Karas Kustoms Render K G2

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Beyond my laptop, phone and wallet, my most frequently used personal item of the past three months may be my (somewhat) unique stonewashed Karas Kustoms Render K G2 in orange and grey. I nabbed this bad boy during one of KK’s Instagram flash sales. I am not a man who believes in fate, but luck was clearly with me that day because this pen has turned into one of my favorites. In fact, of the dozens upon dozens of pens in my collection, this orange and grey Render K G2 is easily in the top 3 right now.

Let’s start with the looks. Stop reading and just scroll through the pictures. I stink at taking pictures, but even my pedestrian shots look pretty good. The colors offer a nice juxtaposition of the bright and fun orange contrasting with the sleek and classy grey. It’s the mullet of color combinations – party on the body of the pen and all business on the pen cap. The stonewash produces a nice weathered appearance around the knurling of the cap, along the threads near the grip section and along the circumference of the end. It is a subtle but compelling effect. If it’s not my favorite looking pen, it’s damn close to it.

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Next up, build quality. It’s a machined pen made of high quality aluminum – ’nuff said but I’ll go on a bit more. Compared to a fountain pen or an inexpensive plastic pen, the Render K feels like a tank. At around 30 grams capped, it has some heft to it. When writing without the non-posting cap, the Render K comes in around 20-22 grams which is right in my wheelhouse. I have zero hesitation about bringing this pen anywhere or carrying it in any way (in a case, in my bag, in my pocket, etc.). I’ve become protective about the pen but not because I’m concerned about damaging it. I just don’t want to lose the thing!

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Last and most important – the writing experience. The balance of the pen overall and the form factor of the grip area work well for me. At around 5 inches, it is not a long pen so folks with large hands may find it to be a tad short. Not me. The pen fits nicely in my average to small hands. Like all aluminum pens, the Render K can feel a bit slick but this is where the grip area helps. As you can see in the picture below, the diameter of the pen increases a bit going from back to front and there are two small steps before and after the threads. The combination of steps and threads provide direction for my fingers seeking the right grip while also offering texture for the edge of my thumb pad to hold onto. To put it succinctly, the design of the pen allows for a confident grip for what could otherwise be a slippery pen.

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As for refill choice, I have grown quite fond of the 0.5 mm Pilot Juice. I think of the Juice refill as the grown up version of the Pilot G2 refill available in office supply stores. The balance between flow, smoothness and feedback is just about perfect in the 0.5 Juice and it works on a wide range of paper types. The common G2 refill can be splotchy with a writing experience that is a touch rougher than the Juice. As with most machine pens capable of taking different refill types, there is the smallest amount of play in the tip of the refill. Since the Render K is a capped pen (as opposed to a retractable pen), it is easy enough to modify the refill with bit of scotch tape near the tip to eliminate the wiggle. Also, adding tape to the end of the refill gets it to protrude a few millimeters past the cone as is my preference.

Since getting this Render K through the Instagram flash sale, I have added a blue and a grey Render K to my collection. Of course, I switched the grey and blue caps between these pens to generate color hybrids. The blue body / grey cap combo packs a teal 0.5 Pilot Juice and is used for grading while the grey body / blue cap is currently rolling with a 0.7 Juice.

In summary, I really dig these pens.

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The Pens and Pencils I Actually Use

That One Pen has been around for a while now. I’ve posted several dozen reviews and have been fortunate enough to accrue something resembling a decent readership. What I have not done is clearly written about what I actually use on a consistent basis. For those of us afflicted with late-stage pen and/or pencil addiction, writing tools constantly fall in and out of favor. However, over time, we find ourselves returning to a short list of favorites. What follows is a somewhat lengthy consideration of my pen and pencil short list. As with any such list, it is idiosyncratic, biased and personal but it is not hastily constructed. Trust me – the overflowing storage boxes and lower-than-otherwise-would-be bank account are evidence that this post is the result of plenty experimentation.

Here are the ground rules for this post – no categories and no rankings. I do not want to get caught up in listing my top 5 this and my top 5 that because I do not use pens and pencils based on their relative ranking in a particular category. I use stuff based on some random combination of needs and wants. Also, ignore the order in which these items are listed. If it is in this post then I like it, use it and recommend that you consider it as well. One final point. I only selected writing tools that I use, or at least have handy, multiple times in a typical week. As a result, the list is light of fountain pens. It’s not that I don’t have and use fountains pens with some frequency it’s just that only one or two are consistently inked and handy at most times. We’re focusing on the work horses here. Let’s get started.

