BigIDesign Pens Overview

BigIDesign is one of my favourite machined pen manufacturers, and I have practically every machined pen they make (apart from the PHX, which I don’t like visually). I’ve backed many of their kickstarters, including their newest one which ends in a few days, and I know that they deliver on what they promise, on time. That’s no mean feat, and it’s that consistency, not just the quality and design of their pens, that keep me coming back to them.

I have a lot of BigIDesign’s pens, and there are a few more on the way.

While I reviewed many of their pens in the past, I thought that I’d do a quick overview post, for those just getting into machined pens or into BigIDesign’s pens and wondering where to start.

Almost the entire standard pen lineup. I don’t own the PHX, and the Ti Mini pen is in one of my travel backpacks and I don’t remember which one.

BigIDesign create machined metal pens, and the first thing to know is that they have two sites. If you’re based in the USA go here, and if you’re from anywhere else in the world go here. They are one of a very few companies that offer free international shipping on their pens, and that’s no small thing. Their service in general is top notch, and the pens come in functional, well thought out packaging that is gift appropriate without being incongruously fancy. These pens are workhorses, not status markers.

BigIDesign pens all accept more than one kind of refill, and most of them accept a very long list of refills. When in doubt, consult the pen’s product page for a link to a spreadsheet with the full refill compatibility list.

The pens are made of stainless steel, titanium alloy, brass, copper or zirconium. Certain special edition pens (like the orange one/orange highlighted one) are Cerakote finished. These are handsome pens, but if you’re looking for durability, these aren’t for you. The finish chips off and mars when bashed around. The bolt pens come with optional damascus clips and bolts.

The titanium pens come in three finishes, which you can all see in the photo above: machined raw, stonewashed, and midnight black. Of the three finishes, the stonewashed weathers the best, and machined raw shows scratches the most. I happen to like that look on my Ti Arto, but of the three finishes, stonewashed is my favourite (also in terms of grip and feel), which is why I have the most of it.

I don’t like listicles, so I’m not going to rank these pens. I will just note what they’re best at, and who I think should get them:

Ti Arto – accepts the most refills by far. If you like experimenting with refills, and enjoy using capped pens, this is the pen for you. It was my first BigIDesign pen, and remains my favourite because of its versatility and the fact that while it’s built like a tank, it doesn’t look like one. This isn’t a pen for people who like fidgeting with their pen, or just want to jot down a quick word or two, because it is capped.

Ti Arto EDC – the same as the Ti Arto but smaller, and accepts less refills, this is a great option for a pocket or purse pen. The cap means that even misbehaved refills won’t leak onto your belongings or clothes. It is large enough to be used unposted, unless you have really large hands.

Ti Pocket Pro – the number one choice for those looking for a pocketable, EDC, workhorse pen. Uses a twist mechanism, built like a tank, and with very good support for a variety of refills, this is the pen that I take on trips and to the hospital with me. The Pocket Pro and the Ti Artos are very easy to clean/disinfect.

Ti Click EDC- if you want a click pen, go for the side click. This pen looks good, but has a mushy click mechanism that will probably only appeal to those who like quiet click pens. The Ti Dual Side Click is better than this pen in every way.

Dual Side Click – the latest arrival to the BigIDesign family (minus the slim bolt, that isn’t shipping yet), this is one of the best pens that BigIDesign offers. The click mechanism is satisfying and fun to fidget with, the design is sleek and functional, and it supports a wide variety of refills.

Bolt Action – good looking, with a very solid bolt mechanism that’s also a fun fidget toy. If you like bolt action pens, this is a good one to have, and it supports a good amount of refills, but take into account that the Ti Dual Side Click and most of the rest of BigIDesign’s pens support more.

Ti Mini/Mini Bolt Action/Mini Click – skip these unless you really, really want a tiny, compact pen. The issue is less with the pens, and more with the refill options at these sizes.

Which BigIDesign pen is your favourite?

BigIDesign Dual Side Click Pen Review

Big I Design is one of those pen manufacturing companies that use Kickstarter as a sort of pre-order system. I’ve backed several of their kickstarters and they always deliver on time, exactly what they promised to deliver. Their campaigns are for products that they already designed and know exactly how to manufacture, and I know that backing their work is a low risk endeavour. They know how to make pens, they know how to make pens that I enjoy using, their pens are solid and super versatile workhorses, and there aren’t too many options to get sidetracked by. It’s usually one new pen body in three different finishes, with maybe an add-on option or two.

So when they came out with a new pen on Kickstarter, the Dual Side Click, of course I backed it.

