Posts Tagged ‘review’

Pen Review: Sakura Ballsign 0.4 Gel Pens

Sakura Ballsign 0.4 pen header

I know, I know… I need more gel pens like I need a hole in my head but I decided I just had to try the whole rainbow of colors of the new-to-me Sakura Ballsign 0.4mm gel pens. These pens are Sakura’s entry into the already-heavily-fortified gel pen category with heavyweights like Uni Signo, Pilot Hi-Tec-C, Zebra Sarasa and many others. So, the question is what does Sakura bring to the category that the others don’t?

First thing to note is that the Ballsign pens are very slender with a bulbous grip section that has a grippy, elastomer material. Despite being odd looking, the shape is smooth and fits comfortably in the hand and the unusual grippy material is not as sticky and dust-collecting as silicone but still manages to feel good in the hand and counteract any slipping that might be caused by a tight or sweaty grip.

The Ballsign gel pens come in an array of colors. I purchased every color available in the small 0.4mm size which is the smallest tip available. There are neons, metallics and glitter options at 0.6mm and 0.8mm sizes. I will probably give some of those a spin based on my initial impressions of the 0.4mm gel pens.

The Ballgin gel pens are spring-loaded retractables and I quite like the mechanism. The tips are held in place pretty firmly with very little wiggle and the spring mechanism is easy to use. The clear barrels let you see not only the click mechanism and spring but there’s also a small transparent window to see how much ink is left. The top half of the barrel is painted in solid color to make it easy to find the pen you want.

Sakura Ballsign 0.4 pen set

The ten-pack set ($27) included: aqua blue (I labelled this Lt. Blue), black, blue, brown black, green, orange, pink, red, violet (I mislabelled this purple) and yellow. I also bought additional colors separately ($2.70 each) so that I’d have the full color range. The extra colors are: rose pink, cherry pink,  lime green, red orange, and blue. I mixed up all the pink colors immediately so I’m not sure which pink is labelled which way. Reviewing the samples on JetPens, I noticed more color differences between the pink and the cherry pink. The rose pink is the one I labelled “fuchsia”.

(Sidenote: I didn’t put the pens back correctly in the package because, like a kid, I dumped them all out and organized them in rainbow order and started doodling and writing. I do not have good impulse control when it comes to new office products.)

So now that I’ve cleared up all the naming inconsistencies, let’s discuss the performance.

Sakura Ballsign 0.4 pen color sample

The ten-pack set ($27) included: aqua blue (I labelled this Lt. Blue), black, blue, brown black, green, orange, pink, red, violet (I mislabelled this purple) and yellow. I bought the additional colors separately ($2.70 each): rose pink, cherry pink,  lime green, red orange, and blue. I mixed up all the pink colors immediately so I’m not sure which pink is labelled which way. Reviewing the samples on JetPens, I noticed more color differences between the pink and the cherry pink. The rose pink is the one I labelled “fuchsia”. So, now that I’ve cleared up all the naming inconsistencies, let’s discuss the performance.

The yellow is a bit too light to use for writing but all the other colors are very appealing. The lime green is also a little too light but its a bright, clean color so I’ll still probably use it. I love that they included the blue-black as a standard color in the 10-color set rather than the blue even though I like the blue color a lot. If I were to redo this order, I would still have bought the 10-color set but I would have only supplemented the basic colors with the red-orange and blue. The lime green is not the best and the pinks are all pretty similar. I’m not girly enough to need three shades of pink. But feel free to disagree.

Sakura Ballsign 0.4 pen writing sample

Each pen had the little globs of blue rubber on the tip to protect them from maybe drying out that I had to flick off. Once removed, these wrote super smooth and started immediately. I ended up finding the grip, despite looking sort of bulbous, are very comfortable to hold. I love the knock retractable feature.

I know folks love the Zebra Sarasa Clip clips but I’m kind of okay with the teeny tiny Ballsign clips. They keep the pens from rolling off my desk and since I don’t keep my pens in my shirt pocket, I don’t really need a big clip.

Sakura Ballsign waterproof test

At the last second, I realized I hadn’t done a waterproof test. Most gel pens are not particularly waterproof so I was going to skip it completely but I decided to test it anyway. I put a few Ballsign gel pens up against a few Pilot Hi-Tec-C Maica pens I had sitting on my desk. And the grand differentiating feature was revealed! The Sakura Ballsign pens are pretty darn waterproof. After I took this picture I scavenged around and found a couple Pilot Juice and Uni Signo refills and tested those as well, for comparison sake. The Pilot Juice inks smeared with water like the Hi-Tec C. The Uni Signo refills bled a little, depending on color. The red more than the blue black I had, for example. But the Ballsign gel pens definitely stand out for water resistance in the gel pen category.

So, if you’re in the market for a wide variety of colored gel ink pens and don’t mind the comewhat unorthodox shape of the Ballsigns, I highly recommend them. Even if you do think they are a little wonky looking, add one or two to your next JetPens order and let me know what you think. I think you’ll agree with me… a little odd but a comfy, good little pen!

Review: Bic Intensity Marker Pen (Set of 7)

Bic Intensity Felt Tip Pens

When I spotted these Bic Intensity Marker Pens in a set of seven colors at my local big box office supply store, I couldn’t resist trying them out. Its not often that I spy something in the big box store that I can’t resist. I could tell form the moment I picked up the blister pack that this was Bic’s best efforts to compete against the Sharpie Pen so I needed to see for myself if it could hold its own against such a reliable tool.

Bic Intensity Felt Tip Pens

The Bic Intensity Marker Pens are listed on the packaging as smudgeproof and permanent. The package also lists the tip size as “fine” — equally vague sizing to the Sharpie Pen. The pack I bought included a black, blue, purple, orange, red, pink and green pen. The overall look of the pens is “shiny”. The black barrels are covered with zoom-y metallic silver graphics and the caps include a sturdy, metal clip. The clip is arched away from the pen cap which leaves space to attach the pen to a notebook or binder but it does make for a strange profile. The caps are also slightly metallic which wasn’t as noticeable in the vacform packaging. The ink colors are indicated by the colored plastic cap and the end cap on the pens. The colors of the plastic are not particularly true to the actual ink colors but they are in the ball park.

I don’t understand why American mass production, disposable pens have to be quite so “high tech” looking with lots of silver graphics and shimmery nonsense. Its a plastic marker pen, people… not the Space Shuttle. That said, this is not the worst looking big box pen I’ve ever seen.

Bic Intensity Felt Tip Pens

So, let’s get into the true functionality of these pens. I was a little thrown by the pen cap colors hoping that the colors of the ink would match the complexity of the cap colors. But alas, no.

Thankfully, the black ink is a pleasingly, dark black and a total competitor for the Sharpie Pen. The red is a bright, true red. The blue was not a traditional blue pen blue but rather a lighter sky blue. The green is a bluish, emerald green color. The orange is a nice, juicy orange and the pink is actually a bit muted and not as raspberry as the cap eluded it might be. And finally, the purple is a muted, lavender color. I actually really like this color after I got over the initial shock of the purple not being a true violet color. All in all, the color range is okay. Some colors I quite like but for a standard array of six colors plus black, I was expecting more “intensity,” as the brand name implies. In actuality, some of the colors are quite light or muted.

Bic Intensity Felt Tip Pens

Above you can see the wet, water test. No blurring or smudging at all which vastly improves these pens in my eyes.  Their waterproofiness means they can be combined with other art tools like watercolor, inks, pencils and the like and not blur. It also means they would be great for addressing envelopes or for anyone who might end up exposed to the elements. Big PLUS!

Bic Intensity Felt Tip Pens

And finally, a quick visual comparison of the tip size of the Bic Intensity to the Sharpie Pen and a Sakura Pigma Micron (0.3, I think). Despite my slightly fuzzy photo, you can see that the tip size is very comparable.

