Review – Pilot Opt (.5mm)

It’s always surprising how many innovations there can be for something as (seemingly) old, tried, and true as a mechanical pencil. The Pilot Opt is a fairy traditional and comfortably chunky mechanical pencil save for its unique advance mechanism. While a standard click-mechanism is available and quite usable (and necessary for retracting), there is also a sliding weight inside that allows the pencil to be shaken to advance the lead. But is this shake advance mechanism (that I don’t fully understand) a real improvement over the standard, or just a gimmick?

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The body of the pencil is fatter than the average mechanical pencil and relatively torpedo-shaped, with the thickest part being around two-thirds of the way toward the front and tapering down from there. Forward of this hump there is a (removable) rubber grip section and a metal cone, attached to which is a smaller metal cone that serves as a lead pipe. As far as I can tell, the farthest this pencil can be taken down by the user is removing these two bits, which gets you nowhere. Behind the grip section is a clear piece of plastic with a colored checker pattern (which is black, trying to mimic a “carbon fiber” look. Other syles come in other colors) below this, you can see the black tube containing the advance mechanism. Behind that is a correspondingly colored opaque plastic bit that contains just enough printed information about the pen and holds the attached spring-clip on a pivot. At the very end of the pencil is a(nother) correspondingly colored translucent plastic eraser cover, under which is a small white eraser that can be removed to access the lead tube.

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The lead and eraser are what you would expect from Pilot: that is, quite serviceable. The lead is a fine .5 and the one included feels like an HB. It’s a medium hardness and quite smooth, nothing to write home about but nothing wrong. The eraser gets the job done but like many mechanical pencil erasers is entirely too small (in my opinion). This is offset slightly by it not being they type that disappears easily. The push click mechanism is usable and gets thing done, but is a little underwhelming. And the clip is great, being smooth enough to not damage items but strong enough to hold on firmly, while the spring mechanism makes it easier to use and harder to break. But obviously the main attraction is the shake advance mechanism, which works as advertised. A good shake will advance enough lead for one to be able to write, though it might take two to get to a length most people are comfortable with. The advance per “shake” is comparable to the advance per “click” with minor length differences depending on some ethereal power (likely gravity and the external forces you apply). And the weight inside needs to reach both extremes in a short period of time with some force in order to advance the lead, this means that accidental advancement is a rare occurrence, but when intentionally done can be a surprisingly subtle gesture (though it’s still violent enough that people might give you strange looks). I haven’t had it advance in my bag, yet it’s always done so easily when I was using it.

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Without its gimmick this is still a solid pencil, though one could argue that its ¥200 (≈$1.75) price tag isn’t worth it without the shake advance (the same for its increased US price of $3.00-3.50) but even then it’s right on the line for the quality (though I wouldn’t get it without the mechanism because of its thickness). But with the mechanism it becomes a fascinating and usable utensil. The grip is comfortable, if wide, the lead and eraser are of quality, the clip is a step up, and the mechanisms work wonderfully. If you’ve been looking for a more convenient advance mechanism and other options like side advance aren’t doing it for you this is certainly something to look at. And while I probably wouldn’t have bought one for myself (it was a gift from my brother when he went to Japan), and indeed I won’t be keeping it in my daily use pencil bag, I had a fun time with it all throughout my testing.

Comparison – Wite Out Quick Dry/Extra Coverage/Super Smooth

Previously I’ve compared the two major brands of correction fluid: Liquid Paper and Wite Out. Back then I didn’t take a look at the fact that Wite Out comes in a few different kinds (but there is one that is basically “regular”), so I’ll attempt to rectify that this time. Now, the various “flavors” of Wite Out do go in and out of production, with the majors being “quick dry” (regular) and “extra coverage”. I also have a bottle of “super smooth” that I picked up second hand and surprisingly still works (it’s old enough to have the previous graphic design) but that type is currently out of production. How do they compare?

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Quick Dry – The standard of correction fluids and one that I’ve looked at before. Quick Dry is fairly “standard” in properties; it dries shiny and little warm in hue (yellow-ish). It is a bit finicky and tacky, sometimes making it difficult to get a smooth finish with multiple strokes. It covers regular pen, pencil and stray marks well (though it sometimes leaves a divot where the ink “repelled” it. But on darker lines like those made by Sharpies it only minimizes the effect.

