Thursday, July 15, 2010

Rhodia Bloc No 12 Paper Pad Review

Time for our first paper/pad review! You have probably heard of Rhodia before, but if you haven't, they are a French company that produces great stationery and paper pad-like items. They are known for their superior paper, great pad size configurations, and they are also eco-conscious to boot.

There's quite a few styles in their line-up, but for today we are going to look at the Rhodia Bloc No 12, my first Rhodia pad ever (notice that it is a little beat up, but still in amazingly good condition, though it's been bouncing around in my backpack for three months):

On the back we see a bunch of neat info about the pad:

The size is 3.3 x 4.7 inches, the "5 x 5" signifies that it's a squared pad (i.e. "graph paper) with 5 squares per inch (which is slimmer than standard US graph paper, usually 4 x 4 - I like the slimmer squares of the Rhodia!). "Bloc-Rhodia" is the name of their line of paper pads, and the all come with 80g paper (which is short for 80g/m^2, i.e. a square meter of this paper weighs 80 grams), in a vellum finish. All of the above is held together with a waxed, cardstock cover (making it resistant to damage from accidental water spills!) and a hefty staple through it all.

Just for fun, took some pics of the pad next to a ruler. Yup, the dimensions definitely seem to match the description:

What really makes these pads shine is that nice, smooth 80g paper:

Not only does the finish lead to a very smooth writing experience, regardless of implement, but it also is of substantial enough weight that fountain pens (unless very wet writers) don't bleed through! Yay! Standard notebooks and even journals (like the pricey ones you can get at brick and mortar bookstores) can't really handle fountain pens, so this is a huge boon. In fact, aside from Rhodia and other Clairefontaine-related manufacturers, unless you get expensive specialty paper (like Crane etc.) and bind your own pads, I don't know where you can get fountain-pen friendly notebooks or pens in the US.

Here is a writing sample:

Really, whatever you try to write with, it's always a pleasure on the Rhodias. Above, I wrote with pencil, a gel pen, a flexy fountain pen, highlighter, and a Sharpie. The only one that bled through (which is distinct from 'shadowing' which is inevitable with darker inks, unless you write on a piece of wood or something), was the Sharpie, which is notorious for this of course, being a permanent marker:

Actually there's a tiny dot or two in the line of the fountain pen writing, where it bled through. It's places where I lingered a bit longer than I should have.

Overall verdict: Rhodia pads are awesome, and while this was about 3~4 bucks, which I thought at first was pricey, it's been really great as a scratch pad, something to practice my calligraphy on in a portable fashion, and has lasted me three months and I still haven't used it all. Of course, I have other doodle pads too, which contributed to the longetivity of this one. But it's definitely a good deal for what you get, and on top of that, there's no other places you can get a similar pad with similar quality, for any price period.

By the way, the pages are perforated, but if you don't like ripping pages out (like me), the perforations are small enough and the paper strong enough that there doesn't seem to be any danger of the sheets detaching on their own. Mine feels like a regular pad of papre. Moreover, I love how the cover has score marks to neatly fold around to the back, and the perforations are lined up exatly with the top-most score line. The Rhodia is filled with little hallmarks of precise design and manufacture like this.

Finally, I'd like to share a little tip that you might find useful. I hate it when journals half-open in my backpack, and then I mash another book down into it and the pages bend. Oh, the sadness. So I took a fat-width rubber band, one that needs to be stretched a bit to fit (so that it sits snugly), and place it at the bottom of the pad, to keep it closed in the bag:

And it's worked pretty well as a cheap way to hold the pad closed! The neat thing is that you can use the same rubber band to hold the cover and top sheets back as you're writing:

That helps a lot so that you don't have to use your off hand to hold the paper back.

I bought my Rhodia from a local art store, but you can also get them at decent stationery/card/paper stores, from your local college bookstore, and also of course JetPens. Definitely worth a look if you haven't tried these pads out!

