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.
Say hello to the limited edition, numbered Lord of the Rings Moleskine box:
Bold and beautiful, right? This box is new to the 2019 edition of the LotR limited edition Moleksines (reviewed here and here), not to be confused with the more muted LotR limited edition notebooks that Moleskine published back in 2012.
This limited edition box is numbered, like all limited edition Moleskine boxes, and there are 9999 boxes available worldwide. For me this edition is all about the typography and the homage to Tolkien’s illustrations. Notice the fonts used on the front and back of the box, and the fact that the notebook’s details are printed in English, French and Tengwar, an Elven alphabet that Tolkien invented.
You open the box, and are met with this:
The contrast is impressive, and the combination of red, black and gold is striking.
The box itself is a well made cardboard box that can be used to store the notebook, or appropriated to store pens, pencils, pocket notebooks, etc. There’s a black satin ribbon attached so that you can easily pull the notebook out. Very elegant.
Now comes the notebook, the main event. It’s a large ruled Molkesine, with the famous “One ring to rule them all” poem embossed in gold all around the margins, and Tolkien’s illustration of all the rings embossed in gold in the centre.
On the back the inscription on the One Ring appears, embossed in gold:
Again, a dramatic edition that is still elegant and understated.
Inside is where all the fun is. The front endpaper shows a Tolkien illustration of Sauron presumably reaching over the Mountains of Shadow, ready to take over Middle Earth. It looks like this illustration inspired the red and black colour theme of this edition.
On the back is Tolkien’s illustration of the rings over Mount Doom with Barad-dûr in the background, and again the “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,/One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them” inscription.
The add-on is the Cirth alphabet, as it is for all the notebooks in this series:
Which brings us to the one minor thing I don’t like about this edition: the colour of the ribbon bookmark. It’s a light yellow that glitters in the light because of the material its made of, and it’s clearly meant to evoke the One Ring. That’s a lovely idea, but I think that it fails on execution. The bookmark looks pale and vapid compared to everything else about the notebook, almost disappearing into the page. A red bookmark would have probably been better, since a gold one would probably come out tacky.
The 2019 Lord of the Ring Moleskine limited edition notebooks are very well designed. They pay beautiful homage to Tolkien’s illustration and work, and the limited edition box is no different. These are much better than their 2012 counterparts, and make great gifts for the LotR fan in your life.
As usual, these are well made, robust notebooks that can handle a beating with aplomb, but they aren’t, nor are they meant to be, fountain pen friendly. I use gel ink pens or ballpoints in mine, and recommend that you do too.
While the original Ti Arto is my favourite machined pen, the newer Ti Arto EDC comes in at a close second. Like its older BIGiDESIGN brother, the Ti Arto EDC is a machined titanium pen which can accept hundreds of different refills with no need for hacks or spacers and with no tip wiggle. Unlike the Ti Arto it comes in three different finishes, accepts many more refills, and can be adjusted in length.
The Ti Arto EDC looks a lot like a slightly slimmer version of the Ti Arto, with a bigger step down in the end section, and almost no gap between the section and the body.
Those looks are a little deceiving, because this the Ti Arto EDC has a completely different build. The end of the pen can be extended or retracted, unlike the Ti Arto, where it is static. In the Ti Arto EDC the end of the pen is also what you unscrew to change refills, unlike the Ti Arto, where the grip unscrews. If you assume that they’re the same, as on a cursory glance it looks like the Ti Arto EDC’s grip section unscrews (and it really, really doesn’t).
The body of the Ti Arto EDC is slightly slimmer, and the entire pen is slightly lighter than the Ti Arto. It comes in a machined raw finish (like the Ti Arto), in a stonewashed finish (which you can see in the pictures) and in a midnight black finish (which you can see on my Ti Click EDC). Of the three, the stonewashed finish has the best grip and feel, and it also shows wear and tear the best.
The trick with the extendable end section is where the cleverness of this pen lies, and that’s what allows you to use more refill types in this pen, and to extend or compress this pen’s length (to the limits of the refill size). The two o-rings make the end section action super smooth, and the same dual thread design allows you to cap and post this pen super securely. Nothing on this pen is going anywhere without your permission.
