Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Big Pilot Review: Be Green VBoard Master Markers, B2P Ballpoint, G-2 .7, Frixion Point .5 Blue, and Frixion Light Highlighter

Shoplet.com recently sent over a little variety pack of office supplies to try, with all but one items being new to me. Because I had never seen them before, I started with the Pilot BE GREEN Dry Erase Markers.

The BEGREEN aspect of this item refers to the fact that these markers are made with 91% recycled content. What's more, you can also buy a refill for Pilot Be Green markers and refill them up to four times which, according to Pilot, will result in a 39% savings over traditional (non-refillable) markers. 

I'm all for environmentally friendly products, and any opportunity to save money is more than welcome, so I think this product is brilliant. Pilot is also a sponsor of K.A.B. (Keep America Beautiful), an organization that promotes primarily promotes litter reduction and recycling. As it stands, +1 for the VBoard Master markers.

The markers are refillable via these little ink cartridges that are installed at the end of the marker. In terms of 'green' and environmentally friendly, I couldn't help but wonder if the wrapper was necessary. There's no indication that the wrapper is recyclable or biodegradable, and I think that it should be if it isn't already. 

On that same note, the plastic box that the markers are packaged is also void of any recycle symbol or bio-degradable indicator. In a future revision, I would like to see one or other on the cartridge wrapper and box.

As for the ink, the ink was as vibrant as most other dry erase markers I've used, and the flow was as one would expect - smooth and even. The ink erased easily without ghosting or leaving color flecks, as some markers tend to do.

The large chisel tip allows you to write in fine or bold lines, or with a calligraphic expressiveness, if you prefer. All of the dry erase markers I currently own have a chisel tip, so this is what I prefer, if only due to familiarity. According to the product cut sheet that came with these markers, you can also get a bullet point tip if you prefer that over chisel tips.

The cap of the markers has a little nub on one side to prevent the marker from rolling off, and the overall size of the marker allows for comfortable writing. If I have to stand at the white board for a while, it's nice to have a marker that will not result in hand fatigue.

So, what do I like about these markers? It's really pretty difficult to find any fault with these markers at all. I would like to know how green the packaging is, but compared to any comparable product, these are probably the most eco-friendly dry erase markers available. Plus, they write well, won't roll of a flat surface, are comfortable to hold, have vibrant ink, are refillable, and have two different tip styles, making them the most well thought-out dry erase markers I have seen. Hats off to Pilot on this one.

The second item I wanted to try is the Pilot B2P Recycled Ballpoint Pen. I've seen the B2P gel at stores and online, but I wasn't aware that a ballpoint version was also available. This pen, like the VBoard Markers, is made of recycled materials - 90% in this case. 

The B2P names means 'Bottle to Pen', referring to the recycled bottles were used in the construction of the pen. If it works as well as it's non-green counterpart, I'm all in. 

This is a retractable,1.0 mm ballpoint (the standard for most ballpoint pens, at least in my experience) with black ink. The barrel itself resembles a water bottle and it an appealing light blue color.

The grip is grippy and comfortable, as it is should. The retractable mechanism has a pronounced clicky action to it and does feel flimsy or loose. 

With a 1.0 mm ball, the writing action was smooth, but the ink was fairly standard in the realm of ballpoints. 

It's hard to tell in this writing sample, but the Pilot EasyTouch Pro and Uniball Jetstream were superior to the other three examples. I'd say the B2P was the third smoothest and darkest, followed by the Zebra Z-Grip, and the Bic Atlantis was easily the last place performer. 

If I could change one thing about this pen, it would be that it uses the EasyTouch Pro refills rather than the refill it has now which, if I were to guess, is probably the regular EasyTouch refill.

Likes: The B2P ballpoint made from recycled materials, is comfortable, feels solid, and looks good.

Dislikes: The ink is middle of the road and could use improvement. It's not bad by any means, but it's certainly not great.

I'm fairly certain the next pen does not require any sort of introduction but, if you haven't seen this before, this is the Pilot G2 Gel Roller Ball Pen, quite possibly the most popular gel pen on the planet.

