Tag Archives: cheap

Review: Hero 616 Big Size or Doctor Fountain Pen

Bobby is a seller on eBay who focuses on inexpensive fountain pens and other office supplies. He sells under the name Office_Supplies_Pen. This pen cost $2.35. It took 15 days from date of purchase to arrive on my doorstep.

Compared to the standard sized 616, externally I notice little difference. The cap and body are identically sized. With the cap off the section is the same size as well. The hooded nib is the same as well.

The cap is also a friction fit for capping and posting. Again I like it posted better than unposted. This cap actually wiggled loose inside a pen case. Fortunately not enough to leak but it was annoying. The cap secures itself with springy steel fingers inside the cap. I used a kitchen skewer to reach into the cap and pull the fingers that hold the cap on out, so they would be tighter when the pen is capped. It is a quick fix that anyone can do that actually works quite well. The clip is diminutive and seems too small for the size of the cap. That said it is springy and secure on my shirt and in a pocket.

The difference is inside, the aeromeric* filler is significantly larger. With the outer case of the filler off, you can see that the sac is significantly larger. I cleaned my pen with water and filled it with water. I measured the resulting fill, it held 1.25 ml of water. I was able to get about half that amount of ink into the pen. Meanwhile, I managed to cover my hands with ink. I hate cheap aerometric fillers.

The nib on mine was misaligned with the body of the pen and the feed. Once I got it into alignment I found that it was scratchy and not very nice. I swapped it out with another Hero nib and suddenly wow. The plastic arrives with micro scratches all over the plastic. Some time with a cloth and polish would probably solve this issue, but who has the time for it? At $2.35 I wasn’t expecting perfection anyway.

Ink flow is great, in a sweet spot, it’s not too wet not too dry. I’ve got this one loaded with Sailor Sky High, which admittedly is a nice lubricated ink but it all works together to feel great. The pen is about the right size in hand and feels good both posted and unposted. The balance is nice either way. It posts deeply and securely.

I don’t dislike this pen but I’m not wowed by it either. It’s an okay everyday user pen. It’s cheap and writes great, once you get one with a good nib. With eBay you take a chance of getting a garbage nib, but when you get a good nib**, they are decent writers. I’d avoid the aerometric filler version and go for those with a piston or cartridge option. If I’m comparing it to other cheapish pens out there, the Kaco Retro is also a Parker 51/ 21 riff but performs much better. It’s is also a cartridge or converter pen.

A big issue that I notice with this pen is that it tends to dry out between uses, even if it only sits for a few hours capped. I’ve attempted to seal the cap with some E6000 to mixed results. Personally if I’m going to recommend one of these PArk 51/21 knock offs it’s going to be the Kaco Retro, it works better and works reliably with every ink I’ve put into it. When these have a good nib in them they are pleasant but don’t blow my mind.

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: 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

Back-to-School Sale Composition Book Round Up

This is a very image heavy post!
I decided to head to back to school sales and pick up a few composition notebooks to update my old best of Composition Notebook review. I go through a lot of them writing my drafts, so I have room in my budget to spend the money to buy during the sales, because for the most part comp books are around 50 cents at Back To School Sale time. All are college ruled. Unless otherwise stated these are all the typical size for comp books:9.75X7.5 inches or 247x190mm.

Entry 1: Generic Made in Taiwan 51 cents (Target)

Target’s entry has thin flimsy card covers graced with a marble pattern that has bled together so much as to have little white space. It has a black textured paper tape spine. Beneath the tape it is stitched. It does have a nice oval shaped Composition label on the front cover that looks absolutely generic. I kinda love it.

Inside are 100 sheets or 200 pages of thin smooth paper. In my testing I found it worked well with pencil, rollerball, ballpoint, and gel ink. Fountain pens bled through but didn’t feather until I started to use wet nibs paired with inks that tend to feather. With fine and extra fine pens it did okay. With any darker colored ink the verso of the page won’t be usable as the show through is intense.

What sets this comp book apart from the pack is the smooth paper. It is smooth yet toothy enough that pencils were superb on its surface. Point retention is phenomenal even with soft dark pencils like the Glimo Super Black. Smudging was minimal.

Entry 2: Staple’s Made in Brazil 50 cents

The latest iteration of the venerable favorite has thin flimsy card covers. A definite downgrade over past years. The marbling is splotchy and evenly distributed between white and whatever color cover you purchase. It isn’t very marble-y. The label area is rectangular and rounded over. Rather boring. The spine has a black textured paper tape over it.

Inside are 100 sheets/200 pages of thin bright white paper with a dark purple-blue ruling. The ruling is far too dark and never receded into the background.Even with thick black ink it stands out. Gross.

Testing proved that this toothy paper did well with the usual round up of pencils, rollerball, ballpoint and gel inks. It was shite with any fountain pen. Even the thinnest and stingiest of nibs feathered and bleed with the best behaved of ink. Wet thick nibs soaked through to the page beneath. The verso of the page is unusable with any liquid or hybrid ink. Even some of my gel inks tended to show through. What a  mess.

What an abysmal fall from grace.

Entry 3: The Mead Poly Cover Made in Vietnam $1 (Target)

I’ve had very bad luck when it comes to Mead comp books in the past. This year’s is far different than the past iterations. There are 70 college ruled sheets, though they are also available in wide rule. The poly cover is thin and rather floppy. The tape is gray textured poly. The cover has lines printed on the fore edge but no other design. The typical label area lacks anywhere to write your name or other information. This is a sad oversight.

