A technophile lawyer rediscovers the joys of pen and paper

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Review: Diamine Maroon Ink

Just a few strokes into writing with this ink, I was already thinking, Maroon? Really? This just isn't what I think of as maroon, but maybe I don't have a good understanding of what maroon is. I expected it to be more of a burgundy color, but to my eye, this ink is more of a grayish-red. The color was somewhat unexpected.

If i was you, I'd trust that verbal description of the ink more than I'd trust my pictures. I did my best to adjust these scans so the color matched what I see on the paper, but I just cannot seem to get the hang of photographing or scanning ink colors correctly.

At work, I would probably use this ink only for editing. It's a little too red for me to favor for correspondence or notes, and I wouldn't sign anything with it. That's just me.

Otherwise, writing with this ink was pleasant. It seemed well-lubricated, neither particularly wet nor particularly dry. Flow seemed fine but, like several inks I've tried, it skipped severely with italic nibs on Rhodia paper.

On fountain-pen friendly paper like the Rhodia pad, the shading is significant in all nib sizes.

Diamine Maroon on Rhodia Paper
Diamine Maroon on Rhodia paper

On the Levenger wire-bound notebook paper, which is a little more absorbent, there was still a good deal of shading.

Diamine Maroon on Levenger Wire-Bound Notebook Paper
Diamine Maroon on Levenger wire-bound notebook paper

On the Tops Docket Gold yellow pad, the most absorbent of the three, the shading was far less. Then again, that's not really something I worry about when taking notes.

Diamine Maroon on Tops Docket Gold Legal Pad
Diamine Maroon on Tops Docket Gold legal pad

One feature of the ink that is undeniably cool (and I can capture in a scan regardless of whether I get the color right -- yay!) is that it tends to outline the strokes. Look at that close-up, and you'll see what I mean. It's like someone took an ultra-fine tip and a darker ink and outlined the writing. If I can find this quality in a color I like more, I will have found a winner!

Outliining Characteristics of Diamine Maroon Ink
Outlining of Diamine Maroon ink on Rhodia paper

Having tried this ink on three papers, I think I can see it does not bleed or feather much. Like most inks I've tried, it did not bleed or feather on the Rhodia pad at all (on which almost nothing does, which is why I tried more papers), but even on the more absorbent Levenger paper, through which some inks do bleed, there was no bleeding or feathering at all. I was writing some notes for court the other day and got halfway down the backside of a sheet before I realized I even was writing on the back side. What a pleasant experience, given the bleeding Levenger papers I have tried before (circa and a grid pad)!  Even the show-through was very, very light (photo). Only on the Tops Docket Gold legal pad did the ink bleed significantly (photo), but it didn't feather even there.

An overall nice ink with a shade that isn't quite my cup of tea.  If I could get used to the color, though, I'd love to use this for correspondence because of the outlining behavior.

Flickr photo set here.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

I love it when a pen comes together! *

I enjoyed two successful solutions this week to pen problems I noted in my last two posts. One success from pure luck, the other from excellent customer service.

First, the lucky one. In my review of the TWSBI Diamond 530 medium nib fountain pen, I complained that the nib just didn't seem to write as smoothly as all the reviewers said it should. I was on my third ink through the pen -- Private Reserve Midnight Blues -- still finding it to be a little dry/waxy feeling when, in the middle of writing, I heard a little "click" and saw a small metal shaving, covered with ink, left on the paper. The nib immediately felt smoother, which makes me think that the shaving was somehow lodged between the tines, blocking the ink flow and making the nib write drier than it should. Or maybe the shaving was already sitting there on the paper, I just ran over it, and I'm imagining the increased smoothness. Whichever the case, I'm now pleased as punch with the smoothness of the nib, and urge you not to let my initial dissatisfaction influence you away from getting a Diamond 530.

Now, for the success resulting from customer service. In my last post, I told you how disappointed I was in the extremely scratchy 2668 (firm medium) nib that came on my first-ever Esterbrook J. The seller happily accommodated my request for another nib, and the new 2668 nib indeed writes very smoothly, validating all the raving I read about the smoothness of Estie nibs. Can't wait to try a 9000 series nib!
* Borrowing (and slightly modifying) Hannibal Smith's signature line.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

So I bought my first Estie . . . (Updated)

My first Estie

Hadn't seen an Esterbrook in this finish before, it is fully restored, and there were few bidders, so I jumped on it for just $23. It's a beautiful pen.