The Ti logo, elegant and understated, is the only branding on this pen. You can see how substantial the clip is and how the pen wear in the photo above. It’s like an old pair of jeans, so the stonewashed name for this finish is totally appropriate.
Fully extended, the Ti Arto EDC is the same length of the Ti Arto. However, depending on the refill you use, this pen can get pretty tiny.
I use the Uni-ball UMR-85N refill in this pen, and this is as far as it will contract. If you use a Parker or Schmidt refill the end section can be screwed in almost all the way. However, even partially extended the Ti Arto EDC is a more pocketable pen than its predecessor.
So why do I prefer the Ti Arto more? For longer writing sessions the Ti Arto’s wider girth makes it more comfortable to use than the Ti Arto EDC, although the difference is minor. The Ti Arto is also slightly less ungainly than the Ti Arto EDC, having a more streamlined design, with no step down. I don’t mind the Ti Arto’s gap between the grip and the pen body, and I don’t need a pen that accepts more refills than the Ti Arto. As you may have noticed by now, the choice between the Arto and the Arto EDC is likely going be one of personal taste and preference. Either pen is an excellent choice for a machined pen, an EDC pen, or a titanium pen.
Leuchtturm1917 entered the busy sketchbook market about a year or two ago, with a lineup of A6, A5 and A4 sketchbooks with white 180 gsm paper.
The covers of the Leuchtturm1917 sketchbooks come in a wide variety of colours, which is a rarity in this market. Usually you find sketchbooks in black, or maybe one or two other colours, but Leuchtturm has decided to offer these in all the colour options available in their regular lineup.
The sketchbook contains 96 pages of acid free 180 gsm paper, and it opens flat. There’s a note in the back packaging that says that the paper is colourfast, and shows a sketch made with a fineliner and markers. More on that later.
There’s a place to write your name and address on the front cover. I recommend writing your name and email address instead. It’s more practical, and more secure.
There is a back pocket. I don’t really think that it’s necessary in a sketchbook, but it’s nice to have.
Leuchtturm offers two unique things with its sketchbook. One is the offer to personalize it with an embossing of your choice. During last year’s Urban Sketchers they personalized the sketchbooks that they gave away as part of the symposium’s package, and the result is very nice.
Now for the heart of the notebook, it’s paper. The pages lie flat with a bit of coaxing, and are thick and substantial. You have to really layer down markers for them to bleed through, and there’s no show through, meaning you can use each page on both sides.
So how does the paper behave? It depends on the medium. This sketchbook excels at dry media (pencils, couloured pencils, conte crayons, etc).
It’s pretty horrible with wet media, including fountain pen ink, watercolour washes, and ink washes. The paper buckles, shows off colour poorly, turns into a grainy mess, and and the ink feathers and spreads. I wouldn’t recommend it even for the lightest washes. All the vibrancy of my schminke watercolours turned into a muddy mess here (the sketch was done with a medium nibbed fountain pen and R&K Emma SketchINK):
Even with fineliners you’re going to have spread. If you like sharp lines, find a different sketchbook.
Again, even from a bit of a distance you can see the spread. That’s just a shame, because if the paper was a little less absorbent then this would be an excellent sketchbook.
This brings me to my frustration with the picture on the back end of the paper band, the one showing a tiny marker and fineliner drawing. This is my experience using markers and fineliners on this notebook:
There’s no option to layer or blend the markers, but that’s OK. This isn’t marker specific paper after all. But even for casual use, or just for use with fineliners/brush pens this paper isn’t great.
So do I recommend this sketchbook? It depends. If the way it looks makes you want to use it, then yes, it’s a notebook for you. I’ve been using this sketchbook for my journal comics mainly to test it out. Will I continue using it? Only because I already have a body of work in it. Otherwise, there are better options out there, ones that aren’t only pencil great, but also work with pen, ink and light watercolour washes (the Stillman and Birn Alpha sketchbooks come to mind).
