Pen Review: Lamy 2000 Fountain Pen

Lamy is to pens what Tissot is to watches. Great products at decent prices, with excellent quality. I’ve never had a Lamy pen that didn’t make me happy. There aren’t many brands that fall into this category, Pelikan and Namiki are the only others.

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The Lamy 2000 is a black pen with a modern look and feel. The pull off cap is convenient, and the hinged clip begs for use. The reveal is about 3/8″, which is more than many pens, and more than enough to grab the pen out of a tight sleeve. The pen feels indestructible, and I believe it is made out of some kind of fiber reinforced plastic. This is one of the few pens I own that I don’t hesitate to carry without a case or let other people use.

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The nib, while hooded and not adjustable, is excellent and expressive despite being hooded and not really flexible. I can’t explain it, but of all the pens I own, this is one of the most distinctive in terms of the line it writes. It’s not too wet, and not too dry. It takes any ink without trouble, and the ink level window just barely allows for seeing if the pen’s got ink in it or not. It’s a piston filler, and the pen holds a decent amount of ink.

On a recent trip this pen was one of two I took on a plane. It leaked, slightly, from the nib joint. I don’t give the pen bad marks for this, as I’m not sure the pen was full when I left and I don’t fly with pens very often.

It writes very broadly even though it is an extra-fine. For a long time I didn’t really use the pen, because on cheaper paper it wrote too broadly for me. Over time I learned that broader pens are usually easier to read later on. I began to leave the finest pens alone and the Lamy 2k started getting used more often.

On nice paper this pen is a pleasure to use. For me all the German brands have a lot of writeability – they’re easy to live with, and this pen exemplifies that. On journal paper it writes fine, but it’s too broad for me there. I use it most for writing letters and making notes on full-size paper.

Palomino Blackwing vs. Palomino Blackwing 602

It’s been quite a while since Palomino brought out their Blackwing 602 (which I’ll call the 602) to go with their regular Blackwing (I’ll refer to it as the PBW). The history of these two models has been well documented, but the very short version is that Palomino decided to remake the famous Blackwing 602 pencils that were last made in the late 1990’s, since the trademark had expired. It makes for a little confusion when discussing these pencils, since there are two pencils that can be called the Blackwing 602. Just to be clear, I’ve never even seen an original Blackwing 602. I’ve only used the Palomino remakes.

I’ve had a chance to try them both. They’re both good. I started with the PBW first, then I’d ordered the 602’s thinking they’d be the right choice over the regulars, but now I actually find myself using them about equally.

The paint jobs on both are about the same. Different color, but the the quality of the paint is about equal. The 602’s paint seems a smidge thicker, perhaps a little smoother, but I’m comparing a few samples of each, not whole batches. Earlier reviews of the 602 talk about the lettering being only on the surface, and very easy to rub off. The lettering on my 602’s is stamped in just like on the be PBW’s. I consider them of equal quality, cosmetically speaking. Both are attractive and distinctive, although I think I prefer the look of the 602.

The graphite is a different matter. The PBW is significantly softer than the 602. It writes on a smooth paper very easily with a light touch, but on paper with any tooth it dulls within words. The 602 is harder, and behaves that way. I find the 602 about the same as a Tombow 3B, where the PBW is softer than a 4B. The 602 isn’t much better on the rough stuff, but it’s a big improvement on smooth paper. Where a PBW doesn’t always last for a meeting’s worth of note taking, the 602 can, while retaining a pretty dark line with light pressure. On the Atlas Bond I use as desk paper, both pencils are a bit soft. On the paper in my Leuchtturm1917 notebook the 602 is the choice for taking notes in meetings, and the PBW is nice when I want a richer line. The PBW is more fun to write with but needs sharpening very often.

I ended up with both because I got the PBW first and found it too soft for business use. If I’d gotten the 602 first I’m not sure I’d have gone after the PBW. I’ve also read more than a few opinions that the 602 is more like the real original Blackwing 602.

The Leuchtturm1917 Jottbook

The generous folks at Kikkerland Design sent me some Jottbooks to review. I like the Leuchtturm1917 notebook I have much more than than the Moleskine books I’ve had in the past – more advantages, while keeping everything I liked about Moleskine.

The Jottbooks are to the Moleskine Volant what the Leuctturm1917 notebook is to the Moleskine hardcover. Everything you expect, and a little more.

I got four: two pocket, one large (5×8) and one A4. One of the pocket books went to Ginny, my oldest daughter, who at 6 will happily use and fill any notebook you want to hand her. Unfortunately she’s also fairly good at misplacing things, and we’ve lost track of that book. I can tell you she beat it up pretty good, and it held together. Even tearing out a few pages didn’t cause it any trouble.

