Eyedropper update, and a little about my journalling habits

I posted last year about the Airmail 69L eyedropper – a simple, well made, large capacity pen – and I thought I would write a little follow-up.

Since then my journalling and writing practices have become a bit more regular. There are three pens that I need at any one time to be fully efficient:

  1. A writing pen – this can be almost anything depending on my tastes at the time, as long as it is loaded with some reasonable ink that isn’t red, and I have it with me.

  2. A red editing pen. When I am “processing” my journal I read over previous entries and add tasks based on them, or copy them up. When I do this I write what I have done next to the entry with the date that I did it (e.g. “16/2/2012 tasked”) and, when everything on a page is dealt with, I cross the page number out. I do all this in red. Sometimes I write little comments on the page as well. These are often sarcastic.

  3. A highlighter, optionally, to emphasise things while I am writing them, as immediate editing.

For #3 I use the Pelikan Duo highlighter. That one is a easy choice. There isn’t a lot else that the Duo is actually for.

For #2, I played with a few solutions, but ended up buying another Airmail with a red cap that I fill with Noodler’s Empire Red, slightly diluted. An editing pen needs to have a fine nib, since you may have to fit notes into limited space, and it needs to reliably work regardless of how long it was since you last picked it up, since I edit quite unpredictably. The Airmail works very well for both of these. It doesn’t dry up easily and if it does, it’s very easy to re-prime – just unscrew it a bit, point it downwards, screw it up until a drop of ink appears on the nib, then turn it to point upwards and finish tightening it.

For #1 I use whatever pen I have at hand, but generally I carry a spare in my bag, and that has ended up being the original Airmail most of the time, for similar reasons – it writes reliably whenever I need it, and it’s better to have a spare with a fine nib to cover more possible uses (a pen can be too broad for a purpose, say drawing diagrams, but it’s much rarer that it is too fine).

Increasingly frequently, I think “you know what, I can’t be bothered with another pen, I’m just going to use the Airmail”. I still load it exclusively with Noodler’s Heart of Darkness, which I rarely put in anything else. I have a large bottle of HoD which has an eyedropper built into the cap – this makes it ideal for filling eyedropper pens, but awkward to fill other pens from. (The eyedropper arrangement comes out of the bottle covered with ink, so has to be wiped down or put somewhere impermeable if one is going to fill a pen straight from the bottle, and this always means getting ink all over my fingers.) HoD is an excellent black that suits almost all occasions, being fast drying, dense and permanent. The pen itself has proved to have just as good a nib as I thought initially – fine but smooth, really quite amazing for a sub £10 pen – and the shape and balance make it very easy to write with. It’s really only when I have a fancy to use a new ink in a broad nib as part of some pretentious writerly mood that I use something else.

Perhaps this means I am getting boring, but the Airmail has certainly ended up high on my favourite pen list. I gave it a positive review when I first got it, and a year later I’m glad to see I was right. So, buy one. Or more. I may get some in different colours.

Airmail 69L eyedropper fountain pen

I promised myself that I would not buy any more stationery until I had reviewed all of the items I had already bought, which is to be honest a ridiculous requirement, and the consequence is that I have just ordered some more. Perhaps this will teach me not to set myself such impossible goals to which I know I will not keep. I am therefore modifying the promise to be “at least one-in-one-out”. With this in mind, I have to review two items now, and the first might as well be the Airmail 69L eyedropper which I’ve been using for a couple of weeks now so can reasonably comment on.

Airmail 69L uncapped

The 69L is made in India – I understand that the company has two main lines, the Wality (I have a couple of these too) which is designed for export, and the Airmail, which isn’t, despite the name. I purchased mine from the seller ashishwakhlu via a sales post on Fountain Pen Network for a very reasonable sum, and at time of writing there are three left, but I understand that they are also for sale on eBay.

Airmail 69L eyedropper pen vs cartridges

You’ll see that it is pretty big – it might be a bit much if you have teeny tiny hands, though I didn’t find it too bad even though I mostly prefer smaller pens. You will also see that it holds a lot of ink. Some readers might not be familiar with the “eyedropper” filling mechanism – this is one of the earliest and simplest systems. Instead of inserting cartridges, or putting the nib into a bottle of ink and sucking some up with a piston or a squeezy sac, one just unscrews the top of the pen and pours ink into the reservoir. (The name “eyedropper” refers to the common use of an eyedropper to do this, and some antique ink bottles had integral eyedroppers in the caps. Some – e.g. the 4.5oz bottles of Noodler’s inks – still do, but otherwise you will need your own eyedropper, or syringe, or very small funnel, or miniature squid, or other).

Eyedroppers have their issues – they’re a bit awkward to fill on the move, they can be messy to fill, and when they are low on ink the heat from your hand can make the air in the reservoir expand slightly which results in the odd blob coming out of the nib. They do, however, excel in terms of simplicity (there’s simply nothing to be broken) and capacity. There is no filling mechanism to take up space inside the barrel and so the whole thing can be filled with ink. The Airmail holds about 4.5ml of ink, which is around 3 times as much as a piston-filler or gel pen, and you can easily see how much is left and top it up, say, before a trip or exam.

Airmail 69L writing sample

The nib is a fine one1, and of good quality – smooth and a comfortable writer. Combined with the huge capacity this means that you’re even less likely to run out of ink. I’ve not had any issues with starting or writing; flow seems good and regular. The pen feels tough and secure when held – thick plastic with a screw-on cap – but it is not heavy, and the balance is good, not too biased in any particular direction (I’ve not written with it posted, nor would I want to, but the cap is not too heavy). In terms of looks, I’m not a fan of showy pens, but I find the swirly purple colour attractive and not distracting – in any case it balances the simplicity of the transparent barrel.

Overall, I’m very happy with the Airmail. I have it loaded with Noodler’s Heart Of Darkness and it’s become a general go-to – comfortable and useful for all purposes, very much a “desert island pen”. Certainly for the money it’s of excellent quality, and if you like a fairly fine nib and do not have an issue with largish pens, I would definitely recommend it.

  1. I have four Indian pens in total, and they all seem to have pretty fine nibs, towards the Japanese definitions of “fine” and “medium” rather than the European ones, though somehow I think four pens from two different companies out of X millions produced over the years may not be necessarily representative.