Review: Tombow IPPO!

The Tombow IPPO! is a Japanese pencil targeted toward kids for working on their handwriting. The pencils have bright attractive colors with one of their six sides white. It makes for a really neat looking pencil. The end is capped  off and neatly banded with a bright silver foil. The grade of the pencil is marked on  2 sides with the company name and dragonfly image on a third. I find these to be tidy and sharp (heh) looking pencils. That single white stripe reminds me of wide racing stripes on cars. Tough and serviceable but bright and fun. There are three different colors in each 12-pack. Mine had a bright lime green, a light blue, and dark blue. The pencils arrive in a nice hard plastic case that is reusable as a pencil case. It doesn’t clasp shut but overlap, so would need a rubber band to hold it shut, but is a great way to protect your pencils on the go.IPPO!Inside, the soft B core is well centered in an unknown wood that sharpens with ease. I tested out a variety of sharpeners and was happy with all results, from long points to stubby points. Point retention with this B pencil was good but not great. It is a B pencil, so it is soft, but it’s also not the softest B pencils I’ve tried. It’s delightfully dark without using undue pressure, and is smooth. It’s not the silky smooth experience of a Pearl but has a touch more feedback. It’s fantastic.IPPO!IPPO!

I really enjoy this pencil for written journaling. My words are nice and dark, and it doesn’t smudge too much, but will. For sketching it does well, but for deep dark areas another pencil in a softer grade will be needed.

These were purchased from Jetpens. They ring in around $1 each. The bright colors are fantastic and are eye catching. I can’t help but to have one of each color sharpened and ready for use.

Pocket Notebook File Storage Boxes

Ray of My Life All in One Place posted a video to the Field Nuts Facebook Group awhile back of a great little file storage box for any pocket sized notebook. I took his design and created a template in Make the Cut for my Crapcut machine. My version can be flat packed after cutting, scoring, folding and gluing. Which means it can be sent through the mail with ease*. I’m charging enough to cover the cost of paper, glue, blades, and carrier in my Crapcut and a little extra to account for time to glue and fold everything. File BoxesI’m pretty obsessed with storage solutions for the pocket notebooks I use as journals. I’ve made wooden boxes and now a ton of these little card stock beauties. Each of these little cardstock files boxes holds 9 of my used Field Notes or Word notebooks. It will hold 10 unused without belly bands or shrink wrap. File BoxesI also picked up a giant package of card stock colors. I can now offer a crazy rainbow of colors of these file boxes as well as my simple slim 2-pocket folders for traveler’s notebook covers. You can get anything I’ve mentioned above in my etsy store.cardstock colors

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Review: Clips for Pens and Pencils

When I was a kid my grandparents had a pen and pencil cup near their phone in the kitchen. This cup held an assortment of pens and pencils they had accumulated over the years. Some had come from their work places and others as freebies from companies they had done business with. Later as they traveled on their vacations to state fairs outside our area and state the cup began to acquire new never-before-seen exotic writing utensils. One of these I remember clearly was a pencil with a clip. I don’t remember anything but the clip. I remember thinking, “Duh, that makes soooo much sense! I’ve got a clip on my pen, why not on a pencil.” Then the pencil with a clip disappeared* and while I often thought it would be cool to have a clip on my pencil, I never gave it much thought after that. Well until I checked out clips pencil clipsPencilThings has an assortment of of clips that you can add to pencils. The clips I ordered remind me of old school pen clips. It’s a really simple design where the clip is springy and attaches to a band that wraps around the pencil. I found that all of my clips were a little loose on my pencils but a little gentle coaxing with a pair of pliers made them fit super snug. This squishing of the clip also served to make the actual clip more springy  and have a tighter clip onto whatever I clip the pencil to.pencil clips pencil clipsThe clips are made of spring steel. According to PencilThings they are made in the US. They aren’t exactly the best example of US manufacturing, as they are quite cheaply made. Given that they retail for about 50 cents each, this isn’t surprising.  I’ve only had them for a few weeks at this point and can’t really say anything about their durability, but they seem to clip snugly to the cover of my planner and my notebook. So far I’m very happy with them.pencil clips pencil clipsPriced at $6 for 12 or $3.25 for 6 they aren’t a bad buy. When Shipping is factored into the cost I think they are around 75 cents each. Which isn’t bad and pretty cheap considering they are reusable. Continue reading

