Straight outta Taiwan, check out the chillin’, killin’, piston-fillin’…
TWSBI Eco Fountain Pen
Nib: Extra Fine
Filling System: Piston
About the Company
TWSBI is a brand of writing instruments produced by the Ta Shin Precision manufacturing company, headquartered in Taipei City, Taiwan. Ta Shin has been around for several decades, although historically, they served as more of a white-label manufacturer, producing products for other companies to slap their names on and sell (The Korean company LG emerged the same way). Also similar to LG, Ta Shin decided it was in their best interest to develop their own brand, and in 2009, TWSBI was born.
TWSBI is a bit of a different animal in the fountain pen world. Their aim is to create attractive, high-quality, workhorse-level fountain pens that are also
affordable. Yeah, I know…Pilot, Faber-Castell, and a lot of other companies already do that. However, TWSBI goes one step further, and employs some of the more exotic filling mechanisms—like piston and vacuum—that are usually reserved for more expensive luxury brands, like Montblanc, Pelikan, and Delta.
TWSBI took the fountain pen world by storm with the release of their Diamond 530 fountain pen, which for the first time put an attractive, full-sized, high-capacity, demonstrator fountain pen in people’s hands for about $50. To this point, if you wanted to try a piston-filler, you’d have to drop $150 on a small, entry-level Pelikan.
Since then, TWSBI has released a number of fountain pen models in different sizes. Most are demonstrators. Most are piston-fillers, with a few vacuum-fillers also in the mix. They built an early reputation for poor quality control, mostly embodied by caps and barrels that would develop cracks in the plastic. But they have also proven dedicated to iterating on their designs and developing improvements to tackle some of the biggest customer complaints. The Diamond line went through a number of revisions (530 to 540 to 580), and most recently, their Vac 700 just got an update (700R) to improve ink flow.
They’ve also built a solid reputation for having outstanding customer service, happily taking care of people who encounter problems with their pens.
What’s in a Name?
I love the story behind the name TWSBI. I always assumed the TW stood for Taiwan, but I was surprised to discover that the name is actually a beautiful tribute to Chinese language & culture. Here’s the description from their site:
TWSBI’s name stands for the phrase “Hall of Three Cultures” or “San Wen Tong” in Chinese. The character “Wen” translates into language and culture. The phrase “San Wen Tong” also brings to mind the Hall of the Three Rare Treasures created by Emperor Qianlong as a memorial to three great masterpieces of Chinese calligraphy. The initials of the phrase “San Wen Tong” was reversed and thus turned into “TWS”. The last letters “Bi” was added with its literal meaning of “writing instruments”. Thus combining the two segments, creating TWSBI.
About the Pen
So you’d think that a company that cornered the market on sub-$100 piston-filling & vacuum-filling fountain pens would be happy owing that niche (most of their pens fall in the $50-$70 range). But they weren’t satisfied, and aimed to get a piston-filling demonstrator in the sub-$30 range.
“Impossible!” you say!
“Nay!” says they!
Back in mid-2015, TWSBI released the economical Eco fountain pen to much fanfare and wonder. (Economical. Eco. Get it?) Rolling in at a street price of $29, the Eco provides nice, high-quality, piston-filling demonstrator at a ridiculously low price. It’s not as snazzy as the Diamond 580, but for $29, you get a hell of a lot pen.
Although some TWSBI models offer splashes of colors with their caps, pistons, or sections, they’re all demonstrators, and they all more-or-less resemble each other. The Eco is no exception, but in order to keep the price low, they had to forego a lot of the fancy trim that you’ll find on their other models. For example, where the Diamond 580 sports a nice glass finial with a painted chrome logo beneath it, all wrapped up in a shiny chrome band, the Eco has a flimsy red plastic button attached to the top of the cap. And where the 580 has a faceted barrel that resembles a cut gemstone, the Eco’s barrel is a uniform tube of smooth plastic. Of course, neither of these things affects writing performance, but they’re cheaper to make and, therefore, keep the cost of the pen down.
I opted for the completely clear version of the pen, but you can also get color variations where the cap and piston knob are white, black, or (for some godforsaken reason) lime green. I’ve seen that green in person. It’s awful. My favorite part of the Eco is that the section is clear, so you can see how the ink saturates and flows along the feed.
The cap and piston knob are hexagonal in shape, which I think is a nice design touch. The cap sports a simple, yet still stylish chrome clip, the aforementioned flimsy plastic disk in place of a finial, and a fairly wide, chrome cap band that has TWSBI screenprinted on one side and ECO TAIWAN on the other. Like their other models, the ECO also includes a plastic inner cap to help create a seal so the nib doesn’t dry out. I’ve been using this pen for several months, and the inner cap has done it’s job.
There’s no way around it, the nib is tiny. I broke out my calipers and measured the feeds of both the Eco and Diamond 580. They both measure 5mm across, so technically the Eco has a #5 nib. But it’s shorter and has narrower shoulders than the #5 of the Diamond 580.
Although TWSBI took many steps to reduce the cost of the Eco, they didn’t do so at the expense of functionality.
