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 – Crayola Erasable Colored Pencils

I’ve looked at Crayola’s regular colored pencils in the past, and I’ve been known to go into far too much detail about the color and quality of what are ostensibly children’s products. In this review of Crayola’s erasable colored pencils I will be concentrating on the “gimmick” as opposed to the colors (in other words, I won’t be looking at the 24 colors from my box individually). So, do erasable colored pencils do as they say on the tin?

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First, a quick note about the aesthetics, which have changed from your standard Crayola pencil. These retain their round form with the addition of a ferrule and color-coordinated eraser at one end. The name of each of the colors is printed on the barrel, but not embossed into it, and little white designs have been added to the front and back over the color-coded label. Each one also has a large uneven white patch in the middle containing a couple logos (and “f6b”, which I assume is the hardness). I think this re-design is poorly conceived, but it is a product for children, and doesn’t affect the use of the pencils.

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When put to paper, the pencils feel a bit more waxy than the standard set. It’s a kind of unnatural and unpleasant feeling with the colors being a little more faded and uneven than the regular pencils. There is a little bit of blending that can happen, but it is splotchy and sometimes one simply covers another (I didn’t test with mineral spirits for blending, so I don’t know how this formulation would react). And finally, the erasability is… better than one might expect. All of the colors erase to about the same degree, which is not totally, but there is only the faintest wisp of color left on the page. It’s pretty comparable to erasing your standard graphite pencils, and it seems to work with most erasers (even gum ones, though they don’t work as well), not just the strange cheap ones that come attached to the back of the pencils.

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So yeah, they work essentially as advertised. It’s not the best erasing experience but it beats not ever being able to change a mistake, and that, combined with the better blending, makes these, in my opinion, the better artist’s tool. But they’re still not comparable to higher-quality artist pencils. At school or whatnot, these work especially well as map colors (unfortunately, probably the most common use of colors in school), allowing you to fix minor mistakes. If that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for, these definitely fit the role (and they’re a couple bucks for 24, which is super cheap).

Review – Pilot FriXion Highlighter

While I have reviewed highlighters before, it is a fairly rare occurrence, mostly because we all know what a highlighter is and how it works. For the most part, what brand of highlighter you buy doesn’t even matter; they all do the same thing. The companies producing these products know that, so occasionally they find a new gimmick to get you to buy their specific product. Most of these gimmicks are pretty silly, but some, like adapting the Pilot FriXion pen system to highlighter form, might actually be useful if they work.

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The body of the pen is a bit ugly-looking. On top of the back end of the barrel there is a tattoo-esque design that doesn’t quite look right with the words “remove by friction” in n boring font, all in miniscule. On the very back end is a dome of frosted hard-rubber that serves as the “eraser.” The cap is a translucent plastic, matching the ink color with an integrated clip that slopes off a flattened tip. Popping it off reveals a slick black section ending in a chisel-point porous tip. The “Pilot” and “FriXion” logos are the only real information included.

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My particular three-pack came in orange, pink, and yellow. The colors are about what you’d expect but when compared side-by-side are noticeably paler than your standard highlighter. They are still bright and easy to see, while allowing text to be seen through them, and keeping smudging to a minimum. The real interesting thing about the FriXion line, though, is that when friction is applied (or it’s, you know, heated) the ink is “erased.” There’s definitely still something there, but whatever was underneath shows through, so the ink becomes transparent. This actually works surprisingly well; you’ll never fully get the ink to go away without a trace, but it looks much nicer than a bright highlighted mistake staring you in the face (the originals were ballpoint pens, which are nifty but kinda defeat the purpose). Now this obviously has archive-ability problems, I was able to use a flame to make the ink disappear and I don’t think heat or sunlight will do it well, but for something like highlighting I’m not sure that’s a very big deal.

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Wet ink will smudge when writing, inkjet printer ink will smudge when erasing.

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I’ve had a really good time using these pens they’ll probably end up somewhere in my system. I’m not a big highlighter person (I’ve never used them in books, for instance, and I don’t plan to in the future) but I’ve turned to them for marking off items on to-do lists because they have a cleaner look than “crossing out.” And for that, these little guys work perfectly. I never have to worry about making a mistake (and I can draw silly little pictures or whatever).

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.

Comparison – Wite-Out Vs. Liquid Paper pens (Shake n’ Sqeeze, Correction Pen)

Correction fluid is quite a useful tool and an art supply in its own right on some occasions. But those bottles are hard to lug around, and the brush tips difficult to manipulate to really cover what you want. Both of the major correction fluid brands have attempted to rectify this situation with pen applicators for their product. But how well do they really work in comparison? And how do they look head to head?

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Both are rather fat, pen-sized items at a little over 5 inches in length. Each is roughly cylindrical with a cap on one end, a squeezable bulge in the middle, and a posting step-down at the other end. The amount of fluid contained in each is surprisingly similar: being 7ml for the Liquid Paper and 8ml for the Bic Wite Out. But despite having only a slightly larger capacity, the Bic pen is noticeably larger in almost every way. It is a little bit longer, the tube diameter is about 125% that of the other, and the squeezable bulge extends out in two humps rather than the one of its smaller counterpart. Each one has a cap with an integrated clip, through the Bic one is translucent and more brittle-feeling than the LP which matches with the rest of the pen. The main color of each pen is an off-white, the differences of which mirror the differences in the colors of the fluids inside, with the Wite Out being a “warmer” and the LP being a “cooler” white. There’s a lot more information on the Wite Out pen, which is printed on a label wrapped around the bottom as opposed to the Liquid Paper which has just enough info printed directly on the plastic. And both pens have a strange “arrow” (triangle) pointing toward the tip molded into their plastic.