Monday, July 12, 2010

'Smoothie' Dollar Store Gel Pen Review

In keeping with the tradition of using cheap implements if they are sufficient for the job, I found this four-pack of gel pens at my favorite store, for $1:

Made by the FamilyMaid line of the "Dollar Empire" brand from California, the pen's name is the "Smoothie", and has some bold claims on the back of the packaging (backaging?):

Check out these beauties - where else can you get four gel pens for $1? I love dollar stores, and by extension, Chinese factories, and the mass distributers.

Here is the pen, posted. Looks nice - frosted clear body, large size (fountain pen users might even be tempted to call this a 'magnum' gel pen), and good amount of ink in the tube. But, does it live up to the "Writes Smooth With Gel Pen" claim? First, a look at the tip:

which looks, interestingly enough, like a dead ringer for a ball-point pen. But unlike some other times where the dollar store item's packaging was not reflective of the actual product held within, this pen is indeed a gel pen, as evidenced by the writing of the sample:

(sorry for the underexposure, forgot to set EC). It is indeed, very smooth writing! The line is consistent, no skipping, and a very nice writing experience. The oversize body and rubber grip definitely helped in this regard - I like Dr. Grips as well, and it's all because larger size bodies cause you to strain your hand muscles less, allowing you to use a more relaxed grip. Less pain, less fatigue, more writing fun.

The line is also a .5mm, which is pretty rare among gel pens sold in the US in general, and definitely at the dollar store. Most pens, ballpoint, gel, or otherwise, I have found to be .7 or thicker. Sometimes that's nice and all, but generally I like thinner lines as I think it looks nicer, and you also can fit more on the page. Only thing is that they only had it in blue, whereas I prefer black, but that's just a preference thing.

So, there you have it folks! The dollar store comes through again. An incredible gel pen for 25 cents - definitely rivals other gel pens I've used. I bought a few more interesting items on the same dollar store run, and will share about those in the future. Happy, er, dollar-store-ing!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Frixion Point Erasable Gel Pen Review (brown)

Remember those horrid erasable pens from grammar school? Or elementary school, depending on where in the US you grew up =)  They only came in black and blue, were the only pens that were allowed for use in class (at least at my school), and the ink was thick, gooey, and smeared easily. My poor left-handed friends' hands were perpetually smudged navy blue. And whlie they erased ok, sometimes if the eraser got 'clogged' it would smear the ink around in the most nasty way.

We kids still thought it was the coolest thing ever - a pen that erases! and I got my mom to dish out the extra $$ for these pens. Regrettable, now!

Aside from the classic pumice-like hard and sandpaperish erasers that have been around for a while, that work by actually removing the top layer of paper along with the pen (but have the bonus of being able to be used with any pen - though not that well), there haven't been many innovations to the erasble pen in the intervening years - until recently, with the Pilot Frixion line of pens.

Up for consideration today, then, is the Pilot Frixion Point erasable gel pen, in brown:

This remarkable pen line uses thermo-sensitive ink (like the old school Hypercolor shirts) that, once laid down, can be erased with the application of heat. How does one generate the heat? Good question! And the answer is: an eraser that is not an eraser:

The semi-transparent rubber doodad at the end of the pen, is the 'eraser' - but unlike standard erasers, it doesn't work by rubbing off bits of itself. It stays intact, and instead the micro-contours of the rubber (or silicon, as is probably the case), provides friction (hence 'Frixion,' which probably also makes for more targeted Google searches, heh) when briskly rubbed over text. Neat-o!

First, a little comment about the tip, before moving on to the writing quality. The Frixion line comes in several flavors - .7mm gel pen, a 'colored pencil-like' line, and also a newer addition, a needlepoint in .4mm gel pen. The latter is denoted by an '04' on the barrel, and is the one I bought as I like fine tipped pens.

The one on this .4mm Frixion is reminiscent of the .4 Hi-tec C (unsurprising since it's the same maker, but it's not exactly the same of course) and the barrel itself is pretty trim and slim. The cap is larger in proportion, but it looks nice and adds a different touch to the pen.