The Dual Side Click box.

Like all of Big I Design’s pens, the Dual Side Click is designed to accept a large variety of refills – ballpoint, gel ink and rollerball. If there’s a particular pen refill that you like or you’d like to try, it’s likely one that is compatible with the Dual Side Click. Here’s the full list of refills for your delectation.
I will note that likely because of the click mechanism, the Dual Side Click (and the EDC Click) don’t support as many refills as their Ti Arto and Ti Arto EDC counterparts (which support every refill on the market, I think, including the Uni-ball Signo DX UMR-1 refills). They do, however, support more refills than the Ti Pocket Pro, and an impressive amount of refills.

The back of the Dual Side Click box. Says what it does on the tin.

I got the stonewashed titanium Dual Side Click, which is by far my favourite Big I Design pen finish. I like the new packaging that they use, as its functional, well made and impressive enough to work as gift packaging, while not being so fancy that you’ll feel bad tossing it into the recycling.

Functional, well designed box. The little compartment on the right holds spare parts and the ring used with the clip tool, and it magnetically closes.

The box comes with a tool that will allow you to remove or adjust the clip (which is the little ridged rod and the ring you see below), and spare parts – o-rings and springs. That’s a wonderful touch, as is the magnetic closure on the ring and spare parts compartment.

Everything you need, right in the box.

You also get a Big I Design sticker, some info cards and of course, the pen. The stonewashed titanium finish is silky to the touch, and gives the pen an understated look. The grip section is wide, with a few engraved rings to added grip. It’s the same grip section as on the Ti Click pen, and is great for longer writing sections. The Ti logo is, as usual, elegant and understated. It’s not a “I’m an expensive pen!” kind of design, nor is is a “I’m a tactical pen!” kind of design. It’s a functional, pragmatic, solid, and enjoyable to use kind of design.

Info, sticker and pen.

The stonewashed finish will age well with time and use – like an old pair of jeans. You can see the new Dual Side Click next to the Ti Pocket Pro, which I have used since late 2017. The original finish on both pens was the same, but the various nicks and scratches on the Pocket Pro have added to its looks, and it has a little more lustre now.

Dual Click on the left, Pocket Pro on the right.

The star of the Dual Side Click is, of course, the dual side click mechanism. The pen is engaged by clicking on the click mechanism on top, just like any other click pen, and then the refill is retracted by clicking on one of the side clicks. The side clicks look like flat lozenges that protrude a bit on each side.

Side click mechanism.

When the click mechanism is engaged the side click buttons protrude a bit more, but they’re still unobtrusive and aren’t likely to snag on anything.

Other click mechanism.

You can press on either the left or the right side mechanism to retract the pen refill, and both the click mechanism and the side mechanism engage and disengage with satisfying clicks. Unlike the Ti Click pen, this Dual Side Click’s mechanisms aren’t mushy.

A closer look on the click mechanisms.

The Dual Side Click ships with a Schmidt P 900 medium refill, which is one of my least favourite pen refills. That doesn’t matter much as I immediately swapped it for my favourite refill, the Uni-ball Signo UMR-85N.

Refill swap.

As the whole point of the Dual Side Click is the pen body and not the refill (which most users will swap out), I created a video of the click mechanism in action:

This is a very satisfying pen to use. And fidget with during dull meetings.

If your favourite refill is among those that is supported by the Dual Side Click, then I highly recommend it. It’s one of the best pens that Big I Design have ever created, and that’s saying something. The titanium body is solid, weighty without being overly heavy, and comfortable to hold and use. The click mechanism is excellent, and it’s fairly priced, especially when you factor in the refill choice flexibility and the free worldwide shipping (and the lifetime warranty, which I’ve never had to use for any Big I Design pen).

Musgrave Tennessee Red Pencil Review

This is the Musgrave Tennessee Red pencil presentation box:

Gorgeous, isn’t it? Just look at that reddish and golden timber. It glows:

The pencils inside are equally beautiful. They’re made of Eastern Red Cedar, in the USA, and this is the 24 pencil presentation box. I have two of these, as well as a paper box that has 12 pencils. I’ve had them for a few months, but I haven’t had the nerve to sharpen them until earlier this week. They were just too good looking to sharpen.

24 Tennessee Red pencils in a cedar presentation box.

Now this isn’t to say that these pencils are perfect. Musgrave points out on their site that these pencils can have modest visible wear due to the soft nature of the wood, and the core may be slightly off centre. A rummage through the pencils that I have proves that these warnings are justified. But it still is a gorgeous pencil:

Just look at it.

