Category Archives: Review

Review: Pen+ Gear Graph Ruled Index Cards

I pick up index cards for no real reason, other than I like to use them as convenient scrap paper. I used to have dreams of making a Hipster PDA  and becoming super organized and efficient.I much prefer bound pocket notebooks. That said I always have my vintage index card holder on my desk, a few 3×5 cards wrapped in a Gigante card in my Sinclair. I keep them ready for action. INdex cards get used for making notes while on the phone, ideas get jotted down, reminders to myself are scribbled, and plot points are recorded. My point being, I use index cards as throw away scrap paper. I have never expected fountain pen compatibility, though I always test FP on any new cards I buy, you know, just in case.

On a whim I purchased a pack of 100 Pen+Gear graph ruled index cards for 48 cents. The cards are bright white with a sharp bright blue ruling. The ruling is 5×5 squares per inch. On many of my cards the ruling is off around the edges- it’s straight but larger in size. This doesn’t bother me, but I KNOW that this will bug the shit out of some of you. Just take a close look at your package.

I tested all my currently inked fountain pens, gel ink, liquid ink, pencils, and other writing tools I had on hand, and found that my package performed really really well. I had no feathering, bleed through, or other issues. Both sides of each card were totally usable. My pens stayed true to their nib size and ink looked fantastic on this bright white paper. At least one person in the RSVP FB group reported that they had issues with their fountain pens on the paper- feathering and bleed through. Most people in that thread reported no issues with their pens and results similar to mine.

So this brings me to an observation in my experience with buying P+G stuff from Wally World- consistency is an issue. Part of this has to do with how products are sourced by the company- they slap their private label onto the finest cheapest version of that Item that they can find. This year’s Index Cards happen to be really nice for fountain pens, next years? Well we don’t know where they will source those or how they will respond. Last years weren’t very good. As of this writing I cannot determine a good way to tell which package is going to be good. This particular package was Made in India. My suggestion to most people wanting to secure a good index card on the cheap is to stock up on these. Like their pencils you never know when they will change production to a new location and to an inferior product.

Maybe the graph ruled P+G index cards are my key to finally adopting the hipster PDA. Maybe not, but I’m probably going to head to Wally World and pick up a lifetime supply.

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Review: Target Dollar Spot Pencils

The majority of the Dollar Spot Pencils are from the company Made for Retail (MfR). They are made in Vietnam and feature a variety of paint, imprints, and other fun stuff. I’ve bought a bunch of them and I’ve been happy. For this review I’m focusing on one particular pencil, their version of the “rainbow” pencil.

Rainbow is in quotes above for a specific reason- these at first glance look like a rainbow but when you look closer- not a rainbow. The colors are as follows: violet, pink, orange, yellow, blue, and purple. They are all surrounded by white and finished with a glossy smooth coating. Each pencil has a gold foil imprint near the business end with made for retail and a series of numbers.

Inside the fun wrapped paper exterior is a smooth, dark core. It’s darker and softer than a typical HB but not so dark or soft that I’d think of it as a B or 2B. The core is typical of all of the Made for Retail pencils. All of the MfR pencils I’ve used have the same core.

You might think that you recognize these from Kickstarter. We’ll you’d be partially right, these are a knock off of the Duncan Shotton rainbow pencils. Those featured a true rainbow inside and the option of white or black exterior. The MfR have a better core- it’s darker and more pleasant. The Shotton pencils are hard and a tad scratchy. I do prefer the matte exterior of the Shotton version over the glossy white version made by MfR.

If you can get past buying the knock off of a kickstarter item these are a fantastic pencil.

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Review: Jane Davenport Travel Watercolor Tin- Brights

This 12- half pan set of watercolors is housed in a tin that is very much like the Schminke tins you can find all over the place. The big difference is that it is branded with Jane Davenport’s logo and is painted a pale teal color.

The 12 colors are convenience mixes and have silly names like  70s eyeshadow, ink, and buzzy. These silly colors tell you little about the shades. 70s eyeshadow is cerulean blue, ink is Payne’s Gray, and buzzy is bright yellow. (Some of the colors are not blends but you get my point.) In use I found the colors to be vibrant, highly pigmented, and quite nice. Though the silly names are silly they have general colors in the set that you’d find in most typical watercolor sets. You can find the actual pigment names by clicking through to the JD website and looking them up. The pigments themselves are decent. The JD website doesn’t explain their lightfastness rating at all. But through looking up the pigments I was able to determine that one * is fugitive and will fade quickly while three * means that the pigment is pretty lightfast. Best friend, mystic, and royal are all fugitive pigments and should not be used in work you intend to sell. They are fine for work intended for reproduction.

