Review – Parker Classic Pen and Pencil Set (GT)

Have your eyes ever glanced over something where you “knew” what it was but had to double take because something was just “wrong” about it? That’s what happened to me when I first came across the Parker Classic pens. I thought they were Jotters, Parker’s very popular, least expensive pen, but something was just… “off”. And indeed it was, after purchasing it and comparing it to my Jotter at home I discovered that it is a bit different (mainly in thickness), but does that improve anything?

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My version (the GT, which I think stands for “gold trim”) is a super simple design. The barrel is a cylindrical piece of stainless steel that screws together in the center. The front third tapers down to a hole, through which the nib protrudes when activated (on the pencil there is a small lead pipe here, extending the length slightly). And the back section of the pen ever so slightly tapers down to the click mechanism. Both the top clicker and the arrow-shaped clip are done in a gold-colored, chrome-like finish, and “Parker – Made in U.S.A.” is very minimally engraved at the separation (on the back half).

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The clip does a very good job, being more detailed but just as strong as the clip on the Jotter, and actually affixed to the metal and not on its own separate (if unremovable) band. The clicks on both the pen and pencil are quite satisfying, the pencil more so because it is slightly shorter (thus having less traveling distance) and more firm (it also has rings near the top to help distinguish between the two in the pocket). Because of its length, the pen one does seem a bit floaty. The pencil’s click button also pulls off to reveal a usable pink eraser (it’s nothing special), and when that is removed, the lead reservoir (for .5mm leads). The design of the pencil here means that the mechanism is fully attached to the front part of the pencil, and unscrewing the back does nothing to hinder the operation (other than making it less comfortable) or allow for any maintenance.

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I haven’t mentioned the ink/lead yet because there isn’t really much to talk about. The black, fine cartridge (standard Parker type) and HB .5mm lead the two come with is exactly as you’d expect. Relatively smooth, almost dark, and mostly break-and-water-resistant. The main difference in handling comes from the size. They are a bit longer than the Jotter, at 5¼” (pen) and 5 3/8” (pencil) long, but it’s really the diameter that makes the difference, being 1/8” smaller at their widest of ¼”. This doesn’t make them much lighter, but it does make them nicer to use for someone like me who likes smaller barrels on their pens, or is trying to store things more efficiently.

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It is an upgrade from the area of 3rd tier pens (like the Jotter, which is above semi-disposable pens, which are above fully disposable pens). It has more refined, nicer feeling, and is just as durable. But it isn’t too much of an upgrade unless you really like the slim dimensions (like me). The fact that it’s apparently been discontinued is a hint at whether or not people really thought it was worth upgrading, but I’m a fan, and at a decent price I think they are serious competition for the Jotter in the pencil case. I’m keeping mine around, and it’ll probably last me a lifetime.

Review- Ritepoint Chromatic

Every once in a while I like to take a look at something vintage and see how well it stacks up. Plus I’ve got a soft-spot for slim, fine (line) writing pens. Now I’m not entirely sure as to the status of the Chromatic (or Ritepoint, or whoever) but it does seem these pens (and refills) are discontinued, but easy to find online. Is it worth it to snag one?

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The pen body is very slim and stylish, reminiscent of the Cross Century. It’s a smooth cylinder, with a gold-banded break for the twist mechanism and tapers at the back and front. At the fron,t a third of the taper is in the form of a gold-colored metal cone, from which the point extends when the mechanism is engaged. The back taper terminates more abruptly and affixed to it is a fairly solid, basically flat clip that runs almost the length of the back section.

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The action of the pen is strange enough that I’m not sure it’s working properly. Turning the back half of the pen clockwise a quarter turn will extend the ballpoint and lock it into place. From there twisting will do nothing until enough force is applied counter-clockwise and the pen “clicks” at which point the tip will slowly retract completely. It’s an interesting compromise system and it works quite well. It’s just that everything feels a bit still and awkward. I can’t quite tell if it needs oil, is broken, or that’s just how it’s supposed to be.

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As for the writing, it’s quite good. My pen has a blue “microtip” cartridge installed. The ink is smooth enough coming out that I can write in cursive, though the lines themselves have some start-up and shading problems (oddly reminiscent of fountain pens). The line width is equivalent to, or slightly thinner than, most “fine” points and the ink properties are fairly standard. The only other function; the clip is better than average but nothing to write home about.

It’s a decent little interesting piece of history, but I wouldn’t say it’s essential for any collectors. And the impracticality of having to hunt down new-old-stock or second-hand refills or fashion your own out of whatever might fit makes it not a good choice for the regular user. If it sounds interesting to you I’d say go for it, but it’s nothing to run out and hunt down.