The pencil is lacquered which does protect the wood somewhat, and a lot of thought and care went into designing the imprint on the barrel (text, colour, font, symbols) – and a lot of restraint too. The imprint, ferrule, and eraser don’t call attention to themselves. This is a pencil that’s all about its beautiful, sweet smelling wood.

See how the imprint and everything else fade out of sight? An beautiful and understated pencil.

The Tennessee Red is a joy to sharpen. The cedar smell is intoxicating, and if the pencil wasn’t such a good one I may have just sharpened it all away. But it comes with a smooth, dark lead that feels and behaves like a B grade despite being a #2 (or HB) pencil. It’ll be a delight to sketch with this beauty. You can see it in action below, on a Baron Fig Confidant.

These aren’t cheap or widely available, and if you are outside the US they are even less cheap and more hard to come by. They are, however, worth the price and worth making an effort to find, and not because they are the best pencils in the world, but because it is clear that someone made an effort to make a modern American pencil that doesn’t shame its Eagle and Eberhard Faber vintage counterparts. It’s a beautiful, sweet smelling, wonderful woodcased pencil that is a joy to use and would make any stationery lover smile.
And who can’t use a reason to smile these days?

Pencil Revolution Handmade Peekaboo Pride Notebook

In my sizeable collection of notebooks and sketchbooks I have maybe one or two handmade ones. I tend to not buy handmade notebooks because the paper quality is oftentimes sacrificed in favour of cool covers or bindings. However, when I saw the Peekaboo Pride notebook on Pencil Revolution’s Etsy store, I couldn’t help but give it a try. The binding looked amazing, and I trust Johnny Gamber when he says that the paper inside is good.

I love this cover band. It made me smile.

The notebook is small, 10cm x 12.5cm, and beautifully made. Every little detail is well designed, starting from the band that the notebook came wrapped in. You see the care and character in every part of this little notebook, which is precisely why you’d want to buy a handmade notebook in the first place.

Back of the band.

The cover is made of “Kraft-Tex” which is a textured, durable, flexible, card-stock like paper. It’s ripe for customisation if you enjoy customising your notebooks.

The cover.

The spine is where the notebook really shines, and it’s what gives the notebook it’s “peekaboo” name. The notebook is made of six signatures the colour of the pride flag, and the cutouts in the spine allows you to see their colours. The threads used for binding are also pride coloured, and the result is stunning:

Peekaboo spine with pride signatures and threads showing.

The cover of the first signature has a Pencil Evolution stamp embossed on it. That, together with a label inside the inside of the back cover is the only branding on the notebook. Very subtle and tasteful.

Pencil Revolution stamp.

I just love the back label. There’s such pride of craftsmanship here:

Back label.

Here’s a look at the colourful signatures from inside. Everything about this little notebook is perfect, and makes me smile:

Pride colours on show.

And inside each signature you get glimpses of the multicoloured thread used to bind this notebook.

You can see the thread change colour on the top.

I was worried that the paper wouldn’t be fountain pen friendly, but I had nothing to worry about. The Neenah’s Astrobrights paper is very fountain pen friendly, despite not being coated paper. That means that inks dry quickly on the page, and it means that you can use this little notebook for pen and ink wash sketches.

Testing various inks and pens.

There’s no bleed through, even with the Sailor Fude nibs that lay down a lot of ink, and there’s very little show through.

Very well behaved paper.

The paper was so well behaved that I decided to see how well it would take to an ink and wash sketch. Here’s the basic sketch, done with a Staedtler 0.1 pigment liner.

Initial sketch.

Then I laid down ink washes, and the paper behaved beautifully. It didn’t deteriorate, the colours popped on it, and it was fun to use.

Sketch of the Tel Aviv beach on the paper.

Here’s the other side of the paper. It’s amazing that there’s no bleed through and very little show through. This paper behaves better than my Stillman and Birn Alpha with ink washes.

Back side of the sketch.

The Peekaboo Pride notebook is phenomenally well made, with excellent paper, and it’s just a joy to use. I’m close to finishing my pocket Stillman and Birn Alpha, and this little notebook will be the next sketchbook in line to replace it. I won’t be using it for watercolour (no paper this thin has a chance of handling watercolour washes), but it’s great for pen and ink sketches, and for ink washes.

