Those who love fountain pens usually know the Pilot Capless pretty well. It's one of the most famous fountain pens in the world, for many good reasons. Newcomers can be tempted to assume it's a bit of a gimmick, but it wouldn't still be this popular, over 50 years after its introduction, if it wasn't a very good pen.
The most notable feature is the one that gives it its name, and sets it aside from the vast majority of other fountain pens. Capless - it doesn't have a cap. That's because the Capless is a retractable fountain pen. As is more common with a ballpoint or gel pen, the push of a button extends or retracts the nib. It's quick and convenient in use, which many people love, but if it wasn't good to write with, the convenience wouldn't be enough for most fountain pen users.
Fortunately, it's a very nice fountain pen to write with, too. Their gold nibs are lovely - very reliable writers, with a little bit of spring to them.
So you get a really nice fountain pen, that's very good to write with, and it's retractable, making it quicker and easier to use? So is there anything not to like about these pens?
Well, there are some things that some people don't like, including trade-offs from making the pens retractable. For most of us, they're not significant problems, but we should really tell you about them...
The clip sits near the nib end of the pen, where you hold it to write. It's shaped to sit between your thumb and first finger, but if you have a less standard way of holding pens, it could be in the way.
It has a fairly small ink capacity when using a converter. It's not tiny, but Pilot's standard converter does have a smaller capacity than many others, and the Capless doesn't have room inside for the big push-button converter they supply with some of their high-end pens. Pilot's cartridges hold more ink than the converter, and some people who usually use bottled ink prefer cartridges for the Capless for this reason, along with quicker refilling on the go.
The long button and lack of a cap make for quite an unconventional looking pen. That might be a disadvantage to those who like to keep things more traditional, but many of us like pens that look a bit unusual.
The Capless is known as the Vanishing Point in the USA, and has been since 1973. Nobody seems to know why, but the Americans may have just thought it sounded better. It's the same pen, just a different name for a different market.
The very first Pilot Capless was released in 1963, with a twist-action to extend and retract the tip. Pilot were sponsoring the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, and wanted some spectacular products to showcase at the event. The Tokyo Olympics were especially important for Japan, as they were seen as a way to show the world how they had changed and improved in the years following the war, and a chance to present themselves to the world anew.
The Capless was perfect - a new product, something that had never been done before, and perfectly demonstrated Japanese ingenuity and invention.
The Capless has changed over the years, with the kind of gradual and continuous improvement that Japanese companies do so well. All the recent variations have used the same nib unit, internally, making them interchangeable. Along with the standard range, in lots of different colours, a few of the recent variations have been:
Decimo - a slimmer and lighter version of the Capless.
Carbonesque - the name given outside Japan to the finish known there as Kasuri. It doesn't look very much like carbon fibre, but it does resemble the Japanese dye-resist fabric, kasuri, with a subtle patterning and a choice of colours.
Birch Wood - beautiful wooden barrels give a more natural twist to these modern pens.
Stripe - a polished metal version of the Capless, with incised stripes in the metal barrels.
Namiki Raden - under Pilot's high-end Namiki brand (similar to how Toyota have Lexus), the Raden finish uses tiny pieces of abalone shell embedded into the lacquer barrel. More expensive than the standard finishes, this is still a remarkably low price for an example of this traditional Japanese craft - the finishing process alone involves 10 layers of hand-applied lacquer, to give a perfect finish and make sure the hundreds of shell fragments are sealed well inside the transparent layers.
Special Editions - Pilot produce limited edition colours or patterns for the Capless quite regularly, and they often sell out quickly.
Which One For You?
If that all sounds appealing, how would you decide which Capless is for you? Fortunately, it's not too difficult! The standard model is fairly wide, so if you prefer a slimmer (or more 'standard' width) pen, the Decimo is probably the one for you, and you just need to choose your favourite colour.
For those who like a thicker pen, all the others are for you - again, it's just a matter of choosing the finish you like, and you have a lot of choice. There are models with gold or rhodium plated trim, some with black coated trim, and each in a selection of plain colours. The 'Carbonesque' finishes add a subtle pattern and texture, and there are even options for those who like natural wood.
And if you want an example of traditional Japanese craftsmanship, the Namiki Raden is beautiful, but the painstaking process by which these are made means supply is very limited, so they aren't always easy to get hold of.
Whichever you go for, they all write just as well, with those lovely top-quality gold nibs.