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.

Resolved: Living Well One Line A Day

One Line A Day Journal

After vowing to NOT BUY ANYMORE NOTEBOOKS, I, of course, went out and bought another notebook. But I have an excuse. This one is DIFFERENT. It’s blank, but structured, and just the thing I’ve been looking for. So I invoked the “notebook purchasing exception clause” (which I just made up) and bought this five-year reflection book at my local Barnes & Noble. It’s a late Christmas present or early birthday present. Whatever. NOW the vow is back on. (Until it’s not.)

One Line A Day Journal

I was ready to buy the original One Line A Day blue version when my eyes fell on this taxi yellow Living Well version. I had to have the yellow because a) the weather has been SO bleak and gray and the yellow reminds me of the sun and warmth and hope; b) the orange ribbon is…well…orange. Bright and cheery. If I can’t have the sun, a yellow notebook with a vibrant orange ribbon will have to do. Every little bit of brightness helps when you’re trudging around in snow and wind and bitter cold.

Line A Day Journal

The non-color reason I wanted this is that it’s a five-year journal, meaning that there’s one page for each day of the year, with space for entries over the course of five years. So, for example, I’ll write an entry for January 1, 2015 through 2019, all on one page. Whether it’s the weather or my mood or what I had for dinner, ultimately, I’ll be able to read about a specific day over the span of five years. I’ll be able to see where I made progress and where I didn’t, where I was grateful and where I was whining, where I succeeded and where I stumbled. It should make for interesting reading five years down the road.

Line A Day Journal

Because my journaling (brief and repeated attempts) always seems to devolve into a basic “we did this” and “we did that” monotony, I was particularly pleased to see a page and half of writing prompts at the front of this book. I want this to be more than just a daily record of chores, errands, and day-to-day minutiae. I’d like to dig a little deeper. But how? What do I write about? Well, the book suggests a number of things, from “What excites you?” to “What are you afraid of?” to “How will you reward yourself tomorrow?” You can track exercise, sleep, glasses of water— any kind of habit. The prompts are nice because they give you a gentle nudge when you’re stuck. When I’M stuck.

Preferred pens

The journal is small— just 6″ x 4.5″ inches so you have to be brief and/or write quite small. I tried this before with a larger format journal and petered out after a year or two as the missed days started piling up. I think the fact this book is smaller, and thus more portable, will make it easier for me to keep up with my entries. At over an inch thick, it’s not pocketable, but fits fine in my Levenger messenger bag so taking it along is not a problem. Plus, I REALLY want to keep this one going. Five days in and all is well. Just a line or two and I’m done.

Preferred pens

In order to keep my writing small and precise, I’ve selected three favorite machined pens to use in this book— the TactileTurn Shaker with a black 0.5 mm Moleskine gel refill, the Ti2 Techliner, by Ti2 Design, with a 0.5 mm Signo UMR-85N black refill, and the Karas Kustoms Retrakt outfitted with a 0.38 mm Pilot Juice blue-black refill. All lay down neat, clean, and crisp lines, and are a joy to hold and use (reviews forthcoming). That’s key— journaling with a pen you enjoy.

Living Well One Line A Day

I’m not really one to make resolutions (we can see how well the “don’t buy any new notebooks” one went), but I HAVE resolved to stick with this journal. FOR FIVE YEARS. Hold me to that, okay?!

Note: There are no affiliate links in this post. I just wanted to point you in the direction of some favorite goods.

2014 Wrap-Up: The Feelings

Simple tree
Simple tree

I had planned to get a post up last week, but then I caught a cold (unexpected) and Christmas arrived (expected). One thing was fun, the other not so much. Slowly coming out of my sinus miseries and low-key Christmas celebrations to think about getting things back to normal. Well, normalish.

Baking cookies
Baking molasses cookies. Or as I call them, mole asses cookies.

I’m off from work for most of the week— just have to pop in on Friday for a little while— so every day feels like Saturday lately. Which is what I imagine heaven feels like.

Christmas colored Retro 51s
My festive Retro 51s

A couple of feelings routinely kick in this time of year, as one year ends and the other begins. The first is gratitude. Thanks for all of the good stuff and good people that I’ve encountered in the last year, much of it related to pens (and paper and ink and pencils) and the pen/pencil communities. These are the places where I feel most comfortable, where my introverted tendencies vanish, where I have a blast.

The Retrakt
Karas Kustoms Retrakt

Though not a complete list by any means, these are just some of the people and places who made 2014 a memorable year:

Podcasts/Videocasts
The Pen Addict with Brad and Myke (responsible for oh so many pen purchases and for an always entertaining commute)
The Erasable Podcast with Andy, Johnny, and Tim (Who would’ve thought I’d listen to a show about pencils? I do, and I love it.)
Anderson Pens (Oh, that chat! It’s like meeting with friends every time I tune in.)
SBREBrown & Gourmet Pens & the “I won’t be ignored” kitty (Great information with great humor. You guys rock.)

