Review – Muji Bunkobon Notebooks (Thin/Regular)

I’ve had a couple Muji notebooks in the queue to review for quite some time now, and ironically it’s the product that I have most recently purchased that’s making its way to my metaphorical “review table” first. Muji has a reputation of being both minimalist and high quality, and Japan in general is often seen as being more focused on a good writing experience, but do Muji’s inexpensive Bunkobon notebooks live up to the expectations?

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When looking at aesthetics, the exterior is about as minimal as one can get: a brown “craft” paper cover with a smooth (not glossy, but definitely coated) finish wraps the whole book, only interrupted by a barcode sticker on the back. Inside, the pages are blank with no additional features (no name page or back pocket) save a red ribbon bookmark.

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The paper is a pleasant off-white with a very smooth texture. For how thin it is, it does a very good job of holding up. Almost any mark you make has “show through” where it can be seen from the other side of the paper, and with pens this quickly renders the reverse side unusable (I never use it anyway), but in most cases this doesn’t result in “bleedthrough” where marks appear on the next page. Gel and fountain pens work fine, but Sharpies and calligraphic pens are too much for it to bear (though only barely, it seems). The actual experience of writing on the paper is also quite pleasant, it’s got just a little bit of tooth to remind you that you are indeed writing, but most pens just glide across. For me personally, it sometimes feels a bit slippy or like I’m losing control, however, I have the same problem with the gel pens that everyone else in the world loves.

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The book comes in two (very reasonably {but not proportionally} priced) sizes, regular with 144 sheets, and slim with 50. And the larger size would excite me more if I didn’t have a few issues with durability. These 4 1/8 x 5 ¾ book’s covers are only a piece of slightly thicker paper, and on the top this overhangs a sixteenth of an inch beyond the one side of the book with a deckled edge. This quickly creates bent corners and a curled-in top area (I unsuccessfully tried cutting this excess off my slim, and it now looks like I’d imagine it would after a little while of constant use), which might be overlooked if the cover itself wasn’t so fragile and easily bent. Even I, a man who is very careful with all of his possessions (because he doesn’t like them to look worn) bent and tore the cover while the bookmark unraveled itself. While the binding is very solid I don’t feel like the cover of this book will adequately protect it over a longer period of time or through rigorous use (so it’s out for frequent traveling), and I think that this problem will get worse with the larger size.

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For the price of a couple dollars this is a very good notebook to write in. While there are some problems with cover and bookmark it makes a fine office or school notebook, or, if you aren’t a stickler for aesthetics, it’s a nice convenient size to carry around (though larger than that average pocket). If you’re looking for an inexpensive notebook upgrade or are just tired of people putting words or logos on your writing area these are nice, minimal and well crafted books.

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Review – Muji Hexa Ballpoint (.25mm Gel Pen)

My handwriting is very fine, and I always gravitate toward finer and finer tipped pens in my quest to jam as much information on the page as possible. But there is a limit to how small the tip of any given pen can be. Too thin a felt-tip will simply break, and ballpoints or Rapidograph-style pens will either not allow ink flow or damage paper. Thus, even pens on the smaller end of the possible scale are hard to come by (being more expensive and relatively user-specific when compared to more standard sizes), with .25 being about as thin as one can find. Muji, in its characteristic minimalist style, offers a gel pen in such a small size. Is it a worthwhile purchase?

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As with many Muji products, the pen is outwardly pretty simple. The hexagonal black body is a little larger in diameter than a pencil, and covered in a matte rubber that is only interrupted by two slits in the plastic near the front (for seeing the ink level) and a set of bumps with the slightest of step downs for posting in the back. After a brief clear plastic part, the metal cone in the front quickly brings us to a very fine protruding ink tube that’s about an eighth of an inch long. The clear plastic cap is also hexagonal, with an integrated clip and matching color insert that both covers the tip and displays the sizing information where it can be read easily from a pencil cup. Other than this, there are no markings on the item itself, as the label comes off, stripping you of all its information(in Japanese).

