Category Archives: Review

Review: Mitsubishi Uni*Star 2B Grade Pencil

Mitsubishi Uni line of pencils is among the best available. The Hi-Uni are amazing pencils, for sketching and writing; they sport thick lacquer and a nice end cap. Uni is great with the slightly less fancy finish. The Star line is the student grade line.

I picked up a 12 pack of the 2B Uni*Star on a whim, they weren’t expensive but not cheap either. I wasn’t expecting much the photos on Amazon looked… shady. What arrived was a basic cardstock box with 12 pencils. I sharpened one up and found cedar cased in a thin but glossy lacquer, sharp gold imprinting, and an end dip. Overall the presentation wasn’t bad but not on par with the other Uni line of pencils.

The pencil sharpened up easily in the Classroom Friendly and with the Pollux. The core is thin but well centered. The core itself is smooth but not silky like the Hi-Uni, or many of the other Mitsubishi pencils I’ve used. It’s merely nice. It holds a point well for a 2B pencil. It’s also nicely dark. It’s a good cheap choice for regular sketching.  All of the usual things you’d note for a 2B pencil are there: slightly smudgy, dark, doesn’t hold a point super well.

As far as student grade pencils go, this is a good 2B pencil at a decent price point. Just over $7 and free shipping. It compares well to the Palomino Pearl of 602 and is a good replacement for them if you are looking for something cheaper but still nice. Is it as good as my beloved Nanodia? No, but it is not far from them.

Get it here.

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Review: Monteverde Gel Ink Refills

I like gel ink. I want to use gel refills in all my pens, when possible. Unfortunately, many gel refills don’t fit pens like the Baron Fig Squire and Click, or Parker Jotter. Either the tip portion is too thick or short, or the body of the refill is too thick for the body of the pen. Enter all the Parker style refills that use gel ink. Monteverde is just one option.

Monteverde refills are available just about everywhere from Staples to Walmart (online to Amazon and every fine stationery store. The prices seem to fluctuate wildly. I picked up a 2-pack in the clearance section for 50 cents, but normally a 2-pack is about $8 at my local Staples! I found 5-packs on Amazon from a variety of sellers for about $14. Clearly, online stores are the winner when it comes to offering up Monteverde refills.

The gel refills are available in a vast variety of colors, mine are blue. The next package I purchase will be blue-black, but they offer purple, green, red, teal, black etc… The blue is lovely. The gel ink is smooth on all the paper I’ve used, including the finest cheapest paper we use at work. The ink has flowed smoothly from the moment I took the little waxy blob off the tip to the point I drained the refill.  

These are great refills, but not the cheapest. They range from $2.80 to $4 per refill. To me the price is comparable to the regular Squire refills and they have the performance of gel ink on cheap paper which I’ve bloviated about before this post, but gel ink on the crap paper at work works better than liquid. End of story, these are a great refill and worth every penny to me. You won’t be unhappy with a Monteverde P44 (Parker style) refill. Continue reading

Review: Composition Notebooks at Walgreens  2018

As of this writing, Walgreens had a very slim selection of notebooks out. Their typical boutique versions were not yet available, so I might update this post with additional brands.

Wexford Composition Notebook

  • 80 pages
  • College ruled
  • Well stitched
  • Standard marbled pattern
  • Sturdy covers
  • Classic pale blue rules
  • $1.99 at regular price 99 cents on sale

This isn’t a showstopper. It is standard in every feature, from cover to marbling to stitching. The cover is thicker than the new average and you can write in hand with the notebook folded over upon itself. They do not offer fashion covers in this brand, just standard colors with marbling.

The pale blue ruling is standard and fades into the background of all writing tools. All writing tools faired well upon its surface. In fact, it was one of the smoother papers available. All my fountain pens felt lovely on its surface. They didn’t quite skate but did feel lovely. Which is great because the paper handled all liquid ink with ease. Inks with sheen have loads of sheen visible and glittery inks glitter.

This is a great book if you can’t find other composition notebooks in your area. At 99 cents on sale, it’s not winning the price competition but the paper is lovely.

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Review: Baron Fig Squire LE Bolt

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I love the Baron Fig Squire. It’s a solidly built pen that performs well and feels great in my hand. The lightweight aluminum body isn’t so light that you don’t know that it is there but not so heavy as to tire your hand. Overall if you are looking for a great pen body, the Squire is a lovely addition to your pen carry.  

I’ve reviewed the Squire fully in the past so I’m not going to go into the nitty gritty details. Today I’m just going to discuss the new limited edition, Bolt.

The Bolt has a simple lightning bolt icon inscribed into one side and a simple Baron Fig on the opposite. The color of the Bolt is a bright harvest gold, the color of autumn leaves at Halloween. The anodized coating nearly glows in the right lighting. It’s bright but not garish. Did Baron Fig figure out the perfect shade of yellow? I think so.

