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.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sheaffer Viewpoint Calligraphy Pen Review

I first tried my hand at calligraphy in elementary school, but back then I was still trying to figure out handwriting, period! So it ended up being just kind of a fun thing to try out once and that was good for me. But then more recently, as I became interested in learning how to be more expressive in my writing, I decided to snag a calligraphy fountain pen. The cheapest out there seemed to be the Sheaffer Viewpoint Calligraphy - was able to pick it up at a local store for under $5, but is also available through this Amazon vendor here for about $6. Given the price of fountain pens in general, not a bad price.

Here is the pen itself:

Looks pretty distinguished, even for an all-plastic construction (excepting the tip of course). You can make out the famous Sheaffer 'white dot' at the top of the clip.

The Viewpoint Calligraphy pen comes in three nib widths, and the one I have is a B - Broad, or 1.8mm wide.

The pen is a crisp italic, meaning sharp edges and potential risk of getting caught in the paper if one is caught unawares. Definitely it takes a little more care than a ballpoint, but it's not as bad as some people out there make it out to be, especially if you have a little coordination. Just concentrate on keeping your nib / pen in the same orientation throughout your strokes and you'll be fine =)

Here is the pen posted; it has good balance in this arrangement. You can also see the namesake of the pen, on the bottom part of the barrel - it's a large cutout in the body, that lets you see the link level in the cartridge (the pen comes with 2, of different colors - mine came in a blue and a black). Pretty neat design, which often one finds only in higher-end pens, with their view-windows and such.

Btw, the pen is a pop-cap, and not a screw-down - though of course the section and the body connect via screw threading.

On to the writing sample!

It pretty much goes without saying but I'm very amateur when it comes to calligraphic / italic writing. I love some of the stuff I see out there, and I have an old calligraphy book that I'm planning to learn from. But it definitely takes time to learn new letterforms, and training my hand to keep the nib at the typically requisite 45 degrees. Even still, it's fun to play with, and both cursive and print come out with a fun, new flair. Definitely a worthy (and some may say even necessary) addition to one's pen stable if you want to get into ornamental writing. Consider that many ancient books and Bibles for centuries were written in the same styles that calligraphers use today! Neat stuff.

A final shot of the pen in 'exploded' form:

I would check at your local art store to see if they have this italic fountain pen out, it might be cheaper than Amazon, but if not, check the link at the header of this post. Happy calligraphying (er...)!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pilot Hi-Tec C Ultramarine .3mm Gel Pen Review

One of my favorite pens of all time, and one of the earliest gel pens I ever used, was the Pilot Hi-Tec C. Known for their needle-point tips and amazingly thin lines, the design and construction of the pens themselves are simple, utilitarian, yet redolent with classic style, and full of design touches that I recognize immediately every time I pick one up, things that combine to set it apart from other gel pens. The six-panel stick design, reminiscent of wooden pencils; the clear body; the understated ring-grooved grip; the instantly recognizable metal needlepoint tip; the squared yet tapered off cap that posts as well as caps with a satisfying 'click.' It's a wonderful pen series, and if you have never tried one, it's definitely worth a look.

I've used these pens for the past ten years and so I figure it's about time I reviewed one =)  The pen under consideration today, is in a color I only recently have begun to use, 'Ultramarine.'

The 'UM' at the end of the model name signifies the color, and the little '200' in the box after that, is the price in Japan - 200 yen, or about 2 bucks. I believe ten years ago they used to be 100 yen.

Here is the famous needle tip; this is a .3mm (which differs in construction from the .4mm):

Note the precision engineering that must have gone into such a product. The stepped levels keep getting smaller and smaller, starting from the retaining cap, on down to the main body of the tip, then on to the needle-point and finally to the very tippy tip, which houses an actual tiny, stainless steel ball. Amazing stuff. Here is a quick pic of the pen posted. It's got very nice balance in this configuration:

Now, on to the writing performance. As you could imagine, writing with such a thin tip means if you're not careful - i.e., pressing too hard, using cheap paper - you could get some scratchiness, even paper rips. But for someone with a light touch (as most fountain pen users tend to be), or with some usage and attention to one's grip, this is really not a problem. One orentation that I've found helps, is to angle the body back toward oneself, almost like one would use a fountain pen. This lets the pen glide across the paper easier.

