Friday, August 13, 2010

pen nerds, unite! take back the night!

You may have noticed (though certainly the misguided companies that e-mail me soliciting product endorsements have not) that I do not run ads on this site. Never have. Sometimes I have used a free service that ran sidebar ads as part of their own business plan (Haloscan comes to mind--I used their service to run my comments section until that company imploded) but overall, I have never accepted money in exchange for ads or endorsements of any kinds. The only kind of endorsements I give--see the last blog entry, for instance--are ones that I do for free, in the spirit of a friend recommending something to a friend.

I know a lot of blogs--in fact, the majority of blogs--run some kind of ads to support themselves, and that is all good and fair. The reason I have chosen not to is multifactorial. First, this is a personal blog which happens to be written by a doctor. Corporate sponsorship is not necessary, nor would it necessarily be appropriate. Secondly, I need to keep things simple, as I have a hard enough time updating this blog as it is without thinking of peripherals like ad content and sidebars. Third, I have a job that pays the bills, and it's not worth it to me to run clutter-y, annoying ads in order to make whatever pittance in ad revenue I could generate.

So please just treat the following is a public service for pen nerds everywhere.

Full disclosure: after I talked about ordering from Jet Pens a few months ago, a representative from the company mailed me an envelope full of samples. I did not solicit the samples nor am I getting kickbacks from Jet Pens, but let it be known that I scroll through that Jet Pens website the way I page through the Ikea catalogue: pure visual porn.

First up, the Pilot Hi-Tec-C Coleto

Jet Pens very kindly sent a pen barrel along with three 0.4mm ink cartridges in the standard red, black and blue, though certainly for those more adventurous of us there are many more colors available. (For instance, a choice between "Orange" and "Apricot Orange." It's the subtle differences.) The pen is easy to use and very standard as multi-barrel pens go--just jam the ink cartridges in, press down what color you want to use, and start diagramming that Krebs cycle, you multicolor pen nerd, you. I had bought a few of the regular Pilot Hi-Tec-Cs to use before, and I did like the pen, although the pen tip was a little scratchy for me (my own fault, 0.4mm is a very fine tip) and the fact that it was a pen with an actual cap rather than a retractable pen drove me crazy.

People seem to rave about the Hi-Tec-C Coleto, as it gets past two of the commonly voiced displeasures about the regular Hi-Tec-C, in that 1.) it's retractable, and 2.) as multi-cartridge pen, the pen barrel itself is thicker and therefore easier to grip. However, two problems with the Coleto that I noticed were that there seemed to be a lot of "wiggle" of the cartridge within the barrel of the pen, to the point that it kind of affected my handwriting. To be fair, it's a very thin cartridge with a needle tip nib, and I do tend to push hard when I write, so perhaps it's operator dependent. However, with my personal writing style, I think I would find it too scratchy and too delicate for heavy use.

Next up, the Sarasa Zebra Clip Gel Ink Pen in Blue-Black with an 0.4mm tip

I'd eyed this pen before, because unlike many of the rarer Japanese or Korean imports (which makes it sound like we're talking about rare anime reel-to-reels or something, but no, WE'RE STILL TALKING ABOUT PENS) this pen is actually available at Staples. My source at Jet Pens also tells me that the clip (it is spring-loaded, which makes it open and close wider than the standard pen clip) has made it popular among nurses. I also liked this pen because it's retractable (cannot emphasize the importance of this feature--I refuse to use a pen at work if it is not retractable) and it has a nice rubber grip which makes it comfortable to hold.

It's a fine pen. It writes smoothly, the gel is nice and non-blobby, it looks like it has a decent ink supply, and didn't skip even after a couple of test drops from a respectable height. (The skipping gel pen is a major pet peeve. I drop my pens a lot, due to, you know, the Earth's gravity; and I cannot tell you how many 0.5mm Pilot G2s I've had in my life that just stopped working despite a full ink cartridge because I dropped them once or twice. HATE.) However, it's nothing special. And at two bucks each, they're fifty cents more than the Uni-ball Signo RT UM-138, which is a gorgeous fine tipped pen, with many of the same properties and (I think) a more handsome design. True, no springy clip, but I have not yet evidenced need for a springy-clip pen in my life to this point, so for my money, I'll stick with the Uni-balls.

