Zebra V301 Fountain Pen

7 04 2015
Works as a dip pen!

Works as a dip pen!

The first time I bought a Zebra V301 Fountain Pen was July 2011. It was utter rubbish, I decided to attempt to take it apart for reasons unknown (some vague notion of fixing it, no doubt), and basically obliterated the pen beyond all hope of ever functioning.

It was 2011. Things were different then

It was 2011. Things were different then

So what would possess me to buy such a piece of crap again? Poor decision making / it was there / it was only $5 / being sick makes me impulsive

Thanks a lot, upper respiratory infection plus allergies. Like the several bags of discount candy I bought yesterday, you've once again led me astray

Thanks a lot, upper respiratory infection plus allergies. Like the several bags of discount candy I bought yesterday, you’ve once again led me astray

The Stainless STEEL Barrel (so the packaging claims) with black plastic accents makes for a simple, rugged looking pen. The cap snaps on hard (perhaps a little too hard) to close, and snaps a little more easily to post. When closed, the cap stays still. When posted, the cap spins around freely. There’s not much weight that would send it needlessly spinning around, but it’s a bit vexing.

Tubes of metal

Tubes of metal

The pen body is of a comfortable thickness, the grooving and shaping of the grip is nice, and the whole body is very lightweight. I bet it would be a nice long haul writing experience, if the pen actually wrote.

This is not how a fountain pen is supposed to work

This is not how a fountain pen is supposed to work

You know when Cruella DeVille, in 101 Dalmatians, tries to write a check and her fountain pen doesn’t work? And she shakes the pen, shouting, “Blast this pen, blast this wretched, wretched pen!” That’s me right now. Except Cruella actually got ink to come out of her pen. The V301, for the most part, operates on an entirely inkless philosophy.

I tried to find a video clip of Cruella and her pen, but all the clips I found that were NOT two minutes long consisted of Cruella blasting her pen onto other Disney characters. Fetish? I don't know. I don't want to know.

I tried to find a video clip of Cruella and her pen, but all the clips I found that were NOT two minutes long consisted of Cruella blasting her pen onto other Disney characters. Fetish? I don’t know. I don’t want to know.

I put in the ink cartridge. Nothing. Let it sit, capped, nib pointed down for a while. Nothing. Tapped it on the page. Nothing. Eventually I took the ink cartridge out, smacked that on the page, and got ink on paper. Then I dipped the tip of the fountain pen in the ink sitting at the lip of the cartridge and was able to write for a little while. It’s a shame, because the writing felt great for a cheap pen—no scratching, just a very tactile workhorse type of nib. Then the dipped ink ran out, the pen fitfully managing a few more scribbled lines and frustrated expletives before giving up entirely. The pen seemed to work best when writing with the nib upside down, though whoever finished the nib wasn’t in on that plan because the nib is very scratchy upside down. Just so we’re clear:

When you're up, you're up, and when you're down you're down, except when you're a Zebra pen you're in a perpetual existential crisis

When you’re up, you’re up, and when you’re down you’re down, except when you’re a Zebra pen you’re in a perpetual existential crisis

Metal to the sky is right side up. Feed to the sky is upside down. The pictures on JetPens agree with me. But the instructions on the back of the V301 packaging state:

Gently hold your pen with the nib facing down and properly balanced when making contact with the paper.

What do they mean, exactly, nib facing down? Is it really possible that they designed the mechanics of the feed such that the pen only works upside down?? It can’t be. How could it?!?!

Note the dot of ink spreading onto the page as I held the pen there? That did not happen with the nib facing up.

Note the dot of ink spreading onto the page as I held the pen there? That did not happen with the nib facing up.

Other gems from the packaging include:

Your new fountain pen will become a personal writing instrument as the nib of the pen adapts to your personal writing style. For this reason, we recommend that the fountain pen be used only by yourself.

No, I don’t think, if you’re using your steel nib with the appropriate pressure, short of writing with it for a hundred years it will really make that much of a difference in the shape of the nib. Other people can use your fountain pens as long as they know what they’re doing. And as long as you’re using a pen that writes.