I hate it.

So far.

I realize I didn't go top-of-the-line with a 2668 nib (firm medium), but geez, these thing is so scratchy I half expect it to cut right through the paper!

I know that the 2668 has no hard metal added to the tip of the nib and has the tines rolled under instead. Can these be made to write smoothly? Or am I going to have to fork out some dough for a 9000 series nib?

Until I find out otherwise, I'm going to assume the nib tines are misaligned. At least I hope they are. I hate to think this is the normal feel to this nib.

I know I've got that loupe around here somewhere . . . .

Update: I looked at the nib under a magnifying glass and could find nothing obviously wrong with it. Nonetheless, I asked the seller for a replacement nib, and . . . problem solved!


Friday, November 12, 2010

Are diamonds a fountain pen lover's best friend? Review of the TWSBI Diamond 530 fountain pen with medium nib (UPDATED: now with fewer typos!)

From what I can gather, TWSBI pens — or, at least the Diamond 530 — are manufactured in Taiwan according to designs from The Fountain Pen Network and are available in the US only on eBay. I heard about TWSBI some time ago but did not see any on eBay for quite a while, so when I finally saw the Diamond 530 available, I bit — and that was before I found out that the Diamond 530 won by a mile in Goldspot's Pen of the Year 2010 poll.

TWSBI Diamond 530 Fountain Pen

So, I had high expectations for this pen. Sure enough, I love most everything about it. Contrarian that I am, though, the one thing I was not impressed with was the quality it seems to be best known for. You'll have to read on to see what I'm talking about.

First Impressions

The packaging is nothing luxurious (see the photos at eBay), but holds some pleasant surprises: namely, a small bottle of silicone grease (to apply to the piston and/or threads for water-tightness) and a wrench in case you want to disassemble the pen fully. Since I'm an engineer by education (but not profession), I couldn't resist taking it apart right away.

Having done so, I have a bit of advice for you should you decide to do the same: go slowly and be careful. I almost couldn't get it back together again. I kept getting a gap between the barrel and the knob one twists to move the piston. I'm pretty sure I only got it on right, eventually, by accident. (Some engineer, eh?)

Even though I took the pen part, I did not apply any silicone grease, because the piston appeared to have a healthy coat of it already.

I like the thoughtfulness that went into providing these little extras.

Design Aesthetics

TWSBI Diamond 530 Fountain Pen - the "jewel effect"
The "jewel effect" with
Diamine Chine Blue ink
What gives? There are no diamonds on the Diamond 530! Then again, it's $39.99. You can't even expect diamond chips at that price..

The one feature that made me somewhat reluctant to buy this piston-filler is that it's a demonstrator (a clear pen that allows you to see the internal operation). Demonstrators never appealed to me very much. To me, a big part of the beauty of any pen is its finish. Clear plastic just didn't do it for me.

Turns out to be one of the things I like best about the pen! I wouldn't want a whole pen chest full of demonstrators, but my inner geek really enjoys being able to see the workings in this pen.

In fact, this pen is more attractive because it is a demonstrator, The barrel is faceted, so as the ink runs down a little and lets the light through, it gives the pen a jewel effect that is quite striking.

On the flip side, I find that the material on the pen tends to show smudges from fingerprints quite readily. So, while the "jewel effect" is nice, it can be somewhat dulled by fingerprints.

TWSBI Diamond 530 Fountain Pen
Until you fill the pen with ink, the only splash of color on the pen is the red button with the TWSBI logo on the top of the cap. Everything else is very understated. The TWSBI and Diamond 530 lettering on the cap ring are barely noticeable, and the clip is very plain.

The steel nib is engraved with the TWSBI logo but is not otherwise distinctive.

One unattractive feature, but not overwhelming, is the smoky color of the top of the cap. I don;t know why TWSBI went with a smoke color there, but to me it detracts from the looks of the pen. Perhaps it serves sme function, like preventing the nib from drying out, or maybe just an aesthetic function of hiding ink drops on the inside.

