The Zebra R-301 is a metal (mostly) rollerball pen that didn't show up on my radar until I was idly browsing JetPens when I should have been working. I can't lie – this happens more than once a week. I haven't really been interested in rollerballs since I'm really happy with my Retro 51 Tornados, but I wouldn't refuse a new player with a nice design.
Now, the Zebra doesn't really compare to the Retro 51s in quality, but they're also around 15% of the price of a Retro 51. There's a lot to love about this pen, so let's jump in!
Look and feel
The Zebra R-301 doesn't look like a cheap pen in my opinion. The stainless steel give it a great shine and feel. Unfortunately, the stainless steel only covers parts the barrel and cap. The grip section is made of a textured plastic that I imagine creates a great divide in opinion.
Upon first looking at the pen, I was displeased by the grip because its diameter is smaller than the body and cap. It just looks odd. But then I started writing and let that little detail go. I enjoy the grip, and if you're a fan of other Zebra pens that have a similar plastic textured grip, you'll probably like this one just fine. It's the kind of design that fosters a "love it or hate it" response.
The pen is fairly light, so long sessions aren't a problem. The cap secures tightly when the pen is closed, but it tends to wobble a bit when posted. Not a huge issue for me, but this will annoy others. If it were just a fraction of a millimeter tight, it would be perfect.
The cartridge on this pen is a good size. It's much longer and wider than an international short cartridge. It pops in with no trouble, and I was able to start writing in seconds.
Now, on to the important part. This pen feels amazing when writing. It glides across all sorts of paper like smooth glass on silk. It's on par with the Retro 51 Schmidt refill. The ink is very dark and bold – something that I love in a black ink.
That said, it's a very wet writer. Zebra claims it's a 0.7mm tip, but the wet ink lays down a wider line. There are absolutely no feed problems with this pen. Ink is always plentiful.
For being such a wet writer, it dries extremely quickly. I did a couple of tests and found that the ink would no longer smudge after 2 or 3 seconds. That's impressive!
On the downside, the ink seems to feather on every paper I tried. Rhodia, Clairefontaine, Apica, or cheap notebook paper – they all suffered from noticeable feathering.
Things to note
There are a couple of things to note about the cartridges for this pen. For one, they're proprietary. I didn't look for very long, but I wasn't able to find any satisfactory replacements for this pen. I've thought about trying to refill the cartridge with a syringe, but I don't know if a fountain pen ink would work properly with this pen. Who knows? At this price, I wouldn't be upset if it ruined the pen.
Ah, the price. At JetPens, the Zebra R-301 is currently priced at $3.20. The pen comes with two cartridges. A set of two cartridges (no pen) is priced at $2.30. That's only a $0.90 difference. I guess the pen is worth a lot less than the cartridges. Personally, I wouldn't mind if they made the entire pen out of stainless steel and bumped the price up a bit. That would be an excellent EDC pen.
Despite the issues that I found with this pen, it's actually real joy to use. It's a great rollerball with great flow, bold ink, and durable body. And at this price, it's easy to try.