Wednesday, August 15, 2018

PAPER REVIEW: MIDORI MD NOTEBOOK

Paper Review: Midori MD notebooks, Japanese stationery.
Japan has a pretty unique stationery 'ecosystem'. The Japanese stationery we know today, is still relatively new to us. 10 years ago, it would've been impossible to find most Japanese stationery products that are all over the US and Europe nowadays. Yet most of these brands -Apica, Life, Midori,...- have been well-established in Japan for generations, before finally trickling down outside of the Asian market. 

The fact that they remained undiscovered for so long is unusual at the least. But at the same time it's also the reason why I find their products so captivating. These brands have built up a style and quality aimed specifically at their home market. The products we see across the globe today, feel genuine, showing a long history of Japanese traditions.
Paper Review: Midori MD notebooks, Japanese stationery.
We'll be looking at the Midori MD notebooks today. These notebooks were sent to me by a Belgian stationery store called Mofelito Paperito (most creative shop name ever?). So big thanks to them!
Paper Review: Midori MD notebooks, Japanese stationery.
Simplicity is key in Japanese design, and this reflects in every aspect of the MD notebook. It starts with the packaging: each notebook comes protected in a waxed paper sleeve, and pastel-colored outer sleeve. Even though the packaging is simple and straightforward, you can see the eye for detail in the way it is presented neat and tidy. Opening it up feels almost like a ceremony, it legitimately brought a smile to my face! 

The notebook itself is, again, simple and basic but extremely well put together. The outside is made of thick, cream-colored stock that gives strength to the construction. However this thick cardboard is not actually the 'cover'. Rather, Midori designed the notebook without a hard outside cover to give a raw, minimal aesthetic, but also to give the notebook more flexibility. Technically, this would classify as a softcover notebook, however the cardboard stock they used is too stiff to actually bend it. It does open up quite nicely though, and it lays flat on the table.
Paper Review: Midori MD notebooks, Japanese stationery.
The paper inside is sewn and glued together, and the whole assembly is held together with a white mesh cloth that wraps around the spine (called a 'super'). This is basically a nude notebook, showing what it would look like if you'd remove the hardcover of a book. 

The entire notebook, with its cleanly cut edges and simple details, looks clean without distractions. It's minimal, but in a way only the Japanese can pull off. If that sounds like a vague description, I'd recommend you pick one up and see for yourself why I'm so impressed!
Paper Review: Midori MD notebooks, Japanese stationery.
The MD notebooks are available in A6, B6, A5 and A4, each with the option of blank, ruled or grid paper (except the A4, which is only available with blank paper). Each notebook contains 88 pages, which makes them rather thin and compact. The paper stock is developed by Midori in the 60's, and unfortunately I couldn't find any details on paper weight. From a rudimentary calculation, I'd guess it's in the ballpark of 85gsm. That would make it slightly heavier than Rhodia paper, which seems about right. 
Paper Review: Midori MD notebooks, Japanese stationery.
Paper Review: Midori MD notebooks, Japanese stationery.
The only two features on this notebook are a very slim, color-coded (to match the paper style inside) ribbon bookmark, and a label sheet to designate your notebook to a specific task, or archive them once you are done with it. 
Paper Review: Midori MD notebooks, Japanese stationery.
Because these notebooks don't have an actual cover, you might want to look for something to protect them. Midori sells simple covers made from clear plastic or waxed paper that follow the same minimal approach as the rest of their products. The paper cover is rather thin but adds some style points if you don't like the 'bare' notebook. I opted for the plastic cover because it lets you see the design of the notebook through it, and it features a pen loop for some added functionality.
Paper Review: Midori MD notebooks, Japanese stationery.
Let's talk about the paper, because it really is quite something! With the MD notebook, Midori establishes that the Japanese manufacturers have got the science of papermaking down. In fact, I think this may be my new favourite paper from the land of the rising sun, hopping over the already excellent Life Tsubame notebook (reviewed here). I don't really understand how, but Midori managed to create a paper that doesn't feel coated -it actually has some tooth to it-, yet it offers all the advantages that a slick vellum-type paper like Rhodia has. 
Paper Review: Midori MD notebooks, Japanese stationery.
Paper Review: Midori MD notebooks, Japanese stationery.
Paper Review: Midori MD notebooks, Japanese stationery.
Nibs never skip or hard start, yet the paper never even shows the slightest hint of feathering or bleedthrough in my tests (even under the harshest 'stress test' conditions I threw at it!). You have to get used to the slightly 'toothy' feeling when you write, but that's also what makes it so ideal for use with pencil or ballpoint (which is where Rhodia falls short). You'll see a minor amount of ghosting on the back of the page, but it doesn't make writing on both sides impossible. The light blue ruling/grid markings are finely printed, which makes them fairly unobtrusive once you've written over them.
Paper Review: Midori MD notebooks, Japanese stationery.
Paper Review: Midori MD notebooks, Japanese stationery.
Paper Review: Midori MD notebooks, Japanese stationery.
Shading is crisp, though maybe a tad less pronounced compared to Rhodia. To my biggest surprise, sheen is actually quite pronounced on this toothy paper. I won't say it's Tomoe River grade, but it definitely far exceeds my expectations.
Paper Review: Midori MD notebooks, Japanese stationery.
I think it's not too difficult to see why I fell in love with these notebooks so fast. The design is simple yet timeless, the paper is unusual but fantastic to write on, and every aspect of the notebook and its packaging is cleverly thought through with Japanese precision. Starting at 11€ and going up to 23€ depending on the size (at Mofelito Paperito), the MD notebooks aren't particularly cheap (keep in mind that the pagecount is a bit lower), but you'll quickly realize that you get excellent quality for what you pay! 

