In 2013, while I was at a convention in Boston, I went into the FedEx at the convention centre to collect a package. As I was waiting in line my eye caught the Zebra G-301 pen on a rack near the till. I’d heard good things about the Zebra F-301, but it’s a ballpoint pen and I wasn’t a fan of those. The Zebra G-301 was a gel pen. In stainless-steel. For just a few bucks.
Of course I bought it.
Fast forward six (!) years and that same Zebra G-301, the exact same one, is still on my desk, and is still my daily workhorse pen in the office. Here’s how it looks now:
Impressive, right? The imprint is almost gone (mine didn’t have the Zebra logo etched into the clip, so it now looks like an unbranded pen), and the plastic grip is a little worn with use, but otherwise the pen looks practically brand new.
The pen costs $2.5 on JetPens. I’ve been using it for my daily to do list and for general planning and meeting notes every day for six years. It just shows that a pen doesn’t need to cost hundreds of dollars to be a good, solid workhorse that’s a joy to use.
Oh wait, I haven’t actually reviewed it yet…
The Zebra G-301 has a stainless steel body that is durable, gives it more heft than a plastic bodied pen, and yet isn’t too heavy to be uncomfortable to use or unwieldy. The plastic grip has no give, so if you like mushy grips it’s not for you. Otherwise it gets the job done. The branding is classy (one font, understated, sleek and modern), and well suited for office use. The pen is durable, and the click mechanism isn’t mushy and lasts for years.
The only possible downside of the Zebra G-301 is the refill. It’s proprietary, on the expensive side (a pack with two refills costs $1.90 on JetPens, almost as much as the pen), and they don’t last long if you write a lot with them (I get about 2 months out of each refill). I also only use the G-301 refills (theSteel JK 2 pack), so they come only in black or blue, and only in 0.7mm. JetPens also notes that the Zebra Sarsa JK refills fit the Zebra G-301, which come in 0.5 and also in green and red, but they cost a little more per refill. As I view the Zebra G-301 as an office use pen, I don’t mind the ink limitations.
I never thought when I picked up this pen back in 2013 as an impulse buy that I’ll be using it six years later. I like it so much that I bought a backup a few years ago, because I was sure a $2.5 pen wouldn’t last for long and I didn’t want to be stuck without it. The replacement is still in its blister pack, as you can see in the photos above, and the original G-301 is still going strong on my desk. I wonder if I’ve accidentally stumbled on the modern equivalent of the Esterbrook Dollar Pen.
The Zebra Sarasa Clip is an excellent gel ink pen, with a unique and well done clip design. I have a bunch of the black and blue black pens laying around at home and in the office, and although I prefer the Uniball Signo line of pens, I do use them and recommend them to people looking for an upgrade from the Pilot G2.
I don’t usually buy limited edition disposable pens because there has to be a limit, and I already own way too many pens. I can’t afford to start collecting all the Uniball and Zebra collaborations with various (usually animated) IPs. But sometimes Japanese makers manage to floor you with just how far they’ll go with their big-box, disposable pen lines, and the Zebra x Snoopy Sarasa clip line is that case. I just had to buy it once I saw it surface on JetPens.
This is the 4th (!) limited edition Zebra Sarasa Clip Peanuts limited edition, and it consists of two sets of 4 pens (each in a plastic, resealable pouch), plus three extra stand-alone pens (two black and one blue-black). The clips have a drawing on Woodstock on the top and Snoopy’s head near the Sarasa logo. Each pen body has an opaque drawing of Snoopy and Woodstock doing something together, and two of the pens (the orange, which is part of a set B, and one of the black pens, which is part of set A) are Halloween themed.
The pen body is still the usual Sarasa transparent body, which brings us to what made me do a double take:
The refills have Peanuts drawings on them.
