Friday, June 22, 2018

Fountain Pen Review: 2018 Special Edition Lamy AL-star Vibrant Pink


Lamy's special edition AL-star Vibrant Pink is here! When I learned last year that Lamy's 2018 AL-star would be pink, I cringed. I don't like pink. In fact, I only have three pink fountain pens: two Lamy Safaris (the first generation and the reissue), and a Kaweco Skyline. When I saw it, Vibrant Pink won. This pink fountain pen has charmed a lot of fountain pen users out there, including me. The Vibrant Pink comes as a lovely metallic pink that perfectly complements my two Lamy Safari pens.

Beginning in 2014, Lamy used compact cardboard boxes as presentation boxes for their pens, instead of the old, bulky plastic ones. Lamy released the 2018 Vibrant Pink fountain pen in a packaging similar to that of the Safari Dark Lilac and Petrol. Instead of the old gray, plastic pen box, Lamy now uses laminated cardboard boxes with the year's color theme for their special and limited edition pens.

An elastic in the felt-lined bed inside the box ensures that the pen stays in place, preventing breakage during transport. These boxes are sturdy, easy to store, and do not take up too much space. Last year's special edition AL-star and Safari pens came in similar compact boxes, too.
The 2018 Special Edition Lamy AL-star Vibrant Pink in its presentation box in matching pink color.

The AL-star Vibrant Pink pen in this review is a fountain pen, but the line also includes a ballpoint and a rollerball. For the last four years, Lamy has been coming up with special edition ink colors to match their special edition pens. This year, the AL-star Vibrant Pink fountain pen has an accompanying ink available in T52 bottles and giant ink cartridges that fit most Lamy fountain pens. An ink-x eraser in the same color is also available.

Lamy's recent special edition AL-star pens (Bluegreen, Copper Orange, Charged Green, Pacific, and Vibrant Pink) come in happy bright colors. The Vibrant Pink AL-star's color is a dynamic fuchsia in an anodized aluminum finish. I love this pen's color because it's a subdued, happy shade of fuchsia, and not at all a screaming pink.
The AL-star Vibrant Pink has a subdued pink color.

The Lamy AL-star is an excellent pen for all fountain pen users -- newbies/beginners, collectors, students, and artists. At 22 grams and 5.5 inches (capped), the AL-star is a well-balanced fountain pen: not too short, but not too long, either. It's not heavy, but not light. It's just right for small or big hands, comfortable to use, and sturdy, too! Many fountain pen users keep an AL-star in their EDC (that's everyday carry) because the pen is tough and sturdy.

The AL-star's barrel has an ink window that shows the ink converter or cartridge inside. It allows me to check on my pen’s ink level without having to unscrew the barrel from the section. The AL-star's cap is round, but two sides of the barrel are flattened. The Lamy logo is etched on one side of the barrel, towards the end.

Lamy AL-star fountain pens have transparent gray plastic sections.

The AL-star's signature triangular section has a grip that gives the writer a firm hold on the pen while writing. An anti-slipping brake near the end of the section prevents the writer's fingers from slipping into the nib while writing. Unlike the Safari pens’ matching body and section materials/colors, AL-stars have transparent gray plastic section.

A great feature of Lamy fountain pens is the interchangeability of their nibs across most of their product lines. The AL-star shares the same feed and nib with the Safari, Vista, Joy, Nexx, and Studio. The available nibs are extra-fine (EF), fine (F), medium (M), broad (B), and left-handed. The AL-star can also be fitted with italic nibs ranging from 1.1mm to 1.9mm.

I received the Vibrant Pink pen with the new Z28 converter. This proprietary piston operated Lamy converter can be used to fill the fountain pen with ink from a bottle. Like the Z24 and Z26 converters, the Z28 has two tiny nipples that fit snugly into the small grooves in the upper part of the section. When the nipples are fitted in the grooves, the converter stays in place, preventing messy ink spills. Giant ink cartridges are also available in Vibrant Pink and Lamy's regular ink colors (blue washable, black, red, turquoise, green, and blue-black).

