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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.

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M&G Totoma (0.5mm)

1 Apr

I am not afraid to admit it: I buy pens and pencils on the spot because they make me laugh.  I really don’t need more of a reason than that to justify a pen purchase.  The totoma, though, didn’t just make me giggle; it brought joy to my heart and warmed my soul.  Calling the pen silly would be a gross understatement.  I dare you to show me a sillier pen (and please do show me if you can think of one).

Totoma the plastic tomato, ruling kindly over his paper domain.

For starters, it has a tomato for a cap.  Doesn’t it look smug?  Maybe its because it wears its stem-crown very casually like a tipped hat.  I’ve named him totoma the tomato, and let me tell you, he’s the best damn plastic-tomato-cap there is.  Then there is this guy:


What the f@#%....

WHAT THE F&*#!

I’m not even sure where to begin with this thing.  It seems to be a human…wearing an eggplant costume…with a long tail…looking awfully embarrassed and blushing.  I wonder which is more embarrassing: being in an eggplant costume or being in an eggplant costume with a tail?  I almost feel bad for the thing.  I’m sure he’s (or she’s or it’s) a good eggplant-man once you get to know him.  It gets better:

Simply amazing.

At the bottom of the pen are two little bottles…with animal faces…and leaves sprouting from their caps (!?).  Um, yes.  Don’t ask why, just accept it.  Maybe they are the hybrid offspring of totoma and eggplant-man, maybe they aren’t.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

The slogan ties it all together.  “Nutrition is abundant”.  All this time I thought nutrition wasn’t abundant–thankfully totoma cleared up this misconception.  I’m not exactly sure how an embarrassed man in an eggplant costume relates to the abundance of nutrition.  I hope the implication is not that we eat him.  Maybe thats why he looks so scared…  I think the more important question to ask is “what does this have to do with pens or writing?”  I do not have the slightest idea.  I prefer not to question such things when I get so much brilliance for just one dollar!  What I do know, however, is that this pen writes surprisingly well.

Pop off totoma and a sharp looking 0.5mm needle unsheathes itself.  Jotting a few lines down proves to be a very smooth experience for such a tip.  The ink is dark and dries quickly without bleeding or skipping, and the line is consistant.

One of these is the totoma, the other is a 0.5mm Hi-Tec-C.

I did a little comparison to see how similar the totoma is to a Pilot Hi-Tec-C.  Looking at the picture above, can you tell which pen drew which line?  Both are dark, smooth, consistant lines.  The top is the Pilot and yes, if you look very very hard you will notice that the ink is a smidgen darker than the M&G’s.

Hi-tec the serious versus totoma the silly.

Both tips are a very similar design.  The ball is mounted to three crimps pressed into the needle to reduce friction.  Here is a little diagram (taken from JetPens here) showing what this looks like up close:

The ball only has to make contact with three small points rather than the entire rim of the needle.

Alas, the totoma’s tip is not on par with its primary competitor from across the eastern sea.  It looks a little underdeveloped with no protective sleeve to keep it from bending.  I am not a tip bender so it doesn’t worry me but I know many of you have tip-bending issues.  The totoma is no Hi-Tec-C, but then again, the Hi-Tec-C is no totoma.  Sure the Pilot will slightly out-perform (ok maybe slightly more than slightly) the totoma, but does it have a man in a eggplant suit, or a tomato cap, or jolly looking bottle/plant/creatures?  I didn’t think so.  Plus, it only costs a dollar–chump change for such a masterpiece.  If you don’t yet own a single Hi-Tec or G-Tec then you should probably get that purchase out of the way before treading into totoma territory.  Perhaps, though, you Hi-Tec virgins out there would not be jaded by extreme Japanese precision and find even more joy in the totoma.  Either way, this is the sort of pen that some people look at and they know they must have it.  Others cannot handle the awesomeness that is TOTOMA!

Can you handle such greatness? That is for you to decide.

If anyone knows where to get this pen online, please let me know.  I found it randomly at a little stall in Koreatown.  One day I will go back and get the other version they had with a bottle for a cap instead of a tomato.

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.

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)