Review – Pentel GraphGear 1000

My favorite mechanical pencil is the Pentel GraphGear 500, but its MSRP is a bit close to my usual ceiling budget for new pencils, so I was reluctant to pick up its “big brother” the GraphGear 1000, until I saw one for a good deal. There are a lot of upgrades and features the 1000 has that the 500 does not, but is it worth the extra price (it usually costs)?


If I was to give an example of an over-engineered pencil, the GraphGear 1000 would be that pencil. The body starts out pretty simple, with the back half being mainly cylindrical and having all the necessary information printed on it. The front half has the (grip) section that is very lightly knurled and has 24 embedded rubber ovals to increase comfort and grip. The “cone” in front of the section that steps and tapers down to the “lead pipe” screws off, allowing the section to be removed and reoriented. A small cutout at the end of the section (near the middle of the pencil) can then be oriented over a scale of hardnesses that are printed (stickered) around the inside barrel to show the correct hardness of the pencil (mine was preset at HB). Then the cone can be screwed back down to lock in the selection. (Otherwise the inner barrel is a smooth black plastic with a matte finish that isn’t really intended to be seen).


The lead pipe usually featured on “drafting” pencils is curiously absent when one first inspects the item. It can be found by pressing the clicking mechanism on the end, at which point it pops out and is locked in place via a locking mechanism on the clip. Further clicking of the mechanism will extend the lead (or, by holding it down, allow the lead to be retracted) and pushing the top of the spring-loaded clip will release the simple locking mechanism and cause the lead pipe to quickly hide away in the cone again. The clicking mechanism cap can be removed to reveal an eraser, which can be removed to reveal lead storage. Both are friction fit with nice tolerances. And the mechanism’s cap has the lead size (.5mm for mine) printed on the top for easy reading when in a pencil cup.


How well does all of this work? Very. Everything is solid, most of the important parts being made out of metal, giving it quite a heft when compared to the 500. The clicking and locking mechanisms are smooth, quick, solid, and satisfying to use. There is no play at all when using the pencil, and it tucks away perfectly (when the lead is retracted). The HB lead it comes with is standard. It’s bordering on the hard side of HB, but it’s still pretty smooth, and from using the same variety in other pencils for quite some time I can say it is reasonably break-resistant for the .5 size. The grip is surprisingly comfortable and the rubber ovals hardly noticeable (in fact they might not be necessary, or may even make it a bit more slippery than I would prefer). The clip does a very good job of clipping (mostly because of the cutout and spring present for the locking mechanism), and it slides off with very little damage from its well-polished edges (my model has a chromed-out clip for extra smoothness and flair I guess) and it being the locking mechanism means the lead pipe will retract as soon as it’s clipped on to something, preventing damage. The eraser is the same as the one on the 500, and it does a decent job getting rid of marks while being firm enough to not disappear completely.


With that multitude of features and solidness of performance is it worth the price? Assuredly. But do you really need all of those features? Probably not. This is a great pencil and I’m really glad I was able to get one (even more glad it was at what I consider to be a really good price) but it just won’t be replacing the 500 for me (at least at the moment: only time will tell). I’m not really sure what it is about it, since it’s got a nice weight, a satisfying feel, good writing capability, and it isn’t ugly (though my model {the PG1015} is a silver color with chrome clip and button and I wouldn’t call it the most handsome pencil in my collection) but it’s just not right for me. Still, it is an astounding pencil at a very good price and if the features I’ve talked about interest you, or you want to move up in the world of mechanical pencils either as a hobby or an artist I can heartily recommend this as an excellent next step.

Review – Tombow Mono Zero Erasers

A few years ago I was aiding my brother in the search for a good separate eraser to go with lead holders (that often don’t have their own erasers), and that lead me to review the Sanford Peel-Off Magic Rub, which is essentially a Magic Rub eraser in the same body Sanford uses for their Peel-Off China Markers. And to me that was the answer. I knew there were mechanical erasers, but they were mostly cheap little things, or not available in the stores I frequented. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I found the potential simple, high-quality solution of the Tombow Mono Zero mechanical erasers and I got them as fast as I could. Are they up to the task?