I’ve said it before, yellow is far from my favorite color, but this pen, I reach for it almost as often as I reach for the Experiment. The gold colors stands out among my pens and the little lightning bolt icon reminds me of Harry Potter. Maybe I’ll pen my own fantasy novel with Bolt as inspiration.

Review: Composition Book at Target 2018

Target has a lot of offerings and I didn’t purchase everything. They only have the Up&Up books available in a 5 or 6 pack I might check back after payday and pick them up. But last year’s Up&Up were beyond terrible.

Yoobi 2018 Designs

  • 100 pages
  • College Ruled
  • Sturdy covers
  • Standard blue ruling

This year’s Yoobi covers are awful. I do not like the designs they offer at all. Last year’s were so fun and vibrant, these are yawn-worthy.

Which is fine, the only reason you’ll buy a Yoobi composition notebook this year is if you use a ballpoint or pencil. They were terrible with EVERYTHING else I put on the paper. Any liquid ink feathered and bled through. Even gel ink had significant show through. Pencil is lovely, as the paper has plenty of tooth.

Mead Composition Book

  • 70 pages
  • Classic blue and red ruling
  • Well stitched
  • Decent cover stock
  • 77 cents during back-to-school

After many years of mediocrity and terrible paper, Mead seems to have a better paper supplier because this is year 2 of great paper for Mead.

The paper isn’t silky smooth but it’s nice and fountain pens respond really well. All sheening inks sheen. There wasn’t any soak, bleed or show through. The paper is thin but both sides are usable. All other inks and pencils felt great on this paper.

Overall this is a fabulous composition notebook. It should be noted that I have not seen this version on the shelf at my “local” Target outside of back-to-school season.

Unison Graph Paper Composition Notebook

  • Standard marble covers
  • 100 pages
  • Pale blue 5 per inch rule
  • Oversized- 10×7.825 inches
  • 52 cents at Back-to-School Sale

I’ve never included graph version of comp books in my roundups in the past- most stores don’t carry them or they are significantly more expensive. Despite this being the WRONG size I grabbed one, after all, it was only 52 cents.

I’m glad I gave it a chance. I was shocked when my pens and inks skated over the pages with not a suggestion of feathering or bleed through. Inks with sheen had a load of glorious sheen and glitter if there was glitter. This paper is superb for liquid inks. It isn’t glassy smooth, but it is darn nice.

Pencil and ballpoint and gel are all great on this paper too. There is just enough tooth for a pencil to feel great.

Bottom line is that if you are a fan of graph paper and fountain pens and pencils this is a superb comp book, you’ll just have to ignore that it’s about a quarter inch too big on all sized. I have not seen these on the shelf outside of back-to-school season.

Unison Composition Notebook

  • Standard marbled covers
  • Covers are a tad flimsy
  • 80 sheets
  • Well stitched
  • 50 cents during back to school

These sport a standard pulpy card cover which doesn’t feel overly sturdy but feel okay. There is more oomph to them than other brands. The marble is standard but looks stretched to me. The taped spine is black and pretty standard. There are no fashion covers available. Stitching is sturdy and solid.

Pens feel great on this paper. Everything feels great on this paper. Fountain pens don’t quite skate but it’s smooth. The paper performs flawlessly with everything I put on it. From my Organics Walden to J Herbin Hematite to Akkerman Van Huysu’s Sap Green it all looks great. The Walden sheens wonderfully and the Rouge Hematite has enough gold glitter to make a child smile. Pencils feel good too, there is just enough tooth that pencils are dark but you don’t need to sharpen at the end of every line. Gel ink slides over the page and looks awesome.

Despite the slightly thinner cover, the paper combined with the 50 cent price tag means these are the books to beat this year. If I were to stock up on one brand of a composition notebook, it’d be the Unison.

Review: Composition Books at CVS 2018

I decided to change up how I’m doing my review roundups of the comp books this year. Instead of big mass roundups, I’m dividing them into the stores where they were purchased. This should mean I’ll have a large grouping of reviews (Staples, CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, etc…) instead of 2 or 3 large unwieldy slow loading reviews. So saddle up, as the second installment we have CVS.

When I stopped by CVS this time, they were just setting up their Back to School display, it wasn’t fully fleshed out and nothing was yet on sale. Their sales are usually pretty terrible so I’m not holding out for the prices to get much better.

Studio C “Good Vibes” Collection

    • 100 Pages
    • Sturdy Cover
    • Well stitched
    • Classic pale blue ruling
  • $3.49 at regular price

Let me start off with the good about this comp book- the paper is superb. It doesn’t have the smoothness of last year’s but it holds its own. All my pens performed flawlessly. From fountain pen to ballpoint to pencil, everything felt great on the paper. All my inks that sheen has fabulous Tomoe River level of sheen, and not a speck of bleed or feathering. There is just enough tooth that pencil feel awesome but doesn’t get ground to a stump when writing a line. The pale blue ruling fades to the background. Overall this book is a winner. Getting one at a discount price will just be gravy on an already superior composition notebook.

