Review – Kokuyo PS-FP102 Mechanical Pencil (.7mm) (DM)

In a time where a lot of companies are trying to re-invent the wheel with their pencils, Kokuyo from Japan has made a relatively inexpensive, minimalistic, and comfortable mechanical pencil. The PS-FP102 (Pencil Sharp {my guess from the website}) omits several things that could be thought of as standard, and uses that effort on a sturdy and comfortable design (that is, from what I understand, ostensibly for children in school). Is the trade-off worth it?

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The body is one of the simplest to be found on a mechanical pencil, being mainly a vaguely triangular-ized (at least the “frosted” versions are triangular) cylinder with a rubbery coating for the 4 ½” body. Sticking out a quarter of an inch on the back is the click-advance button, and five eighths on the front is a plastic cone, from which a smaller metal “lead-pipe” can emerge bringing the total length of the cone to three quarter inches. Printed (maybe stamped or adhered) on one of the facets is all of the information about the pencil (which seems like it will rub off in the future but has withstood use so far).

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The body can be unscrewed at the cone, revealing that the rubberized triangular barrel is just a sheath, and the cone mechanism can be pulled from the front. As far as I can tell no further takedown can be done and neither of these operation provide any real benefit that I can see beyond checking how much lead is in the pencil (through a convenient window {the view on my frosted black version from the outside is blocked}) and perhaps clearing out the front mechanism.

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Writing performance is good; the lead is a .7mm and presumably HB (there are also .9 and 1.2mm versions). It’s a bit too thick for what I usually like to write with (.5mm) but it is fairly break-resistant and smooth, which would be good qualities for a school pencil, and from what I understand that is what it was originally designed for. There is no eraser or clip (though there is a version of the pencil that comes with a stand-alone eraser and friction-fit clip) and instead of having to remove a back piece to insert lead there is simply a hole just big enough to fit the lead through that lead can be fed into. Once it has been pushed all the way in, it enters into a larger reservoir and will not likely find the correct angle with sufficient force to come back out of the hole. It’s honestly a pretty elegant lead-feeding system if one doesn’t care about having an eraser.

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The click-advance mechanism is very smooth and workable, but unsatisfying. The metal “nib”/lead-pipe at the front does retract and advance with the lead, neatly preventing any damage that it would cause but being a bit fiddly (it’s easily possible to retract the lead and not the metal piece, which is a bit of a strange situation). And the rubberized, triangularized grip is very easy to hold, not slippery at all, and quite comfortable (though not my preference), especially for hands just learning to write (it keeps fingers in the proper orientation). I must say, though, that it only barely resists rolling off the table more than its round counterparts.

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So instead of an eraser or clip, this pencil provides an elegant lead-feeding system, comfortable and chucky triangular grip, and a stow-away point. All of which make it a good fiddly-bit-free pencil for students, and with a slide-over clip and external eraser (the integrated ones are never enough) it might also be a preferable one for artists or in the office. For the mostly reasonable price of ¥180 (≈$1.55) it’s a solidly designed, well built little pencil that seems like it would last under a bit of stress and is certainly worth checking out if you want a triangular grip or to forgo the standard integrated eraser for greater lead convenience.

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 – Sharpie China Marker

A ‘china marker’ or ‘grease pencil’ is essentially a hard, fat crayon that is used mostly for temporarily marking nonporous surfaces like glass, plastic laminate, tile, etc. They are an item that used to be pretty popular but have since waned as newer products like dry erase markers for temporary work on board or laminate, and permanent markers for less temporary weather resistance have come on the scene. Yet they still can be very useful when working with glass or porcelain. This being the case I was not surprised to see some in the hardware store, but I was slightly surprised to see that they were ‘Sharpie’ brand. Do they hold up in comparison?

