Monday, July 27, 2015

RE-REVIEW: PILOT VANISHING POINT FOUNTAIN PEN

I've been running this blog for over two years now. I've reviewed well over a hundred fountain pens, pencils, inks, paper products,... In these reviews I always made sure to give you my personal thoughts and opinion. 

But the thing is: I've changed. My opinion changed. Which is quite normal if you see from where I came, and where I am right now. My collection has grown substantially over these past two years (I blame my blog for that, but actually it's just my neverending craving for pens!). With getting a bit older, I also got into more expensive pens, Quality over quantity, you could say. 

A while ago, I came across some of my older posts, which made me question myself really. I wrote things that I probably wouldn't say today. That's why I decided to start doing re-reviews of products I wrote about in the beginning of my pen-blogging career! 
The first pen that gets a thorough second opinion is the ever-so popular Pilot Vanishing point. I bought this pen almost exactly two years ago. It has an ugly scratch near the tip on the rhodium plating, which is why I got it cheap. I got it in blue, only BECAUSE it was cheap (I actually very much dislike blue...). Back in the days, I wrote a pretty positive review about it. I didn't really have many nice pens, only one gold-nibbed fountain pen, and that was it. Needless to say everything above average was enough to really impress me. The Pilot VP is above average, but that's about it if you ask me.
Don't get me wrong though, the VP is a solid writer. The 14k nib (Medium) performs very good out of the box, and it's a reliable writer. But it isn't much more than that. It writes a hair finer than a regular European medium, and it has very good, balanced flow. It's not the smoothest nib in the world, which is good, because it only costs about a third of the actual smoothest nib I own. It's not a scratchy nib either, definitely not, but it has some feedback to it. 
My biggest issue with this pen, is the blandness. It's a boring pen. I can understand that some people rave about the utilitarian awesomeness of the VP. Because it IS actually a very practical and user friendly pen. But I wouldn't understand if anyone said this is the nicest pen they have ever seen or used. It's a well-designed, well-manufactured pen at most, with excellent fit and finish, good balance, and a pretty comfortable shape (minus the clip that annoys some people when writing...). But it doesn't do much for me, designwise. It's not a 'true' fountain pen in some regards. 

To me, part of a nice fountain pen is the ritual of uncapping, holding the cap in one hand, or posting it. A real fountain pen has a meticulously engraved nib, preferably rather large and a bit springy.  The VP doesn't provide that, and therefore it lacks a certain 'je-ne-sais-quoi' that I expect to find when using a fountain pen.
That 'lack of fountain pen-ness' is what keeps me from saying this is a great pen. To be honest, it even keeps me from using it. In the two years of owning it, it got into rotation twice, and even then it only survived about three or four days before ending back in storage. 

The Pilot Vanishing point, in essence, shows how I feel about fountain pens. I'm a pretty 'conservative' collector. I like pens that stay true to certain values and principles. I like simple pens without much gimmicks or special features. 

The VP doesn't really abide by my idea of a 'great' pen, and therefore doesn't get the attention it deserves. I guess I should give it at least SOME credit. Because in the end, love it or hate it, the truth is that the VP is one of the most innovative and user friendly fountain pens around. It would most likely be the one fountain pen that would make it in a world full of BIC users, perhaps just because it isn't all that different...


'It works, it works well. But it won't win a beauty contest... 
nor a place in my top five'

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

PALOMINO BLACKWING 602 PENCIL REVIEW

Palomino Blackwing 602 woodcased pencil
I have to confess something... For the past three weeks, I've been using woodcased pencils almost exclusively! My fountain pens just sat where they were. And that has everything to do with the arrival of these beauties: The Palomino Blackwings! 