So, why would you choose the Bic Intensity pens over the Sharpie Pen or a Sakura Pigma Micron? First, availability. If your local discount store or big box office supplier stocks these locally, grab a pack. Second, price. The Bic Intensity is competitive to the Sharpie Pens and a little cheaper than Microns. If cost is a big deciding factor for you, than the Intensity pens maybe a little less expensive or on sale at your local shop. In terms of overall performance, you’ll be just as satisfied with these as Sharpie Pens. Finally, the more robust clip on the Intensity might be to your liking if you have ever snapped the clip off a Sharpie pen.

Let me know if you try these out. I’d love to hear what you like (or didn’t like about them).

From The Archives: Papermate Flair

from-the-archivesAfter attending Mike Rohde’s Sketchnotes Workshop, I rekindled my love for the PaperMate Flair. When we arrived for the workshop, each student was given a notebook and a PaperMate Flair. I hadn’t looked at or used one of these pens in a decade at least.

The PaperMate Flair is a simple, medium felt tip pen with a conical felt tip. The body of the pen is 100% old school. It has a softly tapered shape — wider at the center of the pen and tapering to narrow flat end at the cap. It doesn’t taper as much toward the end of the pen but the plastic has a matte look and feel. The cap has a slim metal clip.

This design probably hasn’t changed in 50 years. Actually, according to PaperMate’s web site, its only been 49 years! So its really a classic look and I’m so glad it hasn’t been changed.

PaperMate Flair Pen

While I have maintained an on-going love for felt tip pens, I have used mostly fine tip models like Sharpie Pen, Sakura Pigma Micron and Marvy LePen for the last few years. Uncapping the Flair is a trip down memory lane. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed using it after so much time. Its not the most elegant writing tool with its wide soft tip but it writes with a rich black line that makes labelling tags, file folders and other cases where a wider tip might come in handy. The Flair differ from the Sharpie marker in that they are not alcohol-based so the Flair do not bleed as much making them good for day-to-day office/school use.

The soft, felt tip will wear down over time especially on rougher surfaces. However, the Flair pens are reasonably priced. I bought a box of a dozen for about $10. So the shorter life span of these pens are too devastating.

I expect I’ll keep one tucked into each case and bag for writing notes and the occasionally doodle. They are just so classic and offer a writing quality that’s not available in many other pens.

The PaperMate Flair is also available in an array of colors (16, to be exact) and in an ultra fine tip which I’d be curious to find and try.

PaperMate Flair Pen

When left to dry for 10 minutes or so, the ink is fairly water resistant. But I do think it needs a little time to cure.

From the Archives is a series where I dig up old favorites, old classics and long forgotten tools and give them another look. Are they as good as I remember?

Review: Sharpie Gel Highlighters

Sharpie Gel Highlighters

In my recent wanderings in the local big box office supply store, I came across the Sharpie Gel Highlighters. I’d been meaning to try these out for some time so I grabbed a three-pack with one each of yellow, orange and pink highlighter.

Sharpie Gel Highlighters

The Sharpie Gel highlighters have an unusual oval shaped barrel that is actually quite comfortable in the hand and keeps them from rolling off the table. There’s a clip on the stubby little cap that is part of the molded plastic cap. The clip would probably accommodate a notebook cover or pocket but not much else as its not very substantial and might end up snapping off if forced too hard.

Once uncapped, I discovered that the GEL wasn’t the same as gel ink (like you’d find in a Pilot G2 pen or a Hi-Tec C) but rather a a solid stick of a gel-like material. I can’t even think of a good comparison — maybe something between a crayon and a solid antiperspirant? Anyway I try to describe it, its quite unique. Since its a semi-solid material, the more its used, it will wear down so the bottom end of the pens has a twist mechanism to advance the Gel to the end like a twist mechanical pencil.

Sharpie Gel Highlighters

Did I mention that the highlighters smell like gummi bears?!?!? I haven’t wanted to sniff a marker since those grade school “smells like blueberries” markers as I do with these Sharpie Highlighters. That said, theses highlighters really do what they claim which is that they do not smear when applied over ink. Not fountain pen (your results might vary here as I did not test every fountain pen ink available), not felt top or gel pens. Not even pencil. And once the Gel Highlighters are applied to paper, they didn’t smear either.

I really like that Sharpie has attempted to rethink the highlighter, especially in light of how often gel pens are used these days and how easily some inks are to smear with traditional highlighters. These are definitely worth seeking out next time you’re near an office supply store.

Did I mention they smell like gummi bears?

Pencil Review: Koh-i-noor Special “Magic” Color Pencil


Kohn-i-noor Special MAGIC Colored Pencil

After the article several weeks ago from the NY Times about the tools used by famous artists, I fell under the spell of the multi-colored colored pencil used by Milton Glaser. My friend Kirsten confirmed that Mr. Glaser really does use these pencils. He taught one of her graduate classes at the School of Visual Arts so she confirmed the story with some degree of authority. To say I’m jealous she saw his pencil handiwork in person would be understating things a bit.

It took awhile to find a dozen of these gems. I ended up buying them from a vendor on Amazon who was in Europe. The listing officially calls these pencils “Koh-i-noor Aristochrom Magic – 12 Pencils with Special Multicoloured Lead“. For the sake of ease, I refer to them as Koh-i-noor Magic Pencils. The box of one dozen was $14.50 plus $8 shipping which makes these pencils more expensive than Palomino Blackwings. But needs must, right?

The pencils came in a slightly mangled yellow box with the Koh-i-noor/Hardtmuth logos on the box. They had been shipped in nothing more than a kraft envelope so the mangling was a result of the postal system. The box isn’t anything special so the fact that all the pre-sharpened pencils were safe meant the box served its purpose.

Kohn-i-noor Special MAGIC Colored Pencil writing sample

This pencil was freshly sharpened using the KUM 2-step long point sharpener. Beautiful!

Inside were the dozen pencils I most coveted. The pencils are hexagonal with gold metallic paint and the only branding is ink jet onto one facet in black. The text includes “060”, a lengthy stock number and bar code, “Koh-i-noor” and “3400”. I wish the branding had been foil stamped onto the pencil instead of the super-cheap looking ink jet but these pencils are probably not very popular or produced in extremely large quantities so they don’t get as much attention as a traditional graphite or single color pencil.

The end of the pencil is shaped into a low profile cone shape and is not dipped. Its exposed natural wood. Its a weird detail that I’m not crazy about but the simple gold paint on the rest of the pencil makes up for the unusual treatment of the end. I’d love it if the end were dipped in a glossy black to give it a truly regal feel but there aren’t a lot of options for “magic” pencils so I’ll take what I can get.

The real reason I love these pencils is the three-color lead. Red, blue and yellow pigments are blended into the lead in small chunks so that, as the pencil is used, the color changes. The blue is a deep indigo blue and the red and yellow are pretty much primary colors. What I discovered over the last few weeks of using these pencils is that by turning the pencil a little bit as I’m using it, I can force lighter or darker colors to appear as I need them.

Kohn-i-noor Special MAGIC Colored Pencil writing sample

The composition of the pencil lead is definitely wax- or oil-based as it is not water soluble. This makes it easy to add other materials like watercolor paint, water-based markers, ink, or pen without blurring your linework. It also means that the marks don’t smudge, which is quite pleasant.

On regular paper (like my Rhodia test paper) the Magic pencil does not erase well. I suspect that on a primed surface like gesso, it might be easier to erase but for doodling and sketching, be prepared to leave the lines where they are. Loose-y and goose-y is the best way to enjoy these Magic pencils.

I know these pencils won’t appeal to everyone but I they are such wonderfully unique tools that I couldn’t resist sharing them.

Recap: Sketchnotes Workshop with Mike Rohde

Sketchnotes presentations

Saturday, I attended an all-day workshop with Mike Rohde, author of The Sketchnote Handbook. The workshop had been organized by the Kansas City Coffee & Design group and held at the Sprint Accelerator space. I didn’t actually count the number of attendees but there was probably about 40 people in attendance, some who had traveled from as far away as Omaha to attend the workshop.