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Extra Coverage – The other currently (easily) available Wite Out, Extra Coverage is smoother, dries matte, and is colder (and much more white) in hue. From my experience it layers well, always being fairly flat, even minimizing visible strokes. It covers pens and permanent markers with ease (though it’s still got that weird divot displacement thing going on) but doesn’t blend in as well with the paper. And, though I did no super thorough testing, it actually seems to dry faster than the “quick dry” or at least not remain tacky as long, but that could be because my “quick dry” bottles are older.

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Super Smooth – Being no longer available I have no idea what a “brand new” bottle of Super Smooth would be like, but I would hope it’s better than what I’ve got here. The bottle is old enough that it has a brush (not a sponge) applicator, and that’s not an asset since this particular type is very fond of clumping up. It’s visually similar to “quick dry” but more matte, and it doesn’t cover nearly as well (it just makes things look kinda hazy) forcing one to reapply it, causing many clumps and visible brush strokes. It dries much slower than the other two as well (maybe that’s why it lasted this long) and while it may be “smoother” in the technical sense I don’t see that as much of a positive either in the abstract or the comparison.

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If I had to pick a winner it would be “extra coverage” as the only flaw I see in it is that it doesn’t quite match the color of the average sheet of paper. The “regular” “quick dry” is still a good product but one I will be using less often now. It depends on whether or not you want the correction to blend in or completely cover up the mistake. But if there is one thing to take away from this, it’s that I now understand why “super smooth” was discontinued.

 

Review – Lihit Lab Pen(cil) Case

I might be a little bit late for the back-to-school season, but I do have a pencil case I wanted to talk about. Most pencil cases tend to be of the “dump everything in and fish it out” variety, even if the only hold a few pencils. The rarer breed is the organizational pencil case (that isn’t attached to some other “organizer”). One of the simplest, least expensive, and easiest to get a hold of versions of this is the Lihit Lab Pen Case (I can’t find a certain model name {maybe Teffa?} or number that seems to fit {maybe A7551-24?}). Is it worth it?

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The outside of the case looks pretty standard (mine’s black, but there are lots of available colors), the back is blank and the front has two almost-useless pockets with a small rubber “designed for arrangement” badge. The (double) zipper is roughly in the center of the bag (and it even has the same logo as the front badge on it) and it feels very sturdy and secure, though it has no “brand-name” on it. The hinge is made of a double layer of the same fabric as the rest of the case and shows no sign of wear from several months of use. The whole package comes in at about 8”x4½”.

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The inside is a brown version of the same color polyester fabric (regardless of outside color). On the inside of the front there are two roughly inch-wide bands to hold in pens, and on the back inside there is a simple mesh covering about half the area (to hold other items). There is also a center divider/organizational area that is strangely attached to the inside of the back half and not in the middle. I suppose that would have interfered with the hinge, but its placement near the back (really it just favoring one side) can be a problem at times. The front of this divider has another inch-wide band (higher up this time) and a thin pocket (not mesh) at the bottom, and the back has three mesh pockets, the top two being slightly larger than the bottom one.

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So the configuration of the whole case is to hold pens in the front and other art/office supply things in the back. This works pretty well, especially since the back can hold either. I have 24 pens or pen-like things in mine* and 10 (or so, paper clips are counted as one thing) other things including an eraser, Swiss Army Knife, stapler, pencil sharpener, notepad etc. It fits everything nicely and is very flexible with its organization. I was surprised with what I could fit in it (almost everything I wanted), and I’ve been carrying it around wherever I need pen(cil)s for months now and it shows no sign of stressing the material or really any wear whatsoever.

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My concluding thoughts could just be “it is the pencil case I use, and I don’t see that changing soon”. And that would be true, I really like this case, it is perfect for my exact usage scenario, but due to its popularity and the number of photos of it I see online, it looks like it could fit quite a few usage cases. It’s inexpensive relative to other cases its size (it probably helps that there is no packaging needed, but it does come with a cute little card that folds out as a representation of how to use the case), it’s durable, flexible (both in the physical and organizational sense), and it’s attractive. I’d definitely recommend it as an upgrade to the regular zipper bag most people use.

