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. 


  1. Nice post and thanks for the review as I was thinking about buying this pen. I think after reading your post I'll go with the Levenger L-Tech. More expensive I know, but the quality is always there. Thanks again!

  2. Thank you, Davey, and you're very welcome.

    I had not heard of the L-Tech before, but it looks great. If you do purchase one, be sure to let me know how you look it.

  3. Just 4 months later, you can't find these, at least not in silver color. It's ridiculous that there's no replica of the Rotring 600 knurled grip pen available. The real ones are expensive on Ebay only because they're no longer made. Why doesn't someone make them and sell at their real cost, which is probably more like $30?

  4. The Hexomatic line appears to have been discontinued by Retro 51.

    The L-Tech is a nice instrument but, without a push button, requires two-handed operation. This doesn't work for me in my work environment.

  5. Thanks for the write-up. I have a new unopened Hexomatic sitting on my desk right now. I was on the fence about whether to keep it. After reading your post, I think it is going back for a refund. In addition to what you have pointed out, the pen just seems too big. The size combined with the metal material sounds like a bad combination for me.

    I am curious to try the ballpoint refills that Retro 51 uses, but I suppose I could order some refills and use them in one of my ever-expanding collection of Retro 51 Tornados.

  6. Rob,

    I wish I could have returned mine, too. It's a pretty expensive pen for what it is, and the build quality was not perfect. Cool? Yes. But it does not enter into any Top 5 lists.

  7. These pens from Retro 51 had a limited production run. In the Spring of '12 most retailers had sold out (and re-sale prices on eBay reflected their sudden scarcity). Just recently, Retro 51 started producing these again and they're back in the supply chain. No idea whether this is a longer production run or just another short blip.

    For me, the Levenger L-Tech does not offer the same look or feel as this or the old-style Rotring 600 (which was sold as both a Rotring and as a Levenger) (and which now commands $300 prices on eBay). Instead, it reminds me of the so-called "new style" Rotring 600--which never had the same appeal.

    At this time, the only options for this Rotring old-style look is either a genuine Rotring, at $300, or the Retro, for a little over $30. In my case, my budget for graduation gifts doesn't have the extra zero :-)

  8. On the Retro51 Facebook page, they announced that the Hex-O-Matic would be "coming back" in June of 2012. Only in silver and black. Their website says the same, but no info as to how long.

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  10. The Hexomatic has sex appeal for an old draftsman like me.