Have you ever wondered how the pens you used in school would stack up against the pens you use today? So over the holidays this year I was helping my parents clean out their garage (by reclaiming boxes of my stuff that had been stored there for 15 years) and, of course, I found boxes of pens from high school and college. I quickly tested them, and tucked the ones that still worked into a drawer in my desk until I got a chance to see how they still compared. I pulled them out this afternoon and here's the best of what I found:
1. Sensa X400 Rollerball: The best of the lot, partly because it's got sentimental value as the first "nice" pen I ever purchased. I had put it aside at some point in college because the refill had run out, and for whatever reason I could not find another one at the time. I recently replaced it with a .5 mm Schmidt rollerball refill (with the same ink as the famous Retro-51 Tornado). It writes a nice clean line in the Field Notes with minimal bleed. Comfortable to use, like a high-end Dr. Grip with a good refill. This pen will find its way into the rotation.
2. Pilot Precise v7 Rolling-Ball Liquid Ink: This pen used to be my workhorse, that is, when my parents would actually buy them for me because they were so expensive. I see these referenced as the "Pens that Started It All" by multiple people. You know what? It's still good. I'd probably opt for the .5mm these days but I still have a few packs of these around and I still use them.
3. Uniball Vision (Fine): I hate these things and always have. People love them, and buy them in droves, for whatever reason, but I've always found that they feather, bleed through, and smear. They write a really messy line, and always make my handwriting look terrible. At this point you might as well write with a sharpie marker. The Vision Elite offers a better experience.
4. Uniball Onyx (Fine): Slightly better than the vision, in part because of its jet black ink (Onyx, get it?), but still performance problems. They were cheap, and we used to have dozens of them sitting around the house.
5. Uniball Micro: The best of the Uniballs, and a pen I would probably use today if I had to. It writes a cleaner line and doesn't bleed through or feather nearly as much. I used to use these a lot in college because you used to be able to get a box of a dozen for under $10, and they lasted a fairly long time for rollerballs.
6. Bic Atlantis: These are probably pens I used in college or law school, because they seem relatively new and I don't remember Bic making an "Atlantis" pen earlier than that. Both the blue and the black started right up, and they left clean lines for ballpoints with no skipping. The black pen was slightly better than the blue. Certainly not my favorite, but a quality ballpoint has its place in the car, taking notes in the kitchen, or clipped to my field notes and stuffed into the pocket of my jeans.
7. Bic Clic Stic "Swanky's Taco Shop" Limited Edition: I had to include this one, for obvious reasons, and to be honest it's my second favorite out of the bunch. The ink's a nice bright blue, the refill is smooth, and it works great on the field notes paper. There's a reason the Bic Clic, in all its various iterations, remains a classic pen. (Of all the cheap pens available, they're the ones that Field Notes chose to brand and sell with their notebooks. I have a pack of those and they're also great.) This pen was immediately clipped to the front of my Field Notes.
8. Pentel RSVP RT Ballpoint: I don't even know where this pen came from. Even back in the dark ages, when I was using pens swiped from hotels, I didn't use pens this bad. The pen writes, but the blue ink is so light and the line so inconsistent that I tossed it in the trash. I didn't bother disgracing my Field Notes by entering a writing sample.
There you have it. All things considered, my past self did not embarrass me as much as I originally feared. Most of these pens are still "keepers," in that none are going directly in the trash, and the Sensa will be restored to a position in the rotation. A more thorough review will probably come soon.
Also, my apologies for what I know are terrible photos in this review, but the iphone was all I had handy.