Sketchontes & tools

I did my sketchnotes in my Midori Traveler’s Notebook with a Magic rainbow pencil, Sai Watercolor markers and a Sharpie pen.

If you’re not familiar with Mike Rohde and his sketchnote revolution, I’ll try to distill it down but your best option would be to visit his web site or the Sketchnote Army site or, of course, purchasing his books. The idea behind sketchnoting is that simple drawings, bold lettering, icons and symbols can help improve your note-taking and thereby improve your understanding and memory retention from a lecture, class, presentation or meeting.


During the workshop, Mike elaborated on the techniques included in the sketchnotes Handbook and we got to see him create his symbols, lettering and other techniques live.

Mike at the podium

As the workshop progressed, we learned that sketchnoting can also be used for documenting personal notes like travel, recipes and journaling. Mike’s teaching style is relaxed and approachable and made it easy for everyone to feel like they could accomplish sketchnoting.

Workin on the whiteboard

The attendees of the workshop came from a broad array of professions. I met designers, human resources specialists, educators, interior designers, and even a physician who works at a teaching hospital. Everyone was excited to take the knowledge they learned back to their colleagues, students and co-workers.


Sketchnotes notes by Sarah Taylor.

If you have a chance to attend one of Mike Rohde’s workshops or lectures, I highly recommend it.

If you already have The Sketchnote Handbook, I would recommend picking up a copy of the advanced techniques book, The Sketchnote Workbook. I got a chance to flip through the book at the workshop and have ordered a copy for myself. Its more techniques for sketchnoting and ideas and tips for bringing sketchnoting into all your written work. Peachpit Press has a 35% off coupon code right now too — POP35 so you can get a great deal on some great books!

I did a short Periscope from the Sketchnotes Workshop that a few people caught. If I get a rally in the comments, I might be persuaded to repost it on YouTube.

Sketchonotes Workshop Giveaway

Oh, one last thing… I have two extra notebooks and stickers from the event that I would like to give away to readers. I’ll even throw in the pens! The notebooks were generously provided by my favorite local art supply store Artist & Craftsman and were produced by Shizen Design, a local KC paper company. Leave a comment below to be entered.

FINE PRINT: All entries must be submitted by 10pm CST on Thursday, September 3, 2015. All entries must be submitted at, not Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook, okay? Winner will be announced on Friday. Winner will be selected by random number generator from entries that played by the rules (see above). Please include your email address in the comment form so that I can contact you if you win. I will not save email addresses or sell them to anyone — pinky swear. If winner does not respond within 30 days, I will draw a new giveaway winner. Shipping via USPS first class is covered. Additional shipping options or insurance will have to be paid by the winner. US residents only please.

Ink Review: P.W. Akkerman #22 Hopjesbraun

Akkerman Hopjesbraun Ink

I don’t tend to purchase much brown ink. When I first got into fountain pens, all I wanted was the perfect, vintage sepia ink but I bought a few bottles early on that I didn’t like and swayed away from browns for a long time. This P.W. Akkerman #22 Hopjesbraun is making me rethink my stance on brown inks. Its got TONS of shading and is a warm, dusty reddish/golden brown that reminds me of the Southwest and cowboys and Albuquerque sunsets. How a Dutch ink company can generate a color that reminds me of New Mexico? Quite the impressive feat.

Akkerman Hopjesbraun Ink

There is a wonderful, dark halo around the letters when writing with my stub nib Esterbrook. Its just such fun to watch the ink darken around the edges of the letterforms as the ink dries. But that’s the catch.

Hopjesbraun dries slowly. I even smudged a bit in my painting at the top of the page because it dried quite a bit slower than the Zuiderpark I tested last week. I suspect in a finer pen or on slightly more absorbent paper, it wouldn’t be quite as big a deal but as a messy left, the dry time was a bit long. For letter writing where I could pause here and there to let the ink dry before I stuck my arm in it, it would not be a problem but as a daily use ink… well, for this lefty I’ll have to save it for special occasions. But it is one of the prettiest browns I’ve ever used.

Akkerman Hopjesbraun Ink

So if you’re a tidy righty, grab a bottle ASAP. And my fellow messy lefties, you’ve been warned to proceed with caution.

DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by Vanness Pens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Ink Review: P.W. Akkerman #24 Zuiderpark Bluaw-Groen

Akkerman Zuiderpark Blauw-Groen

P.W. Akkerman #24 Zuiderpark Blauw-Greon is another in a long line of blue-black inks to pass across The Desk. It could be because I seek out the blue-blacks in particular but, this time fate intervened and this lovely ink arrived thanks to Lisa at Vanness.

Akkerman Zuiderpark Blauw-Groen Ink

There is definitely more of a greenish undertone to Zuiderpark that makes it less a true blue-black and more of a teal-black. At first thought, I anticipated that Zuiderpark might be very similar in color to de Atramentis Petrol but Zuiderpark is much darker. I included a swab of Diamine Twilight which I consider to be a true blue-black as a contrast so that the greenishness of Zuiderpark might be more noticeable.

Zuiderpark dries in a reasonable amount of time, even on Rhodia paper in the humidity of a Midwest August. In my water test, it had a some stay-ability too. I actually scrubbed a wet paintbrush across the sample a couple times after I dropped water on it to see if the ink would move. It leaves a stain on the paper which means Zuiderpark could handle a drop or two of water without losing all your hard work. If you like to paint with ink, it won’t move as completely as other colors. You can decide if that’s a plus or a minus.

Akkerman Zuiderpark Blauw-Groen Ink Comparison

The advantage of this sort of color is that it looks quite unique but maintains an air of “respectability” since it still runs in the blue family. If you want a work-appropriate ink with a little something extra, Zuiderpark would be a good option. And it goes without saying that Akkerman makes the coolest looking ink bottles.

This is a case where I definitely wish I had a whole bottle of this ink. So, I’ll be investing in one soon. Or you folks in DC can pick up a bottle for me!

DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by Vanness Pen Shop for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Finally! Kaweco Skyline Sport in Pink

Kaweco Skyline Sport in Pink with green pens

The long-awaited, new Kaweco Skyline Sport in pink (€17,95) has finally landed stateside!

Now that its here and you can see its the first (and possible the only) pink pen I own. The great thing about the Kaweco Sport series is that the prices for them are so reasonable, I don’t feel too bad about buying them in ALL the colors available.

Kaweco Skyline Sport Pink

Like previous Skyline models, the pen features silver detailing instead of the traditional gold found on the standard Sport line. Its a very lightweight pen making it great as a pocket carry but not necessarily the most comfortable tool for writing the next great novel. Though I’ve written enough letters with my assortment of plastic-barreled Kaweco to qualify as a novel at this point so its all a matter of personal preference.

Like all other Skyline and Sport models, the cap posts easily and the faceted barrel cap keep the pen from rolling off the table, even without the addition of a clip.

Kaweco Skyline Sport Pink

I got the Skyline in pink with an EF nib. I like a finer nib on my Kaweco Sport pens as they often get combined with small pocket notebooks for on-the-go writing that benefit from tiny writing and pens that don’t lay too much ink down.

Kaweco Skyline Sport Pink

I don’t normally make an effort to match my ink color to the pen barrel but I made an exception in this case. The pink Skyline screamed for some pink ink. I found that the best color match is the Platinum Cyclamen Pink ink. Its almost the exact same color as the pen body.

Kaweco Skyline Sport Pink

The Skyline in pink and I are going to have a bright colorful week. I mean, really, how can I not with a pocket full of bright pink like this pen?

Honestly, I can’t wait to see what colors Kaweco will offer the Skyline in next. I’d love a lilac and a sunny yellow one. How about you?

Ink Review: Montblanc Midnight Hour

MontBlanc Blue Hour Ink

I must confess right away that the new Montblanc Meisterstück Blue Hour Twilight Blue ($17 for a 30ml bottle), despite its lengthy name, is an ink color that is totally in my wheelhouse. Initially I was thinking it was a blue black but its actually more of a dark teal/black, if that makes sense. It reminds me more of a dark stormy sea blue than a midnight sky blue.

