Designer toolkit: The Lamy Safari fountain pen

A perfect modern, beginner fountain pen

Designer Toolkit is a new weekly series on Sketchbook B that will highlight an analog tool that designers should be using.


Why designers will love the Safari:

Colorful inks. The Lamy Safari is a fountain pen that uses ink cartridges or bottled ink. This means that you can write in an absurdly wide range of ink colors. Find a color that’s close to your favorite Pantone color.

Choose your thickness. The nibs on a Lamy Safari are interchangeable. This means that you can select a thickness that works for you. Like really thin pen strokes? Get an extra fine nib. Want to have some variation in stroke thickness? Buy a 1.1 mm caligraphy nib. Customize the writing experience to be exactly what you want.

Modern look. It’s not a “traditional” looking fountain pen. Most people think of fountain pens as archaic devices with a century old design aestitic. A Lamy Safari has a clean, modern look and comes in a range of colors. It’s definitely not an antique.


Things to know:

Converter. If you want to use bottled inks — and trust me, you do — you’ll need to by a converter. It’s a little plastic cartridge that lets you draw the ink from the bottle and costs about $5.

Taking care of your Lamy. You’ll need to spend some time cleaning your pen when you change the ink. Thankfully, there are many online resources that talk you through the process.

Cartridges and bottles. The pen comes with a blue ink cartridge, but if you want to start with a different color, you’ll need to buy some other ink cartridges or bottles of ink. If the idea of buying bottles of ink is intimidating, I recommend starting with some of the Lamy ink cartridges. 


How much?

A Lamy Safari costs about $30, depending on where you buy it. I recommend Pen Chalet or Goulet Pens

Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he endlessly searches for a perfect "Sketchbook B" green ink. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.

Designer Toolkit: The Kuru Toga mechanical pencil

A mechanical pencil with a twist

Red Kuru Toga with red lead

Designer Toolkit is a new weekly series on Sketchbook B that will highlight an analog tool that designers should be using.


Why designers will love THE KURU TOGA:

Precise, consistent lines. The Kuru Toga is a Japanese mechanical pencil with a cool trick... the lead rotates every time you pick up the tip of the pencil, keeping the point even and consistent. Great for sketching or taking notes.

Range of thicknesses. Kuru Togas are available in .03, .05 and .07 mm. Pick the line thickness that's perfect for your sketching style. 

Colored lead. Some Kuru Togas come with colored lead to match their body color. I've got a red Kuru Toga with red lead (pictured above) that's great for marking up proofs. 


Things to know:

U.S. vs Japanese models. In U.S. retail channels, you can find a limited selection of Kuru Togas, so you can pick up a basic model at your local Staples. But if you want more options — and trust me, you do — order from a company like Jet Pens and select from a wider variety. 

Disney edition. Love Mickey? You can get Japanese Disney-themed Kuru Togas through Jet Pens. 


How much?

The Uni Kuru Toga starts at about $5. You can find the entire range at Jet Pens.

Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he apparently talks too much about pens and pencils. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.

Beyond Moleskines, Field Notes and Sharpies

Finding the best tools for designers

Designers love their Moleskines, Field Notes and Sharpies. And all of these are great tools. Go to any meeting of designers, look around and that’s pretty much all you see.

But about a year ago, I discovered the Pen Addict podcast and an entirely new world of pens, pencils and paper. A range of outstanding tools for writing and sketching that I never knew existed. Modern fountain pens. Japanese pens you can’t get in the standard US retail channels. Nice mechanical pencils. Wooden pencils. Sharpeners. New notebook brands.

Very few designers seem to know about the range of options that are out there and I really think designers would enjoy these writing instruments.

So I’m starting a new weekly series: Designer Toolkit.

Each Friday, I’ll profile a pen, pencil or paper product and tell you why designers should try it out. (The first post — about the Kuru Toga mechanical pencil — is already up.) And since many of these materials aren’t available in your local office supply store, I’ll let you know where you can get them.

These new tools may or may not replace your Moleskines, Field Notes and Sharpies. But they will open up a whole world of tools that you didn’t even know existed.

Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he talks too much about pens and pencils. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.

Quick Review: Pilot MR Metropolitan Retro Pop Ballpoint

Walking through Target a few weeks ago, I noticed they were selling a Pilot MR Metropolitan Retro Pop ballpoint pen. 