The pigment rewets with ease and a generous amount of pigment is lifted with a damp brush stroke, more when the pan has been wetted previous to the stroke. The paint is quite nice. The colors that should granulate do, and the colors are intense. I was more pleased with these paints than I expected. Honestly, I had hoped for a cute refillable tin, but I’m happy to use these paints.

As for the tin, it’s pretty decently built, not overwhelmingly nice, but better than you can find at this price point anywhere else. I will likely discard the inner clips and fill with pans stuck in with bluetack. I find myself looking for a few favorites- quin gold and indigo. My travel brush does not fit inside, though others will.

The bottom line is this- if you are looking for an affordable and very decent set of watercolors for travel, this is a fabulous deal. The set is very inexpensive when purchased at Michael’s with a coupon. You really cannot beat the price for watercolors of this quality despite the fact that 3 of the colors are fugitive this is still a good value.

No affiliate links this time. These are available directly from the JD website or Michael’s here in the US. I used a 40% off coupon for my set which made it very affordable and even a deal. I bought the goods in this review with my own cash money and no one influenced my review. Continue reading

Review: Parker Jotter

The Parker Jotter is perhaps the most classic refillable rollerball body available. It’s been around for more than 60 years and hundreds of thousands pens have been sold. They retail for around $4 for the basic plastic pen to $20 for the full stainless steel models. In college I picked up the classic plastic and stainless model at a salvage store for around $3 each. I used them extensively until they were lost.

Recently I picked up the blue enameled steel model for $20 at my local Staples. They are cheaper via Jetpens in a wide variety of colors. Via online vendors there are many colors available, my local Staples only had 3 or 4 colors available.The best thing about such a long running pen is that refills are available from a variety of vendors and styles . Refill are available in ballpoint, rollerball, as well as gel ink. Not only are a variety of formulas available, but a rainbow of colors. The Jotter uses a standard Parker refill aka G2*. Jetpens offers a wide variety of refills that fit as does Amazon. The Well Appointed Desk has a massive post about pen refills to help you find just the right fit. I have a few pens that use the standard Parker/G2 refill so buying a gel refill is great. Sadly the Parker gel refills, as I’ve written about before, they don’t last a long time. Those are probably the only gel ink refill I blow through faster than an Inkjoy.

The Jotter is an extremely slim and small pen. It borders on pocket size. It fits into a breast pocket easily and stays clipped to the placket of a shirt.  The clip itself is sturdy and has stayed tight during my testing and use. It’s classic design is neither eye catching nor ostentatious. It fits into professional situations, though some colors might not blend in so well. That said, even a neon orange would probably pass the muster in most office settings. The short slim size will be far too thin and short for many, especially those with larger hands. I do not find the slim size comfortable for prolonged writing, rather I use my Jotter for quick notes in my pocket notebooks and occasional progress notes at work.

The nock has a satisfying click that unlike the previously reviewed Alloy, is neither soft nor spongy. I expected that the enameled stainless steel would be slippery in extended or even perhaps short term use, it wasn’t. The plastic version is also not slippery. You can get 10-packs of the plastic version for around $40.

In short, I like the Jotter but I fear that my aging hands and wrist do not like the slenderness of the pen. Writing for long periods of time are out. Though when I was younger I took many class notes with the Jotter ballpoint refills I couldn’t possibly do that now. I like the fact that I can fit many different types of refills from ballpoint to gel ink.

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Back-to-School Sale Composition Book Roundup Part Three

I’m calling this final part of the BtSS Roundups the “Drug Store Edition.” There are some very surprising entries and some of the typical offerings as well. Most of the drugs stores in my area had the typical Mead offerings- 5Star and the generic cardboard covered. They weren’t  on sale at any of the drug stores in my area. I only picked up brands and styles that are new to me. Again all are typical size for a comp book and college ruled unless otherwise stated/

Entry 1: Wexford Made in Vietnam 69 Cents Walgreens

Finally a classic marble covered composition notebook. The cover is sturdy and thick. The label area is unnecessarily large but gives more than enough space for information. The tight stitching is covered with appropriately sized textured paper tape. Overall this comp bool is a classic design.