The bad part of these is that this year’s selection is tacky AF. I’m sorry but some of the covers were terrible. I picked out a bright glossy pineapple design which was the nicest on the shelf. The rest were awful. We’ll see what Walgreens has to offer. Last year’s cute woodland creatures were the best.

Ustyle or Continental Accessory “Animal Attraction” Collection

    • 80 pages
    • Sturdy cover
    • Sturdy stitching
    • Pale warm brown-gray ruling
  • $3.49 at regular price

The paper in this comp book is stunning and a surprise. Last year’s version of the UStyle comps was awful, like toilet paper soaking ability. But this year’s has a silky smooth paper that responds well to even my worst ink (Looking at you RK Verdigris) Inks that sheen, have an amazing sheen and every nib feels smooth and buttery on this paper. Not quite skating like on Tomoe River, but smooth and very nice. Pencil and all of my other pens felt lovely on the page. Not one ink or pen exhibited feathering or bleed through. Despite the paper being thin, you could use both sides of the page! I really dig the pale warm brownish gray ruling. It’s different but not so off that you give it a lot of attention, just different enough to be noticed. The covers are thick and sturdy enough that you can fold it over on itself and write in hand. Overall this is a killer comp book.

The one downside is the covers, some of the designs were quite nice, case in point the gold foil elephants on a navy background that I scored. Alongside that were plenty of awful animal prints with garish gold foil elements.

These two brands don’t represent the best deals of the composition notebooks available, but they represent some of the best paper available. If you keep an eye out for the sales CVS offers you will certainly end up with some great deals on these. Keep an eye out for their clearance section after BTS is done often my local CVS* often has things on ridiculous clearance prices as soon as the “season” is over.

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Review: Composition Notebooks at Staples 2018

Staples comp notebooks are the venerable OG when it comes to cheap composition notebooks. So they rate a look despite disappointing performance in the last few comp book roundups.


I picked up 2 of the 50 cent comp books, one made in Egypt and another from Brazil. Like in past years, the books made in Egypt sport a crisp squared spine while the Brazil books are rounded. The marble pattern is similar across both colors, a relatively even amount of color to white ratio. They are both stitched well with roughly ¼ inch stitches in the center. The taped spine is nicely textured and well glued down. I’d like to see a slightly more generous amount of tape at the edge, but that’s merely personal aesthetic.


The covers are thin flimsy cardstock, it feels pulpy and cheap. This has been a consistent issue over the last few years. The covers are floppy and don’t feel like they’d last a quarter let alone a semester. These will require a cover for protective purposes and support.
The paper in each is slightly different. I’ll start with the Brazil notebook. It performed the best of the two with fountain pens, despite being the best performer, it still performed dismally- loads of bleed and soak through and ghosting. The Brazil paper is smooth and feels good with Fp, and there wasn’t any feathering. In fact, Oster ink had sheen, but no other sheening inks exhibited sheen. Gel ink ghosted heavily. I did not like the Brazil paper for pencil, it didn’t have enough tooth and pencil marks smudged terribly.


The books from Egypt performed best with pens, despite being smooth they had enough tooth for pencil. The page was absorbent and fountain pen feathered, bled, and soaked through to the next page. Gel and liquid inks soaked through as well. If you alternate among your writing tools, this is a terrible choice in a notebook.


Despite the Staples comp books being a venerable OG they are played out and it’s time to retire them from new purchases, there are many other options out there for a good performer across all writing tools. Avoid the Staples comp book, for the second year in a row.

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Review: Staples Quick Dry Gel Pen 0.7

Back-to-School sales are upon us, and this stationery lover is in heaven. A great side of the BTSS is that this is a time when companies like Staples push out their knock-off versions of more expensive well loved stationery items, in this case, I believe these are a challenge to Paper Mate Inkjoy Gel pens.

I’ve mentioned that the Inkjoy looks like an adult “toy” and in comparison the QDGP is Spencer’s gifts version. It reminds me strongly of the Papermate gray FlexGrip pen we used to get in the 90s. With the exception of the incised lines of the FlexGrip, this pen is nearly identical to the 90s version of the capped pen. His school me loved the rubberized barrel and fiddling with the incised lines in the grip.

Adult me took one look at the pen and thought, “Basic.” Then I wondered what the hell the design team was thinking. Shiny silver nose, matte rubberized body, colored translucent clip and knock section, then finish it off with a shiny silver knock. The diameter of the pen is thick and about the same as the Inkjoy. They are incredibly lightweight you can barely feel them in hand. The clip is next to useless. The nock delivers a satisfying click and is nicely springy feeling.

