Posts in Top 5 Test
Experiment 9: Putting the Pen Addict Top 5 Micro Gel Pens to the Test
FullSizeRender.jpg

When pen addicts and non-pen addicts alike find themselves Google searching for the best pen, they are bound to land on Pen Addict's Top 5 Page. The page is home to lists of top picks for fountain pens, ball point pens, multi-pens, and even pencils. Back when I still thought fountain pens were too messy and not worth the extra work, the list that most interested me was the list of Micro Gel Ink Pens. I had no idea pens finer than the typical 0.5mm or 0.7mm even existed. I immediately purchased the infamous #1 pen- the Uni-ball Signo DX 0.38, and eventually found myself with some of each of the Top 5 list.

Even now, I carry some mix of these five pens with me every single day. I love my fountain pens, but there are just some situations that call for a different tool. In those situations, I'm most likely using one of these. Time to officially put them to the test. Let's start with the basic black pens. 

Number 1: Uniball Signo DX 0.38

FullSizeRender.jpg

This pen is as good as advertised. It you want a pen that is going to lay down a dark, clean line every single time you pick it up no questions asked- this one is the one. To me, the biggest distinguishing factor about this pen is the darkness of the lines. Specifically in the black, the lines are ever so slightly noticeably darker than the others I compared it to. The two areas where this pen falls short of others on this list from my perspective are: 1) it is capped and not retractable, and 2) the plastic clip which is not spring-loaded.  

Number 2:  Pilot Juice 0.38

FullSizeRender.jpg

The Pilot Juice has both of the things that I noted the Signo DX is missing: it is retractable and has a great spring-loaded clip. The spring-loaded nature of the clip makes it more useable and durable- important if you happen to be a pen fidgeter like me. I can't tell you how many cheap plastic clips I've broken off pens in my lifetime. The gains the Juice makes in those details, it loses somewhat in it's smoothness and darkness. 

Number 3: Pilot Hi-Tec-C 0.3

FullSizeRender.jpg

This was the last pen I acquired on this list because I wasn't so sure I would like it. It is certainly the outlier on this list. The tip is needle point instead of conical, and the difference is huge. It certainly does not feel as smooth as the others, and I thought that would be a bad thing. Now that I have used it, I would say it doesn't feel worse that the other pens- it just feels different. The Hi-Tec-C lays down the thinnest line BY FAR among this group, and for that fact alone there are many days when this is my favorite pen among these five. Small writing is smaller and cleaner, and the colors are surprisingly dark for how thin the lines are. I am not a huge fan of the body of the Maica version of the pen that I have due to the fact that it is capped, doesn't have a clip, and also has a plastic grip section instead of a rubber grip like the others. (There are many other versions of this pen body. See: Jet Pens Guide to the Hi-Tec-C.) However, slap this refill in one of the many, many Kickstarter barrels made specifically for this pen- and it becomes a revelation. There are a lot of clarifying statements that go along with this pen. If I need a pen to work quickly and immediately, I don't usually reach for it. Sometimes you have to doodle a little to get it going. It's not as waterproof as the other pens listed here. It's skipped on me a handful of times. However, if micro-fine line widths are what we are going for here- this pen wins by a long shot. 

Number 4: Zebra Sarasa Clip 0.4

FullSizeRender.jpg

The spring-loaded clip on this pen is even better and more sturdy feeling than the Pilot Juice. The clip alone is good enough to make me want to carry this pen some days. In addition, there are times when I feel like this pen is even smoother than the Signo DX. The lines are not quite as clean in my opinion, and I think this one lays down a little more ink than the others. I don't know what it is, but I keep going back to this one. I am not sure what the objective reason is, but subjectively I find writing with this pen really enjoyable. 

Number 5: Uniball Signo RT1

FullSizeRender.jpg

In many, many cases it is very hard to separate the difference between the Signo DX and this pen. It earns major points in my book because it is retractable, and the design is simple and sleek. That plastic clip is decently sturdy, but definitely not spring-loaded. Gentle fidgeting only please. At work where I need to quickly sign-off on things, this is one is my go-to almost every time. 

