Pen Review: JetPens Brush Lettering Pen Sampler

Review by Laura Cameron

I have always loved Ana’s lettering. A few weeks ago, as I browsed JetPens for some new materials to review, I stumbled upon their Brush Lettering Pen Sampler, and decided to give it a whirl ($29 for 6 pens). I knew I needed some instruction so I headed over to Amazon to see what they might have in the way of books. I settled on The Ultimate Guide to Modern Calligraphy and Handlettering for Beginners, and based on the pricepoint ($6.99) and the reviews (4000+ positive) I decided to give it a try.

The Brush Lettering Sampler includes (from left to right):

From past experience playing with pens, I started with the firmer pens before playing with the larger brush pens (like the Tombow). I find that brush pens need a lot of control and I don’t have it yet!

The book had a good introduction to terminology and more information about the craft and then I got right into tracing and then practicing some simple strokes, and letters.

I found that I liked different pens for different letters. As you can see in some of my photos, some of the letters came out well, and others did not! I know that I’m struggling between a light touch and skipping the pen on the page. So I definitely need more practice.

While I don’t have a lot of experience or knowledge, I like how this sampler provides me a way to test out a variety of brush pens to figure out what I’ll be most comfortable with. I plan to keep practicing and share my progress over the next few months.

For now, if you’re looking for a fun way to get started in brush lettering, the combination of the set and book ran me about $40, which I consider fair for what should be hours of fun!

DISCLAIMER: Some of the items included in this review were provided to us free of charge for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Ink Overview: Cross Inks

Ink Overview: Cross Inks

Cross Inks are one of the classic “staple inks” that are often recommended. Over the years, the “archival” attributes of the ink have often mistakenly been assumed to also be waterproof. “Archival” simply means that the inks have been formulated to resist fading over time and have a pH level that is neutral and acid-free. This should make the inks safe for vintage and modern pens. Cross inks are available in six standard colors: Black, Blue, Blue-Black, Red, Green and Violet. Each color is available in a 2-ounce bottle ($15) or in cartridges ($7 per pack) to fit Cross pens.

Of the six inks in the line-up, the Violet, Red, Blue and Blue-Black all have some sheen to them on Col-o-ring paper. I think the sheen in the Violet is so strong that it is likely to show-up on most high-quality fountain pen friendly paper, certainly on Tomoe River and such.

Cross Blue Comparison

I’ll start my overview with the Blue. It’s the most similar to other inks, in terms of color. It’s a true blue — a bog stock, vivid blue. Sheaffer, Waterman, Pilot, Lamy… they all have their version and I’m sure there’s more.

I have to wonder if there’s a base powdered pigment of bright blue that all the major pen manufacturers use straight of the pot?

Yep? French Ultramarine Blue straight out of the pot. Thanks, Blick for the image. If you want to try to make your own, this Sennelier Artist Pigment and the Make Ink Book could be just the thing. (Note: As mentioned in the comments below inks are made with dyes not pigments! You can make watercolor with pigments. Sorry. I clearly did not have enough coffee when I wrote this. But you see my point about the color being French Ultramarine?)

Cross Blue Comparison

So, I don’t have much to say about the blue. It’s bright, out-of-the-tube blue with some sheen. It’s archival so it’s not supposed to fade and it’s reasonably priced in a good-sized bottle. But there’s also other options in this category. Do they fade? I don’t know. I’m not a chemist so I can’t guarantee the pH of other inks.

Cross Violet Comparison

The Cross Violet had massive sheen on Col-o-ring paper. The sheen blew me away. Cross Violet is a little more on the red side than Waterman Purple.

Cross Violet Comparison

The photo above puts the two red purples side-by-side (Taccia Murasaki Purple and Cross Violet) and then the two bluer purples side-by-side (Montegrappa Violet and Waterman Purple) then the Sailor Jentle Fuji Musume which has shading and granulations of both reddish purple and bluish purple but no sheen.

