Karas Kustoms Battleworn Ink 2.0 Rollerball

I am a big fan of Karas Kustoms machined pens, and up until recently I owned all of their lineup except for the Ink rollerball. So when Karas offered a grab bag of matching battleworn Ink 2.0 rollerballs I decided to roll the dice and purchased two of them. There’s always a risk when buying grab bag pens, but I had some tremendous luck and got two pens that are not only in some of my favourite colours, but also in colours that I don’t yet own. I was also fortunate enough to get one pen with a tumbled aluminum grip and one with a regular one, which means that I had a chance to experience both of my preferred grip styles in these pens.

Beautifully designed machined pens.

First thing’s first: the anodization on these pens is spectacular. The colours are really vibrant, and the Battleworn finish does not take away from that. They pop out in any pen lineup, rivalled only by my Spoke pen in terms of brightness:

From left to right: Karas EDK, original Render K, Battleworn Render K, Retrakt V2 , Ink 2.0, Retro51 Dino Fossil, Spoke Pen Orange Crush, Ink 2.0, Caran d’Ache 849

As you can see from the lineup photo above, the Ink 2.0 is a big, chunky pen. It’s larger than any other pen that Karas offers, and while it’s about the same length as the Spoke Pen, it’s much wider. Even so, this is not an overly heavy pen, and the added girth does make for a pleasant writing experience. This is a workhorse pen, built to last, and build to accompany long writing sessions.

The Ink 2.0 uncapped.

There’s quite a distance between the tip of the pen and the threads, and so there’s little chance of them getting in the way of your grip. Despite that, Karas has taken the precaution of ensuring that the threads aren’t overly sharp. Do take into account though that despite the 2.0 name, this is the older version of the Karas Ink rollerball, and so it has the old version of the threads and the cap. The threads on the new Ink V2 (I know, the naming could have been better, but at least it’s consistent across their lineup) are shorter, and have a flat area before them. This serves to even further place your fingers away from the threads, and is required for their Sta-Fast cap system. This system adds an o-ring to the cap, and prevents the pen from unthreading itself. My Ink 2.0s don’t have this system, and so they unthread themselves rather too easily, although nowhere nearly as bad as the original Render K. Again, this is a problem that you won’t encounter if you’re purchasing a new Ink V2 from Karas site right now, and they do a good job of clearly pointing the differences out.

You can see the differences in the tumbled grip and the regular aluminum grip.

The grip on the Ink rollerball is really where the pen’s design shines. It has such a unique profile, with the flare right before the tip cone. It makes for a very comfortable grip section, with added “grippiness” provided by the tumbled finish, should you choose to get it. The grip also comes in black anodized, brass and copper.

Unusual but beautiful design.

A closeup on the old threads shows the difference in the levels of Battleworn finish between these pens. The cyan pen was clearly less tumbled than the magenta one, so I am considering switching the grips between the two, to complete the extra Battleworn look.

The new Ink V2 threads don’t look like this.

Here you can see even better the different levels of Battleworn finish between these pens:

My pens arrived with a Pilot G2 large 0.5mm gel ink refill, and so far I haven’t replaced it. It’s very easy to unscrew the section and replace the refill with anything else that you like, and Karas does a fairly good job on their site, listing popular refills that fit their pens.

I think that the Karas Ink is one of their most beautiful and well designed pens, and there’s a good chance that I’ll buy the Ink V2 once I see a colour and finish combo that catches my eye. Everything from the robust clip design, the placement of the visible screws on the cap, to the length and girth of this pen and especially the grip design is well thought out. It’s clearly a step up from the (excellent) Render K, and if you’re looking for an impressive yet practical machined pen, the Karas Ink V2 is probably the pen for you.

Karas Kustoms Battleworn Ink 2.0 Rollerball

Spoke Roady Gecko Pen Review

The Spoke Design Roady Gecko pen about a week ago, and I’ve been using it constantly since then. The Roady is an EDC pocket pen made of machined aluminum that is built around the Uni-ball Jetstream SXR-600 refill. Unlike its predecessor, the excellent Signo DX compatible Spoke Pen, the Roady is capable of accepting a wide variety of Parker style refills, including the Fisher Space Pen refill, much beloved in EDC circles.

