Rugged. ‘Murican. Sexy. Okay, maybe not sexy. Nah, I was right the first time…it’s pretty sexy.
Karas Kustoms Ink Fountain Pen
Price: $85.00 to $240.00 (depending on configuration and where you buy it)
Nib: EF, Titanium (Bock)
Filling System: Standard International Cartridge/Converter
About the Company:
Karas Kustoms is a small machine shop located in Mesa, Arizona, USA. Company founder, Bill Karas, started working as a machinist in high school, and after a number of years grinding metal for “the man,” he opened his own custom machine shop. Although he started as a one-man band, he soon hired industrial designer Dan Bishop as an assistant. Bill gave Dan a broom and told him to clean up the joint.
They produced a number of different types of products, most notably iPhone cases. They sold relatively well, and the company saw steady growth, but were still missing that one big idea that would slingshot them to prominence.
During this time, the crowdfunding site Kickstarter was experiencing a trend of successfully funded pen design/manufacturing projects. This phenomenon caught Dan’s eye. He reportedly threw down his broom, ran to Bill and said, “Dude! We need to make pens.” Bill laughed and told him to pick up the broom and get back to work. Dan argued. They grappled a bit. In the end, Bill let Dan run with the idea to see how it would go. Dan fired up his industrial design engine, and their first pen, the Render K, was born. After the 30-day Kickstarter campaign ended, they had just under $70,000 in funding to produce the pen. All were shocked. Bill stopped laughing.
Disclaimer: I took a whole lot of liberties with the facts on that bit of company history. I think the general premise of my tale is correct, but I made up the laughing and grappling parts. For a more complete and accurate journalistic account of their history, check out this August 2016 article on AZCentral.
Revisionist history aside, the Render K was a huge success, and it vaulted Karas Kustoms into the pen manufacturing world, to the shear delight of both the fountain pen and everyday carry (EDC) communities. Over the next few years, Karas Kustoms continued to use Kickstarter to fund new pen designs. Today, they have six major designs (and a new one about to launch any day now) in a number of configurations and material combinations.
About the Pen:
One of their newer designs is a meaty, full-sized fountain pen called the Ink.
I’ll just get it out there now: the name “Ink” is a ridiculous name for a pen. Especially a fountain pen.
“I just got a Karas Kustoms Ink!”
“Karas Kustoms makes INK??? Where’d’ya get that?!”
“No, no. It’s not ink for a pen…it’s a pen named ‘Ink.'”
“That’s the name of the pen: Ink.”
“So, Karas Kustoms doesn’t make ink?”
“NO! they only makes pens. The pen is called the Ink.”
“Why would they call a pen Ink?”
Unlike its name, the pen is not at all ridiculous.
The Ink is machined from rods of metal (aluminum, brass, or copper). All three materials come “naked,” and the aluminum version is also available anodized in a number of gorgeous colors. In addition to the wide array of metals, colors, and finishes, there are five different options for the grip section: polished aluminum, tumbled aluminum, black anodized aluminum, brass, and copper. And if that wasn’t enough, you also have a vast selection of wonderful #6 Bock nibs to choose from. The nibs come in all the standard sizes in regular steel, black steel, two-tone steel, and titanium. So overall, you have a pretty dizzying array of options to choose from.
I bought my Ink back in March 2017 at the Arkansas Pen Show…or more specifically at the Vanness open house during that weekend. I looked over the different colors they had in stock and settled on the red. I paired it up with a tumbled aluminum section and an EF titanium nib. It turned out to be a pretty sweet-looking configuration. So with my customized EDC pen in hand, I happily tottered off into the sunset.
And to be honest, it’s been inked up and part of my EDC ever since.
As I mentioned above, the Ink is machined from rods of metal (in my case aluminum). The cap and barrel each consist of a single piece of aluminum. The barrel is pretty plain. It starts off a uniform diameter near the cap threads and section, and about halfway down the barrel, it begins to taper toward the end, where it culminates in a steep, straight bevel just before the flattened end. At first glance, the end of the barrel looks perfectly flat, but it’s actually got an ever-so-slightly conical shape to it. If you look closely, you’ll see a tiny raised point in the center.
The cap is slightly fancier…but only slightly. It’s got a uniform diameter from end to end. The top of the pen, where the clip attaches, continues the design of the end of the barrel, where there’s a steep taper that leads to a flattened end. Only the taper is much larger and more pronounced than it is on the end of the barrel.
The only real standout design feature of the pen is the clip. It’s a honkin’ chunk of machined aluminum, marked by beveled 45° angles to soften the appearance a bit. Where most pen manufacturers insert a flimsy clip into a slot on the side of a barrel or secure a clip in place using a screw-in finial, Karas Kustoms just cut a giant notch across the end of the cap, placed the clip in there, and secured it in place with two massive and sturdy hex screws.