Staedtler Pigment Liner Review

I somehow managed to not review my favourite pigment/fine liner, despite it being one of the sketching tools that I use the most. While I know that the pigment liner from Sakura is more popular is stationery blogger circles, and Copic is thought to be the elite offering (it sure is in terms of price), Staedler’s pigment liners have been my go to pigment liners since I was a teenager, and they have always been the ones I compare all others to.

Pigment liner set bought at Cass Art in London

All pigment liners are expensive to purchase here, and Staedler is no different, which means that I always stock up on them when I go to Cass Art in London. This 6 pen set is always on sale, and you get a useful selection of pen widths. However, if you are just starting out, don’t buy a set – buy a 0.3 and a 0.5 and if you want to splurge add the 0.1 and the 0.8.

The full set: Calligraphy, 0.8, 0.5, 0.3, 0.1, 0.05

Whether you use Staedler pigment liners or ones from another brand (Sakura, Faber Castell, Copic, Uni-ball, etc), the 0.3 or 0.5 will likely be your base, bread and butter pen. I generally use the 0.3, unless I’m feeling shaky, I’m in a hurry and want to churn out sketches/illustrations, or I want to go for a dramatic effect, in which case I go for the 0.5 or the 0.8. The 0.1 is a pen that I use for the opposite effect – when I plan to use watercolour or an ink wash and I want the colour or wash to take precedent. The 0.05 is a pen that I used to use when I was younger and drew comics (it’s excellent for fine details), but I hardly ever reach for it now, unless it’s to work in small format with a colour wash of some sort following. It’s a fragile pen, so if you tend to lean on your pens, this one is not for you. How can you tell if you put a lot of pressure on your pens? Write a page with a gel ink pen and check the back of the page. Does it feel like braille lettering? Does your wrist hurt? Then you’re putting to much pressure to use this pen without ruining the tip, and you may have issues with the 0.1 tip as well. I used to write like that and it took some practice for me to be able to use these ultra fine tipped pens.

Line samples on a Moleskine pocket sketchpad.

So, why do I love the Staedtler pigment liner so much?

  • It puts down a consistent, black line. This seems obvious, but I’ve tried more than one pigment liner that puts down a dark grey or washed out black line and it’s always disappointing.
  • It’s a rock solid pen that won’t dry out, and has a robust tip. I’ve had terrible luck with Faber Castel and other makers where a capped (mind you, capped) pigment liner stopped writing reliably after a month or two. This has never happened with my Staedler’s, and I’ve had some for years.
  • The pen body. This is what makes the Staedler’s the best of the best in my personal opinion.
The Staedtler pigment liner’s pen body.

So, what makes the Staedler pen body so great? It’s a whole lot of small things that just add up. It’s light weight but doesn’t feel flimsy, and it has a matte finish with a subtle lined texture all around, so its easy to grip. It’s also a bit wider than many of its competitors, and unlike many of them, it has the pen width clearly marked on both the pen body and the pen cap. It also doesn’t have any sharp edges, which you’d think would be an obvious in pen design, but sadly isn’t. Finally, it caps and posts and uncaps with a solid click, and without having to apply a lot of pressure. You know the pen is capped and the pen is uncapped when you need it. And if you so care to uncap it with one hand, you can.

Here’s the 0.1 Staedtler in action. There’s a photo of the sketch I made after applying an ink wash (Sennelier Burn Sienna India Ink diluted in water and applied with a brush pen), and one of the same sketch after I applied blue watercolour.

Staedtler 0.1 pigment liner, and ink wash.
Staedtler pigment liner 0.1, ink wash and watercolour.

During a private tour of Nazareth last year (a present from my wonderful family in between chemo treatments), I met the guide’s young boy. His father told me that he wanted to be a clothing designer when he grew up, so I broke out my sketching kit and gave him every Staedler pigment liner that I had on me. His eyes lit up once his father explained what these pens were. If you have a budding artist, designer, sketcher, doodler in your life and you’re wondering which gift to give them, two or three Staedler pigment liners will always be welcome.

Paperchase Fine Liners and Sketching on a Paper Bag

On my last day in London I went to Paperchase, a local stationery chain, and “splurged” on some stickers and a set of fine liners. I say “splurged” with velociraptor quotes as Paperchase branded products are generally inexpensive, even if they do tend to be of middling quality. This set of fine liners proved to be no different: they can be described as OK at best. The caps require some force to snap back on, the clips quite easily (and unintentionally) pop out, and the colours are muted and pale. They would work well as muted, fine lined highlighters, but if you’re planning to sketch or colour with them, I’d opt for something from Staedler instead.

Paperchase Fine Liners. The packaging, as with all Paperchase products, is on point.

