Review: PenBBS 350 fountain pen and rollerball
Let me start this review by addressing the most obvious thing (to me) about the PenBBS 350: it looks like a Namisu Ixion. That is actually what made writing this review difficult. I love my Ixions and I find them superb writing instruments. The PenBBS 350 doesn’t come close to how the Ixion feels or writes, and that comparison made it challenging to evaluate the 350 on its own merits. If PenBBS had designed this pen differently, I wouldn’t have had a point of reference to compare it to. Yes, I’ve reviewed pens that were “inspired” by other pens before, but I just couldn’t shake the tendency to compare the 350 to the Ixion. I had expected more originality from PenBBS after being wowed by the unique design, stunning material, ergonomic shape, and writing performance of the 323 (reviewed here).
In short, if you’re expecting a pen like the Ixion, the 350 is not it. (I’m referring to the aluminum versions of both pens.) They only look similar, but they are two completely different pens. The Ixion is heavier, more solidly built, feels smoother, and writes better -- by far. But that doesn’t mean the 350 is devoid of merits. By itself, the PenBBS 350 is a nice pen. It’s just overshadowed by the pen it seems to be emulating. (The pictures below show the 350 and the Ixion side by side.) Nevertheless, for this review I've tried to present the 350 as fairly as I can based on its own attributes.
The PenBBS 350 is advertised as an aluminum alloy pen, and it retails for a little over $20 (with free shipping) on eBay. It comes in black, green, pink, and gold. A version in brass is also available. The pen arrives well-packaged in a plastic gift box and cardboard cover. It comes with a converter and a rollerball adapter.
The 350 is a medium-sized pen. It is slightly shorter than other pens such as the Lamy Al-Star, TWSBI Eco, and the PenBBS 323. When capped, it measures around 131 mm (as measured with a digital caliper). Uncapped, it measures 121.2 mm but posting the pen adds considerable length to it, bringing it to total of around 161 mm. I don’t often post pens, though, and the 350 is long enough to use unposted.
Though the pen is clipless, the octagonal design of the cap prevents it from rolling around on the table. The cap has a simple yet attractive finial that says “PenBBS 350”.
The 350 is a light pen, making it comfortable to write with at length. Capped and with an empty converter, it weighs around 23.2 grams. Uncapped, it weighs 16 grams. It's also easy to hold, with the middle part of the grip section measuring around 10.2 mm (as measured with a caliper). The widest part of the barrel measures around 12.3 mm.
The 350 and the 323 use the same upturned #6 nib, so the 350 delivers a smooth and pleasant writing experience, though I found it a tad drier than any of my 323s. Its nib lays down a steady line, and I didn’t experience any skipping while writing with it. Though it is marked fine, the nib writes almost like a European medium. (See writing samples and comparisons below.)
The biggest selling point of this pen, in my opinion, is the interchangeability of the fountain pen and rollerball adapter units. This allows one to use fountain pen inks with a rollerball. This opens up a world of color options beyond the usual black, blue, red, and green rollerball refills. I don’t regularly use rollerballs so I'm no expert, but I find that the 350 rollerball adapter works quite well. Changing the units is easy and the ink flows just as well in the rollerball as in the fountain pen nib and feed. I did have to fill the ink converter again with the rollerball unit installed to get the ink flowing nicely. I also had to hold the pen at a steeper angle when writing with the rollerball adapter.
All in all, the PenBBS 350 is a decent fountain pen. It writes well, is light, and is comfortable to use. There may be better fountain pen options in the $20 range, but for those who enjoy using both fountain pens and rollerballs, the 350 will not disappoint.