Inside the 70 college ruled sheets feature very thin pale blue lines that recede into the background of every ink. I’m in love! The paper is thin and crisp. It’s not slick feeling but it performs remarkably well with every pen and ink combination I’ve used. My wet pens and inks glide over the surface and feel wonderful. Better yet, there is no bleeding, feather or soak through. No, I even get sheen on this lovely paper. There is show through, but that is to be expected from paper this thin and crisp.

I find it shocking that I have a Mead contender for best Comp Book of 2017!

Entry 4: Mead Card Cover Made in Vietnam 79 cents (Target)

Repeat everything I said about the Mead Poly cover here. No Feathering, bleed through, or feathering. Loads of lovely sheen, even from my EF pens.

The covers are decently sturdy card, and at least at the Target where I purchased my sample they had 2 patterns- one for wide and narrow lines. The patterns consist of stripes made of vertical lines roughly the height of the lines inside the book. Clever. They were offered in a rainbow of colors with textured paper tape over the spine. Sadly this also lacks the classic front cover label area.

The big downside of this paper is that because it doesn’t absorb liquid ink, it takes quite awhile for that ink to dry, resulting in smudging.
Not only do I have 1 but I have 2 contenders for best comp book from Mead. Shocking.

Entry 5: Mead Five Star Poly Cover Made in Vietnam  $2.99 (Target)

In another shocker, repeat all the good stuff from the last two Mead entries and it applies here. The paper is great. There are 100 college ruled pages in the 5Star. It features a classic textured black paper tape along the spine. Mead skips the classic front cover label area.

These poly covers are among the toughest of the poly covers. Though they are still floppy, they are less floppy than others. The interior of the cover is also lined with white poly so that the contents aren’t on display. Further, it features some of the classic composition notebook interior goods- class schedule and conversions.

Comparing this to the other Mead offerings, this is not a great value. The paper is wonderful and the poly cover sturdy but not enough (to me) to justify the increased cost  over the other poly cover.

Entry 6: Up & Up Card Cover Made in Mexico 5 for $4/80 cents per book (Target)

It is tempting to return these and cash in on the Target 100% satisfaction guarantee. Yes they are that bad. The poly cover is thin, flimsy and floppy. The paper taped spine features glue squeezed out of it’s edges. Unlike most of the comp books written about thus far which have stitches at roughly 10mm, the Up &Up is stitched at 15mm.

The paper is bright white with pale blue ruling. The positives end there. Every fountain pen I used feathered and bled, even dry extra fine nibs using dry well behaved inks. Blotter paper is less absorbent. The only thing that works okay on this paper are ballpoints and pencils. Even pencil doesn’t feel that great on the paper. It lacks tooth to get a decent line and what graphite does get onto the paper is pale and smudgy.

This goes on my do not buy list.

Entry 7: Greenroom Decorative Card Cover Made in Vietnam $2.50 (Target)

Here is another comp book with only 70 pages. The paper is cream colored with brown ruling. The lines are actually tiny dots. I really adore this ruling and wish that I had better things to say about the actual paper. This paper feathers and bleeds with every fountain pen used. Gel ink also feathers and bleeds. Unlike our last entry, pencil feels good on this paper. Rollerball and ball point are also quite nice, so there are a few more options for use than the Up &Up.

The very pretty card cover is very thin, very flimsy and as floppy as the poly entries. It will not survive carting around in a book bag for long. A spill will spell the end of this comp book. The textured paper tape is well applied and looks good with the lovely printing of the cover.

Entry 8: Yoobi Card Cover Made in Vietnam $2.29 (Target)

The Yoobi comp book is a venerable contender and little has changed since the last time I purchased one- the covers are sturdy and thick, printed with one color or a fun pattern. The textured black paper tape is well applied. The front cover features a large block where you can label your notebook with your name and other info.

Inside are 100 college ruled sheets. The ruling in this year’s is pale and thin. I like it. The paper is smooth but not too smooth. It’s toothy enough for pencil but not so toothy that it eats up your graphite. Fountain pens fair less well than in the Mead notebooks but fine and extra fine do really well.

Though the Yoobi books aren’t the greatest value at full price, they are a great cause. Plus they go on clearance often enough that you can usually snag some decent deals in the middle of the winter.

Which is the winner here?That really depends on your final use of these notebooks. If you are a fountain pen user you can’t go wrong with the Mead card covered available at target for 79 cents. The paper is phenomenal for everything tested for this review. I was able to see sheen even with my finest fountain pens. Nothing bled or feathered. The per page price was 1.13 cents a sheet. While this isn’t the cheapest, it’s squarely in the middle of the road. If you are planning on using pencils or ball points (looking at you Bic Cristal lovers and folks who put the Fisher Space refill in friggin’ everything) you really can’t go wrong with the Staples 50 cent composition notebooks. At 0.5 cents per page these represent the cheapest of the cheap. Sadly they no longer fair well with fountain pens or liquid inks. Finally if you want a solid writing experience, fun covers, and a good cause, the Yoobi books are a good choice.

There are two here I’d avoid at all costs. Sadly the pretty Greenroom notebooks are just far too expensive at 3.5 cents per sheet to have paper that performs so poorly. Though the Target Up &Up brand is on the low end of cost at 0.8 cents per sheet the performance of the paper is abysmal and the shoddy stitching will likely give out before the poly covers have a  chance to break down.

This series of mini reviews reaffirmed something I’ve know for a long time; I hate poly covers. They are floppy, you can’t write in hand or even in your lap. The plastic won’t break down for ages. The brighter the poly cover the more likely you are to be able to see through to your contents. They add unnecessary cost to a product that should be inexpensive. Here let’s put it into “print:” poly covers are garbage. Continue reading

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





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.




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.


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.










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.



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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

Ink mix0019
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


  • 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.