A technophile lawyer rediscovers the joys of pen and paper

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Fine Point Face-Off! Pilot Hi-Tec C 0.25mm vs. Uniball Signo DX 0.28mm vs. Pentel Slicci 0.25mm


3/20/10: Greetings, The Pen Addict readers, and many thanks to The Pen Addict for the link! It provided quite the traffic spike to this young blog, making me feel somewhat like Navin R. Johnson felt like the first time he saw his name in the phone book (before things went sour). Some people who missed the link today will probably hit it tomorrow; after all, notebook and pen enthusiasts seem to me to be likely participants in today's National Day of Unplugging.


 On some forum or another a couple of weeks ago, I saw members setting forth their favorite fine-tip gel pens. The thread was started by a proponent of the Pilot Hi-Tec C. Pretty soon, people started chiming in, and it became clear that there were three pens vying for the title of best fine point gel pen: the Pilot Hi-Tec C 0.25mm, the Pentel Slicci 0.25mm, and the Uni-Ball Signo DX UM-151 0.28mm

I like fine tipped pens because I happen to write rather small, but I'd never written with pens with such fine tips before (to me, "fine" always meant 0.5mm), so I figured: why not include one of each in my first Jet Pens order and do a comparative review?  Well, here it is!

This is my first pen review, and I was surprised at just how much I have to say about these three. It used to be that a pen "felt good" or didn't, and that was about as far as my opinion went. This is my first stab at evaluating details, and you're likely to see my reviews evolve over time, as I find some characteristics to fade in importance and others to increase. Anyway, here goes. 

Here they are laid out next to each other:

Screen shot 2010-03-07 at 2.45.03 AM

First Impressions

The Hi-Tec and Signo DX are both a little shy of 6" capped, the Slicci a little bit shorter. The Slicci is noticeably thinner, and its ink tube is not only thinner but seemed to have a shorter line of ink in it, making me wonder if it would run out faster than either of the other pens. I won't be writing with it long enough to find out though, for reasons you'll read below. (The Signo DX ink line in the tube also looked shorter than in the Hi-Tec, but most of that is made up in how much further toward the capped end the tip of the Signo extends. The tip is noticeably to the right of the Hi-Tec C's tip in the photo.)


The Signo DX is the only one of the three to offer a cushioned grip, which would be nice, if it helped me. But I find that I grip my pens too close to the tip for most cushioned grips to do me much good (i.e. I grip the pen at least partially below the cushion), and the Signo DX was no different in this regard.

Screen shot 2010-03-06 at 4.15.35 PMWriting grip makes cushions less than effective

Still, the Signo DX was the most comfortable of the three to grip because the cushion made for a wider barrel than either of the other two. The Slicci was the least comfortable to hold. It's so thin, it felt like I was writing with a Tootsie Pop stick. Somehow, this caused me to try to grip it tighter. I can see myself cramping my hand or at least getting very fatigued if I tried to write with the Slicci for an extended period.   The Hi-Tec C was just there, not particularly comfortable or uncomfortable, but the ridges in the plastic that serve as a grip strike me as unnecessary.

"Comfort" is a relative term when it comes to writing with these three pens, because the sad fact is that I didn't like the feel of any of them. The only pen I can see myself using much in the future (and that's pretty much just so it won't go to waste) is the Signo DX, and then only with certain papers. 

I tried each of these pens out on six different papers: 20-lb. multi-purpose paper from Office Depot, a Tops Docket Gold legal pad, a large Piccaddilly notebook, an extra-large Moleskine Cahier, an A4 squared Whitelines, and a staple-bound, French-ruled Clairefontaine. With few exceptions, the writing felt exceptionally scratchy. The upstrokes felt like I was etching the paper rather than writing on it, and made a lot of noise. I kept thinking that the tip was better suited to etch serial numbers on diamonds than to write in my notebooks. Admittedly, however, this could be due as much or more to my heavy hand as to the mechanics of the pen tip.

The Slicci was the worst in this regard. Maybe my stronger grip on this then pen also translated unconsciously into greater application of pressure to the paper. I'm not sure. All I know is that even on the 90 gsm Clairefontaine paper, it was scratchy.  The Hi-Tec C was not much better on most papers. The only pen and paper combinations I could see using over the long haul were the Signo DX on either the Clairefontaine or the Moleskine. (I know, I know, everyone says Moleskine paper is terrible, but what can I tell ya, I felt what I felt, and the Signo DX wrote much more smoothly in the Mole than in the Piccadilly.)