The Lamy Vibrant Pink fountain pen came with the new Z28 converter. The nipples in the converter fit snugly in the section which has dedicated grooves. (Details about this in my Aquamarine review.)

Lamy has previously issued red and purple AL-star pens: Ruby and Black Purple. Ruby, a limited edition AL-star in 2011 has been discontinued since. Black Purple is included in Lamy's regular AL-star lineup since 2011 after its first issue as a limited edition pen in 2009.

Three AL-star fountain pens in red, purple, and pink: Ruby, Black Purple, and Vibrant Pink.

The imprint of the Lamy logo in newer pens are not as deep as the logo in the previous AL-star pens. 
Nine years in between these two pens. The 2018 Pacific AL-star
is practically the aluminum version of the 2009 Pink Safari.

In my review of the AL-star Pacific last year, I discussed the differences between the AL-star and the Safari. I want to help some people understand that the greatest difference between the two pens is their materials: AL-star is aluminum, Safari is plastic, ABS plastic to be exact (same material used in Lego bricks). The AL-star has a transparent gray plastic section, while the Safari matches the pen body's material and color. The AL-star is a bit heavier than the Safari, although this is not noticeable. Aside from these, there are some subtle differences in their design, seen in the photos below.

The two pens share the same oversized clip, but the Safari's cap has an indentation
where the clip is inserted into the cap.
AL-star fountain pens have black cross (or X) finials, and most Safaris have the same black finials. The Pink Safari in this picture is a first-gen Pink which was released in 2008, and has a pink button/dot finial.
The Lamy logo is debossed in the Safari, while the outline is simply engraved in the AL-star.
The AL-star's barrel end has a plastic black button cap, while the Safari's button is from the same color and material of its body. Both are engraved "Germany."
Lamy AL-star fountain pens (from top): Aluminum, Graphite, Silver Green, Silver Blue, Ocean Blue, Black Purple, Ruby Red, Pearl, Bluegreen, Charged Green, Copper Orange, Pacific, and Vibrant Pink.

The matching ink for the Vibrant Pink fountain pen, also called Vibrant Pink, is a beautiful dynamic fuchsia ink with visible gold sheen. It reminds me of elegant, plush seats in operas and grand ballrooms.


The Vibrant Pink ink is available in proprietary Lamy cartridges and in 50ml T52 bottles that come with a roll of ink blotter for pen cleaning after filling, or to blot writing. The bottle has a small basin at the bottom, to allow filling when the ink level is low.


I made swatches of the Vibrant Pink ink, in single and double passes. The gold sheen is very visible in the double passes swatch, and in areas where the ink pools. This metallic sheen will be more visible when used in pens with wider nibs such as B, 1.1, or stub. I used a Lamy 1.1 nib in writing the captions, and I'm thrilled to see the metallic sheen even after the ink has dried. I noticed during testing that the metallic sheen is very visible while the ink is still wet, but loses some of the shimmer as soon as it dries.

Vibrant Pink fountain pen ink sample swatches in single and double passes.
I do not have many pink fountain pen inks, but found J. Herbin Rouge OpĂ©ra to be close – 
a bit darker, though – to Lamy Vibrant Pink.
Here is a closer view of Lamy Vibrant Pink's gold shimmer. At different angles, it gives the ink a darker shade.

Do you see the gold flecks? I've been lucky enough to capture them on camera!

Vibrant Pink is a well-behaved ink. It has excellent flow and lubrication, medium to high shading, and the gold flecks do not affect drying time. This ink is very easy to clean, does not stain, and has a pretty pink/fuchsia color.


Like all the previous special edition Lamy AL-star fountain pens, I love the Vibrant Pink pen and the ink that came with it. The fountain pen is versatile (has interchangeable nibs), simple, minimalistic, and helpful to newbies because of its triangular section grip. The metallic finish brings warmth to the pink color of this special edition AL-star. The AL-star may be prone to scratches because of its material, but given the proper care, these pens will last for a long time.

If you haven't gotten one of these special edition Vibrant Pink AL-star fountain pens yet, go get one now! As of this time, Lamy has not indicated that they will be producing more of these. So once the current stocks are sold, they're gone!


