Pen + Gear Neon Pencils

It seems as though Back to School (BTS) season gets pushed further and further forward and this year is no exception. My local stores already set up their back to school promo areas the first week of July. I am in no way complaining here, but just like seasonal holidays, we are losing the distinct boundaries between "summer break" and back to school. This BTS season is also bittersweet as it is the first time in four years I, myself, do not have to purchase anything for a new semester. Anyhow, you're not here for my emotional diatribe, you are here for a review. So let's have at it:


Unless you have been living under a rock, you know my favorite pencil is the neon Casemate (Which is now called Pen + Gear). I cannot say enough about this pencil-- it writes beautifully, is vibrantly colored, and is super cheap. In an earlier review, I had come to the conclusion that these Made in India pencils are factory seconds of Nataraj neons. There are two versions of the Pen + Gear neons: Made in India and Made in the Philippines. The ones made in the Philippines have a round barrel and write terribly-- do not buy. This year, however, I noticed a pack of hexagonal neons and became incredibly excited because there was an additional color in the dozen: purple. I flipped over the package and groaned-- Made in the Philippines. Something made me want to buy these though and for 97 cents I figured if they still sucked, it wouldn't matter too much. After sharpening and using one for a bit, I discovered something: they are no neon Casemates, but they aren't horrible either.  


At first glance, there are some distinct differences in the fit and finish of the Made in Philippines version. First, the paint on the barrel is super glossy whereas the paint on the Made in India version is more of a matte finish. Also, while the Made in Philippines version feels about the same weight-wise, the wood used is much more dense (if that makes sense). It is a lighter wood that is very soft and a bit fuzzy after sharpening with certain sharpeners, so I suspect it is either basswood or ash. When dropping the pencil, there is no "pencil sound" like other pencils make and it doesn't bounce much. The ferrule, eraser, and imprint are identical to the Made in India version. Writing with the Made in Philippines pencil is a bit different than the India version. The Philippines pencil is a bit scratchier than the India pencil, but lays down the same dark lines as the India version. I am wondering if it is the wood that leaves me feeling as though it is scratchier than the Indian pencil and not the actual graphite itself. One other aspect of the Philippines pencil I noticed was the fact that it had a very strong smell after sharpening it. I am not sure where that smell would be coming from, but I suspect it is perhaps the way they treated the wood or the actual finish on the pencil. Either way, I don't like it. Luckily the smell fades after a while so it's not horrific. While I do not completely recommend these Made in Philippines hex neon pencils over the Made in India ones, they are not garbage as previously stated. The round Made in Philippines pencils *are* still junk and are to be avoided at all costs.


Baron Fig Prismatic Pencil

The wonderful folks over at Baron Fig have provided me with a sample of their new pencil subscription offering the Prismatic.  The following opinions are my own and are in no way influenced by any items that have been given to me. Baron Fig is a designer stationery company based out of New York City. Some of you may know them from their extremely successful Kickstarter for the Confidant journal which raised $156k in 30 days. Baron Fig first started offering pencils with the Archer and now have a subscription service that provides a quarterly delivery of limited edition pencils.  So. Enough of this history lesson-- how do the Prismatics perform??

When I first opened the package I was immediately pleased.  I love the design of the cardboard tube these pencils come in.  The bold colored 3D geometric shapes that wrapped around the tube reminded me of the 1980s and 90s-- a time I miss dearly.  According to the print on the tube, these pencils are made in Portugal, so they are made by Viarco, a company that has been making pencils in Portugal for the past 110 years. After removing the pencils from the cardboard tube, I did what I always do-- check the cores.  Each and every core on these pencils is centered.  The finish on the pencils is great, but I do have one gripe.  The yellow pencil has a bit of an issue with its coverage on the barrel.  I am sure this is because yellow is a lighter color and they didn't want to overcoat the pencil, but in some spots you can see the wood through the paint underneath.  Also, the white printing on the side of the yellow pencil, while perfectly executed, is hard to see since its backdrop is a bright yellow.  Again, not a deal breaker, but there are just little aesthetic things I like to look out for. Yellow is my favorite color, so I am just glad they made a yellow pencil. Once I sharpened a few of these up, I immediately noticed that there was not crumbling or lead breakage like the Snakes and Ladders edition. 

The Prismatic performed wonderfully in all tests thrown at it. Unless I put tremendous pressure on the tip of the pencil, there was not one breakage.  As far as how the graphite from the Prismatic performed on paper, I'd have to say this: it depends. Full disclosure: I do not like Viarco pencils. There is nothing inherently wrong with the company or anything, I just don't like the tactile experience they provide. The best way to describe it is that their pencils offer a lot of feedback when writing. They are noisy and a bit scratchy feeling. When I tested this pencil out, I wrote on my standard review paper the Campus Kokuyo paper which is a smooth toothless paper. When I switched over to writing in a Confidant from Baron Fig, this pencil performed beautifully. So, if Baron Fig is going for a product line where each product compliments the other, they have nailed it. When I compared the Prismatic to the regular Archer offering, there was no discernible difference between the two pencils. This leads me to believe that the issues with the Snakes and Ladders pencils were an anomaly and not at all what Baron Fig usually sells. The fault there is not on Baron Fig, but on the manufacturer. Point retention is great and the marks the Prismatic puts down erase cleanly and easily.

