Looking for a few good pens

WARNING: There are not a lot of pictures to be found in this post. I’m working through some issues here, so please bear with me. Also, this is a fountain pen-free post. If you’re all and only about fountain pens, don’t waste your time. If you’re interested in reading about my travails with several common/office-supply store gel, roller and ballpoint pens please read on.

Pens, pens, pens, everywhere pens. If you frequent this or other pen blogs then you’re likely searching for new pens to try. Odds are you currently own or have tried more pens than you can remember. I’m no different. But as much as I like opening the box or cracking the blister pack to reveal my latest pen prize, the sheer volume of options can be a bit much. Go ahead and click on the “Pens” tab at JetPens and you’ll be presented with some 5430 choices and this is just one particular vendor specializing in bringing Asian writing implements to the US market. Heck, go to your local office supply store and browse the pen section. I’m just guessing here, but there’s probably around 100 different pen options between ink type, point size and color. Throw in the pencil choices and even your basic Staples and Office Depot can seem like too much. Don’t misunderstand me – I dig searching for great-looking, excellent-writing pens. Apparently, I like it so much that I’m willing to spend a fair amount of my free time writing about it. What I’m looking for these days; however, is a little bit of closure. Well, maybe closure isn’t the right word. I guess what I’m looking for are some conclusions regarding what I know works for me and what does not – at least for now. So, to that end, I spent the last few weeks and more than a few bucks surveying a wide array of  gel and ballpoint options. I dug out forgotten pens from desk drawers, took trips to Staples and Office Depot and placed multiple orders with online vendors. I haven’t specifically counted, but I suspect I checked out about three dozen widely available pens options.

I put several pens through their paces on a variety of fairly common paper types including cheap copy paper, nice copy paper, a Rhodia pad, a Clairefontaine notebook, Field Notes (FN Lager to be specific), cheap note cards, nice note cards and yes, the devil’s paper itself, Post-it Notes. Not only did the pen have to pass through this paper gauntlet reasonably unscathed, but the ink had to dry quickly enough to be lefty friendly in order to make the short list. (You “north paws” are so spoiled when it comes to pens that I just want to punch you all in the face. Hold on. Sorry. That was a bit much. I love being a lefty, especially on the tennis court, but it does make finding “that one pen” a bit more of a challenge.) Let’s get to the pens shall we.

Below, in no particular order, are our contestants. My primary concern in this collective review is the performance of the refill in terms of smoothness, saturation of color and dry time. Obviously, the body of the pen matters a great deal but if the refill doesn’t work for me then there isn’t much point in debating the finer points of the body (unless a suitable hack can be found).

Signo 207 gel in 0.7 and 0.50
Jetstream gel in 0.7 and 1.0
Acroball ballpoint in 0.5, 0,7 and 1.0
Acroball Multipen
Pilot G2 1.0 and 0.7
Zebra Surari ballpoint 0.7
Pilot Juice in 0.7, 0.50 and 0.38
Pilot Easytouch 0.7
Pentel Energel in 0.7 and 0.5
Zebra F301 ballpoint
Zebra G301 gel
Zebra Sarasa  0.7
Moleskin gel M and F
Retro 51 with Retro 51, Schmidt M and Schmidt F rollerball refill
Parker rollerball refill
Sheaffer rollerball refill
Paper Mate Liquid Flair 0.7
Various Parker-style ballpoint refills including:
Parker Quinkflow in M and F point size
Parker gel
Schneider Slider 755 M
Schmidt Easy Flow 9000 M
Fisher Space Pen refill M and F
Monteverde gel refill M and F

I’m going to place each of these pens into one of three categories. (1) The winners. These pens write well, dry quickly and have good color saturation. (2) The losers. These pens are, for me at least, fatally flawed. Maybe it’s the balance. Maybe it’s the looks. Most likely, it’s the ink. In between we’ll have (3) The runner ups. These pens ultimately fall short of working for me for one reason or another but they’re great pens and will very likely make most people pretty darn happy. I’ll offer a short blurb why each pen/refill is ranked where it’s ranked. I may follow-up with a more detailed review on many of these pens down the road.

Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up. Some readers may find a favorite on my loser list. Don’t take it personally as pen preferences are incredibly subjective.

The Losers:
Monteverde gel M and F – scratchy and skippy – ’nuff said.
Schmidt Easy Flow 9000 M – I don’t get it. A lot of people have nice things to say about this refill but I must have a bad batch because these things suck big time. It’s like there’s a pebble in the tip. Yuck.
Parker gel – Smooth. Actually very smooth. But, they skip like a flat rock on a calm pond and the quality control from one refill to the next seems nonexistent.
Paper Mate Liquid Flair – Smear city and the design is sophomoric.
Shaeffer and Parker Rollerball refills – We’re headed back to skip city here. The Shaeffer was a bit better but still a no go.
Retro 51 and Schmidt M Rollerball refills – A bit splotchy when I write with them. Some skipping but the best of the poor performing rollers.
Moleskin M and F – Smear city and the rectangular pen shape is trying too hard to be “all that”.
Zebra G301 and F301 – The gel smears and there are better ball point options out there.
Pilot Easytouch – I like the body but the refill is about as boring as ball point refills get.
Pilot Juice 0.38 and 0.7 – The 0.38 is too scratchy and the 0.7 smears too much. Nice colors, but not pens I’ll go back to at all.
Zebra Surari – Some folks like this pen and I can sort of see why. But, it smears readily and there are similar pens that are a bit better.
Pilot G2 1.0 and 0.7 – The body length fits my hand nicely but there are way better gel inks out there as far as I’m concerned.
Jetstream 1.0 – Holy cow this pen is slippery. It’s like writing on ice with an icicle.
Signo 207 0.5 – A touch too scratchy for me and the ink smears; like the grip and the length of the pen though.

Bottom line – I’m unlikely to ever buy one of these pens again even if one or two aspects of many of these pen have some positives.

The Runner Ups:
Fisher space pen refill M and F – There’s nothing to hate about these refills but their color saturation falls short of other ball point options.
Schneider Slider 755 – Compared to the Schmidt Easy Flow 9000 M, these refills write like a dream. Still, they fall just a bit short of the winners.
Retro 51 Schmidt F refill – The best of the Retro 51 refill lot. There is some skipping on less expensive paper types, but these are decent writers.
Zebra Sarasa 0.7 – Of course the gel colors are great. The pen body size works well for me too. The ink dry times are good but not excellent.
Pentel Energel 0.5 – Maybe I’m not into the whole needle point look. Also, and more importantly, these refills will skip a touch on cheaper paper.
Pilot Juice 0.5 – The Goldilocks of the Pilot Juice pens? They do smear too much for me but the colors and smoothness make the 0.5 worth keeping around for occasional use.
Parker Quinkflow F – The Quink ink is very good. The F point is less consistent than the M.
Acroball (all types) – I want to love these pens. The grip section may be the best of any office supply store pen and the color saturation is very good. Unfortunately, they smear too much for lefties. Come on Pilot, figure out a formulation that dries a bit quicker!
Jetstream 0.7 – These pens write on everything, even Post-it Notes. They are a bit too slippery for me which keeps them at the runner up level.
Signo 0.7 – Like the Acroballs, I want to love the Signo 0.7. It’s smoother than the 0.5 and the body/grip is excellent but the ink does smear too easily.

The Winners:
Energel 0.7 – My affection for the Energel is well-known. The blue and black colors are a bit slippery and can be a challenge to control at times. For some reason, the purple 0.7 isn’t as slippery and writes like a dream. That said, the dry times on these pens are fan-freaking-tastic. Great colors, various body options and nearly perfect dry times all make these pens a big winner. Also, they wrote on every type of paper I threw at them which is no small feat for a gel pen.
Parker Quinkflow M – Look, I get it. Parker refills, seriously, Todd? You’re putting these most boring of boring refills on your winners list? Yes, I am. They’re not perfect but they do have better color saturation than most ball points (Acroball notwithstanding). They are smooth but not Jetstream slippery. The dry times are functional for lefties and, like most ballpoints, they write on every paper type I throw at them. The fact that these refills fit into all sorts of pens is an added bonus. I have plenty of Parker Jotters loaded with these refills, but I probably use Quink refills most frequently in Pelikan ballpoint bodies.