I received the fountain pen in this review at no cost from Lamy's authorized and exclusive distributor in the Philippines, the Times Trading Company. In the Philippines, the AL-star Pacific fountain pen and ink (and other Lamy products) are made available by Times Trading Company, through their kiosks at National Bookstore branches around Metro Manila.

Lamy products are also available at Scribe Writing Essentials and Everything Calligraphy.

Lamy AL-star pens are widely available from pen sellers worldwide. For a list of Lamy retailers, visit http://www.lamy.com/content/find_a_retailer/index_eng.html.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Fountain Pen Review: Ystudio Brassing Portable Fountain Pen


I first saw Ystudio pens in Patrick Ng's blog last year. The combination of brass, leather, and wood in a single package was interesting and intriguing to my fountain pen user/collector and designer's eyes. At first, I thought the brand is Japanese, but I learned that it is from Taiwan, the birthplace of TWSBI. I followed the pen on Instagram and in fellow bloggers' pages and I became a fan of its sleek and minimalistic design. I wanted to see one and try it for myself. Early this year, I learned that Scribe, the country's sole seller of premier fountain pens will be adding Ystudio to their store shelves. Through Scribe, Ystudio kindly sent a fountain pen to me for review here. I tested the Ystudio Portable Fountain Pen in the brassing variant for a month before finally sitting down to write the review.

When I received the pen package, I was very impressed with Ystudio's branding and presentation. The big box that holds the pen's outer and inner boxes is a plain box made of corrugated board, but the Ystudio logo is neatly printed on its sides. Inside the big box are the pen's outer and inner boxes. Ystudio's logo is imprinted on both boxes in gold. The box that holds the pen and accessories is a beautiful stained sycamore wood with several layers of board lining that can be removed if one wants to repurpose the box. A thumb hole at the bottom makes removing the lid easier.


An instructions booklet and a sheet of sandpaper are included in the wood pen case. Details about these two items are in the later part of this review. Also included in the package, together with the brassing fountain pen, is a protective tube made of white maple wood, two leather cords, and a brass ring. The accessories—tube, leather cords, and brass ring—are included to make the pen 'portable'.

Inside the box: carrying tube, brassing Ystudio fountain pen, leather cords, and brass ring.
The combination of brass, leather, and wood of the Ystudio package gives its user a unique sensory experience. One touches the hardness of the wood and brass against the softness of the leather
cord and feels the coldness of the brass amidst the warmth of wood and leather.  

Ystudio, a design company based in Taiwan, has successfully created a unique fountain pen design that easily catches attention everywhere. The pen is a head turner! The minimalistic design gives the pen a modern industrial look, its simplicity brings to mind traditional Asian form. Amsterdam-based store Kohezi wrote, "Ystudio, founded in 2012, believes in the value of simplicity. Their designs are minimalistic, yet extremely powerful, made for everyday use with natural materials that will last for more than a lifetime."

This pen is completely new to me, as I do not have many metal pens. I have several pens with aluminum bodies, but the Ystudio brassing fountain pen is my first fountain pen that is made from brass. This is also my first hexagonal fountain pen, and I am enjoying this barrel design a lot. It's a built-in roller stopper which compensates for the pen's missing clip. It's also a nice conversation piece and a fun item to bring to meetings where people keep asking about the pen, some even requested to try it.


Ystudio makes two types of fountain pens: "Portable Fountain Pen" and "Desk Fountain Pen." The Portable Fountain Pen comes in two variants: "Classic" and "Brassing." The Brassing Fountain Pen is made of solid brass coated in black lacquer with subtle gold lines that accentuate the hexagonal design. Through time, these pens will develop character. The Classic, which is made from copper will develop patina, while the black lacquer in Brassing will wear off and reveal the brass underneath.