Pen, pencil, ink, notebook, and storage vendors
Anderson Pens
Dudek Modern Goods
Edison Pen Co.
Field Notes
Fontoplumo
The Goulet Pen Co.
JetPens
Karas Kustoms
Levenger
Nock Co.
Pen Chalet
The Pen Company
Retro 1951
Write Notepads & Co.

Thanks to some for supplying review items, to others for great customer service, and to all for great products and that extra-special personal touch.

My nib guy
Dan Smith @fpgeeks

Thanks for making less than stellar pens remarkable, quickly and affordably. Great work!

Penpals
Tracy Lee
Michelle

Thank you for understanding when I TAKE SO LONG TO REPLY. Your letters and cool envelopes are a source of delight in my mailbox. So glad we’re getting to know each other better while using our pens and inks.

Bloggers, Tweeters, Facebookers
I won’t name names because I’ll leave someone out then feel bad, but you all entertain and educate me, amuse and enlighten. This is the BEST community.

Best hotel
The Sheraton at Tysons Corner for returning my “left behind” Akkerman ink after the DC Pen Show. Amazing customer service. So grateful.

Pencils at the ready
Pencil line-up

The other feeling that kicks in this time of year is “fresh start.” Old year out, new year in. Time to purge, reorganize, and start with a blank(ish) slate. Fred and I regularly purge and straighten out our pantry during our break between Christmas and New Year’s. Annual ritual. Afterwards, we vow to use what we have on hand before adding more stuff to the cupboards.

Conklin Stylograph
Conklin Stylograph (to be reviewed)

In that same vein, I plan to make 2015 a year where I buckle down and USE my pens, pencils, papers, and inks— switching my focus from acquisition to using. When you have a Staples Printer Paper box full of empty notebooks, it might be time to stop buying notebooks and start writing in them. Like every day. Don’t get me wrong, I use my stuff but I need to REALLY use my stuff. There’s plenty here to be written in and written with, plenty to be reviewed, plenty to have fun with. Plenty.

Machined goodness
Machined favorites

So I’m closing out 2014 and starting 2015 feeling grateful and blessed. And you— all of you— are the reason.

Peace and good health to you all.

Write Notepads & Co.
Write Notepads & Co. loot

Shopping Local and Serendipity

I’m a big list-maker. A HUGE list-maker, especially at this time of year when there are cards to mail, letters to write, gifts to buy, extra errands to run, and all kinds of Christmas-related tasks to accomplish. There’s nothing more satisfying than checking off a box on one of the many to-do lists I cart around. (Well, MAYBE there are one or two other things—wink, wink, nudge, nudge!) I rarely venture out without a goal, a mission, a purpose.

But sometimes all of those checkboxes start bugging me and I just want to wander aimlessly. Like without a hundred things to do/see/accomplish. Like how I imagine other people live—with days full of whimsy and unplanned adventures.

What I realize when I finally get myself to do this— when I leave the list tucked away— is that cool things pop up. Cool pencil and pen-related things, it turns out. (I don’t think I’ll ever be able to completely turn off my “writing instrument radar.”) We hit a number of local craft shows throughout the year and have a great time wandering around and chatting with people making really interesting things— alpaca socks (the best!), soap, mustard, bowls, and brooms. You name it, someone’s making it.

Here are few of my serendipitous finds that are just too cool to not share.

Index card holder

Notecard holder

This little block of wood with an embedded magnet and ball bearing is the perfect thing to hold up an index card (for, you know, more lists). Intended to be a recipe card holder, I almost walked away from the booth because I never use recipe cards anymore. Then the light dawned (I was having a slow day, I guess) and I plopped down $5.00 for this wonderfully simple way to prop up any old index card.

Index card holder

It’s turned out to be really handy, and for five bucks, you can’t go wrong.

Handmade Pens 

Bob's pens

I run into Bob and Virginia Lenhart a couple times a year, and almost always find something on their table of colorful and well-crafted kit pens to bring home.  At the last show, I picked up The Spartan, the top pen in the photo, and swapped out the ballpoint refill for a Moleskine gel refill. Accented with #10 o-rings and gunmetal accents, the design is unique and fun to hold. The bottom pen, with its magnetic cap, is one that I use all the time, certainly as much as some brand name pens. The prices are right and it’s just fun using pens that are made by such nice local folk.