Cross Blue Black Comparison

Amazingly, Cross Blue Black is a unique shade of deep blue. Diamine Eclipse and Sailor Shikiori Shimoyo are close but not quite the same hue. There’s a bit more brilliance to the Cross Blue Black plus that lovely sheen. I included the Parker and Sheaffer Blue-Black as some of the other classic inks even though the hues are not similar at all.

Cross Blue Black Comparison

Cross Red Comparison

Okay, these reds are really this bright. Cross Red is really bright. When I started to match it to other reds, it became clear that Cross Red is more fluorescent than I initially thought.

Cross Red Comparison

Cross Red has a good deal of sheen and if you need to edit papers, no one will miss the marks with this red ink. Dang!

Cross Green Comparison

Cross Green is a bright shading “kelly green.” Surprisingly, I didn’t have a ton of comparison colors in my stash. Green is also a difficult color to make archival. I have not tested it to see if it keeps from fading but I will definitely do a test with this ink soon and see how it does.

Cross Green Comparison

Cross Black Comparison

Now… for the Cross Black. Like Cross Blue, this is another ink that, other than the claim of being archival, makes the Cross Black stand out from all the other black inks on the market. And, as I’ve said before, Platinum Carbon Black is still my favorite, go-to black ink because it’s waterproof. I once sacrificed a Lamy Safari by letting Platinum Carbon Black dry in the pen to see if I could clean it out afterwards. It clean out with water six months later, no problem.

Cross Black Comparison

That said, if I want black ink for a vintage pen Sheaffer, Waterman or Cross would all be a good option.

So, if you are looking to stock your ink cabinet or shelf and haven’t tried Cross inks yet, I would recommend Cross Violet or Blue Black first, then the crazy bright Red. If you like green, Cross Green is a vivid option too. The Blue and Black are one of many options.


Fountain Pen Review: Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen

Fountain Pen Review: Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen

Esterbrook, in its latest incarnation, via the watchful eyes of the team at Kenro, has released its latest fountain pen which is the most ambitious and most anticipated pen yet — the JR Pocket Pen. This pen is their first attempt to create a modern redesign of the classic “J” style Esterbrook fountain pen. It’s a project that has been in the works, at least as an idea, from day one, but was something that the team at Kenro did not want to tackle until they were sure they could successfully recreate the look and feel of the original Esterbrook J as closely as possible.

The JR Pocket Pen ($140) is available in three colors (Capri Blue, Carmine Red and Tuxedo Charcoal) and the option for either silver or gold hardware.

Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen packaging

The dangers in undertaking a project like this is that it will never be the same nor should it be. The point of recreating a pen like the J is to make a pen that looks just a classic but might not suffer from being 60+ year old fragile plastic, require fiddly lever-filling or be quite as small as the original since the modern pen user might prefer a larger pen. Of course, there will also be sacrifices required to accomplish goals and things that you and I, as consumers, and Esterbrook, as a company, might have wanted to keep but, for one reason or another, could not be accomplished.

With this caveat, let’s consider the new Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen.

Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen packagin

Like previous Esterbrook products, the JR Pocket Pen ships in the fabric covered, magnet closure box that creates an attractive presentation for the pen. The JR ships with a cartridge and a standard international converter as well as a branded microfiber cleaning cloth. I’ve developed quite a collection of these.

Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen

Both ends of the JR Pocket Pen are flat. The cap end has an embedded metal disc with the Esterbrook X etched into it while the bottom end has a larger metal cap with no markings or decoration.

Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen nib close-up

The nib of the pen is etched with the new Esterbrook X logomark upgrading the look. The nib is stainless steel nib in rhodium or gold plating, depending on pen hardware and nib options are extra fine, fine, medium, broad and stub 1.1. I tested a medium nib.

I know the next question on many pen aficionados minds will be “Does the JR Pocket Pen have a converter to accept vinta ge Esterbrook nibs?” I spoke with Esterbook/Kenro and the answer is that the converter for the JR Pocket Pen is in production. Due to the pandemic, production and shipping was delayed but the company did not want to wait to release the pen just to wait for the vintage nib converter. It will be available soon and should be priced similarly to the converter that was available for the Estie. Follow-up question and answer, “No, the Estie vintage nib converter will not fit.”

Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen writing sample

As with previous Esterbrook pens, the nib worked flawlessly. These nibs are teaching me to appreciate medium nibs (words I NEVER thought would ever come out of my mouth). I matched my ink to the pen body using an older Pen BBS ink but only discovered after I photographed everything that the ink is not currently in production. (SORRY!)

I spent a lot of time with the new JR Pocket Pen sitting next to my extensive pile of vintage Esterbrook pens. I’ve been collecting them for many years and Esterbrook was how I got into fountain pens in the first place. So, much of what I looked for with the JR Pocket Pen surrounded how close it came to the original look-and-feel of the original designs. As I said earlier, there are both good and bad aspects to comparing a modern version of a vintage pen. I am simply outlining the differences so that anyone looking to purchase a JR Pocket Pen can make an informed purchase. Please take my next comments with this in mind.

The clip  is simple and straight, like the original and features the grooves, similar to the original Esterbrook. They are not as defined and do not include the Esterbrook lettering that was featured on the original J pens. The cap band on the JR is a wider, smooth band with the Esterbrook logo type etched into it rather than the ridged, thinner ring of the original bands. The JR Pocket Pen clip is also attached “invisibly” compared to the original J series which is connected to the pen via the silver cap under the jewel.

One of the most notable characteristics of the J series pens are the “jewels” on the ends of the pen, usually in black that are a two-step layer of dots. It moves the look of the pen away from a flat-end pen to a slightly cigar shape. Clearly, the JR Pocket Pen is missing this contrasting element.

The is the addition of a metal ring about two-thirds down the body of the pen. If the JR Pocket Pen was a piston-filler, this ring would make sense but it is not so the addition of the ring is curious and not in keeping with the aesthetic of the original J design. There may have been a cost/manufacturing necessity for this as it is right where the lower third of the pen starts to taper.

The grip section on the JR Pocket Pen is longer and more tapered than the original J Series pens.

Finally, the cap-to-body size is noticeably different. It’s one of the aspects that stood out most to me. There seems to be more bulk (too much material?) for the cap that makes the cap look too big for the pen. It’s a pen muffintop. (Okay, that was an opinion statement. And probably a little harsh but it’s the one thing that I get hung up on with this pen.)

Compared to Other Pens:

Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen compared to Estie and Camden

First, I wanted to compare the JR Pocket Pen to some of Esterbrook’s other releases. From left to right: the JR Pocket Pen, the Estie Lilac Slim size and the Camden Composition.

Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen compared to Estie and Camden

The same pens, uncapped. The JR Pocket Pen can be posted while the Camden and the Composition are not postable, at least I’ve found they are not easy to post.

Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen compared to modern fountain pens

Compared to other modern pens, from left to right: Pilot Decimo, Pelikan M600, TWSBI ECO, Pilot Metropolitan, Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen, Lamy AL-Star, Aurora Optima and Sailor Pro Gear Slim. The JR Pocket Pen is very comparable in size to a Pro Gear Slim.

Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen compared to modern fountain pens

When posted, the JR Pocket Pen is similar in length to the the Pelikan M600, Pilot Metrolitan and Aurora Optima.

Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen compared to vintage Esterbrooks

This is the size comparison everyone is waiting to see. The JR Pocket sitting amongst its historical brethren. From left to right: Lady’s Dollar Pen, pastel or CH pen, SJ, full-sized Dollar Pen, shorter Dollar Pen (not actually called an SJ at that point, but similar), the green and black are both Transitional (flat bottom), the JR Pocket Pen,  LJ, J,  and Deluxe. As you can see, the JR Pocket Pen is very similarly sized to the J and the LJ as the name would suggest.

The JR Pocket Pen measures 4.875″ (12.4 cm) closed, 6″ (15.2cm) posted and 4.625″ (11.8cm) unposted. It weighs approximately 20gms capped and 13 gms uncapped with a full converter. The J weighs approximately 15gms capped and 10gms uncapped.

The Esterbrook Pen Nook:

Esterbrook Pen Nook 3-Pen Case Packaging

Another item now available from Esterbrook is the navy leather Pen Nook. I received the Triple Pen Nook ($125) to review as well which was perfect to show off the Carmine Red JR Pocket Pen and it’s older cousins.

