Wednesday, July 26, 2017

AURORA 88 OTTANTOTTO ANNIVERSARIO FOUNTAIN PEN REVIEW

Aurora 88 Ottantotto Anniversario fountain pen reviewHuge anticipation preceded the new Aurora Ottantotto Anniversario limited edition, and with reason, as it was announced to come with a new flexible 14k nib. Who doesn't want some flex action these days?! 

But of course, anticipation means nothing when the product doesn't deliver. So the hype partially dissapeared when the first reviews hit, in which the flexible nib was written off as, well... not so flexible. Of course, the mixed reviews only made me want to try it out more (maybe my scientific background makes me a critical thinker, maybe I'm just stubborn... probably the latter.). So I caved when Dennis from La Couronne Du Comte showed me the brown version that was released last month. 
Aurora 88 Ottantotto Anniversario fountain pen review
But before we talk about whether or not the nib lives up to the expectations, let's just look at the pen itself, which is basically a regular Aurora Ottantotto. All eight versions of the Anniversario have one thing in common: they are all fairly simple variations on the regular Ottantotto model. Each version is made from a different color solid acrylic, or silver/gold (plated I suppose) metal. But neither of them has an exotic material, or special finish, something Aurora is usually known for. Each Anniversario is, in essence, a regular Ottantotto in a different color, nothing more than that. 
Aurora 88 Ottantotto Anniversario fountain pen review
But then of course that's what you pay for. The Anniversario's are priced similarly to the regular 88's, given that the flexible nib commands a 100-150$ premium over the normal nibs (which is in line with what they will cost in the future, when they will become readily availaible on more models). I would've expected something more exotic for an anniversary limited edition, but in the end Aurora really just wanted to focus on the new nibs, not the pen around it. So that's what they did, and the result is a good looking but maybe rather plain pen. 

And that's basically the first reason why the Anniversario hasn't received the attention it deserves. It's a plain pen, but it retails for more than most other Auroras, some with much more intricate and fascinating materials. The Nebulosa, for example, was released around the same time as the Anniversario pens, and it kind of overshadowed them in popularity. Frankly, I can't blame anyone for being more exited about the new Aurora Nebulosa, which shows off a beautiful and intricate purple acrylic.
Aurora 88 Ottantotto Anniversario fountain pen review
Whilst it may be rather plain, it's definitely not an ugly pen, far from it really. The Ottantotto, or 88, is a classy looking model. It's subtle all the way around, with minimal engraving on the center band, and a gently curved clip with a ball end. It won't turn heads, but then again a subdued design doesn't mean an ugly design.

The brown version has been my favourite from the moment I saw the lineup of colors that would be released, for the simple reason that I think the subtle brown color matches the overall subtlety of the pen. The choice of solid acrylic colors may have been a strange choice for an anniversary pen, but I think they pulled it off and made a classy looking pen.
Aurora 88 Ottantotto Anniversario fountain pen review
The Aurora Ottantotto is actually not too different from the Optima I reviewed a while ago (read here). It's basically the same pen, but with rounded top and bottom instead of the flattop design of the Optima. The center band is also different, but that's as far as the differences go. Because the Optima is basically an 88 with the top and bottom snipped off, there is a noticeable difference in size.
Aurora 88 Ottantotto Anniversario fountain pen review
L to R: Pelikan Souverän M800, Sailor Pro Gear, Aurora Optima, Aurora 88, Lamy Safari, Lamy 2000
The difference in length, added by the rounded finials, is actually quite significant. The 88 measures 13.7 cm closed (5.4"), and 13.1 cm open (5.16"), which is almost a centimeter longer than the Optima (The Optima actually being a rather small pen). Other than the difference in length, both pens actually have a similar diameter (perhaps even identical) of around 1.4 cm (0.55") at the widest point. The section is long and wide (avg. 1.1 cm/ 0.43"), and has a pleasant tapering shape which flares out near the nib. It's a fully acrylic pen, so the total weight of the pen is limited to around 21 grams without ink.

The section is identical to the one on the Optima, which I already found quite excellent. The added length of the 88 however, makes it even more comfortable in the hand. Everything combined, the 88 is an extremely comfortable pen to write with. I've never felt the need to post the cap, but it's actually quite comfortable and balanced (the cap sits rather deep on the pen body) with the cap posted.
Aurora 88 Ottantotto Anniversario fountain pen review
Let's take a look at the nib... Where do I start? Designwise, It's a simple but aesthetically pleasing nib that fits the design language of the rest of the pen. The imprint is based on a vintage design of earlier Aurora pens. I've read somewhere that imprints on flexible nibs are kept simple to reduce stress in the material, as repeated flexing can cause cracks in the nib.

