Getting mixed up – into the Wild Blue Yonder

To begin at the beginning…

It started with something innocuous, as these things often do – a seemingly innocent purchase of a 30 ml bottle of Diamine ASA Blue.  At £2.35 it seemed rude not to.  But of course, that’s how they get you.  Added to the Mnemosyne 194 that I wanted, that almost got me to the £10 needed to qualify for free postage.  90p short, I needed something else…

…and that’s how I ended up with a bill for £45!

Enough about my lack of will power.  ASA Blue is great in its own right, carrying off  a passable impersonation of Pilot Iroshizuku Kon-peki at a fraction of the price.

TWSBI Precision and Diamine ASA Blue

Are you sitting comfortably?

While I was looking for write ups about this ink, I found an old thread on FPN where someone had mixed ASA Blue with Sapphire Blue in equal parts with interesting results.

So, I thought, how hard can it be and what’s the worst that can happen?  The answers are: ‘easy’ and ‘nothing untoward’.  No explosions, fires or gunky messes.  Instead, you get a really nice blue ink for your troubles.

Text from Under Milk Wood

Truly beginning at the beginning

Ink splats showing sheen

There’s sheen there if you look for it

What happens when you mix ASA Blue and Sapphire Blue

…something about a glass and a half?

Not an original idea and I can’t guarantee that I haven’t just made another ink from the Diamine range.  Either way, it was a bit of fun to try.  What I didn’t realise was that I was also demonstrating the pervasive and subliminal power of advertising.  It wasn’t until a couple of days after I’d done it that I realised why the image above looked kind of familiar.  Any resemblance to the logos and advertising imagery of a major UK chocolate manufacturer are entirely coincidental.  Honest.  No, really.

One thing that I do take issue with is the name.  The creator of this mix named it Asphire.  I see the logic and it gets a cheap laugh (or was that just me) but I can’t say I’m entirely impressed with the result.  I came up with was Wild Blue Yonder, but I’m open to suggestions.

Any thoughts?

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Fountain pen review – Moonman M2

Moonman M2, Diamine Firefly

If you believed, they put a man on the moon

The Moonman M2 eyedropper fountain pen has been attracting quite a bit of interest recently, so I thought I’d join the bandwagon and find out what the fuss was about.  In trying to write this post, it has has turned into a bit of a hybrid of a review and an account of my first encounter with the world of eyedropper pens.  Please read on to find out how I got on with it.

My Chinese pen history

Chinese fountain pens are cheap and  widely available.  I own a number of them.  Aside from the amazingly bonkers Snake pen, made by Jinhao, most of mine are copies or derivatives of western pens.  Despite being fuelled by naive optimism, none of them have had much merit beyond being cheap to buy.  To give one example I brought a Baoer copy of a Starwalker.  The nib is reasonable enough, but sadly it’s more Mont Clonk than Mont Blanc, requiring a prodigious amount of plumber’s PTFE tape to make the section and barrel fit together.  Of the other Chinese pens that I own, all of them have needed a tweak or two to make work well.  At the prices you pay for these pens, you’re not going to get much in the way of quality control, but the flip side is that it’s a real lottery as to whether you get a good ‘un or a dud.

Thankfully that might be starting to change.  Frank Underwater has done some great work to highlight and introduce a new wave of Chinese pens that seem to be challenging stereotypes and injecting design and quality along the way.  The Moonman M2 is one such of these…

Eyedroppers

In case you didn’t already know it, an eyedropper is a pen that has no filling mechansim.  The barrel itself holds the ink, giving you a much higher ink capacity than a pen that fills by a piston or converter.  Ever since I came across the concept, I’ve been slightly unnerved about trying one.  Most seem to be conversions of standard fountain pens and depend on how well you can seal the joint between the section and barrel.  In the same vein, I’ve never understood why you’d want to do this with a pen where you can’t see the ink.  Fine if your pen is transparent or translucent, but otherwise, why bother?  Surely part of the point is to be able to see your ink of choice sloshing about (and know when it’s about to run dry)?

Is it a demonstrator?

Is it a demonstrator if there’s no filling mechanism to ‘demonstrate’?

I’m also very fickle and like to switch inks around on a regular basis.  Having  a huge ink capacity is not necessarily a bonus – it just means I have to write a lot more before I can change ink.

The ‘open-plan’ approach also means that while you can vastly increase ink capacity, failure of the seal means a lot of spilt ink!  Thankfully there seem to be more pens coming out that are intended to be eyedroppers from the outset.  As a result these come equiped for the purpose.  The Moonman M2 falls into this category, being made of transparent acrylic and set up to be an eyedropper from the outset.

On to the pen itself.

Presentation

In keeping with the clean and simple design of the pen, it comes with a perfectly presentable cardboard sleeve which sports the Moonman logo.  It contains a case made of similar plastic to the one that you get with a TWSBI Eco.  The box contains a striking red foam insert into which are cut slots for the pen and a glass eyedropper.  The pen fits snugly, meaning it can be a bit of a struggle to extract, but that’s no big deal.  If you’re anything like me, that’s the last time the pen will see the box anyway.

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moonman M2 in box

I was too keen to try the pen out and forgot the unboxing shot until after I’d filled the pen.  I hope you like red.

