Value Menu: Uniball Signo RT1 (0.38 mm, Blue Black)

Uniball Signo RT1

As a $2.25 pen, the Uniball Signo RT1 is definitely from the “value menu” of pens, but that doesn’t mean that it’s lacking in performance. On the contrary, this 0.38 mm Signo RT1 writes first time, every time, and has one of the crispest and cleanest lines that I can recall. I’ve been a fan of the Uniball Signo DX for years, but haven’t ever tried the retractable (RT) version. According to the literature, this RT1 model is an “upgrade” from the original RT. The RT1 features an “edge-less tip” (???) and newly formulated ink for an even smoother performance. I don’t have a clue what the “edge-less tip” means, but I can vouch for the smoothness of the ink. For such a fine line, the conical tip exhibits NO dragging or snagging. Which means that the tip doesn’t pick up stray paper fibers and clog.

Tip & grip
Tip & grip (+ obligatory dust)

I love my Pilot Hi-Tec-C 0.4 mm pens, but they CAN be finicky. Sometimes I have to do just a bit of scribbling to get the ink flowing from the Hi-Tec-C’s needle tip. Though not a big deal, it can be an annoyance for some. That little bugaboo goes away completely with the Signo RT1.

Integrated knock & clip
Knock & clip in one

There’s nothing fancy here, but that’s fine by me. The richly colored plastic body, with its integrated clip/knock, and rubberized grip are all you need to get the writing job done. Since the clip is molded plastic, as opposed to metal, it IS possible to snap it off, if you’re rough on clips. I find the clip a bit loose fitting in a pocket, but that’s nit-picking. The rubberized grip is smooth and makes up about one third of the pen’s body, so no matter where you grip your pen, you’ll have no trouble with slippage.

Integrated clip
No frills clip

Circling back to the “edge-less” tip thing, I MAY have discovered what this means when I cropped my photos. In the photo below, take a look at the tip of the RT1 on the left, vs the DX tips in the center and one the right.

Edge-less tip?
Left to right: RT1 (0.38 mm), DX (0.38 mm), DX (0.28 mm)

To my eye, it looks like the “ball” in the tip of the RT1 is barely visible, as opposed to the DX tips, where the ball seems to be much more visible. Maybe that’s what Uniball means? Speculating here.

RT1 vs. DXs

I’ve developed a “thing” for blue-black inks (especially for my fountain pens) and this one is particularly well-balanced. The color is rich and saturated, and spot on to my taste in blue-blacks.

RT1 vs. DXs
For your viewing, and writing, pleasure

The Signo RT1 proves that you don’t have to drop a bundle on a pen to have a great writing experience. When an ink performs this well in a pen that costs so little, that’s value. Available in both 0.28 mm and 0.38 mm tips, and a bunch of colors, the RT1 certainly deserves a spot on your gel pen roster.

NOTE: I’d like to thank for reaching out and providing this review pen. They’re a US-based company specializing in fine Japanese stationery. Shipping is free for orders over $20. My honest opinion was offered here. I swear. In a court of law.

WANDerful: InTuition Pen/Stylus (via Kickstarter)

InTuition Pen/Stylus
Magic wand, no?!

It’s been a tricky week already. One of our dogs is feeling poorly, and oddball stuff keeps cropping up at work. Oh, how I wish I had a magic wand to make it all better. Oh wait…I do!

The InTuition Pen/Stylus, a Kickstarter project by e4 Labs, arrived last week, overdue by only about a week. In contrast to the project that I wrote about last week, this one has been a great experience for the backers. Updates were frequent and full of pictures. Even when there was a bit of an issue, we were kept fully informed. You can’t ask for much more than that.

The first thing I noticed is that the pen resembles a magic wand. I haven’t managed to pull a rabbit out of a hat, but I must admit that I have been known to wave it around a bit, hoping to cast a spell or two. The straight lines of the carbon fiber body and titanium cap make that action impossible to resist. Even though I haven’t conjured up any real magic, I’m transformed into a marvelously relaxed worker when I’m using the InTuition. That counts as a “trick,” doesn’t it?

It's a pen! It's a stylus!
It’s a pen! It’s a stylus!

