Review by Tina Koyama
If I had my druthers, all pens would be retractable. Since I use so many of my pens and other tools while out sketching somewhere, pens with caps are always at risk. (I once dropped a pen cap from the upper level balcony of a mall where I was sketching. The concierge desk was directly below me. When I approached the desk to see if they had seen my cap, the concierge said, “Oh, was that yours? I saw it land here on the desk, so I threw it away!” He kindly dug it out of his wastebasket for me. If it had landed on his desk from up above, you’d think he would have at least looked up out of curiosity before tossing it.) I also favor retractables simply for their single-handed efficiency.
When I heard about the Airless Pen, a retractable marker, I was curious. Markers are famous for drying out quickly if a cap is left off. So are fountain pens. Pilot’s Vanishing Point has proven that a capless fountain pen is possible, but that pen costs around $130, not a couple bucks as the Airless Pen is.
How does it work? The Airless Pen “is created with an internal and retractable silicone cap that prevents airflow into the pen, so the ink never runs dry. This specialized ‘sealed tube technology’ creates a small vacuum where the water-based ink is preserved.” Curious, indeed!
The review set I received is the same as the reward that Kickstarter backers receive at the $23 level: five 0.7mm pens, seven 1mm pens and a fabric pen-roll-style case to hold them.
The tips look typical for felt tip markers. The Kickstarter site has a video showing the intriguing retractable mechanism and “sealed tube technology.” The mechanism is partially visible through the frosted plastic body of the 0.7mm pens. (Why not make all the pens transparent to show off this cool mechanism?) It looks like a little silicone wire that pulls the trap door closed.
The first thing I did was to make scribble tests in a Plumchester sketchbook, and then I gave each swatch a swipe with a waterbrush to test its water-solubility. The inks are brightly colored in an average kind of way.
Unfortunately, three of the 0.7mm pens (blue, purple and red) were a bit dry at the beginning of the scribble. Further scribbling made the ink flow as expected. The 1.0mm pens flowed without issue from the first stroke.
I started wondering about the ink itself, regardless of the retraction technology. I left two pens on my desktop with their tips exposed for six days. In the same Plumchester sketchbook, I gave them a scribble after one day and after six days. The samples look the same after each time period – a bit drier than when they had been retracted during shipping, but useable compared to some markers which, uncapped, have dried out in a matter of a day or two. Perhaps the ink itself evaporates less quickly than the average marker, making it a good match for a retractable design.
Finally, I tested these markers for how I might use them. Since the inks are water-soluble, I tried blending them in both the Plumchester sketchbook and a Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook. As expected, they blended better on the Alpha’s surface, which is sized for light water media.
I have no complaints about the ink, which seems suitable for coloring, doodling and other casual uses. However, the pen’s plastic body leaves a lot to be desired. The design is clunky, the knock feels clumsy and doesn’t always engage on the first try, and seams are visible and rough. At the same price point, the Zebra Sarasa, Pilot Juice and Pentel Energel retractable pens all have more comfortable and better-looking plastic bodies. The Airless Pen’s inner mechanism is what makes it unique and special, but I wouldn’t mind paying more for a better body that would make the pen more pleasant to use.
I realize the pens I received are an early production set, and quality issues may be worked out later after full funding is received (the Kickstarter campaign has already surpassed its goal by more than double). One QC issue I noted right away is that one of the tips doesn’t extend as far as the rest.
The Airless Pen has an intriguing retraction mechanism that looks promising for the future of retractable markers. For me to want to use it, however, the pen needs a better body that looks and feels as good as its inner workings.
The Airless Pen’s Kickstarter campaign ends Nov. 4.
DISCLAIMER: The items included in this review were provided free of charge by Airless Pen for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.
Tina Koyama is an urban sketcher in Seattle. Her blog is Fueled by Clouds & Coffee, and you can follow her on Instagram as Miatagrrl.