Shipping Services

While I’ve been reviewing products on this blog for a good long time, one of the many things I’ve neglected to talk about is shipping from the various companies. We review shipping on Amazon, so why not from our favorite online pen and pencil companies? Here is my not so exhaustive list of shipping reviews in regards to pen and pencil companies. All of my shipments have been discreetly shipped in a white cardboard clamshell style box. Each box has been securely tapped on all edges. They open from the top and are gift-like in the package. Each package has been filled with styrofoam peanuts. I have not checked to see if these are the biodegradable sort, but they don’t look like they are.  The boxes always arrive in good condition, even when manhandled by the idiot delivery guy and not the good delivery woman. All items have arrived in perfect condition. Shipping is reasonably priced, right in the middle of the pack. They occasionally have free shipping sales. I try to take advantage of these sales. Speed of shipping is slower than other companies but not slow enough for me to complain. When they run a free shipping sale, they ship parcel rate, which is slower than the regular first class I usually select. You can pay more for priority shipping.

Jetpens: They ship in bubble wrap mailers. They do put loose pencils into thin card boxes. My last shipment arrived with a square of cardboard to protect the pencils. This is a far cry from some of my earlier shipments where items were sent loose in a bubble mailer.  As we all know that sort of shipping is the death of pencils. However, any order over $25 ships for free. Which is a huge savings. The free shipping is slower, as it’s sent first class and not priority mail.* I get my Jetpens goods within 3 to 4 days. Considering the goods are coming from Cali and I’m  in Mass, that’s really not bad.** I never order unless I can get over the $25 mark so I can’t comment on their paid shipping. I have never had a Jetpens purchase arrive damaged. I placed my first order on the 9th and it arrived on the 14th.  I get the feeling this is a one woman operation so not a bad turnaround to get from New Mexico to Massachusetts. Considering that the good mail lady was on vacation and the moron had her route, really not bad.*** My small order was shipped in a bubble mailer. The pencils were not backed by cardboard or anything else.  Shipping was $5 and the order was shipped first class  and weighed 3 ounces. You do the math. Anyway, nothing was damaged and they are one of the few places that offer things like pencil caps and clips. They have a HUGE range of KUM brand sharpeners that can be hard to find other places.

Goulet: Ever since Goulet did away with their Fountain Pen Network discount I haven’t placed an order. They rarely offer free shipping and when they do it’s on orders over $50, $75 or $100.  However when one of my packages was damaged in shipping and not delivered, they replaced my package free of charge. So their expensive and speedy shipping is guaranteed. When my package eventually was delivered, damaged, to Walgreens about a month later (weird) and Walgreens opened it and called me, Goulet told me to keep both. This is a huge positive. Generally, Goulet packages arrived in 3 days from Virginia.

Any conversation about Goulet bears mentioning that they ridiculously over protect their package. All packages are backed by cardboard wrapped in blue cling film and bubble wrap then shipped in a box. Inks are put into ziplock baggies. The extra space in the boxes is packed with crumpled paper, and there is always extra space since all of the boxes I’ve ever gotten have been over-sized for the items contained within. This makes perfect sense for inks and delicate pens. But is completely wasteful for notebooks and other items . I always shed a tear for the environment when I place a Goulet order. There is no middle ground or variance for different items. Every item is packed with the same excessive packaging. Which I suppose is good, because you pay for it.

Amazon- Every package I order from them is packaged differently. IF I’m getting things from Amazon and not a reseller, it’s generally in a small cardboard box with large air pockets. I’ve gotten things from resellers in bubble mailers, boxes, card mailers, paper envelopes with no bubble wrap, and the list could go on. With all the variances I’ve never had an Amazon order go missing or be damaged.

Rated by shipping price, lowest to highest:

  1. Jetpens (over $25)
  2. Amazon (with prime)(rated lower than Jetpens due to many pencil related items being add-on items)
  5. Goulet

Rated by Packaging, best to ok:

  1. Goulet
  3. JetPens
  5. Amazon (rated here as ok mostly because I never know how something will be packaged.)

Rated by Speed, fastest to Slowest:****

  1. Amazon
  2. Goulet
  3. Jetpens

Overall I’ve got perfectly adequate shipping from all of the vendors listed and I’ve been happy with service. Ratings are subjective and my opinion based on my purchase history.

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Review: Yoobi Pencils

A few weeks ago I was browsing the stationary section at Target, don’t pretend you don’t do the exact same thing, and happened upon the new display for Yoobi. It’s a nifty brand that donates a pack of what you bought to a school in need. Cool.

