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Zebra 3-Color Ballpoint Face-off (Surari 3C [0.7mm] vs. Clip-On 3C G Series [0.7mm])

3 Apr

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.

Siblings reunited at last.

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 difference is obvious.

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.

Top: Surari, Bottom: Clip-On (all three tests)

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.

Why does the Surari's grip have to be so fat?

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.

Awful sliding clip vs. solid clip. Why does the top of the Surari look like it has been molded 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?”.

I don't even understand the purpose of this. Both pens came filled to pretty much the the same level, the Surari's just had extra empty plastic at the back end.

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.

JetPens carries both: Zebra Surari 3 Color Emulsion Ink Multi Pen – 0.7 mm – Clear Body and the Zebra Clip-On G Series 3 Color Ballpoint Multi Pen – 0.7 mm – Black Body

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MUJI Hexagonal Needle-tipped Gel (0.4mm), with a brief comparison to the Pilot Hi-Tec-C

31 Mar

I found a small slice of heaven when I stumbled upon the MUJI store near Bryant Park some time ago.  With a huge Kinokuniya bookstore just around the corner I thought the area couldn’t get any better but I was oh so very wrong.  Part of the store is dedicated to stationary, with shelves and shelves of paper products surrounding a giant array of MUJI-only writing utensils.  I had never even seen a MUJI pen or pencil in my life before that day.  Now I practically own an example of everything in the stationary section. I love each and every MUJI product in my collection and I have yet to find a dud in their lineup.  I promise you that there is no evil pen-pushing marketing team behind my excitement.

She's a looker alright.

Their hexagonal needle-tipped gel pen series was among the first of their products that I purchased (another was their incredibly sexy all-metal fountain pen which is one of my all-time favorites–I will surely review it soon).  I will state this right off the bat: the hexagonal gel needle-tip series is a fantastic line of pens.  They are simple, inexpensive, good looking, and reliable.  This green 0.4mm version is my favorite yet.  The ink is a vibrant lime green that matches the color of the barrel perfectly.  The entire hexagonal-cut barrel is coated in a soft, non-stick rubber material that adds plenty of traction when your hands are heating up.  Because of its shape and lightness, the pen feels much like a wooden pencil to hold–except much better.  These are all good qualities but they are not why I think this pen is so great.  Its the tip that makes the pen special.  I shall explain:

Left: Hi-Tec-C, Right: MUJI needle-tip gel

This is no Hi-Tec-C needle tip.  If you look closely at both the Hi-Tec’s and the MUJI’s roller tip, you will notice that these are two very different designs.  The Hi-Tec’s tip is reinforced with a sleeve about half-way up the needle, leaving the rest of the tip (made out of very thin metal) fully exposed.  Also, the Hi-Tec’s ball is held in place by crimping the barrel.  There are advantages to this design: the ball can spin more freely because it only creates friction at the crimped contact points rather than the entire socket, and ink can flow through the tip faster because it finds an easy path through these crimps.  There are, however, a number of disadvantages: the tip is weak and prone to bending, the ink can fall through the crimps at an inconsistant rate, and the pen loses feedback which would otherwise help improve overall precision.

Notice how thin the Hi-Tec needle is, even at 0.1mm larger of a tip size.

MUJI’s tip solves many of these problems and does so without damaging the overall writing experience.  The entire needle is reenforced and feels vastly stronger than the Hi-Tec’s weak structure.  Instead of stepping down in barrel sizes as the tip moves towards the ball, MUJI kept the tip thicker until the very end and essentially created a miniature arrow-point.  It is a fantastic compromise between the strong arrow-points of Uni Signos and the precise, free-flowing needles of Hi-Tecs.  It is not quite as effortless as a Hi-Tec and not quite as strong as a Signo, but it comes very close.  If you are one of those people that find yourself bending tips, you will find solace in such a sturdy design.

That archery-slit looking thing above the pen's nose is a little window to check if the ink is running low!

I own the same pen with a 0.3mm tip but I lose some of the MUJI’s effortless writing experience at the cost of precision.  Honestly, 0.4mm is already small enough for any type of writing or drawing that I find myself doing.  If you have experience with 0.4mm and 0.3mm Hi-Tec-Cs, you will notice that a similar feeling is lost (or gained, depending on preference) when the tip steps down 1/10th of a millimeter.

