Review: Pentel Slicci .25

In terms of micro-fine point pens, the Pentel Slicci .25 ranks consistently among my Three Jewels, one of my favorite “go to” pens that receives a lot of writing time. While the Uniball Signo Bit .18 is my favorite of all time (see earlier review), Pentel Sliccis rank either second or third, competing with another Uniball product (the Signo DX .28s) for the coveted silver or bronze.

Overall, the Pentel Slicci (.25 tip) is a solid and reliable pen and I think one would do well to have a couple of these in their pen arsenal. It is well-balanced and very lightweight, which makes writing with one a pleasure. Despite their weight, Sliccis are nicely durable. I always make it a habit, and count source of pride, to accidentally drop my pens immediately after putting them into use and even after a few such mishaps Sliccis have thus far emerged unscathed. Their durability (plus light weight) make them a great pen to carry along on travels.

Pentel Slicci .25 (black ink) and a Quo Vadis Habana notebook

While the .25 line width isn’t as narrow as some other pens I’ve used, it’s nonetheless adequate for my tiny handwriting. And with variation in pressure once can achieve a subtle, yet noticeable contrast between thick and thin lines, which is always a pleasure for those envious of the English Round Hand style of script.

One of the nice things about the Pentel Slicci .25 line is the selection of ink colors. To date I’ve tried blue, black, blue/black and brown and have been duly impressed with color quality. Vibrancy is especially apparent with blue as well as black. I’m looking forward to experimenting with some additional colors in the near future.

The only somewhat negative element of Pentel Slicci .25s that I’ve encountered is the occasional inconsistency with ink flow. Every so often ink flow will reduce almost to the point of stopping, which of course creates problems, especially if you’re frantically trying to catch a fleeting though before it is forever lost. I suspect this may have something to do with formulation of different color inks; it’s a problem I’ve encountered with blue ink, but not with any of the other colors tried to date.

The occasional ink flow issue notwithstanding, Pentel Slicci .25s are delightful writing instruments worthy of a place in the pen cases (or for the nerds out there: the slot of honor in shirt pockets) of anyone having a use for micro-fine point pens.

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Frustration of Fountain Pens

In terms of writing instruments, the greatest source of frustration for me comes from fountain pens. While I enjoy experimenting with different ink brands and colors and likewise find appealing the smooth glide of a good fountain pen on quality paper,  I nonetheless find the overall fountain pen experience disagreeable due to one important factor: even with the finest nib size, I am forced to write much larger than what feels natural for me and as a consequence the quality of my penmanship goes to hell in a hand basket. Or in this case, an ink bottle. I have found that old steel-nib dip pens are more conducive for my style of handwriting than any fountain pen I’ve tried to date. Of course dip pens are about as impractical as one can get in terms of writing instruments.

Perhaps I just haven’t found the correct fountain pen yet. I recall reading somewhere that, as a rule, Japanese fountain pens have finer nibs that European or American products. Perhaps I should give an extra-fine point Japanese model a try (am open to suggestions!). Or perhaps I haven’t stuck with the fountain pen thing long enough to acquire the skill needed to write with the exactness I’ve grown accustomed to using .28 and .18 gel pens.

While I am intrigued by the world of fountain pens and bottled inks, I disappointedly remain on the sidelines, a mere spectator of new inks and “fountain pen friendly” paper, wishing that someone would develop a “tiny handwriting friendly fountain pen.”

Habana: First Impressions

The end of summer was a dark time, marked by frustration and bitterness brought on by cheap-ass paper. Needing at that time a “carry-about” notebook, I had put back into service the pocket Moleskine used on-and-off for a portion of this year. Alas, by the beginning of September I was again over the garbage Moleskine attempts to pass off as “paper” and casting about for a suitable alternative.

While researching notebooks online one evening I ran across Quo Vadis’ Habana, a line with which I was vaguely familiar. This particular notebook caught my eye for a couple of reasons: first was the mention of Clairfontaine paper, which I’ve used previously and know of be of first-rate quality. The second eye-catching element was the size of the notebook: 4″x6″ which I’ve long considered the ideal size for a notebook, despite it being larger (and presumably not as portable) as the more common 3″x5″ size. Nonetheless, there was much potential with the Habana and the question of whether or not this notebook would prove a suitable alternative to Moleskine was soon one step closer to being answered due to the perilous ease of “one click ordering” combined with a singular lack of willpower.

The 4×6 Habana has been in my possession for maybe two weeks, but it was only tonight that I put pen to paper and began putting it through its paces. My initial impression? With the solid construction and quality paper It’s a good notebook. A VERY good notebook…

Habana notebook (4″x6″) by Quo Vadis. First entry.

