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

Kustom Karas Retrakt Hack

Not a review today. Our focus here will be a hack I stumbled upon that brings one of my favorite gel ink refills, the Energel by Pentel, together with the incredibly well-made Retrakt from Kustom Karas. I have been wanting to get more use out of my Retrakt (actually, RetraktS plural as I have both the aluminum and copper models) but I haven’t found the right refill for the pen. That is, perhaps, until now.

Karas Logo WhiteAs you can see from the picture below, the Retrakt comes with its own kit that allows you to pair it with a wide range of refills. There are two differently sized springs, a short black plastic plug and a length of rigid plastic tubing. The different springs work with different refills. The black plastic plug allows the Retrakt to accommodate shorter Parker-style refills and the plastic tubing can be cut to size and paired with all sorts of other refills.

Retrakt3

Out of the box, the Retrakt works with the Pilot G2 refill without any of the paraphernalia seen here save for the wider spring. Of course the G2 refill is great and works well for most folks in most situations. However, as a lefty, the dry time on the G2 isn’t ideal and so the search was on to find another option.

Yes, I could just put one of the trillion or so Parker-style refills in the Retrakt and call it a day but the pen is such as precision built tool that going with a ballpoint or hybrid ink refill just didn’t seem like the way to go – enter the Energel 0.5 mm refill from Pentel.

pentel

I recently did a multiple pen review for many things Energel, so I’ve had Energel on the brain for the past few days. The aforementioned review focused on the various Pentel options that take the 0.7 mm Energel refill, but there is also reasonably easy to find 0.5 mm Energel optional as well. It seemed to me that the fast-drying Energel with the more precise 0.5 mm line and the machined Retrakt would make a nice pairing. However, a bit of hacking is needed to make it work.

Below you can see an unmodified Energel refill, a Parker-style refill (a Schmidt Easyflow 9K to be exact) and the cut-to-size Energel. The unmodified Energel refill will fit into the Retrakt but the problem is that it will not deploy. You see, the end of the Energel refill is open and the interior of the button mechanism of the Retrakt consists of a thin medal rod that slides into the open-ended refill instead of pushing it out. I managed to get a decent shot of the end of the metal rod inside the Retrakt by holding the top section in the bright sun.

refills1Retrakt1

Here’s where a bit of creativity and the black plastic thingy come into play. Simply cut the Energel refill to the length of the Parker-style refill and load the modified refill with the black plastic plug in the top section of the Retrakt. Top off the refill with the thinner of the two springs and its all systems go!

refills2

When deployed, the 0.5 mm tip does not extent as far out from the Retrakt as it does from the Pentel Energel Deluxe RT. I wish it extended just another millimeter or so but that’s just me being way too picky. Next time, I’ll leave the refill just a tad longer after the cut. While I don’t have a picture, the tip does fully retract and it does not appear that bleeding from the undeployed tip will be an issue. To test this possibility, I pressed the tip of the pen firmly onto a pad of paper with the refill retracted and did not see any evidence of ink leaving the refill. Importantly, the button action is every bit as smooth and consistent with the modified Energel as it is with a Parker-style refill.

RetraktEnergel

So, there we have it. A precision writing instrument with a precision refill. As a bonus for reading this far, here are a couple more pictures of the two Retrakts I have. If you look closely, you might be able to see a bit of the green patina on the copper Retrakt. Cool stuff.

Retrakt4Retrakt5

Pentel Energel – Multiple Pen Review

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*****UPDATE: Now doing an Energel Pen giveaway. Details are at the bottom of this post*****

Welcome to the first multiple pen review done here at That One Pen. We’ll be focusing on the various forms of the widely available Pentel Energel pens. Energels most commonly come in two point sizes: 0.7 mm (M) and 0.5 mm (F). You can buy 1.0 mm (B) and 0.35 mm Euro needle-points online, but I generally only find the (M) and (F) pens in my local office supply stores. All the pens shown in this review are 0.7 mm (M) points.