Esterbrook Pen Nook 3-Pen Case

The case is stitched with contrasting red thread and features the Esterbrook X (infinity) symbol on the magnetic closure.

Esterbrook Pen Nook 3-Pen Case

It’s a hard-sided case to protect your pens from getting tossled in transport from the office to home (when that becomes an issue again) or even in your desk drawer.

Esterbrook Pen Nook with pens

The case unfolds to reveal three divided compartments large enough to hold most fountain pens and elastics to keep the pens from unexpectedly escaping, even if the case gets turned over.

In the Esterbrook Pen Nook was the final stop for color comparison between the JR Pocket Pen and my two red vintage Esterbrooks: a Tempo Red Purse Pen and an SJ. The color of the Carmine Red is much closer to the warm Tempo Red than the more rich, striated wine red of the SJ.

Overall, I think the JR Pocket Pen is the fountain pen everyone had been hoping that the new Esterbrook would release. Are there elements of the design I wish were different? Of course. That said, this is a solid step forward into the world of retro pen design.

In fashion, retro is a term used often when clothes are made in the style of a previous time but in new material, sizes and with other modern considerations in mind. Those in the vintage community are of two minds about retro fashion: some love it because it create inclusivity (original vintage items are hard to find, often expensive, require special care and don’t always fit everyone’s needs) and others think they are an abomination (we’ve all heard these arguments in the pen community too. “Just buy a vintage pen. New stuff isn’t as good. They don’t make ’em like they used to… Yadda yadda yadda.”) I believe there is a place for both. I certainly don’t want sourpuss attitudes about either but I appreciate both sides. I want to continue to try to save and maintain vintage objects as long as we can but I also want to make the aesthetic available to wider audiences and if that is easier through retro creations, as long as they are done well and thoughtfully, I wholeheartedly support them.


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

Ink Lineup Review: Taccia Jeans

Ink Lineup Review: Taccia Jeans

By Jessica Coles

Jeans. Who would think to make an entire line of inks based on the color of jeans? You probably see blue jeans multiple times in a day and each pair of these pants are typically unique in color, pattern, style, and fit, but they are so common that they fade into the background in our minds.

Well, Taccia has recently presented an ink lineup called Jeans. I obtained samples of each from Vanness Pens (thank you for remembering to put in the last color that I had forgotten to add to my cart!) so I could show all 7 inks together, hopefully making it easier to decide which ink (or inks) are your favorite.

The seven inks in the Taccia Jeans collection are Grey, Light Washed, Classic Blue, Indigo, Dark Washed, Navy Blue, and Black. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was to find no Acid Washed ink; probably wouldn’t have been a great color, though.

I was surprised when searching my ink swatch library for similarly colored inks; there were a few that had no good comparisons! Taccia Jeans Grey was the first in this category. The color of the swatch is similar to Montegrappa Dark Blue and Diamine Prussian Blue, but Grey is much lighter. My first thought was to compare it to other greys in my library, but it was much too blue to compare in that category. I was impressed at the legibility of the ink since it is so light. Grey is quite easy to read clearly.

Taccia Jeans Light Washed was another shade that was tough to match. Montblanc Miles Davis is brighter but has the same undertones while Organic Studios Wedding Bells is a bit more purple.

Robert Oster Grey Seas and ColorVerse Saturn V are very close to Taccia Jeans Classic Blue, but the Taccia ink is dustier and a few shades lighter than either.

Indigo shows signs of a light sheen (almost haloing in writing, but not quite). Again the Taccia ink is lighter than Robert Oster – School Blue this time.

Taccia Jeans Dark Washed is a great blue/black ink, very close to Manyo Kikyou. Dark Washed shows even more sheen than Indigo, similar to the level of sheen in Diamine Blue Velvet Cake.

My favorite of this batch was Navy Blue. Again, sheen is present but Navy Blue also brings shading. The lighter areas of Navy Blue are a close match to KWZ Blue #6, an iron gall ink, but Navy Blue shades to darker blue with green showing up in heavier applications.

