I’ve been spending a lot of time swabbing inks recently. Maybe it’s because it’s a good creative break from writing my dissertation or because I’ve been inspired by InkyRocks videos about the “ink swamp” or “ink fever” phenomenon in Japan. Maybe it’s because there are some new nib stamps on the block that I can’t stop buying or talking about.
Whatever the reason, I have one desk in my office currently designated for all things work, and one desk designated for all things ink. I typically use paintbrushes and glass pens for ink swabs. I consider the paintbrush the “gold standard” of swabbing an ink, but brushes require time and dedication to clean properly between each ink. The same is true of speedball nibs. I love the thick, consistent lines of ink they put down on the page, but they are specifically created to keep ink in the nib as long as possible. So they too, take time and effort to clean.
Playing with ink is meant to be fun and relaxing, so I’m not saying speed and efficiency should be prioritized. But when you have minimal time to take breaks, you find creative ways to maximize that time. That “creativity” had me wondering if there were other options I had not previously considered.
Spoiler alert: Massive rabbit hole ahead.
It started rather simply. I found a foam swab on Amazon typically used for cleaning cameras and other electronics. I have no idea how I landed on the page, but the swabs looked like something I could take on the go to test inks when I couldn’t have a paintbrush with me. Am I going anywhere? Nope. Did that stop me from purchasing 300 of these swabs? Nope.
That was a bit of a mistake on my part because these very unelegant swabs somehow create REALLY nice, beautiful ink swabs. The bad news is they are not reusable, which makes them pretty wasteful- especially when you have to purchase a set of 300! Ideally, they would be something I would use sparingly.
I set out on a search for a replacement tool that was made of re-useable materials (I could have just gone back to the paintbrush, but what kind of fun would that be?). My search took me to some unexpected corners of the internet. I ended up with a set of cake decorating tools, a set of clay sculpting tools, and metal and silicone makeup spatulas. Because many of these tools came in sets, I got way more than I originally bargained for, but I’m getting ahead of myself here.
The first goal was to find a suitable replacement for my newly beloved foam swabs. I tested the plastic square tool from the cake decorating set and the tiny metal makeup spatulas.
I also tested the silicone brushes from the clay sculpting set and the tiny purple silicone spatulas.
Overall, all of the above tools get the ink onto the paper, but the end result varies a bit from tool to tool. Some show a little more shading than others or shading in a different part of the swab. The major difference between the paintbrush/foam swab and the rest of the tools comes when you are trying to make a straight line. Nothing really comes close to the clean lines of the swab or the brush.
However, if you’re going for a more abstract approach, the re-useable tools produce results that are much closer to the brush or swab.
The cake decorating and clay sculpting kits also came with tools with ball tips of various sizes.
It takes a little bit of practice, but these tools produce lines similar-ish to what you might get from speedball nibs of various sizes. The main difference is that you need to re-dip the tool into the ink every 1-2 letters. The upside is that means they are a breeze to clean.
The cake decorating set also came with some other wacky tools, and let’s just say I had some fun with these.
Unfortunately, many of the pointy tools that look similar to the tip of a glass pen are not very useable with ink. The ink just doesn’t get transferred to the tip of the tool with enough consistency to produce any kind of normal writing.
However, several of the tools here were particularly fun when you applied ink to the page first and then used the tool to spread the ink across the page. This was especially fun when multiple inks were applied to the page at one time.
Out of all the tools I used, there are a few that stand out as the tools most likely to get regular use in my ink rotation.
The silicone and metal spatulas are probably the most practical. They both suffer from the need to repeatedly re-dip into the ink, but they certainly get the job done. None of the tools replicate a paintbrush or the foam swab perfectly, but the silicone makeup spatulas in particular work in most situations and are tiny, re-useable, and ridiculously easy to clean. Meanwhile, the plastic ball-tipped cake decorating tools will likely become a new favorite way to quickly try new ink on different papers. They need to be dipped for each letter, but that forces me to slow down my handwriting and gives me the opportunity to switch inks if desired. The metal ones produce a similar result (and actually come in a larger variety of sizes), but the plastic ones are much lighter and more natural in the hand.
