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.

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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 – Faber-Castell Lux 034

Last week I talked about a Faber-Castell ballpoint pen that was made in Peru, the 033. And this week I will continue my talk of Peruvian pens with the Faber-Castell 034 in all of the standard colors: black, blue, and red. And these seem much more like a Faber-Castell version of the inexpensive Bics and Paper:Mates that are used all the time.

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The body is as simple as it can be. It’s a straight cylinder with a small bit of fluting on the end that allows to cap the grip when posted. There is also some fluting on the slight step-down that is the section, and it is surprisingly comfortable and grippy. From there, there is a fairly standard looking cone that leads to the metal tip. As far as I can tell this is not removable and thus the pen is not refillable. The cap is a single piece of plastic with the same fluting on the top, and it has a slight taper to catch the section. The clip is molded in and does work, but not very well since it doesn’t ever meet the cap or barrel.

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Writing is fairly smooth and nice. There is globbing and occasionally startup issues. Red seems to have more problems with the former while black the latter. All tips are on the fine side of medium, and aren’t shielded from air by the cap so they will have startup problems if left out for some time. The ink is water-resistant and office-friendly,with a grayish, warm black, a dark-ish blue, and a deeper red. They are pretty similar to a Bic Stic/Cristal and a Paper:Mate Write Bros. The main differences are a darker red color, and a smoother writing experience.

Overall, I’m happy with them, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to find them. The writing is as good or better than most of the pens of comparable price in the US, but the bodies are made of what feels like a much more brittle plastic and they are very light weight and get float-y when writing. They are a good, solid, cheap office pen.

Review – Faber-Castell 033 Ballpoint Pen

I recently received a box of things my brother got for me on his trip to Peru. Inside were several pens that seemed to be commonly available there. Indeed, they are more common there than in the US, because all of the information I could find on them was in Spanish, or Russian (Ukrainian? Cyrillic of some sort). And they do say “Product of Peru” in Spanish. So let’s get to it and look at the first type I received, the Faber-Castell 033 ballpoint in black.

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The pen has a very classic octagonal design, and it’s made with a plastic that feels much like the plastic that older pens and mechanical pencils were made out of, except it is much lighter and feels more brittle and thinner as a result. The faceted barrel is capped on the back by a step-down plug of a light grey color that allows the pen to be neatly posted, and the cap on the front is a very simple, if unsightly, ribbed design. The clip is molded in and works, but is quite filmsy, and I wouldn’t trust it. The cap does fit securely over the section, which is a simple taper in the barrel to a larger-than-normal metal cone, at the end of which is the ball. As far as I can tell, this tip is not removable, and thus the pen is not refillable. Stamped in gold on the side is just enough information to identify it, but not much more.

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Writing is surprisingly smooth for a ballpoint, but it does have occasional startup issues and more blobbing than I can get past. The ink is comparable to inexpensive Bic ink. It’s suitably dark and black, but it’s got a bit of a red sheen, and upon close inspection under a bright light it looks like a very dark purple. It’s still on the warmer side of things, though. It dries fast (except for the blobs), but with certain types of paper I wouldn’t try it left-handed. And its blobbing might cause it to smear for left-handers anyway. It is suitably waterproof like most ballpoint inks. I haven’t tested lightfastness, but in general even cheap black inks do well, but it isn’t archival quality.

Overall it’s a well-working, inexpensive pen. As far as super cheap pens go it isn’t the best, but it’s far from the worst. It writes well, but not perfectly. The body is simple with no frills and holds together despite being cheaply made. And there isn’t much more to it than that. I wouldn’t be going out to import them, but I would (and will) use them if I ended up with them (which I obviously did).

Review – Office Depot Ballpoint Pens

Most stores have generic in-store brands or store branded products for various merchandise. That is the case here, with these Office Depot branded ballpoint pens. I don’t know what they cost originally, but they were marked down twice to 50 cents and then 3 packages for $1. Which means I picked up 30 for a $1. There are very few things I wouldn’t say are a good value for that price (I’d probably say stale gum was worth 30 pieces for $1) so it would be hard for these things to let me down. So let’s see how they perform.

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The bodies of the pens are super simple. They are round and straight with a cap on the end to hold the ink cartridge in on the back, and a slight bump (to hold the cap on) followed by a taper and then the point of the front. The cap is fairly generic with an integrated clip that works but isn’t great. They are all made of translucent plastic that matches the ink and have “Office Depot” printed on the side.

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Writing is surprisingly smooth, especially for mediums (they’re a bit broader than normal mediums I would say) and at times they can write with minimal pressure. The packages say “No skip guarantee” which isn’t true, but it wouldn’t be for any pen. It blobs after a certain amount of writing time but I don’t know a pen that wouldn’t, and it’s less than expected. They do tend to have (sometimes severe) startup issues though, especially the longer they are left capped, as do most cheap ballpoint pens.

