About a year ago, I wrote up a list of tools as options for NaNoWriMo participants. Pretty much all of it’s still valid (though Microsoft has named OneDrive “SkyDrive” on parts of my laptop and I have to say I’m not thrilled with dealing with their identity crisis when looking for documents, so I generally just use Google Drive).
If you want the full breakdown, it’s over here on the Fort Writerdale site.
It occurs to me that I never wrote about my favorite pens so let’s remedy that real quick. (Yes, real quick. Don’t make me break out any of the worse phrases I picked up in the South.)
I generally hate ballpoint pens, but if I really need to use one, I always fall back on the Pilot Better RT (retractable). They are little workhorses that last for nearly ever, rarely bleed or clot or fail in anyway, and they come in a few colors if you use your Google-fu (I still have a purple one somewhere that still writes despite being 20 years old). I’m a fan of super-fine points and the fine version of this one is about as fine as you’d want in a ballpoint because of the viscous nature of the ink. The Pen Addict mentions the EasyTouch and I’ve always liked that one, too, but I had a harder time finding the EasyTouch in that “needle” point the Better had. Plus, the Better has more metal parts if you’re rough on pens.
Everyone loves the Pilot G-2 and the Pilot Frixon pens, but I can’t find the Frixion with thin enough tips and while the G-2 is serviceable, the Pilot Juice has better flow, comes in a dizzying array of colors and (!!!) is available in .38mm, which to me is “fine.” Even The Pen Addict is a fan. Seriously, you could make far worse pen purchases than the Juice.
Not to be outdone, the Zebra Sarasa has always been a good pen — as good or better than the G-2. Except, again, in the US I could never find anything smaller than a .7mm in anything other than black. However… The Sarasa Clip comes in .3 (and other tip sizes) and an equally-impressive range of colors. Both JetPens and TokyoPenShop offer great customer service. The Pen Addict is right. North America is getting the short end of the pen market stick.
I used to be a huge fan of the Pilot V-ball (again, needle point) and the Pilot Precise is good, too, bu overall I just don’t use them very often. They’re smeary compared to the gel pens and they’re not as fancy as the fountain pens.
Technically, the Pilot Maica is a gel pen, but it comes as a stick pen with a needle tip similar (but so much prettier) than the V-ball and the Precise. It comes in a .3mm and .4mm; you can buy them in sets or singles, and they really are just a pleasure to write with.
My two favorites here are, again, imports. Again, Pilot and Zebra are in the mix, but I also like what Pentel’s done with the i+.
The prettiest of the bunch is by far the Zebra Prefill, which if you use some Google-fu, you can find in a ridiculous array of barrel designs like Hello Kitty, Peanuts, and cute little animals. Since The Pen Addict reviewed them in 2013, they’ve expanded their barrel and refill options considerably (The Surari emulsion ink works in them, too, but I’m not a fan) and, as far as I’m concerned, they’re the only multi-pen with a pencil option that’s worth considering. (I have pencil refills in three of my Prefills, two in plain graphite and one in red). Tokyo Pen shop breaks down the whole refill situation here.
Pilot has been in the mult-pen business a long time — just not in North America. The only multi-pen you can get at Staples and the like is a disgrace to the company. The Hi-Tec-C Coleto (or Coleto for short) has been through a few barrel changes, but nothing like the options for the Prefill. It comes in a few sizes (3-, 4-, or 5-refill options) and will take refills in .3, .4, and .5mm. It also has a pencil and separate eraser option, but they both fee flimsy in the barrel and it’s awkward to advance the lead. The Pen Addict’s thoughts go back to 2011, which tells you a bit about how long Pilot’s been selling these (just not at your local Office Depot).
2016 UPDATE: Pilot has really stepped up their barrel game and now have as many designer options as Zebra used to. Tokyo Pen Shop has a good selection of the funkier styles, including some limited edition stuff. Jet Pens has some simpler, sleeker, or more professional-looking options.
Pentel used to have these skinny little multi-pens with ridged barrels that left marks on your fingers if you wrote too long. They tried some other ideas over the years, but the best one they’ve come up with is the simplest. The Pentel i+ might have a stupid name, but if you like Pentel’s Sliccies refills (they are nice and super-fine), this might be the multi-pen you’ve been looking for. They’ve also surpassed Pilot in the “pretty barrel” department if you find the .3 Zebra’s lacking.
If you want a fountain pen expert who has tried a ton of them and also uses them every day, you want Pens and Art. If you just want some quick and dirty thoughts on a few cheapish options, here you go.
Most people who want cheap fountain pens look for the disposable Pilot Varsity. I hate the idea behind disposable stuff (that’s why so many of my favorites are refillable). There’s also no reason to be disposing of a fountain pen so I tend to view this as another way the North American pen market gets treated like we, well, like the US is apparently known for using Solo cups instead of glassware at parties.