Inside there are 80 pages with very pale blue lines. The printing of the lines is super thin too. The lines disappear behind all writing. Pencil feels great on this paper, smooth but with enough tooth to get a nicely dark line. Gel, rollerball, and ballpoint work great. Fountain pen glides across the surface. There is no feathering, spread, or bleed. The ink dries quickly but there is a great deal of sheen and shimmer in those inks. Fountain pen is lovely on this paper.

Entry 2: StudioC Forest Friends Made in Vietnam $3.29 Walgreens

StudioC Poly Cover Sugarland

Like the other StudioC offering this sports a really cute design, but on a very sturdy, super thick card cover. The poly covers were also nice and thick. I picked out an owl, then a fox, then more patterns, because why not? The spine is covered with textured paper tape with it’s overly cute design and it matches the gray tones of the cover. It is also appropriately wide, and looked proportionally right with the design.

Inside are 100, wide ruled pages. They are available in college rule but I was so distracted at the cute cover that I forgot to look at the contents. Repeat everything I said about the previous Studio C offering. The paper is stellar for everything. Fountain pens, gel, rollerball, ballpoint, and pencil all perform wonderfully on this paper. The ruling has a wide line and is a bright distinct blue. It does not disappear in the background.

I did not expect that both of the offerings available from Walgreens to be so spectacular. Thus far the Wexford is the price per page for performance for all pens and pencils to be beat. At 0.86 cents per sheet it sits on the low end of cost but on the higher end of performance. It’s not quite as nice as the 2016 copyright Mead card cover from Target or the StudioC but it is very close.

Entry 3 Office Depot Brand Card Covers $1.50

I’m reviewing all the Office Depot styles together as one because they all performed similarly.

All of the offerings from Office Depot had unpleasantly smooth paper which lacked tooth for pencils. Pencils smeared but held a point for a long time. Fountain pens bled, feathered, and in some cases soaked through.

There are 80 pages well stitched into some of the flimsiest covers this competition has seen thus far. The notebooks can be curled into a circle. The card is so thin and floppy that it is clear it will not last.


Entry 4: Divoga Going Bananas Fashion cover. $2 Office Depot

This fails several levels of what I use to determine if a book is a comp book or not- it is perfect bound and perforated. Though I do not call this an actual comp book, you may be deceived by the labeling online- these are not stitched.

Inside the sturdy cute printed covers ios some of the crappiest paper this competition has seen thus far. It feathers, bleeds, and pencils smears. This combined with the perfect binding and perforations means everyone should avoid this notebook, or only buy it for someone who only used ballpoints- because yes, even gel ink bled through!

It is important to note that Walgreens and many of the drugs stores have prices that fluctuate weekly on many of their seasonal items. When I purchased the Walgreens offerings here they were at the prices listed, but shortly after the Wexford was offered at 99 cents and the StudioC were BOGO at the price listed. The following week still another price.

Entry 5: U-Style Block Party $3.69 CVS

This entry sports 80 pages which seems to be the new go to for a standard page number. The covers are cute and printed with fun designs but are also thin and floppy. The stitching is 1/3rd of an inch with is too wide, I prefer ¼ inch stitching in my comp books. The paper itself is… terrible. It feathers,bleeds, and soaks through with everything I used in it. Even ball point shows through. Pencil is a smeary mess.


Overall, I’ve been really impressed by the StudioC, Wexford, and the Mead card covered. All these offered great paper at affordable prices. Granted the StudioC covers are super bright and eye catching, so if old school black marbling is your go to- you’ll be better off looking for the Wexford from Walgreens. The Wexford on sale is the best price per page, but the typical sale price of 99 cents isn’t bad either. The Studio C is the highest priced but also offers the best paper experience.

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Review: NockCo Sinclair Pen and Notebook Case

The NockCo Sinclair has 3 pen slots and a spot for a notebook plus room between the two sides for additional storage. This case, like almost all Nock cases, has an outer shell of 1000D nylon with DWR coating and an interior of smooth nylon pack cloth. The interior pack cloth allows smooth extraction of pens and notebooks, yet they stay put once inside.