Size and shape

The Moonman M2 is basically a classic, pointy-ended torpedo shape.  Absence of a clip enhances the clean lines.  I’d call it medium-sized in terms of length and diameter, coming in at around 14cm long when capped and 13mm in diameter, with a screw cap (no clip).  Being made of plastic, it’s not too heavy.  My not-very-accurate kitchen scales tell me that it weighs in at 14 grammes.  To put it in a more real-world context, it’s similar in proportion to a Lamy 2000, just a lot pointier.

The nib is a fairly standard looking gold-esque #5, stamped with the immortal words “Iridium Point Germany”.  It’s probably meant to inspire confidence that you’re getting a certain level of quality, but it always makes me think someone is trying too hard to make the point.

Look and feel

I really like the clean, sleek looks of the M2.  Coupled with the way the acrylic has been milled, it looks very smart.  In place of finials and end caps you get tapered, polished acrylic, which catches the light nicely.

Moonman M2 catching the light

Catching some rays with Diamine Firefly

The other thing of note in the appearance of the Moonman M2 is a bright red anodised ring which bears the company’s name.  This won’t be to everyone’s taste, and some will argue that it interferes with the overall clean look of the pen.  I quite like it and certainly don’t find it offensive.  This marks the step-down from the barrel to the section.  Because of the overall proportions of the pen, this is quite moderate and the threads for the cap are also fairly unobtrusive.  I’ve had no issues of discomfort when holding the M2.

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It’s a Moonman, in case you were wondering

Filling

Not surprisingly, filling this pen is pretty straightforward.  Put some ink in the barrel and that’s about it.  The key thing to remember is that everything needs to be done ‘upside down’ to avoid messy accidents and spills.  Keep things ‘nib up’ until the whole thing is assembled.  I haven’t tried the glass pipette (eyedropper) that came with the pen, preferring to use a syringe.  I’ve no reason to doubt that the eyedropper works, but I prefer the control you get with a syringe.

You can get a good 2.5ml of ink into this pen without any trouble, although there’s probably a little bit more headroom to be had.  The top of the section protrudes into the barrel when you assemble the pen, so if you’re over-enthusiastic with the filling you may find yourself re-acquainting yourself with the principles of Archimedes and with ink everywhere!  I’ve erred on the side of caution and managed to avoid that so far.

It’s probably the right point to talk about Leak Prevention System.  OK, there isn’t a system as such, but the Moonman M2 does come with two silicone O-rings installed to keep the ink where it’s meant to be.  One is around the top of the section, where it screws into the barrel and the other at the top of the nib unit.

The second O-ring is very fine, so you will need to keep a particularly close eye on it if you remove it for any reason.  I took it off mine and put it on a piece of kitchen paper (white, textured background – brilliant thinking).  I then spent several minutes trying to work out where I’d put it!

nib and section

Spot the O-rings. (If I had remembered to draw in some arrows, they’d be easier to see!)

In use

I wasn’t certain whether the O-rings would be enough to seal the pen, so my first fill of the M2 was with water.  I left the pen nib-down overnight and was pleased to find that there was no hint of any leakage.  Buoyed up by this, I took the plunge and inked the M2 with Sailor Jentle Yama-dori.  It didn’t take much more than a couple of inversions and gravity to prime the feed and start the pen writing.

The Moonman M2 is available with two choices of nib size – 0.38 or 0.5mm.  These sizes equate roughly to extra fine or fine.  Given how much nib sizes vary in reality, I love the aspiration that nibs can be produced to this level of precision.

I chose the 0.5mm option and it’s a pretty solid fine.  It’s not the smoothest nib I’ve ever used, but I wouldn’t say mine was scratchy either.  I might try smoothing it out a little at some point, but for now I’m happy enough the way it is.  I’ve had no issues at all with skipping or hard starts, so all good there.  Opinion seems to be generally favourable  about the quality of the nibs on the M2, and my experience backs that up.

I’ve written a fair number of pages now on Tomoe River, Clairefontaine and TWSBI paper and the M2 has performed pretty well on all of them.

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Testing the Moonman M2 – Sailor Jentle Yama-dori on Tomoe River

Cleaning

One potential concern about a pen like this is whether it will be easy to clean and how likely it is to stain.  So far, no problems.  I cleaned out the Yama-dori I first inked the M2 with and the barrel cleaned up with no issues at all.  The nib and feed took a bit more work, but came out with a clean bill of health.  A bulb syringe is a helpful tool for this.  Ditto the section, although the O-ring on this could have a tendency to trap ink, so might need particular attention.  I’ve since filled the M2 with Diamine Firefly and again the pen cleaned up after this without issue.  I’ve currently got it inked with Diamine ASA Blue and all looks good so far.

Price and availability

The M2 cost me £12.98 on eBay including shipping from China.  The US price is just shy of $16, so pretty comparable.  There are some being re-sold from the UK, but at around twice the price I paid.  Delivery took just over a week, which was more than acceptable.

