My First Exhausted Pen

Not too long ago I was going through the storage area of my new home and trying to consolidate down all the bins and boxes we have. Having moved nearly every year for the better part of the last decade, there was a background group of boxes that just went with us everywhere. Small memories, cards, photos, trinkets: stuff like that. It was rarely ever opened let alone actually sifted for worthwhile content.

That changed when we decided that now since we own our house and won’t be moving that we need to take full ownership of all our space. A big part of this was clearing up storage and using that space for something worthwhile.

Prior, it was just dead space. A disorganized pile of knickknacks from two different lives that had never been taken on. But now this was our opportunity to use all the space, get rid of our junk, and keep what we like. And for everything we kept- well, we have an attic now.

Going through one of my boxes I came across this- a truly momentous occasion in my life:

I work in sales, and I’m usually on the phone most of the day. Note-taking is very important to me- I hate typing while I’m on the phone, and it also is impossible to neatly illustrate anything in a text editor. I love to write, as I’ve said, so I relish any opportunity to.

I’m also very prone to losing things. I lose everything- usually finding the daily carry combination of my wallet, keys, and phone is a challenge. So when I was able to hang on to a single pen on my cluttered desk and write enough to fully consume the ink, it seemed epic. Like the time I finished an entire Chap Stick without losing it, or when it took us almost 7 years to fully use up a jug of hand soap from Sam’s Club.

I couldn’t even tell you if I’ve done this since with a ballpoint pen. Fountain pens, thirsty bastards they are, are easy enough to blow through a cartridge in a day or two. Even gel ink or rollerball pens are a little more doable, since they’re much inkier. But ballpoints? That takes work.

I know this is a lot of rumination over what is pretty much an insignificant event. I think why it was so interesting is that I felt it was so uncommon to actually use something to its fullest. That things are so disposable, the ink reservoirs ought to be 1/3 of what they are since they never get used anyways. They certainly won’t last you 7 years.

Of course, it is also entirely possible that I am just very wasteful and forgetful with a propensity to attach significance to small things.

Lamy Noto

Lamy Noto

We are having weird weather here. Less hours of light, gray days and lower temperatures. I realized last week that I was using my metal pens less than usual and came to think of the Lamy Noto, a faithful companion I first got around two and a half years ago. The first thing you notice about the Lamy Noto is the unmistakable design by Naoto Fukasawa. You don’t need to be an expert in industrial design to realize that a lot of thought went into the making of this pen. I had seen pictures of the Noto and assumed it was some sort of Lamy’s take on the disposable ballpoint, until I saw it in person.

That assumption quickly changed when I noticed its size, it is bigger and more substancial than I thought, its length and width concealed by the excellent proportions and balance between angles and curves. Unlike the sharp angles and flat surfaces from the Safari, the Noto can feel like a kid’s idea of a modern pen. That’s not to say the Noto is childlike. It certainly is youthfull and fresh, but the essence of the Noto is friendliness and simplicity.  It is immediately understandable from every side. Colors are striking, shape and texture are comfortable and light.

Lamy Noto size

The clicker is smooth and silent in operation, keeping its secrets to itself and out of your mind. I find myself thinking the sound of the clic, but the Noto does not need it. Never does it hesitate or fails to expose/retract the tip and make it clear. When the tip is exposed, the clicker stays depressed and does not rattle. Something so simple yet so unusual. The pen discreetly metamorphosing from rest to work. The clip integrates nicely into the body of the pen, fullfiling its purpose without distraction, without hindering how you position the pen in your hand. The triangular cross section of the Noto’s body seamlessly transitions into the tip.

Lamy Noto detail

Another difference with the Safari is the matte finish of the Noto. Scratches are not noticeable and reflections are dulled into soft gradients of light. The first negative I find: the finish tends to get shinnier when it wears off. It happens after hours and hours of having the pen in your hand, but it happens. A reminder, perhaps, that this is a physical object with a limited life span. I am captivated by this dance between industrial and organic, between the physical and the ethereal soul.

Lamy Noto M16 refill

Then you write with it and there is no doubt this is a serious pen. I am not particularly fond of the Lamy M16 refill. It is big, metallic and well made. The pivot at its top keeps it nicely centered inside the pen, preventing scratches and unnecessary wear (the Lamy Vista would definitely be less without small details like that) and it makes a decent ballpoint. But not a remarkable one by any means. Its long neck prevents the use of any other refill for no apparent reason and what is that plastic insert in the middle? Perhaps my first impression is tainted by the experience of having to replace the first M16 I used; it got dry and scratchy. Maybe I am spoiled by the smoothness and perfect lines from fountain pens. I want to say what I remember: that there’s nothing special about it. But then I see my Lamy Noto is writing better than my trusty Zebra F-301. The only thing I could ask for is a more vivid blue, like the Stabilo Bionic. The Noto even gives tactile feedback when,  you screw it back after replacing the refill, letting you know everything when everything is perfectly aligned.