Design Features

I am very, very impressed by the piston filling mechanism in this pen. It is incredibly smooth. The twist knob moves very easily and with precision. It's much smoother than the mechanism on my Noodler's Ink Piston Filler and my Lamy 2000. In fact, it's so easy to turn the knob that you can do so accidentally if you try posting the cap.

Flushing the pen between inks is very easy. First, since it is s clear demonstrator, you can see into the pen to see when the flush is complete. Second, I didn't even notice how many times I had to cycle the mechanism to get the reservoir clear, because it was so easy. When I'm flushing my Noodler's or Lamy 2000, flushing is a pain because the mechanism is so much stiffer, and I end up counting the number of times I cycle the piston with different inks.

The cap is threaded and requires nearly 1-1/2 revolutions to remove. That's slightly more than my other threaded-cap pens require.

If you remove the section when flushing the pen, be very careful to watch that you don't lose the o-ring that fits between them. It's quite flexible and its very easy to accidentally move it down the section so it's outside the pen when you've reassembled it.

Writing Experience

TWSBI Diamond 530 Fountain Pen - Giant when posted!
Tall and top-heavy!
The nib is steel and quite rigid. Flex lovers need not apply.

The one downer is the one thing everyone else seems to love about this pen: the smoothness of the nib. Like one guy said at FPN about the smoothness of the nib: "Not bad, but nothing special." (Then again, maybe he was jaded by the other problems he had.) But I find the pen to have a somewhat waxy feel to it. (Of all my pens, my Waterman Harley-Davidson Freewheel Flames with medium nib — less than $18 at Overstock.com — remains my smoothest writer!)

Of course, that might be due to the ink. I've only tried Caran D'Ache Storm (which I find to be somewhat dry in any event) and just inked it with Diamine China Blue today, which seems to make for a slightly smoother feel.

I'm going to try one or two more inks in the pen to see if it smooths out at all. If not, I will consider exchanging it for another, because this does not seem to be the norm.

The cap posts, but the barrel only inserts a small way. That makes for a long and top-heavy pen when posted, so I write unposted with it.

Here's where those facets on the barrel have another nice effect: they keep the pen from rolling if you have to set it down unposted. That's probably not the intent of the design, but it's a nice side benefit, especially considering the cap is threaded. This way, you don't have to recap the pen to keep it from rolling away every time you set it down.


Overall, this is a nice pen and good value. The piston mechanism is absolutely fantastic. And I may learn to live with the nib. To the extent it's not just me, I apparently have the odd apple here.

Other reviews

Pocket Blonde
The Dizzy Pen
Fountain Pen Network 1
Fountain Pen Network 2

Update: If I had a proofreader, I'd fire him. My apologies if you got to this post before I fixed it!

Update #2: I'm happy to report that the nib problem smoothed itself out, so to speak!


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Eco-mania: Are fountain pens as eco-friendly as aficionados claim?

This post was triggered by Heather's recent self-labeled "rant" at A Penchant for Paper, in which she took issue with the "green" claims made for a pen made of recycled water bottles.  She urged persons concerned about the environment to use fountain pens, pencils (especially those made of recycled materials), or pens made with biodegradable plastics. While I don't agree with everything in her post, I agree wholeheartedly most of her final paragraph:

Don't be sucked into buying an item (a pen or anything else) just because the manufacturer has labelled it as "green."  If the environment is that important to you (and I hope it is!), think carefully before you buy and remember that the old fountain pen and ink may still be the best option.
Like Heather, I'll ask you to excuse me if this post likewise turns into a bit of a rant.

Let's start with this: I do not use fountain pens because they are eco-friendly, and I do not know if they are or not. What bothers me is blind acceptance of "green" claims.

Here's the problem: nobody thinks about trade-offs. There are trade-offs for everything. Everything. Ev... er...y...thing. (Including the options Heather advocates.) That's what engineering is about, folks. Compromise. I may have barely passed in my electrical engineering major, but I learned that much.

