Category Archives: Pens

uni-ball Gel RT

I am not a fan of giving bad reviews. However, anyone who collects and uses a lot of pens knows that from time to time, you come across one that just does not work for you. Could be that it has an unusual weight, or it is fragile, or the ink does not dry. Any number of things could be wrong with a pen.

Unfortunately, the uni-ball Gel RT falls in this category for me. But before I totally rag on the pen, let me get some of its strong points out.

Like the Bic Cristal I reviewed yesterday, the uni-ball Gel RT certainly does “write the first time, every time”. In that sense, it is a reliable pen. Just remember to take the small rubber nib off of the pen tip before the first use.

uni-ball Gel RT

The feel of the pen is good and easily held thanks to a rubber grip. The uni-ball Gel RT is a very light pen, so depending upon your writing style that could either be a pro or a con. I find it a bit lighter than the pens I usually use, yet still find it comfortable.

My first real con is not really a comment on the pen itself, but the ink. You will find, as I review more pens, that I am not a fan of gel inks in general. While I find they do produce nice, vivid colors, the slow drying times prove easy to smear. This pen has done nothing to assuage my dislike of these inks. My primary use of the Gel RT is note taking at work. Since I am often writing fast, as my fingers brush over previous lines tell-tale streaks often follow.

uni-ball Gel RT broken

One of my uni-ball Gel RT pens with typical breakage.

The plastic clip on the pen is another source of concern. I have used many of these pens at work and every single one of them has a broken clip. They always break at the curve, and it does not seem to take a lot of pressure to do it. I do not tend to clip my pens to things, so it really is not a bother, but it does make the pen look bad.

The Gel RT is also one of the few pens I have owned where the click mechanism has broken. The push button is made up of two layers of plastic. If the clear outer plastic breaks, getting the pen to click in place becomes quite difficult.

Would I recommend this pen? If you are a fan of gel pens and can keep it from breaking, it is a fine pen. Ink flows smoothly and it feels good in the hand. My experience, though, suggests that the plastic is simply too fragile. I may use them at work, as that is what is available, but I do not use them at home.

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Bic Cristal

The ubiquitous Bic Cristal. The pen that instantly pops into your head when you hear the name Bic. If you asked a dozen people to describe a pen, this is the pen they would likely detail for you. Millions of students diligently take notes with these pens every year. Well, either that, or if they were like me in school, the pen was put to less academic uses.

Bic CristalThe Cristal was the first pen produced by Bic and at this point has likely been produced in the billions. For a simple, long lasting and inexpensive pen, it is hard to beat. You can get a bag of these pens for only a few dollars.

That cheapness does come at a cost, so to speak, and in several ways. The polystyrene plastic is brittle, and it is a rare pen, in my experience, that survives until the ink is all used up. If you, like me, tend to throw your pens into a backpack haphazardly, the Bic Cristal can, and likely will, break. It’s usually not catastrophic. I do not recall the last time I had a Bic pen leak. But even under the best of circumstances, the plastic is easily scratched.

Of course, if you are using a Bic Cristal, odds are style was not your first consideration. If a cracked or scratched pen barrel is not an issue, they do live up to their reputation for longevity. The slogan on the bag, “Writes the first time, every time!” does ring true. And the second time… And the third time…

I am not a fan of disposable pens, by any means. It astonishes me every time I read in the media just how much plastic gets thrown away in the average year. However, Bic’s webpage for the Bic Cristal does note the following:

French ecolabel NF Environnement (NF 400) for the refillable model (in 50-box, sold on catalogue or at stationers)

This suggests that refillable Bic Cristals are out there, I just have never seen one. Which is unfortunate since, while I’m not a fan of the actual pen barrel, the reliability of the ball point and ink cartridge are excellent. So if you do like the simplicity of the pen, and have managed to keep it intact, be aware that somewhere out there you should be able to find refills. If you find a source, I would love to know.

So is this a pen worth purchasing? The costs say yes. They are very inexpensive and reliable. But if you are rough on pens, be glad they come in bags of 10, as you will likely break a few of them.