The 5×8 book I’m using to record thoughts for this blog. The paper is good, the book seems durable, and it has page numbers and a table of contents.

The grid versions of the book have a nice light gray ruling – the way Moleskines used to be. They have a spot for the date on each page, and a margin at the top and bottom.

The A4 book also has a margin on the outside of each page. These are nice touches – they provide space that is separate form the central, main writing area. This space is handy for making special notations, marking special pages, etc. I haven’t used the A4 yet – it’s actually so big it’s intimidating.

None of the books have that annoying spot to say way reward you’ll offer for the book, which is good.

All of the books have perforated pages, which I consider to be wasted pages. It’s just as bad as on the Moleskine, where about half the book is perfed. That means these books will see limited use for me, as I won’t write on a perforated page unless I intend to tear it out. I don’t need perforated pages – if I need to write something down for someone I use a business card.

If you’re a Volant user and are looking for something better, this would be it. These books are just becoming commercially available. From Laura at Kikkerland Design:

Lovenotebooks.com is going to offer them any day now. Jeroen and his wife Sara are very well versed in notebooks. I’m sure they’d be happy to talk to you…at least let you know when they are going online with the Jotts. jeroen@lovenotebooks.com

Local shops offering the notebooks (or brick and mortar)

Powell’s Books in Portland OR has the largest selection. They bought all 12 skus/styles.

Ideal Stationers in Northern CA.

University Arts – several locations in Northern, CA.

The bookstore at Wisconsin State U in Madison is offering them.

Laywine’s in Toronto. Actually…several Canada stationery shops picked them up right away.

Fibre Arts in Palo Alto.

Bean’s and Barley in Milwaukee.

The BookFactory Pocket Notebook

After looking at BookFactory.com several times, curiosity finally got to me and I ordered a few of their pocket notebooks. Their site seems aimed at large institutions who are buying for engineering and scientific types. The nature of their customers is echoed in many details in the product.

The good:

The book seems tough. There is reinforcement well into the front and back covers – you can see the edge of it halfway across the cover in the photo. The last page of the book also has reinforcement. The book block is joined very well to the cover, and the paper is thick. The book is about 3 5/8″ by 5 1/4″, and has a soft cover.

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The binding is sewn, lays flat, and doesn’t seem to be bothered by being bent backward, where the book is folded so the front cover is against the back cover.

There are nice spots for information in the front cover, and there’s no annoying assumption that you will pay a reward for the book’s safe return. In the front there’s some useful advice on how to keep a notebook for patent and research purposes, but it’s interesting reading regardless.

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There are page numbers and a table of contents. The page numbers, joined by a spot to record the book number, are pretty bold compared to the Leuchtturm1917. I do not know why one would need to record the book number on each page, except that it ensures you can track down which book copies came from. That would be reason enough in many corporate environments, for personal use it is a fine spot to write the date.

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The table of contents rocks. There’s an entry for each page in the book. This way you can just jot what is on each page, without feeling obligated to choose what is table of contents-worthy.

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The paper seems thicker than Moleskine paper, and took the ink from my fountain pens just fine with no bleed through to the other side. A fairly blunt Sharpie did show on the other side, but did not go to the following leaf. The paper also takes pencil pretty well, and I dare say it takes it better than my beloved Leuchtturm1917 in that regard.

None of the pages are perforated. Yay! I HATE perforated pages.

They’re made in the USA, in Dayton, Ohio.

The not so good:

The reinforcement in the cover causes it to crease in the middle which is annoying when you’re paging through the book.

It has neither a place marker nor a pocket, but for a $6 book I didn’t expect it.

The cover is black, so labeling will require a sticker of some kind. They sell the books in other colors, which might take a marker of some kind.

They’re only available through a few places. www.bookfactory.com, and Amazon carries a few. I don’t mind. I’d rather pay less and get the books direct anyway.

A comparison of pencils

A nice thing about pencils is that, mostly, they are quite cheap. If you buy them individually, for the price of even a modestly priced fountain pen you can probably get one of everything your local art store has to offer, along with a nice sketchbook, if not a whole lot more. So that’s what I did 😉

Pencils are complex and subtle. How they perform is greatly influenced by the paper, pressure, and the state of sharpness. What works well on the paper in my journal may be even eaten alive by the Capitol Bond I use as desk paper, and positively demolished by sketchbook paper. The pencils that work best on each of those all look more or less the same on slippery-smooth Staples Baggase paper. My journal has the Blackwing dull in a few sentences while the Uni and Tombow last longer. On copy paper they’re about the same. The texture of the graphite can be subtle, and sometimes it seems like there’s more difference in the sound than in the feel.