Overall impressions

The Moonman M2 is a great pen in its own right, and wipes the floor with all the other Chinese pens I’ve tried.  Factor in the price and it’s an absolute bargain.  I love the design, materials and the quality of the finish.  As a first choice for an eyedropper I certainly could have done a lot worse.  I don’t really need a pen that can hold this much ink, but I’ve enjoyed being distracted by the sight of ink sloshing around in it.  The way the acrylic refracts/reflects light, really adds to the overall effect.  As a bonus, it’s certainly helped overcome my concerns about using eyedroppers.  All I have to do now is remember to handle it differently to all my other pens!

Gratuitous ink shot

Gratuitous ink shot

 

 

 

 

Ink Review – Sailor Sei-boku

Sailor Sei-boku isn’t a new ink by any measure but seems to have gone relatively unnoticed in terms of reviews, certainly compared to its stable-mate Kiwa-guro.  Having been convinced enough to buy a bottle I thought I would share my impressions.

Sailor Sei-boku bottle and box

Sei-boku in Sailor’s ‘traditional’ bottle

As with other Sailor inks, you get a squat 50ml bottle in a nice cardboard box.  (Sailor are in the process of changing the design of their bottles, so you may find you get a different form factor.)  Unlike the Jentle Four Seasons inks that I’m more familiar, the box design is much bolder and in your face.  It’s also rather shiny, which makes photographing it a bit of a challenge.  You also get that little reservoir in the top of the bottle that’s meant to make filling your pen easier as the level in the bottle drops.  I used to think this was a neat idea, but I’m not so sure these days and tend to use a syringe to fill my pens instead. You can remove the insert, but that seems a recipe for very inky fingers.

Sei-boku is a pigment ink, meaning that its colour comes predominantly from particles suspended in the ink rather than dissolved dyes.  This brings the benefit of being fairly waterproof and the perilous warning that you should be careful lest poor pen hygiene result in blocked feeds, clogged nibs and, if you’re really slap-dash, possibly the end of the universe.  (Note: I may have made one of these up.)

I suspect that this is more of a backside-covering disclaimer because I can’t say that I have experienced any particular (geddit?) problems with Sei-boku.  You can see the settled particles when you pick up the bottle, so there’s a need to give the bottle a bit of a shake to get the particles back into suspension before you ink your pen.  If you’ve used one of the many shimmering inks that are available, then you’ll be familiar with this ritual.  I take a similar approach with pens and invert them a few times before writing with them.  This probably won’t do much for what’s already in the feed, but I figure every little helps in evening out the distribution of the particles.  I maybe wouldn’t  leave a pen inked for months without using it, but I don’t think it’s quite as bad as the warnings suggest.

That’s enough of the perils and practicalities of pigment ink, what’s it like?  I find Sei-boku remarkably blue for a “blue-black” ink, but I also find it a really pleasant and quite distinct colour.  I’ll happily admit to being biased towards blue inks, but it continually amazes me how many different and distinct blue inks there are.

Writing sample, Kaweco Perkeo, medium nib, Sailor Sei-boku, Tomoe River

Telling your Croups from your Vandemars through the medium of Tomoe River

Mr Vandemar, Platinum 3776, Sailor Sei-boku

Mr Vandemar’s lovely smile

Sailor Sei-boku, Tomoe River, Kaweco Lilliputian, fine nib

Might I with due respect remind you…

As with the other Sailor inks I’ve used, Sei-boku is well lubricated and flows extremely well.  It may be a feature of the suspended pigment particles, but the colour is not super-saturated, meaning that the ink shades beautifully.  It’ll come as no surprise that the shading is most visible with a broad nib.

Writing sample with broad nib

Croup and Vandemar get the broad nib treatment

Another feature in common with other inks that I’ve tried is a cheeky bit of sheen.  I have to say that this was a bit of a surprise, albeit a very welcome one.  I had thought that Sei-boku was going to be a very grown-up ink and therefore a little dull and worthy, so all in all it’s been a pleasant discovery.

Sei-boku ink splats

Sei-boku ink splats on Tomoe River

Sailor Sei-boku sheen

Some cheeky sheen

In terms of colour, none of my other inks quite match Sei-boku.  I had originally thought Iroshizuku Tsuki-yo was a close match, but from looking at the swabs, Tsuki-yo has too much of a turquoise hue to it.  After I’d finished the swabs, I remembered I had a sample of Iroshizuku Shin-kai and wondered whether that might be a match…it isn’t.

Comparison ink swabs

Nothing compares…

A bit of simple paper chromatography reveals blues of varying shades.  There’s an interesting pattern of dark blue or black dots.  My guess is these are clumps of the pigment particles, but I have no way to be sure.

Sailor Sei-boku chromatography

Chromatography can yield some interesting results

I don’t normally worry about testing waterproof-ness in my inks, and I haven’t done any systematic testing of Sei-boku, either.  I did wet a fingertip and run it over a couple of lines of writing and the ink held fast.

So there we have it, I got past the dire(-ish) warnings and found an ink that I really like.  It’s considerably more expensive than other Sailor inks, being double the price of standard Jentle ink (including blue-black) and about a third more expensive than the Jentle Four Seasons inks.  Maybe the pricing has put people off trying Sei-boku (hence the small number of reviews), but I’m certainly glad I gave it a try.  Pricing makes this a premium ink, but I haven’t tried an ink quite like it and don’t begrudge the cost.  When you compare the price of Sei-Boku to Pilot Iroshizuku inks and newcomers like Colorverse, I don’t think the price is too outrageous.  I bought my bottle from The Writing Desk for £21.60, but you can get it from a variety of sources (including Cult Pens and Andy’s Pens) at a similar price.  Pricing in the US is roughly $ for £ from vendors like Vanness and Jet Pens.  Wonder Pens in Toronto also have Sei-boku for CA$33.

