Posts filed under Guest Post

"I use a fountain pen older than my grandparents"

TWSBI VAC

(This is a guest post by Taylor Skidmore. You can find more from Taylor on his blog, Twitter, or App.net.)

This fall, I will be heading to college at Indiana University to study Informatics and Linguistics. As part of the tour, all prospective students participated in an icebreaker question: "What's a fun fact about yourself?" When I responded, "I use a fountain pen older than my grandparents," the response was exactly what you might expect from a group of 16/17 year old high-schoolers: utter confusion.

I've been using fountain pens on a relatively regular basis for two years now. I first discovered a pack of Pilot Varsities at Staples and fell in love with fine writing utensils. Since then, I've found myself with a Lamy Al-Star, a Pelikan m205, a TWSBI Vac700, an 'infamous' Noodler's Ahab, and an azure Parker Vacumatic. (As a student in high school, I've struggled to afford much more than that.) Although my collection is meager, I can't ever imagine going back to using those free BIC pens from hotel rooms. But using fountain pens at a rural, relatively low-income high school has lent itself to a few issues in my pursuit of the hobby.

"You Must Be Some Sort of Rich Momma's Boy."

Yeah. That's a reaction I've gotten when I use my Vac700 at school. And no, my parents have never bought me a pen. And no, I am not rich. This reaction, however, is not unique to fountain pens. I often get the same reaction talking about App.net, Spotify, and other recurring subscriptions with free alternatives. I just think my peers struggle to grasp the concept of paying money when you don't particularly need to do so; it baffles teenagers (or at least the ones I know).

I try to compare my purchasing of pens to another expensive hobby: video games. A number of my peers happily throw away $70 buying a new video game that offers 10 or 15 hours of playing time without a second doubt. A new TWSBI Vac700 runs for $80. In my honest opinion that offers a marginal price difference, especially when you take into account my peers who buy multiple games a month. On the other side of things, I do not buy pens every month, nor did I have to buy an expensive console to use my pens. Why is there such a large difference between the two?

"My $0.25 BIC Pen Works Just As Well."

Well, no, $0.25 BIC pens do not work as well, or at least they don't in my opinion. I struggle to explain why I just enjoy writing with fountain pens; it's nearly euphoric sitting down to write in my journal every night. I could say things like, "The words flow through my pen as easily as the ink," or, "I like all of the inks I can use, and the way I can change the thickness of the pen's line with the slightest pressure." In fact, I have tried to explain those feelings, and I'm almost immediately met with "Wow, that's dumb," or some other more colorful phrase.

Whether we like it or not, pens are becoming obsolete, especially fountain pens. It breaks my heart that I might not be able to open a sealed, hand-written letter and enjoy communicating with people I never would have without letters, but unfortunately, I think it's the reality of the matter, and most of my peers have never been exposed to anything other than Facebook on a variety of laptops and iPads, let alone the wonders of hand-written mail.

"Wow, that looks really cool!"

Reactions like these are few and far between. Some just like to see the ink slosh around in the barrel of my demonstrator. Others think the nibs are pretty, or the lines graceful. I ask if they'd like to write with it, and the answer is usually yes. I hand them my pen, and they gingerly take it from my hands as if it would shatter if they held on too tightly. They take some filler paper, scribble their name and hand it back, enjoying the isolated experience. Of the dozens of people I've let try my pen(s), only one enjoyed the experience enough to ask more questions about fountain pens.

I absolutely adore fountain pens, ink, paper, and even a high-quality wooden pencil or two. Most of the time, no one says anything about my pens, and when they do, my peers often look at me with confusion, completely oblivious to the wonders of such a simple technology.

Posted on May 8, 2013 and filed under Guest Post.