I filled up several pages just swapping back and forth between pencils, examining the differences. Before too long, there were some clear favorites.

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In order top to bottom the pencils I tried are:

Kimberly 3B

Kimberly B

Kimberly 2B

Tombow Mono Professional B

Tombow Mono Professional HB

Mitsubishi Hi-Uni 4B triangular writing

Kimberly HB Kimberly 4B

Tombow Mono Professional 3B

Tombow Mono Professional 4B

Palomino Blackwing

Tombow Mono Professional 2B

Mirado Black Warrior 372

Musgrave HB

Musgrave Test Scoring 100

Derwent Ketching B *

Office Depot #2, USA made *

Derwent Sketching HB *

Papermate Mirado Classic #2

General’s Layout 555Quill HB *

Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100 HB *

Unigraph 1200 B

Unigraph 1200 HB

Unigraph 1200 H

Unigraph 1200 2B

Unigraph 1200 2H

The ones marked with an asterisk were already lying around. The rest were purchased recently. I’m not going to do a detailed review of each one, and the Unigraphs I’ve covered in a different post.

The biggest thing I learned was how much nicer soft pencils are to write with than the typical HB. They take very little pressure, even as little as a fountain pen. Yes, they can smear, but that hasn’t been an issue like I thought it would have been.

My favorites for the time being, in order of preference are:

The Mitsubishi Hi-Uni 4B. Every time I write with this pencil I’m struck by how it feels. It leaves  nice dark line, and the point ages so much better than the Blackwing. The triangular shape is hard to get used to, but is comfortable. When I write I tend to rotate the pencil a little after every word or so. The triangular shape makes that more difficult, but I got used to it. I need to find the right eraser to stick on the back of this thing. I’m going to order some of these in 3B to make sure, then I will probably order a box, probably in the hex shape. Well, maybe pending a test of the Palomino Blackwing 602’s.

The Tombow 4B. Almost as nice, but not quite as creamy as the Hi-Uni, just a shade more point durability than the Blackwing. I go back and forth between this and the Blackwing, but on my journal paper this one is a little nicer. But the Blackwing has an eraser

The Palomino Blackwing. Just a bit too soft, and it requires too much sharpening. You can tell I like it though because it’s gotten short. I use it a lot because of the eraser, which has worked well for me. I understand that the Blackwing 602 is harder, and I’ve ordered some to try. Add a little hardness (really, more point durability) and this will be a winner.

The think about this pencil is that if you write lightly, and you want to write fast, it is awesome. It can write with very little pressure, and when I do this the point lasts fairly well.

The Musgrave Test Scoring Pencil. It’s not especially smooth or creamy, but it’s such a good deal. Less than a quarter the cost of the others, and it’s got an eraser on the end. I imagine this will be a pencil I use a lot. The hex corners are fairly sharp, which was pretty noticeable. It really makes the pencil feel different, but I haven’t found it to be uncomfortable.

General’s Kimberly 4B. Not quite as buttery smooth as the others, and a tad softer than the Blackwing, but it’s available locally, and is inexpensive. Really, this and Musgrave’s Test Scoring Pencil are about tied. Smoothness vs. eraser.

Musgrave Unigraph 2B. A bit too soft, but very nice even so. On smooth paper it’s a pleasure to write with. On the Capitol Bond it’s eaten quickly. Again, with an eraser, which is a plus.

Musgrave HB. Nearly as nice as the Tombow HB, but much cheaper, and with an eraser. Not as dark as softer pencils, but compared to them it holds a point forever and it’s darker than the average HB. People write about this being a ‘sleeper pencil’.

I like having an eraser on the pencil. It’s one less thing to worry about. I’ve finally gotten to where I erase something without crossing it out first. Some folks avoid the erasers that come on pencils, but I’m finding that they work well enough for me. Yes, they are more abrasive than the white plastic erasers, and they leave a bit more line, but for correcting a word or a number in average use they are fine.

So, what about the rest?

What it comes down to for me is that an average HB is pretty average. In harder grades it was more difficult to tell a difference between pencils of the same grade. They write a more durable line, but it’s not as dark and it takes more effort. On abrasive sketch paper they’re nicer to use.

The 2B & 3B models are mostly in between. They don’t hold a point like the HB, and aren’t dark like the softer guys. I want either a nice dark line, or a point that sticks around. I could see that with some paper these pencils might be a favorite, but for what I’m using they seem like an awkward compromise.