MontBlanc Blue Hour Ink

Blue Hour looks more like a blue black when wet and then dries to a more greenish deep teal blue. The ink dries pretty quickly. I managed to not have any smudges while writing this sample page so that’s saying something. I really like the square, ripple glass bottles that Montblanc has been using for their inks this year. The JFK and Pink Ink also came in these bottles.

MontBlanc Blue Hour Ink

I had lots of similar ink colors. Similar, but not the same as Blue Hour. In the swab sample, there’s a little reddish halo to the Blue Hour sample which reminds me of Sailor Jentle Yama Dori and Pilot Iroshizuku Ku-Jaku (both of which are favorite inks of mine) but the Blue Hour ink is more greenish than Ku-Jaku and a bit lighter overall than the Yama Dori. So, do you need Blue Hour if you have any of these ink colors? Logically no, but since when are pen addicts logical?

All-in-all, Blue Hour fills a sliver of a gap in my teal-y blue/black ink collection that I’m glad to have filled. This ink seems to be selling out quickly so if you’re interested in acquiring a bottle, I recommend that you act fast. I couldn’t find any specific info whether Blue Hour would be a limited edition color but as an ink hoarder, I’m not taking any chances.

MontBlanc Blue Hour Ink

Oops! I always forget to go back and add water to me test page. In this case, I photographed everything before realizing I didn’t do the water test. With a few stroked of a wet paint brush, the ink definitely lifted and moved quickly. Plus side, it should be pretty easy to clean out of your pens. Minus side, this ink is not recommended for documents that require permanent ink. It might make for interesting drawings as the ink can be blended nicely like a watercolor.

DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by Pen Boutique for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Pencil Review: Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood 348 HB

Caran d'Ache Swiss Wood Pencil HB

What can I say about the Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood 348 HB pencil? Its beautiful. It also costs $5.45 per pencil. Who pays $5.45 for a pencil? I do. Why? Curiosity. And its pretty.

Aside: Caran d’Ache is known for producing some of the best colored pencils and watercolor pencils in the world that can also cost upwards of $5 per pencil and I’m considering investing in those too. Does that make me crazy? Maybe.

The Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood pencil is a beautiful beech wood pencil, stained dark with no additional shellac. It smells like a campfire. (Yes, I sniffed the pencil). The end is dip-sealed with glossy red enamel and the white Swiss cross is printed on the end. The lettering is printed in a crisp white foil along one fact of this hexagonal pencil.

Caran d'Ache Swiss Wood Pencil HB

I love hex pencils and the Swiss Wood is slightly wider than a standard hex pencil. It may be too wide to fit some standard sharpeners but it fit fine in my  Palomino/KUM two-step long point sharpener.

Caran d'Ache Swiss Wood Pencil HB

Caran d'Ache Swiss Wood Pencil HB

The experience writing with this pencil seemed to be “oh, this is how a pencil should feel.” It was smooth and silent on the paper. When scratching back and forth, I got a good dense color. The Swiss Wood just coasted along on the paper and kept a good point in the process. With some effort, I could smudge it but while writing I did not notice any graphite on the heel of my hand which is a true test for any lefty.

It erased with almost no trace of the previous scribblings with my “oops!” eraser that lives on my desk.

When compared to the Field Notes pencil, it was so apparent how much grittier the FN pencil was than the Swiss Wood. Of course, the FN pencil is a freebie but I assume most of my fine readers own at least one of these pencils so when I say the Swiss Wood is leaps and bounds better to write with than most pencils, you have basis for comparison. I also compared the Swiss Wodd to my favorite go-to pencil, the Faber-Castell Grip 2001 HB. The Grip 2001 was definitely a lighter graphite and scratchier than the Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood. Am I going to have to throw it over for a gross of Swiss Woods? Maybe!

Caran d'Ache Swiss Wood Pencil HB

I’m inclined to think that, if you’re a bit of a pencil snob, its worth it to add a few of these Swiss Wood pencils to your collection. I think I might like the writing experience better than the Palomino Blackwings (blasphemous, I know.) but the Blackwings actually look like a bargain-priced pencil next to the Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood.

But, even at $5.45 (comparable to the cost of your average Venti Vanilla Latte), the Swiss Wood is worth trying. Just skip the latte today.

Caran d'Ache Swiss Wood Pencil HB

Book Review: Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum by Liza Kirwin is a wonderful peek into the notes, doodles and letters from artists, writers and poets. There are typed notes and handwritten notes, some legible and some unintelligible.

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

Ah, Franz Kline’s grocery list is as unremarkable as mine but his liquor bill is extravagant!

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

I love this list of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings written by his father N.C. Wyeth. The penmanship is beautiful.


Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

This is a close up of the Wyeth list. Look at the grey ink and stub italic!

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

Kinetic sculpture artist Alexander Calder drew these lovely sketches in a letter. Clearly also fountain pen. It looks like he added water to tone some of the areas. So interesting!

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

This is a close-up of Calder’s address book in a warm sepia ink.

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

This is probably my absolute favorite page. It’s Adolf Konrad’s packing list, beautifully illustrated in gouache. I love the addition, on the next page, of Alfred in his skivvies like a paper doll self-portrait.

Needless to say, I recommend picking up this book if you get a chance. Its printed on a smooth, uncoated stock and bound with a softcover that feels a bit like a notebook rather than a fancy book. I thumb through it often and enjoy the detailed information on the accompanying pages. Its interesting to see how sloppy and how tidy some of the most loved artists and writers actually were. So telling!

Ink Review: KWZ Gummiberry

KWZ Iron Gall Gummiberry

KWZ Inks is a one-man ink operation from Poland started by Konrad Żurawski in 2012, a chemistry PhD student that clearly combines his tow loves: chemistry and fountain pens. Just this year, his inks are starting to get a wider distribution and, thanks to Vanness Pens, I had the opportunity to try the KWZ Iron Gall Gummiberry ($14 for 60ml bottle). Iron gall inks are both loved and reviled because of its permanent nature. Iron gall inks can be used to sign important documents because the inks will bond to the paper fibers making it near impossible to remove. At the same time, if iron gall inks are left indefinitely in a fountain pen, it can stain the ink reservoir and possibly corrode stainless steel nibs. Also, iron gall inks darken over time.

I don’t have a lot of experience with iron gall inks but the KWZ provides some advice on his web site about how to properly clean and protect your pens from any possible issues that might be caused by using an iron gall ink. That said, for testing purposes, I used my Shawn Netwon dip pen with an Esterbrook #2442 nib and cleaned it out as soon as I had finished my writing samples and did not have any issues getting the ink out of the nib by just rinsing it with water.

KWZ Iron Gall Gummiberry

The KWZ Iron Gall Gummiberry is notable first for its fabulous name. Who doesn’t love gummi bears? And second, for its amazing jeweled purple color. Honestly, after all the purple inks I tested this year, the color of Gummiberry is just gorgeous and is moving up my ink color charts fast. The fact that the rich jewel tone darkens as it dries and settles into an almost purple-black when dry makes it fun to write with and still looks sophisticated.

The ink dries a little bit slower than many of my standard inks on the Rhodia paper I use for testing but I am also in the midst of humidity wave here in the Midwest so I cannot be sure if the slowness is the result of the ink or the heat and humidity.

When tested with water after several hours (not 10 minutes as labelled because I went to lunch and forgot to do the water test) a little bit of color ran but not much. I suspect after drying for a week or two, there is likely to be even less movement of the color as it bonds with the paper fibers.

The color is so rich that I’m willing to experiment with this ink in one of my everyday pens. Maybe its a good excuse to purchase a TWSBI Eco as an iron gall test pen? Then I would have an excuse to try a variety of colors!

