Posts filed under Pilot

The Pilot Explorer, Revisited

(Jeff Abbott is a regular contributor at The Pen Addict. You can find more from Jeff online at Draft Evolution and Twitter.)

The Pilot Explorer is one of those pens that we've probably all seen if we were of writing age through the 80s and 90s. From what I remember, it was an easy pen to find in the day. Any big box retailer that sold pens probably had the Explorer on the shelf, and probably also sold it in boxes of a dozen if that's the kind of thing they were into.

But today, alas, the Explorer is a dying breed. These pens are seriously difficult to come by. Unless you have a personal stash, know someone with a personal stash, or come across some at an auction or random store, you're pretty much out of luck. From what I've seen, there aren't any retailers that knowingly stock this pen.

That being said, why does it matter? Why should a discontinued pen be something we talk about? Well, it's a unique, quirky design for a pen, but it's also one heck of a writer. Yes, there are many, many pens that can out-perform, out-class, and appeal to larger groups, but this is acknowledging something that was a great product that vanished for unknown reasons. We're reliving the glory days, man! "I lived through the Explorer era — you know, before they were famous and celebrated." If that's you, you know exactly what we're talking about.

More importantly, this is one of those pens that excelled over the standard offerings in the retail stores at the time. This is pre-Signo 207, and I'm pretty sure pre-Pilot Precise days, so you can imagine what else you had to choose from at the stores. That's right — Bics and PaperMates. Ick.

Anyway, by today's standards, this pen doesn't win any awards, but it's still a well-performing pen that can keep up with the best of the retail offerings out there today.

Look and feel

This is probably the category that will polarize the most people. Two things: it has a grip style built into the body, so if you use a "non-standard" grip, it might be uncomfortable or unusable for you. Second, it has a unique look that people either love or dislike. I kind of lean toward the dislike fence, but view it more as an ugly duckling. This bad boy paved the way for other well-functioning but better looking pens.

The pen is fairly light, which makes it comfortable to use. Lucky for me, I use a fairly standard grip when writing, so this feels right at home. One thing I've noticed with this pen and refill is that you have to use a light touch when writing. If you start pressing down at all, it will dig into the page and get scratchy really quickly.

The knock has a really nice click sound when you click it down or release it with the integrated clip. For being a pretty cheap pen in the day, it's built really well. I don't know if they're refillable, but I'd feel pretty safe guessing that they're not. I'm sure some people could figure out a way to refill them, but it's not easy. I mean, Pilot put the pen together at some point, so it's only logical that you could take it apart without destroying it.

Writing

Like I said before, and like you can see in the pictures, this pen has a suggested grip for writing. If you use that grip, then that's great. If you don't, well...let's hope you can work around it. Just like Lamy, the Pilot Explorer is pretty opinionated on the grip topic. Once you get past that, you realize that this pen writes really well. The ink flow is great, but not too wet, and the lines are dark yet crisp. On different papers, I haven't noticed much (if any) feathering or show through.

The blue in this pen is extremely dark for a stock blue. It looks more like a blue-black to my eyes. The writing experience with this pen reminds me of using a Pilot Precise V5, which is a very good thing.

Conclusion

The Pilot Explorer is a fine pen. It writes really well, and it feels good in my hand. If I could buy these off the shelf today, they'd be high in my list of "best pens you can buy from big box retailers." Instead, it's now a treasure item that people stumble upon in random places, which has its own merits and rewards.

Growing up, it wasn't uncommon to find these pens lying around in a parking lot, at the bottom of a locker, or attached to a clipboard that someone gave you to fill out insurance paperwork at an office. It was ubiquitous. And then, for some unknown reason, Pilot decided enough was enough. It was an unwise decision, and one I hope they rectify at some point in the future. Great pen, great refill.

Posted on August 5, 2015 and filed under Explorer, Pilot, Pen Reviews.

Pilot Futayaku Double Sided Brush Pen Review

(This is a guest post by Nick Folz. You can find more of Nick and his work on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.)

Here is the crux of my problem with brush pens - they are the imperfect imitation of an attainable thing. They are a cover band. They are the movie version of a beloved book. They are turkey bacon. They are not brushes, they are barely brush-like.

The problem with every felt tip brush pen I have ever used is the lack of "snap" or "spring." Sure, a real brush can be a bit unforgiving at times, but it's worth it for that je ne sais quoi when the ink meets the page and line thickens right where you want it too and as the brush lifts and the tip flicks back to its original shape leaving a line tapered to perfection like a wisp of smoke. Sweet ink bliss.

So, now you know how I feel about this sort of thing. This is a review of the Pilot Futayaku Double Sided Brush Pen. It's tips are felt. Hold on to your butts.