Only lettering on the entire pen.

The MUJI is only marked with a small number at the top of the cap to designate its size.  The rest of the pen is completely devoid of logos, branding, graphics, or anything else unnecessary for the pure experience of writing.  There isn’t even a MUJI logo in sight!  I love the minimalism of this utilitarian design.  The only thing that somewhat bothers me is that the cap is not completely secure when posted, but this has not become a problem in the many months I have used these pens.  I highly recommend the MUJI hex needle-tip gel pen to any fan of needle-tipped writing utensils.  MUJI had done a bang-up job of offering a simple, unique, and inexpensive product that performs exceptionally well.

You can get the pen online at MUJI’s site: GEL INK BALLPOINT HEXAGONAL 0.4MM 

Excuse me, can I ‘borrow’ a pen or pencil?

29 Mar

We have all been in this situation once or twice (or 2o0 times) in our lives.  We are trapped on a pen-less and pencil-less island and it’s the day of an interview, a big meeting with the board, or a huge exam.  We turn to our neighbor, our classmate, our fellow intern with that deer-in-the-headlights look in our eye.  “Can I borrow a pen or pencil? I owe you one!”  That huge meeting passes us by, that scantron has long been turned in, yet the free writing utensil has somehow found its way onto our desks and into our backpacks.  Don’t try and tell me it hasn’t happened to you.   

The veteran borrower (or one particular about his writing tools–but not particular enough to remember to bring one along) scans the horizon quickly.  Hmm… looks like there are a few BICs in a cup on the secretary’s desk… I know Molly always has a spare wooden pencil on exam days…

First, let’s go over what sort of selection we are looking at exactly.  You need to take your head out of the inky clouds if you think your boss is going to just lend you his vintage Cross desk pen he got as a Christmas gift four years ago (even if everyone knows he doesn’t ever use the thing).  In reality, we are usually looking at something like this:

The infamous assortment of rejects. They were probably 'borrowed' to begin with.

Ballpoints are a go-to pen for lending out to people.  They commonly come in packs of 144 and cost less per unit than tissue paper.  You would be hard-pressed to find yourself in an office or classroom without somebody offering to lend you a ballpoint.  Lets break down some of the most common giveaways/throwaways.

I love the smell of ballpoint ink in the morning. Smells like...desperation.

Cheap Japanese ballpoints, such as Pilot EasyTouch pens, are a huge score.  Apparently in Japan, cheap is not a code word for horrendous.  Go after these whenever possible.  I worked with a lefty intern who always had a box of Uni Jetstreams in his drawer because he would get ink on his hands otherwise.  The next step down is a BIC.  The BIC Crystal was an easy office favorite but I see less and less of these beauties as time goes by.  BIC Pro’s are pretty common but people get greedy with them because they have the word “pro” in them (that must mean it’s good right?).  The most common BIC is the roundstick and nobody is heartbroken to have one taken off their hands.  Beyond that you have branded ballpoints such as hotel or corporation pens.  These are a HUGE hit or miss, but if they are in the reject pile you should assume the ladder.  Avoid staples stick pens like the plague.  They leak, they skip, and they go dry really fast.  Only opt for a knock-off BIC stick as a last ditch method.

The ballpoints should have most of us covered, but there are times that call for an emergency pencil.  For example, scantrons require a #2 so many are faced with a pencil dilema (or lack thereof).  Let me break it down.

You can't deny that this all looks somewhat familiar.

BIC crystal mechanical pencils are everywhere.  People seem to get crates of them at a time.  A tried-and-true performer in the clutch but be careful not to put too much pressure on the tip–the lead will slip back into its sleeve under stress.  PaperMate Sharpwriters have a classic look and that old-school twist mechanism at the tip to feed out the lead.  Unfortunately, the lead is so cushioned (the word that got smudged in my written review) that the pen is extremely difficult to use properly.  There is a laughable amount of play between the clutch and the lead, allowing you to literary push the lead down and use the tension to launch the whole pencil off of your desk.  Staples’ BIC ripoff is awful.  The lead feeds out in huge quantities per click, the lead is brittle and breaks frequently, and the system allows more slip than any mechanical pencil should ever allow.  There are always good ol’ Ticonderoga wood-cased pencils or something similar, but remember: these need constant sharpening!  The situation can turn from OK to frantic in a split second when you realize that your pencil tip is just a stump of ceder and unusable without sharpening.  Unless you have sharperners handy (and if you are getting to this point I’m going to go ahead and say you don’t), opt for a mechanical when possible.

