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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.

Pentel Graphlet 0.3mm

27 Mar

This is a Guest Review by Ezekiel Golvin

An advantage of being past grade school is being the master of my domain, with respect to school supplies. With college came paper and pencils on my own terms, and after four years my opinions have become sufficiently developed to give to others. This is a review of the Pentel Graphlet in 0.3mm from the perspective of a mathematics student who takes copious notes and does the occasional doodle.

To begin with a disclaimer, my pencil use is mildly unusual. In my past two years of note-taking, I have not ever used the onboard eraser on any of my mechanical pencils (to which eraser I entrust the job to will come as a later post). I immediately throw away any lead that comes in a pencil and replace it with the suitably sized HB lead, almost always Pentel Hi-Polymer Super HB (although Uni HB NanoDia lead has recently been given a shot at the big time). I hold my pencils rather unusually, which will be explained further down. These aspects color my review, and as such one’s mileage may differ from mine.

The Pentel Graphlet is one of the better Pentel offerings. Personally, I have never been taken by the hype of the Pentel P205; while the mechanisms of the pen are quite good, I find the styling dull and the all-plastic body a bit low-rent. It is certainly not a bad pencil; I just consider any mechanical pencil better than the P205 to be a “good pencil.” The Graphlet is a good pencil that brings along many of the features that (apparently) make the P205 so popular, such as incredibly consistent lead advancement (in very small, approximately 0.08mm distances) and no slip in the clutch.

One aspect the Graphlet maintains from its younger brother is a non-retractable tip. This is a risk that I personally do not care for at ten dollars per pencil; however, I understand that the inclusion of a retraction mechanism would add bulk and size to this quite svelte (0.8mm diameter) and handsome pencil. The tip design is quite lovely, too; I love the discrete step from the fine tip that expands to a metal cylinder to the body of the pencil. The pencil, as stated, is quite easy on the eyes. While admittedly the brown finisher on the end of the pencil is not the ideal color, the smokey gray barrel complements the silver accents very well.

The grip is where I and many others have a departure of opinion. I hold my pencils very close to the tip; upon inspection, my normal writing style places half of my pointer finger and thumb below the bottom of the knurled metal grip. I find that in humid environments (or when my hands are otherwise not entirely dry) this may cause some small but uncomfortable slipping of the pencil. Naturally, this directly follows from my odd hand placement. An acquaintance who holds the pencil slightly higher than I remarked that the knurled portion of the grip makes for quite a good hold. However, the knurled portion only makes up about two-fifths of the total grip length; readers of this post with high writing grip will almost certainly find the un-knurled section of the grip problematic to consistent writing. The Graphgear 1000 (also saved for a later review), pictured above the Graphlet, provides a much larger usable grip area. Another small note to make here is the fair ease of adjustment to the lead hardness indicator; unlike on the Graphgear 1000, the pencil does not threaten to unscrew on occasion when the lead hardness needs adjustment, nor does it twist after a long period of writing.

The brown plastic cap at the top of the Graphlet indicates that the pencil is of the 0.3mm lead size; the large, white “.3” printed on the cap is both easy to see and feel (it’s carved into the plastic). On the Graphgear 1000, the metal cap only had a sticker indicating its lead size, which I promptly removed because it ruined the looks of the pencil. I enjoy small touches like this, and I think Pentel chose a wonderful font both here and on the barrel’s labeling. The clip portion is also sufficiently far from the grip that I never have it pressing into my hand, no matter how I rotate the pencil, which is another aspect of a pencil that I think is very important.

Onto the writing. This 0.3mm-style pencil is a new purchase for me; I have long adhered to 0.5mm for general notetaking and drawing, as its versatility is fantastic and the lead is the proper mixture of fine lines and sturdy structure. On the left of the above picture is a homework assignment done in 0.5mm, and on the right are notes in 0.3mm. The 0.5mm is darker, which is largely due to the fact that I am less confident in my ability with the thinner lead. In 0.5mm lead, I broke the tip once every week or so; in 0.3mm, that frequency is increased to once per two days, which is still not extremely high but it does make me more wary of pressing more firmly into the paper. However, I absolutely am a big fan of how fine the 0.3mm line is; my notes have rarely looked cleaner, and this is after a comparatively short time using a lead this size. One final note: on regular paper, this Uni HB lead feels slightly scratchy; my guess is that this is due to the size of this lead, the tip forms a chisel point more quickly and as such the pencil must be rotated with a higher frequency. I imagine that as I continue to use this pencil the more frequent rotations will occur on their own and this problem will eventually disappear.

In summary, Pentel has a very good pencil in the Graphlet. However, the Graphlet’s charm is insufficient to dethrone my personal favorite pencil, the Pentel Graphgear 1000 in 0.5mm; the Graphgear has many more features that I like in a mechanical pencil and was only two dollars more. Do not let this dissuade one from a Graphlet purchase, though. If the Graphgear 1000 were an A-grade, the Graphlet is almost certainly a B+. Additionally, I have heard that Pentel is planning on discontinuing the Graphlet line, and since I consider this pencil to be superior to the P205, I highly recommend the Graphlet in its stead before it goes the way of Tyrannosaurus rex.

The Graphlet can be purchased online through JetPens

Pentel Graphlet Series

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.