When I picked this thing up I didn’t want to compare it to a brush. I really didn’t. Promise. I figured that I would end up aggravated, so I wanted to take my own advice and treat it as something else. A tool, which it is. A tool that knows it's failures and has a built in compensation. In that way it ceases trying to be an imitation and embraces the functionality it does have.

This pen has, you guessed it, two tips. One large, one small. The small side's largest line width is precisely the thinnest of the wide side. They meet in the middle. The difference between to the two tips is so perfectly divided that it leads to an amount of flexibility I’ve not found in another felt tip brush pen. I know that it sounds lazy, but flipping the pen to use the other side is so much better than stopping to dig for another pen.

It has double caps; one for each side and the large end cap has a clip. You can switch cap sides, the large cap fits the small side and vice versa. The caps also nest within one another, so you can always fit the one on top of the other side you aren't using, stacking two caps on one end. This seems like a no-brainer, but so many dual pens do it wrong or poorly. The pen isn't unwieldy long either. It is lightweight, but not so much that it’s thrown off when one side has both caps.

Ink delivery is smooth and consistent. About a 4 second dry time and you are safe to touch the paper. This helps when re-positioning your hand over previously laid lines to use the other side of the pen, which is great because that is exactly how I was using this pen. The dual nature of the pen works wonders with my workflow and felt like it was the antidote to my problems with other brush pens.

I stopped expecting to get the variance of line width that a real brush would give me and leaned into the predictability of the line widths and their limitations. The damn pen has two tips, make sure you use both. The lines are easier to control and leave a smoother stroke, where sometimes a brush will echo the minor shakes of my hand. In that respect, it actually trumps a brush in performance. This pen could be a more forgiving alternative, not replacement, to a brush. Now, it didn't disappear in my hand like I was suddenly communicating directly to the paper as ink incarnate, like I sometimes feel with brushes (we've all been there, am I right?). But it was like using a well-made tool whose makers understood the limitation of what the tool was and perfected it because of that.

The Futayaku is available at JetPens and is well worth dropping one on your cart to have a new pocket friend ready to ink up a page.

(Disclaimer: This product was provided for me free of cost but I am not otherwise being compensated for this review. The opinions contained are my own.)

Posted on July 30, 2015 and filed under Brush Pen, Pen Reviews, Pilot.

Pilot Custom Heritage 912 with FA Nib: A Review

(Susan M. Pigott is a fountain pen collector, pen and paperholic, photographer, and professor. You can find more from Susan on her blog Scribalishess.)

The Pilot Custom Heritage 912 is not a particularly remarkable pen on the outside. It is black resin with rhodium-plated rings at the juncture of the grip and barrel, at the bottom of the barrel, and at the top and bottom of the cap. The clip is unadorned, and the only branding is on the cap ring which says "Custom Heritage 912 Pilot Japan."

The 912 comes with a CON-70 push-button converter that holds a good amount of ink (0.6 ml). I much prefer this to Pilot's other converters, but I will say this one is tough to clean thoroughly. You have to flush it repeatedly, and the ink tends to get caught in the nooks and crannies of the converter.

It is a light pen, weighing in at only 25 grams. The length is comfortable posted (6.18 inches) or unposted (just under 5 inches).

What makes the 912 shine is the 14K rhodium-plated FA nib (you can, of course get the pen with other nibs). The FA nib (short for Falcon) has cutouts that look like wings.

This design allows the nib to flex when the writer applies pressure to it.

Unlike a Soft Fine nib, which is simply less firm and offers no flex, the tines of an FA nib actually spread, giving that coveted line variation so many writers love.

You can also write normally with the FA nib, and it has a lovely spring to it.

My 912 worked perfectly out of the box. I inked it with Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-budo, and I spread the tines as far as I dared. The ink flowed perfectly and the nib floated on the paper. However, when my bottle of Montblanc Blue Hour arrived, I tried it with the 912. Boy, was I disappointed. The nib railroaded almost immediately. I tried priming the nib, forcing more ink down, but nothing worked.

Wondering if this was a problem with the ink or the nib, I experimented with several different inks. You can see the railroading with Blue Hour, but none of the other inks caused any problems.

I read on some other blogs that the FA nib works best with Pilot inks, but I tried several different brands and they all worked fine. In fact, I tried Blue Hour again after all my tests and suddenly it worked perfectly. I can't explain this. Maybe by the time I tried Blue Hour again, the nib and feed had been flushed so many times they were able to handle a drier ink.

Still, Yama-budo is my go-to ink for this pen. It is such a happy color (it forces me out of my blue ink rut), and the FA nib almost makes my writing look Spencerian . . . almost.

Aside from the initial railroading problem, the only other negative is nib creep. I noticed this from day one. For whatever reason, ink creeps between the tines and pools on the nib's surface. From what I've read, this is caused either by the wetness of the ink or possible hairline fissures in the nib. It doesn't affect the writing, but I get a little OCD-irritated that the nib surface isn't pristine. If I try to wipe it clean, more ink just smears over it. It's a Sisyphian battle. I lost.

