Review – Stabilo No. 288 Exam Grade Pencils

Every time my brother goes on an international adventure, I get to reap the rewards by looking at writing utensils from another country without the hassle of actually having to visit that country. Now, Stabilo is a company with many products available in the US or easily shipped there, and the subject of this review, the Exam Grade No. 288 2B pencil, can be found and purchased here, but when you compare prices and availability it’s obvious it’s really meant for foreign markets (mine cost 36 {probably less} Thai Baht {or a dollar and 3 cents} for three pencils when compared to $3-7 on eBay or Amazon plus shipping). Is there a reason to chase them across the world or are they just Paper:Mate equivalents?

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Most of the information on the package is in Thai, a language that I unfortunately don’t speak or read but have enough objects displaying it around my house that I can instantly recognize it. The pencils themselves are all in English, though, so for someone like me identification and re-ordering would be an easy thing to do. They’re a standard wooden hexagonal design with a black matte finish until the final ¾”, where there’s a glossy white band followed by a glossy red “cap” of paint. No eraser is affixed; instead, a separate eraser is included in the package. On two opposing facets of the body all of the necessary information is printed (poorly) in a silver ink and ever-so-slightly stamped (there’s also a barcode in white).

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Performance is pretty par. Supposedly, these are pencils meant to take school tests with, and I would say they do a good job of that. The wood isn’t great quality, but it’s light and sharpens easily. The graphite is on the darker side being a 2B (an unusual but not unheard-of hardness for US school pencils). It looseits point quickly but makes a darker mark, something I’m not a fan of, but is good for filling in bubbles on a scantron (or something similar). The black eraser comes in a card sleeve where all of the information is also in English. Supposedly it’s “specifically designed to erase scan sheets cleanly with minimal eraser mess” (and a bit of paraphrasing). And it’s not bad. Light marks are erased easily and darker marks passably, and the eraser shavings do clump up to create less mess. It also doesn’t seem to disappear right before your eyes as you use it. It’s far from a perfect eraser, but it (the 1191) is at least comparable to the standard pink erases that are so easily found.

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As far as quality is concerned I’m not going to be running off to Thailand anytime soon to track down a lifetime supply. They’re competent but not excellent everyday/school pencils that are inexpensive and usable with a few subtle changes when compared to their counterparts in the west. If you should ever find yourself in Thailand or any area that sells them (perhaps you live there) they can easily be used for most daily tasks, but they’re nothing to write home about.

Review – Vinifan Bicolor Colored Pencils (Triangular)

I don’t know about anyone else, but I certainly have memories of being fascinated by double-ended colored pencils. I actually might still have my first one around somewhere because, even though I ended up with a couple different ones in my pencil pile™, there just wasn’t much use I could find specifically for a double-ended colored pencil. But the box for the one I’m looking at today, the Vivifan Bicolor, has (as best I can make out since I don’t read Spanish fluently) listed uses for each side of the blue and red pencil. The blue side is for “writing” and the red side is for “correcting” (escribir y corregir respectivamente), but is that really a good use scenario?

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Like a few other Peruvian writing implements I’ve reviewed recently, the Bicolor has a rounded, triangular body that helps with grip and prevents it from easily rolling off the table. It’s painted red and blue on the sides corresponding with the color of the lead, coming together in the middle at a surprisingly straight line (I don’t know if that line exactly corresponds to the leads, though). Near the center, stamped in gold letters, are “Vivifan” and “Bicolor” which is enough, but I would’ve liked some more information.

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In the package, the points are very cheaply made with 3 flat cuts, but they are usable (though the points were broken or blunted on some of mine during the trip from Peru to the USA). The writing has a more-or-less standard, waxy colored pencil feeling. Coverage is pretty good when bearing down (the blue covers slightly less completely than the red), and at normal writing pressure they are darker than the average colored pencil. But, in my experience, they become unsightly and uncomfortable after only a few words. The fire-engine red and navy blue colors are unspectacular and almost non-differentiate-able from Crayola orange-red and blue pencils, but they get the job done. Both the waxy-ness and the not-good-for-art colors provided help lead to the very standard problem with inexpensive colored pencils of them not blending very well, but the packages says they’re for writing so that’s less of a concern.

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I’m still not really sure what I would use this for. The red side is good for marking corrections to be made, but the blue side is not good for writing. The color set is too limited for most artistic applications and the difficulty there is compounded by the inexpensive waxy-ness. Still, if you’re looking for a space-saving or easier-to-keep-track-of way to have both a blue and red colored pencil with you, this would be a perfectly adequate (and comfortably designed) way to do that.

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.