Now, for those of you who think I’m nuts.

I’ve been aware of woodcase pencil aficionados for a long time. I’ve also kind of wondered what they saw in pencils. Now I know. I never would have thought I would enjoy pencils this much, let alone enjoyed comparing them.

So try this. Go to an art store and pick up a few grades and brands. Go home and plop yourself in your favorite chair, and while you’re taking in the nightly news (or the 317th viewing of Lilo & Stitch, in my case) try them out. Try different kinds of paper. See if you’re not nuts as well.

Musgrave’s Unigraph Pencils

This is a review of the assortment of Unigraph 1200 Drawing pencils made by Musgrave. Musgrave is one of the last surviving American pencil companies, and as such I’d like to support them.

I got these pencils as a gift – www.pencilthings.com had sent them to me by mistake, in place of the box of B grade pencils that I’d ordered. When I emailed Rose about the problem she graciously said to keep them and she would send the rest – the best response one could ask for.

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Here’s my first impressions:

2B – Nice! A bit soft, perhaps, but otherwise it’s a fine writing pencil.

B – Hard. Very hard for a B. I would expect the 2H to be like this.

HB – Pretty much exactly the same as the B.

H – seems softer than both the B and HB,

2H – harder than the H, and about the same as the B and HB.

I’m convinced the B and HB are mislabeled 2H pencils.

The 2B is more like a 4B from some other brands, but it writes with a fairly creamy smoothness – much like their Test Scoring 100 pencil, but definitely softer. It seems similar to the Palomino Blackwing, but not as waxy.

I’m anxious to see if the B grade pencils I ordered as a box are any different than the B represented here.

Does it really need to be that permanent?

If you read any of the forums or blogs related to pens you know ink permanence is a recurring subject. I suspect everyone gets interested in it at some point or another. I myself have more than once gotten a bit obsessive about finding and using only the most permanent inks or pens. Each of these threads rehashes some common themes:

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We must write in pen, because pencil can be erased. Actually, erasing isn’t that easy – I did drafting with pencils very early in my career, and I can assure you that completely erasing pencil that has been in place for a while is not an easy task even with an electric eraser on vellum. I do not think one will be able to thoroughly erase aged pencil from the kinds of paper most notebooks and letters use, at least not without damaging the paper. If the intent is to destroy the material, tossing or burning would be a lot of faster.

Yes, changing individual entries is a different story, and for keeping records and checks and the like ink obviously makes sense, but it’s ironic that pencil is avoided because aside from erasing, pencil graphite is pretty resistant to water and solvents.

We must protect our writings from the ages so that future generations can have them. What we write in our letters and journals will be treasured for decades to come and our distant successors wouldn’t be relieved to learn they’d become unreadable, and thus be able to throw them away. Sure, everyone wants mementos, but I tend to doubt anyone is going to wade through the volumes I’ve filled with drivel over the years. Some of the letters I wrote to Susan early in our relationship are sweet and G-rated, but some of them would surely have a third party reader writhing in agony. In fact, I’m pretty sure we never invent time travel because I haven’t been visited by descendants asking me to stop writing.

But, you never know. I might still invent something or become famous, and lots of journals may be a nice retirement package for some great, great, grandchild.

Even so, given how much of old writings have survived, is the quality of ink in modern times really that critical?

Checks, of course, must be written in the safest ink. The assumption here is that the checks we write are routinely seized upon by forgers, and we must guard against them washing our checks and re-writing them for larger amounts to someone else. I wonder how often this really happens. Those who have a lot to lose clearly need to be careful.

Any forger who goes to the trouble to steal and wash a check of mine is going to be disappointed. I’ll know it happened because he’ll send me a bill for the NSF charge. I write checks rarely these days, and it’s getting more infrequent each year.

It must resist the common spill. This one is pretty plausible for lab notebooks and folks who frequently write in restaurants, outdoors, or anywhere near a child with a beverage. As a parent I’ve learned to keep a minimum distance between the disaster triangle formed by a child, an open glass of liquid, and anything of value. Even so I’ve spilled on a book a few times. Each time it’s smeared the ink, but what was left was fairly easy to read. Even the least water resistant ink I’ve tested under running water has left enough image to be legible, and in the common scenario, what is lost was written only moments earlier, and can likely be recalled. This is another case where pencil has the advantage.

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So how permanent does it really need to be? I can’t remember anything I’ve written in my life that was critical enough to warrant the kind care I could take to make sure something is permanent.

How far do you go to make sure what you write is safe?