The two tools that surprised me the most and produced the craziest results were two additional cake decorating tools. I used a pipette to put two different inks on the page and used the tool to drag the inks across each other. The results produced some gorgeous colors. The blue curved plastic tool actually produces some really nice character and variation in the lines it creates.
I may not have found the perfect reusable solution yet to replace my foam swabs, but I definitely added several new unconventional tools to my ink desk.
I think I would call that a successful trip down a rabbit hole. Do you use any unconventional tools to test your inks?
DISCLAIMER: The items included in this review were purchased with my own funds. This post includes affiliate links. The Well-Appointed Desk is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon. Please see theAbout pagefor more details.
I recently fell in love at first sight with a pen – the Stipula Adagio and specifically the Seaglass variety. I fell in love with it just from the photo but then I started looking into the details a bit. Stipula, in my mind, is a rather expensive pen manufacturer – one that can charge higher prices because of the brand name rather than charging more for higher quality. I do have to admit, however, that this was an opinion created from looking at their pens rather than trying them out.
I was pleasantly surprised to find the price more in line with the current market once I fell in love with the Adagio. At Dromgoole’s, the pen has a list price of $175 with a discount making the pen $140. But looking at the pen online, there seemed to be a strange bump just above the metal section of the pen. In my mind that bump could be a deal-stopper even with the lower price and amazingly beautiful material. Larry Dromgoole allowed me to borrow one of the pens for a review so I could see if the invasively designed bump was actually bothersome or not.
The pen arrived in a very large box covered in a coordinated sleeve.
A BIG box.
However, the pen looked rather comfortable in the box – a soft bed perhaps.
The first thing that struck me as I picked up the pen was the weight. The Adagio weighs 42g closed and 22g uncapped. I’ve included our Common Pen Weights chart below. The Adagio uncapped is the same weight as a TWSI Eco that is capped and filled with ink. The cap alone of the Adagio is 20g. The cap can be posted (it will fit and stay), but doing so makes it very back-heavy. Don’t post.
The material is as impressive in-person as it looked online. Swirls of green, turquoise, silver with small inclusions of a rusty orange-brown that look like specks of sand or rock. All trim is chrome and sets off the colors quite well.
I was also surprised when I uncapped the pen. The cap is nearly half the weight of the pen and seems to mainly come from the finial, cap band and clip. The clip has the ability to clip even a jeans pocket and stays tight to any thickness – paper or clothing.
Then came the all-important question about the offensive bump. With my grip, the bump is directly under one of my fingers. Honestly, I never even noticed it. What I did notice, however, was the metal grip. Some individuals don’t mind a metal grip, others won’t use them at all. I personally don’t mind them as long as they aren’t too slippery. The Adagio has a grip that is more to the slippery side and could become a problem. Then I realized the bump kept the section from being a problem for me. It acts a bit as a stop for fingers to prevent slipping too far up the pen. It also acts as a tactile reminder of where my fingers are on the pen. Hard to explain but I didn’t mind the bump – rather the section was the thing that could be a deal stopper.
Sorry for all the tiny particles on the pen. Too many animals in the house make it impossible to get rid of it all. The barrel is actually smooth and not dusty. I was surprised at the opacity of the silver vein through the material but it makes the depth of the material much more apparent. So once again, Stipula’s decision is better than the one I would have made!
The cap band is one I would only expect on a much more expensive pen. The engraving makes the band look almost liked aged silver.
The Adagio is a piston filler, controlled by the metal back finial – again I was surprised at the feeling of quality to the piston – very smooth.
Holding up the pen to the light, the material is translucent – you can see the ink level through the barrel. When the pen isn’t backlit, however, the material is very hard to see through.
I had a bit of confusion at the end of the first day using the pen. I was turning off the lights in my office and noticed something glowing a bit on my desk. It wasn’t an after-image of anything – the pen glows very faintly in the dark! Not much, but enough to be noticed and make you think you are seeing things at first. Or at least that’s what I thought.
