Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Zoom 980

Tombow is a very minor Japanese manufacturer regarding fountain pens. So small, some might say, that there is not a single line about it on the book Fountain Pens of Japan, by A. Lambrou and M. Sunami.

The origins of the company date back from 1913, when founder Ogawa Harunosuke (小川春之助) open a stationery shop in nowadays Taito district in Tokyo. Therefore, the company is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. However, the brand name Tombow (トンボ, in Japanese)—after the word tombo, 蜻蛉, dragonfly— was adopted in 1927. At first, the production was limited to pencils and only in 1939 the company produced the first erasers. In 1963, the brand Mono for fine pencils started, and was soon expanded with some other high quality, or so the company claimed, products.


A Mono eraser (made in Vietnam) on a field of dragonflies.

The first fountain pens by Tombow were produced by the end of the 1980s with models Zoom 505, Zoom 909 and Zoom 828 (the Egg, already reviewed on these Chronicles). All in all, Tombow has produced only eight models of fountain pens: 505, 828, 909, 980, Object 202, Modena, Lucca, and the currently available Zoom 101.


The Zoom 828, the Egg. The fountain pen version was first marketed in 1989. The matching ball pen had been released in 1987.


The Zoom 101, made of aluminum and carbon fiber. This is the only fountain pen made by Tombow right now. It was initially launched in 2006.

The more characterizing element in modern Tombow writing tools, and not only on fountain pens, is the original design. Whether they follow a careful study of ergonomics and functionality or to a mere sense of eccentricity is open for discussion. The same, however, could be said about Lamy, with which some like to compare Tombow.

Model Zoom 980 was released in 1997 in a number of functions –mechanical pencil, roller ball, ball point pen and fountain pen— and in a number of colors. The unit reviewed in here is a fountain pen made in dark brown.


The external appearance of the pen is that of an almost perfect cylinder, an idea that had already shown up in several pens described on these Chronicles: the Muji fountain pen, and the Platinum Belage. And there is another characteristic in common to these pens: their caps are meant to be posted, and for such purpose, the barrel has a very distinctive shape. In the case of the Zoom 980, the cap is securely attached to the barrel with a very reassuring clack!


The tail of the Zoom 980 together with the cap. It attaches to the barrel very securely.


The pen is designed to be posted. But the center of gravity of the pen becomes over 2 cm higher.

The gripping section is metallic and shows a subtle concave curve. As was pointed out above, whether this detail is ergonomic or just cosmetic is up to each of us.

The cap screws onto the section without covering it. The threads are located just above the nib. This creates a configuration that could be described as sequential, cap-section-barrel, that allows for an unusually short cap. It is also possible to open the barrel without uncapping the pen. In this regard this pen is similar to the Muji fountain pen.


The steel nib, labeled with the company name, and the threads for the cap right above the nib.

The nib is made of steel and is very rigid. It is labeled as M and probably, given the policy of Tombow, at least F point also existed. This nib is correct but uncharacteristic, boring.

These are the pen dimensions:
  • Length closed: 142 mm
  • Length open: 123
  • Length posted: 151
  • Diameter: 10.5 mm
  • Weight: 21 g (with converter, uninked)

The balance is correct, especially if unposted. The company claimed that the short cap did not disturb the already low center of gravity of the pen thus providing a comfortable grip in any case. Maybe so, but better if unposted, and the numbers are stubborn: the center of gravity is at 60 mm from the tip if unposted, and at 82 mm if posted.

The filling system is by cartridge and converter, and uses the international standard. Cleaning the pen is easy, albeit removing the nib and the feed is not possible without special tools.


The Zoom 980 showing the international converter used to ink it.

All in all, this pen is correct and perfectly suited for its task. It is even appealing in looks. However, compared to other similar pens, I would rather use those by Platinum (Belage, made in the 1980s, or Cool/Balance currently on production) or by Muji. The price of the Zoom 980 was around GBP 50 in 2002, and that sounds expensive for what it actually offers.


Tombow Zoom 980 – Pilot Blue

Bruno Taut
Inagi, October 7th, 2013
etiquetas: Tombow

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