Nice article. I’ve been constantly annoyed by the people with ugly (if not illegible handwriting) and who treat their pens like crap. I missed the days when good penmanship is appreciated.

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staples_fine_blue.jpg

Quick Facts:
Pen Type Ballpoint pen
Point Size(s) Fine (estimated 0.7mm), Medium
Water-resistant N/A
Ink Color Blue (fine and medium), Black (medium only)
Capped/Retractable Capped
Clip Kinda
Approx Price $0.93 / dozen (approx $0.0775 each)
Review:

For 8 cents a pen, you can’t really complain. But I will try anyway. The look of the pen is a “Bic Round Stic” copy (which is $1.39 /dozen at officemax.com and comes in 4 colors – blue, black, red and green). The most noticeable difference is the branding, which apparently changes over time. This Staples ballpoint stick pen I own actually does not have that blue border around the words “STAPLES”. It also specifies that it’s “fine” point.

For some strange reason, the first 1-3 characters you write are always invisible. As you write more, the ink starts to catch on. But the color of the words it forms is still light and dull. I’m sure no one buys this for themselves. This pen is targeted for the office manager to get for the employees. For an extra 4 cents, which is the cost of 30 seconds of time (if your typical employee make the minimum wage of $5.25 an hour), at least get them the “Bic Round Stic”! The much better ink flow of the Bic will save more than 30 seconds of an employee’s time on just the first day of use. The lack of frustration, from a functioning pen, might actually make them more efficient.

The pen is light and has no grip, so you really have to hold on tight and push down on the paper. And beware of the notebook you are using it with. If your notebook’s lines are dark blue, like some of mine, you will see your writing merge into the deep abyss of lines. (Note to office managers, WHITE paper and light blue lines. Is that so much to ask for? Not pink… Or violet…)

Why, you ask, would someone as picky as I am buy such a pen, you ask. Well, I didn’t. I have no idea how I obtain this pen either. One day, it simply appeared on my office desk. Why did I keep it? Wasn’t I already surrounded by tons of superior pens like Uni-ball Vision and Zebra Sarasa and Uni-ball Signo 207? Yes, but this is not the purpose of this pen. Then what is the purpose? Oh, just as this pen magically appeared on my desk, I’m sure someone who borrows a pen from me might leave it somewhere else just as miraculously. Let me tell you a little story.

Back in HS, I was the proud owner of a Pilot Better Retractable ball point pen (blue, fine point). One day, a follow classmate borrowed a pen from me for a period. (I never understand how people can get to class and bring no pens. Well, I guess that was the first sign.) Anyway, after class, the person asked me if she could continue borrowing it for the rest of the day. I said yes. The next day, I ask the person for the pen back. She said she doesn’t have it on her and will have it on the next day. The day after, I ask one more time. She search through her backpack and handed me a capped black Papermate or BIC or something. I stared at it for a second, wondering whether I should tell her that my pen is blue, fine point, retractable, Pilot better ballpoint that is $1.50 at my local stationary store, that I actually had to argue with myself for spending an extra $0.50 for the retractable feature (the non-retractable Pilot better is only $1). Yes, I did. I said this is not my pen. She looked at me, confused, wondering what kind of person chase people down day-after-day for a pen and rejects anything other than THE pen. Well, she turned toward her backpack once again, searching further, and behold, my pen appears.

So what’s the lesson here? Always have a back up pen that you don’t mind losing for lending. Even with the stationary closet near by, there are still people who would ask you for a pen. Staples ballpoint stick’s a perfect gift for anyone in the office that constantly borrows your pens but never return them. You can tell them that you gave them 12 (1 for each month), and that they are not getting more from you until next Christmas (or whatever other holiday you prefer).

Rating: 6/20
Nib/Ink flow 1/5 (invisible first words)
Grip/ Balance/Weight 1/5 (no grip, too light)
Design/Looks 1/5 (copycat)
Construction 3/5 (cheap materials, the fit of the cap is a bit odd, barrel seems solid)
Official Site:

http://www.staples.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/StaplesProductDisplay?prodCatType=0&storeId=10001&catalogId=10051&langId=-1&productId=98463&cmArea=SC1:CG11:CL110001

pilot_precise_deluxe_extra_fine.jpg

Quick Facts:
Pen Type Rollerball pen
Point Size(s) Extra Fine (estimated 0.5mm), Bold
Water-resistant Yes
Ink Color 3 – Black, Blue, Red
Capped/Retractable Capped
Clip Yes
Approx Price $3 each
Review:

Pilot Precise Deluxe is an “old” pen. I had it around the house. It was my favorite pen a few years back before I discovered Uni-ball Vision Elite. Pilot discontinued all but the red pen in this series.