Zebra Pen guarantees the performance of this writing instrument. If it fails to perform properly, please return it to Zebra Pen Corp. for repair or replacement.

Why would I spend more of my own money to mail Zebra this terminally dysfunctional pen? I could literally use the money it would cost to ship this pen to buy a working low end fountain pen from another company (for example, Pilot Varsity, Platinum Preppy). Zebra, you need to take this pen back to the drawing board because whatever you’ve done, it’s something very wrong. Perhaps it’s the (what seems to be) felt-like mechanism in the feed. That part is garbage. Throw it out. Re-evaluate your life choices.

Fountain pens really aren't that hard you guys

Fountain pens really aren’t that hard you guys

Bonus, this trainwreck of metal and ink takes proprietary cartridges! ZEBRA, WHY. This pen is the price-point opposite experience of the Paperchase Wonderland Cartridge Fountain Pen I found at Target. For only $4.99 plus tax, Paperchase knocked it outta the park. A near-perfect beginner fountain pen. The V301? Possibly a diabolical plan by Zebra to keep the masses from ever falling in love with fountain pens, pushing them to pursue a life only of ballpoints, gel pens, and rollerballs.

No link today because I don't want you to even think of wasting your money on this thing. Though, for the record, I got mine this time around at a Walgreen's

No link today because I don’t want you to even think of wasting your money on this thing. Though, for the record, I got mine this time around at a Walgreen’s

For five bucks, I don’t want a pen I have to mess around any with. It doesn’t have to be life-changing, it just has to write. For the second time now, this pen fails to meet the basic functioning definition of a pen.




36 responses

8 04 2015
Mike D.

(I sincerely dislike replies like this since it seems they are calling you a dummy or something, but — here goes)

I have two of these that I seldom use and they both work fine. I’ve had them for maybe a year now. I’m not a fountain pen guy (why and how did I buy two?) (might it have been a 2-pack?) but maybe someday I might actually use these. I suppose things can go wrong with fountain pens; in manufacture, shipping, or storage so maybe you just got a bad one. Sorry you had a problem. Mine are smooth, consistent writers with a dark bold line. The ink dries pretty quickly. I have no idea how archival or waterproof these are.

I “store” mine nib down as my greatest problem with fountain pens that I seldom use is that they dry out. I thought keeping them nib down might help but it never has with any other fountain pen I’ve tried. Not sure if it’s helping with these and not willing to try storing one nib up (for no reason at all).

8 04 2015
No Pen Intended

Mike, you are one of a lucky few that the Zebra gods of fountain pennery have chosen to bestow their gift upon. I’ve gotten two bad ones now. Heard from someone on Twitter who had 3 bad ones. A quick glance over the distribution of Amazon star ratings (out of 124 reviews) for this pen shows 47% one star ratings. Every other star category is in the teens (15% for 5 star); your odds are more than 50% that you’ll end up with a pen that doesn’t work. If you beat the odds, you get a good pen.

This is why I like having lots of people reviewing pens and putting their opinions out there. One person usually won’t have the funds to buy a large enough sample size of a given pen to attest to the quality control for that pen, but with enough reviewers of any given pen you can get an idea of whether your money will be well spent on a product. Compare this Zebra pen to the Pilot Metropolitan Fountain pen (currently $12.96 on Amazon). The Pilot pen, with 532 reviews: 70% five star, 19% 4 star…only 2% one star. Were I to buy a third Zebra pen, I’d be out the cost of the Pilot Metropolitan (which I would have had a greater chance of working on the first try) and have two useless pens and one new pen that has a 50% chance or greater of probably not working.

Cherish your working Zebra pens, my friend! :)

11 04 2015
D. D. Syrdal

I like Zebra pens in general, sorry their fountain pen seems to be a dog. I have a relatively expensive fountain pen ($60) that behaves the same way, can never get the damn thing to start. It’s a Marquis by Waterford, it says. So annoying.