 

 

Ink review – KWZ Walk Over Vistula

The back story of KWZ inks is pretty well known.  They’re made in Poland by a husband and wife team and include a range of iron gall inks alongside their “normal” inks.  In late 2017, to mark Polish Independence Day, KWZ added three suitably-themed inks to their standard line-up.  I bought all three earlier this year, but have so far mainly used Walk Over Vistula.

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In search of enlightenment

852C4405-6EB1-4733-873E-B6271D59A049

Ink drops seemed a bit dull, but I have no idea what prompted this combination as an alternative

A brief internet search tells me that the Vistula is Poland’s longest river which flows through Krakow and Warsaw.  I have no idea what colour the waters of the Vistula are, but Walk Over Vistula is a turquoise-blue ink.  I’m reluctant to call it teal, because I don’t think it has enough green in it.  This is quite a crowded field with plenty of competition to be found (see swatches later).  As it turns out, it’s also a colour I like.  Of the 11 inks I swabbed for comparison, I own full-sized bottles of 7 of them!

For some reason, the camera on my iPad had some issues with colour accuracy resulting in the ink looking like it is more blue than turquoise.  I tried persuading it of the error of its  ways, but it wasn’t having any of it.  You’ll have to take my word for it about the true nature of the colour.  Sorry about that.

The ink comes packaged in the same way as other KWZ inks.  You get 60ml of ink in a glass bottle, shipped in a fetchingly minimal box.  Handily, the top of the box has a small colour swatch on it.  If you store your inks inks in a box like me, it makes it easy to pick out the ink you want.  The bonus with the “independence” inks is that you get a postcard that showcases the ink colour.

B96D916B-0C27-430C-BC32-CDA9942FF865

So what’s it like?

Likes and dislikes about ink are very subjective, but I’m definitely in the “like” camp for Walk Over Vistula.  Aside from the rich colour, you get an ink that is pretty well saturated and which flows well.  In my fine-nibbled Lamy 2000, this equated to a wet line with not a lot of shading.  For comparison I also inked up a Lamy Safari with a stub nib.  As well as getting the benefit of a wider line, the relatively stingy ink flow is a good way of holding back more “enthusiastic” inks, helping to show off colour and shading.

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Both samples were written in a Taroko Breeze notebook which features white 68gsm Tomoe River.

What the writing samples don’t show is the sheen that comes with this ink.  As someone who enjoys a bit of sheen, I was very slow on the uptake in spotting the sheen on this ink.       You can’t avoid it on Tomoe River paper.  I haven’t tried any Rhodia, but the sheen was also evident on the paper in my TWSBI notebook.

ACE60EAE-080A-48FF-A65B-752538A8C24E

Something tells me that drawing crustaceans is not my strong point

In terms of looky-likeys, one of my first thoughts was Pilot Iroshizuku Ku-jaku.  Looking at the swatches, maybe Blackstone Barrier Reef Blue and various of the Robert Oster inks are nearer to the mark.  I think my reluctance to badge this as a teal ink is borne out by comparison with Sailor Jentle Yama dori.

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Note to self, make sure the page is flat to avoid fuzzy bits

A bit of kitchen chromatography doesn’t reveal any great surprises

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I haven’t tested Walk Over Vistula for waterproof-ness, but I’m pretty confident it’s not.  This isn’t a deal-breaker for me as I don’t tend to need waterproof inks.  Similarly, it’s not the quickest drying, but not outrageously slow either.

Despite there being a number of similar alternatives to this colour, I’m enjoying using it. Two pens in my current rotation are inked with it.  I’m more than happy to recommend this ink in its own right, but when you take into account the fact that you get 60ml at the price of KWZ’s standard ink range.

I got my bottle from Bureau Direct for £12.95, but you can also get it from The Hamilton Pen Company.  In the US, you can get Walk Over Vistula from Vanness.

Enjoy.

 

 

My First Pen Show

On Sunday 4th February I attended the first pen show on the UK calendar at the Doubletree Hilton on the outskirts of Bristol.  It was also my first pen show, but the coincidence was mainly one of geography as this one is nearest to home.  Despite having read reports of last year’s London pen show and various US pen shows, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect out here in the provinces.  Luckily I didn’t have to brave things by myself as I managed to persuade my friend, Phil, to tag along.  For us newbies, safety in numbers seemed like a good idea.

We managed to arrive not long after things got going so we had a good chance to scout out the stands before the crowds arrived.  There was mainly a mixture of retailers and dealers, the Writing Equipment Society, plus renowned UK pen maker Adrian Twiss.  I probably should have thought more about what I’d need to write up my trip and taken more note of who else was there, but I’ll plead a novice lack of forethought and feeling like the kid who has been handed the keys to the sweet shop.

 

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Pens at a pen show, who’d have thought it?

