Review: Everyman Grafton, Gel Ink, 0.7mm

Kickstarter, in my experience, can be hit or miss. Any given Kickstarter project might have a good sales pitch, nifty graphics, and a well produced video, but creating and shipping a final product is a different matter entirely. A good project will meet your expectations, and a great project will exceed them. And I’m happy to say that since I received the Grafton by Everyman a few months ago, I believe that it fits into this latter category. In fact, it’s quickly become the pen I pick up more than any other.

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The Grafton is designed as an “everyday carry” pen, something that can easily be slipped into a pocket or purse without having to worry. To that end, the Grafton does a very good job. Its fully aluminum body, which comes with a black or silver finish, can take a beating, and the ‘click’ retracting mechanism is hearty and reliable. The clip, which is kept in place by a couple of tiny hex screws, is strong, yet pliable enough to easily attach to a pocket.

Inside the pen, a branded 0.7mm gel ink cartridge is included. The ink is dark and smears a bit, similar to what you might find in a Pilot G-2. But if you prefer a refill that can write through dirt and water, I was pleased to see that the Grafton also comes with parts that allow a Fisher Space Pen refill to fit inside the barrel.

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I really like this pen, but that obviously doesn’t mean it’s for everybody (despite the company’s name being “Everyman”). As you can see from my picture, the black finish does get worn with heavy use. I’m actually a fan of this worn look, but it would obviously be bothersome for anyone who likes keeping their pens looking pristine. From a dimensional standpoint, it might also be a bit big for some people. It fits into my pocket nicely, but it’s noticeably longer and thicker than other “everyday carry” pens like the Fisher Cap-O-Matic or the Zebra F-301.

My only complaint is that the threading on the barrel sometimes comes a little loose. It’s not so much that the pen falls apart, but it’s enough that I have to re-tighten it at least once a day. It takes a fraction of a second to fix and only occurs when I’ve been using the pen a lot, but I think that it’s a minor annoyance worth noting. Obviously this hasn’t deterred me at all from using the pen.

If you’re interested in the Grafton, you’ve unfortunately missed the Kickstarter campaign. However, you can now purchase one from the Everyman website for a little more money – $35. It might be a tad pricey for some, but it’s been a worthwhile investment for me. As the packaging insists, it’s meant to be a “Buy-For-Life” pen, so I intend to get my money’s worth.

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Review: Zebra F-701, Ballpoint, 0.7mm

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The Zebra F-701 is a stainless steel ballpoint, similar to the Zebra F-402 and based on Zebra’s popular F-301. And if you find Zebra’s numbering system as confusing as I do, here’s an easier way to think about it: the F-301 is the base-model (~$2 per pen) , the F-402 is the mid-grade (~$3 per pen), and the F-701 is Zebra’s premium pen (~$6 per pen). And while I believe the upgrade from F-301 to F-402 is definitely worth the money, the premium upgrade to the F-701 is less clear-cut.

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The F-301 (top) has a hard-plastic grip, the F-402 (middle) has a rubberized grip, and the F-701 (bottom) has a stainless steel grip.

While the F-701 is a much more substantial pen than the F-301, it’s about equal to the F-402 in terms of size and weight (though all three pens share the same mediocre ballpoint refill). What distinguishes the F-701 is its knurled, stainless steel grip, which looks nice, feels extremely durable, and is surprisingly comfortable. The F-402, on the other hand, has a soft, padded grip, which is a little more comfortable but will wear down over time.

There are two other, less substantial differences as well. First, the F-402 definitely has a thicker, sturdier clip. And, second, the F-701 has a plastic retracting mechanism that makes a quieter “click” noise. Both these differences, unfortunately, make the premium F-701 feel a little cheaper and less hardy.

Still, if you feel the need a tougher pen, then the F-701, with its all-stainless steel body, is still the clear winner of the group. However, at half the price, the F-402 is a better value for people who are less hard on their pens, such as those who do most of their writing at a desk. Meanwhile, you can probably skip the F-301 altogether.

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Review: Lamy Dialog 2, Rollerball, Medium Point

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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.

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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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Review: Zebra F-402, Ballpoint, 0.7mm

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If the Zebra F-301 Ultra is an upgrade from the original Zebra F-301, then the Zebra F-402 is like a double-upgrade. It’s noticeably heavier, the barrel is a little bit longer, and all of the plastic has been replaced with stainless steel. But best of all, the F-402 is thicker and, like the F-301 Ultra, the hard grip section has been improved with a comfortable, rubberized material.

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The only thing that hasn’t been upgraded between these three iterations – the F-301, the F-301 Ultra, and the F-402 – is the 0.7mm ballpoint refill. That’s not to suggest that it’s a bad refill, just mediocre when compared to the smoothness of the Pilot Acroball or the usefulness of the Fisher Space Pen refill. While the extra heft of the F-402 gives some gravity-assist to what is normally a cramp-inducing writing experience, the pen would still be much better with a higher quality refill.

But if you are a fan of the F-301, then the F-402 is worth trying. At 2 or 3 dollars per pen, it doesn’t cost a much more than the F-301. Yet it’s a more substantial, nicer pen overall. And, more importantly, the F-402 is a lot more comfortable to write with.

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Review: Zebra F-301 Ultra, Ballpoint, 0.7mm

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I’ve covered many iterations of the popular Zebra F-301 pen on this blog, and it’s been quite a hodgepodge. For example, there’s the F-301 Compact, a redesign that managed to be even more uncomfortable than the original. There’s also the rollerball version of the F-301, creatively named the R-301, which made some positive and interesting changes, yet still failed at some of the basics. And then there’s the 301A, a version of the F-301 that made almost no changes, positive or negative, except that the barrel looks a little prettier.

But, finally, I’m happy to report that Zebra has an update of the F-301, called the F-301 Ultra, which really is a marked improvement.

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Within moments of using the F-301 Ultra, it’s clear that it is a much better pen than the original. There’s a couple small changes – a reinforced clip and a rounded-off knock mechanism – that contribute the overall improvement, but the most significant change is the grip. Rather than the hard-plastic of the original F-301, the F-301 Ultra has a softer, thicker grip. It’s impressive how this change makes the F-301 Ultra much more comfortable to write with than the original.

At around five dollars per pen, it’s about double the price of the original F-301, and depending on your personal use case, this softer grip will wear down eventually. But if you’re using your F-301 for more than jotting small notes here and there , then it’s definitely worth the upgrade to the Ultra. Now if Zebra could only improve its ballpoint ink refill to compete with something like the Pilot Acroball, this pen might really be a game-changer.

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Extra Links

  • A review from the Tiger Pens Blog. Apparently, it’s a good self-defense pen? I don’t know about that, but he also agrees that the ink is less than ideal.
  • A review on the Fountain Pen Network Forum by member s5s. Again, the main contention is the refill, which is a proprietary design. So don’t think you’ll be able to switch this refill out with any other.
  • The F-301 Ultra is carried by many retailers online, but I’ve never seen one in a store – even Zebra’s website doesn’t really mention the Ultra anywhere. Perhaps it has been discontinued already.