You know that feeling when you pick you pick up a nice pen or mechanical pencil and it just feels good in your hand? Like when you pick up something like the Pentel Kerry or the BAronfig Squire? The idea that this will be a nice writing experience? Yeah, that feeling. Perhaps comparing the Frixion Fineliner (FFL from here) to those pens is apples and oranges, so let me drop the bar lower. Let’s compare it to something like the Pilot G2 or the Sharpie S-Gel, both pens work well and you know you’ll get a decent writing experience from them.
Well sorry to get your hopes up. The FFL is none of those things. From the moment I picked up these pens they were a disappointment. They feel lightweight and cheap, The cap looks cheap. The printing on the body of the fineliner looks cheap. They look and feel cheap.
I can look past that if the experience of use is better than average. These provided a sub par writing experience. I like Frixion pens quite a bit. I pick them up even though they aren’t even close to archival. I like the idea of a pen that can be erased. Period. They provide a weird sort of nostalgia for me. One that doesn’t ooze and blob on the page.
The FFL feels dry and the ink is not saturated enough for enjoyment. The black is gray. And all the colors left a pale line. I thought maybe it was the composition book paper being too absorbent so I tried them in a sketchbook that I know is not absorbent, in fact it is a book that allows ink to really shine and look great. While a bit better, these were still terrible. Pale and washed out.
They did erase well, though I suppose when the pen does lay down enough pigment to be nice and dark it is easy to erase the lines on the page.
Whatever I paid for these was far far too much. Avoid these.
I love a good mechanical pencil. Really I do. I tend to take care of them and have quite a few around and about, but I REALLY love the idea of one with a cap. You see I keep my Rotring and Koh-i-noor tips in shape with Bic Crystal caps, no really, they slide on and grip to that knurling and act as a point protector. The blue colored cap looks great with my silver Rotring 600. Thus the idea of a mechanical pencil that has a cap with it? AWESOME. I ordered the olive green pencil from Jetpens, at $15 this isn’t cheap but it is far from the most expensive mechanical I own, no both my TWSBI Precision and Rotring 600 were roughly $25 (maybe $30?). Granted the Kerry is not the same quality as either, but let’s get to the review.
The Kerry feels like an adult pencil. When I was a teenager I’d have gazed longingly at the Kerry and decided that $15 was TOO much money to spend. I’d probably have looked for a silver or black version instead of the olive drab color. The capped pencil has a knurled area that is silver and looks flashy. The logo and all hardware are silver. When uncapped the grip is the green body color and the tip is brushed matte silver. The cap posts deeply and securely, and looks great when posted. The plastic has some swirl to it and I have to wonder what this would look like in some of those fancy acrylics that the fountain pen makers use, Primary Manipulation anyone? YUM!
The cap is metal, the body is mostly plastic, the tip is metal and I believe that the faceted bling is metal. Inside is an all metal mechanism. The nock is solid and seems to eject a minute amount of lead with each click. The provided Pentel HB lead is nice, but I swapped it out for Nano Dia because I love Nano Dia lead.
In hand the Kerry feels, well, perfect. I wasn’t expecting it to be perfect for my hand. There’s no grip knurling. The grip is plastic not metal. I have all these expectations but also the thought that so many people report it as a great pencil. Now I’m one of them. I have used it now to fill a composition notebook. I didn’t even think to reach for another pencil the WHOLE time. I grabbed my Kerry and notebooks and WROTE. It just worked and felt good to use. An added bonus is that it is small enough to toss in a pocket or clipped to a lapel and this pencil a just perfect in every way. Imagine tossing a Rotring 600 in a pocket, you’d have a stabbed thigh.
I’ve seen some whispering around the stationery groups regarding these pencils. Staedtler’s new offering for the American Back-to-School crowd. These look like a riff on their Yellow Pencil 134 HB, only not. These were priced at $1.88 at Walmart for an 8-pack.
