Fountain Pen Review: Zebra Zensations

Review by Laura Cameron

Several weeks ago I was browsing JetPens and saw the 4-pack of Zebra Zensations ($9.75) and thought I’d give disposable fountain pens a try.

Zebra Zensations are plastic bodied disposable fountain pens. They come in a variety of colors including: red, green, blue, turquoise, black, purple and pink. My 4-pack included black, blue, purple and pink. All pens contain a 0.6mm nib that writes surprisingly smoothly. I would put it somewhere between a fine and medium nib.

The pens themselves are lightweight, coming in at 13g, but it’s about what I would expect for a disposable pen without filling mechanisms. In contrast the Papermate Inkjoy Gel comes in at 13g, Marvy Le Pens come in at a tiny 6g, and the Uniball Signo 307 comes in around 10g.

The pens are a nice length ranging between 4.9″ to 5.5″ depending on whether they are capped or posted. The pen also has a plastic clip that seems fairly sturdy.

The final feature that I really like is that each pen has an ink window on the side so you can see exactly how much ink you have left.

Impressions

The Zebra Zensations wrote very smoothly and started up right out of the box, which was a nice surprise. I had a few issues with skipping, but I am left-handed so I don’t know whether that was the fountain pen or me; I’m inclined to think it was my writing style.  The ink is quick drying – as you can see from above, swiping a fingertip over it just after writing only yielded a bit of smearing on the final few letters. I was also concerned that colors might run together if written over (i.e. the pink pen because it is a light color might drag the black ink along with it) but that didn’t seem to happen at all. Overall, I thought these pens wrote pretty well. Honestly, my biggest nitpick on these pens is that the logos and nibs weren’t lined up in every pen. In some cases a top view showed the nib inline with the logo, whereas some had the logo skewed or on the bottom. This isn’t a big deal, but for a Type A person it was something I noticed.

When I was in high school I had a teacher who used to refer to rule 37C which stated “there is a proper time and place for everything.” Sometimes a disposable pen is just what you need, and if you’re looking to try a disposable fountain pen I think these do an admirable job!


DISCLAIMER: The items included in this review were provided free of charge by JetPens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Link Love: Leaps of Links

There is SOOOOO much good stuff in Link Love this week, I don’t know where to begin. I say, click on every single link. Just do it. Work can wait. Dinner can wait. There are wonderful ink reviews, a great little intro piece on Art Journals, (oooo!) Jean Fick’s Notebook is amazing… everything Austin Kleon writes is inspiring (you really should just subscribe to his newsletter). Love mail? Consider reading about Informed Delivery. There’s even some tech talk and the antithesis of that: How to switch from digital to paper planning. We have something for everyone!

Pens:

Ink:

Pencils:

Notebooks & Paper:

Art & Creativity:

Other Interesting Things:

Intro to Vintage Esterbrooks

Esterbrook Purse Pens in pastels and brights

Editor’s Note: I asked Jesi to write this post. “How to get started with Esterbrooks” is something I’ve wanted to write about for a long time but with someone as knowledgeable about Esterbrooks as Jesi on hand to do a far better job than I would, it made sense for her to do it. She wanted me to make it clear this was not a sales pitch to buy her pens even if I say “Buy her pens” because I do. No bias. Okay, maybe a little.


Thanks, Ana! A bit of a disclaimer — in order to keep this post to something that is useful to those who are not yet familiar with Esterbrook pens (or vintage pens in general), I have glossed over many of the fine details about the pen company.  In order to learn more about Esterbrook in the present, read this post.  If you want more details, please see the amazing Esterbrook.net by Brian Anderson including his page of links for further reading.

I am known for having a bit of an interest in Esterbrooks (understatement). I first became enamored with vintage pens when I realized how many fountain pens were available but unusable due to their condition.  I’ve always loved fixing and tinkering so I picked up some broken pens at a show; the rest is history.

Esterbrooks seemed to be present every time I looked for vintage pens that needed repair.  There are a few reasons for this; Esterbrooks were one of the most popular pens in the 1930s to 1960.  They were everywhere because they were inexpensive and sturdy; workhorse pens that were made to stand up to years of use. Esterbrooks that are sold now are anywhere from 60 to 90 years old, still ready to be used daily.

Most Esterbrooks on the market belong to the J series. They are easy to identify by the colors of the pen body (black, red, gray, green, copper or blue), the striated, swirled pattern and the clip.  Shown below is an Esterbrook J on the right with an earlier Esterbrook dollar pen on the left.  The J below on the right is also classified as a “transitional” pen, identifiable by the lack of a jewel on the bottom. This example includes a jewel with three ribbed lines and — Esterbrook was transitioning from the dollar pen to the iconic J pen.

