In the last few months I have reviewed a couple of different TWSBI pens and have been critical of both, so the question is with the Eco will it be three for three. Certainly at its launch the Eco raised a few eye brows. The 580 was considered to be a low cost entry into the piston filler world, yet here was a pen for considerably less. Critics were quick to point out the reputation TWSBI were still trying to shed for pens cracking and also that the section and barrel were one piece, making it harder to clean. The fact that you were still supplied with a spanner and silicon oil along with dismantling/cleaning instructions seemed to be overlooked, never mine most other manufacturers would cry foul and invalidate your warranty if they found you’d taken their product apart.
Before I start I should mention I do not have an Eco-T, however as the only real differences are a mild Lamy Safari style indents to help force a ‘proper’ tripod pen grip and a more triangular cross section to the cap. As I have no problems with the Lamy and actually think the OMAS 360 Vintage is possibly the most comfortable fountain pen to hold, the lack of the Eco-T will not be an issue when it comes to my views.
Ok, the photos are a bit of a give away. If I did not like the pen then I’d not have four Ecos, three of which are presently filled. Sure these days there are more cheap piston filler fountain pens out there, not all of which are from the big Chinese brands, but back in 2015 it was a shock that this pen could be made and sold for under £30. Remember the Diamond 580 was considered cheap at ~£50 and the 580AL started closer to £60 (at that time the Pelikan M200 started at ~£100).
While compared to its stable mates the Eco looked clunky, in the hand it never gave the impression it was made to a budget. The acrylic felt tough and as if it could take some punishment. Sure right from the start there were rumours of cracked pens, but I did notice those on the forums complaining about it were the same who regularly complained about repeatedly cracking other TWSBI pens including warranty replacements. It was not I who pointed out that perhaps if 4 or 5 pens had suffered this problem for the same person then perhaps they were the problem instead of the material… (time to find the flame retardant pants again).
Now in 2021 it is hard to judge the looks, after all the pen is well known and almost iconic as an entry way in to the world of fountain pens. Most would agree that it is a lot of pen for not much money, even when you take the simple construction in to account. For me I’ve always liked the slightly industrial look. While I might consider the thin facets of the cap and knob of the Vac 700R to not work with its plain body, here the wider ones with fewer sides look more appropriate and do visually work, quite probably because all the body lines are straight. There are no curves here aside from the end of the cap and piston knob and those serve the purpose to allow the cap to securely post. The hexagonal cross section of the cap also add a very identifiable character to the Eco. You can’t mistake another pen for it (aside from the blatant clones).
The clip is very tight, however it also works. Some times it can require a bit more pressure than I would like to lift it over a pocket seem, but once in place the pen is not of risk of coming off. Nor is the barrel likely to unscrew from the cap by accident, for while it just takes about one and a third turns to remove, there is a rubber gasket ring at the end of the threads which not only seals the pen air tight, but also secures the cap in place. The sealing really works well. I should be told off for leaving my white and turquoise pens for months at a time without use, especially as I have shimmer inks in both (I use them for greeting and festive cards), however I have never suffered from ink starvation nor nibs drying out. The white pen I’ve had since not long after it was launched in 2015 and while it has been refilled several times, I’ve not cleaned it since ~2016 with today being the first time out in two and a half months it still wrote straight away with no skipping.
In the hand the pen is very comfortable, but this has always part puzzled me. Generally I do not get on with thinner pens and to the eye the grip section is certainly on the narrower side of the fountain pen world. I think it is a combination of the length, the way the rubber ring acts as a soft transition to the wider barrel, and the fact that the threads, while firm, are short, wide, and if anything feel more like texture to hold the pen by. It was only when I was thinking about how to describe the Eco for this article I realised I actually hold the pen further back than with most others, actually using the threads as the point to rest my fingers. I think this might be partly why the pen is so successful, it is so easy to find a comfortable way to hold this TSWBI.
There is something very tactile about the Eco, be it the feel in the hand, the solid clunk when you slide the pen in to the cap, the firm way it tightens (thanks to the rubber gasket on the barrel). There is also a nice heft to the pen. Sure weight adds an illusion of quality, but it all counts.
The writing experience is decent enough. The nib is specific to this pen, roughly a size #5 which is made for TWSBI by JoWo with the reliable and consistent results you would expect from that manufacturer. Being a demonstrator (transparent) piston filler the Eco both holds a lot of ink and allows you to see at a glance how much is left. It can be therapeutic just rotating the pen round and watching the ink sloshing around in the barrel. As would be expected, the piston smoothly winds in and out.
The cleaning experience is simple enough and the instructions clear, however I’ve personally found it can be hard to get the piston back in without slight wiggle room for the knob. The nib and feed can also be a source of problems post cleaning. Mainly if the feed is not pushed far enough back in. I did this on my lime pen when I last switched inks and have since read of similar experiences from other users. The pen will still write but you are left wondering why you’re collecting liquid in the cap (resulting in inky fingers) and the ink level is dropping. Removing and firmly reseating the nib and feed is the cure.
As you may be able to tell I’m a bit of a fan. For the money the TWSBI Eco is a lot of pen. I’ve found mine to be reliable and tough, being able to take the abuse of a lack of cleaning and being bounced around against other pens in a pencil case. Not only would I recommend this pen to others, including newcomers to the hobby, I have on multiple occasions. Sure the Lamy Safari, Pilot MR/Metropolitan and Platinum Preppy may come with a cartridge so the new owner can use their pen straight away, but a bottle of ink is not much and lets be honest, if a collector is recommending this pen for a friend then there’s a high chance they can also offer a fill or two as well at the start, with the new user being able to choose an ink colour they like rather than being stuck with black or blue.
For my pens, history wise:
- White – bought in 2015 and initially used at work. I can’t remember what ink it was originally filled with, but that was replaced with J. Herbin 1670 Emeraude de Chivor, with which is has been refilled a second time. The pen was carried to work in a bag for three to four years, back when I carried all my pens loose in a pencil case. Since then it has been kept in a drawer and brought out for greeting and celebration cards.
- Lime (2016 limited edition) – bought as a discounted item in 2017 at the same as I got the turquoise pen, with a medium nib being the only option. Since then it has been kept in my kitchen (with all the changes in temperature and moisture associated with that environment) and used for shopping and freezer lists. I tend to fill it with what ever sample is nearly empty or the last drops from a bottle.
- Turquoise (2017 limited edition) – I can be a sucker for this colour and as I decided to get the lime pen at the same time I decided to try one of TWSBI’s larger nib sizes and so went with a 1.1. I can’t remember if the present ink is the only one I’ve used in it (from a sample vial), but as with the white pen, it being a shimmer ink means this Eco is used for greeting and celebratory cards.
- Yellow (2020) – I wasn’t going to get a fourth Eco and the yellow looked like it could be too bright, but I put it on my list of pens to examine at the Spring London Pen Show later that month. Perhaps with COVID-19 starting to spread across the world I subconsciously wanted a pen in a happy summery finish and this does fit the bill, though it has so far not been filled as I had already taken the decision to try and reduce the number of pens I have inked up at any one time.
While many of the you will already know the TSWBI Eco and probably have one or more yourselves, I hope this article will help those who have not yet had the chance or are looking at one, and perhaps for the rest of you, if the pen is now in a drawer, you may be encouraged to use your Eco once more.