Hey pen fans, sorry I haven’t updated the site with a new review in quite some time. I am currently very busy with my schoolwork but I will try to get more updates as soon as I can!
Sailor’s desk pen was my first purchase from the old Japanese pen company. According to the stamp on the metal, this is an EF (extra-fine) nib. Like most Japanese companies, Sailor is not joking around when they say ‘extra-fine’–this thing is needle-fine. Behind the Pilot Penmanship, this is the finest-tipped fountain pen I own. Unlike the Penmanship, however, the desk pen’s tip is not flexible and lays down a very consistant, extra-fine line.
You may look at a tip like this and think: scratchy. After all, fountain pens have no rolling parts at their point to ease contact with the paper. Here is where I give Sailor the most credit. The pen does not feel like dragging a hypodermic needle over sandpaper. Sure, the tip is no broad-nib floater and won’t win any smoothness competitions over a wide, 14k-gold music nib, but I have to tell you that it’s still damn smooth for a nib this size. Changing direction is a breeze and the Sailor never feels like it is catching on smoother papers.
Now for the unavoidable part of this review. This is a Sailor desk fountain pen, meaning it was designed to be kept exclusively in those fancy, old-fashioned desk stands that you see on lawyers’ desks. What does this mean? Well, the pen is very long and slender. Combined with the plastic barrel, the pen is featherlight and perfectly balanced for quick writing. While I do like heavy fountain pens, I tend to lean towards lighter barrels when dealing with a nib of this fineness (tip stays smoother because I am not tempted to apply too much force and dig into the paper). It also doesn’t come with a real cap because the desk stand doubles as a cap.
I do not own a fancy-shmancy desk stand. I have carried this pen around in my backpack and kept it in my desk drawer and the pen has yet to leak on me. The cap-like piece of plastic that comes with the pen serves very well as a cap even though it does look a bit awkward. It hasn’t come off on its own or fallen apart. One thing you cannot do, unfortunately, is post it on the back.
I have thus far only attempted to use Sailor’s black ink cartridge so I couldn’t speak much about converters or the pen’s performance with other inks. What I can say is that Sailor’s black ink is no short of incredible. It is extremely dark, dries very quickly on Rhodia paper, and does not feather or bleed in the slightest.
If you happen to own a desk stand (I’m looking at you, lawyers) or can deal with owning a desk pen without a desk stand, I highly recommend the Sailor desk pen. It is very inexpensive for such a wonderful writing device. If, however, you cannot deal with owning something with an awkward shape to carry around, or do not like ultra-light, slender pens, I suggest you look elsewhere.
Even though I had read about the PulaMan online many times prior to purchasing one, I never felt reassured that I knew what it was exactly or how its bizarre looking tip worked. Many people seem to agree that the pen feels like a cross between a fountain pen and a felt or plastic-tipped pen. In fact, Pentel sells the PulaMan under the name ‘Fountain’ in European markets. Giving in to the power of curiosity, I picked one up.
I opted for the standard disposable PulaMan instead of the Tradio version that I see more frequently online. I tend to lean towards straightforward, simple, and utilitarian designs instead of bulbous, overgrown ones. This pen looks straight out of 1970′s Japan (or at least what I imagine 1970′s Japan would be). The body is incredibly spartan: there are no variations along the entire length of its smooth cylinder except for a slow taper in hand area. The deep burgundy/brown plastic is light but never feels fragile.
The pen is quite handsome, but I did not purchase it because I liked the way it looked–I bought it for the PulaMan’s very unfamiliar looking tip structure shown in the picture above. First of all, this is clearly not a fountain pen in the classic sense. There is no metal nib and no tines (the characteristic prongs at the business end of fountain pens). Instead, the PulaMan uses a fin-shaped plastic nib with two support beams running down the center. I must admit that I was a bit wary about this tip design but I am so glad that I gave it a try.
