Review – Exceed 5×8.25 Hardcover Dotted Notebook

I’ve previously talked about the Exceed brand and the increase in quality from generic Walmart notebooks, so when I saw a standard sized notebook from them in hardcover (my favorite style) with dot-grid (my favorite ruling), I had to pick one up. From a distance the book is almost indistinguishable from a Moleskine (in their standard size), but comes at a much lower price-point. Are the two comparable? And which is a better value?

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The size listed on the packaging is 5×8.25 inches, dimensions which reality bears out with the addition of a 5/8 inch spine (slightly thicker than that of the standard Moleskine). I chose the black cover, which is a nice “matte” pleather with a very fine grain, though it feels a bit rubbery and the cardboard structure is noticeably flexible. On the back there is a simple embossed “Exceed” logo which is nicely subtle, and the attachment points for the secure-but-dangly elastic closure band. Inside, there is an ugly page with several lines to write down your information and another “Exceed” logo at the bottom. This is followed by the 120 sheets of dot-ruled paper. Bound to the spine somewhere along the way is a flimsy, thin, black ribbon bookmark that nevertheless doesn’t have a propensity to unravel. Attached to the back cover of the book is your standard (at this point) pocket which… works, fine.

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The paper inside has a classic 5mm dot layout with no additional formatting, and a pale-grey printing that moves into the background even under pencil lines, while still providing a neat and versatile guiding structure. The paper is a noticeably yellow-ish off-white and is thicker than your average notebook of this size (which accounts for the differences with a Moleskine book while having the same number of sheets). The increase in quality that this little bit of thickness allows (at least, that is my assumption), is well worth it, though. While it might not be the best for fine-writing instruments (the texture can best be described as “toothy”), it is opaque enough to allow for writing on both sides with basic utensils such as ballpoints and pencils. Furthermore, technical pens, brush pens, fountain pens, rollerballs, and even practice calligraphy pens all usually result in only minor show-through (at the cost of some feathering). However, alcohol-based Copic markers, Sharpies, and many felt-tip markers are too much for the paper, sometimes bleeding through entire pages. And there’s no guarantee of archival quality.

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One could easily go out and find notebooks that are worse than this one. When compared to a Moleskine the paper and binding are superior, but it feels a little cheaper and there’s an increase in thickness. This isn’t an artist’s main book, it’s not archival and the paper feel isn’t inspiring. But it is a durable, inexpensive and widely available option that accommodates a wide variety of writing utensils. If you’re looking for a budget alternative in the “black-book genre”, these are definitely ones to check out.

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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 – 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 – 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?

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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”.

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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.

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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 – Slant Collections Mini Journals Preppy Stripe

I’m not exactly the type of person to be found in Tuesday Morning (the store) but I did find myself in there one day, and there was quite a bit of interesting stuff. And being someone who has been drawn to the stationery aisle since I was little I found myself in the stationery section, where I found a set of Slant Collections mini journals, this particular set in the discontinued “preppy stripe” (it was Tuesday Morning, after all). Let’s take a look.

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The books themselves are 3¼ x 5¼ inches, just smaller than a Moleskine pocket book. The cover feels like plastic-coated cardboard and in this version has a very simple design that comes in 3 colors. It is a single piece bent around and stitch-bound onto the 70 inside pages. These pages are lined with a thin 7mm ruling that is the same color as the main cover color, printed on a very white background.

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The paper itself is quite thick and a medium roughness. It is very bleed-and feathering-resistant despite this. Fountain and other liquid ink pens are handled well, and with most other writing utensils both sides of the paper can be used, though at this size I wouldn’t recommend that. The cover and binding are very well done and hold up (the stitching looks very slightly unsightly at times) and the corners are nicely rounded to prevent the corner bending that some books get. On the table the book lies adequately flat and while the cover does bend out of shape it bends back just as easily.

In the end I have been surprised by these little notebooks. They are hardy, easy to carry, great writing things. It has taken me some time to review them as they weren’t good enough to replace any of the books in my normal rotation (but that’s more because I prize consistency, a book would have to be head and shoulders above to get met to move something out of my rotation). I enjoyed using them very much (even the pink one) and if all of the Slant collection journals are as good as these were I’d consider more in the future.

Review – Pilot B2P Ballpoint Pen

I’ve come across quite a few interesting or novel pens. I’ve tested out most pens I can get my hands on and have determined my taste accordingly. But a pen caught my eye recently with a gimmick I’d never seen before. It was a Pilot B2P pen, made out of recycled bottles. I’d seen pencils made out of recycled denim, but never a recycled pen. I don’t usually pick up Pilot pens but I decided to give this one a try, if only for the novelty.

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I’ll start with the writing performance, because on this pen that’s less interesting. It’s a ballpoint, and for a ballpoint it writes amazingly smooth, even smoother than most Gel pens I’ve used. The ink is black and fairly dark. The line is thin, well, at least thinner than most ballpoints. It usually writes on the first go with no skipping, a problem I usually have with Gel pens. It’s fairly impressive, though I think it may run out of ink rather quickly.

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Onto the body, which is a fairly pleasing blue color. It’s got a fairly useless grippy-grip near the tip and a mid-way between sturdy and flimsy pocket clip on the back. The blue is dark but transparent on the back, mimicking a bottle, and to further the effect it has ridges and troughs to look and feel like a crumpled up bottle, making it feel quite nice in the hand in my opinion. There is an easily worn off label around the center of the pen that contains all useful information, though the more pertinent information is also on the clip.

The retractable mechanism works quite well and doesn’t seem break-prone, it’s nice and solid (though if they hadn’t perfected this tech by now they never would). It also disassembles easily and well into parts for replacement and refilling, though I doubt you’ll ever do either of those.

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So yes, it’s a nice ballpoint, not the nicest ballpoint, but a nice one. For the price it’s good and novel. And the feel is quite nice. Its uses are that of all ball pens and this one doesn’t stand out terribly. But it is good, and a very interesting idea. And it’s a better conversation starter than the standard click-y ballpoint.