The packaging of these is my least favorite type- a plastic bag. The pencils knock around in transit and often arrive with broken cores. I’ve received other staedtler pencils broken in half and in disastrous condition. These seem okay, well not harmed by the crap packaging.
Once opened the pencils were revealed to have a decent lacquer finish a nice bright yellow. The ferrule is silver and holds a dark pink eraser which is quite stiff and gritty despite being latex free. It works well enough but isn’t anything to get excited about. The wood beneath the lacquer is jelutong and sharpens well with all my usual sharpeners- including the Pollux. Kind of amazing. The imprint is good on 4/8 while the other 4 suffer from either too much paint or not enough and not enough or too much pressure. The imprint is shoddy. The cores are centered well enough.
The core is standard HB for Staedtler USA. That is to say that it is smooth, but also darker than some other brands but pretty middle of the road as HB pencils go. I’ve tested these on a couple of different types of paper, from a toothy composition notebook to a smooth toothy paper to smooth less toothy paper. It performs best on a paper like the Yoobi composition book. This is a pencil that does well with toothy paper. It’s also nicely dark on those papers. On less toothy paper it’s a little light for my taste. It is smooth when compared to other school pencils.
At $1.88 it’s a bit overpriced for 8 pencils though. That’s nearly 24 cents per pencil. When compared to other pencils like the Pen+ Gear plain yellow school pencil, well it’s not a question. The only reason to buy these over the P+G is for the brand, which as you know is something that teen Less would have considered (Ahhh the issues of a poor kid) but adult Less will chose performance over brand any day. So all that said, skip these.
It says something when Staedtler USA doesn’t even list these on their website. They aren’t proud of these pencils.
I’m not gonna lie, if these had been available when I was a teenager my heart would have exploded. A Rotring with a sliding pipe? At $4.99 a 4-pack? Yes please. Sure they are bright jewel-like colors but, still Rotrings!
I will also admit that my adult heart had an increase in heart rate as I gazed at these with love. I didn’t notice until I got home that they were 0.7mm instead of my favored 0.5mm.
These plastic Rotring pencils are budget friendly. At only $1.25 per pencil, these are not disposable but they aren’t so expensive that if your kid (or you) break them you’ll cry. The pink, orange, blue and green are bright and cheerful and mostly easily found in a backpack. The sliding tip protects the lead and the tip from breakage.
The pencil is all plastic except for the sliding tip, clip and nock cover. The tip and nock work well. I quite like the rounded bullet pointed tip of the nock. It is comfortable. The Tip cradles the lead well. The clip. The clip is garbage. It’s sloppy and not springy. If you clip it to something it doesn’t spring back well at all and in fact stays all sprung. Gross. I clipped mine into my pant’s pocket, a bad choice. It was bent to hell. I took the clip off and fixed it with ease, but still.
The first click of the nock deploys the tip the next, 1mm of lead. The nock is solid and satisfying to click. It’s quite nice to use. The included graphite is Rotring HB and each pencil has 2 sticks. I do not like Rotring graphite. I swapped mine out for NanoDia B for a silky smooth and satisfying writing experience.
The plastic is molded into a triangular grip. It might be a bit narrow for some people, but I have small lady paws, so this might not work for someone with large meaty paws. I found the triangular section to be perfect for my writing grip. I used these for writing in some of my composition notebooks, swapped out with a nice NanoDia 2B lead. I noticed that when writing if I pressed too hard there is a bit of play in the sliding pipe and it breaks off the nib inside the tip of the pencil. It doesn’t jam but when you advance the next bit of lead it ejects that broken bit of lead out onto what you’re writing on. The first time it happened it was a bit of a shock. Then I noticed when I broke the lead- usually when I was thinking about the next line I wanted to write and pressed down on the page with excitement at an angle. It’s not a deal breaker (PUNNY!) but certainly annoying
Overall, I like these mechanical pencils. The colors are bright and they feel good but very lightweight. It did get me wondering if the tip and sliding pipe would work for other pencils. These might be a great way to adapt other pencils to a sliding pipe. Or maybe swapping out a flat nock cap to a rounded one? Not that clip though, that’s garbage.