Well, it turns out that Pentel has actually created a cheap, plastic-tipped pen that behaves very much like a semi-flex-nib fountain pen. It is a joy to write with too! The flexible plastic of the fin bends and quickly snaps back to its original position just like steel tines. The whole experience is incredibly springy and I find myself bouncing from one line to the next with ease.
Additionally, the pen is fitted with support beams of different lengths on each side of the nib. This allows the user to quickly switch between two levels of flex. Simply flip the softer, broader side over and the pen suddenly becomes snappier and leaves a finer line.
The only issue I have run into with the PulaMan is that the tip will sometimes catch the paper at a weird angle and snap back so abruptly that a small barrage of ink is sent flying across your page. This may also be due to the fact that I have yet to fully break in the plastic nib and get it accustomed to my writing style. PulaMan fans claim that the pen only gets better with age, as the tip wears in a way that is specific to the user (just like a fountain pen!).
I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the performance of this pen and I can see why it has gathered somewhat of a cult following. The PulaMan is somehow at once both familiar and alien–plus, it is very enjoyable to use.
I have not been able to find this specific version online, so please let me know if you come across it! Tiger Pens carries the European ‘fountain’ version here and JetPens carries the more substantial (and refillable) Tradio version here.
This is a Guest Review by Ezekiel Golvin
Before I settled upon the Pentel Graphgear 1000 (review still forthcoming), I tried a couple different pencils. The Pentel P205, naturally, was one of those; it was constantly being raved about online. However, in Hyde Park, it was not available locally, which was a hassle, and Amazon textbook orders were so infrequent that the I was constantly forgetting to toss a new pencil in with the batch order. After becoming bored with the P205, I managed to find a local solution in the Zebra M-301 0.5mm pencil. It came in a two-pack, at a Walgreens, for five dollars. It is not a pencil without flaws, but at this price point, it is a surprisingly good pencil that can hold its own against the more pricey (and admittedly better-engineered) Pentel offerings.
Again, I want to take an opportunity to note that pencil reviews differ in some very significant ways from pen reviews. Since I replace all lead immediately with a consistent type and brand, this M-301 puts no different a line on the paper than my Graphgear 1000, which puts no different a line on the paper than a standard BIC crystal mechanical. Unlike pens, wherein inks differ both in type and formulation, my pencils will in general write identically under every scenario. This leaves the review to only cover constructed aspects of the pencil; I try my best to cover every aspect that I consider in a pencil over a long period of use.
One of the first things I noticed about the M-301 is that is a short pencil. Tip-to-non-retractable-tip, the M-301 is approximately 133mm long, as compared to the Graphgear 1000′s 148mm. It is also thinner on the barrel, a scant 8mm to the Graphgear’s 9.5mm. This leaves slightly less room for the hand when writing. However, the pencil is noticeably lighter. The metal aspects of construction on the M-301 are thin and lightweight aluminum, and as the pencil is approximately fifty-fifty plastic-metal, its heft is not substantial. I have never run into a problem of stamina while writing for a long time with the Graphgear 1000, but any burnout issues are almost certainly less likely to occur when using the M-301. Again, it is worth noting that the M-301 has a non-retractable tip; while this is something to be generally avoided in mechanical pencil, it is a sufficiently cheap and available pencil that I would not feel especially bad if it were to become bent. Unlike the Graphlet, I have seen the M-301 at a wide variety of local stores, and at approximately $2.50 per pencil (compared to $10.00 for the Graphlet) it does not sting the wallet.
While writing the review for Zebra’s Surari 3C last week, I was reminded of another Zebra 3-color ballpoint multi-pen in my collection: the Clip-On 3c G series. After a slight pen expedition I finally located it so I could do a back to back comparison with its younger Zebra brother.
Actually, its more like the Clip-On’s stepbrother because the Surari has a completely new hybrid ink forumla that promises the smoothness and consistency of gel with the quick dry-time and bleed-resistance of a ballpoint. Last week I gave the pen a less than a flattering review, but concluded that there was still a lot to like about the 3c. The Clip-On is an old-school grease ballpoint with exactly the same color setup of black, red, and blue. Nothing fancy here besides a pretty cool push-button release near the grip.
