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- 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 – OHTO Sharp Pencil APS-350ES

I like tiny, pocket-sized things. Especially writing utensils, like the Fisher Space Pen Stowaway, the cheap touch screen styluses, and now the subject of this review, the OHTO mini Sharp Pencil. All of these happen to be the same size. So the OHTO is cool both in that it matches many other small items you can buy, but it also might be the smallest mechanical pencil I have ever seen, being a little over 4 inches long and less than 3/16ths of an inch in diameter. But at that size will it still work well? Let’s take a look.

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The design is meant to mimic a wooden pencil. The outside of the pencil is actually made of wood and has a hexagonal design. Mine is in green, with silver printed information on one facet. The tip is sharpened like a wood pencil until about halfway when it is replaced by a metal cone that leads to a very short lead pipe. On the back there is a clip that is a separate piece of metal bent around and friction fit. Beyond that is the click mechanism that is really only usable when the eraser holder is installed. The eraser holder is quite a simple piece of metal that keeps the lead in the feeder, depresses the click mechanism, and holds a very small eraser. The wire-thin piece of metal attaching this piece to the body seems rather flimsy and easy to remove, but I have had no problems with it shaking loose: it simply doesn’t have enough mass. Likewise I have encountered no problems with the quality of any of the components.

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The lead seems to be HB. I don’t have the package (which is rather understated and nice by the way) with me so I don’t know what it is exactly, but I have no complaints. It writes well, and can be sufficiently dark. The eraser also works surprisingly well for its size, with very little being used to rub away quite a bit, but I wouldn’t say it’s a great eraser. The click mechanism is satisfying and the lead is held very securely in place when one is using the pencil. The clip is also very good for the size, easily holding it in place while not damaging anything.

In the end, for on-the-go sketching or writing I would certainly recommend this product. I also wouldn’t recommend it at all for stationary or desk-related activities. It is very small, and while that makes it portable, it isn’t the most comfortable of writing implements. It will hold up very well in a bag or a pocket, and it looks quite neat in my opinion. I’d just say be careful of the back end being knocked loose and stock up on some extra erasers and lead (it only comes with one of each) as one will likely run through them pretty quickly.

Review – Sharpie Mini

I really like Sharpies, and I have talked about them a few times before. There’s a reason they’re so popular, and as they continue to become more used they are diversifying their product range. One such product that came out a while ago is the Sharpie Mini, which is, as the name would imply, much shorter than the average Sharpie.

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It has the same starting and ending diameters as the regular sized Sharpie, with an extra part on the tip that snaps on with a lanyard “ring” (triangle). Both the cap and body have been reduced in size, but proportionally the cap is larger. The clip is very similar, but shorter, and works well enough but not fantastically. The necessary information is still printed on the side.

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The size is quite small, at 3 and 11/16ths inches capped, down from a standard Sharpie’s 5 and ½ inches. Most people would find the uncapped marker uncomfortable to hold without posting, and it’s still only tolerable when it is. The odd shape of the cap and grip make it strange to hold. The rest of the writing is all the same as a regular Sharpie, with a cool black line, very permanent but not perfect (archival) qualities, a nice tip, fast drying, and the ability to smoothly put down a ton of ink.

There’s not much more to say than that they’re smaller Sharpies. And if you like Sharpies but want a more portable option, here it is. The only downsides are they are somewhat awkward to hold, and have less ink. I personally didn’t like the lanyard ring, but that just pops right on and off, so it’s no problem. I have Sharpies around with me a lot because they’re so versatile, and this is a great little thing to decrease their needed carrying size with.

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 – Poppin Fineliners

Poppin is a company that I don’t know much about, but their pens definitely catch the eye. When I saw this set of fineliners (felt tip pens) from them, I knew I had to pick a set up. The packaging and the feeling of the pens themselves appears quality, but do they live up to their first impressions?