Pentel Energel 0.7 mm
The gel pen category is huge and seems to grow every month. The range of colors, ink properties and point sizes makes the gel pen options dizzying at best and bankrupting at worst. That said, if you can buy it at Staples or order it from Jet Pens, odds are I’ve tried it. For me, the micro, needle points tend to be too scratchy and inconsistent with respect to ink flow and the broader points tend to be too wet and I need quick drying ink as a lefty. So, medium points usually find the sweet spot between smoothness, feedback and dry times. Enter the Pentel Energel. Like I said – I’ve tried just about everything in this category. Yes, I’ve flirted with other options and even gone steady with more than few, but in the end I always come back to the Energels with the 0.7 mm point. From the Deluxe RTX to the Energel-X to the Alloy to the non-retractable options, these pens come in a variety of body types. Personally, I prefer the Energel-X. The Deluxe is a tad too long. The Alloy is a bit longer still and also less comfortable and the non-retracble versions are less convenient. In a perfect world, one of the established machine pen makers will use the Energel refill as inspiration for a future design. Are you listening Karas Customs, Tactile Turn, Ti2 Design, BigiDesign, etc.?! One quick note – the Energel ink is not water-resistant so do not write your mortgage check with these pens. Actually, don’t write your mortgage check at all – send it electronically. Given that I write 2 checks a year (at most) and have never had issues with water ruining important papers I’ve written, I consider the water thing a total non-factor.

Energel

 

Tactile Turn Mover and Shaker
Speaking of machined pens…Of all the categories of pens, I find machined pens (especially those offered on Kickstarter) particularly tempting. What late-stage pen addict can resist the idea of a purpose-built pen while also supporting an entrepreneur chasing his or her dream? Heck, as a teacher I’m easily sucked into a story of hope and potential so Kickstarter is basically design to get money from folks like me. All of that said, I have grown weary of quality control in the small to medium batches that these vendors deal with and a bit tired of the utilitarian design favored by this segment as well. I am not saying machines pens are poorly made but I am saying I have sent multiple machined pens back to multiple vendors for minor tweaks here and there. Not a huge issue but it is a thing. Anyway, to me, the best pens are simple, efficient and maybe even a bit classy. I’m not going to get on any particular makers, but I have discovered that pens made from slippery aluminum tubes with screws showing on the clip are not my thing. Now, the Mover and Shaker pens from Tactile Turn give me the chance to support a small business and get an object that looks and feels like a pen. The shorter Shaker takes Parker-style refills. The longer Mover readily accepts G2-type refills. The Mover is a touch too long for my hand, but I do get a fair amount of use from my Mover when its loaded with a 0.5 mm Pilot Juice refill (more on this pen below). I don’t use it frequently, but it has a permanent place in my pen cup so it belongs in this list. Likewise, the Shaker is not my primary Parker-style refill pen (read on to find out which one is) but it’s certainly makes the short list.

TactileTurn

 

Staedtler 925 and Uni Kuru Toga (the less expensive mechanical pencils)
Honestly, how many cheap mechanical pencils does the world need? If every pencil manufacturer stopped making mechanical pencils tomorrow wouldn’t it be about 20 years before we would notice the beginnings of a shortage? I enjoy mechanical pencils as much as the next guy, but pound for plastic, there may not be another category of writing implements I’ve blown more money on than cheap mechanical pencils. Enough complaining. What less expensive mechanical pencils do I keep coming back to? Staedtler 925 and Uni Kuru Toga. Like all cheaper mechanical pencils, both of these pencils are a tad too light for me but they are also among the most comfortable writing tools, pen or pencil, I own. There isn’t any fancy about the Staedtler 925, but the ridged rubber grip is comfortable without being too squishy. As you probably know, the Kuru Toga has a cool clutch mechanism that keeps the graphite line consistent and the subtle contours of the grip area provides plenty of control. There are other mechanical pencils I carry with me and use more frequently (see below) but I have multiple sets of Kuru Toga and Staedtler pencils in multiple locations to make sure a decent mechanical pencil is always handy.

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TWSBI Mini (Honorable mention for TWSBI Classic and Vac 700)
To try to talk about all that fountain pens have to offer in the context of this post would be silly. There simply is too much history and too many options to get into it in one post, two posts or twenty posts. I have about 20 fountain pens in my collection but time and time again I come back to my TWSBI Mini. It’s not the best looking fountain pen I own. That honor might go to my Parker Vacumatic. But it is the fountain pen that fits my hand the best and works perfectly each and every time. It has to be the nib and feed because the TWSBI Classic, which uses the same hardware, is also rock solid for me. I prefer the slightly wider barrier of the Mini compared to the Classic and if only the darn cap of the Mini would just slide on instead of screwing on the back to post, the Mini would be perfect. While I may not use it as much as other writing tools on this list, I want to give a shout out to the Vac 700. It’s one of the quirkiest pens I own and it’s far too big to carry around but it is the ideal tool for when I want that old-school-sitting-at-my-desk-writing-like-it’s-1925 feeling. Again, there are plenty of other fountain pens in the collection but none, including the vintage pens I own, have earned my trust and loyalty like the TWSBIs. One more comment. My TWSBI Mini did develop a crack in the body. I sent an email to TWSBI USA on a Sunday morning and I got a positive reply within minutes. That, my friends, is how you do customer service.