The question remains: which one is better (and for whom)? I was very curious to see how the two pens stacked up against each other.
The Surari clearly has the deeper ink of the two and far more line consistency. There aren’t many spotting issues with the Surari and besides some pretty serious glob-action, it delivers on Zebra’s promise. Well….almost–the ink takes almost as long to dry as a gel. I know it’s probably hard to read my writing without double spacing my lines, but I chose this way so that it was easier to see how obviously different the two inks really are. The Clip-On’s refills are pale in color and love to leave white spots, just like any other old-school ballpoint.
I got some very interesting results while testing these inks. I found that when writing in slightly larger text, the inks almost look like they came form the same pen. Neither skipped or looked faded. If you look at the Surari’s line, however, it looks much shakier than the Clip-On’s. This is another huge gripe I have with the new ink formula. The Surari’s ball rolls fast, gets slower, rolls fast, gets slow, etc. While it is smoother when it is rolling fast, it doesn’t feel nearly as consistent as the Clip-On’s roller.
Normal, small writing is where the Surari really proves itself as a better ink. It doesn’t often skip or leave small white spots in your writing–even if you are switching directions very quickly (usual cause with non-hybrid ballpoints). The new ink stays dark too because it doesn’t need as much energy or time to completely coat the ball with sticky hybrid oil. The pen still doesn’t feel as precise as the Clip-On though. The tip tends to get away from you because it needs slightly different pressure inputs as the ball speeds up and slows down, making it easy to put too much or too litte force on the pen. While I would nevertheless choose Surari ink over standard ink for taking notes in class and many other applications, I would not choose it over Pentel Vicuña or Jetstream ink.
Now let’s talk about the barrel.
The Surari’s ink is definitely a step in the right direction and is in many ways quite an improvement over regular ballpoint ink. But the body….what was Zebra’s design team munching on for breakfast when they decided on this? It’s overgrown, has too wide of a grip, and feels very cheap. They chose to make the clip into one of the slide knocks, but the whole unit rattles around while you write. The tips sometimes jump back into the barrel a little while you write and have too much play at the nose. There is an out of place chrome ring above the grip and strange molding at the end which makes the pen look like it was meant to post a cap.
The Clip-on is an entirely different story. It is more compact, more solidly built, no stupid chrome, no sliding clip, and a little push button release as a bonus. The grip is not too much narrower than the Surari’s fat rubber, but it feels significantly better because it is sculpted to fit in your hand. There is very litte play at the tip with all three colors and they do not randomly slide back in a little while you write. I can’t help but think that Zebra’s design team set out to make their new Surari multi-pen by starting off with a Clip-On and then thinking “how can we make this pen worse in every way besides the ink?”.
Suddenly I had an epiphany: if I throw the Surari fills into the Clip-On, all my problems will be solved! I unscrewed both pens and pulled out the refills. Guess what? Zebra did not standardize the two refill sizes. I’m sure I can get the Surari fills to fit if I cut the ends off of them but I’m not sure it’s even worth it. The Vicuña and Jetstream multi’s are more comfortable and have better ink, making them my first choice when reaching for a ballpoint multi-pen.
If you want a really solid standard-ink ballpoint multi-pen, you can’t go wrong with the Clip-On series. They are comfortable, cheap, and built well. If you are in the market for a hybrid ink multi, though, I can’t say that I would recommend the Surari over Pentel’s (Vicuña) or Uni’s (Jetstream) hybrid multi’s. I would, however, recommend it to fans of the Surari ink because it’s definitely still cool to have a multi-pen with your favorite type of ink.
I am not afraid to admit it: I buy pens and pencils on the spot because they make me laugh. I really don’t need more of a reason than that to justify a pen purchase. The totoma, though, didn’t just make me giggle; it brought joy to my heart and warmed my soul. Calling the pen silly would be a gross understatement. I dare you to show me a sillier pen (and please do show me if you can think of one).
