If neither pencil nor pen, then what is it? Reviewing the Napkin Prima

Pen Chalet is such a cool online shop. I wish I could give them more love on this blog than I do. But, alas, there are far better fountain pen reviews on other blogs than I could provide, and Pen Chalet is really intended for the fountain pen and finer rollerball market. Wooden pencil blogs lie pretty far outside that market.

I did write about this mechanical pencil, but other than that, there isn’t much I can rightfully cover on this blog.

Here’s something cool they just started carrying recently — something I’ve been wanting to try for a while. It’s often called a “forever pencil”, though that’s kind of a misnomer.

This chopstick-looking thing is called a Prima, made by an Italian company called Napkin. Pen Chalet sells writing utensils in three varieties that writes in a pretty unique way. This is the budget option, at $49.

According to the Napkin brand page on Pen Chalet’s site, it writes “using oxidation when it contacts paper. This leaves a unique mark different from a pen or a pencil and the tip lasts forever.”

From the way this is worded, it’s unclear whether or not:

  1. The alloy tip oxidizes the paper on contact,
  2. or an oxidation forms on the tip, and rubs off when it makes contact with the paper.

Keith McCleary is a chemist, and a lister of the Erasable Podcast. He’s pretty active in our fantastic Facebook group and when we were discussing how the Napkin products work, he postulated the latter, that the alloy quickly oxidizes and rubs off onto the paper. He thinks the tip could be made from a blend of lead, tin and possibly bismuth, all of which have black oxides.

What’s fascinating to me is that, if this is true, it can oxidize fast enough to continuously generate rust to rub off as you’re writing. Keith confirms — that the combination of heat from friction and air can cause that reaction instantly.

So is this thing a pencil? Or a pen? I think it’s still up in the air. It doesn’t leave bits of itself behind to write like a pencil, but it also doesn’t distribute a medium that introduces pigment to a surface, like a pen. It causes a chemical reaction that rubs off to make a mark. It’s a science pen!

Ergonomics and aesthetics

Visually, the Prima is striking. It’s long and skinny, and it gently tapers to a point. The other two products in the Napkin line carried by Pen Chalet are also striking, through in completely different ways.

There’s the $59 cigar-shaped Cuban with a round, blunt tip intended for drawing and shading.

And, at $119 (more than twice the price of the Prima), the Pininfarina Cambiano is (in my opinion), the handsomest and most ergonomically friendly. Its tip seems to be about the same fineness as the Prima, though I admit I’ve never tried this or the Cuban.

The Prima itself comes in aluminum, anodized in seven colors — mine is “Airforce Blue”. It’s just over seven inches long — slightly shorter than an unsharpened Palomino Blackwing — but also much thinner at the writing end than a typical pencil. It’s perhaps too thin to effectively hold and write with. If I could hold it at the opposite end, it would be perfect.

Performance

Roger Ebert is said to have reviewed movies based on, not what they are, but if they accomplished what they were trying to be. That’s why he gave good reviews to so many bad movies — they weren’t trying to be some seminal works of art. They were just trying to be mindless diversions. And they were.

That said, I’m no Roger Ebert, but I do try to emulate review process. Should I compare the Napkin Prima to, say, a Palomino Blackwing, or a nice smooth rollerball pen?

I don’t think the Prima is trying to be either. From their website:

Different from all other writing and drawing tools, the mark is achieved by oxidation, due to contact between tip and paper. So the mark left is very particular, it seems like a pencil but it cannot be erased like a pen, and this makes our writing tool unique in the world.

So here’s my conundrum: the Napkin products are “unique in the world,” so how do I tell if they’re good or not?

For my particular use case, it’s not ideal. It lays down a light mark, lighter than a 3 or 4H pencil, and it’s not smooth to write with, even it is just a metal tip. The tip is slightly sticky and laggy while it slides across the page.

After trying it on several kinds of paper, the best kind to use it with is something more toothy than smooth. Think Ampad, rather than Rhodia.

After a tip from Chris Rothe, the proprietor of Write Notepads (and a guest on Episode 30 of Erasable), I tried the paper in a Write pad. It was indeed noticeably better than the other papers I’ve tried. Just as toothy paper grabs more graphite than smoother paper, it seems to grab more oxidization from the Prima, leaving a darker mark.