The set that I got had the following colours: Sky Blue (which is a turquoise), Deep Blue (which is a teal, and not at all deep or blue), Choc Brown (which is a reddish brown, and far too light to be named after chocolate), Fiery Orange (which is very reddish and not at all fiery), and Hello Yellow (the only aptly named pen of the bunch). You can see a writing sample on Maruman Mnemosyne paper.

Writing sample of Paperchase Fine Liners.

I was inspired to sketch a scene from one of my runs this week using only these fine liners and a used paper bag from the local farmers’ market (it had peppers in it). The set doesn’t have a green, so I layered the Deep Blue on the Hello Yellow to create the green that you see here. I kind of like the result, and as I have a few more used paper bags laying around I may play with them as well.

Sketch of the Reading Power Station on a used paper bag.

Drehgriffel Nr. 1: A Review of the Leuchtturm1917 Gel Ink Pen

London Graphic Centre is one of my favourite stores in London. It’s tucked away in the corner of a street off of Neal street in Covent Garden, and it’s a real haven for artists, designers, architects and anyone who loves stationery and art supplies. I visit it several times whenever I’m in London, and I never fail to find something new and interesting there to try out. This time was no different, and one of the first things that caught my eye while I was there was this:

Rectangular box, Leuchtturm1917 logo, aquamarine colour, unusual pen design – of course I had to check it out.

It was just above the Leuchtturm1917 notebook display, and there were just three or four colours available, but it was obvious that this pen was designed to match the colours on offer in the Leuchtturm notebook lineup. I assumed at first that it was a ballpoint, in which case I wasn’t really interested in it, until I saw that it was prominently labeled as a gel ink pen. Now that was intriguing.

Rectangular cardboard box, with Nr. 1 and “Gel” clearly marked on it, plus the aquamarine colour.

The box was a bit confusingly marked as both “Gel” and “Gel ballpoint”. Checking out the Leuchtturm site clarified that this pen (we’ll get to the name in a minute) is indeed a gel ink pen, with a Japanese refill and a “Ceramic Ball” tip. The refill itself looks very much like the Monteverde Capless Ceramic Gel ink refill. My guess would be that this is the same refill, but more on that later.

Several things of interest here: the “Designed in Germany, Made in Taiwan” that is reminiscent of Apple’s packaging. The prominent “Gel” marking and then the confusing “Gel ballpoint” designation. And the “Ceramic Ball” notation.

Somebody really took the time to design this box, but really didn’t consider how illegible the pen’s name is:

I was sure that the pen was called orehgriffel or ovehgriffel.

The pen is called Drehgriffel Nr. 1, a bit of a mouthful. Apparently Drehgriffel means “rotary stylus”, which probably refers to the pen’s twist mechanism.

The pen has an aluminum body, a white twist nob at the end and brass pen tip. It’s well balanced, heavier than a plastic pen but lighter than a Retro 51 or a machined pen. It’s slightly heavier than a metal bodied Caran d’Ache 849, but if they were put in a boxing ring they’d both be in the same weight category.

The Drehgriffel has a very 60’s look, which I happen to like, but other people may find to be dated. Also, the Nr. 1 is a weird designation when you don’t have any other pen on offer. Will there be a Nr. 2? A Nr. 3?

Here’s the pen’s refill and parts. It’s weighted slightly towards the tip because the tip is brass (and, of course, the pen tip will tarnish with time).

The Drehgriffel taken apart.

Here’s the Drehgriffel refill side by side with a Monteverde Capless Ceramic Gel refill, and they are exactly the same. Good to know if you’re looking to replace refills, although I suspect that it will take a while to write this pen dry.

Monteverde refill on the top, Leuchtturm refill on the bottom.

The Drehgriffel is similar in size and weight (and price) to the Caran d’Ache 849 metal barrelled pens. It’s a smidge wider and heavier than the 849, but they are very much in the same ballpark. Here they are side by side:

Leuchtturm1917 Drehgriffel on the left, Caran d’Ache 849 on the right.

Here’s a writing sample of the Drehgriffel against a few other gel refills. It’s noticeably wider than Japanese 0.5 gel in pens, and is closer to 0.7 gel ink refills. I tested it on a Moleskine squared notebook (and further down you can see it on a Leuchtturm1917 notebook).

Writing samples.

Here’s the reverse side of the Moleskine page. The Drehgriffel bled a bit more than its counterparts:

The reverse of the page.

Here’s a writing test on a Leuchtturm1917 80gsm blank notebook:

Leuchtturm1917 writing sample.