Let's say an engineer is trying to build a better widget by giving it more tensile strength. No engineer can just think, "How do I design more tensile strength into this widget?" Instead the engineer has to ask, "How do I design more tensile strength into this widget without unacceptably increasing manufacturing costs, reducing other good qualities, or introducing or increasing bad ones?" Maybe you can increase tensile strength quite easily, but at exorbitant cost in money or at the cost of losing flexibility, which you also need, or at the cost of increasing undesirable qualities like size, weight, or susceptibility to corrosion.

Trade-offs. If we didn't have them, we could design a perpetual motion machine.

So, let's take a closer look at the eco-friendliness of fountain pens.

The good: 

Re-usable. Re-fillable. Non-disposable. (I guess those are all the same thing.) I think that's about it.

The bad: 

Water. You need water to flush them between inks. With some pens (I'm thinking piston fillers), quite a bit of water. And I live in California, so huge amounts of energy are used to get that water to me. 

Metal. Famously anti-green mining activity was required to make at least part of each of my pens. Even if the barrel isn't brass, that steel or gold nib didn't just pop up out of a dispenser. In fact, if it's steel, it required a steel plant to form the steel after the iron was mined. And if your barrel is brass, then odds are the copper for it came from an open-pit mine, a huge scar in the earth.

Plastic. Use cartridges or a plastic converter? There's a 99% chance the plastic was synthesized from oil. 

Multiplicity. Lots of fountain pen users like to collect them. Real eco-friendliness would mean owning one pen. Count me among those who own several and will buy more. (On the other hand, this desire to acquire and own is the same thing that keeps us from throwing them out, so that's good.)

I'm not saying that fountain pens are NOT eco-friendly. I have no idea whether they are or not. I'm just saying we shouldn't assume they're eco-friendly just because they're refillable.

In fact, I'd love to hear from others about any eco-friendly facts I missed.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

An untimely review? Levenger Full-Page Grid Pads (Junior size)

I say "untimely" because even though I just bought a three-pack of these pads from the Levenger Outlet on eBay, I can't seem to find them on the Levenger website, leading me to believe they are no longer offered. But, since I've already been trying out these pads for a few days and putting them through the wringer for a review, why let a little thing like the fact they're discontinued get in the way?

Levenger Annotation
1/4 grid ruling
Junior Size
Besides, I'm pretty sure that Levenger paper in its pads, notebooks, and Circa refills is all the same — or supposed to be all the same, with the only difference being the ruling.

That difference is a big one, though, especially when it comes to pads in junior size, which is only 5 inches wide. (The pad is 8 inches long, but each sheet is only 5 x 7.5 inches once torn from the pad.)

The only ruling I can find in junior size pads on the Levenger site at the moment are annotation-ruled, which leaves a blank column running down the left side of the paper so you can annotate notes taken in the ruled portion of the pad. (See picture at right for the annotated ruling version of the grip pad.) To my mind, that leaves too little real estate to be of much use.

Levenger Full Page Grid Pad - Junior

The pads I bought extend that grid to the left, so you end up with a sheet that has grid ruling over its entire surface except for the header boxes at the top 1-1/4 inches and very slender 1/4-inch margins on the sides and bottom of the grid area, which measures 6 x 4.5 inches.

You may be wondering why I bought these pads given how I panned the Circa refill paper just a few weeks ago, which is supposed to be the same weight, smoothness, etc. There are two reasons: (1) I wanted some heavy paper that I could punch and place in my Circa junior-sized notebook in order to keep relevant notes near their corresponding dates and/or tasks (and without having to trim the paper); and (2) the deal from the Levenger Outlet was good enough that I wouldn't have been too bummed out if the paper was terrible.

Turns out there are quite a few things I like about this notepad.

The paper indeed feels heavy ("substantial," Levenger often calls it) and quite smooth. I love that it does not feel flimsy once pulled off the pad, and therefore feels almost as pleasant to write on when a single sheet is on a hard surface as when writing on the pad. Writing was pleasurably smooth with all the pens I tried — rollerball, gel, and fountain.