I was surprised at Taccia Jeans Black; I was expecting more of a very dark blue. That brought to mind Kyo-no-oto Nurebairo (not actually a black ink but a super dark blue) but Black is definitely a more neutral black than blue. Monteverde Onyx is a close match here.

The above seven inks have the same characteristics that I have found in all other Taccia inks. Easy to use, a touch on the dry side, wonderful on Tomoe River paper. The 40mL bottles are sold for $18 each. Since my typical daily outfit includes jeans, I’m wondering if I should match what I wear each day to the color of my jeans. Then would spilled ink just blend into my jeans? I think it’s worth experimenting!

Thank you to Davina at Vanness for the beautiful photograph!

DISCLAIMER:  Some items in this review were provided at a reduced rate for the purpose of this review. Except for the Col-o-ring which was provided to me by a wonderful person who pays me to write blogs by keeping me supplied with Col-o-rings. Please see the About page for more details.

Link Love: Stinktober

Link Love: Stinktober

It was brought to my attention earlier this week by one of the many products who have planned sponsorships with Inktober/Jake Parker that there is a scandal brewing around the founder and creator of Inktober. Another artist and author, Alphonso Dunn, has accused Parker of plagiarizing his book Pen & Ink Drawing which was published in 2015 in creating his drawing book Inktober All Year Long which is due to be published this year by Chronicle Books. (New development: Chronicle Books is postponing release of the book to clear up concern about this issue).

There is a post by Teoh on Parka Blogs that sums up the situation fairly succinctly and the comments have ongoing updates and a range of opinions. While I don’t condone plagiarism, I am also weary of cancel culture. Do I think it’s possible that Parker might have seen or been influenced by Dunn’s book? Yes. Is it also possible that, as both artists share their process and techniques online, the waters have become murky as to who might have influenced who and when? Yes.

I don’t think Inktober, which has become such a great creative endeavor for so many people (myself included), should be abandoned nor do I think all the businesses who have partnered with Parker should be punished and be left with unsold Inktober merchandise this year (of all years) because the creative community wants to make a stand against plagiarism. Parker, if he was paid for his relationship with other companies, already got his cut. So, ArtSnacks and Viviva and all the other companies are the ones who will be out money if people cancel their Inktober orders now. Who is really being punished for Parker’s alleged misdeeds?

Adorable Ollie

Okay, I’m hopping off my virtual soap box and getting back to the things we really enjoy, pens, inks, funny cat links (Ollie insisted on it and seriously, after the year we’ve had, cute cats are just what we need.)



Notebooks & Paper:

Art & Creativity:


Black Lives Matter:

Cat-Related (because Ollie made me do it):

Other Interesting Things:

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Notebook Review: Clairefontaine Flying Spirit A5 Sewn Spine Notebook- White, Lined

Recently I saw Mike from Inkdependence talk about the Clairefontaine Flying Spirit notebooks, and I wanted to try one! I selected the Clairefontaine Flying Spirit A5 Sewn Spine Notebook in White with lined paper ($8.95 at Vanness). 

I know this notebook isn’t new, but I love Clairefontaine paper and the whimsical flight illustrations appealed to me. When I received mine I had gotten the Astronaut on the cover.

The Flying Spirit notebooks are A5, 14.8 x 21cm and have 48 sheets (96 pages) of 90gsm ivory paper. The Cover, which is actually 3 panels (the third to be used as a book mark), is made from cardstock. While the Flying Spirit collection does have a blank sketchbook, most have lined paper (brown and black covers available as well). The notebook has a sewn binding in a gold thread that matches the foil logo and illustration on the front cover.

The third panel on the cover gives some brief information on Clairefontaine and notes that the paper is acid free and sourced from sustainable forests.

So let’s get to the paper.

The paper itself is super smooth and I used fountain pens, pencils, gel inks and fine liners with no trouble at all. There was a bit of ghosting on the reverse side, but no bleed through with anything I used. The lines are 5/16″ or .8cm wide, which is a bit wide for me, but perfectly serviceable. In general, I don’t mind ivory colored paper, though I admit it looks a little odd against the bright white cover.

