Special dip pen nibs called G Pens are very popular among Manga inking artists and also among lettering artists to get a lively varied line. What if you could avoid all that dipping and get such a fine, flexible nib in a fountain pen body? The Japanese Tachikawa company has done just that and we test out their very informal looking School G pen to see if this unusual, fine nib fountain pen is the finest fountain pen for drawing and more. Watch to see what this fine writing and drawing instrument is hiding beneath it’s cheap and plasticky surface.
Reviewing Tachikawa School – G Fountain Pens
Vishal: Hello and welcome to Stationery Test Drive where every week the three of us take strange tools and fun tools and well, crazy student tools for a test drive. I’m Vishal.
Minjal: This is Minjal.
Samir: I’m Samir.
Vishal: And today we’re looking at the Tachikawa School G Pen for Manga. We are artists and calligraphers and designers but I think when it comes to manga and comics, and that’s what manga means in Japanese, it’s a type of comic, we are certainly students, so I figured why not get one of these ink pens that are made for drawing, or at least purport to be made for drawing when you’re in school.
And first of all they are also G Pens which is an entire thing that I did not know of until I started looking into a comic book making. What is a G pen?
What is a G Nib used for?
Samir: I think there’s not just used for comic book making but they’re also a particular dip pen that’s used for lettering as well.
Minjal: That’s true, G nib pens are extensively used for calligraphy, for styles like copperplate, spencerian, and modern calligraphy, lettering artists actually advise using G nibs, since they’re very flexible and fine.
Vishal: They are very flexible, this one takes a bit of time to get going and that was one thing that I was warned about when buying them, that you need to use them yeah every day, since they take some time to get working.
Samir: I think from what I what I read about these particular pens, one of the provisos that everyone brings up is that you kind of need to use it at least once a week or it does dry.
Vishal: This pen is not an easy recommendation as a usability thing for beginners, but it’s a damn good pen once you get used to it.
Samir: I think you touched on something that is important with this sort of pen. Everyone says that it takes using it for a while for the nib to kind of loosen up.
Vishal: Yeah, after a couple of weeks of using it and the three of us using it for our various test drives, now it’s substantially different than the first day I got it. It’s a bit scratchy when you first use it, but the line you get is unbelievably fine. Which is why we said it’s like it’s finer than a fine liner. We covered a fine liner in the last episode and we’ve covered fine liners before but this is just unbelievably fine!
Samir: We’ve covered now a set of fine liners from from Sakura, we’ve covered one from Uniball Company, we’ve even done nibs / dip nibs from Hunt when we covered the dip pen and that was very fine.
Vishal: And, in fact the first time I heard the term G pen was, there’s a set of nibs which you can still just get online somewhere and put into one of those Hunt dip pen holders. But this intrigued me because this was the first time I saw an actual plain fountain pen that you can carry in your pocket with the G nib.
Most fountain pens are not made to put this kind of crazy amounts of pressure that you can apply on this Tachikawa School G Fountain Pen without mangling the nib. What was your experience with these, Minjal?
Doodle with Tachikawa School – G Fountain Pens
Minjal: I struggled with using such a fine nib. Like I mentioned earlier calligraphers use G nibs with pen holders and they end up constantly dipping the pen in an ink well or ink pot and then use it for lettering, and that takes some practice.
The convenience of having this nib in a fountain pen format is something I’ll explore further. For this test I just tried a doodle to test the fineness of the nibs and then applied a little more pressure to get slightly thicker lines. Also, I really liked the Tachikawa School – G pen with the sepia ink cartridge.
Vishal: At least a few people online were saying that they wish that Tachikawa would just sell the sepia ink separately! I don’t think they do, at least in these markets they don’t, so the only way to get one is by getting that School – G pen.
Samir: But, I guess you could replace it with other sepia inks, we’ll have to see how that works.
Vishal: We will have to because we’ve kind of gone through the entire cartridge and they don’t give you a second cartridge.
Minjal: Fountain pen lettering and calligraphy is very popular across the world, so we could test other fountain pens from Pilot and Lamy for lettering as well. I tried writing with the Tachikawa School – G pen, but the writing was so fine I couldn’t see anything that I wrote!