My only serious complaint is that my white Noto came with a slightly, submillimetrically loose clip. Since the clip is responsible for holding the refill in place, the tip is a tiny bit recessed when exposed. You will notice if you look closely at the following picture.

Lamy Noto detail

In the end I think I like it more than I’m willing to admit. I want it in orange, but Lamy seems determined to make the Noto grow up and is offering now in more “mature” colors like navy and wine with touches of matte silver, like a graduation gown of sorts.

Lamy Noto Review

The Seven Year Swindle: looking closer at the “Seven Year Pen”

When I made my trip to New York a few months ago to find some new pens, I was mostly expecting the usual suspects: Pilot, uni ball, Zebra, Bic, Staedtler, Stabilo, etc. The kind of pens that you’ll find most places, since they’re the biggest manufacturers. But once in a while, it’s always nice to find something new.

At Kinokuniya Bookstores, I found something new. The Seltzer Goods Seven Year Pen. It purports to offer 7 years of use- if you write 1.7 meters a day, which sounds like a lot… but actually is about half a postcard worth of writing, or 1/3 of a page of standard paper.

Seven Year Pen

So, they’ve created this pen that’ll last you from Freshman to Master’s in the name of environmentalism. Their website states:


Each year, an estimated 100 million pens are discarded every day. Yikes! Is all that waste really necessary? Maybe not, answers the Seven Year Pen. It’s not only possible to reduce waste, it’s possible to look cool while doing it!

…..

In our wanderings through the world of products and manufacturers, the Seltzer designers were introduced to a Swiss pen maker that reduces waste by increasing the size of the ink supply inside the pen. The jumbo ink cartridge fills more of the barrel’s circumference, enabling the writer to pontificate a remarkable 1.7 meters a day for seven years. The shape of the Seven Year Pens is as svelte as anything you’re used to writing with, yet it goes on and on.

Regardless of the uber-efficient technology, we knew it would be equally important to design the Seven Year Pens in such a way you’d actually want to keep them for seven years. Our designers went to work, turning “regular” pens into “favorite” pens. We started calling them the Seven Year Pen so everyone would know it was designed with a purpose.

Since these colorful pens coordinate well with Seltzer’s modern line of recycled greeting cards, journals and stationery, our customers took to them right away. If there’s a moral to the story behind the Seven Year Pen, it’s this: there’s no reason why being eco-friendly and being a design lover can’t live happily together.

7 years is 2,555 days. In that time period, Seltzer Goods is claiming you can write a staggering 4,343 meters. That’s the length of 47 ½ football fields.

Now I don’t have much of a frame of reference here to go on. Is this much ink really something exceptional? I did a little bit of poking around, and it turns out this has been scientifically researched by the University of Reading:

In their study, they used a machine test that approximated human handwriting to get scientific controls. As a result of their study:

“We found the longest contour length recorded using just one pen was just over 2000m whilst the shortest was 0m as not every pen works out of the box! You will be familiar with scribbling with a ball point pen to get it to work. The human feedback in handwriting is a significant aspect to the use of a ball point pen. A machine system is less forgiving.

 

The average contour length for all the pens tested was just over 900m. For some brands the contour length was almost half this length whilst for others the contour length was 50% more than the average. The consistency of contour length was quite varied for some brands and very consistent for others.”

Citation provided.

Bic has an FAQ, where, without divulging their scientific testing methods, answer the question “How long will a BIC® pen write before it runs out of ink?” with “Each BIC® ballpoint pen can produce between two and three kilometers (up to two miles) of writing.”

Let’s do that math. I’m going to take different kinds of pens and break them down by the amount of miles, days, and years to each option:

Type Meters Days Years
Average pen per U of Richmond 900 529.11 1.45
Exceptional Pen per U of Richmond 2000 1176.47 3.22
Bic pen per BicWorld.com 3000 1764.7 4.83
Seltzer Pen per SeltzerGoods.com 4343 2555 7

A Seltzer pen claims to write for a staggering 4.83 times the average pen, 2.17 times an exceptional regular pen, and 1.45 times Bic’s claim. If Seltzer’s numbers are true, then this is a heck of a pen as far as reducing waste goes. If everyone bought a 7-year pen, and we as a species discard 100,000,000 pens daily, we could reduce this waste by 7.55 billion pens a year.

But, we must remember- these are just claims. What is it that makes this pen SO exceptional? Was it custom designed? Made to serve the environment? The end result of a long labor of eco-minded penthusiasts to tackle massive waste head on?

Well…. not exactly.

One thing that’s immediately apparent about the Seven Year Pen is that it’s very light. The plastic is very lightweight and doesn’t feel extremely solid. That there was enough ink in this pen to write nearly 5 times the average pen, why didn’t it feel like there was a ton of ink in there?

My first thought was that the big rounded top was an ink reservoir, which is how they fit so much in. Or maybe it was just a huge cartridge, or a new kind of fancy ink or feeding system or, well, I just don’t know, but it had to be special.

Curiosity now piqued, I opened it up. And… it didn’t look like anything really too unique.