For starters, it has a tomato for a cap. Doesn’t it look smug? Maybe its because it wears its stem-crown very casually like a tipped hat. I’ve named him totoma the tomato, and let me tell you, he’s the best damn plastic-tomato-cap there is. Then there is this guy:
I’m not even sure where to begin with this thing. It seems to be a human…wearing an eggplant costume…with a long tail…looking awfully embarrassed and blushing. I wonder which is more embarrassing: being in an eggplant costume or being in an eggplant costume with a tail? I almost feel bad for the thing. I’m sure he’s (or she’s or it’s) a good eggplant-man once you get to know him. It gets better:
At the bottom of the pen are two little bottles…with animal faces…and leaves sprouting from their caps (!?). Um, yes. Don’t ask why, just accept it. Maybe they are the hybrid offspring of totoma and eggplant-man, maybe they aren’t.
The slogan ties it all together. “Nutrition is abundant”. All this time I thought nutrition wasn’t abundant–thankfully totoma cleared up this misconception. I’m not exactly sure how an embarrassed man in an eggplant costume relates to the abundance of nutrition. I hope the implication is not that we eat him. Maybe thats why he looks so scared… I think the more important question to ask is “what does this have to do with pens or writing?” I do not have the slightest idea. I prefer not to question such things when I get so much brilliance for just one dollar! What I do know, however, is that this pen writes surprisingly well.
Pop off totoma and a sharp looking 0.5mm needle unsheathes itself. Jotting a few lines down proves to be a very smooth experience for such a tip. The ink is dark and dries quickly without bleeding or skipping, and the line is consistant.
I did a little comparison to see how similar the totoma is to a Pilot Hi-Tec-C. Looking at the picture above, can you tell which pen drew which line? Both are dark, smooth, consistant lines. The top is the Pilot and yes, if you look very very hard you will notice that the ink is a smidgen darker than the M&G’s.
Both tips are a very similar design. The ball is mounted to three crimps pressed into the needle to reduce friction. Here is a little diagram (taken from JetPens here) showing what this looks like up close:
Alas, the totoma’s tip is not on par with its primary competitor from across the eastern sea. It looks a little underdeveloped with no protective sleeve to keep it from bending. I am not a tip bender so it doesn’t worry me but I know many of you have tip-bending issues. The totoma is no Hi-Tec-C, but then again, the Hi-Tec-C is no totoma. Sure the Pilot will slightly out-perform (ok maybe slightly more than slightly) the totoma, but does it have a man in a eggplant suit, or a tomato cap, or jolly looking bottle/plant/creatures? I didn’t think so. Plus, it only costs a dollar–chump change for such a masterpiece. If you don’t yet own a single Hi-Tec or G-Tec then you should probably get that purchase out of the way before treading into totoma territory. Perhaps, though, you Hi-Tec virgins out there would not be jaded by extreme Japanese precision and find even more joy in the totoma. Either way, this is the sort of pen that some people look at and they know they must have it. Others cannot handle the awesomeness that is TOTOMA!
If anyone knows where to get this pen online, please let me know. I found it randomly at a little stall in Koreatown. One day I will go back and get the other version they had with a bottle for a cap instead of a tomato.
Stabilo’s products are unique to say the least. They make a huge attempt to create more user-friendly and comfortable products, but it often results in very strange looking designs. The Exam Grade ballpoint is a shining example and is one of the more bizarre pens I have ever owned.
I was fascinated by this pen from the moment I discovered it on Stabilo’s website. How can a ballpoint be made ‘exam grade’? Is it a marketing gimmick or is the pen actually better for exams than other writing utensils? Their site claims that these are “the pens that won´t let you down when you really need them.” That sounds great but doesn’t really say much as to why.
