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.
Moleskine’s Spring-Summer 2020 catalog is finally available online, and as usual, it’s chock full of new products and updates to existing ones. I recommend that you go spelunking in this massive tome (173 pages!), as you’re bound to find something in it that speaks to you. I’m going to try to cover most of the main changes, but this post is far from a comprehensive review of all that Moleskine Spring-Summer catalog has to offer.
Classic Notebooks Expanded are getting two new colours (their first): Scarlet Red and Sapphire Blue. I’m assuming that this means that they have been a success, although judging by the choice to keep the squared and dotted rulings only in black, some options have likely been more successful than others.
Classic Notebooks Hardcover get two new seasonal colours (Hydrangea Blue and Lemon Green), as has been Moleskine’s custom in recent years. I’m guessing that Hydrangea Blue is going to be as big a hit as Reef Blue was, but I’m still disappointed to see them limit the new colours to their most popular rulings only: ruled and plain. In other news, the Classic XXL has been discontinued, which isn’t really surprising as the A4 size has largely gone on to replace it. The strange thing is that in the Classic Notebooks Softcover lineup the opposite has happened: the XXL is staying on and the A4 is no longer available. Why? Looking over the rest of the catalog there appears to be a major and bewilderingly inconsistent reshuffling going on in the larger sized Moleskines. Some lines kept the XXL, some kept the A4 (the XXL is smaller than the A4), and I’m guessing that the only thing guiding Moleskine’s decision is which size get purchased more per each line. In any case, if you’re a fan of the larger notebooks I recommend looking over the catalog to make sure that your favourite notebook isn’t getting discontinued. It takes a while for stores to run out of stock, so if you love the Classic XXL for instance, you still have time to stockpile a few while they’re still out there.
On that note I’m still disappointed that the squared reporter notebooks haven’t returned. I was in Porto, Portugal last year and I found a shop that not only had large squared reporter notebooks, but also the Moleskine Van Gogh notebooks that started their whole limited edition lineup, so I filled half my suitcase with those.
Moleskine is fully embracing its phenomenally good fabric cover skills with the addition of the Blend collection as part of its regular lineup. There are two notebooks on offer, both in new colours (Harringbone Purple and Harringbone Blue), in ruled and dotted (!) options. The Blend covers are some of the best that Moleskine has produced in recent years, but they photograph pretty poorly. These are notebooks to see (and feel) in person, and I have no idea what the colour of the Harringbone Purple really is. Even if you’re not a Moleskine fan I recommend getting one of their fabric covered notebooks (the Two-Go notebooks for instance are also fountain pen friendly and have a cool blank on one side lined on the other side setup), just to see how good fabric covered notebooks can be when done properly.
Planners are a giant chunk of the catalog, but I’m not going to go over them because that’s where madness lies. I’ll just point out that the 2021 limited edition planners are Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Peanuts, Little Prince (which were all featured in previous years), and the brand new Maneki-Neko. This is the first glimpse in the catalog of the growing Japanese influences on the Moleksine lineup this year (and over the last year or two), a theme that will repeat itself in the limited edition notebook lineup. Also, this is the first year in a while that hasn’t featured Star Wars planners, although the fall catalog may yet rectify that.
This brings us to the most interesting part of the catalog for me, the limited edition notebooks. Here is where Moleksine flexes its design prowess, and the results are always unique, and oftentimes stunning. This year they’ve completed their Harry Potter limited edition lineup, with each HP book getting its own notebook design. You’d be shocked to know that these were super popular and so last year’s four notebooks are hard to find at reasonable prices. I expect this year’s three to sell just as quickly.
That leaves four other limited editions for this year, with only one not having direct Japanese ties:
The Wizard of Oz – These are four large notebooks, two ruled (the green and the red), two plain (the blue and the yellow). They each come with a set of themed stickers, and I love their design. These four and the Sakura are a must buy for me, if I can get my hands on them (thank you, Book Depository, for messing up my Harry Potter pre-order. You’re the best). They feature original artwork from W.W. Denslow and the title of a chapter on the cover, and it looks like they are fabric covered, which is excellent news.
Sakura – this is the second time that Moleskine has come out with Sakura themed notebooks, and the previous round was stunning. I think that this edition is a little plainer, but again, fabric covered notebook in still a lovely design, so I’m probably going to get these, at least in the large size. These come in large and pocket, both ruled and plain, and they include a set of themed stickers.
The Legend of Zelda – in the video game/geeky part of the limited edition notebooks, it’s Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda that gets the Moleskine treatment this time. Again, themed stickers included, but no fabric cover. There is embossing on the cover, and nostalgic, pixalated graphics throughout. This edition also features a numbered (4,999 copies) box, and two large, ruled notebooks. This would have been a great edition for a squared ruling, but Moleskine will be Moleskine, I guess.
One Piece – a manga themed edition of two large notebooks, both ruled, with designs that are really difficult to see properly in the catalog. It comes with a set of themed stickers, and they appear to have gone for wildly different designs with these two notebooks. One appears to have a bold rendering of the Jolly Roger flag, and another is very subtly embossed on a peach cover.