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The colors are fairly standard office colors, nothing at all natural looking. The black is just off-black and slightly warm. The red is deep and doesn’t shade much, but still very noticeable. And the blue is quite dark, but still differentiate-able from the black except in the lowest of lights. All are essentially waterproof and dry quickly.

Overall, I’d say the pens are probably worth it. They have no frills, and likely a high margin of error. Any problems, though, and the pen can simply be tossed. They do come with wax-sealed tips, meaning they will last longer in storage, but after that they need to be used fast before they dry up. The bodies are sufficiently hardy to last easily for the life expectancy of a pen like this. The cap seals, the clip holds, and the tip writes. Everything’s functional and unspectacular. If you’re running a business where pens are needed frequently by customers or employees, or you’re just forgetful and lose your pen, these are cheap and they work until they disappear. But they won’t be impressing anyone.

Review – Uni-ball Jetstream Bold

Some people search for the best of something. I never really looked at my collecting in that way. I just like using a variety of things, and for me I know that there’s no one perfect thing. But that doesn’t stop me from liking sites like TheWireCutter.com, which finds the best product in a given category for the average consumer. I was recently featured in their article about the best mechanical pencil (along with several other, well-known reviewers), and while I was talking to them, I thought I’d try out their recommendation for best ballpoint pen: the Uni-Ball Jetstream. If you read their mechanical pencil article, and my review of their pick the Uni Kuru Toga, this might seem familiar. I do understand why people like the pen, but I don’t like it so much, and here’s what I think of it.

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My particular Jetstream is the bold 1.0, and starting at the top it has a nice, beefy, chrome click button that is very satisfying to use. Down from that is the logo, size, and a solid clip that does its job. The majority of the barrel is rubberized, with the Jetstream logo in the top half in a hard-to-read, reflective plastic. There are slight divots on the section for grip, which actually flares out, instead of tapering in, making it quite large in the hand, and then an interesting-looking chrome cone that leads to the point. This cone does screw off and the pen is easily refillable.

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The ink itself is a nice, cool black that slides onto the page easily. There is an ever-so-slight amount of dry time, after which the ink is quite waterproof. While the ball does roll nicely and the ink flows smoothly, I still get blobs and stuttering, blobs being less frequent than with comparable pens, and stuttering much more frequent. This slight stuttering is hardly noticeable when writing, but is virtually the only feedback the pen gives. It is most definitely the smoothest ballpoint I’ve ever written with but I don’t feel like I’m in control of it when I’m writing. The stuttering is easy enough to overlook when the writing is done, though.

Overall it’s a well-designed, sturdy pen that I don’t want to write with. The point slides out from under me, and the thick grip cramps my hand after a while. It’s also extremely light, which makes me want to hold it tighter so as to not lose it. Still, the fit and finish are great, it’s very satisfying to hold, and if you want an “inexpensive” smooth ballpoint, it really can’t be beaten

Review – Bic Cristal Bold

Bic makes a lot of pens, and the Cristal is one that everyone knows about. It’s a staple of the modern world: an admittedly cheap pen that can be, and is, used by everyone. But most of the time you find the medium version (or a fine if you’re either lucky or unlucky). And those have many of the problems we associate with ballpoints. And when one is running a business or doing art, sometimes it’s more important that the pen write on the first try, and write smoothly, than have a thin line. That’s where the Bic Cristal Bold 1.6mm pen that we’re looking at today comes in.

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The body is a simple as can be: a translucent piece of hexagonal plastic with key info on the side. The base of the ball point is plastic, while the tip itself is metal. The cap is a single piece with an integrated clip that works, but isn’t the best. The cap’s only real function is to prevent the pen from marking things when set down.

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But the real thing here is the tip, which is much wider than usual Bic ballpoint tips. Bic says that it is an “easy glide” pen. And I’d agree that that is the case. The ink is super smooth, and requires very little pressure once it gets going. After pushing down for a little bit, the pen, in my experience, will be writing perfectly a quarter of the way into the first letter, so not perfect startup, but good for a ball pen. After that it’s smooth enough to write cursive easily. There are a few points where the ink breaks up, and those are unsightly, but with a little hand control they can be covered up nicely. Like most ballpoints it’s suitably waterproof. And while the pen and packaging say it’s 1.6mm, Id’ be much more tempted to say it’s simply 1mm.

Really, it’s a great little pen, and not very expensive. If you’re looking for a cheap way to get a smoother (and partially less globby) writing experience, I’d say this is the direction to go first. They don’t match liquid ink pens of any type, but they certainly do work quite well and are convenient, having replaced most of my other ballpoints right now.