KWZ Iron Gall Gummiberry Ink Comparison

Compared with some of the many purple inks in my stash, even the other purple iron gall Rohrer & Klingner Scabiosa, Gummiberry is clearly a rich, deep hue. I will check back with the swab and the writing samples in a few weeks to see if the color darkens significantly but as of writing this, several days after doing the swab and writing sample, the color looks indistinguishable from the photos.

Overall, I’m thrilled with my experience with KWZ Iron Gall Gummiberry and am very interested in trying some of the other colors available. The prices are more than reasonable for such a substantial sized bottle too. Yep, definitely going to be purchasing a pen specifically for iron gall inks.

DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by Vanness for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Ink Review: Bung Box Tears of a Clown

Bung Box Tears of a Clown

Bung Box is a small shop in Japan that works with Sailor to create small batches of custom inks. The inks have become so popular that Vanness Pens has starting importing these unusual inks to the US.

Bung Box Tears of a Clown is a particularly unusual color but the first sample I wanted to try as a die-hard English Beat fan. How could I not love something called Tears of a Clown? It turns out to be a deep, terra cotta red with green-gold undertones. Odd. The more I look at it, the more I think of cherry chocolate. Its a color I just can’t seem to categorize.

Bung Box Tears of a Clown

In a brush, the shading and color depth was very apparent but in my writing sample, the color settled down to a deep reddish brown suitable for letter writing, poetry or journaling. Subtle but unique.

The ink dries a bit darker than it appears wet. It dried at a reasonable speed being that I tested it on Rhodia paper in the heat and humidity of a midwestern summer. I think it would dry pretty quickly in more conducive settings.

The ink is activated with water and not water resistant or waterproof. When wetted, the pinkish undertones of the color become visible which would make for interesting drawings or to accent your writing or calligraphy.

Bung Box Tears of a Clown ink comparison

Finding an adequate color comparison was a challenge but that’s part of the reason Bung Box inks are so coveted… there’s nothing else like some of the colors. I compared the Tears of a Clown to reds, burgundies and browns and it clearly fills a unique hole I didn’t know I had in my ink collection.

I love the shape and size of the Bung Box full bottles so I suspect I’ll be making a full purchase in the near future. The labels on the bottles are a little odd and feel like an afterthought but its the contents of the bottle that is the most desirable part anyway so I can overlook the less-than-aethetic labels.

Bung Box inks sell for $35.65 per 50ml bottle or $3.50 for a generous 5ml sample through Vanness Pens. Each ink color is produced in limited quantities so some colors may not be available right now. Check back or contact Vanness and let them know what color you’re interested in purchasing.

DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by Vanness for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

And now for something completely different….

New & Improved Nock Co. Dot Dash Pocket Notebook

nockco dot dash black cover

Nock Co. recently revised their DotDash Pocket Notebooks (3-pack/$10). The new books sport a simple black cover with a white Nock Co logo. I still think the card stock for the covers could be a tad thicker but the low profile black covers are being warmly received here at Chez Desk. The big change, however, was the paper stock inside.

nockco dot dash black cover

Nock Co does not include details inside their notebooks about the paper stock like Field Notes does but the paper has definitely been upgraded. It doesn’t feel like its any heavier weight (maybe ever so slightly from a 24 lb to maybe 28 lb but that’s just me guessing). The DotDash ruling appears to be printed in a blue-violet compared to the a more greyish color of the original yellow books but it could be my eyes playing tricks on me. The paper is a bit brighter white than the original yellow books as well which might create the optical illusion of a change in ink colors.

The new paper stock is definitely fountain pen friendly and there’s no blurring or ink spread. Its particularly apparent how much the paper has been improved when you set the books side-by-side. My writing just looks crispier and not like I need to have my eyeglass prescription checked again. Even the felt tip pen writing benefited from the new paper stock and looks cleaner and finer.

There was also less show through on the reverse of stock though with a reporter-style notebook, I’m seldom inclined to write on the reverse of stock.

nockco dot dash black cover

The original yellow books are still available (3-pack/$9) so if they are your favorites, I recommend picking them up quickly as I suspect they will be phased out for this new and improved stock.

I’m a big fan of the new paper and I think its a great upgrade to an already cool product.

DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by Nock Co. for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Review: J. Herbin CreaPen Pinceau Brush Pen

J. Herbin Creapen Brush Pen

J. Herbin has gotten into the refillable brush pen arena with the CreaPen Pinceau Refillable Brush Pen ($20). It features a long narrow barrel design like traditional Japanese calligraphy brushes. The entire barrel is plastic and has minimal branding printed in gold. The cap is a simple faceted shape with no clip.The overall design of the pen is plain and simple. It does not offend visually but its pretty average looking overall.

What was intriguing to me was the synthetic bristle brush. The Akashiya Sai watercolor brushes are one of my favorite brush pens and they also use the synthetic bristles so I was hoping the CreaPen bristles would be similar.

J. Herbin Creapen Brush Pen

The tip holds a nice crisp point and is very springy making it fun for brush lettering and drawing. The ink flow is dark and black and dries pretty quickly. There were no smudges on my writing sample which is pretty impressive considering how much ink I laid down on a hot, humid day on a large Rhodia Uni-Blank #18 pad.

J. Herbin Creapen Brush Pen

For me, the biggest surprise is that the ink is completely waterproof when dry. This makes the CreaPen and accompanying ink prefect for outlining work mixed with watercolors or other wet media.

The pen ships with three black ink cartridges that appear to be slightly non-standard in shape and feature a metal ball bearing in the cartridge. Packs of four cartridge refills ($8 per pack) are available in black as well as four other colors Since the black ink is waterproof, I suspect that the cartridge could be refilled with Platinum Carbon Ink rather than using the J. Herbin cartridges but I’m curious if the non-black colors are also waterproof. I’d also like to see if a standard cartridge or converter would work with the CreaPen as a way to use non-waterproof inks. If anyone has tried this, please leave a comment to let me know if it works.

DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by JetPens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Review: Franklin Christoph Pocket 66 Ice Fountain Pen

Franklin Christoph Pocket 66 Ice

I can’t believe I’ve waited so long to share details of the Franklin-Christoph Pocket 66 Ice that I purchased at the Atlanta Pen Show. Being able to try every single Franklin-Christoph nib and pen body at the show was such a great experience and Lori from Franklin-Christoph was a great enabler too. She carried her Pocket 66 proudly all weekend, eyedropper filled with Pilot Iroshizuku Fuyu-Gaki which looked like a little writing lava lamp. Sold!

Franklin Christoph Pocket 66 Ice

I ended up choosing the standard medium italic nib and also eyedropper filling my Pocket 66. This maximizes the ink capacity and looks super cool, especially with brighter, vivid ink colors. For these photos, I filled my Pocket 66 with Pelikan Edelstein Tourmaline, a bright fuchsia.

Franklin Christoph Pocket 66 Ice

The Pocket 66 Ice is clear polished acrylic but the inside of the cap and body have a frosted finish giving the pen its unique look. I like to just slosh ink around in the reservoir and watch the color.

Franklin Christoph Pocket 66 Ice

The Medium Italic nib is a custom ground nib by Mike Masuyama which is available directly from Franklin-Christoph and is a nominal upcharge from the standard nibs. The medium italic  glides easily across the paper! Its lovely to use.

Franklin Christoph Pocket 66 Ice

The pen measures 5 inches capped and 4.75″ uncapped. The cap posts easily and make the Pocket 66 5.5 inches long. The pen is lightweight at 15 gms capped and filled and 13 gms filled without the cap.

Franklin Christoph Pocket 66 Ice

Franklin-Christoph pens ship with a leather zip pouch which is one of the most useful extras I’ve ever gotten with a fountain pen.

The price for this configuration is $164.50 but a standard nib makes the pen a little less expensive and an 18K nib will increase the price but not nearly as much as other pen manufacturers. If you have a chance to try the F-C nib testing station at a pen show, I highly recommend it as a great way to find just the right nib and pen body combination for you.