I first saw these about 12 years ago, when I was in high school. Since then, Pilot has released other tip sizes (.38, .5, .7, and 1.0). You can get this pen in the regular (shown above), or pro version, and you can get it in a fairly wide variety of colors. There are mini versions, large barrel versions (the G-6), and the B2P gel also takes the G-2 refill. I'm sure that I am missing several other variations of the G-2, but you get the idea - it's a big player in the gel pen world.

One characteristic of the Pilot G-2 ink that I've always loved is that the ink is jet black; it doesn't get much blacker than the G-2, though the Sarasa was close (it's hard to tell what the opacity levels are in this image). 

A downside that many people have noted on the .7 and 1.0 G-2 refills is that the ink takes a considerable amount of time to dry. The result it that it smudges and smears, but I don't typically experience this with my .38 and .5 mm G-2s. 

The barrel itself has been the same since the beginning - you get a reliable clip, grip, retractable mechanism, and a pretty durable, translucent barrel. I personally wouldn't mind a revision to the barrel, but it might be hard to mess with a design that has served so many people very well over the years. I have had periodic issues with the writing performance of some G-2s, but it seems like it has been a while since the last occurrence, so I am wondering if there were a few quality issues in previous batches. 

One small point of interest: I think all of the G-2s I have purchased in the past have had an orange tint to the lighter gel behind the black ink, but this one is more of an off-yellow. Does anyone else have input on this?

The G-2: An industry leader of gel pens. A modern classic. Room for improvement? I guess it depends on who you ask, but I'm just excited that the micro tip sizes came out. I would love to see this available in a needle point like its cousin, the Hi-Tec-C. Anyhow, there's not much that I can say about the G-2 that hasn't been said already, but one of these has been in my pen cup for over a decade, and it's because this is a easily to find, reliable, well-performing pen.

Next is the Pilot Frixion Point Erasable Gel Pen. The pen utilizes thermo-sensitive ink to provide the option of being erasable. The 'Point' version has a needle tip, but you can get the regular Frixion, too, which is a conical tip. I've tried the regular Frixion before and thought it was quite good, though the black ink appeared a bit washed out - more like a dark grey. For a blue ink, I thought this was an excellent color, almost a ocean blue.

You can see in this writing sample that the ink is abit darker than cobalt or Zebra's standard blue, but not quite a blue black. I guess it would be fair to put this more in the denim blue range.

The writing performance was very precise, consistent, and enjoyable. I love the needle tip on the Frixion Point, and I plan to acquire more of these as I tend to make mistakes.

The 'erasing' is done by way of the little knob at the end of the barrel. If you like to write with your pen posted (cap on the back), you will have to remove the cap to use the erasing nodule. I'd prefer to have this on the end of the cap since I tend to write with the cap posted on the back, but this preference might not be universal, though I think it makes more sense either way.

The point size is indicated, too, as 05 on the side of the barrel. As for the design on the barrel itself, it's a bit wild for my taste, but I typically lean towards a minimalistic design approach.

The grip is subdued in appearance but works well. I found the comfort of the pen to be solid - no real complaints. The needle point feels solid, and based on the durability of the Pilot Precise, I'm confident that the pen will easily last until the ink is gone. 

I've read that people have had bad experiences writing important notes, e.g., a study guide for a final exam, only to have their notes disappear while the notebook was left in a hot car. Keep in mind, the ink is thermo-sensitive, so heat will remove the ink as though it has been erased, but it's my understanding that you can put the notebook in a freezer and the ink become visible once again! So, this pen might be a good choice for secret messages, too. :)

I was also sent a Frixion Light Erasable Highlighter, so I did the writing sample of the Frixion Point and the Frixion Light together. But, before the sample, let's take a look at the Frixion Light itself.

As you can see, the barrel design primarily yellow, as are most highlighter with yellow ink. The design is also similar to the Frixion Point in that it has a tribal design on the barrel. The combination of the black and yellow makes it look aggressive, almost wasp-swarm like.

If you like a plain barrel design, then this one is not for you. But if you want a highlighter that is vibrant and erases, then you'll probably love this:

  • Worried about highlighting in those expensive text books? It's erasable, so you can highlight key areas and erase it again. 
  • Highlight something on accident? No worries. Rub it away and relax. 
  • If you want to erase the highlighting of the Frixion Light off of the Frixion Point, then you will end up erasing them together, so keep that in mind.