12 04 2015
Benjamin Hughes

Probably the most frustrating purchase I ever made. Part of what makes it so frustrating is that I like everything else that Zebra does. Their stuff stands out in a very cool way, and it all works pretty well. Except for this pen. I like the way it looks. I’m a big fan of Zebra’s design. I’m not a big fan of how it doesn’t write. It feels like they had the potential to make a great starter pen that would be easy to find and they blew it. A real shame.

13 04 2015
Michelle Smith

One day, I had a similarly week moment at a Walgreens and I came home with one of these. And it was horrible.

But then I looked on the Fountain Pen Network and found a thread where others talked about it. They said that the flow issues seemed to have something to do with the proprietary cartridge and/or the crappy Zebra ink within, and to try the pen with a Platinum converter.

Now, it just so happened that I had an unused Platinum converter sitting around, so I filled it with Noodler’s Black, affixed it to the offending 301 and, reader, it wrote! It wrote very nicely, in fact!

Granted, I haven’t filled it again since that one time, and I absolutely agree that requiring someone to buy an $8 converter to use their $5 pen is not viable. But in my case, where I happened to have both a converter and different ink hanging around, it did end up working.

13 04 2015
Michelle Smith

week = weak. grr.

19 04 2015

I have two or three of these pens, and they’re all bad. I believe that the cartridge ball that plugs it originally also plugs it when it is held downwards. Even the cartridge is held upside down off if the pen, ink sometimes doesn’t even come out. However, the pilot Con-20 converter fits, as does the sheaffer cartridge. The sheaffer cartridge provides consistent ink flow.

21 04 2015

I also bought one of these at Walgreens, being a sucker for writing instruments of any kind. Mine worked great right out of the package, it mostly languishes on my desk doing nothing because the ink spreads too much on everyday paper for my liking (but it’s not fuzzy caterpillar bad as with some cheap pens). I use it once in a while even though the nib isn’t as fine as I’d like; I probably will never seek out refill cartridges when these run out. I wish I had found the other cheap fountain pen at Target!

1 05 2015

Thank you. THANK YOU. I hate this pen SO MUCH. I will likely send it back. Yes, I know it will cost me more than the $3.99 I paid. I don’t care. Zebra must know.

I read elsewhere to soak the bottom piece in water, which I did, and would write beautifully (in grey) and with the nib the correct way for about a paragraph. I’ve wasted probably a third of the ink just trying to get it to flow. I’m taking a pair of tweezers to the plug in the bottom next, if I haven’t completely given up and stopped at Target.

1 05 2015
AmyRose ♔ (@amy_rosie)

Thank you. THANK YOU. I hate this pen SO MUCH. I will likely send it back. Yes, I know it will cost me more than the $3.99 I paid. I don’t care. Zebra must know.

I read elsewhere to soak the bottom piece in water, which I did, and would write beautifully (in grey) and with the nib the correct way for about a paragraph. I’ve wasted probably a third of the ink just trying to get it to flow. I’m taking a pair of tweezers to the plug in the bottom next, if I haven’t completely given up and stopped at Target.

(Sorry I wanted to log in, please delete the other please :) )

12 05 2015
Zebra Pens

You make writing with a pen extra fancy! You know, I too like the grip, but sometimes I wish there was a rubber alternative (like the ones on the plastic Zebra Pens). What do you think about a rubber grip?

I’m not a huge fan of spending extra money on a pen, but I understand your passion for good quality. For example, the Zebra Pen F-301 is my favorite because it’s a stainless steel pen.

8 08 2016

This comment is clearly spam, mod should ban Zebra Pens account.

1 08 2015

I just recently purchased this pin I too went through all of the stuff that everybody else with her however I finally got my pin to work. Step 1 after I realized that the pin wasn’t flowing properly I stuck the nib of my pin inside water. Then what I decided to do was blow water through the Nib by removing the back part of the pin and filling it with water. Then making sure there’s no ink on the shell half of the pin that is connected to the nib, I gently blow the water forcing it to flow through the nib. After this I put the pin back together and started shacking the pen. After writting a few the pen will write gray, then vola. Black ink will spill forth like an enzyme commercial. Good luck guys Good luck.