Size-wise, the Adagio capped is about as long as a Diplomat Aero or Lamy 2000. Uncapped, it is noticeably shorter. The section is comparable to the Aero as well although the Aeros that I own each have a matte coating to the section.
The Adagio that i used has a medium steel nib but it can be upgraded to a gold or even titanium nib (Stipula is known for their titanium flex nib). The steel nib was very pleasant to use, though. Smooth writing, no skipping and no adjustment was needed. I did notice that the pen had a tendency to dry out more quickly than most of my other pens. Now, I do live in an incredibly dry location, so it may not be as evident to others. However, the Adagio does lack a good seal when capped.
Overall the Stipula was a surprising pen. The features I thought would bother me actually helped. The pen materials and weight were very surprising. The overall quality of the pen was much higher than I expected. The Seagreen material surprised me several times (it GLOWS in the dark!). I think the Adagio is an amazing deal for the price being charged and the pen could actually be priced well over $200 but I’m very glad it isn’t! This is one pen I’m going to need to purchase for myself!
This week, Link Love is so full visuals that I urge you to click on the links just to see the photos, illustrations and graphics. I promise you it will be worth it. The images below are just a taste of the amazing things you’ll see if you CLICK through. It’s from the Creative Boom’s post about an uplifting campaign in US cities utilizing positive slogans to help motivate people through this tough time.
There’s also a great “VOTE” TIME Magazine cover by Shepherd Fairey, a gorgeous new book filled with fantastic portraits of Black children, a 20-second teaser video for the new Anderson Pens Retro51, a Wes Anderson-inspired book of places to visit (someday) and pictures of lots of delicious ink (including a shot from Pen Addict of one of our custom nib rubber stamps!)
Enjoy the eye candy and if you have a theory about the Pocket Pen theme this week, let me know in the comments.
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DISCLAIMER: This post includes affiliate links. The Well-Appointed Desk is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon. Please see the About page for more details.
The ubiquitous BIC ballpoint. We all have one, or have used one. Did you know approximately 60 BIC pens are sold every second. Its success relies on its affordable price point, reliable ink refill, and worldwide availability.
ēnsso was intrigued by the BIC pen and set about designing a premium, yet affordable pen that accepts all classic BIC refills- a pen that could serve a lifetime. The result is ARIA, their latest Kickstarter campaign. Aria has a streamlined design based on ergonomics, which is perfectly balanced for the most comfortable writing experience. The barrel also features integrated threads to securely close and post the cap while writing.
ARIA is machined from solid bars of space-grade (6061-T6511) aluminum and natural brass. The lightweight aluminum version is anodized in matte black for an understated and elegant aesthetic. The brass edition is heavier and offers a more tactile experience. The brass is left uncoated and will develop a patina over time. Such patina is appreciated by collectors but can easily be removed with any brass-cleaning product for a new and shiny appearance.
The ARIA design process took over a year to perfect and it is manufactured in California using state-of-the-art machinery with the best raw materials. ēnsso’s mission is to deliver a writing instrument to be used for many years with the highest quality and elegant design.
ARIA is available on Kickstarter for $29 (50% discount compared to future retail price).
• Closed length: 150 mm / 5.90″
• Open length: 145 mm / 5.67″
• Posted length: 159 mm / 6.25″
• Diameter: 10 mm
• Aluminum pen weight: 23.5 g / 0.85 oz
• Brass pen weight: 69.5 g / 2.45 oz
The Kickstarter campaign has 22 days left and has already met its goal!
Disclaimer: This post contains links to paid sponsors and affiliates. For more information, please see our About Us page.
I took fourteen of the most popular micro tip gel pens and tried to figure out which one is the “right one” for you. Some are hybrid ink, liquid ink or other modifications but I’m not a chemist so, from a layperson’s perspective, they are all appealing to the same consumer — someone looking for an extra, smooth, dark/bright pen. Of course, your needs may vary so I am comparing different characteristics: cost, smoothness, ink darkness, water resistance, and overall look-and-feel.
