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.

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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).

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 – Pilot BP-S Medium

For quite some time, pen companies have been trying to come out with the “superior” ink. And many succeed in varying ways. Every ink has its benefits and faults. The Pilot BP-S (which I can only assume stands for “better pen” as it uses the “better” refill) claims to have a “revolutionary” ink (perhaps when it was first made) that is very smooth and writes the first time. But all my quotation marks just make me a skeptic. Let’s look at the pen.

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The body of the pen looks like a hyped-up Bic Cristal. It’s got a similar hexagonal shape, with a black end cap that screws off for easy refilling (with the Pilot better refills). The body is clear with a minor amount of information physically molded into it. It’s enough to tell you what you’re using. The grip is series of tiny ridges that lead all the way to the metal cone tip, and are surprisingly grippy compared to the rest of the pen. The refill in this model is medium, and it comes out a ways beyond the cone. The cap is nothing to write home about, though it does have a flat surface for easy removal, which is nice.

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On to the writing. I can tell you for a fact that no pen that isn’t liquid ink will write the first time every time, but this one comes close. It does take some pressure to start, usually, and a more constant pressure to continue writing than a regular ballpoint, but the overall experience is smoother. With the right amount of pressure, the ink comes out in a consistent line, and with a little let up, a serviceable one with a few gaps. Neither of these options are more strain on the hand than a regular ballpoint. The ink is black, most of the time. Sometimes it’s more of a cool dark grey. And that’s fine for any office setting, though not really for art. It is also smudge-resistant and water-resistant, like most ballpoints, so it will survive a spill as long as the paper does.

Overall it’s a good pen. Perhaps it was better comparatively when it was first introduced. It is nothing terribly special, but it is superior to standard ballpoint offerings from most major companies. Again, just slightly. If a ballpoint is the perfect writing or art utensil for you, but it just isn’t quite smooth enough, these are probably worth a look. They certainly don’t cross over into the realm of feeling or acting like another type of pen, which unfortunately tends to happen with these “smooth” inks.

Review – Pilot Precise Colors, Green and Purple

I’ve taken a look at the Pilot Precise V5 pens before, and they’re pretty good pens in the standard compliment of black, red, and blue colors. But they also have a few other colors available, and in this little review I’ll take a look at the purple and green offerings.

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First the purple, which is much darker and a much truer purple than most, which are more a fuchsia. The color is deep, but not deep enough to be washed out. It could still conceivably be used in an office setting, but might be pushing it. And while there are rarely truer purples, it doesn’t have a very natural look to it. Perhaps it exists in some deeps shades of flowers, but otherwise it is far too dark. Startup with this color is easy, and while it does fade with water, it is still readable.

And second, the green, which again is much darker and much truer than other greens. It is unmistakably green, but darker than what one would usually think of green as being. It doesn’t get close to a forest or hunter, but certainly is far from a light or lime. I couldn’t think of any office uses, unless you’re a teacher who doesn’t want to use red. It is just light enough to stand out and not look professional. In art, though, it is a wonderfully natural color, and it shades a little bit for interesting effects. It has a bit of a startup problem (or a drying out problem) and is the less water-resistant of the two, but it is still adequate.

Is it worth moving over to Pilot Precise pens just to get these colors? Unlikely, but they are great colors that add to an already nice lineup. I enjoy them, and very similar colors are hard to find in disposable rollerballs or gel pens. They might be worth a look.

Review – Pilot G-2 and G-2 Mini

There are some pens that everyone knows about, standby pens that we all recognize and know the performance of. These are pens that even pen snobs would use in a pinch. The Pilot G-2 and G-2 Mini perhaps are such pens. But do they really hold up to their reputation? Let’s take a look.

