Review: Lamy AL Star Fountain Pen

I'm not an expert on fountain pens by any stretch of the imagination, having received my first one about two years ago --an amazing and unexpected gift from Robert Lynch, an Aurora Style. Since then, however, I've certainly fallen under their spell. True, they're not always the most convenient, and I almost always have a little splatter of ink in the corners of my fingernails, but there's something about the way that they glide across the page trailing a fine wet line that glistens even in the dim light of my office. Or perhaps it's the throwback to a calmer, less hectic time when we had time to make words meaningful. So, too, the relaxing ritual of filling my pens with sundry types and colours of ink, even mixing my own concoctions, a past-time that merges my wild ambitions as artist, scientist and writer.

But the mystique of fountain pens can also be mystifying for the beginner. I know it was for me. A glance through various fountain pen websites will quickly bring into focus the highly regarded pens that cost thousands of dollars. Wandering through fountain pen listings and forums will baffle you with an arcane lexicon and conflicting statements about pens, nibs, inks, filling systems, pricing, collectability and custom grindings. Alas, these are barriers to entry for the poor newbie who wishes simply to buy a reliable and inexpensive pen that can be used as a daily writer without pain, confusion, financial ruin or the permanent soiling of one's carpet.

Lamy AL Star Silvergreen Fountain Pen

Enter the Lamy AL Star.

The AL Star is the slightly upscale version of Lamy's low-end utility Safari line, upgraded with an aluminum body and a translucent gripping section, but still keeping the same form factor and nib as the plastic-bodied Safari. The suggested retail value of the AL Star is $38 USD, about $9 more than its sibling, but it can often be found on eBay and on special for between $23-29 USD.

Given that so many people recommend pens that cost $250-400, it mustn't be a very good pen, right? On the contrary, the pen writes quite well on decent paper. (Few fountain pens will write well on ultra-cheap paper like newsprint or bargain-basement stock.) The fine nib on my Silvergreen pen exhibits little scratchiness --it'll never write as smooth as a $150-200 pen, but it's quite acceptable-- and it demonstrates excellent flow with most of the inks I've tried. In fact, it's probably one of the most reliable of the pens I've used; it starts writing smoothly every time, with no need to "start" it on some scratch paper beforehand. The nib is affectionately known as a stick type, which means that is has no flexibility, but just a strong, even line with little deviation in thickness.

One thing that often plagues newcomers to fountain pens is the turning or rotation of the pen while writing, since the nib should always remain at a consistent angle on the paper. The AL Star (and Safari) line overcomes this problem with two angular cuts in the usually-rounded area of the gripping section, just behind the nib where the fingers generally squeeze while writing. This clever design is not only ergonomic, but has the effect of maintaining the nib at the perfect angle all the time time, with no creeping rotation.

The body is more or less rounded except that opposite sides are flattened to prevent rolling off the table. Within these flat areas are a window to see the remaining supply of ink and an etched Lamy logo near the rear of the pen. The pen itself is rather thick, about one and a half times as thick as a Pilot G2, but it tends to fit all but the smallest hands fairly well, and it's quite light to handle.

The cap is completely rounded and a bit bigger than the body of the pen. A large wire-spring clip and a plastic plus-shaped accent at top round out the stylish modern look of this pen (which is decidedly not for everyone). The cap doesn't screw on, but instead creates an air-tight seal with a satisfying click. This is a virtue in a pen that you need to uncap quickly.

The whole pen is quite a rugged affair and --given its toughness and inexpensive price-- would feel quite at home tossed in a backpack or in a purse. Combine it with an adapter/converter for filling from ink bottles and a small selection of smooth-writing ink such as Noodler's or Waterman, and you can have an excellent daily writer that's not only economical and ecologically friendly, but a great introduction to fountain pens.

Thinking of dipping your toe into the fountain pen waters? I doubt you'd go wrong with the Lamy AL Star, or even with the more vibrant colours of its cheaper plastic cousin, the Safari.

Syndicate content

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Thanks

Great write-up. I'm looking at getting an inexpensive first fountain pen and had been looking at this one. I think you sold me.

Thanks.

- Jen

another vote for Lamy pens

Besides the Pilot Varsity disposable fountain pens (a great place to start with them) I have purchased 2 Lamy fountain pens. They are both great. My first was a Lamy Vista - a clear plastic version of the Safari. The second was a Lamy Accent - black metal with an aluminum grip.

The Vista is a wonderful pen - sturdy, lightweight, good size and feels good in your hand. The only (minor) complaint here is that it did not come with an ink cartridge or converter. Lamy seems to have decided to not include that with their least expensive pens. I think all their pens that cost more than the Safari and Vista come with either an ink cartridge or converter. The Vista and Safari both are listed at retail of $27.50.

