Zebra Z-Grip Ballpoint Retractable Pen

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I got an unusual request via my daughter. A woman she only referred to as a “friend” asked if I take requests of pens to review on the blog. Never having had a request before, I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity. Plus, as the Zebra Z-Grip only cost $.75 CDN, it was well within the MPP2P budget. I went ahead and purchased what the manufacturer calls the teal and violet colours.

The anonymous requester is left-handed and loves the Z-Grip because it doesn’t smudge. Lefties have many challenges in a right-handed world including, as the Handedness Research Institute has studied, handwriting. The Zebra Pen Corporation itself promotes its rapid dry ink as being a boon to lefties and claim on their website “this is something left-handed people have been dreaming of since 3000 BC when writing on papyrus scrolls and reed pens was fashionable. Progress takes time, but it’s worth it, thanks to the innovators at Zebra pen.” Their corporate blog even includes posts like “5 Fun Facts About Lefties”. I’m not left-handed myself but I like it when companies consider the needs of minority groups.

Although these pens are made in China, the company was founded in Japan in 1914 by a Mr. Ishikawa. He had big plans for his company and wanted a name that would work in the export market so he picked up a an English/Japanese dictionary and opened it from the back, Japanese style, and didn’t get too far before he stopped at Zebra. Their website says it appealed to him as a name because zebras are gentle animals with a strong family herding instinct, just like the type of business culture he wanted to nurture. He also found zebras visually appealing because it “looks like it is decorated with large calligraphic pen strokes”.

Now about these pens in particular – they are ballpoint pens but are a step up from stick pens in that these are retractable. This is nice if you have a habit of losing pen caps or find it relaxing to repetitively click on the end. They have a comfortable rubbery ridged grip and a clear barrel so you can see if the ink supply is getting low. Unfortunately there is no way to refill them so into the landfill they go unless you have access to a pen recycling program, but they do get points for coming without packaging. The tip of the pen has a diameter of 1.0 mm which is on the larger size (you can get pens that are half that). The larger the diameter of the tip, the more ink flows out so smaller tips give a finer line and larger tips a bolder line. The more ink flowing out also means larger tip pens get used up faster (I could already see a noticeable reduction in the ink level just from testing the pens) so an argument could be made it is more economical and eco-friendly to go with fine line pens. The ink is oil based which is why it resists smudging.

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Personally, I quite like the feel of these pens but I don’t consider them exceptional. The purple (violet) is a very nice colour but the turquoise (teal) is a bit dull and doesn’t write as smoothly. I was wondering if it was just me who was underwhelmed by the performance of these pens, so I asked a few other people (including two lefties) to try them out and give their impressions. Alas, no one was particularly impressed but I do think these pens are good value for the price.

If a Zebra pen was a person it would be a bold and colourful individual, accepting of all types. This person has nothing to hide and is easy to get hold of but keep in mind they are budget conscious so don’t plan an expensive outing.

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Promotional stationery items

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Even though I love special pens and paper, I have to admit a lot of the stationery supplies in my home are actually promotional items. One of my daughters gets so many she told me she’d feel like a chump if she actually paid for these items (James Ward in The Perfection of the Paperclip calls this type of behaviour the “stationery equivalent of freeganism”). Even though she works in the tech sector, she is still given lots of pens and paper. So why are pens and paper still considered a great promotional giveaway item in the digital age? In short, because companies find it works. According to a survey carried out in 2016 by the Promotional Products Association International (alright so it doesn’t appear to be an unbiased source) companies consider promotional items more effective than social media and nearly as effective as all other media. Companies like to supply a useful product and consumers like to get them and use them.  In fact, 81 percent of consumers keep promotional products for more than a year.

So starting with pens, as they seem to be the most popular item to use as a giveaway, here are some of the promotional desk items around our house.

Pens – Only hotels that don’t want you to walk away with their pens and non-profit organizations hand out stick pens. Most of the time, I don’t even pick them up which is why I don’t have a reminder of my fabulous stay at the Ramada in Grand Forks, British Columbia.