Green variations in Esterbrooks

Now for size.  The J series contains three sizes, J, LJ, and SJ. The J is the standard pen, 5 inches long and 1/2 inches in diameter.  LJ pens are the same length as the J pen, but more slender at 3/8 inches in diameter.  SJ pens keep the slender diameter of the LJ pens, but they are shorter as well at 4 3/4 inches.  The photo below shows an SJ pen between two J pens.

Grey variations in Esterbrooks

Pencils and ballpoint pens were also a part of the series, below is the photo of a pencil in the center. Ballpoint Esterbrooks can be difficult to find; the refill for these pens was a proprietary refill only manufactured by Esterbrook.  Once the company stopped producing these, the pens were nearly useless other than collecting and I believe many were thrown out.  However, due to the ingenuity of John Hubbard, adapters are now available to make these useful again.  Read this post to find out more.

Brown color variations

You may also notice that the pen on the left in the photo above has a different pattern on the body.  This is called an icicle pen for the straight pattern of the striations.  Due to the rarity of this pattern, it is a more expensive pen and sought after by many collectors.  It’s not often you see pinstriped pens!

The final type of Esterbrook I will talk about here is the Purse pen, often called the Pastel pen.  The size on these pens is CH, as slender as the above SJ pen but shorter as well.  They were produced to be used by women and were sized to fit in a pocket or purse.  These pens were sold individually or as a set.  The Petit Pak refers to a set of matching fountain pen and pencil that included a plastic sleeve (shown below on the left).

Esterbrook Purse Pens in pastels and brights

The Purse pens were produced in two different series which can be identified by the color of their jewels.  Those with black jewels were made between 1954 and 1957 and are true pastel colors; pink, peach, yellow, blue, aqua, gray, lilac, and white. The second series of Purse pens were not actually pastel colors.  They have jewels that (usually) match the color of the pen; Trianon pink, Aloha Yellow, Country Green, Peacock Blue, Tempo Red, and Arctic White.

Finally, the feature that set Esterbrook pens apart from most other pen companies at the time: the interchangeable nibs. Esterbrook produced many different styles of nib units that could be changed by the consumer; the nib units are removed by unscrewing and could be replaced by screwing in a new unit.  These units were available at two different price levels, the less expensive solid Durachrome nibs (the red and white boxes below) and the more expensive Master series (green boxes below) that were tipped with iridium. Each series contained a wide variety of nib choices, including extra fine through broad, stub and italic, flexible nibs and rigid.  Any of the Esterbrook pens (except specific models that I won’t talk about here) could use any of the nib units.

 

 

Esterbrook Nibs

I hope this guide has been helpful to anyone looking to start into the vintage pen world; I always say that Esterbrooks are a great way to dive into vintage pens and among the least expensive vintage pens to purchase.  Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!

Always Be Knolling

While researching a documentary on designer and photographer Herbert Matter, The Visual Language of Herbert Matter*, I went down a bit of a rabbit hole. Matter was the designer and photographer for Knoll furniture for many years, among his many notable career achievements. But what lead me to typing up this post was that I was reminded about “knolling”. Knolling is the original term coined for the craft of aligning objects at 90º angles. The term was coined in 1987 by Andrew Kromelow, a janitor at Frank Gehry’s furniture fabrication shop. Each day, Kromelow went the shop and found any tools that had been left out. He would arrange the tools on a flat surface so they were at right angles to one another. He called this knolling, since it reminded him of Florence Knoll‘s angular furniture pieces.

from Herbert Matter.org

This aesthetic also appeared in Knoll catalogs in the mid-century. The designer responsible? Herbert Matter.

from HerbertMatter.org

Matter used this technique in some of the photography work that he did for Conde Nast as well.

Tom Sachs, a former employee of Frank Gehry, also uses knolling in his studio for tidy, organized workspaces.

Penlux and Sailor swatches

Pentel EnerGel Clena Gel Pens

Today, we see knolling everywhere but many people call it “flat lays“. Instagram is awash in knolling. Catalogs, product photography, even we use knolling here on this blog.

Opus 88 Fantasia Green Orange Fountain Pen Comparison

All this kept me looking through other vintage designers (more rabbit holes) who have inspired me like Alvin Lustig, Giovanni Pintori, Irving Harper, and Ray and Charles Eames.

Pintori for Olivetti

Pintori used knolling for Olivetti typewriters paired with his graphic illustration style. His sense of color!

Ray & Charles Eames chair wires

Ray & Charles were human knolling.

