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PEN & TELL: OUR FAVORITE WRITING INSTRUMENTS

Hello, and happy June! Lauren here. I’m stunned that this year is nearly half over but thrilled summer has finally made its way to Missoula. I’m writing this maskless, which seems huge and scary and beyond relief. I hope you are feeling safe and comfortable, wherever you’re reading this.

In my previous post, I noted that there are a number of us here on staff who have their English degrees, nearly everyone is a bookworm, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t send their love through the USPS every once in a while. We’re all writers in some shape or form…or readers of writers, at the very least. Co-owners Amy Dolan and Taylor Valliant are, and have always been, adamant the retail, custom, and wholesale teams at Noteworthy practice what we preach. Designers, hand letterers, and fine artists make up much of our team too (surprise, surprise). So I thought I’d take this opportunity to showcase the myriad ways our teams use the writing instruments we sell—available in-store and online

Left, Adrienne Langer uses her Tombow Dual Brush Pens to create beautifully illustrated images of Montana; right, Lauren R. Korn uses her OHTO Liberty Ceramic Rollerball and Horizon Needle Point pens for notes and grocery lists!

If you made your way to the blog from our monthly newsletter, you’ve already seen this month’s staff pick, my personal fave: Tokyo, Japan-based pen manufacturer OHTO. For the record, before OHTO, I was a Sakura girl through-and-through, known to collect a gel pen or two in my tweens (more on gel pens later), and the felt-tip Micron Pigma .005 and .01 were my ride-or-die fine line pens as I matured—or tried to. I still dabble in felt-tips; I’m quick to recommend our Micron and LePen selections to anyone who loves a good “depth of ink” (a phrase I scold myself for using; what I mean to say is, the color is rich and vibrant), but OHTO has my 2021-shaped heart. 

So yes, I’m new to OHTO. I came to their pens by way of Noteworthy, and I haven’t looked back. My wine-colored Liberty Ceramic Rollerball and my bright pink Horizon Needle Point pens travel with me everywhere I go. Admittedly, I haven’t done too much creative writing since leaving graduate school last April (or much long-distance traveling, for that matter), but I have filled many a notebook since then with notes on the books I’m reading and talking about, dairy-heavy grocery lists, and the occasional, daydreamy thought (I will absolutely forget why I jotted each of these thoughts down when I read over them later).

Above, Lauren R. Korn uses both the OHTO Liberty Ceramic Rollerball and an assortment of Tombow Dual Brush Pens to make sure her life as the host of a literary-based radio program is colorful and organized!

I’m not the only Noteworthy team member who loves OHTO, though. Retail Sales Associates Kate and Belanna and Lead Press Operator Robin all hold memberships to the OHTO fan club. Kate, like so many of us in this Passion Planner world (#PashFam), loves a good list and made a list of the reasons she loves her yellow Horizon Needle Point pen:

  1. Metal. This pen is durable. And I love that it can be refilled. I want to reduce the plastic in my life, so a refillable pen is the way to go.
  2. The color. It’s so bright! Do I lose this pen? Totally. Do I find it again? Every time. This is a new experience for me, and I love it.
  3. .7mm feels elegant and legible. I need a fine line, and the Horizon Needle Point gives me just that. I usually write with .5mm, because my handwriting is… Well, it is what it is. I can read my writing with a .7mm-point, whereas my previous favorite pen (the Pilot V5) looks much sloppier. The flow on the Horizon is cleaner.
  4. It does a clicky thing. Sometimes you need to press some buttons. This pen is also a toy for that.

Left, Kate Morris loves her Horizon Needle Point—and so does Robin, right.

Robin creates botanical linocuts and letterpress art prints under the personal moniker Inkworm Press and has integrated the Horizon Needlepoint into her sketching practice. “Before starting larger projects, I like to warm up with quick drawings. The Horizon is my fave pen, because it's so smooth and easy to write with. Plus, it doesn’t bleed, so that makes it super easy to use in notepads and sketchbooks.” 

Belanna, who jumped on the Liberty bandwagon long before I did, carries her sleek, silver friend with her everywhere, whether she’s writing notes on the retail floor or finishing her (often very long) to-do lists as a member of the wholesale team. “My favorite pen is the OHTO Liberty,” she says. “When I first started working here and I was learning about our pen selection, I would frequently test out the Liberty. It writes so smoothly, with a clear, dark line every time. I waited about three months to buy it, because the price was higher than I'm used to paying for a pen at $17.25, but once I made the purchase, I haven't gone back. I always keep it on me, because it just doesn't feel right to use any other pen.”

Above, Belanna uses her OHTO Liberty Ceramic Rollerball to jot down notes on the job.

Perhaps you’re new to the many nuances of pens and ink—no shame! You’re not alone. It wasn’t until I began selling pens that I learned the differences between ballpoint and rollerball, for instance, or the many ways you can get the most out of your pens: the most bang for your buck, as it were. Here’s a quick run-down of ball-bearing pens, and some care instructions, if you’re new to this game.

Ballpoint pens and rollerball pens are similar in that they are named for their ball-bearing tips—those teeny, tiny little balls that spread ink onto paper and other surfaces (I used to write letters on Vermont maple leaves). It’s the ink, then, that distinguishes one pen from the other. 