I picked these up for a variety of reasons, first I’d ever seen them in any store. Which is not a difficult task. I haven’t been looking at pencils in stores in a long time. At $2.99 for 12 these are priced in line with many other school pencils, though it seems clear that these are meant to be a bit more adult. The package makes a LOT of claims- BREAK RESISTANT LEAD! Reinforced! Strong Lead!
These claims led me to believe this would be a hard light lead.
Let me tell you the good about these pencils. They are made with bass or linden wood, so they have a pleasant odor, not cedar though. The ferrule is recognizable and the Mirado ferrule. The paint is a nice deep yellow. The eraser is plastic and works wonderfully well. The pencil sharpens really well in every sharpener I own, including the Pollux.
The core is hard and light but not on every paper. On the slick smooth paper of my current composition notebook it left a line that looks like an F or number 3 pencil would make. It was displeasing and difficult to read. In another composition notebook, one with toothy pencil friendly paper, it left a nice line but still held a point for a reasonable amount of time. The core is silky feeling, and smooth. It’s hard to describe this as feeling silky when it is such a hard pencil, but it is. I’ve had other H leads and they felt like scraping the page with a nail. This reminds me of polymer leads.
The lacquer was thin and rough. And the pencil itself felt undersized in my dainty lady paws. I cannot imagine someone with large hands attempting to use this toothpick tin pencil.
Overall, this pencil is a solid meh. If you have a nice toothy paper it’s okay, but not great. The core is confusing in that it feels terrible on some paper and okay on others. I wanted it to be dark to match the polymer like feel on toothy paper, but instead it ended up too light to use on some paper. I won’t keep this in my pencil rotation and can’t really recommend anyone buy it.
The local drug stores have been a bust. CVS only had wide ruled Caliber brand and nothing else in the Composition Book category save Moleskine giant Cahiers, which were tempting but VERY expensive.*
Walgreens had meager offerings this season as well- not a single Mead book in sight, None of the cute Studio C books**. A mere 2 boxes of Wexford College Ruled Composition books in the standard black and primary color offerings. The whole Back to School section was… half an aisle when it normally is 2 full aisles. Damn you COVID19!!!
I bought two Wexford College ruled Composition Books for 79 cents each. One black and one bright blue. It felt decadent. Total with tax was $1.68.
When not on sale these books are $3.49.
These are everything a GOOD composition book should be: Solid tight stitching, thick stiff chip board covers, generously well textured spine tapes, smooth paper with a barely there pale blue college ruling.
And the paper? Oh wow is it great. It handles wet liquid inks with ease, sheen shows up, lines stay true to nib size, no bleedings, no feathering, and enough tooth for a pencil to feel good.
The down side is that the only have 80 sheets. But when they have such darn nice paper? When they are on sale for 79 cents? And when they have the best covers of the good paper composition notebooks? Yeah, these are winners. If I hadn’t just bought 16 (sure 6 of those notebooks were dogs) I’d stock up on these.
*I’ll wait until they have them in clearance and then review them. I do like a giant sketchy area for thinking.
**I’ve since learned Studio C has rebranded (Thanks NoteBookJoy!) as Carolina Pad Company, which seems like a bad idea given their wide range of products. Do I really want to buy a lunch bag from a pad company? Eh
My partner saw a pack of these and decided to score a few points with me and bought them for me. Wise choice partner, wise choice.
I enjoyed the porous point of the original Sharpie pen but I was not in love with the longevity or lack thereof. The narrow grip left me wanting.
The S Gel has a curved body with a swirled ribbed rubber grip. The plastic is matte black. The grip dips in a bit and flairs out near the base of the grip. The clip is extremely sturdy, the plastic is slightly flexy so it is likely that if it is clipped to something fat that it will stretch over time. But with some fiddling around and fidgeting I was not able to break the clip easily. The allblack body is accented with a silver ring and nock, and the Sharpie name and name of the pen are printed in silver.
