Review: Ito-ya Helvetica Pencil

The Ito-ya pencil is made by Camel. Per CWPE the eraser was designed for Camel by Eiichi Kato. Most pencils with this sort of ferrule-free eraser experience are made by Camel. I’ve reviewed another Camel pencil here.

I love the look of ferrule-free erasers. That’s no different on the Helvetica pencils. All the erasers are black, no matter the color of the pencil. They are available in white, black, red, and gray. You can find mixed packs on Amazon. I purchased a 12 pack with 6 red and 6 black pencils. The paint is thick and well applied to a perfect satin finish. It’s not quite dull enough to call it matte but also not shiny. The black paint and eraser feel stealthy. TThe imprint is printed rather than debossed. On all the pencils the imprint is glossy black. It stands out quite well on all the colors, even the black on black it looks great. Very minimalist.

Inside the paint is nicely fragrant cedar, which sharpens up in any sharpener I own. Inside that lovely cedar is smooth dark graphite. The writing experience with these is silky smooth. The graphite is dark too. If you own the Camel 60 pencil the Helvetica is significantly softer and darker. I’d liken it to a B Misubishi 9850 or Nataraj Super Black pencil. That is to say, dark and smooth.

Honestly, when I bought these I didn’t put mine down until it hit Steinbeck stage, then I immediately sharpened up another. Though these are $15 for a 12-pack, they are so pleasant to use that I keep an eye on Amazon and keep them in my future to buy cart. I also like to include them in trades and pencil gift package.

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First Look: Baron Fig LE Archer No.2 Pencil

With limited editions, my focus is on evaluating the aesthetics of the look and less on evaluating the internals. Viarco makes Baron Fig pencils. I’m not a huge fan of Viarco pencils, I find them to be a tad on the scratchy and gritty side for my taste. Which is BAFFLING because Viarco is capable of creating the smoothest and prettiest graphite as they do with some of their art graphite. Their Art Graph Sticks are creamy smooth brilliance. They are capable of SO much more.As much as I love the look of the Prismatics, the No.2 hits me in the feels. There is so much to love about this pencil. Part of what I love is that pencil nerds have been asking any of the makers of limited edition pencils to do something with a classic yellow school pencil. No one has delivered until now. Baron Fig not only nailed it, they hit it out of the park. This pencil is steeped in American school pencil tradition. They went with a matte but bright finish. The yellow  is bright or light chrome yellow versus the mid or dark chrome yellow we usually see on school buses and school pencil. It’s cheerful and put a smile on  my face. The green end dip and imprint are light chrome green. It’s also super bright. The color combination is classic. It calls out to Dixon’s Ticonderoga, General’s Badger or their Semi-Hex, and John Deere tractors.* the change in colors for pencils- the Ticonderoga uses foil in its imprint and a dusty shade of green on the ferrule. While the Badger sports green foil and a gold ferrule. IN contrast the No.2 has no ferrule at all, just a simple green end dip that perfectly matches the imprint. Unlike the budget pencils this has a thick application of the matte lacquer. Inside the matte lacquer is, for the first time, good old cedar.

The core on mine were mostly centered, though I had 2 pencils that were pretty off center in my dozen. I tested the No.2 out on a variety of paper from Baron Fig’s Vanguard and Confidant, to Write, to Field Notes, To No Brand Notebooks, and finally P+G index cards. The results were surprising. The 3 that I tested and used extensively for several days were much less gritty than the previous Archers I’ve used. As usual the archer’s perform best on Baron Fig’s own paper, the smooth yet toothy paper is optimum for gaining the darkest line with the least amount of effort. While smoother paper like the Write pocket notebooks forces the user to use much more pressure to get a good dark line.

For a pencil I wasn’t expecting to like but enjoyed quite a bit more than usual. The core is much more consistent and not gritty as in previous versions. The look is awesome and definitely reminds me of old school pencils. Thanks Baron Fig for the trip down memory lane. Continue reading

Professional Shades of Blue

At some point someone somewhere decided that the only colors of ink that are acceptably professional* are blue and black. Red is occasionally acceptable in some contexts- like accounts receivable, editing, and other jobs where a mark must be immediately recognizable. I’ve read a myriad of reasons why blue and black are the acceptable professional colors from photocopy-ability to price to general opinion. Sadly, the general opinion seems to be that black and blue ink are professional and others are not.

