Review – Speedball Elegant Writer Calligraphy Pens

It has been some time since I really practiced my calligraphy (and I only know how to do “gothic” because it’s the coolest-looking one). I really got into it for a moment a few years back, but for whatever reason I never really kept up. I write an alphabet or a quick note every now and then, but refilling fountain pens or cleaning up dip pens is such a hassle. Somewhere along the line, I picked up a set of Speedball Elegant Writer pens, which are more of a learning tool than anything else, but they do provide quick and easy access to calligraphy by removing the cleanup (and some of the drying-out problems). Does that make picking up a set worth it?

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The bodies of the pens are a very bland-looking, vaguely-pearlescent plastic cylinder that tapers out toward the cap. The top and bottom have little rings of black plastic and the cap has a cheap-feeling molded-in clip. Printed blockily on the side is all the information one would need to reorder or look the pen up. The grip section has a noticeably sharp step-down from where the cap covers it, and then a few more step-downs in front of the fingers leading to a small felt-tip nib (the size of which is marked on the side; my set contained two 2mm pens, a 2.5mm, and a 3mm).

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The nibs are a bit scratchy when writing, and lack that sharp edge you really want when calligraphing. They do a fine job for the material they’re made out of, but they certainly aren’t professional quality. It’s worth noting that the pen is super light, and posting the cap doesn’t affect the balance at all; whether or not that’s a problem depends on what kind of user you are (but it does make them feel cheap). The ink is black enough, but on closer inspection has noticeable shading. Most people won’t think anything of it, but again, it isn’t professional quality. On the page it behaves well, with minimal feathering and bleed-through even on copier paper, but it has no fortitude and easily washes down to a purple smear when exposed to water (I suspect no better results in the sun). It just isn’t meant to stick around for too long.

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Really, the worst thing I can say about these is that I think they’re over-priced. If you’re just learning letterforms or want to practice and remember them, these pens are more than adequate. They’re cheaply made with a non-permanent ink, but the tip is well-crafted and the plastic can actually absorb some shock. I keep them kicking around to keep my hand able to sculpt the correct letterforms (though they are just this side of larger than I prefer) and I’m not unhappy with them; they are entirely serviceable.

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Review – Kuretake No.14 Brush Pen

I think an ideal gift is one where you receive something that is useful or interesting to you, but from a direction you would have never looked yourself. Such was my case with the Kuretake brush pen number 14. For personal use, I’ve basically settled on my brush pens, and wasn’t really on the lookout for another, but I was still quite glad to receive one of these little guys as a present. Let’s see how it performs.

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The body of the pen is a black-flecked maroon, slightly-soft plastic that looks and feels a bit like ebonite. The cap is uniformly thicker than the barrel with a black cylinder protruding through a diagonal cutout for the top quarter-inch. From this comes a simple but functional spring-steel pocket clip. The barrel has no decoration save gold-imprinted Japanese lettering (that I can’t read) and an Arabic numeral “14”. The butt end is a similarly simple black convex disk. The section is made of the same piece as the barrel, and aside from a sealing ring for the cap, has only a single small step-down before a black plastic cone leads to the incredibly small “nib”.

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The little felt tip is only two millimeters long. And, despite many of the online references I found referring to this pen as “hard”, the line produced easily moves from half a millimeter to three millimeters. The ink is fairly black but not particularly dark, and it has a tendency to fade or split during long or fast strokes. It also bleeds/separates/fades when exposed to water. It’s not super runny but most work will still look ruined (it plays nice with alcohol, though). The feel of the grip section is nothing special but I have no real problems with it, and with the cap posted it is quite well balanced (the cap does feel like it might have a cracking problem with prolonged use, but the pen is disposable). Unfortunately, despite this, I just can’t seem to shake the feeling when using the pen that I’m not in control. Brush pens don’t play well with my style at the best of times and this guy can really get all over the place quickly.

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I’m not sure this pen would be useful as a serious artists’ tool: its ink doesn’t take traditional washes, the ink flow is sub-par, and the tip is imprecise. But as a portable sketcher it has a resilient body, a good clip and a wide range of possible expressions. It isn’t inexpensive, but it isn’t egregiously costed. This isn’t the be-all end-all of disposable brush pens, but id does make for a fine introductory pen or a “backpack beater” as it were.

 

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 – 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).

Mini Review – Zebra 1.6mm Bold (F-301)

The Zebra F-301 is my favorite pen. It might not be the best pen I’ve ever used, but it is sturdy, good-looking, and reliable. Recently I was grabbing some new ones and mistakenly picked up the Bold 1.6mm version. As some of my readers may know, I’m more of a fine-tip person, so I had to go back and get another set. But a broad tip still has its place. In many cases it can make the writing process smoother, prevent hand cramps, and make the final product more legible. So how well does this version work?

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The body is no different than the regular Zebra F-301 (save having “1.6mm” printed on the side) and it does not affect the function of the pen in that regard. The only real difference is the tip, which is considerably larger (being more than twice as big as the “fine” and half-again as big as the “medium”). The ink hasn’t been adjusted for the size, as becomes evident when the pen is left for a time and the tip dries. However, aside from minor startup problems resulting from that dry ink, the pen is remarkably smooth, especially if one has a firm hand.

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If you’ve ever found yourself frustrated with the small size or stiff writing of a standard ballpoint, but still want the general water-fastness and convenience of one, this might be the pen for you. It’s a thick-line (thicker than I personally like), smooth-writing pen in a solid shell.

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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