I picked up a few notebooks and a pack of pencils. I selected the mixed color 24-pack and received bright magenta, purple, blue and yellow green pencils that perfectly match their notebooks, journals, pens, highlighters, glue sticks, and other desk items. They are very brightly colored, which I like a lot.IMAG2045The pencils are standard #2 HB graphite cores. The core is well centered and whatever wood it is made of, sharpens well in all my sharpeners, from the KUM Ellipse, Long Point and wedge. Easy as could be. The core is nice and dark for an HB and is good for writing. it does okay for basic sketching but for anything resembling deep dark shadows a 4B or 6B pencil will need to be used. Point retention is decent but with pencils this cheap you can have a dozen sharp and ready to go without being worried about cost. Written journalers will be happy with these pencils.yoobiSpeaking of price, a 24-pack was a mere $2.29! They give a package to a school in need so it becomes an even better deal. The fact that these pencils  are super brightly colored and give to charity is great thing. They also coordinate with their notebooks really well. Even if you aren’t using a matching color, all of the colors work really well together.yoobi yoobi yoobi yoobi yoobi


Review: BIC ECOlution Evolution HB

I picked up a few neat pencils in a trade with PencilRevolution‘s Johnny Gamber. One of those pencils was the BIC ECOlution. Like the Staedtler Wopex, it’s extruded. Unlike the Wopex it is flexible. Similar to the weird flexy extruded pencils of the 90s, you can really bend this pencil as  you write. Unlike the weird extruded pencils of the 90s this flexing doesn’t seem to break the core. So though it has bends as I write, it sharpens to a nice point every time.BIC

Speaking of sharpening, it has a weird melted plastic smell as I sharpen it. It’s almost a burnt rubber smell. It’s not noticeable except for right after I’ve sharpened the pencil. Like the Wopex, the end tends to chip off. This leaves me with a slightly blunted point. Which is fine for notebooks with larger ruling or sketching, but horrible for college ruled or Field Notes. If I’m more careful as I sharpen the pencil, it doesn’t chip. Let’s face it I don’t use this sort of pencil for sketching. It’s simply too light for anything but very cursory and initial sketching.  For writing it’s just fine.BIC

In fact I like it quite a bit for writing. It doesn’t smudge in my notebook or when my hand runs over it. This is a great pencil to pair with a Field Notes and Fauxdori style cover. the fact that it doesn’t smudge while your notebook rides in a hip pocket is a fantastic feature.

The pencil is a nice bright teal color. One of my favorite colors. the imprint is gold foil, and done very well. The core is well centered. The ferrule is nice shiny silver and attached to the pencil very well. The eraser is a nice white plastic eraser that does a good job on the Ecolution’s core.BIC

The hard part about this pencil is finding one. The only place you can find one is on eBay and by international sellers. The prices are pretty reasonable, it’s the shipping that kills the deal.

This pencil has 3 major downsides- the weird melted plastic smell when sharpened.* It’s bending is something that I find odd in a pencil. Pencils are supposed to be hard, not bendy. Finally, It’s unavailable on the regular US pencil market and must be found on eBay by international sellers. Even with those downsides, I really like this pencil.

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Review: Staedtler Rally

One of the pencils that I’ve been using a lot over the last couple of weeks has been the Staedtler Rally a #2 HB. These caught my eye on Amazon because they are navy blue and white striped. The imprint is white and tends to wear off pretty quickly, leaving behind a matte impression of the formerly white imprint. The imprint rubs off with ease if I try to remove it. The ferrule is tight on the pencil but loosens as the eraser is used. The more vigorously the eraser is used, the looser it gets. The pencil sharpens easily in any of my sharpeners producing a sturdy point.IMAG1882

The eraser is white plastic, pvc and latex free. It’s a pretty tough and abrasive eraser, though doesn’t damage most paper. It removes the pencil markings from paper pretty well. It’s not great though. It does the job when taking notes. But for sketching I’d carry a Staedtler Mars plastic eraser or a Tombow Mono Zero click eraser for better clean up.Staedtler Rally

The pencil itself is nice and dark. It is not the smoothest of pencils. There are occasional gritty bits. I didn’t find this off putting for a regular working pencil. While I think that Palominos and Blackwings are awesome, it’s not realistic that I use them for all of my class notes or all my drawing. Well, it’s also unrealistic that I stick with one pencil or pen for an extended period of time. Rather, I’m a pencil serial monogamist.Staedtler Rally

Anyway, to me this is a really good looking pencil. The navy blue and white is quite striking and unusual. Is it my best pencil? No. But it works really well for class notes and for general sketching of things. It’s also relatively cheap when purchased through Staples, around 29 cents a pencil. I picked up mine via Amazon as an add on item, but my price was slightly higher. It’s a good pencil to give to people who might not be obsessive about pencils as a way of introducing to something other than that standard #2 pencil they get from the office supply cabinet. It’s got a lot going for it- inexpensive, good looks, a nice dark, mostly smooth lead, and easy sharpening.Staedtler Rally

Overall, this is a great pencil for general purpose work, easily replacing almost any HB pencil in your rotation for sketching or writing. Have a kid on  your shopping list who likes special pencils? This might be a great one for them. Have someone who likes pencils? Well, you might want to get them something a little more special, but this as a part of a gift pack of a few notebooks or journals, might make them happy.