Old Pencils

Old pencils

On Saturday evening, we stopped at the open house of a local antique shop for punch and cookies and a look around. Amongst the costume jewelry, beer steins, china, coins, and Bullwinkle glasses (tempting!), I stumbled onto a few shoeboxes stuffed with loads of old pencils. PENCILS. Man, oh, man, did I start pawing through those. An older couple look on and chuckled and couldn’t imagine why anyone would want old pencils, but when I showed them the cool designs, the old time phone numbers (4-4475), and the awesome colors, they started coming around, and the woman admitted, “I DO like writing with pencils!”

Old pencils

I wound up picking out a couple of handfuls, despite dried up erasers and that basement smell. I couldn’t have been happier.

Old pencils

Who knew that all of these treasures lurked in the little shop I drive by all the time?

Old pencils

So though I am list-bound most of the time, these unexpected finds remind me that it’s fun to get out and see what the world tosses my way. Who knows what treasures lurk right in your town, your village, your neighborhood. Shop local and keep your eyes open for surprises. It’s as much fun as checking a box.

WINNER: The Divide

The names of all eligible commentors were entered into a spreadsheet, assigned a number, then a Random Number Generator was used to select the winner of Mike Dudek’s The Divide.

Drumroll, please….

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 6.23.59 PM

Lucky #63 is Ian T

Ian T says:

All the pen and pencil blogs I read feed my lust for writing instruments and accessories! I would love to have a Dudek Divide to bring some order to my desk.

Ian, your wish for greater order has been granted! I’ll be in touch via email to get your address so that I can pass it along to Mike.

Thanks for all who read and left comments. This was, by far, my most popular giveaway. You guys recognize great work when you see it!

United We Stand: The Divide by Dudek Modern Goods (A Giveaway!)

The Divide

We humans are always finding ways to divide ourselves into “us” and “them.” Coke vs. Pepsi, introverts vs. extroverts, cats vs. dogs, early risers vs. night owls. We like what we like and burn through energy trying to convince others why we’re right and they’re wrong. What a strange bunch we are!

The Divide with pencils

I’ve found an exception to that rule in the pen, pencil, and paper communities. Instead of bickering about what we personally like or dislike, I’ve found the “writing implement” community to be fun, supportive, encouraging, down-to-earth, and exceptionally friendly. These are my people. We may have different tastes, budgets, and obsession levels, but we’re always there to help each other with advice, kind words, recommendations, and solutions.

The Divide

The Divide, by Mike Dudek of Dudek Modern Goods, represents that “let’s all get along” spirit by providing a place for your pens, pencils, AND pocket notebooks to live in harmony. Starting out as a special request by Tim Wasem of the Erasable Podcast, The Divide is now a regular in Mike’s line-up of handmade goods. Mine arrived last week and I already find myself longing for a second one— one for work and one for home. This thing looks and feels great, SMELLS divine (that wonderful “woodshop” smell), and is absolutely perfect for corralling six of your pens, six of your pencils, and three of your pocket notebooks. No more flotsam and jetsam scattered all over your desk.

Felt pads & branding

Made of solid walnut by Mike himself, The Divide measures 2.5″H x 5.5″W x 3″D. It has a “just the right size” footprint that doesn’t consume too much desk space. Using my handy dandy (and cheap) Harbor Freight digital caliper, I found that the pencils holes measure 0.4″, while the pen holes measure 0.5″ and 0.6″ (give or take a few hundredths of an inch). Hand-rubbed with a stain poly finish, The Divide feels like a small piece of fine furniture. The underside features felt pads to prevent the surface of your desk (or the bottom of The Divide) from getting scratched, as well as a smart looking Dudek Modern Goods “brand.” It’s simple but solid. Divided but harmonized. It’s a really, really nice piece of handcrafted goodness.

The Divide

I picked mine up from Mike’s shop, but thanks to Mike’s generosity, you can enter to win your very own Divide. Just post a comment on this blog— maybe pass along a few words about how the pen/pencil/paper community has helped, encouraged, or entertained you. I’ll assign each comment a sequential number, then will use a random number generator to select a winner. Post your comment (one per person, please) by Sunday December 7th, 11:59 pm Eastern Time (USA). I’ll select a winner on Monday December 8th, and will post their name right here on the blog. You’ll have a week to get in touch with me with your address so that I can pass it along to Mike. (The Divide will ship directly from Mike to the lucky winner.) The contest is open to US and international readers. [Pens, pencils, and Ambition Field Notes not included in the giveaway.]

The Divide

The world can be a prickly place, but our love of pens, paper, pencils, and notebooks keeps us together— just like The Divide.

The Divide

Check out The Divide, as well as Mike’s other products HERE.

(There are no affiliate links in this post, and I was not compensated for this review. I’m just a big fan of Mike’s work. Thanks to Mike for making this prize available for giveaway.)