Maneki-Neko – there’s just one notebook here, maybe because the cat of good fortune got its own planner lineup. This appears to be the least imaginative edition of the lot, in the least imaginative ruling (ruled, of course, what else?). There are stickers included here too.
And there’s a fifth limited edition that Moleskine claims is a spring launch, but as I purchased it from a Moleskine store in September, I beg to differ. It is gorgeous though, so I’ll give it a mention anyway:
I am New York – the city themed limited edition notebooks that Moleskine has been issuing in recent years (and at first were only available in Moleskine stores) are some of their best designed notebooks, and that’s saying something. The graphics on the outer cover, the central park scene on the back endpaper and the new your breakfast on the front endpaper are just perfect. I plan on writing a review of this edition later this year, but I can already say that it’s one of my all time favourites (did I mention that it has a fabric cover?).
Now on to the Pro selection of the catalog:
A4 Pro Notebooks are discontinued, but the new Pro Project Planners range comes with Large, X-Large and A4 size and not the XXL. Again, not sure what the thinking is here. As for the Pro Project Planners themselves, these aren’t planners in the traditional sense of the word, but rather planners that have various productivity bits stuck in (there’s brainstorming, project tracking, structured note taking and to do list sections, as well as labeling stickers, goal pages and more). These are clearly business oriented, which explains Moleskine’s choice to produce them only with black covers.
The City NotebooksPocket Box is no longer available. I imagine that it wasn’t popular enough for them to keep stocking it.
There are a few additions to the Smart Writing System notebooks. I don’t plan on buying into the system, so I’m not going to cover it here.
The Classic Cap Roller Pens and Classic Click Ballpen in white, tide green, and charcoal grey are being discontinued. The Go Click Ballpen in Pattern Cyan, Magenta Green and Yellow are also being discontinued. These are among the best looking Moleskine Go pens, so that’s a real shame. What’s worse is that Moleskine is discontinuing all of its roller gel (and ballpoint) refills. Their gel refill is Parker size and pretty great, so I really wish they would continue producing it. As it is I’m planning to buy one or two to keep around while I still can (they aren’t cheap).
I personally am a bit disappointed in Moleksine’s Spring-Summer lineup this year compared to their previous Fall-Winter one, but that’s just a matter of taste. There are some real lookers here, and the choice of seasonal colours for their notebook lineup (Hydrangea Blue and Lemon Green) is great. There are a lot of options that are getting discontinued, hopefully to be replaced by others in the future, so it’s worth taking some time to make sure that your favourite combo hasn’t been axed. Old stock of discontinued items will stick around for a while, but if there’s something that you really can’t do without and it’s marked as “no longer available” or “while stocks last” then it’s worth stocking up on it while you still can.
In 2016 I purchased my first Karas Kustoms pens, a grey Render K. Brad Dowdy said that the grey Render K is worth checking out, as photos don’t do the pen justice, and he was right. I love that pen and I still use it regularly, despite it having two minuses:
The refill is a ballpoint, which I’m not a fan of.
The cap doesn’t stay on. Ever.
So I relegated my Render K to desk use, and I only used it in my reading journal, where I don’t write as much, so I can usually wait a few minutes for the ink to dry.
The “cap not staying on” bit didn’t bother just me, and Karas decided that it was worth addressing. Their Render K V2 mainly came out to address that problem. When one of the V2 Render Ks in Battleworn finish came on sale on Black Friday, I decided to give it a try. And this time I got the G2 version, which accepts Pilot G-2 refills (my favourite refill, the Uni-ball UMR-85N is G-2 compatible).
This is the olive coloured Battleworn Render K, and though it looks heavy and hefty it’s super light. It’s much lighter than my old Render K, and more well balanced.
The “Battleworn” finish means that the pen was tumbled after anodization, and so it’s full of nicks and has an “old jeans” kind of look to the top of the cap, the threads, and the tip.
You can see the effects of the tumbling most significantly on the grip. The rings on it are pretty well battered and chewed. While it may look rough, the finish is smooth and there’s no risk of cutting your fingers on a raw edge.
The finish on the cap looks great too. The cap has an o-ring inside that makes sure that it stays on unless you unscrew it, and the threads have also been redesigned to make capping more secure. As in the old Render K, you can’t post the cap.
I was prepared to dislike the olive colour, but I like its subtlety. It’s interesting without calling too much attention to itself.
When you put the new and old Render Ks side by side you can see that they’re practically the same size, that the grip section has been redesigned, and that their threads look different.
The old Render K accepted refills through the top part of the grip, unlike the new Render K, where the entire grip section unscrews. I think that the new design is more streamlined and elegant, and in general the rings on the new grip make the Render K V2’s grip much better designed and less slippery to hold.
The old Render K feels much heavier than the new one, partly because I think that it’s not as well balanced as the Render K V2. However, it’s worth noting that in both Render K versions the grip section is a little on the thin side, so you might not find them well suited for long writing sessions.
