The Pilot Parallel Pen is a lettering tool similar to an automatic pen in its utility, but with the portability and control of a cartridge based fountain pen. I have a couple and have started integrating them into my lettering and sketching exercises, with some energetic and mercurial results!
The pens come in 1.5mm, 2.4mm, 3.8mm and 6mm sizing, of which I have the first two, and each set comes with a black and a red ink cartridge, along with a rubber bladdered flush to clean the feed on occasion. Each also comes with a thin sheet of plastic which can be fed between the parallel plates of the nib to clear out paper fibres and other gunk that accumulates there over time. The pens produce fabulously varied lines, which you can choose to exert exact control over to perform precise line-work, or little to no control to achieve wildly varying line weights and qualities.
The obvious use for the nibs is blackletter calligraphy. the plates in the nib allow for extremely precise work and on the right paper (I practice with Rhodia dot paper) they don’t bleed noticably. I’ve not used poster or type-C nibs before, which have a similar profile, however the ink flow in these parallel pens is said to be excellent in comparison. The upside of such nibs is that when used as dip pens, your choice of ink is much wider.
The parallel pen is cartridge based, meaning that just like other fountain pens, some inks (pigment based inks, acrylics etc) are unsuitable for use.
The nib and feed can be taken apart for cleaning, but I didn’t want to risk ruining a pen just to test it with non-fountain inks. I’ve exhausted the black cartridges in each of the pens I have and have been making quick work of the red inks while I wait for replacement cartridges to arrive. As a general guide, in the three pages I quickly put together for this guide, I finished exhausting my last black cartridge and started on a red. The red is now around 1/5th away from being depleted also, from roughly two pages of use. Its a little lame having to order cartridges from overseas to keep things cost effective. But that’s Australia I guess… You’ll find that they drain quickly due to the large surface area the pens cover and lush amount of flow. You can easily fill spent cartridges using an ear syringe and fountain pen ink, however all my inks at present are acrylic, indian and sumi inks, rendering them all quite wonderfully useless. From what I’ve read, Sailor Fountain Pen Nano Ink seems to be the bee’s knees, so I’ll be picking up a bottle of it once I can justify spending that much money on a jar of black. For now I’m waiting for an order of Higgins to arrive.
Its hard for me to compare these to other pens for blackletter. I’ve used a few felt based pens with similarly shaped tips, namely Copic and Mepxy alcohol based markers and Osmer and Staedler Calligraphy Duo markers. All are a joy to use and run smoothly over paper, placing ink consistently like you’d expect from a felt tipped pen. However the alcohol base of the first two bleeds straight through all but specialty paper and the fine chisel point on the others wear down relatively quickly, meaning after a while your lines start to lose definition and become homogenous. None of them exhibit the kind of pooling of ink at the extremities of strokes you get with ink either. While I still use them for sketching out letters, markers can never achieve the organic look of a nice inky pen.
I hadn’t really considered using the Pilot Parallel Pen for more than lettering exercises, but the initial chaotic messes I created before learning how to properly control width and transitions made me realise it has potential there. The transition is rough and abrupt when you don’t pay close attention to how the pen is angled relative to the surface of the paper. The result is extremely thick or thin lines when you want them, and a noisy combination of both when you’re in any way undecided. The resulting linework is sharp and energetic.
I mentioned I ran out of black ink around halfway through filling these pages with doodles. Replacing the cartridge without flushing the pen allows for a gradual transition from one ink colour to the other. Its a long process though, as evidenced by the page of lettering I did between the wolf and the gorilla pages. The ink cartridges in both pens are the same red, but the 2.4 nib is significantly darker from its earlier black cartridge even after half an hour or so of working away.
I have one of the larger 6mm pens on order, along with some appropriate inks to test out. Ink colours can be mixed for short bursts by holding the heads of pens with differing inks together and allowing them to flow into each other. I’m interested to have a play with this as well, once I’ve got my mitts on some coloured cartridges. Other artists use these in their workflow. Brett Weldele created this great video showing some of the mixing properties the ink has.
Automatic pens have a long history and a wide variety of modified versions exist out there. Multi-tined nibs were invented for setting out guide lines in writing and music books. but are now utilised to create ornately accented lettering. I’ve seen some artists modify their parallel pen nibs to similar effect, but given that the nibs can be taken out for cleaning, it would be great to be able to buy customised nibs to switch out. Paper Ink Arts produce some interesting custom nibs which might be worth a look. There’s definitely a lot to explore when it comes to these.
If you’re looking to buy one to try out, I’d go for the 2.4mm first, as its large enough to more easily create uniform lettering work but also small enough that you won’t go through reams of paper with the size of the letters you’ll need to draw. If you’re brave you could sand down your own fountain pen for folded-pen style letterwork as Evgeny Tkhorzhevsky did here. At fifteen or so bucks a pop I think I’ll keep mine intact for now. though.