Review – Kuretake No.14 Brush Pen

I think an ideal gift is one where you receive something that is useful or interesting to you, but from a direction you would have never looked yourself. Such was my case with the Kuretake brush pen number 14. For personal use, I’ve basically settled on my brush pens, and wasn’t really on the lookout for another, but I was still quite glad to receive one of these little guys as a present. Let’s see how it performs.

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The body of the pen is a black-flecked maroon, slightly-soft plastic that looks and feels a bit like ebonite. The cap is uniformly thicker than the barrel with a black cylinder protruding through a diagonal cutout for the top quarter-inch. From this comes a simple but functional spring-steel pocket clip. The barrel has no decoration save gold-imprinted Japanese lettering (that I can’t read) and an Arabic numeral “14”. The butt end is a similarly simple black convex disk. The section is made of the same piece as the barrel, and aside from a sealing ring for the cap, has only a single small step-down before a black plastic cone leads to the incredibly small “nib”.

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The little felt tip is only two millimeters long. And, despite many of the online references I found referring to this pen as “hard”, the line produced easily moves from half a millimeter to three millimeters. The ink is fairly black but not particularly dark, and it has a tendency to fade or split during long or fast strokes. It also bleeds/separates/fades when exposed to water. It’s not super runny but most work will still look ruined (it plays nice with alcohol, though). The feel of the grip section is nothing special but I have no real problems with it, and with the cap posted it is quite well balanced (the cap does feel like it might have a cracking problem with prolonged use, but the pen is disposable). Unfortunately, despite this, I just can’t seem to shake the feeling when using the pen that I’m not in control. Brush pens don’t play well with my style at the best of times and this guy can really get all over the place quickly.

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I’m not sure this pen would be useful as a serious artists’ tool: its ink doesn’t take traditional washes, the ink flow is sub-par, and the tip is imprecise. But as a portable sketcher it has a resilient body, a good clip and a wide range of possible expressions. It isn’t inexpensive, but it isn’t egregiously costed. This isn’t the be-all end-all of disposable brush pens, but id does make for a fine introductory pen or a “backpack beater” as it were.

 

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Review – Muji Hexa Ballpoint (.25mm Gel Pen)

My handwriting is very fine, and I always gravitate toward finer and finer tipped pens in my quest to jam as much information on the page as possible. But there is a limit to how small the tip of any given pen can be. Too thin a felt-tip will simply break, and ballpoints or Rapidograph-style pens will either not allow ink flow or damage paper. Thus, even pens on the smaller end of the possible scale are hard to come by (being more expensive and relatively user-specific when compared to more standard sizes), with .25 being about as thin as one can find. Muji, in its characteristic minimalist style, offers a gel pen in such a small size. Is it a worthwhile purchase?

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As with many Muji products, the pen is outwardly pretty simple. The hexagonal black body is a little larger in diameter than a pencil, and covered in a matte rubber that is only interrupted by two slits in the plastic near the front (for seeing the ink level) and a set of bumps with the slightest of step downs for posting in the back. After a brief clear plastic part, the metal cone in the front quickly brings us to a very fine protruding ink tube that’s about an eighth of an inch long. The clear plastic cap is also hexagonal, with an integrated clip and matching color insert that both covers the tip and displays the sizing information where it can be read easily from a pencil cup. Other than this, there are no markings on the item itself, as the label comes off, stripping you of all its information(in Japanese).

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Performance is good. The pen is comfortable to hold and stays firmly in one’s hand (though the material can make capping and uncapping a bit more “frictionful”). When put to paper, ink flows relatively smoothly. At this size of tip, it is impossible to eliminate all of the scratchiness, but a good job has been done of controlling it. Likewise, another problem at this thinness is that a pen will tend to skip more if at any angle other than perpendicular to the page, but this too has been mitigated. I’d still recommend you write as straight as possible, but it shouldn’t have too great an effect on the writing. I don’t have much information on the ink, but I can tell you that it dries quite quickly (I almost can’t get it to smudge) and it’s waterfast and alcohol resistant (it does bleed a little, but remains legible, which is good for writing and bad for stains). Its spread isn’t too bad either, laying out on the average page about the same thickness as a .25mm (01) technical fineliner (though, with my handwriting both seem very close to a .7 ballpoint).