Review: Faber-Castell Grip 2001 B

I’d heard good things about the Grip 2001, plus it is a neat looking pencil, so I picked one up at Artist and Craftsman for a cool 81 cents.

First, let’s talk about the looks of this pencil. It’s metallic silver gray with a black imprint and raised black dots along the triangular grip.  the silver gray paint has a few runs and imperfections, that are noticeable, particularly at the imprint end of the pencil. I didn’t look at a whole lot of these on the rack of open stock pencils, but I did notice some imperfections on the other pencils as well. The back end, where the ferrule would usually go is capped with a shiny cap of sorts. When I first pulled this pencil off the rack I thought the raised nubs along the grip were purely for looks, but they are functional and create a nice tactile feel. If you are a “worrier” or rub your pencil or pen when you are thinking this is a great tactile feel. The pencil itself is very light feeling. I didn’t think to weigh it but after using other pencils it feels very light. The rounded triangular shape is very comfortable to hold and use. It settles into my hand like it was designed for my grip. It’s a great feeling pencil.Grip 2001I picked out a B grade. They had a full range of grades at Artist and Craftsman but I decided that the best bet for my review purposes was to continue with HB or B. It’s also a good entry level for pencil drawing and from a B grade you can tell what the rest of the grades will act like. At first use I was not impressed. This B grade is much more like an HB or F than a B. It’s not possible to get a whole lot of tonal range with this pencil. I got no more dark out of this than I would with a standard HB or #2 pencil. It is very hard for a B grade pencil. The mark it makes is lighter than I’d expect of a B  pencil.  Again the darkness of the pencil is in line with an HB of even an F, not what I’d expect of a B pencil marketed towards artists.Grip 2001However, it is not scratchy, in fact it’s a nice smooth pencil. I didn’t notice any grit as I used it. It holds it’s point remarkably well for a B graded pencil, again, I’d mark this an HB rather than a B, but even when compared to an HB it really holds it’s point well. For sketching this isn’t a great pencil but for writing it’s great. I find myself reaching for it pretty often to use in my Field Notes.Grip 2001How does it sharpen? Well, okay. I haven’t tried it in my KUM long point sharpener but in my KUM ellipse and Staedtler pocket Jelly Bean* it does OK. The wood peels off well enough, but the lead does lean towards chipping and cracking off the core. The core is narrow but well centered so does sharpen to a good point, the sharpener must be sharp.  As I learned, a dull sharpened will just chip the lead off into blunt nasty points.Grip 2001While these pencils are directed at artists, I find it odd that they only offer  from grades 2H to 2B. Artist grades, for regular drawing generally go up to at least a 6B and down to a 2H in hardness. If they are directed at artists, why so little in variation? Rather, I think the market for these is the “gift to artists” and “people who appreciate a nice pencil” rather than professional artists. While up to 2B is adequate for sketching IF you can get a nice range of tone from the softest pencil, it’s far less useful if the pencils are hard and not able to give a nice darkness. Like the mixed Palomino set, these are for writing and doodling, not for serious sketching or drawing where you need deep dark areas.GRIP2001

Overall, if you are looking for a solid pencil for writing this is a great pencil, I just can’t suggest it for drawing. Perhaps a higher grade, maybe 2B or 4B would give a nice dark tone for sketching.

Most of the other reviews of this pencil are older and much more favorable than I’m being here. Of course the majority of the reviewers are not artists and use them solely for writing, and that is where these pencils truly excel. Treat yourself to a great pencil for writing but get yourself something else for drawing or sketching.

