Review – Faber-Castell Grip 2020 Ballpoint

Sometimes the basic problems of a cheap ballpoint pen can just get to you. Many ballpoints have a round or hexagonal design that can lead to hand cramping or slipping while trying to write with thick, uncooperative ink. You see additions like silicone rubber grips occasionally as a remedy in the US, but apparently in places like Peru they have attempted to remedy these problems directly in the design of the pen. The Faber-Castell Grip 2020 boasts an ergonomic triangular design, with as studded grip and “smooth writing” ink. But how well does that improve performance?

photo 1-7

The body is a simple, translucent, subtly triangular-ized cylinder with 150 small rounded “studs” for grip evenly positioned on the faces. The cap is round, with an integrated clip, and it has the relatively unique feature of sliding “under” the barrel rather than over it with the required step down being about the last quarter of the cap. Underneath the lip holding the cap in place there is a slightly tapered cone, friction fit over the ink tube; this cone can be removed, allowing the ink tube to be replaced. At the back there’s a stopper that steps down near the end, forming a space between it and the body where the cap can be posted. Over this stopper, on two sides of the triangle, there is written material: stamped in silver lettering is “Faber-Castell” and printed on a label is the barcode, model number, ink (and pen) color, and “Made in Peru”. I’m a bit disappointed by that, since, even though it’s on the back, labels on writing instruments have a tendency to get damaged and if that happened you wouldn’t know the model to get a replacement.

photo 2-5photo 5

Functionality is quite good. The cap both caps and posts securely while maintaining the “lines” of the pen (the pen flares out ever so slightly in the back so it doesn’t match up as well there, leaving a step down instead of a {relatively} smooth transition). The clip is fine but isn’t very tight and it slips on thin material (its attachment point and the plastic it’s made of are surprisingly rock-solid, though). The ink is smooth as promised, coming out of a very medium tip (broader than I like, to be honest). For all intents and purposes it is the same as the other Faber-Castell made-in-Peru pens, maybe a little bit darker, and with blobbing being present, but not nearly as frequent as the other models I’ve looked at (counter-intuitively {usually wider tips on ballpoints leads to more blobbing}).

photo 4-5photo 3-5

It’s a very nice little pen. For my personal daily use I prefer something shorter and with a finer tip, but this pen is comfortable, easy to hold, smooth writing, and doesn’t slip. I also really like the cap and how it doesn’t expand the circumference of the pen (save for the clip) and is probably less prone to crushing or cracking. If they managed to make the clip a little better, and offered the top in a fine I would seriously be looking to import some to use all the time. So if you’re looking for a simple, relatively inexpensive, comfortable, and durable (the plastic is very solid feeling) pen, and don’t mind importing, I’d certainly give this one a try.

Review – Faber-Castell Trilux 031 (Black, Blue, and Red)

Some time ago I reviewed the Faber-Castell Lux (034), an inexpensive Peruvian pen comparable to cheap Bics or Paper:Mates. They were pretty decent pens but they had small, round bodies that could easily become uncomfortable (I personally don’t have much of a problem with the size, but I can see how some people might not like it). Their bigger brothers, the Trilux (031 in this case), have larger, triangular bodies, in an attempt to remedy this problem and provide a more ergonomic experience while still being inexpensive. But are they actually more comfortable?

photo 1-5

“Probably” is the answer. The body is a very rounded triangular shape (in green for the 031, the back of the package indicated different numbers are different color barrels) with a cylindrical cap in the back and the slightest of step-downs in the front third, followed by a quick tapering to a point. The step down and end cap are just for the single-piece cap-with-clip to be able to grip since it’s still round for some reason. Both the cap and end-cap (finial?) are color-coded to match the ink color of the pen. Printed/embossed in black on the side is enough information to identify the pen.

photo 2-3

The section is comfortable to hold: the triangular shape fits well in the hand (with a standard 3-finger grip), the plastic is easy to hold, being slightly less polished after the step down, and said step down isn’t an issue at all, barely being noticeable. The cap is post-able (I only mention that because with the triangular shape and round cap they had to go out of their way to make that so) and the integrated clip does a fine job but I would suspect it’s easy to snap off.

photo 3-3

The inks seem to be the same as those used in the Lux, which are fairly comparable to any other set of inexpensive ballpoint inks, with the red being on the darker rather than the lighter side, the blue being quite dark, and the black feeling warm and grey-ish. My set in particular is fine-tipped, and writes fairly smoothly, but with more blobs than I would like. When I first opened the package the red and blue pens worked while the black was dried up. Warm water and/or rubbing alcohol didn’t unclog it and I finally had to resort to using a lighter, which I wouldn’t recommend, but it did work and was likely the only way to get it to write as it is “non-disassemble-able” (unless you want to destructively disassemble it).

photo 4-3

In the end they’re a solid pen, and a comfort upgrade with their thicker section and triangular design. They’re not the perfect office pen, but they feel well made (even if the plastic feels ever so slightly less flexible and/or solid when compared to some other similar pens), they write, they’re comfortable, and are inexpensive. I wouldn’t be seeking them out, and with them being “Producto Peruano”, finding a steady supply in the ‘States would be hard, but they are an increase in comfort to an already well-performing pen for the price.

