Having An Absolute Rollerball

Clockwise from top: Baron Fig Squire, P8126 & Retro 51 refills, Karas Kustoms EDK, Retro 51 Stealth Tornado, Kaweco Classic Sport
Clockwise from top: Baron Fig Squire, P8126 & Retro 51 refills, Karas Kustoms EDK, Retro 51 Stealth Tornado, Kaweco Classic Sport

The nature of intermittent pen-related posts appearing on this blog would lead you to believe my pen-life is mostly fountain and little else. Inherently there would be nothing wrong with that, however in reality it’s not all nibs and pistons. There is quite some variety in the writing instruments I use on a day-to-day basis, and on that score I’m sure I’m not alone.

Retro 51 or 8127 refill - 0.7mm
Retro 51 or P8127 refill – 0.7mm

A big part of that variety is the rollerball, or if you prefer — liquid ink pen (for consistency and convenience we’ll go with the term rollerball from here on in). Although the specifics of my rollerball history are varied in themselves (more on this below), in recent times my usage has largely revolved around the “capless” rollerball refills of both the Retro 51 (at times stamped with the P8127 designation), and Schmidt P8126 variety.

The refills

The Schmidt P8126 refill - 0.6mm
The Schmidt P8126 refill – 0.6mm

Like many before me, and no doubt many after — my initiation into said refills came through The Pen Addict podcast, although the exact episode number is not known to me. I’m sure there is an enthusiast or two out there able to pinpoint the actual number, however given Retro 51 pens are mentioned at least every few episodes, specifics are probably not relevant. With a little trepidation (the hype surely couldn’t be matched by reality) I ordered a Retro 51 Tornado pen (the all black Stealth model), and upon receipt was pleasantly surprised. This was a fine-looking and equally stellar-performing pen, and that refill? Yes – it’s a beauty, and has been a regular purchase of mine ever since.

The 0.6mm P8126 refill (l); and 0.7mm Retro 51 (r)
The 0.6mm P8126 refill (left); and 0.7mm Retro 51 (right)

Although you may find interchanging use of the Retro 51/P8127 and Schmidt P8126 designations when searching online, they definitely are different beasts when talking line widths. If I had to pick my favourite? Probably the ever so slightly thinner line of the 0.6mm P8126, however to be honest I’m happy with either, and my local pen store (Brisbane’s Pen and Paper) which I often visit when refills are required, stock the Retro 51 branded P8127 (0.7mm) version.

A description of the P8126 refill from Jet Pens tells us the following:

  • the refills use a ceramic ball in the tip
  • they are available in black, blue, green and red (the Retro 51 refills in black and blue only)
  • “capless” means a one year cap off time without drying out
  • the P8126 refill is 3.9″ (10 cm) long. It is not the same as the Schmidt 8126 refill, which is 4.3″ (11 cm) long.

Probably worth noting that last point as far as ordering the correct refill size when the time comes. Speaking of which, when it comes to refills and options for them, you could do no better than to consult an epic guide on such matters, aptly titled The Epic Refill Reference Guide: Rollerball, Gel and Ballpoints by Ana Reinert of The Well-Appointed Desk.

Once you’ve taken a look at Ana’s post, the realisation dawns of the multitude of options out there — many of which I have yet to explore myself. Just prior to finalising this post today, I came across Joe’s review of the Steel and Flint Kickstarter pen on The Gentleman Stationer, which contained the following:

For some reason, I’ve never had the opportunity to use the Schmidt Easyflow 9000 ballpoint refill, and that’s a shame. After using this pen for a few days, I ordered a pack of six, and have since swapped out all my Retro 51 / Schmidt liquid ink rollerball refills for the EasyFlow. It’s that good…

Stay tuned for my future ”Having an absolute ballpoint” post perhaps…

Some current pens

Anyway, the rollerball refills in question are known to many within the pen enthusiast world, and are accommodated by an array of pen housings, with Kickstarter often fertile ground for additions to the list. There are quite a few pen options to choose from really, a couple of which I have previously written about (links below), and the others in the list I’ll no doubt look at in future posts as well.

Again, certainly not an exhaustive list, however the pens I commonly rotate these refills through, provide a good example of the variety at your disposal in terms of overall design, weight and feel in the hand. The writing experience however is of course consistent and familiar.