I don't know if the slightly smoother feel of the Signo DX is due to the extra 3/100ths of a millimeter in the width of its tip, the quality of the ink, or even the fact that the Signo DX had blue-black ink instead of blue ink like the other two. It did, however, provide a noticeably smoother delivery of ink than the other two.

I find it interesting how my evaluation differs from others. Office Supply Geek found the 0.25mm Hi-Tec C to write "smoothly." Pen Addict liked the Hi-Tec, but didn't comment on the smoothness of the writing. He did, however, note that the 0.28mm Signo DX was "scratchier" than the slightly wider-tipped 0.38mm version. On the other hand, he thought the 0.25mm Slicci has the "smooth writing ability" of its 0.5mm model. Something Random noted that even the 0.38mm Signo DX was difficult to write quickly with if you're used to a 0.7mm pen.


It would be unfair form me to downgrade these pens on performance just because they're not well-suited for what I do. I have to give them uniformly good grades for doing what they are supposed to do: write a clear, consistent, and really, really thin line.

Screen shot 2010-03-06 at 4.12.13 PM

It's obvious from the above photo that the pens would write a thin line. However, due to the scratchy feeling of writing with the pens, it felt like the ink flow would be less than consistent. I won't bore you with an extended writing sample, but here's a one-line comparison of the line left by each pen in a Moleskine Cahier, showing a very consistent line from all three:


I found the color from the Signo DX to be most pleasing, but it's not a fair comparison. It is a blue-black, while the others are straight blues.

Now, a comment on feathering and bleeding seems almost obligatory in a pen review, but I'll not bother here. If these inks feather or bleed at all, it's in proportion to the width of the lines they lay down. That not only makes it invisible to the naked eye, it probably requires a microscope instead of a loupe to see it.

Finally, I was pleased that, contrary to my expectations, writing with these fine tips did not cause indentations  that showed through to the other side of any paper in the tests. I thought that the extremely fine tip on these would leave deep impressions, but I'm beginning to think that I eased up on the pressure in response to the scratchiness, and thus caused less of an impression than I get with my extremely smooth 0.50mm Ohto Orca ceramic rollerball (which I should be reviewing in about a week).

Suitability for Attorneys

Here's where the review gets most personal. Though these pens are good at doing what they're supposed to do, they're no good for what I need to do.

As a litigation attorney, my handwriting is usually one of three things: editing a draft document, writing down notes (from research, a meeting, or a phone call), and signing things. I didn't find any of these pens very suitable for any of these.

First, the obvious. For signing a document, you want a bold line. My signature doesn't take up half the page like the signatures of many attorneys -- all the more reason that the line has to be bold. You need to be able to see whether or not I've signed something, and the line laid down by these pens is so thin that the existence of my signature, which is quite small, may require a double take.

Second, for the same reasons, I don't find these pens good for marking up drafts. My assistant needs to be able to see where I have marked up a document, and these lines don't jump out from the page, at least not in these hues, (Pen Hunter tested many more colors and said that they "stand out on the page" even in the 0.25 tip width.) They actually jump out much more clearly in this photograph than they do when the actual page is in front of you. So, I've added a reference notation from a Platinum Preppy fountain pen with fine nib:


By now, you're probably thinking I must be half blind because of the difficulty I have seeing these lines. But trust me, they are much more visible in the photo than they are when looking at the original marked-up page.

Third, these pens are unsuitable for my general notetaking because of the audible scratchiness I noted above. I can even envision the noise from the scratching being a distraction to others in a meeting or at the library.

For other kinds of attorneys -- patent attorneys, perhaps, who may need to annotate detailed schematic drawings -- these thin writers may fit the bill quite nicely.

My use will probably be limited to using the Signo DX for my GTD weekly reviews, since I'll be doing those in the Cahier and the Signo DX/Cahier combination provided the smoothest feel. The Slicci and Hi-Tec C will be going in a pen cup in the firm's file room.

Bottom Line

These pens are great fine-line performers, but take more getting used to than I'm likely to be able to accomplish. If a thin line is your main need and you don't mind the audible scratchiness of the fine tip (or have a light hand that mitigates it), these ought to be right up your alley.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review. Very useful for me, as I am having a dilemma whether to use bold or fine point.