The ink cartridge is a little wider than most, but isn’t filled more than 2/3 of the way down. But there was no special reservoir or anything that would visibly suggest longevity.

Looking closely, I noticed a name on the barrel: “Prodir.”

I immediately looked them up on Google, and true to the advertising, Prodir is a Swiss manufacturer of pens. But not fine, luxury, or specialty pens. Promotional pens. The kind of pens you pick up at conferences or at doctors’ offices that have a name and logo printed on them.

I checked out their models, and there it was: The Prodir DS1. Look familiar? Yep- there it is. The vaunted “Seven Year Pen” is simply a repackaged promotional pen from a Swiss supplier, with no special research, development, or special ink, or anything. It’s a pen you can buy in bulk with your logo of choice printed on, marketed in whatever cockamamie way you see fit.

If you’re not familiar, the way promotional pens work in the United States at least is that you or I can’t buy direct from a supplier. So for example, if you were to go to the website of one of these companies, they’d ask for my registration with the ASI- and without that, Prodir won’t price these out to me, but check out this sweet Bills pen I worked up:

Since Prodir won’t price to me since I’m not registered, I’ll have to find a distributor. A Southern California company called Delta Graphics sells them, customizable. Lots of 1,900 pens can be purchased for $1.50 apiece. So do the math- a little marketing gimmick worth a hefty markup per pen. If they’re buying these direct from the manufacturer at the bulk they sell them, they’re likely getting it for under a buck- that’s an 800+% markup for what is just a very regular pen.

But where are they getting this idea of the length of this pen? Where do they back up these numbers?

To go right to the source, Prodir has a brochure on their website about their environmentalism, in which they claim If we wrote at an average rate of 2 metres per day, we could use Prodir pens for about 5 years, equivalent to 5 kilometres of handwriting.”

Wait, what? 5 years is 1,825 days. With 2 meters written a day, that’s only 3,650 meters. That’s well shy of 5 km, and even short of Seltzer’s claim of 4,343, by a lot. So where are they getting these numbers?

Delta Graphics takes it a step further and says Environmental due to longevity – it has a 5000m smooth refill.” Probably pulling that line by seeing the “5km” listed in Prodir’s brochure.

So here we have three sources- one manufacturer and two resellers- all coming up with wildly divergent lengths over their purportedly exceptional pen. Nothing is given to back these claims, with Prodir just claiming it and Seltzer repeating it as if they consulted with the company themselves on the type and design of ink instead of just drew some fun designs and had them printed on a promotional pen they’re selling for $8.

Not that any of these claims matter. They make a lot of bold claims about time and distance, but then oh yeah- “longevity may vary.”

But Wait! What does 1.7 meters per day even get me?

It’s very telling of the marketing scheme they put on this by referring to 1.7  meters as “remarkable” or 2 meters of writing per day as something worthwhile. In my mind, I think of how long a meter is, and think, yeah, 1.7 meters seems like a pretty good amount of writing. But again, we turn to science.

The University of Reading also included in their study some context of how much distance of writing it takes to complete typical tasks:

Task Length (mm)
Signature 145
Phone Number 176
Name 296
Email Address 306
Address 847
Christmas Card 927
Sudoku Puzzle 1387
Crossword Puzzle 2576
Postcard 2701
Letter 5332

Going by these numbers, the Seven Year Pen sounds even worse. You might be able to squeeze 2 Christmas cards out of your daily allotment if 1.7 meters if you keep it short. If you want to send a postcard, you’re writing more than 1 and a half times your daily allotment to maintain a supply for 7 years. Filling up a page is going to cost you more than 3 times that 1.7 meter mark, hitting 5.332 meters. With this information, it’s not hard to understand all the reviews of people claiming it lasted them no more than a couple months.

Let’s put this to work in an experiment: let’s say the average college student takes 10 pages of notes per day, which seems reasonable (to me) for most undergrad work. 10 pages of writing is going to work out to 53.32 meters per day.  That’s more than a full month of 1.7 meter days. If the Seven Year Pen burns an entire “month” of its’ seven years every day, you get 84 days of note taking out of this pen.

Again: the average student will get only 84 days of use from this pen. A college semester is 160 days. If you only take 5 pages of notes per day, and do no writing outside of that (no shopping lists, notes, cards, graffiti, nothing) you get a little more than a full semester of note taking.

As long as you’re not doing homework or anything else with your pen, along with your “longevity varying,” you will soon find out your Seven Year Pen is more akin to a Twelve Week Pen. It’s purely dishonest marketing, using numbers that sound good but are actually terrible, and appealing to people who want to be sustainable but will end up throwing out only a small amount fewer pens per year.

So in conclusion, the Seven Year Pen is a swindle. A purposely obfuscating marketing gimmick clothed in environmental language to make people think they’re buying something useful and sustainable, when all they’re doing is selling you a cheap pen for $8 that doesn’t too far exceed your average Bic Crystal you can buy in 24-packs for $6. The claims are unverified, the manufacturers don’t agree (even with themselves), they purposely misrepresent the longevity by using totally worthless metrics of 1.7 meters, and therefore it’s just not worth the money.