The pen has a pastel body that matches its ink. The grip of the pen is visible even with the cap on. As consequence, the cap is much shorter and has a cute stubby look to it. Because of lack of surface area, it could be difficult to remove the cap sometimes. Perhaps they could add some rubbery material there to improve the grip.
The clip extends beyond the cap (which looks different in a good/interesting way).

The grip of the pen is pretty good. It is made out of a good rubbery material and has hatching (perpendicular to the barrel) to improve the grip. The only problem might be that the grip is only 2.2cm long. The grip is also a bit thicker than the body of the pen, so there is a noticeable difference. If you prefer to hold the pen at a higher location, you are out-of-luck. I usually do like holding the pen where the grip is. However, if my palm starts to sweat, I tend to prefer hold a pen higher (to give more room for air in the palm region).

The ink flow is mostly consistent. It might bleed just a bit on more absorbent paper. I have to estimate the point size to around 0.5mm.

Unique great stubby look, comfortable but short grip, decent ink flow make this a once-good pen.

Rating: 15/20
Nib/Ink flow 3/5 (decent flow)
Grip/ Balance/Weight 3/5 (good but short grip)
Design/Looks 4/5

  • honest (nothing is hidden, not even the grip),
  • not timid (the ink color is shown on the entire pen instead of just the tips),
  • unpretentious (instead of darkening the body to look professional, it lighten up with pastel), and
  • straight-forward (the name is simply printed in large font on the pen in black and white).
  • I don’t like the font used for “Deluxe”.
Construction 5/5 (well made)
Official Site:

http://www.pilotpen-store.com/product_detail.asp?T1=PIL%20PX-5%20RED

staedtler_liquid_point_7.jpg

Quick Facts:
Pen Type Rollerball pen
Point Size(s) 0.3mm (Staedtler Liquid Point 5 is 0.25mm)
Water-resistant No
Ink Color 4 – Black, Blue, Red, Green
Capped/Retractable Capped
Clip Yes
Approx Price $11 for 4 color pack
Review:

Staedtler Liquid Point 7 and Staedtler Liquid Point 5 are same (as far as I know) except for the point size. I own a 4 color set of Staedtler Liquid Point 7.

The pen has a gray body with a slight shimmer. The tips of the pen and the nib match the ink color. The clip has a nice arch that allows you to clip it to thicker fabric. The barrel has a more clear part that shows you how much ink is left. (It’s the black section in the photo where the name is.) Once you remove the cap, you see discs that make up the ink feed under the clear grip. I’m a sucker for clear plastic over seemingly useful (probably only decorative) technical details.

The grip of the pen is pretty crappy. It’s also a bit thinner than the usual pen. Lacking friction and surface area, this is NOT the pen you want to use if your palm sweats at all. And since the body is so narrow, you have little to hold on to when uncapping the pen. Now imagine taking a test and removing the cap from your pen just tired you out 😦

Just as with most capped pens, the balance of the pen is good for me without the cap. With the cap at the end, the end is heavier than the front. I need to apply more pressure to compensate when writing.

The ink flow is pretty inconsistent to me (despite what the company claims). Sometimes I get no ink flow. Sometimes I get too much. Also, I’ve rarely seen an ink that bleeds this badly on notebook paper. The lines I ended up with are often thicker than what I would get from a 0.5mm pen. Because of the ink blots, there’s no way you can take notes on both sides of a sheet of paper as the ink soaks through quite badly. (Because of the bleeding, I’m going to assume it’s a water-based ink and is not going to be water-resistant.)

Decent looks, bad grip, inconsistent ink flow, and bleeding ink make this a crappy pen. You can get much better pens at much cheaper prices.