Anyway, if you want a super-cheap fountain pen to try out the idea, the Platinum Preppy comes in a mess of pretty colors and it’s refillable. They last a pretty long time if you keep them in a pen cup on your desk or a pen roll in your bag and they are very low-fuss. You can leave them uncapped while you eat lunch and they’ll still write. You can leave them on your desk for a month and they’ll still write. Just don’t try that with fancy-pants fountain pens and expect the same results. Look, Staples will sell you a single Varsity for $4.29 and when it runs out of it, it’s garbage. For $3, JetPens will sell you a pen you can refill (two more times for $1.65). For math haters, that’s 3x the writing for 36 cents extra. Not to mention that JetPens ships free at $25 and Staples wants you to spend $50.
For a little more, the Platinum Plasir looks like a much nicer pen than the price suggests. It also has the same technology that lets you leave it sitting around without having to clean it and baby it that the Preppy does. It’s just a bit sturdier, so you can put it in a bag or pocket without worrying about breaking the cap.
If you want bright-colored plastic that’s sturdier than the Preppy with a reliable ink flow that doesn’t require a lot of babying, you can’t go wrong with the Lamy Safari or the Lamy Al Star. Just make sure if you buy a Lamy, you pick a reputable seller. Its’ one of the most copied pens and there’s a metric shit-ton of copycats and fakes on sites like eBay. The thing about fakes is that the quality is hit or miss. Some people have had good experiences and others haven’t. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is and if you’re not buying from a reputable seller, don’t pay full price unless they can prove it’s the real deal. Also, keep in mind that the Lamy isn’t a Japanese pen (they’re German), so if you like super-fine tips/nibs, go with the extra-fine nib and expect it to still be a little thicker than a comparable imported Pilot or Platinum.
I have a Pelikan I bought years ago, lost, and never really used. The nib was too thick for my liking and it was another cartridge or converter I needed to keep track of. Then I discovered it will take universal cartridges (they’re just short) and started using it pretty often. It’s no fuss, pretty sturdy, and while it’s not great beauty, I end up using it more than my gorgeous Monteverde because the Monteverde requires some sort of pagan ritual to get it to write. (Note, I did not pay as much for my Pelikan as the one in the link; it’s just the closet in style to the old one I have.)
2016 UPDATE: Jinhao has really come into their own lately and for a few bucks, you can get a pretty nice pen. They make a knock-off of the Lamy with their name and a slightly different clip that you can often find on eBay or Amazon at 8 for $12 or so. Just know that some may write and some may not and since a basic nib grinder will charge about $20-25 to fix it… I did pick up a weightier Jinhao with a pretty “plum flower” motif that’s been a remarkably good pen for just under $6.
I also invested in nib grinding for my Monteverde so it writes without sacrifices.
Because I like such a fine point, I rarely use anything with a felt tip. There are a few exceptions. I have a set of Papermate Flair pens in medium for anytime I need a “marker” type pen and I don’t let anyone else touch them because hard-pressers mess up the point.
I have a handful of Yasutomo Stylist pens that I like pretty well and I have a bunch of Stabillo 88s that come in a bunch of fun colors, but I hardly ever use them. Mostly for editing, which means I run out of red and purple before anything else because they’re the most visible (to me) against black.
I like the Sharpie pens well enough and I’ve always liked the Sharpie ultra-fine tip for proofreading ad copy so it stands to reason I’d like the pen. That said, I’m not crazy about the inability to refill.
2016 UPDATE: The new, thinner Sharpie pens are a bit more fun to use than the old ones and they come in a dizzying array of colors. I’m still not crazy about the lack of refills, but it’s difficult to find a refillable felt tip. That said, Sharpie does make a stainless version of the original pen design that’s refillable. Those cartridges, though, are still pretty big…
Last, but not least, pencils. As a former math teacher and someone who breaks out old algebra and calculus books for fun when she needs to clear her head, I have a thing for pencils, too. Specifically, two pencils.
Sure, I have pencil refills in some of my Prefills, but that’s for quick-and-dirty stuff. For actual sketching and plotting and mathy goodness, I either use a Pentel Twist-Erase 0.5 mechanical pencil or a Dixon Ticonderoga. (Hey, finally something we can find at Staples!) I have a bajillion other wooden pencils in a cup on my desk, but my go-to remains something with that little green ferrule. I’ve loved Ticonderogas since I was a kid and while the Palomino Blackwings and their ilk are lovely to behold, they just don’t match the simple pleasure of figuring stuff out with a Ticonderoga.
2016 UPDATE: I tried a Papermate ClearPoint .5mm pencil because it had a twist-up eraser similar to the Pentel shown above. The clear barrel with the pops of color are also pretty to look at. However, the eraser has a bad habit of sliding back down into the barrel when you try erasing with it and the clips are flimsy plastic. The lead-advance is in an awkward place and also feels a bit too dainty. All in all, I can’t recommend it.