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Parker Jotter (Relatively inexpensive but classic writing tool part 1)
I don’t care what any of you pen snobs think – I love the Parker Jotter. What’s more, I like them best when they are loaded with the basic Parker Quink ballpoint refill. How do you like them apples pen dorks?! Along with spending far too much time trying different cheap mechanical pencils, I spend way too much time (and more than a few bucks) down the Parker-style refill rabbit hole. I bet I could find (conservatively counting) 15 different types of Parker-style refills in my home office in under 20 seconds. While a Fisher Space Pen refill and a 100% fresh Visconti gel refill have their benefits, I continually come back to Parker’s own Quink refill. I’ve been debating between medium and broad point recently, but one way or another it’s typically Parker Quink for me. As for the Jotter itself, its iconic design is the epitome of simplicity, efficiency and class. In truth, the Jotter is probably a few millimeters too thin to be perfectly perfect for me, but that’s just me being perfectly picky. Whether it’s a quick line on a Post-it Note, a to-do list on an index card or problem solving in a student’s five subject notebook, I know I can grab a Jotter and get a solid result each time on any paper and look classy while doing so. Remember, the Jotter has been around since 1954 so you get relatively inexpensive collectability and the benefit of touching history with each pen stroke. Love. It.

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Dixon Ticonderoga and Tombo Mono (because sometimes you need to go old school and O’natural while you keep it real)
I don’t always use a wood-cased pencil (because why would I) but when I do, I like to keep it simple and/or yellow and/or smooth and/or slightly hard. Wood-cased pencils are a whole thing unto themselves. I have allowed myself to dip more than a big toe into this pool but, like my 8-year-old self, I refuse to dive in head first. I have learned enough to know that there are bad pencils, decent pencils, good pencils and (supposedly) really good pencils but given that wood-case pencils are not terribly portable and there simply is no way I’m going to use more than 8 wood-cased pencils in my statistical speaking 34 years left on earth, I’m just not going to go there in any significant way. Why do I prefer F grade graphite? I’m left-handed and prefer not to look like I’ve been playing in the dirt after writing. The Dixon is on this list because (a) the F/2.5 grade version is fairly easy to get, (b) I have a thing for iconic design and (c) it has an eraser. The Tombo Mono is on the list because it’s the best writing wood-cased pencil that doesn’t smudge that I’ve tried to this point in my life. So why not just go with the Mono alone? See items (a), (b) and (c) above. Like the cheap mechanical pencils I discussed above, I have plenty of “copies” of the Dixon and Tombo here, there and everywhere to make sure my old school pencil itch can be scratched any time.

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Pentel i+ and Lamy 2000 Multi pen
Let me be honest here. I feel like any self-respecting pen nerd should have a favorite multi pen or two. So, these two entries feel like obligations as much as anything. Don’t get me wrong – I use them often just not as much as the other gel or ballpoint options on this list. Frankly, multi pens are a weird category. On the one hand, they should be the answer to every pen nerd’s need to have more than one writing option on hand at all times. On the other hand, you cannot physically write with more than one pen at a time and multi pens never do their job as well as a single refill pen. Putting all of that aside, whenever I need/want the convenience of a multi pen I go for either my Pentel i+ or my Lamy 2000 with the final choice based on whether I’m in a gel ink or ballpoint mood. Ultimately, picking a multi pen comes down to minimizing concessions. So, if I’m going to use a gel ink multi pen then the refills need to work consistently (I’m looking at you Pilot Hi Tec C Coleto), thus my preference for Energel inks. If I’m going to use a ballpoint multi then I prefer to go with one that looks and feels great, thus the Lamy 2000. These pens may not be true work horses for me, but they definitely pull their own weight on my pen and pencil farm.

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Caran d’Ache 849 (Relatively inexpensive but classic writing tool part 2)
With all due respect to friends across the pond, the Caran d’Ache 849 is basically the european Parker Jotter. The 849 came along some 15 years after the Jotter. I don’t know its full history and looking stuff up on the internet can be so complicated, but I suspect the folks at Caran d’Ache were inspired by Parker’s work. Given the design of the 849, they were certainly inspired by the humble wood-case pencil so there is an interesting cross over there.. Like the Jotter, we have the flexibility of multiple refill options and the added fun of moderately priced collectability given the varieties of color and finishes available within the 849 line. Simple. Efficient. Well made. What’s not to like? In case you’re wondering, the pen in the foreground of the picture below is the 100th anniversary 849 Caran d’Ache released earlier this year. So colorful and detailed.

