Tag Archives: 0.5mm

Zebra M-301 (0.5mm)

3 Apr

This is a Guest Review by Ezekiel Golvin

Before I settled upon the Pentel Graphgear 1000 (review still forthcoming), I tried a couple different pencils. The Pentel P205, naturally, was one of those; it was constantly being raved about online. However, in Hyde Park, it was not available locally, which was a hassle, and Amazon textbook orders were so infrequent that the I was constantly forgetting to toss a new pencil in with the batch order. After becoming bored with the P205, I managed to find a local solution in the Zebra M-301 0.5mm pencil. It came in a two-pack, at a Walgreens, for five dollars. It is not a pencil without flaws, but at this price point, it is a surprisingly good pencil that can hold its own against the more pricey (and admittedly better-engineered) Pentel offerings.

Again, I want to take an opportunity to note that pencil reviews differ in some very significant ways from pen reviews. Since I replace all lead immediately with a consistent type and brand, this M-301 puts no different a line on the paper than my Graphgear 1000, which puts no different a line on the paper than a standard BIC crystal mechanical. Unlike pens, wherein inks differ both in type and formulation, my pencils will in general write identically under every scenario. This leaves the review to only cover constructed aspects of the pencil; I try my best to cover every aspect that I consider in a pencil over a long period of use.

One of the first things I noticed about the M-301 is that is a short pencil. Tip-to-non-retractable-tip, the M-301 is approximately 133mm long, as compared to the Graphgear 1000’s 148mm. It is also thinner on the barrel, a scant 8mm to the Graphgear’s 9.5mm. This leaves slightly less room for the hand when writing. However, the pencil is noticeably lighter. The metal aspects of construction on the M-301 are thin and lightweight aluminum, and as the pencil is approximately fifty-fifty plastic-metal, its heft is not substantial. I have never run into a problem of stamina while writing for a long time with the Graphgear 1000, but any burnout issues are almost certainly less likely to occur when using the M-301. Again, it is worth noting that the M-301 has a non-retractable tip; while this is something to be generally avoided in mechanical pencil, it is a sufficiently cheap and available pencil that I would not feel especially bad if it were to become bent. Unlike the Graphlet, I have seen the M-301 at a wide variety of local stores, and at approximately $2.50 per pencil (compared to $10.00 for the Graphlet) it does not sting the wallet.

There is, however, issue that arises from a pencil of such a short length. The clip at the top of the pencil, while providing a respectable grasp to whatever it has been clipped, is fairly long, and it will intrude upon your grip as you rotate the pencil to avoid a chisel tip from forming. This is a small annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless, and frustrations may grow as time spent with the pencil increases. It is not very difficult to remove the clip from the top of the pencil. The metal inside the plastic has a serrated edge, which grips the interior of the slit in which it sits reasonably well, but a strong series of pulls and wiggling will eventually dislodge it. As one may see, I have performed this action on one of my M-301s in the second picture below; it definitely improves ease of use, as the clip no longer moves into your hand as you write. Unfortunately, there is also a downside to removing the clip. While I have never personally used a clip on a pencil to keep it attached to paper or a pocket, it is exceptionally good at keep a pencil from rolling along a desk. Given the circular barrel of the M-301, once the clip has been removed there is only a small plastic nub at the top which prevents it from rolling away when placed on a less than flat surface. This is an issue I prefer to writing discomfort, though, and at this price point I think it is okay to let it slide.
Note the difference in clip areas below.
Writing with this pencil is fairly nice. The knurled grip, while entirely plastic and fairly smooth on the exterior, grips to the hand very well and provides a writing environment for a long period of time. I have had fewer problems keeping the M-301 stable than I have with the Graphlet, although admittedly the ingenious grip on the Graphgear 1000 provides the best hold of the bunch. The grip is also constant, unlike the Graphlet, allowing for that reasonable hold in a variety of different grips. The M-301 is a fairly flexible pencil; the pencil has a drafting tip which allows for fine tracing, and the cone that leads up to it is strong and stable and gives the pencil good lines. The M-301 is surprisingly handsome for such a cheap and available pencil; while a set of two is approximately the same price as a set of BIC crystal mechanicals, these are significantly better writing utensils and look the part. However, there are some overlooked areas of design. The 0.5mm labeling on the barrel is fine, but it does not beat the engraved 0.3 on the cap of the Graphlet, and whatever printing process Zebra used on the metal barrel of the M-301 left it vulnerable to scratching. After much time in a loose pencil bag, one may find an M-301 devoid of lead size labeling, which may be a problem. Additionally, there is no lead hardness indicator; this is not such a problem for me, since I exclusively use HB 0.5mm, but to others who might want to use the two different M-301s in the pack for different types of lead, this poses a difficulty.
The lead clutch on the M-301 is far better than one might expect from a two dollar pencil. While the advancement is not as fine as the Pentel mechanisms (approximately 0.9mm of advancement in the M-301, compared approximately 0.8mm in the Pentels in 0.5mm lead), it is very accurate, giving that same 0.9mm with every advancement of the lead. Note in the picture below the small difference in lead distance over five clicks of each pencil; the Zebra is shockingly well engineered. The clutch has nearly no cushioning, giving a very firm writing surface, and allowing for a very consistent and dark line. I enjoy a firm writing implement, and the M-301 is essentially as good as any Pentel in this department. I have never had an incident of lead slippage in the M-301, even after many quarters of vigorous note taking and many, many pages of dense writing and drawing. As a quick note, before I settled on a constant companion eraser, I did use the built-in M-301 eraser; it is exceptionally mediocre, and small, and good essentially only for fine cleanup of light lines. It is not up to the heavy task of erasing a large amount of writing, nor will it handle dark lead and a heavy writing hand very well.
Overall, I still prefer the M-301 to the P205. The metal casing is very good looking, and the constant barrel diameter, I think, suits the look of a pencil more than the swelling at the center of the P205. While there are a few flaws of the M-301, notably in the clip coupled with its short length, and its lack of firm lead size and lead hardness identifiers, they do not detract from a very good (and very cheap) writing experience. At $2.50 per pencil available at a large number of local stores, it is a fine addition to a collection and an excellent stepping stone from cheap BIC crystal mechanicals to the real world of great mechanical writing implements.
JetPens carries the M-301 if you want to buy it online: Zebra M-301 Stainless Steel Mechanical Pencil (0.5mm) 
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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.

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 

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.

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.