Though there are only 3 pen slots, unless you use large pens you can fit more than one pen into each slot. I’m able to comfortably stuff 3 pocket notebooks into the notebook slot and more into the central section. If I want to use it as an on the go art supply case I can hold a travel palette, water brushes and a few pens and pencils. My point is that such a compact pocket sized case it can hold a tremendous amount of stuff yet still fits into a back pocket.I picked out the coffee and amethyst colorway. It is a great looking color combo that is a nice riff on the more typically found chocolate with baby blue. The purple is light enough that you can find all your stuff inside with ease. The zipper is beefy and moves with ease. I found the pulls to be a little large and to interfere where I slid the case into a pocket. I replaced them with pulls made of narrow paracord and beads. These being flexible don’t force the case open when shoved into a pocket. The nylon stays put in the pockets of my jeans or khakis even when walking around.

I was skeptical that the Sinclair would replace my Fodderstack XL as a part of my practical carry, but it has. It let’s me keep my pencil, a red pen, my Alloy, and a couple of others combined with my notebook and assorted sundry items. If one needs to carry a little extra stuff than the Fodderstack XL allows, the Sinclair is the obvious next step.

Okay, let’s talk about the price of this thing- it’s $40 plus shipping and handling. Not cheap. But it’s insanely well made. Every stitch is where it  should be and thus far in my use it is super tough. Taking my Fodderstack XL as an example, the Sinclair is going to survive my use- in  my pockets and in my bag. While I might buy and discard 3 or 4 Yoobi pencil cases over the next few years, I’ll be using the same Sinclair that whole time. The Sinclair is an investment and one you’ll be using for years.

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Review: Lodestone Letterpress Pocket Notebooks

As you can see from the pictures the designs printed onto the covers are simple and clean. I particularly enjoy that they hearken back to the Oklahoma state song with a few words from the song with simple images. The wheat stalk on orange is particularly nice. The light blue with a windmill is also a nice touch. Fans of Field Notes will recognize the 3 shades as the classic butcher colors of paper used in the original colors of Field Notes. The cover stock is sturdy and feels great. The combination of spare text, simplified imagery, and card covers is very nice. The back cover sports a simple company label.

Inside the sturdy covers are 48 unruled pages of white drawing paper. I’ve tested it out with pens, pencils, watercolor, brush pens, and light watercolor washes. With the wetter applications of watercolor the paper cockled a tad, but overall the paper responds well to everything. My wettest M nibs showed some signs of soak through but most FP inks did okay, with show through here and there, but not so much as to make the verso unusable. Mostly I really liked this toothy paper with pencils and brush pens. I responded the best to these tools.

The whole thing is held together with 2 sturdy silver staples. The corners are square. I’ve been carting mine around as a general sketchbook for the last few weeks and It’s very sturdy and capable. I like it and Spencer deserves some support for his cute sturdy notebooks.

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Review: Papermate Inkjoy Gel Pen

It is important to point out that this review is for the Inkjoy gel pen, not the ballpoint monstrosity that Paperhate also sells under the Inkjoy label. Which can I just say is the most confusing thing ever. They ought to drop the ball points out of the Inkjoy line up because they are not a joy to use- a blobby horrible mess.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the Inkjoy gel ink. I have several colors that I really enjoy- slate blue, black, teal, and blue. The res is too light for editing but some may like it. The green is nice too. The colors are great but do not match the color of the body well at all. The slate blue is many shades darker than the pen body. The teal is significantly darker as well.

Let’s talk about the shape of the pen… The pen body is long and thick. This will please many people who aren’t fond of skinny narrow pens, but if you aren’t a fan of girthy pens, you may find this one, uncomfortable. The exterior of the pen is coated is a rubbery and grippy coating. There are divots along the section of the pen you hold to further facilitate the grip. In practice I doubt these are necessary, as the rubbery coating is textured. There is a large translucent window where you can see ink levels. The sturdy clip is made of the same translucent plastic color matched to the ink. The clip could probably stretch over time but I’ve yet to have that happen.

The ink inside is smooth, flows are a good rate, and flows from the moment the waxy blob is removed to the last drop of ink is gone. Every single pen I’ve uncorked and used has worked the same. At this point I’ve probably used a half dozen of them and have all the colors in my pen pack at work- and every single one simply flows smoothly every single time it is deployed. Paperhate knocked one out of the park with this ink formulation.