I'm familiar with the Pilot Metropolitan Retro Pop fountain pen and rollerball. The Metropolitan fountain pen is well regarded as a great pen for beginners. I own a green Pilot Metropolitan fine nib fountain pen and I've really enjoyed it. But I had no idea how there was a ballpoint version available through typical retail channels and I wanted to try it out.

The Metropolitan Retro Pop that I purchased from Target is sharp looking, with a dark gray metal body. The center band is a black and silver houndstooth pattern. The rest of the trim is silver. The point extends with a slight twist on the top of the pen body. If you are used to cheap plastic pens, the Metropolitan feels substantial. 
The pen is a 1.0 mm black ballpoint and writes smoothly on a wide variety of papers. I typically use a 0.5 mm or 0.7 mm point so the line is a little thicker than I'm used to. The pen insert is replaceable but uses a shorter Pilot Dr. Grip Center of Gravity refill that is only offered in black or blue and only in 1.0 mm. I'm not sure if other refills will fit it as well. (None of the refills I had around the house fit the pen.)

For such a cool looking pen, the packaging isn't impressive at all. It's clearly designed to blend in with the other Pilot packaging, but it doesn't really do a great job showing off the pen. I'm also a little surprised that the word "Metropolitan" doesn't appear anywhere on the retail packaging, since that's the branding that is more prominent in the fountain pen offerings.

The Metropolitan fountain pen and rollerball models come in a range of colors and patterns. According to the Pilot website, the ballpoint comes in five colors combos, but I've only seen the dark gray and houndstooth on the shelf. 

The pen is a solid and versatile addition to my collection. I enjoy writing with it and it's nice to have a quality ballpoint to supplement my fountain pens. While I like the gray and houndstooth design, I hope Pilot makes the bright colors widely available for people to discover.

If you don't think you are ready for a fountain pen, the Metropolitan ballpoint might be a great option for you. For $13, it's a solid gateway to the world of nicer pens.

Beginner's Guides for Pencils

One of the things I love about my new obsession with writing utensils is that I know virtually nothing about them. I'm learning more about pens and pencils daily.

I love my Blackwing pencils and wrote about them recently. I came across a pair of posts on CW Pencils with beginner basics for pencil users. The first post details terminology and basic background on selecting a pencil. The second article makes recommendations for the best pencil options for your need. They are extremely helpful and make me realize that I've barely scratched the surface of the pencil world.

Thankfully, pencils are much cheaper than fountain pens.

The Atlanta Pen Show and Pen Addict Episode #200

A little over a year ago, I started listening to the Upgrade podcast with Jason Snell and Myke Hurley on the Relay FM network. I knew all about Jason from listening to the Incomparable and reading his work on Macworld. I loved the show and the banter between Myke and Jason. But best of all, it introduced me to selection of other podcasts on Relay FM and the Incomparable. 

One of these shows was the Pen Addict, hosted by Myke and Brad Dowdy. I tuned in for episode #152, just after the 2015 Atlanta Pen Show. Ironically, the topic was mechanical pencils. I was hooked and I've been listening weekly ever since. (I’ve also been buying pens and pencils ever since…)

When the 2016 Atlanta Pen Show rolled around, I knew I had to go. Brad lives near Atlanta and Myke flies in from London for the show. This year, they recorded the 200th episode of the Pen Addict live in front of an audience.

My wife joined me on the (reasonably easy) trek down I-20 from Columbia. I always make Liz listen to podcasts on long trips and she wanted to put faces with the voices she'd heard.*

We spent Saturday at the show and attended the episode recording that evening. It was a wonderful experience and we may have to make the Atlanta Pen Show an annual tradition. I figured I share some thoughts on the experience of attending the Atlanta Pen Show and Pen Addict live broadcast:

The Atlanta Pen Show

It's a little bit overwhelming for a first time visitor. All the vendors were exceptionally nice and willing to answer questions.** But there are just so many pens. Three large rooms with tables and vendors everywhere. New and vintage. Inexpensive and very, very expensive. Stock and custom. Inks, nib grinders, cases, paper and more. (Several vendors noted that the D.C. Pen Show is much bigger and crazier.) I enjoyed it, but it was a lot to take in and absorb. I've only been buying pens for about a year and I've got a lot to learn. 