The pen looks good. I found that I had to get accustomed to the curvy grip. I found myself holding it in the more narrow section but needing to hold it closer to the point for comfort and writing legibility.
The nock is satisfying. It pressed down with a stiff feeling and makes a satisfying click when engaged. The spring in this pen feels sturdy.
The gel ink is smooth and wet. Writing is effortless. Even on rough paper it feels smooth. On smooth paper it glides. The ink is deeply black. It rivals even fountain pen ink in its darkness. It doesn’t lift when a highlighter is used over it. I’ve yet to test it out when sketching with watercolors. The pen flows so smoothly when sketching. I haven’t noticed a skip or blurp. I have not had a blob on my page. It flows smooth and clean.
This has become my new favorite gel pen for writing and sketching. At $5.27 at Walmart this isn’t the cheapest 4 pack of gel ink pens but it’s also not the most expensive. That is flows so smoothly and deeply black makes it a winner for me. I do need to test it’s lightfastness in my window of fading. But right now it’s great for writing, doodles, and thinking.
I picked up a second 4-pack of blue ink S-gel after reading Brad’s review over at the Pen Addict. I snagged the black pen my wife had been using and we broke the waxy seal on 2 of the blue pens, and ours were all silky smooth and the flow was consistent on all the paper types I used- from the crappy paper at work, my various composition notebooks, and a nice Rhodia graph pad I had on hand. I’ll be buying more of these due to their silky feel and deep dark black on the page.
If I had to stock up on one of the options which would I chose? It’s a tough question. We’ve got Walmart, Target, and Staples as places to shop. We’ve got plastic covered and card covered. Then we’ve got made all over the world or made in the USA. Then we’ve got books that are great with pencil and terrible with fountain pen, and great with fountain pen but too slick for pencil. The choice is ultimately made by what each person is going to use. Frankly, what I use changes from year to year and sometimes changes on a whim. Lately, I’m using more pencil than fountain pen, and more gel ink than fountain pen. Mostly because I’m attempting to use up some of my tools rather than letting them dry up in a cup. That said I might pick up a fountain pen on occasion. So I’m going to suggest a few all around notebooks that work well for all of the above.
Let’s start with my top choice from Staples. Here I’m going to pick the TruRed card covered book. It works well with all my tools, but isn’t the best with any one in particular. Despite the mess of how it looks, it’s better than the atrocity of the regular staples cover.
Next up in Target. I’m still team Unison. The paper is the best around for a 50 cent notebook, and despite the mere 80 sheets, it works so well with so many tools makes it a winner for me.
Lastly, Walmart. This is the first time I’m going with a poly covered notebook. I hate the plastic covers but here the interior is what matters. The paper is great. The covers are printed with fun things.
If I were only going to use pencil or ballpoint? For the best covers it’s Yoobi every time. Sure it’s a bit more money, but those covers are so fun. For the best monetary value? Pen+Gear card covered made in the USA. At 50 cents for 100 pages it offers the best pencil and ballpoint paper.
If I were to switch over to using only liquid ink in a rollerball or fountain pen all the time? My budget choice is going to be the Unison. For 50 cents and 80 pages it worked the best over all for fountain pens and other liquid inks. My less budget choice would be the $2.50 standard non-fashion poly covered Mead Five Star. The paper is pretty good, with minimal bleed with wet pens, and the poly cover isn’t awful.
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This year my local Walmart was less of a mess than usual. Their Back to School display was downright organized. Color me shocked, every year until now it’s been an awful mess. This year we have four Pen+Gear offerings and an Exceed; an added bonus is a “junior” sized composition book from Pen+Gear.