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The outsides themselves are very nice looking. At the bottom is a small inset for posting the cap, which connects via a visible seam to a very smooth and featureless barrel. Underneath the cap are a series of step downs that are quite short and would be uncomfortable to hold, leading quickly to a standard-looking felt tip point, making it more comfortable to hold the pen by the barrel when writing. The cap, when on, has a slight step up from the barrel but is equally pleasantly smooth, and its only features are a dimple in the top and a rather unique u-like clip that looks like a Lamy wire clip that has been flattened.

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Functionally, the clip is about useless. It doesn’t have any dimple with which to grip, and is spaced farther from the cap than the width of most fabrics, meaning friction won’t be holding it in. The tips themselves aren’t that great, either. Like most fineliners, they do write with minimal pressure, but unlike most they do not give a consistent line. Dots very quickly form when writing or drawing due to having a very fluid ink not well controlled, and when writing fast at times skips can even develop, though this is rare.

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The colors of black, blue, and red are very standard, but the two extra colors are very washed out, blue especially. The blue is very pleasant sky blue when controlled well, but becomes darker quickly. But it still sticks out compared to other office blues. Red is nice and vibrant, though its tone is closer to that of a pink. It’s the least prone to problems as the ink is a bit thinner and less likely to dot. The black is fortunately a black and not a very deep purple or gray as some are. It is slightly on the cool side, which is unusual. The colors do match their corresponding pen bodies fairly well, but the inclusion of a 4th pen that has a white body, but also black ink, is slightly confusing. They unfortunately do bleed through the paper, but have minimal shading and resist water (while they do spread slightly when wet, they remain easily readable).

Overall I think the pens aren’t really up to par with what one can get for their office. They are sturdy and the ink works well, but without functional clips, they must remain at the desk or in a case, and their writing performance leaves much to be desired. The user just ends up with a pen that feels slightly rough and dry. If style and durability are your main concerns (and potentially ease of writing as the ink almost jumps from pen to page on contact) these might work for you. But for those looking for the superior, super-smooth and comfortable writing experience, or a portable reliable writer, these can be easily passed up.

Review – Bull & Stash Notebook Travel Stash

Bull & Stash was a kickstarter for a notebook company that I only found out about because my brother was excited about it. The particular product he was looking at still hasn’t entered regular production, but I figured I’d test out one and see if they were any good in general.

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The basic idea is that the notebooks have removable pages. This way, different types of paper can be used, and notes can be organized after they’re written, both inside and outside the notebook. This is accomplished by having two posts on the back of the notebook that have removable screws to allow paper to be put in an out.

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The cover is a simple slab of supple leather with two holes in the back, and a logo stamped on the front. I’ve seen some complaints that the logo is stamped unevenly, and while it is on mine this doesn’t bother me. The cover did have an unsightly curl when I first received it (the back and front didn’t match up) but this has gone away with use. On the inside, the hardware is simple, and it screws down a flimsy cardboard piece with a place for basic lost and found information. Inside this is the paper. Around 40-45 pages can fit in at a time, but I’d recommend fewer. The cardboard and leather cover do provide enough stability to write on in most situations, but I wouldn’t be taking long notes or more than a few without a stable writing surface. The cardboard is also prone to bending, decreasing the stability over time.

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The paper is all right. It is fairly bleed resistant, but prone to feathering inks. The graph and lined refills are only printed on one side, which is fine by me because I only use one, but others might find it annoying. It would be difficult to use both sides in this book, though, because the hardware makes flipping through pages difficult. I’d remove the first few pages regularly to prevent them from being destroyed, and I can say that writing on the back of a page is almost impossible. The hardware also cramps the writing space. If things were a little smaller I’d be more happy.

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In the end, it’s a solid first attempt. It seems more like a portfolio builder, though, and I don’t know how supported the books will be. There are little inconsistencies and design problems that make me shy away from recommending the books. It’s not worth the current asking price to me if the cardboard and stamp quality aren’t fixed. And the edges of the notebook aren’t finished very well, leading to a very strange appearance. It definitely will last a long time: the leather and steel hardware aren’t going anywhere. But it just seems like the designers dropped the ball a little bit. It’s almost too simple and feels like it’s slapped together from existing items. Maybe my problems with the hardware are solved in the larger version, but I doubt it. Until a more usable and better finished version is released, I’d hold off.