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.
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). 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Fountain Pen Review: 2017 Special Edition Lamy Safari Petrol

After surprising fans last year with a matte purple pen, Lamy launched another matte-finished Safari in 2017. Done with the batch of flashy green neon pens, Lamy makes up with two consecutive matte-finished, black-trimmed pens: Dark Lilac and Petrol.

Lamy's Special Edition Safari pen for 2017 is called Petrol. I have a fountain pen, but the Petrol Safari collection also includes a rollerball and a ballpoint. Petrol is not a 'limited edition' pen like the previous ones, but a 'special edition' Safari. I received the Petrol fountain pen and its matching ink in this review at no cost from Lamy's authorized and exclusive distributor in the Philippines, Times Trading Company.

Petrol Safari fountain pen in box. 
Times Trading, through its sellers in the Philippines, includes a T10 ink cartridge
and a Lamy Z28 converter for every purchase of the Petrol Safari.

Lamy released the Petrol Safari fountain pen in a packaging similar to that of the 2014 Neon Coral and 2016 Dark Lilac. Instead of the old, bulky plastic pen box, Lamy now uses laminated cardboard boxes with the year's color theme for their special and limited edition pens. The laminated pen box is enclosed in a sleeve of simple white board.

Many waited for the Petrol Safari's release after its announcement in December 2016. Similar to the Dark Lilac, the 2017 special edition pen is not glossy and bright (read: neon). Instead, the Petrol has a muted and subdued deep teal color in a matte finish. After the 2016 Dark Lilac, Lamy brought back the combination black clip/black nib used in the early edition Safari pens. The combination looks better on the Petrol, instead of the shiny chrome clip and nib.

The Lamy Safari is a student pen, called 'starter pen' by fountain pen enthusiasts. The Petrol Safari with its matte finish is still made from the sturdy ABS plastic – the same material used in Lego blocks, keyboard keycaps, inner walls of refrigerators, and the filament commonly used in 3D printers. Designed by Wolfgang Fabian, the first Safari pen was presented during the 1980 Frankfurt exhibition (read more in Lamy's Company History) and has been in Lamy's regular production since then. Despite some fountain pen enthusiasts' low regard for this plastic pen, a number of fans around the world collect the Safari and its aluminum cousin, Lamy Al-star.

The Petrol Safari's parts are: barrel, section (grip + feed + nib), converter, and cap. The Z28 converter (new version of the Z24) was included in the box, together with a T10 cartridge in blue. Safari fountain pens measure 5.5 inches when capped, 5 inches without the cap, and 6.5 inches if the cap is posted. It's a lightweight pen and can be used for extended periods of writing. The cap with the oversized clip is 2.5 inches long, the length from the nib to converter is 4.6 inches, while the barrel measures about 3 inches.

Lamy's proprietary piston operated Z28 converters are used to fill the Safari fountain pen with ink from a bottle, but T10 Giant Ink cartridges are also available.

Petrol shares the same finial (top cap button) with those of previous limited edition Safaris: Lime Green (2008), Neon (2013), Neon Coral (2014), Neon Lime (2015), and Dark Lilac (2016). In their previous limited edition pens, Lamy used different finial styles such as the button-type for 2009's Creme Gelb and Pink limited edition pens, and the cross-type finial in the same body color used in Aquamarine (2011) and Green (2012). Below is a photo of different Safari finials from my review of the 2015 Neon Lime.

Safari fountain pen finials. 
Lamy issued different finials for the limited and special edition Safari fountain pens.
Lamy's triangular grip. 
It's a helpful feature for beginners, but some people find it uncomfortable.

Some people do not like the Safari's triangular grip, saying it is uncomfortable and annoying. This feature, however, is designed to make writing easier — it is meant as a guide for users to have a firm and secure grip on the pen. An anti-slipping brake near the end of the section prevents a user’s fingers from slipping into the nib while writing. I do not find the triangular grip uncomfortable at all. I actually do not notice it when I'm using my Safari pens.

Lamy's interchangeable nibs are very useful. A Safari fountain pen uses the same feed and nib as those on the Vista, Al-Star, Joy, Nexx, and Studio. Due to the color difference, my nib options for the Petrol is limited only to a broad nib from an older Safari. For calligraphy, I used a 1.5 nib on it, but the color difference bothers me. But that's just me. Any Lamy nib for the Safari, chrome or otherwise, will fit the Petrol.

Safari fountain pens bought in the Philippines have medium nibs, but other nib sizes are available: extra-fine, fine, broad, and left-handed. The Safari can also be fitted with an italic nib ranging from 1.1mm to 1.9mm.

Lamy Safari through the years. 
Limited and special edition Safari fountain pens from 2008 Lime (topmost) to the 2017 Petrol (bottom).
Safari fountain pens in matte finish: Umbra, Dark Lilac, and Petrol. 
The first Safari, Savannagr√ľn, and the Terracot and Griso pens that followed all had a matte finish.
Fans are waiting for Lamy to reissue these pens.

When Times Trading sent the Petrol Safari pen to me, they kindly included a bottle of Petrol ink, a matching ink color for the 2017 special edition fountain pen.

The 50ml Petrol ink is in a Lamy T52 bottle that comes with a roll of blotter that can be used to clean a pen after filling or to blot writing. The bottle has a small basin at the bottom, to allow filling when the ink level is low.

Lamy offers special edition inks together with their special edition pens beginning with the 2014 Neon Coral Safari. I love blue inks, and the 2017 special edition Petrol, a perfect color match to the Safari pen, is an excellent addition to my growing collection of blue inks. Petrol has a deep blue-green teal color with red sheen. It has medium shading that is easily seen when used in a wide nib such as the 1.5 italic nib I used in my calligraphy doodles (photos towards the end of the review). Petrol is a highly saturated ink, but flows smoothly and is not too difficult to clean off the converter and pen.

Petrol's deep color makes it suitable for daily note taking, or for business purposes. It is sold in 50ml bottles, but ink cartridges are also available.

Petrol ink writing sample.
A dark blue-green teal ink with medium shading and red sheen, Petrol can be used daily for business.
Petrol ink swab.
A single pass of Petrol shows the depth of this dark teal ink. 
Petrol ink swab.
Twice swabbed, Petrol is dark and deep, and the sheen is now visible.
Petrol has sheen!

Below are photos of calligraphy doodles I wrote using the Petrol fountain pen/ink combination. I swapped the medium nib of my pen to a 1.5 italic to write these. Both photos are posted on my Instagram page, instagram.com/clemdionglay.

Similar to the Dark Lilac, Petrol's unique color makes it a stand out -- the deep teal changes with the light, or its background. It can look very dark in soft light or bright background, but changes to a lighter blue green against a dark background. It's a different Lamy Safari, and another one to add on to my Lamy Safari collection.

If you want to get a Petrol Safari, you better get one now. It's almost sold out, and to date, Lamy will not be making this special edition pen and ink combination anymore. Go get yourself a Petrol pen and ink now!

Lamy Safari pens are widely available from pen sellers worldwide. For a global search of Lamy retailers, visit: http://www.lamy.com/content/find_a_retailer/index_eng.html.

In the Philippines, the Petrol Safari (and other Lamy products) is made available by Times Trading Company, through branches of National Bookstore and Scribe Writing Essentials.
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