So you can see how effective the erasing is, I wrote a line with the Frixion Point, a line with the Frixion Point highlighted with the Frixion Light, and then drew a line with the Frixion Light.

Using the eraser end, I rubbed a few diagonal lines across the writing sample. As you can see, both inks erase quite well. There might be a little bit of ghosting, but it is very light if at all, and the amount of effort is nominal at best. 

The chisel tip is shaped well for covering most lines of text in the typical font sizes. The tip didn't have much give, so I'm assuming that the tip will hold up well over the life of the highlighter.

What do I like about the Frixion Point and Frixion Light? The writing performance leaves nothing to be desired in both cases - smooth and consistent.

I like the barrel shape and overall writing comfort. Erasable ink is a very cool feature, and I think a lot of people could benefit from a second chance in their writing and highlighting. The durability of both of these products is evident in the feel and in Pilot's reputation. 

What don't I like? The barrel designs are a bit loud, a bit busy, so I'm wondering if a 'pro' or 'executive' model of each of these might be released at some point. 

Neither of these, as far as I know, are erasable. Pilot has taken the initiative of making several eco-friendly products, and it would be nice if these were a part of that agenda, too. 

All in all, it was a great time to try all of these products. With the exception of the B2P ballpoint, which could benefit from a different refill (EasyTouch Pro refill), any of these would be an excellent addition to your arsenal of writing supplies.

Please let me know if you have a different opinion, feedback, or questions about any of these products, and thanks for taking the time to look through the review!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Daycraft Executive Diary + Daycraft Astrology Notebook

This is the 2013 Daycraft Executive Diary (planner), in brown. The cover is made of a high-quality polyurethane, or imitation leather. You'll notice the diary is secured with an elastic strap that secures to a knob on the front of the book.

The good thing about the way this strap secures is loose items that are stuck in the planner are less likely to fall out, and the pages of the diary itself will not get crumpled up due to the planner accidentally opening in your bag or purse. 

The downside to this type of securement is that the knob on the front cover sticks out a bit, so it will fit awkwardly next to other books on a shelf and may end up scratching them or leaving indentation marks, so keep that in mind.

As for the paper, I do enjoy that it is a similar color to the cover, and most of the Daycraft products I have seen tint the paper so it looks more interesting from the side.

The Daycraft Executive Diary is a bit thicker, allowing for a page-a-day format with time slots. I personally don't like when time is included in the formatting, because I might have a number of things to do in one hour and have the rest of my day open. Obviously this is personal preference, but I tend to go for the more organic approach.

Outside of the page-a-day views, there are also month-at-a-glance pages to help you plan for larger projects and events. I like the layout of having the lines above the calendar rather than having little boxes with the date, like many planners often do. 

 There are several motivational quotes throughout the planner, but I wanted to share this one as it is the one that stuck with me the most (and it's great advice, right?). The paper itself is thin, but it holds up to a variety of mediums pretty well, though show-through is significant. I recommend sticking with a pencil, ballpoint, or micro-tip gel.

Various information pages and reference material is also located at the beginning of the book, which you can see in my recent review of the Daycraft Animaland Diary.

On the spine is the year of the planner, which looks great, but there is the aforementioned issue with the knob for the elastic band. At any rate, the Daycraft Executive Notebook has a lot going for it, and it is available is also available in a pocket version. This is the A6 size, and it goes for ~$30.83 (U.S) as of 9/15/12. 

Image from Daycraft.com.hk

Next we have the Daycraft Astrology Notebook with Swarovski crystals. The one I have is for Aries (March 21st to April 19th). I love the black cover with black pages, allowing the crystals to literally shine off of the cover.

The cover is made of a high quality polyurethane, which has its own sheen. Between the crystals and refraction of the cover, I did have difficulty in taking pictures, but I cannot fault the notebook for this.

The notebook comes in a box which not only makes gift wrapping easier, but it adds to the presentation, assuming you don't end up keeping the notebook for yourself. :)

On the first page of the book is a plastic insert that shows all of the different star clusters that relate to a zodiac sign. I honestly didn't know what they looked like, so I thought this was a nice touch.

 On the pages is a star-grid patter, similar to Rhodia's Dot Grid style, but each of the points is a little plus sign which I believe is meant to reflect the star/astrology theme of the notebook itself.

