Zebra V301 fountain pen

Brand Zebra
Model V-301
Nib Material Steel
Nib Sizes Medium only
Filling System Cartridge only (proprietary)
Dimensions Capped Length: 5.2″ / 132mm
Posted Length: 5.8″ / 147.3mm
Uncapped Length: 4.54″ / 115.3mm
Barrel Ø: .43″ / 10.8mm
Section Ø: .4″ / 10.2mm
Weight 0.6oz / 16g
Notes Available with blue or black accents.
Price $3.99
Availability Now

I don’t know what on Earth possessed me to buy the Zebra V-301 fountain pen. One night I just all of a sudden got a case of the munchies and walked down to Walgreen’s to pick up some snacks. It’s almost impossible for me to pass by the stationery aisle and not stop. This evening was no different. And that’s when I noticed this fountain pen that cost less than the latte I just devoured earlier that day. So I grabbed it and threw it in with my pile of treats.

For $3.99 (from Walgreen’s) you get the V-301 fountain pen and two proprietary, black ink cartridges. Additional ink cartridges can be ordered in packages of two from Jetpens for $2.10, which is hilarious because they only charge $3.20 for the pen AND ink cartridges. The pen is only worth five cents more than each cartridge. Wow.

If there’s one sure way to get me to hate your pen, it’s by using a proprietary cartridge. They’re more expensive. They come in fewer colors. They’re not as readily available. They just suck. The only redeeming quality these cartridges have is that they’re quite a bit larger than the standard international sized cartridge.

Zebra V301 cartridge

Zebra V301 cartridge on top, international cartridge on bottom.

As soon as I got home, but after I tore into some snacks, I ripped open the blister pack and inserted one of the cartridges into the pen. It clicked in securely and a few hours later the feed was primed and the pen was ready to write. And write it did.

I was actually surprised by how well it wrote. The nib, while being a tiny steel unit, performed well enough. The problem wasn’t with the flow or consistency as there wasn’t any issue with the feed’s performance. The problem was with the feel of the nib. The tines weren’t out of alignment so it wasn’t scratchy, but it’s like it was finished with a course grade abrasive. The 1.0mm Pilot G-2 sitting on my desk actually offers a noticeably smoother writing experience. That’s not a good thing when I’m trying to get people to use a fountain pen and don’t want them to pass out from sticker shock of the pens I actually use.

Zebra V301 fountain pen nib

Let’s move away from the nib a little bit and focus on the section. It’s made from a hard plastic that’s just as smooth, if not more than the stainless steel barrel. The cap attaches to the section with a solid snap, but once attached it wiggles pretty easily. I don’t think it’s going to come off, but it doesn’t instill a whole lot of confidence in me, either. One thing I do like about the cap is the clip. It’s easy to position the pen with one hand and since the clip is attached to the very top of the cap none of the pen will poke out from your pocket, which is a desirable quality for some.

The cap is thin and light enough that posting it really doesn’t make a difference to the feel of the pen in your hand. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend posting the cap at all. While it does snap positively into place, it rotates freely while posted. The only thing more annoying would be if this pen rattled when you used it. Thank St. Nibbius that it doesn’t do that!

The Zebra V-301 is about as cheap as you can get when shopping for a fountain pen and it shows. It’s plagued with annoyances that actually make me not want to use it. But in the end, what really matters is that it works. Every time the nib touches the paper, it writes. And that’s what a fountain pen should do. But I still can’t recommend anyone waste their money on this pen. Instead, go for the Pilot Varsity (V-Pen in some locations).

For another view of the Zebra V-301 check out KrazyIvan’s review posted in our forums.

Fountain Pen Comparison Set 2-1

(L to R) 1. Pelikan Go! 2. Sheaffer PFM II 3. Parker Vacumatic OS 4. Aurora 88 5. Zebra V-301 6. Omas Arte Italiana Art Déco 7. Montegrappa Memoria 8. Sheaffer Snorkel 9. Omas 360 10. Pelikan M805 11. Pelikan M200 12. Giuliano Mazzuoli Officina 13. Montblanc Brahms 14. Omas Arco Milord 15. Lamy Studio 16. Parker 51 17. Pilot Vanishing Point 18. Namiki Capless 19. Lamy 2000 20. Edison Extended Pearl

Fountain Pen Comparison Set 2-2
Fountain Pen Comparison Set 2-3

This pen was purchased for review.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=579584604 Gwynne Platz

    Both my husband and I got one of these and I tried every trick in the book to get them working, to no avail. They sucked, pure and simple. The nib was beyond scratchy, there were serious flow issues – it skipped more than a first grade girl. I tossed it in the trash and haven’t looked back since.