I purchased three core brands: Uni-Ball, Pentel and Pilot as well as a Zebra and a Morning Glory Mach 3 (recently updated to the Pro Mach). There are other micro gel pen options available but I wanted to get this posted and I could add pens endlessly and never finish this review. There is also alternate options for the same pen style (conical tip vs. needletip, capped vs. retractable, refillable/multi-pen, etc.) and I have not included all those variations. (Many of these pens are available in the Jet Pens Micro Gel Pen Sampler Set.)
Of all the pens I tested, only the five pictured above were capped models. All the rest were retractable designs. While I prefer the overall aesthetics of a capped pen, I reach for a retractable pen often because its quick and easy, especially for those daily notes taken between typing on the computer, meetings, list-making etc. where the cap-off time is minimal. When I sit down for a drawing session or a longer journal-writing project, then I’m as likely to choose a capped pen as a retractable. It’s worth factoring this into your gel pen decision.
The photo above shows the variety of tip and grip design differences. The pens I tested were about half conical tip and half needle tip. As long as the pen housing is stable (no wobbles), I prefer the needle tip over the conical but that’s just a personal preference.
Uni-Ball Jetstream: As predicted by all, the Jetstream is pretty darn waterproof. It’s the pen favored by discerning waitstaff for just this reason. It will also stand up to mixed media journal uses.
Pilot Acroball: Despite singeing the paper trying to dry my water swatches quickly, the Acroball ink did not move. If you are writing in unpredictable situations or want to mix your gel pens with watercolor, brush pen or other wet media, the Acroball is not going to bleed or feather. Be warned not to let me cook for you, I can burn water!
Uni-Ball Signo Needle Tip: I found the Signo Needle Tip to be ever-so-slightly more water resistant than the Signo UNM-155. There is a little bit of color bleed with the application of water but it’s minimal and will probably depend on the type of paper you are using and your dry time. I probably woudn’t recommend it for mixed media art work unless its your last layer but for writing, you probably don’t need to worry about getting a little water on your work and losing it all.
(Tie) Uni-Ball Signo UNM-155 and Zebra Sarasa: The water resistance of the Signo UNM-155 and the Zebra Sarasa were comparable and only slightly less resistant than the Signo Needle Tip.
If you want a good looking pen cup, these three are my top choices for aesthetics in the micro gel pen category:
Uni-Ball Signo UNM-155: The stealth black-on-black barrel, clip and grip make it streamlined and simple. The silicone grip feels nice in the hand but does attract lint and pet hair like crazy.
Pilot Juice Up 03: The Juice Up is another black-on-black with just the silver conical barrel and a clear ring at the top below the knock mechanism. The Juice also has a silicone grip section which can get lint-y but not as back as the Signo.
Muji/Pentel Slicci: I know its unfair to put this one in the list as it is not available online and I’ve been told that Muji is no longer offering this particular model. However, if you can this barrel design, it does accept the Pentel Slicci refills which it uses (as well as some others) and is clearly the winner in the aesthetics game as long as you don’t mind a capped pen. The barrel is a soft-touch material — not quite silicone rubber — that feels nice without attracting lint.
The Pilot G-2 is my least recommended aesthetically. I find the clip bulbous and juvenile looking and the clear ink window shows a weird yellow goo in the refill barrel that makes the pen look heat-damaged and sickly. Many of the other pens feature silicone grip sections which can be fairly streamlined like the Zebra Sarasa or overall bulbous like the Energel. On the subject of the Energel, despite having a large plastic grip section, it is the hardest, least squishy grip section. Sure they added grooves but to what purpose? When compared to the more streamlined capped Uni-Ball Signo Needle which has a small, slender cushion grip, the Energel grip seems relatively pointless.
Both the Zebra Sarasa Clip and Pilot Juice feature large spring-loaded clips. If you are inclined to clip your pen to your notebook, these may be stand-out winners for you.
Best for the Price:
Pentel Energel-X (BLN103)
Zebra Sarasa Clip
All three of these pens are under $2 each. The Sarasa is comparable to the Signo UNM-155 for water resistance and features a spring-loaded clip all for under $2. The Pilot Juice has the same style spring-loaded clip and a solid gel ink performance for less than $2 per pen. The Pentel Energel-X has one of the richest black ink in a micro gel. These are all great options at great prices.
