Tombow

Scraping pencils

Pencils not only seem to be reliable writers, they also seem to be reliable in terms of keeping their prices affordable.

In June this year, I used R to do some web scraping. The data collected was supposed to be for a follow-up of my Why did stationery become so expensive? blog post. Well, this is the follow up blog post and there isn’t much to show, maybe because we are talking about wood-cased pencils. Fountain pens and mechanical pencils had a more extreme price development.

I did the R code not only for the follow up, but also to teach myself a bit more R, I would have normally done this in PHP, which I am more familiar with, having used it since the 90s and having used it for similar tasks in the past (even though people didn’t call these tasks web scraping at that time, or if they did I didn’t know).

chart showing how the Koh-I-Noor PolyColor Art Pencil prices have changed.So what exactly did I do? I was looking at how the prices for pencils have changed on the Cultpens web site over time. My code that will get historic prices from archived versions of the Cult Pens pencil web page from archive.org is available on GitHub if you want to try it or change it for your own purposes. If you do please bear in mind that my code is not very good, I realise this, but as I am new to R I don’t know how to improve it (at the moment – I hope to find more time to learn R in the future). Also, if you try this please try to minimise any strain on the server you get your data from.

The findings were less exciting than expected. VAT has changed a few times over the last few years and there are obviously currency exchange rate fluctuations to be taken into account, as well as inflation and other factors.

The most interesting changes I could see was a > 10% price increase for some Graf von Faber-Castell products between 2010 and 2011.

The  Tomboy Mono 100 got cheaper over the years. Between 2010 and 2013 it got > 20% cheaper.

The most extreme price rise was for Koh-I-Noor products. At the beginning of 2014 the big Polycolor Art Pencil tin got nearly 40% more expensive, smaller tins got more expensive, too.

Overall prices seem remarkably stable.

As mentioned before I assume the price stability is also linked to this being pencils. As shown in my previous blog post fountain pens seem to attract more extreme price hikes.


Picture: Mongol plus Pilot Color Eno pencils on Brunnen Der Grüne Block.

The Mono Zero and the Mono One

Today: a comparison of different Tombow erasers – the Tombow Mono Zero, available either with a 2.3 mm round tip or broad 2.5 mm * 5 mm rectangular tip, and the Tombow Mono One, an eraser that looks as if it’s supposed to be used on a keyring or as a charm. I wrote this blog post originally for The Pen Company who send me these two erasers free of charge.

Mono Zero (back)
Mono Zero (white version, back)

Mono Zero background

The Mono Zero was originally released on 12 November 2007 and since its release it has won the iF product design award 2010 and the red dot design award 2010. It has also received Japan’s eco mark certification because of its high content of (pre-consumer) recycled plastic. The body of the eraser is made in Japan, while the eraser core itself is made in Korea. The Mono Zero has been designed by Ms. Chisato Takahashi, who  is also responsible for the Mono smart. I got mine as a free sample from The Pen Company where the current retail price is £3.47.

Mono Zero (black version, front)
Mono Zero (black version, front)

Mono Zero body

The Mono Zero is available either with a 2.3 mm round tip or broad 2.5 mm * 5 mm rectangular tip and each of these versions is available in either a black body or a black, white and blue body. There used to be a silver version as well, which – to me – always used to be by far the least attractive looking version. This silver version does not seem to be available anymore.

Mono Zero eraser removed - 2.5mm * 5 mm version
Mono Zero eraser removed – 2.5mm * 5 mm version
Mono Zero eraser removed - 2.3 mm round tip version
Mono Zero eraser removed – 2.3 mm round tip version

Mono Zero eraser

The eraser itself does not fill the whole body. This might come as a surprise when you have used other pen shaped erasers that come in a plastic body, but is not not really a problem. You do get slightly less eraser for your money, but the whole eraser (body plus eraser) itself is not expensive and the eraser core will still last a long time. Just to mention is explicitely, there are also refills available for these erasers, like for most pen shaped erasers. Labelled as an elastomer eraser, the Mono Zero contains an eraser made from ethylene propylene copolymer. When I received the eraser I did try it out and compared it to my favourite kind of eraser, a dust-free  or non-dust eraser (as long as it’s a dust-free eraser I usually like it very much). It’s probably not fair to compare it to my favourite type of eraser, or let’s say not objective – others might not like dust-free erasers, but then this comparison  is a valid approach as I am writing about what I like or dislike about the Mono Zero.

Comparison on Deli paper (A6)
Comparison on Deli paper (A6)

For the pencil to be erased by the Mono Zero – I originally thought what better match could there be for the Tombow Mono erasers than a Tombow pencil, so I picked last year’s 100th anniversary special pencil.