My workplace is one which states somewhere that we can only use black and blue ink on any official document. This translates to using blue or black ink only, as everything I fill out becomes part of the official file and the only thing that can be tossed are occasional notes to myself and scratch paper. Honestly as much as I’d like to whip out a pen loaded with Diamine Chocolat to take notes while I’m on the phone it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to cart around a fountain pen loaded with ink just for scrap notes, not to mention that the Diamine Chocolate would feather and bleed on all the paper in the building, so I”d then have to bring in a notepad just for that pen. It just doesn’t make sense.

I set out to find some blue and blue-black inks that are professional and worked on the fibery, rough, absorbent paper in my office.

1 Zebra Sarasa Indigo/Navy

Depending on where you purchase your Sarasa pens this pen will be labeled either indigo or navy. I like Indigo better so I’ll use that throughout the review. This pen is a deep dark purple tinged blue black. It’s warm and a really nice dark shade of blue. The bonus is that the Sarasa refill flows well, is smooth, and works from the moment you peel off the little waxy ball to the moment the ink is gone. The gel ink also works well on the cheap office paper. I’ve bought a bunch of these.

2 Zebra Sarasa Cobalt/Blue Gray/ Slate Blue

Zebra really needs to work on their naming conventions and stick to the same name across the brand or even within the same line. The standard Sarasa in this color is officially named Cobalt. Which is hilarious because it doesn’t even come close to looking like cobalt in any way shape or form. Their standard blue should be named cobalt. This shade of blue is more of a dusky gray blue, which is what it is called in the “vintage” series of Sarasa Clip pens. I just call it Slate Blue which is what I call all blue gray ink pens. So from here on out this is Slate Blue.

Slate blue is very sedate. You’d think that because it is gray tinged that it would be pale or faded looking, it has a good balance of blue to gray and stands out quite well on the page. In some lights this pen has a hint of green to it, but in most it just looks blue. This pen has occasional issues with the fax or photocopier. It is still legible but all the copies I’ve made of forms filled out with this ink are faded.

3 Paperhate Inkjoy Slate Blue

This is another deep dark blue. There is a hint of teal or green in some lights but I’ve not had any complaints about this color. I suspect that because unless you are looking at it next to other shades of blue it just looks like dark blue or an attempt at blue-black. I’m not going to gush about the Inkjoy, go read this if you want to read all about the wonder of the Inkjoy.

4 Zebra Sarasa Blue

This blue is bright, vibrant, and stands out on the page. It leans toward the warm purpley side of blue. Honestly, I’m not a fan of this shade. It reminds me of Noodler’s Bay State Blue in intensity and color. Maybe a shade or two darker, but it’s got that sort of pop on the page. It would kill or stain your pen though, so bonus?

5 Pentel Energel Blue

A good standard shade of blue. It photocopies well and is visible on all forms I’ve used it on. Boring but decent blue.

6 Pilot G2 Blue

I list this because the G2 performs really well on all forms of cheap paper. It’s a nice standard blue too. Boring, but it’s blue.

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First Look: Baron Fig Vanguard The New Composition

Here’s what happened, I love my composition notebooks but I was frustrated with the often nasty paper inside. I thought, “You know who could make an awesome updated version of the composition book? Baron Fig.” I picked up my phone and called Joey and Adam and told them my idea. They told me it was great and awesome. That they’d read my obsessive composition notebook review, then let me know when it was going to happen. Okay, so that’s not really what happened, but it doesn’t hurt to think that maybe the guys over at BF read my obsessive reviews of composition notebooks. You know, where I harp on the amount of white to black in the marble and the size of the tape on the spine… I mean that probably didn’t happen either. But these Vanguards feel like the guys at BF crawled into my head and put all my thoughts about awesome composition notebooks into play. The ratio of color to white in the marbling is great, the black “tape” on the spine is almost perfectly proportioned for the size. I’m just so  in love with the cover style. They even fit my requirement that the spine is stitched. Inside is that great toothy but smooth enough for fountain pen paper. The Vanguard paper seems to be a tad thinner than the Confidant paper, but doesn’t feather with fountain pen inks. The flagship size is perfect for tossing into a bag, or if you must, the pocket of cargo pants. The only downside of these is that the cover is thin and not the stiff hearty cardboard comp books should be made from. Luckily they are a smaller size so the weight of the cover material is less important. These notebooks are a fun miniaturized twist on the larger traditional composition notebooks.  They look lovely with the Baron Fig No.2 pencils. Which I’ll review in their own post. Anyway, head on over the Baron Fig’s website to pick up a set.So some deeper fuller composition book analysis is needed here. Is this a comp book by my own standards? No. It is a good update on a comp book. It lacks a few things that I use to determine a true comp book- the size is too small (though there are mini and 6x9ish comp books), the spine is not taped, and finally the covers are soft and not card. It also lacks the standard generic label on the front. Even with all of that I love these. I’m glad they did this on the Vanguard and not a Confidant because this is the closest thing to a comp they offer. A marbled Confidant would not be in the tradition of comp books, in the same way that I cannot see the Kickstarted Comp as a composition book. I think that the Baron Fig Composition is a good modern take on the old school composition notebook.

