“Stone” Paper (Da Vinci Notebook)

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Q. What do egg shells and paper have in common? A. They are both made of calcium carbonate. At least the “stone” paper from this Kickstarter project is made from the same stuff as egg shells. Nick, the creator of the Da Vinci Notebook, sent me a sample of this interesting paper and I decided to put it through a few paces.

The first thing you’ll notice about the stone paper is that it feels very soft and that there is almost no discernible texture to the paper. The phrase “smooth as a baby’s bottom” comes to mind. It also has some heft to it. I cannot find the paper weight in the information that Nick sent me but I’d guess that a single sheet of stone paper weighs about the same as at least 3 sheets of Rhodia. Seems to me that a 100 page, 5″ x 8″ notebook of this stuff would weigh a pound or more. Lastly, in the initial impression category, would be the color. The paper has a flat white color to it. It is not bright white like most copy paper but it is not in the cream color range either. I’d call it flat or off-white or soft white. Whatever name fits the color best, the important point is that it’s easy on the eyes. The paper is also described as water and tear resistant. I’d agree that it does have some water repellency, but it didn’t seem to take much more effort to tear than the decent copy paper I have. When it does tear, it seemed to do so neatly without many fibers showing along the tear line.

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How does the paper perform? Well, it depends. For most pen and ink combinations it performed well and felt smooth. For a couple of pen and ink combinations it was more or less, as the kids might say, epic fail. Let’s take a look at pictures of particular pen/ink combinations.

First, my go-to-non-fountain-pen-of-choice, the Pentel Energels. I’m happy to say that the Energels took to the stone paper like a fish to water. This was especially true of the wider 0.7 mm point. In my experience, Energels write well on most paper surfaces but they felt particularly smooth on the stone paper and laid down a solid and consistent line.

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Unfortunately, the dry times for the Energels on the stone paper were less than ideal. Energels are, in my experience, the fastest drying gels pens on the market today but something about the gel chemicals and the stone paper inhibits drying times. Regardless, there is smearing evident, even at the 10 second mark. That said, the writing experience is so smooth with the gel/stone paper combination that I might be willing to take my time writing and enjoy the ride.

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What about fountain pens? Well, the few that I tried did not fare particularly well. My fine nib Kaweco AL Sport with Kaweco Blue did reasonably well. The writing was smooth but there was a touch of feathering on a letter or two. My TWSBI Mini, also with a fine nib and sporting Kon Peki, was less successful as the sharper point of the TWSBI dug into the stone paper a bit. You can see the digging in with the “T” of TWSBI in the pictures below. My Parker Vacumatic (also fine, also Kon Peki) was the one epic fail of the lot. All in all, I think good results could be obtained with a rounded fine nib and less slippery inks, but I did not immediately find a fountain pen/ink combination that worked like a charm with the stone paper.

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Let me finish with the pen/ink combinations that took to the stone paper best. Hybrid and ballpoint inks did very, very well on this paper. Color saturation was amazing (on par with gel inks) and the dry times were nearly instantaneous. I think I can use a touch of chemistry to explain why the ballpoints worked so well. Apparently, the stone paper is made with 80% calcium carbonate and 20% non-toxic resin (I’m guessing these are weight percentages). Ballpoint and, to a less extent, hybrid inks are oil-based (i.e. hydrocarbon) media which I suspect bind effectively with the resin (i.e. hydrocarbon) of the stone paper. Interestingly, my Lamy rollerball (water-based ink) also wrote nicely and dried quickly on the stone paper but a post-writing water test showed some differences. The water-based rollerball ink and the gel inks smeared noticeably after dabbing with water but the hybrid and ballpoint inks held up great.

For what it’s worth, I also used some pencils on the stone paper. Very sharp and hard points dug into the paper too much, but softer/wider leads wrote smoothly. You can see the evidence of digging into the paper by the bits of embossing on the back.

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Let’s conclude. Fountain pens and inks? Probably not. Gel pens and inks? Yes, but take your time to avoid smearing. Rollerball inks? Yes (but avoid water as always with rollerball inks). Ballpoint and hybrid inks? Yes, absolutely, my goodness yes! In fact, I decided to back the Kickstarter project for the Da Vinci Notebook based solely on the positive results I saw with ballpoint and hybrid inks. Backer options start at $12 on Kickstarter so trying the notebook for yourself won’t cost too much.