I got to check out pens I've never seen. There isn't a pen store in Columbia so I rarely have a chance to check out nice fountain pens in person. But there is a great selection at the Atlanta Pen Show. I fell in love with the Pilot Vanishing Point. I got to check out some Lamys that I haven't had a chance to hold... a Lamy 2000, a Studio and even an Imporium. The Karas Kustoms clipless Ink is also a beauty. I definitely prefer the cleaner, more minimalist designs.

I didn't buy a pen. I almost bought a Pilot Vanishing Point — green, of course — but decided to wait. And I was tempted by a Lamy Studio. I must have circled the Anderson Pens table a dozen times. I'm looking at more expensive pens and these pens aren't an impulse buy. Instead I bought some ink from Vanness Pens, a Nock Fodderstack XL and some notepads to try.

I'm terrified of vintage pens. I love the idea of vintage pens, but I was overwhelmed by the selection. I had no idea what I was looking at. I'll need to do a fair amount of research before I feel comfortable investing in a classic design.

The Pen Addict's 200th Episode

Friendly folks. Myke and Brad were joined on the episode by Ana Reinert from the Well-Appointed Desk. Stephen Hackett from Liftoff and Connected came down to run the technical side of the broadcast. They were all very approachable and made an effort to talk to everyone. (I even got an impromptu review of Myke's new nylon Apple Watch band.) It's nice to find out that the people that you listen to every week are really as awesome as they seem on the podcast.

Watching the Pen Addict live was amazing. Being able to see how Myke, Brad and Ana interact on the show was wonderful. It was like a couple of friends just talking about pens... with a bunch of spectators and a whole lot of technology.

Thanks for all the hard work. It's got to be hard to record a podcast every week and not really know what people think. This show ended with a standing ovation and tears from Brad and Ana. I didn't really think about it until that moment, but I'm glad we as an audience got to let Brad and Myke know — in person — how much we appreciate the show. I really do look forward to it each week.

I won a door prize. Which probably doesn't come as a surprise to those who know me well.*** Ana donated an awesome prize pack with a bottle of green Pilot Iroshizuku ink, a notepad for work****, a stamp, a magic pencil, some limited edition XOXO Field Notes and some wicked chocolate that was not melted. Thanks, Ana! I'll put it all to good use.

Liz and I had a great time. If our schedule permits, we'll absolutely head down to Atlanta for the 2017 edition. (April is always a busy time of year for us, though.) If you are interested in pens and writing utensils, attending a pen show is a great way to check out your options if you don't have a pen store near you. 

* She was disappointed that Jason Snell and Serenity Caldwell weren't there. I told her Jason would never attend a pen show.

** There was one pushy dude who was kind of obnoxious.

*** I win a lot of door prizes. It all started when I won a jet ski in 7th grade...

**** My wife was disappointed that she can't take it to her work, but a notepad with the "s-word" on it won't fly in kindergarten. I, however, love it.

Review: Nock Co. Brasstown

When I purchased my second fountain pen, I started to think about purchasing a case to hold my pens, but I wasn’t impressed with most of the options on the market. They didn’t really fit my style and needs.

Finally, I came across cases from Nock Co., co-owned by Brad Dowdy from the Pen Addict podcast. Their cases were exactly what I was looking for. I also love that Nock Co. is located a few hours down I-20 from me in Atlanta* and all of their products are manufactured in the USA. 



I was instantly drawn to the Brasstown, a durable nylon case zippered case with a fold out insert that holds six pens. (Material-wise, it reminds me of my beloved Timbuktu messenger bag.) The Brasstown looked perfect, but it seemed like overkill for my two pens so I ended up not buying anything.

Fast forward a few months and my collection of writing instruments had grown. I started looking for a case again, and this time, the Brasstown made sense.

Nock offers their cases in a selection of “colorways” — pairings of colors that span across all their products. I liked a couple of the options, but wasn’t sure which one to get. When I finally decided to order, though, all of the Brasstowns were out of stock. 

After a couple of weeks, they restocked – and this time – with a new colorway: Red/Midnight. I instantly fell in love and ordered one. 