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Review Round: Bicolor and Checking Pencils Part 1

Welcome to the first in a series about every novelist and editor’s necessary evil- bicolor and checking pencils. In the past I’ve relied mainly upon red ink in a fountain pen to edit my own work. I chose the bloodiest looking red. I wanted the ink to pop off the page or to be fun to use, like J.Herbin 1670 Rouge Hematite. Often I’d just use whatever fountain pen was at hand. Most of the ink in my fountain pens seemed to be fine for the task of editing.

I understand that many students have an aversion to red ink on their page, associating it with negativity, for myself I always saw the use of red ink on my work as a method of getting better. That said, most of my professors in grad school used purple or blue ink for corrections- if they even saw the work on paper. Most corrected and graded in blue or purple on the computer.

Now that I’ve graduated and I’m beginning to make the first pass in editing my written work I find my needs are different. The first draft of my novel is written in graphite and I have to be able to find the edits as I move through the notebooks. For this color is important, much more so than when editing typed pages. There is something about the reflective nature of graphite, and perhaps, my horrible handwriting that makes it difficult to find black, blue, and green ink on the pages.

I digress, the entries:

Entry 1: General’s Red & Blue Crayon Pencil

I picked this monstrosity up at Bob Slate in Cambridge, MA. I admit that perhaps I was swayed by it’s bright reflective metallic coating. I thought it would be easy to find in my pencil case. I sharpened it up with my handy brass bullet only to find the core crumble away. I was able to edit only a few pages of my paper before it was a useless nubbin.

The red was pale and faded into my writing and into text. The blue was slightly more pigmented, but still weak and pale. The wax core caught and gripped the page rather than sliding across as I wrote. I tested it on a variety of papers- from my composition notebooks to cheap Staples recycled paper in warm and cool environments. Nothing made this pencil worth using.

I can’t get a picture of it because I hated it so much and there was so little left that I tossed it. Do you know how much I have to HATE a pencil to throw it away? A lot.

Entry 2: Musgrave Hermitage Old Version

Musgrave recently updated the core and coloration of their bicolor pencil, I have a new version on the way and will add that to my next round up. See this article for more info on how to tell the old from the new.

The red core is pale and lacks punch against graphite and ink. It is slightly better for making notes on printed pages but only slightly. The blue isn’t bad in terms of pigmentation. It is fine for making notes. These cores grab the paper in a way I find most unpleasant. Instead of gliding across the page it sticks. Thus I’m forced to use excessive pressure to get the pencil across the page. The color is good, the texture is lacking.

I suffer to use this pencil because they are dirt cheap, around $3.50 on pencil(dot)com.

Entry 3: CW Pencil Enterprise The Editor

A relatively new pencil by the pencil women at CWPE, The Editor has graphite on one side and red on the other. I really like this combination and I’d like to see more offerings like this. The pencil is made for CWPE by Caran D’Ache, so you know it is of great quality.

The red side is nearly perfect. The core is deeply pigmented and doesn’t shatter in use or sharpening. It doesn’t holds a point well. The core glides across every paper I’ve put it to. The color stands out against graphite, ink, and printed text. It feels great.

The graphite is quite hard and holds a point forever. I’d place it around an H or F. I wish CWPE had cone with a CdA B or 2B. I find the lead to be a tad too faint to use for regular editing. This is one of those cases where having only 1/3rd of the pencil as graphite would make sense.

Entry 4: Nataraj Red Checking Pencil

These pencils only have one color- red in the pencil. They are available in blue and green. The exterior is red with black stripes with a gold imprint. The end is dipped in red. The wood appears to be jelutong. A dozen is roughly $5 on Amazon.

The core is decently pigmented and stands out well enough against graphite, ink, and printed text. It is among the harder of the cores, it isn’t as smooth as the Editor, but it does okay. It grabs the page a bit but not so much to be unpleasant. I find that it is best on rough crappy paper and my composition notebooks. On nicer paper, like Kokuyo it is more grabby of the page.