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Both pens are used in the same fashion: shake it up, remove cap and any little dried bits (there always is some, no matter how well you wipe it off), press down firmly, and then write with it like it’s a pen, squeezing and pressing to increase the flow when needed (then wipe the tip off and re-cap). Both do a pretty good job, but each has its own quirks. The Bic pen is harder to start as the tip is wider and the fluid dries more rigidly. It tends to cover nicely in one stroke but the width of that stroke is a bit unpredictable, and it’s pretty poor at “writing” on its own. The fluid is basically the same as the Wite Out quick dry (or regular), drying fairly quickly and smoothly over the paper, but noticeably sitting on top of it because it is a warmer white than the average piece of paper. The Liquid Paper produces a thinner line that is easier to write with, but can sometimes require multiple, finicky applications to really cover a mistake. The fluid does start to dry pretty fast, but it quickly becomes a bit “gummy”, and if you need multiple coats and aren’t fast enough this can easily lead to unsightly bumps in the finish. If you can get it down smooth, though, it blends in much better with the paper, being closer to the cool white of office copy reams.

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Both clips are serviceable when the pen is capped, with the Liquid Paper’s being a little weaker when clipping, but less brittle. As mentioned, both caps have posting stumps on the back. The Wite Out posts quite tightly and securely, while the Liquid Paper, even with no fear of falling off, seems a bit wimpy-er. Both pens have worked for me and not dried up over several months, and I happen to be in possession of another Liquid Paper pen dated 1989, which surprisingly still works (but not as well). I don’t know if that will apply to these new ones, but it’s a good omen. (The differences between the old and the new are minimal: the cap has had ridges added on the sides and a droplet shape on the clip, between the cap and body there is now a green band, that aforementioned triangle has been added, the applicator tip has been modified to add more metal, and the old has an applied label rather than material printed directly on the barrel).

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Neither pen is clearly better than the other, so it mostly comes down to personal preference. The Wite Out has: a larger capacity, a thicker line, simple application, and is easier to hold. While the Liquid Paper is: smaller, easier to start, and has a much more true-to-paper tone. If you’re just looking for a correction pen, you can’t really go wrong with either, so I wouldn’t go out of my way to find one or the other. As it stands, I’ll be using the Liquid Paper in my pencil case for on-the-go stuff and the Wite Out at the desk for when I need something more fine than the sponge applicator. And I think both’ll be lasting me a pretty long time.

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Review – PaperMate “Write Bros” Mechanical Pencils (48 pack)

PaperMate isn’t exactly known for making the most high quality products in the world. But for the most part they do make products that get the job done in an inexpensive and readily available way. And that philosophy is very apparent in the 48 pack of “Write Bros” mechanical pencils, which generally sells for as little as a 2 pack of more well-regarded pencils. Are these the perfect solution for someone looking to supply a group on the cheap/keep losing their own, or are they too fragile to be worth it?

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The bodies are similar in size to a normal wooden pencil, but a bit shorter at just over 6”. Molded in a slightly pearlescent plastic and one of 5 average colors, they have a ribbed grip section for the last inch and a half of the barrel, followed by a cheap-looking frosted plastic cone that is screwed onto the end and from which protrudes a small plastic “lead-pipe” and lead from inside that. Near the back of the pencil, there is an exposed click-advance mechanism with an integrated pocket clip that moves with activation. On top of that is a small white eraser, which can be removed to expose the lead chamber and allow refilling. Oddly enough at this price point, the item can be further disassembled by unscrewing the frosted cone on the front, at which point the entire advance mechanism will essentially fall out of the back of the barrel. There is nothing useful that can be done from this point, but it is interesting to look at.

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Performance is so-so to average. The 7mm HB lead is what you would expect at the price, a bit scratchy and softer than advertised (prone to breaking). The clip technically does its job but I wouldn’t count on it, and the plastic is brittle enough that it would easily snap. As far as erasing goes, the eraser is superb, but it is a small size and virtually vanishes when put to its task. The feeling of the click mechanism is unsatisfying but inoffensive in any way other than it feels like it will quickly break.

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Basically you get what you pay for, which in this case is not much. Even PaperMate didn’t bother putting a name on these pencils (I call them “Write Bros” because that’s what’s on the box and online, but the items themselves only say “Paper:Mate”, and “0.7mm”). But there isn’t much terribly wrong with them. If they are intended to be essentially “disposable” mechanical pencils, they succeed. Each has two leads (though many of mine were broken and thus less useable) and an eraser, enough to be useful, but little enough that the poor and brittle construction will be able to survive that use. They don’t seem to be meant to be refilled, as they aren’t worth the trouble, and being used much more would likely result in broken clips and eventually mechanisms (but it is a possibility for a little bit). And putting aside environmental or frugality concerns they are an inexpensive and relatively comfortable way to provide functional pencils to a lot of people, or many pencils to one particularly careless person.