My pens themselves, in no particular order:

The Nova Minimal pen by Namisu - a recent Kickstarter arrival
The Nova Minimal pen by Namisu – a recent Kickstarter arrival

Rollerballs past

As with many in this hobby, the memories of where specific points of interest or phases began are quite vivid. I distinctly remember dabbling in a few different types of pens through high school, and in my university years beyond that (student budget permitting). There were no fountain pens to be seen at that time, with the first to come almost a decade later, however you would definitely have found a rollerball or two on my desk.

Although it’s a bit of a stretch to remember exactly what they all were, I do recall sampling a good few of your disposable varieties, like the Uni-Ball Eye Rollerball, and I believe some Pentel variants of whatever specific moniker they carried at the time. In attempting to become a little classier (I guess), the Parker Vector made an appearance, along with a Diplomat (the model escapes me), creating my most distinctive memory of them all — it ran out so quickly I was driven back to ballpoints for a while.

Clearly unfazed, over the next two decades (yes, its been that long) I dabbled here and there, however in recent years with a renewed vigour and enthusiasm for writing instruments in general, the rollerball has made a somewhat triumphant return.

Why the attraction?

There are probably two main reasons I attribute my fondness for rollerballs: my writing style primarily; and the saturation and vibrancy of the liquid ink a rollerball produces.

My writing style does not lend itself well to ballpoints or gel inks below about 0.5mm in tip size. At times depending on what I’m specifically doing, even 0.5mm is a stretch. Of course your average ballpoint or gel ink pen will typically write drier than say an EF fountain pen nib. The angle and stroke of my natural writing provides a very scratchy experience with finer non-fountain pens (and certain very fine fountain pen nibs as well), however a rollerball in the usual 0.7mm or 0.6mm is just about perfect.

As for the saturation and vibrancy of the ink, this speaks for itself really. A good rollerball will often provide output (once on the page at least) not dissimilar to what you might see with a fountain pen. The blues are deep, saturated and hold their colour over time, the reds and blacks are generally the same.

Quite a vibrant blue on the page (Rhodia No. 16 Dot Pad)
Quite a vibrant blue on the page (Rhodia No. 16 Dot Pad)

Of course it goes without saying that your colour choices are generally somewhat limited, unless you look further afield to something like the J. Herbin rollerball pen, which I’ve not personally tried, and accepts standard international ink cartridges. Personally, for the uses mine see, I’ve no real need for a vast selection of ink colours, and the basics do just fine.

Typical usage

Here the immediate thought of: “well for lots of things where fountain pens dare not tread” is probably not 100% accurate. As you probably know, rollerballs — while perhaps more versatile in some ways than fountain pens — still do not have the ubiquitous acceptance a ballpoint might.

On very glossy paper or card stock, they can be just as bad if not worse than a fountain pen. In addition, poor quality standard paper will see feathering typically less than fountain pens, however the ghosting and/or bleed through can actually be worse. If you are anything like me, and unintentionally take a rollerball as a ticket to writing with a firmer hand — this effect can be exaggerated significantly.

That said, there is a pretty decent range of paper types that will provide a fantastic writing experience with one of these capless rollerball refills. Personally, I’ve found some of the best to be on slightly toothier paper, such as Baron Fig’s Confidant, or your typical Field Notes for example. Even the standard copy paper we use at the office is a pretty good match, upon which I print out an Emergent Task Planner for the day’s tasks and scheduled activities, and a Cornell notes formatted printout for general note taking.

Although I find the writing performance of these capless refills quite an enjoyable experience, longer form writing is not something I choose to use them for. For various reasons, the pens are either a little thin, fairly heavy, or a combination of both. I say that not in a negative way, simply to point out I’d probably choose one of my fountain pen options were I to sit and churn out a few thousand hand-written words.

That being the case — where do they excel? As short form note takers. That is, for meeting notes, recording phone calls, daily planning and brainstorming, or outlining blog posts. They are hardy enough to withstand a drop, or lend to others without the need for undue concern. Perfect office pens really, which as I’ve mentioned, is mostly where you’ll find mine. I’ve also been known to have them rolling around on the shed workbench while recording coffee roasting data — a task for which they are more than hardy enough.