The Lamy Accent is more expensive - more along the $65 price range. It is thinner, but made of some pretty solid metal and came with a converter.

-Kenny

And another vote

I have a Lamy Vista, too. I love it. I love my Lamy Studio even more, though. It's really classy-looking, and has the same nib as the Vista/Safari. I do love the extra-fine Lamy nibs...

--
Steff
[ blog | photos ]

Vista is a great value

I just picked up a Vista last week, and really enjoy using it so far. The proprietary cartridges are a little annoying, at least with regard to limiting cartridge selection, but the converter is certainly enough to bring back the rainbows.

The nice thing I've found, aside from a very good and consistent line, is that it doesn't dry out quickly while in use. I often take notes with a fountain pen, and had to stop using my Libelle for that purpose since it was always drying out while I was waiting to write the next bit of information. The Vista just waits, and puts down a line when asked nicely to do so.

I picked up the clear variety, which is quite fun. No guesses about ink levels!!!

The nib on mine is a fine point, which isn't as fine as I'd like at times. Nice and smooth, although not as silky as my Namiki Falcon (which has a gold nib), not too bad from a decidedly non-flexy steel nib. Still, if your nib is a little scratchy, that can likely be improved. They also sell italic nibs for these pens, which is next on my list to get (really, for less than $30US, it's hard not to get another) - check Swisher Pens and Pendemonium.

demonstrators

Since getting a Safari Vista, I became quite keen on 'demonstrator' type fountain pens, especially the low-end ones. Since then, I've gotten ahold of a couple of Pelikanos and a Waterman Kultur in a lovely transparent blue. None of those write as well or as reliably as the Lamy, though. I've put an oblique nib on mine, but I think I'll step up to a proper italics nib for it, since it is now my secondary pen. My primary pen of late is a Pelikan M205 clear demonstrator, which is gorgeous: right size, piston fill, nib like silk, and slightly similar aesthetics to the Vista (which I quite like the look of).

Vista survival rate

Just to let you know my Vista survived being taken apart by another engineer at work today. He wanted to see how it worked. Engineers are dangerous beings...

I took my much more expensive Platinum apart to show him how a converter worked just so he wouldn't be tempted by that.

I know that the Lamy Vista

I know that the Lamy Vista and AL-Star are cheaper, but I bought both of them in Germany and they came with cartridges of ink...

I bought my Vistas in the U.S and they all came with a cartridge

As did my Safaris.

I bought a converter for each of them at the time of purchase and a couple of spares at a store and a pen show.

I have yet to use the cartridges which I keep in case I want to take my Lamy fountain pens on a trip.

Good article Doug, Being

Good article Doug,
Being something of a 'writing instruments' nut and fortunate to own/have received presents of 'expensive' Waterman (100/200) and Parker Duofold and others I use for much of my daily writing a Lamy Safari which I find an extremely comfortable pen to write with, easy to hold and control with a smooth flow of ink that appears to be consistent. I haven't graduated to the Al-Star simply because the Safari hasn't let me down in the last 2/3 years. I grew up with fountain pens being taught to use them at school and have never managed to shake them off. It is a fantastically satisfying and personal way to communicate with others.
I feel that people generally feel that you made more effort and given things more thought when they receive a leeter/note/article handwritten in ink.........may be wrong but I beleive that the fountain pen still has its place in this busy world.

Beginning to ramble, time to go!!

Charles

My company purchased some

My company purchased some promotional ball points with that style pocket clip and they pull right out. Caveat emptor. (I'm from N.C. does that mean "hold on to your pocket clip"?)

Lamy pocket clip not like ball point clips

One advantage of the Lamy Vista - you can see inside to see how it is put together. The clips is actually one solid piece of metal wrapped around the inside of the cap. The only way that thing is coming out is if you completely smash the cap. The Vista, Safari, and Al-Star seem to all be made the same way except for the materials.

Those promotional ball point pens are usually VERY cheap. Less than $1 each I'm guessing. The Vista and Safari are $27.50 retail and the Al-Star is a bit pricier since it is meant to be a higher-end pen - but the same nib I think.

-Kenny

I bought one of these w hile

I bought one of these w hile back on eBay, shortly after discovering my own fountain pen obsession. My first pen was actually a Lamy Studio, which is a gorgeous pen in its own right. Much like the AL Star, it is unbelievably reliable yet somewhat more classy looking. The AL Star on the other hand has become my daily pen of choice. It's not looking quite as good anymore, due to spending quite a large amount of time banging around in my pocket.

It still writes like a dream though.. In the event that it ever dies (which seems unlikely), I'll probably drop back to a Safari for the increased durability of the polycarbonate body. But, I have to say that the Lamy pens are a great pen at a reasonable price.

More expensive = better?