If you want a great pen that will last a while, try a Fisher Space Pen Cap-o-Matic. It’s purported to write up to 12,000 feet, or 3,657 meters (68 days of note-taking). It is $2 more, but it’s refillable- and the Fisher space ink is, for my money, the best ballpoint ink on the market. Fisher Pens are durable and a ton of fun to write with, and since most of these pens seem to be landing in the same area of distance once we do the math, you might as well use the solid American-made pen that will come in handy if you ever find yourself writing a postcard in space.

If you’re really feeling like you want to go bananas on this longevity thing, try a Fisher Infinium. According to Wikipedia: “the product literature states that the pen will write exactly 30.7 miles (approximately 49.4 kilometers).” That’s 49,400 meters, 29,058 days, and 79 years at Seltzer’s magical 1.7 meters per day. For those keeping score, that’s 926 days of 10-page note taking, enough to last for 5 full semesters of just notes, or maybe 3-4 years when factoring in homework, off days, and other things where the note levels drop.

Now, after all this, I’ll state that the Seven Year Pen, as a pen on its own, is merely OK at best. It was $8 for what seems like a fairly average-feeling ballpoint, definitely not worth the money, and is something I’d probably not even use if someone gave me. Surprisingly it does have its fans: I was discussing my idea for this post with an employee of my favorite local pen/bookstore The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid, NY, and she was effusive in her praise for it, and claimed to own several.

But if you want my opinion: it’s a complete ripoff in every way.

P.S. linking to fellow pen blogger Richard’s Pen’s first take on Seltzer’s malarkey. Took a different angle, but still makes a great point.

 

The New York City Pen Pilgrimage

A couple months ago, my wife and I had arranged to have a Saturday to ourselves where we could take a much-needed few hours alone while relatives watched the little ones. Being the type of people who like more to explore and find fun things to do on the cheap, we decided to make a trip- a pilgrimage, of sorts- to nearby New York City to find specialist stores in our respective hobbies.

My wife is an avid crocheter. Avid. We have not bought a wedding gift for people in years, opting instead to give people nice homemade presents. She makes everything from toys to clothes to decorations to dolls.

Like me and writing, she knew there was something she liked to do, but didn’t think too much about where things could go if you really dove into it. She was content with generic Red Heart yarn you can buy at your local department store, or whatever Michael’s had on sale.

The other more expensive stuff seemed superfluous, because honestly, it’s just yarn, right? I mean, it’s just a pen… who cares about it as long as it writes??

A day trip to Web’s Yarn Store in Northampton, MA (self-professed “America’s Yarn Store,” making them the Dallas Cowboys of yarn, I guess) changed her. She spent hours learning from helpful store clerks about textures, colors, makes, materials, and everything else about what different kinds of yarn meant. She came home with a plethora of interesting stuff, and now is constantly excited by discovering new kinds of yarn- just like my day of revelation in Lake Placid.

So with our free Saturday, we made plans to find the best pen and yarn shops we could within walking distance. As a happy coincidence, they all managed to be on or no more than a block or two off the Avenue of the Americas.

It was a beautiful summer day when we got there, and we parked our car after somehow finding parking near Bryant Park. Not really near, but for NYC, damn close. We cut through the full park and headed across the street to our first target.

Stop #1: Kinokuniya Bookstores, 1073 Avenue of the Americas

Kinokuniya is first billed as a Japanese bookstore. And it is, primarily. When you walk in, it looks like a regular bookstore, just with a bunch of books in Japanese too. Having only heard about this place from message board posts and such, we first went upstairs. Nothing but rows and rows and rows of manga. Hm.

We headed back down, and noticed there was a basement. We went down. And…oh my god.

I was almost shaking when I stood in front of it. Overwhelmed. Just… so many pens. So many. And so many types.

I spent what felt like a solid hour in front of these racks. They had little pads of paper, and there was one open “sample” pen in each partition. Want to try each size of the Zebra Sarasa? Sure! Want to check out these weird German pens? Go ahead! There were a few that looked neat, but the moment pen touched paper, blech. I pulled a few off the rack and a few from down below.

I usually feel awkward taking photos in a retail store and most employees don’t like it, but I was able to get these photos. What you don’t see in these is the counter for the fancier pens- things like rollerballs specialty collectors.

The store was very crowded, and there were just SO MANY pens, and I had several stores yet to see so I didn’t want to blow my whole budget here. It was, honestly, almost too much. There was so much selection that I could barely make heads or tails.

As a stylophile, this place is amazing. So much good paper, so many pens, so much variety, that I wasn’t sure if I could top this. If you’re anywhere near New York, and like pens or are just curious, in all seriousness you need to visit this store.

Eventually, I pulled myself away with a modest haul, though I could have spent way more time and money there. But we had a plan- we had to stick to it.

