Sunday, January 29, 2012

Alvin Draft-Tec Retrac .5

One of the many items that I've acquired through my university bookstore is this, the Alvin Draft-Tec Retrac. Many drafting pencils follow a similar formula: small emergency eraser with cap, metal clip, and a long lead sleeve. So, what sets this one apart, if anything?

First, the grip is comprised of rubber and is a tiny square pattern. I found this to allow for excellent control and security. The lead sleeve itself is pretty standard, at least for a drafting pencil. It is longer than you see in many regular mechanical pencils, but it does move around a bit, and you will see why shortly.

The clip and emergency eraser are standard - they both work well, but I always use a separate eraser anyway. The cap itself is fairly long, which is helpful for removing it to use the eraser. No real excitement here, but I am pleased either way.

Okay, so here is where things become a bit different. You may have noticed that this is called the Draft-Tec Retrac, and, as such, it is a retractable drafting pencil. 

Here is a front view of the pencil retracted - the lead sleeve just hides in there: no bending the lead sleeve and no unwanted stabbing while the pencil is in your pocket.     

The retractable sleeve is extended by one firm push of the mechanism (much like any retractable pen), and then you just make smaller, less forceful clicks to extend the lead. To retract the sleeve, you just make another "big" click (however one describes this), and voila! 

Overall, this is a very good drafting pencil, and I believe it was ~$6.00-$7.00 U.S. One thing that I don't like is that pocket lint can get in the pencil if you have it in your pocket, so I think it would be smart to keep this in your travel case or to at least be aware that stuff could get in there. 

My other qualm is that the retractability of the pencil causes the lead sleeve to wobble or move a bit as you write. It is very minor, but it is still noticeable, especially if you are expecting a very solid feel in the writing performance. 

For the money, this is definitely worth trying. Though I may have a few quibbles on the design, I can easily get over it. I will probably try to get this in a .9, too.

Has anyone else tried these? Let me know!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sharpie Pen - Stainless Steel

After hearing about the release of a stainless steel version of the Sharpie Pen, I immediately picked up two. As of this posting, I have only found this version of the Sharpie Pen at Office Max and target, but I'm assuming they will be widely available soon. 

Just as the writing sample states, I wholeheartedly recommend the steel version of the Sharpie Pen. I noted that the only complaint I have is that the name rubs off of the barrel. This could be an easy fix if the name itself was just embossed steel, but I am assuming that method would have been more expensive than some black paint. 

At any rate, I think this is a pretty rugged pen, so the name rubbing off adds character. What's more, you get skip-free ink with no feathering or bleeding. The ink is not quite jet black, but it is dark enough to fit the bill for what I think 'black' ink should be. I just hope that they end up making refills in other colors, too. 

So, I bought two of these, and this is the one that I have been carrying around with me for the last few weeks.

Here is the other side of the same pen - the name has rubbed off even more than the other side.

Here is an unused steel Sharpie Pen next to the one I've been using for about three weeks. One interesting effect of carrying one of these in my pocket is that it is actually brighter/shinier than the unused one. 

And here is the cap. I love how it has the retro-futuristic look. But, like the Zebra F-701, why did they use plastic on the top? An all steel look would have been better, at least as far as I'm concerned. It doesn't matter - this pen is about $6.00 and is completely worth it. 

The grip is nice and sticky, but it does attract dust and fuzzies. I don't really mind this, but I know a lot of people do.

The point does wear down somewhat quickly, but I write fairly hard. The point in front is the unused pen, while the one in back is the one I have been using for a few weeks. The shape has absolutely changed, but it hasn't really changed the writing performance. Besides, once the refill is used up, just pop in a new one and you have an entirely new point. 

So, there are a couple areas that could use improvement, but I still give this pen 4, out of 5, stars. For the money, I'd probably give this pen a solid 4.5 stars. In short, you should try one.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pentel EnerGel-X .7 Violet

What can I say? This is just a great pen and excellent value. Unless you hate gel pens, you should probably try one of these. C'mon, $1.25? It's well worth it.

The clip and plunger are both very solid. The pen doesn't say 'EnerGel-X' on the pen, but this is, apparently, called the EnerGel-X. 

The gel itself is actually a combination of gel and liquid ink, so you get fast drying (from the liquid ink) and zero bleeding (from the gel component). 

This grip is very "grippy." The pen does not slip, and the barrel is comfortable enough to prevent fatigue. I have no complaints about the entire writing experience. 

Need more convincing this pen is great? The pen is made of 84% recycled content as part of Pentel's Recycology line. The .7 is available in red, blue, green, and violet. You can also get a .5 black, red, or blue. The .5 is a needle point, which makes me even more enthusiastic. 

I have a .5 in black that I will review at some point, too. In the meantime, go try one of these. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Schneider Slider Memo XB 1.4mm Ballpoint

On my last trip to Office Depot, I saw a cardboard display with a few different colors of these and another, more economical Schneider Slider  (to be reviewed later) next to these. The blue and black retro-futuristic design caught my eye, and another $2.99 was deducted from my debit card. 

What I can say is this - if the 1.0mm Jetsream didn't exist, and I really wanted a large point ballpoint with smooth ink, I'd love to have this as a solution. The problem is that it is too expensive for what it is, though the ink is apparently wipe-proof and water-proof, at least in the black ink, according to Schneider.