I don’t usually go for flashy pens, but something about the design of the Roady and the colour options offered made me grab the Gecko. This charmingly named colourway has a lime green cap, an orange barrel and finial, and rainbow coloured grip and clip. The result is even better in person than it is in photos – a pen that makes you smile and is bound to draw attention to itself.

Capped the Spoke Roady is tiny, and ought to fit comfortably in your pockets, if you have some.

There are a few other colourways with similar rainbow patterns on their grip and clip. The result is gorgeous, and I’m glad that Spoke Design haven’t offered these only as limited edition pens, or charged an additional markup for them. That is commendable and impressive, particularly in today’s machined pen market.

Rainbow clip.

Trying to write with the Spoke Roady unposted is asking for trouble, as it’s verging on golf pencil short in its body length. This is a pen clearly designed with posting in mind.

Too short for comfort unposted.

When posted the Spoke Roady becomes a viable EDC pen, although it’s still on the short side. This means that it’s great for short notes on the go, which is what it’s intended for, and not the best for long note taking sessions. The Roady posts using magnets, making a satisfying click when posted. It’s not as great a fidget toy as the Spoke Pen is, not that this should ever dissuade you from purchasing it.

Capped and ready for work.

For some reason the refill came shipped in a separate sleeve and not inside the pen. This is a peculiar choice since the refill came in a Uni-ball refill bag, but with the spring and o-ring already installed, and for some reason a bit of tubing meant to be used as a spacer of some kind? It’s not really clear. Also, while you get a cool sticker and generally nice packaging with the Roady, you don’t get an explanation of any kind with the pen. That’s a shame because it assumes that everyone will know how to handle the refill when it comes to changing the pen’s refill. It feels like a missed opportunity for Spoke.

The refill, Jetstream SXR-600

Here’s the Spoke Roady next to the Spoke Pen. If you can only afford one pen and you’re out and about a lot and like wild colours, then I’d recommend getting the Roady. Otherwise, get the Spoke pen, especially if you like writing in fine lines. Both are good pens, just each one is suited for a different use case.

Roady on the left, Spoke Pen on the right.

Writing sample on Rhodia paper. The Jetstream SXR-600 in 0.7 is an excellent refill choice in the Parker refill category, and the Parker style refill itself is a great choice for an EDC type of pen.

The Roady is a great little pen to have handy, and it’s reasonably priced for a machined pen. I won’t be surprised if I end up buying one or even two more.

Spoke Roady Gecko Pen Review

Ti Mini Review

Look what arrived in the mail today! It’s the Big Idea Design Ti Mini, fresh from their latest Kickstarter. I generally love all Big Idea Design pens (except the for the click, which I still enjoy, though it’s not my favourite), but I still hesitated before backing this one. The form factor is so “extreme” that I wasn’t sure that I’d like it or find use for it. A small pocket pen (i.e. a pen that’s small even for a pocket pen), the Ti Mini is a titanium machined pen that uses D1 refills and is basically built for the watch/change pocket of your jeans. It’s the emergency pen you pull out when you need to scribble something on a note, something that you can carry around without even remembering it’s there until you need it.

The post was enthusiastic so the package got a bit smashed in transit.

The packaging is standard Big Idea Design: utilitarian, full of useful information, well thought out and designed and with a bit of an Apple vibe to it.

Smashed package, but you get the gist
That is just a great tagline
Designed by Big Idea Design, Made in China. Remind you of something?

There’s a bit of marketing material when you open the box, but I’m just going to pause and say that I’ve paid a lot more for machined pens that weren’t half as well packed as this, and the reason that my pen survived the rough-handling that my package received is because someone took the time to consider good packaging. And I’m not even someone who usually appreciates packaging (unless it’s particularly good or downright insultingly bad).

Not a scratch on the pen even though the box was smashed in.
Nice logo sticker to go with the pen.

The Ti Mini comes with two spare o-rings and six D1 refills: three gel ink refills (one in the pen, two others in the refill bag), and three ballpoint refills. All refills are Big Idea Design branded, and all of them are medium refills. You have everything you’ll need to write with this pen for months if not for years, right out of the box.