 The paper itself is exceptionally smooth and much thicker than than the paper in the Daycraft Diaries. You get 88 sheets (176 pages), and the paper is white in color (though it looks a little darker in the photo).

Given the theme of this notebook, I think it would make a great dream journal or book of aspirations. Regardless of what the notebook is used for, the notebook feels like it should hold the contents of something special. At $299 Hong Kong dollars, or $38.57 U.S., this notebook is a bit pricey, which is another reason to use it for something worth the price.

Many thanks for Foreal Lee for sending out the samples to review!

You can order this notebook directly from Daycraft - Daycraft Astrology Notebooks

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Daycraft Animaland 2013 Diary

This is the Daycraft Animaland Diary. There are eight different designs you can select from, and this one is called the Baboon, in pink. As you can see, the art is playful, if not odd and whimsical.

On opening the planner, there is a sticker page to supplement action items or, if you want to be more random, you can just stick them all over to add some character to the pages of the book. 

As I've seen in other Daycraft products, this planner, or diary as it is called, has pages with all sorts of useful information: a nutrition guide, international holidays and country information, measuring conversions, gift ideas, and an expense tracker.

With hectic schedules, it's nice when a planner can give you ideas of what to buy for special events like an anniversary or a wedding. Depending on what you're looking for in a planner, this might not be helpful, but it's there if you need it, and as far as I'm concerned, a planner that can help you grapple with day to day obligations by providing a little extra is always desirable.

Dr. Suess-esque trees? Sure. A fox/dog/creature thing with a beard? Why not? This type of art may be a playfully delightful for some, while being a gaudy turn-off for others. Daycraft makes planners to suit nearly every taste, so at least you know you can get something like this spunky is your preference. 

And the silly drawings continue. How can one be stressed about that next appointment or To-Do item when chickens are hatching on the page with thoughts of ice cream and television?!? It doesn't make sense, but I think that is exactly the point - take your mind off of the daily grind with something a bit different. 

The Animaland Diary has a pink page marker, which is great if you don't like to fold page corners down to mark your place. The format is week-at-a-glance, and I think there is ample space for the primary obligations in one's day, but you might have to write a bit smaller if your daily action-item list is packed to the brim.

I think most planners tend to start on a Sunday for the week-at-a-glance format, but the Daycraft Animaland Diary starts with Monday, so keep that in mind if you like one option over the other.

You can see that the artwork underneath is visible through the page, so I recommend using a ballpoint or pencil. I've tried using liquid ink and gel pens on this type of Daycraft paper before, and the showthrough was significant, but at least the ink did not bleedthrough. I'd say that a fine ballpoint would be the best choice for this type of paper.

The Animaland Diary also includes a Forward Planner so you can make note of the important dates that will go into your next planner. My modus operandi has always been that one cannot plan too far ahead, so I find this feature to be quite useful.

The back of the diary also has perforated memo sections so you can remove information without damaging the binding, which I have done in a number of my notebooks. I wish more notebooks had perforated pages in the back for all of your removable information - phone numbers, web addresses, etc., so I appreciate that Daycraft took this convenience into consideration.

Additional information about this Daycraft Animaland Diary (from the page site):

No. of pages:216 pages, week-to-viewCover material:Laminated pearl paperContent:‐ 71‐week planner (From 27th August 2012 to 5th January 2014)
‐ International holidays
‐ Gift ideas
‐ Nutrition labelling information
‐ Perforated memo

While there is no U.S. distributor for Daycraft, you can purchase this directly from the site, and the price includes free worldwide shipping. The price, as of today, is $119 Hong Kong dollars, or $15.34 U.S.

Stay tuned, because this Daycraft Animaland Diary will be part of an upcoming giveaway. Many thanks to Foreal Lee, at Daycraft, for sending this over for review!

Agricultural Memo Book at Antique Store

If you haven't been over to Scription, you should start by checking out this posting about Field Notes co-founder Aaron Draplin and his collection of vintage memo books, the inspiration for what is now Field Notes.

Aaron has a very large collection of these (primarily agricultural) notebooks, and they just look awesome.

While looking through an antique store today, I happened to come across this little memo book, a notebook provided to a Mr. James L. Olson by KX Hybrid Seed Corn, a brand under the Northrup, King & Co.