Once again, I’ve gone a little off-topic this week but I used to do a design blog called Pica + Pixel (my friend Kirsten and I did it together but the site seems to be gone now) where a lot of things like this would have existed, and my post last week about Flickr. While I don’t imagine I will do this type of thing regularly, I hope you’ll forgive my occasional off-topic posts.


*My rabbit hole had a rabbit hole. I discovered Kanopy, a digital media streaming service that links into

A Tale of Three Planners

By Jessica Coles

I often joke that my planner contains my life.  Earlier this year, though, that joke turned out to be true; I lost my Hobonichi planner during the Chicago pen show and my organized life went with it.

This is where I wish I could tell you that planners are a great thing but really not necessary for life.

I won’t tell you that at all.

With four kids, two cats, and a dog, just making sure everyone is fed and clothed is challenging.  But trying to organize and remember school activities, play rehearsals, doctor appointments, and family events on top of the day to day schedule is more than my brain can hold.  After losing my planner, I began dropping the ball on everything!  Even though we were halfway through the year, I ordered a new planner and life soon settled into a normal rhythm once again.

Knowing how important my planner is to me, I’ve approached this year’s selection seriously.  My favorites so far are here.

An Addition

My first choice is not actually a full planner in itself.  Hobonichi has been my planner for the last two years, but I miss the ability to see my entire week at once.  I’m hoping that the addition of this insert helps.

This insert is also made by Hobonichi and is the same width and length.  The Hobonichi weekly insert is only about 1/4 the thickness, however.  It is supposed to be used in conjunction with another A6 sized Hobonichi and can fit in the same cover if you use one and I will be using it to juggle the entire week to make sure everyone gets to everything on time!

This gives extra space to block out time or to follow the flow of your time throughout the day.  The paper is the same weight as all other Hobonichi planners meaning that it is perfect for fountain pens, but gel pens do show through and can bleed through as well.

For My Desk

I was sent a beautifully bound planner earlier this year (I was so excited to use it.  Then I remembered I needed to wait until 2019!)

This planner ($35), by Easy Tiger, makes me laugh every time I open it.  Sarcasm and witty sayings add a wonderful touch to this book.  Earlier, Ana wrote about the smaller version of this same book; the smaller format still packs in the same information and seems to leave little space for writing.  But this larger version seems to have plenty of room in my opinion.  It won’t be my only planner, but it will be the perfect spot to keep track of a to-do list, write down notes from phone calls and doodle throughout the day.

The paper in the Easy Tiger book is higher quality than any other planner I have found that is not marketed to the fountain pen world.  Fountain pen ink had a few dots of bleed-through with a medium nib, no bleed-through with a fine nib.  Gel pen and pencil wrote beautifully.

(Front with writing)

(Back side of the written page)

I enjoy seeing the small tidbits of information each day; who was born on this day, important past events, what is remembered or celebrated on each day, the number of days left in the year.

An Alternate

I have one other planner that will be joining the line up as well.  The Pat-Mi calendar system.

This thin folder is approximately the same size as an A5 notebook but is less than 1/2 an inch in thickness.  The red board is thin but doesn’t bend, meaning it is perfect for supporting the calendar when no other surface is available.

My favorite part of the Pat-Mi planner is the separate book for each month of the year, however, two months fit in the folder at any given time. This allows for some future planning but the folder remains thin enough to add very little bulk to the rest of your bag.

To start the year, I have January and February loaded in the folder; the back cover of each booklet slides through an elastic band to hold it to the cover.  When both booklets are opened, the staggered pages allow you to layout two full months together.

The layered pages give a monthly and weekly view at the same time while the two booklets in combination give a continuity between months.

At the beginning of February, book 2 is moved to the upper elastic and book 3 is added to the lower.

The paper in the Pat-Mi planner is lightweight but holds up well to fountain pens with a fine nib, gel pens and pencil.  Nibs or ink that tend towards the wet side may show a bit on the opposite side, but should hold up well to normal writing.

(Front with writing)

(Back side of the written page)

Wrap It Up

The coming year is getting closer by the day, but this year I feel like at least my planner setup is ready to go!  Since even the best plans can go awry, however, I will be revisiting the same setup later in the year. Keep your eyes open for that update!