The Ti Mini in DLC Black

The pen has the classic look of any Big Idea Design pen, with an addition of a titanium bead at the end of a lanyard, to make it easy to pull out of your jeans’ change pocket. It’s an extremely well designed pen, built perfectly for its purpose.

The Ti Mini isn’t built for long form writing, but for a few lines and a scribble when you’re on the go it’s perfect. The gel ink refills that came with my pen seem to be duds, which is a shame, and the only strike agains this pen purchase. It’s not too bad though, because if there’s a pen that calls for a ballpoint refill, it’s this one.

Changing refills is a breeze: unscrew the top, and then unscrew the refill, replacing it with another D1 refill by simply screwing the refill in and then screwing the top back on.

If you’re looking for an “emergency” EDC pen, something that’s always there and ready for when you really need it, the Ti Mini is perfect for the job. It also makes for a great gift pen, even though now is not the time when people travel around much (stay at home!). Just be careful not to forget about it and leave it in you jeans when you wash them. The pen will survive, I’m not so sure about the washing machine…

Ti Mini Review

Karas Kustoms Retrakt Review

Back in 2016 I purchased the 2016 Anniversary edition of the Karas Kustoms EDK. It was a Parker refill machined pen (i.e. relatively short) that came with a Schmidt P2186 rollerball refill (and a Rickshaw bag pouch with a notebook which I won’t review here).

You can see that pen on the right, with it’s grey red finish and its Karas logo with the year 2016 engraved into the barrel:

 

The 2019Anniversary Retrakt is the pen on the left, and when I first saw it during Karas end of the year sale I fell in love with the sleek design. The 2019 anniversary Retrakt fits a Pilot G2 refill (astrix. We’ll get to that later), comes in a matt finish with a black click mechanism and clip, and a “fluted” grip. Unlike the 2016 edition, it’s completely unbranded.

 

Both pens have a distinctive and attractive industrial design, and both are built like tanks. The anodization is fantastic, and both the clip and click mechanism are rock solid. The pens are fairly priced for the quality you get, they have good heft and balance, and are a joy to use. I personally found the fluted grip slightly less comfortable for use in long writing sessions than the regular grip, but I have a tendency to go “grip of death” sometimes. The fluted grip just reminds me to let go a bit, the pen isn’t going anywhere without me.

2016 Anniversary Retrakt on the right, 2019 Anniversary Fluted Retrakt on the left

This brings us to the refill situation on the 2019 Anniversary Retrakt. As soon as I got it I took out the Pilot G2 refill it came with and tried to replace it with my favourite G2 compatible refill, the Uni-ball UMR-85. It’s something that I do automatically with every G2 compatible machined pen. The click mechanism wouldn’t engage. The plunger went down but didn’t stay down, the tip of the refill never saw the light of day. This has never happened to me with a G2 compatible pen before, so I grabbed the original refill and placed it side by side with the Uni-ball one:

Uni-ball UMR-85N on the top, Pilot G2 on the bottom

This was when I realized that the Retrakt V2 must have somehow been designed to accommodate the Pilot G2 tip configuration and only the Pilot G2 tip configuration (unless you purchase a Parker style conversion kit from Karas). This was a big disappointment to me.

Schmidt vs Pilot G2 Retrakts

I probably wouldn’t have purchased this pen had I known this going in. I don’t hate the Pilot G2 refills, but I’m also not a huge fan of their tendency to be globby or stop working while they’re still half full. This means that I’ll be trying to hack a Uni-ball refill into this pen one way or another. Here’s hoping that I succeed because this the 2019 Anniversary Retrakt is a handsome and well made pen that I would really like to have in my rotation.

Karas Kustoms Retrakt Review

Spoke Pen Review

My Spoke Pen Orange Crush arrived a week ago, and I’ve been using it exclusively for journaling and meeting notes since then. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

First comes the colour, because there’s just absolutely no way to ignore it. It’s nothing like I would have expected orange pen to be: it’s like an amalgamation of gold and bronze with a dash of copper. This is a rich and SHINY finish that sparkles and glows. You cannot ignore it, the very opposite of subtle, and yet it isn’t gaudy and doesn’t look cheap. Orange isn’t a colour that I’m overly fond of, but I’m glad that I picked it out for this pen: it’s perfect.