Here too there was visible show through an some bleed through, although there was less bleed through than the Moleskine.

The reverse side of the Leuchtturm1917 page.

The Drehgriffel writes smoothly, but there’s nothing in the pen’s smoothness that justifies the advertising. It’s a nice pen, that comes in a variety of colours and that has an interesting design and good refill. In my opinion it would have been more popular if it came with a click mechanism and was a little cheaper, but I still appreciate the fact that Leuchtturm chose to come out with a gel ink pen first and not the more obvious choice of a ballpoint. I like the look and feel of my Drehgriffel, although I would have liked it better if it would have been a little bit wider. As it is if I use it for more than a page or so without pause it causes my hand to ache and cramp up.

Now I’m wondering if there’s going to be a Drehgriffel Nr.2 with a click mechanism perhaps?

Karas Kustoms Machined Pens Grip Section Review

Karas Kustoms makes some of my favourite machined pens, and even with all the great new machined pens in the market I still think that a Kara’s Kustoms Retrakt, Render K or Bolt are the best first machined pens to buy. They are well made, well designed, tough, and well priced. In the past year or so they’ve added a lot of new grip options to the lineup, so I thought that I’d go through the various options and review them, to help those wondering which grip option to try.

Grip options from left to right: shiny anodized fluted, matte anodized fluted, anodized rings, Cerakote “plain”, anodized speed groove, anodized MK II, Cerakote dragonskin.

Not all of the grip options nor all of the finishes are offered in all of Karas Kustoms’ pens, however, if there is a particular combination you are looking for and it isn’t currently available there’s a good chance that it will show up in a limited edition at some point. Kara’s is always experimenting with their pens, so even though you may not be able to purchase any of the specific pens shown here, you’ll likely be able to find something else just as good.

Grip options from left to right: shiny anodized fluted, matte anodized fluted, anodized rings, Cerakote “plain”, anodized speed groove, anodized MK II, Cerakote dragonskin.

The newest of Kara’s grip options are the speed grooves, the MK II and the Dragonskin. Of the three, Karas seem to be issuing more MK II and Dragonskin lately, and these two grip options are the “grippiest” of them all. If you find machined pens problematic to grip because they tend to be slippery, the Dragonskin or the MK II grip options are made for you.

From left to right: speed groove, MK II and dragonskin.

Of the older grip options, the rings seems to be offered only on the EDK, while the fluted options are available on the Bolt and the Retrakt. The fluted options provide decent enough grip, but depending on how tightly how grip the pen you may find them uncomfortable for long writing sessions. They don’t dig into your fingers, they just feel a little “off” if you use the grip of death. The rings on the EDK provide little additional grip beyond what you get from the plain anodized options. I see the rings as more of an aesthetic statement here than something that provides more traction.

From left to right: fluted with shiny anodization, fluted with matte anodization, rings, plain Cerakote and anodized speed groove grip sections.

Karas has started creating more Cerakote (a kind of durable ceramic finish) pens lately, and in general they provide a little more grip than their anodized counterparts. In terms of finish, the shiny anodization and matte anodization are almost the same in terms of grippiness, and the Cerakote is slightly better than them, but not by much. If your hands tend to sweat a lot, these aren’t the best options for you.

Plain Cerakote Bolt V2

The rings on the EDK’s grip are honestly more for aesthetics than for added grip. I like the look and it suits the EDK very much, but don’t expect it to add functionality to the pen.

EDK with a ringed grip.

The fluted grip works, although it works better on the matte finished pens than the super shiny ones. The pen won’t slip from your hand, but it may not be the most comfortable thing to write with over time (depending on your grip). It is one of the more attractive and classy grip options, particularly suited for the longer pens.

Retrakt V2 with matte anodization and a fluted grip.
Bolt V2 with shiny anodization and a fluted grip.

The Speed-Groove grip option looks very slick and is pretty slick. Buy it for the looks, not out of any expectation that it will add to the grippiness of the pen. It’s comfortable, and a bit better than the plain and ring options in term of the traction it offers, but if you have sweaty hands, this is not the grip for you.

Bolt V2 with a Speed-Groove grip

The MK II will speak to those with a penchant for militaria (the grip design is based on the US MK II grenade) and to those looking for a robust grip option. It provides the most grip and has a traditional and understated profile. For a “wilder” option with the same amount of grip, see the Dragonskin below.

Retrakt V2 with an MK II grip.