No modern pen has yet managed to duplicate the super-flex pens of old. But, if you want the convenience of a modern filling system (no dried up sacs, no broken lever boxes, no rotten cork seals) and a smooth, flexy nib, the 912 FA is a great choice. I honestly did not expect to like this pen as much as I do. I planned to review it and then sell it. But that's not going to happen. This is a keeper.

I purchased my Pilot Custom Heritage 912 with the FA nib through Amazon for $155.37. The seller was in Japan, so it took almost a month for the pen to arrive. That seller does not currently offer this pen anymore, but you can check Amazon periodically to see if it becomes available. Classic Fountain Pens has the pen back in stock ($256), so you can order from them or from your favorite Japanese eBay dealer.

Pros

  • Lightweight pen for comfortable writing
  • Good ink supply with the CON-70 converter
  • The FA nib is a wonderful option for people who desire flex but don't want to use vintage pens
  • Simple, elegant design

Cons

  • The pen only comes in black; I wish they offered a variety of colors
  • The CON-70 converter is difficult to clean completely
  • The pen can be difficult to obtain in America
  • Fairly expensive for a plastic pen (though the nib is 14K)
Posted on July 24, 2015 and filed under Falcon, Fountain Pens, Pilot, Pen Reviews.

Pilot Down Force Pressurized Ballpoint Pen Review

(Jeff Abbott is a regular contributor at The Pen Addict. You can find more from Jeff online at Draft Evolution and Twitter.)

In the world of pressurized cartridges, I've come to expect a subpar writing experience. The old classic — the Fisher pressurized cartridge — isn't one of my favorite cartridges for general writing. I only use one if I know I'll need to write at an awkward angle or if there might be water involved. Why? Because I don't enjoy writing with a skippy pen, and that's exactly what I expect from the Fisher refills. That's not to say it's horrible, but it's not as good as something you'll get out of a gel pen. There are always trade-offs.

But maybe the Pilot Down Force is trying to change that. Maybe. The Down Force is a pressurized ballpoint pen from Pilot that writes very similarly to a Pilot Acroball or Uniball Jetstream, and that's a pretty big compliment for a ballpoint. So, how does it stack up as an all-around writing instrument?

Look and feel

First off, let's take a look at the outside of this pen. At arm's length, you might think this pen is made of metal sporting a matte black finish of some kind. Well, you'd be wrong. It's actually a well-done plastic that looks tactical, but doesn't deliver. The knurling on the grip is a great feature and I'm surprised it feels as good as it does, only because of the material.

It's a very lightweight pen, which is good and bad. It's good because it makes writing very comfortable, and it doesn't weigh down in your pockets. It's bad because it's not durable.

Pressurized special-use pens usually have a pretty sturdy body because they're meant to be used in environments not normally intended for writing instruments. Maybe we should call this category "off-desk writing instruments" (my pitiful attempt to draw an anology to off-road vehicles). Either way, you might be able to write in a harsh environment, but it wouldn't survive if it was run over by a lunar rover. And, let's face it, if you're writing on the moon, that's probably not an uncommon risk.

Kidding aside, I do wish the body was more sturdy. Really, if it was the same design but with a metal material, it would be several notches higher in my book.

The clip has a really satisfying "chunk" when you click it, and it also releases when you lift the clip. This will save any of us who unwittingly put open pens in our pockets.

The model I have is black, but you can also get other colors.

Writing

Where this pen really shines is in the cartridge. This is a smooth writer, and that's really surprising to me given the category. It feels similar to an Acroball or Jetstream, and the ink has a nice darkness to it (unlike most ballpoint inks). There is some noticeable skip every few words, but nothing that bothers me. I have to look pretty closely to see them.

Being a smooth writer makes it very comfortable for taking notes and jotting down ideas. This is the kind of pen that you could use for long-form writing if you're not sitting in a normal position, such as leaning back and propping a notebook on your legs so that it is perpendicular to the ground. This position always causes pens to stop writing after a couple of sentences due to the pesky effects of gravity on ink.

Apparently, a bit of pressure is applied to the open end of the cartridge when you click in the knock of the pen. The refill fits into a very tightly fit compartment, which would explain how they get an airtight seal on the open end. It's really pretty nifty.

Conclusion

Overall, the Pilot Down Force is a great writing pen. The fact that it has a pressurized cartridge is just a bonus. This is one of the first pressurized pens I've used that also offers a pleasant writing experience. I'd be really happy to see Pilot offer a more premium version of this pen body in some sort of metal, but for $7 it's hard to complain on this one.

Posted on July 23, 2015 and filed under Pilot, Pen Reviews.