The second thing you notice about this pen is the weight. It’s super light, though it appears to be a solid and heavy looking pen. It shouldn’t have surprised me, as it’s made of aluminum, but the Spoke Pen still looks like it a heavy pen because there appears to be so much metal in use in it that it seems impossible for it to be so light. The first time I picked it up it really surprised me. It’s lighter than my beloved Ti Arto, even though it looks like it should be heavier. At first I had to consciously remind myself to use the Spoke Pen and not the Ti Arto when journaling, but now it’s become the pen I turn to for long writing sessions because it fatigues my hands less. Could it replace my Ti Arto as my favourite pen? Time will tell, but it’s entirely possible the way things stand now.

The Spoke Pen was designed entirely around Brad Dowdy‘s beloved Uni-ball Signo DX refill (UMR-1), but also accepts the Uni-ball Signo UMR-85N (my favourite refill), UMR-87N, and other refills of the same size. To change refills you unscrew the section, take out the old refill, and then the magic starts. When you put in a new refill it will appear to jot out quite a bit from the pen body. “There’s no way this thing will close back up again,” you think to yourself. Have faith, it does: there’s a hidden spring in the back of the pen, and you’re going to have to apply a tiny bit of force to push the section back close to the body, but once you start screwing the section back everything fits snugly back in place. The tolerances on this pen are flawless, as I’d expect from a pen with this provenance.

Machined pens seem to be divided into two schools of thought when it comes to branding: either the over the top, in your face, you can’t miss it branding style, or the barely branded one. The Spoke Pen belongs to the latter group, as there’s a discreet stamp of the Spoke logo on the top finial and that’s it. Very classy move.

The third great thing about this pen is the magnetic closure. I actually thought that this would be a more significant feature than the colour or the weight of the pen, but after using the Ti2 Techliner for a while the novelty of magnetic cap closures must have worn off for me. If the most important thing for you is the magnetic closure, then I recommend the Ti2 Techliner instead, as its magnets are significantly more powerful, and you can both cap and post the pen with them, even from a distance. The Spoke Pen’s cap magnet engages only halfway through capping the pen, basically functioning like the click at the end of a regular pen capping. It’s fun to use, and fun to fidget with, but I don’t think that it’s the pen’s main selling point.

Are there any cons to this pen? Of course, rarely anything in life is perfect. You may not like the Spoke Pen’s tactical aesthetic. If you carry the Spoke Pen in your pocket lint will probably get wedged in its “fins”. The clip looks like a determined person with something to prove could bend it out of shape (for normal use I think it’s perfectly fine). These are not issues for me personally, but they may be issues for you.

As it is, the Spoke Pen Orange Crush is one of my favourite (non-fountain) pens ever, and is looking to replace the Ti Arto at the top of my list. Kudos to Brian Conti and Brad Dowdy for creating such a great product out of the gate.

Spoke Pen Review

Ti Arto EDC Review

While the original Ti Arto is my favourite machined pen, the newer Ti Arto EDC comes in at a close second. Like its older BIGiDESIGN brother, the Ti Arto EDC is a machined titanium pen which can accept hundreds of different refills with no need for hacks or spacers and with no tip wiggle. Unlike the Ti Arto it comes in three different finishes, accepts many more refills, and can be adjusted in length.

The Ti Arto EDC looks a lot like a slightly slimmer version of the Ti Arto, with a bigger step down in the end section, and almost no gap between the section and the body.

Those looks are a little deceiving, because this the Ti Arto EDC has a completely different build. The end of the pen can be extended or retracted, unlike the Ti Arto, where it is static. In the Ti Arto EDC the end of the pen is also what you unscrew to change refills, unlike the Ti Arto, where the grip unscrews. If you assume that they’re the same, as on a cursory glance it looks like the Ti Arto EDC’s grip section unscrews (and it really, really doesn’t).