Build Quality (5/5):
I’m not sure what to say here, really. The pen is perfect so far, although the nib is a bit scratchy (but I’ll ding it for that in the Writing Experience section instead of here). It’s a lightweight pen, but it feels quite sturdy.
TWSBI could have easily gone too far in cutting corners in the name of a low street price, but they didn’t. The cap screws on and off (in just over one full turn), the threads are nice and smooth, and they hold fast. The clip is really firm without being unreasonably tight. I’m sure it would pass the cartwheel test. The piston mechanism works flawlessly. The knob turns with ease (but not too easily), and the plunger inside the barrel seals perfectly (no ink leaked behind it).
Something else that sets TWSBI apart from other manufacturers is that they make it easy to disassemble their pens for maintenance or cleaning. First, they make it easy to remove the nib (the nib and feed of the Eco are friction-fit). And most (if not all) their pens come with a wrench and silicone grease so you can quickly and safely remove the piston mechanism, clean or service it, apply some silicone grease to the gasket, and put it all back together. And thankfully, that’s a corner TWSBI did not cut with the Eco (although the wrench that comes with the Eco is plastic rather than the steel one that comes with the Diamond 580).
To the best of my knowledge, no other manufacturer does something like this. In fact, I know many brands have made special tools that they fabricate themselves so no one can disassemble their pens. Although, I’ve heard tell that this TWSBI wrench can be used to remove the piston from some Pelikan pens (I can neither confirm nor deny this, as I haven’t attempted it).
The Eco has never failed to write for me. I haven’t had any trouble with the nib drying out. Between the EF nib and using a fairly dry ink (Franklin-Christoph Ink ’17), it’s proving to be a pretty dry writer overall, but there haven’t been any skips or hard starts. So I think a wetter ink would possibly be a better match for the Eco. Even though it’s pretty dry, I’ve had no problem with the feed keeping up with fast writing.
The Eco is comfortable to write with. The section is a bit narrower than I generally prefer, and although it’s made from smooth plastic, I don’t have a problem with it slipping around as I write. This makes it easy to maintain a light grip to avoid hand cramping. I find that I can write a pretty long time with the Eco without any pain or discomfort.
The cap does post very securely. It’s a push-to-post, but what’s nice about it is that it snaps onto the rear end of the barrel without restricting (or causing) movement of the piston knob. So if you post the cap and then turn it while removing it, you don’t have to worry about turning the piston knob and spraying ink all over yourself. This is a beautiful touch, and shows how much thought they put into the design. When you do post, it shifts the balance a slight bit toward the back, but I wouldn’t say it was unbalanced. It does make the pen really long, though.
Writing Experience (3.5/5):
Between the great build quality of the pen and my amazing experience with the Diamond 580, I fully expected the Eco to be an excellent writer. The nib writes very well, but man, is it ever scratchy. It’s not so bad that I can’t write with it, but it’s not really enjoyable, either. Instead of the nib gliding over the paper like an eagle soaring across an open sky, it feels more like Dr. Frankenstein dragging a corpse across a rocky graveyard toward his laboratory.
Okay, okay…it’s not nearly that bad. I was just looking for an excuse to weave Frankenstein and corpses into it. Anyway, the nib feels pretty rough when writing. I checked it out under a loupe and found the tines to be a bit misaligned. I evened them out, but the nib is still pretty scratchy. Be that as it may, the pen always writes, it puts down a consistent (and true extra fine) line, and it has no problem keeping up with fast note-taking at work. And when you throw in the humungous ink capacity, the Eco is an overall winner.
I’ll be hitting the Atlanta Pen Show in a few days, and I’ll be getting this baby smoothed out by a nibmeister. I anticipate this pen being pretty near perfect after that.
If the nib was better out of the box, I’d score it a 5. I mean, $29 for a piston-filler? That’s an incredible price. But considering how well a pen writes is the most important aspect of handing out scores, I’m knocking the Value to a 3.5. It’s going to cost me $20 or $25 to get the nib fixed up. For the total cost of the pen + nib tuning, I could have just gotten another Diamond 580 with all the fancy trimmin’s and all.
If you can get a great nib out of the box, this pen is an amazing value. If you have to fiddle with the nib, I’d recommend jumping up to the Diamond 580.
The Nutshell: Overall Score: 22/25
|Best Qualities||Worst Qualities|
|Amazing price for a piston-filler||Scratchy nib|
|Excellent build quality||Trim is uninspiring|
|Huge ink capacity|
|True extra-fine line|
|Can be fully disassembled|
You can’t beat this price for a piston-filler (unless, of course, you have to roll in the cost of nib tuning). TWSBI really is in a class all by itself. They completely own the $50 to $100 market, providing beautiful piston-filling and vacuum-filling fountain pens for super competitive prices. This foray into the sub-$30 market is huge, and for the most part, they did a fantastic job with the Eco.
I’m much less impressed with the nib on the Eco compared to the one that came on my Diamond 580. At the end of the day, that’s what’s most important, and it’s unfortunate, because the it’s otherwise a solid, dependable, and eye-catching pen. I’ve actually had several people at work ask me about it while I’m taking notes. It certainly gets noticed.