(Also impressive about the RT-138s is that one time I had an anesthesia record that I got pretty wet--got sprayed with saline or something. The ink barely smeared. I have rubbed my writing with a latex glove bare seconds after laying down the line, and nary a smudge. That's a good hospital pen, friends.)

OK, one last review: the Pentel Sliccies Gel Ink Multi-Pen

Again, a multi-pen with 0.4mm tip, only the Pentel multi holds two cartridges, not three. The barrel is clear plastic, nothing fancy that you'd use to sign the Declaration of Independence or anything, but cheap enough that you wouldn't cry if you lost it. Easy to use, a large range of colors (in the blue spectrum we have blue, blue black, sky blue, and milk blue...yes, I said milk blue). One benefit of the Sliccies over the Hi-Tec-C is that the ink supply seems a little wetter somehow, which I like--makes the pen glide over the paper easier. However, again, the ink cartridge is small (probably a commonality among most multi-pens, just for mechanical reasons) so I'd be worried about running out of ink constantly. I guess I'm just not a multi-pen kind of person.

Oh, and unrelated to Jet Pens, I got a few of these guys yesterday:

(It's the Pilot Precise V7 RT, in case you don't have your bifocals on.)

I usually don't like writing in a 0.7mm tip, because I prefer a more precise line and anything too thick tends to blob up on me. But I had to write a letter to someone and I knew that if I used my standard 0.38mm pen (I have them in both the Uni-ball Signo RT UM-138 as well as the Pilot G2s, which you can find in 0.38mm at your regular big box office supply store if you look hard enough) then my writing would be too small. The Pilot Precise V7 RT really fit the bill. It's a fatter, wetter line, but great for scrawling larger notes, and makes signing your name feel awesome. The one caveat with this pen is that it does tend to smudge and bleed quite a bit on the wrong kind of paper, or if your writing gets wet, so perhaps more for your correspondence than for writing in the hospital.

I should get a show on NPR where I just talk about pens. And then I could squawk at my co-host in an abrasive Boston accent and make corny Dad-jokes. Oh wait, that's "Car Talk." Still, if anyone has a programming slot on their local public radio station, call me. As demonstrated, I can talk about pens for a long time.

(Idle aside: my dream--and I think it's a stretch, though not impossible--is to be invited to be a guest on "Jordan, Jesse, Go!" Yes, now you know that my self-professed life's goal is to be featured as a one-time guest on a marginally well-known niche comedy podcast. I REACH FOR THE STARS.)


  1. Monkey4:59 PM

    I feel like I have an obligation to tell you that if you got to this week's Staples ad, you can print out a coupon to get a pack of 5 or 6 Pilot G2s for only $3. The 0.38mm was available at my Union Square Staples (I'm a NYer :)). Excellent pens.

  2. Monkey5:01 PM

    Oh it's me again. Even though I'm freaking 30 and no long go to school, I still enjoy Back to School office supplies sales and deals that stores have. Last week I scored a pack of rainbow highlighters for 19cents at Walgreens. It's not that I'm poor, but it feels great getting a deal and as a pen lover, it sure comes in handy

  3. I heart Jordan Jesse Go. And the Sarasa Zebra.

  4. Michelle, you know what would be awesome? If you posted "swatches" of samples of your writing using the various pens you've reviewed. That would entirely make my day. That said, I've already started shamelessly adding items to my cart @ jet pens. :]

  5. I like the Uni-ball Jetstream ballpoint pen - writes like a dream.

  6. Thanks so much for the pen reviews! I only use pencils usually, but I'm buying pens like a fiend in preparation for needing to chart at med school this year... since I hate writing in pen it's a huge help to hear what works the best for you!

