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

 

 

 

 

Rhodia Heritage A5 Notebook Review

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When it comes to discovering and writing about things in the world of pens, inks and paper, I’m usually way behind the curve.  What is new and exciting to me is usually old hat to others.  For once (and more by luck than judgement) I seem to be an early adopter.  The item in question is the Rhodia Heritage notebook.  In reality this is more of a ‘first impressions’ than a full-blown review as I’ve only just got my hands on some, but I suspect that they will be popular and wanted to share my thoughts.

In the fountain pen world, Rhodia is probably best known for its range of notepads.  Pretty much every ink review you read is written on a Rhodia pad of some kind – and with good reason.  Apart from the quality of the paper, the other distinguishing feature of Rhodia pads is their covers: orange, black or white.   It’s these colours that form the basis of the cover designs for the Heritage range.  That said it’s also about the point where any similarity with the notepads finishes.

Rhodia Heritage notebook covers

Escher and Chevron

Rhodia has backed up the Heritage name with a very retro-looking notebook.  Covers come in a choice of geometric patterns – Tartan, Escher, Quadrille and Chevron.  (Rhodia don’t list the Chevron design on their own web pages, but I have one so they must exist, right?).  I like the Tartan most, but the Escher and Chevron are pretty appealing too.  My least favourite is the Quadrille pattern, but that’s just a matter of personal preference.

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Chevrons do exist!

The covers are made from a nicely textured cold pressed papers onto which the design is printed.  Beneath these is a quality codex-bound book made up of multiple signatures.  Each signature is made up of three sheets, by which I mean once the paper is folded and stitched you have 12 pages of A5.  These are well stitched together and bound,  meaning the book opens flat without any need to even threaten the use of force, so a big thumbs up to Rhodia.  Perhaps it’s only to be expected from such a giant of the paper world, but it’s also a relief that they got this absolutely on the money – not everyone does.

Rhodia Heritage notebook covers

Escher cover

Where the binding and finishing differs from most notebooks is that there is no cover on the spine, what Rhodia calls ‘raw’.  Where you might expect to see at least some binding tape, if not something more elaborate, you get nothing.   This differs from pretty much every notebook I’ve ever owned.  The only thing remotely close is a Moo notebook.  Although the Moo is hardbound, when you open the book up, the front cover falls away to reveal the spine.

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The ‘raw’ binding

I suspect this may make the Heritage a little more vulnerable to damage, particularly if you treat your books harshly.  In practice this is only likely to enhance the vintage look and feel.  I guess time will tell, but I’m not unduly worried about this.

So, we have a notebook that looks good and opens properly – what’s it like on the inside?  I suspect reactions will depend on how you like your paper.  If crisp white is your thing, you may struggle with these notebooks.  I prefer my paper off-white and with a bit of warmth and I’m pleased to say that Rhodia has backed up the exterior looks with paper that also looks fantastic and is a joy to write on.  You get 80 sheets (160 pages) of 90g A5 Clairefontaine ivory-coloured vellum paper, which comes as either a 5mm grid or 7mm ruled.

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In case you were in any doubt about the source of paper…

Lines and grids are orange, with an approximately 1cm margin all round (slightly wider on the bound side of the page).  The edge of the page that faces into the binding also has a narrow orange margin, which (I think) further adds to the appeal.  Corners are rounded.  In case you haven’t had enough orange, guess what colour the end papers are.

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In terms of layout the 160 pages breaks down as a 6 page index with 152 numbered pages of notebook.  The top right corner of every other page has a rectangular box you could use for the date or some other reference point for your notes/writing.

Rhodia Heritage Notebook

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In use, the paper performs well with no apparent signs of feathering.  As it’s 90g paper, you get very little show-through.  I did have some issues with show-through using Pilot Iroshizuku Kon-peki, but that was from my slightly temperamental Onoto semi-flex pen.  It’s nearly 100 years old and has a tendency to ‘sneeze’ from time to time, depositing way more ink than it should.  That said I’m pretty confident that under more normal conditions, this paper will take pretty much whatever you can throw at it.

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The obligatory writing samples

This paper has no problem bringing out shading, if that’s your thing.  Where it struggles is with sheen.  In my experience, pretty much every Rhodia or Clairefontaine paper I’ve tried will suppress sheen, and this one doesn’t seem to be any different.  While I like my sheen, this is not enough to be a deal-breaker for me on these books.

A couple of issues with these notebooks seem to be availability and pricing.  The Rhodia website won’t sell you a Heritage notebook direct – you have to email them for details of a retailer that stocks them.  In the UK, they initially appeared exclusive to Bureau Direct, although Pure Pens have recently announced that they are stocking them.  Prices from Bureau Direct are £12.95 per book (you can get free postage on orders over £10), and from Pure Pens are £9.95 per book (you have to spend over £20 to get free postage).

UpdateCult Pens are now also selling these books, but they are asking £16.95!  It definitely pays to shop around.

While I was waiting for mine to arrive from Bureau Direct, I wandered into The Pen and Paper and found they were selling the same said books at £6.50 a time!  These books aren’t listed on their website at the time of writing and I don’t know if it’s possible to place an order over the phone or by email with them.  I should also say that since I discovered what they were charging, I bought 5 of them!  I didn’t completely empty the display so good luck in bagging a bargain.

Hopefully these books will become more widely available and pricing will settle down a little.  At £12.95 these books are not cheap, but aren’t outrageous when compared to (say) Midori MD or Life Noble notebooks.  At £9.95, they become a much more attractive proposition and if you can pick them up for anything like £6.50 – knock yourself out!