I am glad to see those issues resolved in this edition. Finally, I like that Baron Fig is branching out regarding colors. I initially did not care much for Baron Fig products because they exuded a certain masculinity about them (I'm not necessarily gendering stationery here, but initially I felt that the promotion and style of their products were especially marketed for men. This is a tricky situation, so I'll leave it at that.). I am glad to see that Baron Fig has shed that and is producing a wider range of products and colors/styles. Overall, I think that the Prismatic is a pencil that is not only great looking, but performs as it is intended to. I suggest that to get the most enjoyment out of the pencil, you should use it on Baron Fig paper, but it is not necessary. Just be aware of the scratchiness that may happen with using a less toothy paper. If you are a fan of bright colors and want a pencil that write like it is supposed to, I see no reason why you shouldn't pick up a dozen (or more) of the Prismatics.. 

Write Notepads: A Year in Review


For the uninitiated, Write Notepads is a small, local business based in South Baltimore, Maryland that makes pocket (and other sized) notebooks.  For every notebook you purchase, one goes to an inner city student that needs one.  From the packaging to the actual notebook, everything is designed with meticulous attention to detail.  While Write sells standard notebooks that are always available for purchase, they also have a subscription option where you receive a new limited edition every three months.  Along with the limited edition notebooks, you receive limited edition pencils that match.  I will take a look at all four editions in this overview and comment a bit on their aesthetics and choose a favorite.  I'd like the send out a huge thank you to Kathy Rogers, a member of the Erasable group for providing the samples I reviewed.


Write's first edition was a an ode to Edgar Alan Poe.  Inspired by the darkness of Poe, each notebook has the simple word "Lenore" foil-stamped on its cover.  The inside of the notebook is 70 lb. small graph paper.  I am not sure how I feel about the tiny squares-- I prefer a larger grid so I can make easier checklists.  What I do like is the matching pencil-- there is a raven foil stamped on the barrel.  The ferrule, eraser, and wood of the pencil is also black which stays within the dark theme Lenore has going.  While I like the pencil a lot, the notebook is not my favorite.  I'd rank it 4th due to the small graph paper inside and the minimalist cover.  The pencil get 1st place hands down.




Kindred Spirit

Write's second edition Kindred Spirit, was inspired by the idea that us notebook and pencil enthusiasts are all kindred spirits and share the same feelings about our niche hobby.  The notebooks have been packaged as "Charcoal Bookettes" as a play on the idea that each notebook is like the beginning of a fire with the charcoal resembling the potential fire that is formed when we put our ideas to paper.  The outside of the notebook is a light orange-yellow with the slightest of marbling and the word "Write" stamped inside of a black flame.  The 70 lb. paper inside is lined like a ledger notebook which is a feature I like since I use a lot of my pocket notebooks for lists.  The pencil that came along with it was a natural wood-grain pencil with a pinkish-red eraser and "Quickstrike - Safety Pencils" stamped in red on the barrel.  I like this notebook a lot-- the bright cover and the ledger-lined paper inside does it for me and puts the book 2nd on my list.  The pencil is a creative design and I have a thing for natural wood pencils, so it gets 2nd place as well.



The Royal Blue

This Fall edition features the B&O Railroad and was created to honor The Royal Blue, a train that shuttled passengers from Washington D.C. to Jersey City.  The notebooks are a Saxony Blue and gold-- the railroad's traditional colors.  A crest in gold is printed on the cover and "The Royal Blue" is at the bottom in the original font of the train line.  This edition also has 70 lb. paper with the ledger lines I so love.  The pencil that comes with this edition is also blue and has a round barrel.  Stamped in gold is a picture of the Royal Blue train, the words "The Royal Blue" and "Write"; there is a sliver ferrule with a white eraser.  This notebook gets 1st place due to its design and ledger lined inside.  The pencil gets 4th place because I hate round barreled pencils (sorry).



In the Pines

Write's final edition of their inaugural subscription year was titled "In the Pines" and was inspired by a "cold walk through a dense pine forest."  According to Write, the title pays homage to an "eerie hymnal originally attributed to Lead Belly, and popularized by Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged session."  As a lover of trees, I wanted to love this edition.  The detail of the dark green embossed cover is beautiful with a silver pine tree and the words "In the Pines" on the front.  Inside is 70 lb. dot grid paper which I am not in love with as the dots seem a bit more spread out than I am used to.  The pencil that goes along with this edition is also in dark green with silver stamping on the barrel.  I really like the detail of the number 2 inside a pine tree.  What is disappointing is I feel like the quality control on these pencils is not the same of the others.  I ordered a few and some have chips in the paint and sloppy stamping.  The chipping is not a big deal since it is at the end of the pencil and will be sharpened away anyway, but still disappointing.  I give the notebooks and pencils from this edition 3rd place on my lists.


The Pencils