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Pentel PulaMan (fountain-felt hybrid)

3 Apr

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.

Bare boned. Classic Pentel looks.

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.

Alien pen technology.

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.

Notice how the top support beam is shorter than the bottom one.

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.

Different strokes for different folks.

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.

Ink flipping.

So much irony.

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.

Stabilo bl@ck Rollerball (fine)

30 Mar

Before I begin this review, I need to get one thing straightened away.  ‘Fine’ does not mean the same thing to German pen manufacturers as it does to Japanese manufacturers.  While both countries are known to produce high-quality products, the Japanese seem to obsess over minute fractions while Germans seem more concerned with sturdiness and overall performance.  If you need an analogy, think about a compact Japanese car versus a compact German car.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard people complain that Stabilo products (or other German-made pens) mislabel their tip sizes.  ‘Fine’ is a relative term.  If your definition of fine is a 0.18mm Signo Bit, this pen may seem more like a medium-broad point to you.  Those of you that have experience with fountain pens will recognize this issue as fine-point German nibs are much wider than fine-point Japanese nibs.  No side is right or wrong, it is simply a matter of opinion.

‘Fine' is only four letters put next to each other.

Phew, with that rant out of the way I will get on with this review.  This is an awesome rollerball!  The tip is buttery-smooth across the page, yet still gives a healthy dose of feedback to let your hand know that it is in fact writing something.  This green ink (my personal favorite color and favorite ink color) is simply gorgeous.  It’s a deep, forest-y green with just a touch of blue.  The ink also also leaves shading streaks in your text like a fountain pen ink would, which I think looks beautiful but some people prefer a more uniform color.

Love the shading within strokes.

Stabilo is a company that is known for their devotion to ergonomic designs and the bl@ck is no exception:  the body is perfectly contoured to the shape of my hand and the entire length of the pen is covered with a non-stick rubber.  Stabilo really succeeded with this particular design–I feel that some of their other models force you to conform to their ‘ideal’ position (inserting a pun here would be wrong) which is dictated (must. resist. pun.) by the body or shape of the grip.  Here, the entire pen is rounded and I can hold it comfortably in whatever way I please.

No need to conform to a dictat-...‘suggested' hand position.

The cap snaps onto the front and back of the pen with a nice ‘clunk’ akin to slamming the door shut of a mercedes.  This is an ink-heavy liquid rollerball pen so it will bleed and spread quite a bit on the wrong kind of paper.  For this test I used a Rhodia DotPad and the 80gm French paper soaked the ink in wonderfully and without any trace of bleed or show-through (must…resist…puns…).  If you can let go of your predisposed notions of ‘fine’ tips, you will not be disappointed with this finely-crafted German pen.  It writes wonderfully, comes filled with beautiful green ink, and is very comfortable to use.  I don’t think I’ve ever been let down by a Stabilo design and the company has always fascinated me because they really are a different type of pen manufacturer.  There is something delightfully funky about the way every one of their products look and feel.  Sometime in the future I’ll do a review of the mystifying Exam Grade ballpoint and a personal favorite, the pointVisco.

JetPens carries this pen in multiple colors as well as a wider, ‘medium’ tipped version: Stabilo Bl@ck series

OHTO Graphic Liner 005

29 Mar

The OHTO Graphic Liner is a very interesting pen.  I have yet to come across the G.L. for sale in the USA online but I saw this one at a Japanese bookstore and had to have it.  It is a pigment-ink graphic pen with a rollerball at the tip instead of the usual felt or plastic.  I’m really not sure why this pen doesn’t get much attention because it is truly a top-notch instrument.  If  a super-fine rollerball was crossed with a Sakura Pigma Micron, the end result would resemble something like the Graphic Liner.

Some of the finer points in life

I love the concept of a rollerball pigment-ink pen.  I get the same advantages that I would have with a Micron (near-instantaneous drying, no bleed, dark black, waterproof) but without the drag causes by a felt or plastic tip striking the surface of paper like a wooden match.  The tip moves freely in all directions, at many different angles, and has yet to skip on me.  005 here is the same as it would be on another pigment liner and the OHTO puts out an extremely consistant 005 line with minimal spreading–even with a slow writing speed.  Another pigment roller, the Pentel Hybrid Technica series, comes to mind when using this pen.  If you have ever used one of these Pentels, however, you know that they have a hybrid gel ink system and can take literally HOURS to fully dry.

Never do I ask myself "what size is this pen again?"

I personally think the body is a looker but I have a weird affinity for 70’s and 80’s retro designs (probably because I wasn’t around then).  The blaze orange on jet black pops and draws attention to the size clearly printed on the cap.  I can almost hear cheesy sound effects when I look at the white logo with its gradient lines that run underneath the text.

The barrel has no grip, just smooth plastic running all the way down the length of the pen.  If you have ever written with this sort of design (think Pilot Precise), you know what to expect.  The plastic, while smooth, isn’t slippery and actually adds a good bit of friction when your hand heats up.  While the cap doesn’t snap onto the back audibly when posted, it also doesn’t feel like its going anywhere on its own accord.  No need to worry about flying caps for you nervous pen-flickers out there.

The only drawback I can think of with the OHTO Graphic Liner (and I had to think hard) was the lack of a viewing window to see the ink levels of the pen.  Really though, what graphic pigment-ink pen has this feature anyway?  This is an inexpensive, highly efficient, enjoyable pen to use and I highly recommend it.  I can’t really speak for the larger tip sizes but I did try some of them briefly in the store and they performed very well.  Does anybody have experience with these pens?