On a related note, Oxford makes a stone paper notebook that is available from Walgreens of all places (Sorry, I can’t bring myself to put a link to Walgreens on my blog). After playing with the Da Vinci Notebook paper sample, I ran over to my local Walgreens and got lucky. The paper in the Oxford book does have a similar texture and also provides a smooth writing feel. However, the Oxford paper is noticeably thinner than the Da Vinci Notebook sample. In fact, the page beneath the current page does become slightly embossed from writing in the Oxford notebook. I’m happy to have the Oxford notebook to play around with more stone paper, but I’m hopeful that the Kickstarter Da Vinci Notebooks will be a clear step up in quality.

A sample of the stone paper was provided to me free of charge by the creator of the Da Vinci Notebook Kickstarter project. Opinions and perspectives are entirely my own.

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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.

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Retro 51 Tornado Stealth

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Can you be any sort of pen aficionado without having at least one Retro 51 Tornado in your collection? Probably, but given that Retro 51’s are a gateway pen for many pen wackos it seems unlikely. When you factor in their solid build quality, decent price, multitude of colors and styles and the variety of refill possibilities, failing to give the Retro 51 Tornado a close look would be a serious oversight for anyone wanting to be a pen person. Okay, maybe you don’t want to be known as a pen person; it’s definitely one of the nerdier monikers to have. That said, regardless of your level of pen nerdiness, you should check out the Tornado.

I’ve had a few Tornadoes over the years yet between moving, losing and giving, I somehow only have the Tornado Stealth currently in my possession. There’s a blue Tornado Classic Lacquer somewhere, but I think the wife keeps it at work. Anyway, lucky for me, if there’s one Tornado to have it’s probably this black beauty. As you can see from the pictures, my Stealth has some noticeable wear and tear which is perfectly fine by me. A worn pen is a loved and used pen and my Stealth is definitely both.

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The first thing you notice when picking up a Tornado is the weight. It’s not a heavy pen but, at 31 grams, it certainly has some heft to it. The build quality is top notch. The knurled knob that deploys the refill turns smoothly and has just the right amount of resistance. The connection between the pen tip and the body, where you insert the refill, is nearly seamless. The only criticism I would offer relates to the clip tension; I’d prefer a tighter clip. It does the job but it may not keep the pen perfectly still when clipped to thinner dress shirt pockets. Of course the Tornado is a short pen (13 cm = 5.1 inches) so those with big beefy paws may find the pen is too short. Personally, I love the size and the weight.

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How does it write? Well, that’s largely up to your refill preference. The Tornado comes with a capless 0.7 mm rollerball. Straight up, it’s a great rollerball. Schmidt also makes a slightly thinner 0.6 mm rollerball (P8126). You might think such a small difference wouldn’t be noticeably but you’d be wrong. It’s not night and day different, but the 0.6 mm is just a bit tighter of a line and is the refill I prefer. You can also load the Tornado with any Parker style refill you want which really opens up the options for this well-built and versatile pen.

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Rating
The Retro 51 Tornado is such a work horse. So, if the rollerball refills or any Parker-style refill work for you it’s an absolute “Carry It” pen. I’ve dropped, scrapped, tossed, etc. this pen in so many different ways and yet it keeps on working, no questions asked. Other rollerballs are fancier. Other rollerballs are cheaper. The Retro 51 Tornado splits the difference nearly perfectly.

Analogy
The Retro 51 Tornado is like your favorite belt. Most of the time you just need your belt to do its job. You don’t want to fuss with it and you don’t want to think about it. The Tornado does its job each and every time but then, like a good belt, it offers a bit of adaptability when you want/need it. Need to use a ballpoint instead of a rollerball? Not a problem. Ate a bit too much at lunch and need a little breathing room? Not a problem. Trust your belt and trust your Retro 51 Tornado.

The Tornado is a popular pen. As you might expect, others have lots to say. (Most reviews are discussing other versions of the Tornado.)
The Well-Appointed Desk
The Pen Addict
The Clicky Post
The Pencil Case Blog
Gourmet Pens

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