Guest Review: Multipen Addiction

Multi Pens

My name is Adam, and I am a multipen addict.  With tireless and dedicated support from my sponsors (The Pen Addict and Jet Pens), I haven’t used — a non-multipen (or “unipen”), that is — for 28 days....

A review and side-by-side comparison of nine multipens follows below:

•    Pentel Energel Multi-Function Pen
•    Pentel Sliccies 3 Color Gel Ink Multi Pen
•    Pilot Hi-Tec-C Coleto 3 Color Multi Pen
•    Rotring Essential 3-Way Multi Function Pen
•    Rotring Stainless Steel 4-Way Multipen (unidentified model)
•    Uni-ball SXR-80-7 Jetstream Ballpoint Multi Pen
•    Zebra Sarasa 3 Color Gel Ink Multi Pen
•    Zebra Sharbo X ST3
•    Zebra SK-Sharbo+1 2 Color Ballpoint Multi Pen

But first, since I’m a guest here, and since I learned on my way to my Rhetoric degree that ethos appeals are as important as others, some background is in order.

That my addiction is a new one may make my perspective useful to others, especially those shopping for their first multipen.  I’m not a pen expert; my handwriting is atrocious (an admixture of chicken scratches and Rorschach); and I use cheap notebooks/journals (my office supplies me with Cambridge Limited journals).  But I’ve always been a gadgeteer, believing both that the right tool makes any job easier and that, in the wise words of Alton Brown, “Organization will set you free.”  Moreover, compulsion is not a quality with which I am unfamiliar.  I am serially obsessive: collecting live recordings of  taper-friendly bands begat an expensive SLR camera gear obsession, which begat a paranoid obsession with storage solutions for the music and pics, which now has begat — or at least given way to — said multipen addiction.  So, I suppose it was only a matter of time before multipens discovered me, and I them.  (God only knows from whence springs my willingness to admit and discuss this — publicly.)

In late high school and college, I generally took handwritten notes in two colors.  I used primarily fine and medium Pilot Precise liquid ink rollerballs.  In law school, my note-taking moved to my computer; I turned to highlighters for marking my reading; and I had the disturbing realization that the Pilot liquid ink pens tended to explode on cross-country flights.  Pens became an afterthought.

Now that I’m all grown up, I do most of my letter- and brief-writing on the computer, of course.  But, as I lately have found myself more and more often chicken-scratching notes in meetings, depositions, and conference calls, I have begun (again) to take notes in two colors.  About a month again, I remembered a very cool brushed stainless steel multipen — I had no idea “multipen” was the proper nomenclature until about a week later — that I received about 7 years ago as a gift.  It had a mechanical pencil, ballpoint, stylus, and highlighter.  (I always thought the pen was clever, although I found little use for the pencil.  And since I haven't owned a Palm Pilot for about 8 years, I found no use for the stylus.  Also, I’m just  not a fan of ballpoints.  So, the pen sat in a drawer since I received it.)  Then, about a month ago, it suddenly occurred to me that I might be able to replace the stylus with a second color and find gel-ink replacements for both.  I searched for refills to no avail until I finally somehow stumbled upon a Pen Addict post comparing several multipens.  "Multipens!"  That was the phrase I was after.

Googling “multipen” revealed that my gift pen was nearly identical to the Rotring Essential, refills to which were abundant in ballpoint form; no gel-inks, though.  So, I moved onto Plan B, deciding to find gel-ink-compatible multipens.  Enter The Pen Addict and Jet Pens.

It turns out there are indeed a large variety of multipens, many of which are gel-ink compatible.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve ordered several multipens from Jet Pens (and one from Montgomery Pens), each of which — after the foregoing long walk down a short and dreary pier — I describe and grade below.  No fancy Doane Paper exemplars.  Just the early thoughts and reactions of a newly-initiated multipen addict:

Zebra Sharbo X ST3 (black body, .5mm blue/red/pencil)

Grade: A.  Form beautifully meets function.  Period.

Review:  In case you skipped the windbag self-indulgency above, let me summarize: I’m a lawyer, not an artist; a computer user principally, handwriter secondarily; ballpoint hater, gel ink lover, broad stroke note-taker, rather than ultra-fine-point technician; lover, not a fighter.  And, while I certainly don’t need Mont Blanc styling (if in fact that is “style” as opposed to snootery), I am strongly biased toward simple, heavy construction over plasticky, campy design.  This pen meets all those requirements.  Wonderfully.  The barrel is heavy and the width (wider than a unipen but not as chunky as the Energel multipen) perfect enough that I don’t find myself missing a rubber grip.  Like good minimalist architecture, the design is at once stylish and simple.  The eraser cap (which has a nice protective rubber top) threads onto the pen — a feature that, as a very infrequent pencil user, I prefer over simple push-on caps.  Mechanically, the twist mechanism is flawless (simple and remarkably smooth), as is the mechanical pencil (which seems to have some sort of rubber bushing that makes it quiet and soft).  I far prefer twist-to-select systems over the gravity or multi-clicker designs, and this twist system is the best I’ve seen.  Finally, the barrel threading and twist system are independent from one another (solving the problem I describe below with respect to the cheaper Zebra SK-Sharbo).