Going left to right in the picture above we have: Energel Deluxe RT blue, Energel Deluxe RT purple, Energel Deluxe RT pink, Energel Alloy RT, Energel Stick blue, Energel-X RT blue, Energel-X RT purple and Energel-X RT sky blue. You’ll see samples of other colors later; I just want to show the array of options available in the Energel line right now. The Deluxe RT version (3 on the left) also come with grips colored the same as the ink and not just the white grips as shown. If you imagine the colored grips of the Energel-X’s (3 on the right) on the Deluxe versions, you pretty much have it. The Energel Alloy RT also come in different colors. What’s nice is that the Deluxe RT, Alloy, Stick and Energel-X all take the same Energel Liquid Gel refill (LR 10, LR 7 or LR 5 depending on point size). If you’re into the whole hack thing, the LR refills are plastic tubes that can be easily cut to fit other pen bodies. The particular shape of the refill tip limits the pen bodies you can get the LR refills to work with so we’ll leave it to the reader to experiment. In the US, you can find the blue and black refills at Staples and other major office supply stores if you want to experiment with the refills without getting the actual pen.

Energel5

Given that all versions use the same refill, there are obviously a lot of similarities to the writing experience. The Energel refill is smooth and, most important to us lefties, very, very fast drying. To me, the writing experience of the Energel is a touch smoother than that offered by the widely available Pilot G2 pens but there’s no doubt (none – I’ve checked several times) that the Energel dries faster than the G2. I won’t dismiss the G2 at all. It’s a fine pen with a great range of colors and might even be a bit easier to find than Energel. I find that the 0.7 mm tip of the G2 leaves a thinner line than the 0.7 mm tip of the Energel but again, the G2 is just a touch rougher of a ride.

Let’s get to some of the differences, starting with the grips. Below is a close up of the grips for the Stick, Alloy, Deluxe RT and Energel-X RT (L to R). Not surprisingly, the Alloy has the hardest feel followed by the Stick then the Energel-X then the Deluxe RT. I did not measure the grip widths with a caliper, but to my fingers the Deluxe RT feels the widest, the Stick and Alloy follow and are very similar and the Energel-X feels a touch thinner still. Don’t get me wrong – the widths of all the grips are very close. Still, I do feel a difference – certainly between the wider Deluxe RT and the thinner Energel-X.

Energel3

Let’s talk clips. With the exception of the Energel-X and its all plastic build, the pens have metal clips with some plastic tabs near the top. Including the Energel-X, all the clips feel strong and well made. The edges of the clips on the Stick and the Deluxe are a bit sharp and could possibly scratch/dig into the lip of pocket material if you’re not careful. The other noticeable difference is that the Energel-X clip has some printing on it and, unlike the other three pens, the bottom of the Energel-X clip curves away from the pen barrel a bit.

Energel4

When deployed (and capped in the case of the Stick), there are some clear differences in length as you can see below. The Stick is the longest followed by the Alloy. The Deluxe RT and Energel-X are similar with the X possibly being shorter by a hair. When posted, the Stick also feels noticeably wider than any of the other pens.

Energel17

Also when deployed, the Deluxe RT and Energel-X can rattle just a bit because the button does not stay in the pushed-in position. As you can see in the picture above, both buttons are depressed for the Deluxe RT and Energel-X, but they easily slide out to create the rattle noise. The noise is not terribly loud or distracting, but it’s definitely there. The Stick, as you might expect, is perfectly quiet and the button of the Alloy has some added spring tension that keeps it stuck out whether the refill is deployed or not so it’s nearly 100% silent as well.

*****UPDATE: Now doing an Energel Pen giveaway. Details are at the bottom of this post*****

Interestingly and/or unfortunately, you cannot swap parts of one pen with parts of another. The picture below shows all the pens disassembled. The Deluxe, Alloy and Stick separate at the body/grip divide while the Energel-X opens at the button/body divide. The thread sizes and female/male sections are all different from pen to pen so you won’t be using the grip section of the Deluxe on the Energel-X or, most disappointingly, you won’t be attaching the Energel-X grip to the Alloy body. In fact, the Energel-X grip section appears not to unscrew from the body at all. It does look like the grip sections of the Stick (far back in picture) and Deluxe (front in picture) should be interchangeable but it’s definitely a no go.

