Review: Additive Pens Helix Batch 1

The evolution of fountain pen manufacturing has been relatively slow, despite the continuous evolution of pen materials large houses and artisans now use. In broad lines, fountain pens are manufactured using a variety of materials (e.g. wood, ebonite, acrylics) that are shaped using a lathe. These lathes usually range from computer controlled machinery to foot-power lathes that are still being used today by old artisans. Naturally, there are other manufacturing methods, e.g. using molds or even making them by hand, but these are usually specific fountain pen models that are limited in numbers.

3D printing is a recent popular trend with several hobbyists, professionals and even manufacturing houses who use 3D printers to create parts and objects that would typically require a lot of money, time and effort to create, and usually in large quantities to justify the tooling cost. On the other hand, 3D printers allow anyone to print a single object without molding equipment and a variety of other heavy machinery.

This is how Additive pens came to be. An initial discussion first appeared on the fountainpens subreddit where their creator presented them and asked whether users would be willing to buy one. The original designs were (and still are) unique – not something you can find anywhere else. As expected, the fountain pens were very popular from the onset and are now in their sixth edition, while their manufacturer has created and sold hundreds of pens in these 18 months since the first reddit post. He states that his pens are created by adding – rather than removing – material, hence the name Additive pens.

But enough with the introduction, let me now share my own experience with the pen.

Ordering process

Just like in the case of the Mr Manoj, the ordering process is certainly more lengthy and complicated compared to buying a commercial pen. The manufacturer has created a Google form, where interested parties can choose pen material, design and nib size. The first batch of the pens (one of which I ordered) was quite simple in terms of choices: only design and nib options. Subsequent batches added further materials (e.g. alumilite for the cap) and more nibs (ranging from EF to stubs and flexible nibs).

Once the form is filled in and sent, the manufacturer forwards a Paypal link for payment and in my case, the total cost of the pen including shipping was about $120. Once the batch is full, he starts printing, finishes the pens, packages them and sends them, with a total wait time of about 1.5-2 months. According to their homepage, the pens started in Norway, but the package I received came from the United States (which is a further complication since Greek customs can typically delay packages from non-EU countries for up to a month these days).

The main body of the pens, shortly after their creation

Design

Additive pens are manufactured by a special resin that can resist UV radiation (Formlabs UV hardened resin), which makes it as tough as possible. The manufacturer advises to protecc the fountain pen as much as possible and treat it like a vintage Parker 51 rather than a modern commercial pen and you can tell the pen is fragile by looking at it: the helix design I chose makes the body of the pen quite thin in certain spots. I didn’t do a crash test for the pen, but it seems – and is – fragile.

Additive Pens Helix Batch 1

The only part of the design I do not appreciate is the cap, which looks crude, opaque and generally unfitting to the rest of the pen. It also latches on with a single O-ring, that makes it very prone to accidentally opening. These teething problems were natural in the first batch, and the manufacturer did note them after the first pens were received. He also made an option to order a cap by itself but in my case, ordering a cap was nearly 75% of the total pen cost and not worth it for me.

The fountain pen cap

The pen nib is steel, JoWo branded, meaning its trustworthy but without character. I chose Extra Fine since I didn’t own such a nib in my other pens.

The JoWo nib

Filling and writing

The pen is an eyedropper, you need a syringe to fill it but it’s unlike any other eyedropper: you can see the ink flowing down the helix and then going up once it reaches the bottom of the pen. You can also the ink swooshing around the helix when you are writing and this is again unique and mesmerizing, especially when using an interesting ink. The same process is following to wash the pen, using a syringe and water, unless one uses a difficult ink. In that case, the manufacturer suggests using isopropyl alcohol to rinse the pen.

The filling procedure and the cap make this pen not fit for travel. It’s almost certain it will open in a pocket or in a bag, especially if not placed in a pen holder. On the contrary, its natural habitat is the desktop where no such problems appear.

The writing experience, as I mentioned above, is without emotion due to the hard steel nib. I feel that the manufacturer – especially in the first batches – paid attention to the design and manufacturing process rather than the writing experience, and this is natural and expected with a new product.

The helix

Conclusion

I personally bought a first batch pen to own a piece of history (as the first fountain pen to be 3D printed). The pen itself is somewhat fiddly but unique, but I am now considering that I should have waited for the manufacturer to solve initial teething problems and optimize the manufacturing process and the designs. If I hadn’t ordered a pen in the first batch, I would surely order one now, when the pens are more refined, beautiful and more practical to use. The only downside is the price, which has now almost doubled since the first batch. Regardless of this, Additive pens are unique and hold a special place in my collection. I would advise anyone to buy one if they can.

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