Despite there being plenty of pens to drool over, I managed to be restrained and not buy any.  I did let the nice people from Pocket Notebooks (in the process of becoming Nero’s Notes) persuade me to buy a Nock Brasstown in the latest fetching shade of orange.  I also took a punt on a Life Schopfer notebook.  The team were really engaging and we spent a bit of time comparing notes on Japanese stationery and the quest for the perfect notebook.  I haven’t previously bought much from these guys, but I will certainly be sending more of my money their way in future.

83923551-4D16-4B3A-8104-00C359B761E2

Brass(town) in pocket

My overall impression was that everyone was friendly and happy to talk pens, but as Phil put it “there’s not a lot of cash changing hands”.  There certainly seemed to be lots of conversations between dealers, but not a lot of buying or selling going on.  Maybe this is how pen shows work, with punters poring over pens without much intention of buying.  Alternatively, maybe dealers get a little too attached to the pens they acquire and are not entirely unhappy if no-one buys their precious stock.  We managed several laps of the room, partly in the hope that if we went round enough times, prices might miraculously come down.  Sadly they stood resolutely firm.

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Life’s what you make it

Among the retailers there were a variety of offers to be had, although not all of them worked out to be as generous as they first seemed.  Given that most people can easily check internet prices from their phones, some of the “offers” did seem a bit cheeky.

Although I didn’t go so far as to buy a pen, I did manage to answer a few questions that I’ve been pondering about possible future purchases.

Pilot Vanishing Point – thanks, but no thanks

Despite its clever design and a nib that everyone raves about, the Pilot Vanishing Point is not for me.  The positioning of its clip and my grip are just not compatible.  Now I know this I can (sadly) move on.

Sailor Professional Gear – yes please

I’ve been pondering whether to add Sailor to my list and the chance to handle a few confirmed that this would be a good thing.  The Professional Gear wins out over the 1911, and although I normally prefer rhodium to gold trim, I was rather taken with the limited edition Earth with its gold finishing.  Want one!

Pelikans – to join the flock or not?

My other big unknown was about Pelikan pens.  It seems that you’re not allowed to be serious about fountain pens without owning one (or more).  I’ve been curious about the M400 White Tortoise for a while, but hadn’t seen one for real.  I did find a used one at the show, but it was £300!  Considering you can still buy them new for under £200 I thought this was a tad excessive.

My main learning point was that when it comes to Pelikans, size matters.  You can find plenty of opinion out there that the M40X is a bit on the small side, and I find myself agreeing with that sentiment.  The M60X and M80X are a bit more like it, though.

The M600 falls by the wayside once aesthetics are taken into account as I’m not a huge fan of Pelikan’s stock colours or the current limited edition White Transparent.  The M80X ranges – now we’re getting somewhere.  I could be seriously tempted by the Stresemann and/or the Ocean Swirl.  Both look orders of magnitude better in the flesh than they do in photos.  Somehow they manage to be both more striking and more subtle at the same time.  I did see one M800 Brown Tortoise.  Now that is truly a beautiful pen.  Sadly, well out of my price range any time soon.

Is that it?

I enjoyed my trip to Bristol and I suspect this won’t be my last pen show.  At the same time I don’t think I’m going to be rushing round the UK ticking off the rest of them.  One thing is clear.  If I’m serious about buying a pen, then I know I’ll need to go with a much bigger budget.  Time to get saving…

 

Platinum Plaisir Bali Citrus Fountain Pen – A Quick Look

Bali Citrus is Platinum’s “limited edition” Plaisir for 2018.  This came as news for me as I wasn’t aware that Platinum issued limited edition Plaisirs.  A bit of digging turns up one possible previous limited edition, the Akajiku, but not much else.  Whether this is an indicator of things to come from Platinum, I guess time will tell.

AA18367E-202A-4AC9-B224-9962F7BDC314

Double Trouble (and not a Rebel MC in sight)

I’ve previously enthused about the Plaisir in Nova Orange.  A metal-bodied pen for less than £10 that does the basics pretty well is a good thing in my book.  This new incarnation is the same pen, just in a different jacket.  As a fountain pen in general, the Plaisir is not everyone’s cup of tea.  In this colour, I suspect opinions might be even more divided.  Bali Citrus turns out to be an acidic greeny-yellowy sort of colour.  You could happily call it citrus, but what makes is particularly Balinese is anyone’s guess.

To rehearse my previous review, the Plaisir comes with a slim, anodised aluminium body and cap and a simple steel nib and plug-in feed.  Impressively at this price, the cap includes “Slip and Seal” technology, which can be found on Platinum’s more expensive pens.  This means that you can leave the pen capped for extended periods of time and it won’t dry out.  I haven’t tested this scientifically, but I’ve left my orange Plaisir inked and unused for several few weeks and it’s written first time without any skipping or hard starts.

Sticking with the cap, the clip is simple, but robust and functional.  Another subtle feature of the cap is a broad, engraved chromed band.  I’m not a huge fan, but can live with it as a “feature” at this price.  I know plenty of people are offended by it, but I’m sure someone somewhere loves it.  I really like a comment on The Finer Point that likened the cap band to a wrestling champion’s belt, which sums it up nicely.  Very bling.