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The short answer would be “yes”. The Sharpie brand here is just an addition to an older, very standard design by Sanford. The body is just a version of their “Peel-Off” design. I have a fairly old (by surviving china marker standards, since using them destroys them) one that is almost identical in most ways. The body is tightly wrapped brown-ish paper that is sealed with a black, perforated coating. On this coating is all of the relevant information of the product, and beneath it is a small white string. Pulling on this string will create a tear in the coating that can then be used to tear off enough of the inside material to expose the tip if it is worn down. The tip begins exposed with a roughly conical spiral of the paper that provides a nice template when tearing off a bit later. While I do suppose that the item could be sharpened, it would be pretty wasteful and difficult which is why a system like this was developed.

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As for writing, I have a black version, and it behaves very similarly to a fat crayon. Line width and coverage are dependant highly on how much pressure is applied, but it almost never is a true “line” in that it doesn’t fill in the whole space when writing. It writes well on nonporous surfaces and often on porous ones, being again about as smooth as a crayon. For what it’s intended to write on it is relatively weather-and handle-proof (it can smear) but can be removed with a paper towel and some elbow grease. Nonporous surfaces are a bit more tricky, but in general there is a way to clean it off.

There are only two types of grease pencil/china markers: the mechanical version, and peel-off versions, this one being the latter. It is very hard to mess up a peel-off grease pencil, but it is also hard to innovate in that field. This shows neither. It was competently made, but not entirely ingenious. It lacks any innovation or improvement over the pervious generations, but it does mark what it was meant to mark (china) and more. The price and availability are also quite reasonable. If you desire to acquire a china marker, and don’t mind the fact that the “greasy” (waxy) tip is exposed, then this one will do everything you want it to.

Review – Uni Kuru Toga Roulette

I’ve previously looked at one of the most liked (and according the to the Wirecutter the best) recent mechanical pencils, the UniBall Kuru Toga; I was under whelmed. Recently I was able to get a hold of the upgraded version, the Roulette. Is it worth the upgrade? Should you skip the regular model and get this one? Let’s take a look.

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The back end of the pencil is a plastic and metal lead advancer; it works and doesn’t dig into the skin. There is a rubberized ring around it for reasons I don’t quite understand. Removing the advancer reveals a super tiny eraser that won’t last long but does indeed erase. Below that is a clip, which is fit onto the barrel in a way that would allow removal, but with difficulty. Japan is stamped into the side of the clip, and the name and size of the pencil is written on the barrel just beneath the clip. The barrel is plain until one gets to the section, which is metal and extended, the bottom half is knurled, but not aggressively so; it provides a good grip. There is a small hole in the grip that allows one to see the fact that the pencils mechanism is turning (but no the mechanism itself). Down from that is a tip very similar to the regular Kuru Toga, but extended is some ways. On this model this oddly designed step down cap is still not necessary, but covers up an otherwise ugly portion.

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Now on to the part everybody loves, the mechanism. I mentioned that I was under-whelmed by this previously, and I still am, but I know why now. The window in the grip section allowed me to see clearly when the mechanism was turning and when it wasn’t. And while it was possible to do this in the cheaper versions I was a bit harder to see. The mechanism itself by the way, as far as I can tell, is identical in both pencils, but there is no way to open them and find out exactly without possibly rendering them inoperable. But the answer to when the mechanism was turning when I was writing with the pencil was… never. I tested it, the mechanism works, it just never moves when “I” write with it. My writing, and drawing, are much too light to get it to rotate the lead, and thus I never see the affects. The packaging (for the inexpensive one, my roulette came in all Japanese packaging) says that the mechanism helps with the point of the pencil, and to prevent breakage. I really have never had a problem with either of these things, partly because I flail the pencil around compulsively when writing and drawing, and that rotates it such that my lead is always at a point. Now I guess I know that I write far too lightly to have a problem with breakage. But man, if I write lightly, some people must really press down on the things. So yes, it works flawlessly, but if you write like I do it isn’t really a selling point. And finally I wouldn’t worry about the mechanism wearing out, it is extremely well made and there have been no complaints about such a thing occurring, so if it does by that time you’d be able to just get a new one, it’s popularity means it likely isn’t going anywhere.