Stop #2: MUJI, 16 W 19th St

I had heard from a number of people of a Japanese department store chain called MUJI. It was explained to me as a kind of “Japanese IKEA,” and after visiting, I can say that is an incredibly accurate statement.

The store itself is very… I don’t know, calming? It’s a lot of soft colors, soft lighting, and a huge variety of MUJI brand stuff. Comforters, aromatherapy gadgets, shoes, decorations, and, of course, pens. Like everything else, their pens are proprietary. They don’t have “names” but are distinguished by the type- ballpoint, rollerball, etc.

The pens had a bit of a cheap feel to them, like an imported Bic. But they wrote well, were unique, so I decided to chance it with a few. I walked away with a Rollerpoint, Ballpoint, Gel, and a dual-sided pen with a marker on the opposite end. I thought about picking up their knurled aluminum fountain pen, but ultimately decided against- which I’ve heard wasn’t the worst decision.

I was a little let down by the pen selection, but I didn’t hate it. But going to MUJI ended up being pretty great, because only a few doors down I stumbled onto another shop I hadn’t heard of prior.

Stop #3: Paper Presentation, 23 W 18th St

Paper presentation doesn’t bill itself as a pen store. They’re a stationery store. Lots of paper goods- books, invitations, journals, cards, the like. But where there’s paper- there are pens.

I was delighted when I found the rack. So many colors!

A lot of the pens they had I already had in my collection, though. A lot of the entry-level stuff, Pilots, uni-balls, Zebras, that kind of thing. All really great pens, but ones a little more easily found than some of the imports Kinokuniya had. But I did end up picking up some cool stuff- including the fun Gelly Roll which was soon commandeered by my wife.

Another great thing was their ink rack.

They had just about every kind of refill you can imagine, including the Montblanc rollerball refills I used to modify my Pilot G2 Limited a few months ago on the blog.

But where Paper Presentation really excelled was, unsurprisingly, paper.

So much of it, and so much variety. As a prolific journaler, I was torn between all the different kinds. I eventually settled on a full-size Clairefontaine notebook. The paper is so nice, I’m embarrassed to say I’m almost hesitant to use it. Too big to use as a journal and too nice for daily work notes, I’m saving it for when I’ve got something proper to write, I guess. Besides a letter I owe back to my friend Andy, though, I don’t know what I’ll end up doing with it. Willing it to my kids, probably.

We had one stop left, and it was a haul. But we hoofed it all the way down to Greenwich Village for the last pen stop of the day.

Stop #4: Stevdan Stationers, 474 Ave of the Americas

Stevdan’s Yelp profile’s top review claims they are the “Best Pen Shop in New York City!” and I have to say, they’re probably not far off. While lacking the glitz of Kinokuniya’s presentation, their variety is huge. The store is much smaller, and there are employees all around, so I felt pretty awkward taking a photo but I wished I could have.

Unique in Stevdan was that in addition to their excellent selection of modestly-priced pens, they also had several cases of many mid-range to higher-end pens, including brands like Caran d’Ache, Sheaffer, Cross, Montblanc, Waterford, etc. Not cheap- upwards of $700- but if you’re more of a connoisseur than me (I prefer the thrill of finding modest pens I haven’t seen and getting a new writing experience for a few bucks) then this is a great place.

After Kinokuniya, I bought the 2nd-most pens here. Some pretty neat stuff- including the Pilot Bravo! marker which has become one of my favorite writing instruments bar none. Stevdan also has an excellent selection of paper. They have almost a whole aisle of Rhodia products, which any fountain pen enthusiast will tell you is the best paper to be had for them.

Following what probably looked like an inordinate amount of time for one person to stare at rack of pens, it was getting late and we wanted to grab some dinner before we had to be parents again. But overall I had an excellent day, got to sample a ton of new pens, and came away with a pretty respectable haul:

Kuretake Zig Letter Pen CocoIro
PaperMate Liquid Flair
Yasutomo Stylist
Marvy Le Pen
Pilot Super GP 1.6
Stabilo Pointball
Staedtler 924
Staetdler Liquid Point
Pilot Bravo!
Muji Rollerpoint
Muji Ballpoint
Muji Gel
Sakura Gelly Roll
Platinum Preppy
Pilot V-Ball Grip
Muji Dual-sided
Zebra Sarasa
Stabilo Point 88
Seltzer Products 7-Year Pen

Stabilo Bionic Worker Rollerball

A few months ago a friend, who knows I am into pens, asked me what I thought about Stabilo. I must admit he caught me off-guard, I had no previous experience with the brand. Then I saw these with a discount at my local art supply store and could not let the opportunity pass.

Stabilo Bionic Worker

The full name of the maker is Schwan-STABILO (which explains the swan logo) and it’s based in Germany. Upon my first inspection I really did not know what to expect. I was not sure about the orange body covered in rubber, I’m used to more subdued designs and colors. But looking closely, several details indicate a higher level of quality than your average discuount rollerball.