The body is super simple, being a cylinder about the size of a pencil and a little over 3½” long. It comes in 2 different colors: silver for the round eraser, and black for the rectangular one (it’s made of plastic either way). At the front there is a step-down to the “lead-pipe” of sorts. This “pipe” being cylindrical for the round and flattened for the rectangular is the only other main physical difference between the two. The (lead/eraser) pipe is a nice, stiff metal that cleanly guides the eraser as it extends. On the back, there is a non-removable, simple push-click mechanism with an integrated clip. The clip is good but not superb at clipping, while having the advantage of being very structurally sound (something most plastic integrated clips are not). On the top of this mechanism is a sticker with the eraser’s sizes: 2.3mm in diameter for the round “small” and 2.5mm x .5mm for the rectangular “slightly less small”.


Performance is good; the click mechanism is sound and has a satisfying feel, retracting and reloading are simple and both done from the front end (reducing the number of failure points but also making disassembly functionally impossible). The erasers are of the white variety and erase very well. They aren’t the absolute best I’ve seen and they won’t get rid of every single mark, but they are both quite tiny and precise, making them very useful in those fine detail areas other eraser wouldn’t even be able to get to.


They are very good erasers, but more as a set to complement others than on their own. For writing, pocket and backpack sketchbooks, or those who do a lot of detail work, they will be fantastic, especially if one gets both to use in different situations. But for general use, they obviously don’t have the huge, quick-erasing capabilities of a standard eraser, and I’d imagine that in most people’s use cases they’d augment and not replace one. Still, I am one of those people who like to write and do finer-detail drawings more often than other types and they have earned a place in my pencil bag that I don’t see them moving out of any time soon. So if you’re looking for a fine mechanical eraser to easily carry around, fit in with your pencils, or do detailed work, I’d say take a look at these.

Review – Caran d’Ache Sketcher (Non-Photo Blue Pencil)

Pencils are a nigh-indispensable tool for the artist. But usually, especially with ink work, they need to be erased, and that can be a hassle. It’s a lot of work, it risks ruining the drawing (or paper), it takes time, and it becomes harder to correct later. But oftentimes the final work is either a duplicate of the original, or more work is done over inked lines, meaning that using a pencil that simply doesn’t show up in the reproductions saves time and work by not needing to be erased. Non-photo blue pencils were used for this purpose as many image replication processes (mainly cameras and photocopiers that were used to duplicate artwork for printers) have a hard time transferring it, and they still retain a place with modern scanners that will be able to pick the color up, but do so in a way that the image can be easily edited to omit it. But is it really worth it to get a new different pencil like the Sketcher from Caran d’Ache?


The pencil is as basic as one can get: made of wood and hexagonally faceted to limit rolling, one end is sharpened the other has a metal ferrule connecting the body to an eraser. The body is a pleasant blue color mirroring the color of the lead and on one facet neatly stamped and inked in white is all of the relevant information. It looks and feels very much like a standard #2 pencil.


The eraser is well done; it erases cleanly and is dense enough to not float away far faster than the rest of the pencil. The lead is hard to place in hardness; it feels softer than a standard HB but it has a more waxy quality (characteristic of colored pencils) that makes it give a much harder line. So it writes somewhere harder than HB and wears somewhere below. The line it produces can go from very light to surprisingly dark, but even at its most dark, it is barely visible in scans and can be easily isolated and removed. But it is only a tool for pure ink drawings, and its use is limited in other senses. If one were to, for instance, lay a wash over it, it would be harder to isolate and almost impossible to be rid of on scans, and it resists being covered by lighter washes. And if one were to erase before laying down a wash they would find that the ink laid on top of the pencil is cut down severely, with the entire line becoming grey and having several holes that are almost white, basically where the ink adhered to the pencil and not the paper (this effect is present, but much less severe, with standard graphite pencils). A similar set of problems would be encountered by someone wishing to put color down. So using a pencil like this would necessitate an additional step between inking and coloring/washing where the inked drawing is reproduced and tweaked to eliminate the blue (and potentially other errors).


I’ve also had a bit of an issue with the lead being soft enough to break inside the pencil. It hasn’t been severe, but it’s worth noting.


So am I converted to the blue pencil? Not quite. I really like it, and for a specific type of work-flow it is perfect, but that work-flow isn’t mine. I color/wash my original drawings, and I don’t see that stopping unless I get big enough that I can hand it off to someone else. So the pencil has very little use inside my work environment. I do use it now and again, but it also wears down quite quickly, and having to use a sharpener just drives me back to my mechanical pencils. That being said, it is a well-made pencil that does its intended job superbly. If you need to reproduce or scan in original inked artwork and don’t want the hassle of erasing, I would say this is right up your alley.

Review – Cross Jotzone Notebook and Pen

Notebooks are quite handy things, but most of the common ones look a little unprofessional. If the standard spiral and composition books won’t work for you, and Moleskine just seems a little cliché, maybe Cross has the answer for you with its Jotzone series of notebooks.