CarandAche849

 

rOtring 600 Lava and rOtring 800 (the more expensive mechanical pencils)
The rOtring mechanical pencils I have may be the best made items in my entire pen and pencil collection. The precision, efficiency and build quality of these pencils is insane. As with all things, there is a point of diminishing return when it comes to price and mechanical pencils. After all, we’re basically talking bout a sleeve for a stick of graphite. Still, if you have a need for mechanical pencils, why not use the best? Like any mechanical pencil, these rOtrings are not suited for extended writing sessions but when it comes to problem solving and other typical mechanical pencil uses, these tools are top of the line without being stupidly expensive (~$70). I dig the lava finish so much that I have two of the 600s (one for home and one for school) and the 800 is a constant travel companion. Both of these pencils have retractable tips (the 600 retracts with a click, the 800 with a twist) which adds to their pocketability. If you want to show someone how writing implements are supposed to be made and how efficient mechanical pencils really can be, show them a rOtring.

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Pilot Juice 0.5 mm (the other gel pen)
Like I said, the gel pen world is a dizzying array of confounding choices. So, it makes sense that any pen nerd should have a couple of favorites from this category. Why the Pilot Juice? (1) It has a 0.5 mm canonical shaped point. I prefer cone shapes to needle points and when you get down to 0.5 mm and smaller, many makers go with needle points. (2) The ink chemistry of the Juice is different from the water-based Energel so it writes a tighter, drier line that compliments the Energel nicely. (3) It has the same size and shape of the ubiquitous G2 refill so it works in variety of pen bodies, including the Tactile Turn Mover discussed above. Given my preference for 0.7 mm lines in the Energel, you might think I’d like the Juice in 0.7 mm as well. That has yet to be the case. Maybe I haven’t tried the right color in the 0.7 Juice but, for whatever reason, the color intensity at 0.7 mm is less satisfying than at 0.5 mm to my eyes. Overall, the Pilot Juice is not my go-to gel ink but it is my go-to-next gel ink.

PilotJuice

 

BigiDesign Ti Ballpoint
This plucky little guy is the most recent addition to my consistently used list of pens and it’s here for one reason; the interior design of the pen is such that the Parker-style refill does not wiggle one fraction of a nanometer during use. With retractable ball points, there can be a hint of wiggle in the point. To be clear, this is not the case with my favorite Parker Jotters or Caran d’Ache 849s (but I am looking at you Retro 51). However, when I want a truly 100% rock solid feel in a ballpoint, I’ve been grabbing for the Ti ballpoint from BigiDesign in recent weeks. It’s not perfect. Un-posted it’s a bit too short and posted it’s a bit too long. But compared to bullet-style Fisher Space Pens which also provide a rock solid feel, the Ti Ballpoint’s grip area and heft of the titanium works better for me. It does come with a rather useless rubber stylus tip on the bottom end. Thankfully, you can swap it out for a flat end cap that comes with the pen.

BigiDesign

 

Miscellaneous Stuff I Use Often
We’re closing in on 3000 words so this post is already too long. I will not go into significant detail for the items below, but I did want to mention a few paper items, inks and other things that fit into the broader pen/pencil world as way to round out this post.

The Friendly Swede Micro Fiber Stylus – Along with all the money I spent on cheap mechanical pencils and Parker-style refills, I also spent too much searching for the best stylus for my iPad. This is one to get. It works first time every time.

Pilot Iroshizuku Kon Peki – Like many of you, I have more fountain pen ink than I could possibly use in this or three more lifetimes. Of all the ink bottles I have, the level in the bottle of Kon Peki is the lowest – ’nuff said.

Field Notes – You should carry a pocket notebook and you should carry the one that offers the best balance of paper quality, style and durability. Like many of my favorite products in this list, Field Notes has a certain inexpensive collectability that adds to the fun.

Yellow Legal Pads – Honestly, I probably write more notes on these legal pads than on any other surface. I’m currently using the Docket Gold pads by Tops. They’re not perfect but they’re about as good as legal pads get.

Nock Co. Dot Dash Index Cards – The last thing I do before leaving school each day is prepare a to-do list for the following day. I used to write this list on any old note card I could find. These days, I refuse to use anything but Nock Co Dot Dash cards.

Park Sloper Wallet/Notebook Holder by One Star Leather Goods – I’ve been thinking about going with a smaller front pocket wallet and leaving the Field Notes naked in my back pocket, but this wallet is so damn well made and so damn functional that I can’t bring myself to make the switch.