The body of the Ti Arto EDC is slightly slimmer, and the entire pen is slightly lighter than the Ti Arto. It comes in a machined raw finish (like the Ti Arto), in a stonewashed finish (which you can see in the pictures) and in a midnight black finish (which you can see on my Ti Click EDC). Of the three, the stonewashed finish has the best grip and feel, and it also shows wear and tear the best.

The trick with the extendable end section is where the cleverness of this pen lies, and that’s what allows you to use more refill types in this pen, and to extend or compress this pen’s length (to the limits of the refill size). The two o-rings make the end section action super smooth, and the same dual thread design allows you to cap and post this pen super securely. Nothing on this pen is going anywhere without your permission.

The Ti logo, elegant and understated, is the only branding on this pen. You can see how substantial the clip is and how the pen wear in the photo above. It’s like an old pair of jeans, so the stonewashed name for this finish is totally appropriate.

Fully extended, the Ti Arto EDC is the same length of the Ti Arto. However, depending on the refill you use, this pen can get pretty tiny.

I use the Uni-ball UMR-85N refill in this pen, and this is as far as it will contract. If you use a Parker or Schmidt refill the end section can be screwed in almost all the way. However, even partially extended the Ti Arto EDC is a more pocketable pen than its predecessor.

So why do I prefer the Ti Arto more? For longer writing sessions the Ti Arto’s wider girth makes it more comfortable to use than the Ti Arto EDC, although the difference is minor. The Ti Arto is also slightly less ungainly than the Ti Arto EDC, having a more streamlined design, with no step down. I don’t mind the Ti Arto’s gap between the grip and the pen body, and I don’t need a pen that accepts more refills than the Ti Arto. As you may have noticed by now, the choice between the Arto and the Arto EDC is likely going be one of personal taste and preference. Either pen is an excellent choice for a machined pen, an EDC pen, or a titanium pen.

Ti Arto EDC Review

Tactile Turn Aluminium Glider Review

I use a lot of machined pens at work, mostly because they make taking dull meeting notes a bit more fun. Fountain pens just aren’t pragmatic for meeting notes because I have to cap and uncap them every minute or so (and the Pilot Vanishing Point has the most attention grabbing click that you can imagine). Pencils are for real thinking — problem solving, brainstorming, designing — or doodling during long phone calls. So I have a fair amount of non-tactical machined pens, and they see a fair amount of daily use. So of course I’ve reviewed hardly any of them…

The Tactile Turn aluminium Glider is a pen that I bought during the popular Tactile Turn Slider and Glider kickstarter a while back. I’m not a fan of Tactile Turn’s naming convention, as I find it confusing, but I am a fan of everything else about this pen.

I purchased the blue aluminium Glider, which uses Pilot G2 refills and came with a 0.38 Pilot G2 refill, and splurged on a Damascus steel bolt.  The pen is well designed, well balanced, and features a ridged texture that makes it extra grippy. It’s a joy to write with, and although it has some heft it’s still comfortable to use over long periods of time.

The Damascus steel bolt isn’t just pretty, it’s added texture make the bolt mechanism an even better fidget toy than it already is. Click away thoughtfully at meetings to keep yourself awake, or just count the number of rings on the pen to pass the time.

Tactile Turn 2018

The only logo on the pen is very cleverly hidden beneath the formidable clip. The clip, the pen and the anodization have endured well so far after months of daily use. It is worth noting though that this pen doesn’t bash around in my bag like my Big Idea Design pens do.

The Pilot G2 0.38 spattered to its death prematurely (sadly quite common with this refill), so I grabbed a Muji click gel pen with a 0.5 blue black refill (which is a white label Zebra or Uni-Ball refill), cut it to size and I couldn’t be happier with the combo.

There are so many machined pens in recent years, and quite a few of them have bolt mechanisms. The Tactile Turn Glider is so far the best that I’ve tried:

  • The bolt mechanism is smooth and engages easily and only when you want it to.
  • The Glider’s shape and weight make it a good looking pen that’s also usable.
  • The ridges are both functional (providing traction that prevents your fingers from slipping) and add an interesting design element.
  • The clip is industrial grade strong and durable, and the anodization seems to be very durable as well.
  • The Glider is very well priced, making it the perfect introduction to machined pens.

If you are looking to buy just one machined click pen, the Tactile Turn Glider should be it.