Here is a writing sample. You can write really, really small with this guy!:

And as I note in the sample above, these pens are also really nifty for sketching and doodling, especially on smaller pads like Post-it pads and Rhodias. This sample was written on a Clairefontaine 90g paper (small wire-bound pad).

As for the color itself, the ultramarine is a (to use utterly subjective terms) smooth, calming blue with a hint of green. Not as 'dark' (as in emotion) as turquoise, but not as rich as a royal or cerulean blue. It's really great.

JetPens sells these, as does TokyoPenShop (they were recently featured in Martha Stewart Living magazine for the Hi-Tec C's, actually). Both great retailers, who I've bought from and corresponded with, and excellent prices, support, and speed. The Hi-Tec C's come in other varieties than the .3mm - they also come in a .4mm as already mentioned, a .25, a multi-pen variant called the 'Coleto,' as metal-bodied upscale pens, and even a mini version in Pilot's 'Putimo' line. We'll review those in the future too. In the meanwhile, check out these classic pens and enjoy the microscopic writing pleasure =)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Bazik 'Mileno' Fountain Pen Review

I'm a bargain-hound at heart, and so I from time to time visit the dollar store, especially if I'm out to get some cheap tools, wrapping paper, and other odds and ends. Some dollar stores have interesting stationery items from time to time - erasable highlighters, three-packs of Sharpies for a buck, and other ones that will be the topic of future posts.

But under consideration are these little gems:

They are the 'Bazik' branded, 'Mileno' model fountain pen. And, they were a whopping $1.29 each, including three ink cartridges apiece. What a deal! But were the fountain pens usable? Because even a $1.29 bad pen is, well, a bad pen.

Let's take a closer look at the pens (in the packaging):



They came in a dark blue and a maroon, and I picked up one of each. The packaging looked decent enough, and on the back, there's some Spencerian-ish script, directions on how to use the cartridge, and decent descriptions about the fountain pen (it got cut off in the pic but it mentions a feed, a nib, and so on - so the people who made this weren't totally clueless regarding fountain pens, thankfully!).

Here are some pics of the maroon pen, out of the package:


As you can tell from the pics, the construction seems very decent, and even though everything is plastic except for the nib and the clip (and the clip may be chromed plastic, even), it feels solid in hand, if a bit light (to be expeced), and frankly the Dollar brand pens from India don't necessarily have anything on these pens, from a construction standpoint. The cap is a pull-top one (not screw-in), and it pops open and closed with a reassuring 'click.'

Alright, by now you're wondering how it writes. Well, the long and the short of it - it writes perfectly fine, the two I have are very smooth and almost no scratchiness, and they flow well. Here is a writing sample:

 As the sample notes, the line width is about a medium-fine, and the included ink is a bit grayer than my Noodler's Heart of Darkness, but it is perfectly acceptable, though it required a bit of a good pinch on the cartridge to get the juices flowing the first time around. Another neat thing is that the third cartridge was inside the pen (the packaging looks like there's only 2 carts), upside-down - i.e., already in the standard position used to store the spare as well as help keep the installed cartridge from falling out.

One surprising thing was that the nib is slightly semi-flex! You can see it in the sample above; the nib tines actually do widen. It takes a lot of pressure, but it's neat to think that a $1.29 pen does this.

Here's another pic demonstrating the flex:

Here are a few more pics - the feed; a breakout shot; a posted pic; and the blue and red combo:

Overall verdict? A dang nice backup fountain pen, and one that you could use to load up with your less frequently used inks that you just can't bring yourself to get rid of (because we can't all have several copies of our favorite pen!), yet you'd like to use once in a while. The pens write nicely, and frankly as well as even $30~50 pens I've seen. Sure it doesn't have the cachet of a brand name (though, "Bazik" has that gourmet flair yes? ha.), or precious materials, but it flows smooth and works well, and you can afford to get a few of these for rough and ready use.

Not sure where all this pen is available, but I might just go ahead and do a couple giveaways on them soon. Keep your eyes peeled =)

One more last pic - here's a pack of refills, 12x for - you guessed it! - $1.29  =D