Erasing the soft Tombow 100th anniversary pencil
Erasing the soft Tombow 100th anniversary pencil

Mono Zero performance

To my surprise the two Tombow products, pencil and eraser, didn’t seem to be able to cooperate that well with each other. This was due to the fact that the Tombow pencil is very soft. According to Pencils and other things the 100th anniversary edition has the same lead as the current Mono 100, but my 100th anniversary pencil seems much softer (and smudges easier) than a Mono 100 (both HB). I am not sure whether I’m imagining things here, or I just happened to have a softer than usual 100th anniversary pencil and a harder than usual Mono 100, or whether the lead is the same, but there’s actually a shift in grade (e.g. 100th anniversary HB = Mono 100 B). In any case, the Mono Zero was not able to eraser a strong line, i.e. drawn with some pressure, without a trace. It did however manage to eraser strong lines of harder pencils, in this case a Staedtler Mars Lumograph in HB, without a trace.

Erasing the harder Staedtler Mars Lumograph HB
Erasing the harder Staedtler Mars Lumograph HB

Mono Zero conclusion

My impression of the Mono Zero was that it’s not the greatest performer when it comes to actual erasing (worse than a non-dust / dust-free eraser), but its strong point is precise erasing …because of the tip size and shape (a bit like a Kokuyo eraser). When I was looking for other blog posts to mention in this review I rediscovered Dave’s review of the Mono Zero, which came to the same conclusion regarding eraser performance.

A great eraser, because its fine ‘tip’ allows precise erasing, even though eraser performance itself could be better.

The Monos compared to a dust free eraser
The Monos compared to a dust free eraser

 

Mono One

The Mono One, designed by Mr Kazunori Katami, who holds a lot of stationery patents, was released slightly earlier than the Mono Zero – on 5 February 2007. The Pen Company is selling this eraser for £2.60. The body of this eraser is also produced in Japan (no eco mark certification for the Mono One, though), while the eraser itself is made in in Vietnam. Labelled as a plastic eraser, the eraser is made from thermoplastic elastomers. Despite the different materials, performance seemed pretty similar between the Mono Zero and the Mono One, with the Mono One maybe performing a little bit better.

The Mono One does not offer as precise erasing as the Mono Zero, the tip is bigger, but it is a nice size, which makes it a great eraser to carry in a pencil case bag or, possibly even on your key ring.

 


I would like to thank The Pen Company for these erasers, I got them as free samples, and Mrs. Balsewicz from Tombow Europe for all the information she has given me about these erasers.

I would like thank Sean for the Tombow 100th anniversary pencils.

The Tombow Zoom 707 de Luxe

I’ve been luck enough to have been chosen by The Pen Company, together with several other bloggers, to receive stationery to try out. Here’s my blog post about the Tombow mechanical pencil they sent me, originally posted on The Pen Company’s blog.

Introduction

Do you remember what you did in 1987?

If you were living in the USA you were lucky enough to be able to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation. The UK and Germany got TNG a few years later, in 1990. If you’re more into computers: the Amiga 500 was also released in this year.

..and in the world of pencils 1987 was the year the Tombow Zoom 707 mechanical pencil, designed by Mr Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, was launched in Japan, one year after the ballpoint pen of the same series came out.

Tombow tin

Awards

It only took another year before the Zoom 707 was released in Europe – in 1988. Over the next years it won three design award in Germany: the Red Dot Design Award in 1988, the Design Plus Award in 1989 and the Baden-Württemberg International Design Award in 1990.

Despite this pencil being so long on the market I didn’t know about it until recently. I got my Zoom 707 from The Pen Company as part of their programme where they send pens to stationery blogs for review. I even got the de Luxe version, which was launched in 1994. Tombow describes the de Luxe version, which sells for £28.60, around £10 more than the standard version, as being “glossy silver”.

Size comparison: Tombow Mono 100, Tombow Zoom 707 de Luxe, Staedtler Mars micro
Size comparison: Tombow Mono 100, Tombow Zoom 707 de Luxe, Staedtler Mars micro

Expectations and reality

I’ve got to be honest here, I would have never ordered this pen. The slim design doesn’t look very uncomfortable to me, so I didn’t have particularly high expectation when I started using this pen. To my surprise it was much more comfortable than expected. The rubber grip section of the pen has a diameter of 6.5mm and is not too far off a Tombow pencil’s diameter: the Tombow Mono 100 wood-cased pencil has a diameter of 7.2mm.