The grip has rubbery surfacing, similar in material to the eraser. and overall the design is very nice, right on down to the stylish logo. Now, on to the writing sample:

As you can see, it writes very well, and while this brown color is almost like a copper in some respects, it lays down a nice thin line with sufficient flow. Some others have said that they found the Frixions to put down a lighter shade than normal gel pens; I find this brown a touch lighter than my other brown gel pens, but it is very legible and I wouldn't let that be a detractor at all, especially since it's probably inherent to the erasable ink. It is a very smooth writer btw.

Now, on to the erasure (and I don't mean that popular 80's band)! See if you can identify all the parts that got erased =)

Hard to tell? Notice how the 'Erasable gel pen' text, and every alternating horizontal line, has been completely erased. As in gone, poof, nada is left. Amazing stuff, it's like magic.

So there you have it. It'd be great for so many uses: I use it for marking up books so that if I underline some text and my line is crooked (as it often gets), I can simply erase and re-underline. Use if you want to mark up a textbook and return it to pristine condition afterward. Use it to write secret notes to friends. And so on. Note though, that using this to write important documents is not recommended, as for instance leaving in a baking car may fade the text, and also putting an erased bit of writing in the freezer can reappear some of it (though not as vividly).

The Frixion Point is available here from TokyoPenShop, which is where I got it. The proprietor there knows her Japanese pen stuff, and is a really cordial correspondent to boot, so I heartily recommend that shop. Quick shipping too. The Frixion line also even has highlighters, which I need to pick up one of these days and review.

Happy erasing!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Dollar Calligraphy Fountain Pen Review

Despite the name, the Dollar Calligraphy Fountain Pen does not, in fact, cost a dollar. But it doesn't cost much more than that, about $5-6. For those not privy to this great budget pen from Pakistan, the 'Dollar' company has been making fountain pens for many decades in that part of the world, and many in and near the Asian subcontinent have grown up using these pens in school.

The Dollar company makes several versions of regular fountain pens, but today we are considering the 'Calligraphy' pen, which has some interesting features not often found in pens in the US, and definitely not at the same price point.

The pen in uncapped and posted position:

Close-up of the logo:

And here is the pen with all caps removed:

One awesome feature of this pen is that it is piston-fill (just like the Pelikans, yeah!), with a blind cap and the piston knob hiding beneath. The pen therefore has a large ink capacity, almost 2~3 times that of other conventional cartridge converter pens. It also has a nice ink window (the black band just behind the section in the picture above - looks black because of the black ink within). Btw, the cap is a screw-on type, nice.

Here's a shot of the nib:

Notice how the nib tilts down to the left, like a right-oblique (er, left-oblique, depending on who you talk to!)? I thought it was just a very severe right-oblique, so tried to write in the standard nib position for that, and had mixed results. Then I read somewhere, that these pens were designed like an 'Arabic script' nib (which come in many different shapes), and turned out that was true! In other words, the pen is designed to be written with the nib turned 90 degrees from the way we normally hold fountain pens - i.e., the edge of the nib is intended to sit on the paper in a vertical orientation (line).

This makes for a uniquely writing calligraphy pen. You can tell it's a calligraphy pen, either a cursive italic or even almost like a stub, with good line variation - but there's a subtle different due to the 90 degree offset orientation. See the writing sample below, with hatches and line-width samples too:

Note at the bottom of the sample, I have tried to replicate the text that was below the logo. One can see even in that (very poorly done I'm sure) imitation, how in Arabic/Urdu/etc. type scripts (please note I am not trying to offend anyone here, but using terms that I think best describe it) this nib orientation really works well. It looks very capable of producing the right kind of script that I see in middle-eastern magazines and shops.

The pen runs for around the eponymous dollar, in Pakistan and India, but is not readily available here. However, user 'smeden' at the Fountain Pen Network is able to procure them and you can contact him for info.

It's a great pen, very decently solid construction, especially at this price point, and provides a writing style/look not readily available with other pens. The nib itself is very smooth and smeden actually inspects the pens before shipping them out. Comment back or shoot me an email if you have any q's about this unique international pen!! Will post another Dollar pen review in the future.