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Stabilo Exam Grade Ballpoint (Medium)

31 Mar

Stabilo’s products are unique to say the least.  They make a huge attempt to create more user-friendly and comfortable products, but it often results in very strange looking designs.  The Exam Grade ballpoint is a shining example and is one of the more bizarre pens I have ever owned.

What could "Exam Grade" possibly mean?

I was fascinated by this pen from the moment I discovered it on Stabilo’s website.  How can a ballpoint be made ‘exam grade’?  Is it a marketing gimmick or is the pen actually better for exams than other writing utensils?  Their site claims that these are “the pens that won´t let you down when you really need them.”  That sounds great but doesn’t really say much as to why.

Unexplained nub...?

Well, first of all this is an ultra-durable pen.  The plastic is thick and the metal nose is very substantial.  It feels like it was made to withstand years and years of hard abuse from sugar-smacked school children.  The cap snaps onto the front of the barrel with a thundering *CLICK* that is much louder and feels much stronger than any other pen I own.  Sometimes I find myself having to use two hands to pull the cap back off–it’s on that tight.  It has a very comfortable finger-grip with little holes cut out of it that help give the pen some extra traction during long in-class essays.  An unexplained nub juts out from the upper portion of the grip and I have yet to find any reason for it being there.  Stabilo products commonly use peculiar means to improve the user’s hand position so it may have something to do with that.  Then there is this chart on the side:

How very German of them.

The ink-viewing window running along the entire length of the pen has an infographic system to tell you how many pages you have left.  How quintessentially German is that?  The ink also lasts for an extremely long time and I have yet to break into the green ‘~80′ page section yet. In fact, the ink lasts so long that the Exam Grade ballpoint is sold as the “non-stop writing pen” in many parts of Asia. I’m not even sure why anybody would need this here in the United States for test taking, but if it’s useful in other countries, I can only imagine how intensive their exams must be.

Looks can be deceiving. This is not an ordinary ballpoint pen.

Even more bizarre than the page-meter graphics is the way this pen writes.  Then pen looks and feels like a normal ballpoint but there is something ‘exam grade’ about the way it writes.  The tip is INSANELY smooth.  Trying both back to back, the Stabilo actually feels just as smooth-if not smoother-than the free-gliding behemoth that is the Pilot Super-GP 1.6mm.  I am not quite sure how the pen manages to be so smooth with only half of the rolling surface of the Pilot.

Mind-boggling pens.

The ink is exceptionally dark for a standard (non-hybrid) ballpoint.  The pen does have some minor issues with leaving white spots in your text but it generally performs better than other standard ballpoints in this respect.  The strangest thing is the way the tip drags across the paper.  It takes a relatively large amount of effort to get the ball rolling, almost as if the ball was moving through a more viscous oil than other ballpoint inks.  The pen also needs to be primed more than most other ballpoints for this reason.  This is the exact opposite of hybrid-ink ballpoints, which attempt to lower rolling resistance by changing the ink compound.  Tiger Pens Blog says that the ink was specifically developed to work with scantron-type bubble tests.  It is my understanding that pencils are usually required for these sort of testing systems because graphite is reflective and blocks light from getting through the bubbles (which are detected by a machine as marked answers).  This may help explain why this ink is so dark and viscous, but please don’t go and try this on your next LSAT.  I have not put this feature to the test and Tiger Pens is the only place I have seen that makes this claim.

Very opaque, thick ink.

While I do not use this pen for bubble testing (or any testing for that matter), I do find that the slower tip forces me to think more about what my hand is writing.  I make noticeably less mistakes with the Exam Grade.  Also, the drag keeps my spastic writing tendencies in check and doesn’t allow my lines to go flying out in all directions when I write.  My biggest gripe with ultra-smooth ballpoints is the fact that I cannot feel the pen on paper, which causes my writing to be sloppier than it already is.  I do not run into this problem here.  I also really like the deep colors of this ink and the way it looks on the page.  The colors are deeper and richer than any other ballpoint inks I have seen in this price range–and even outside of this price range.

Logo detail molded into the cap.

I love these pens.  They are very strange but I like strange pens so I am alright with that.  I bought the blue one first and liked it so much that I picked up the black one as well.  They do not look, feel, or write like any other ballpoint I have tried.  Whereas many companies are trying to lower the resistance of ballpoint ink, Stabilo decided to increase it.  They also put a chart to let you know how many pages you have left to write with–a feature so bizarre that it is almost comical.  I could never picture myself taking a giant test and checking my ink window to see if is approaching the <!> range.  I shutter to think about an exam requiring more than 80 pages in one sitting (no friggen way).  While the Exam Grade ballpoints will always mystify me, I seem to gravitate toward them when I need a normal ballpoint.  I’ve had friends try them and tell me that they are just as baffled as I am.  This is by no means the best ballpoint available, and I’m sure many will find fault with it because the pen is just too different.  I like different, and if you do too, I highly recommend giving the Exam Grade ballpoint a try.

I was stunned to spot them in a local stationary store in Westwood (Flax–a personal favorite).  The woman at the counter said she has many Asian UCLA students buy these for school because they are very common pens in many parts of Asia.  I can’t say that I am surprised–it’s a great pen.  Thank you Stabilo, for providing the world with yet another unconventional design that breaks away from the norm.  They can be had online from Tiger Pens.

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