Tag Archives: ballpoint

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

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)

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!

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