31 08 2015

I had the exact same problem. It only writes upside down for me too. What a piece of crap. This technology is centuries old, Zebra, you should have it figured out by now. I wonder if anyone from that company actually TRIED writing with these things before they sent them out the door.

10 10 2015

I’ve bought two of them on separate occasions. Neither worked for more than a few lines.

13 12 2015

Remove the thin rope under the nip. Without that rope the ink flows better. I don’t know the name of that “thin rope” I think that looks like that

9 12 2015
Jorfimus Prime

Late comment is late but I too have a non-writing sample of this pen, which I’d been really excited about when I first heard it was coming out. Interestingly my friend has one that works and he’s enjoyed greatly. Glad he likes his, but definitely wish I’d gotten lucky too…

13 12 2015

I repaired my pen removing a piece that looks like a thin rope under the nip.

28 12 2015

Yes, I agree totally. The only Where are you? I could get letters, words, or just strikes on the page was with the nib upside down. I am grateful for this comment to know that it was not my inability that was the problem. Do not waste money on this brand. I am headed to Target for the Paperchase Wonderland Cartridge Fountain Pen!

10 01 2016

I had issues very similar to you. As long as I held the pen at an angle, respectful to write with, it did not work. But if I held the pen nearly upright, at a certain writing turn, it mostly worked with little skipping. Honestly I am not happy with my experience and will not purchase any more pens from Zebra although I did want to try out the G-301.
I really like the Pilot G2 series (Limited, Dr. Grip) and may purchase the Pilot MR fountain pen. From my personal experiences, Pilot makes the better product and I prefer 9 times out of 10 over all other makes, models, and brands.

10 01 2016

Also, most Pilot G2 pens can comfortably fit the Mont Blanc refill cartridges with just a bit of shaving on the top end of the cartridge.

11 02 2016

I’ve owned FOUR of these. (I can’t explain why. Let’s just call it a series of bad colds.)

Actually there were just two purchases, two pens each time. In each set of two, one was good and one was bad. I guess that tracks with the now 51% one-star reviews on Amazon.

The two pens that are good worked flawlessly soon after inserting the cartridge. The other two were junk from the get-go, and no amount of experimentation/abuse could reform them (and believe me, I’m pretty thorough).

And oh yeah, the Zebra ink isn’t anything special, but as far as I can tell it wasn’t the problem since it’s the same ink that flows okay in the two good pens. (And no other ink would flow through the bad pens.) There must have been some kind of serious quality control issue. I wonder if we will ever find out.

But I have to say, a working Zebra fountain pen with some other type of (good) ink is actually a very nice thing to have. I’m glad I have two of them. But I do wish Zebra would just come out and admit where they went wrong. Wouldn’t it be nice if they started making a reliable fountain pen?

12 02 2016
Nib Novice, Part 2 – The Zebra V-301 | Pens and Junk

[…] say. Azizah at Gourmet Pens calls it her “current most disliked fountain pen ever,” and the review at No Pen Intended calls it a “trainwreck of metal and ink.” And, having used it for a couple days, I […]

14 04 2016

The pen dies in the middle of writing. If you stop writing, it dies also. Only way I could get it to start working is to hold the tip on the paper with a little bit of pressure until is starts flowing. Not good for drawing at all. Ink lines bleed into each other. Based on comments, it may be the crappy ink and not the pen.

15 04 2016
michaelheenan (@michaelheenan)

OMG! The Platinum converter trick works! I’ve bought three of these pens (yeah, I don’t admit that without some embarrassment) and have had moments when it seemed the code was cracked, but ultimately it always reverted to won’t-write status. Now, though, with the Platinum converter, it’s working! Granted, nobody should buy this $3 pen with the intention of putting an $8 converter in it, but I’m just glad I can pretend the purchase(s) weren’t completely pointless.

