How I Choose My Next Pen

I had my dream job for a couple of years back in the early 80’s. The office supplies buyer for a big company. That role has gone the way of big discounts with major chains but back in the day there was a fair amount of negotiations, product comparisons and competition going on and I loved it. Where I got a little sideways was probably my overzealous testing of writing instruments that we paid $.72 a dozen for, I will never forget the winning product that won based solely on price, those pens were awful and they are still sold today (Could they really be that awful then?). If we were going to buy cheap pens I wanted them to at least write good. They didn’t, and it just wasn’t a priority to the organization as a whole. I reluctantly bought into the rationale that most of the pens would have been lost, walked home or broke before they ran out of ink. In the end they proved adequate and we bought container loads of them. Another part of my job was questioning the justification of requests for higher quality pens on smaller purchase scales, we just called them “specials”. Yes I was THAT GUY that told the office admin that the company was not going to spend the money for G2’s, Uni-balls or GASP Cross pens, even for retirement gifts. I was a good corporate soldier and bought the pens I wanted to write with using my own money and even tucked my tail when a corporate exec would come over the top of the organization and demand a better writing experience at the company’s expense. Memorable times.

During that period, and still to this day, my subjective testing criteria for a pen has been fundamentally the same. I want them to lay down a solid line of ink with minimal pressure on the tip and be comfortable to hold. Nice aesthetics, as a purchase criteria, didn’t land on my checklist until many years later.

Today the writing part is pretty easy to attain as the technology has improved a lot with even cheap disposable pens from the major brands and many of the private label offerings, I still love the Staples Sonix product. Where my tastes have expanded over the years is in the aesthetics area and the source of the pen.

When I can try a pen here are my bulletized criteria. The showstoppers for me are:

  • Does the ink flow skip?
  • Does the pen require a lot pressure to get a saturated line of ink on the page?
  • Does it leak?
  • Does it start as soon as I place the tip to the paper?
  • Is the pen body and section slippery to hold?
  • Does the cap go on and off easily and have good retention while on the pen

When none of the above are issues then it gets even more subjective and I may have more leniency in these areas:

  • Do I just like the looks?
  • Is it a brand I have never tried before?
  • Is the maker somebody I like and respect or just starting out and could use the support?
  • Is it a limited edition that I am FOMO’ing over?
  • Is this a new model for the maker/brand and I just want everything they make?
  • For fountain pens how easy is it to clean?

Size comes in to play for me when I’m shopping for an enjoyment pen. I think I have average size hands for a 6’ male. I have some minor arthritis so a large pen is more comfortable for me. Both in length and diameter.

You may notice an absence of any consideration given to a clip.  I don’t clip a pen to anything so unless the clip is just hideously ugly it rarely carries any weight for my choices.

Some of these questions are ignored when I’m buying a machined pen or similar that will take standardized refills because I know the writing portion can be fixed with a Parker, G2 or D1 type refill. Additionally a fountain pen that I really fall in love with may get a pass in the ink to paper area since that can be fixed with nib tuning if all the other characteristics of the pen grab my attention. Though I have lamented before I strongly dislike buying a brand new pen that has to be sent off for nib work.

The above lists have worked well for me and I don’t seeing it changing any time in the future. The pen is a pretty simple concept. A stick with an ink reservoir.

Anything else you consider when shopping for your next pen? Maybe I’m missing something.

Remember: Write something nice……

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Uni Style Fit Multi Pen Review

My opinion of multi-pens has not changed since I reviewed the Lamy multi-pen a little over a year ago. I still think they are good utility pens that fill a niche and frankly, I’m intrigued by the mechanics of them more so than just picking one up because I enjoy writing with it, that designation is usually left for my fountain pens.

What drew me to the Uni Style Fit, that I’m sharing with you today, is the lure of 5 colors in a single pen body, yes 5! The Uni Style takes the approach of building your own multi-pen with the refills you prefer. This initial cafeteria style purchase is unique and in the end may cost you a little more but you end up with no wasted colors or refills you don’t use. You don’t need 5? There are plenty of body styles for 3 and 4 colors as well.

  • Material: Aluminum
  • Length Overall: 5 7/8
  • Weight: 7.85g
  • Street Price: $17.25 with 5 gel refills

Here is a great Uni Style Fit guide that Jet Pens put together and gives a lot of detail on the options available.

The Uni Style uses the excellent Uniball Signo ink and you can get refills in ballpoint, gel or mechanical pencil. You can even mix and match or double up on your favorite blue! The only possible drawback I found was you are locked in to their refill system. They have some excellent choices and at less than $2 a refill I think they are fairly priced. I loaded up a Pink Meister 5 series with 5 colors of .5mm gel refills. Total cost: $17.50.

