I've reviewed Karas Kustoms pens on this blog before. And, if you're familiar with those reviews, you'll know that I generally give them pretty high marks. They're well-made, well-designed and priced reasonably for something made in the USA in a small shop in Arizona. So in that regard, this review won't be entirely different.
Since its inception, the Render K has been a solid choice for a daily carry pen that utilizes one of many popular refill types (Hi-Tec-C, G2, 110mm Refills like the Schmidt Fineliner, etc.). And the Fountain K took a more rugged, all-metal approach to the fountain pen, utilizing the popular Bock 060 nibs that are most notable in Kaweco pens.
But if you wanted a rollerball and a fountain pen, you had to buy both. Because the grip section designs prohibited swapping between them. But, Dan Bishop, designer extraordinaire, dog daddy, bearded teddybear and all-around swell guy decided he'd take the Render K lineup a step further and make it modular with swappable grip sections, nib units, caps, barrel materials and sizes... The whole nine yards. Let's take a closer look at the three pens in the lineup:
1. Render K
The new Render K Rollerball is compatible with the Pilot G2 and other similarly-sized 110mm refills. The Schmidt Fineliner is my go-to for this pen and it's a DREAM. Overall, it maintains a similar profile to the original Render K with a long, slender grip section that I find to be very comfortable. The body is slightly tapered (except of the Barstock versions) and the cap is threaded with knurling at the top and a clip secured by a pair of screws. Overall, this pen is sleek and slips into a pocket, pen case or bag with ease. In my opinion, it's almost a perfect pen. Almost.
My biggest quibble with the Render K (original and new version) is that the cap has a tendency to unscrew in my pocket. Unless I really crank it down when capping the pen, I almost always pull my pen out with a loose cap, and once or twice, I've pulled my pen out to discover that the cap has come off entirely. It's rare that the cap comes off completely, but it's a nuisance and something I'd like to see addressed in the Render K 3.0.
Karas Kustoms has also decided to abandon the Hi-Tec-C refill with the latest iteration which, in my opinion, isn't a loss for anyone as the Hi-Tec-C is completely inferior to the Pilot G2, Juice, and other compatible refills. And it also works with the Schmidt 5888 and Fineliner which are also great refills. Trust me, you're not missing out on anything by not using the Hi-Tec-C.
2. Fountain K
The Fountain K is a bit of a mixed bag for me. It has all the great features of the Render K, uses the excellent Bock 060 nibs (read: readily available and easy-to-swap) and is modular with the rest of the Render/Fountain K lineup. But the grip section, for me, is much too small. It's about the same as what you'd find on a Kaweco Sport or the like, but I just can't get on board with it. I find it to be a bit too short and a bit too narrow. The KK Ink 2.0, for instance, is a much better fit for my hand. That's not to say the Fountain K isn't likable. If you like a smaller or more narrow grip section, you'll love the Fountain K. But if you prefer something along the lines of the Ink, you'll likely not be happy with the Fountain K.
3. Mini K
In addition to the release of the newer, more modular Render K, Karas Kustoms added the Mini K to their lineup. This looks just like it's bigger brothers, but it's shorter for easier pocket carry. Because of its small stature, it uses the Parker G2 Refills and comes out of the box with the excellent Schmidt EasyFlow 9000. However, I prefer the Monteverde Gel Refills for my Parker refill-compatible pens. They come in a plethora of colors and are excellent writers. You can also swap in a Fountain K section and use short international cartridges if you want a pocket-friendly fountain pen.
I find the Mini K to be a mixed bag as well, though. For starters, the cap unscrews in my pocket, which makes it hard for me to recommend this as a pocket pen. And it doesn't post so it's very short. This is totally fine for jotting a quick note, but anything more than that and it gets uncomfortable pretty quickly, especially if you're using the Fountain K section in it as you can't really adjust your grip up or down to find a sweet spot that makes it comfortable.
In my opinion, if you want a pocket pen from Karas Kustoms, pick up the EDK. I absolutely adore that pen and, while not a fountain pen, it's a darn-fine pocket pen. It's retractable, long enough for longer writing sessions and small enough to be pocket friendly for EDC.