As for how it performs, it's a perfectly fine Fine 14k nib (see what I did there?). It may be advertised as a flexible nib, but that doesn't mean it's not perfectly usable for everyday writing. Aurora nibs have a tendency to be slightly less polished, so you can expect a little more feedback but a lot more consistency. The ebonite feed provides a steady, slightly wet flow (I would assume it's tuned slightly wetter for optimal flex, although it seems to perform in line with the regular Aurora nibs I tried).
Aurora 88 Ottantotto Anniversario fountain pen review
The reason why this nib is actually very capable for everyday writing is because it's rather stiff (which may sound a little odd, given that it's a flexible nib). You shouldn't expect an incredibly soft, springy nib like on vintage flex, or even modern titanium or soft gold nibs. It's a snappy nib, very responsive, but it requires some pressure to flex.
Aurora 88 Ottantotto Anniversario fountain pen review
I'm not an expert on flex writing, but I did get some decent results out of it. The line variation is decent, but I'd call it a good semi-flex nib, calling it full flex is maybe slightly exaggerated. You'll be dissapointed if you're expecting wet noodle vintage flex like you see on Instagram (Thanks Azizah!), but you can still get very decent line variation from it nevertheles.

In my simple, not very accurate, test I could get line variation equivalent of EF to BB. Comparing to some other (semi-) flexible nibs I had on hand, the Aurora nib is definitely on the finer side, and I found it comparable in performance and flexibility to an EF titanium bock nib (although the titanium nibs feel softer and less responsive). Flex writing from something like the Wahl-Eversharp may look more impressive, but the fine nib is super wet and the line width appears much wider to begin with, so the actual variation is not necessarily better.
I've noticed a couple of people that had problems with the feed not being able to keep up with flexing, resulting in a lot of railroading. I've had it happen too, but I have a strong suspicion that it's mainly due to the choice of ink. Out of three different inks I tried (Aurora Black, Robert Oster Lemongrass, and Sailor Souten), only the Robert Oster ink (presumably the least lubricated and driest of all three) caused railroading issues. With the other two inks I could actually push it quite far without issues, even with fast writing.

There are a lot of pros and contras to this nib, but in the end I actually quite like it. It's perhaps a bit stiff, but because of that it's also perfectly usable for normal writing without having to keep a featherlight touch.
Aurora 88 Ottantotto Anniversario fountain pen review
Each color in the Anniversario range is a limited edition of just 188 pieces. Because of these limited runs, they are bound to sell out fast. In fact, some of the colors are already becoming scarce, so acting fast is key. To buy or not to buy? That depends, it's a tough choice if you're just interested in a flexible nib. It does give line variation, but it's nothing like a good vintage flex, and the same effect can be had with a 50$ titanium nib. If you were already looking to buy an Aurora anyway, and you're not too keen on the more elaborate material options, the Anniversario offers a subtle yet playful option that should be considered.

In the end I think Aurora did a great job on the complete package. I'm glad I own one, but I personally wouldn't buy it just for the nib. As I mentioned earlier, all Anniversario pens retail for 620 EUR / 650 USD. If you're just looking for a flexible nib, that's too steep. But as a complete package, the 150$ premium over the regular Ottantotto is actually quite fair.
Note: La Couronne Du Comte is a sponsor of this blog. I received a discount on the purchase of this product.  I was in no way influenced in the making of this review, the opinions shared in this review are completely my own! This post does not contain affilate links.
Aurora 88 Ottantotto Anniversario fountain pen review

Saturday, July 22, 2017

INKTASTIC: LAMY PETROL SPECIAL EDITION INK REVIEW

Inktastic: Lamy Petrol special edition ink review
Maybe the most elusive ink of the moment? At least that seems to be the status Lamy is going for with their special edition Petrol ink. It's the ink that matches this year's (2017) Safari Petrol special edition release. But whereas the pen is rather easy to get a hold of, the ink is lagging behind and is only available sporadically. I don't know what it is with brands having issues fulfilling shipments of new releases to retailers, but it seems to be happening more frequently, and it can be really frustrating. 
Inktastic: Lamy Petrol special edition ink review
But I assume you didn't come here for a rant, so  let's have a look at the ink... 