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That subtle cap band – more lightweight than heavyweight

The nib is a simple steel affair and is common between the Plaisir and the ultra-cheap Preppy, so it’s easy to switch between the available sizes (medium, fine and extra-fine).

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The simple, but functional nib and section

I don’t normally post my fountain pens, but the Plaisir is one that I find I have to post to feel right.  It’s not really a balance issue, more that without the cap there’s not enough mass for my liking.

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With apologies to Yoda…

The Plaisir uses Platinum’s proprietary fittings, so won’t take international cartridges unless you buy an adaptor.  I had the impression that the Plaisir wouldn’t work with Platinum’s converter, but Laura from Fountain Pen Follies pointed out that it does work (with a bit of faffing).  If you try to fill the pen by immersing the nib in ink there’s not enough draw to fill more than the section, but if you use a syringe to fill the converter and then flood the section you can get a decent fill.

You can get the Bali Citrus Plaisir from sources like Cult Pens, Goulet Pens and Rakuten.  For some reason, UK pricing seems a bit more wallet-friendly than elsewhere.

I still like Plaisir.  Sure the Plaisir is not without its limitations, but it does the job well and I can’t get away from the value for money argument.  A well made metal pen at that sort of price?  It seems rude not to.

 

Must try harder

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Says it all, really

Reading all the highlights and round-up posts from the blogs I follow has highlighted how meagre my output for the last year has been.  In my head I reviewed lots of the things that I forked over my hard-earned cash for, but something got lost in translation and for a variety of reasons only a few made it onto the digital page.

In reflecting on this, I’ve come to realise a couple of things.  Blogs are a little like gardens (no, seriously) in that they are a reflection of you and need to be tended and nurtured.  If you don’t put the time into maintenance and planning, then you don’t get good results.  That said, doing it for the sake of doing it can also be counter-productive.  It needs both head and heart, and maybe I’ve been lacking a little of both.

I’m not much of a fan of resolutions – mainly because I’m terrible at keeping them, but I know that I need to do a bit of nurturing to get things where I’d like them to be.

It’s not all doom and gloom…

There are some positives.  I didn’t have to buy all the pens I acquired last year – I won a set of 3 Lamy Aion pens from the lovely people at The Writing Desk.  All I had to do was to indulge my habit and buy something from them – in this case a TWSBI Diamond Mini limited edition in gold.  First impressions of the Aion fountain pen are good.  If nothing else, it proves that buying more pens has got to be a good thing (doesn’t it?).

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Aion, Lion, Zion

We all have weaknesses and it seems TWSBIs are mine.  The Diamond Mini was one of 5 TWSBI pens I bought last year.  My growing family of TWSBIs now stands at 7 – a Vac700 (currently a little poorly, but fixable), the gold Diamond Mini, an Eco, an Eco-T and three Diamond 580ALs (Lava, Turquoise and Rose).

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We are family

It was an interesting year ink-wise.  I followed the sheen bandwagon, graduating from the likes of Sailor, through Robert Oster to Blackstone and on to the Organics Studio sheen monsters Walden Pond Blue and Nitrogen Royal Blue.  It was fun while it lasted, but perhaps you can have too much of a good thing.  If the sheen obscures the base colour of the ink, maybe things have gone a little too far…

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Shiny

On the notebook front, I’m increasingly convinced that the Far East is where it’s at.  Aside from continuing with the Hobonichi Techo – I’m on my third one (second direct from Japan) – I’ve been exploring the Life range of notebooks.  As well as the Noble range, which is relatively well known, I’ve been impressed by the Tsubame (Swallow), Kappan and Renover books.  Mnemosyne books have become my book of choice for work and I still have a real fondness for Midori’s MD books.  My affection for Tomoe River paper remains undiminished, but it’s getting harder to come by in the UK at a sensible price, and there is still a (relative) dearth of books that use this paper.

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Big in Japan

KWZ’s Polish special edition inks have hit the UK, so time to hammer the bank account (again).

Targets for this year?  Maybe I’ll finally commit to buying a Pelikan.  Then again, I’ve procrastinated for a year already and still haven’t done anything about it.  Birmingham Pen Company’s inks get good write ups, so maybe it’s time to give them a try.  Colorverse inks seem to be the latest Instagram hit, maybe I’ll see what all the fuss is about.

Here’s to 2018. Let’s hope my grades improve…

Season’s Greetings

I’d like to thank everyone who follows or reads my blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed some of what I’ve had to say over the past year.  I wish you and your loved ones all the very best at this festive time of year.

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If you’re interested in the technicalities, the paper is Tomoe River, inks are KWZ Honey, Private Reserve Avacado, Diamine Firefly, Diamine Enchanted Ocean.

Mnemosyne 194 – The Perfect Work Notebook?

I like notebooks.  I buy lots of them.  More than I can reasonably use any time soon.  That leads me to the harsh (but entirely fair) realisation that I’m a hoarder.  If it looks like it might have decent, fountain pen-friendly paper and is well put together, then I want one.

The need for good paper is a given, since I use a fountain pen every day.  The construction is important to me because I like a book that opens easily and stays open on the page you chose.  As a left-hander, the flatter it opens, the better.  Anything resembling a small hill in the middle of a notebook is a right royal pain in the proverbial.