“Frodo gave a cry, and there was, fallen upon his knees at the chasm’s edge. But Gollum, dancing like a mad thing, held aloft the ring, a finger still thrust within its circle.
“Precious, precious, precious!” Gollum cried. “My Precious! O my Precious!” And with that, even as his eyes were lifted up to gloat on his prize, he stepped too far, toppled, wavered for a moment on the brink, and then with a shriek he fell. Out of the depths came his last wail precious, and he was gone.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
The Mount Doom Moleskine limited edition is the most dramatic of the Lord of the Rings themed notebooks to come out this year, and justifiably so. The red and black provide eye catching high contrast that are in complete opposition to the grey on grey Moria notebook.
This notebook will pop out the moment you see it on the store shelf.
Sauron’s eye gazes upon you. Notice the use of the LotR typeface, and Elven script, on the paper band.
The front cover shows Mount Doom in all its Tolkien illustrated glory, with Frodo and Samwise as little golden dots against its grey and red horror.
The design continues on the spine, with Tolkien’s sign on embossed in red at the top.
The back cover, with the edge of mount doom and Sauron’s all seeing eye in red.
The choice of red elastic closure and a black cover is perfect for this notebook, and the gold embossing of the date, the scene and Frodo and Samwise really pops.
The front end page with Tolkien’s pencil drawings of an aerial view of Mordor. The drawing is very nice, but it does make the “In case of loss” pretty obscure. You can either go extra bold here, or try to blend in and hope that someone will notice.
The aerial map of Mordor continues on the back end page. As usual, but still worth noting, the map is completely aligned with the back pocket.
The extra with this edition is the Cirith alphabet booklet.
The red and black theme continues here.
A closeup on the back pocket, with its red sides and the map that continues into the back pocket.
This is a ruled notebook, and it comes with a red ribbon bookmark. Unless you use inks like Noodler’s bulletproof black, it isn’t fountain pen friendly. Then again, it isn’t marketed as such (Moleskine has other notebooks for that).
The B-side of the paper band details Frodo and Sam’s journey.
I love these Lord of the Rings limited editions (I’m using the Moria one as my daily journal). The mount Doom edition is befitting of the dramatic climax of The Lord of Rings trilogy. If you’re a LotR fan this is definitely a must buy, and probably the best designed notebook of this edition.
I am on a quest in search for a white, waterproof pen that reliably lays down a thin, opaque line. You’d think that this wouldn’t be so hard to find, but this combination (opaque-and-thin-and-waterproof-and-reliable) has so far proven to be elusive. The closest so far has been the Uni-ball Signo Broad UMR-153 white gel ink pen, but it tends to dry out and blob, so it is far from perfect.
The Uni Do! Posca paint marker in white, extra fine (0.7) is a welcome addition to the white pen field. It’s waterproof, water-based (so not smelly like other paint markers), lightfast, and can be used on a multitude of surfaces. I’m going to focus its use on paper, but if you’re looking for a way to label a dark coloured object, this may be the pen for you.
The Do! Posca’s design is pretty well designed. The pen is narrow enough in diameter for you to comfortably use it like a regular pen, and the square cap keeps the pen from rolling off the table, and looks great. The pen body is much too busy for my liking, but that’s a minor quibble.
There’s a tiny metal ball inside the pen, and you need to shake it well before use to get the paint ink flowing. When you use the Do! Posca for the first time you need to prime it by shaking the pen thoroughly and then pressing the plastic tip in several times until the white paint flows. I had no problem getting the pen to start up after a good shake, but I’d recommend keeping it horizontally and cap it immediately after use.
The Uni Do! Posca doesn’t blob, and it’s excellent for small details. I wouldn’t use it to fill in large expanses of white, as it offers pretty poor coverage and doesn’t layer well. If you’re looking to use it for highlights, correction or detail work, this is the pen for you.
I drew this journal comic on a Clairefontaine Paint On Naturel A5 pad.
The Uni Do! Posca extra fine paint marker in white was available for a time at Jetpens, but now you can find it easily enough on eBay. If you’re looking for an opaque, extra fine, waterproof white pen, I highly recommend it.