(Chris, in fact, loves his Pininfarina — he uses it every day to write thank-you notes to those who place orders with him.)

So, what is an ideal use-case for a Napkin product?

I’m just not sure. If you love the novelty and the lack of maintainance that this brings — you never need to sharpen it, refill it, or as far as anyone knows, replace it — it’d be perfect for you. You can write and write and write, and you’ll run out of paper before you run out of Prima.

But personally, I like being able to switch it up a bit. When my pencil is running out, I can switch to a new one. Same thing with pens, though admittedly I usually lose them before they run dry.

Would I buy a Napkin for myself? Probably not. It’s expensive and the performance just doesn’t rival a nice pencil or pen. Am I glad I have one? Absolutely. It was fun to try out, and dang, it beautiful to look at. It’s a novelty for sure, but I’m sure I’ll bring it out to show someone every now and then.

If you want to try one for yourself, head over to PenChalet.com and pick one up for $49 here.

Disclaimer: I acquired the Napkin Prima from Pen Chalet for review purposes, and paid no money for it. Other than the product, I have not received any financial recompense whatsoever from Pen Chalet.

Number 2 (Pencil Shavings) Perfume Review

I’m a very visual person — it’s generally hard for me to talk and write about something that I can’t see or read. I don’t usually write about music, the taste of food or drink, or other non-visual stuff.

That’s why I never thought I’d be writing about a scent — especially on a pencil blog.

One of our amazing Erasable listeners and Facebook group members, Mica Thomas*, sent Johnny and me some samples of a perfume her friend, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes, created. It’s called “#2 (Pencil Shavings)”.

That’s right — a pencil-scented perfume.

Where do I even begin? First, wow. This is right up there with the pencil/wine pairings that David Rees put in his book, How to Sharpen Pencils (when we interviewed him on Episode 15 of Erasable, he told us that was completely legit — a friend who owned a wine shop sat down with him and helped develop that section!).

After receiving a cool little package in the mail, I opened it and found some goodies from Mica.

The scent came in one of those little glass vials they pass out of perfume at a department store cosmetics counter.

The smell, though

Right after unpopping the cap, the smell was too intense to really discern any particularly woody scent. It smelled really odd — bitter, maybe, and slightly unpleasant. After applying to my skin, or to cloth, the intensity of the scent stayed for a few more seconds, and then it fades into something a bit more familiar.

As Johnny described it on the most recent episode of the podcast, it smells more like red cedar than incense cedar; more of an old fashioned pencil. I’d have to agree, though I don’t think my experience with cedar is as rich as his.

(I wish I had some kind of visual to show you here, but I don’t.) 
I feel like, though, there’s a touch of something else in it. Something more sharp or mineral-y. Graphite, maybe? After all, that’s present in the pencil shavings too. It’s not unpleasant at all — it smells a bit like being in grade school and emptying the container of shavings from the old Boston crank sharpener on the wall into the trash can.

The bottom line

Dawn says that the scent will be available as both a wearable essence and as an ambient scent in, say, a reed diffuser. I can defintiely see the latter being more popular than the former — retired elementary teachers, maybe, could scent their living room if they miss the atmosphere of their classroom.

I’d like to thank Mica and Dawn for this really interesting experience! And, of course, I’ll update this post with a link as soon as it is available for purchase in a couple weeks. In the meantime, check out the rest of Dawn’s scents on her website, DSH Perfumes.

(By the way, Mica is the general manager of a really cool company that makes and repairs guitars — by hand! — called Alembic, and they were recently featured in Rolling Stone Magazine!)

 

 

POSSIBLE SPOILERS: Field Notes Unexposed Edition Unboxing Video

Warning, if you don’t want the new, mysterious Field Notes edition spoiled for you, don’t want this video. If you do, then, ONWARD!

There are a few more observations I’ve had, after looking at the Field Notes for a bit longer.

The first is that I think this is the first time Field Notes has had a registered trademark symbol (®) next to the Futura’d “FIELD NOTES” mark on the front. That bums me out a bit, partly because, well, it means that some lawyers got ahold of it, but also because it’s moving one more step away from the original intent of a pocket notebook like this. It’s more of a brand now.

I completely understand why they did it, and if this was my product, I’d probably do it too.

