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.


 

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Review – Moleskine Softcover Pocket Book

Perhaps I lose a little bit of “reviewer credibility” when I say that my main notebooks for years have been Moleskine ones (specifically hardcover pocket and large). I know they’re not the best notebooks in the world, and I am phasing them out of my routine (since I’ve mostly stopped with specific daily uses, and uniformity is less of an issue for a while) but they are widely available, simple, and consistent books of decent quality. That being said, the ones I use have always been hardcover, and at this (192 page) size I prefer the rigidity of a hard-back, but am I being unfair to the softcover books?

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First off, all Moleskines come with a wrap-around paper “package”, and I’ll admit, my book is old enough I don’t know where it went, but I assume now they have updated it to the same useless “reusable” packaging that has vague blanks about travel to fill in if that floats your boat. The cover itself is a nice, flexible (black) pleather wrapped around the book in a single piece. On the back “Moleskine®” is stylishly stamped near the bottom and the elastic band is attached at two points. The cover has a pleasant texture that is relatively even and doesn’t scratch easily, but does show the binding and attachment points underneath and impressions from the elastic closure. It also easily divots and is structurally weak at the corners.

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Inside is the same-old Moleskine stuff: a “belongs to” page at the front, a cheap ribbon bookmark (mine unravel more and more often these days), and a sturdy pocket in the back that I’ve never personally found a use for. The paper is a pleasant off-white with a nice smooth (but not slick) texture that takes ballpoints and pencil very well (if you’re using it one sided {so no 192 pages, as advertised}). With anything more significant you get a lot of show-through, and with fountain pens or markers you’ll get bleed-through. I find it pleasant to write or sketch on, and the fact that it’s acid-free means your work is safe over time, but it is fairly fragile stuff (I wouldn’t erase too much).

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In the end it’s what I expected, the same Moleskine quality with a cover that is more easily bent and damaged (I do care about how my books look). It will probably hold up to most types of use, but it won’t look pretty at the end (the pocket at the back does mean it maintains support for off-the-table use, though). It’s a fine notebook, with decentness all-around, from page feel to binding, but it seems like less and less of a deal as things progress. One can find books at WalMart (potentially of dubious archival-quality) that do the same things cheaper these days, and they might not have the same quality control, but they are so much cheaper. I like the Moleskines for their ubiquity and uniformity, but they’ve always been overpriced, and this cover just doesn’t do it for me.

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 – 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 – Rhodia Pads

I’ve been using Rhodia products for years now, and the way that I was introduced to them was their famous pad-style books. I got one as a gift and used it almost every day in school (only almost because I wasn’t taking notes with it but writing down ideas). And I’ve had a few around ever since. Let’s take a look at what made them so widely used and praised.

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The pads themselves are simple, and have very few differences between the sizes. They are an orange rectangle, with one or two heavy-duty staples in the top and 3 creases on the cover to allow it to be folded over the spine easily and cleanly. Both the front and back have the Rhodia tree logo, with the back one being smaller and above some of the book’s specifications (in metric and imperial) and usually a price tag/bar code. Inside there are perforations on the top of each page, and with the thickness of the paper and the quality of the perforations, tearing out pages is easy, but they do not tend to fall out with hard use.

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The size of the paper in each book varies, and it comes in line or graph versions (dot in the premium editions, and unfortunately no blank). The ink used is a light blue-ish purple that doesn’t interfere with ink or pencil, the line paper is a bit darker. The paper is vellum and very ink resistant, meaning long dry times but little feathering, bleed through, and page crinkling. Show through can still be a problem, but most ballpoints and fountain pens write very well on the paper with almost no side effects. Paints and markers such as Sharpies are where the paper starts to not hold up as well, but the minimal crinkling, and the lack of bleed-through is still a very good performance. The coating on the paper also allows for very smooth writing, but one might have to press down hard with less wet pens.

