Review – Exceed 5×8.25 Hardcover Dotted Notebook

I’ve previously talked about the Exceed brand and the increase in quality from generic Walmart notebooks, so when I saw a standard sized notebook from them in hardcover (my favorite style) with dot-grid (my favorite ruling), I had to pick one up. From a distance the book is almost indistinguishable from a Moleskine (in their standard size), but comes at a much lower price-point. Are the two comparable? And which is a better value?

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The size listed on the packaging is 5×8.25 inches, dimensions which reality bears out with the addition of a 5/8 inch spine (slightly thicker than that of the standard Moleskine). I chose the black cover, which is a nice “matte” pleather with a very fine grain, though it feels a bit rubbery and the cardboard structure is noticeably flexible. On the back there is a simple embossed “Exceed” logo which is nicely subtle, and the attachment points for the secure-but-dangly elastic closure band. Inside, there is an ugly page with several lines to write down your information and another “Exceed” logo at the bottom. This is followed by the 120 sheets of dot-ruled paper. Bound to the spine somewhere along the way is a flimsy, thin, black ribbon bookmark that nevertheless doesn’t have a propensity to unravel. Attached to the back cover of the book is your standard (at this point) pocket which… works, fine.

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The paper inside has a classic 5mm dot layout with no additional formatting, and a pale-grey printing that moves into the background even under pencil lines, while still providing a neat and versatile guiding structure. The paper is a noticeably yellow-ish off-white and is thicker than your average notebook of this size (which accounts for the differences with a Moleskine book while having the same number of sheets). The increase in quality that this little bit of thickness allows (at least, that is my assumption), is well worth it, though. While it might not be the best for fine-writing instruments (the texture can best be described as “toothy”), it is opaque enough to allow for writing on both sides with basic utensils such as ballpoints and pencils. Furthermore, technical pens, brush pens, fountain pens, rollerballs, and even practice calligraphy pens all usually result in only minor show-through (at the cost of some feathering). However, alcohol-based Copic markers, Sharpies, and many felt-tip markers are too much for the paper, sometimes bleeding through entire pages. And there’s no guarantee of archival quality.

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One could easily go out and find notebooks that are worse than this one. When compared to a Moleskine the paper and binding are superior, but it feels a little cheaper and there’s an increase in thickness. This isn’t an artist’s main book, it’s not archival and the paper feel isn’t inspiring. But it is a durable, inexpensive and widely available option that accommodates a wide variety of writing utensils. If you’re looking for a budget alternative in the “black-book genre”, these are definitely ones to check out.

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Review – Faber-Castell 033 Ballpoint Pen

I recently received a box of things my brother got for me on his trip to Peru. Inside were several pens that seemed to be commonly available there. Indeed, they are more common there than in the US, because all of the information I could find on them was in Spanish, or Russian (Ukrainian? Cyrillic of some sort). And they do say “Product of Peru” in Spanish. So let’s get to it and look at the first type I received, the Faber-Castell 033 ballpoint in black.

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The pen has a very classic octagonal design, and it’s made with a plastic that feels much like the plastic that older pens and mechanical pencils were made out of, except it is much lighter and feels more brittle and thinner as a result. The faceted barrel is capped on the back by a step-down plug of a light grey color that allows the pen to be neatly posted, and the cap on the front is a very simple, if unsightly, ribbed design. The clip is molded in and works, but is quite filmsy, and I wouldn’t trust it. The cap does fit securely over the section, which is a simple taper in the barrel to a larger-than-normal metal cone, at the end of which is the ball. As far as I can tell, this tip is not removable, and thus the pen is not refillable. Stamped in gold on the side is just enough information to identify it, but not much more.

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Writing is surprisingly smooth for a ballpoint, but it does have occasional startup issues and more blobbing than I can get past. The ink is comparable to inexpensive Bic ink. It’s suitably dark and black, but it’s got a bit of a red sheen, and upon close inspection under a bright light it looks like a very dark purple. It’s still on the warmer side of things, though. It dries fast (except for the blobs), but with certain types of paper I wouldn’t try it left-handed. And its blobbing might cause it to smear for left-handers anyway. It is suitably waterproof like most ballpoint inks. I haven’t tested lightfastness, but in general even cheap black inks do well, but it isn’t archival quality.

Overall it’s a well-working, inexpensive pen. As far as super cheap pens go it isn’t the best, but it’s far from the worst. It writes well, but not perfectly. The body is simple with no frills and holds together despite being cheaply made. And there isn’t much more to it than that. I wouldn’t be going out to import them, but I would (and will) use them if I ended up with them (which I obviously did).

Blog 11-3-15 – Things are late, and unfortunately will continue to be late

Hello followers and viewers. I value my schedule highly, and I believe I have done a good job over the last long while of keeping up with that schedule. That being said, if you view my content with any regularity you will have seen that I have been late the past few weeks on a few things, and have unfortunately exceeded previous records of my own lateness. This is especially not fun for me with my comics, which I consider the core of my online content.

Now I don’t want to just make excuses, but I have had a few things happen recently that have made progressing more difficult. I moved into a “limbo” situation that has not gotten resolved as quickly as I had hoped, and makes my work and living environments undesirable from a “getting things done” or “moving around comfortably in clear spaces” kind of way. I’ve also had to change jobs to one with irregular hours that prevents me from being in “work mode” for my various comic and article writing/drawing. And finally I have a large project I’ve been working on with a very hard deadline that is very behind schedule. I’ll talk about that more as it nears completion.

So with all of those things I was still able to be on top of things for a while, but it wasn’t going to last. And it looks like things will be problematic for a little while longer. I hope you can bear with me while I work this out, and I hope to have all of the items I have been late on and caught up to all of the new content by the end of November, but it might end up closer to the end of the year. I hope you enjoy the content regardless and I hope your holiday season is less stressful than mine is going to be.

Best Wishes,

Austin Smith

www.Dragoncompany.org

www.Dragonfunnies.com

www.Artsupplycritic.com

Review – Bic Velocity Mechanical Pencil

Bic makes a lot of writing products, and sometimes it’s hard for me to keep them straight. I’ve never really been sure what one is supposed to do over the other. Nevertheless, the Bic Velocity is a solid mechanical pencil and I’ll be looking at it today.

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The back of the pencil is unremarkable; a clear plastic cap covers a small, white, barely functional eraser (it works about as well as most mechanical pencil erasers). This assembly can be pushed down to activate the lead advance mechanism. Just down from this is a plastic clip, functionally all right, with the pencil’s information written on it. Down from there, the body is clear and straight until it get to the rubberized grip section where it bulges then hourglasses, creating a nice place to rest your fingers. The little cap cone after this is clear, and has the metal tip floating inside so that is retracts when the lead is retracted, preventing the tip from getting caught on anything.

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Writing is fine. The lead is standard. It doesn’t break much, goes on smoothly enough and dark enough for school or office work. There is no advanced shock absorber or lead turning to prevent any damage, though, but at the price, that’s teetering on the edge of reason. The grip is comfortable enough to get one through writing or drawing without too much trouble. It doesn’t slip and isn’t too narrow. The overall construction is solid, and it feels like it won’t break in your hand.

Overall, the Velocity is fine. It isn’t the best mechanical pencil ever, and it has no real features, but it’s solidly and relatively comfortably built. It is fairly inexpensive and comes with enough refills of erasers and lead to last the user for some time. As far as inexpensive options go for mechanical pencils, it’s a good one, but there’s nothing special about it.