In sum, this multipen pen is as close to perfect as I’ve seen.  The only minor criticisms that keep this from being an absolutely perfect A+ pen are (1) that there is no 3-ink version (again, I don’t often use pencils) and (2) that, with narrow exception if you shop in Japan, the gel-ink cartridges are not available in widths wider than .5mm (a minor flaw, since the .5mm does feel wider than other .5mm refills).  Que sera sera.

What about the cost ($45 for the body only)?  Easily justifiable.  In fact, I just ordered a brushed silver version and impatiently await the CB8 (which Jet Pens tells me they’ll have in stock in a little over a month).  Why?  Because as much as I live in short and flip-flops when I’m not working, when I am working, I want a pen that looks professional.  Why spend time hand-polishing my cap-toes and ensuring a perfectly knotted double-Windsor only to pull out a kitschy, dinky, plastic pen?  (Akin to tube socks with wingtips, no?)  Or, if you prefer vino metaphors, this multipen is a beautiful Dry Creek Valley Pinot Noir — rich, complex, and finessed, even if not an ’82 Bordeaux (which would be more like a fine, but less versatile, fountain pen.)  You wouldn’t pair that Pinot with a Big Mac, would you?

Zebra Sarasa 3 Color Gel Ink Multi Pen (black body, .5mm blue/red/green)

Grade: A-.  A well constructed, reasonable 3-ink gel multipen with cheap selection system.

Review:  Sarasa unipens are amazingly smooth, and this is no exception.  Second to the Sharbo X, this is my favorite multipen.  And although it trails that pen in terms of style and construction, for the price ($5), it really is great.  The fat barrel feels comfortable and the rubber grip is nice.  Indeed, for my needs, it improves somewhat on the Sharbo X in that it is a 3-ink pen (pencils be damned); after replacing the black catridge with green, this pen will be the most convenient for me.  As will be a recurring theme in this review, I’m just not a fan of the multi-clicker system, which reminds me of those cheap Bic white/blue 4-color pens from elementary school.

Uni-ball SXR-80-7 Jetstream Ballpoint Multi Pen (black body, 1mm blue, .7mm red/black)

Grade: B+.  A surprisingly smooth 3-color ballpoint pen, with cheap styling and selection system.

Review:  I really did not want to like this pen, it being ballpoint only, being somewhat cheap looking and featuring the unfortunate multi-clicker system.  Surprisingly, it’s among my favorites.  The writing is ridiculously smooth — not just for a ballpoint pen, but also when head-to-head with some really good gel-ink multipens.  In fact, after replacing the OEM .7mm blue cartridge with a 1mm version, I think this is smoother than both of the Zebras with higher grades.  (As with the Sarasa, I plan on adding green in place of black, making this a very versatile 3-ink pen.

The pen feels and looks an awful lot like the Sarasa, to which I give only slightly higher marks.  Both have clear bottoms with nice rubber grips connected to a comfortably thick barrel.  In black — really more like smoked semi-translucent — they look strikingly similar but for the jarring white clip on the Jestream.  The monotone top and slightly heavier weight on the Sarasa gives it a slight advantage over the Jestream.  But only slight.  I was very tempted to give them both an A-/B+, with the Sarasa’s slight advantage in looks and feel washing the Jetstream’s slight advantage is smoothness.

Rotring Essential; Rotring Stainless Steel 4-Way Multipen (unidentified model)  (.5mm blue/red/pencil; latter with addition of highlighter)

Grade: B; A-/B+.  A decent-looking, but overpriced and cheaply-constructed multipen with difficult gravity system.

Review:  The Rotring Essential is a decent pen.  No better; no worse.  Unlike some of the cheaper pens, this one is contemporary looking and, although it is made of coated plastic, has a heavy feel.  The balance is impressive, helped by the metal threading between the barrel and uncomfortable ridged hard-plastic grip.  I not especially fond of the “gravity” select system, which requires holding the pen horizontally with the cartridge you want at the top (closer to the ceiling, while the others are on closer to the floor), and then pressing the top button.  This single button system is a more attractive than the multi-clickers, but far less graceful than the twist systems.  In meetings, I must have looked like a methed-out excuse for a professional, as I nervously fidgeted with this pen whenever I needed a new color.  Also, because of the selection system (I think), the components tend to bang into one another in the barrel making the pen sound junky.  I had contemplated downgrading this to a C given that it takes only ballpoint refills, but I just discovered that the Sharbo X gel-ink refills are compatible.  Close call!