Stabilo Bionic Worker

First, the rubber is of the high-grade kind and the shape does nicely follow the natural contour of the hand. The barrel and cap elements are all flush in a continuous silhouette, a really organic design. There are no sharp edges to be found but, at the same time, there is a feeling of precision all around. The cap is made of hard plastic, not the rubber of the barrel, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the organic shape and color are used even in the inner liner. The clip is on the short side, but very well made, with a nicely finished shape on the inside that will not mark or damage fabric or paper and a good spring that will securely attach the pen to thick materials without problem.

Stabilo Bionic Worker

On the barrel the same attention to detail is evident, with a soft rounded bumb in the middle to prevent rotation and a hole that seems to be an artifact of the molding process that shows a perfect alignment between the outter rubber shell and the inner rigid plastic. There are several insertions of translucent plastic along the body, again perfectly flush, that serve as ink windows as well as ink color indicators. The translucent colored plastic treatment is present at the tip and top of the pen too, and I think it helps a lot. You will not be writing with the wrong color by mistake. The cap is securely posted despite the soft surface and seems real happy there. The rubber finish seems to show dirt more than other pens.

When I wrote the first words with the Bionic Worker I was not sure it was using liquid ink, it felt a lot like the 0.7mm Pentel EnerGel to me. The fact that bleed-through is perfectly under control kept that impression for a while, with the only detail that revealed the true nature of the ink being the longer time it takes to dry.

You can see the ink level and, if you look closely, you will find the wick feed:

Stabilo Bionic Worker

I’m glad to report that performance is excellent. There is near zero false starts or skipping with the Stabilo. I tend to like wider points and bolder lines, so I like how it writes, but compared to other 05.mm pens, these produce a much wider line. If you prefer a fine point, I’m afraid I did not find a version for you.

I got the 2 color pack in blue and black. The black is not as black as other inks I’m used to. I don’t usually use rollerballs so I will have to compare to the Pilot G2, which offers a more saturated black, as do Sheaffer and Lamy fountain pen inks. It’s more of a nothing-to-write-home-about black like the Parker Quink fountain pen ink. The blue was the real surprise here, with a niche shade that is neither too bright, like the EnerGel blue, nor too dark, like sad and depressing blue you find in the Pilot G2. A more fair comparison would be the Zebra R-301 rollerball, which looks a bit purple and has a much more serious bleed-through.

Overall I like the Stabilo Bionic Worker more than I expected and would happily try other products from the brand. I don’t normally use rollerballs, but this is one I trust and enjoy.

Here is my written sample:

Stabilo Bionic Worker Review

A pic of the back of the paper, the Stabilo is really comparable to the gel inks in this regard:

Stabilo Bionic Worker bleed-through

And here’s the whole gang, casually resting on a rock and tile:

The gang

Schneider Haptify ballpoint

Schneider Haptify

I went to a local art supply store a few months ago and found they had lots of pens from the german brand Schneider that I had to try. One of them was the Haptify that I am reviewing here. It is hard for me to say if it can be considered disposable. I got mine for like USD $3, which I think is a bit steep for a disposable ballpoint, but I see the prices get wildly higher with certain retailers. The blister package does not make emphasis on the improved ViscoGlide ink or the fact that it can take at least two kinds of refills.

The first thing that caught my eye about the Haptify is the unusual shape, with that triangular rubber grip that somehow reminds me the Lamy Safari. I must admit I don’t particularly care for rubber grips, but I do like pens that go the extra mile to provide extra comfort. The grip is made of the dense rubber stuff and is “fused” with the pen body, meaning it cannot be removed and will not slide in any direction. It does adjust to my medium sized hands and there’s extra room for bigger hands. It is also very grippy, so the pen is firmly in place while writing. Extra points for that. My only complaint is that it can be somehow misleading, my minds keeps expecting to grab this wide, chunky pen but my fingers wrap around a skinny and light three-sided barrel. I think the overall shape would work even better in a wider pen. If I was going to be extra picky, I’d also ask for an additional spring that keeps the plunger extended because it rattles slightly when depressed.
Schneider Haptify
The second detail about the design of the pen is the unusually large and flexible clip. It is more flexible than I am used to expect from metal clips of this kind and does not get in the way at any point, while writing or handling the Haptify. It’s good.

Then you push the plunger to reveal your standard ballpoint tip… which exceeded my expectations when it finally touched paper. The Haptify uses an improved viscosity (and I think, saturation) ink which reminds me of the Paper Mate Ink Joy system. It starts immediately and does have a more “oily” feeling to it, like using a very well lubricated piece of machinery. It is smooth and draws lines that almost approach a good quality gel or rollerball ink. It still skips from time to time like most ballpoints, but it is definitely better.

Another high-light of this system, which the makers calls ViscoGlide, is that it dries really quick and is waterproof. I was not able to make any noticeable smudge when I slid my fingers over it immediately after writing, even when I poured some drops of water over it. Remarkable.