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Review: Koh-I-Noor Toison D’Or 1900 Pencil

The Koh-I-Nor Toison D’ Or pencil is sharp looking with shiny black and cream lacquer and a gold imprint of the name and degree indication. I have a thing for black pencils, probably because they were hard to find when I was a kid. The gold foil imprint is sharp and well centered on the barrel of the pencil.Koh-I-Norkoh-i-norI’m unsure of what kind of wood this pencil is made of, but it sharpens easily in my KUM ellipse sharpener.  The core is narrow on the HB and B  but it is appropriate for these grades. In use I found the “lead” to be a grade or two harder than other brand’s grade designations. I would grade the HB as an H or F in any other brand of pencils. The B would be an HB in other brands.Koh-I-Nor

The HB pencil was very hard and scratchy. In fact, there was a piece of grit that didn’t write when I turned the pencils to that part of the point. Quite annoying. After sharpening the pencil there was less grit but it was still very light and smooth but occasionally gritty.koh-i-nor

The B pencil was much smoother and the darkness and softness akin to an HB pencil. The core lacks the smoothness of say, a Palomino or even a Dixon Ticonderoga. If I were to use these pencils for writing, sketching or drawing I’d stick with this grade.  This pencil was quite nice and even after repeated sharpening I didn’t hit any large pieces of grit like the HB pencil.Koh-I-NorI found these to be a mixed bag in terms of niceness versus frustration. Large pieces of grit are something I don’t have a lot of tolerance for in my pencils. With a list price of $1.79/pencil I found the price to be a little high for the quality.  For general sketching pencils I find the Staedtler Rally or Norica to be a better HB pencil at a much better price. Still lower in  price the Palomino HB is a much better pencil. I know these are available all over the place as an art pencil and positioned as a value pencil. I can’t really recommend them as a good option for writing or sketching. Use them if you’ve got ‘em but I wouldn’t suggest them as a new purchase.Koh-I-Nor

Review: Fabriano EqoQua Notebooks

The pocket sized Fabriano EcoQua(EQ) notebooks have been around for awhile and I’ve just now gotten my hands on a 4-pack at my local AC Moore with a 505 off coupon. The regular price at AC Moore is $8.99 for 4 3.5×5.5 inch notebooks.ecoqua ecoqua

They feature 64 pages (or 32 sheets) of creamy off white paper. The paper is lightweight 85gsm paper.  The paper is amazing, smooth yet enough tooth that pencils perform well and smooth enough for fountain pens to glide over the surface. There was no feathering nor bleed through. It does take a bit for the pens to dry, but that should be expected with paper like this. Pencil smudginess was decent though not amazing.  The pages are thin enough that inks and pencils alike have a lot of show through of the previous page, while this wouldn’t stop me from sketching on both sides it might be enough to deter some users. The second half of the book is micro-perforated. I’ll discuss that later.ecoqua ecoqua The covers are bright cheery colors with a linen imprinted finish. The cover weight is slightly heavier than a Field Notes and about the same as a Word notebook. The corners are rounded, but just barely so. The book is held together with 2 silver staples, they seem robust enough. Each of my books at the spine feature a small tear. This can be caused by several things, first the blade on the shear could be dull, secondly the books weren’t clamped tight enough into the shear, thirdly the shear was over filled finally the shear was under filled. Most likely it was over filled and not clamped down properly. This happens pretty often when small pocket books are mass produced. It’s just something to make note of and to check for if you are neurotic about that sort of thing.ecoqua ecoqua

I really love the paper and the bright covers. However, the micro-perforated second half of the book is a deal breaker for me. I cannot stand to have my sketchbooks micro perforated. If I want to remove a page I have an exacto, a ruler, and a self-healing cutting mat. Or I can use my cutter bee micro perforation blade to add my own perforations. I wouldn’t mind if the last 4 or 5 pages were micro-perforated, but perforations just mean that in my use those pages will fall out. I joke that micro-perforation is Italian for “falls out with little effort.” If these weren’t micro-perforated they wold be right up there with my lovely BanditApple Carnet peewee sketchbooks. But with 1/2 of the sketchbook ready to fall out if I sneeze on them… Nope.ecoqua

I don’t know why it’s taken the big paper companies so long to get into the small pocket sketchbook game. Clearly it’s profitable and relatively easy to do. Canson delved into this territory with their pocket XL sketchbooks, which are really not that great but are wonderful for making a lot of dreadful sketches. I’m still surprised that with the success of Moleskine and Field Notes that all the big paper companies (hello, Strathmore, Borden & Riley, and Stillman & Birn) haven’t created a simple sketchbook like this. I’d buy a 3-pack of Stillman & Birn pocket sketchooks in no time.

Instead I’m forced to use notebooks with crappy paper for sketching (I still love you Field Notes) or ordering a sketchbook from overseas (I love you Bandit Apple Carnet.)

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