If you happen to follow this blog, you know I have a thing about headphones, well, let’s just say that thing extends to pens. Now, I don’t have some amazing collection of fountain pens or a Montblanc StarWalker extravaganza. No, my pens are decidedly on the practical side with a little bit of flourish. For example, I think Uni-Ball has some of the finest ink cartridges on the planet, but the barrels and related materials are typically inexpensive plastic. (I use their cartridges a lot). So, my little collection’s decidedly on the low end, but consists of more permanent pens than plastic disposables. You’ll also see that each has a purpose albeit a somewhat eclectic idiosyncratic purpose of mine. In this post, I’m going to geek out a bit (OK, more than a bit) about pens; I hope this inspires some to think of their own writing and to take up their own weapons; it is, after all, mightier than the sword. Here’s some of my favorites.
Now why would a guy who is as digitally oriented as myself be into such an analog device? Well, it turns out that the gulf between tech and analog are merging. Before diving into that trend, back to the question. In the tactile writing process, brain connects with thought, movement with ideas and, at least for me, it seems to make the words come alive. While I’ve largely overcome this over the years, I’m still old-school enough to think that if it’s in black-and-white typeface, then it must be done, right? I’m not quite as old as Yule Brenner’s Pharaoh, but I do have some empathy with “So it shall be written. So it shall be done.”
Pen moving across page seems to encourage a more free flow of ideas; it allows me to halt, edit, and pause to think through in a little more natural way. Of course, the vast majority of my writing is done digitally with keyboard and computer, but the tech world is coming around to merging analog and digital experiences. Especially the movement of Microsoft towards using pen on the Surface or a physical dial on the Surface Studio really brings this home. The fact that the sensors in the Surface Pro pen can provide variations of pressure so that the flow of the digital ink changes with pressure further bears this out. Microsoft sees us turning our focus more on creating and less on consuming, and doing so in such a way that virtual and the real worlds merge more. I tend to agree that we’ll see these tactile experiences flow more and more into our digital experience. Obviously the Surface Pro, the Surface Book and Surface Studio illustrate this with their emphasis on touch. Another illustration is Microsoft OneNote’s ability to search on cursive text or translate handwriting to editable text. Another example is Lenovo Yoga Book which allows you to use real link to create digitized notes. While this revolution is taking place, I’m not sure I’ll ever quite give up pen and paper and things like the Yoga Book give me hope that I’ll never have to whilst enjoying the benefits of being digitize. That is, having it saved, searchable, easily editable and easily shared.
Returning to my collection of pens (and pencil) themselves. There are two ballpoints, three roller balls/gel pens, one fountain pen and one pencil. While I’ve gone through many other pens, this set of pens and pencil have risen to the top as my go to products for different uses. One of the themes you’ll see is using Uni-Ball’s inks, but not so much their barrels. Another thing you’ll see is what I’d like to call stylistic practicality. In other words, while there are less expensive options that do roughly the same thing, there’s no less expensive option that really has nice fit and finish to the product with some heft; I like substantial writing implements without undo weight. There certainly are more expensive options as well, but this is the sweet spot where function and design come together to make a really good product. For a number of years now, I’ve considered Pilot’s Dr. Grip Center of Gravity line to be the best ballpoint. They tend to have a consistently richer look to the writing than any other ballpoint. The overall look of the script using this ink borders on a light rollerball. Pilot’s Axiom takes this line to the next level with a quite attractive barrel and mostly metal construction. Speaking of metal and heft, Franklin Covey’s combined stylus and ballpoint does a very nice job of providing great backup. Its pen borders on Cross quality.