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Lamy AL-star

The Lamy AL-star is a minimalistic, yet stylish, fountain pen. The look is similar to the all-plastic Lamy Safari, but with a metal barrel that comes in several color variants. It utilizes the Lamy T10 ink refill cartridges that, like the pen body, come in a number of different colors. A plunger style converter, the Lamy Z26, allows you to use other inks, as well.

Lamy AL-starMy Lamy AL-star tends to be my letter writing and journaling pen. I purchased an Al-star with the fine point, which best suits my writing style. The nib is tough and doesn’t show signs of wear after several years of use. Ink flows smoothly and consistently, though, like many fountain pen inks, takes some time to dry. When using it, I tend to keep a blotter on hand in case I write faster than it dries, which is often.

A well placed port on either side of the pen allows a quick assessment of ink levels in the pen, a handy feature for those who write often.

When I saw this pen, I wLamy AL-star niborried the barrel was thicker than I liked. The beveled grip alleviates this issue and it turns out to be quite comfortable, even when writing for extended periods of time. The aluminum barrel isn’t that thick and proves to be quite light. I have, infrequently, taken this pen out with me camping or on photo shoots, and find that the aluminum barrel, while fairly thin, fares quite well. It has a couple small scratches and one tiny dent, but these do not detract from the simple elegance of the pen.

The Al-star cleans easily in warm water, and I do recommend it from time to time. I’ve found that if I leave mine sitting for extended periods (say, a few weeks) the ink in the nib has a tendency to dry and clog. I recommend distilled water, particularly if you, like me, have very hard water at the tap.

Lamy, itself, is an innovative company that I hope to profile in a future article. The Lamy Al-star was my introduction to the company, and I have since purchased several more of their models, all of which I have been pleased with.

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Parker Jotter

Parker JotterThe Parker Jotter is my work horse pen, I use one nearly every day. So, I guess it makes sense that it should be my first review on this site.

You know there is something good to be said about a pen when it has its own Wikipedia page. The Jotter seems to have a large following, with nearly one billion pens being produced since the introduction of the Jotter in 1954. The Jotter comes in a number of different styles and price ranges, likely helping to boost its popularity.

While the Jotter does come in a number of different styles, they all follow the basic design – a long, narrow barreled, easy to grip pen, with the trademark arrow clip. Barrels come in plastic and metal, with metal barrels tending to command higher prices. Plastic barrels come in a number of colors, with blue, black and red seeming the most common, but also available in green and pink.

Through the end of 2012, sales of Pink Ribbon Jotters contributed toward City of Hope breast cancer research. I’m uncertain if this has been extended into 2013, and while I can still find these pens for sale online, I haven’t seen one in a local store for some time.

Overall, Parker Jotters are probably best known for their reliability and ruggedness. My use of them has borne this out. I’m pretty hard on pens, chucking them into backpacks, taking them out camping or on photo shoots in all kinds of weather, and so far, I have not managed to kill a single one I’ve used, regardless of barrel material. This has surprised me, honestly, as I’ve killed many, many other plastic barreled pens this way.

The mechanism of the pen is smooth, with a satisfying click. Like the barrel, it is reliable and I’ve never had one fail on me.

The weight of the pen is squarely in my “just right” area. This is subjective, of course, and different people with different writing styles may feel different. However, I find the width and weight perfect for what I do. And I have to say, this is one area I’m particularly picky. The barrel size was one of the reasons I first picked up one of these pens.

Parker Jotter Top StylesThere are a few cons to this pen that are worth mentioning. As with many pens with metal clips, I find the one on the Jotter has a tendency to bend. This isn’t that big a deal to me, as I have habit of just tossing the pen into a backpack or pocket. However, people who clip their pens to notepads or other items may find that if they clip it to something thick (a bunch of papers, for example) that the clip may bend. I’ve never had it break completely, but I do now have a few that seem loose.

Another item that may just be local is that I’m now having a hard time finding refills. I can’t find the Jotter (or any Parker pen, for that matter) at our local Fred Meyer, which is where I originally purchased my first one. Office Max carries them, but seems to have a limited stock of refills. Again, this may just be a local thing, and refills are easy to find online at e-retailers such as

Overall, I love my Parker Jotter. I actually own several at this point and use them both at home and at work. It’s easily my favorite workaday pen. It’s dependable, rugged and even stylish. This is a pen I would definitely recommend to people.


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