As to how workable the Habana ultimately is will be determined after several weeks or months of use. I’ve always disliked product reviews where the author does little more than open the notebook, perhaps scratch a few lines with a couple different pens and then pass judgement. A proper assessment of a notebook can come only after a fair amount of service.  Is it durable? How about field trials- how does it hold up to writing on the go or being chewed by Sasquatches? As such this post isn’t a proper, comprehensive review, only a collection of initial impressions, with the following key points:

  • The Clairfontaine paper is very good quality which contributes greatly to a smooth writing experience.
  • The 4″x6″ size of the Habana notebook seems about as portable as pocket notebooks measuring 3″x5,” neither of which can comfortably be stuffed into the front pocket of a pair of jeans.
  • The cover of the Habana is firm, though not quite as firm as a Moleskine. How much support it gives to the writing process when on the go has yet to be determined.
  • Overall construction of the Habana seems solid, but again this is something that will be determined over the next few weeks or months.

Thus far I am altogether impressed with the Habana, but its ultimate standing is yet to be determined. In a month or so I’ll write a follow-up post as to how well it stands up to wear and tear and a variety of pens. So stay tuned….

A Place for Everything

Being of the nerdly notebookish persuasion, I’ve long been in the habit of carrying around too many pens. Whether to the office, on my travels, or just when I’m out and about, an assortment of pens is almost always at hand, or at least nearby in the backpack as it’s nice to have an available assortment of point sizes, ink colors, and a spare or two of ones favorite pens.

The little plastic sandwich baggie which had served as my pen case for a number of years.

I am somewhat ashamed to admit this, but for a number of years my trusty pen case was a cheap little plastic sandwich bag. It held an assortment of pens and other odds and ends and lived in  the front compartment of the backpack. The pen baggie in the photo to the right has been in service about four years. While it’s waterproof and obviously durable (Are you paying attention, people at random sandwich bag company? Are you paying attention? A collaborative and lucrative bit of advertising might be in order here), it leaves something to be desired in terms of a pen case (ignore this part, people at random sandwich bag company).  Completely lacking in aesthetics and organizational capacity, the pen baggie was little more than a minimalist approach to keeping pens together instead of strewn about in the bottom of a backpack and/or overcrowding a shirt pocket.

A couple months ago the decision was made to finally upgrade to a real pen case (sorry about this, people at random sandwich bag company) and after a rather extensive search I opted for the book-style case from Lihit Lab which is available from Jetpens. The series of photos below constitutes a review of sorts of this very workable pen case.

Having used a plastic sandwich baggie to store pens for so long and being the creature of habit that I am, the transition from cheap baggie to a real pen case proved altogether confusing.

 

The Lihit Lab book-style case comes with this handy card replica which give one an idea of what goes where.

 

My reenactment of the card insert with a few modifications. There’s enough room in the back pocket for a small notebook. Featured here is a Moleskine (cheap-ass paper not pictured). The three pockets on the center “page” of the case are large enough for a jump drive (pictured in the top compartment) as well as providing space for one’s emergency tea supply.

 

Space for 15 pens with room for more (space will vary depending on the type of pen used)

 

And finally (once I sorted out the complexities of the transition from baggie to case) a shot of the outside of the case. Note the two small pockets.

A few closing points: The Lihit Lab book-style pen case feels rugged, durable and is very well designed with oodles of storage for pens and all sorts of related paraphernalia including a pocket notebook which rather surprised me given the modest size of the case. One of the stand out design features is the case’s organization: there’s no digging around in a deep pocket for a pen; everything is laid out nicely in front of you with pens in the front half of the case and related supplies neatly arranged in the other. Remarkable product this is.

Writing Tip Number 4*

A concern sometimes raised about micro-point pens is their tendency to skip. I’ve experienced this from time to time and it’s always frustrating to stop mid-thought to rectify the technical difficulty while the ephemeral flicker of literary inspiration, such as it is, evaporates into Ok..hmmmm…now where was I?  There appears, however, to be a simple solution to reduce the frequency of, if not eliminate entirely, the skipping problem.

Have a glance at the photo in the heading of this post. Featured is a Rhodia Webnotebook (with the uber awesome dotted pages) and a Uni-ball Signo DX .28 (brown ink). The frumpy piece of paper to the lower left? A guard sheet and the solution to the skipping problem.

A simple sheet of paper between hand and notebook page seems to reduce greatly the incidence of skipping when writing with fine and micro-fine point gel pens. As one writes, a fine residue of oils, and perspiration at times, from the hand and wrist can be left on the page, thereby creating a surface that’s seemingly problematic for micro points and can lead to skipping. A barrier placed between hand and writing surface keeps the latter in the pristine condition required for micro points. Of course the concept of a guard sheet is not new; I recall reading a few years ago of its utility in the calligraphic arts. The point here is that it’s just as  important a tool when using fine and micro point pens.