Let’s start with the P+G Fashion Poly covered book. This costs 64 cents and sports 80 sheets. This poly cover is thin and floppy, the worst of the worst when it comes to poly covers. The front is printed with rainbow foil words. There were quite a few designs available, I just liked the rainbow* foil. The cover is scored at the front and back but not enough to make the cover easy to fold. The printing is great, very well done. The spine tape is metallic and smooth. I’m not a fan of smooth spine tapes. They feel meh to me. The stitching is nicely done, very tight and even.
The paper is college ruled and smooth to the touch. Gel and liquid ink pens. Fountain pens were surprisingly nice on this paper. No bleed and little to no show through. I was rather surprised. The paper would be better for pencil with a bit more tooth, but it’s not bad at all. Soft dark pencils are a joy on this paper and hold a point really well.
The standard poly covered P+G composition notebook is even better. At 50 cents for 80 pages it’s a good choice for affordability. The cover sports all the same issues as the fashion poly cover- floppy, no scoring, doesn’t stay flat well, and is plastic.
The paper is slightly different. It’s smooth and great for gel and liquid ink. Fountain pens are lovely on this paper. There’s no bleed or show through and it was just a joy to use. It seems to have a bit more tooth than the fashion version, pencils were better on this paper.
If you were looking for a good all around composition notebook the standard single color poly covered P+G would be a great choice.
When it comes to card covered P+G composition notebooks we have 2 choices made in the USA or made in Colombia. They are drastically different.
Let’s start with the Made in Colombia. This has a standard black marble cover, a decently sized and textures spine tape, neat tight stitching and 100 pages. They sell for 50 cents. This looks to be old stock. I should have looked at the labeling. This one is marked 2018. Damn.
The 100 pages are smooth and toothy. It’s great with pencil and gel ink. I liked the feel of pencil on this paper. Gel ink is nice. Fountain pens and liquid ink pens feel good but feather all over the place. There isn’t any bleed or show through.
Note bad, not great.
The made in the USA version is 50 cents for 100 pages. The cover is thin card that is not overly floppy but not what I would call stiff either. The cover is just one color and is available in a wide range of colors. The spine tape is black and smooth. The stitching is tight and even.
The 100 pages feel rougher than any others available. This might be the perfect composition notebook for pencil. The level of tooth on this paper is perfect. My HB pencils look great on this paper. Gel ink does well. Liquid ink is awful. Fountain pens feel okay but the minute the nib hits the page it starts to spread and feather and bleed and soak through. It soaked so badly the ink spread through to the next page. It’s atrocious.
If you are only going to use pencil, ballpoint, and gel ink, this is okay. But gosh don’t put liquid ink near this, unless you want to see how is feathers.
A bonus is the P+G “Junior” composition notebook, measuring 5×7 inches. It’s made in India and sports 80 perforated college ruled pages.The poly cover is even thinner and more floppy than other notebook I’ve reviewed. The size doesn’t seem to follow the compostion book size. It just seems a bit off in measurements. The spine tape is nicely sized and textured. The stitching is tight and even.
The paper feels smooth. I wasn’t expecting much here. But it’s nice. It performs as well as the larger version. Pencil feels good. Gel inks look good. Liquid inks are stunning. My fountain pens glide and don’t bleed or feather. There’s little show through. At 67 cents it’s a bit more expensive, but not bad for a pad of paper.
Finally, we have the Exceed poly covered composition notebook. Previous versions of this made in the USA were awful. At $1.47 it’s not the cheapest of the bunch but not the most expensive either. It has 80 college ruled pages.
The poly cover is not as floppy as other poly covers. The tape is narrow and smooth. The poly is scored in several places to facilitate easier folding and it does help. The issue then becomes that the book does not close as well as it did before it was folded. The stitching is tight and even. The corners are not rounded well at all.
The paper feels smoother than the previous version. It feels good with gel ink and quite shockingly, with fountain pen and other liquid inks. There was no feathering or bleed. Given the previous years awfulness with liquid inks I am shocked. Pencils felt amazing on here too. The tooth level is great and HB and softer pencils feel good and look good too.