Perhaps the best part of the new Render K is it's modularity. Karas Kustoms offers a pair of conversion kits on their site depending on what you're converting. The Render K conversion kit includes a grip section, a body plug, a genuine 0.5 black Pilot G2 refill, and additional springs and spacers to be compatible with Parker ballpoint style refills while the Fountain K conversion kit includes a nib and grip section, along with 5 black Monteverde short international cartridges, and a K5 Schmidt cartridge converter.
You can add their "Conversion Tool" to your kit for $5 which will allow you to remove the body plug from the pen which is required if you're converting a Render K to a Fountain K. This is necessary because the Schmidt converter is longer than a G2 refill. I would like to have seen Karas Kustoms maybe source a shorter converter like the one used by Tactile Turn in the Gist Fountain Pen as I think it could fit without having to remove a body plug, eliminating the need for this part and its specialized removal tool entirely.
I don't like added springs and spacers and tools because it's just one more thing to get lost or fail or forget. All of these pieces and parts can be purchased from Karas Kustoms in the event you do lose them, but then you're out more money, shipping, time, etc. I'd like to see a future version of these pens that don't have a need for this plug.
With the introduction of the modular design, Karas Kustoms has given us some new materials as well. We still get the gorgeous anodized materials offered in previous versions, but the grip sections are now offered in five variations — Aluminum, Tumbled Aluminum, Black, Copper and Brass. The Barstock Render K is now offered with smooth caps (I really wish these were available on the other bodies as well) in Aluminum, Raw Aluminum, Tumbled Aluminum, Black, Copper, Brass and, occasionally, hand-painted Turquoise (be still, my heart). The bodies of the Barstock Pens are offered in Raw Aluminum, White Delrin, Black Delrin and Phenolic (otherwise known as Micarta). They're mixable and matchable and you can choose your section color, nib width, nib color, nib material, etc. making these pens incredibly customizable.
As much as Dan hates when I say it, I wish they'd offer this a-la-carte experience on the rest of their lineup. I've pieced together my own special edition of this pen with a Silver Body, Turquoise Cap and Black Grip by buying multiples and swapping parts, but I'd love it if I could just do this right from Karas Kustoms. I realize the logistical nightmare that this would create, but please? Pretty please? I can pay in tacos and/or burritos, which I know for a fact Dan loves.
All-in-all, I think the Render K is a stellar pen. I use one almost every day. And while I don't care for the grip section on the Fountain K, that doesn't mean it's not a great pen as well. I find the Kaweco sections to be quite small as well and given the choice, I'd take a Fountain K over any Kaweco pen any day of the week (which is why I own multiple Karas pens and no Kawecos). The Mini K is my least favorite of the bunch, but again, if you like small, pocketable pens and want that modularity that comes with the new lineup, the Mini K is a fun pen to have in the mix.
Regardless of whether or not you like these pens, one thing is for sure: Karas Kustoms is not stagnant. They are constantly designing, innovating and releasing new products. They are one of the few companies that are actively participating in the pen and EDC world and they have an open and honest line of communication with their user base which leads to products that meet and exceed our expecations time and again.
Because I love you guys and because it's National Stationery Week (cutting it close, I know) and because Karas Kustoms has hooked me up with some freebies in the past, I'm going to be giving away a pair of pens to two lucky winners (or one VERY lucky winner if your name gets picked twice).
First up is a white Delrin Fountain K with a silver grip section and cap. The other is a black Mini K with a silver grip section and one of the aforementioned Monteverde Gel refills. All you have to do to win is leave a comment below. You can also find me on Instagram @heymatthew and enter that way by liking the photo I'll have posted there. We'll run this out to Wednesday, May 3, 2017 at 11:59 pm EST. I'll announce the winner on Thursday, May 4, 2017 about lunchtime.
Thanks to Karas Kustoms for continuing to support the blog. I love the guys that work there and I think they put out excellent products worth every penny of your hard-earned dollars. Definitely visit them at KarasKustoms.com and see what they're offering. And look out for them at pen shows around the country. Find 'em, get your hands on some pens, and hug Dan for an awkwardly long time.
Thanks for reading,