A little extra digging revealed that the Northrup King Building is a historic site that is now used as a creative arts center and entrepreneurial hub.

As for the agricultural memo books, these memo books often contained reference pages to assist farmers in increasing crop yields, measuring grain, and providing information on how to best utilize their land under a variety of weather conditions.

With memo books, farmers could keep track of everything from debts owed to quantitative information relating to their crops - or whatever else was pertinent to their life at that moment. I love finding these books, and I am never without a Field Notes, Doane, Moleskine, or similar pocket notebook.

The notes I jot down may not be critical to my livelihood, but it's always nice to have paper handy to take down a recipe, book recommendation, craft ale tasting notes, or maybe even a Zentangle. Regardless of what needs to be recorded, I cannot imagine life without my memo books. Having an external system complements/supports internal thought and  is key to productivity, efficiency and, ultimately, my happiness.

What brand, format, or style of paper do you carry with you at all times?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Zebra Z-Mulsion EX Ballpoint 1.0 + Zebra M-301 .5 Mechanical Pencil

Many thanks to Shoplet.com and Zebra Pens for sending over some office supplies for review. I've been a long-time consumer of Zebra products, but I have never used the Zebra Z-Mulsion EX Ballpoint Pen, and it's pen some time since I used a Zebra M-301 Mechanical Pencil

Alright, let's get down to brass tacks, starting with the Z-Mulsion EX ballpoint:

Zebra products are manufactured in several countries - Japan, Indonesia, Mexico, and China. The Z-Mulsion is a Chinese product, and though I don't know if the Z-Mulsion is made in other countries, I can say that this one feels pretty cheap and fragile. The Zebra products that I own from other countries of origin do not seem to have the same quality issues as this one.

I like the writing performance, minus the globbing. And I like the ergonomics of the pen, but I feel that this isn't something that is going to last over time. The pen is refillable, but I looked around and did not easily find refills available for the Z-Mulsion. 

The pen did quite well against a few other blue options, and I was surprised when a brand new Jetstream failed me on the side-by-side comparison (you can see some white spots, and the performance was not very smooth). The Sarasa Clip and the Pilot Multiball were the two top performers in the bunch, and the Z-Mulsion and Easytouch Pro were the top second-tier performers. 

The clip and the push button mechanism were the were offenders of quality, but they will get the job done. 

The branding was fine - nothing to dazzle or disappoint. 

On the left we have the grip, which was sized well and comfortable to hold. You can also see the Zebra emulsion ink logo. If you didn't already know, emulsion ink is a blend of oil and water, allowing the 1.0 ball (right) to flow smoothly across the page. 

Moving on to the Zebra M-301 Mechanical Pencil...

I've had these in my pen case for many years, and this was the first high-quality mechanical pencil I used in college. It's sibling, The F-301 ballpoint, was actually one of the first pens that lead me on to better pens when I realized there is a difference, and I should demand an elevated writing performance over the common ballpoint, so Zebra M series of writing instruments is both nostalgic and special to me.

So, I did critique the weight, but this pencil doesn't cost very much - less than $3.00 in most cases.

The sleeve is not retractable, but adding this feature would also likely bump up the cost. I keep a few of these in the tool box and a few others around the house.

Getting back to quality, this is a product of Japan, and it shows in the solid construction - nothing feel flimsy or likely to come apart. clip, barrel, and knurled plastic grip all feel like they won't let you down, and I can say that I've never had one of these fail on me in any way.

You get the standard emergency eraser, which works very well in a pinch, but I always keep larger erasers around so I don't have to replace the emergency eraser.

Again, this one comes with a knurled grip made of plastic. You can also get the M-701, which has a heavier body and metal knurled grip. I've never tried the M-701, but the F-701 ballpoint is in many ways exceptional, especially for the price.

In summary, the Zebra Z-Mulsion ballpoint is not bad, but it isn't great. I think younger consumers will love the colors, performance, and feel without being upset at build quality.

The M-301 is always a fantastic economy choice for a mechanical pencil, and anything that one might dislike about it can easily be disregard due to the very fair price.

Thanks again to Shoplet.com and Zebra for sending these over. I'm looking forward to seeing the other new releases Zebra will produce down the road.