    • http://fpgeeks.com/ Dan Smith

      Dang. Sorry to hear that. I must have got one of the better examples. Maybe I should hang on to it. Frame it or something…

      • Fianchetto

        I also purchased mine on a whim at a Walgreens – the last one on the shelf :-)

        I have had good experience with other Zebra ball-point pens, and use their F-701 at work, and to satisfy my addiction to crossword puzzles.

        Unfortunately, I had a very similar experience as Ms. Platz.

        Skipping like a schoolgirl – with narcolepsy.

        I found it nearly impossible to get started. I have tried everything I can think of over the past week that I have owned it, and to make it write at all, I must store it vertically with the nib end down, wipe off the dried ink with a tissue, and dip it in water to get the ink flowing.

        If I should stop writing – even for less than a minute, another dip in water and it starts again.

        I suspect that Ms. Platz and I simply happened to buy lemons, and intend to purchase another to try again. I believe in ‘second chances’ for people, and since it is people that make the pens, I think you take my point.

        Based on your review, I have also purchased a Noodler’s Ahab, and expect to take delivery soon in the post.

        Next time I get an opportunity, I shall pick up a Pilot Varsity and give it a whirl, again based on your recommendation in this review.

        Thank you very much for all your reviews – I am finding them invaluable in my search for a decent pen that won’t cost me a mint :-)

        • Chelsea Tafoya

          I have the exact same issue. Constant Skipping, especially on downstrokes, hard starts, as well as what I suspect to be ink starvation due to lack of a breather hole.

          I did notice some paper fibers between the tip of the nib and the tip of the feed, although flossing it with a brass shim may help. I also had to widen the gap between the tines due to the excessive dryness. I thought that would help with the skipping, but I was unfortunately mistaken…while it was more wet, it made the hard starts much more prominent, and eventually it gave up on writing altogether. So, perhaps ink starvation?

          If i do not write for more than 15 seconds, it simply won’t start, no matter how much I prime the feed…Not to mention the dang proprietary cartridge is so hard that I cannot squeeze it to prime the feed easily. I can only tap the nib against the paper so hard before I’ll damage it…

          The Pilot Varsity is much much much more wet than this, at least for me. Overly so. Expect feathering on anything lover than 80g gram paper.
          What would I do without Rhodia? :)

          I am curious if anyone else has any opinions regarding the breather hole & if anyone thinks it could be causing ink starvation. I am definitely not the most experienced in fountain pens, but I do know more than the average ball-point user. :)

          Also, does anyone think it would help if I perhaps filled the proprietary cartridge with a more lubricated ink using a syringe? I’d appreciate any opinions.

          At least I can thank a previous commenter for mentioning that Lamy cartridges fit this pen with relative ease. :D

  • http://www.inkdependence.com/ Mike

    When I got one a while back, the nib was plenty smooth, but the flow sucked. It skipped all the time, and it was hard to get it started. I put it in the back of the drawer, and didn’t touch it for a few months. Then I read a review somewhere that praised it (a little) and I dug it out of the drawer. It wrote really well. Weird.

    Of course, then it started skipping like crazy again. It’s back in the drawer.

  • Stiggy Ray Cyrus

    Bwahahahahaha!!!! If you bought this on Saturday, then you and I must have been sharing the brain. I bought one on Saturday, but my experience was a little different than yours! Mine actually wrote fairly well out of the box, and it’s actually a really nice writer after a little bit of nib work!

    Have you figured out what’s interesting about this pen yet? If not, do a little experimenting with the nib and feed. It’ll explain why it’s so consistent as far as flow is concerned.

    BTW, mine is now filled with Baystate Blue, and it’s writing really well!

  • kimforreal

    Try a diamond emery board used for manicuring to smooth the tip….go very lightly

  • http://twitter.com/GTown_Dave GTown_Dave

    I worked at Walgreen’s many, many moons ago, during my senior year of high school. The notion of their stocking any manner of fountain pen is fairly mind boggling. I look forward to picking one up & giving it a go.

  • Breck

    As with the others thus far I thoroughly enjoyed this review Dan. I may be heretical here but in some ways your hands-on reviews are more appealing for me than the Awesome Reviews. I’ll have to ruminate on why as it is counter-intuitive. Until then, job well done lad!