I'd like to thank the people over at Firehose Amsterdam, a shop dedicated to luxury design items. They sent me a couple of different Palomino Blackwing pencils to try out! I will be reviewing all three standard issue Blackwing pencils individually. First up in this mini series, is this Blackwing 602. it's marketed as having the 'hardest' lead of the three, and it's supposed to be a direct copy of the Iconic Eberhard-Faber Blackwing 602. 
Palomino Blackwing 602 woodcased pencil
Eberhard-Faber Blackwings were produced during the past century, but the production ended about 20 years ago. Nowadays, the remaining original Eberhard-Faber Blackwings often sell for more than 50 bucks a piece, which is well over the price I'm willing to pay for a woodcased pencil (at least for now...). So a direct comparison between this and the original product is something I unfortunately cannot provide. 
Palomino Blackwing 602 woodcased pencil
'Half the pressure, twice the speed', quite a catchy slogan!
All three different Blackwing styles that are currently available (not including the limited edition 'Volumes' edition) each feature a different finish. The 602 looks almost identical to the original, with a pearlescent blue-ish silver paintjob and gold lettering. The brass-coloured eraser ferrule is the same on all three styles, but in this case it fits the overall design of the pencil quite well. Since the original model had a pink eraser, I'm ever so slightly dissapoined that they didn't go for the same looks with this one. Especially because pink replacement erasers are actually available from Palomino. 

Recognising a blackwing pencil isn't that hard, just look for the funky-looking flat eraser and ferrule and you've found it! The flat eraser is both a unique design aspect and a functional feature. Whereas I'm usually not a big fan of erasers on top of a pencil, this one often finds some good use. I like the way the shape of the eraser breaks the straight, bland lines of a regular pencil. It's 'out of the box', and I love it! Overall, I think they did a very good job on designing these pencils. The attention for detail seems to be much higher than with most other pencils. It also seems as if Palomino succeeded quite well at mimicking the old version.
Palomino Blackwing 602 woodcased pencil
On to the performance... Of course the blackwing didn't just get famous for its good looks and cool eraser. It's the lead that really made this pencil stand out from the typical #2 (HB). The super-smooth, soft graphite core has been a favourite amongst everyone, from writers, musicians, to cartoonists. The Palomino reincarnation succeeds at providing a similarly awesome lead as they did fifty years ago. As I said, I can't directly compare old versus new, but the moment you've used one of these, you just know Palomino did a fantastic job creating their own Blackwings! 
blackwing comparison
Blackwing comparison
I often find it quite annoying/ difficult to describe how a pencil performs, so I did a few tests that should -hopefully- give you some idea of what it's all about. I included a scan of the full test sheet underneath the written review, so be sure to scroll all the way down!

First off, I compared point retention. As you can see, I just coloured in a bunch of squares while trying to keep the pressure as even as possible. The results were kind of the way I expected them: as the 602 has the hardest lead of the three blackwings available, it also has the best point retention. The difference between the classic and 602 is pretty noticeable, but the pearl actually performed almost similarly. The two other test pencils (Faber-Castell Design -same as the well-known 2001 pencils-, and staedtler Noris), both HB, performed noticeably better than the blackwings, especially the faber-castell did an excellent job.
Point retention test
Blackwing point retention test
The darkness test (see below) clearly shows that all three blackwings excell in darkness, with the classic up front. The 602 is the lightest of the three blackwings, but still remains much darker than the 'other two'. The next two test shows that, for the excellent darkness, you do give up some erasability and smear-resistance (please note that the erasing test was done with a single stroke, in reality, a few rubs with a good eraser will easily get rid of most pencil strokes)

The on-board flat eraser, while not yet as good as a full-sized eraser like a staedtler  Mars, actually does quite a decent job at erasing pencil marks. The flat shape helps to get rid of larger areas, and it seems to do a slightly better job than most other pencils' erasers.

The 602 is a great pencil. It's somewhere in between the very soft blackwing classic and a regular HB pencil, with the best properties of both. If you want an allround pencil with good point retention (something I find rather important), that is still a lot darker and smoother than a 'traditional' pencil, then the Palomino Blackwing 602 is the right choice for you.

Note: these pencils were sent to me by Firehose, 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!
Palomino Blackwing 602 woodcased pencil written review
Blackwing test sheet