So, there you have it. If another common/office supply store pen is to make it into my hands on a consistent basis then it’s going to have to be on par or better than an Energel or a Quinkflow refill.

QuinkEnergel

Philadelphia Pen Show

I spent this past Saturday at the Philadelphia Pen Show.  It took a bit over 2 hours to get to Philly from my northern NJ home.  Save for a bit of snow, the trip was uneventful and finding the Sheraton  hosting the show couldn’t have been easier.  I got to the show around 10:20 am so I was among the early arrivals for Saturday.  The show took up two large rooms which made it a bit larger than I had imagined in my mind but I hear that the Philly show is only about half as large as the one in D.C..  I was more than impressed by the options available in Philly so I’m a little frightened as to what could be going on in D.C.!

I decided not to take any pictures because I wanted to take it all in and fly under the radar.  During the 4 hours or so I spent at the show, I circled the room several times visiting different vendors multiple times trying to get a handle on the offerings and prices.  Generally speaking, the prices were comparable to what you could find from pen retailers online but I certainly overheard plenty of haggling at a number of tables.  Since I was mostly in the market for modern pens, I wasn’t on the hunt for deals (although I did get one) and spent my time really just trying to take it all in.

So, what did I learn going to my first pen show?  First, there are wwwaaaayyyy too many pens in the world.  When you’re at a pen show, the absurdity of tracking down particular pens and having a collection of more than a couple of decent pens can hit you square in the face – at least it did for me.  That’s not to say I’m going to slow down my pen collecting, but you are forced to come face to face with your obsession in a rather stark way at a show.  I knew to bring cash and I knew plenty of people would be spending mad amounts of cash.  Still, I wasn’t fully prepared for how quick and easy it would be to spend money.  One gentleman dropped over $1K in the span of about 2 minutes on 3 Parker pens while I was browsing a table.  Again, I knew the money would be flying but to see the cash move in person was quite a spectacle.  I think I’m going to start a pen show cash stash to be better prepared for the next show.  Selling some old pens and bodily fluids to fund future pen show trips may also become an option.

I also learned that pen vendors are a patient and polite bunch.  It was nice to meet Lisa and Brian Anderson in person.  Turns out they’re as nice in person as they seem in their weekly podcasts.  I spoke with several other vendors and they were all, to a person, very accommodating.  In addition to the Andersons, specials mention goes to Susan Wirth.  I talked Parker Jotters with her for a good five minutes and she was simply delightful.  I’m not the kind of guy who uses the phrase “simply delightful”, but that’s the best way to describe Susan.  She was a hoot and very helpful.

Lastly, I learned that Richard Binder and nib adjustments are the real deal.  I never had a pen adjusted before but I do have a few that write less than ideally so I made sure to get on Richard’s list as soon as I arrived.  I was #10 on his list for that day and it took about 2 hours for my number to come up.  I ended up having him smooth out a fine nib for my TWSBI 580.  Nothing fancy as far as nib work goes and it took Richard less than 5 minutes to produce a result I was happy with.  The man knows what he’s doing and he seems like a thoroughly fine fellow to boot.

What will I do differently at my next show?  I went into the show with a list of 10-12 pens to check out.  Turns out that the list went out the window about 20 steps into the show room.  Next time, I’ll go into a show with fewer pens in mind.  I’ll then start by circling the show two or three times to see what’s what and then focus on pursuing these preplanned pens for a time and leave the rest of the day in search of a few surprises.  I would also set aside some time to take in all the ink options.  While I did buy a bottle of ink, it felt more like an add-on than a well-considered purchase.  As part of a future plan to leave more time for surprises, I will definitely play with more pens next time.  I spent a lot of time looking at the Philly show.  Next time, I’ll leave time and space to play with more pens.

What did I get?
Kaweco Blue Al Star Sport(M nib) – Paid a fair price, but by no means a bargain
Early ’80s glossy green Parker Jotter – Probably overpaid a bit, but I really connected with the color
Monteverde One Touch Engage – I got a very, very good deal on this directly from the Monteverde representative.  It’s going to make a great test grading pen for years to come.
Organics Studio Neon Ink – List price

All in all, I’m happy I went.  It was a lot of fun and even though I didn’t get the best bang for my buck in all cases I learned a fair amount.  I live about 90 minutes from Hofstra so I suspect I’ll be going to the Long Island show in March.  When I do, I’ll be a bit wiser and better prepared to take advantage of the day.