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Not only do most companies do better than stick pens, it seems just offering a pen is not enough. Many of the pens have a highlighter at one end, and one highlighter I have, has sticky flags on the end.

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I even have a pen with hand sanitizer on the end which seems a bit odd but I guess it falls into the category of handy things to have in your bag.

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Occasionally you can find something really different like the APEGA pen where when you click on the end, it lights up in a rainbow display of colours like a rave glow stick (the photos don’t do it justice, it really flickers and glows). This pen is from a few years ago when oil and gas prices were higher so the party is pretty much over for them now but still, what were you thinking Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta?  

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Pencils – It seems pencil giveaways are mainly aimed at kids but I do have a nifty little set that comes with two recycled pencils, a recycled pen, and a little wooden sharpener. One of the pencils is a bit shorter in order for it all to fit into the cylindrical cardboard container (all made in China). It gives off an eco-friendly vibe that is a bit jarring for a mining company.

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Paper – Paper is also a frequent giveaway mainly as shopping lists or pads of post-it notes but I do have a couple of nice promotional journals.  The paper in the domain.com one is creamy and surprisingly good quality. I also like the built-in ribbon bookmark, elastic closure and the pocket on the inside back cover. Domain.com you have impressed me as a classy company, too bad your website doesn’t give the same impression.

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The Resolver journal is not quite as good quality but not bad and both of them get bonus points for keeping the branding somewhat subtle. Both journals have nicely rounded corners but I prefer a binding that allows the journal to lie flatter when opened than either of these journals.

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It seems promotional pens and paper are going to be given away for years to come.

If a promotional item was a person they would be a bit brash with a “remember me, remember me” kind of attitude. Not really a close friend but you still hang around with them because they are useful.

Sharpies

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I have a strange fondness for Sharpies and have several at home, both fine and ultra-fine. I like their nice sharp line, smooth writing feel, and their permanence. This last quality has proven handy not just for writing but for covering bleach stains on a black hoodie and scratches on the arms of my sunglasses.

First introduced in 1964 (their logo still has a charmingly retro flair), Sharpies are the original permanent marker. In the last few years, I’ve noticed that the Sharpie range has expanded from the traditional black marker with a grey barrel and black cap to being available in a variety of colours with different formulations. The colours are great but what has really piqued my interest are the ones labeled “no bleed through”. Because that, my friends, is the Sharpies’ greatest flaw – they bleed through almost all paper.

So do the “no bleed through” Sharpies really live up to the name? The answer is yes! Same nice line and comfortable feel without the bleed through to the other side of the page.

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If Sharpie were a person, they would be a reliable middle aged man with a penchant for self-improvement and neatly trimmed hair that is dyed black. 

Pens vs. Caps

It is so rare to have an intersection in the Venn diagrams of topics for pen and paper blogs and hockey playoffs that I just had to do a bonus blog this week to share this funny illustration.

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Don’t worry, coming up on Sunday will be a fascinating post on G. Lalo Verge de France paper.

InkJoy Ballpoint Pens

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On the opposite end of the scale from fine fountain pens are the Papermate InkJoy stick ballpoint pens I bought a few years ago when Target was still in Canada. While there are fancier versions of these pens that are retractable and have grips, the whole pack of these ones were on sale for only a dollar. One of the nice things about inexpensive pens is that you don’t care if the cat knocks one off your desk and takes it to his secret hidey-hole.

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Cheap pens come with low expectations. As far as performance goes, as with many ballpoint pens, the ink does not always start flowing immediately but once they get going I do like their vibrant colours. They come in black, orange, red, magenta, purple, blue, turquoise, green, brown, and lime green. My favourites are the turquoise and purple. The black one is missing but as I recall the ink colour was unimpressive, more of a dark gray than a true black. You could find nicer black or red pens but the novelty colours are great.

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I haven’t had any serious problems with smudging, blobbing or leaking. I also like that there is no bleed through to the other side of the paper, even on relatively thin, inexpensive paper. In fact, these are the pens I use for my daily journal because the one I am using right now does not have great paper so fountain pen ink leaks through to the reverse side. Plus I like adding colour to the page. These colourful pens have a great fun for price paid ratio.