Signing off

The benefit of having so many choices available for these great refills is just that — the choices. The variety of pens available should see something suitable for just about any particular preference — all the while retaining the same great writing experience between refill tip and page.

Of course there are other great rollerball or gel based refills around, and I’m not suggesting the Retro 51/Schmidt’s are the be-all and end-all in this category, however are a standard and favourite for me, seeing some form of use pretty much every day. With the newly arrived Nova Minimal pen, I now have five options — perhaps a ready-made Monday to Friday rotation! More likely though is that I will simply continue what I’ve done for some time — use one for a while, and switch when the desire to do so hits me.

One thing remains a certainty — although the housing may differ, the smooth, rich, and vibrant writing experience certainly won’t.

Wiser Web Wednesday

Wiser Web Wednesday – a semi-regular link to posts of interest from around the web, by those far wiser than myself:


The Finer Point
A couple of popular A5 notebooks within the fountain pen-friendly sphere. Of the two, I prefer the Rhodia paper slightly — finding a little too much nib glide with the Clairefontaine stock.

Of course this is personal preference, and either of these will suit a fountain pen user well:
Notebook Comparison: Rhodia versus Clairefontaine A5 Notebooks


JetPens Blog
A nice round-up of a selection of fountain pens manufactured by Pilot in Japan. Perhaps not news for the long time pen-obsessives, though a good background for the developing pen enthusiast:
Luxury Japanese Fountain Pens


The Pen Habit
Coincidentally, I recently received a letter from a friend written with the illustrious broad nib of a Gaston’s Exclusive. Written in Iroshizuku Asa Gao on Tomoe River paper, it came up a treat.

They are super-smooth and deliriously juicy. If you have an ink where you want to highlight its sheening capabilities, then this is the nib for you. It is a marker of a pen, but with a whole lot less feedback

And yes, even just looking at the cursive writing on the page, I reckon I can confidently confirm the above.

Read more about it here:
Bexley Gaston’s Exclusive Review


The Pelikan’s Perch
Joshua at The Pelikan’s Perch with a look at the effects of the recent Brexit decision on Pelikan prices.

While exact figures are not yet clear, it is anticipated that Pelikan’s products will see a 10% increase in the UK starting in November

As always I guess it pays to shop around online:
News: Brexit’s Impact on UK Pelikan Pricing


With the Platinum Preppy such a great pen, a natural next step might be the Plaisir, which is great value at around AU$30.00. Some great colours available as well.

the medium has a very large sweet spot. It can be rotated and held upright or even at a low angle and will still write well. As a gift to a newbie, the fine is worth considering as it produces a line more comparable in width to the familiar rollerball or gel pen.

A great review which is perhaps just in time for Christmas?
Review: Platinum Plaisir Fountain Pen


While I don’t use a ton of workflows in the Workflow app, they can be handy at times.

I’d also recommend listening to a series of episodes on the Canvas podcast taking you through the basics of setting up the up the app and creating your own workflows:
Workflow 1.6 Brings Revamped Gallery, Better Tools to Share and Import Workflows


As a dedicated listener to a podcast put together by two of the founders of this cafe, I chipped in a very small amount to the Kickstarter campaign referred to in the post.

Although I hear regular updates on how things are proceeding on the podcast, its nice to read an overview of the business itself, and the philosophy taken by the owners towards their staff in terms of entitlements and development.

Oh and they serve great coffee too:
Inside Cat & Cloud’s Santa Cruz Dream Cafe


BBC News
The SIAM Journal of Applied Mathematics (full article PDF Link) is not the usual place I turn to for coffee news.

Although the principles of grind size/distribution, and the shape of the filter vessel and coffee bed are often discussed in coffee writing, I think this may be the first time the principles have been looked at from a mathematical modelling standpoint.

If formulas for finding “the constants of integration remaining in the outer solution by using modified Van Dyke matching” is your thing — then I’d suggest clicking through to the full PDF article I’ve linked to above.

Otherwise, try this somewhat lighter summary:
Maths zeroes in on perfect cup of coffee

Wiser Web Wednesday

Wiser Web Wednesday – a semi-regular link to posts of interest from around the web, by those far wiser than myself:


Though I don’t normally lean towards themes as far as my pens and inks are concerned, what’s not to love about a coffee imbued collection.