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Performance is good. The pen is comfortable to hold and stays firmly in one’s hand (though the material can make capping and uncapping a bit more “frictionful”). When put to paper, ink flows relatively smoothly. At this size of tip, it is impossible to eliminate all of the scratchiness, but a good job has been done of controlling it. Likewise, another problem at this thinness is that a pen will tend to skip more if at any angle other than perpendicular to the page, but this too has been mitigated. I’d still recommend you write as straight as possible, but it shouldn’t have too great an effect on the writing. I don’t have much information on the ink, but I can tell you that it dries quite quickly (I almost can’t get it to smudge) and it’s waterfast and alcohol resistant (it does bleed a little, but remains legible, which is good for writing and bad for stains). Its spread isn’t too bad either, laying out on the average page about the same thickness as a .25mm (01) technical fineliner (though, with my handwriting both seem very close to a .7 ballpoint).

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The pen’s a good one. It’s nice and sleek with a rugged body (I might be worried about the longevity of the cap. though) and a good writing feel. It’s slightly more expensive than a gel pen of comparable quality in the States (the price tag says ¥210, or about $2, but they sell it in the US for $3), but not enough to be out of their range. The tip is noticeably more fine than other ballpoints and gel pens you’ll find, but in my opinion almost awkwardly so (I’ve never been a fan of how gel pens look on the page {when written with my hand}), and there can be potential issues with the pen drying out. Still, if you’re looking for a functional and minimal super-thin writing pen (that isn’t as finicky or fragile as a technical pen) this is one to look at.

Review- Ritepoint Chromatic

Every once in a while I like to take a look at something vintage and see how well it stacks up. Plus I’ve got a soft-spot for slim, fine (line) writing pens. Now I’m not entirely sure as to the status of the Chromatic (or Ritepoint, or whoever) but it does seem these pens (and refills) are discontinued, but easy to find online. Is it worth it to snag one?

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The pen body is very slim and stylish, reminiscent of the Cross Century. It’s a smooth cylinder, with a gold-banded break for the twist mechanism and tapers at the back and front. At the fron,t a third of the taper is in the form of a gold-colored metal cone, from which the point extends when the mechanism is engaged. The back taper terminates more abruptly and affixed to it is a fairly solid, basically flat clip that runs almost the length of the back section.

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The action of the pen is strange enough that I’m not sure it’s working properly. Turning the back half of the pen clockwise a quarter turn will extend the ballpoint and lock it into place. From there twisting will do nothing until enough force is applied counter-clockwise and the pen “clicks” at which point the tip will slowly retract completely. It’s an interesting compromise system and it works quite well. It’s just that everything feels a bit still and awkward. I can’t quite tell if it needs oil, is broken, or that’s just how it’s supposed to be.

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As for the writing, it’s quite good. My pen has a blue “microtip” cartridge installed. The ink is smooth enough coming out that I can write in cursive, though the lines themselves have some start-up and shading problems (oddly reminiscent of fountain pens). The line width is equivalent to, or slightly thinner than, most “fine” points and the ink properties are fairly standard. The only other function; the clip is better than average but nothing to write home about.

It’s a decent little interesting piece of history, but I wouldn’t say it’s essential for any collectors. And the impracticality of having to hunt down new-old-stock or second-hand refills or fashion your own out of whatever might fit makes it not a good choice for the regular user. If it sounds interesting to you I’d say go for it, but it’s nothing to run out and hunt down.

Review – Fisher Space Pen Stowaway

The Fisher Space Pen has a reputation for being a very good pen, with many models being used by many people for many different things. But I feel that some models of space pen get more attention than others. And for some reason, the stowaway isn’t one of them, but it might be my favorite and I think it’s deserving of a look today.

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The body is very simple. It’s a black metal cylinder with a plastic end cap and another slightly larger black cylinder fitting over it. Fitted to this top tube is a clip, which is longer than most pen clips I’ve seen and has “Fisher” stamped into it (not much else to say, it works as a clip should). On the section there is a slight but smooth step down, and then a taper to the point.