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* Pencil Case Full Contents List

    • 2 Pentel Pocket Brushes
    • Pigma Brush
    • 2 Tombow Duos (N95, N60)
    • Liquid Accent Highlighter
    • Sharpie Twin Tip
    • Autopoint All American in Blue (Caran d’Ache Sketcher Non-Photo Blue Pencil)
    • Pigma Graphic 1
    • Pigma Micron Technical Pens (005, 01, 02, 03, 05, 08)
    • Le Pen 0.03 (003) Technical Pen
    • Tombow Mono Zero Eraser (Round 2.3, Rectangular 2.5×5)
    • Scotch Tape Roll
    • Pad of Generic Sticky Notes (3”x2”)
    • Twist Ties x2
    • Paper Clips x5 (Insulated)
    • 4 inch Ruler
    • Pentel .5 HB lead
    • Pentel Graphgear 500 .5
    • Swingline Tot 50 Mini Stapler
    • Staedtler Mars Plastic Eraser (With Plastic Case)
    • Victorinox Super Tinker**
    • Zebra F-301 (Black, Blue, Green, Red)
    • Paper:Mate Liquid Paper Correction Pen (Signo Angelic White Gel Pen)
    • Kum Pencil Sharpener

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Last two photos from Jetpens.com (http://www.jetpens.com/Lihit-Lab-Teffa-Pen-Case-Book-Style-Black/pd/7665) I just had to include a photo of the "booklet" and originally couldn't find mine.

Last two photos from Jetpens.com (http://www.jetpens.com/Lihit-Lab-Teffa-Pen-Case-Book-Style-Black/pd/7665) I just had to include a photo of the “booklet” and originally couldn’t find mine.

Blog 9-7-16 – September Update

So it’s September, and I said I would update y’all by the first week of the month, and here I am, proving again that I am not dead, and not much has changed in the way of the posting schedule.

I had no idea that the process of my moving would take more than a year, but, as many more productive people will tell you, when you can’t devote your full attention and effort to a single project, it will get done less efficiently. I definitely wasn’t able to get done what I had set out to do in a reasonable amount of time and I am sorry that in doing that I have severely diminished the amount of content that has been featured on this site (hopefully temporarily).

But, things are getting back on track, as hopefully the last few (and next) days of posts will prove. I didn’t do as many exciting things these two months as before, but here are a few photos from another art show “Clarity in Chaos” that I did with the new West Texas Collective (Facebook Instagram Twitter) in Alpine Texas. It was a really fun show, and I hope to do more like it in the future.

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I won’t be fully up and running for a while longer now, but I’m getting close to being back in a position where I can do so. It’s more than likely I’ll have something working by the end of the year. I’ll post another update by November, and be on the look out for that one, because there are a few other really cool things that I’ll also be doing in November. So stay tuned and thank you for reading/watching.

-Austin

Dragoncompany.org   Artsupplycritic.com   Dragonfunnies.com

Review – Dixon “My First” Ticonderoga

I’m not gonna lie; I find reviewing wood pencils difficult. I just don’t see enough difference in them to make it seem worth my while to look at each specific one. Ones like the My First Ticonderoga are easier, but still the discussion of them ends up being brief. That being said, let’s take a look.

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The pencil is almost solid yellow, with green accents on the information on the “barrel” and the metal eraser holder. It is a little more broken up by the eraser’s pink and the wood of the sharpened end. The eraser works well enough, and is quite large since the pencils size is increased. The body is half again to double the circumference of a standard pencil, making it much more comfortable to hold, in my opinion, but harder to store. It is completely round, making rolling quite easy, but its larger mass makes it less prone to ending up on the floor.

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The lead is standard fare for #2. It works well enough for drawing and writing, providing a medium line that can be both quite dark and quite light, though the largeness of the lead skews it to dark. Personally I haven’t used it much for that, but I have used it for marking wood in lieu of a carpenter’s pencil, a job at which this excels.

It’s a good pencil, both for kids and those who don’t want to or can’t hold the smaller standard pencils of today. The quality control isn’t the finest. I’ve found some wood and paint blemishes but these are quite minor and don’t affect the writing ability at all. The set I got also came with a plastic pencil sharpener that does what it’s supposed to, but is nothing special. They’re just a simple, good option for someone who wants a larger pencil.