I threw that sharpie on there last because I know they are very easy to find around the office for signing boxes and other odd-jobs.  Sharpies are good for many things but general writing on crappy office-supply paper is not one of them.  On the Staples brand 50 cent notepad (used for reality’s sake), I was already bleeding through three layers of paper with an ultra-fine!  Imagine what a broad would do to this poor chinese-made paper.  It might just reach through the whole pad.

So there you have it, the official papericide guide to ‘borrowing’ pens and pencils.  Let’s hear about your borrowing or lending experiences in the comments section!

Face-Off: Pentel Sharp P205 vs. Dartz Smart Jedo

26 Mar

I love the Pentel Sharp P205.  It is built very well, reliable, comfortable, precise and everything else great about a Japanese drafting pencil.  I find the plastic to be much more comfortable to hold than a heavy knurled grip for any long period of writing and it also helps to keep the weight down.  The lead-extension mechanism is built to last.  It has a very linear feel, projects EXACTLY the same (~0.08mm) line, and never allows the lead to slip through its clutch.  Perhaps I am not the best judge because I am a bit obsessed with utilitarian designs, but I think the Sharp also looks fantastic.  It means business.  I can do anything pencil related with the P205, such as drafting, technical sketching, and writing.  It never skips a beat or lets me down.  Any time I am reaching for a pencil (which is admittedly not very often), there is a very high chance I grab the p205 over the rest.  Many of my pencil-loving friends agree that the Sharp is one of the best, if not the best, all-around mechanical pencils.  No, the tip does not retract into the barrel of the pencil and yes, the tip can get bent if you drop it.  This is a drafter’s pencil–it needs to be able to trace around objects with ease.  It would be nice to have a retracting mechanism such as the GraphGear 1000’s, but such luxuries would weigh the pencil down and add more bulk to the icepick-like design.  The P205 is so universally popular that many try and imitate the Sharp’s greatness…

Twins?

Enter the Korean-made Smart Jedo.  A sticker on the side claims that a company called “Dartz” makes this model but I have seen similar (and likely the exact same from the same factory) pencils made by Morning Glory and Dong-A, and a host of other Korean brands.  This Smart is the most interesting Sharp clone I have come across to date and at $1.25 I picked it up without hesitation.  Just look at that silly little oven-mit logo!  The dimensions and barrel are practically identical to the P205 as if it was cast in the same injection mold.  Unlike the smooth-plastic pentel, however, the Smart Jedo is coated in a matte, non-slip material.  The grooves are also cut deeper into grip, and the plunger-cap has been replaced with a lead-hardness dial.  I commend this “Dartz” brand (whoever they are) for attempting to update the design a little bit instead of merely copying the Pentel.

Lead-hardness dial 'upgrade'

Unfortunately, the Smart Jedo is no P205.  While the non-slip coating is a nice touch, the hardness window isn’t even lined up correctly and rattles around a bit when I write.  The lead-extension systems are night and day.  The Smart’s mechanism is imprecise and unreliable, sometimes shooting out too much lead (~0.5cm) and sometimes not extending any lead at all.  Here is what happens when you press the knocks down 5 times in both pencils:

This is usually what happens. Sometimes the Smart's lead is even longer, or much shorter than the P205's (which remains exactly the same length every time).

I certainly cannot call the Smart Jedo a bad pencil.  On the contrary I actually rather enjoy using it.  The non-slip material works very well and is comfortable in the hand.  The lead does not slip back into the barrel as far as I can tell.  But when comparing the original Sharp to the Smart, I have no choice but to notice the obvious flaws form the first click of the plunger.  It feels cheap, flimsy, and imprecise whereas the P205 feels sturdy, precise, and has a mechanism that would be welcomed in far more expensive pencils.  If you ever happen to be in Koreatown or some other Korean marketplace (or Korea…) and have some change to spare, I would say go for it.  I did, and I think it’s a fun little pencil.  If you want a workhorse, save your money and get a P205.

Note: I used the included leads for both pencils.  The Smart’s lead feels softer than HB and is more prone to breaking than Pentel’s lead.  Easy fix though.