A Pilot G-2 Experience

G2_FullThe Pilot G–2, one of the most widely available and affordable gel ink pens on the market, which, according to the Pilot USA site, is America’s “best selling gel ink pen”. It would be reasonable to therefore assume the G–2 is quite a good pen. Many would no doubt say it is, and I do not necessarily disagree, however would suggest things are not quite as simple as that, with affordability and availability playing a big part here.

My issue with this assumption is best explained in terms of other markets, for example, is the best-selling album necessarily the best album? The best-selling app necessarily the best app? More often than not the answer is no. Best selling – the sales numbers don’t lie (though it can depend on when, what and how you measure them). Best – a whole other argument, where subjectivity, personal preference, opinion and emotion often rule the day. And rightly so, we are the consumer putting our hard-earned down for a product. Personally I’ll only keep doing that for something I really enjoy using.

Background

I first wrote about my impressions of the G–2 some time ago, in a post comparing it with the uni ball Signo 207 and Jetstream. At that time, the comparison involved 0.7mm models, and I had always planned on testing out the finer end of the G–2 spectrum at some point in the future.

A month or so ago I found myself standing in an Officeworks store wondering what my answer might be if asked: What is the best pen I can buy here, right now? Would I suggest a Pentel Energel, uni ball Jetstream or 207, a Pilot G–2 or something else? To be honest, I never really answered the question (though it would most likely not have been the G–2), however gave further thought to which tip size I might then suggest. Unsurprisingly, the G–2 was available in four sizes, not so any other pen in the store (in fact no others had more than two sizes available). What was I saying about affordability and availability above?

For the price, the G–2 is undoubtedly a reasonably good pen. One of my favourites? No. In spite of this, upon arriving home from the store, I filled one side of my Nock Co Sassafras with the 0.7mm (blue), 0.5mm (black) and 0.38mm (blue) G–2 models. Having previously used the 0.7mm, there was no need to include the 1.0mm in this comparison, having ruled out using anything broader then the 0.7mm. The next two weeks would then determine which size G–2 I preferred, and whether this would sway my previous opinion on the G–2 in general.

Look and Feel

Looking back on that original post, I had written the G–2 was “not the best looking pen out there”. I’d have to say that view still stands. Look, I am under no illusion that a sub $5.00 pen will necessarily end up as an icon of design, however some models at this end of market definitely look better than others to my eye.

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L to R: Jetstream, Signo 207, Pilot G-2

When viewed alongside a Jetstream or Signo 207, aesthetically, the G–2 probably ends up last in line. When placed alongside a Pentel Energel? The contest is much closer, however I still find the G–2 in last place. What is it in particular? I would say the majority of my dislike is both the clip and knock at the top end of the pen. The combination of a clip which reminds me of dripping candle wax, and the long, tapering knock on the end of the pen are just not to my liking. Compare that with the sleek lines of both the Jetstream and 207 in the image at right. The remainder of the pen I have no major aesthetic issues with.

Lets face it though, the simple aesthetics of a pen are so subjective, and a few photographs in a review are probably the last thing that should sway your own opinion.

How the pen feels in my hand? Another matter entirely. I absolutely love the G–2’s very slight taper at the rubber grip section. Having a quick look at some of the other pens on my desk here right at this moment, all of which I love using – a nice taper on the section is present in all. Although only a few millimetres of taper is enough, pens without one I find pretty uncomfortable and generally struggle where the size of the barrel and section are uniform through to the taper at the very tip.

Performance and Use

How does the G–2 perform when writing? The answer to that question lies, I believe, in your particular style of writing. It is here the variation in tip size has the potential to make all the difference to your writing experience. I find the broader tips more forgiving, whereas those on the finer end not so. My writing style is one where the pen is approximately 45º to the page (fountain pen or otherwise – this is standard for me). I have often found such a position not suited to finer tip pens, particularly when reasonably speedy writing is required. At times my slightly heavy handedness does me no favours, however again, that’s me, and my pens need to perform within that set of conditions.

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Needless to say, I have at times challenged myself to use a finer tip pen, with the aim of somehow(?!) encouraging my brain to note down relevant points only, however mostly end up simply scratching out the same amount of text anyway, resulting in a less than enjoyable writing experience.

The main issue I had here was the amount of feedback from the paper with the 0.38mm, ranging from fairly minimal (Rhodia No. 16 Pad), to a moderate degree (office copy paper, Field Notes Shelterwood) to an annoyingly high degree (office supply spiral bound notebooks).