The Yafa/Schmidt Titanium (color; the barrel is steel) Capless rollerball is really great for having a rich look but a less smooth writing action that allows for more control. It’s really good for more technical oriented writing, maths and diagrams. I know some who preferred that level of control over an ultra-smooth writing experience. Alas, this pen is no longer made. The next best alternative (nicer but a bit more expensive, is Schmidt Capless Rollerball) Next is a pen I love and is also no longer made: Pentel’s Excalibur; I’ve chosen to use Uni-Ball’s 207 BLX fine (.5 mm). cartridge, This pen has a nice elegant look, but not extravagant. It’s also quite practical with rubber around the bottom part of the barrel to help with your grip and writing. A new addition to my collection is BigiDesign’s Solid Aluminum Pen + Stylus. One of the cool things about this pen is that it can take a wide array of cartridges (refills). My favorite, at the moment, are Uni-Ball’s 207 BLX series (like I use with the Excalibur), especially its blue/black ink. This pen, with its solid aluminum barrel, calls for a slightly bolder look, which is met with the blue-black medium (.7 mm) cartridge. This is my favorite all-around pen right now. It’s very smooth but still provides for good control. You can also choose to have a stylus part at the non-writing end or simply close it off, which I’ve done. In fact, I love this pen so much I also ordered BigiDesign’s Ti-Click Pro in black. This barrel is titanium and has a rougher texture. I’ve paired it with Cross’s Selectip Porous-Point (fine, black). This combination of a textured grip and a smooth but more friction oriented pen tip provide more granular control in writing and a cool grey/blue tinged black from the ink. This pen also takes multiple refills.
My Parker 75 (hasn’t been made in years) has an extra fine gold nib. Despite its fineness, the flexible nib allows it to be expressive. This is a fountain pen that never fails to write if it has any ink. You fill this pen with ink (currently using Parker’s Super Quink Blue-Black Permanent ink) and there never is a fuss afterwards. It writes consistently the same way all of the time. It is a nearly flawless out and hence a great gift for my son. Most fountain pens I’ve used are a bit temperamental, not this one.
Finally I come to Uni Ball’s Kuru Toga pencil, the metal version. (There is a plastic version as well.) The lead automatically rotates (not quite as often as I would like for my taste), has ridges for good grip and a great overall feel. It uses Uni’s NanoDia lead which is quite strong and somewhat challenging to break. This lead is infused with some diamond dust to help strengthen it. This is my favorite pencil of all time. Great for writing, diagrams, technical work but not so much as a drawing or shading pencil (at least for me).
So there’s my eclectic favorites. They all have their place for slightly different uses and I would hate to part with any of them. I’ve had the Excalibur the longest, the Yafa/Schmidt next; the others are fairly recent converts. I’ve arrived at this set having honed over the years my sense of what works well, looks great, and makes practical sense.
If there are some themes, clearly one of them is my love for black ink with color (or richer, darker colors depending on your perspective); I love the look of blue-black more than traditional medium blues or straight black. It absolutely colorful yet retains the richness and darkness of black. For straight-forward black, I use the Yafa/Schmidt and the Axiom for a more traditional blue. It’s been a great set for me. It, alas, seems like I like to pick pens that are discontinued. Is the industry that fickle or am I that eclectic?
Another theme is a writing implement for a purpose (or, for you techies, each pen has a use case).
- Excalibur – Embodies a more elegant look whilst retaining Uni-ball’s 207 BLX smoothness.
- Yafa/Schmidt – Provides more granular control with a bold, black look
- Axiom – Elegant ballpoint with rich ink. This one is great for a long spells of longhand.
- Parker 75 – Has the flair of a fountain pen with good control in a no-fuss package
- BigiDesign Aluminum – This is a great all around writing with Uni-ball’s 207 BLX smoothness in a bit bold point.
- BigiDesign Titanium Clip Pro – Great all around writing when you’re looking for a bit more precision whilst retaining expressive script.
- Franklin Covey – A stylus cum pen always found with my Kindle Fire; a great pen or stylus in a pinch or I need a smaller form factor.
- Kuru Toga (metal) – whenever an automatic pencil is required
Clearly I’m a bit of a writing geek. Even though I type more than I physically write. I still love the process of handwriting as a way to make me think through things whether it’s note taking while reading or listening to a sermon or just in meeting. These are some great instruments to help me do just that. In a nutshell, this is my personal journey to pentopia (oh, wait, that’s a brand). What’s your?