21 11 2016

Pretty sure, you are just a bad mouther for another company.

21 11 2016
No Pen Intended

If you like wasting money please feel free to go buy one of these pens.

6 03 2017
Reverend Wyrm

Having just purchased one of these pens I can confirm that they are not great pens. Zebra makes some fine and inexpensive writing implements, which is why I took a chance on this one, but their fountain pen fails on many levels.

While you shouldn’t have high expectations from a 5$ pen you SHOULD be able to expect something that at least works most of the time. Pity too because I really love the aesthetics of this pen.

3 03 2017

How disappointing! Though I am glad to find out I wasn’t actually wrong in how I thought you were supposed to hold a fountain pen. I’ve wanted to have one for ages, I’m a sucker for fancy or unique writing utensils, and I was ecstatic to find such a cheap one when I’d just figured I’d have to drop a lot of money to repair my great uncle Mace’s old fountain pens. Guess I’ll have to keep looking for a good pen on a college student’s budget.

6 03 2017
Reverend Wyrm

If you like Unique AND budget friendly fountain pen I recommend the Pilot Metropolitan or the Pilot Plumix. The Metropolitan is a very nice pen for about 15$ but the nib only comes in a few sizes. The Plumix is less, about 9$ but the nib comes in a wider variety of sizes. I personally prefer the 1.1 Stub nib, it flows really nicely and it adds a nice little flare to my writing.

19 06 2017
Chris Mac

I definitely understand your frustration and the humor you add to it. I just wanted to say that I’ve been using fountain pens for decades and I’ve always had luck with running the nib under a faucet when the ink cartridge/pen is new. Seems to get the ink flowing better than just shaking it like the package says to. I saw your article here while hunting for a cheap source of refills for this pen. I just bought my first Zebra fountain pen today, (I’ve bought their ballpoints for years). Anyway, here’s hoping you give her another go and you get the results you’re after.



8 11 2017
Ulises R.

Looking for a review of something you already bought it’s one of the first steps into buyer’s remorse, nonetheless I’m still holding this little steel rod with pride because even when it is scratchy and the ink flow is not perfect it costed me the equivalent of 3 bucks and all I can compare it at that price point it’s a no brand plastic fountain pen I found at walmart, from which it is an improvement.

11 11 2017

If you’re really interested in a fountain pen at a cheap price point You can try the Jinhao pens. The Jinhao x750 is an aluminum barrel with a steel nib for about 5 bucks. They ship from China so there’s a wait time but after trying the two pens the Jinhao is easily a far superior product. I do hear that the nibs can be kind of hit or miss though. I was lucky enough to get a smooth one and have no problems, unlike the Zebra.

17 11 2017

Oh, so it’s not only me who struggle with Zebra-Rubbish-V301. Relief! I just bought Pentel fountain pen from staples for 16$
Hope it will be worhy of a price!

4 04 2018
Steven DeVore

I know this write-up is really old, but I would like to throw in my 2 cents anyway. I’ve had 3 or 4 of these pens, and love the way they write, and agree, out of the package they suck for reliability. BUT there is a way to make it write MUCH more consistently.

CAREFULLY pull the nib off, and you will see the wicking material sitting underneath it. This is issue #1. get some needle nose pliers, lift the wick out of the channel and pull it out. ALL of it, its long. put this wick straight into the garbage can. get a small piece of paper towel, roll it up so it just fits into the channel, and goes in 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch, and fills the channel right to the end. pop your nib back in.

issue #2 is the ink it comes with. From what I’ve read, it’s not FP ink, but rollerball ink. dump and clean your cartridge, and fill it with your FP ink of choice.

after I’ve done this, the think works very consistently, with very little issues. The paper wick will have to be changed, but that is not very often.

10 05 2018
Laura B

Totally agree. I haven’t used fountain pens for years; saw this at Walgreens and was inspired to try it. Total garbage. I love Zebra ball point pens and highlighters; this broke my heart because the barrel design and grip are really clean and lovely. Ugh.

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