By the way, this pen is nearly identical to the gift pen that was the gateway to my addiction.  The only differences are that (1) the gift pen is all stainless (including the very well executed raised grip), proving a very solid feel and (2) the gift pen is a four-way, the fourth component being a wide-tipped roller ball with highlighter-orange ink (a very, very nice feature.)  This version gets an A-/B+ while the 3-way Essential gets a B.

Zebra SK-Sharbo+1 2 Color Ballpoint Multi Pen (black body, 5mm black/red/pencil).

Grade: B.  Heavy and well-constructed for a plastic pen featuring a nice twist system, but no gel-ink options.

Review:  This is essentially the cheaper version of the Sharbo X.  For an all-plastic pen, it feels fairly well-constructed, comfortable (thick, but not too thick, with a nice rubber grip), and heavier than expected — all in contrast to the Coleto and Sliccies.  The pen is stylishly minimal, like it’s older brother, and features a similar twist selection system.  The lack of gel-ink availability is frustrating (knocking this down from a B+/B to a B-), and I would of course prefer a 3-ink pen (since high school, I’ve just had no use whatsoever for a pencil).

Pilot Hi-Tec-C Coleto 3 Color Multi Pen (.4mm blue/orange/red gel ink)

Grade: B-.  Smooth writing, but very light 3-ink gel multipen with cheap selection system.

Review:  I was disappointed by this pen.  The 3-ink (no pencil) configuration and wide swath of color refill options made me believe that this highly-configurable pen would be a home run.  The pen does write exceptionally well, even at .4mm (I’ve found that anything less than .5mm generally feels scratchy and can’t keep up with fast note-taking; this one felt much, much smoother than most sub-5s and easily kept up with my lightning fast chicken scratching.)  Unfortunately, I was more than a bit disappointed by the pen’s featherweight, diminutive feel.  It is just too junky, light, and plasticky for me, even ignoring the juvenile feeling multi-click system. On the plus side, the smoky, semi-clear plastic with injected rubber strips as a grip does nicely blend modern styling with a bit of look-what’s-inside geekery.

Pentel Sliccies 3 Color Gel Ink Multi Pen (0.4 mm red/blue/green)

Grade: B-.  A smooth-writing but very light 3-ink gel multipen with cheap selection system.

Review:  With a couple exceptions, everything I wrote about the Coleto applies to this pen.  If the Coleto was light, this thing is virtually weightless, making it exceptionally hard to use.  One aspect I prefer over the Coleto is the clear multi-clickers.  (If you’re going to include them, at least make them less obvious; compared to multicolor clown feel of the Coleto’s top, this one looks half-way respectable.)

Pentel Energel Multi-Function Pen (,5mm red/black/pencil)

Grade: C.  A smooth-writing gel-ink multipen with cheap construction and the ugliest design imaginable.

Review:  I had exceptionally high hopes for this pen, given that the Energel .7mm is my go-to unipen.  This multipen’s performance is definitely close to that of its unipen cousin.  It writes smoothly, easily, and consistently.  Unfortunately I could find no refills in .7mm nor blue.  More importantly, the construction feels subpar, as the top half (the twister) rattles against the bottom half.  Also, the twist mechanism isn’t continuous.  Unlike other 360 degree twisters, this one twists one direction and then hits a stop; you have to twist the other direction to go back.  Besides being inconvenient, this also leads to accidental unscrewing of the base.

And the nail in the coffin?  This is truly an unfortunate looking pen.  The bubbly eraser cap combined with the terrible color scheme makes this look it was designed as part of a fanboys’ wet dream.  Hope sprang eternal; then hope sunk to concrete-shoe depths.


If you’re new to multipens or just looking to upgrade, skip testing the cheaper ones.  While I had fun testing them all, I spent much more money on the various non-Sharbo Xpens and refills than I did on the Sharbo X body and refills.  For the same money, I could have bought two perfect Sharbo’s rather than filling my junk drawer with a number of sub-par pens.  If the Rotring Stainless model that I haven’t been able to identify were available, that is a reasonable substitute (when filled with gel-inks), and is preferable in some ways because of the four-way 3-ink + pencil system.  If cost is an issue, the Sarasa and Uni-ball Jetstream multipens are easily the nicest of the plastic pens.  Indeed, but for their clicker systems and plastic construction, both are damn near perfect — and absolute bargains.


Awesome reviews Adam!  I really appreciate the time and effort you put into this post - you are a pen addict for sure.  If anyone else would like to contribute a guest post on The Pen Addict, I would love to have you. Email me at the address on the sidebar, or ping me on Twitter @dowdyism.

Posted on August 18, 2009 .