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Tools of the Trade: Craft Pens


While I’m not much of a scrapbook enthusiast – meaning it’s not a particular hobby of mine; not a value judgment of the activity itself – I use craft pens for journaling, writing letters and making lists on index cards. What appealed to me in the beginning was the ability to purchase them in sets. I haven’t written on the subject before so I decided to rummage through my collection and road test a bunch of them.

Please note, I am not Gordon Parks so forgive the quality of the writing sample picture. I am still getting the hang of taking snaps of text, since I don’t own a scanner. I know, I’m a Luddite. I have the Saturday Night Special of HP printers gifted to me during my Zine-Making days and while I flirt with the idea of upgrading, I’m just not motivated at this point.

Wait – where were we? Writing sample of the craft pens.

Helix Fine Line Markers 0.5MM

I snagged these on clearance and wasn’t expecting much. The barrel wasn’t especially appealing to me, but since I already drank a steaming mug of No, thanks on the ten dollar Staedtler pigment markers and really wanted a fine line marker fix, I decided to try these out. The Helix markers turned out to be a lovely surprise. I liked the weight and feel of the barrel and had a blast writing a grocery list. It’s always a good sign when I’m looking for something to write just to use the pen. I marked up a craptastic novel written during Nanowrimo ’06 and was pleased with the crispness of the line and how it made my curvy penmanship look neat. I am not sure if you can still purchase these, since I’ve been lead to believe they were produced exclusively for Wally World’s ’09 school supply line. Hopefully, someone can clarify this for me.

American Crafts Precision Pens 03, 05

I haven’t used any American Crafts products before so when I saw a pack of five pens on sale, I was intrigued. Since most of the mixed to negative reviews I’ve read online addressed issues which weren’t applicable to me, I was fairly open minded about these pens. I LOVE THEM. One of the problems I have with some crafting pens is they tend feel scratchy when I write, possess a strong smell or pool ink if I don’t move across the page fast enough. These pens did none of those things. I like the 03 better than the 05, but mostly because I’m really trying to downsize my writing and not because of any performance issues I observed.

Zig Millennium Writer 05

These were the first crafting pens I used before being introduced to gel pens. I was attracted to the barrel design and the crisp, dark line. Zig Millennium Pens were perfect for hand lettering stuff in my zine and writing poison pen entries in my journal. They were favorites for awhile until I stopped being able to find them and moved on other pens. My attention tends to be fickle, particularly if access to a writing instrument is restricted. If you can’t be with the pen you love, love the pen you’re with and such. Anyway, I rediscovered these at Michaels and was thrilled with the new barrel design. I have no idea when the company decided to fatten them up, but I’m glad they did. I dug around an old pencil case and found one from ’01ish and it is decidedly slimmer than the current model. Currently, these are my go-to pens for jotting down lists on index cards. The ink is still dark and crisp and lovely. Besides the plumper barrel, the other design improvement is the cap. It actually fits much better, as the old one – at least for me anyway – tended to pop off the barrel while I wrote. I guard my Zigs as they tend to go ghost. Attractive barrel + enjoyable writing experience = likely pen-nap victim.

Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen M

I adore this pen. It’s fancier than what I’m use to, so I’m sure any issues I have with its performance are directly tied to the paucity of my artistic skills. I can’t really use it for long periods of time because it tends to pool – again probably a user rather than design flaw. I love the dark ink, though I wish I had opted for the finer line. Aesthetically, the pen really appeals to me, with its all black barrel and cap. It’s perfect for writing lists, but I don’t tend to use it for journaling. From what I have read about this pen, it’s basically an Audi in the hands of someone who really only needs a tricycle.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Fillyjonk permalink
    12/08/2009 5:21 pm

    Man, how is your handwriting so cute? Is it on purpose or does it just come out like that? I can do lettering — otherwise known as “drawing in the shape of letters” — but as soon as it becomes handwriting it just looks like a drunken snail crawled on the paper. I am that person who needs only a tricycle.

  2. 12/08/2009 5:50 pm

    Fillyjonk – It tends to come out that way. It definitely depends on the pen I’m using. Gel pens in either .7 or (gasp) 1.0 tend to yield the best results for me. Actually, I get the best looking handwriting when I use Crayola Super Tips or their Doodle Markers.

    I tend to be self conscious about forming letters because I was one of those lefties who was “encouraged” to be a rightie, yet I still write like a leftie. I write my “N” from right to left, mix cursive with print and alternate the style of lower case “a” with no discernible pattern.

    I think some of the fancy touches are remnants of my teen goth days where I would stretch out on my belly with paper, pen and the linear notes from The Head on the Door.

    I haven’t tried lettering, but I suspect I’d have mixed results.

  3. Mike permalink
    12/08/2009 5:55 pm

    Ah, I too am charmed by your penmanship. I wouldn’t have initially connected it to a goth past, but now that you mentioned it, the curly q influence is definitely present.

    Great reviews.

  4. Heather permalink
    12/08/2009 6:00 pm

    Hey you!

    You didn’t tell me about this blog. You’ve been holding out. I feel out of the loop. Love it. Glad you’re writing about your pen addiction. I swear you have more pens than anyone I’ve ever known.

    I don’t share this addiction, but if anyone preach the gospel of pens and convert the lost, it’s YOU, Ms. Snarky.

    I still have that ziploc bag of pens you have me three years ago!


  5. redlami permalink
    12/08/2009 6:26 pm

    I love these reviews. I don’t have quite the same level of obsession with pens as you do, Ms. Machine, but I do enjoy using a quality instrument when I write. Going to an office supply store brings back happy memories of the start of the school year and fresh packs of pens and #2 pencils and looseleaf paper.

  6. Adrian permalink
    12/09/2009 12:55 am

    I haven’t had much luck with American Crafts products. Nice to hear someone else has. Do you use any of their other products?

  7. HollyB permalink
    12/09/2009 12:59 am

    I use Zig pens for scrapbooking. I am rather meh on them. I prefer Copic Markers or Tech Pens.

  8. 12/09/2009 1:03 am

    Adrian – I haven’t used any other AC products. I have heard mixed things about their glitter markers.

    HollyB – What don’t you like about them and which brand of Tech Pens do you use?


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