Energel7

Getting back to the writing experience. Bottom line, I really like the way these pens write. I rarely use an Energel for extended writing sessions, limiting most of my time to writing short notes or, more commonly, to grading tests and quizzes. The writing action is smooth and consistent. I have yet to find a paper surface that causes an Energel to skip. Even Post-It Notes, which can be notoriously difficult for various pen types, are no problem for the Energels. (Aside – I like Parker gel refills but Post-It Notes or slightly glossy paper wreak havoc on them so they’re out). Have I mentioned yet that they dry faster than any pen I’ve found to date. Is the ink waterproof? Honestly, I don’t know and it’s not a test I really care about.

Energel8

Being gel pens there are, of course, several color options available. Having used these pens in all their colors for several years, I’ve noticed that the regular blue and black flow more readily than the other colors. For me, the blue and black are almost too slippery on something like Rhodia but work fantastic on “toothier” copy or Field Notes paper. Because they can be purchased readily on their own in the Deluxe version, I’ve used purple and green more than any other color besides blue. But, having recently grabbed a multicolored pack of Energel-X, I see the sky blue and orange getting quite a workout soon.

Energel11

So, do I have a preference between the Deluxe RT, Energel-X, Alloy and Stick? Well, the Stick is definitely in last place for me. In my work flow, gel pens are meant to add a bit of color to lecture notes, write a quick list or grade so I prefer the efficient retractable versions. The Stick is well built and the cap attaches with a satisfying “click” when capping or posting so there’s nothing wrong with it; I just prefer the convenience of the retractable pens. I want to like the Alloy more than I do. The body colors options are cool (especially the black) and they feel built to last. But, the balance is off for me as I wish it was weighted more towards the grip section. For the longest time, I used the Deluxe RT much more than any of the other models. That said, I’ve spent time with the Energel-X recently and I’m changing my allegiance. The ever so slightly thinner feel of the Energel-X, its comfortable but not too soft grip along with its less sharp clip compared to the Deluxe RT work better for me.

*****UPDATE: Now doing an Energel Pen giveaway. Details are at the bottom of this post*****

Importantly, these great refills come in a variety of colors and body styles that most folks should be able to find something that works. Do you prefer a longer, wider pen? Go with the Stick. Do you want something sharper looker for the office or to give as a gift? Go with the Alloy. Do you like clean lines and Apple-inspired white style? Go with the Deluxe RT. Do you like a slightly thinner grip and/or prefer that the color you’re grabbing to be blatantly obvious? Go with the colorful Energel-X style.

Rating
The Energel is a “Carry It”, “Desk It” and “Give It” pen for me. I carry them everywhere. There are probably 2, 3 or more on my home and office desks right now and I’ve given them as Secret Santa gifts to make a few converts.

Analogy
The Energel is like my collection of Peter Gabriel albums. I may have too many pens and too many albums to name (and goodness knows I do on both counts). Still, no matter how many pens or albums I get I always come back to my Energel pens and Gabriel albums. The Energel just works for me each and every time just like Peter Gabriel’s albums work for me at any time, while in any mood and for any occasion. Do yourself a favor. Check out the Energel in the style that would work best for you.

Here are some other reviews of Energels, including a couple for the Tradio. The Tradio is more refined-looking version of the Stick that takes the same refill and comes in a variety of colors.
Review on Pentel’s Site
Gourmet Pens (A colorful review of the full line of Energel-X.)
Pen Addict (Tradio review)
A Penchant for Paper (Stick review. See embedded links for other Energel reviews.)
Pens! Paper! Pencils! (Energel-X review)
Clicky Post (Tradio review)

EnergelCollage

 

Energel Pen Giveaway!!! I will be giving away 1 Energel Deluxe RT blue, 1 Energel Stick blue, 1 Energel-X blue plus two(2) other Energel related surprises. The pens I’m giving away will be new or very, very close to new. To enter, simply leave a comment to this post. The giveaway will close Sunday, February 23 at 5:00 pm Eastern time US. I’ll ship the pens to any US address. The posts will be numbered in the order they are received and a random number generator will select the winner. Feel free to leave up to 3 comments if you’d like to enter multiple times. I may respond to your comments, but obviously my comments are not counted or numbered as entries.