I knew it would be quite difficult for Lamy to top last year's Dark Lilac ink with their new release, but they did a respectable job. Note that I don't say they actually made a better ink than Dark lilac, it's still not on the same level in my opinion. 
Inktastic: Lamy Petrol special edition ink review
Petrol is, as the name suggests, a petrol blue-green kind of color. It actually makes sense that they'd go for something in this color family, since Pelikan's success with last year's Edelstein Aquamarine and J.Herbin with Emerald of Chivor, both of which are somewhat in the same ballpark in terms of color. However Petrol is much, much darker and less saturated, leaning close to a dark grey-ish color. I found that it compares quite strongly to KWZ Rotten green, for those of you familiar with that ink, which is also this mucky, dark, green-ish ink. Judging from chromatography results, it's basically a blue-black, but with a hint of olive green in it to give it that petrol color. 

I like the color a lot actually, because it's something sober and classy. This is an ink I'd feel comfortable using for everyday writing at work, or school. It's not distracting, easily legible and yet not just another boring black.
Inktastic: Lamy Petrol special edition ink review
One area where I knew Petrol would struggle to improve over Dark Lilac, is sheen and shading. Petrol definitely has shading, but because the base color is already quite dark, the shading doesn't provide a stark contrast like you get from lighter inks. Sheen is also kind of mediocre. On the right paper, and in places where it gets the chance to pool, you can notice some dark red/black sheen. But that being said, you really need to lay down a lot of ink for it to become easily noticeable. All in all, a bit underwhelming I must say.
Inktastic: Lamy Petrol special edition ink review
Inktastic: Lamy Petrol special edition ink review
Inktastic: Lamy Petrol special edition ink review
Other than visual properties, it does perform very decent. It's a relatively wet, free-flowing ink, resulting in fairly long dry times from my experience. It's smooth but not noticeably lubricated. I wouldn't call it waterproof, but the strong black base of the ink does have some water-resistance so it remains faintly visible.
Inktastic: Lamy Petrol special edition ink review
All in all, this is definitely an ink I can see myself using for note-taking and stuff like that. It's a nice subtle ink with a little pop of color to it. If you can get a hold of a bottle of Lamy Petrol, I think it's definitely worth checking out, as they are priced very reasonably around the 10 dollar mark for a 50ml bottle. I got a sample of this ink as part of the Inxperiment, which is Appelboom's ink sample subscription service. They often include samples of interesting new inks, so it's an easy way to check those out!
Appelboom pennen
Note: Appelboom is a sponsor of this blog. This product was provided free of charge, so I could write this review. I was in no way influenced in the making of this review, the opinions shared in this review are completely my own! This post does not contain affilate links.
Inktastic: Lamy Petrol special edition ink review

Sunday, July 9, 2017

PENS & CHEMISTRY - MATERIALS

Pens and Chemistry - Materials
I’ve been thinking about doing a series of posts that brings together the two passions in my life: Chemistry (as some of you will know, I study Chemistry), and pens. But I held off on it for a very long time. I guess, simply because it required too much preparation work, and frankly there were a lot of things I still didn’t understand in my first years at uni. 

Chemistry isn’t everyone’s favorite topic, which is something I’m fully aware of. Yet I found out over the years of collecting pens and studying that there’s a lot of chemistry in pens and inks (well to be precise, there’s a lot of chemistry in literally everything, but I digress again…). So I thought it would be cool to show some chemistry that is relevant to our hobby. 

Before I start rambling, please don’t forget that this is supposed to be a fun post (the definition of ‘fun’ can be quite subjective), different from what I usually do. It’s not supposed to be a complete chemistry textbook, and I’m just a human so I can’t promise everything is completely correct. Secondly, I’d like to apologize in advance for throwing with terminology. Unfortunately, terminology is key in the way chemists try to communicate, so there’s no way to work around that. 

METALS 

Pens and Chemistry - Materials
As I mentioned, chemistry is usually taught in a complimentary way, establishing a base, and building up from there. Since we don’t want this to become a 1000 page textbook, I’ll only explain the interesting bits, if you really want to understand everything you’ll have to do some more reading. 