Mountain Briefcase by Topo Design – If I could recommend only one product in this entire post, the Mountain Briefcase might be it. I got the green one for Christmas last year and I could not be happier with it. It fits several pens, my MacBook Air, a legal pad, a stack of student test papers and various other bits and pieces with an insane level of efficiency.

Pen Holders by Dudek Modern Goods – I have several of Mike Dudek’s solid walnut pen holders, including a couple that were custom-made. Also, I’m this close (forefinger and thumb about 1 cm apart) to ordering another custom piece from Mike. These holders may straddle the line between function and luxury so it’s not like you need one. Still, you should want one because they do what they do well and look great doing so.

So there you have it. The pens, pencils and other stuff I actually use. Of course, this post will be revised in the weeks and months ahead but it won’t be updated without serious consideration. I hope you found this post 5% as informative as I have. Sitting down and clearly thinking about what you actually use, without worrying about what you think you should use or what is trendy, is an eye-opening process.

 

**Disclaimer – Other than a few products that were gifts from immediate family or close friends, all of the items in this post were purchased by me with my own money. I have not been compensated in any way by any of the merchants or makers discussed in this post. Any links to vendors are provided purely for reader’s convenience.**

 

 

Uni-ball Signo 307

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The Uni-ball Signo 207 is often touted as one of the better pens you can buy at the big box office supply stores or even your local grocery store. Although I have never formally reviewed the 207, I would generally agree that it is a solid buy. That said, the Uni-ball Signo 207 is not my readily-available gel pen of choice. For me, that distinction goes to Pentel’s Energel. If you want a gel pen that writes consistently, smoothly (but not too slippery), offers bold colors and is fairly easy to find, you cannot do better than an Energel in my book. Could Uni-ball’s new entry into the gel pen world, the Signo 307, topple the Energel from its lofty perch?

I came across the Signo 307 during a quick stop at Target. I went there looking for Cliff Bars, some things made by a company named Hanes (too much information?) and salsa. I left with Cliff Bars, Hanes products and the Signo 307s (they were out of the salsa I prefer). Like many of you, I wander into the stationery aisle of Target whenever I’m there. Of course, 99% of the time, there isn’t much new or interesting in the aisle but this recent trip was that rare 1% bonus. I have no idea how widely available Target is making the new Signo 307 so the experience at your local Target store may vary. By the way, they were running a sale on packs of Pentel Energel pens as well so you now have two excuses for a Target run.

Hopefully the pictures below show you most of what you want to know, but here are a few quick take aways:

  • Compared to a medium point Signo 207, the medium Signo 307 clearly lays down a bolder line.
  • While the 207 does not really skip, it will occasionally hesitate a bit when starting. In fairness to Uni-ball, most gel pens need a stroke or two to get going but the 307 seems less prone to this hesitation than most gel pens I’ve used.
  • The 307 felt a bit smoother than the 207.
  • The size, shape and feel of the 207 and 307 are identical.
  • Cosmetically, the 307 swaps out the silver-colored trim of the 207 for matte black. The 307 barrel is also not as transparent as the 207 and features a fading checkered pattern on the body. Personal preferences are personal preferences. Me? I prefer the look of the 307. They’re both plastic pens but the 307 looks a bit more refined.
  • The dry times of the two pens were pretty much the same.

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So, which do I prefer? I like the 307 a bit more. Will the Signo 307 replace the Pentel Energel as my “go to” gel pen? Nope. Ultimately, the Signo 307 does not do anything better than the Energel and the all but instantaneous dry time of the latter keeps it at the top of the podium for me. That said, I encourage you to check out the 307, especially if you like the 207 but would prefer a bolder line.

Tactile Turn Titanium Mover

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Short Review:  This is a fantastic pen!

Slightly Longer Review:

The name of this site is That One Pen. Its goal is to track my efforts to find that ONE pen. I’ve written nearly 50 posts and reviewed about 25 pens and a handful of pencils. In the grand scheme of pen-dom, 25 is but a tiny drop in the pen cup. All of that said, if I had to pick one pen as That One Pen today, the Tactile Turn Ti Mover would be on the short list at the very least. In fact, right now, today, the TT Ti Mover is my favorite pen.

I previously reviewed the TT Mover and the shorter TT Shaker. Back then, I was more enthusiastic about the shorter Shaker than the longer Mover. My take on the Mover was positive if somewhat lukewarm. Today, my perspective on the Shaker remains positive while my opinion of the Mover has “evolved”. What made me go from “okay” to OMG regarding the TT Mover? My discovery of the Pilot Juice refill and the new titanium body.