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I’m not sure I really need to describe one of the most well-known pens ever, but I’ll start at the click button. It is simple and elongated, and there is nothing really special about it. Below it is a small section of colored plastic where the clip attaches. The clip has the basic pen info on it, though not much. It does its job well. It might be a bit loose, though the absence of a catch on it makes replacing it in and retrieving it from a pocket much easier. Down from this is a smooth, transparent, circular barrel. There is nothing exciting here, but I should note that the only differences between the regular and the mini are the cartridge size and the length of this barrel here. All other aspects of the pens are identical, which means the mini is a bit thick for its size. After the barrel comes a fairly distinctive grip with a small recessed and grooved area where ones fingers go. The grip style is good but the rubber is slick, so the net effect for me is that the grip is unnecessary. Below that there is a small plastic cone that leads to the retractable point on the pen.

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Now, I’ve talked about as many Pilot G-2 ink colors as I could get my hands on in the past, so I’m not going to cover that here, but I will go over the overall writing experience. The pens are gel pens and are quite a bit smoother that standard ball points, though the smoothest of ballpoints will almost rival the cheaper gel pens like the G-2. The G-2 has quite a bit of feedback, which is something I do like when writing. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t feel like you’re putting down any ink and instead just scratching the paper. There are generally no blobs unless you’re looking at the more outlandish colors, but on cheaper paper the ink absorbs very fast and will quickly create dots anywhere you decided to stop. Really, there are very few problems if one just sticks to standard black. All other colors do tend to have unique effects to them. Long drying time is a problem with all of them, I’m afraid.

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Overall I’d say the pen is still quite a good regular pen. Despite the many little flaws that it may have, it works, and it does the job of being a pen well. It isn’t the best pen, but it’s not very expensive and it’s far from the worst. It’s a pen everyone can use, but if you’re not a satisfied pen user and you’re looking for the best for you personally, you might want to try somewhere else.

Comparison – Pilot Varsity Old vs New

If you’re looking for a fountain pen but don’t want to purchase something expensive or something you have to fiddle with, then a disposable fountain pen might be the way for you to go. And If you’ve tried before with the most common disposable fountain pen, the Pilot Varsity, and are looking to get another one, you may have seen the slight changes they’ve made to the design. Are these changes that big a deal? Well, let’s find out.

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The Pilot Varsity has a simple cylindrical barrel and cap, with nice, simply rounded finials. Printed on the barrel is “Pilot Varsity” and a design, but no further information. Both pens have this printed on them. While the old design is straight lines on a tasteful silver with a tiny ink window, the newer version features a multi-tone diamond pattern with a worked in, barley visible, ink window. The cap has a cheap plastic clip with a ball on the end that does tolerably, but is far from the best. Just don’t turn yourself upside down with this pen in your pocket. Taking off the cap reveals the clear section and the plastic feed. One can see if there is ink in the feed, but not in the barrel except through quasi-ink-windows printed in the design. The feed is simple, and has a wick, which allows for better ink flow, but would not be ideal for cleaning (which you wouldn’t be doing anyway if you were just going to throw it away.)

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The nib at the end of the pen is again simple. It is stamped “Pilot <M>” (medium) and has no further ornamentation, not even a breather hole. It is stainless steel, and offers no flexibility in the tines. Now, one might think that since they’re both stamped medium, that both pens would have roughly the same line width; and this would strangely be wrong. At least on the example I have, the older Varsity has a line more akin to a fat medium, or a particularly skinny broad, while the newer example is more of a fat fine, or a sorta skinny medium. If this is indeed a purposeful change that was made, I’m guessing it was for the American market to prevent bleed-through on the extra-crappy paper here, which it does do. This size difference definitely doesn’t affect the nib performance, though. Both nibs are buttery smooth, have no startup issues, and write under no pressure. The ink is the standard Pilot black, and there is nothing different between the two pens that I can discern (and neither are at all waterproof).

So, which one should you get? Well, it really doesn’t matter. If you really want a fat medium nib disposable (well, kinda, you can look up how to refill it online) you can hunt down some of the old ones, which I personally like better due to purely aesthetic reasons. The new one is a bit more loud and silly, and a bit finer in line, but you’d be really hard-pressed to tell that unless you were looking like I was.