Review – Rosetta 4- and 3-Pen Cases

Well, here’s a bit of a blast from my past. This product doesn’t seem to be available anymore, but it can now at least serve as a cautionary tale about getting what you pay for. I’m talking about Rosetta “leather” pen cases that came in both 3- and 4- slot sizes. I acquired these back when I didn’t have an adequate way to transport multiple fountain pens for use (I still don’t, but that’s because I won’t fork over the money for a good case) and these looked the part (they’re modeled after the Aston Pen cases) but were about a quarter the price; was there really any value there?

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There isn’t much to describe about the look of the cases; each has a flat back that curls around the front at the top to form a protective flap which tapers to fit underneath a securing band. Stamped on the end of this “tongue” is the Rosette compass rose logo. Beneath the flap, a single piece of leather has been stitched down in several places to form either 3 or 4 rolls in which moderately sized pens can be inserted. Most of the surfaces have a smooth finish, but the unseen inside of these tubes is rough and unfinished feeling. Any edge where there would be leather is covered by a sealant-type goop.

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From a design standpoint, there isn’t any real problem here, they hold pens well in a relatively compact space while providing protection. The real problem here is the longevity of the materials. The quality of the leather here is so poor that I’d question if it really was leather if not for the unfished inside of the rolls. And the finishing where the pens are held is thin and flimsy, it cracks and tears as the clips roll over it (and the space is small enough that most pens won’t fit inside with their clips not over the lip). And the whole thing is dry enough that it’s started to tear around the stitches with time. This isn’t damage from a dry environment (they’ve lived most of their life in a humid one) or that could have been prevented with an application of leather treatment (the outside is “finished” and hardly takes oil, besides it remains “supple” in that it can generally flex and bend without problems.). This is just a problem of poor materials, thin leather that wasn’t meant to last.

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And so, as pen cases, they’re not really useful to me anymore. I know that with just a little more use they’ll come apart completely. And it would appear that this was a complaint others had, as I can hardly even find evidence that these guys were produced at one time, let alone still being sold. To me, they now serve as a reminder that there are budget options that are too good to be true, or aren’t’ really even worth the time looking at them.

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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).

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 – Faber-Castell Trilux 031 (Black, Blue, and Red)

Some time ago I reviewed the Faber-Castell Lux (034), an inexpensive Peruvian pen comparable to cheap Bics or Paper:Mates. They were pretty decent pens but they had small, round bodies that could easily become uncomfortable (I personally don’t have much of a problem with the size, but I can see how some people might not like it). Their bigger brothers, the Trilux (031 in this case), have larger, triangular bodies, in an attempt to remedy this problem and provide a more ergonomic experience while still being inexpensive. But are they actually more comfortable?

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“Probably” is the answer. The body is a very rounded triangular shape (in green for the 031, the back of the package indicated different numbers are different color barrels) with a cylindrical cap in the back and the slightest of step-downs in the front third, followed by a quick tapering to a point. The step down and end cap are just for the single-piece cap-with-clip to be able to grip since it’s still round for some reason. Both the cap and end-cap (finial?) are color-coded to match the ink color of the pen. Printed/embossed in black on the side is enough information to identify the pen.

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The section is comfortable to hold: the triangular shape fits well in the hand (with a standard 3-finger grip), the plastic is easy to hold, being slightly less polished after the step down, and said step down isn’t an issue at all, barely being noticeable. The cap is post-able (I only mention that because with the triangular shape and round cap they had to go out of their way to make that so) and the integrated clip does a fine job but I would suspect it’s easy to snap off.

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The inks seem to be the same as those used in the Lux, which are fairly comparable to any other set of inexpensive ballpoint inks, with the red being on the darker rather than the lighter side, the blue being quite dark, and the black feeling warm and grey-ish. My set in particular is fine-tipped, and writes fairly smoothly, but with more blobs than I would like. When I first opened the package the red and blue pens worked while the black was dried up. Warm water and/or rubbing alcohol didn’t unclog it and I finally had to resort to using a lighter, which I wouldn’t recommend, but it did work and was likely the only way to get it to write as it is “non-disassemble-able” (unless you want to destructively disassemble it).

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In the end they’re a solid pen, and a comfort upgrade with their thicker section and triangular design. They’re not the perfect office pen, but they feel well made (even if the plastic feels ever so slightly less flexible and/or solid when compared to some other similar pens), they write, they’re comfortable, and are inexpensive. I wouldn’t be seeking them out, and with them being “Producto Peruano”, finding a steady supply in the ‘States would be hard, but they are an increase in comfort to an already well-performing pen for the price.

Review – Art & Parcel (September 2016)

Art & Parcel is a monthly subscription service for art supplies from H. Blyth & Co. It’s like a Lootcrate, but for art supplies; so it’s way better than a Lootcrate (my opinion). But with so many of these monthly-blind-subscription-service things around, what makes this one special enough to look at? (Answer: Art supplies) And is it worth it to get one?