The grip is only slightly narrower than a wood-cased pencil
The grip is only slightly narrower than a wood-cased pencil

Build quality is excellent, but the red ball at the end of the clip and the rubber at the end of the pen show parting lines, and except the look the pencil behaves very similar to your typical mechanical pencil: with around 10g the weight is similar to other mechanical pencils. One click will advance the by about 0.6mm, which is also pretty standard and it also uses a ratchet mechanism like many other mechanical pencils.

One click will advance the lead by ~0.6mm
One click will advance the lead by ~0.6mm

The pen comes in a nice presentation tin and with a lifelong warranty. It doesn’t come with instructions, though, and since I’ve used mechanical pencils in that past that have to be refilled through the tip I wasn’t sure how to refill this pen. It’s size and  the fact that my careful attempt to remove the push top (I didn’t want to damage the pen)  were not successful didn’t help either. The push top can however be removed, to be refilled. My pen came with three leads, but despite is slim design I managed to squeeze eight leads into the pen.

Tombow refill

Overall

The Zoom 707 is one of those pens that ages well. Despite being more than 25 years old it doesn’t look old fashioned.

As far as I know this pencil is selling well. I wonder how most people are using this pencil. Its two main attributes, the slim size and the sturdiness (thanks to its metal body), make it a pencil that is probably more suitable than others to be a diary pencil, the kind of pencil you clip to your diary and leave it there to fulfil this specific purpose.

Tombow standing


I would like to thank The Pen Company for this pencil and Mrs. Balsewicz from Tombow Europe for the information she has provided about the Zoom 707.

Graphite transfer and the Wopex

Today: another blog post about one of the items I have received from Office Hero, the Staedtler Wopex. You might remember my previous two blog posts about the Wopex, one was looking at the Wopex 2B and 2H and one was comparing different eco pencils. Office Hero sent me a pack of twelve Wopex as a free sample. Their normal price is £4.01 (~ $6.35; €4.60) plus VAT.

Why another blog post about the Wopex? The Wopex has one property I really like, even though there are actually also a few things wrong with the Wopex. Back to the characteristic I like, which is why I pick this pencil more and more often when making entries in my diary. The reason is simple and has been mentioned by Koralatov in a recent comment: there’s hardly any graphite transfer between different pages when writing on the reverse. I use my diary to keep track of appointments and to record things that need doing. Graphite from soft pencils will transfer easily after something has been written on the reverse or on the next page, which will in then look very unsightly. Even though you can get graphite from the Wopex to transfer to another page if you want to, as seen on the photos, this transfer is usually not happing under normal circumstance and is therefore not a problem.

Graphite comparison in a Castelli Academic Diary

 

I think the Wopex has great potential, but it also has a few flaws which I want to mention.

  • The “fibre Wopex material” is too hard, so I use dedicated sharpeners in my office and at home, just for the Wopex. The “fibre Wopex material” is also too hard for rotary blade sharpeners.
  • If you sharpen the Wopex to a very fine point the point will break easily.
  • Small bits of the “fibre Wopex material”, close to the lead, can crumble off when sharpening.
  • There doesn’t seem to be a difference between the Wopex 2B, HB and 2H.

There are quite a few other issues, but mentioning them all would distract from the main issue I want to address here: Wopex‘s great lead that is a very good choice for diaries.

Top-bottom: Mars Lumograph HB, F, Castell 9000 HB, 2B, Technograph B, Wopex HB, Mono HB, Ticonderoga HB

Let’s look at the results from my (unrepresentative) graphite transfer test, conducted by writing on one page, putting the next page on top and applying pressure to the reverse of the next page [1]The effects can be stronger when applying pressure directly to the reverse of the page you wrote on.. Harder and lighter leads do better than softer and darker leads – no surprise here. The best pencil in my comparison was the Staedtler Wopex HB, followed by the Caran d’Ache Technograph 777 B, which has previously been reviewed by penciltalk. The worst pencils in this test were the Tombow Mono 100 HB and the Amos Dixon Ticonderoga HB. This was obviously due to their softness which does however bring other advantages, e.g. better pressure/darkness ratio – I do however prefer a tidy diary and do tend to use the Tombow and Dixon only when smearing, smudging and graphite transfer don’t matter.

 


Price and exchange rates: October 2011.

I would like to thank

The comparison has been conducted in a Castelli Academic Diary my wife got from her employer. I use a no name  academic diary from my employer, which has very different paper. My initial impressions are that graphite-transer-wise good pencils behave better in my diary, but bad pencils behave worse.

References

References
1 The effects can be stronger when applying pressure directly to the reverse of the page you wrote on.