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Writing is fairly smooth, though it does require a bit more pressure than some of the more modern pens (but less pressure than the cheap ones). The pen itself is very thin in diameter, meaning one’s hand will begin to cramp if writing more than a few notes. The body is also very short, and generally requires the cap to be posted (placed on the back of the pen) in order to lie in the webbing of one’s hand and be comfortable. This small-ness is very useful when traveling, as this pen can fit just about anywhere (but not an Altoids tin or some similar sized case, which might be why “preppers” don’t use them very often). And even though it’s metal it weighs next to nothing. In most cases it will “stowaway” very easily.

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I really like this pen. It goes with me almost everywhere (and I found an almost identically-sized pencil I will be talking about soon). Its slim body and black color make it very low profile and professional, while its all-metal construction and space pen (underwater, upside down, in space etc.) writing ability make it a very rugged writer. I did dent and scratch mine within a day of owning it, but I haven’t put anything on it since (and besides, that just adds character). The cartridges are even replaceable so you don’t have to throw out the pen each time as with many pens of this size. So, if you’re looking for an on-the-go sketching/writing/note taking pen that could also fit in with any of your other stuff at a moment’s notice, I’d say check this guy out.

Review – Royal Langnickel Nano-Liner 02 Red Technical Pen

So, you really need a red technical pen. You’ve heard good things about Microns, but you can’t find them in red at your local store. You instead find a red Royal Langnickel Nano-Liner pen. Is it a good substitute for a micron pen? Let’s see.

First off, the body of the pen is not sleek. It is grippy as a result but feels a bit rough on the hand. All necessary information is printed on the side and is fairly hard to rub off, though it can be done more easily than with other pens. The metal clip on the cap does its job well and the number on the top is easily visible and rub-resistant.

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The ink is a bright red, unmistakeable for any other color. It’s brighter than most other red pens and would most likely have to be diluted to even begin to simulate reality. It is permanent and a bit more liquid than most technical pens. It bleeds through thin paper with ease and pools at starting and stopping positions. With card stock it works just fine, but with a heavy grain paper the line tends to seep out and become wider. Precession drawing is difficult, even with the 02, which would seem to make a line as big as a Micron 05. However, for large sweeping motions this pen seems right at home, just don’t push to hard and destroy the nib.

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So, is this pen an adequate replacement for a Micron? Certainly not! It does have several good points: large amounts of ink are good for long, and sweeping lines, but less so for the precision drawing it is marketed for. It does do the drawing job better than a standard office pen and is cheaper than a Micron. I think it’s really up to personal preference as with all art supplies, but one should really try a Micron first before checking this pen out.

Review – Office Depot 20-Pound Copy Paper

By: Austin Smith

When one is starting to review art supplies, it’s difficult to find a starting place. So I picked the thing all art is put on; paper. More specifically I’m starting with Office Depot, 20-pound copy paper. The kind of thing that everyone has access to. And the kind of thing you’re most likely to start making art on. (or at least preliminary designs)

20-pound paper isn’t that thick, take it off the table and you can see right through it (not clearly, but you can). It obviously won’t hold much and buckles almost instantly in moisture. Thus it won’t be useful for anything more then pencil or light ink. Although it being copy paper and 8.5″ X 11″ it probably won’t be what your finished piece is on.

 

The paper is slick, mostly, it’s got enough grip and texture to not feel glossy and go sliding around on you. It takes both ink and pencil very well. When using a good eraser, pencil almost completely disappears. The ink shows through the paper, the pencil does not. And the texture is fine enough that it is barely noticeable to the naked eye. Which is something good if you’re planning on creating a workable draft of something and not just sketching.

The fact that this type of paper is almost universal and its small size make it great for sketches and drafts. Its main limitation is that, aside from copy paper, its dimensions are almost never used. Most printed and official online “art” documents use different aspect ratios from copy paper, making it almost exclusively for drafts and amateur art projects (in the art world).

It’s always good to have some around, to sketch or to find out how things fit together, and it can always be scanned and posted on a Blog with ease. It’s obviously a starting material, but one that never really leaves the desks of experts.

It’s also really cheap, which is a bonus.