I feel I need to put a bit of a disclaimer here at the front. I usually carry a notebook around with me and try to get through about a quarter of the pages before I do a review on it (that’s why I’ve done so few notebook reviews: it takes time), but on this one I certainly didn’t get anywhere close to that, for reasons that will be explained in a moment.


The cover of the book is a nice, smooth faux-leather, black save for a triangle on the lower right of the front where the color varies (mine’s blue). It covers the full 5.5” x 7” paper part of the book, with a ½” extra bit around the spine, which is hollow, creating a “tube” where pens can be stored (it also helpfully says “Cross Jotzone™” on the spine) . “Cross” is nicely but subtly stamped both on the back and the triangle in the corner. An elastic band is attached to the back in a novel way, so that when it is being used to hold the book closed it lines up with edge of the colored triangle. Inside there is nothing special behind the front cover, but inside the back is a small, simple cardboard and paper pocket. It is attached so it is accessed from the top, a decision that with its small size seems to have been made only to avoid comparisons with Moleskine.


The paper is very good, a nice 100gsm (70lb) that is smooth, but not too smooth in my opinion (it certainly isn’t as smooth as the Clairefontaine paper fountain pen people love). It handles fountain pens and liquid roller balls quite well; with minimal feathering and show-through under normal usage conditions (I’ve done no test with flex pens or triple broads) and the dry time isn’t that bad, though far from instant. The pages themselves are nice and white with a ¼” grey ruling that stops before the page ends, and a stupid grey triangle in the corners right under where the triangle is on the cover. This area helpfully says “Cross Jotzone™” on every page, and it’s supposed to be where you put your quick summary notes or something so you can easily riffle through the pages and find what you’re looking for. I think this is dumb (and I hate pre-printed words on the pages of my notebooks) but nobody asked me and the paper is good enough that I could easily ignore that (and the ruling that is far too large for me).


But now for the reason I haven’t used the book that much, and wouldn’t buy another one. I admit it’s quite petty but I use my notebooks a lot, and I want them to look good. That’s why I still use Moleskine classic hardbacks, it’s very hard to find a notebook that resists damage (page corners bending, cover denting/ripping/bending etc) better than those books. And this one is, cosmetically speaking (it feels easily strong enough to not fall apart structurally before being used up) is the worst I have encountered. After sitting for a day or two in my bag, with the only other items in the bag being non-spiral notebooks the cover became covered (no pun intended) with irreversible scratches and scrapes that are quite noticeable. Basically, if you want to maintain the “Cross” professional look, it’s a desk notebook, and I have reviewed it like a desk notebook. It’s a pretty good if gimmicky one, but I personally couldn’t stand to look at the satin faux-leather cover getting so beat up over time (and I wouldn’t recommend using the spine pen holder, as its made out of the same, easily damaged material). I feel like it wasn’t really thought out, and is more of an “executive gift” that no one is expected to really use, and that’s a shame because it comes with a great pen.


The pen is a very simple chromed metal pen (I would say steel from the weight, it’s quite heavy for a pen of its size) with a smooth cylindrical non-tapering barrel. There is pointed-ish cap finial at the back and a cone at the front leading to the point. It’s retractable, with a twist action, and there is a clear mark and band signifying where the pieces come together (and it is the smoothest action I have ever felt in a pen). The adornment and the clip are minimal, probably to be inexpensive, and while it’s a little ugly, the simplicity makes it easy to overlook. The cartridge is a short version of the standard Cross cartridge in a medium point. It, like most Cross pens, is very smooth, in this case especially when writing cursive. It does have some startup problems, especially when left unused for a time, but that problem can be solved by using it more or getting a new cartridge.


In the end it’s an alright notebook, and a good pen. I wouldn’t purchase them for myself, but it does make a very nice looking gift, and it’s functional, with good paper and a nice writing pen. It’s a desk notebook, and a heavy desk pen (but I like the weight) made of good quality materials, but essentially with a disregard for useabilty. I can recommend them as desk materials, but not as daily users.

Review – Art & Parcel (September 2016)

Art & Parcel is a monthly subscription service for art supplies from H. Blyth & Co. It’s like a Lootcrate, but for art supplies; so it’s way better than a Lootcrate (my opinion). But with so many of these monthly-blind-subscription-service things around, what makes this one special enough to look at? (Answer: Art supplies) And is it worth it to get one?


