Review: Muji Smooth Writing, Gel Ink, 0.5mm

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Since Muji has only a handful of retail locations in the United States, I make sure to visit whenever I’m in proximity to one. So when I was in New York a couple of weeks ago, I hit up their SoHo location and picked up a few fresh Muji pens, including this $1.50 gel. If you know Muji, then you’re probably familiar with the company’s “no-brand” products. Unlike your BIC Cristals and Pilot G2s, this pen doesn’t really have a name, but it’s simply referred to as a “Smooth Writing Gel Pen.”  Though there’s a little bit more to it than that.

Unlike the standard Muji gel pen I sometimes see in the wild, this pen is retractable and has a handy spring-loaded clip. It has a good, dark gel ink that doesn’t smear too much, and as the name suggests, it is a smooth writer. It is also a reliable writer, so you wont be bothered by ink that skips out. If you’ve ever used a Zebra Sarasa Clip, this pen will feel very familiar (in fact, it’s likely that Zebra clandestinely produces this pen for Muji).

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My only complaint with Muji’s Smooth Writing pen is that I don’t really like the grip section – the rubber grip has an odd “pencil eraser” feel to it. Though, admittedly, this doesn’t bother me so much as to make me stop using the pen.

If you’re going to be at a Muji store any time soon, then maybe grab one or two of these on your way to the check-out. Otherwise, if you’re looking for a decent gel pen with a spring loaded clip, then it’ll probably be easier to find a Zebra Sarasa Clip instead. You’ll hardly notice the difference anyway.

 

Squire Special Edition: Field Nuts

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It’s been nearly a year since Baron Fig shipped the final Squire rollerball pen from their now defunct Squire subscription service, but that hasn’t stopped them from pumping out the special editions. Since then, Baron Fig has released the orange Mysterium, the yellow Bolt, a Squire made of stainless steel, and, recently, one made of copper. Though a couple of those made me take notice, none of them enticed me so much that I wanted to place an order.

I have enough Squires, after all, and they all feature pretty much the same mechanics and refill. However, a couple months ago, this Field Nuts Edition Squire popped up for pre-order, and it broke my resolve.

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Unless you’re a crazed fan of Field Notes like I am, you’ve probably never heard of “Field Nuts.” Essentially, it’s online fan group for Field Notes users, mainly based on Facebook but also with some presence on Instagram and Twitter. A member of that community partnered with Baron Fig to make a special edition Squire that is painted with the Field Nuts logo. The community voted on the color – they went with this leafy green (reminiscent of the “gumdrop green” notebook in the Shenandoah edition) – and, boom, here it is.

I don’t expect that many of you out there will care much about this pen, but as a daily user of Field Notes, I find it pretty cool. Baron Fig wouldn’t say how many of these pens were made in total (probably somewhere between 50-150), but they currently seem to still have a few available. I think this will satisfy my Squire itch for a little while, but if Field Notes ever officially partners with Baron Fig, then I may as well just send them my wallet.

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Retro Talk: The System

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In April of this year, Mike Dudek of The Clicky Post announced that he had collaborated with Retro 51 to create an exclusive Tornado. Called The System, the barrel of the pen features a stylized, overhead a map of the sun and planets in our solar system (plus Pluto) on a black background. The design looked awesome, so I had to get it.

You may not be able to see it in the pictures, but The System also has glossy black (“dark matter”) strips curving across the barrel that add a little texture, making it a little nicer to hold. The clip, twist, and tip are painted black, and the disk inset at the top of the pen is colored a sun-bright orange. It doesn’t have any acid-etching or glow-in-the-dark elements like other recent Tornados, which may have worked well here too, but I still think it manages to be one of the best Tornado designs out there.

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It didn’t come without a small bit of drama, however. Initially 300 of these pens were produced, but this was described as an “open numbered edition,” which apparently confused a lot of people into thinking it was a “limited edition.” Like limited edition Tornados, each of these pens has a number stamped near the twist, but Dudek planned to keep making them as long as there was a demand.

While I don’t fully understand the point, the “open numbered” concept really doesn’t upset me. After all, Retro 51 did the same thing with The Flying Tiger. Ultimately, a total of 1,300 pens were produced, and I think the only real angry people were the re-sellers. For my part, I’m just happy to have a cool pen.

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If you missed out on this one, it unfortunately doesn’t seem like Dudek plans to produce any more – though you can get still get the pencil version, if that’s your thing. But definitely keep an eye out for whatever he does in the future. I know I will.

Review: Sheaffer Pop (Star Wars Edition), Gel Ink, 0.7mm

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Last year Sheaffer jumped on the merchandising train and made a handful of Star Wars themed pens. Not that it’s a bad thing. While I have mixed feelings about the most recent spate of Star Wars movies, it turns out that I like these pens a lot, even though they are just a re-skinned version of the Sheaffer Pop. Luckly, the Pop is a pretty good pen by itself.