A nice roundup, though not sure I’d go as far as a scented ink:
Fountain pens and coffee, a delectable duo


Macchiato Man
Yagan Kiely reviews a couple of the excellent inks available in the Bookbinders Snake Ink collection.

Eastern Brown has become a favourite of mine, and I’d agree the Emerald Boa is fairly dry, although thoroughly enjoyable to use as well.

Some great images and comparisons included in the post:
Double Ink Review: Bookbinders Emerald Boa and Eastern Brown


Gourmet Pens
I’ve always had a soft spot for Montblanc’s Meisterstück range, being where my fountain pen journey began almost 20 years ago. I still have the standard black and gold Classique in my collection today.

Fast forward to today, and I’m quite drawn to the matte finish of the Ultra Black series.

I’ll admit though, my budget priorities are not likely to see me make another Montblanc purchase any time soon. As Azizah points out in the post, the Montblanc price tag is likely to be a barrier to many, along with perhaps the size of this particular model.

Nice pen though, and well reviewed as always:
Review: Montblanc Meisterstück Classique Ultra Black Fountain Pen


Brewing Coffee Manually
Making a tea-like brew from the dried skin and pulp of the coffee cherry is becoming more common these days.

While not to my taste, I did make a batch with the pulp after the natural coffee processing experiment I wrote about earlier this year, and it was, I must admit, a better brew than I’d expected.

If you do enjoy fruit infused beverages, this might be for you, and is at least worth trying if you come across it.

Advice on both hot and cold brewing methods for your enjoyment (or experimentation):
What is Cascara? – Exploring Coffee Cherry Tea


Perfect Daily Grind
Coffee made at the push of a button (or two perhaps), and reordered when you’re running low in the same way.

Who’d have thought actually sitting and scrolling through some green coffee listings would make me a dinosaur so soon. Convenient yes, but I know what I’d rather do.

Each to their own of course:
Specialty Success — AMAZON DASH Partners With 3rd Wave Coffee Maker


Roaster Joe
Although a humble home roaster like myself isn’t likely to delve as deeply into the science of moisture and density effects in relation to the process itself, I’m no less interested in reading about it.

…measuring moisture and using that measurement has created a correlation of information to results that is not truly a causation

A cautionary word on ensuring we don’t go overboard on any single variable without considering other factors or the bigger picture:
Coffee Roasting: Measuring What Matters


Apartment Vimeo Channel
I’ve often mentioned in correspondence to friends and even some posts you’ll read on these pages, of many words being written while sitting on a stool at my favourite cafe.

This short, 90 second video provides a glimpse inside what has become a second home during my workweek. You’ll also see I generously loaned owner Oliver Strauss my seat for the purposes of the video:
Apartment X Oliver Strauss


My Cuppa
I recently wrote a piece outlining my home espresso setup — part of which touched on the grinder I use.

This is a great article looking more closely at some key points on optimising your own grinding experience, namely:

  • the ideal grind will change day-to-day and even over the course of the day
  • purging the grinder is critical after periods of non-use or after a change in setting
  • you get what you pay for

Well worth reading the full article:
How to get the best coffee from your grinder

Strong Fabric

Last weekend, the small town of Alstonville (where I grew up), held its annual Agricultural Show at the local show ground in the centre of town. I didn’t attend myself, however as they have done for many years now, my mother and sister both submitted a number of entries for judging in various categories of exhibitions.

2016-11-06-jules-show-coffee   2016-11-06-sandra-damper-show

For the second year in a row, my mother took out first prize for her green coffee, home-grown in the backyard. She was also successful with produce grown in her small, yet impressive household garden. My sister? Well, she entered an astonishing 19 separate categories in the baking section, winning 11, and placing second in a further three. Not surprisingly, she was also awarded a prize for being the most successful exhibitor. Efforts for which they can both be very proud.

It’s an interesting event the local show. Of course as a kid it was all Dagwood dogs and dodgem cars, with the occasional animal event/parade and baking or produce exhibit thrown in for good measure. A simplistic child’s view for sure. The sounds? The ever-familiar tone of the ground announcer, the snorts, thundering hooves and snapping of whips during the trots, as horse and driver careened around the ring. Sadly the harness racing has long since ceased.