If you’re a micro point pen user and skipping is a concern, give the guard sheet thing a try. And as an interesting experiment: after a few days or a week of use, try writing on the guard sheet with a micro point. You’ll likely encounter more skipping than a 12th grade home room teacher during the final week of high school.

The guard sheet: an important, but potentially overlooked writing tool.

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* Number 4 you ask? This is a new blog so where are Numbers 1, 2, and 3? Well…George Lucas began his epic Star Wars saga in media res with Episode IV and we all know how that turned out. It is hoped that by beginning the Writing Tip series with Number 4,  Fine Points will likewise meet with an astounding success of perhaps a handful of page views and maybe a “like” before the author’s dilettante nature drags him elsewhere.

The Perfect Pen …Almost

In terms of pens, the nearest I’ve come to The Grail was the discovery a few years ago of the Uni-ball Signo Bit with a .18 point which has been billed as the world’s thinnest pen capable of writing words on a grain of rice. Jetpens has a photo of this feat and it’s rather impressive. While I have yet to attempt the “writing on my food thing,” I can attest to the capabilities of this pen on paper: absolutely amazing. After putting the first experimental Signo Bit .18s though their paces -including being impressed into travel journal service while rattling around Central America under less than ideal conditions- I immediately bought several more and a box of them soon thereafter.

The Uni-ball Signo Bit .18 is, if anything, a specialty pen and may not be well-suited for everyone, especially those who tend towards a large or  heavy-handed writing style. My penmanship has been assessed as somewhere between tiny, microscopic, and “WTF,” depending upon the charitable inclination of the particular observer, so the .18s feel very natural, especially when paired with good quality paper. While the .18s can at times feel a little scratchy, such is also the case with other micro-point gel pens, especially if one is writing fast, or too large, or perhaps using Moleskine cheap paper. There is a certain technique, an art if you will, for achieving a novel and pleasurable writing experience from the Signo Bit .18s.  Of the specifics I’ll perhaps write to exhaustion in a later post; the purpose of the moment is the pen itself and there’s much to say, both good and..well….not bad, as there’s really nothing bad about this pen. Maybe “meh” for those qualities which aren’t good, but not necessarily bad either.

One of my few remaining blue Signo Bit .18s

The Good: The Uni-ball Signo Bit .18s are well designed. They are both lightweight and well-balanced, with or without the cap. My preference is to write with the cap snapped onto the end of the pen as it seems to provide a slightly more balanced feel. As one would expect, the standout feature of the .18s is their capacity to write SMALL. In this respect it excels, outperforming all other micro- point pens I’ve tried, even the Sakura Pigma Micron 005 (.20mm), which has long been one of my favorites.

The Meh:  The biggest drawback to the Signo Bit is its fragility.  By no means is this a deal-breaker, nor exclusive to the Signo Bit line; one simply need exercise caution to avoid dropping it. If it lands point down, either capped or uncapped, the game is over. Experience has also shown that a pen landing on its side can have a detrimental effect, with some ink delivery mechanism thingie inside going all wonky, rendering the pen useless. Ink supply can be somewhat short-lived, particularly if one does a lot of writing, but such is true with a number of gel ink pen models.

And since we’re talking meh, a cautionary note: be ever so careful about lending this pen to friends, colleagues, or anyone in need, for this charitable gesture may doom your pen. While inadvertent theft is sometimes a concern as with any pen, the real danger arises from those who write as though they’re carving their name into a block of wood. The 18s are among the delicate lotus flowers of pen world and don’t hold up well to this sort of abuse. I’ve learned the hard way; more than once the final act of one of my pens has been someone else’s signature. For the well-being my .18s, I’ve since found it best to say “no” (or a polite “hell no”) when asked whether I have a pen, even if the person in need sees it clipped in my shirt pocket. Unfortunate yes, but the resulting awkward moment will pass and the .18 will live to write another day.

The Bad: OK I lied. There is one bad aspect of the .18s and it’s significant: the recent discontinuation of blue ink.  When I heard of this tragedy several months ago I immediately fell into a swoon, from which I’ve yet to fully recover. Alas, only three remain in my strategic reserve. 😦

So at any rate, the Signo Bit .18 is a wonderful pen and the nearest to perfect I’ve come across to date. While I use it daily, it’s not a general use pen, being reserved primarily for journal writing or situations where small writing may be preferred (such as jotting notes in the margin of a book); however, I can easily envision other, perhaps more creative uses, such as writing ridiculously small notes for colleagues.

Colleague: “A note that you wanted to see me? What note? I didn’t get a note.”

Me: “Look. It’s right there on your desk.”

Colleague: “What? That’s not a note. It looks like….I dunno….like a grain of rice.”