Thanks for the nice review. I must say that I disagree that more expensive pens write better, though. Sure, many of them are fancier, and are built of precious materials (and I don't mean "precious resin" as Montblanc claims) but they don't necessarily write all that well. In the fountain pen world, I haven't found that the quality of the writing experience is really well correlated to the price tag.

It's certainly true that

It's certainly true that there's no direct correlation between price and writing quality (especially at the stupidly high end — more diamonds do not help it write better) and the best thing that you can do is get any pen overhauled by someone who knows what they're doing to prime the nib, get rid of any imperfections and so on. More expensive pens tend to be in a better condition out of the factory but it's not at all guaranteed. You may also find that the more expensive pens are tested before they're sent to do to detect definite duds.

At the extremely low end you generally find that cheap pens are hit and miss with scratchy nibs, leaky seals and so on. Personally I don't think that Lamy makes cheap pens.

On the other hand

Nice article Doug, thanks for writing it! I agree, that a nice inexpensive 'every day' fountain pen is a very cool thing. I also agree that fountain pens costing hundreds of dollars may not really write that well. Sometimes you don't get what you pay for. On the other hand I have a fountain pen that I paid over two bills for that, for me, is absolute perfection.

fountain pens - more expensive = better?

I saw this topic came up on the fountain pen network. After quite a bit of discussion the conclusion they reached was the "innards" of a fountain pen cease being better at around the $200 - $300 price range. Everything after that you're paying for nicer material.

Oddly enough, after using the Lamy pens I have, I'm not sure how much better a pen can be. I'd like to get a Vanishing Point eventually (retractable fountain pen) but it is over $100. Crazy thing is from what I've seen, I think that is the least expensive retractable fountain pen out there.

-Kenny

The VP is a member of a rare class...

Actually, there are few retractible nib pens period. Pilot/Namiki makes most of them, including the Vanishing Point (or Capless), the Decimo (a slimmer, lighter version of the VP available outside US), and the Fermo (retracts by turning a knob, also outside US). I think Mont Blanc has one, and I think Monteverde does too.

I've seen used modern VPs sell for less than $100 on the Internet. I like them but admit they're not for everyone. Some people complain about the clip getting in the way of their grip, but I've found them to be very usable and handy pens. Not many fountain pens you can use with one hand. :-)

Ditto the comments on the Lamy Safari, et al. Pelikan makes some nice inexpensive pens too. The Waterman Phileas is a good option for those wanting a pen with a little more heft and a more classic appearance.

Anyway, it's fun to try out all kinds.

-----------------------
"The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once." Albert Einstein and Buckaroo Banzai

Bic anybody?

Actually, there are few retractible nib pens period.

In a strange, um... "twist" of fate, Bic also makes a retractable fountain pen. Here's one link:
LINK

There are a couple versions of this model, in fact. Unfortunately, while they are available in Europe, try as I might, I've never found one where I live, so I can't comment on them.

-Jon

price and U.S. availability?

No price listed. Any idea how much these usually go for and any way to get them in the U.S?

-Kenny

Bic fountain pen

It's on 'twenga dot co dot uk' for 6.99 pounds. I think that's about $US12

Probably a good pen as price often doesn't reflect quality for ordinary use.

Stypen

Those used to be from the Stypen brand. They were relatively available in Montreal, but I've never seen them elsewhere in North America. Stypen was bought by Bic.

Those Stypen puppies wrote pretty well in the days for $5.

Lamy

I've the same, exact pen in the photo and also love the sleek style and ease of use. There are never any splatters or leaks. It does skip once in a while though and I only use the darker inks recommended by the stationers store where I bought it. Still, that may be the paper. It's a great pen that I would certainly recommend.

Another nice little pen...

You might also want to take a look at the Kaweco Aluminum Sport. It's a great "pocket pen" with a good nib, great flow, and the ability to take cartridges and a small converter. It's one of my "grab and go" pens. Even has a nice sketching pencil in the same form factor and a little pocket sleeve to hold the two. Worth exploring.

Good recommendation

It's hard to go wrong with a Lamy Safari and I feel sure the same's true for this upgraded model.

If you want a blacker ink than Waterman's (I haven't tried Noodler's) Pelikan 4001 is about as black as one could wish, and it works fine in both the Safari and the classic Lamy 2000. For that matter, if you want a pen that will always and invariably write, any Pelikan pen will fulfill that wish. Pelikans are the only pens out of dozens I've used (and dozens I've discarded in various degrees of anger) that consistently perform. They aren't very pretty to my way of viewing, but they work.

The older Sheaffer pens are almost as trustworthy, and the vintage Sheaffer flat-top pens are not only often obtainable at a pretty reasonable price, but an absolute joy to write with, when in good condition. Like the Safari, they have stiff nibs, but 99% of writers today would not know what to do with a flexible nib anyway. The good Sheaffer nibs just flow, and flow, and flow -- similar to the Safari's, but often even more seductively.