I’m sad that the new versions of the P+G card covered books are not great unless you plan to use only pencil. Sadly my best recommendation is to get the poly comp books from Walmart. At 50 cents and 80 pages they are the best value. Though the Exceed are also pretty great and have 100 pages.
A big note about what is now available in my local Walmart. Studio C is completely gone from the shelves. I even went to check the office and school supply aisle, nothing. Also of note is that Norcom’s made in the USA composition notebooks are absent. Not a single one on the shelf. Interestingly the made in the USA P+G feel a lot like the old Norcom comps.
It’s been a few years since I did a proper round up of composition book reviews. I had a bunch of readers smash my Ko-Fi button and buy me a few coffees which means, REVIEWS. I have the best readers! Y’all rock.
This year Staples has 4 standard offerings when it comes to composition books- TruRed and Staples unbranded both poly and card covered.
All 4 offerings are made in India and feature solid tight stitching and a black paper tape along the spine. All but the Tru Red card covered book have 80 pages, with the TruRed card covered having 100 pages.
I have harped and griped about poly covered composition notebooks in the past, and my loathing remains consistent. These poly covers are not scored for easy bending nor are they particularly stiff to support writing out of hand. They are the worst of all things poly covered.
Both the new Staples and TruRed card covered books are covered in what I consider to be a disturbing trend of flimsy card covers. The covers are barely thicker than the flimsy paper inside and the card bends and folds in hand. Ugh these flimsy covers are so gross. They do protect the inner pages from harm well enough and even survive in my bag for the week or so it takes me to fill a comp book. To me, the flimsy card covers are inherently dissatisfying. Yes they do the job but they just feel… cheap.
Cheap is the name of the game when it comes to comp books, I mean it is a 50 to 75 cent notebook. But there is quality within the game as well. After all, we’re on the hunt for a book with great paper aren’t we?
Staples books are often plagued with design issues. The new TruRed cover label on both the poly and card covers is ugly. While it harkens to the old style of composition book cover labels, it simplifies it and slaps on a widely kerned label and the TruRed logo and 2 badly spaced lines. I can barely stand to look at it.* Look away, it is hideous. The TruRed card cover has the marbling blown up to bold proportions, it’s rather large. Probably the better design choice over the atrocity that is the Staples book. Here you can see where they just copy and pasted the pattern but didn’t bother to create or buy a pattern with edges that allowed it to repeat smoothly. Oh no, Staples has the equivalent of a 1990s Angelfire background with visible edges and NO ONE BOTHERED to fix this before they made 900billion of these notebooks.
The covers are available in a wide range of bold primary and neon colors for the poly notebooks. The marbled card covers were available in primary and secondary colors.
So all around the Staples notebooks are ugly, but what about the paper? In 3 of the 4 books it is identical. The outlier is the TruRed card covered book.
The first 3 have silky smooth paper with college ruling and blue lines. The lines are neither pale or dark. They are printed tight without any spreading. The paper has a bit of tooth, but not a whole lot. Even with pencil these feel silky smooth. Surprisingly the paper handles even wet italic nibs with ease. I had tweaked a Wing Sung 3008 to write wet for sketching purposes and this silky smooth paper handled the intense amount of ink well. There is no feathering or bleed through. Since most comp books have 15lb paper, there is some show through but this paper is lovely. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the paper. The lines left behind are true to the nib size, so no feathering or ink spread.
The TruRed card covered paper has roughly all the same qualities as above with slightly more tooth for pencils. It feels great with everything. There was a bit of bleed in some areas with my very wet pens with some inks. Largely the paper is great.
Overall the bar has been set relatively high for paper quality by all the contenders from Staples. All four of these books are a decent value for the paper inside. Sure the covers are a mess of shoddy design and plastic and thin card but if we think that the paper is the important aspect, well, these have you covered at 50 cents each for a card cover or 75 cents for the poly covered.