So, it is a good pencil? Yes. Is it worth the money for the upgraded version? Yes, even without the mechanism. The pencil is solid, well made, and solves the comfort issues I had with the less expensive version. The weight is good, the feel is good, the metal gives one a good grip and the writing is nice and fine. And if one does press hard enough to activate the mechanism I’ve heard nothing but good things. I wouldn’t take it over my Graphgear, but that’s just personal preference. I like the thinner body a little better on that one. So if you write with a lot of pressure, the Kuru Toga is the pencil for you, if you don’t you have other equally good options within the price range in my opinion. Even then it’s definitely worth a look.

Review – Pentel Champ 0.5mm

I haven’t touched mechanical pencils much, just because I don’t use them very much. But mechanical pencils can obviously be quite handy, and their very consistent line makes them ideal for several styles of drawing. This time I’ll be looking at one of the cheapest offerings, the Pentel Champ in 0.5mm.

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The body of the Champ is a simple, translucent plastic of various colors. It’s cylindrical, save for the cone leading to the point, and a rather large rubber grip. The back is a reversed cone with a clip that’s alright, and an eraser. Obviously, this part clicks down in quite a smooth action, though lead is not dispensed with every stroke: sometimes a few beats are missed. At the very end is an eraser, which works quite well, as much as one would expect. It’s not perfect, but it removes enough lead to be worthwhile to use. On the side of the barrel is all relevant information, though it seems that it would wear off easily. The lengthy grip is noteworthy on some models, like the one I have, in that is is made of many tiny fins, which are much more comfortable and accommodating in my opinion than standard solid rubber grips, and no less grippy. It holds better in the hand than any other gripped utensil I’ve used, but I’m not really a fan of grips anyway.

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The lead provided is HB, so standard number 2, but it feels a bit soft (my package also came with 24 lead refills). It is still quite hard and writes wonderfully. I like a mid-range pencil, maybe a bit on the hard side, and this delivers. Like I said, it feels a bit softer than I usually deal with, but that might just be the mechanical pencil thing. Writing is smooth with very few hiccups or scratches. The lead isn’t too prone to breaking but breaking is unavoidable in this type of pencil. And, as previously mentioned, sometimes the mechanism doesn’t want to function.

Overall, the Pentel Champ is quite a champ for what it is: a tiny mechanical pencil more suited for school and office work. But it performs quite well in all situations. A good starting pencil in both 0.5 and 0.7mm, though I prefer 0.5mm.

Review – Westcott rulers

Well, when one is drawing, or drafting especially, it is useful, if not necessary, to have a ruler. And one might think that all rulers are the same. But they’re not. Some rulers have uneven edges, or mis-marked inches.

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A cheap ruler might cost half a dollar, and a good one might cost a full dollar. It’s not much difference and definitely worth it. The Westcott rulers that I have here are very functional, durable, and standard. Then have straight edges and correctly marked inches. One is clear acrylic and the other is steel. I use the steel for inking and the clear for sketching. I would recommend two rulers for that reason. And these are flexible, and the markings are wear-resistant. My only real complaint would be that the acrylic ruler scratches a bit too easily.

This sounds much more like a recommendation than a review, and it is, sort of. It’s a no-brainer to get a ruler. Getting a good one is not much more expensive than a cheap one, and these work great, they’re some of the best I’ve used.

Review – Testors Plastic Cement

Do you need to glue plastic pieces? Are you making models, collages, or sculptures? (Why do I always begin these with a question?) Then lets check out Testors plastic model cement.

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This review shall be short as glue is glue. It does what it says it does, binding most plastics, but it has problems with gloss and such as most glues do. It does not bond metal or most other substances, it is purely for plastic-to-plastic gluing. Although it will stick your fingers and paper with it, so be careful when using it. It takes several hours to fully set but hardens in about half a minute. The only real problem with using it is its terrible odor, but that is common to all plastic glues.

In short it is a very good glue, and that is why Testors is one of the most well-known brands in this line. There are better glues, and this is obviously not suited for every use, but that does not change how well it performs for the price. Just don’t get it on any paper products unless you want them to turn to very thin, stiff boards.