One drawback is that there isn’t even a semblance of these being waterproof or even water resistant. Somewhere around here I’ve got a few sample sheets of paper with water tests, the only thing left on most of the papers is the indentation of my original writing. Sad, because the black with a waterproof ink could be THE sketching tool.

Another drawback is that the flow of these is so heavy that I literally BLOW through them. In my post about the G2 I mentioned how fast I destroy one of the Inkjoy refills- I’ve gone through one in a week. The average is about a week and a half. It’s less if I am processing intakes and filling out a lot of paperwork. If I pick up extra hours it is on the low end.

At the end of the day, the InkJoy is a fabulous gel pen. It’s flow is smooth and the sensation of using it is superior to every other gel ink I’ve used. On less absorbent papers it lasts better, but if you use cheap paper be prepared to really blow through  the refills. Refills are only available via Amazon in a few colors- specifically black, red, and blue. I hope someday that I’ll be able to get the slate blue in a refill form.

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Review: NockCo Gigante Folded Index Cards

The Gigante cards measure 3.5×5.5 inches when folded and 5.5×7 inches when unfolded. The ruling is Nock’s dot dash in a very pale purple. The smooth paper is 80lb or 216gsm. It is heavier than most inexpensive index cards on the market.

I tested the cards with all my currently inked fountain pens, an assortment of gel ink, rollerball, ballpoint, and fiber tipped pens. None of them soaked or bled through. The fountain pen ink shows plenty of sheen and glimmer. All my pens felt great on the paper. The experience was much like using any really terrific paper.

The size is very useful. It is the exact same size as a pocket notebook. I immediately popped a few  into my Fodderstack XL, with a few standard sized index cards in the middle. I then added a handful to my Sinclair. I’ve found these useful for information that I know I don’t need to keep for ages and also info that I want to transfer to specific notebooks later. Honestly, I’ve been using them much in the manner that I have used larger post its in my pocket notebook- but they feel more substantial.

These are not cheap cards- $8USD for 25 folded cards. Their standard sized cards (3x5in) are 50 to a pack and $6. Though they aren’t cheap they do perform better than most index cards I’ve used, particularly with fountain pens. Depending on how you use your index cards. If you use them as scratch pads and scrap paper then these may not be a value for you. If however index cards are a major part of your practical carry along with fountain pens, you’ll find these invaluable. Continue reading

Review: Pentel Energel Alloy

I’ve been looking for a refillable pen body that can hold my favorite pen refills- PaperMate InkJoy, Uniball Signo, and Zebra Sarasa. I did some heavy research into this by asking questions in the RSVP Stationery Podcast group about favorite refillable pens. Part of my interest is that I blow through pens at my workplace and it is just not environmentally friendly. I saved the empty pens for a month and I had a dozen. A dozen empty pens is too many. I’ve used quite a few refillable pens in the past but none of them fit any of the gel refills I wanted to use.While I really love my Baron Fig Experiment I really don’t want to lose it at work by leaving it on a desk, and I’ve learned the hard way that keeping it in my pocket leads to stains.

In my pursuit of such a refillable pen, I purchased the Pentel Energel Alloy. Of the gel pens out there the Pentel Energel is not my favorite. Past versions of the pen have always felt plasticky and flimsy. I’ve managed to snap the pen at the point where the grip screws into the body. Breaking won’t occur with the Alloy. The metal body of the Alloy feels much sturdier than the plastic bodied Energel. Though it is made of metal and has a substantial feel it is not too heavy. I’ve spent a few weeks writing with it, blowing through a few refills at work and working on my novels.

The refills I’ve used have been the Energel, InkJoy, Sarasa, and Uni Signo. They have all fit well. There is no rattling or noise. Each refill clicks through and provides enough of a point to write. The grip section is tactile and grippy, and though it is all metal it doesn’t get slippery. The clip is substantial and grips tightly to whatever it clips to, which generally is my lapel or my current notebook. Thus far I have not stretched out the clip.

The one thing I do not like is that the nock is somewhat soft and spongy with a very long distance from press to the point being deployed. The click is satisfyingly loud.

Overall I’m pretty happy with the Alloy thus far. It feels sturdy and though it is not a super heavy pen, it feels substantial, especially after using a Sarasa or other of the plastic bodied gel ink pens. I like it but it is the first step on the journey for an affordable refillable pen body.

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