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I might have already given away my opinion of the books in the first paragraph, but they are lovely. The writing experience is super smooth and pleasant; the worry that one might have with other papers when writing with liquid ink pens in non-existent. The binding is hardy and the cover wears very well with minimal things to be problematic. I’m generally not a fan of covers that fold over the top of the book, but I make an exception here. They make great traveling journals, school notebooks, coffee shop list makers, etc. And they can survive both fountain pens and being tossed around in a backpack. If the styling was a bit more my speed I would carry one around all the time. Still they are very versatile, and for the smaller ones, fairly inexpensive.

Review – Uni-ball Jetstream Bold

Some people search for the best of something. I never really looked at my collecting in that way. I just like using a variety of things, and for me I know that there’s no one perfect thing. But that doesn’t stop me from liking sites like TheWireCutter.com, which finds the best product in a given category for the average consumer. I was recently featured in their article about the best mechanical pencil (along with several other, well-known reviewers), and while I was talking to them, I thought I’d try out their recommendation for best ballpoint pen: the Uni-Ball Jetstream. If you read their mechanical pencil article, and my review of their pick the Uni Kuru Toga, this might seem familiar. I do understand why people like the pen, but I don’t like it so much, and here’s what I think of it.

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My particular Jetstream is the bold 1.0, and starting at the top it has a nice, beefy, chrome click button that is very satisfying to use. Down from that is the logo, size, and a solid clip that does its job. The majority of the barrel is rubberized, with the Jetstream logo in the top half in a hard-to-read, reflective plastic. There are slight divots on the section for grip, which actually flares out, instead of tapering in, making it quite large in the hand, and then an interesting-looking chrome cone that leads to the point. This cone does screw off and the pen is easily refillable.

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The ink itself is a nice, cool black that slides onto the page easily. There is an ever-so-slight amount of dry time, after which the ink is quite waterproof. While the ball does roll nicely and the ink flows smoothly, I still get blobs and stuttering, blobs being less frequent than with comparable pens, and stuttering much more frequent. This slight stuttering is hardly noticeable when writing, but is virtually the only feedback the pen gives. It is most definitely the smoothest ballpoint I’ve ever written with but I don’t feel like I’m in control of it when I’m writing. The stuttering is easy enough to overlook when the writing is done, though.

Overall it’s a well-designed, sturdy pen that I don’t want to write with. The point slides out from under me, and the thick grip cramps my hand after a while. It’s also extremely light, which makes me want to hold it tighter so as to not lose it. Still, the fit and finish are great, it’s very satisfying to hold, and if you want an “inexpensive” smooth ballpoint, it really can’t be beaten

Review – Bic Cristal Bold

Bic makes a lot of pens, and the Cristal is one that everyone knows about. It’s a staple of the modern world: an admittedly cheap pen that can be, and is, used by everyone. But most of the time you find the medium version (or a fine if you’re either lucky or unlucky). And those have many of the problems we associate with ballpoints. And when one is running a business or doing art, sometimes it’s more important that the pen write on the first try, and write smoothly, than have a thin line. That’s where the Bic Cristal Bold 1.6mm pen that we’re looking at today comes in.

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The body is a simple as can be: a translucent piece of hexagonal plastic with key info on the side. The base of the ball point is plastic, while the tip itself is metal. The cap is a single piece with an integrated clip that works, but isn’t the best. The cap’s only real function is to prevent the pen from marking things when set down.

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But the real thing here is the tip, which is much wider than usual Bic ballpoint tips. Bic says that it is an “easy glide” pen. And I’d agree that that is the case. The ink is super smooth, and requires very little pressure once it gets going. After pushing down for a little bit, the pen, in my experience, will be writing perfectly a quarter of the way into the first letter, so not perfect startup, but good for a ball pen. After that it’s smooth enough to write cursive easily. There are a few points where the ink breaks up, and those are unsightly, but with a little hand control they can be covered up nicely. Like most ballpoints it’s suitably waterproof. And while the pen and packaging say it’s 1.6mm, Id’ be much more tempted to say it’s simply 1mm.

Really, it’s a great little pen, and not very expensive. If you’re looking for a cheap way to get a smoother (and partially less globby) writing experience, I’d say this is the direction to go first. They don’t match liquid ink pens of any type, but they certainly do work quite well and are convenient, having replaced most of my other ballpoints right now.