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a sucker for carbon fiber, so how could I not back this? The body of the InTuition pen is made from “carbon twill fiber tubing,” so it’s lightweight and cool looking. In normal light, the pattern is very subtle…

Carbon fiber

While in brighter light, the twill really pops…

Carbon fiber twill

The metal parts are made from titanium, so they look great and will hold up under rigorous use. Let’s take a little pen tour…

Uncapped InTuition

The pen takes the beloved Pilot Hi-Tec-C refill, which means that you’re able to swap in your favorite tip sizes and ink colors. I’m using a black 0.5 mm refill, but may kick up my heels at some point and go for something wacky…like blue. Or brown. Or green.

The two o-rings that you see on this end of pen provide just the right amount of grip, while also ensuring that the slip cap fits snugly. The fit is just awesome.

Wacom stylus
Sweet stylus

On the other end of the pen is a Wacom Bamboo stylus nib, which is commonly available to allow for easy replacement, should the need arise. I’ve used the stylus on my iPhone and and iPad and am very happy with the performance. I still think that the stylus on the Solid Titanium Pen is stylus #1, but this one is VERY close. A single o-ring on this end of the pen keeps the cap in place when posted. A titanium fitting simply unscrews to expose the tip for replacement.

Replaceable stylus
Replaceable stylus nib

Here are a few specific details, straight from the Kickstarter project page:
Weighing in at 27 grams (just under 1 ounce), the InTuition measures 5.75″ (146 mm) from the end of the cap to the end of the stylus. Uncapped, the pen measures 5.56″ (141 mm).
The carbon tube body is 0.45″ in diameter, while the cap measures just a bit more at 0.49″.

Posted pen
Posted pen

Wacom stylus

The pen feels great in hand, writes like a dream, is American made, and looks industrially cool. So are there ANY negatives? Hmmmmm. Without a clip, the pen does have a tendency to roll, and I’ve lost it off of my desk a couple of times. Don’t get me wrong, I think a clip would ruin the aesthetic, so I don’t miss it at all, but some may consider that an issue.

The biggest problem appears to be availability. Since the Kickstarter project is over, I’m not sure how you would obtain an InTuition as I don’t see them commercially available. Probably your best bet is to contact Tom at e4 Labs, via the Kickstarter page, if you want to get your own.

And you should, because, despite the fact that it can’t make problems or complications disappear, it really is WANDerful.

When Things Go Wrong: The Good, the Meh, the Bad, and the Truly Ridiculous

Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes things go wrong with PENS. And when things go wrong, some companies leap over tall buildings in a single bound, some gingerly scale small fences, while a few can’t be bothered to get off the couch. Some examples? Don’t mind if I do.




TWSBI STORY #1: I’m in love with my TWSBI Mini (as you can read here), but soon after I posted my review, blobs of ink would periodically fall onto my paper from the nib. I flushed the pen, re-inked it, to see if that made a difference, but it didn’t. So I emailed TWSBI and received a very quick response from Philip Wang. He was as baffled as I was, but offered to take a look at the pen to see if he could diagnose the problem. Just as I was getting ready to box up the pen for mailing, I noticed an o-ring in my pen case, right near the elastic loop where I keep the Mini. Ah ha! By looking at the schematic drawing that came with the pen, I was able to determine that an o-ring was missing from the piston end of the pen. It obviously came off when I dragged the pen through the case’s elastic loop. Once replaced, no more maddening drips. So the pen wasn’t at fault, but HAD IT BEEN, Philip was prepared to make it right. We exchanged a few emails over the course of a few days trying to sort this out, and the replies were always prompt, courteous, and sincere. I came away from the exchanges an even stronger TWSBI fan. THAT collection is bound to grow.

TWSBI STORY #2: This weekend, my husband and I were looking over past American Express statements for some reason, and when we got to the October 2012 statement, I noticed what appeared to be a duplicate charge for a TWSBI purchase. One charge was via PayPal, while the other appeared to be from TWSBI itself, both for the same amount, on the same day. Being a saver of receipts, I put together an email with documentation, and sent it off (Sunday evening), feeling like a bit of a stooge because I’d just noticed an October 2012 problem in February 2013. (Kick self.) A little before lunch on Monday, I received a PHONE CALL from Philip. He’d investigated and found that there WAS, for some reason, a duplicate charge, which he promised to immediately refund via PayPal. He’d even investigated my previous purchases and found nothing amiss. Who knows why this happened- we’re both baffled- but the whole thing was cleared up quickly and professionally, and WITH A PHONE CALL. FROM A PERSON. Yeah, I’m happy. TWSBI, you made my day.