DISCLAIMER: The items included in this review were purchased by myself, provided free of charge by Ana Reinert (Editor’s Note: I bought it with my own money but I work for the company. See About Us for details) or from Jet Pens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

 

Notebook Review: Hallmark Traveler’s Notebook & Inserts

Notebook Review: Hallmark Traveler’s Notebook & Inserts

I’ve been meaning to write up this review for ages! Hallmark released a series of notebooks and covers in the spirit of Traveler’s Notebooks and I wanted to try them out and see how they performed. I purchased several different packs of the notebooks because I loved the cover designs and they even had a set of planner style books. I also got one of their gold faux-leather covers as well. I was not able to find the cover listed on the web site but I found a similar cover in chambray fabric (blue or tangerine) for $24.99. Each cover includes one, lined notebook. The cover I purchased may still be available in your local Hallmark Gold Crown Store.

Gold Notebook Cover

The notebook cover is faux leather in a soft gold with coordinating elastic closure and elastic pen loop. The covers are actually stitched over board so unlike most Traveler’s Notebooks, they are stiff and supportive, not floppy.

Inside Gold Notebook Cover

Inside, there are two business card/credit card-sized slot pockets and a larger slot for ephemera. There are two elastics for notebooks. Both the front and back covers have vertical slots to tuck additional pages into your cover. On the back cover, there is an extra secretary pocket.

Notebooks were available in two sizes:  A6 (105x148mm) and the larger B6 size (125x176mm) that fits in the cover shown above. When I realized that the smaller books were A6, I snapped up a couple packs since I knew those would fit into other covers I already owned. The kraft colored covers contain kraft paper inside. The other sets have white paper inside. Each set contains three notebooks: one lined, one dot grid and one blank — even the kraft set.

The B6 sized notebooks are $11.99 for a 3-pack. Each notebook has 40 pages. The A6 notebooks are $9.99 per 3-pack and each book has 75 pages.

Scribbles Notebook Set

The A6 kraft set had copper foil on the covers and each cover had a different design. I also got a B6 set in kraft that had copper foil and a different design on each cover.

Assorted Hallmark Notebook Sets

Kraft Notebook set

While I knew black pen would show up well, I was excited to try the kraft books out with white gel pen. The gel pen showed up great. The smudging was entirely user error — lefty stuck her arm in still-wet ink. I think other pastel or metallic gel pens will also look great. I think these books will be great for collage, doodling, colored pencil and markers.

Notebook Planner Set

Inside Notebook Planner Set

The set of Organizational Notebooks are available in the B6 size and come with one To Do, one Daily and one Goals book. Inside, the pages are pre-printed with light grey markings. The Goals book offers space for four goals per week, four weeks per page. The Daily book has AM and PM on the lefthand side, a To Do list on the right and the bottom third reserved for notes. The To Do list book is broken into four sections on each page: errands, phone calls, emails and groceries. My instinct is that you would not need to use all three books together but chooses which book best suits your needs at any particular point in time and use that as needed. If you keep your schedule digitally, maybe you just need the Weekly Goals and the To Do lists? If you utilize the Daily Schedule which has the To Do list on it, you might not need the separate To Do List? The three notebooks present a very different way to organize tasks.

Hallmark Notebook pen tests

Of course, none of this is relevant unless the paper is good. And lo and behold… it is! The lined and blank is my favorite, of course. The lined has a space at the top of each page for the date which is handy and the blank is excellent for someone like me who prefers to be freeform and all-over-the-place. The dot grid dots are super close together and a bit larger than necessary. I think its a 2mm grid and the dots are BIG. However, I have used the dot grid first because I am a midwestern, middle class human who uses the thing I like least first to “get it over with” and they don’t bother me as much as I thought they would. But if they were have the size, I would be SO much happier. Honestly, its my only gripe.

inside Hallmark Notebook pen tests

Because, would you look at that? That’s the back of the pen test paper. Not the least bit of bleed or show through. That paper is top-freakin’ shelf. Color me impressed.

Hallmark A6 size notebook in Hobonichi

And here’s the thing that makes me happiest. I am sticking the smaller A6 books in my new Hobonichi cover because its November and I can’t use my new Hobo planner yet but I can use my cover.  This fine Hallmark paper and these fun little books with paper WAY better than some other books which shall not be mentioned is making it possible to bide my time until January.

I’ve used the books to track my travels and daily activities. We even stamped heavy, alcohol-based, ink stamps in NY at the flagship Muji store when Brad and Myke and I were traveling. The stamps didn’t feather on the paper but there was a little show through on the back. Not too shabby!

Check your local Hallmark Gold Crown store for these Customizable Notebook covers and Notebook Sets. My shop carried a charcoal grey faux leather cover as well as the gold plus the chambray covers.


Full Disclosure: I purchased all the notebooks and cover reviewed here with my own money but I do work for Hallmark Cards, Inc. No one asked me to write a review about these products and all opinions are my own. Please see our About Us page for more info.