The notebook comes in six varieties:

  • Purple with green words,
  • Green with orange words,
  • Orange with blue words,
  • Blue with pink words,
  • Pink with yellow words, and
  • Yellow with purple words.

Here’s a photo. SPOILERS:

Field Notes Unexposed complete set. Photo by Mike Finneran, posted to the Field Nuts group on Facebok

Field Notes Unexposed complete set. Photo by Mike Finneran, posted to the Field Nuts group on Facebok

They’re all very bright, made from flourescent soy-based inks printed on a white 100# silky paper. The inside color is the inverse of the outside.

One of my favorite things about it is that it resurrects the paper used in the “Night Sky” edition — a 50# bright white paper with a light grey application of their “reticle” graph — basically, it’s a dot grid, but instead of dots, they’re little “+”s.

Here's a Night Sky Field Notes I'm in the middle of, and its "reticle graph" paper. This paper is identical to what the Unexposed edition uses.

Here’s a Night Sky Field Notes I’m in the middle of, and its “reticle graph” paper. This paper is identical to what the Unexposed edition uses.

What I was expecting

When Field Notes sent the email teasing the edition, they included this image:

Field Notes teasing email

And then when they announced the name of the edition, “Unexposed,” I naturally thought about photography. After all, this is a very “art school” photograph, and it’s almost like a pinhole camera. They said the edition was sealed in an opaque paper, so I was hoping that the cover was photosensitive — maybe they changed color when opened and exposed to light.

That would have been so cool, wouldn’t it?

Schrödinger’s Notebook

Schrödinger's NotebookOkay, bear with me here, because I’m going to wayy overthink something.

A friend and I had an interesting discussion about this edition on Facebook. When Field Notes announced it earlier this week, they didn’t give away any details of each notebook. But they did say that each three-pack will be sealed with an opaque paper, and the colors in each three-pack will be chosen at random.

That’s right: no one will know which three of the six colors are contained therein — only by opening it (and thus devaluing the set), will they know if they have all the colors.

This sets up a conundrum: Do collectors keep them sealed, maintaining maximum value, or do they open them, and trade until they have all the colors?

I theorized that this is an anti-collector’s edition: that Coudal and Draplin are trolling the collectors by introducing this conflict into their acquiring.

My friend brought up an interesting counterpoint, however, and rightfully so — that in fact, this is the ultimate collector’s edition, and because collectors will be tempted to open the sealed packs, the number of the sealed pack will seriously lessen over time.

This would create a meta-collectability — that eventually, those who don’t care about the colors, but care only about the sealed notebook packs, would pay top-dollar.

For those collectors, the unknown factor of what colors are inside is a bit thrilling — the colors are unknown, for as long as they are in that meta-collection, they cannot be known.

Erwin Schrödinger might say that the colors on the notebook both exist and do not exist.

Regardless, these notebooks are a joy to look at, to touch, and eventually, to use (I have a Night Sky to work through, first).

Rite in the Rain Notepad Paper Review

It’s been a long time since I’ve last posted a video review. But this one just begged for it:

Basically, I took the review page from my Rite in the Rain mechanical pencil review, and a page from one of my favorite notepads, the Ampad Retro Gold Fibre (available online or at Staples), and gave them a good soaking from the hose. Right away, the Ampad paper soaked up the water, became limp, and tore very easily.

The rather more hydrophobic Rite in the Rain paper resisted the water, which beaded up on the surface of the paper. It took just as much effort to tear it as it does a dry piece of paper (even dry, Rite in the Rain is thicker and offers more resistance than most writing pad papers).

I wrote on both sheets of paper with pencil, which is already water resistant. But if you use a fountain pen, especially with normal, water-soluble ink, the Rite in the Rain paper shouldn’t completely protect you from smearing when wet. Since the ink has soaked into the paper somewhat, it should perform better than the regular notebook paper, but still — I like to think pencil performs best under wet circumstances. Especially on a Rite in the Rain notepad.

Thanks to my lovely partner, Katie, for running the camera and the garden hose!

Rite in the Rain Mechanical Pencil Review

I’ve always liked Rite in the Rain notebooks. While I’m not particularly outdoorsy (I prefer to be called an indoorsman,, like most good bloggers), I love the durability of their paper and the retro aesthetic of their yellow or tan products, and of course, the gorgeous script typeface in their logo.