 

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Whilst my use of copy paper and office supply note books may be seen as heresy, I am sure I am not alone in using these types of items, for without going into great detail, there are certain office based workflows that simply require them in my current role. A story for another day perhaps.

G-2_TripointTo that end, I don’t believe the 0.38mm G–2 is necessarily inferior to the 0.5mm, however the fit with my writing style is not as good. If I am entirely honest though, at times the 0.38mm was my preference, for example when taking a few quick notes in my Field Notes (Shelterwood at the time) or on a tear off shopping list. It just wasn’t as good for slightly longer form writing.

As you would expect, the line production and inkflow of all three sizes performed flawlessly. There were no skips or false starts, and the ink produces a nice, vivid line, however given the fineness of its output, the blue 0.38mm occasionally seemed to fade a little “into” certain shades or even sizes of paper (for example when taking notes in an A4 sized office supply notebook).

Though also blue, the 0.7mm laid down far more ink, yielding a much more vivid line which stood out on the page. The 0.5mm is perhaps where the science of my comparison falls down a little, having only the black in this size, however I found no issues with the ink output and line production.

Conclusion

Medal ceremony. Unofficially brought to you by Nock Co.
Medal ceremony. Unofficially brought to you by Nock Co.

So, was there a sweet spot for me across the range of G–2’s? I’d probably say the 0.5mm overall. Though I didn’t reach for it quite as much as the 0.38mm. I think I shot myself in the foot a little by having the 0.5mm in black, as for some reason I have been enjoying using blue ink a little more recently. Were I to have a 0.5mm blue at my disposal, I’m sure this would have been the one to see the most use.

A photo I posted on Instagram recently with the three G–2’s in my Nock Co Sassafras, drew a few comments and suggestions recommending the Pentel Energel 0.5mm and the uni ball Signo 207. Funnily enough, both are two pens I do prefer over the G–2 (“taperless” sections aside).

I can understand why the G–2 is such a popular pen, however, always in the back of my mind is the fact that there are pens of equal cost and specs out there that are better. Some of these I have tried (Signo 207 and Energel), some I have not (Zebra Sarasa). I suspect affordability, availability and market awareness are the main reasons for the popularity of the G–2, however I cannot discount the fact that people do really like them.

To sign off, this past couple of weeks was an experiment in tip size as much as a G–2 “experience”, and probably brought me to the conclusion 0.5mm (or perhaps 0.4mm) is as fine as I’d probably go. For my writing style, anything beyond a couple of bullet points in a list became hard work with the 0.38mm G–2. Perhaps a similar sized pen with a smoother inkflow may sway me to go finer, and if anyone has any suggestions along these lines I will certainly give them a try.

What happens with the G–2’s? Retired. Probably for good I’d say.

 


Uni-ball Jetstream – Good, but not the best

More than a little discussion, both written and verbal ensued after the publication of this Wirecutter article concluding the “best pen” (read – “the best affordable pen around for taking notes at school or a meeting”) is the Uni-ball Jetstream. In addition, my wife had recently started using one and absolutely loves it. The article itself was published in September this year, and upon reading it and hearing my wife’s feedback, I began to wonder why the 4 pack I purchased at the beginning of the year remains unused. Does the Jetstream have a place in the list of pens I prefer to use? The short answer is no, though it would seem reasonable to explain why.

According to the reviewers in the article:

For an affordable pen that writes smoothly; dries quickly and indelibly; won’t bleed, skip or feather; and has the best ink flow of any non-fountain pen; grab yourself the uni-ball Jetstream. Available in a number of sizes and colors, it’s the best affordable pen around for taking notes at school or a meeting.

As you will see, the “pen pedigree” of those utilised by The Wirecutter to reach the final choice is without question, many of whom I follow on the internet for their opinions on these very matters:

It’s worth noting the segment of use we are talking about here. This is an everyday pen – one that you don’t mind lending and ultimately losing if it comes to that. An office supply type pen – not your bargain basement sub one dollar pen, but a cheap one nonetheless, at under five dollars. We are clearly not comparing this pen to those in medium to high price ranges.

The Pens

From left: Uni-ball Jetstream, Uni-ball Signo 207, Pilot G-2
From left: Uni-ball Jetstream, Uni-ball Signo 207, Pilot G-2

For a reasonable comparison, I picked up a blue rollerball ink 0.7mm Jetstream and a couple of other retractable gel-ink pens, the Pilot G–2, and Uni-ball Signo 207, spending a few weeks rotating between each. The conclusion? I prefer the Signo 207 over both the G–2 and the Jetstream – for very different reasons. So is the Jetstream really the best pen? The answer is probably yes as a recommendation for others – just not for myself.