  • http://www.gourmetpens.com/ Azizah Asgarali

    Ahhhh I have heard about this fountain pen. Nice to see another review on it! It’s kinda cool looking and definitely is in the Zebra stainless steel style. Hm. I guess I’ll have to decide when I see one hehe

  • Maja

    Well Dan, you had better luck than I did—I bought two of the same Zebra fountain pens (a few weeks apart) and neither would write. I thought the first was an anomaly, so I tried another one…with the same disappointing results. I had to find an FPN thread on how to fix the problem (it involves cutting larger channels in the feed with a razor blade or x-acto knife) until I could get it to work, but I still would not recommend the pen. The same pen comes as a *refillable* rollerball (called the Zebra R-301 model) that is a much more dependable writer.

  • David

    “8. Sheaffer Snorkel”

    Actually I think it should read, “8. Sheaffer’s Valiant Snorkel”

    • http://fpgeeks.com/ Dan Smith

      Seems fine the way it is.

  • derevaun

    Nice to see a review of this pen. I’ve had one for a couple months, occasionally writing a page or less to see if it’ll stop skipping. So far it continues to skip. I also find it to be the most uncomfortable fountain pen I own, perhaps due to somewhat slippery section.

    I might be more interested in keeping this pen if I liked its relatives among the Zebra metal line. As it is, I feel bad about tossing it in the garbage, because it looks valuable. I suppose that’s a reason to think carefully about even trying it.

  • Nick

    I bought one of these recently ($1 more than my usual pilot V-pen, and refillable), and initially had the same issue that everyone else has: horrible skipping. It wrote beautifully at first (for about 1/3 of a page), and then cut out. I read some other reviews, and saw a pic of one that was dismantled, and I noticed it uses a wick. So I figured that if it wrote right away out of the package, it must have had ink in it when shipped. But no cartridge. So what if the back of the wick dried out? To test this idea, I unscrewed the pen, took off the cartridge, and tapped the back of the wick with a pin. Crusty! So I jabbed it all over with the pin until is was nice and soft, re-installed the cartridge, and let it stand overnight (again). A week later and it’s writing great.

  • Julian David

    The first one of these I purchased was and still is a fantastic, reliable writer, as is the one I got for my dad just as sort of a novelty. Both are the black model. However, when I purchased myself a second, blue model of the same pen, I had the terrible skipping issues other commenters have complained of. No matter: for $3.99 I still got two blue catridges that worked just great in the black model.

    When it came time to refill it, on a whim I dug through my assortment of cartridges. You know what it turns out fits? A Lamy cartridge! It’s maybe just a millimeter too long if that, so that the plastic bit on the back of the pen pushed out a teeny bit when I reassembled the thing, but it didn’t come loose and I could even still post the cap just fine. Hope this helps!

    • Tonia H

      Thank you so very much for saying that it fits a Lamy cartridge! I’ve been looking for a converter for my R-301, which is the same pen with a rollerball tip instead of a fountain pen, and now I know what to get. :)
      Thanks again!
      -Tonia H

    • Chelsea Tafoya

      Thank you so much for mentioning that Lamy cartridges fit in this pen!
      Hopefully finding a Lamy ink that is more lubricated will somewhat help with the issues I have with this pen:)
      Greatly appreciated!

  • Avi R.

    I use Pilot Varsity throwaways at my desk and thought I’d give this Zebra a try since it would allow me to dispose of slightly less plastic. My local Walgreen’s charges $5 and change (Bay Area cost of living?), and for the first day or two this pen gave me the same problems others reported with skipping and poor starts, but with some time and storing it point down, it now writes fairly consistently. Thanks for the tip about Lamy cartridges for refills, Julian David! I may rub the label off so that it gains a little mysterious anonymity. Don’t you think a plus of cheap pens is not minding it when someone wants to borrow? I feel like when I have an expensive or a meaningful pen on me while I’m out and about I don’t want to flaunt it. This zebra is a pen for using up, not for saving up, you know?

  • pieperbe .

    I absolutely hate this pen. It does not write. Ink will not flow, no matter what I do. So I went on line, and the overwhelming majority or reviews discuss the same problem. This is one of the extremely few reviews that says it works, because, in reality, it doesn’t. It is a pen that costs less than $5, but is worth less than 5 cents.

  • Luke Tolley

    Wow, I’m sorry everyone’s had bad experience. I really enjoy my V-301. It works even better with a refill.