Something I have to start with, is mentioning that chemistry can basically be divided in two main categories: Inorganic and organic. Organic chemistry is carbon-based, which includes all living matter (and thus you and me as well). Inorganic is pretty much everything else. 
Pens and Chemistry - Materials
When I look at the pens on my desk, I see a lot of metals. Metals are part of the inorganic chemistry field. They are interesting for their durability, and thus the entire EDC hype of super sturdy pens is basically built around metals. Metals have a crystalline structure, which means the atoms are stacked neatly in a specific way. A model that explains why metals behave like metals, and not like a mineral (which is also a crystal), is explained by the model of the electron cloud. Each atom in the crystal is held in place by a ‘cloud’ of shared electrons that moves randomly throughout the metal structure. It's a simplified depiction, but it shows that the forces that make up the metal are more of an interaction, instead of rigid bonds. This explains why metals are malleable without breaking, and why they are good conductors.
Pens and Chemistry - Materials
Metals can be categorized as inorganic materials, and they are usually made up of the corresponding atoms. Aluminium is made up of aluminium atoms, titanium out of titanium atoms, and so on. Then we have things like steel, or brass, which are alloys. Simply put, an alloy is when you mix two or more metals together in a forge. Steel for example, is a mixture of iron (Fe) and carbon (C), stainless steel adds chromium or other additive metals to it. Brass, another alloy, is made up mostly of copper (Cu) and Zinc (Zn), there used to be a small amount of lead (Pb) in it, but these days lead is avoided because it’s not the healthiest.

PLASTICS

Pens and Chemistry - Materials
Plastics belong in the camp of organic chemistry. Basically, when you look at pens, everything that’s not metal is a plastic one way or the other. Plastic is a not-so-scientific name for these materials, but it has become the generalized name for them throughout the years. In fact, plastic is actually the term that describes a physical behavior where an object under stress is deformed. Using this term to describe the class of materials we’ll discuss in a minute originates from the fact that many of them have a ‘plastic’ behavior.

Now since plastic is such a generalized term, it covers an immense amount of ground. In pen-terms that means everything from ebonite to acrylic to ABS injection molded pens can be called plastic pens. This is an area where there’s a lot of discussion, stating a high-end resin pen is not the same as a cheap ‘plastic’ pen. Technically, yes they all have different chemical structures, but they are all pretty much the same class of products. 
Pens and Chemistry - Materials
Now what are plastics exactly? Plastics are polymers. Polymers are literally all around us: a bottle of water, the rubber eraser on your pencil, even the paper you write on, which contains cellulose, a natural polymer of sugar atoms (not the kind of sugar you’d eat, I hope). So to explain what plastics are, we should first look at what a polymer is.

The easiest explanation I could think of is a pearl necklace. A polymer is basically a pearl necklace, where all the pearls represent a smaller molecule that is linked together to form long chains. Some of these ‘necklaces’ can be over 1000 pearls long! Each ‘pearl’ molecule that makes up the chain, is called a monomer (mono being ‘one’, and poly meaning ‘many’)

I’ve already mentioned that organic chemistry comprises all living matter. Even plastics (which are not living for what I can remember) are actually connected to living matter, because they are largely made from fossil fuel. Fossil fuels are basically a soup of prehistoric life (dinosaurs and plants and stuff), which is pumped up from deep within the earth’s crust. This soup contains a wide variety of different molecules, all of which can be used for different purposes: gasoline, asphalt, but also the molecular building blocks with which polymers and other organic materials are made. All these molecules have one thing in common: carbon! Carbon forms the backbone of all organic chemistry, literally. Together with hydrogen, these are the two most prominent atoms that can be found in organic chem (along with oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus,… to a lesser degree). 
Pens and Chemistry - Materials
So let’s look at pens now. We have established a base that is necessary to understand what the plastic materials in our pens are, and now we can look at some examples. First of all, let’s look at the cheapest plastic pens. These are made by a process of injection molding. Injection molding basically takes a polymer that has been pre-made into small granulates, heats it up, so that it becomes almost liquid, and injects it in a mold that is shaped like the desired object (one way to spot injection molded parts, is that there’s almost always a visible seam, and a ‘nipple’ from where the material was injected in the mold). One of the most used polymers in this category is ABS, which is made up of three different monomers: Acrylonitrile, Butadiene and Styrene, the three pearls that make up the necklace. ABS is what the Lamy Safari, Kaweco Sport, and many other injection molded pens are made out of.