Here are the measurements of the Ystudio Brassing Portable Fountain Pen:
  • Length of pen, capped: 5.4 in
  • Length of pen without cap (barrel end to nib tip): 4.7 in 
  • Cap: 2.4 in
  • Section: 1.2 in
  • Section while threaded in barrel: .94 in
  • Barrel: 3 in
  • Section diameter: .3 in
  • Barrel diameter: .4 in
  • Weight, full pen with converter: 45 g 
  • Pen with converter, without cap: 30 g
  • Cap: 15 g
The Ystudio Portable Fountain Pen's parts: cap, nib assembly, section, converter, and barrel.
Ystudio has kindly included a converter in the package.
Ystudio has kept its branding consistent and simple. Their logo is placed towards
the end of the barrel. Here, the brass shows through the lacquer.
The top of the Ystudio Portable Fountain Pen cap is flat with a hole.
This feature is for personalizing the pen and making it portable.
The Portable Fountain Pen's nib assembly: section, nib and feed holder, feed, and nib.

When I uncapped the pen, I was a bit apprehensive because of the small No. 5 Schmidt nib, but it did not disappoint. The medium Schmidt nib wrote smoothly out of the box for the first time, and through the weeks, I did not experience skipping or even a single hard start, considering that the pen is always upright in my pen wrap inside my bag.



Top is the pen's barrel, below that is the cap.

The Ystudio Portable Fountain Pen is of standard length, sharing the same length as a Lamy Safari or TWSBI ECO with its cap on. However, this pen does not post, so it becomes shorter compared to other pens without its cap. This is not an issue to me, though. I look at this as part of careful (and thoughtful) planning for a metal pen design. The Ystudio pen without the cap already weighs 30g. That's almost the same as the weight of Kaweco DIA2 (28g) or TWSBI Diamond 580AL (31g) with their caps on. If the Ystudio's cap is posted, the pen becomes heavy and writing may be inconvenient. Designing the pen to be a little shorter and non-posting decreased its weight, ensuring writing comfort.


The Ystudio Portable Fountain Pen package includes an instructions booklet and a sheet of fine-grit sandpaper to guide the user in personalizing the pen.


A spread in the instructions booklet contains a list of the accessories and shows steps on converting the pen into a portable one. The flat end of the pen's cap fits in the space on top of the carrying tube. Once fitted, a leather cord is laced through the hole on top, the brass ring secures the leather before it is knotted. With the pen encased in its carrying tube, it is now portable and ready to be attached to a bag handle, belt loop, or lanyard. This is a unique feature of this pen, but I'm not sure if I'll be doing it. I'm a bit uncomfortable with my pen hanging somewhere even if it's encased in a wooden tube. First, what if the wooden tube breaks? Second, I don't feel safe hanging a US$160 (PhP8,395) pen somewhere with the possibility of losing it. I'm sure this system would work for some fountain pen users, it's just not for me.


A different spread in the instructions booklet discusses pen care, including how to fill the pen with ink and cleaning afterward. This spread also illustrates how to create a personalized brassing effect by removing the black lacquer coating using the sandpaper in the package. I love the look of the Brassing fountain pen's black lacquer, so I'll hold on to it for now.


The Ystudio Portable fountain pen's all-black presentation is simply elegant.
I like this look, so I'll hold off sanding the lacquer coating for now.
Beautiful.
The package includes two leather cords in black and tan. The black leather cord is softer than
the tan cord and looks perfect on the Brassing fountain pen.

Here's a writing sample of the Ystudio Portable Fountain Pen. To ensure good ink flow,
I filled this pen with Robert Oster Velvet Storm – a smooth, wet, and saturated dark blue ink.
(Rober Oster inks are also available at Scribe.)

Having said/written all these, the next question on my list is, would I recommend this pen to anyone? Well, I'm a Ystudio fan, and I've enjoyed the pen over the past month that I've tried it. Ystudio has done an awesome job in designing this pen, and sure, I recommend it to anyone who uses a fountain pen, especially to those who love brass (or copper), or simply wants to: try a metal pen, use a portable fountain pen, or personalize their pen.

If anyone wants to get a Ystudio Portable or Desk Fountain Pen, the Ystudio website has a list of retail and online shops from around the world who are selling their products.

In the Philippines, Ystudio products are available at the SM Aura and Glorietta 4 branches of Scribe. For product availability, check with the branches first. Their website has a list of their store locations with contact numbers.

