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Review: Sharpie Liquid Pencil
Since man’s first forays into the written word, his dreams and aspirations have centered around improving the weakest link in the compositional process: the interface between nebulous mind and printed matter.
Certainly, the advent of the printing press and the widespread acceptance of the word processor revolutionized writing as we know it, but the actual implements of drafting have changed comparatively little. We still scribble with pens and pencils and type on keyboards that would be familiar to many typists alive during the civil war.
Perhaps this is because great writers, like great carpenters or engineers, never blame their tools for their own inadequacies. Investing in the right tool for the right job is one of the most important investments you can make, but is a mechanical pencil the best we can do?
Most of my writing output is digital nowadays, so my “analog” writing needs center around tactical writing situations. I still prefer a mechanical pencil and paper for mathematics work, note-taking, and jotting down reminders. Even though I carry a netbook most days, pencil and paper affords me maximum freedom to arrange and annotate notes just so, with drawings and diagrams requiring no additional effort.
This works out pretty well, but I have a few issues with mechanical pencils: broken leads, incessant clicking to dispense more lead, and a tendency to make noise due to the leads rolling around inside the chamber. Also, my favorite mechanical pencil, a Pentel 0.5 mm, has a relatively slender profile and causes a little more fatigue than I’d like, especially compared to the Pilot G-2 fine point I enjoy. Even though I have no reason to ditch my beloved Pentels, I owe it to myself to see what’s out there.
Enter the Sharpie Liquid Pencil. This curious device writes like a pen, but its output is equivalent to #2 pencil lead and is erasable as such. While Pentech’s Liquaphite has been on the market for some time now, the Sharpie’s major advantage is price: about $2 each, versus about $50 each for the Pentech.
I ordered a two-pack of Sharpie Liquid Pencils from Amazon.com, for about $6 with tax. After a brief backorder, the devices arrived. The two-pack comes with a set of six bonus erasers, which are loosely floating around inside the blister pack (I had to do a brief search and rescue operation after opening the package).
It is a bog-standard retail package of the sort you’ve all seen before, so I immediately popped it open and weighed it using the hoopycat.com scales of science. The liquid pencil weighed in at 12 grams, compared to 11 grams for my recently-reloaded Pentel and 10 grams for my Pilot G-2. I would consider this reasonable, within the expected error range of the scale.
As far as handfeel and geometry go, the Sharpie is almost indistinguishable from the Pilot G-2. It feels solid, has good balance, and has the padded grip right where I like it. The grip lacks the texture of the Pilot, but this is not a dealbreaker for me.
Curiously, the Sharpie rattles when shaken. This is due to the clicker retraction mechanism, which involves the entire top quarter of the barrel. Unfortunately, there’s too much mass there and too many places for plastic-on-plastic contact, so its operation is not completely silent. A smaller “button,” such as on the G-2, would have likely improved the situation.
Alas, my tests revealed that the Sharpie Liquid Pencil’s writing quality is more like that of a cheap ballpoint pen than a quality mechanical pencil. I tested on a variety of surfaces, including a sticky note, some copy paper, the backs of the packing slip and shipping envelope, a sheet of newsprint, and the writing pads I use for note-taking. Overall, I found the marks to be spotty and irregular, as if the flow rate through the ball were inconsistent depending on angle and velocity.
This is a curse that befalls a number of pens, but is certainly an unwelcome introduction to the pencil. I think this, above all, will be the dealbreaker for notes and homework. While the liquid pencil’s quality improved with greater downforce and velocity, this is not acceptable for lectures due to the resulting fatigue.
Hiding the Evidence
The ability to erase is one of the key features of a pencil, and in this category, the Sharpie is no slouch. The built-in eraser erased the text from a post-it note perfectly, but my standard Staedtler Mars plastic eraser left a little bit behind. In the image on the right, the third row was erased with the Staedtler, and the fourth was with the built-in eraser.
One downside to the built-in eraser: it goes fast. I had a noticeable bevel on it from just erasing two words, and I’m not entirely sure it would survive my typical sentence.
After 24 hours at room temperature, marks were essentially un-erasable by either eraser. They just get a bit lighter without fully disappearing.
Unsuccessful Smear Campaign
My more sinister colleagues often worry about their clumsy left hands smearing ink from particularly juicy specimens. While it is harder than you’d think to write left-handed (I hear only 10% of people can do it), I did try writing backwards to no avail. I eventually gave up, wrote a chunk of text, and then dragged the edge of my hand across it.
I sure wasn’t expecting that to happen.
Rather than smearing, the writing disappeared with about as much effectiveness as my Mars eraser! It appeared as a black grit on the edge of my hand, which wouldn’t wipe off (or erase off), but did come off nicely with soap and water. Mind you, I was dragging my hand pretty hard and pretty much trying to get a reaction out of it. If you’re left-handed and writing normally, it probably won’t be a problem.
Well, they gave it a good shot. I like the idea in theory, but the execution could use some work. The cheap-sounding rattle when shaken, the inconsistent liquid graphite flow, and the poor erasability with the Mars plastic eraser limit it to occasional use at this time. I look forward to future development in this field, but I’m not putting away my Pentel just yet.
On Oct 6, Alex wrote "zomg. school.".
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