That’s why I was excited that they introduced a series of mechanical pencils! I’ve always found it a little bit ironic that they have a wooden pencil in their logo, but had no graphite options in the writing equipment they sell.

Rite in the Rain Mechanical Pencil

I know, I know — I’m a wooden pencil guy, and this is a wooden pencil blog. And this product video doesn’t help make the peace:

But still, this pencil is gorgeous, and fits with their market really well. It’s the same yellow, but in a smooth sturdy plastic, and a slate grey eraser. Like their notebooks, they’re inexpensive, but well made. And, I imagine, very durable.

Rite in the Rain mechanical pencil test

This pencil comes in three varieties — a yellow barrel with black lead, a black barrel with black lead, and a red barrel with red lead.

This pencil was developed along with, and manufactured by Autopoint, which makes sense — it really fits within their wheelhouse. This was a good fit.

I’m not a huge fan of how wide this core is — it’s 1.1 mm instead of the thin 0.5 or 0.7 mm that is often found in mechanical pencils. I can appreciate why it’s wider, though — it’s less prone to breakage, and shows up darker if writing bigger. Sure enough, it didn’t snap once when I was testing it.

Rite in the Rain graphite tip closeup

The graphite was nice and smooth, and dark. Especially on the paper in this Rite in the Rain notebook, it glided across the page.

The red core, on the other hand, was a fairly unpleasant experience — the pigment is way too light (as you can see in the image), and waxy to the point of feeling gummy. It dulled much faster than the graphite core did.

The only other complaint I have about this pencil is the sturdiness of the twisty point. As I’m writing, it sometimes creaks in an alarming way, like I’m stressing the little contraption inside that advances the core when I twist it. Nothing seems to be affected or broken, though, so it may just be a natural result of having two pieces that fit together like that.

I really like how it feels. It reminds me of a Bic Clic, and I hope they don’t take that as an insult. For the price, a Bic Clic is one of the most attractive, best engineered pens I can find. It’s shaped beautifully, performs consistently and admirably, and even though it’s plastic, it’s really high quality. I’ve never seen a flaw in one.

This pencil feel much the same. It’s a little bit thicker than a Bic Clic’s widest segment, and it’s just a little bit longer than the Bic. It feels really nice in my hand, and I imagine if I was someone who had to scribble notes in the rain, it’d be great to hold onto.

I think my favorite part of this pencil is the eraser. I don’t think I’ve seen one like it before — it’s grey, and I was expecting it to be very pumice-like and gritty. It’s not, though. It’s super-smooth, but really effective. It rubs off cleanly, almost like a vinyl eraser.

Rite in the Rain mechanical pencil eraser

Sure, I’d like to see Rite in the Rain introduce a wooden pencil. But honestly, it’s no big deal if they didn’t. They produce a great notebook, one that any pencil would work well with. They lent their philosophy to this mechanical pencil — a quality, durable tool for not a lot of money. I think it holds its own really well in their product lineup.

You can buy these mechanical pencils for $10.95 each, and refills for the core and the eraser, on their website. And for that 6×9″ top-spiral-bound notepad I used to review it? It’s $9.95 available from their website.

(Disclaimer: These products were given to me, free of charge, for review purposes. Thank you, Rite in the Rain, for these samples!)

UPDATE: A few readers have written to me that that the Autopoint All-American Jumbos are identical and cheaper. I don’t know if they are identical, and the RiR pencils are merely privately labeled, or if there are manufacturing differences/improvements. I intend to get an Autopoint-branded pencil and check it out. So in the meantime, I’d recommend that you hold off on your purchases of either.

The Blackwing Slate: The pencil-optimized notebook

It’s a really exciting day today, folks. It marks the ninth anniversary of my friend Johnny Gamber’s first pencil review on Pencil Revolution! He wrote about Pencils.com’s ForestChoice pencils.

It’s speculated by Pencils.com’s Fearless Leader (and CalCedar president and CEO) Charles Berolzheimer, this is the first pencil review, ever, on the internet. (And to celebrate that, Pencils.com is having a one-day-only sale on ForestChoice products — 25% off!)

Congratulations, Johnny! Long live the Revolution!