Well, first of all this is an ultra-durable pen. The plastic is thick and the metal nose is very substantial. It feels like it was made to withstand years and years of hard abuse from sugar-smacked school children. The cap snaps onto the front of the barrel with a thundering *CLICK* that is much louder and feels much stronger than any other pen I own. Sometimes I find myself having to use two hands to pull the cap back off–it’s on that tight. It has a very comfortable finger-grip with little holes cut out of it that help give the pen some extra traction during long in-class essays. An unexplained nub juts out from the upper portion of the grip and I have yet to find any reason for it being there. Stabilo products commonly use peculiar means to improve the user’s hand position so it may have something to do with that. Then there is this chart on the side:
The ink-viewing window running along the entire length of the pen has an infographic system to tell you how many pages you have left. How quintessentially German is that? The ink also lasts for an extremely long time and I have yet to break into the green ‘~80′ page section yet. In fact, the ink lasts so long that the Exam Grade ballpoint is sold as the “non-stop writing pen” in many parts of Asia. I’m not even sure why anybody would need this here in the United States for test taking, but if it’s useful in other countries, I can only imagine how intensive their exams must be.
Even more bizarre than the page-meter graphics is the way this pen writes. Then pen looks and feels like a normal ballpoint but there is something ‘exam grade’ about the way it writes. The tip is INSANELY smooth. Trying both back to back, the Stabilo actually feels just as smooth-if not smoother-than the free-gliding behemoth that is the Pilot Super-GP 1.6mm. I am not quite sure how the pen manages to be so smooth with only half of the rolling surface of the Pilot.
The ink is exceptionally dark for a standard (non-hybrid) ballpoint. The pen does have some minor issues with leaving white spots in your text but it generally performs better than other standard ballpoints in this respect. The strangest thing is the way the tip drags across the paper. It takes a relatively large amount of effort to get the ball rolling, almost as if the ball was moving through a more viscous oil than other ballpoint inks. The pen also needs to be primed more than most other ballpoints for this reason. This is the exact opposite of hybrid-ink ballpoints, which attempt to lower rolling resistance by changing the ink compound. Tiger Pens Blog says that the ink was specifically developed to work with scantron-type bubble tests. It is my understanding that pencils are usually required for these sort of testing systems because graphite is reflective and blocks light from getting through the bubbles (which are detected by a machine as marked answers). This may help explain why this ink is so dark and viscous, but please don’t go and try this on your next LSAT. I have not put this feature to the test and Tiger Pens is the only place I have seen that makes this claim.
While I do not use this pen for bubble testing (or any testing for that matter), I do find that the slower tip forces me to think more about what my hand is writing. I make noticeably less mistakes with the Exam Grade. Also, the drag keeps my spastic writing tendencies in check and doesn’t allow my lines to go flying out in all directions when I write. My biggest gripe with ultra-smooth ballpoints is the fact that I cannot feel the pen on paper, which causes my writing to be sloppier than it already is. I do not run into this problem here. I also really like the deep colors of this ink and the way it looks on the page. The colors are deeper and richer than any other ballpoint inks I have seen in this price range–and even outside of this price range.
I love these pens. They are very strange but I like strange pens so I am alright with that. I bought the blue one first and liked it so much that I picked up the black one as well. They do not look, feel, or write like any other ballpoint I have tried. Whereas many companies are trying to lower the resistance of ballpoint ink, Stabilo decided to increase it. They also put a chart to let you know how many pages you have left to write with–a feature so bizarre that it is almost comical. I could never picture myself taking a giant test and checking my ink window to see if is approaching the <!> range. I shutter to think about an exam requiring more than 80 pages in one sitting (no friggen way). While the Exam Grade ballpoints will always mystify me, I seem to gravitate toward them when I need a normal ballpoint. I’ve had friends try them and tell me that they are just as baffled as I am. This is by no means the best ballpoint available, and I’m sure many will find fault with it because the pen is just too different. I like different, and if you do too, I highly recommend giving the Exam Grade ballpoint a try.
I was stunned to spot them in a local stationary store in Westwood (Flax–a personal favorite). The woman at the counter said she has many Asian UCLA students buy these for school because they are very common pens in many parts of Asia. I can’t say that I am surprised–it’s a great pen. Thank you Stabilo, for providing the world with yet another unconventional design that breaks away from the norm. They can be had online from Tiger Pens.