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The pen’s a good one. It’s nice and sleek with a rugged body (I might be worried about the longevity of the cap. though) and a good writing feel. It’s slightly more expensive than a gel pen of comparable quality in the States (the price tag says ¥210, or about $2, but they sell it in the US for $3), but not enough to be out of their range. The tip is noticeably more fine than other ballpoints and gel pens you’ll find, but in my opinion almost awkwardly so (I’ve never been a fan of how gel pens look on the page {when written with my hand}), and there can be potential issues with the pen drying out. Still, if you’re looking for a functional and minimal super-thin writing pen (that isn’t as finicky or fragile as a technical pen) this is one to look at.

Review – Tombow 2558 Pencil

The Tombow 2558 pencil was introduced to me as a “favorite” pencil, so obviously I had to pick one up. Still, when you first look at it, it’s a pretty unassuming thing. It looks like your standard yellow pencil, with something a little… “off”. So how is it different?

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The body of the pencil is very similar to your average yellow (orangish) pencil. It is basically the same length: 7½” including the eraser attached by copper-colored ferrule. Like most, it’s hexagonal with the information stamped and printed on opposing facets. This information, rendered in a pleasant reddish-brown, is more than enough, giving you: the company (Tombow), the purpose (for General Writing), and the hardness (HB). But there is something to make the body of the pencil stand out: it is slightly thicker than your average pencil, about a millimeter more in diameter. Just enough that one can tell it’s different, but if they aren’t side by side you’ll scratch your head.

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photo 3-63In practice this makes the pencil more comfortable to hold (more material means less hand cramping), and with its super smooth HB lead it really is a pleasure to write/sketch with. And this lead does feel a bit softer than I usually expect an HB to feel. It produces darker lines with seemingly the same pressure (and surprising ease), but that certainly improves the ease of writing with it. And the eraser functions well; it doesn’t remove everything, but it doesn’t vanish either.

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This is, as advertised, a very nice pencil for writing. And everything about it is well-done. The finish is nice and evenly applied, the wood is sturdy as is the lead, and the ferrule is nicely fitted on a step-down so that it doesn’t catch and is unblemished by its crimping. If you’re a wood pencil person (I’m not as much) and are looking for something high quality but still standard looking, this is a nice option. It might not be a smooth as a Blackwing, but it’s surprisingly close, and if I’m ever using a wood pencil, it’ll probably be the one I reach for.


 

Review – Staedtler Mars Lumograph Pencil (F)

“I use these specifically, because I like the nice blue,” is a bit of a paraphrase from a former instructor of mine when discussing what pencils to get for sketching or other artistic purposes. The main gist of this discussion was that it really comes down to personal preference, since there are so many different pencil brands that all make quality products. Aesthetics are important, and Staedtler is known for their deep blue coloring (as well as their quality craftsmanship), and that’s part of what makes the Mars Lumograph iconic, but is it what you should be using (specifically in “F” hardness because I like my pencils a little bit on the hard side)?

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The body is a standard hexagonal shape, with a similar size to your average writing pencil. A deep blue covers almost the entire pencil, save an end cap that is black and a white band just beneath it. On the end cap the hardness is stamped in a silver ink on all 6 facets, and the main product information is rendered in the same color on the back two thirds of the blue area. Opposite this facet a product number and bar code are printed in white.

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This pencil doesn’t really have any fancy features; like most sketching pencils, it doesn’t even have an eraser. But what it does have functions superbly. The wood is light but sturdy (no splintering) and the lead well centered (no weird angles or breaking because of sharpener issues). The lead itself is wonderfully smooth, even with my preference for firmer feedback.

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And that really just affirms the idea that started this off. The Lumograph is a good pencil, it can take a beating and keep on sketching. The materials are good, and the assembly is what you would want. But, aside from it being good quality and easy-to-find, there isn’t a real reason to recommend this over another drawing pencil. If you like the blue, definitely go for them. If you think blue is better than the other choices (black or green in most cases), also take a look. If you’ve been with the brand forever or just find there’s something about the feel that you really enjoy, there’s no reason to turn away.

Review – Zebra DelGuard (0.5)

At first glance, the Zebra DelGuard looks like the popular Uni Kuru Toga and offers a similar lead-break-reducing feature (though without the point protection). The clear plastic section is molded with a similar grip and the body is black-ish and slightly thicker than the average mechanical pencil. Inside, though, is what appears to be a much simpler spring-mechanism that promises to keep your lead from snapping. Does it really do enough?