Blackwing Slate

Yesterday marked the first day the Blackwing Slate was available for purchase. If you get emails from Pencils.com, or have been reading the blogs at Pencils.com and Blackwing602.com (there’s a lot of websites nowadays in this franchise), you may have seen teasers for this product. It’s a Moleskine-like notebook, but improved for co-branding with the Palomino Blackwing. And, in my opinion, way nicer than a Moleskine.

It seems that the devil is in the details with notebooks nowadays. The Baron Fig, reviewed here back in April, excelled in the little design choices that set it apart from its rivals. The same thing applies to the Slate — there are numerous little improvements that really make it stand out.

The Exterior

It’s size is quite similar to the Palomino-branded journal line at 5” by 8.25”. The cover is a bit thicker and softer,though, and very matte — more of a shark skin feel to the harder, shinier Palomino hardcover. I’m not sure about this softness — I hope that it means it won’t scratch easily. Only time will tell. Besides that, it’s quite nice to touch.

Blackwing Slate Cover Closeup

It has a really nice thick elastic loop on the spine for a pencil, which is a great feature. This isn’t a dinky little piece of elastic either — this thing looks like it’ll hold its stretch for years.

Blackwing Slate Spine

Speaking of spines, the really innovative thing (in my opinion) about the Slate is the spine. because there’s a pencil strapped close to the spine, the two thick covers stop at the edge, and then are bound together with a substrate (I think I’m using that word correctly here). Essentially, the spine is reinforced, not with an extension of the cover board, but with the cloth that binds the cover to the signatures of pages inside.

It results in a very flexible cover — the first time I opened it, it wasn’t stiff at all. And I can even open it with the pencil still in the loop, which is great. It seems like it might make the notebook less durable — if the cover’s not protecting the spine, will it tear easier? Again, time will tell.

The Paper

Writing in the Blackwing Slate

Man. I love, love this paper. It boasts a 100gsm paper, compared to the Palomino luxury notebook’s 90gsm and Rhodia’s 80gsm paper. It’s so thick and plush, you guys.

It’s available in both lined and plain. Since the guys at Pencils.com know I am not an artist, they sent me a lined one to try out. The grey lines are set apart 0.25” on an off-white paper. The paper is smooth, but not as smooth as Rhodia paper. It has a little tooth on it, specifically engineered — I hope — for pencil. It’s the perfect amount to grab your graphite but still feel smooth.

Closeup of Palomino Blackwing 602 writing in Blackwing Slate

I tried it out with a medium-nib fountain pen, just to see how the paper held up to ink (though it would be sacrilege to use anything but pencil in this notebook!), and it worked great! No bleeding of note at all on the opposite page.

Closeup of a medium-nib fountain pen ink in Blackwing Slate

The opposite page from the fountain pen wriiting. As you can see, there is virtually no bleed-through! This is some thick paper.

The opposite page from the fountain pen writing. As you can see, there is virtually no bleed-through! This is some thick paper.

The Details

Besides the spine, this is what really gives the Blackwing Slate its distinction, and contributes greatly to those details I mentioned earlier. It has all the Moleskiney amenities, but all a bit nicer than the Moleskine’s — a satin bookmark, an elastic strap to keep the cover closed, a paper pocket in the back to hold stuff.

There are two different pockets in the flap in the back!

(That pocket is interesting — it’s actually a double pocket, with a small flat on the front for small things like, say, a driver’s license or credit card, and a wider one behind to hold things slightly smaller than the cover)

It even comes with a shiny new Palomino Blackwing 602 pencil tucked in the pencil loop on the spine!

It’s the details.

The Price

The Slate sells for $22.95, a full $9 more than a Moleskine Classic notebook sells at Barnes & Noble. The included pencil is worth about $2 of that price, so at $20.95, is the notebook worth it?

Depending on a lot of factors, of course, in general, I’d say that yes, it’s worth it. I’m not trying to bash Moleskine here (we actually had a discussion on the most recent episode of Erasable about how it’s become fashionable to look down on Moleskine), but the Slate is much better constructed, the paper is so much heavier and nicer, and for a pencil user like me, that elastic loop on the spine is wonderful.

Go check it out!

The Blackwing Slate | $22.95 at Pencils.com

Disclaimer: This product was sent to me, free of charge, for review purposes. No monetary compensation or additional direction was provided to me.