These products were sent to me by Mofelito Paperito 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.
Paper Review: Midori MD notebooks, Japanese stationery.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

REVIEW: PELIKAN CLASSIC M200 BROWN MARBLE FOUNTAIN PEN

Review: Pelikan Classic M200 Brown Marble fountain pen
I'm generally quite a big fan of Pelikan pens. Their design aesthetic and fantastically smooth nibs are right up my alley, and most -if not all- pens I've bought and used from them have consistently been able to get a smile on my face. 

If I had to pick my favourite, I'm fairly certain it would be the Souverän M800. They are large but not too large, and the brass piston mechanism adds some heft. The M800 has also been Pelikan's base model for special editions in the last few years, which brings a wide variety of material and color options to choose from. 
Review: Pelikan Classic M200 Brown Marble fountain pen
But these are not cheap pens at all! I can see how a first step into Pelikan pens can be a bit daunting, shelling out a couple Benjamin Franklin's for a Souverän (or any pen in that price range, for that matter!) might seem ridiculous.

...That's where the Pelikan Classic M200 comes into play. These are basically identical to their more expensive counterparts in terms of design (the same iconic flattop shape and pelican bill clip), but smaller and with steel nibs instead of gold. The ideal gateway drug into Pelikan pens, if you will...
Review: Pelikan Classic M200 Brown Marble fountain pen
Ok to be fair, the premium you pay for Souverän pens does get you extra bling, where the M200 is a more sober, trimmed-down version. Those few extra trims do make a noticeable difference in appearance, and give the Souverän a more luxurious look and feel all around. If you look past that though, the M200 is hard to tell apart from more expensive pens. Especially this new brown marble finish is exceptionally well-done, and makes you forget this is about less than half the price of its direct Souverän counterpart (the Souverän M400).
Review: Pelikan Classic M200 Brown Marble fountain pen
The brown marble material has pearlescent brown-beige (almost orange in some areas) streaks that contrast strongly with the dark brown base material. The brown marble resin is offset by very dark brown (almost black) opaque resin parts for the cap, section and blind cap (same as with the Souverän M800 Tortoise, Burnt Orange and Renaissance special editions).
Review: Pelikan Classic M200 Brown Marble fountain pen
For the most part, I don't have negative things to say about this pen. Build quality is good, everything fits together nicely and Pelikan outfits their cheaper offerings with the same excellent piston-filling mechanism as seen on the Souverän. BUT... It's unforgivable that after all this time, Pelikan still isn't able to properly polish away the seams that remain visible from injection moulding the grip section! I made this remark a long time ago when I reviewed the M205 (HERE), and they really should do something about it because it's not something you should see on a 100$+ pen! 
Review: Pelikan Classic M200 Brown Marble fountain pen
Another -minor- complaint would be the plastic finial. Some versions of the M200/M205 already come with a partially metal finial, which makes a huge difference in 'premium' appearance. I'd love to see them implement this on all their Classic pens consistently.
Review: Pelikan Classic M200 Brown Marble fountain pen
Review: Pelikan Classic M200 Brown Marble fountain pen