My recommended choices:
Uni-Ball Signo 0.38 (needle tip or UNM-155): Whether you choose the needle tip, conical, retractable or capped versions, a Uni-Ball Signo is a must-have. It is my number 1 recommendation for micro gel pens. The ink is highly water resistant with a smooth, dark black.
Pilot Acroball 05: I confess I prefer the Acroball 05 over the Jetstream (I know — BLASPHEME!) but its ever-so-slightly smoother while maintaining the same ballpoint/hybrid quality of the Jetstream. It’s equally water proof compared to the Jetstream too (as long as you don’t scorch the paper!)
Pentel Energel 03: The Energel (X or RTX) are both super smooth with a rich, dense black. The ink is not water resistant but if you want liquid-like ink in a micro gel pen, this is your best bet.
Pilot Hi-Tec C/Pentel Slicci: These are the two original micro gel pens. While there is a little feedback when they are in use, they are still pens I reach for over and over again. The color ink versions are also appealing. They can be finicky to use sometimes, when they are working, they are beautiful.
My terrible intern:
Finally, I thought I’d share the conditions under which I have to work. Ollie, the shitty intern, continues to “oversee” work which is wholly unhelpful. Darn cute feet though.
DISCLAIMER: Some items in this review were provided free of charge by JetPens for the purpose of review and some include affiliate links. The Well-Appointed Desk is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon. Please see the About page for more details.
Popular pocket-notebook maker Field Notes Brand got together with 10 indie letterpress shops across the country, and the result is United States of Letterpress (three 48-page notebooks for $12.95). The limited-edition run is the 48th edition in the company’s series of quarterly notebook releases.
Each of three packs includes cover designs by three letterpresses. Each shop received a different cover stock to use, and the nine pastel colors make a cheerful and uplifting palette. Since some shops produced more than one cover design, the edition features a total of 16 colorful cover designs printed in red and blue (I love how the transparent inks appear green or orange in some applications).
In addition, the flysheets describing the series and the shop that produced each cover were printed by a 10th letterpress, Skylab Letterpress of Kansas City. It’s the only letterpress shop that contributed to every single book in the 40,000-pack edition.
Yet another press preprinted Field Notes’ standard cover elements and inner pages’ graph ruling. All told, US of Letterpress must be the most logistically complex edition produced by Field Notes. It’s also one of my favorites.
With direction given only on the ink colors to use, the shops were apparently given free rein to design the covers. The result is a wide variety of timely and socially conscious messages about empathy, community, citizenship, and the art of letterpress itself.
My favorite cover was designed by Springtide Press of Tacoma, Washington, just 40 miles down I-5 from me. I bet it’s a favorite of many other Desk readers, too.
The inside back cover of each notebook, which includes the standard colophon and practical applications (most of which must be letterpress in-jokes that I don’t get), has a unique feature: Instead of the usual 5-inch ruler, there’s a typography pica ruler. This sort of charming touch is one reason I keep buying and using Field Notes.
Oh, I was going to end there, but I almost forgot that this is a review, so I should say something about the paper quality, shouldn’t I? The innards are 60-pound, bright white Finch Opaque Smooth, which seems to be one of Field Notes’ regular choices. It’s ideal for pencil, ballpoint, and gel pens. Fine nib fountain pen users might get away with it also; broad nibs not so much.
Long ago, I quit whining about Field Notes papers not being friendly to fountain pens or watercolors (though I do use both on some editions containing more tolerant papers). The stationery and art supply markets offer plenty of small notebooks and sketchbooks that would accommodate those media. I use Field Notes because the 12-year-old Chicago company continues to embrace challenges such as collaborating with 10 independent letterpress shops to bring out a unique, complicated edition. Not many pocket notebook makers can say that.
I saw this set of Sailor Shikiori Brush Marker (Set of 20) awhile ago and I finally broke down and bought a set. Brush pens are one of my weaknesses and Sailor inks are another. When you put the two together, well, it’s basically crack in pen form for me. I couldn’t resist.
