Rotring technical pens were the subject of envy or resentment of every art student in my class. For those who have never seen one, they are famous for the ultra thin points and consistent ink flow. Engineering students used them for blueprints and wiring schematics, Art students used them for tiny details, cross-hatching and stippling. They were pricy and you needed to occasionally clean them, but they were a symbol that you had made it. Owning one meant you were good enough to need a hair-thin line and had the discipline to maintain it.
Being that my dinners sometimes consisted of a single can of corn back when I was a student, I simply couldn’t fork out the money for such a luxurious item, so I resented them. After all, who wanted to do all that maintenance? It was sort of annoying how people who used them would tilt them back with a flourish of the arm to get more ink flow, and it seemed to me that they did this more often than was really needed… Almost as often as they pointed out that Rotrings were R. Crumb’s favorite pen. Yes. We all heard you the first fifteen times. I had my Pilot V5 and that was fine enough for me (pun intended).
Well, sometimes you have to realize you were just wrong, or bitter, or both.
I got my hands on a .35 Isograph, a smaller point than I am usually comfortable with. Rotring’s Isograph is nearly identical to the more ubiquitous Rapidograph, the exception being that you can refill the cartridge of the Isograph while the Rapidograph only takes special pre-filled capillary cartridges. I was looking for something I could do some stippling and very small detail work with. I would usually just use the Pilot V5 for this, but the rollerball tip doesn’t handle the dots of stippling very well, since it relies on the roller ball movement to supply ink. The Isograph tip uses gravity and a tiny feed wire to facilitate ink flow, so the tapping of the nip will always produce a dot of ink, so long as there is ink available and it's not clogged (which has yet to happen to me, more on that later).
First impressions are important. Rotring knows this. It always depresses me to see a quality item delivered in nothing more than a blister pack. While Rotring is not exactly Apple level when it comes to this, they are no slouch either. This is the second item I have gotten from them, and their triangle shaped packaging is well thought out and considered. I feels like the kind of packaging you might find in a grandparents garage. It is still just a thin cardboard, but I like it.
This pen comes with NO INK. It is usually well labeled as such, but I would hate for someone to make the jump to buy one only to have to wait another 3-4 business days to use it. I am using the Rotring Black Drawing Ink which has a convenient tip made to fill the cartridge for the Isograph. Still, I managed to get a bit of ink on me, but it should be easy and clean for anyone who isn’t a clumsy mess like me. The empty ink cartridge that comes with the pen is a simple plastic cart very reminiscent of an empty fountain pen cart. It slides firmly onto the tip and the tip screws into the plastic barrel of the pen.
The body is slightly tapered. Since the plastic barrel of the pen is hollow, it is dramatically weighted to the front. This is different from most pens, but you use this pen differently than most pens. Technical pens work best when perpendicular to the page, or being held straight up and down. That is going to be a deal breaker for some but it is far more natural than you might expect, especially when only doing details or making a million little dots. It does still work at an angle, but not as predictably as straight up and down. A big plus of using the pen in this manner is that none of the pen obstructs your view, important when doing tiny details.
The aforementioned tilting the pen backwards to get more ink flow works like this: If you are drawing and it seems like you are running low on ink, you lift the pen, turn the pen's tip upwards and then back down. You will hear a slight "click clack." and more ink will be on the ready. I am not sure if the ink feeding system has improved over the years but the constant tipping of the pen back and forth is not that necessary. Maybe if you are filling in large black areas and then jumping to do tiny dots, but I can’t imagine a worse pen for filling in areas. Anyway, tilt it or shake it you want to, but you probably only would need to do it once or twice every half hour.
The tip of the pen is the star: sharp, tiny and chrome plated. It is durable without being bulky. It lays down a consistent fine line that is easy to control. It is long enough to be used with a straight edge or ruler, but not so long that would make it fragile. I heard horror stories when doing research about the non-stop-clog-fest that these pens can suffer from; I have not experienced one yet. It helps to use them often, and I don’t think I have gone longer than four days without picking it up. So maybe I’m the wrong person to ask about this.
About the barrel: it’s plastic and not very durable. This is a bummer since you have a lot of screwing going on; the cap screws onto the tip and the tip screws into the barrel. If you have ahold of the barrel and try to over tighten the cap onto the tip, you are going to overstrain the plastic of the barrel and get tiny cracks on the barrel where it is connected to the tip. This happened to my pen and they really sucked the joy out of using it. The tip would come loose and it never felt right after the tiny cracks showed up, sometimes when holding it a little too tightly I could feel the threads of the tip push the barrel away and the whole thing would bend a bit. I contacted Rotring and they sent me a whole new pen at no cost. I am being very careful with the new barrel and have had no issues so far. My advice would be to hold the yellow part of the tip when screwing the cap on, that way you don't over torque the threads of the tip into the barrel.
When I got this pen I thought I would use it for only two or three projects in mind. Add a few dots there, some hatching here, you get the idea. Much to my surprise, I have used this pen on almost every drawing I have done since I got it. It is one of my favorite tools in my bag now. It works incredibly well and I would make a bigger deal out of the barrel cracking, but Rotring's customer service fixed my problem and I haven't had it happen since. You can find the complete line of Rotring Isographs at Jetpens.com in nine tip sizes that range from .1mm to .5mm.
Back when engineers or illustrators had to go through an apprenticeship, they would often receive a full set of Rotring Pens as their gift for completing their training, much like tattoo machine would be gifted to an apprentice. I can see why, they are the tools of the trade and a badge of honor. Did you know that they were R. Crumb’s favorite pen?
(JetPens provided this product at no charge to The Pen Addict for review purposes.)