Pilot Custom 823

  • Where to buy: Outside of UK – [Here] is the link to Goulet Pens
  • Price: $288
  • Recommend?: Without a second thought. I now have two of these pens (one broad (this review) and another medium). I absolutely will get a third probably in a fine nib. I am completely certain in saying this.

This pen was bought by sumgai.

Pilot Custom 823 fountain pen review sumgai
Sumgai: Slang for some guy – a lucky person who goes to auctions/car boot sales and finds pricey pens for cheap prices.

This guy. I found it during one of my eBay pen search marathons. It was found with a few hours left on auction and with no bid activity.

Before getting into the review, I’m going to highlight a few things as they are important to my views on this pen.

I have heard good things about the Pilot 823 and I did my research way before I even found the auction. I discovered that Pilot UK are kind of lacking in terms of availability for products, because this pen is not available for purchase from retailers in the United Kingdom. I always thought this pen was an unnecessary premium.

Let me tell you – this is not unnecessary. It is a fantastic addition to my collection. I bought it a few months ago as of writing and it hasn’t been uninked since I bought it.

Pilot Custom 823 fountain pen review UK England United Kingdom

The Pilot Custom 823 is one of the top of the line pens offered by Pilot. I am not really sure what Pilot’s flagship pen is, but this pen certainly does have a flag at least. The pen has an MRSP of $360 (I think it’s actually retailed at 288), which comes in at about £278 [as of writing, 30/04/2017]. So consider the Pelikan M800 range, in Pound Sterling, anyway. So it is a pricey pen but you certainly get your money’s worth.

The 823 is a vacuum filling pen with a #15 gold nib, which I am told is the same as a #6 size nib that you may be more familiar with. Comparisons to the TWSBI Vac 700 shows that the nibs are the same size.

Pilot Custom 823 fountain pen review UK England United Kingdom Broad Nib

Vacuum fillers are fun little things. Or, rather, big things. They don’t work on the same principle of the vintage Parker Vacumatic fillers, which work on comprising a sac. There are videos and posts out there explaining how to use these filling systems. So I will only gloss over it in this review.

To fill the pen, you unscrew the end cap and pull out the rod. You submerge the nib into the ink (you cannot use cartridges or converters) and push the rod down. This creates a vacuum when the plunger gets to the bottom of the barrel; causing the air to move into the barrel to equalise the pressure. In doing so it draws ink up into the pen. There will be ways to maximise the ink filling capacity, and in that I will recommend watching video demonstrations, as writing out how to do it will be tedious.

Pilot Custom 823 fountain pen review UK England United Kingdom Vacuum fill TWSBI Vac 700

The ink capacity is huge as a result, as you can pretty much use the entire barrel; which you can’t necessarily do with piston pens as the piston mechanism takes up part of the barrel.

One of the things about this filling system that others enjoy is that you can ‘close’ the chamber. This means you don’t have to worry about variations in pressures when, say, flying. You won’t get ink burping if you close the chamber when flying (or, the risk is reduced, so long as you do it correctly).

Pilot Custom 823 fountain pen review UK England United Kingdom piston
Pilot say that you should “unscrew the end cap 2mm to allow for ink flow”. I measured it and it means unscrewing the end cap all the way.

This is a double edged sword, because it means when you are writing in long sessions, you will have to unscrew the end cap so that you can still get ink flow, as you will only be able to use the ink in the chamber. I don’t get annoyed about doing it – it takes 2 seconds and I don’t notice it when writing. If you don’t want to leave it open, you can always unscrew it and refill the chamber if you find it running dry. For example, if you don’t like the aesthetic.

The nib is 14k gold and this thing is smooth. I have a broad nib, so take into consideration that it might be a bit smoother than a fine(r) grade. Being gold, you do get a bit of spring and line variation, but it really isn’t that generous as you do get railroading quite quickly.

Pilot Custom 823 fountain pen review UK England United Kingdom nib

You can reverse write, but it takes the line right down to a fine and it gets quite dry.