Selected Spec Comparison

Selected Spec Comparison

Tip Comparison

Tip Comparison

Overall: 

There's not a bad pen in this bunch. In the end, I think it comes down to what is most important to you. Do you need a retractable pen? Do you need waterproof ink? Are reliable dark lines or super fine micro-detailed lines more important? Based on the appearance of the lines after writing, the Uniball Signo DX wins by a very slight margin due to the darkness of the lines. But if you ask me about the experience of actually using the pens, it's a toss-up from day-to-day and case-to-case. If there's anything to learn here, it is this:

If you're looking for the ultimate best pen, start with a use case and work backward. 

Time for the colors. (Note: I certainly do not own every color available in each of these pens- most of them come in 20+ different colors. There may be other shades of these colors that perform differently the ones I have tested below. For more information about different colors, and a fantastic guide overall to micro gel pens see Jet Pens Guide to Micro Gel Pens.)

FullSizeRender.jpg

Again, these are all just plain good. Personally, I LOVE the Uniball Signo RT1 version. That very well might be my dessert island micro gel pen. 

The blues that I own range greatly in shade. The lighter shade of the Pilot Juice isn't really for me, but I do like the lighter blue of the Signos. My favorite of the bunch here is the Pilot HI-Tec-C. 

FullSizeRender.jpg

This isn't even a fair race. It's the Uniball Signo DX in a run-away. 

The Pilot Juice light green is not very readable on white paper. I had some trouble with the green Sarasa, but the Signos and Hi-Tec-C are winners. 

Surprise, surprise the darkest, truest red is the Signo DX, and the Signo RT1 is barely distinguishable from the DX.  

It didn't scan very well, but I LOVE the this Pilot Juice Coral Pink color. I think it's my favorite of my Pilot Juice range of colors. The HI-Tec-C pink is also a winner.

Again, the purples I own range greatly. The Signo DX color, which is called Bordeaux Black, is excellent and unique. The Pilot Hi-Tec-C is also fantastic. 

In terms of the colors, the Signo DX are most pigmented and reliable across the range in my opinion. But there are several other stand-outs. Good luck prying my Blue-Black Signo RT1, Coral Pink Juice, Green HI-TEC C, or Blue Zebra Sarasa from my hands. 

FullSizeRender.jpg
Experiment 8: A Pencil Newbie Tests the Erasable Top 5's
Johnny Gamber's Top 5

Johnny Gamber's Top 5

In many cases, one rabbit hole leads to another, and in the case of writing utensils, my head-first dive into pens has officially bled into a graphite smear. When I finally caught up with the 200+ The Pen Addict podcast episodes, I did what every normal stationery addict would do. I started at the beginning of a pencil podcast called The Erasable Podcast. I wanted a systematic way to test a variety of different pencils that they discussed on the show, and so I decided to start by trying to obtain each of the pencils on the Erasable Top 5 page. Each of the three hosts (Andy, Johnny, and Tim) list their top five choices in wooden pencils on the page.

It turns out some of the pencils are easier to obtain than others, and I'm still waiting on a couple of the pencils to arrive. Surprisingly, my first complete set of five is arguably the most difficult set of five to obtain. Johnny included two limited edition Blackwings on his list, and both are long sold out. One, in particular, the Blackwing 211, is nearly impossible to find unless you are willing to shell out a three digit chunk of change per dozen. Enter the incredible generosity of random fellow stationery aficionados. I naively sent out a request to buy a single on the Erasable Facebook group, and instead received over half a dozen free pencils in the mail including the coveted 211. Amazing. 

The Business End

The Business End

Two of Johnny's top five come pre-sharpened, while the rest arrive unsharpened. Each of the pencils have a hexagonal barrel, except for the Faber-Castell Grip Black which is triangular. 

The Personality

The Personality

The only two pencils of the group with ferrrules or erasers are the two Blackwings of the bunch. Two of the remaining pencils are dipped, while the Caran d'Ache Natura remains bare at the end. 