Polycarbonate is often used as a transparent material, but is also used for the ever-so popular Lamy 2000 (the material of the 2000 is actually called Makrolon, but it is essentially the same).
Pens and Chemistry - Materials
When we look at fancier pens, the production method is often different to begin with, with the material being shaped on a CNC machine from a solid cast rod, instead of being injection molded. This is mainly because you can’t achieve the same intricate patterns with injection molding. Different polymers are used here, for example acrylates are probably the most commonly used. Acrylates are very common in polymer chemistry, and can be had in an incredibly wide variety of shapes. In this case, PMMA or poly-methylmethacrylate is quite a common one.

Interestingly, materials containing acrylonitrile monomers are also called acrylates. For the sharp readers among you, this may ring a bell, as indeed this is the same monomer that can be found in ABS plastic. This should give an indication as to how much all of these materials are actually related, even though they may not appear alike.
Pens and Chemistry - Materials
Then we are left with the more exotic materials, like ebonite, or celluloid. Ebonite is actually rubber that has been heat treated with sulfur, and is also called ‘vulcanized rubber’. This process is quite interesting, because the reaction with a sulfur compound connects all the loose polymer chains of the rubber to form a strongly connected network of polymer chains.
Pens and Chemistry - Materials
Celluloid is actually a tricky one. Remember that I mentioned paper being a polymer? Well the cellulose from paper is actually also an important component of celluloid. Cellulose is chemically altered to yield nitrocellulose, which has nitro (nitrogen and oxygen) groups attached to the chains. Maybe not entirely unrelated, trinitrotoluene (better known as TNT) also has these nitro groups, and it's quite an explosive mess. Needless to say celluloid is a bit unstable. If you remember the scene of Inglorious Bastards where the cinema is destroyed in a blazing inferno of burning film reels… yeah those are also celluloid!

Many brands (often Italian pen manufacturers) use a material called ‘cotton resin’. This is actually more related to celluloid than you’d think. Celluloid is made from nitrocellulose polymers, cotton resin is made from cellulose (cotton, the same as that found in your clothing, is nothing more than cellulose). Of course we’re talking about different production processes and things like that, but yet again it goes to show how similar a lot of these materials are.

Maybe you’re wondering why I haven’t explained what the term ‘resin’ means? I mention it throughout this post, but frankly it’s not a correct term to use for the materials you see used in pens. By definition, a resin is the precursor for a polymer. It is in fact often just a liquid mixture of monomers that haven’t undergone a chemical reaction yet that links them together (curing). It’s an often-used term by brands and bloggers (me included), but technically it’s not correct. 
Pens and Chemistry - Materials
Now to end this -rather elaborate- post, there's still one important material that hasn't been mentioned: the illustrous 'Precious Resin'! Now of course I'm talking about Montblanc's proprietary black plastic they use for many of their pens, like the Meisterstück. Unfortunately, nobody knows the exact composition of the material, which is a shame because it often leads to discussion within the community. There's no way to give a final answer as to what MB's material is, precious resin or just plain old plastic, but we can speculate about it.

The answer is two-fold: In the Chemical jargon, precious resin is a plastic. Any man-made polymer material, be it precious resin, acrylic, ABS or polycarbonate,... is in fact a plastic. Even polymer materials based on natural substances, such as celluloid or cotton resin, are plastics. On the other hand, chemically speaking there’s an enormous variation between different materials that are categorized as ‘plastics’, and they all offer different characteristics. From a brand’s perspective, I think trying to step away from the term plastic has everything to do with semantics. Plastic sounds cheap, and thus an entire slew of other names is used to try to work around it. In the end, there's no need to talk crap about precious resin, but it also shouldn't be glorified. 

I think that's all I have to say! This has to be the longest post I’ve ever put together. I know it might not be the most interesting topic I’ve ever written, but from a scientists’ perspective I really wanted to write this post to clear things out, and I’m glad that I finally got to it.

I’d be really happy to hear from you what you think of this post, and if you’d like to read more posts like it (not that I plan on making this into a full-time scientific blog). If you want to read more about chemistry, I’d suggest Wikipedia (no, that’s not a joke). Wikipedia is actually a pretty reliable source for information on scientific topics, and it’s an immense catalog that offers the entire A to Z of the magical world of chemistry! If you want more information on materials for pens specifically, Richard Binders website has some really interesting reading.