As for how they rate environmentally, they are lightweight and came together in a plastic bag so I give them enviro points for less packaging, although that is cancelled out by their disposability.

If these pens were people they would be a group of giggly ten year olds who love to pass notes containing copious exclamation marks.

UPDATE:  A reader pointed out to me that no pen needs to be disposable in Canada as there is a pen recycling program https://www.terracycle.ca/en-CA/brigades/writing-instrument-retail-based-brigade. While that is better than ending up in a landfill, I still think it is preferable to buy products you can reuse like fountain pens.

 

Fountain Pen purchased in Mexico

My faithful readers (yup, both of them) may have noticed that last week I didn’t end with a “coming next week” teaser. That was because I hoped I would be inspired during my trip to Oaxaca, Mexico for this week’s topic and I was not disappointed.

One day as we were wandering the streets of Oaxaca I noticed some pens in a shop window. I went into El Aguila Librería y Papelería (The Eagle Bookstore and Stationery), an old-fashioned stationery store with everything behind wood and glass cabinets. Through broken Spanish and charades, I was able to communicate that I was interested in a fountain pen that I could refill myself without a cartridge (cartucho). They showed me a lovely pen that only cost 200 pesos ($13.70 Canadian dollars in today’s exchange rate) that fills with a syringe action. The shop assistant filled it with some blue Parker ink so that I could try it out. Parker still seems to be a big name in Mexico because they made a big deal about showing me a Parker pen too.

There is no brand name on this pen but the nib says 18KGP which indicates that it is 18K gold plated, although it doesn’t really have a gold colour. The other letters on the nib may be BAXR but I can’t find anything on the internet about it so it is a bit of a mystery where this pen was made. The ball on the end of the nib makes it much smoother to write with than my flex nib Noodler’s pen. The slim design has a nice balanced feel for my hand. I probably would have chosen a different colour but it only came in black. My one other complaint is that the cap is very stiff to pull off.

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This post almost didn’t happen because my luggage was held up in Calgary but fortunately did finally arrive yesterday with the contents, including my pen, safe and sound.

If this pen were a person it would be an mysterious Spanish woman with perfectly coiffed hair who can wear high heels on cobble stone streets without wobbling a bit.

UPDATE:  I have continued to try to figure out the brand of my fountain pen and think I have discovered the answer. It seems to be a Baoer, a Chinese brand of fountain pens. There isn’t much information about the company except that the pens are inexpensive and work well.

Pilot FriXion Erasable pen

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I discovered this pen in the supply cupboard at work and wondered what it meant by erasable.  As a kid, I had an eraser that was half pink and half blue. The pink end was to erase pencil and the blue half was supposed to erase pen. What really happened is that you basically sanded the ink off the page, leaving behind at best a smudge mark but usually a hole in your paper. We have come so far with the Pilot FriXion erasable pen.

This pen has an ink that is chemically formulated to “disappear” through the heat created by friction when you are rubbing with the rubbery nub on the end. The theory is great but in practice you can still faintly see the writing after erasing. Still, the result looks better than crossing out or covering up with wite-out. DSCF1759

I had to try a little experiment to see if the reverse was also true. If the ink disappears through the heat caused by friction, would it reappear if it was frozen? I put my notebook in the freezer and it seemed that the writing started to show up again, but only slightly.

Style-wise this pen looks great. I don’t know why more pen manufacturers don’t add a bit of design to their pens. As for writing with, it has a nice light feel with a soft grip section to hold. The ink is more of a very dark grey than a true black and writes smoothly with no bleed through to the reverse of the page. However, Pilot does not recommend writing on the back of page when using these pens, because the heat may transfer to the other side, causing unwanted erasing. That didn’t happen for me.

If this pen was a person, he would be charming but a bit mysterious with a stylized tattoo on his arm and wearing a snug tee shirt.

Coming next week:  Handmade Paper Valentines