Multi-Pen Review: Skilcraft B3 Aviator

If you’ve heard of the company Skilcraft, it’s probably for two reasons. First, it’s the manufacturer of the U.S. Government Pen, a low-cost, professional-looking ballpoint that also happens to be very reliable. And second, it’s held in high regard by the National Industries for the Blind for employing scores of blind workers in their manufacturing facilities. Skilcraft is a good company, and so I was interested in trying another of the their well-known pens, the stealthy-looking B3 Aviator multi-pen.

As the pen’s name makes obvious, the B3 Aviator is marketed towards pilots. It meets the FAA’s “FOD” requirements, and it has a matte black finish to prevent glare. The multi-pen has three components: a 1.0mm black ballpoint, a 1.0mm red ballpoint, and a 0.5mm mechanical pencil. The midpoint of the barrel twists in either direction to eject and retract the three tips in turn, and the end-cap also screws off to reveal an eraser.

Oddly, the design and function of the B3 Aviator is pretty much identical to the Zebra Surari Sharbo 1000. So, it probably goes without saying that the problems I had with the Sharbo are the same problems I have with the Aviator. In particular, there’s no indication on the barrel for which tip is selected (you have to closely examine the tip to know if you’re about to write with black ink/red ink/pencil), and the cap that covers the eraser is a small piece that’s begging to be lost. For some reason, I also had some trouble getting the Aviator’s pencil lead to eject without breaking.

But, unlike the Sharbo, the Aviator feels a lot more substantial and durable – for about $18, you don’t feel like you’re getting ripped off. But that’s all that this pen really has going for it. The refills are fine, and it generally works okay. However, I still wouldn’t recommend this multi-pen – the design just isn’t very good.

Multi-Pen Review: Zebra Surari Sharbo 1000

I’ll admit, I wasn’t quite sure what I’d gotten when I purchased the Zebra Surari Sharbo 1000. I’d stopped into the Kinokuniya Book Store during a recent visit to New York City, and stumbled on the store’s Japanese stationery section tucked away in its basement. The Surari Sharbo’s bright yellow barrel caught my eye, but since I couldn’t read the Japanese packaging, I had no idea that it was a multi-pen when I bought it.

The Sarari Sharbo 1000 contains two ink cartridges, 0.7mm black and red ballpoints, and a 0.5mm mechanical pencil. In order to switch between red ink, black ink, and the mechanical pencil, you twist the pen in either direction around its midpoint. There are no markings on the barrel to denote which you are getting, so I frequently found myself having to examine the pen’s tip to see if I’d selected the proper one.

The red ink is smooth and doesn’t smear, and the black feels somewhat sluggish. After switching to the pencil, the top becomes clickable to eject the lead, and the the finial twists off to reveal a small eraser. The mechanical pencil lead seems fairly resilient but generally not noteworthy. Just be careful switching back to a pen tip, as the lead will snap if you forget to push it back in.

I’m not a frequent user of multi-pens – obviously, I bought this one by accident –  but I can confidently say that better ones exist than the Zebra Surari Sharbo 1000. Though I love the bright yellow plastic barrel, I just never got used to the twisting mechanism, specifically the lack of lead/tip indicator. Perhaps this is something I’d have gotten used to over time, but it is enough of an annoyance that I can’t be bothered to stick with it that long. And for the $20 cost, this multi-pen just doesn’t seem worth the trouble.

P.S. My fiancée insisted that I create this GIF of the multi-pen in action.