The Pop comes in ballpoint and fountain pen models and are typically found in bright, solid colors. But I’m keen on the gel pen* versions of R2-D2 and BB-8 (though they also have Darth Vader, Death Star, Kylo Ren, and Yoda designs). These barrel designs are detailed, fun, and it’d be safe to assume that any Star Wars fan will get a kick out of them. I also really love the 0.7mm gel refill for its smoothness and deep black color, though the ink will smear some.

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As for the Pop’s rubberized grip, I could do without it. Not only do they wear out over time, but they tend to feel pretty cheap. However, the pen’s thickness makes up for it by making it comfortable to write with,  and it also has a sturdy, metal clip and cap that posts pretty well.

My only real gripe with these Star Wars Pops are their cost. With a plastic body and aforementioned rubber grip, it just doesn’t seem like it should be $20+. The non-Star Wars versions can be found for around $15, which seems more reasonable – I guess Sheaffer has to recoup the expensive Star Wars licensing fees somehow. Although, if you’re willing to spend that extra money, these pens are pretty cool.

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*Sheaffer labels it as a “rollerball” pen, but according to the markings on the refill, it’s actually a gel pen similar to this one (except the model number is 0917).

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Nib Novice, Part 10: The Vanishing Point

This is the tenth and final part of a blog series in which I’m learning to use fountain pens. For all the previous installments, click here.


When I began writing this series of blog posts over two years, I’d hoped that I would be proficient with a fountain pen by the end. But now here I am, a collection of fountain pens surrounding me, and I still feel like a novice. These are surprisingly complicated stationery tools, and I could probably write a hundred posts in this series without feeling totally comfortable. Still, I’ve managed to learn a lot along the way, and, at the very least, I don’t find fountain pens as intimidating as I once did.

So, now that I’ve literally and figuratively spilled a good deal of ink, it’s time to end this series with a fountain pen that I’ve been coveting since the very beginning: The Pilot Vanishing Point.

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The Vanishing Point’s claim to fame is that it’s one of the very few retractable fountain pens on the market, and it has been ever since the product line was introduced in the 1960s. Why don’t more manufacturers make retractable fountain pens? Well, when a fountain pen nib is exposed to air for too long, ink will dry up in and around the feed, which causes clogs that are a hassle to clean. But Pilot’s engineers solved this problem with a simple “trap door” mechanism that opens when the nib is ejected and seals shut when it is retracted.

It’s a novelty – and I mean that in the best sense of the word – but it’s also expensive. So, after saving up a little, I spent the most amount of money I’ve ever spent on a pen, $134, and placed my order for a bright yellow Vanishing Point with a medium nib. When it arrived a few days later, I wasted no time before inking it up with a brown Iroshizuku (Pilot brand) ink.

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While a lot of other fountain pens can come across as pretentious or gaudy, the Vanishing Point’s sleek design is like writing with a Chevy Camaro. So handing it over to people who have zero experience with fountain pens is a lot of fun, if not also a bit risky. I’ve stood frozen with terror as a co-worker attempted to write with the nib upside-down and then proceeded to shake the bejeezus out of it when the ink wouldn’t flow. But these are the risks we take to show off a cool pen.

And it is undoubtedly a cool pen. It writes smoothly, it looks good, and it’s generally just a pleasure to use. At the same time, it’s certainly not for everybody. For example, a lot has been written about this pen’s clip placement on the grip section of the barrel, and this is uncomfortable for some. Fortunately, I don’t have that problem, and if anything, I find that it helps me to hold the pen properly.

The big downside for me – and this applies to all expensive pens – is that I don’t always feel comfortable using it. If I’m at my desk, and I’m using Pilot’s approved ink, it’s fine. But if I want to take this out and about or use it at work, I’m paranoid about losing or breaking it. And, yes, I suppose this is just a personal mental block that I’ll have to get over, but the concern is real enough for me.

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So, now the Nib Novice series is over, part of me wonders how much I’ll continue to use fountain pens. I have to admit that fountain pens never really clicked with me in the same way that they have for other people. Yes, I’ve learned a lot and had fun writing these posts, but I’ve also had my share of frustrating experiences. I also rarely find myself in situations where I need to sit down and write a lot, and ballpoints or gel pens tend to be much more convenient for me.

I suspect that I will, at least on occasion, use these pens. They are great for writing cards and checks, and my girlfriend uses the Pilot V Pen for all sorts of things. Time will tell, I suppose. So you’ll just have to keep an eye out for more fountain pen reviews in the future.