Review: Retro 51 Slim Tornado, Ballpoint, Medium Point


Okay, full disclosure: I’m a fan of the Retro 51 Tornado. I’ve got a bunch of them. So when I saw the new Slim line of Tornado pens in the recent Retro 51 catalog, I knew right away that I was going to buy one. My only difficulty was deciding which one I wanted most.

For a while the Slim Tornado was made only in partnership with Apple, with four designs that match the four iPhone colors. The problem is that these pens are available only at Apple’s Cupertino headquarters. If you live outside of California then you’re out of luck, unless you’ve either got a good friend on the West Coast or you’re willing to pay triple the retail price on eBay. But have no fear, Retro 51 has three new designs for the Slim Tornado that are available everywhere.


While I was initially tempted by the Graphite design, I was a bit more intrigued by the Electron. Unlike the other designs, which have a printed wrap, the Electron has a metallic barrel, anodized with a light blue color that covers the entirety of the pen’s body – tip, clip, twist, and all. It looks great, plus the barrel is acid etched with a hexagonal design that’s reminiscent of a carbon nanotube.

Compared to a standard Tornado, the Slim is slightly thinner, lighter by a hair, and has a shorter clip. However, both pens are the same length, and unless you’ve got them side-by-side, the differences aren’t overt. The Slim Tornado also uses a ballpoint refill, the Schmidt EasyFlow 9000, rather than the Schmidt Rollerball refill typically found in a Tornado  (which is just too fat for this pen). As ballpoints go, I like it quite a bit. However, that may be because it feels much more like rollerball ink. It’s dark and smooth, but it smears more than your average ballpoint, especially on glossy paper.

Overall, I really like this Retro 51 Slim Tornado, which perhaps is no surprise. I still prefer the larger-sized Tornado original, but that’s just a personal preference. My girlfriend, with her smaller hands, says she prefers the Slim. And, regardless, if you’re a fan of the Tornado like I am, then I would definitely suggest adding one of these to the collection.

Review: Paper Mate Inkjoy 550RT, Ballpoint Ink, 1.0mm


While there’s a huge variety to Paper Mate’s line of Inkjoy pens, the Inkjoy 550RT is the only one which is “designed for fun.” At least, that’s according to Paper Mate’s marketing department. In reality, however, there’s nothing that’s exactly “fun” about the 550RT, but it still manages to be a decent, disposable ballpoint pen.


Really, the design of the Inkjoy 550RT is nice but also relatively plain. Each end of the barrel is covered with a rubbery grip that narrows towards the pen’s middle, creating a very subtle and relatively comfortable hourglass shape. It has faux-chrome accents, a sturdy clip, and a clicker that’s reliable, though not terribly robust.

The ballpoint ink is surprisingly smooth and smear-free, and it dries darker than what you’d find with a cheaper ballpoint. Although it’s not quite up there with the Pilot Acroball or uni-ball Jetstream, it’s still a worthwhile product if you’re looking to buy a handful of ballpoints for only a few bucks. Only, you should be sure that your expectation for “fun” isn’t set too high.


Review: Pilot Dr. Grip, Ballpoint, Medium Point


If you walk through a stationery aisle every now and again, it’s likely that you’ll have at least a passing familiarity with the Pilot Dr. Grip. At my corner store, for example, there’s always one situated alone and awkwardly, hanging between a row of BICs and a row of store-brand gels. Well, Dr. Grip, the time has come to take you off the rack and out for a spin.


Despite the small amount of shelf space it’s often given, the Dr. Grip has its fair share of fans out there. It’s a thick pen with a large and rubbery grip, which makes it quite comfortable to write with. In fact,  it is probably intentional that the pen’s name, Dr. Grip, suggests a somewhat therapeutic product.

The Dr. Grip’s ballpoint ink is surprisingly good too, darker and smoother than most – it comes close to the nice ballpoint ink of Pilot’s Acroball. Still, for a pen that is geared toward comfort,  a smoother gel or rollerball ink might have worked better. Regardless,  it’s a nice pen overall, and if writing tends to make your hand cramp up, the Dr. Grip is a pen worth considering.


Review: Lamy Dialog 2, Rollerball, Medium Point


I received this Lamy Dialog 2 rollerball pen as a gift for my birthday last year (thanks, Dad!), and with online listings at $100+, it’s probably the most expensive pen in my collection so far. However, that hasn’t deterred me from taking it out of its case a handful of times. I’ve used it both at home and taken it to work, being careful not to leave it sitting anywhere unprotected for too long.

The Dialog 2 was designed by Holscher Designs, a Danish company founded by architect Knud Holscher, which specializes in industrial designs. It is a beautifully machined pen, made of stainless steel with a finish of palladium, an element commonly used in jewelry. It has a great weight and even balance, and the barrel has a good thickness, making it a pleasure to write with and hold. But the most interesting and impressive design element of the Dialog 2 is the retracting mechanism.


When the tip of the pen is exposed, the metal clip lays completely flush with the barrel of the pen. To retract the tip, twist the pen at the midsection, and a spring-loaded clip will simultaneously pop out. It’s a very neat design that ensures against clipping the pen to your pocket with an exposed tip, preventing stains to your shirt or pants. Just don’t set it down on your desk un-retracted because this mechanism can also make the pen a rolling hazard.

The only real downside of the Dialog 2 is the ink refill. It’s a nice refill with a dark ink that writes very smoothly, but it’s a proprietary design by Lamy that is only offered in medium and broad tip-sizes. If, like me, you like finer-tipped pens, you’re out of luck. I’ve yet to find another refill that will fit.

Overall, the Lamy Dialog 2 is a great pen for its unique and innovative design. At its price point, it’s not the type of pen I’d ever be comfortable throwing in a backpack or clipping to a notebook. It will likely spend most of it’s time in its case on my bookshelf. It has, however, become the first pen I reach for whenever I need to write my rent check.


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Colors Review: Paper Mate Liquid Flair, Assorted Colors, Medium Point


Although I didn’t like the Paper Mate Liquid Flair for writing, it turns out that it’s a pretty great pen for drawing and coloring. It’s comfortable to hold, and the medium, felt tip does a great job at filling in areas. Though smearing and bleeding can definitely be an issue, it might be worth the trouble for some of the bright and vivid colors.


This set comes with seven colors (plus black): blue, red, green, pink, orange, turquoise, and purple. Some of the colors almost look like highlighters, which isn’t something I tend to like. But the red, blue, and purple are dark and vivid – great colors.

If you’re doing detailed work, this might not be the pen for you – the medium point and the smearing issues would make it less than ideal for that application. But for general coloring, it does a great job. Each pen also has a different design on the barrel, which is a nice touch.