(Couple of notes here: I got this parcel for free {and even though I got to pick one, I didn’t get the one I picked, so the picking part won’t influence the review} for review, and I live in the US where the “subscription” part of this service is unavailable. From what I can tell that means that I would have to pay up front as a lump sum to get my parcels, instead of being able to pay by the month, this also means that shipping cost is terrible to get them here, £16 (About $20) is a steal for these products, and the shipping in the UK is a great deal too, even throughout the rest of Europe it doesn’t exceed the price of the items like it does coming to the US)


The one I am going to be looking at today is September’s parcel, which is focused mainly on colored pencils, but first I’ll talk quickly about the packaging. Mine was shipped in a bubble envelope, inside of which was a very nice cardboard box that was very well sealed with brown tape. On the top the Art & Parcel logo is printed very plainly, and on the bottom in pencil there is the month. (My box was a bit dented, but this is likely from the post office as, due to my schedule, the box had to be sent through the post twice) Inside is a nice packing slip that explains everything that is in the box along with its regular retail price (if that’s anything to go on you save a pound or two from buying the items individually in this set). All of the materials are neatly and securely wrapped in a newsprint/tracing paper that is sealed with a sticker of the Art & Parcel logo. It is all very well executed and nothing got damaged.


The first items in this box were four Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils. I am no stranger to these pencils (they were the subject of one of my first {and not as well written} reviews), though I don’t have these particular colors: Naples Yellow, Light Phthalo Blue, Chrome Oxide Green Fiery (wonderful name that), and Red-Violet. I think the choice of colors is a bit strange, but they are definitely useful, and give a better representation of the pencils abilities than a plain RGB or RYB would have. There’s not much more to say there since they are some of the best colored pencils around. One thing I do really like about them is the fact that they layer so that some colors can somewhat be on top of other colors, unlike the cheaper colored pencils where they’re pretty mutually exclusive.


Next is the KOH-I-NOOR Hardtmuth Magic pencil, which is basically a fat colored pencil that has a “lead” made up of the 3 RYB colors. This means that as you write or color with the pencil it changes, and the colors mix together to create a nice gradient effect. In practice the yellow mixing with both the red and blue works great, but the purple almost looks black and rarely shows up, and getting a nice solid version of one of the primary colors is very difficult, so the gradient looks more green and orange than anything else. I would bet that with some practice and odorless mineral spirits with a blending stick that it could produce wonderful effects, but I would still have trouble finding a use for it.


Third up is another Faber-Castell product; one of their Pitt Artist Brush Pens, another item I’ve looked at in the past, though this is a different version. It’s a “big brush” and the body of the pen is over a half inch in diameter, a bit chunky for me but still very easy to hold on to and surprisingly comfortable. The color is “Cold Grey IV” which seems to be in the middle of the grey family, and the brush is very fat, going from lines of about ½mm to almost 5mm. It’s also got all of the stuff you want out of an ink: waterproof, lightfast, and archival quality. But I’m not really sold on how it fits with the rest of the stuff here. It is a grey, which makes it more like a pencil when sketching, but going over the same place multiple times does make it darker. It’s just strange to me, but then again I have a very different style to most people, and playing around with a new brush pen is always fun.

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And the final item included is a 10-sheet pad of watercolor paper. It’s made by Fabriano but has the Art & Parcel logo again on the front. It’s A5 size, which is about 6” x 8” and is a hefty 300gsm. It handily took everything I threw at it without flinching, bleeding, or feathering. Sharpies, calligraphy pens, and brush pens push most papers to the limit, but this stuff is truly meant for paint (watercolor at least), which I don’t have too much of lying around (in accessible areas, I did have some tempera and it handled that very well), but it seems easily capable of handling it. A liberal application of water will turn it in to one big slight buckle, but that’s about it. My only complaint is that there are only 10 sheets.


Overall I’m very satisfied with this box. It’s well worth the money and provides several products that work in tandem, allowing you to start creating right out of the package without having to look for more materials. From what I can tell, this is true of the previous parcels as well, but each one comes based in a different medium. The subscription would be relatively inexpensive way to try out something that might not be in your comfort zone without having to do a lot of research or spend time picking out and ordering products. It was honestly really hard for me to try and pick out a parcel I wanted. The recent ones at least were all super cool (and they can be purchased even after the subscription goes out, so nobody needs to miss out like with other sub boxes) and I’d be signing up right now if shipping to the US didn’t more than double the price (damn the postal service(s)). I really like this box. It’s given me a bunch of cool stuff to play around with (and a Haribo candy to eat*) and if the idea of getting a bunch of high quality art goodies in the mail every month appeals to you I would recommend it.


*I ate it; it was good (like a softer laffy-taffy).