Review – Paper:Mate Mongol Tri Pencil

In the US most of the wood pencils you’ll find are either round or hexagonal (at least in places I’ve seen) with emphasis on the hexagons. I personally prefer round for comfort, but they tend to roll off of any but the flattest of surfaces. Apparently people in other places have found this an issue as well, and attempted to rectify it, because I recently received a set of writing utensils from Peru, in which were 4 triangular writing instruments, among them the Paper:Mate Mongol Tri. Is it an upgrade?

photo 1-6

At first glance there’s nothing interesting about their design. They’re regular pencil length: ≈ 8”, with a crimped ferrule holding a pink eraser, and yellow paint with black (stamped) lettering. The printed information is all you need to know and a barcode, there is even a stamped but not colored “woodclinched” which I’m sure means something. It’s an overall similar diameter to standard pencils here in the US, but maybe a millimeter or so thicker. That extra thickness is to accommodate the rounded triangular shape (it’s probably the same volume of wood overall) that doesn’t roll off the desk (for the most part; you might have a very steep desk) and fits quite comfortably into the hand when using a standard 3-finger pencil grip. My fingers are much closer together when using this rather than a hexagonal design, but there isn’t much of the hand cramping you get when using smaller diameter writing instruments, and the paint provides enough friction to hold onto.

photo 2-4

Performance is nothing special and what you’d expect from a #2 Paper:Mate. The lead hardness is middle of the road, more on the softer side of HB, but that really just contributes to it losing its point quickly and not much in how it looks on paper. The eraser is fine, with nothing special about it. Like most integrated wood pencil erasers, it isn’t really enough for the life of the pencil, but it won’t be vanishing on you. In the package they come with a point that was pretty dull when I got it (but it did fly and go through the US Post Office first) and was obviously made with a chisel sharpener (three pretty flat cuts, one on each side) but it does work just fine with a standard rotating sharpener, even if it’s a bit strange to hold.

photo 4-4photo 3-4

If you really don’t like the feel of your average round-ish pencil, this (or similar) might be worth seeking out. I certainly don’t mind using it, and can see how it would be more comfortable under certain circumstances. But it is a fairly standard test/school/general-use pencil, with nothing special about how it writes. I‘ll definitely be keeping one around, and I hope to see products like this in the US in the future, but I’m pretty comfortable with round writing implements and don’t see the need to swap.

Mini Review – TxDOT Highlighter

This review is going to be a bit different than my normal ones (hopefully quicker). I found this highlighter for almost nothing in a charity shop where it seems someone donated whatever they didn’t give away. It’s got no branding save a message not to drink and drive (fine advice) and such a strange shape that I wanted to take a look.

photo 1-1

The body is a very large cylinder that bubbles out in the front and has 3 flattened areas that are ribbed for grip. It’s mostly smooth, save for a coarse area in the back where messages can be printed, so obviously it’s from some bulk-online company and the only logos are the ones that are being advertised. At the back, there is a giant, super-satisfying click mechanism and a surprisingly robust clip. The mechanism is a standard one (that you can see through the translucent body) that should perform all right and keep the tip from drying out immediately. The ink is a very pale, lackluster orange that doesn’t have a good smudge-resistance but does what one would expect.

photo 1-2photo 2

I just think it’s a nice, chunky, fascinating thing. It isn’t very practical but it gets the job done and it shouldn’t be possible to lose. And it’s made of a sturdy (and thick) enough plastic that if the refill is any good it should last for years. And hey, if you managed to get one, it was probably free! (Also it comes in one of those terrible plastic bags that I think is supposed to prevent it from drying out and which I can’t imagine working.)

Review – INC Soft Scripts Mechanical Pencils

Pencils for the office, school, or just someone who loses their pencils a lot can get pricey, fortunately there are a lot of inexpensive options out there. But are they even worth it to try? Sure, there are a lot of inexpensive pencils, but if they don’t “pencil” there is no reason to even consider them. INC Soft Scripts are one such pencil on the less expensive side of the aisle. How well do they work?

photo-252

The design here is pretty stereotypical, with the barrel being a thin, featureless tube of black plastic that tapers at one end to a plastic lead pipe. Near this end is a rubber grip in one of a few (5 in my case) colors that is narrower in the middle and has ridges toward the end, both ostensibly to help with grip, and they succeed in being barely noticeable. On the back end is a colored plastic push-advance mechanism (that matches the grip) with integrated pocket clip and eraser holder. This bit can be removed to expose the lead-holding tube that contains 2 extra leads (for a total of 3 per pencil). The clip is nothing spectacular, with most of the necessary information on it, and fairly brittle. But I feel the entire end piece would fling off before it broke.