Let's take each pencil one-by-one. 

1) Mitshbishi Penmanship 4B

FullSizeRender.jpg

I was really surprised by how wide the core of this pencil really is. After testing each of the pencils, this pencil felt like the biggest outlier of the bunch- and not in a bad way. The marks this pencil makes are darker than any other in the grouping, and maybe the most impressive aspect of the using the pencil the line variation you can achieve depending on how the pressure you apply as you write. I can definitely see how this pencil is a perfect choice for practicing Chinese characters.

In terms of point retention, the length of time that this pencil produces the type of OCD completely clean and thin lines I prefer is short lived. However, the darker thicker lines have a character of their own. Also of note, due to the insane amount of graphite at the core of this pencil, It makes more of mess than any of the other pencils here when sharpened with a portable sharper. Then again, there's not another pencil I have used that made me want to "play" as much as this one. 

IMG_0110.JPG
FullSizeRender.jpg

It's hard to start from an unbiased place when you have a pencil easily worth $30 on the secondary market in your hands. This pencil is infamous and beloved to say the least. I'll start with the obvious. It's a beautiful pencil. The natural finish paired with the iconic ferrule and brown eraser are a match made in heaven. With no extra finish or lacquer covering the California cedar, it's especially fragrant. 

The core is the same core as any modern 602 pencil you can buy, and the 602 is the one pencil I have used for several months before beginning these tests. It puts down a nice dark line, but the graphite is firm enough to be a "daily writer" type pencil for me.

Is the Blackwing 211 as amazing as people say it is? I can't really find a flaw in it, but on the other hand I couldn't bring myself to shell out +$100/ dozen for these guys either when I can get the same performance with a 602. Maybe thats the newbie talking. 

IMG_0132.JPG
FullSizeRender.jpg

Compared to the natural look of Blackwing 211, the Caran d' Ache feels even more natural. It's just a little less polished, a little more simplistic, and the finish is a little less smooth than it's Blackwing counterpart. The graphite feels firmer, and as such the point was retained longer in my testing. In addition, it seems easier to write in smaller print size than with the others I have tested so far. Maybe it's the "Blackwing" effect, but this one isn't as fragrant. Still, its a joy to write with. There's something bare and simple about it that draws me to it. 

IMG_0124.JPG
FullSizeRender.jpg

You can not fully appreciate this pencil without reading the story and meaning behind the seemingly random pattern on it's barrel. That type of intricate printing process and attention to detail is the type of thing that really draws me into a product, and so I was pretty smitten with this pencil before I even started using it. That being said, the soft graphite core make the experience of using this Blackwing significantly different than a 602 or the 211. For a basic sketching pencil, I think this pencil is maybe the most ideal of the bunch for me personally. For an writing pencil, I think this would be the least likely candidate to make it to my daily carry. Also of note, sharpening this pencil with the KUM Masterpiece Long Point sharpener, especially for the first time, was an absolute joy. 

IMG_0129.JPG
FullSizeRender.jpg

I knew I would like the stealth all black look of this pencil, but I was genuinely surprised how much I enjoyed writing with this one. By my estimation, it is the hardest graphite of the grouping. I don't think I re-sharpened the pencil more than once during the entire time I was testing it. The soft-grip section was comfortable to use, and this is by far the lightest pencil in weight of this test. I thought that might bother me, but in the end I enjoyed it. If I was going to sit down and write multiple pages of notes, I think this would be the one of this five that I would grab first. In fact, much to my surprise, this is the pencil I most want to pick back up at the end of this test. It is the opposite outlier of the Penmanship, and just as fun to use in a very different way. 

IMG_0113.JPG

I really enjoyed testing my way through the first Erasable Top 5 list. When it comes to writing, pens still rule the roost in my daily arsenal. But when it comes to sketching, doodling, and writing at my desk- there's something both endearing and inspiring about sharpening a wooden pencil and getting to work.

Time to add testing for Tim and Andy's picks to the docket. 

FullSizeRender.jpg