Guest Review: The X-pen

X-pen

(This is a guest review by Brian Draghi. You can follow Brian on Twitter @Sketchscape)

I’ve been a fan of the Hi-Tec-C pen explosion recently on Kickstarter. I have backed several of these pens with great results in each one. As much as I love using these type of pens, one of my favorite types of pens to use are felt-tip pens. Sharpie pens, Sakura Microns, and Pilot Fineliners are among these type of pens that I like to use. I like to classify them as hybrid pens since they are perfect for both writing and sketching. It’s a pen type that produces a bold dark stroke every single time. After seeing all the pens on Kickstarter, I wanted a felt-tip pen enclosed in aluminum or a more permanent body specifically made for these types of pens.

Once again I turned to Kickstarter and Minimal Duck which answered my wish with a project named X-pen. The X-pen is a felt-tip aluminum body that is compatible with both the Pilot Razor and Pilot Fineliner felt-tip pens. To say that this was right in my wheelhouse is a complete and total understatement. It’s probably the fastest I’ve backed a project on Kickstarter when I found it. The X-pen is a streamline wonder when I picked it up to hold. There were two versions of the pen that could be backed: a clear anodized finish or a electroless nickel finish. I went ahead and backed the clear anodized pen which showed off a nice clean finish. The anodized clear finish is not completely smooth as the body contains thin small rings based on how it was cut that make up the surface of the pen. These rings form small grooves to provide an ideal grip for the X-pen. It’s a subtle way to provide a grip without it being too noticeable.

X-pen

The weight of the X-pen is spot on perfect; enough weight to feel the quality but not enough to make it too heavy to use. Its ideal to write with without significant hand fatigue. The total length for the X-pen is just 4 inches which makes it great for pockets. The cap is also unique because it is attached to the X-pen with a strong magnet. I had some reservations about the strength of the magnet until I tried to remove the cap. Needless to say, the cap will not come off in a pocket without directly removing it yourself. When in use, the cap can either be set aside or you can post it on the back of the pen which is also attached by the magnet.

The process of installing the refill is aided by the design of the X-pen itself. The bottom of the pen contains a small hex set screw that needs to be removed to access the ink cartridge. The X-pen cap contains a hex head on the top that can be used to unscrew the hex set on the bottom of the pen to remove the ink cartridge. The existing cartridge can be slightly difficult to remove but you can simply tap on the bottom of the pen to loosen the tube enough to pull out. The X-pen can accept both Pilot Razor and Fineliner felt-tip pens which can be found in most office and art supply stores. Most pens just require a refill to install in the pen. The X-pen requires both the pen tip and ink cartridge from the standard plastic body to transfer to the X-pen.

X-pen

This install can be performed two ways; either with a pair of needle nosed pilers or using the pen tool that could be additionally backed with the X-pen. One side of the pen tool is used to remove the tip and cartridge from the Fineliner and the other side is for the Razor. The pen tool not only serves as a tool to remove the tip and cartridge, but it also can be used as a business card stand and bottle opener.

Despite the many positive features of the X-pen, there are also a couple of drawbacks here as well. The main problem with the pen is when you post the cap. The cap is not very securely held on the back of the pen. The cap is only being held on by the hex screw head on the top of the cap. The magnetic strength is decreased with only this surface area of the hex screw head being used. This causes the cap to shake and rattle when moved very quickly. This isn’t an apparent issue if you are simply writing and sketching but if you move very quickly, you could shake the cap loose if you're not paying attention.

Then there are those that prefer not to post caps which wouldn’t be an issue except for one minor problem. When the cap is posted, the pen rests at an ideal position on the cusp of your hand. Without the cap, the pen seems a little short especially if you have larger hands. I almost wish there was a way to screw the cap on the back of the pen. This would assure the cap would never fall off when posted and the length would be ideal for everyone to use.

X-pen

Despite this problem, the X-pen is a stunning aluminum body to use with a Fineliner or Razor. The quality is top notch and the magnetic cap is fun to play with. The nice portable size is convenient to fit comfortably in your pocket without taking up too much space. This is really for anyone that prefers to use felt-tip pens on a daily basis. This is something that I have been looking for as a permanent way to carry my felt-tip pen that will last a lifetime. It takes an existing product and makes it much more than it was before which can be shared and passed down to future generations.