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(Couple of notes here: I got this parcel for free {and even though I got to pick one, I didn’t get the one I picked, so the picking part won’t influence the review} for review, and I live in the US where the “subscription” part of this service is unavailable. From what I can tell that means that I would have to pay up front as a lump sum to get my parcels, instead of being able to pay by the month, this also means that shipping cost is terrible to get them here, £16 (About $20) is a steal for these products, and the shipping in the UK is a great deal too, even throughout the rest of Europe it doesn’t exceed the price of the items like it does coming to the US)

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The one I am going to be looking at today is September’s parcel, which is focused mainly on colored pencils, but first I’ll talk quickly about the packaging. Mine was shipped in a bubble envelope, inside of which was a very nice cardboard box that was very well sealed with brown tape. On the top the Art & Parcel logo is printed very plainly, and on the bottom in pencil there is the month. (My box was a bit dented, but this is likely from the post office as, due to my schedule, the box had to be sent through the post twice) Inside is a nice packing slip that explains everything that is in the box along with its regular retail price (if that’s anything to go on you save a pound or two from buying the items individually in this set). All of the materials are neatly and securely wrapped in a newsprint/tracing paper that is sealed with a sticker of the Art & Parcel logo. It is all very well executed and nothing got damaged.

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The first items in this box were four Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils. I am no stranger to these pencils (they were the subject of one of my first {and not as well written} reviews), though I don’t have these particular colors: Naples Yellow, Light Phthalo Blue, Chrome Oxide Green Fiery (wonderful name that), and Red-Violet. I think the choice of colors is a bit strange, but they are definitely useful, and give a better representation of the pencils abilities than a plain RGB or RYB would have. There’s not much more to say there since they are some of the best colored pencils around. One thing I do really like about them is the fact that they layer so that some colors can somewhat be on top of other colors, unlike the cheaper colored pencils where they’re pretty mutually exclusive.

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Next is the KOH-I-NOOR Hardtmuth Magic pencil, which is basically a fat colored pencil that has a “lead” made up of the 3 RYB colors. This means that as you write or color with the pencil it changes, and the colors mix together to create a nice gradient effect. In practice the yellow mixing with both the red and blue works great, but the purple almost looks black and rarely shows up, and getting a nice solid version of one of the primary colors is very difficult, so the gradient looks more green and orange than anything else. I would bet that with some practice and odorless mineral spirits with a blending stick that it could produce wonderful effects, but I would still have trouble finding a use for it.

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Third up is another Faber-Castell product; one of their Pitt Artist Brush Pens, another item I’ve looked at in the past, though this is a different version. It’s a “big brush” and the body of the pen is over a half inch in diameter, a bit chunky for me but still very easy to hold on to and surprisingly comfortable. The color is “Cold Grey IV” which seems to be in the middle of the grey family, and the brush is very fat, going from lines of about ½mm to almost 5mm. It’s also got all of the stuff you want out of an ink: waterproof, lightfast, and archival quality. But I’m not really sold on how it fits with the rest of the stuff here. It is a grey, which makes it more like a pencil when sketching, but going over the same place multiple times does make it darker. It’s just strange to me, but then again I have a very different style to most people, and playing around with a new brush pen is always fun.

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And the final item included is a 10-sheet pad of watercolor paper. It’s made by Fabriano but has the Art & Parcel logo again on the front. It’s A5 size, which is about 6” x 8” and is a hefty 300gsm. It handily took everything I threw at it without flinching, bleeding, or feathering. Sharpies, calligraphy pens, and brush pens push most papers to the limit, but this stuff is truly meant for paint (watercolor at least), which I don’t have too much of lying around (in accessible areas, I did have some tempera and it handled that very well), but it seems easily capable of handling it. A liberal application of water will turn it in to one big slight buckle, but that’s about it. My only complaint is that there are only 10 sheets.

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Overall I’m very satisfied with this box. It’s well worth the money and provides several products that work in tandem, allowing you to start creating right out of the package without having to look for more materials. From what I can tell, this is true of the previous parcels as well, but each one comes based in a different medium. The subscription would be relatively inexpensive way to try out something that might not be in your comfort zone without having to do a lot of research or spend time picking out and ordering products. It was honestly really hard for me to try and pick out a parcel I wanted. The recent ones at least were all super cool (and they can be purchased even after the subscription goes out, so nobody needs to miss out like with other sub boxes) and I’d be signing up right now if shipping to the US didn’t more than double the price (damn the postal service(s)). I really like this box. It’s given me a bunch of cool stuff to play around with (and a Haribo candy to eat*) and if the idea of getting a bunch of high quality art goodies in the mail every month appeals to you I would recommend it.

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*I ate it; it was good (like a softer laffy-taffy).

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 – Sharpie Mini

I really like Sharpies, and I have talked about them a few times before. There’s a reason they’re so popular, and as they continue to become more used they are diversifying their product range. One such product that came out a while ago is the Sharpie Mini, which is, as the name would imply, much shorter than the average Sharpie.

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It has the same starting and ending diameters as the regular sized Sharpie, with an extra part on the tip that snaps on with a lanyard “ring” (triangle). Both the cap and body have been reduced in size, but proportionally the cap is larger. The clip is very similar, but shorter, and works well enough but not fantastically. The necessary information is still printed on the side.

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The size is quite small, at 3 and 11/16ths inches capped, down from a standard Sharpie’s 5 and ½ inches. Most people would find the uncapped marker uncomfortable to hold without posting, and it’s still only tolerable when it is. The odd shape of the cap and grip make it strange to hold. The rest of the writing is all the same as a regular Sharpie, with a cool black line, very permanent but not perfect (archival) qualities, a nice tip, fast drying, and the ability to smoothly put down a ton of ink.

There’s not much more to say than that they’re smaller Sharpies. And if you like Sharpies but want a more portable option, here it is. The only downsides are they are somewhat awkward to hold, and have less ink. I personally didn’t like the lanyard ring, but that just pops right on and off, so it’s no problem. I have Sharpies around with me a lot because they’re so versatile, and this is a great little thing to decrease their needed carrying size with.