Pilot Custom 823 fountain pen review UK England United Kingdom writing sampleAs you can see, the pen is a gusher. The ink that is laid down just looks stunning. The ink of choice is J Herbin Rose Cyclamen and hnnnnng. Fast writing, the feed keeps up impeccably well – take into consideration how wet this nib is; it shows just how well the feed keeps up with writing.

As expected, the writing experience is very nice, which you are almost guaranteed from Pilot.

Something that I didn’t include in the handwritten review is a comparison between the TWSBI Vac 700. Something that made me hesitate buying it (if I could) at retail was that I viewed it just as a TWSBI Vac 700 with a gold nib and a little sleeker (and it is; it’s more business like while I see the Vac as an industrial sort of design – much bulkier and less well integrated between body and section). The 823 is superbly well balanced and well weighted; it isn’t so heavy it’s difficult to write, nor too light that you forget you’re writing. I find that the Vac is a tad more tedious in terms of writing experience. Of course, there’s the gold nib that you have to consider and I find that an unfair comparison. I have never had a problem with a TWSBI nib and I have a fine and 1.1mm stub for my TWSBI Vac and they write perfectly, it’s just that the Pilot is.. Well, a Pilot nib.

The 823 has gold furniture, so that’s another win in my eyes.

Pilot Custom 823 TWSBI Vac 700 comparison review

Both pens measure up near enough the same (the TWSBI is just about longer uncapped) – another similarity is, of course, the vacuum filling mechanism. With the TWSBI you also need to extend the blind cap when writing for long periods. You can, however, disassemble both pens and you can unscrew the piston rod with the TWSBI wrench for the 823.

Pilot Custom 823 TWSBI Vac 700 comparison review

Aesthetically, it’s hard to describe this pen. The design is sort of conservative, but it is ‘turned up a little bit; with the use of transparent/translucent barrels. The 823 looks so much better than a Montblanc 149, which people tend to think of as a ‘business pen’. Both are cigar shaped and have that ‘business’ look to them, but the Montblanc is too boring compared to this.

I bought this pen pen eBay; so I didn’t have a say in the design. But I hope one day to own an amber barrel too. The broad nib is lovely but lately I have been jonesing for finer nibs, but using this nib does make me reconsider that. I also think this is closer to Western broads, if not then it’s only a hairline thinner.

Pilot Custom 823 size comparisons review Pelikan M800 TWSBI Eco Pilot Capless Vanishing PointThe Pilot 823 isn’t a small understated pen. I have large palms but relatively small fingers (to which my girlfriend teases me about..) and I find the pen sits comfortably in my hand, which is great because I hate posting pens.

Pilot Custom 823 size comparisons review Pelikan M800 TWSBI Eco Pilot Capless Vanishing Point

I got the Pilot 823 for a very good price. If you ever have the means to get this, even at full retail, then you will be getting yourself a FANTASTIC pen and I just can’t recommend it enough. If you were to ask me what a ‘next-next level pen’ would be, it’s this.


29g overall; 19g body; 10g cap


149mm capped; 130mm uncapped


  • Everything.
  • Large ink capacity
  • Nib writes phenomenally
  • Lovely design
  • Vacuum filling mechanism is fun
  • High price tag but 100% worth it


  • Large ink capacity isn’t for everyone
  • Wish to see this in other nib grades such as an EF and also interesting grinds such as cursive italic – though the latter grade is very ambitious to expect

3 thoughts on “Pilot Custom 823

  1. Daniel: Very nice review! The Custom 823 has been my “main axe” pen for nearly a decade, and I recently purchased a second one (technically my third; the very first one disappeared under mysterious circumstances). That first one came with a delicious M nib; the 823 that replaced it some time later came with an F nib, which on “first write” I nearly regretted, but gradually noticed that while the nib had noticeably more “tooth” than the M nib, it somehow had none of the scratchiness that made me avoid F nib pens up until then; I’m still at a loss as just how Pilot manages to walk that fine line, and do it repeatedly.

    My latest 823 has a M nib, as the first one did; it’s wonderful counterpart to the F version. (F version is Smoke, the new M is amber.)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s