Samir: I think in this case you just need to be willing to put in a lot more pressure than you think is safe. And speaking of super fine, the point is that these grades actually vary across the world. The Germans are the most popular for the nibs they make along with the Japanese, so what is a fine in a German nib is kind of more of a medium in a Japanese nib.
Vishal: Super fine! But what is intricate lines and what is dependent on intricate lines are the whiskers of the finer than fine kitten that Samir has drawn. I think that is exactly what a fine fountain pen should be used for.
Cat Illustration with Tachikawa School – G Fountain Pens
Samir: I don’t think any other instrument that we have used could have come up with this drawing. Nothing.
Vishal: I think usually you look for, especially in our previous episode with the technical-derived Microns, you look for an evenness of line or you want to be able to get an even line, here you get a lively line. Every line here is alive and that’s a strange thing to say but as an artist you kind of look for this sometimes, many times in fact, you want a livelier line, and that you would not get from a fine liner.
Samir: No. And the thing about a fine liner is there’s no way you can get these whiskers and this cross hatching and this very random fur thing that I ended up drawing, all from the same pen. Not happening.
Minjal: Would you use this pen also for your portrait sketching?
Samir: Yeah, it absolutely would. I think what I found while drawing this is that it ‘s certainly a pen that’s very flexible, literally and figuratively, and you could use it for anything.
But the lightness of it just lends itself to make things better that are sort of this delicate because you think that if I add any more to it I’m going to spoil the line that’s there. In general if I was using a pen to do a portrait I would tend to make it much more densely covered with marks.
I mean in some ways it is I guess very Japanese of it, which is that it lends itself to do these things that are very minimal and once you have put down this stuff, you don’t think you need to add in more detail to make it better. It’s better because of the simplicity.
Comic Illustration with Tachikawa School – G Fountain Pens
Vishal: Speaking of simple things, first of all I thought, you know what it says manga, so maybe I should do something comic-like, so I came up with this page of a comic.
And yeah even I went into how simple it is. This is such a fine pen that all it needs is a dot and maybe an eyebrow line, an eyelid line above it and that’s enough. Yes, this is all exactly two pens. This is an A4 sheet, you usually do comics at two upwards of this and I’m not even sure how that would work if you shove this down unless you had some brilliant printer this is not being reproduced.
But just to use as a sketching medium, as a sort of a preparatory medium. I would love to do my roughs, which I do in an A5 or something like that of a comic using this pen. Because it’s convenient, I can take it with me, I can draw really fine work without having to sacrifice anything.
Samir: Yeah, I mean some of the facial lines that you have in there and there are practically invisible but at least in person they’re very clear.
Vishal: Now I was very happy with it. It took a while because it was still not as smooth as it is right now. So it’s a bit scratchy, you’re kind of always worried that you’re damaging and yes sometimes it pulls out material from even a smooth paper like this and it gets stuck in the nib, but it’s very easy to just like pull out, you have to just keep a tissue handy.
Samir: I think the extra fine Japanese nibs are maybe so sharp that it’s very important to use a paper that’s sturdy enough for it. I think again this comes down to a Japanese, well, I can’t call it a problem. But they are just so good at making paper that is extremely fine and extremely strong.
But the paper in the rest of the world just does not approach the strength of a good Japanese paper. So we are suffering from that a little bit.
Vishal: We should try a good Japanese paper at some point because I did enjoy this more than I thought I would. Even when there were times when I didn’t enjoy it and I was like okay this is too too hard to do and then suddenly I’d just like finish the line and be like, “oh! that’s better than I thought it would come out.” It’s lively, it has its own life to it, it’s not just a fine liner.
Samir: And the other thing that’s very surprising about this pen and maybe another thing that’s very Japanese about this pen is how ridiculously inexpensive and informal this thing is.
Vishal: Yeah, this is a few dollars even with import taxes in India.