Rating: 12/20
Nib/Ink flow 1/5 (inconsistent flow, bleed-y ink)
Grip/ Balance/Weight 2/5 (slippery grip, narrow barrel and grip)
Design/Looks 4/5 (professional looking, especially like the clip arch)
Construction 5/5 (well made, should stand up to time if I keep it around)
Official Site:

http://www.staedtler.com/liquid_point_5_7_gb.Staedtler

rotring_tikkysc.jpg Rotring was known for their technical pencils. But they also made some great looking, sturdy, multi-function pens that I really like.

I was just looking around for the next interesting pen to review and realized I can’t find the website of Rotring. If you go to the current official site, all you see is the parent company Newell Rubbermaid’s name and logo 😦 The only place you can find the reminder of the former company in English is off their German site. According to wiki, Rotring stopped shipping their product to US in 2005. I started looking for rotring in the typical US office/art supply stores: staples, officemax, pearlpaint, etc. It’s true. Rotring no more …

Of course, you can still order them online from other country’s merchant sites. Hack, you can get it via amazon or ebay too. But before I spend that much money, I really need to hold the pen in my hand, test the weight, balance, and ink flow, which can only be done in person 😦

rotring_initial.jpg Take the Rotring Initial for example. The pen looks really cool, but I’m not sure whether the grip would work for me from just the photograph.

I guess that will be on the top of my shopping list if I ever leave the country.

gel-sarasa.jpg

sarasagel-asst-10.jpg

Quick Facts:
Pen Type Gel pen
Point Size(s) Fine (0.5mm), Medium (0.7mm), Bold (1.0mm)
Water-resistant No
Ink Color 10 – Black, Blue, Navy, Red, Cobalt, Mahogany, Forest (dark green), Lime (light green), Orange, Fuchsia
Capped/Retractable Retractable
Clip Yes
Approx Price $1.50 for 1 pen. $10-15 for 10 color pack
Review:

Zebra Sarasa Gel Retractable is a retractable gel pen that comes in 3 point. I have tested bold in the store and use medium point at home/office. I have not seen fine point in any stores so far.

The pen grip and clip color matches that of its ink. The main barrel is clear, so you can easily see the ink left. The dark color pens look like any other old pen – nothing distinct. The light color pens (lime, orange, fuchsia) look “fun” – which could be good or bad depending on your place of work. The red pen is just plain ugly.

The grip of the pen is very good. The rubber-like material gives it just enough grip. The shape of the grip is parallel to the barrel (no curves) which is a good, natural shape for my hand. The grip is slightly larger than the barrel, and is a very good size. (A larger grip would feel awkward to the hand).

The weight of the pen feels good. The balance of the pen is also good. (I’ll get a tiny scale one of these days to get an objective read of the weight. With a good grip, the weight and balance usually “feels” right anyway.)

The medium point that I use produces pretty consistent lines. The ink flow for medium point is good. The particular ink they use is rather “sticky”. looptop.gif (Think of ketchup instead of liquid.) What I’m saying is that nearly-overlapping lines “stick” together making corners “darker” which could make it look inconsistent.

I have never had a pen leak or pre-mature dry out thus far. It is water-based, so it’s not water resistant (as claimed and in my own test). The company also claims the pen is acid-free (which I will have to take at their word as I have no clue how to test that) and of archival quality.

Mahogany is a pretty unique pen color that I haven’t seen in other brands (which makes it a welcoming addition). Forest ink is too dark. It’s difficult to distinguish it from Black ink. (The whole point of using different colors to distinguish the different markings by them.)

Great grip and consistent ink flow makes this a good pen. Add being retractable to that and you have a great pen for moving environments (such as the subway). Color variety is probably one of the best I’ve seen.

Rating: 16/20
Nib/Ink flow 4/5 (good ink flow, ink is stickier than I like)
Design/Looks 3/5 (decent-to-cute looking depending on color)
Grip/Balance/Weight 4/5 (pretty good grip and balance)
Construction 5/5 (well made, should stand up to some wear and tear)
Official Site:

http://www.zebrapen.com/gel-sarasa.html

Uni-ball Vision Elite

Quick Facts:
Pen Type Roller pen
Point Size(s) Micro (0.5mm), Bold (0.8mm)
Water-resistant Yes
Ink Color 8 – Black, Blue, Blue/Black (basically dark blue), Red, Green, Orange, Purple, Pink (looks more like magenta)
Capped/Retractable Capped
Clip Yes
Approx Price $2.50 for 1 pen. $20 for 8 color pack
Review:

Uni-ball Vision Elite is a roller pen that comes 2 point sizes (micro / bold) and 8 colors. I tried bold and was not a big fan (mostly because I prefer fine points). I have been using the micro point for the past 2 years in black and blue. I used all 8 colors in the last year.