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The body is a simple, matte-black tube with a small logo just before the center-band. On the back is an attached clip with some printed information, and a chrome click-button cover that easily slips off to reveal a thin, white eraser that easily pulls out to reveal the lead tube. The (grip) section is a black, translucent, and slightly slippery-feeling plastic with some ridges for grip and a slight slope down to a small metal lead pipe.

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Performance of the main features of (mechanical) pencils is good but not outstanding. The clip holds well and doesn’t rip fabric; the eraser removes marks handily with minimal shavings (and a little bit of smear); and the lead is average verging on soft (it is fairly smooth and I like the .5 size). The actual DelGuard system is a bit more dubious to me, though. It’s basically a few springs that allow for a huge range of vertical motion for both the lead and the lead pipe. This means that if the user bears down vertically on up to a few clicks-worth of lead it will simply retreat into the pencil and not break, even with a considerable amount of force. Unfortunately, I write/draw at an angle, and that is apparently extreme enough to mean the lead will snap with an amount of pressure I usually associate with a lead snapping, since the system only relieves pressure vertically. This isn’t really an issue for me; I write/draw softly enough that lead breaking isn’t something I worry about. But it has the same problem for me that the Kuru Toga has; that is, with my writing style, the system doesn’t work, making it completely pointless. This pencil could not have its cushioning springs and be exactly the same experience for me.

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So, as a pencil, it’s a good writer that might be moderately overpriced (it’s more expensive than the Kuru Toga). I’ve gotten other pencils with a similar writing experience for a similar price, but this is nothing special and I personally wouldn’t get it over less-expensive Zebra models, especially since the grip doesn’t feel too good in my hands; I haven’t had it actually slip, but it just feels slippery. If you really have a serious problem with your leads breaking, this might be worth looking into, otherwise it’s just a tossup with similar models.


 

Review – Mont Blanc Ballpoint Pen Refill (In G-2 Body) (Blue Medium)

In the past, I have looked upon the Pilot G-2 more favorably than some other online reviewers, but I’ve still never used one for any time beyond the review period, and it isn’t exactly a pen I would be recommending to anyone. The best things about it are that it’s cheap and well-built. So, of course, someone came up with the idea of combining those features with a better-writing tip. With a few simple modifications you can get the G-2 to accept Mont Blanc ballpoint refills, but is it worth the hassle?

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The actually “modding” process is pretty simple once you have the components. Remove the ink cartridge from the G-2 (obviously leaving the spring inside). Then open up your Mont Blanc pen refill of choice. These refills come with a plastic sheath to prevent accidental markings (and probably some damage); cut a thin, short tube out of this material and to slide around the refill like a collar. Then cut a longer tube out of the rest to fill in the space between the click mechanism and the refill (more detailed instructions can be found with a quick internet search). These two bits should ensure that the refill is long enough to work with the mechanism, and keep it straight enough to operate.

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In terms of usability, I like the Mont Blanc refill, but not as much as many others do. Comparing it to the G-2 is a little apples-to-oranges, since my refill is a ballpoint one, and the G-2 is a (gel) rollerball. While the G-2 with its liquid ink and precise point, could feel slippery, scratchy, and blobby, this refill is super-smooth and easy-to-handle. It is buttery, and much smoother than your average ballpoint, but that’s also its biggest problem. Sometimes it feels like the tip is holding you back, or you’re writing in oil. Other problems, like startup issues and some blobbing that are common to all ballpoints are present, but more minimal than you’ll find in pretty much any other pen. It’s a very good writing experience.

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If you want the nice feeling of a good Mont Blanc refill for a cheap price, this is about as low as you can go. The actually assembly can be a bit fiddly (there are a few places where the new pieces of plastic can scrape and lead to a sticky feeling mechanism) but at less than $30, even if you need to buy a cutting mat and hobby knife, it’s miles below the nearest Mont Blanc (and I don’t know any other pens that use the refills), with the G-2 still being a super sturdy and comfortable body for the refill to live in. If you don’t believe that Mont Blanc has the best refills ever (like me) or you’re comfortable with your Cross and Parker refill pens (also like me) then you needn’t go anywhere near this trick, but if someone hands you one to try out, I’d at least try it out.

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.