Tag Archives: cheap

Review: Bic Cristal

The Bic Cristal seems to be a heavily favored ball point for sketching, drawing, and doodling. One might wonder why when there are so many “better” options out there for pens. Please keep in mind that this review/discussion is abou the Cristal and NOT the shite Bic Stic.biccristal

First and foremost, I’ll point out that my strongest belief is that the best tool is the tool you use. If you have a Bic in hand and you feel like drawing, then  you should.biccristal

Bic Cristals are available everywhere. I found them in CVS, Walgreens, target, Staples, Walmart, and every other place I looked.  They are also very inexpensive. A 24 pack of mixed colored Xtra Bold were $4 at my local Staples while the 15 pack of Ultra Fine “Precisions” were $3.49 at my local Target. (Calling these two chains local sort of begs the question of what local is- in this case I’m using it to describe a location to which I could, if pressed, ride my bike to in a reasonable amount of time, that is roughly 5 miles from my home.*) For less than $10 I was able to purchase 39 pens in 8 colors and 2 tip sizes for under $10. That is very cheap.biccristal

Because they are quite inexpensive and easily available everyone knows what they feel like to use. Because of this they do not feel precious. You can use them to your hearts content and not be worried that you are going to use them up, because for another $4 you can get another 24-pack.biccristal

For the most part, they simply work. I’ve found that a few of the colors seem to flow more slowly than others, and that the Ultra Fines seem to skip a bit here and there, but that is also useful when sketching or drawing- using a pen with a “rougher” flow can give a bit of character to a sketch that otherwise might be flat and boring.biccristal

The various colors are all pretty standard. Their core colors are black, dark blue, red, and dark green. The new 4 seem to be part of  their “fashion” line up- dark purple, light blue, pink, and light green. The purple, light blue, and pink are okay but the light green is a sick shade of yellow green that borders on the color of bile. Nasty.biccristal biccristal

What makes the Cristal stand out from the Stic is that the Cristal body is hard, while the Stick flexes quite a lot in use. When I was a kid my Bic Stics ALWAYS ended up curved. In some part because I would use them as a worry and bend them as I read, but also because I’d put a lot of pressure on them. The Cristal doesn’t allow for flex. Too much pressure and it will shatter. Unlike the Clic, the Cristal’s point doesn’t flop all over the place as it is used. This makes the Cristal great for sketching, doodles, and drawing.biccristal

Currently, I’m testing the lightfast abilities of all the Cristals in my possession but I strongly doubt that the majority of the colors are lightfast, if any at all. I suspect that the light green, pink, red, and purple will be gone in a week or 2, and in a month the majority of the other colors, including black, will have shifted in shade substantially. I’ll keep you updated.

For the art journaler who uses acrylic in their journal, the Xtra Bold pens have the added bonus of being able to write over acrylic paints.

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Review: Uniball Kuru Toga Starter Kit 0.7

I’m going to start off this review with a negative statement then run into the more positive. This isn’t my first Kuru Toga and won’t be my last, but you shouldn’t buy this as your introduction to Kuru Toga. Why? It’s a cheap imitation of Kuru Toga greatness. The idea of the Kuru Toga is that the lead rotates so you are always writing with a sharp crisp point. This pencil does that, and does it pretty well. If I were just reviewing the Kuru Toga “engine” this pencil would get a high five and stellar review, unfortunately the great guts are marred by a god awful pencil body.bad kuru toga bad kuru toga The body of this pencil is smokey gray plastic that allows you to see the inner workings of the pencil. In theory this is a pretty cool idea, but unless you are working in bright light you can’t really see the inner workings. For me to see through the plastic I must be under a nice bright light otherwise I can’t see anything inside moving, certainly not the small white logo on light blue that is inside this pencil.bad kuru togaThe other Kuru Togas I’ve handled have had a stainless steel tip section, this model has a chrome plated plastic section with a super wide silicone ring around it. The rubbery silicone grip keeps your fingers from sliding off the pencil. The problem is that it’s really hard, has a raised ridge, and is very uncomfortable. I consider myself to have a pretty tough writer’s callous on my right middle finger, but this pencil irritated it. bad kuru togaThe eraser is puny, but works okay once you can get it into contact with the paper. The eraser is so short that you have to flip the pencil completely upside down for it to make contact with the page, otherwise the body of the pencil gets in the way. When you do flip it over you have to press so hard you deploy the nock.  The end cap is also miniscule and easily lost. Basically, just keep a block eraser on hand for erasing. This starter set arrives with 2 extra erasers, but no case to keep them in, so you’ll lose those too.bad kuru toga bad kuru togaThe set arrives with 2 leads in the chamber and a 10-lead tube of NanoDia HB leads. While these are not my favorite leads, they are very nice and smooth for HB leads.  This is probably the best part of this $5 starter set. bad kuru togaI don’t know why Uni made such a terrible pencil package as it’s Kuru Toga starter kit. I don’t think this pencil is going to bring anyone to a love of the Kuru Toga. If anyone is interested in getting a Kuru Toga they are better off getting the rubber gripped version or one of the metal gripped versions. The rubber gripped version is only a few dollars more expensive, and has better reviews.