The micro point has a black body and the bold point has a white/silver-ish body. I think the black body looks quite handsome. The tip of the cap matches the ink color fairly accurately.

The clip on the cap is very sturdy and makes the pen a good candidate for your pocket or any fabric less than 3mm.

The barrel has a clear part that shows you how much ink is left. So if your pen won’t write and you don’t see ink in the barrel, then you know you don’t have to give the pen a second chance and just chuck it then. (Although, based on experience, pens given a second chance usually don’t deserve it 😦 )

The grip of the pen is fair. The grip is fine under normal use. But if your palms are sweating (during an exam, 2 hours of note taking, or just in a hot office), then it feels slippery. (Also not recommended for writing on mass transit like subway or bus since it’s slippery and has 2 parts (cap and body).)

The shape of the grip is parallel to the barrel (no curves) which I think is the most natural shape for fingers anyway. The grip is slightly smaller than the barrel to make space for the cap. (Personally, I would have preferred the grip and barrel to have the same diameter.) Both the grip and the barrel are a decent size (too small would be hard to hold on to and too big would feel awkward and difficult to control).

The pen is a little on the light side. It wouldn’t hurt to give it an extra 20% in weight. The balance of the pen is good without the cap. With the cap at the end, the end is heavier than the front. I need to apply more pressure to the nib when writing (which kills my control or tires my hand out). To avoid this problem, I simply leave the cap on my desk (which gets lost from time-to-time which is annoying).

When closed, the cap does hold on to the barrel tightly so you are unlikely to lose the cap whether you drop the pen to the floor or dump it in a backpack full of other items with rough edges. However, the cap does not hold on the end of the pen quite as well. If you have it at the end while writing and the pen fail to the ground, there’s a very good chance the cap will separate from the pen.

A minor issue is the barrel of the pen has a tendency to unscrew itself upon many capping and uncapping actions. You just have to tighten the screw again. I think it has to do with the material they use that just doesn’t screw too well.

The nib of the pen is sturdy, fine yet smooth. It doesn’t give you the feeling you are scratching the paper (like many extra fine point pens). It doesn’t create much friction that would slow you down (or tire your hand out). It has just the right resistance against the paper.

The ink flow is superb. A lot of the times, when the point is this fine, the ink flow becomes inconsistent. But not this pen. It always delivers a perfect ink flow. Not too much that it bleeds or creates ink blots. Not so little that the ink disappears from time to time.

I have never had a pen leak thus far. It claims to be fade and water resistant. I have not tested the fade resistance yet, but the water resistant part is quite true (once it dried). Depending on quality/absorbency of your paper (such as loose leaf), you might notice a bit of bleeding if you pause the nib on the paper.

Really minor thing: I find it difficult to differentiate between blue and blue/black. Statistically, over the last year, I have 2 blue/black ink pens that won’t write after a few weeks/months of use (while there is still ink visible in the barrel). I have not had this problem with the other colors (such as black, green, and blue which I use more often than blue/black).

Also, what they claim to be pink ink is really a magenta color (darker).

The smooth nib plus the consistently perfect ink flow is what makes this pen such a joy to write with! And the color variety definitely does not hurt. (Go to your local staples and try it. You will fall in love with it.)

Rating: 15/20
Nib/Ink flow 4/5 (flawless flow, ink might bleed a little on absorbent paper)
Design/Looks 4/5 (professional looking)
Grip/Balance/Weight 3/5 (a little slippery, a little on the light side, good balance w/o cap)
Construction 4/5 (body unscrews over time)
Official Site:

http://uniball-na.com/main.taf?p=2,3,1

Yasutomo Grip 500

Review:

Yes, I’m review a pencil in a pen blog. But the technical design of this mechanical pencil surpasses that of most pens and I just have to share it with the world.

The Yasutomo Grip 500 I own is green and uses 0.7mm lead. Before this, I only used 0.5mm lead. But when I saw it at the store, it looked so cool that I simply did not care that I have to buy a new set of lead for it.