I’m a deployment guy when it comes to pens. I don’t want to spend a lot of time between when I pick up a pen to the time ink hits the paper. Mainly because at my age I may forget the thought! Pushbutton knock style remains my favorite for random quick notes but with a little thought in the refill placement (See insider tip below) the Uni-Style is pretty good and the typical slotted sliders at the tail end of the pen. They are all clear so you use a clear window in the body of the pen to see which color which slider pushes out the tip. There are four sliders and the clip acts as the fifth refill slider. Ingenious and though not the fastest color chooser here is your insider tip. You can strategically place the refills you use most often and then by memory you know sliding the clip gives you blue, for example. Retraction of the tip is like most others, just partially deploy another color and everything goes back inside safe and sound.

The sliding clip doesn’t instill the most confidence in its robustness if you are hard on traditional clips but it hasn’t broke on me yet so maybe I’m being over critical and just paranoid because the clip moves. Ramp is good and even with the construction it works like a pen clip should.

The only design element I can’t grasp is what looks like a knock pushbutton on the top of the pen. It looks conventional enough but not on a multi-pen. It even pushes down a little bit but doesn’t seem to do anything. Unsolved but unimportant.

(UPDATE:  The pushbutton that I couldn’t figure out is to advance lead when you’re using the mechanical pencil refill. Thanks Kelly!)

(UPDATE 2: Underneath the pushbutton is an eraser. Nice touch. Thanks Notebook Stories for the tip off!)

Conclusion

The Uni Style is a fat pen, coming in at over ½” in diameter. It’s holding 5 pens and when I look at the wall thickness of the body I don’t know how they could make the whole assembly any thinner. I like the girth but I understand it wouldn’t be for everyone. It does slightly taper down smaller near the clip end of the pen and the overall shape gives the pen kind of a torpedo look. The taper down to the nose is gradual and the ink window is a good size.

If you have a need or application for a multi-pen the Lamy 2000 is probably the dressier more dignified sibling with its Makrolon body and black look but at way less than half the price of the Lamy the Uni Style Fit is a better writer with the Signo ink, has 5 colors and you can build it yourself with a huge selection of option al refills and pen bodies.

Read the guide

Pick a Body

Decide your refills

Place your order

Remember: Write something nice……

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Sunderland MK1 Pen Review

I own a lot of machined pens, it’s hard for makers to deliver something really different when you’re dealing with a turned tube of material that has to hold a popular standard size refill. The differences usually come in design, grips and tip retraction. I tried one out recently that pushes a few design limits with good results.  My good friend Matthew over at www.nibandink.com entrusted me with one of his favorites, the Sunderland MK1. If you don’t follow him you should @heymatthew .

The Pen

  • Anodized Aluminum
  • Available in a variety of colors and a nickel finish
  • Standard G2 Size Refills or threaded Montblanc rollerball and fineliner cartridges
  • Length Capped: 5.2”
  • Length Uncapped: 4.9”
  • Length Posted: 5.8”
  • Weight: 23 g with G2 Refill
  • Price: $80

Overall Appearance

The Sunderland is a two piece body and cap style pen with a matching finishing on both pieces. The Clip is from a solid block of stainless steel and the brushed finish is a nice looking contrast to the rest of the pen.

The body has a taper about half way down that turns the barrel to a smaller diameter to allow the cap to post. The look is different, I like the overall aesthetic that this allows where the cap remains the same diameter as most of the body.

Ergonomics

The MK1 has good balance and the aluminum makes it light. The section has some rings around it that work good as reference points for your grip and even after a couple of pages I had no strain. Additionally no exposed threads, but more on that next.

Cap

The coolest part of the pen and the single element that just might make me add one to my collection is the cap threads. They are invisible. Ok maybe not invisible but hidden. At the top of the cap the Sunderland team has figure out how to threads that screw down over the writing tip into the body threads that, you guessed it, are hidden. It looks difficult to manufacturer and it works flawlessly. Impressive.

Clip

Beautifully executed clip and one of those that looks like you would destroy the rest of the pen before the clip fails. Made of a solid block of 17-4 stainless steel. The ramp is good and the grip is tight. The clip attachment is another area that Sunderland raises the bar on fit and finish with small design elements.

Refills

The Sunderland MK1 accepts the widely available G2 style refill or MontBlanc rollerball and fineliner cartridges.  There are internal threads in the section that accept the MontBlanc style threaded cartridges. I’m convinced the Sunderland team are thread geniuses!

Conclusion

This is not an inexpensive entry into the machined pen genre but it’s definitely a step up from many in terms of construction fit and finish. Many people like the minimalist aesthetic that is popular but the Sunderland takes a different approach by adding some panache and design elements that don’t interfere with it being a great writing experience as well.

The black on my loaner was stealthy enough to be mistaken for any number of modern high production cap pens, but the similarities end there. The cap threads are just cool, the clip and it’s attachment will make you say wow and if you like the G2 format, you’re all set.

Thanks again Matthew for the test drive.

Remember: Write something nice……

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