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A full review of the Pilot Juice is in order and I hope to take care of that later. These refills are now my preferred gel pen option. I’m on record as being a big fan of the Pentel Energel as they lay down a consistent line, come in a nice array of colors and offer quick drying times. The performance of the Juice refills is similar or just a touch better in every way. The writing experience of the 0.5 Juice is smoother than the 0.5 Energel and also lays down a line that is more consistent and tighter. Additionally, the 0.38 mm Juice is the first sub-0.5 mm point that worked well for me. Most micro tip gels feel too scratchy to me. Those that do write somewhat smoothly often skip (I’m looking at you Hi Tec C). Anyway, I still dig Energels but I find myself grabbing for Juice pens much more frequently these days. The Pilot Juice refill has the added benefit of being the same size and shape of the (over) popular G2 refill which may fit more pen bodies than any refill except for the ubiquitous Parker-type refill.

Now for the titanium body. Titanium is a touch heavier than aluminum which works well if, like me, you find most aluminum pens a hair too light. Titanium is also resistant to corrosion so it will look good as new today, tomorrow and the thousands of tomorrows to come. There is also the relative “warmth” of titanium compared to other metal pen material. (Warming, science content coming) Titanium has a relatively low specific heat. This means it conducts heat efficiently. So, while aluminum will have a noticeably cold feel to it when you first pick it up and for several moments thereafter, titanium warms up quickly. Twirl the TT Ti Mover in your hand and it quickly loses it metallic coldness and feels great.

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Lastly, there’s design and build quality. As you can see, the design is simple, clean and effective. Those tactile turns toward the front of the pen really, really, really do their job well. Hey lefties, you know how we push a pen across a page which can cause our fingers to slide down pen? Well, the warm feel of the titanium body combined with the grooves of the grip section completely shuts that sliding down. Then there’s the invisible seam. It’s really cool how the seam pretty much disappears as the front and back sections come together.

To conclude, the TT Ti Mover looks great, works well and is built to the highest standards. It’s hard to say. Maybe it is that ONE pen, maybe it isn’t. But I do know, at this point, it easily has a spot on the medal stand. At $139, it certainly is not an impulse buy. So, think about it for a few minutes before you get one.

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Pilot Hi-Tec-C Coleto

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Multipen systems make an immense amount of sense. Why carry around two, three, four or more pens of different colors when you can carry around one pen with multiple inserts of various sizes. There are; however, some concessions to make in order to gain the convenience of the all-in-one multipen system. First, the barrel of your average multipen is wider than most other writing implements. Second, the options for refills are limited and often proprietary. I haven’t done a rigorous survey of all the multipen options out there, but I suspect most use ballpoint technology and only a handful work with refills not made by the pen manufacturer.  So, when I find a multipen option that doesn’t feel like I’m writing with a cigar and gives me some flexibility with respect to the refills then I give it a serious look. Specifically, the Pilot Hi-Tec-C Coleto comes in a variety of body sizes and, although proprietary, the range of colors available for the gel refills provides a version of flexibility.

Coleto6

As you can see from the pictures, I tried the Coleto 3 and the Coleto Me (4 refills). Both use the same Hi-Tec-C multipen refills that come in several colors and a few different point sizes. Let me start with point sizes and then I’ll get into the differences between the Coleto 3 and the Coleto Me. The choice of point size actually factors into another point regarding multipens and that is build quality and noise. Because multipens involve several moving parts, these pens often have a rattle sound here and clicking noise there. Also, the deployed refill can demonstrate a bit more wiggle compared to single-refill retractable pens. Afterall, a refill in a multipen needs to move forward and away from the inside wall of the pen body as it advances out the hole. (By the way, is there an official name for the hole where the refill pops out of a retractable pen?)  So, what does all this have to do with point size? It seems to me that the thinner point size (0.4 mm in my case) grabs the paper a bit more which causes the refill to show more wiggle than a broader point size (0.5 mm in my case). Of course, much of this can be due to writing style but using a ultrafine tip in a multipen seems to be a no-go for me. My advice – if you’re interested in writing with anything smaller than a 0.5 mm Hi-Tec-C point, go with the single-refill stick option. The thin point needs the added build quality (i.e. less wiggle) of a dedicated pen body.

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As for the gel ink itself, there’s not much I can add that likely hasn’t been said elsewhere. The inks are vibrate and the 0.5 mm point size lays down a solid but certainly not wet line. In terms of line consistency, all the colors I tried (black, blue/black, blue, aqua blue and orange) behaved well save for black. It could have been my particular refill, but the black offered the most hesitancy to start but not so much that I grew frustrated with the refill. I’m not a big black ink guy anyway, so not much of a loss there.