Review: Pelikan Classic M200 Brown Marble fountain pen
The M200 is a fairly small pen, measuring just 12.6 cm (5") closed and 12.1 cm (4.8") uncapped. For me, it balances on the edge of being too small to be used comfortably unposted (I have medium-sized hands, I guess?). It's a narrower pen, going down to 9 mm (0.4") around the section. Being all-resin, it weighs in at a mere 14g total, especially uncapped that makes for an extremely light pen. I prefer a bit more substance, so I use it posted to both get some extra length (14.9 cm/ 5.9") and weight.
Review: Pelikan Classic M200 Brown Marble fountain pen
Pelikan's steel nibs I have long ignored, which was unfair of me. Designwise they may be a touch bland (especially compared to their Souverän counterparts which are amazing!). But truth be told, these are excellent nibs: fairly rigid but not rock-hard, smooth with just the right amount of feedback and most importantly very consistent! I filled it up with this year's Edelstein Ink Of The Year: Olivine. The flow is definitely on the wetter side, which is something I personally like. This is the second fine steel nib I tried from Pelikan, and I quite dig it. In true Pelikan fashion, it is not particularly narrow for a fine, but it's definitely not to be confused with a medium. As I said it does give some feedback, but the pleasant kind, it's by no means scratchy.

The only issue I keep running into with Pelikan's gold-plated steel nibs is that the plating doesn't seem very consistent. I don't know why this is so apparent on Pelikan pens, but obviously it's an issue that shouldn't even be remotely visible on a pen in this price range. 
Review: Pelikan Classic M200 Brown Marble fountain pen
I only talked about the fountain pen up until now, but to make a nice set you can also get the matching brown marble K200 ballpoint. It's similar in size to the fountain pen, and features a classic knock mechanism instead of a twist mechanism like that found on the larger K800 (I reviewed the K805 Stresemann HERE). It's resin on the outside, but has a brass sleeve inside that adds some weight, yet it remains rather light and comfortable in the hand. 
Review: Pelikan Classic M200 Brown Marble fountain pen
The profile of the K200 gets quite narrow towards the front, which gets a bit uncomfortable after a while, at least for me. The K200 comes with a black medium Pelikan refill (Parker G2-style refill). It lays down a crisp, rather fine line and is plenty smooth. I just would've preferred a slightly darker line, but that's a general critique on ballpoint pens.

To summarize, the Classic M200/K200 isn't flawless, and holding it next to a Souverän will inevitably always make it feel like a 'cheaper alternative'. That being said, the M200 brown marble is a fine pen to have a first go at Pelikan's luxury offerings. 
Review: Pelikan Classic M200 Brown Marble fountain pen
Can the M200 Brown Marble replace the magnificent Tortoise brown material?
It's not super-cheap (115€/ 135$ for the fountain pen, 100€/ 130$ for the ballpoint), but at half the price of the cheapest Souverän it's definitely a more tolerable option. You still get the same classic design that the Souveräns are known for -be it in a slightly less elaborate packaging. This particular brown marble colorway in particular is a clear winner in my book, and it surprises me that it got very little attention since its release. It's not too dissimilar to the iconic tortoise brown material, so the brown marble might be a valid surrogate if you missed out on that one?