Overall this is a fun little notebook. I suspect it will become a place to jot down knitting design ideas since I can tuck labels and other items into pages with the added third panel to keep them safe.

DISCLAIMER: Some of the items included in this review were provided to us free of charge for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Pen Review: Pen Boutique Exclusive Sailor 1911 Kagero Green (MF Nib)

Pen Review: Pen Boutique Exclusive Sailor 1911 Kagero Green (MF Nib)

To celebrate their 15th anniversary, Pen Boutique worked with Sailor and Itoya to develop an exclusive design for the 1911 Kagero Green ($220). The owner of Pen Boutique, Leena, is an avid hiker and decided to let nature be her inspiration in choosing the theme and colors for the pen. The name and color is Kagero green which is Japanese for mayflies. This exclusive edition is limited to just 200 pens across the regular and large models.

Sailor 1911 Kagero Green

The pen is really lovely. The translucent olive green body is accented with gold hardware and a 14k gold nib (the 1911 Large features a 21k nib). The pen ships in standard Sailor packaging including the navy blue box with white paper sleeve and ships with two cartridges and a converter.

Sailor 1911 Kagero Green nib close up

I’ve gone into more detail about the 1911 pen in past reviews.  That review includes all the weights and measurements and comparisons to some common pens. If you are not familiar with Sailor pens, Unsharpen has a Buying Guide that’s quite handy.

Sailor 1911 Kagero Green compared to other Sailor pens

The only other “1911” I own is actually a ProColor with a 21k and it’s also the only other Sailor I own with gold hardware. As you can see, the 1911 and ProColor pens on the far right are all the same size. The 1911 has the ring around the bottom and wider rings around the cap. The six pens to the left are all Sailor Pro Gear Slims and then the last pen on the left is a Pro Gear Sapporo Mini.

Sailor 1911 Kagero Green nib close up

The photo above shows the H-MF (14k) and H-F (21k) nibs. I don’t know if the engraving between the nibs is always different. I bought this nib after-market (obviously, Pro Color pens don’t come with 21k nibs!) but I wanted to be able to show that in a photo, its almost impossible to tell a MF from a F nib. I even thought they were both MF until I saw the macro photo.

Sailor 1911 Kagero Green writing sample

So, in my writing sample, I even did a comparison with the 21k nib thinking the nibs were the same width. The 21k looks like is writes wider. This could be an optical illusion of the ink being darker or that the ink in the 21k is wetter. Whatever the case, they are still pretty similar overall.

The MF nib in the 1911 regular is quite fine. It’s comparable to most European and American EF nibs for sure. I have a TWSBI with an EF which is much wider than this. The 14k nib of the 1911 regular has a bit more feedback than my comparable 21k MF nib. So, if you can afford to upgrade to a 1911 Large with the 21k nib, I highly recommend it, especially if you prefer really fine nibs.

Pen Boutique recommends matching Sailor Waka- Uguisu ($13.50 for 20ml) with the pen but I matched it with the new Robert Oster Australis Tea ($17 for 50ml). I think they are both pretty comparable. Sailor inks are probably a bit wetter where Robert Oster’s tend to run a little drier. Otherwise, I think the results are pretty similar.


Sailor 1911 Kagero Green in matching Yak Leather sleeve

Pen Boutique is also stocking a matching Yak Leather pen sleeve in Olive Green ($15.99)  which coordinates perfectly with the Sailor Kagero Green 1911.

Sailor 1911 Kagero Green in matching Yak Leather sleeve

Sailor 1911 Kagero Green in matching Yak Leather sleeve

The Kagero Green 1911 is definitely a pen to give me FOMO. Despite the photo above of my Sailor pen collection, green is my favorite color and the shade of green that the Kagero Green embodies is that “right shade”. Do I wish the hardware was silver? Yes. Do I wish there was glitter in the body color? Of course I do, I’m part crow. All that aside, this is a gorgeous pen and if I had the cheddar I’d go for the 1911 Large ($312) with the 21k nib in a hot second.

PS: The Crabby Pen Holder ($9.97) is also available from Pen Boutique.


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