The newest grip option that Karas offer is the Dragonskin. It’s dramatic, it calls attention to itself, but it’s also comfortable to hold and provides plenty of added grip. I like the look and love using this grip, but if you want the same functionality with a more traditional look, the MK II will probably be the best option for you.

Bolt V2 Cerakote finished pen with a Dragonskin grip.

Ti Click EDC Pen Orange Cerakote Review

I’m a big fan of BigIDesigns pens. I’ve supported many of their kickstarters, I have all of their pens (except for the Ti Ultra), and I enjoy seeing their takes on EDC pens and tools. They have recently started issuing some of their pens with Cerakote coating, so I thought that I’d do a quick review of the Ti Click EDC pen in orange Cerakote, which they made for the Fall (i.e. Halloween).

I’m not a packaging sort of person, but the new packaging the BigIDesign pens come in is clever enough to warrant a note.

Ti Click EDC Pen outer box

The thick cardboard box comes with two compartments, the large one with a slip cover and the other one with a magnetic clasp mechanism.

Large compartment on the left, with the instructions for changing refills. Small compartment on the right. You can see the instructions for the pocket clip removal tool and the logo sticker that came with the pen.

The large compartment houses the pen and part of the clip removal tool, in foam inserts that protect them. The small compartment houses a bag with spare parts (a spring and two o-rings, a very thoughtful addition), and a key ring to be used with the clip removal tool, to add torque to it.

On the left from top to bottom: clip removal tool, Ti Click EDC pen. On the right you can see the key ring and the bag with the spring and the o-rings.

The pen comes in a golden orange Cerakote finish over a titanium body, with the clip and knock in stonewashed titanium. It arrived with a Schneider Gelion 0.7mm gel ink refill which I haven’t tried out. I swapped in my favourite refill instead – the Uni-ball UMR-85N gel ink refill.

Ti Click EDC with its original refill.

The texture on the Cerakote refill is amazing. It’s matte and yet it sparkles, and its grippy without being abrasive. The result is an attractive pen that is comfortable to hold and use, because of the combination of a wide grip section, the textured coating and the grooves on the grip section.

Cerakote finish glowing.

The grip section is also where all the cleverness of this pen design resides: this is what allows you to customize the Ti Click EDC to accept practically every pen refill on the planet.

Grip section closeup.

The clip and knock mechanism are in stonewashed titanium, which suits this finish very well, but not all the new Cerakote finished pens offered come with this finish – some come with raw titanium clips and knocks, so read the description on the pen’s page to make sure you know what you’re getting and that you’re happy with it.

Clip and click.

I love the design on the end of this pen:

Closeup on the knock area.

This is a beautiful pen that is no longer available, but I still recommend buying a BigIDesign pen in Cerakote (green or bronze are now on offer. Navy and orange were on offer in the past) because they are such good EDC pens and the Cerakote finish only adds to their appeal in terms of form and function.

Ti Click EDC

Here’s a size comparison of the Ti Click EDC against a Caran d’Ache Fixpencil and a Sharpie. You can see just how wide the grip section is.

From top to bottom: Fixpencil, Ti Click EDC and Sharpie.

The “weak” spot on the Ti Click EDC is still the click mechanism. It engages successfully every time, but is quiet and gives very little feedback as it engages, making it feel “mushy”. This doesn’t affect its utility (it works every time, unlike in the earlier iterations of this pen), but it does make it an unsatisfying fidget tool. If that’s what you’re looking for in a pen, the Ti Bolt may be a better choice for you. Otherwise, the Cerakote finish just made a great machined pen even better.

2021: Looking Back at a “Heavy” Year

My hands have been killing me with the worst neuropathy since my treatments began, so I’ve been trying to limit my typing to what I need to do for work. That is why this post took so long to write, and why my posting schedule may be a little off until things improve with my neuropathy.

2021 was a hell of a year for me. It started with me doing Liz Steel‘s excellent Sketchbook Design course. I also took some fantastic and very illuminating tea seminars with Juyan Webster from the Chinese Tea Company. If you have any interest in tea and you get a chance to have a tea seminar with her, I highly recommend it.

Early on in the year is also when a close family member got diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and that’s also when my journalling went on the fritz. This was the notebook I was using at the time, a Moleskine Pokemon Charmander limited edition and I abandoned it 2/3rds of the way through.

Abandoned Moleskine.

Covid was raging, I was working from home, at a new job, and I spent the first quarter of the year trying to fit my drawing and running into the new quarantine rules that kept getting both stricter and more confusing with each iteration. I happily got vaccinated as soon as I could, and I’m still very grateful to the amazing scientists and doctors who came up with vaccines in such a short time frame.
I managed to participate in the OneWeek100People challenge, which is very demanding but also a lot of fun. If you can spare the time I recommend giving it a try.

