Head to head review
The Safari fountain pen has been a staple of the Lamy brand since the 80s, and while we at Bureau might not have stocked it for quite as many decades, we’ve definitely welcomed it as a permanent addition to our stock. The J. Herbin fountain pen is a relative new comer, having started stocking it towards the tail end of 2014 – but it’s proven a popular seller, especially when paired with a J. Herbin ink tin. As a newcomer to Bureau myself, I thought it’d be interesting to compare the two from the point of view of someone not quite as well versed in the world of fountain pens as other members of our team.
Style is always a touchy subject, so full disclosure – you might very well disagree with my views on this. If you’ve read some of my staff reviews you’ll know I’m quite the fan of industrial, minimalist, and functional design – most of which the Safari pen covers. Every line on the pen has clearly been carefully considered, from the flat edges of the barrel that curve around the ink level window and flow into the sculpted grip section, to the chamfered edge of the cap – it all suggests an excellent grasp of design that doesn’t compromise functionality for the sake of looking good. For such a relatively inexpensive fountain pen, it is an absolute pleasure to look at.
On the other side is the J. Herbin fountain pen, and next to the Safari it’s quite boring – disappointing even. While the design is simple it’s not really that interesting. Almost the entire body of the pen is a clear plastic, with some chromed plastic accents finishing off the cap, clip, and barrel ring. It’s a very safe and standard design, even down to the flourish on the nib. I found it quite difficult to write about the style of the pen, simply because it is so inoffensive – other than the scuff prone chrome orb on the top of the lid which I personally think detracts from the pen more than help it. Having said all that, seeing the ink in the feed of the pen is a very redeeming feature, as it pools nicely just below the nib as you write.
Both pens feature the respective company branding, and both work well to be subtle and refined – the Herbin pen does this with slim, silver lettering on the side of the cap while the Lamy has a cleverly debossed lettering at the end of the barrel.
Scores: Lamy – 9/10. Herbin – 6/10
The standout feature of the J. Herbin pen is the completely clear barrel design, turning the entire pen into an ink level window – you’d be hard pressed to unknowingly run out of ink with this pen. The J. Herbin pen is quite a bit shorter (2.5cm capped, 3cm uncapped to be exact) than the Lamy pen, ideal for slipping into a pocket and has a no-frills clip on the cap. The pen uses the international standard cartridge type, so finding cartridges that fit the pen beyond J. Herbin’s own shouldn’t be a problem. Be wary of putting this pen down with the cap off, it’s an extremely adept roller – it’s found its way under my desk a fair few times during this review.
The Lamy pen also features the ability to view the ink level, however it does this with an understated oblong cut-out along towards the grip end of the barrel. The Lamy features its iconic (and very strong) clip on the cap, but it’s what is underneath that cap that is the Safari’s standout feature in my eyes – the swappable nib. Lamy provides a variety of nibs from extra fine to broad and everything in between, and swapping out your nib is a simple tug away. You’ll find the Lamy less likely to roll away from you on the desk, due to the barrel not being a perfect cylinder – it’s been flattened along two sides that helps prevent it from rolling (although once it gets started it’s just as spritely as the Herbin).
Scores. Lamy – 9/10. Herbin – 7/10
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* as sold from stock. Lamy Safari has additional nib sizes as optional extras
** includes current special edition colour
Personally I always prefer a larger or longer pen, as I find them far more comfortable to hold. In this regard, the Lamy Safari is one of the more pleasant to hold pens that I’ve used so far – the triangular moulded grip provides an ergonomic and comfortable position to hold the pen, while the long barrel rests snugly in the crook of the thumb and forefinger. If you go for the Charcoal or (now likely sold out Dark Lilac) the pen is even better to hold due to the matt, texturized finish. Whether you post your pen or not is of course a personal preference, however I find that doing so causes the Safari to become a little top heavy, and the lip of the cap can scratch against my hand while writing.
The overall writing experience with the Safari is very pleasant, with the fine nib gliding smoothly across the page, and with good ink flow. I’ve found the Lamy nibs to be quite forgiving when it comes to finding the “sweet spot” of where the nib writes best.
The J. Herbin pen, unfortunately, is a different experience. I have to knock some points off for the size of the pen, as I mentioned earlier the smaller pens just don’t sit as comfortably in my hand as I’d like. Luckily, posting the cap doesn’t drastically affect the balance, as the pen is very light – nor does the lip of the pen cap get in the way due to the shorter barrel letting the cap sit lower overall. The grip section of the Herbin pen is a simple tapered cylinder, and isn’t outstanding, I find it a little bit slippery and find myself having to hold it a little tighter than the Lamy.
The nib on the Herbin is much finer than that of the Lamy, comparable to their Extra Fine nib. Unfortunately this means the pen is a bit more temperamental with regards to the position of the nib on the paper – angle the pen out of the sweet spot and the writing experience becomes scratchy and unpleasant. However, I did find myself adjusting to it fairly quickly and once you find that angle the writing is much smoother, albeit not quite as smooth as the Lamy fine nib.
Scores. Lamy Safari – 9/10. Herbin – 7.5/10
With the Lamy and Herbin pens costing £13.95 and £8.95 respectively, neither of these will break the bank. Taking into account the features presented by both pens, I find that despite the higher price you’re getting about the same value for money out of both pens, with a slight edge towards the Lamy. For an extra £5, you get a better build quality and the bonus of easily swapped nibs with the Lamy, although the possible downside of being dependent on Lamy’s proprietary cartridges (though we do stock Monteverde Lamy-compatible cartridges, which provide more colours than Lamy’s standard offering, the odd special edition ink excluded). Of course you can always add in a Z24/Z28 convertor for £3.75 and use any ink you could imagine. Meanwhile the J. Herbin pen may not be as nicely built, nonetheless it does have the benefit of using the international standard cartridge type, therefore being compatible with a wider range of manufacturers. It’s worth noting that the Herbin cartridges have a capacity of about 0.8 - 0.9ml, about a third less than Lamy, although how noticeable that’d be in daily use is up in the air.
Scores. Lamy – 8/10. Herbin – 8/10
Going in to this review I knew I’d be quite biased towards the Lamy, as the design and size of the pen immediately appealed more to me than the Herbin. While I can’t quite look past some of the Herbin pens personal faults (the slipperiness being the worst offender), I’m not quite as put off by it after a week as I thought. I’ll likely always pick a longer pen given the choice, but I don’t think I’ll turn up my nose if I’m passed a shorter pocket pen – once I found the sweet spot of the J. Herbin nib it became a very pleasant and capable writer. For the price, I feel like the J. Herbin pen would be a very nice choice for people looking for a pocket-sized pen, especially with the multitude of fantastic ink colours that J. Herbin provide.
Total scores: Lamy – 35/40. Herbin – 28.5/40
Click here to see the Lamy Safari fountain pen
Click here to see the J.Herbin fountain pen
NB: All details correct at time of publishing
Please also note that Pawel has customised his Safari pen to be a 'Stormtrooper' pen, so that's with an Al-Star front piece and a black clip. Possibly a side line for us one day...