Samir: I mean it’s what I would consider a very, very specialized fine instrument and yet it’s made to look like any school pen. It’s not using premium plastic and lacquer finishes or anything. It looks like a pen that you can just throw in your pocket with your keys and you will be fine with it.
Vishal: And you should because why not have a pen that is so fine at doing all of this?
History of the Tachikawa Company
Samir: It reminds me a little, and we’ve covered Muji products before in our origami paper video, it kind of reminds me of that whole Japanese philosophy of simplicity. They go for the fact that you can make something that’s not ostentatious but still brilliant technically.
And speaking of Japanese companies, the Tachikawa company is actually a very fascinating one. We’ve looked around for information on them online and there just isn’t much. All we could find was other people, guessing in some cases but finally we found their own site and tried to make the best that we could out of a Google translation of their history and it is absolutely fascinating.
Because the man who started this was born in 1874 and he was called Shinzo Izumia. When he was 10 he decided to change his name, like the wolf in sheep’s clothing, and he changed it to Tainosuke Tachikawa which is where Tachikawa comes from.
Vishal: It’s a nom de plume!
Samir: Yes! Until his 20s, he was working, apprenticing because back then everyone apprenticed in a trade, he was apprenticing in the clothing store. At 23 he decided to go out on his own and start his own clothing store but for some reason he was always interested in stationery so in his clothing store he would also sell brushes and nibs and inks.
This character is a fascinating because by the time World War one comes through, and people are not able to import things anymore, he goes out and starts a stationery store, the first store in Japan that’s called a stationery store. It was called Stationery World and he starts importing things and then eventually manufacturing nibs and that’s where the Tachikawa Company comes from.
Vishal: That’s a fascinating story!
Samir: And if that wasn’t enough, Tainosuke Tachikawa because of World War One decides that the Japanese industry of making pens needs to kind of band together because we can’t get things from outside anymore and holds the first stationery exhibition in Japan.
And that’s where you could say the whole of the Japanese stationery world starts because all the companies get together and start talking to each other and collaborating and there’s this whole industry that’s born.
Vishal: That is brilliant. It’s already a brilliant tool. Like I said, it’s a hard tool to get used to, it’s very easy to give up on this pen too early. So you know what, it has my highest recommendation but be prepared for a marathon. It’s totally worth it!
Samir: I think we said something similar about the Hunt Dip Pens?
Vishal: Look those are those are couched in that sort of myth of the artist pen. You know, like it’s supposed to be hard.
Samir: Whereas this one looks like a toy!
Vishal: Yeah, it’s so friendly looking and then when you use it, you’re like it, “oh wow!” This is a great pen, this is one of the greatest fountain pens I’ve ever used and I barely scratched the surface of it. Do we have anything to add to that?
Samir: If you like Fountain Pens and ink and getting your hands a little dirty this is just highly recommended.
Vishal: Yes! If you want to have fun learning something new, definitely try the Tachikawa School – G fountain pen. This is certainly the pen for us and next week we will have something else. But for all that and more you should go to inkeymemo.com which is the website and the brand that runs all of this of which Stationery Test Drive is just one part. Also, on the site, subscribe to the Inky Memo newsletter for more interesting stationery stories like the one of Mr. Tachikawa and his pen shop. I am Vishal.
Minjal: This is Minjal.
Samir: I’m Samir. And if you like how wonderful a pen that looks so ridiculously cheap and frivolous, is, you will really like our video on the Hauser INX Jazz fountain pen, one of our favorites. And if you want to see fountain pens specifically for lettering and calligraphy you can look at our Parallel Pen episode, it’s a good one.
Get the Tachikawa School – G Fountain Pens
- School-G Manga Pen X-Fine Point – Black – https://amzn.to/3ZtPJ2B
- Zebra Comic G Model Chrome Pen Nib – https://amzn.to/3EPvfI5
- Tachikawa Comic Pen Nib Holder – https://amzn.to/3RvP5zz
- Hauser INX Jazz Fountain Pen – Pack of 6 – https://amzn.to/3PTQrmA
- PILOT Parallel Calligraphy Pen Set – https://amzn.to/456AU7k