After my first positive impressions with the pen, I still wondered if it was disposable or not and how would the refill actually look like. It is so well constructed that it may appear to be sealed, kinda like what a Zebra F-701 can feel at first. I imagined that I might be able to unscrew the plastic part near the tip, as is usually the case, and was surprised to find that the pen opens in half to reveal a thin metallic refill. I was disappointed to see it would not last for long, but it does have that precision german made feel that sort of compesates for the small amount of ink.
Schneider Haptify
It surely is disposable, I thought with dissapointment, but I was glad to find on the website of the brand that the Haptify actually uses the Plug & Play system, which allows for several kinds of refills to be used. There are gel inks and many colors available. It does take standard Parker refills too (Schneider makes a ViscoGlide refill of this variety, which you can use with many other pens) so I am sure the Haptify will be a trusty companion for a long time.

Definitely one of the pens that’s surprised me the most in a long time, highly recommended if you can get it at the right price.
Schneider Haptify
Schneider Haptify

The Pilot Montblanc

To me, the most important part of a pen is the ink. The way it writes. Yes, it’s important to be comfortable in my hand and look neat, but really the love of a pen stems from how well it writes. You could give me an extremely expensive pen that writes like shit and I’ll hate it, but give me a $3 Shachihata Ergoline that writes like a dream and I’ll love it.

So what’s to be done if you want the experience of writing with a premier, luxury pen like a Montblanc Rollerball if you don’t have a few hundo to throw down on a pen? Just a little modification, of course!

This one is very simple. Here’s all you need:

Pilot G2 Limited (or other G2-size pen)

Montblanc Rollerball Refills

Box Cutter

 

Step 1: Line Up The Inks

Montblanc refills are designed specifically to only be able to fit into Montblanc pens. I know this because prior to trying this I tried to fit their refills into several other rollerball pen bodies I have (including the Baoer Skywalker, a Montblanc-wannabe if there ever was one) and it was just slightly wrong for all of them. As it comes, it won’t fit into the G2, but notice something curious- they look awful similar:

The only thing that seems to be separating them is that little piece of plastic on the back of the Montblanc pen. So what’s to be done? Cut that thing off!

Line them up next to each other with the ink points being even.

 

Step 2: Use the Box Cutter to cut the little piece off

CHOP

Step 3: Insert chopped Montblanc refill into G2 Pen

Step 4: Write!

This modification will allow the Montblanc refills to fit any G2 pen, including the regular G2 and the B2P


  Enjoy your expensive writing experience for cheap!

Of course, not everyone agrees with this approach. When I suggested this mod to someone as a cheap way to get an expensive writing experience on Reddit, I was told: “that logic is terrible, a montblanc pen costs a lot not because the filling system, but because of the materials it is made out of, costumer service and stuff, out of the 300 dollars it costs the actual writting [sic] part costs 5 out of that”

So if the resins, customer service, and the cachet of owning a true Montblanc pen is worth it to you, then go right ahead. If you actually care how the pen writes… this will be just fine for you.

The Space Zebra F-7401

As my username implies, I am always looking for the ultimate pen. I’ve found many that I’ve liked and a few I’ve hated, but I’ve thus far relied on the varying pen manufacturers to build me something and then I like it or don’t.

That changes today!

I was doing some reading in pen-related message boards and on Reddit, and in passing I heard a few people mention how great the Zebra F-701 is. I was skeptical because I had mixed experience with Zebras- some of them have been real duds but some have been quite exceptional. I looked it up: it had decent reviews, and I liked the all-stainless steel body and knurled grip. So I ordered one.

As soon as I got it, I was a little disappointed. As with some other Zebra ballpoints, the body of the pen was nice but the ink left a lot to be desired. It was too fine-tipped for me. It took too much pressure to write and scratched more delicate paper. A little dejected and let down, I put it back on my shelf for a later review on Penthusiast.

But then I caught a thread somewhere where they got talking about how well the Zebras take to mods- and the F-7401 mod. Intrigued and willing to experiment on a pen I wasn’t crazy about, I read on: evidently the plastic clicker on the F-701 has a penchant for breakage, but the Zebra F-402 had a stainless steel mechanism that was significantly more durable. Since the body of the 701 with the knurled grip far beats the rubber grip of the 402, all one needed to do was to pull them apart and put them together. Simple enough.

But that left the ink…. and as nice as an F-7401 was going to look, I still wasn’t going to write with it. But then someone tried a Fisher Space Pen refill- and it fit! Having recently lost my first Space Pen, I knew I had to do this. So I ordered a Fisher refill right away, and they all arrived today.

So if you’d like to make your own F-7401 Space Zebra pen, here is my step-by-step instructions on how to do it:

The Supplies

Zebra F-701 ballpoint pen
Zebra F-402 ballpoint pen
Fisher Space Pen refill
Bic lighter
Freezer

 

Step 1: Disassemble the F-701

The F-701 comes apart pretty easily. Unscrew the tip and take out the ink, but make sure to keep the spring. The clicker on the back should also unscrew easily and come right out. Keep all the parts though- you’re going to need them.