The overall appearance of the pen is a unique balance of beauty, simplicity, and ruggedness. It really doesn’t look like any other pen I have.
Build Quality (5/5):
This thing is a tank. The machining and anodization are both perfect. All the threads marry up perfectly and and provide super smooth screwing action (don’t be dirty!) The clip ain’t going nowhere. (Good god, what’s happening to my grammar?! Let’s try that again.) The clip is super sturdy. Although I think it would pass the “put it in your shirt pocket and do some backflips in the office” test, I’m not sure I’d chance it. The pen is a bit heavy and if it did fly out of your pocket, it might deliver a pretty good bump on the noggin to any poor soul in its trajectory.
All tolerances are tight. The cap secures in place but doesn’t require any extra effort to remove.
One thing I do appreciate is that the pen can be fully disassembled for quick & easy cleaning. The nib unit unscrews from the section, and the nib and feed slide out from their collar so you can easily clean each part and quickly reassemble it.
The Ink is not meant for posting. Although the end of the pen is tapered and technically, you can probably jam the cap onto it, I’d seriously advise against it. I’m pretty sure doing so would scratch the anodization off the barrel. Don’t do it. It’s just asking for trouble.
I already mentioned that the Ink has been inked (see what I mean about the name being ridiculous?) since I got it. I must be on my fifth or six fill, and this pen has yet to skip or hard start. I don’t know if it’s the titanium nib, the feed design, or what, but this pen just keeps truckin’ along with no issues. Being that the pen is intended for EDC, you’d hope that would be the case, and the Ink surely delivers. In my experience over the past five months, if this pen fails to write, it’s because it’s out of ink.
I have zero complaints here. It’s not a light pen, but because it’s aluminum, it’s not super heavy either. The length and weight of the pen, the shape and texture of the tumbled aluminum section, and the overall balance combine perfectly for me. I’ve found that I can write with this pen for a really long time without any fatigue or cramps.
Keep in mind you can also get pen bodies and sections in copper and brass, both of which are a lot heavier than aluminum. You could also get sections with smoother surfaces. These variables can affect weight, balance, and slippiness, leading to a completely different experience than I’ve had.
Writing Experience (5/5):
Well, we’ve already established that it always writes and it’s very comfortable, even for long writing sessions. So let’s take a closer look at this delicious nib.
A while back, I reviewed the Tactile Turn Gist, which was the first pen I got with a Bock titanium nib. I loved it so much that when I bought the Ink, I didn’t even consider another option. I was going titanium, and no one was going to stop me.
The innernets are full of opinions on titanium nibs. Some people say they’re scratchy while others say they’re glassy smooth. I find neither to be the case. Both my titanium nibs are very toothy, but they’re not scratchy at all. It’s like driving down a gravel road. Some gravel roads have water damage and potholes that jolt your car around (like a scratchy nib). But other gravel roads are perfectly graded and smooth. You don’t experience any bumps or jolts, but you can still feel the gravel under the tires. That’s how this titanium nib feels. It’s smooth, but you can feel it writing on the paper.
The titanium nib also provides a soft writing experience, meaning you can get some decent line variation out of it by applying a little pressure. I don’t do this often for fear of springing the nib, but I’m more apt to give a titanium nib a bit of extra pressure than I am a steel nib.
I really only have one minor gripe: the ink flow isn’t always consistent. Sometimes a little extra ink comes out. If you have larger handwriting, you’ll never notice. But I have tiny handwriting, so when a little extra ink comes out, it shows. It does help produce some cool shading effects, but I end up with a filled-in “e” every once in a while.
I have mixed feelings about the price. I think $100 for a base Ink is mostly reasonable given how durable it is, how nicely it writes, and that it’s 100% made in the US. But once you add in the titanium nib, you’re looking at $140, which puts it in the same neighborhood as the Lamy 2000 and Pilot Vanishing Point, both of which are more sophisticated writing instruments (and both of which have 14k gold nibs). I’d like to see the price of this pen come down about $20.
But then again, my Ink has been in my daily rotation for five months straight. I’m definitely getting a lot of use out of it. And enjoyment.
The Nutshell: Overall Score: 24/25
|Best Qualities||Worst Qualities|
|Extremely durable||Price might be a tiny bit on the high side|
|Very comfortable, even during long writing sessions|
|Excellent build quality|
The Karas Kustoms Ink is simply fabulous, due in no small part to the awesome Bock titanium nib. It’s been a staple in my rotation since I bought it, and I have no doubt that when it runs dry, I’ll be filling it right back up again. The Ink provides a comfortable and dependable writing experience, has tons of options for customization, and it can withstand a lot of abuse (not to the nib, mind you). If you enjoy the chunky, industrial look of the pen, I think it’s a real winner.