Despite these being less pleasant than a few of the others I’ve listed, I find myself reaching for them again and again. Perhaps it is the combination of cheap and acceptability in my composition notebooks that makes them oh so useful for me.

Entry 5: Eagle Verithin Carmine Red Vintage

Despite my general rule of NOT reviewing vintage items, I’m including a vintage pencil in this round up. These  damn  fine pencils can be found on eBay and are in the $9 to $20 range. 

you’ll note that there are current Verithin pencils available. these are garbage and should be avoided. With this pencil, vintage is the ONLY way to go. You can go with Eagle or Eberhard Faber and get a decent lovely pencil, but once you get into the eraser capped version, they become junk. Once they hit Prismacolor years they’ll make you cry.

The vintage version is what all checking pencils must measure up to. The core is deeply pigmented, stands out stunningly on the page. It doesn’t matter what it’s editing- graphite, ink, or printed text, this red stands out. The verithin lead sharpens up to a needle fine point and holds it without shattering the minute it’s touched to the page. It then holds that point for ages and ages. It glides across nice paper and rough paper alike. This pencil just works well. I hold all other checking pencils up to it’s depth of color and feel on the page.

Entry 6: Mitsu-Bishi 7700

The core of this pencil is hard and holds a point well. The core is pigmented well but is so hard that getting a dark enough mark is difficult. It works best on toothy cheap paper with a good support behind the page. Paper that is thick and soft, or in a stack causes the pencil to make a pale mark. A good writing board between the sheets helps significantly. I also find that it works best when it isn’t sharpened to a needle point.

Though this pencil is pretty nice on firm toothy paper, I’m not a fan of this pencil. Largely because I can’t edit while the paper is in a stack.

Final verdict for this round:
Though the Verithin is the superior pencil, I find myself reaching for the Nataraj over it again and again. If the Editor had a better graphite I’d find that to be the superior pencil. I do balk at it’s $3 price tag. If I were editing like I was with my thesis the $3 price tag would cause me to pause as well. Let’s face it, the superior pencil is going to be a combination of usability and decent price. IN the heat of editing a novel one doesn’t really want  to worry about how much editing one’s own work will cost.

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First Look: Unfinish Baron Fig Limited Edition Confidant

I have to admit, when Baron Fig contacted me with an offer to review this Confidant I wavered. I love the Confidant for so many reasons, but this, this Unfinish business, well, it’s controversial. I missed out on Askew, and admit I thought that one was a little silly. But oh my the social media crankiness was delightful. So in comes Unfinish, delightfully weird and a dash wacky all printed up in non-photo blue. No weirdo lines, just little images that aren’t finished. If you doodle this might be your dream journal. If you just want a Confidant you can write in, don’t fear, the printing is pale enough that it disappears behind your writing- whether you use blue or black ink or graphite. There are no lines just unfinished little images throughout the book. You need lines? Hit up The Well Appointed Desk for some printable line goodness. I find the little images kinda cute and silly. If I wanted a journal to doodle in with a bit of a prompt, this would be a good choice. Some of the images remind me of Keri Smith’s “Wreck This Journal,” i’m not sure why, but they do. It also reminds me of Dada and Fluxus, and a bit of surrealism. Look up Hannah Hoch for more Dadaist goodness. Unfinish sports all the same goodness that all Confidant notebooks have- solid fabric covered hard covers, smythe sewn, quality paper that is FP friendly and nice with pencils, and a too short bookmark.
In short, it is a lovely, if quirky, notebook or journal. It won’t fit the needs of some folks, and will likely incite passionate debate in the stationery forums, but for those who will love it, they will do so with excitement.

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Review: Leuchtturm1917 Pen Loop

The Leuchtturm1917 Pen Loop (just LPL from here) is an ingenious little loop of elastic stitched to a bit of adhesive backed plastic. They can be found in just about every stationery shop, online and off. A single LRL costs between $4 and $10.

Sticking a LPL to a notebook cover is as easy as peeling the backing off and figuring out where to place it. I placed mine on the right hand side of my Franklin-Christoph Blue Linen cover. It’s held in place since I purchased it this summer.

The loop securely holds a number of pen, mostly those on the slimmer side, but it does hold my Pentel Alloy securely. This loop isn’t going to hold super fat pens. It does better with thin pens like the Parker Jotter. It is the perfect size for a Baron Fig Squire. The elastic is tight when the LPL is new, but it loosen a bit over time through use.

