick, with no chattering or squeaking. Under the cap is a concave section that is ergonomically pleasant, but just a touch on the short side for me. Normally this wouldn’t bother me too much (and it really doesn’t here either) but the threads are on the sharp side under the fingers. So if you’ve got a high-on-the-pen grip, the threads may bug you just a bit.
As mentioned above, I opted for the copper section on my pen. I did this for a couple of reasons. First, it looks cool. Olive green and copper go together nicely, and I love the patina copper develops as it ages. Secondly, copper is a much heavier metal than aluminum, so having a section made of out copper re-balances the pen just a bit toward the nib, where it belongs. This results is a really lovely balance in the hand. I briefly considered an all-copper pen, but that would have been far too heavy for my taste.
Karas Kustoms uses #6-sized Bock steel or titanium nibs on their pens. In most pens that use these interchangeable nib units, the plastic nib and feed holder is flush with the bottom of the section when installed. With the Karas Kustoms Ink, nib unit is, interestingly, counter-sunk a bit into the section, making the nib seem shorter than it actually is.
I don’t have a lot of Bock steel nibs in my personal collection, but if the nib on my Ink is any indication, I may want to spend more time with them. The nib is wonderfully ground, with a perfectly round shape. It is nicely smooth, albeit just a touch too dry, but still writes like a champ with no ink starvation issues.
There is one minor issue that probably would not be a problem for most people, but does pop up occasionally due to the way I tend to use my pens. The Ink doesn’t make use of a plastic inner cap, and with the metal on metal threads, the pen seems a bit more prone to drying out if I leave it unused for several days. This is not a huge issue with most people, as they aren’t foolish enough to keep 20-25 pens inked at the same time. But for me, I find that leaving the pen unused for several days requires me to prime the pump, so to speak. Using it daily, or several times a day, I never had any issues on the initial startup.
As someone who generally prefers pens made of plastics (celluloid, acrylic, resin, etc.) or ebonite, I am surprised at how much I like this all-metal pen. The anodized finish is smooth, flawless, and a perfect color. The manufacturing tolerances are wonderful, and the weight and balance in the hand are really nice. And if you’re the kind of person who is rough on their pens, this is a pen that could stand up to some pretty serious abuse. It may mar the finish, but that pen isn’t going anywhere.
In terms of value, I consider the Karas Kustoms Ink to be a very good pen for the money. When ordering directly from their website, the Ink starts at $95. (Aluminum body/section and a steel nib), and you can add on different nibs or materials that will increase the price. Even with those add-ons in place, I still find the Ink to be a very good value.
It certainly is not a pen for everyone. The industrial look and feel of the pen is a big departure from the showier, more “refined” look I normally seek in my writing instruments. But in that price range, it’s a well-built, solid, robust pen that writes like a dream and can stand up to more than little abuse. Add the customizability of colors, materials, and nibs, and you’ve got a great alternative to some of the mass-market pens currently in that price range.