Review – Tach-It Metal Tap Knife (Carton Cutter)

Depending on the size or type of art (or craft) works one is doing, carton or box cutters may or many not be on one’s radar or considered a useful tool. But even if one isn’t using them for opening supplies or actually during the art-making process, it still isn’t a bad idea to have one around since they’re cheap and easy to use. The dozen-for-five-dollars that these are priced at might be a bit larger set than most people would need, but it’s still inexpensive enough that it wouldn’t be hard to pick up.

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Tap knives are one of the simplest types of box cutter. On this model, the outside sleeve is a single aluminum piece that has been bent around on itself. Inside is another piece of aluminum that has been folded with a cutout at one end and a flare at the other. A standard single-edge razor blade fits in the cutout end (and can be replace by sliding the insert out of the housing) while the flare prevents the knife from protruding too far forward.

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Use is simple. Tapping the back of the knife against a hard surface will extend the blade until it is stopped by the protrusion on the back. And when the cutting is done, the front of the knife can be tapped on a hard surface to retract the blade. Very little of the blade is exposed making it fairly safe to cut with, and it’s held in securely enough that I wouldn’t worry too much about accidental deployment of the blade. How well it cuts and how long it lasts depends on the razor blade used. And the ones that come in the package are not the greatest. The points are especially brittle, and while they can keep an edge for a decent amount of time, they will crack and split with too much stress.

As far as a cheap, effective, and simple box cutter goes, they work well enough. The fit and finish leave something to be desired: the edges are rough, the tolerances vary quite a bit, and no surface is smoothed and finished, but they are so inexpensive they are practically disposable. They cut, they’re reasonably safe, and they could last quite a long time since there’s not much too them. One could get better quality, but I’m not convinced you’d really need to.

Review – Huion 17.7” Light Pad (L4S)

There have been some huge leaps in lightbox technology in recent years. I’ve owned 3 lightboxes in my time, one being a repurposed dental x-ray box, the second being a traditional style box and the third being this which I bought as a possibly temporary replacement for my more traditional-style box. But I might not be swapping back so soon.

Their photos look a lot better than mine

Their photos look a lot better than mine

The Light Pad itself is a rectangular prism that measures 17 7/8” diagonal and 14 1/8” x 10 5/8” x 3/16”, meaning it covers quite a large area, but is very slim. The workable white/translucent area has markings on the side indicated in centimeters 12 ¼” (31cm) x 8 ¼” (21cm) with a ½cm margin. The non-workable black margin is about ¾“ all the way around the pad and it’s only features are the power button and a logo. On the side of the device next to the power button is a micro USB port that is only used for power (this version has no internal batteries), and a red LED will come on when the device is correctly connected. On the back of the device there is some modest information and nicely padded feet that prevent the pad from sliding around when being used.

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Using the Light Pad is a breeze. Simply touching the power “button” lights up the entire workable area to the highest brightness setting (which isn’t very bright, and being shone through a white plastic makes it much less glaring on the eyes). Touching and holding the button will start the pad lighting up, and releasing the button during this will keep the pad at the current brightness setting. This setting is remembered and the next time one starts the device it will light up at the chosen setting unless you hold the button down again. The working area accommodates A4 and Letter sizes well, and the light on the brightest setting easily works with 2 sheets of 110lb cardstock. The plastic the surface is made from is very smooth, but resists sliding and scratches. The feet are also very nice and the device is stiff enough that it doesn’t bend around them under normal use (I still wouldn’t go stacking things on it).

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I don’t think I’m going to be going back to the more traditional lightboxes anytime soon. In my opinion the only advantage they offer is an angled working surface, which is a feature I never really used. The Huion Light Pad is a great lightbox; it’s sufficiently lighted and durable enough to be easy to work with, thin enough that is stores easily, and draws very little power. Its overall workspace footprint is very small, and its job is done almost flawlessly. I do find the red LED indicator light to be annoying but I can’t think of a better way to do things and it is much less troublesome than other indicator lights I’ve had to deal with. I also have no use for the multiple brightness settings but I suppose it’s better to have it than not. Still, the device has become a permanent feature of my workplace and I would recommend anyone looking for a lightbox to look at these cheaper and thinner LED alternatives to the traditional boxes.

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