Shawn Newton Esterbrook Nib Holder

Shawn Newton Custom Nib Holder

Earlier this year, I contacted Shawn Newton about making a nib holder for my large collection of Esterbrook nibs. I thought it would be a great solution for ink testing since the nib holder has no ink reservoir. This makes clean up fast and easy.

Shawn was super easy to work with and the whole transaction was organized through email. I chose the material for the pen and my order was put into the queue. He’s a single man operation so all work, whether its custom pens or nib work are handled in a first-come, first-serve order.

Shawn Newton Custom Nib Holder

I chose a light jade alumilite which is a mixed resin material. Its a cool green with threads of white which is quite reminiscent of jade stones.

The pen is just a nib holder, it has no cap, no ink reservoir… just beautiful, comfortable to hold resin body that is threaded to fit my Esterbrook nibs. The taper at the grip is very comfortable and the resin is smooth without being slippery.

Shawn Newton Custom Nib Holder

I’ve been using this nib holder for ink reviews for several months now and I actually look forward to writing ink reviews since this nib holder is so pleasant to hold and use. Since the Esterbrook nib units have feeds built into them, a dip into ink will fill the feed allowing me to write for quite awhile without having to dip again. I can often write a whole page or more without needing to dip the nib again.

With the nib unit installed the pen measures 6 inches and weighs 12 gms. The nib holder actually weighs less than a Kaweco Sport in plastic but is a full sized pen!

Shawn Newton Custom Nib Holder

For my test page I continually swapped out nibs and dipped in the ink again. As you can see the first nib I used hadn’t been cleaned so the ink came out much darker than it should have been. I bounced between various nibs as I was writing and dropped the used nibs into a glass of water to clean.

If you have wanted to experiment with the wide variety of Esterbrook nib units, a custom made nib holder is a great option. NOS and used Esterbrook nibs are available from Anderson Pens or you can scout around on Ebay.

(Photo of my pen from Shawn Newton before he shipped it to me!)

Threaded nib holders start at $75. Contact Shawn directly to make arrangements.

Tested with discontinued Sailor Jentle Apricot ink (sorry!) on Rhodia Uni-Blank No. 18 pad with 6mm guide sheet.

Review: Nakaya Decapod Cigar Ao-tamenuri Fountain Pen

Nakaya Decapod Cigar Ao-tamenuri Fountain Pen packaging

I was pretty flabbergasted when my friend Kasey offered to send me his Nakaya Decapod pen to try out. It was such a kind and generous gesture considering how special (and pricey) Nakaya pens are. But that didn’t stop me from accepting his offer immediately. How often does one have the chance to test a pen at home, with your own inks and papers, with the luxury of comparing it side-by-side with your own pen collection? Exactly, so I had to do it.

Nakaya Decapod Cigar Ao-tamenuri Fountain Pen Packaging

The pen arrived in a paperboard shipper box made from beautiful Japanese paper. Inside was a balsa wood box with writing on the lid in black. Once that was opened, I saw the pen wrapped in a “kimono” cloth case, ink cartridges and a cartridge converter, all laying on a red velvet mat.

Nakaya Decapod Cigar Ao-tamenuri Fountain Pen

Once I got the pen out of the packaging, I could truly appreciate the beauty of a Nakaya. The pen is in the now retired color Ao-Tamenuri (a blue-green urushi). This particular Decapod is known as the Cigar as it has no clip and a distinctly tapered shape like a cigar. The color of the finish is so beautiful in person and really hard to capture in a photo. The urushi is applied like layers of ceramic glaze which creates the lighter areas shown on the edges of the facets and a deeper, almost black color on the flat surfaces. Each pen is hand finished so the amount of color difference is unique to each pen. This Decapod has distinct edges with bright color difference that look almost green. The example shown on the site is much darker with heavier application of urushi that gives the pen a softer, rounder appearance.

Nakaya Decapod Cigar Ao-tamenuri Fountain Pen

The pen was purchased through which allowed for the pen nib to be modified by the legendary John Mottishaw. The original Japanese Medium 14K gold nib was ground into a Cursive Italic. Since the Nakaya Medium nib is already much finer than the European or US equivalent, this made for a fine cursive italic.

Nakaya Decapod Cigar Ao-tamenuri Fountain Pen

Its a beautiful nib on the end of a beautiful pen. I had to work up the courage to actually ink this gem up.

Nakaya Decapod Cigar Ao-tamenuri Fountain Pen

I decided to use the Pelikan Edelstein Aventurine ink which is a similar shade of green to the ridges on the Nakaya.

Nakaya Decapod Cigar Ao-tamenuri Fountain Pen

Once I had the pen inked and in my hand, I remembered fully and completely what all the fuss is about with Nakaya. Not only is the pen beautiful and unique but it is perfectly weighted in my hand. It was silky on the paper and wrote flawlessly.

On a less poetic, more technical side, the Decapod is a large, full-sized pen measuring 6 inches capped and 5.125″ uncapped. The cap does not post. The pens weighs 24 gms capped and filled with the converter and 18 gms with the cap removed. Its not a particularly heavy pen. The Lamy pens I reviewed a couple weeks ago were twice the weight! The faceted shape also helped make the Decapod one of the most comfortable pens I’ve ever used.

I tested the pen on my standard Rhodia Uni-Blank No. 18 pad with 6mm guide sheet under the blank page. Yep, that small.

This Ao-Tamenuri color is no longer available but other colors and configurations are still available if you are interested in pursuing the Nakaya dream. Decapods sell for between $650 and $750 each. Nib customization is additional, depending on the grind.

Its official, I understand what all the fuss is about regarding Nakaya pens. I know why they end up on folks’ grail lists. I think this pen is going to go on my grail list. Do you think Kasey would notice if I didn’t send it back?

Django studies the Nakaya

(Thought you’d be amused to see my big, dumb cat attempting to “help” me write my review.)

Ink: Papier Plume Inks


My fine friend Father Kyle, sent me an assortment of inks to try out including three Papier Plume colors. Papier Plume is a New Orleans-based pen shop with a small collection of their own inks. I had the pleasure of trying out the Midnight Blue, Violet and Forget-Me-Not Blue. Papier Plume offers their inks in three bottle sizes: 15ml ($5), 30ml ($8) and 50ml bottles ($12).


I tested the inks with an Esterbrook 2442 nib in a Shawn Newton nib holder on Rhodia paper as well as did swabs with a watercolor paintbrush on the left hand side. On the right hand side, I waited for the inks to dry and then went over the swabs with water to see how much the inks bled.

The Violet was dried to a lovely chalky hue. It was a very mellow violet and pretty. The Violet was the least The Midnight Blue looked almost black when its wet and but dried lighter like a denim-y blue. What was so surprising to me is how much I liked the Forget-Me-Not Blue. I normally think of a true blue as blah but this blue is lip-smackingly beautiful. The only comparison I could make was to describe it as Cornflower blue. Its lovely.

All the colors dried fairly quickly, even in the stub nib and wielded by a messy left-handed writer. I’m inclined to recommend placing an order for either the Violet or the Forget-Me-Not Blue right now.  I would also love to try their Moss Green if its ever restocked. It looks fabulous!

Review: Lamy Scala Blue Black with 14K EF Nib AND Lamy Dialog 3 with 14K F Nib

Lamy Scala Blueblack Special Edition in presentation box

Lamy Scala Blueblack Special Edition

I recently purchased a Lamy Scala BlueBlack fountain pen (special edition 2015) with 14K gold nib (198,00 €). The pen shipped in a presentation box with a bottle of Lamy Blue Black ink and a converter. It was to be my first experience with a gold Lamy nib.

The Scala has a stainless-steel barrel with a dark blue-black finish. Its supposed to have small inclusions in the finish to look almost like stars in the night sky but it came out too subtle. The blue is much too dark and the twinkly bits are too small to be seen well. Everyone who has seen the pen asked if it was black. That said, the finish is glossy and smooth and the chromed details look sharp and professional. I’m just bummed it isn’t more “starry night” looking.