To cap off this review, here's a summary of my observations about the Ystudio Brassing Portable Fountain Pen:

What I love about it:
  • Simple, elegant pen design—hexagonal design prevents the pen from rolling off (also a nice conversation piece)
  • Leather and wood complement pen's brass 
  • Excellent packaging (maple pen case is awesome!!!)
  • Pen is not heavy despite being made from brass
  • Schmidt converter comes free with pen
  • Nib is wet and writes smoothly
  • Pen is portable–can attach anywhere—belt, bag, notebook, etc.

What I don't like about it:
  • Limited nib options — no B! (or italic/stub)
  • Slim section — I wish it is fatter than it is now
  • Clipless
  • Cannot post — this is more for those who post their pens -- I don't post my pens.
  • Cap — snap instead of screw on

The fountain pen in this review was sent to me free of charge by Ystudio, through Scribe. This review is unpaid, and the contents are not in any way influenced by either Ystudio or Scribe.

Monday, January 8, 2018

5 Questions with Patrick Ng

Patrick Ng has been my Traveler's Notebook hero for the longest time. In my mind, Traveler’s Notebook is Patrick Ng, and Patrick Ng is Traveler’s Notebook. It’s almost impossible to think of TN without Patrick. It was through Patrick that I discovered the joys and functionality of the TN, and for years, I have followed his TN adventures through his blog Scription, and I have been a fan since 2009. I have followed him in his travels, and read and reread every single TN post, hack, and DIY that he published. I even made a faux TN using board paper as cover, patterned after his "Pozor" passport TN. (TN was not sold in the Philippines until 2011.) For a while, I used the Chronodex, Patrick’s GTD creation that fits a regular TN.

Through the years, I communicated with Patrick a few times though email. We have not met in person, and a visit to Hong Kong was not in my immediate travel plans. Fast forward to August 2017. In a conversation with Sharon Mae Santos of Scribe Writing Essentials, we thought of inviting Patrick to a TN Meet in Manila that was scheduled in September. I then mentioned the invitation to Patrick, and in a few days, his Manila TN journey became a mind-boggling reality!

In September, Patrick visited the country for the first grand Traveler's Notebook Meet in Manila. Patrick delivered his signature TN Talk, and shared his 12 years of TN journey to more than 100 TN users in attendance. At lunch, it was hard to believe but I was fortunate to be seated next to him! I was a little shy, but I asked him a few questions, five of which are published here.


How did your partnership with Traveler's Company start?

Patrick: When I picked up the job as a buyer in city’super/LOG-ON in 2003, I started to learn more about Midori’s products and people, trying to promote their new product ranges one after another. It is one of the most outgoing Japanese companies I’ve ever worked with and I was particularly impressed by their president’s determination to take the company to the next stage, which was to incorporate higher design philosophy into their brands and products, thus the name Designphil was created.

“Pozor,” Patrick’s Midori passport-sized Traveler’s Notebook.

In 2005, during a trade show in Japan, they were exhibiting in their booth dozens of ideas from designers. Each guest had three votes to cast on their favorite. Traveler’s Notebook was one of them, I casted two votes to it and eventually, it won second place in the campaign. The next year they shipped the products. I got one of the earliest samples to use and was being asked to give feedback to the team.

I was a die-hard Moleskine user back then, however as the company grew bigger and being acquired by different venture capitalists, I felt like losing touch with the brand and doubted their authenticity. While Traveler’s Notebook was selling in our stores, one interesting fact was that customers kept asking if they could buy the sample notebook on display, the leather covers were battered and scratched, yet somehow people would love to buy such samples instead of getting a new one. I did personal leather craft projects once in a while so I knew how people fell in love with something personal like TN. I gradually started using TN to replace my Moleskine and because of this, I asked the Japan team a lot of questions. 

Patrick with TN users during the Manila TN Meet in September 2017. 
During the Meet at SM Aura, Manila broke the record for most TNs in a meet with 114 TNs!!!