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Between the Coleto 3 and the Coleto Me, I’m going with the 3. The Me does have a simple grip that works well but the barrel diameter is just wide enough to be a touch awkward for me. Also, the rounder shape of the plastic tip seems an awkward contrast to the thin refill tip coming out. There’s also a noticeable step up between the grip section and the upper body of the Coleto Me that detracts from what should be, given the thinner point and gel ink, a sleek feeling writing experience. The Coleto 3 is a touch thinner at the grip section which I like and shows more width consistency along the entire length of the pen. I think I like the contoured grips of the Coleto 3, but I’m not entirely sold. Also, compared to the Me, the plastic tip of the 3 is more cone-shaped and less rounded which just seems to match the line of a thin gel refill better. In general, the Coleto 3 feels a touch more solid. The Coleto Me is not poorly built. It’s just that the Coleto 3 beats the Me by a nose in the overall feel of the build quality.

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Should you buy a Coleto multipen of some sort? In short, I would say yes. The pens are inexpensive enough and the refills offer plenty of color and size variety that it’s worth spending $15-$20 on a couple of pen bodies and a few refills to see what you like. But don’t expect a precise writing experience or to get a pen that you’ll want to write with for extended writing sessions. I’ve gotten a fair amount of use out of mine when helping students with problems solving and for grading. The multiple colors are helpful for highlighting different portions of problems and the orange color stands out nicely when marking papers. One quick word of caution. I did notice that the refill skipped a bit after I wrote over writing done in pencil. It seems the graphite interferes with the refill tip for a just a bit before the normal flow returns.

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Pentel Energel – Point Size Comparison

Frequent readers of this space know that the Pentel Energel is one of my favorite writing instruments. Like most gel pen brands, the Energel comes in a variety of point sizes with the 0.70 and 0.50 mm points being the most readily available. In my experience, the 0.70 mm is the more consistent writer as the 0.50 mm can skip occasionally. It’s not a huge deal by any stretch of the imagination but it can be noticeable on certain, less ink friendly, paper types. To complete the tour of the Energel line, I tracked down the broad 1.0 mm and the extra fine 0.35 mm tips and gave them a go.

Here’s a shot of all four tips and writing samples.

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Interestingly enough, I found the 0.35 mm tip to be a better writing experience than the 0.50 mm. Somehow, despite its thinner size, the 0.35 wrote smoother than the 0.50 mm and it did not seem to suffer the occasional skip like the 0.50 mm. Again, I’m not trying to condemn the 0.5 mm. It’s a fine pen and it typically provides a consistent writing experience. So, who knows, maybe it’s something about my writing angle (somewhat closer to vertical than most) that lends itself to working more effectively with the 0.35 vs 0.50.

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As for the 1.0 mm, I can summarize the writing experience in one word – luscious. There can be a bit of an issue with getting a consistent start on down strokes (take a very close look at the top of the “1” of “1.0” in the picture above) but otherwise the pen glides across the paper and lays down a generous and dark line of ink. I haven’t used the 1.0 mm as my daily writer. If I did, I suspect the thicker point size would bleed the refill dry fairly quickly. Honestly, the 1.0 mm point size wouldn’t fit into my work flow often enough as a daily writer. However, I am thinking about tracking down the red or purple versions for grading purposes. The thick line and fairly quick drying Energel ink should work perfectly for that task.

As you can see below, I have the 1.0 and 0.35 in stick versions. Pentel doesn’t seem to sell retractable versions of these bookend sizes but the refills are all interchangeable so you can mix and match as much as you want. While I generally prefer my gel pens to be retractable, part of my preference for the 0.35 over the 0.50 may be because the former was the stick version and the latter was retractable and perhaps the more solid feel of the stick works better for more precise tips.

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The other big difference between the stick and retractable versions would be the clip. For looks, I like the silver of the stick version. For functionality, I like the curved plastic of the retractable version more as I tend to clip pens to the pocket of my pants and the plastic clip slides smoothly onto the thicker pant material. Those who carry their pens in a shirt pocket may find the clips of the sticks hold more securely to the thinner material.

So, what are my point size preferences? I still favor the 0.70 mm for most situations with the, surprisingly, 0.35 mm getting more use than I initially thought. With the 0.35 working out nicely, I’m finding it hard to keep the 0.50 in the rotation and the 1.0 will be limited to situational use.

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“Stone” Paper (Da Vinci Notebook)

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Q. What do egg shells and paper have in common? A. They are both made of calcium carbonate. At least the “stone” paper from this Kickstarter project is made from the same stuff as egg shells. Nick, the creator of the Da Vinci Notebook, sent me a sample of this interesting paper and I decided to put it through a few paces.