The cap is spring loaded to make it easier to loop onto a pocket or notebook. The branding is super minimal, just the Lamy name embossed in the side of the clip.

lamy dialog 3 box

lamy dialog 3 in presentation box

lamy dialog 3

lamy dialog 3  14K gold F nib

Then Mike Dudek of the Clickypost sent me his Lamy Dialog 3 to try out which also has a 14K nib on it. Its a F nib and so I could not help but compare the two pens. So this review will be a two-for-one.

The Dialog shipped in a protective outer box but the pen was nestled into a wedge-shaped beech wood box with a lovely groove cut into where the pen rests. I don’t usually place much value on the packaging but this is a compact box that can be used to store your pen when not in use.  The oversized paperboard box for the Scala is a behemoth and will end up in the attic.

The Dialog 3 is a matte black finish over metal with matte silver clip and accents. There are painted silver lines on the barrel and the Lamy logo. When closed, the painted lines align. (I noticed, in my photos, I didn’t get the Dialog closed perfectly. Its driving me crazy!) Opening and closing the Dialog 3 actually takes two hands. One to hold the barrel and the other to twist. This made me a little sad since its not at all as convenient as a retractable with a spring button mechanism like the Pilot Capless or any disposable ballpoint. The twist mechanism is also quite snug. This is good in that it won’t accidentally come open but it means it takes some effort to open and close the pen.

I’ve been using my new Lime Lamy Safari over the past few weeks, so switching to the Scala and the Dialog 3 was a bit of a change. Both pens are very weighty.

Lamy Scala Blueblack Special Edition and Lamy Dialog 3 size comparison

The Dialog 3 measures 5.5″ closed and 6″ open. It weighs 48gms filled. Its a seriously big pen for me. Since there is no cap, there’s no way to lighten this pen. It is what it is. Its also a very wide barrel. In my munchkin hands, I felt like I was holding a My First Crayon or a broom handle.

Capped, the Scala is 5.5″. Uncapped, the pen body is 5.125″ and with the cap posted it measures a whopping 6.75″. Filled and capped, the Scala weighs 43gms. Uncapped and filled, the pen weighs a much-more manageable 25gms. The cap alone weighs 17gms! If I try to use the Scala with the cap posted, the pen becomes seriously top heavy and awkward feeling but if you have large hands, this might be a great option.

Lamy Scala Blueblack Special Edition and Lamy Dialog 3 writing samples

Initially, I thought the Scala felt like a big, heavy pen but after using the Dialog 3 for awhile, the Scala felt practically dainty. Its still a big pen and weighty compared to plastic pens like the Safari but it feels good in the hand.

Grumbling about the pen sizes aside, both of these Lamy 14K nibs wrote beautifully. I can see why people get so enthusiastic about the Lamy 2000 and its 14K nib. Both the Scala and the Dialog 3 use the same gold nibs and they are absolutely buttery. The EF nib is perfect for my writing style, it gives a little variation to my strokes without closing up most letterforms. The F nib is even smoother but my writing is too tiny to keep the counters on my letters from closing up in casual writing. As European nib sizing goes, and because the gold adds some flex and softness to these nibs, I’d recommend going down a nib size. If you generally like a medium nib, go with the F and if you generally like an F nib, go with the EF.

As a lefty, I was able to use both the EF and the F nib without any issues in my overhanded writing style as well as testing it in a more traditional under writing style. This is very exciting news for me. Other modern 14K gold nibs have not been as forgiving of the overhanded writing style.

As you can see from the writing sample, visually the EF looks a bit lighter than the F nib. I think its more a result of the line weight difference than F nib being wetter. The EF definitely shows more color variation in the ink as a result of the finer nib. They both have not given me any false starts or required much priming, even after sitting for a day or so.

Lamy Scala Blueblack Special Edition and Lamy Dialog 3 size comparison

I find that the Dialog 3 fits a pen niche I don’t specifically need filled. I’m thrilled to have had a chance to test it out and I recommend that, since its such a unique size and shape, to find a retailer that has them in stock and try one before you buy it. Its shape and retracting mechanism will be somethng you either like or don’t. I don’t think there’s a lot of middle ground with this pen.

The Scala is easier to recommend since its size and shape is more in keeping with traditional fountain pens. Its available in other colors and can be purchased with a steel nib if you’re not interested in the gold nib options, which reduces the price quite a bit.

Both pens were tested with Kaweco Midnight Blue ink on Rhodia Uni Blank No. 18 pad.

Big thanks to Fontoplumo for getting the Scala blueblack Special Edition with EF for me. I purchased the pen but Frank did all the hard work. Remember, if you want to place an order with Fontoplumo, new customers should use the code “WAD” and returning customers should use the code “WAD2“ to receive a 10% discount on their order. These codes will be valid through the end of 2015!

Review: New TUL Serious Ink Pens from Office Depot/Max

TUL Chest

The folks over at Office Max/Office Depot kindly sent me a new sample pack of the new and improved TUL Serious Ink products to try out. When they contacted me, I was expecting some blister packs of pens in a padded envelope. Instead I received this industrial-tough lunchbox with lock and key. Clearly, they are serious about this launch.

Pens in the TUL chest

Inside the aluminum box, in foam cutaways, were four sample tools (TULs?), one for each of the product types: a rollerball, a gel pen, a ballpoint and a mechanical pencil. They also sent along some rub-on tattoos that I forgot to photograph. It was quite the package!

The rollerball is the only capped pen that was included in the kit. The gel and ballpoint pens are both retractable and the mechanical pencil can retract not only the lead but the lead tube as well making it easier to transport and protect the lead tube from damage.

All the pens feature simple, clean design. The overall color schemes are black, silver and clear plastics. The barrels of the pens are plastic, painted with metallic silver and black paint. The cones that hold the pen tips and the mechanical pencil are metal expect in the rollerball.

The logos and graphics are minimal and minimal branding is really quite an appealing feature to me in pens. I find a lot of modern “big box store” pens have way too much text, graphics and branding on them. The TUL series is a nice antidote to this.

All the TULs feature silicone grips, or in the case of the mechanical pencil, the whole body is a soft matte rubber.  The rubber make all the TULs comfortable to hold but prone to collecting dust particles and pocket lint.

TUL Serious Ink writing samples

In writing tests, I was pleasantly surprised with all the TULs. Usually rollerballs choke on me and stop writing a few words into writing but I had no trouble using the TUL rollerball in medium (0.7). The black ink was dark and dried pretty quickly. The gel pen in medium (0.7) was also dark black and quick drying but a little bolder line than the rollerball. Both of these are also available in fine point (0.5) which I would probably love as both the gel and rollerball in medium were a little bold for my daily writing style. But otherwise, they are good “big box” pen options.

The medium (1.0) ballpoint was notably slippery on the Rhodia paper. On standard office stock, this feature would probably be a bonus but on super smooth paper, it felt like the pen moved faster than my brain. It didn’t skip as much as a standard office ballpoints which is a plus. I suspect the ink is closer to a hybrid ink than the traditional oily ballpoint ink. If you favor ballpoints, this would be a good option. A fine (0.7) tip version is also available.

The mechanical pencil writes comfortably with its fully rubberized body and features a retractable eraser on the end. I was curious as to exactly how long the eraser was and untwisted the whole thing. There’s a good inch or more of eraser that is twisted inside the pencil barrel. Very clever design! Spare erasers can be purchased online too. To be honest, the mechanical pencil was my favorite TUL. I even liked the thicker 0.7mm leads though I am inclined to try the thinner 0.5mm lead version as well, just to see. Pencils rock. Pencils with long retractable erasers rock even harder.

