A Rollercoaster Ride: The J. Herbin Refillable Rollerball

Sincere thanks to my friends at JetPens for making the purchase of the J. Herbin pen and ink reviewed here possible. There are no affiliate links, and I was not, nor will I be, monetarily compensated. This review reflects my experiences and observations with the J. Herbin products pictured here.

J. Herbin Rollerball
J. Herbin Rollerball and Larmes de Cassis ink cartridges. LOVE the little tin.

I’ve read a number of reviews on the J. Herbin Refillable Rollerball and they run the gamut from “The ink flows very well…” to “The nib is very scratchy and thin.” Five star reviews versus one star reviews. Hmmmmm. Time to check it out for myself, I thought, so I added one to a recent JetPens order.

The J. Herbin Refillable Rollerball takes short international ink cartridges rather then traditional rollerball refills, which makes the pen a bit of a novelty. This appeals to me as I’ve accumulated a decent-sized stash of cartridges (okay, a lot), as I usually fill my fountain pens with bottled ink. Having a non-fountain pen to use them in seemed like a cool alternative.

J. Herbin Larmes de Cassis cartridge
Initial writing sample with J. Herbin Larmes de Cassis ink

I popped in one of the J. Herbin Larmes de Cassis (Tears of Black Current Purple) cartridges and started writing on my Levenger Vivacious Circa paper. The ink flowed without much delay, but the color just didn’t do it for me— much too light and washed out looking— significantly paler than the label on the sweet little cartridge tin led me to believe. But was this because of the pen or the ink?

J. Herbin rollerball
Disassembled, with a Levenger Cobalt Blue cartridge installed

After installing a Levenger Cobalt Blue cartridge and scribbling a bit, I was in business. The ink flowed easily, the rollerball felt smooth, and the color was rich and readable. Really nice.

Levenger Cobalt Blue writing sample

On the very smooth Vivacious paper, I’d estimate that the line runs about 0.6 mm, very close to that put down by a Schmidt P8126 refill— my choice for my ever-expanding collection of Retro 51 Tornados. It felt as smooth and free-flowing as the Schmidt refill, as well. Five stars!

Unposted vs. Retro 51 Tornado
Unposted vs. Retro 51 Tornado

Unposted, this pen is small, just 3.8 inches (98 mm). You really do need to post the cap to use the pen comfortably. The cap posts quite securely so this isn’t really an issue. Once posted, the pen measures 5.5″ inches (139 mm). It’s compact, for sure, but not too small. You can see that the posted length is a little bit longer than a Retro 51 Tornado.

Posted vs. Retro 51 Tornado
Posted vs. Retro 51 Tornado

The downhill slope of rollercoaster ride occurred on Day 2 of use, when I grabbed the pen to jot down some notes and had trouble getting the flow going. Aargh. I scribbled on a sheet of the Vivacious paper, but the results were not great. Sometimes the flow was fine, other times it seemed to dry up. Hmmmm…one star.

Scribbling to prime the pen
Scribbling to prime the pen

I then discovered that scribbling on more common (printer) paper did the trick and good flow was ultimately achieved on all types of paper. Really smooth with “just right” wetness. Five stars.

So, you can see, there is some touchiness with this pen. Thus the mixed reviews.

Day 2 writing sample
Day 2 writing sample, after priming

My experiences confirmed that there are a few caveats to successfully using the J. Herbin Rollerball— little tricks to get five star, rather than one star, performance:

  • Use richly colored inks for best readability. Because of the relatively fine line, pale ink looks weak on the page. (Duh.)
  • Realize that there may be some differences in performance based on the paper  you’re using. Flow appears to be most consistent on “cheaper” (less coated) papers, but is a-ok on good paper once flow is established.
  • Storing the pen with the tip down alleviated the need to scribble on paper to prime the pen after a period of non-use. After doing so, the pen wrote very well on even my best paper, even after sitting unused for a time.

J. Herbin Rollerball

I will admit that the J. Herbin Refillable Rollerball took me on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster ride, with both high and low points in performance. But ultimately, by following a few easy tips, I’ve been enjoying this pen and look forward to plowing through that healthy stash of small international cartridges. I’ve declared 2015 to be the year that I “use things up,” and this pen is a small step in the right direction.

J. Herbin Rollerball

The J. Herbin Refillable Rollerball is available at JetPens for $8.75, with J. Herbin cartridges priced at $5.50. While not ideal for use in this pen (in my opinion), I plan to use the Larmes de Cassis cartridges in some of my fountain pens to see how it looks with different pens/nibs. Stay tuned for an update on the outcome of that experiment.

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5 thoughts on “A Rollercoaster Ride: The J. Herbin Refillable Rollerball

  1. I really like that Larmes de Cassis colour!

    If you’re looking for a richer purple (and you’ve not tried them already) I’m a big fan of Diamine’s “Amazing Amethyst” and Herbin’s “Pousserie de Lune”.

  2. Really enjoyed this review! I bought this pen on impulse when I saw it at a campus bookstore. Tried it in a Clairfontaine notebook, using the J. Herbin ink, and was supremely disappointed. I’ve tried it again and again with different papers in the two years since then, but always been disappointed. I’ll swap out the ink and see if that affects my feelings. It’s a cute little pen, so I was sorry I didn’t like it.

  3. I have one of these, but haven’t had the opportunity to give it a go yet. It’s too bad they don’t seem to be consistently reliable.

  4. Thank you so much! I got the pen just 3 days ago and today morning it just stopped working properly. Read your review and tried to write on some printer paper and the ink started flowing right away. Strange how that happens.

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