In reality though, the annual local show is more than simply an event. In many ways it is symbolic of the community at large, and the role the locals play within it. A show of spirit and goodwill, with a healthy dose of competition between those who enter exhibits for judging.

2016-11-06-jules-certficate-lifeballThe involvement of my mother and sister in the local community goes far beyond participating in the show once a year of course, and they have been an active part of the community for many years now. As time goes on it is clear to me they play an important role in weaving the very fabric that holds a small community together.

That being the case, I’d suggest the fabric is a heck of a lot stronger for it, and it is in that fact, and in both of them, which I’m very proud.

Wiser Web Wednesday

Wiser Web Wednesday – a semi-regular link to posts of interest from around the web, by those far wiser than myself:


To be entirely honest, I’m a very infrequent pencil user, however this new release from Baron Fig deserves a mention here.

The Archer pencil seems both a fine counterbalance to the Squire pen, and complements the company’s paper products well.

Andy Welfle is certainly more than qualified to provide some thoughts on the release, and does so with aplomb here:
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune: a review of the Baron Fig Archer pencil

As mentioned in the post, The Archer pencil, along with its founders, also makes an appearance on episode 62 of The Erasable Podcast.


Ed Jelley
Ed Jelley reviews what is an interesting looking pen, and I’m certainly not averse to a decent ballpoint.

This one looks to have a sleek, vintage style to it, and the expectation is it will show a little wear and “age” well.

I like it:
Ystudio Brassing Ballpoint Pen Review


The Gentleman Stationer
Another good-looking pen, this time of the fountain variety. I’m always a sucker for black, and a matte finish simply adds to the attraction.

Looks are one thing, however as always the proof is in the nib, and Joe’s review leads me to believe things are covered on that front:
Pen Review: Diplomat Aero


The Clicky Post
Mike Dudek with another fantastic addition to the Dudek Modern Goods stable of stylish pen organisers.

With seven pen slots and an A5 journal, The Stationer is definitely one to check out:
Announcing The Stationer from Dudek Modern Goods


Fountain Pen Day
Despite my obvious interest in fountain pens, I’ve never been great at promoting the first Friday in November on this blog.

Perhaps I should refer you to the experts. Which on this occasion, I will:


Joe Buhlig
Joe Buhlig with some praise for pen and paper in terms of planning and tackling your day.

There’s something motivating and more permanent involved in pen and paper. I can’t drag-and-drop a commitment to a different time of day when I used pen

Indeed, that’s one way of staying on track:
The Day On Paper


Jean-Marc Denis
If you have a specific need for some black Mac or iPhone wallpapers, there are some beauties here. I use them as my desk is in a rather unique location which has the uncanny ability of throwing my monitor’s light into a number of bedrooms all at once.

So in the pre-dawn hours when I usually write, these free wallpapers are a beautiful way to avoid searing light in my still-waking eyes, and potentially stirring the other members of the household simply by waking my Mac.

In high-resolution and rendered using Cinema 4D, they look pretty good too:


I guess just because you can, doesn’t mean you should — though you can say that about blogging, and look what I do here from time to time.

With his last story as a regular contributor to Macstories, fellow Aussie Graham Spencer with a detailed look at designing and launching your own sticker pack on the iOS App Store.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Graham’s writing on the site for a few years now, and this feature is no different:
Link MacStories Guide: Design and Launch Your Own iMessage Sticker Pack on the App Store


Coffee & Tech In San Francisco: A Barista’s POV
A peek into the world of a barista working inside the tech companies in San Francisco.

Financial security and schedule stability are big advantages, but you’re not always able to innovate or grow as a barista

From my own perspective, one of the things I enjoy about grabbing coffee during the work day is the chance to leave the office for a few minutes and see the outside world (not always an option for us all I know).

If I had free or subsidised coffee available inside the office? Part of me thinks I’d still venture out anyway:


Where is Scott Rao?
Food for thought in relation to the various brewing techniques you may be using.

Probably the most important benefit of prewetting is that it provides extra time for the brewing liquid to begin this diffusion process before the pouring phase removes (much) extract from the coffee bed

A particularly relevant article for immersion brewing devices such as the AeroPress. Knowledge is power — or at least improved extraction:
Prewetting: When to do it, when not to