(Updated – forgot to include all the links in earlier version.)

Pelikan Souveran 405 Ballpoint

Pelikan3Here’s the deal – everyone needs to keep a ballpoint pen handy so why not make it a great looking one.  Enter the Pelikan Souveran 405 in black/blue/silver.  Like many folks who are a bit picky about their writing implements, I have a love/hate relationship with ballpoint pens.  I love them because they’re reliable, come in too many styles to count and, unlike fountain pens, aren’t all that fussy about paper choice (try writing on those self-stick Christmas tags with a fountain pen).  I hate ballpoint pens because…well, frankly, they’re as boring as a Bravo reality show.  To make matters worse, some refill makers have tried to glam up the ballpoint with a variety of colors and refill materials, most of which are just embarrassing.  More on this later.

Back to the Pelikan Souveran 405.  Like all my crummy pictures, the ones here do not do this pen, and it’s Pelikan ballpoint cousins, justice in the least.  I love, love, love the looks of the black/blue/silver combination.  For reasons I do not understand, I just don’t dig gold trim on my pens.  Now, a buttery Sailor nib made of gold is another matter completely, but gold trim doesn’t do it for me.  (If I stated my feelings on this matter using a combination of chemistry and social media syntax it would read:  Ag +1; Au -1.  Note:  the material on the 405 is actually palladium but we’re just talking color right now.)  For me, the success of the Souveran 405 and similar Pelikan ballpoints is all about the simple shape and perfect size.  Imagine if a Parker Jotter ate right and worked out a bit.  The result would be a Pelikan ballpoint.  The brands are similar in length but Pelikans are wider and therefore easier to hold.  Combine the ideal size with quality plastic materials, celluloid acetate to be specific, and the pen fits and feels wonderfully even if it’s “just a ballpoint”.Pelikan2

Alright, let’s talk refills a bit.  As you know, ballpoint refills come in many shapes and sizes and it seems that every year brings new hybrid, easyflow ballpoint inks.  Many of these proprietary ballpoint refills write wonderfully but, for now, let’s limit ourselves to the ubiquitous “Parker-style” refills.  Let me say this plainly – gel inks using the Parker type refills are garbage and even if they weren’t, they would remain a stupid idea.  Of all the ballpoint refills, Parker QuinkFlow are the best.  Schmidt Easy Flow 9000 are very good but I think QuinkFlow wins by a nose.  I’m fairly sure I’ve tried every gel ink Parker-style refill available in a variety of point sizes and they all, I mean every single one of them, do not work consistently well.  I occasionally get a blue Parker brand gel refill that writes well but it’s just too hit and miss and they also ooze silicone.  How Parker gets away with selling refills with such poor quality control is beyond me.  If all this wasn’t bad enough, we also have the dumb idea of colored  refills.  Why would I put a purple ballpoint or gel refill in a classy pen like the 405?  On the rare occasion I need something that isn’t blue or black, I’ll grab a fountain pen and a bottle of ink that fits my needs and/or mood or a purpose-built Pilot G2 or Pentel Energel.  Purple Parker refills that “bleed” like some sort of horror movie pen refill?  No thank you.

Pelikan1Once again, back to the Souveran 405…

Rating
You need to have a ballpoint handy.  This is a great looking one and with the right refill it works just dandy so “Carry It“.  There may not be a lot that separates one ballpoint from another other than your preference for looks.  I think the black/blue/silver Souveran looks great and the size and shape work for me.

Analogy
The Souveran 405 is like a really good cheeseburger.  There are plenty of ways to make a decent burger but at the end of the day we’re still just talking about a cheeseburger.  I’m happy to pay a little extra for the angus, grass-fed beef and the fresh bun, even if we’re only talking about meat and bread, but putting a fried egg or a pork chop on the burger is the wrong way to eat a burger, egg or a pork chop.