This product was provided on loan by Pelikan, 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 affiliate links.
Review: Pelikan Classic M200 Brown Marble fountain pen

Monday, August 6, 2018

REVIEW: KARAS PEN CO. REAKTOR GALAXIE (XL) & STARLINER (XL)

Karas Pen Co. Reaktor Galaxie ballpoint, Galaxie XL rollerball & Starliner (XL) fountain pen review and comparison post
As you've most likely seen more and more reviews of the brand spanking new line of Karas Pen Co. products -The Reaktor (Stage 1) pens- pop up, I figured it was about high time to drop in my own 2 cents about them. I was lucky enough to get their entire product line sent over, and I think by now I've spent enough time with them to give you my final verdict. The Reaktor product line can be broken up into four products (for now, as there will likely be more products added later on): the Galaxie, Starliner, Galaxie XL and Starliner XL. 

I'll be doing things a bit differently than most other reviewers who discussed each pen separately. Instead, this post will be both a review and comparison of all four models, to show the differences and similarities between the various types. This might become a rather lengthy review... so let's get right to it!
Karas Pen Co. Reaktor Galaxie ballpoint, Galaxie XL rollerball & Starliner (XL) fountain pen review and comparison post
Karas Pen Co. (aka. Karas Kustoms) has had quite an impressive track record so far, with some hugely popular pens like the Render K, Retrakt (reviewed HERE) or Ink. But looking at their latest releases, they are clearly taking a new direction to diversify their offerings. They used to focus primarily on the EDC community, with big, heavy and tough machined metal pens. Since last year they threw in the new Signature line of pens, with the fantastic Decograph (that I reviewed HERE) and now the Vertex (which premiered at the DC pen show last weekend). A third line was launched last week with the Reaktor and its first two products: the Galaxie XL and Starliner XL (the regular Galaxie and Starliner pens will be released later this month).

With stage 1 of the Reaktor pens, they are filling a gap in the lower-end product lineup, providing a cheaper alternative that retains the 'made in the USA' quality. Sort of a gateway drug into the hobby. As I mentioned earlier, the first stage of the Reaktor product line includes four different pens available in four colorways, making for a total of 16 different configurations. 
Karas Pen Co. Reaktor Galaxie ballpoint, Galaxie XL rollerball & Starliner (XL) fountain pen review and comparison post
Interestingly, the fountain pens (Starliner) and rollerball/ballpoint pens (Galaxie) each have their own design style, although they follow the same general form factor for the most part. Karas relies heavily on vintage 'Americana' influences for the Reaktor series. Both the Galaxie and Starliner found their inspiration in the space race and automotive industry (both pens being named after Ford cars), which reflects in certain prominent design features, as well as more subtle details.
Karas Pen Co. Reaktor Galaxie ballpoint, Galaxie XL rollerball & Starliner (XL) fountain pen review and comparison post
Cap and barrel details of the Galaxie
The Galaxie and Galaxie XL are immediately recogniseable by its intricately CNC'd cap finial, which represents hose fixtures found on space suits (take a look at this space suit from Buzz Aldrin, and you'll also see where they got the inspiration for the anodizing colors, not coincidentally also the colors of the US flag!). 
Karas Pen Co. Reaktor Galaxie ballpoint, Galaxie XL rollerball & Starliner (XL) fountain pen review and comparison post
3...2...1 LIFTOFF!
The Starliner and Starliner XL have a more subtle, but stately flat-top design. The cap and barrel finials have a subtle point machined in them, which bounces off the light to mimic the glint of a star (I think it kind of looks like the gravitational field of a star... I'm a geek, lol). The Starliner also includes a cool reference within the rings engraved all over the pen: 3 on the cap finial, 2 at the base of the cap and 1 at the back of the barrel. 3...2...2 LIFTOFF!