I would like to thank Arash and Mehdi Malek of Minimal Duck for making such a stunning aluminum enclosure for the Razor and Fineliner pens. I look forward to any projects they plan to release in the future.

Posted on March 6, 2013 and filed under Guest Post, Pen Reviews, X-pen.

Guest Review: Sherpa Pen

(This is a guest post by Andrew Young)

I’ve had a Sherpa pen holder for a couple of years, but have not written a review of it yet. I recently purchased another one and decided to write it up.

First some background (from the Sherpa website):

The Sherpas are a well known community that have helped make history by guiding several adventure seekers to the top of Mt. Everest. Sherpas have the unique ability to withstand high altitudes and its effects. This community has acclimated itself throughout the years to the unusual conditions that occur while climbing a massive mountain. Just as the thrill seeking hiker needs a guide to climb Mt. Everest, the Sherpa pen guides your writing instrument to the next level.

Introduced in 2008, the Sherpa is a unique pen shell that holds a variety of disposable pens and markers including Sharpie, Pilot pen, uni-ball pens and Accent highlighters as its refill. Sherpa comes in many different styles for you to enjoy. Each Sherpa is designed with an innovative cap to keep the color of your marker or pen bold and fresh every time.

My first Sherpa was “Mr. Pinstripes” which wasn’t my first choice, but was on a close-out sale from Neiman-Marcus of all places. The Sherpas are ostensibly meant to hold the Sharpie markers, and they do ship with one included, but their real value lies in the other pens which fit the holder.

My favorites are the Paper Mate Liquid Expressos and the Uni-Ball Vision Elites. The Vision Elites are some of the smoothest rollerballs in the world, and available in many vibrant colors, in either F 0.5 mm or M/B 0.8 mm point. They also have airplane-safe / fraud-proof liquid ink. The Paper Mate Liquid Expressos a.k.a. Liquid Flairs are also available in many colors in either X-Fine or Med point.

The Expressos/Flairs are of particular interest because they are fiber-tip (aka felt-tip), which is my second favorite type of writing instrument next to fountain pens. My third favorite pen type is liquid ink rollers such as the Vision Elites. The fiber tip writes on all types of paper without hesitation or complaint, and has a smooth feel with gentle feedback. I use the X-Fine (needle) tip Expressos/Flairs usually in blue or purple, and their purple is a deep rich color, not too light like some of the violet colors around. I’ve found the tips to be robust and the ink supply long lasting. If you have a heavy hand you’d probably prefer one of the rollerballs, but if you’re a fountain pen user, the fiber-tip should not be a problem.

One consideration with the Liquid Expressos is they fit a bit better – less force to reinstall the section – if you trim about 1/4 inch off the end. (See picture) Perhaps this is the reason they’re not listed on the Sherpa site (although the identically-shaped Accent Liquid Highlighter is listed). They fit in stock form, but the small trim helps.

Midnight Sherpa disassembled, with my favorite “refills”

My new Sherpa is called “Midnight” and is all black. Given the durability of my 1st Sherpa after years in my pocket, I figure the stealthy black one will also hold up well. I know that durability of the matte black finish has been a concern on other pens such as the Pilot Namiki Stealth Vanishing Point, the Lamy Dialog 3, and the Monteverde Invincia Stylus, so time will tell how the Sherpa holds up. The surface finish is a satin matte black, with titanium-like polished accents at each end, the logo-ring, the section, and clip. So far I’ve only seen a bit of the clear-coat flaking off on the section, but the underlying color remains. This is probably due to clicking the cap on & off.

Sherpa Midnight

Recently at an art supply store I happened upon some fiber tip pens called Y&C Liquid Stylist, which nearly identical in size and ink to the Liquid Expressos (the caps are even interchangeable). The offer some alternative colors such as brown.

The construction is quite solid, with good weight and balance. The body and cap are brass. The grip section is plastic with a titanium-like finish, and there is a plastic insert in the cap which prevents ink evaporation and clicks nicely onto the section. That firm and smooth click adds to the overall sense of quality. There is a spring inside the main body which provides a bit of tension on the pen to accommodate slight differences in length and prevent rattling around.