Here’s a close up of the “Boo” black pen:
And here’s the blue “Saxophone” pen:
The green pen has the most transparent parts, and so shows it off the best:
This is so wild. You can barely see the refills from up close, not to mention from a distance, so Zebra totally did not need to do this. Regular refills would have worked just fine. Instead, this is what you get:
This is why I love Japanese stationery so much: the utterly unnecessary but charming attention to detail.
The Sarasa pens are excellent gel ink pens, and I like the colour choices in this set (especially the orange). I personally would have replaced the red in the set with a blue black, but red is a classic pen colour so I guess it would have been strange if it wasn’t there:
Sometimes you just want a pen that will make you smile when you pick it up, and Zebra has really delivered on that with these limited edition pens. For $12 a set and $3 a single these are a nice, not overly expensive pick-me-up. They aren’t available on JetPens anymore, but you can probably still find them on Etsy or eBay (or just wait for the 5th limited edition, which will surely show up eventually).
This week I celebrated two years of daily journaling. While I’ve been keeping journals for years, until the last two years I’ve only done so sporadically. Journaling was something that I did only when things got really rough, to keep myself going, or when I was travelling, to preserve the memories of my trip. I used pocket notebooks for my sporadic journals, as it was more important for me to capture things than to reflect on them. It was a utilitarian process, not an enjoyable one. I knew that once I decided to really start a journaling habit, that would have to change.
So the first thing I did was pick a notebook that I knew I’d want to use, and use daily. The only rules were that it had to make me happy, and that it had to be large enough for me to be able to actually write in it, not just jot things down. I wasn’t looking for the best notebook with the best paper in the best format (I don’t think that exists, actually, but for us stationery geeks the search is always on), just a good enough notebook for me.
I also decided very early on that I couldn’t use a fountain pen for this, because I wanted a pen that I could write with even not under the most ideal circumstances. I was also planning for both the notebook and the pen to bash around freely in my bag. These were going to be used and look used.
I chose Moleskine large ruled hardcover notebooks as my notebook of choice, and the uni-ball Signo RT 0.5 gel ink pen as my pen/refill (UMR-85N) of choice. I wanted a sturdy lined notebook that I’d enjoy using and looking at once it was done, and after years of neglecting the Moleskine for other notebooks I came back to it because of some of their limited edition designs. I knew that I was going to use the uni-ball Signo RT 0.5 as my pen or refill of choice (inside a BigiDesign Ti Arto or Ti Arto EDC), so I didn’t need fountain pen friendly paper. I had decided to pick up the steady journaling habit by starting with a travel journal, which I already had some experience with, and then carrying on from there. On the first evening of a trip to London I happened to walk by the Moleskine store in Covent Garden, and I decided to go in and check out what they had. There was a beautifully designed Batman limited edition notebook in exactly the kind of format I was looking for, and it was only available for sale at the Moleskine stores. I bought it, unwrapped and stamped it with the Moleskine Covent Garden stamps, and I haven’t looked back.
That pen and notebook combo has hardly changed over the years. What has changed is the format I use to journal, and the amount of daily journaling I do. When I started out I was used to only jotting a few lines down here and there when I journaled, so I knew I couldn’t expect to write 4-5 pages per day right from day one. Starting with just a paragraph to half a page a day, I pretty quickly moved to one page per day of just writing.
Then I saw a Neistat Brothers video on Youtube and realized that I could use my journal as a visual capturing device as well, and anything could go in it, so long as it made me remember a moment or a place.
That’s when the notebooks really started to get bloated. From clothing labels to business cards and ticket stubs, if I can put glue on it and it’s visually appealing or evocative, it goes in. I almost always also write a little note for future me, to remind myself what I’m looking at and why it’s there. That change really made these notebooks a kind of personal artifact for me, and I can’t say how precious they’ve all become.
At a certain point I started getting ambitious, moving from writing one page a day to two pages, then four pages, then six. That’s when I had to take a step back and make sure that I wasn’t burning out on journaling for all the wrong reasons. I enjoy writing and I enjoy journaling, but I’m also trying to write fiction, and my journal can’t become something that consumes that, an excuse for not writing. It’s also easy to get carried away and want to finish the notebook as fast as possible just so you can open a fresh one, or brag (even if it’s only to yourself) that you’ve finished a notebook. Nowadays I write one or two pages a day for most days, moving up to more pages only if I really have something special to write about.