I forgot to photograph the water tests! The ballpoint is waterproof. The pencil showed no ill effects from the water but a softer lead might show a little blurring. The rollerball pen is considerably less water resistant than the gel pen. It surprised me a bit that the gel pen is more water resistant since gel ink is not often very water resistant but a wipe with a wet paint brush left a light grey halo but the lines I drew are still visible. The rollerball lines survived my wet paintburush but a lot more of the ink reactivated creating a much darker grey halo.  So if wet conditions are an issue for you, stick to the gel, ballpoint or pencil.

TUL Serious Ink Pens

I’m quite pleased with the overall quality of the TUL line. The writing quality and build quality was much better than I anticipated. Each of the TULs seems to be a house brand competitor to a brand name and I feel like I should probably do a  side-by-side comparison of the TUL version against the name brand versions, particularly the gel pen.  I suspect its supposed to directly compete with the Pilot G2 and the Pentel Energel. I think the TUL version is comparable but without doing a true side-by-side I can’t say for certain if the performance is exactly the same.  As for the rollerball, ballpoint and mechanical pencil, the TUL brand versions are on par with other products in the same category. I think the mechanical pencils is particularly appealing with its retractable, extra-long eraser and rubberized barrel.

I will say that, aesthetically, I prefer the TUL pens and the prices are comparable to similar products. If I were stocking my company supply cabinet, I might purchase the TULs over name brands just for the minimal branding and visual simplicity.

DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by Office Max/Office Depot for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Kuretake Zig Millennium Pigment Pens

Kuretake Zig Millennium Pen Set

Technically, the full name for these pens is Kuretake Zig Memory System Millennium for Drawing & Scrapbooking but that is a mouthful. So, are we okay just calling them Zig Millennium Pens for the duration?

This set of five pens was recommended to me following my recent round-up of archival, pigment felt tip pens. Turns out the Zig Millenniums are budget-priced pens that offer all the same features of the more expensive brands and can often be easier to find in local craft and hobby stores.

Kuretake Zig Millennium Pen Writing Samples

I purchased this set of five on Amazon for the rock bottom price of $6.56 with free Prime shipping. The set included one of each in 005, 01, 03, 05 and 08 sizes which is a perfect size variety for me.

The pens are a wide barrel silver plastic — just a smidgen wider than a Sakura Pigma Micron. The Zig Millennium pens are 5.375″ long capped, just shy of 4.75″ uncapped and the cap will post making the pen 6.375″ long. The clip is metal and reminds me of the clip on the Pilot Precise V5. The Zig Millenniums are only available in black ink but, with these permanent felt tips, I find I only ever reach for the black pens anyway.

I’ve been using these pens regularly for over a week and the points have held up to various papers including over acrylic paint, watercolor brush markers, and colored pencil without being any worse for the wear. I’ll be curious how well the points hold up long term and if the ink lasts as long in the pen as other brands.

Kuretake Zig Millennium Pen Comparison

Colorwise, the ink is not as rich black as a Sakura Pigma Micron which is the gold standard at almost twice the price. Compared to other brands like the Copic Multiliners, Staedtler Pigment Liners and the Sharpie Pen, the Zig Millenniums are totally comparable in regards to how rich the black ink is. Actually, if I had to rank these felt tips by how rich the black ink is, I’d put the Zig Millenniums second only to the Microns, especially at the wider nib sizes.

With their wide availability and comparable pricing to Sharpie Pens, the Zig Millenniums are a great addition to your archival felt-tip pen collection, especially if you are looking for finer or broader nibs than are available in the Sharpie Pen.

Review: Hadera RePaper A5 Pad

Habera Repaper pad

When I started this blog, I never thought I’d be so fortunate to receive stationery gifts from all over the world. For example, Amit kindly sent me an A5 notepad from Hadera RePaper, all the way from Israel. The paper is a deeply speckled, taupe sheet in a tearaway pad bound at the top like a classic legal pad. The paper is listed as 100% recycled and a glance at the Hadera Paper web site made it clear that the material used to make the paper is collected from all over Israel in special collection bins. Hadera also does not use bleach in making the paper to keep the environmental impact down.

Habera Repaper pad

The biggest surprise of this office supply staple is that the paper is fountain pen friendly. I am as surprised as anyone about this since most recycled papers are known for being super absorbent even with the most average of supply cupboard pens. But not the Hadera RePaper. Not only is it a pleasing color and a nice alternative to stark white but all three fountain pen nibs I tried on it performed admirably. So much so that there wasn’t even any show through on the back which means the whole sheet can be used for writing, not just the fronts. Try that with most legal pads!

Habera Repaper pad

The Hadera RePaper web site was interesting as it gave me a peek into what the standard Israeli office products might be. The stock spiral bound notebooks with the spiral on the right hand side since Hebrew is written right to left. I think lefties would love all the right hand binding options in Israel. Israelis use standard A4 and A5 notebooks and RePaper even has an A6 pocket notebook like Field Notes.

I also got to do cost conversions from Israeli New Shekel (which has the coolest symbol that looks like cupped hands) to US dollars. Most of the Hadera paper products were competitively priced with American big box stores so this is the best fountain pen friendly paper in the world I think. A 5-pack of A5 notepads is 14.90 in New Shekel which is about $3.87 US. That’s less than $1 per pad.

I could not find any information on the site about shipping outside Israel but since the paper is made from locally sourced recycled material and pistachio shells it seems counter-intuitive to their environmental mission to ask them to ship a bunch of notebooks and paper internationally. I’ll have to get by with my one little A5 notepad and hope that someday I’ll have a reason to be in Israel so I can stock up on RePaper notebooks. I wonder what other stationery wonders exist in Israel?

(Thanks to Amit in Israel for sending me a pad to try out!)

Review: Kipling 100 Pen Case

kipling 100 pen case

I was serious last week when I said I bought the Kipling 100 Pens Case. I found it on sale at the Kipling USA website in the dragonfly pattern but they offer new patterns every season as well as an assortment of solids. The 100 Pens Case retail for about $49 but can be found on sale for as low as $25 or as high as $80 for past season popular colors or patterns. The fern colorway is currently available for $34 plus the additional 40% off “BIGSCOOP” discount code making it about $21 which is quite a deal.

kipling 100 pen case

The case reminds me of a soft-sided cigar box. The case measures approximately 8.75″ x 6.5″ x 3.25″ with a big sutrdy plastic zipper. The zipper only has one pull. I’d prefer if it had two so it could be zipped closed on the long side rather than along the spine.

I’ve decided to use this case as my traveling sketchbook/art-making tool kit and its PERFECT for this task.

kipling 100 pen case

Inside is a stiff divider panel with elastic loops to hold pens or pencils as well as matching loops on the inside of the cover.  The loops are perfect for colored pencils or slender pens like Marvy LePens but they would not work for beefier tools like fountain pens or pens with big clips or silicone grips. There are 26 loops which is just about enough for a travel assortment of colored pencils. I’ve used the case for over a week and its easy to slide pencils under the loops, point first from the bottom. I just love looking at my array of colors!

kipling 100 pen case

When the pencil flap is folded back, a large open compartment is exposed that can be filled with additional tools and supplies. As you can see, mine is packed solid.

There is a hack on YouTube for adding a few elastic straps on the blank flap to hold loose papers like cards, stickers or notes.

kipling 100 pen case

These are all the tools, pens, pencils and brushes stored in the open compartment. The tin holds a small traveling supply of watercolor pans.

kipling 100 pen case

And here’s everything in the case. Did I get 100 pens into it? Not quite. I was able to fit 77 pen-like objects including an assortment of water brushes, wide drawing markers, Tombow brush markers, and felt tip pens as well as three pencil sharpeners, tape, glue stick, ruler, letter opener, ink cartridges, bone folder and my “tool” keychain. At present, it zips closed but just barely. I’m hoping to determine if there are a few tools I don’t use regularly and pull those out.

This case is going everywhere with me these days. Its perfect for storing art supplies on-the-go since it makes everything easy to see and access as opposed to more common zip pouches.

kipling 100 pen case

How could I pass up a chance to take a picture of the lime green gorilla key fob that was included with the case? It is easily removable if toys on your pen case are not your speed.

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