When it comes to getting a real good measure of a pen, I find side-by-side comparisons helpful. There is plenty we can say about a pen in a stand-alone test/review, but to best determine what I like and do not like about the writing experience I do some A/B testing. I suspect most pen wackos do so as well. As I’ve written before, I’m a fan of Pentel Energel pens. I also recently did a large batch review of several ballpoint, gel and hybrid ink pens. Since then, I’ve discovered the Pentel Vicuna hybrid ink pen in 0.5 and 0.7 point sizes and so a comparison of these pens to the Energel 0.5 and 0.7 pens would be instructive (at least to me).
The vibrant ink, various colors, solid lines, quick drying and (practically) skip-free action of the Energels make them an ideal pen for me. I need the quick drying ink as a lefty and the colors come in handy for grading and other purposes at work. So, why even consider the hybrid ink of a Vicuna? Honestly, it’s a fair question. Hybrid inks tend to provide a more solid line than traditional ballpoint ink while still providing the versatility of working on most any paper like a ballpoint. So, the ink is a welcomed addition to the pen wackos toolbox but, given that the Energel does everything hybrid ink can do only more so (darker line, more colors, etc.), what’s the point of hybrid ink? The answer lies in the more subtle line that hybrid inks lay down compared to full gel treatment. If you’re worried about ghosting on the back of thinner/cheaper paper or if you just don’t want your writing to stick out too much from the surrounding text, then a hybrid ink can be the perfect option.
So let’s do some Energel and Vicuna comparisons. First, let’s take a closer look at the lines these pens lays down. Pen #1 is the Energel 0.7 mm. Pen #2 is the Energel 0.5 mm. Pen #3 is the Vicuna 0.7 mm. Pen #4 is the Vicuna 0.5 mm. As expected, the 0.7 Energel is the thickest and darkest and the 0.5 Vicuna is the thinnest and lightest. Let’s combine thickness with darkness and call the combination intensity. If we set the Energel 0.7 intensity to 10, I would judge the relative intensities as followed: Energel 0.7 = 10; Energel 0.5 = 7; Vicuna 0.7 = 6; Vicuna 0.5 = 4.
With respect to drying times, all four pens did very well. I wrote five Xs on Rhodia paper and waited three seconds before rubbing my finger across the ink. Both Energel point sizes showed the smallest (I mean the smallest) trace of smearing. Honestly, a three count on Rhodia is a very high standard for dry time so I would say all four pens/point sizes perform very well on dry times.
As for smoothness of writing feel, I’d order the pens as followed from most to least smooth: Vicuna 0.7 > Energel 0.7 > Energel 0.5 = Vicuna 0.5. Again, this was done with Rhodia paper which has, deservedly so, a smooth reputation so the differences were noticeable but not dramatic. I also tested the relative smoothness on yellow legal pad and the ordering was the same but the differences were a bit more noticeable. The Vicuna 0.5 dug into the toothier legal pad in a rather noticeable way but the Energel 0.7 and Vicuna 0.7 still offered a fairly smooth ride.
One last comparative point to make before concluding. If you look closely at the writing sample above, you can see that the Energel 0.5 leaves tiny hot spots of ink at the top and/or bottom of many pen strokes. It’s not a deal breaker at all, but this is where A/B testing comes in handy. The less smooth ride combined with the slight inconsistency of line width of the Energel 0.5 compared to the other options makes me think that I don’t need to settle for the adequate writing experience of this option.
So, if I were conducting a fantasy pen draft (Oh my gosh! How completely nerdy yet cool would that fantasy league be?) what would be my draft order? In the first round I’m picking…the Energel 0.7. In the second round I’m taking the plucky little pen from Japan…the Vicuna 0.7. In the third round, I might look into trading down for more picks and more value, but if I end up using my pick I would take the Vicuna 0.5 followed by the Energel 0.5 in the last round. On smooth paper, the Vicuna 0.5 gives a tighter line and brings an option that I don’t really get from the Energel 0.5 so I value the Vicuna 0.5 a bit more than the Energel 0.5.
There you have it – Pentel versus Pentel versus gel versus hybrid versus 0.7 versus 0.5. But I am left with one question. Pentel, why won’t you release the Vicuna in the US? I’m perfectly fine giving JetPens my business, but why not make it more widely available?