The first thing you’ll notice about the stone paper is that it feels very soft and that there is almost no discernible texture to the paper. The phrase “smooth as a baby’s bottom” comes to mind. It also has some heft to it. I cannot find the paper weight in the information that Nick sent me but I’d guess that a single sheet of stone paper weighs about the same as at least 3 sheets of Rhodia. Seems to me that a 100 page, 5″ x 8″ notebook of this stuff would weigh a pound or more. Lastly, in the initial impression category, would be the color. The paper has a flat white color to it. It is not bright white like most copy paper but it is not in the cream color range either. I’d call it flat or off-white or soft white. Whatever name fits the color best, the important point is that it’s easy on the eyes. The paper is also described as water and tear resistant. I’d agree that it does have some water repellency, but it didn’t seem to take much more effort to tear than the decent copy paper I have. When it does tear, it seemed to do so neatly without many fibers showing along the tear line.

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How does the paper perform? Well, it depends. For most pen and ink combinations it performed well and felt smooth. For a couple of pen and ink combinations it was more or less, as the kids might say, epic fail. Let’s take a look at pictures of particular pen/ink combinations.

First, my go-to-non-fountain-pen-of-choice, the Pentel Energels. I’m happy to say that the Energels took to the stone paper like a fish to water. This was especially true of the wider 0.7 mm point. In my experience, Energels write well on most paper surfaces but they felt particularly smooth on the stone paper and laid down a solid and consistent line.

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Unfortunately, the dry times for the Energels on the stone paper were less than ideal. Energels are, in my experience, the fastest drying gels pens on the market today but something about the gel chemicals and the stone paper inhibits drying times. Regardless, there is smearing evident, even at the 10 second mark. That said, the writing experience is so smooth with the gel/stone paper combination that I might be willing to take my time writing and enjoy the ride.

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What about fountain pens? Well, the few that I tried did not fare particularly well. My fine nib Kaweco AL Sport with Kaweco Blue did reasonably well. The writing was smooth but there was a touch of feathering on a letter or two. My TWSBI Mini, also with a fine nib and sporting Kon Peki, was less successful as the sharper point of the TWSBI dug into the stone paper a bit. You can see the digging in with the “T” of TWSBI in the pictures below. My Parker Vacumatic (also fine, also Kon Peki) was the one epic fail of the lot. All in all, I think good results could be obtained with a rounded fine nib and less slippery inks, but I did not immediately find a fountain pen/ink combination that worked like a charm with the stone paper.

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Let me finish with the pen/ink combinations that took to the stone paper best. Hybrid and ballpoint inks did very, very well on this paper. Color saturation was amazing (on par with gel inks) and the dry times were nearly instantaneous. I think I can use a touch of chemistry to explain why the ballpoints worked so well. Apparently, the stone paper is made with 80% calcium carbonate and 20% non-toxic resin (I’m guessing these are weight percentages). Ballpoint and, to a less extent, hybrid inks are oil-based (i.e. hydrocarbon) media which I suspect bind effectively with the resin (i.e. hydrocarbon) of the stone paper. Interestingly, my Lamy rollerball (water-based ink) also wrote nicely and dried quickly on the stone paper but a post-writing water test showed some differences. The water-based rollerball ink and the gel inks smeared noticeably after dabbing with water but the hybrid and ballpoint inks held up great.

For what it’s worth, I also used some pencils on the stone paper. Very sharp and hard points dug into the paper too much, but softer/wider leads wrote smoothly. You can see the evidence of digging into the paper by the bits of embossing on the back.

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Let’s conclude. Fountain pens and inks? Probably not. Gel pens and inks? Yes, but take your time to avoid smearing. Rollerball inks? Yes (but avoid water as always with rollerball inks). Ballpoint and hybrid inks? Yes, absolutely, my goodness yes! In fact, I decided to back the Kickstarter project for the Da Vinci Notebook based solely on the positive results I saw with ballpoint and hybrid inks. Backer options start at $12 on Kickstarter so trying the notebook for yourself won’t cost too much.

On a related note, Oxford makes a stone paper notebook that is available from Walgreens of all places (Sorry, I can’t bring myself to put a link to Walgreens on my blog). After playing with the Da Vinci Notebook paper sample, I ran over to my local Walgreens and got lucky. The paper in the Oxford book does have a similar texture and also provides a smooth writing feel. However, the Oxford paper is noticeably thinner than the Da Vinci Notebook sample. In fact, the page beneath the current page does become slightly embossed from writing in the Oxford notebook. I’m happy to have the Oxford notebook to play around with more stone paper, but I’m hopeful that the Kickstarter Da Vinci Notebooks will be a clear step up in quality.

A sample of the stone paper was provided to me free of charge by the creator of the Da Vinci Notebook Kickstarter project. Opinions and perspectives are entirely my own.