Pilot Custom 823 Fountain Pen Re-Review After 3 Years

Often, product reviews are done after using a product for a week or two. Maybe a couple of months. That can give an experienced reviewer a good idea of how a thing works. It can’t give a real idea of how that product will fit into one’s collection or life on a more permanent basis. That takes time. I have reviewed hundreds of products, if not thousands, over the last 10 years and lately I have been thinking about looking back at some of those products that I’ve been using for a few years.

This review will focus on the Pilot Custom 823 fountain pen. It’s a pen that I originally got in the mail from Goldspot Pens about three and a half years ago. The plan is this: look back at my early review of that pen, see if I still agree with what I said, and then talk about what I have learned about it since that time.

How did I like the Pilot Custom 823 back in 2019?

I loved it.

I thought that the nib was great, and I commented on how it hadn’t dried out on me yet. The grip section was great, the length and weight were excellent. It was immediately among my favorite pens.

I did wish that there were more nibs available on the model and more models in the line. When you have a pen this nice and a nib that is this good you want an excuse to get more of them. Why are there only two or three colors? Why are there only three nib sizes? That means that if I want to get all three nib sizes two of them are going to look exactly alike because the transparent version of the pen is not available in the USA. You can get other nibs for this pen, but those options seem to be unofficial and uncommon.

Do I still feel the same way?

You know, what? I do. I think I feel the same on every point I made three years ago. The medium nib on that pen is one of the best nibs in my accumulation. It is smooth. It has worked with every ink I’ve put through it. The medium nib is a little on the wide side, but I like it that way. I’m sure it would be a good platform for a stub or something like that, but I like the stock tipping so much that I don’t think I’ll ever do that to it.

The filling system is still good, and it fills most of the barrel on one use of the vac filling system. I tend to keep the same ink in this pen for long periods of time, and it doesn’t dry out at all even if I leave it in the drawer for a week without using it. It’s great for someone who keeps a whole bunch of pens inked at all times. That person is me. I do that.

When I’ve had custom pens made, I give them the 823’s stats as a rough guideline for my ideal pen.

I liked the pen so much that I bought an 823 in the amber color with a fine nib. That one is a bit more of a mixed bag. The filling system is still great, as are the size, weight, and all that. The nib, though, is too fine for me most of the time. It’s a perfectly good fine nib, but it is also much finer than the medium that I love so much.

Has the Pilot Custom 823 held up? Does it need any service?

It’s as perfect now as it was when I got it. No servicing or alteration has been needed. The piston is still smooth, and hasn’t needed any re-greasing or anything at all. Really impressive.

Tricks that I have discovered about using the Custom 823

The first thing everyone should remember about a vac filler is that they need to unscrew the tail end of the pen just a little bit. The 823 (and other pens like this) seal the section off from the ink in the barrel when the tail is screwed down tight. That’s a feature, but it can also lead to frustration if you leave it closed for a while and the nib runs dry while you can still plainly see ink sloshing around in the barrel.

Issues with the Pilot Custom 823 discovered over the years

The difference between the fine and medium nib is pretty dramatic. The fine nib is close to a western extra fine, but the medium nib is closer to a western broad. That isn’t a problem if you really like a fine nib, but I want a bit more line width in most cases, and the fine nib makes my writing look odd because I’m not used to it.

The filling system is great for holding ink, but it is also a real pain in the butt to get really clean. It takes SO MANY cycles of that vac system to get the ink out of the pen that I generally just refill it with the same ink instead of cleaning it out and filling it with a different ink. And then you have to let it dry for a really long time so that your next fill isn’t watered down. This is really the only thing I dislike about the pen, and that’s pretty minor.

How I use and don't use the Pilot Custom 823

The Pilot Custom 823 is great for long writing sessions and trips. It holds a lot of ink (in the 2ml range) and that means that you probably won’t need to carry extra ink with you. On the road or in the air, an 823 is ideal because you can seal off the section from the ink supply and you don’t risk any kind of leaking from shaking around or changing air pressures.

It’s also good for taking notes in a meeting. The nib doesn’t seem to dry out on me when I stop writing with it for a while, and it is ready to write when I need to jot something down. It also looks sharp without being ostentatious. I like a pen with some bling, but sometimes you might want a pen that is quietly awesome instead of shouting at everyone in the room.

On the other hand, the 823 isn’t a pen that I will just toss in my pocket when I’m going around town or running errands. It’s fairly large, and I have pens that are just better suited to that set of tasks.

The 823 is also not a pen that I’ll blithely hand over to strangers to use. It’s fairly expensive and a little fiddly. There are lots of pens that I’ll hand to just anyone, but I’m selective about who gets to use the 823. And I’ll watch them like a hawk unless I trust them.

Does the Pilot Custom 823 live up to the hype?

In short - absolutely.

It was a pen that I held out on for years. I’d hear that it was amazing, but I just kept not-buying one of them. I wish I hadn’t waited as long as I did. The Pilot Custom 823 is a pen that I’d recommend to anyone who is looking for the best pen in that price range. That range is high, but I would say that this is a pen that lives up to the hype and earns its price tag.

About the Author

Mike Matteson is an educator, gardener, and video game player when he isn’t creating stationery content on YouTube, Twitch, or his blog.

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