Review – Faber-Castell Grip 2020 Ballpoint

Sometimes the basic problems of a cheap ballpoint pen can just get to you. Many ballpoints have a round or hexagonal design that can lead to hand cramping or slipping while trying to write with thick, uncooperative ink. You see additions like silicone rubber grips occasionally as a remedy in the US, but apparently in places like Peru they have attempted to remedy these problems directly in the design of the pen. The Faber-Castell Grip 2020 boasts an ergonomic triangular design, with as studded grip and “smooth writing” ink. But how well does that improve performance?

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The body is a simple, translucent, subtly triangular-ized cylinder with 150 small rounded “studs” for grip evenly positioned on the faces. The cap is round, with an integrated clip, and it has the relatively unique feature of sliding “under” the barrel rather than over it with the required step down being about the last quarter of the cap. Underneath the lip holding the cap in place there is a slightly tapered cone, friction fit over the ink tube; this cone can be removed, allowing the ink tube to be replaced. At the back there’s a stopper that steps down near the end, forming a space between it and the body where the cap can be posted. Over this stopper, on two sides of the triangle, there is written material: stamped in silver lettering is “Faber-Castell” and printed on a label is the barcode, model number, ink (and pen) color, and “Made in Peru”. I’m a bit disappointed by that, since, even though it’s on the back, labels on writing instruments have a tendency to get damaged and if that happened you wouldn’t know the model to get a replacement.

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Functionality is quite good. The cap both caps and posts securely while maintaining the “lines” of the pen (the pen flares out ever so slightly in the back so it doesn’t match up as well there, leaving a step down instead of a {relatively} smooth transition). The clip is fine but isn’t very tight and it slips on thin material (its attachment point and the plastic it’s made of are surprisingly rock-solid, though). The ink is smooth as promised, coming out of a very medium tip (broader than I like, to be honest). For all intents and purposes it is the same as the other Faber-Castell made-in-Peru pens, maybe a little bit darker, and with blobbing being present, but not nearly as frequent as the other models I’ve looked at (counter-intuitively {usually wider tips on ballpoints leads to more blobbing}).

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It’s a very nice little pen. For my personal daily use I prefer something shorter and with a finer tip, but this pen is comfortable, easy to hold, smooth writing, and doesn’t slip. I also really like the cap and how it doesn’t expand the circumference of the pen (save for the clip) and is probably less prone to crushing or cracking. If they managed to make the clip a little better, and offered the top in a fine I would seriously be looking to import some to use all the time. So if you’re looking for a simple, relatively inexpensive, comfortable, and durable (the plastic is very solid feeling) pen, and don’t mind importing, I’d certainly give this one a try.

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 – Up&Up Clipboard with Storage Case

Sometimes I end up reviewing things that are much closer to being “office supplies” rather than “art supplies”, but surely most things needed and used in an office will be needed by artists at some point, or otherwise have art uses. Anyway, somewhere in there is my justification for looking at what I am reviewing today: the Up&Up (Target) Clipboard with Storage Case, which is really just a handy thing no matter who you are.

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The whole thing is what one would expect: a decent quality but nothing spectacular. It’s about 9½” x 13¼” and a little less than an inch thick excluding the clip. The plastic is pretty thin, translucent, and flexible. At the front there is a simple snap closure on a plastic (not in the engineering sense) hinge. The main hinge on the back is also made in this way by bending the plastic of the body in a thinner part. This makes the item easy to produce (one piece of plastic) but it will lead to structural problems over time. Fortunately, the plastic is high0enough quality that this isn’t an immediate concern. The back is basically flat but slightly recessed (half an inch in all the way around). The inside front is also pretty flat but with a small trench at the bottom for catching writing utensils and a spring clip riveted to the top. The clip is made of a few different parts with a “wire” acting as the clamping mechanism. There are pieces of plastic attached where the clip holds down the paper to reduce damage and a nice bend in the center of the wire to allow it to be lifted easily. The wire disappears into a rolled tube attached to the case inside of which is a spring that is pretty strong (enough to hurt but not seriously injure), and it does a good job of holding papers down while keeping a much lower profile than traditional clipboards.

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It’s a good version, if it’s the kinda thing you need. I have a sturdier case of similar design that I’ve been trying to get a second one of, and this does the job well (but it isn’t a replacement for me). It does bend and bow (writing with it empty for more than a few words feels a bit weird) and lack proper hinges. I’m not sure it would stand up to extended use in harder conditions, but for office work it is very serviceable. The inside compartment easily holds 30+ sheets of standard office copy paper with room for a writing implement, and the clip keeps things firmly fastened to the face with minimal “denting”. If you’re in the market for a clipboard with a document storage compartment this is an inexpensive and quite serviceable option.

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.