The one thing you wouldn’t normally find me rushing to pick up is a spiral-bound book.  Most of my encounters with books of this sort haven’t ended well.  The wire starts to unravel, and before you know it, the book is in bits in front of you.  Not a good outcome.

With this in mind, I approached the Mnemosyne 194 with a bit of trepidation.  Sure I’d read good things about the quality of the paper, but I wasn’t too sure how I’d get on with the book overall.

Mnemosyne was the Greek goddess of memory and mother of the nine muses.  Precisely what this has to do with notebooks, I’m not sure, but it’s one of those things you feel you have to point out for the purpose of education and factual/mythological correctness.

I use a notebook a lot at work and have been searching for something sober enough to take to meetings, but which is enjoyable to use and can cope with ‘proper’ ink.  Made by Maruman, the Mnemosyne 194 fits this bill well.  It is bounded by two black plastic covers, with simple gold embossing on the front proclaiming the word ‘Mnemosyne’ and the model number which relates to the format (194 for B5, 195 for A5, 199 for A4).  These examples are all side-bound, but there are also a couple of top-bound books in the range.  The front cover also bears a sticker giving some technical details about the book (page layout, number of sheets etc.).  You could remove the sticker to further tidy up its appearance, but so far I haven’t bothered.  The covers are thick enough to provide a decent amount of protection, as well as being quite flexible.

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I tend to use A5 books for journaling and most of my other writing, but I’ve made the switch to B5 for work and so far I’ve liked it.  B5 is somewhere in between A5 and A4 (apparently B sizes are calculated from the geometric mean of adjacent A sizes, which I think you’ll find explains things nicely).  I like the added real-estate without the full-on bulk of an A4 book.  From my limited experience, it seems that the majority of B5 notebooks available in the UK are Japanese (Mnemosyne, Life, Apica, Swallow etc.).  That works just fine for me because I love Japanese notebooks.  The only non-Japanese B5 book I’ve tried was a Leuchtturm 1917 softcover book.  I don’t know where Leuchtturm get their reputation for good notebooks as this proved to be a fully paid-up, card-carrying pile of rubbish.  Aside from a disintegrating binding, I had major paper quality issues – with inks feathering and bleeding through without the slightest provocation.  It was an out and out horror show.  If you take nothing else from this review, DON’T BUY THE LEUCHTTURM!

Back to the Mnemosyne.  Under the front cover is a very cheery, bright yellow front sheet, embossed with ‘Mnemosyne’ in gold at the bottom.  On the reverse of this are some cartoons with captions and some additional text.  The only two words in English are “Basic Style” which, as statements go, should win a prize for irony.  The rest is in Kanji (which I’m afraid I can’t read).

Once you’re past the front sheet, you’re straight into the book itself.  You get 80 sheets (160 pages) in each notebook.  There’s no index and no page numbering, although there’s also nothing to stop you numbering pages yourself and creating an index.  That’s not something that bothers me, but if you really need a ready-made index you’ll probably want to look elsewhere.

Each page is ruled with separate date and title boxes at the top.  Line spacing is quoted at 7mm and measures exactly that.  Lines are pale grey and pages are sub-divided into 3 sections by darker grey lines.  Each sheet is micro-perforated, should you want to remove any.

On to the paper itself.  It is a pale cream colour, exceptionally smooth and a joy to write on.  I’m well into my second 194 and they have both been great.  The paper is perhaps a little more forgiving of some pen/ink combinations than others, so you may need a bit of trial and error to find what works best for you.  I’ve had no disasters, but some combinations were slightly harder work than others.

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The paper has coped well with a range of inks and shows off shading pretty well and sheen to some extent.  I found that Sailor Jentle inks, for example, only sheened with broader, wetter nibs.  Blackstone and some of the new Organics Studio inks will sheen on pretty much any paper, so it’s no surprise that you’ll see sheen from them on the Mnemosyne paper.

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Nitrogen Royal Blue sheen

That said, the paper isn’t completely flawless.  However, the overall writing experience has been such that I can easily forgive the minor issues that have cropped up.

What about those flaws?  You get some show-through when writing on the reverse of a page, but that tends to be with darker inks and wetter nib/ink combinations.  I don’t find it too intrusive and it’s far from the only paper to show this.  Where things get a bit more tricky is that on some pages, I’ve encountered small areas where there has been some feathering.  I’ve put this down to inconsistencies in the paper coating/finishing process as it has only occurred very occasionally and has been a localised effect.  I tend to doodle in meetings and where there’s a lot of ink put down on a small area you can get some bleed-through.  I could easily solve this problem by listening more and doodling less!

What about my prejudice against spiral-bound notebooks?  The Mnemosyne 194 has transformed my view of this type of binding.  I think the fact that I’m omy second one of these books for work and am about to order a third says it all.  What seals the deal for me is the price.  I got my 194 from Cult Pens for the princely sum of £6.75 (the A5 size is £5.95), while The Journal Shop carries the 194 for £6.50.  You can also buy it from Goulet Pens (among others) for $7.50. On a per page basis, this puts the Mnemosyne at around half the cost of a Life or a Swallow B5 notebook.  The very existence of the B5 Leuchtturm becomes even harder to justify when you realise that its price per page is around 3 times that of the Mnemosyne!