Faber-Castell e-motion Parquet

After I posted the review of my Faber-Castell e-motion, a commenter asked about interchanging nibs between the e-motion and BASIC pens. Hmmmm…I couldn’t answer that, so I contacted Faber-Castell, and received a lightning fast response. (No, they can’t be interchanged.) So many times, an email to a company seems to fall into a black hole, but Faber-Castell reads and responds. QUICKLY reads and responds.

A few weeks later, after I reviewed the Faber-Castell BASIC fountain pen, a commenter complained about an issue he’d been having with a Faber-Castell rollerball:

The issue: I own both the carbon roller, and clicky ball-pen. I wanted to get the fountain, however the roller uses the same rubber-grip screw-into-carbon construction, and over time, the plastic at the base of the threads have cracked and the thread section is holding on, barely.

The response: I’m very sorry to hear that you are experiencing a problem with the pen and I would like to correct the situation for you. Please contact me at so that I may assist you in replacing the broken part.
Renee Lamb

Faber-Castell…making it right.

Daly’s Pen Shop

Matte body w/ black nib

When I received this Lamy Safari Charcoal (EF nib) from Daly’s Pen Shop, the blasted thing would not write. I cleaned it and coaxed it with different inks, but couldn’t get anything more than a dry, dry line. I emailed a few photos of the issue to Daly’s, and received a quick offer to replace the pen. Daly’s tested the 2nd pen before mailing it out (smart move). Happy ending. Happy customer.


Kaweco AL-Sport

I ordered an EF nib for my Kaweco AL-Sport from JetPens. Once installed, I was disappointed to find that the nib performed horribly; not at all like the buttery smooth EF nib on my Kaweco Liliput. Once again, I emailed a couple of photos showing the inconsistent and dry lines, and by the next day, a new nib unit was on its way to me. Problem solved without breaking a sweat.

Kaweco EF nib

The Goulet Pen Company

I’ve been eyeing a TWSBI Micarta for a LONG time, but have been a little put off by some of the reviews that call it a “dry writer.” Since I’m not, as yet, able to adjust my own pens, I’ve been hesitant to order one. I noted this dilemma in an email to The Goulet Pen Company, and received a quick and helpful response. The folks at Goulet Pen will happily ink up and test a pen prior to shipping to make sure that it flows properly. All it takes is a mention in the comments section of the order form. Good to know.



Pilot Prera
I’m a big fan of Levenger products and am knee deep in Circa notebooks, Circa punches, True Writer fountain pens, and even a piece or two of furniture. Their products are strong, but their customer service could stand to kick it up a notch or two. In mid-December, I used a promotional gift card to place an order for a Pilot Prera with free ink, then applied a promotional discount to the bundle (after first checking with Customer Service to verify that the discount could be applied). “Yup, no problem.” Shortly after that, I received a back-order notice. Fine, I’m in no hurry. Sometime in January I started wondering where my pen and ink were, so I checked the order status online and found that the order had been cancelled. Cancelled without notification. Yikes. AND my gift card still showed that it had been debited for the order! Double yikes. I called and spoke to someone who said that they would pass along the issue to “Customer Service” (who was I speaking to?!), and that they’d get back to me. Never happened. So I called again, and reached someone who did all the right things. She started from scratch by re-loading the gift card, then placed the order a second time. Some time after that the Pilot Prera arrived (with free shipping, for my troubles), and it’s a dream. (But that’s another story.) The ink, though, has yet to arrive. After emailing yet again, I was told that the original receipt date has been pushed further into February. And so I’m waiting nearly two months for a bottle of Levenger Cobalt Blue.

I have every confidence that I’ll receive the ink, just as I received the pen, but the problem is that I’ve been doing the bulk of the work in this transaction. I’ve been emailing. I’ve been calling. I’ve been waiting. I have no problem waiting as long as I receive timely communications whenever there’s a change. Maybe it’s a fluke, but this transaction ran off the rails a few times. If I wasn’t such a fan of their products, would I stick around after this falderal? Probably not.


ACME Studio, Inc.