On the Red/Midnight Brasstown, the outside of the case is a bright red with a navy blue insert. The insert is sewn into the case and unrolls to reveal six slots. Each slot holds a single fountain pen but you can fit two smaller pens into each pocket if you want to.

The stitching is gray and looks sharp, especially on the navy insert. The zipper has two sliders and seems sturdy.

Brasstown, Open

Brasstown, Open

I was pleasantly surprised by how much the Brasstown holds. As expected, it easily holds my three fountain pens, my mechanical pencils and a couple of gel pens. But you can also put other pens and accessories in the main compartment. I’ve got mechanical pencil lead, erasers and more in the bag. And there is plenty of room for more. I can’t imagine ever needing another bag.**

The Brasstown is $35 and I highly recommend one if you are looking for a larger case to tote around your precious writing instruments. I’m very happy with mine.

(If the Brasstown is too big for you, check out some of Nock Co.’s other options. The Chimneytop and Lookout are different approaches, but also look awesome.)

* Their cases are named for mountains in Georgia. Nice touch.

** If they ever release a black/neon green or garnet/black colorway, I’ll be buying the entire line.

New Pencils: Delful and Kuru Toga

Pilot Delful (top) and Uniball Kuru Toga (Bottom)

Pilot Delful (top) and Uniball Kuru Toga (Bottom)

My pen obsession has spread to mechanical pencils. I bought two new pencils recently from Jet Pens. Both are Japanese pencils and you won’t find them at your local Staples.

A couple of things that apply to both pencils. First, the packaging is great – especially for the Delful. I’m used to American packaging that you basically have to destroy to open. This packaging just folds open — no scissors required. Also, both ship with a much higher quality lead than most normal pencils ship with. It makes a big difference. 

Pilot Delful

Love the packaging on the Pilot Delful

Love the packaging on the Pilot Delful

The Pilot Delful is a “double knock” design. You click to extend the point and then shake to advance the lead. (You can also click lightly to advance the lead.) Retracting the point means there is no sharp point to stab you in the leg when you are carrying it in your pocket.

The Delful is attractive and easy to write with. It’s a little bigger than most pencils, with a more substantial grip. You can get several different color options, but it is only available in a 0.5 mm lead size. I opted for a green and blue design.

The shaker mechanism takes some getting used to. I’m used to clicking to advance — so I’m glad you can still do that. But I think the whole shaking thing will eventually become second nature.

The eraser is pretty nice and the cap that covers it is large enough that you shouldn’t lose it.

The Delful is $8.25 from Jet Pens and is available in a range of colors. (I may have to pick up the black/green version, too.)

Uniball Kuru Toga

The UniBall Kuru Toga is a very well regarded mechanical pencil. The unique feature of the Kuru Toga is that the lead rotates every time you pick the pencil up off the page, helping the lead wear evenly. There simply is nothing like it on the market.

I purchased another Kuru Toga — a 0.7 mm American version — a few months ago. In the U.S., the only options are whether you want 0.5 mm or 0.7 mm lead. The Japanese versions come only in 0.3 mm and 0.5 mm, but are offered in a variety of colors. I ordered a green version. The top looks vaguely metallic, but it’s all plastic.

The Kuru Toga feels great and has a subtly knurled grip. My only complaint is that the little cap that covers the eraser is tiny and I feel like I’m going to lose it. (The eraser is tiny, too.*)

I really love my 0.7 mm Kuru Toga** and I’m looking forward to working the 0.5 mm into rotation. 

The Kuru Toga that I purchased is $7.50 at Jet Pens, but Kuru Togas range in price from $4.65 to $16.50.

I’m just starting to use these two pencils on a regular basis, but I really think either of these are a nice choice if you are looking to get something a little better than the run of the mill mechanical pencil that you get from the office supply store. (There is a whole range of pencils out there that I look forward to trying out.***) I also think that better quality lead might be a big part of the improved experience.

* I’m beginning to think the eraser on a mechanical pencil is like the pop up flash on an SLR: usable in a pinch, but if you are serious, buy an external unit. I bought some black polymer erasers to try out.

** My 0.7 mm version now has non-photo blue lead in it. Pretty sweet.

*** Check out this Lamy Scribble and this Rotring 600. Not sure I can justify the expense, but they look awesome.