What was the concept behind it? Who actually proposed the idea? How did they expect customers to use it? Things like that. Sooner or later, I became a person knowing a little bit more here and there, the team also accepted my opinion both as stationery buyer and user. I created campaigns called “Travel Photo Cafe” to mix product categories such as leather craft, photography, biking, vintage decorations, and others for store display. I also created workshops inviting “travelers” who had different experiences from their professions to share with other users. So over the past 10 years, all these little efforts evolved into today’s Facebook user group, gatherings, and special editions.

That’s how I got close to both customers and the design team, the authenticity is impeccable and I enjoy so much being part of the collective minds to influence the next campaigns.


What does it take to be a TN ambassador?

Patrick: There is no such thing, officially. I guess it was because of my outgoing nature on social media, I was giving out tips and creative ideas quite often and that’s how people recognize me as “the” Patrick Ng, who’s somehow related to TN but never quite know who I am. Honestly, as the user community is now pretty global, the TRC team is probably observing if there are other users they can connect to in various countries/cities. Maybe one day the network of ambassadors will come true.

Left: Patrick giving his signature TN journey talk.
Right: Patrick’s luggage that has toured the world with him.

How many TNs do you own and how many do you actually use?

Patrick: I guess I have 16-20 TNs, regular and passport size included. I don’t like to own but not using them, so I use them alternately, my favorites are regular size Camel, Olive, Blue, and the original Brown. I would change the cover every few months and have fun color coordinate my tools around the chosen one. Sometimes by doing so, inspirations come, that’s why you would see me posting new customization ideas once in a while. I don’t use passport size at all. Some of the TNs I own were gifts from artists who did something to the notebooks, while special editions like Tokyo Station I do try to collect but as I say I would use them instead of just for collection. My recent adventure was to paint my unused brown notebook with white silk screen printing ink and let it scratch to reveal the brown beneath as I continue to use. I love the effect and have been pairing it with white pen, white tag, etc. I’m still looking for a lovely white charm and thinking of how to make a white pen loop. See, that’s a lot of fun!

Some of Patrick’s TNs that he brought with him to Manila. Also in the photo are two Manual Factory bears -- a first generation and a more recent one.


Patrick’s brown TN that he painted white.

Why did the Traveler's Company shift from Midori to Traveler's Notebook?

Patrick: Designphil is the mothership, they have corporate services, distribution business and stationery business. Midori name is that stationery business. Traveler’s Notebook was a stationery product range only and it was under Midori. As the brand grew, with their own retail shop, sales channels, and overseas projects, it was decided that they should spin off this brand in order to give it freedom to grow instead of using the existing Midori infrastructure. So this individual company is now called Traveler’s Company. As much as having their own freedom, there are numerous challenges ahead for this spin-off.

Two leather TN covers, the black is from the Midori period while the blue sports the new branding.

What's next (future plans) for Traveler's Notebook?

Patrick: I guess connecting the global community is already challenging enough. I believe they will continue to release interesting editions, through these projects the TRC team gets to know each country/city more in order to determine what can be tailored for those countries/cities.

(Below are Traveler's Company Caravans and limited edition notebooks. Details about these events and notebooks are available in the Traveler's Company website.)

Traveler’s Company Caravan was held in Taiwan’s Eslite Bookstore in April to May 2016.
Details available here.

The Hong Kong caravan was held at LOG-ON Festival Walk on July to August 2016.
Details available here.

In April 2017, the Traveler’s Notebook Olive Edition was launched. It was the second limited edition color after the blue was launched in 2015, and an additional fifth color to black, brown, camel, and blue. 

A collaboration with Hong Kong lifestyle store LOG-ON, a Mister Softee collection was launched in July 2017.

The most recent collaboration with Ace Hotel and Traveler’s Company Caravan was in the US in November to December 2017. Events were held in Ace Hotels in Los Angeles and New York. 

Patrick Ng is a blogger and the world’s top TN ambassador. He is also the Concepts and Merchandising Manager at LOG-ON in city’super, a chain of lifestyle stores in Hong Kong. To see his TN customizations and hacks, visit his blog Scription, or follow him on Instagram (@patrickng) and Facebook (Scription). 
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