In short I’m saying this pencil is very cheap feeling but the Kuru Toga engine inside works just fine. I wish I had just saved my $5 and put it toward another metal bodied Kuru Toga or a package of BIC disposable mechanical pencils. The “good” thing about it is that I can use it at my internship and not worry about losing it. Since I don’t have desk space of my own, I have to carry all my stuff around either on my person or leave it in my bag, meaning I don’t leave anything of any valuable laying about.

Review: Loew Cornell Simply Art Fine Tip Marker 4 Pack

Loew Cornell Simply Art Fine Tip Marker $5.99/ 4 pack @ Joann's

 

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I was doing some comparison shopping for my upcoming class on pen and ink drawing and I stumbled upon the Loew Cornell Fine Tip 4 pack at Joann’s for $5.99. They claim to be water resistant and non- bleeding. One look at the package and you can tell they are clearly a knock off of Pigma Micron pen put out by Sakura. The short cap, metal clip, and cap post on the end of the pen gives it away.

 

 

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The markers are sold in a blister package with some claims and suggestions. The first claim is that they are water resistant. The second they won’t bleed. The back of the package suggests that you can use them with watercolors and other markers. I’ll get to these claims shortly.

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The pens have a matte black barrel that is comfortable to hold. The pen is very lightweight. The cap posts securely to the back end of the marker with a satisfying click. While writing with the marker I found the ridge where the nib section meets the barrel to be quite sharp and uncomfortable. I suspect that this will be the main reason I stop using these markers.

 

 

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While writing I found the fiber tip to be quite smooth on all pens but the largest, .08, and that nib was dry, as if it had dried out in it’s packaging or was out of ink. The sketching experience was not bad at all, the line was smooth and consistent for each tip. There is no line variation unless you switch pens. The ink is black but seems to gray out as it dries, leaving behind a dark gray line rather than a black line.

 

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An additional flaw is that the cap is the only part with a size designation and it’s easily missed so caps could easily be put on the wrong pen. The barrels are only marked with the Loew Cornell name.

As for the water resistance, they are, sort of. I found that a lot of the ink lifted with a fast brush over with water. Leaving behind a strong gray area in any spot that was damp. There was a LOT of bleeding that would discolor any watercolor wash applied over it. This also washed out the lines. I went over my test area with another brush load of water and worked the area with the brush, nothing that would be called a scrub, and with a soft brush. The thinnest lines lifted almost completely and black lines were left grayer than before. The gray that is left is a very nice color. Knowing that these create a wash like this is actually pretty useful, one could throw these into a sketch kit with a waterbrush and get some pretty nice sketches with a wide range of tones of gray.

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All in all these aren’t a bad value for $6 as long as you take the negatives into consideration- the grip itself, that one of the 4 pens I got wasn’t working properly, they are kinda water resistant, and that only the cap is marked for size. On the good side of things, you get 4 markers that write a lot like a Micron for a lot less, make wonderful washes, are all black and write pretty smoothly.

I’d recommend these for anyone who is interested in trying out this style of pen- very fine fiber tip. I don’t think these will sell you on the style though, they are too uncomfortable to write/sketch with for long periods of time…. Though a nail file might take the sharp edge off the grip area… Might try that, if I do I’ll let you know all about it. I want to suggest these for kids, but I don't want people to assume that I'm saying they are only for kids. I guess I'd say these are good for older kids- teenagers who are sketching for art class, or are writing or for someone who wants to test this style of pen out. you won't get the same performance as you would with a Micron but it's a good point to start.

 UPDATE: I have been using these in SOME of my cowboy sketches and I've found them far more comfortable to sketch with than I'd have expected. We're not talk ing 2 hour long drawing sessions, more like 15 to 20 minute drawing sessions. I amend my previous statement about them being uncomfortable to being mostly comfortable for sketching. Add to that the blending capability when water or ink is added really adds an other level of darks to my gray ink brush pen. I'll need to test it and see if it's lightfast before I suggest it for anything other than sketching.

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Review: Fountain Pen Revolution Pen

I stumbled upon Fountain Pen Revolution while searching for a place to find a couple of inexpensive fountain pens made in India. The FPR is a site dedicated to the sale of such pens. At the time I found his site I also found that he was running a special I took him up on his offer and scored a fountain pen for $2.50. The special is no longer running but his prices are pretty reasonable. There are pens on his site for $6 plus $3 shipping. Not bad especially when you consider the review I'm going to give on this $2.50 pen.

The pen I was sent was a gray Serwex Special 101. It reminds me of the Noodler's Nikita Nib Creeper pen. Ever since I got my first Noodler's pen I sniff my new pens, I know weird, but not. The Serwex has a slightly different odor like engine grease and garage, or what plastic toys smelled like in the early 80's,* somewhat pleasant. Unlike the Noodler's which I likened to dog crap and diesel fuel. Along the side of the clear barrel is a gold foil imprint of the company name and product name. The cap has 2 cap bands which are silver. The clip is also silver and seems to be pressed steel. The jewel, which holds the clip to the cap is black. The gray cap itself is slightly mottled with a few streaks of darker gray here and there. The barrel is tapered and has what I call a cigar shape, though small.