The barrel is made of translucent green (they make other colors too) plastic-y material that has a slight texture and grip. The grip part of it is made out of rubber (I think) and has a texture similar to a tire. The grip is wonderful !!! The rubber they use is comfortable and grips just the right amount. (I hate pens that stick to your fingers.) It’s perfectly parallel to the barrel of the pen (unlike some other pens that curve in or out) and almost the same size as the barrel.

(Small note: The barrel of my pencil is cracked where the screw is. I guess the material is not very strong. However, in everyday use (writing and refilling), there’s no reason to screw or unscrew that part of the pencil (besides curiosity), so I guess it’s fine.)

The clip is made out (what feels like) real metal (unlike some cheap plastic stuff some other pens use) and bends enough so you can actually clip it to something more than 2mm without thinking you are going to break it. I also find out recently, according to their site, that it’s less likely to poke holes in your pocket due to its retractable design (which I’ll talk about in more detail later).

The eraser is neatly hidden under a plastic cap painted to look like metal and is tiny, pink and hard. I never care for the hard erasers because they don’t erase well. You erase 2 letters, then it turns black. So I’m quite happy that they hide this eye sore under the cap. Anyway, in order to refill the lead, you have to (alternate is from tip of pencil – so not so good) remove the cap, then the eraser (plus its metal holder/clamp) to get to the inner barrel. If you actually use up the eraser, then you won’t have much to hold on to when attempting to remove it. So it’s best to not use the eraser. (Personally I prefer using a eraser not attached to my pencil, so this con isn’t really relevant to me.)

The coolest part of the pencil is the retractable “entire tip”. Most mechanical pencils either don’t retract their tip at all or only retract the front-most 1-3mm of the tip. But the Yasutomo Grip 500 retracts the entire tip – all 1.2cm of it (the part of the pencil that starts to curve into the very tip). What does this mean? According to Yasutomo’s site, it prevents poking holes in pockets. But I see something far more useful! Normally, when you finish writing, you retract the lead back into the very tip. Then depending on the design of the mechanical pencil, you might have to retract the very tip (1-3mm) into the pencil. With Grip 500, you simply retract the entire tip and don’t have to move the lead. “Why does it matter”, you ask. Well, let me tell you.

When you start using a (button/ratchet-based) mechanical pencil, you normally push the button (at the end or side depending on your pencil) 1, 2 or 3 times depending on how much your pencil advances the lead and how much you like the lead to stick out of the tip. Sometimes it doesn’t advance enough, sometimes it advances too much. You have to retract the lead and push the button until you get it just right. (Hmm, now that I think about it, it’s entirely possible that I’m the only person that anal about having the lead stick out the right length.) Anyway, with Grip 500, the next time you want to use the pencil, just push the tip out and the lead is where you last left it – at perfect writing length.

The lead advance mechanism is by push the end of the pencil. (Apparently, this is call a ratchet-based pencil according to wikipedia.) Each push produces a crisp sound as expected. The first push advances the entire tip (approx 1.2cm) of the pencil (as described above). The “entire tip” is metal-y and very sturdy. The “very tip” is also metal-y and parallel to the barrel of the pencil (which from what I understood distributes the force better to prevent lead breakage – I write rather lightly in general, so I’m not sure whether it really holds up to the more heavy handed people).

The retracting mechanism is controlled by the push of the clip. Yes, pretty cool 🙂 No more pushing the button and the lead against your desk to retract the lead (or in this case the tip). One push of the clip and there goes the tip. In theory, it seems possible for someone with a big hand to accidentally push the clip while writing. However, in practice, your hand simply do not push the pencil in that direction while writing.

Overall it is a good weight. Not too light that I’m afraid it’s going to flung out of my hand. Not too heavy to tire my hand out.

The balance of the pencil is good. It is a little heavier on the tip so the weight of the tip helps me push on the paper.

It is by far the best mechanical pencil I’ve ever had. Well balanced. Solid construction on the tip and grip. Beautiful translucent barrel and nice metallic touches. It’s a real shame they discontinued it.

Rating: 14/15
Tip/Ink flow N/A
Design/Looks 5/5 (cool looking, novel design)
Grip/Balance/Weight 5/5 (superb grip, great shape, perfect balance and weight)
Construction 4/5 (cracked barrel)
Official Site:

http://www.yasutomo.com/mechanical.htm