 

Step 2: Taking out the… little plastic… thingie

A paperclip works fine here. I bent one side up and poked it in the front to remove the little plastic bit that’s in the front. This is the part that keeps the ink solidly in place so it won’t click when you write. Unfortunately, the Fisher ink cartridge is just a little bit bigger than the stock Zebra ones, so you need to stretch that out.

When you pop it out it looks like this:

Step 3: Stretching the thingie

If you take the Zebra ink and push it all the way up through it, it will stretch it out well enough to be able to fit the Fisher through. Pop it back in where it was in the tip when you’re done.

Now that the thingie is back in the tip your entire F-701 should look like this:

 

Step 4: Freezing the F-402

Unscrew the tip of the F-402 and take the ink out. You’re not going to need these parts and this pen is about to get a little banged up so you can put it aside.

You may have tried to unscrew the clicker on the 402, but couldn’t. I hope you didn’t try to use pliers, because all you’re going to do is scratch the stainless steel parts that you’re working so hard on getting out of this thing. No, unfortunately it’s not that easy- Zebra seems to seal this pen with some kind of plastic or glue that keeps the threads locked very tightly into place. Trying to force it is going to just break and destroy it, so don’t.

So what do we do? Use physics. Freeze it!

I kept mine in there for a couple hours, but that’s probably more than you really need. I’d think a half hour to an hour would be sufficient.

 

Step 5: Burninate

Now that the steel has gotten nice and contracted from the cold, it’s time to shock it a little bit.

MAKE SURE YOU HAVE WORK GLOVES OR YOU WILL BURN YOUR FINGERS! Ask me how I know.

Take it out of the freezer, light your lighter, and hold it right in the flame for about 15-20 seconds:

This picture is actually a poor representation of how you do it, but the best I could do while still taking a photo. It works best if you hold the pen right in the blue part of the lighter flame and just let it sit.

What’s happening is that the metal is contracted inside and out, but when you heat up the outside so quickly it expands much faster than the interior. This gives you a brief window to easily break the seal. So as soon as those 15-20 seconds are up, quickly unscrew the clicker (using work gloves because again, it’s REALLY HOT!)

When I did this it took a little force, but I was honestly surprised that it wasn’t too difficult to pop out. Once you get it out you can actually see the sealer they use in the threads- and it’s this stuff, unfortunately, that prevents the 701 parts from fitting into the 402 and making the pen usable again.

When disassembled it should look like this:

 
Step 6: Put it all together

  • Put the spring around the Fisher refill
  • Fit it through the tip
  • Put the clicker assembly on the back
  • Screw it all together

 

Step 7: You’re Done!


Here it is, all finished! The clicker is a little stiff but that seems to stem entirely from the plastic thingie and is getting better the more I use it. It feels great in my hand and it writes great.



 

 

Pen Modification: Success!

Review- rOtring Tikky Rollerpoint

Inoxcrom Vivaldi Fountain Pen

Inoxcrom Vivaldi

My first fountain pen was an Inoxcrom. I lost it years ago but I still have fond memories of it. That’s why I always look closely at pens from the spanish maker whenever I see them. These caught my eye because of the heavy stainless steel construction and shortness. At around $4.50 dollars it’s hard to find a better fountain pen, in fact it’s not far from the price of disposables.

Inoxcrom Vivaldi

Like all Inoxcroms, it’s only available in M point and is made in Spain. Design wise it is modern with an industrial look and feel, while having a youthful touch. Quality is high, with heavy materials and high grade plastic and rubber grip, something that may not be immediately evident.

Inoxcrom Vivaldi

I must say I’ve used other pens with the exact same nib and they tend to be hit or miss, a couple were scratchy and other pair perform flawlessly. On the Vivaldi I did not found any problem and was indeed surprised with the smoothnes of the nib.

Inoxcrom Vivaldi

The pen is shorter and wider than your average fountain pen, to the point that it can only take short international cartridges and is uncomfortable to write with when it’s uncapped. But the cap posts very securely and transforms it into a larger, more comfortable pen. I usually find myself throwing the Vivalvi into my pocket because of its size and because there is nothing to break or damage to be made either to your pocket or the pen itself. The clip is pretty solid and will not break, it actually sits low and very securely when attached to your shirt or pants pocket. This pen is available in a variety of colors and decorations. I particularly like the plain steel and green/yellow (it’s the exact same shade as the Xbox 360 game cases). I am not sure I like the Jolly Roger motiff, but at least it is unusual and not in bad taste, it even incorporates the brand’s logo discreetly. My only complaint is that these stamped patterns wear off, but that’s the case with every steel pen, so it cannot be held against this model.

All in all a nice addition to your collection or an unusual choice for every day carry, in any case a very solid deal.

This is my first handwritten sample, so please excuse the poor penmanship. I refilled with Lamy black, which is one of my favorite blacks, but the pen comes with a couple of cartridge with Inoxcrom inks, which are quite good but unfotunately only available in short carts. Disregard the part wher the pen seems to skip the stroke, it is not the usual behavior, I had not used it in a couple of months.

Inoxcrom Vivaldi