Whatever your preferred paper size, the pricing of Mnemosyne notebooks makes them well worth checking out.  The paper is pretty darned good and they are well put together.  As for B5 as a format, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it works well for me.

 

 

Fountain pen review – TWSBI Eco

In blog terms, things have been rather quiet for some time, here at Slightly Unnerved Towers.  Work and family commitments have conspired to leave me without the time or creative energy to maintain anything resembling a decent output of material.  I’ve been trying to overcome this inertia for a while and get my blog back up and running and thought that Fountain Pen Day would be a good point from which to kick start things.

Happy Fountain Pen Day!

For my first offering in a while, I thought I’d ease myself in gently with a short piece on a recent acquisition – a turquoise TWSBI Eco.

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I have something of a soft spot for TWSBI pens to the extent that I own 5 in total – a Vac700, two Diamond 580ALs, a Diamond Mini, and now an Eco.

The Eco is TWSBI’s entry level pen (it’s the cheapest one available), retailing at around £30 here in the UK and at a similar dollar price in the US.  I got mine for £27.99 from Cult Pens, but it’s pretty widely available.  To put it in context, that’s around half the price of a TWSBI Diamond 580.  On the face of it, a card-carrying piston filling demonstrator for less than £30 seems pretty reasonable, but…

What do you get for your money?

The pen comes nicely presented in a plastic box, which also includes a natty red plastic wrench and a pot of silicon grease and some instructions for servicing the pen, should you feel brave enough.

TWSBI Eco in box

The pen itself is a clear demonstrator with the colour accents limited to the cap and the piston knob.  I chose turquoise, but you can have black, white, clear and lime green as well.  Unlike more expensive TWSBIs, the barrel and section are a single unit.  You can switch nibs, but here it’s a matter of pulling out the nib and feed and friction fitting the replacement, rather than modular approach you get with other TWSBIs.  The sections of my other TWSBIs have solid inserts in them, so it’s actually quite a nice change to have an unobstructed view of the feed here.

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There’s a decent range of nib options available from extra-fine, through broad to a 1.1mm stub.  A replacement TWSBI unit will cost around £16.50.  I read somewhere that it’s a #5 nib, so in theory you could use a non-TWSBI nib if you were so inclined.  I haven’t tested this out, though.

There’s a small step down from the barrel to the section, but I didn’t find it affected the comfort of holding the pen or that it was at all intrusive.  Even if your grip comes to rest on the cap threads, these are not at all uncomfortable.

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TWSBI love their O rings!

The profile of the barrel and section is circular and contrasts nicely with the hexagonal cap and piston knob.  The cap has a single chrome band around it where it screws onto the section.  As with other TWSBI’s this is etched with “TWSBI” and (in this case) “Eco”.  The clip is functional if not overly exciting or inspiring.  Provided they do what they’re supposed to I don’t get too excited about clips.

The TWSBI logo appears in the cap finial.  In this case it’s a simple red plastic insert with the logo in relief, rather than the more elaborate affairs you find on more expensive models.  I’ve always like the design of the logo and the way it’s incorporated into this pen is very effective.

TWSBI Eco cap detail

Cap detail

What’s it like to use?

My overall experience of the Eco has been good.  The Eco comes in at around 14cm capped and 13 cm uncapped.  It sits comfortably in my hand and I’ve had no issues with the performance of the nib or the filling mechanism.  A quick check on Goulet Pens’ Nib Nook suggested that the Eco nibs would tend towards the finer side of their gradings and so it has proved.  I ordered a medium nib and it’s finer than some fine nibs that I have.  That said it has written well from day one, with no hard starts or skipping.  It’s a reasonably wet writer and the feed seems up to the job of keeping the ink flowing.

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The piston mechanism is arguably not as refined as you would find on a more expensive pen, but it does its job perfectly well and without fuss.  So far, I can’t find any reason to complain about it.

In summary

All-in-all, there’s a lot to like about this pen.  Aside from getting a proper piston filler for less than £30, it’s really comfortable to write with.  In my experience, the nib unit performs well.  Due to the filling mechanism you get a decent amount of ink in each fill.  Not so good if you like to switch inks frequently, but great if you write lots.

There are obvious compromises in design and materials compared to other, more expensive TWSBIs, but I think this pen should be judged on its own merits and not just seen as a poor cousin.  I’m almost tempted to say I prefer it in use to the Diamond 580.  The Diamond 580 is a nicer looking pen (particularly in orange), but it has always felt a little awkward in my hand.

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The Eco in a Diamond sandwich

A couple of asides

  1. I wrote the notes for this post in a Fabriano EcoQua exercise book and was really impressed with the quality of the paper.  I suppose that shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise given the manufacturer, but it doesn’t automatically equate to a positive result when it comes to fountain pens.  There was no hint of feathering or bleedthrough and just a little feedback from the nib.
  2. The elephant in the room when it comes to the TWSBI Eco is the Wing Sung 698.  From what I can see it’s “inspired” by the TWSBI Diamond 580, but at a fraction of the price.  From reading a couple of reviews it seems that the nibs are generally reliable, with not too many duff ones.  Of course I now have to get one, just to see what it’s like.