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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


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.




Zebra Surari 3C Multi-pen (0.7mm)

27 Mar

The Surari 3c had so much potential to be great.  Zebra makes some very well built, standard ballpoint multi pens (such as the clip series) with comfortable grips and smooth actions.  Surari Ink, a hybrid ballpoint-gel ink, promises to deliver more smoothness and less skipping than a standard ballpoint.  Simple: put the two and two together and you have yourself an awesome multipen!  Well…

I’m not sure what they were thinking when they decided on this barrel.  It’s too fat.  If the pen had 5 or 6 interchangeable components then I would not have a problem with the width, but this has only three.  The tips rattle around in the nose-cone because there is some definite play where the tip is held in place when knocked.  Then there is the sliding mechanism, which ironically feels much worse than zebra’s other clip multipens that cost less (I’ll do a comparison in another post).  It jams when switching between colors, the springs are weak, and the whole system does not feel up to spec.  Slide the knock down on a Pentel Vicuña C3 and you will see what I mean.

Wasted talent. What a shame...

“But but,” I hear you all saying, “this is a Surari Ink multipen!  The barrel doesn’t matter so much as long as I have three awesome Surari colors in one pen!”  Well, this is the reason I bought the pen even though I didn’t like the barrel design.  I am a sucker for multipens and a Surari 3C was a rare bird I wanted to catch.  I hate to say this though (and I do not mean to bash all the Surari ink fans out there): Surari is the worst of the Japanese hybrid ballpoint inks.  I’ve tried many variations of the Surari cartridge in different colors, sizes, etc. but it has never quite stacked up to my personal favorite, the Pentel Vicuña or the gold standard of hybrid ink pens, the Uni Jetstream.  Though the ink is dark for the most part skipping is eliminated, there is quite a severe globbing issue here.  Please note, I am not one to care about globbing from pens.  I take it as a side-effect of ballpoint systems.  This is something far worse.  The red ink is amazing and the black and blue are ok but the pen globs so much that you can literally see strands of ink connecting the tip to the paper as you lift off (imagine Teenage Mutant Nina Turtle pizza cheese) and they come down wherever they want onto the page.

You can see the red glob strands leaving ink in the nose cone.

Now, I have a regular 0.7mm Surari Blue retractable pen with the same hyperglobular issue that I bought before this pen.  I was hoping that it was just a defect of the one I had.  Its beginning to look like the Surari ink is just stickier and messier than regular old grease ink.  I do use this pen sometimes and I get a kick out of it.  I love the red–its one of the best I’ve ever seen come out of a pen.  Had I known beforehand, I would have just purchased retractable red Surari.  I LOVE the barrel of the regular Surari’s too so I may do just that.  If you happen to adore the Surari ink or wide-body pens, then this may be the pen for you.  I, however, suggest getting a Vicuña or Jetstream multipen  over the 3c.

I really wanted to like this pen.  Here’s to hoping for a redesign!

JetPens has many variations: Zebra Surari Multi Series

Zebra F-701 Ballpoint

25 Mar

I always forget just how hefty this pen is until I decide to pick it up and write with it.  The F-701 is the top-end model in Zebra’s F-series of writing utensils that includes a huge cult favorite, the F-301.  Unlike the sensibly small and light 301, this thing is a behemoth to hold in one’s hand.  It is also (almost) completely made of metal, whereas the F-301 has a a plastic grip and other plastic bits.  The 701 is not just made with metal–it’s made with very thick and sturdy metal.

Just look at how wide the metal casing is!

The only metal piece that stands out to me is the plastic ring around the base of the knock slider.  This is not a complaint because I imagine it’s there to keep the mechanism from freezing up (metal on metal would be a difficult task to make reliable especially if one were in very cold temperatures).  The slider mechanism is dead silent and incredibly smooth, almost as if there was a miniature hydraulic cylinder instead of a spring.   Interesting that the pen is made in Indonesia because you wouldn’t have guessed from the build quality.

Made in Indonesia

The F-701’s ink is very average for a pen if you are comparing it to modern hybrid-ink ballpoints (such as the Jetstream Vicuña) or fancy Japanese ballpoints, but as an old-school greaser it performs fairly well.  The 0.7mm tip leaves a nice, thin line and the the pen has no trouble starting or stopping up.  Yes, there are some white spots in the text, the pen does glob quite a bit if you aren’t careful, and it needs quite a bit of pressure to write, but these are all standard qualities of regular ballpoints.  You should not be buying such a pen if you think any of these would be a deal-breaker. WARNING: if you have never used a pen or pencil with this type of knurled, hexagonal-patterned metal grip, you should definitely try to find something similar and test it out first.  It would be ideal if you had a friend that would let you try it out for a day–but even holding this type of grip in the store will tell you a lot.  Some people find these pens so painful that the grip renders the pen unusable for them (I’m looking at you, Alpha-gel/Dr. Grip fanatics!).  Others, such as myself, do not mind.  The pen’s grip and point area remind me a lot of my GraphGear 500, which has a very similar size and feel.  Zebra’s site hilariously claims that the pen has an “innovative textured steel grip”–they have been around longer than plastic pens (see  Staedler Mars models circa 1950’s).

Looks very much like a GraphGear 500 from the waist down

I highly recommend the F-701 if you like technical or drafting style writing equipment.  I do not think you will be disappointed if you can accept the less-than-exciting ballpoint ink.  Its incredible that they sell these pens in Staples everywhere, next to a sea stick ballpoints and cheap-o mechanical pencils.  I give Zebra a lot of credit for providing this kind divergence from the pen-norm at local office supply shops.  Great pen.

JetPens is currently sold out, but they tend to restock quickly: Zebra F-701