In the beginning of April I started having shortness of breath (dyspnea) while running. It got worse with time and soon I couldn’t run at all, and then I couldn’t walk very fast or far, climb stairs, etc. After a long and laborious road to get a diagnosis, in the beginning of June I learned that I had cancer, and in the beginning of July I got a diagnosis and started ABVD chemotherapy to treat Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
A few things helped me get through that incredibly difficult time. First and foremost, my phenomenal family (mother, father and brother) that rallied around me and took care of me from the moment of the first diagnosis and to this day. I can’t imagine going through this process without them. Almost as important were my friends, who visited me in the hospital and cheered me up, and kept in touch and cheered me on during the treatments. Finally it was journaling and reading. I started this Moleskine “I am New York” on the day I was first admitted to hospital, and writing in it gave me perspective and kept me sane.

Journal of a bad year.

And books? Books have always been my comfort and escape. I saw a few things on Disney+ while I was hospitalized, but books helped distract me from a lot the most unpleasant and painful parts of this journey.
I was happy to discover that one of my favourite Moleskine limited edition series, the denim ones, was back in stock, and so once I finished the “I am New York” journal I moved into this Moleskine “Skinny. Flared. Bookcut.” one. It’s such a well conceptualized and executed design, it was a joy to use. This was when I decided to regularly use fountain pens to journal with, and just use only one side of the page. I have more than enough notebooks to support that decision.

This notebook took me through the second part of chemo to the end of it.

And now, and the beginning of 2022 I started a new journal, a Moleskine Peanuts Sakura. Pretty, right? Let’s hope I get to fill it with good news and positive thoughts.

A new Moleskine for a new and better year.

Some favourites from the past year:

My favourite pen was the Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass. Quite a surprise for me, but it hasn’t been out of rotation since I got it.

Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass – fantastic and beautiful pen.

Another pen purchase that came in at a close second was the Diplomat Elox Rings and the Diplomat Aero (basically the same pen with a slightly different body design). These are wonderful workhorses, and a joy to use.

Diplomat Elox Rings on the left and Diplomat Aero in Champagne on the right.

I didn’t read as much this year as last year, but I did read a few really great books. Here’s a list of a few standouts among them:

  • The Good War, by Studs Terkel. WWII as I’ve never experienced it before – as seen and told by the “regular people” who lived through it.
  • Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. Not an easy read by far, but a breathtaking work of fiction nonetheless. Worth the effort.
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz. A surprisingly moving tale of a character that you won’t expect to fall in love with, and yet you will.
  • Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, by Hillary Mantel. Why should I care about Thomas Cromwell? How can you not care about Thomas Cromwell after reading these books? An era and place come to life, in a world filled with complex and compelling characters.
  • Nomadland, by Jessica Bruder. Watch the movie AND read the book. Both are excellent, and both offer a chance to look into a part of modern living that we were hitherto oblivious of.
  • Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir. Just a fun and interesting sci-fi novel. If you enjoyed the Martian, you’ll enjoy this.
  • Underland, by Robert Macfarlane. What happens in the deep dark places beneath our feet? A lyrical work of non-fiction.
  • The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller. The love story between Achilles and Patroclus told with great gentleness and heart.
  • Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro. An understated and masterful work of science fiction that explores themes of humanity, identity, friendship and love, among other things.
  • Harlem Shuffle, by Colson Whitehead. How can you write a heist novel that isn’t a heist novel but rather a story of a person, a time and place? Whitehead’s writing is exceptional, and Harlem Shuffle is just another proof of that.
  • The Expanse books 1-4, James S.A. Corey. I haven’t read book 5 and onwards yet, but I did read the first four books of The Expanse this year. They aren’t perfect (Holden is a bit much), but they are very good at world-building, with interesting and unique plots and complex and believable characters (apart from Holden, who is a bit much). The books are each written in a different style, and they improve with time.

In terms of art supplies, 2021 was the year of the super-granulating watercolours from Schmincke, and also when I added Daniel Smith watercolours to my palette. Schmincke just announced that the super-granulating colours will be permanently added to their offerings, and that they are issuing three more permanent sets into this series (Desert, Shire and Vulcano), and another limited edition set, Haze.

I’ll be talking about planning for 2022 on one of my next posts. In the meanwhile, have a great new year, and don’t forget to take time and breath.