  7. sarah9:46 PM

    Important Uniball Signo questions (background: peds intern, coming off NICU rotation). I had two problems - one, I found that the top/clip portion would loosen and rotate such that I had to re-align it a few times a day. Also, I felt like they ran out of ink pretty quickly (although, granted, I was in the NICU, and so the level of DATA ROBOT numbers I had to collect and write down all eensy-weensy was higher than, say, on the floors). What are your thoughts? Have you solved these problems or am I just a pen-stupe? Definitely the best pen I have used so far, barring these issues.

  8. The last own you mentioned - the retractable Pilot precise- it comes in a .5mm tip as well and is almost the perfect non-imported pen. It writes more smoothly than a G5 or G38, although it can be a little smudgy and rates poorly on the drop factor. Our (ER) charts are carbon-copy, and it writes nicely on the funny thin paper & presses hard enough to copy through to the third sheet.

  9. Yeah, I have that clip problem with the Uniball Signo as well--not sure why the clip is not just glued in. You are right, it's a little annoying, but my love of the unique lavender-black ink (not too purple, not too black) allows me to overlook this flaw in design.

    I felt like the ink supply lasted a pretty long time, at least with the 0.38mm pen, but granted I am not doing quite as much writing as I was as a Peds resident, where my ability to write teeny tiny labs in a million one inch by one inch rectangles was unparalleled.

  10. Anonymous4:30 PM

    Monkey, thanks for the tip on the Back to School sale! Michelle's last post inspired me to try some new pens and I fell in love with the G2. Not only did I stock up, I dragged my sister in there as well to fill up on the "limit 2 per person". I think I'm set for a little while.

  11. I cannot thank you enough for these pen reviews! I have loved pens (and all office supplies) since I was 7 years old. At 64 now, that's a lotta years! No one in my real life shares or really even knows of this obsession, so it's really good that you are out there! Write on.

  12. Man, I must missing out on the whole pen worship thing. here I thought I was grooving along with my stash of Zyvox pens I acquired from the really cute pharmicist.

  13. Anonymous11:33 AM

    I'd like to put in a plug for Office Max TUL pens. Best. pen. ever.

  14. 1. I HATE how the G2s skip after they get dropped! 2. I acquired a Sarasa Zebra recently by accident (I did an eval for a med student, our pens must have gotten switched, I tried to give it back, but she thought it must have been mine, so I took it and didn't look back), and it was awesome. I plan to buy refills now that I've used it all up. 3. If you want a pen show, check with your local cable access station... my sister and her friend used to do a weekly show about literally nothing, just because they could, for free.

  15. Anonymous11:27 AM

    have you tried the officemax tul pens? they are awesome. i am curious how they compare to the ones you have tried. i am always on a quest for the perfect pen. please, please, review them too! :)

  16. I love the .05mm extra fine tip G2 pens, but they don't seem to come in any fun colors! Only blue and black. Am I missing something?

  17. So glad to know that I am not the only person with a pen fetish. Love your blog.

  18. Vanessa6:05 PM

    Totally unrelated, but I thought you might enjoy this ;) It reminded me of your comics.

  19. hi michelle, i've been a fan of your comics for years and recently re-discovered your online blog. :)

    i just started intern year in june (and will be going into anesthesia after my prelim year is done - can't wait!) and have been on the look out for some really good pens.

    i tried the uniball 0.38 in lavendar black that you recommended and loved it except for one thing - at the county hospital that i occasionally rotate at, everything is written out by hand, including orders, and i found that I was going through about a pen a day!! it lasts for maybe 2 days at the academic centers where there are electronic records..

    maybe it's just intern year? my guess is that I won't be writing nearly this much by hand once I'm in the OR...!

    In any case, thanks for the terrific reviews - I'm still on the look-out for a favorite pen, so appreciate your recs :)


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