The overall shape of the pens is the same for both models: flattop with an oversized cap and narrower, strongly tapered barrel. The proportions are admittedly a bit quirky and unusual, which makes these pens immediately recognizable. 
Karas Pen Co. Reaktor Galaxie ballpoint, Galaxie XL rollerball & Starliner (XL) fountain pen review and comparison post
Then there's the two sizes that you can choose from: regular or XL. Apart from the obvious difference in size, the XL also differs because of the sprung steel clip. The smaller size is made to carry inside your pocket, while the XL can be attached to your pocket. Both pens are actually fairly compact. But the smaller model is a 'true' pocket pen that is extremely comfortable to just throw in your pocket and always have with you, whereas the XL is a more full-sized pen.

The Galaxie and Starliner are the first Karas pens that feature a snap cap. The mechanism is simple: a rubber o-ring inside the cap provides a 'bump' on which the flared edge of the section catches. Even though it's a somewhat unconventional mechanism, it works surprisingly well. The cap opens and closes with a reassuring 'snap' and I never worried that the cap may pop off inside my pants pocket. Worth pointing out is that the closure mechanism does allow for some side-to-side wiggle. The cap rattles a tiny bit, although I expected much worse.
Karas Pen Co. Reaktor Galaxie ballpoint, Galaxie XL rollerball & Starliner (XL) fountain pen review and comparison post
Silver - Black - Tumbled Raw
Because these pens sit at an entry-level price point, the material and finish options are restricted to aluminium in either silver or black anodized finish, or a tumbled finish. The silver annodised version is available with a blue or red anodized grip section to give a total of four colorways to choose from. I'm personally a big fan of the tumbled and black anodized finishes. The reasoning behind this narrowed down offering is simply to cut on production costs.
Karas Pen Co. Reaktor Galaxie ballpoint, Galaxie XL rollerball & Starliner (XL) fountain pen review and comparison post
L to R: Schon DSGN The Clip, Karas Pen Co. Fountain K, Karas Pen Co. Retrakt, Karas Pen Co. Galaxie XL/Starliner XL/ Galaxie/Starliner, Lamy Safari, Lamy 2000
Karas Pen Co. Reaktor Galaxie ballpoint, Galaxie XL rollerball & Starliner (XL) fountain pen review and comparison post
Galaxy and Starliner, posted and unposted
Karas Pen Co. Reaktor Galaxie ballpoint, Galaxie XL rollerball & Starliner (XL) fountain pen review and comparison post
L to R: Galaxie, Starliner
The Galaxie ballpoint pen and Starliner fountain pen are pocket-sized pens, and measure 11cm (4.3") and 11.5cm (4.5") respectively when closed. Uncapped, both pens drop below 11cm, which is too short for anything but a quick jot. The cap posts securely with a firm push, and the o-ring inside the cap holds it in place. The cap posts deeply onto the barrel, making for a total length of 11.5cm (4.5") for the Galaxie and 12.5cm (4.9") for the Starliner. Both pens weigh in at 24g total, which is not particularly heavy, but enough to give a solid feel in the hand.
Karas Pen Co. Reaktor Galaxie ballpoint, Galaxie XL rollerball & Starliner (XL) fountain pen review and comparison post
Galaxie XL and Starliner XL
The larger Galaxie XL rollerball and Starliner XL fountain pen receive a modest bump in length: 12.3cm and 12.8cm respectively. Uncapped, the Galaxie XL rollerball is a bit short for me, measuring 11.6cm (4.56"), but the Starliner XL fountain pen has a slightly longer section which brings up to a more comfortable length of 12.5cm (4.9"). Posted, both pens have a comfortable length (12.9cm/5.1" for the Galaxie XL and 13.7cm/5.4" for the Starliner XL), and the oversized cap gives it a more central-weighted feel in the hand. The clip and slightly larger dimensions increase the total weight to 29g, which is still relatively lightweight.
Karas Pen Co. Reaktor Galaxie ballpoint, Galaxie XL rollerball & Starliner (XL) fountain pen review and comparison post
L to R: Galaxie XL, Galaxie XL posted, Starliner XL, Starliner XL posted
