Multi Pen Review: Multi Madness, Part 1

Review by Tina Koyama

Ana is not the only one who has a thing for multi pens! I’ve acquired more than my share over the years. For this review, I picked out a few with unique or noteworthy features: The Pilot Hi-Tec C Coleto 1000 ($13.50 for body; $4.50 for eraser component; $3 for graphite component; $1.80 for gel pen component), the Pilot Acroball Spotlighter 3 Color Ballpoint Pen + Highlighter ($9.75), and the Uni Color 3 Multi Mechanical Pencil ($8.25). (In Part 2, I’ll compare several other multi pens with more conventional ink/graphite components.)

The Pilot Hi-Tech C Coleto, the only customizable multi pen in this review, is nearly mind-boggling in its potential versatility. I was kind of scared to look through all the possibilities – 72 gel pen, pencil and eraser components compatible with its four available slots! (Don’t even get me started on the Uni Style Fit Meister, which has 214 components!) I stayed up a little too late choosing my refills (violet and green 0.5mm gel, 0.5 mm pencil and eraser). The body is a smooth, metallic-colored plastic with a shape that’s comfortable to hold, although the surface can be a bit slippery.

The refills are easy to place into the body. The hinged top flips open, and a component slides into each chamber. (It’s only tricky if you try to put one in backwards as I did! The tab must face out.) It’s fascinating to see all the hingey, springy parts on the components that make the multi pen operate smoothly. The selector tabs push down flawlessly and stay engaged in use until released by slightly pushing another tab. The larger tabs on the eraser and pencil units enable easy loading of additional eraser or lead by pushing repeatedly.

One reason I chose the Coleto is for its eraser unit. While most multi pens with a pencil unit include a refillable eraser at the top, the Coleto is the only one I found with a conveniently retractable eraser – and it’s just about the same diameter as my favorite Tombow Mono Zero. Although it doesn’t erase quite as well as the Zero, it’s still a very good eraser. I like that the eraser itself is refillable. Similarly, the mechanical pencil unit can be refilled with any 0.5 mm leads. The gel pen units are competent and come in oodles of colors. My only wish is that they were available in 0.7 mm, my favorite writing size. (All scribble swatches made in a Col-o-Ring Oversize notebook.)

Another Pilot, the Acroball Spotliter is unique in a different way: In addition to three 0.7mm ballpoint pen units (black, blue and red inks), this multi pen comes with a highlighter in either pink or yellow at the top. I was pleased that it came with 0.7mm ballpoints, and the ink doesn’t smear when highlighted. The highlighter can be refilled along with the ink units.

I like the grippy rubberized body, which is comfortable to hold and use. It’s fun to look through the translucent barrel and watch the inner mechanism move when a color is selected. (I admit, one reason I love multi pens is being able to see their intricate mechanical parts.)

I have some quibbles, however. To select an ink color, the barrel must be twisted, and a small colored line indicates which color you have chosen (a ring on the pen tip also indicates the ink color). However, the barrel goes only so far, and then it must be reversed. When I get to the stopping point, I always want to keep going in the same direction. My preference is retractable tabs as on the Coleto.

A second quibble is the cap over the highlighter. Intuitively, I want to pull off the cap, but when I do, the whole highlighter unit comes off, revealing the chamber for refilling the pen components. To open the highlighter, the cap must be twisted off. Maybe from a lifetime of pulling caps off highlighters, this twisting motion is not at all intuitive to me.

The third multi pen in this review is not a pen at all – it’s the Uni Color 3 multi pencil. It comes with 0.5 mm Uni NanoDia Color Erasable leads in red, blue and orange. When the top cap is removed, a refillable eraser is revealed. The translucent barrel makes it easy to see which color is being selected.

I didn’t have high expectations of coloring with these leads, but I made a valiant effort at sketching a peach anyway (I used a smooth Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook). Although all three colors are pale by colored pencil standards, the orange is especially light. Adequate for writing, the red and blue would be a handy alternative to a woodcased bicolor pencil. All three colors do erase well with the attached eraser.

Of the three (and of most multi pens I’ve tried), the Uni’s body feels the least sturdy. Although the sliding selector mechanisms are smooth, they feel bouncy instead of secure when pushed. Although a fully detachable cap over the eraser seems standard for multi pens and pencils, I wish more could be hinged like the Coleto’s. I’m certain that I’ll lose that tiny cap.

The Uni 3 is one of few multi mechanical pencils I know of. Since the components will accommodate any 0.5 mm leads, here’s what I might do: Fill the three units with H, 2B and 4B graphite leads (Pentel Ain Stein and Pilot Neox are some good ones). That would make the Uni 3 a handy and compact writing/drawing multi – and with a decent eraser, too.

Tina Koyama is an urban sketcher in Seattle. Her blog is Fueled by Clouds & Coffee, and you can follow her on Instagram as Miatagrrl.


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