Posted by: Andrew | October 1, 2007

The Mighty Pen

I’ve embarrassed myself plenty of times on this blog (and in life, but oh well), and this post will probably only contribute to this sorry record. Nevertheless, when you’re in love (this is love week at Union Street)…you have to state it out loud.Although I carry around my trusty G4 15″ Powerbook pretty much everywhere I go, I nevertheless do most of my so-called academic work by putting pen to paper. Ordinarily, for paper, I’ll use an 8 1/2 x 11″ yellow legal notepad, but I’ll pretty much write on whatever’s available. But finding a good, cheap, reliable pen has been a more difficult proposition – until the other week, when I found the Zebra Jimnie 0.7 mm black gel-ink pen. (Yes, this is an extended commercial product endorsement.)


It used to be that whenever I picked up a pen there would always be a micro-second of dread. How would it feel in the hand? Would the ink dry quickly enough, or smudge on the paper (no small matter for a lefty like me)? Would the nib resist the paper too much (making writing scratchy and difficult), or glide too easily across the surface (making it difficult to impose any discipline on my penmanship, never very good in the best of times)?In my former life as an international student advisor, I would always use a Sanford Onyx 0.5mm micro blue-ink pen. The blue ink was bright and vivid – not the pale, lumpy blue you get from your standard disposable ballpoint – and the line was always clean and sharp, which pleased me because my signature is a tangle of loops and angles. But the barrel of the Onyx is very thin, and my hand would tire easily after more than a few minutes. As a result, I only used it rather sparingly, and mostly for official business (U.S. State Department regulations require that certain documents be signed in blue ink and blue ink only).My favorite pen before the Jimnie used to be the black-ink 0.5mm Sanford Expresso. The ink was deep black, offering a sharp contrast between line and paper, and the barrel was just the right size – until Sanford decided to reinvent the wheel, and came up with the liquid gel-ink Xpresso, which has an absurdly fat barrel that made it feel as if one were writing with a highlighter.What I love about the Jimnie is the fact that it’s not only to hold and use – it has a moderately sized barrel, a metallic rather than ceramic nib that’s reliable and doesn’t wear down, a rubber grip to keep it from slipping in your hand – but also produces a line that’s easy to read. A good pen will make your handwriting seem clean, sharp, and pleasing, at least to your own eye. But ordinarily, even a good pen will reflect your moods: if you’re tired or bored, your handwriting will be, too. The Jimnie, however, is different. It forces your hand to produce a better, more attentive, and more careful line than what it might otherwise offer with a lesser instrument. Update: I’ve given the Pentel Varsity disposable fountain pen a try, and it’s not bad. Still #2 to my Jimnie Gel, but if you prefer writing with a fountain pen but don’t want to buy just one, it comes recommended. 

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  1. That’s funny, I was just looking for my pen this morning and was dreading the fact that I couldn’t find it because it was the last of the pens that I really like to use. I, in fact, hate almost all other kinds of pens — and have since my days in architecture school (some things never go away).

    Anyway, my favorite is the Pilot Precise V5 pen because of many of the same reasons that you describe. I don’t have to worry about the ink drying (which it doesn’t do terribly fast unless you are using a “toothy” paper) because I am right-handed, but E. loves them, too and she’s a lefty.

  2. I’ve got to dissent on this one.

    I just can’t rank a ball point pen, gel or not, as high as Pilot’s Varsity disposable fountain pens. They’re fluid and sharp – I don’t use anything else.

  3. Mike3550, Matthew, thanks for the suggestions. Your favorites will be put to the test. I’ll report back on the results.

  4. I’m actually in the market for a new favorite pen. I am currently a faithful user of the Pilot Precise V5 (I used to use V7 but found the maneuverability of the line to be problematic). However, I, too am a lefty, and I do find that it will smudge on some papers. Also, I have had a few Pilots explode on me.

    I’ve heard good things about the Bullet Pen

  5. I would like to write more with pen and paper, but unfortunately I have serious difficulties reading my handwriting. Perhaps I just should try more… :-)

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