Do we call it a needle tip, all be it a portly one? The ball is huge and may be akin to driving a large sedan on a frozen lake. Very smooth, but you do not get clean, solid lines with this one. 

The Pilot Dr. Grip and the Uniball Jetstream were both more consistent and had darker ink. I prefer both of the former over the latter.

The barrel has this little kick-stand nub to prevent the pen from rolling off your writing surface, but this is only necessary when you're writing with the pen unposted.

The Viscoglide technology is certainly smoother than the Everyday Ballpoint, but there are white spots in the ink. Perhaps it would work better if the ink were pressurize.

I tried removing the end and the section under the cap, but I was not able to take off either part. I don't think there any refills, and I didn't find any online when I searched for them. Not refillable is almost a certainly deal breaker to be qualified as an 'economy pen'.

The mug shots. 

You can see my Nikon in the reflection of the image on the left. The clip is quite large and, as you can see, quite shiny. 

If you love ballpoints and all things 'super-smooth ink', then you might want to try this one. I think it needs to be refillable and should have more consistent ink, then it will be worth the asking price.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Retro 51 Hex-O-Matic Ballpoint

While using up a gift certificate at one of my favorite local art/office/pen stores, Wet Paint, I took a chance on this Retro 51 Hex-O-Matic ballpoint. 

Yes, when I see a list that says 'Value' or 'Precision' on it, it usually gets my attention. In this case, the marketing worked on me. 

As a nerd and fan of technical imagery, the blueprint of the pen also helped to secure the purchase. 

It wasn't just the cool packaging that resulted in this pen coming home; As you can see, this is a pretty sharp looking pen. I love writing instruments made of metal, and the drafting pencil look is timeless as far as I'm concerned.

Here are some of the other metal implements I own, all of which have a knurled grip of some sort. At the top is a Zebra F-701 .7 mm ballpoint. The one below that is a Pentel Graph Gear 1000 .5 mm mechanical pencil. Next is a Staedtler Silver Series 2.0 mm lead holder. And the Retro 51 Hex-O-Matic is on the bottom.
Image Source: 

I think the Hex-O-Matic looks most like the Rotring 600, which is good in that the Rotring 600 is wonderful to look at - a design classic - but it is not very 'Innovative' as indicated on the box.

Either way, the pen is still gorgeous, but I always worry about how disappointing the next ballpoint is going to be, and it all comes down to the refill. 

The Hex-O-Matic comes with a Schmidt Easy Flow 9000 cartridge, one I had read good things about in reviews of super-smooth ballpoint inks. 

The cartridge is pretty sizable, too. It has Retro 1951 on it, but it will be a Schmidt if you are trying to find refills. The pen also takes Parker refills, so I will be looking forward to using this refill up to try out a fine point gel, a format I typically prefer over ballpoint. 

In the writing sample, I made a complaint about the construction of the push button and the clip. It is not completely obvious from this image, but the clip is bent slightly to the right. The push button and clip are made out of a relatively thin aluminum.

 I hate to say it, but the sturdiness of a soda can comes to mind when using those two components. 

I hope this image isn't too hard to read. I still don't have the best lighting situation.

So, the final verdict? If you really like pens for their design, this is a very cool option. I do feel that it is overpriced for what you get, and the construction absolutely needs improvement at this price point; the three other metal/knurled I showed in one of the images are all $12-$27 cheaper than the Hex-O-Matic, with the Zebra F-701 being available, at times, for as little as $5.00, and that feels much sturdier than this.

I may very well feel different about this pen once I get a different refill in it, because this one had a lot of white spots and inconsistencies, but it was, to its credit, a very smooth ballpoint refill.

I can't say that I would jump out there to get this one, and I should have gone with one of the Retro 51  Tornado rollerballs instead of this one.

Oh well. At least it will look cool sitting on my desk. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Pilot Frixion Ball .5 Black

In one of my recent JetPens purchases, I added the Pilot Frixion Ball Knock .5 . Before this pen, I had never tried anything in the Frixion line of pens, but I've heard good and bad things, both of which ended up being true.

If you click for a larger view it will be easier to see how the ink is not really black. I still enjoy the color of the ink, but I think it should be labeled accordingly (Shadow Black, Pencil Black, etc.)

The rubber ball that "erases" the ink is very effective. The ink is thermo-sensitive, so it disappears with heat (and can reappear with cold). 

The barrel is only moderately flashy. I think the graphic borders on being too "loud" for my tastes, but at least it is small. 

My biggest gripe is the clip. The plastic feels brittle, and the clip itself rattles as you write. It is not unbearable, but it is annoying. 

The point and grip both remind me of the Pilot V-Ball, which is good. The grip is comfortable and the writing experience is solid. 

Is it just me, or does this look a bit like a little robot?

So, how well does the ball make the thermo-sensitive ink disappear?

Very well. All you can see is the indention on the page and some faint ghosting when you look closely. It's so much better than the crappy erasable pens I used in elementary school.

I did enjoy testing out the Pilot Frixion Ball, and I will be looking to try other models to see if I like them better. Either way, the black ink still needs to be darker and, well, black.