Life also happens, and oftentimes it’s scary and ugly, a black hole that threatens to consume all that is good in your life, including journaling. My mom got unexpectedly and very seriously ill last year, and we’ve been struggling with her disease ever since. When she was in hospital I couldn’t bring myself to journal. I backlogged those (thankfully few) dark days, and I realized that I would have to accept that as much as journaling is important to me, family comes first, so backlogging is going to have to become acceptable. I try to backlog as little as possible, but some days just demand that.
I also draw a little in my notebook, tiny thumbnails of things that I want to remember later, or that I just feel like drawing. These are usually food doodles, as I don’t really like to photograph my food.
If you’re looking for some journaling tips, I wrote two posts on that subject here and here. If there’s one thing I can leave you with it’s that if you want to journal, you need to figure out a way to it make it work for you, and be ready to adapt as your life changes over time. There is no perfect journaling system, or perfect journaling notebook, there’s only what works for you.
It’s strange that I haven’t yet reviewed the pen that I use most, but that’s life, I guess. The Ti Arto is a titanium machined pen that accepts 200+ refills, and it has been my EDC and journaling pen since November 2016. There’s no pen I use more, and no pen I like more than this one.
Since the Ti Arto bashes around freely in my bag, it’s got quite a few scratches on it. I personally like that it shows some wear and tear, but as not everyone feels the same, I thought I’d take a few photos that show how the Ti Arto looks like when it’s not brand new.
The Ti Arto is made out of solid titanium, and doesn’t get dented even if you drop it. It does, however, show micro-abrasions and scratches.
None of these scratches is deep enough to be felt – they’re at surface level only. So it really is just an aesthetic thing. If you like your pen to look brand spanking new, the Ti Arto comes with a protective felt sleeve. I personally wouldn’t bother: this isn’t a fountain pen, but a tough, machined, EDC pen. It’s built to tumble around in your bag.
Now to the review proper: the Ti Arto was originally launched on Kickstarter, and became available on the BigiDesign site sometime in 2016. The pen is machined out of solid aluminium, and made to easily accept 200+ refills with no tip wiggle or need for spacers.
The Ti Arto is well balanced, both capped and uncapped, and very comfortable to use, even for someone with small hands that likes to write a lot. Unlike some other machined pens, the Ti Arto’s cap will stay on, even after years of use and after the threads start to wear out a bit. See that semi opaque silicone ring just below the threads? That’s the magic that makes sure the cap closes nice and tight. No refill is going to dry out or leak in this pen.
If you want to post the Ti Arto you can, by threading the cap to the back of the pen. The resulting pen is a bit longer, but still well balanced, and the cap doesn’t rattle when you write. It does take time to screw the cap on, so if you uncap and post often it will become a chore. Since the Ti Arto isn’t a fountain pen, though, there should be no problem leaving the pen uncapped for a while.
I use the Uniball Signo UMR-85N refill in this pen (the same refill that goes into the Signo RT). To change the refill you unscrew the section, pop the refill in, screw the section almost all the way back on, then tip the pen body forward until the refill tip protrudes, and then you tighten the section. Since you probably aren’t going to actually use 200+ different refills in this pen, I recommend finding a refill that you enjoy and buying replacement refills in boxes of 10 or 12 on Amazon or eBay. I go through a box and a half to two boxes of UMR-85N refills a year in this pen, and it takes less than a minute to switch out the refill.
Here’s are a few points about the Ti Arto, drawn and written with the Ti Arto:
If you are looking to own just one good pen, or if you’re looking for an EDC or machined pen, the Ti Arto is the pen you should buy. I’ve tried a good number of machined pens so far, including all the other (non-stylus) offerings from BigiDesign and nothing comes close to this pen.