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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 

Pilot Super-GP/BPS-GP Ballpoint (1.6mm)

30 Mar

The Pilot Super-GP 1.6 serves as a reminder that there are fat ballpoints, and there are F-A-T ballpoints.  At a monstrous 1.6mm, this titan is the widest ballpoint pen that I have ever come across and is more than double the width of a standard 0.7mm ballpoint!  How big is 1.6mm? Here is a little size comparison:

Makes the 0.7mm Surari look minuscule.

The Super-GP’s tip seems even more humongous when compared side-by-side with a standard 0.7mm ballpoint.  Unfortunately, such a huge increase in the ball’s diameter means it has to travel much farther to make a full rotation in its socket.  The ball is coated with a fresh layer of blue oil when it cycles back into the underside of the socket and is only able to ink the page when the rotation has completed.  This translates into one thing: skipping, and copious amounts of it.  Everywhere.  If you aren’t drawing straight lines, the Super-GP’s blue streak will be riddled with blank white spots.  Dotting periods at the ends of sentences, for example, is extremely difficult with this pen because the ink is not given a chance to coat the business end of the ball yet.  Even worse, the pen’s very bold line makes skipping more pronounced and easier to see on the page.

River of blue ink is riddled with white spots where the ball has skipped.

There is another, altogether more desirable side-effect of such a large ball: extreme, unimaginable smoothness.  This pen is so smooth that it feels like it is gliding a tenth of a centimeter above the paper.  There is absolutely no feeling transfered from the tip to your hand.  If you weren’t already aware, you would not even know that you were writing with a pen.  It feels more like dragging a twig through soft jello (well it might–I have never actually done it).

Glider.

The Super-GP does have a very comfortable grip and is a well-balanced utensile.  The blue ink is nice and dark and it compliments the bold line well.  I cannot, however, find any other reasons to own this pen than the sheer novelty of it.  That is not to say the pen would be useless for everyone, but for me to be able to use a ballpoint as an actual writing tool, I prefer (require, rather) less skipping and more feedback from the tip.  It quickly becomes frustrating when you can’t dot i’s or put periods on anything.  I would be curious to see if any company releases a hybrid-ballpoint with such a wide tip in the future.

JetPens carries this grease-spewing monster online: Pilot BPS-GP 1.6mm Ballpoint   (Theirs has a slightly different name but the pen is the same)

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!

Pilot Hi-Tec-C Coleto 4 Multi-pen System

27 Mar

The Pilot Hi-Tec-C Coleto is a modular multi-pen system that allows the user to choose from any number of Hi-Tec colors and size, as well as an option for a mechanical pencil or an eraser.  The Coleto body comes empty and the refills are sold separately to allow for personalization.  In my own Coleto 4 I have a green, sky blue, brown, and dark blue refill all in the 0.5mm size.  The 0.5 and 0.4mm Hi-tecs are my favorite because they are still incredibly smooth–the 0.3mm and down start to get a little scratchy on regular paper.

Huge selection of colors and tips to choose from

All four colors are amazing!  I especially love the brown which has a rather purplish hugh under direct light.  They ink up the page flawlessly and work just as well as a larger, standard Hi-Tec refill.  If you are familiar with the slim-knock models, you will recognize the shorter tips.  I have not had any start-up problems to speak of.

Perfect shape for a multi-pen

The body matches the refills in terms of quality and performance.  The grip is subtle yet comfortable: there are color-matching strips of blue rubber that run down the lower end of the pen that add comfort during long writing sessions.  With 4 refills in place, the entire pen weighs very little and feels very solid.  There are also some nice details in the design, such as a cut-crystal look in the plastic of the nosecone.

No play at the tip!

Although the springs are a little weak, the tip snaps firmly into place and there is absolutely no play between the refill and the body.  A common problem with multi-pens (such as the previously reviewed Surari 3c) is that they move around a bit at the point because the tips must be able to reach through the end of the body via four different angles.  The Coleto does not have this problem whatsoever.

Easy to swap out refills!

Swapping out refills is a breeze, thanks to a hinged door at the top of the pen.  Once the door is flipped open, you can easily access the old refills and slide in new ones–without having to unscrew anything.  Also, each refill has its own slide knock that matches its color and has the tip size listed.  This is an extremely user-friendly multi-pen and I can tell a lot of effort was put into the design to make it fun and easy to use.  The pen does go through refills very quickly (like all Hi-Tecs) but I still feel this is a small price to pay for this kind of awesome performance.  I highly recommend the Coleto for anybody who likes pens!  There are so many color and size options that you are bound to find a combination that suits your writing or drawing style.

I got my pen from a local Japanese bookstore, but the pen can be purchased online through JetPens.

Bodies

Refills

 

Pilot Hi-Tec-C Grip (0.5mm)

24 Mar

Many people consider the Pilot Hi-Tec-C to be one of the best (or in many cases THE best) pens on the market today.  Online reviewers rave about the pen and they quickly sell out at my local shop.  But what makes this simple writing tool so special?

First of all, the ink is fantastic.  I forgot to mention in my written review that it dries almost instantly and does not bleed through any paper I have tested it on.  The black is dark-as-night and flows onto the page with buttery-smooth ease.  The barrel of the pen, while simple, looks quite nice to me and makes me feel like some kind of Japanese scientist.  This version has a hard-rubber grip akin to the Pilot G-2 and allows me to write comfortably through the longest of marathon note-taking sessions.  The cap snaps securely onto the front and back of the pen with a very satisfying *CLICK*, whereas many similar pens have caps that sit precariously on the end and fly off when I nervously spin the thing while I think (or worse, take an exam).

Simple but effective

The inking system is what really sets the Hi-Tec-C apart.  The needle tip is extremely precise: lays a consistant and skip-free line very smoothly, but not so smooth that it eliminates feedback (*cough* fat ballpoints *cough*).  I have heard about people bending the tips but I have thankfully never run into this problem, nor have I met anybody in person who has complained about this phenomenon.  My guess is that some people are just pushing way too hard when they write.  Sometimes the ball does need to be primed a little to get the ink flowing but the 0.5mm tip eliminates this problem entirely.

Destructive paper-wasting menace of a tip

So, does the Hi-Tec-C live up to its immense reputation?  Yes, without a doubt.  I own this pen in many sizes, barrel variations, and ink colors which I will definitely review in the future.  The only drawback to the Hi-Tec series is the pen’s disappearing ink supply which goes so fast that it baffles the mind, and the refills are hard to come by.  Here in the USA, however, the same pen (grip-less version) is sold as the ‘G-Tec-C’ and these can be a little easier to find if you aren’t looking for colors besides the standard blue, black, or red.

Great pen, and the standard which many other pens are judged.