Sherpa Midnight and Mr. Pinstripes

The grip section is ergonomically shaped for those who hold the pen close to the tip. Those who hold it further back, like me, will be on the logo ring and may find the pen a bit fat for prolonged writing. I adapt to it.

Overall this is a well-made and versatile pen, unlike anything else on the market. The price may seem a bit high for a Sharpie, but I think it’s fair if you consider it as a fine roller ball (Vision Elite) or fiber tip (Liquid Flair) pen. In some ways I think of the Sherpa as an economical alternative to the Parker Ingenuity pens with “5th Technology”. You get the convenience of a refill, the functionality of a plastic or fiber tip, but the pen and refills are small fraction of the price. 

Ink Samples

Posted on July 30, 2012 and filed under Guest Post, Pen Reviews, Sherpa.

Guest Review: Kaweco Liliput Al Fine Nib Fountain Pen

BD Kaweco Liliput Al 02


(This is a guest review by Ben Dahl. You can follow Ben on Twitter @TheBenDahl)


Between show reviews for Lost in Concert, posts for Cool Material and a general desire not to forget any brilliant ideas (upon reexamination most of them are anything but, but I wouldn'€™t know that if I didn'€™t write them down), my list of demands when it comes to pens includes everything but a jet fueled and waiting on the tarmac.


It has to be convenient enough that I won'€™t mind carry it all night, but durable enough to take a beating without it also serving as a paperweight. Reliable enough that I don't have to worry about turning it into a Shake Weight in the middle of a performance. Comfortable enough that I won't mind filling a few Field Notes with chicken scratch over the course of a day. Other bonuses include, but aren't limited to: not having a cap I have to hold and/or lose, not looking like a weapon (you'€™d be surprised how anal retentive security guards are), affordable and good looking. In other words, I'€™m asking for a lot in a single writing implement. When Brad suggested a fountain pen I thought he was crazy, but the Kaweco Liliput Al delivers.


BD Kaweco Liliput Al 07


The first thing everyone notices about the Liliput Al is its size. It'€™s tiny. Closed, it's about as long as a standard wallet and only slightly longer than a cigarette. With the cap screwed onto the end for writing purposes it'€™s barely longer than an iPhone. It fits into every place I can think of to put a pen: pockets, bags, pen slots, cups and office organizers. In fact, I'm having difficulty thinking of a place that this pen won't fit. That's fantastic, but it's also the only real flaw with this pen. If you're not careful, there's about a 75% chance you will lose this pen. It's ended up in the washer on more than one occasion simply because I didn'€™t realize it was still in a pants pocket. Obviously it'€™s tiny, but what about everything else?


In case a few trips through with the dirty laundry isn't enough of an inclination, the Liliput Al is built like a tank. The full aluminum body and stainless steel nib (F in this case) make it all but impervious to trips down stairs, being thrown at a wall (What? I had to test it!) and getting stepped on. I did everything short of running this thing over with a car and none of it even marred the gorgeous matte black finish.


BD Kaweco Liliput Al 10


You can beat it up however you want and nothing bad will happen, but there'€™s only one real way to write with it. If you don'€™t screw the cap on the back of the pen it'€™s about as comfortable and easy to operate as a stylus on a Palm Treo. It's as fun as Calculus so not at all. Once you put the cap where it belongs, though, writing is a breeze. There's no drag on the page, no tearing and no ink seepage. Once the ink's on the page, it doesn't bleed and dries quickly enough that you don'€™t have to worry about everything turning into a blob if you use a notebook that closes. It'€™s not beer resistant, but that's to be expected with liquid ink (standard cartridge).


All things considered, the Kaweco Liliput Al is a fantastic little fountain pen. I would happily spend $55 on one of these pens and recommend it to anyone looking for something a little out of the ordinary. You can take it with you everywhere without worrying about it, and you'€™ll always know it'€™s ready for service … as long as you don't lose it in your pocket.

Posted on May 2, 2012 and filed under Fountain Pens, Guest Post, Kaweco, Liliput, Pen Reviews.