All four pens have a similar section shape, but the Starliner fountain pens have the advantage of a slightly longer section. The widest part of the section measures 1.1cm (0.43"), and tapers down strongly towards the nib, where it flares out again to provide a secure grip. The section design, combined with the lack of threads and a smooth transition from barrel to section, makes the Galaxie and Starliner pens all extremely comfortable and balanced writers. Granted, the regular Galaxie and Starliner HAVE to be posted to comfortably fit my hand, whereas the XL's are comfortable either way.
Karas Pen Co. Reaktor Galaxie ballpoint, Galaxie XL rollerball & Starliner (XL) fountain pen review and comparison post
The Starliner pens use 076 nib units from Bock. L to R: Bock #5, Bock 076, Bock #6
New for Karas pens are the Bock 076 nibs used on the Starliner fountain pens. Up until a month or two ago, I had only seen this nib size on the TWSBI 580. And now in a relatively short time, both the Stilform Kosmos Ink (reviewed HERE) and these Starliners make use of them. In size, the 076 sits in between the #5 and #6, but shares the housing with the #5 nibs so these are interchangeable.
Karas Pen Co. Reaktor Galaxie ballpoint, Galaxie XL rollerball & Starliner (XL) fountain pen review and comparison post
In terms of performance, I'd also rate them in between the #5 and #6. I'm not a huge fan of the small #5 because I find the ink flow can sometimes be a bit unpredictable. The nibs on the Starliner are smooth and responsive, all the way from EF to B. The ink flow seems better and more consistent than on the #5's. I really enjoyed using these pens for EDC, and never had issues with any of them (the rubber o-ring also does a pretty good job keeping the nib from drying out). Bock nibs are often criticized for being lackluster, but they get the job done just fine. 
Karas Pen Co. Reaktor Galaxie ballpoint, Galaxie XL rollerball & Starliner (XL) fountain pen review and comparison post
The Galaxie and Galaxie XL use different refills. Where the Galaxie is meant as a ballpoint, and utilizes the Parker-style G2 refills, the XL can accomodate the larger Pilot G2 rollerball refills. The Galaxie comes loaded with a Schmidt Megaline P950 medium refill in black. This pressurized refill works well and lays down a line that is relatively dark and consistent. I personally prefer the Schmidt Easyflow 9000 which are smoother and darker (although more prone to smearing). But of course you can swap the refill out for whatever suits you best. 
Karas Pen Co. Reaktor Galaxie ballpoint, Galaxie XL rollerball & Starliner (XL) fountain pen review and comparison post
The Galaxie XL comes with a 0.5mm Pilot G2 refill in black, which is an excellent refill for my taste. It works consistently in my hands , and lays down a crisp line that suits my needs just fine (some prefer the finer 0.38mm tip size). 
Karas Pen Co. Reaktor Galaxie ballpoint, Galaxie XL rollerball & Starliner (XL) fountain pen review and comparison post
Karas wanted to fill a gap in the low end of their catalog. And if you ask me, they did a great job filling the vacancy with this new Reaktor line. The Reaktor pens start at 40$ for the Galaxie, and go up from there (45$ for the Galaxie XL, 50$ for the Starliner and 55$ for the Starliner XL), which even includes domestic shipping! These pens offer incredible value for money at a price point previously unseen on the market of USA-made metal pens. 

Does that mean they had to chimp on quality? I don't think so. They managed to cut costs by implementing some clever tricks: a smaller nib, only one material and four finishes (specifically those finishes that are easiest to manufacture consistently, to minimize losses through faulty parts). You also won't find the regular packaging here, but instead the pens will come in color-coded pen tubes, which are cheaper and easier to ship because they are smaller.

Along with the recent Signature line, the new Reaktor pens prove that the people at Karas Pen Co. are working hard to bring products to the market that diversify their offerings, which will appeal to a wider audience. In this case, the Galaxie and Starliner are fantastic options for people that are just starting out in the hobby, or if you are looking for a cheap but durable EDC option.

This product was sent to me by Karas Pen Co. 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.
Karas Pen Co. Reaktor Galaxie ballpoint, Galaxie XL rollerball & Starliner (XL) fountain pen review and comparison post