photo-253

Performance is what one would expect. The HB lead is middle-of-the-road, leaning toward soft, but there’s nothing particularly off about it. I personally don’t use a .7mm size but it is a fairly standard size and makes breaking less of a problem. The eraser is one of the little white ones that will get the erasing done pretty well, but will seem to disappear almost immediately. The clip is serviceable but I wouldn’t recommend using it. And, finally, the mechanism is quite solid and workable; pushing lead out and holding it in place when commanded to do so.

photo-254

They’re easily usable, but far from spectacular, pencils, with their main benefits being the rubber grip (if you happen to like those) and the fact that they are the ones at the store (if indeed they are the ones at the store). There’s nothing really there to recommend them on, but no reason to tell you to stay away, either. They will perform fine for office, school, car, or other tasks where pencils should be inexpensive because of the frequency with which they are broken or lost. In comparison to others at a similar, price it would really come down to personal preference.

Review – Western Family Mechanical Pencils

If you are ever in dire need of a mechanical pencil, and somehow find yourself at a shop that doesn’t sell Paper:Mate Sharpwriters at the price of whatever change you have in your pocket, or even at all, the Western Family mechanical pencils may be a cheaper, and click-advanceable, alternative. But are they actually useable?

photo-234photo-236

The body of the pencils is very simple; a smooth cylinder for the barrel with a tapering and fluted (for grip) cone leading to a plastic nub (lead pipe) at the front (this part is free spinning but doesn’t appear to detach). At the back is a nothing-special click mechanism with an integrated plastic clip (that does indeed clip to things and hold it in place, but is pretty flimsy) and a small white eraser on the back. Removing the eraser (which actually fits down inside almost all of the click mechanism) reveals the inner lead-holding tube, which comes stocked with one extra lead per pencil. The entire click mechanism can also be removed for more direct access.

photo-235

The performance is nothing to write home about. The HB 7mm lead is, as one would expect, fairly soft but not too soft, and a bit wide for people like me (I prefer 5mm, but I can live with 7). The eraser does indeed erase: it gets rid of most regular graphite marks but can be used up very quickly. The barrel of the pencil feels sturdy, but the ends are flimsy and plastic-y with tolerances that aren’t very tight.

photo-237

Overall the package is fairly bare-bones, but functional. I wouldn’t use them as my main pencils, but they’d work in a pinch. For only a few dollars you get 10 pencils (in 5 terribly boring colors) with 2 leads each and a body and eraser that will hold up probably no longer than it takes to use those 2 leads (the clip being the weakest link there). There is nothing particularly appealing aesthetically about them and no information (like lead size) other than “Western Family” printed on them. They’ll work for scattering about for use if you can’t find your normal pencil or for loaning to people who don’t care about the pencil (like at the office, or playing D&D) but I can’t recommend them for any other reason.

Review – Bic Xtra-Fun Pencils

Sometimes I’m a sucker for buying new things for the novelty, and I think that’s what Bic is counting on (except I think their target market is children) with the Xtra-Fun series of pencils. At first (and second) glance they appear to be regular #2 pencils in wacky, fun colors. But are they usable?

photo-207photo-209photo-214

For the most part these pencils are pretty standard: a “wooden” hexagonal body with general information stamped and inked into one of the facets (each pencil also appears to have a unique number stamped but not inked into it; I am unsure of its significance). The most obvious differences between them and regular pencils is the bright-colored paint on the outside with the inside dyed a different (usually mismatched) color, and that the standard metal eraser holder has been replaced with a much larger diameter plastic one. The body looks and feels at first like a regular wood pencil, but after sharpening and handling it for a bit I would say that if it isn’t a type of plastic it is a “flaked and formed” wood that uses a different process than most pencils to give it more plasticity.

photo-210photo-213

The performance of the lead is as expected, on the soft side of middle-of the road. Not much precision is possible, nor shading; it’s good for scantrons and notes. The eraser is of the white variety, and actually very decent, erasing most typical writing lines without seeming to disappear before your very eyes. In fact, the most disappointing thing about this pencil is its structural integrity. It bends very easily, and much more so than a regular pencil. Simply handling it will result in finding out how easily it bends, which is worrisome in general, but added to by the fact that when I was using these pencils I began to sharpen one, and the tip broke off every time I was just getting to a point, down until there was no more pencil to put in the sharpener. Thus, one of my pencils was rendered entirely useless, and I hadn’t really played with the plasticity of that one, so I would definitely call it a defect, and one that makes it hard to recommend these pencils, especially for children.

photo-212 photo-211

I probably won’t be buying any pencils from this range again, but that would’ve still been the case had they been good pencils. But with such an easy to encounter (albeit not in the intended usage case) flaw that essentially ruins the pencil’s penciling ability, I have to say I wouldn’t be able to recommend them to anyone. The colors are also terrible but I suppose some have different (perhaps more X-treme) tastes than I, so I can’t particularly fault it there.