Overall I really like these notebooks.  In terms of function, they deliver what you’d expect from a high end notebook.  In terms of look, they’re really striking and visually appealing.  Rhodia has managed to pull off the trick of producing something that simultaneously fits their product range while managing to look nothing like any of their other offerings.

Ink review – Sailor Jentle Oku-yama

Oku-yama, Vac700 and Clairefontaine notebook

One of those times when pen, ink and notebook come together brilliantly

Sailor Jentle Oku-yama is part of the Four Seasons range of inks.  I believe that it was originally introduced as a limited edition ink, but is now a fixture in the range.  Oku-yama apparently translates as “remote mountain” or “deep mountain”, but that’s not much help in trying to figure out what colour it actually is.  Reading other reviews suggests maroon, pomegranate or cranberry.  Garnet is another possible descriptor.  Take your pick.

Despite all the rave reviews, my first instinct was that this is not the sort of ink colour that I go for.  Blues, greys and the occasional green are much more my normal hunting ground.  I decided to buy a sample to see how I got on, and as you can see from the first photo, I liked it enough to buy a whole bottle.  However you choose to describe it, this ink is striking and a really interesting colour.

I bought my bottle for £16.20 from the nice people at The Writing Desk, but it’s fairly  widely available in the UK.  In the US, Jet Pens will sell you a bottle for $14.25, Anderson Pens for $18.  Wonderpens in Canada also have it listed at Can$24.75.  This is definitely not a budget ink, but it’s still way cheaper than inks like Caran d’Ache, Graf von Faber Castell and Pilot Iroshizuku.

As with other Four Seasons inks, Oku-yama comes in a round and fairly squat 50ml bottle.  The bottle contains an insert that is meant to make filling your pen easier.  With the bottle capped, turn it upside down to fill this internal reservoir.  Turn the bottle the right way up, uncap it and fill your pen.  With larger nibbed pens, filling may be tricky depending on how far you need to insert the pen.  Some people seem to find this insert infuriating to use, but so far I haven’t found it too much of a chore.

What’s it like?

Oku-yama is pretty well saturated, although it does get a bit darker with multiple passes when swabbing it.  As I’ve already said, inks of this colour are off my normal radar, so I don’t have a huge back catalogue to compare it with.  Some internet research throws up names like Diamine Syrah, Montblanc Bordeaux and Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-budo as being close.  The only inks I have that come remotely close are from a mixed pack of Diamine cartridges.

As you can see, Diamine Claret is nothing like it.  Oxblood is not dissimilar but Oku-yama has more of a red tint to it.

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Oku-yama alongside Diamine Claret and Oxblood on Tomoe River paper

A bit of kitchen chromatography throws up an interesting mix of colours as you might expect for an ink like this.

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Oku-yama in action

I’ve tried this ink out in a Sheaffer Legacy Heritage (medium), a Noodler’s Ahab Flex (fine medium), a TWSBI Vac700 (fine and broad) and a Lamy Safari (1.1mm stub).  As I found with the Vac700, it’s a great ink for a demonstrator pen – the sort of colour you’d want to see and not hide away.

In terms of papers, I’ve used Oku-yama on Tomoe River, Clairefontaine, Life Noble, Rhodia and TWSBI paper.  One observation is that I think it looks better on cream-coloured papers compared to the white of Rhodia and standard-issue Clairefontaine.

It’s most definitely not waterproof, but it doesn’t make itself out to be so.  Dry times are reasonable – a little over 20 seconds on Clairefontaine paper with a broad nib in my Vac700.  Expect it to be longer on something like Tomoe River and allow for quicker drying times with a finer nib/dryer pen.  My non-scientific assessment is that I’ve used it quite extensively for journaling in an A5 notebook and not had any issues with the ink not being dry when it’s time to turn the page.

I’d describe Oku-yama as a “wet” ink, so although it performed well on these papers it won’t come as a surprise to learn that there was some show-through.  There was no bleed-through at all.  In fact the only real surprise was some feathering on Life Noble paper with the Sheaffer.  It’s the first time I’ve experienced feathering on this paper, but the Sheaffer bears more than a passing resemblance to a fire hose in terms of the amount of ink it puts down, so I can forgive that.

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Feathering on Life Noble paper

Aside from the gorgeous colour, Oku-yama has a reputation for two things – shading and sheen.  I found that it will shade without any need for encouragement.  Even with a relatively dry-writing pen like the Safari, I couldn’t have stopped this ink from shading if I’d wanted to.  Similarly, I found that Oku-yama shaded on all the papers I tried it on.IMG_20170526_220257

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Oku-yama on Clairefontaine (top) and Life Noble (bottom) paper

The Sheen, What About The Sheen?

As with a number of other Sailor inks, Oku-yama will produce sheen.  In this case it’s a green/gold sheen.  It will come as absolutely no surprise that the easiest paper to see sheen on is Tomoe River.

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Oku-yama ink splat on Tomoe River paper

It’s there, even with normal writing – you really don’t have to try very hard at all.  My photos don’t show it very well, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

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Sheen on Tomoe River paper

I also managed to get some sheen on Life Noble and TWSBI papers, but there’s clearly something in the surface finish of Rhodia and Clairefontaine papers that kills it off.

Summary

At the outset, I didn’t know what to expect from Sailor’s Oku-yama or what I would make of it.  In the end I kind of fell for it.  It’s not really a colour for work use, but it’s both cheery and complex and a joy to write with in most other situations.  I’ve used it quite a bit for journal keeping and I haven’t found it to be overpowering when used page after page.

As a measure of how much I like it, I’ve written the Sheaffer dry and am probably down to a fifth of a tank in the Vac700, which has a huge ink capacity.  I’ll certainly refill the Vac700 with it when it runs dry.

This one’s a keeper!