The Karas Kustoms Render K V2 is one of the best machined pens in the market, and now that the cap stays on its a great EDC pen. I personally love the look of the “Battleworn” finish, and I highly recommend getting the G2 version of the pen and swapping the Pilot G2 refill with one of the many, better, G2 compatible refills in the market.
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).
The end of summer is upon us and my services as creator of kids’ colouring pages are now in high demand in the office, as desperate parents bring their kids to work for a few hours in lieu of camp or a sitter. After ruining several brush pens on these drawings I’ve settled on the best pen for this purpose: the Pilot V Sign Pen.
The Pilot V Sign Pen is a liquid ink pen with 2.0 mm bullet tip that creates the consistent kind of lines that kids seem to prefer.
The V Sign has a cheap looking plastic body, complete with ugly barcode printed on the barrel. It’s pretty ergonomic though, with a relatively wide barrel and a light weight body.
I just replaced my old V Sign Pen as it has run out of ink, and as you can see above and below, the tip does get worn down with use, though compared to most plastic tipped pens it’s super durable.
This V Sign works on cheap copier paper with a little bleed through and a lot of show through. It’s non-waterproof, and I’m pretty sure it’s not archival. It is, however, a lot of fun to use. For office doodles of this kind, it’s absolutely perfect; For anything else, I’d recommend something archival and waterproof instead.
To all those parents out there, here are some colouring pages that I’ve drawn. Feel free to print them out for your own personal use, and gain a few minutes of peaceful bliss.
My Spoke Pen Orange Crush arrived a week ago, and I’ve been using it exclusively for journaling and meeting notes since then. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…
First comes the colour, because there’s just absolutely no way to ignore it. It’s nothing like I would have expected orange pen to be: it’s like an amalgamation of gold and bronze with a dash of copper. This is a rich and SHINY finish that sparkles and glows. You cannot ignore it, the very opposite of subtle, and yet it isn’t gaudy and doesn’t look cheap. Orange isn’t a colour that I’m overly fond of, but I’m glad that I picked it out for this pen: it’s perfect.
The second thing you notice about this pen is the weight. It’s super light, though it appears to be a solid and heavy looking pen. It shouldn’t have surprised me, as it’s made of aluminum, but the Spoke Pen still looks like it a heavy pen because there appears to be so much metal in use in it that it seems impossible for it to be so light. The first time I picked it up it really surprised me. It’s lighter than my beloved Ti Arto, even though it looks like it should be heavier. At first I had to consciously remind myself to use the Spoke Pen and not the Ti Arto when journaling, but now it’s become the pen I turn to for long writing sessions because it fatigues my hands less. Could it replace my Ti Arto as my favourite pen? Time will tell, but it’s entirely possible the way things stand now.
The Spoke Pen was designed entirely around Brad Dowdy‘s beloved Uni-ball Signo DX refill (UMR-1), but also accepts the Uni-ball Signo UMR-85N (my favourite refill), UMR-87N, and other refills of the same size. To change refills you unscrew the section, take out the old refill, and then the magic starts. When you put in a new refill it will appear to jot out quite a bit from the pen body. “There’s no way this thing will close back up again,” you think to yourself. Have faith, it does: there’s a hidden spring in the back of the pen, and you’re going to have to apply a tiny bit of force to push the section back close to the body, but once you start screwing the section back everything fits snugly back in place. The tolerances on this pen are flawless, as I’d expect from a pen with this provenance.
Machined pens seem to be divided into two schools of thought when it comes to branding: either the over the top, in your face, you can’t miss it branding style, or the barely branded one. The Spoke Pen belongs to the latter group, as there’s a discreet stamp of the Spoke logo on the top finial and that’s it. Very classy move.
The third great thing about this pen is the magnetic closure. I actually thought that this would be a more significant feature than the colour or the weight of the pen, but after using the Ti2 Techliner for a while the novelty of magnetic cap closures must have worn off for me. If the most important thing for you is the magnetic closure, then I recommend the Ti2 Techliner instead, as its magnets are significantly more powerful, and you can both cap and post the pen with them, even from a distance. The Spoke Pen’s cap magnet engages only halfway through capping the pen, basically functioning like the click at the end of a regular pen capping. It’s fun to use, and fun to fidget with, but I don’t think that it’s the pen’s main selling point.
Are there any cons to this pen? Of course, rarely anything in life is perfect. You may not like the Spoke Pen’s tactical aesthetic. If you carry the Spoke Pen in your pocket lint will probably get wedged in its “fins”. The clip looks like a determined person with something to prove could bend it out of shape (for normal use I think it’s perfectly fine). These are not issues for me personally, but they may be issues for you.
As it is, the Spoke Pen Orange Crush is one of my favourite (non-fountain) pens ever, and is looking to replace the Ti Arto at the top of my list. Kudos to Brian Conti and Brad Dowdy for creating such a great product out of the gate.