Overall, the LPL does a very good job at what it does. The LPL is available in a whole rainbow of colors. It makes a great addition to a number of notebooks or covers. I’m considering getting one for my 2018 Baron Fig planner. I can’t figure out if I want a pop of color with my planner or if it should match the gray. Decisions.

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Review: Walmart Pen+Gear HB 30-Pack and 10-pack Made in India Pencils

Walmart’s Casemate label has turned into Pen+Gear. Some of the pencils continue to be made in India, which is a good thing. These are essentially the same pencil as the last 30-pack and I reviewed, with a few changes.

The core is dark, smooth, and holds a point well, like any Hindustan HB/No.2 core. The wood is jelutong and sharpens well. The 2 packages I purchased have mostly centered cores, and those few cores that are off center aren’t so bad that they can’t be used.

The most  important update to these pencils is the new paint job. I call the 30-pack “Clown Car” with the 10-pack of grays and blues, “Sigh, Boy*.” The 30-pack is a group of pinks and bright colors. The printing on these is significantly better than the previous packages. It’s gone from super janky to occasionally janky and mostly decent. I was surprised at how well they were printed given how bad the last batch was printed. Anyway, the printing is better and the core is like any other HB core from Hindustan- dark, smooth, and super nice for the price. At regular price these are roughly 10 cents per pencil, which is fantastic for such a nice pencil.

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First Look: Baron Fig 2018 Planner

This planner begins with a Baron Fig Confidant base- a solidly built grey notebook. In this case medium, or flagship size, with a charcoal gray cover. Flagship size is 5.4×7.7 inches or 137x196mm with 192 pages of toothy but fountain pen friendly paper. The paper is off white. All ruling is light grey.

Inside the planner is where it differs from the Confidant. There are different sections, starting with a year overview, followed by month at-a-glance, then week + day view, and finally a notes section with dot grid ruling. As I’ve mentioned, the ruling is all light gray. For me, it is perfect- it disappears behind the inks and pencils I use most often, while being completely visible in regular light.

Depending on your use- the week + day view might be perfect. I’m in a profession where I need to schedule myself by the hour on the hour- so I needed to add in times to each day. I looked for self inking stampers but found none that would work for the available space. I picked up (and was gifted) a few number stamps as well as to do list stamps. Combined with an acrylic block I am able to stamp each week and day with 9am-7pm along with lines. This lets me schedule clients and easily see which times are open. In the past I didn’t need to have the hour marked out and this planner would have worked really well for me. I like the generous openings for each day with smaller spots for weekends.

The month at-a-glance is useful for planning vacations, paydays, and other activities. I also found the year overview useful to track vacations and days off. In the monthly section I used rubber stamps to label holidays and days the office is closed. I then used these to easily find the same dates in the weekly planner section to also easily label those same dates. This way when it comes to scheduling, it’s easy as can be.

I had never used rubber stamps in a Confidant before, and there are some important things to be aware of. First if you are stamping something with a lot of “black” area and you are using a REALLY juicy wet stamp, it will soak through to the verso. It stops short of completely soaking through but it is visible. Because the paper is good for fountain pens, it does take a really long time for pigment in to dry. I used a blotter sheet while I was quickly working, and even after an hour, the in was still wet. Use of a heat gun to dry pigment ink is totally necessary. Stick to fast dry ink pads or keep your heat tool handy.

Because the paper is so good for ink, ink looks amazing on it’s creamy surface. I have been very pleasantly surprised by how nice the stamp inks look. I’ve used red, teal, indigo, and pale teal and it all looks wonderful. The cream paper does darken everything by a shade or two. But it looks great. The stamps are crisp and edges neat, except where I used too much pressure. I’m able to write names into the lines easy as pie, and the ink looks great. Pencil also fairs well enough. Once the stamps are set pencil erases off the page and the stamp is still strong and vibrant.

Overall, with just a first look at this, and basically setting up the planner for use next year I’ve found it to be pleasant and well built like any Confidant. A year in my bag will tell me how well the cover stands up to abuse and coffee, but based on my use of other Confidants I suspect it’ll fair just fine. As with any planner if it will work for you is really based off the week at-a-glance layout as the bulk of the planner. I suspect I’ll be using the Saturday and Sunday spots for to do lists as I keep my outside-of-work life separate from work.

You can find the planner here.

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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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