Bleed-through of the Levenger Grid pad
Hey, who's worried about
a little bleed-through?
Booker, you're thinking, you're crazy. That's the same paper you were complaining about just a few weeks ago when it came in Circa refills. But I don't think I complained about the sturdy feel and smoothness of the Circa paper, only the bleeding and feathering, neither of which bother me when using the pad as opposed to paper in my Circa. With the Circa paper, I needed to be able to write on both sides, so the bleed-through wasn't acceptable. But I only need to write on one side of this note paper. I want to jot down a few notes from a phone call or short meeting, tear off the sheet, punch it, and put it in my Circa notebook so I can keep the notes close to their corresponding appointment or task (I'm trying to use Circa to implement Getting Things Done — my variant of it, anyway.)

Fountain Pen Ink feathering in Levenger Grid Pad
The feathering is mild and varies by ink.
The overall effect is that the lines simply
look wider than they should, rather than feathered.

Is the paper too absorbent? For fountain pen purists, you bet it is. But despite bad bleed-through with fountain pen ink, feathering with fountain pen ink was very mild — the effect of the paper is more to widen the line of the ink rather than actually feather it. Plus, there's a benefit to that absorbency: fountain pen ink dries very, very quickly, so there's little to no smudging even when handling the paper immediately after finishing up my note. (Opinions on the fountain pen-friendliness of Levenger paper are all across the board, leading me to believe Levenger must not consistently use the same vendor all the time, so your mileage may vary.)

Besides, who uses fountain pens all the time? The rollerball and gel pens I tried did not bleed or feather at all and wrote very smoothly.
Crisp, clear rollerball and gel inks on Levenger Grid Pad
Crisp, clean lines with gel and rollerball inks. Top to bottom: Pilot G-Knock 0.38 mm. gel pen (blue);
Morning Glory Mach Pen II rollerball (red); Pilot Multi-Ball Permanent Marker (blue);
Zebra Sarasa Clip 0.4 mm gel pen. 

There was one other big difference between fountain pen inks and the others. Take a look at the close-up pictures again. See the difference yet? The gray ruling seems to repel the fountain pen ink. Look closely and you'll see that the rollerball and gel inks wrote over the gray lines, but the gray lines show right through the fountain pen writing. It's an odd effect when using a fountain pen, and noticeable enough to be distracting initially, but I got used to it.

Finally, I really like the size of the ruling. The 1/4-inch spacing of the grid lines is very comfortable for my natural writing size. If, like me, you find the 5mm grid spacing in Rhodia and other European pads to be too small to write on each line and too big to write every other line, you may like the spacing on these Levenger pads.

At first, I thought the pad could be improved by making it longer and wider so a torn-out sheet would match the junior size Circa paper (which is 8.5 x 5.5 inches), but after a few days of use, I discovered that I preferred my inserted notes to be on slightly smaller paper than the preprinted calendar and notes sheets in my notebook. It makes them stand out better, reminding me I have something to act on.

Could the pad be improved? Of course.

Less obtrusive ruling would be a big plus. I love the spacing, but the lines are a little thicker and darker than they should be. A paler gray would be nice, and thinner lines would minimize that fountain ink repellent effect I described earlier.

And it could be friendlier with fountain pens, surely.

Bottom line: I wouldn't want this quality of paper in a full-size pad or notebook for extended writing or for any application that required writing on both sides. But the writing experience is so pleasurable, and the negative effects of the paper so minimal considering the use I make of it, that I like this pad quite a bit, and would buy more . . . if Levenger carried them.


Pen vs. Macbook

I've been thinking lately about how I have been reducing technological intrusions in my life and concentrating better by sticking to pen and paper at times, when, via Inkophile, I came across this hilarious piece at TechCrunch: NSFW: Yep, Montblanc Killed my MacBook Pro Today. Definitely worth checking out. And while you're there, take a look at the permalink URL. All in good fun!


Monday, November 1, 2010

Platinum Plaisir Giveaway Winner

Congrats to winner Doug D., winner in my latest cheap ploy for new readers giveaway.

Several commenters congratulated me for an honest review that didn't sugar-coat my view of the product.  I have two things to say in response.

First, to the extent I did not like the writing experience, I chalk it up to getting the odd bad pen. I love the Preppies I own, which appear to have identical nibs, so I don't know why the Plaisir wrote so much squeakier.

Second, if you like honest reviews, stick around. I've got a bone or two to pick with Pelikan: Newbie pen and paper blogger takes on revered German pen maker. Film at 11!

Thanks to all who entered. Don't be strangers!