Tactile Turn Aluminium Glider Review

Ti Click EDC Pen Review

I am a big fan of Big Idea Design’s pens (the Ti Arto is my daily carry pen), and so of course I joined the Kickstarter for the Ti Click EDC Pen. Since I hadn’t tried their black anodised pens before, that’s the finish I opted for. It arrived yesterday, and even though I’ve been using it exclusively all day, I’l be the first to admit that these are only my preliminary thoughts on it. (See updates in the end for more detailed thoughts on this pen).

The packaging, as usual with BIGiDESIGN, is compact and neat. The pen comes with everything you need to fix it, should you need to (I’ve never needed to), and in a pretty nifty box.

The finish on this pen is shiny and black, but it’s surprisingly not a fingerprint magnet, as I would have imagined:

The pen came with a Scheider Gelion 39 0.4 mm gel ink refill. This is a new refill for me, and I can’t say I’m a fan. It’s as wide as a 0.7-0.8 mm refill, and I much prefer the Uni-Ball Signo UMR-85N refill that the BIGiDESIGN pens used to be shipped with (it’s me favourite gel refill).

As part of the kickstarter, the pen came with a cool Bioworkz sticker, which you can see below:

The pen itself is about the length of the Ti Arto, when the Ti Arto is capped, but the grip is much wider, about the size of the Ti Pocket Pro. That’s a bit large for an EDC pen, and it’s definitely not a pocket pen. The grip feels weird at first, but it’s very comfortable and well designed. You can see how the Ti Click EDC compares to the Ti Arto (on the left) and the Ti Pocket Pro (on the right) in the various finish options that the Ti pens come in (machined raw, midnight black, and stonewashed). My machined raw Ti Arto shows scratches much more than my stonewashed Ti Pocket Pro, but I’ve no idea yet how the midnight black finish wears.

This brings me to the only minus that the Ti Click EDC has – the click mechanism. It’s silent (no satisfying click), which will probably turn off those planning on using it as a fidget toy, and it doesn’t always engage properly. It’s especially prone to not engaging after you replace the refill. Make sure that you use the provided instructions to switch refills (and like other BIGiDESIGN pens this one accepts dozens of refills without using any spacers or requiring any special hacks), and take into account that you might have to fiddle with the grip a bit until most clicks work. This is not a minor drawback, as the whole point of the pen is its click mechanism. It should work 100% of the time and feel satisfying, not “soft” as it feels now.

For the price of the Ti Click EDC you could buy a Ti Arto (still their best pen), or a Ti Pocket Pro (if portability is super important to you), have some change for a bunch of refills and get a much better pen. I love supporting BIGiDESIGN and I’m glad that I got to try this pen, but for now it looks like the Ti Arto will continue to reign supreme in my rotation.

Update: After using this pen almost exclusively for a week, I stand by my first impressions. It’s slightly more comfortable to use in long form writing, but the click mechanism is garbage.

Update 2: The BIGiDESIGN guys contacted me and it turns out that you can significantly improve the click mechanism with some silicone grease. Using the clip fixing kit that came with the pen and their simple instructional video on how to use it you can get to the click mechanism, and then apply some silicone grease, which you can buy at Goulet Pens for example. I happened to have grease around, so I had no problem trying this out, and it fixes the problem of the click mechanism not engaging properly.

The click is now solid, but it’s still not much fun to use – there’s no satisfying click or solid feedback once the thing is engaged. You just push past a point, and then the mechanism partially bounces back. It’s a disappointment because most $2-3 pens have more satisfying click mechanisms and even Karas Kustoms EDK pen, which has a similar click mechanism, offers more feedback and an audible click once it’s engaged.

I don’t know how many Ti Click EDC pens were affected by this problem, and I’m glad that I have at least a “mostly OK” click mechanism for my pen now, but I stand by my initial review, that for a pen that advertises its click mechanism so prominently, this is not a great buy. Spend your money on the Ti Arto, it’s a pen worth having, or go for the Ti Pocket Pro if you’re looking for an EDC pen. Those are truly great pens, while the Ti Click EDC is OK to “sort of good” at best.

Ti Click EDC Pen Review