So this happened…

ACME Crayon

Yup…I dropped my precious white ACME Crayon rollerball on a counter at work, and it hit in such a way that the top of the brass crayon “cone” sheared off. Totally my fault. I emailed ACME Studios, explained what happened and sent the picture, hoping that the damaged piece could be replaced (on my dime, obviously). When I didn’t hear a peep, I tweeted the same photo and story to @AcmeStudioInc.


Nothing irks me more than no response. I’ll take a “sorry, tough luck” response over no response.

And so I remain irked.


[md]-pen on Kickstarter

I’ve backed a number of pen projects on Kickstarter, and have received a number of very cool pens…one WAY ahead of schedule (thank you, David!), but most a few months after the expected ship date. Communication has, at times, been spotty, but in the end, I always wind up with my pen. Until now. No matter how slowly a project has progressed, NOTHING compares to the wild ride the 321 backers of the [md]-pen have taken (myself included). It all started out very normal oh so many months ago, but deteriorated to the point that I’m 99.9% sure that there is no pen. And yet the charade continues. Over the course of the project’s history, there have been tales of manufacturing woes and misunderstandings, an admission that the creator’s profile photo (since taken down) DOES NOT BELONG TO THE CREATOR, tales of computer hacking, stolen images, and stolen ideas, countless lies, no follow-through on promises, and giant gaps between updates.

I can’t even begin to explain the whole saga, but you can read about it here.

Kickstarter projects are not guaranteed. I understand that. If a project fails because of an unforeseen complication, so be it. But to feel defrauded is an ugly feeling. A pretty awful feeling.

Things can and do go wrong, and when they do, companies would be wise to treat these hiccups as opportunities to show their customer service strengths. Happily, a number of my favorite pen companies and vendors do just that. Some certainly have room for improvement, while others simply disappoint.

All of this made me think, as I go throughout my day, how am I treating my “customers” (for no matter what we do, almost all of us are dealing with people who we could call our customers)? Where am I on the scale of TWSBI to ACME? (Let’s ignore that Kickstarter debacle as a true outlier.) Where do I shine, where can I improve, and where do I disappoint? Hmmmmm.

May we all be a little more TWSBI.


Updated to add: Just after posting this, I received an email from Levenger with the tracking number for my ink. IT HAS SHIPPED.

Inspired: Lamy AL-Star Ruby Red Limited Edition Fountain Pen

Lamy AL-Star Ruby Red
New to me

This pen popped up for sale on Twitter, via Dan Smith, one of the FPGeeks. The price was right, and I had a hankering for a red pen, so I asked Dan if it was still available. It was. Done deal.

I recently posted a review of the Limited Edition Apple Green Lamy Safari, and the AL-Star is basically the same pen, but with an aluminum body, so I won’t rehash the details found in that review. I did neglect to mention a couple of features, though, so this is a chance to make that right.

Neglected detail #1: The ink window. Found on the Safari and AL-Star models, this body cut-out gives you a peek at your ink supply so that you’re not surprised by an empty tank.

Ink window
Time to re-ink?

Neglected detail #2: The grip. The contoured grip. Some people love it, some people hate it, because you’re forced to hold the pen in a very specific way. If it works for you, you’re golden. If not, you might want to steer clear. Personally, I don’t mind the way the grip (transparent plastic, in this case) dictates where your fingers are placed, as it’s helped me achieve a more consistent writing grip. I don’t find it annoying, but others do.

AL-Star triangular grip
Love it or leave it

Aside from the sweet price and color, I was intrigued by the 1.1 mm stub nib. I usually go fine, and have a growing collection of mediums, but no broads, and no stubs. I’m a true novice. Time to change that.

1.1 mm nib
Breaking out of my fine nib rut

Inked with J. Herbin’s Eclat de Saphir, this pen and its juicy nib inspired me to write more than my usual pen-testing scribbles. The nib is so smooth, and so…um…NOT fine, that I had to write something more substantial than my name and the dogs’ names.

Tao Te Ching
Test driving the stub

Man, I love how this feels, and how it bumps up my handwriting a notch or two. And I love how words seem more substantial, more meaningful.

I’ve had a less than stellar work day, and I think I did the opposite of everything the Tao says. I worked with effort. I made the easy difficult. I thought of the small as large.

I’m tired, but still inspired. Inspired by a red pen with a stub nib. Inspired by blue ink. Inspired by those words.


Yup, inspired.