Shikiori is Japanese for “seasons” or “four season” and the colors included in this set are the same colors as the colors as the inks in the Shikiori bottled inks: Irori, Sakura Mori, Yuki Akari, Kin Mokusei, Yodaki, Okuyama, Yozakura, Chu-Shu, Souten, Doyou, Yonaga, Tokiwa-Matsu, Waka-Uguisu, Rikyu-Cha, Shimayo, Fuji-Mujime, Miruai, Nioi-Sumire, Shigure, Yamadori.
It was a bit of a challenge to match the pen colors to the names listed on the back of the package since the only writing on the pen barrels, besides “Sailor Shikiori” and “Fine” and “Brush” was written in Japanese.
The dots of color on the caps, hint at the colors but do not always accurately represent the ink inside. I would recommend swatching the pens yourself and keeping scratch paper handy in case you need to verify which color is which or making labels for the pens in your own language.
The brush cap end of the pen include a small nub that acts as a roll stop for the pen. The brush cap end also posts on to the fine tip end with no issues but the fine tip cap does not seem to post very well. The raised LEGO-style stud at the end of the cap appears like it should fit into the end of the brush cap end but it feels very unstable when I tried — like wearing a floppy hat on a windy day — like any second it’s going to fly off and hit someone in the head.
The brush tip is a bullet-shaped, fiber/felt tip that’s fairly stiff but has some spring. The material of the tip will probably fray on toothier paper or under a heavier hand. Luckily, in doing additional research, I found that Pen Boutique is stocking Shikiori marker pens individually ($3.99 each). If you do find yourself using one particular color more than others and need to replace just one or two, rather than having to buy a whole new set, you can buy replacements or if you would rather just try a couple of your favorite colors, this might be a good way to try out a few.
I’ve noticed several of the Japanese pen manufacturers are using this style of fine tip on their markers these days. I’m assuming its a type of nylon tip with a translucent white housing. Even with a loupe I can’t quite tell what sort of tip it has. The fine tip end writes comparably to a Sharpie pen or LePen putting it at about a 0.4-0.5mm tip.
Looking at the colors without comparing them to their fountain pen ink brethren, the color range is more sophisticated and mature. For the same reason I tend to prefer the color range of the LePen brand, the Shikiori markers also have a more muted, subtle palette. It’s been described elsewhere as being based on nature, the seasons, etc. and I can see some of that. Some of these softer colors do not work quite as well in the fine tip pens as they are too light to write with but might work for drawings, underlining or other purposes.
Since I am so familiar with the colors of the Sailor fountain pen inks, I wanted to compare the colors with their fountain pen inks and there was only one way to do this fast and efficiently: a video. The video below shows the inks with the brush pen equivalents, in the same lighting I do all my samples, on Col-o-ring paper together for the most efficient comparisons.
While I like the physical look of the pens and they perform fine as brush and fine tip markers, comparing them to the fountain pen inks in any way diminishes them in my esteem greatly. Sailor fountain pen inks, particularly THESE colors are some of the most important ink colors in my ink collection. I’ve told the story many times but Sailor Irori is THE INK I used to find the “perfect paper” for our Col-o-ring books. If Irori did not sheen, the paper did not make it into our next test bracket. I continue to Irori as my test ink for paper-to-sheen. It is not the sheeniest ink but it does sheen and if a paper can capture the sheen of Irori than its an exceptional paper. Yamadori is one of my favorite inks and for the brush pen version to be so faded a version of the fountain pen ink… let’s just say if Sailor had released a brush pen set and named it “Seasons of Japan” and given all the inks in the pens different names or numbers I would have given these pens a much more glowing review.
So, my biggest issue comes from my historical ties to the fountain pen inks. If you have no emotional ties to the fountain pen inks, go forth and buy these slightly overpriced Japanese brush pens. Should you ever cross over into the fountain pen inks, you may have a reverse reaction and think the fountain pen inks are too saturated and dark. Imagine the irony?
DISCLAIMER: The item in this review include affiliate links. The Well-Appointed Desk is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon. Please see the About page for more details.