The colors are lovely, saturated and sharp on all the paper used. The color of the ink doesn’t match the body of the pen. Particularly the light blue pen body- the ink is closer to teal. The purple is very dark. The red is dark red and not pink. The orange is the only one that is the right shade. The experience of writing is a little less positive. The tip is a tad scratchy on several of the pens in my package. In particular the bright green and the blue were quite scratchy. The colors are water soluble even after drying for an extended period of time. I doubt that they are lightfast.

Inside the body of the pen are standard gel refills. I noticed that the scratchy pens had air bubbles near the tips and no amount of shaking and flicking of the pen moved that air bubble. We’ll see if use moves it and if the pen gets better after the bubble is moved.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about these pens. I really like the orange and red color, and the light blue pen’s teal color is great, but if 2 out of 5 pens are meh is the package worth the cost at $5? When these pens work these are great basic gel pens that would work well for bullet journaling on a budget. (They are ugly though.) Continue reading

Review: Baron Fig X Caroline Weaver Elements Limited Edition Archer Pencil

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed the core of the Archer pencils. In the last few iterations of the pencil, I’ve felt decidedly meh on the core. Viarco, the company that crafts the Archer for BF seems to have a great deal of QC issues resulting in shattered cores, grit, and other issues with the pencils. The last batch the Number 2 was quite nice and I loved the eye-popping color scheme.

Elements is a different beast. This design could not be more different than the previous. The colors are muted pale shell pink and a sedate warm gray. The satin finish is lovely, though I think a full matte would have worked better with this sedate color palette. The wavered line between the gray and pink is lovely but doesn’t seem to match the general perfectionist aesthetic of BF. It feels like an inattention to detail rather than an intentional allowance in the process of dipping these pencils.

The tiny icons representing the various elements of a pencil hearken back to alchemy along with the design on the box that dissects a pencil into its various parts. I love the image on the package and the various lines and icons labeling the parts. The only icon that doesn’t make any sense for this pencil, is the icon for foil. There isn’t any foil on this pencil, so why have an icon for it?

The wood is cedar and smells stunning upon sharpening. It sharpens well with every sharpener I’ve used- Pollux, Bullet, Masterpiece and the ever chewy, Classroom Friendly. It held a point moderately well on most paper, including the Strategist card pictured in my images. I’ve used them in my pocket notebooks, cheap paper at work, and in a Confidant. Thus far the grippy grittiness I associate with Viarco pencils is more even and I have yet to feel like I’m cutting into the paper as I write.

Overall, this design looks lovely but has a few oddities. Like that icon for non-existent foil and the choice to use a wavy hand dipped a line in the middle of a tight design.  If you want a sedate pencil with grippy graphite this is a good choice. It doesn’t quite glide over a page but grabs the paper. It seems as if Viarco has gotten, at least with my package, some of their QC issues under control. These pencils will not be for everyone, particularly if you like silky smooth graphite or eye-popping color, look elsewhere.

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Review: BIC Gelocity 0.7 Gel Pen

My wife picked up a 12-pack of these cheaply from Amazon a few weeks back. As we generally do with stationery supplies, she shared a pen with me. I immediately took it with me to work and put it through the ringer. My results are reported below.

As I’ve shared before a gel pen that lasts more than a week at my DayJob is a winner, the Bic Gelocity lasted for a week and a half. The ink flow is smooth and consistent without skipping. I did find that I’d get a blob here and there when I’d filled out a full page of forms. Blobbing was minimal and didn’t smear. I suspect the few moments of blobs would make this a non-starter for lefties. The ink does dry very quickly, within a second or two on the cheap work paper and a little longer on better paper.

I found the black ink nice and dark. I have not tested it for lightfastness. I did a wash of water over some lines and there was minimal lifting. With a longer dry period, there was no lifting of the pigment. As a result, this could be a contender for a great sketching pen for urban sketching.

I found the contoured rubber grip to be comfortable. The pen design itself is pretty benign looking reminding me of many other retractable pens- from the Zebra Sarasa to the Pilot G2. The clip design is useless. After a day of use, it was falling off the placket of my shirt, falling into my shirt and onto the floor. Annoying on many levels. An attempt to bend the clip back into a tighter configuration saw the brittle plastic snap. Even more annoying.

Overall, this is a great pen if you are working on an absolute shite paper at your workplace. The ink doesn’t sink super deep into the page, but it also doesn’t smudge once you write. The black is deeply dark and photocopies and scans like a champ. The nice flow means you can doodle for days and not feel like you are running out of ink. The refill absolutely drains to the last drop too. This is a great pen for cheap paper and doodling.

You can find them at Target, Amazon and other retailers.

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