 Above, the OHTO Liberty in Black pairs well with an appreciation gift for your or your childrens hard-working teachers.

Ballpoint pens, like my beloved Horizon Needle Point, use oil-based ink. This ink is “stickier” than a rollerball’s water-based ink, which means that one of its defining characteristics, which I find endearing but some might find frustrating, is that it can leave little globs of ink on the page, creating less-than-consistent lines. When you’re thinking about oil-based ballpoint pens, you might be more familiar with a brand like Bic, Ol’ Faithful, deliberate but not very crisp or precise. I’ve found that the Horizon Needle Point is actually pretty good when it comes to globs; nary a glob in sight! Its very fine point means that precision is much easier to obtain than with generic Ol’ Faithful. Water-based ink pens, like the Liberty rollerball, tend to write more smoothly, but they also tend to smear more easily.

Oil-based ink pens (ballpoints) dry out much faster than water-based ink pens (rollerballs), which is why many ballpoint pens use a click mechanism (ahem, Horizon), and many rollerball pens require a cap to cover the writing tip (I see you, Liberty). 

Generally, storing your pens is intuitive. Oil-based ink pens should be stored vertically, with their tips pointed down, ready for action. Their thicker, stickier ink means that they can clog easily, so ensuring that the ink follows gravity makes things a bit easier. I’ve found that water-based ink pens are versatile, re: storage. As long as their cap is on tightly, they’re usually good to go. Gel pens, on the other hand, which, as their name presumes, are made with gel ink and can leak easily, are best stored upright. Oh… You want to know more about our gel pens? Read on!

If you’re like me—a proud and nostalgic millennial, who may or may not annoy her co-workers by over-playing certain music (equal parts ‘80s pop and the Salt-N-Pepa Pandora Radio station) in the press room each day—you can’t think back on your elementary and middle school years without thinking about gel pens. One of my favorite things to hear at the register is an incredulous, “Are these Gelly Rolls? I loved these when I was younger!” Borne of the 1980s, Gelly Roll pens, made by Osaka, Japan-based Sakura, were actually the world’s first gel ink pen—and you know what they say about your first...

Above, Rachel Giannino addresses a letter to her grandma using a Tombow Dual Brush Pen—and a Sakura Gelly Roll gel pen to make it sparkly!

Our stationery-obsessed Wholesale Fulfillment Manager, Rachel (who was not borne of the 1980s, but we love her anyway), adores these bright and rich pens, their tips made finer over time, their ink “recipe” much more desirable than it was when scrunchies were cool the first time around (present-day Gellies are waterproof, archival, and fade-resistant). Rachel has this to say about the ’80s and ’90s classics: “Sakura Gelly Roll pens are my favorite way to add a pop of color or sparkle to my envelopes! I send quite a few cards (last year, I sent at least one a week!), and adding a little sparkle is my trademark. I use the brush tip of a Tombow Dual Brush Pen to write out a flourished name, then go in with a Stardust Gelly Roll to address and highlight strokes in the name. Pro Tip: be sure to test out your Gelly Roll pen before writing on an envelope to make sure you are getting quality gel color!”

Rachel is smart to pair her cosmic Gelly Rolls with Tombow Dual Brush Pens. Perhaps more of a marker than a pen, Tombows are a dynamic option for creative hand letterers, and they come in so many different colors, there’s no room for boredom. Our Tombow display is frequented by novice brush pen users and veterans alike, from margin doodlers to professional artists. Adrienne Langer, Wholesale Product Development Director and illustrator extraordinaire, uses Tombows in conjunction with other materials, including other brush pens and markers—and acrylic paint!—to create illustrations in her distinct style (which is now immediately recognized in Philadelphia, Missoula, and all around the country).

“I’ve been using Tombow Dual Brush Pens for my illustrations for a few years now,” she says. “I love using the brush tip to fill in areas of color and layer to create new colors and dimension. The other side of the pen with the smaller tip is also great for drawing outlines when needed. Pro Tip: I do find that the color can get over-saturated and start pilling the paper (I use watercolor paper) if you go over one area too many times, so I like to let the ink dry a little bit between colors.”

Above, our Wholesale Product Development Director, Adrienne Langer, uses Tombow Dual Brush Pens to create heartwarming and wild visions of nature.

If this blog post tells you anything, it’s that Noteworthy is loyal—to our pasts (shoop, shoop ba-doop), to our customers (of course), and to the brands that continue to serve us well. We learn new things about the brands we carry in the shop every day, each time a customer pops in to exclaim wildly about their love. We love your love, so don’t be shy! We can’t wait to fangirl with you.

The Noteworthy blog is written and organized each month by our retail team—that’s me (Lauren R. Korn), Belanna Morales, and Kate Morris. Thank you for tuning in each month to learn about our many adventures in stationery, letterpress printing, and more!

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Lauren R. Korn is a retail sales associate at Noteworthy Paper & Press. She received her B.A. in English (Creative Writing; Literature; and Literature & the Environment), with a minor in Wilderness Studies, at the University of Montana in Missoula. She received her M.A. in Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of New Brunswick in Atlantic Canada. Lauren is the current Director of the Montana Book Festival and the host and co-producer of Montana Public Radio’s literature-based interview program and podcast, The Write Question.