My Use Case

A little background on my use first. This varies greatly depending upon what any particular day brings. The office I work in utilises a “paperless” approach, in that much of what I hand write is an initial or signature on the few pieces of paper which are produced and come across my desk to sign. Longer form writing occurs with meetings and telephone calls, for I am not capable of typing quickly enough to capture the necessary information electronically for either.

The paper? This varies between your standard copy paper for any printed documents (initialed or signed); a cheap office supply spiral bound A4 ruled notebook (telephone calls and general scratchpad); an extra-large ruled Moleskine Cahier (idea or ‘spark’ journal); a Moleskine Large Squared Softcover notebook (meetings); and finally, a Field Notes notebook – currently the Night Sky Edition (for random thoughts or anything else).

Pen Choices

As with most of us, my choice of pen is based on numerous factors. The look (overall aesthetics, design, colour) of the pen; the functional fit and feel in my hand (overall weight, distribution, thickness and length); the performance (ink flow, smoothness, skipping, boldness of line, feathering, bleeding etc); suitability for the variety of paper types I typically use in a day; and whether or not I look forward to using the pen – does it make me want to pick it up when I have something to write.

Listing the criteria above is a curious endeavour. Do I have a list of check boxes for each of the above in determining whether or not I like a particular pen? Not at all. For someone who is a little obsessed about what they write with, you would think this would be the case, however it is probably only when writing about what I write with that the delineation of these characteristics becomes more relevant.

Overall it is a fairly simple process:
– That’s a good-looking pen;
– It does or doesn’t feel right;
– It does or doesn’t write well, and has or hasn’t bled, feathered or smudged;
– Has it sufficiently dried by the time I need to turn the page

The Outcome

After already letting the cat out of the bag above, you know the Jetstream doesn’t come up trumps for me.

As far as looks go, firstly, I find the G–2 to be a pretty ugly pen, whereas both the Jetstream and Signo 207 are quite well designed, with the Jetstream probably looking a little more “premium” overall. In considering the feeling in my hand, here the G–2 does win out. I have always preferred a slight taper where my index finger sits on the grip section of the barrel. Both the Jetstream and the Signo 207 have no taper and the Jetstream appears to have a slight increase in thickness nearing the lower end of the grip (as an aside – is that an un-taper, de-taper or even an a-taper? – anyway, it gets ever so slightly thicker). So the winner here is the G–2.

One other issue I found with both the G–2 and Jetstream was the refill moved around in the barrel a little at the tip – something which constantly annoys me about a pen when it occurs. As for the writing, I will let the images from my Moleksine Cahier do the talking here:

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Conclusion

Although I have compared three different pens over the course of the past two weeks and collected my thoughts as indicated above, personally, I don’t really think there is a clear winner. I can certainly see (and mostly agree with) where the conclusions drawn in The Wirecutter article are derived, and for most I think the Jetstream would be a fine pen. I would also have no problem recommending the Signo 207 if asked (though I rarely am). The only one of the group I would not recommend is the G–2 – not for long form writing anyway.

To summarise why, firstly, apart from the shape of the pen which suits my hand and writing style, there are not too many redeeming features I see in the G–2. The Signo 207 and Jetstream are fairly close, however I cannot write for any length of time with the Jetstream, which I believe relates more to my style of writing then the pen itself. I tend to press heavily when writing and use quite an angled pen position, so without a fairly heavy ink flow, things feel pretty scratchy pretty quickly. In thinking back, this is no doubt why I have always used rollerball and gel ink type pens, along with the fountain pen I wrote about in a previous post.

This combination of writing style and the Jetstream do not quite mesh, and it often felt as though it was too much effort to push the pen across the page. Notably, this improved markedly with better quality paper and lighter pressure, though the paper I use is not always of this quality, and that is not the way I write. The Jetstream also produced a much finer line than the other two, so it could be suggested the 1.0mm may be a better fit, however I recall using one a little while ago and finding the same issue.

On most occasions when the three pens were available in front of me, the default selection was the Signo 207 – it was the one I wanted to pick up, and hence was the winner in this comparison. There is always one caveat to reviews or comparisons such as these, and that is to remember this is my perspective, based on my writing style and use case – yours may be very different.

My advice? Pick up a couple for yourself and give them a run (I’d go with the Signo 207 and the Jetstream in varying sizes). It certainly won’t break the bank, and you may find yourself with the best pen – for you anyway.

Me? I am still on the journey to find mine, although in the mean time I will revert back to my trusty Retro 51 Stealth Tornado and Kaweco Sport.