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Not the sexiest pen I've ever seen but looks serviceable and good knock around pen.

Taking off the cap I'm greeted by a fine gold nib with a design and the words "iridium nib" pressed into it. There is no breather hole in the nib. The nib reminds me of the Noodler's Nib Creeper nibs.** I unscrewed the section from the barrel and found a few mould edges at the end, I scraped these off with an exacto, for fear they'd come loose with use. After rinsing the barrel and nib off I loaded it up with ink. For a smaller pen it holds an impressive 3+ml of ink. I loaded 2.5ml in it with a TON of room to spare.

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I loaded mine up, eye dropper style, with my sample of Iroshizuku Fuyu-syogun. Yes, I put the most expensive ink I own into a $2.50 pen. Why? I'm addicted to gray inks right now and I had a nearly full sample of this ink and wanted to use it. Plus, for the first time ever I had an ink that matched the color of the pen. Gray ink in a gray pen.

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I then proceeded to write out 2 full pages in my Exacompta journal. At first it was slightly scratchy, the feel of writing with this pen matched the feel of writing with a Noodler's Nib Creeper.The nib writes with a true fine and is rock hard, no bounce, no flex; it is friction fit into the section. It writes relatively wet and started up with a quick shake downward. I did notice that when I had some ink on the nib it seemed to blob there. After I cleaned the ink off it no longer creeped to that one spot.

At the end of the 2nd page of writing I noticed that the nib was much smoother than when I started. The flow of ink was perfect for me, slightly on the wet side (6/10) and the nib itself was smoother, and gliding over the paper. Given I was using a premium ink this was to be expected and I wonder what will happen when I put a less premium ink in it. All in all this is most likely to end up as my new gray ink sketching pen and will have a permanent spot in my drawing stable.

Given my love of cheap pens I'm going to have to say I like this pen, a lot. Yes it's cheap and will never perform as well as a $50 TWSBI 540 and it has one nib size available- fine and it's construction is okay. The real thing to think of here is how it performs, and in my opinion if you are looking for something like a Noodler's Nib Creeper or an inexpensive pen this is a good pen.

As an aside this pen is one you can COMPLETELY disassemble, meaning you can get at the innards to clean it… I have in the past abused fountain pens with India ink. This is a pen you could do that with as you can get at the feed and inside the section to scrub them with a toothbrush. Hmmm. Ideas.

The Serwex Special 101 is not in stock at FPR. They have a pen called the Serwex 77TR that looks identical to this pen EXCEPT that the clip and bands appear to be all "gold" plated. At $6 plus $3 shipping it's not a bad deal, especially if the pens write as well as this one does. You can check out the FPR on FaceBook as well. The way you order from FPR is to figure out what pens you want, make note of the name and color you want and send Kevin an email. He'll send you a total price. Then you paypal. Shipping is from India so it will take some time (3 weeks) to get to you, but the wait is worth it.

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Review: B&N Bargan Bin Piccadily Sketchbook

This weekend I picked up a bargain priced sketchbook at B&N for about $5. I thought it was a no name brand that B&N often sell. When I got it home I realized it’s a Piccadilly branded journal.

The list price on this sketchbook is $12.99; I got it for $4.99. Less than half price. I noticed that B&N didn’t have ANY of these on the regular shelf. So I’m thinking these are only ordered for the cheapie racks. Which is fine, at $5 this isn’t a bad deal but for $12.99 not worth the money.

I tested this with a variety of inks in a variety of pens. I did a little sketching to see how the paper would respond and I did my usual of an ink and water wash.

Anything with a larger than a fine tip feathered and bled through the paper. There was a TON of feathering especially in my medium tipped and wet writing Pelikano. My extra fine and fine pointed pens did okay, regardless of the ink. I tested both sides of the paper and there is no right/wrong side, the sides have the same finish throughout the journal. The paper is very smooth. I wouldn’t want to use a pencil on this paper as it’s just too smooth and pencil would smudge all over the place.

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As for water on this paper, it could be done but it’s not recommended, a very light wash caused major cockling (wrinkles) that never eased out of the paper. I also noticed that really heavy application of ink caused the same issues. Anywhere I used a heavy layer of ink it not only bled through the paper but also to the page underneath. Anywhere there was heavy ink use the fibers of the paper lifted and were picked up by the nib of the pen.

Ink mix0018 The Pros:

  • Good value at $5
  • Paper is smooth
  • Bright white paper
  • Great sturdy hard cover
  • Sturdy double coil binding

Cons:

  • Feathering with any ink
  • Bleedthrough
  • Fiber lifting
  • No water due to cockling
  • EF and F nibs or pencil only

Overall I’d say this is a good sketchbook for someone looking for something cheap that they can do a lot of throwaway sketches in or just to take some notes. This little journal probably wouldn’t stand up to a lot of the abuse that art journalers would toss at it. Even if you gesso’ed the pages the paper is just not sturdy enough. It’s too bad, because this is a really good looking little sketchbook, and comes in a lot of good sizes and with lined paper too which has a lot of different options for covers.