However, every time I glance at one of my Safari's, I muse along the lines of "I wish more people would discover these. Life would be that much more civilized."

P. S. There's no reason a Safari nib cannot be as glassy-smooth as the most expensive pen's (and often smoother...since expensive pens very frequently constitute a rip-off). Anybody can learn to safely adjust a nib with a little patience, bare fingers, and a three-grade polisher such as the foam-based things sold for use with fingernails -- or, what I prefer, an almost-glasslike sea pebble. There is NEVER any need to put up with roughness in a pen. A little searching on the Web will find how-to's, but common sense and a good magnifier (10x, 16x) will do just as well. For those experiencing some trepidation about this, practice on a cheap disposable fountain pen such as found in office-supply stores or some pen from a flea market can be reassuring.

re black ink: Noodler's

re black ink: Noodler's Bulletproof Black is swell ink, but rather pricey, considering. Then again, the only black ink that's left me unsatisfied was the Lamy ink which, though nicely black, tended to smear and run with the pressure of a glance.

re nib modification: yes, yes, yes. I have made modification to my own nibs before (though only to cheap pens where I wouldn't mind losing the nib) and have not only smoothed out slight roughness, but even ground down a consistent medium nib to a nice italic. Now a cheap pen (I call it my "Parker Le Crap") is a favorite pen with a wonderful variable-width line and makes my handwriting look fantastic.

Cheap pens rock.

Nib adjustment

Thanks for the tip on grinding! I recently dropped a favorite vintage pen, and while I was able to straighten the nib out, it was left a little rough (40+ years of writing does tend to shape the nib a little...) This will be the perfect nib to practice on!

And my absolute always-there go-to fp is still my cheap-o Scheaffer - transparent plastic body, cartridge-fill, always ready to write, even after letting it sit for a year or more! It's my perfect pocket-pen, and I never have to worry about ruining it (it cost under $7 ages ago). Too bad I can't find more of them! I might have to try a Lamy.

And yes, I have and use "nicer" pens, though none in the $100+ range yet, and I still reach for the cheap-o. Always reliable.

Seek ye a "nibmeister"

If you're dealing with a vintage pen, there are experts in the nib-grinding and pen repair magicks. The name that I see bandied around FPN with regularity is Richard Binder. If I had a nib or pen that needed work and was in any way special to me, I would contact Richard and ship it off without hesitation.

Practice grinding on a disposable Pilot Varsity or something without sentimental value.

It should be OK

It's an Esterbrook, and the first fp I ever bought. The nibs are so totally replaceable, and the secondary market is currently flooded with new-old stock, so i simply bought a new nib.

It's the old nib that I'm considering practicing on.

If it were attached permanently, I would send it off immediately!! (Thanks for recommendation, though! I might need it some time in the future...)

Ah

Makes perfect sense now. I just hated to see someone make an unintentional "stub" nib with overenthusiastic grinding. FPN has lots of tips for self-grinders. I have yet to dabble in this mysterious art, though I have a Varsity that is rather fussy. Perhaps a date with some ultra-fine emery paper is in its future.

Richard Binder

I can vouch for Richard Binder's work. His rates are very affordable, but expect to wait at least 6 weeks because he is very popular. In fact, he's become a verb: people say they have had their pens "Binderized." :-D

He packaged my beat-up old Parker "51" with so much care (and included a personal handwritten note) that you'd think it was a priceless instrument. Which reminded me that, for me at least, it is!

Binder is a nice guy to

Binder is a nice guy to boot. I've only spoken with him at pen shows, but he's always very approachable, welcoming, and professional. Never had him grind me a nib, but I wouldn't hesitate to contact him with any irreplaceable nib work.

On the other hand, don't let the voodooists scare you off. It's not rocket science; it's using friction to shape a small piece of metal. It's very forgiving and the rewards are substantial. By all means, don't start off with the vintage stock, but don't let that stop you from making a crappy fountain pen into a great one.

leaking or normal?

I just bought a Lamy Al-Star; it's my first fountain pen over $20.

As soon as started using it, the ink started to leak into the clear grip. It's not getting on my hands or running out of the pen or anything, but that whole grip section on the inside is now full of ink. Even though it's not a problem now, it seems like it could be a waste of ink and could also make it really difficult to change colors.

So, is this normal, or do I have a problem?

Thanks!

Possibly the

Possibly the cartridge/converter was not fitted correctly. It needs to pushed home with some firmness so as to pierce the seal and then 'grip' onto the tube that feeds ink to the nib. I looks like the cartridge was pierced but not pushed on to the feeder tube causeing ink to leak into the pen.

Bob H.