Our story starts with a relatively little-known, but much-loved, pen from Pilot. Here in the UK, we know it as the G-Tec-C4, while in some parts of the world, it's found in the form of the Hi-Tec-C. In Japan, there are many tip sizes and colours, but here in the UK we only officially get one tip size (0.4mm) and ten colours. We've brought some extra options over from Japan, though, giving you more choices of colours, an even finer 0.25mm tip size, and even a range of Coleto multipens!
It isn't just the range of sizes and colours that make the G-Tec-C4 so popular. Due to a cleverly-designed tip and a specially-formulated bio-polymer ink, it can write very fine lines with surprising smoothness. The ink also resists bleeding into the paper, a problem which makes the line from many other pens spread out, and sometimes soak through to the other side of the page. Some people love it for very precise sketching, some for annotating bibles. Editors and proofreaders love the tiny notes they can fit between the lines. It is also very popular for scoring cricket matches, which requires tiny notes in a number of colours.
Although it's often treated as a disposable pen, it is refillable, and refills are available in the four most popular colours.
For some, the only problem with the pen was that the barrel was a fairly plain clear plastic tube with a plastic clip. They wanted a nice solid pen that wrote just like the Hi-Tec-C. The writing experience comes from the refill itself, so people found themselves wondering if there were nicer pens available that could use the same refills. We never found one, although the Hi-Tec-C Cavalier Gel Pen (now discontinued) did come close.
That is where Che-Wei Wang and Taylor Levy of art and design studio CW&T come in. They both wanted such a thing and were pretty sure they weren't the only ones. They came up with a design for a metal pen that incorporated not just the Hi-Tec-C refill but a ruler as well. The only problem was that in order to make the pens, they needed at least $2,500, and they didn't have the money. That's where Kickstarter came in.
Kickstarter is a web site where people post their ideas for projects they want to do, but don't have the money for. They make a page on Kickstarter, which acts as their pitch to persuade other people to help. They set out some rewards for people who are willing to put up some money to help them achieve their goals. Some want to make an album, some want to write a book or make a film, some even want to build robots. Others want to make new types of pens.
If enough people have funded the project by the end date, Kickstarter takes the promised payment from each of them, puts it all together and gives it to the people who requested it (after taking their little cut). The owner of the successful project now has to go and make what they wanted to make and send out the rewards to investors when they can.
CW&T needed $2,500 to build the Pen Type-A. When the end date arrived, they had $281,989. So they had some pens to make. They had a lotof pens to make.
The process of turning the designs and prototypes into a mass-produced product to sell turned out to be the really difficult part. They found a manufacturer who seemed to be able to do what they wanted. They got samples, but they just weren't good enough. They told the manufacturer what improvements they needed. They got new samples, but the problems weren't solved.
This went on for so long that eventually they had to make the journey to China to meet directly with the manufacturers. There, it became clear that the manufacturer they had chosen simply wasn't capable of the quality and precision that was needed for the Pen Type-A.
The reason for all the difficulty is that the Pen Type-A doesn't use any of the usual click-on or screw-on mechanisms to hold the pen inside the holder/cap. It uses nothing but air pressure to guide the pen in and out of the housing smoothly - not too slow, not too fast. Making metal parts that go together closely enough for that to work, without ever being too close so they stick or catch, is quite difficult. One part needs to be made to a very precise width, and must be perfectly circular. The other part needs to be drilled out with a hole that's just a tiny bit larger than the first part. If it's too much wider, the pen will fall out of the holder/cap. If it's too close, it will stick, grate, or take too much force to push in and out. Get it right, and it slides with a pleasing feel and emerges with a little 'pop!'
Things weren't popping with the manufacturer they were using. With only one day remaining in China, they had to find a new manufacturer who could work to the tolerances needed to make the simple air-cushioned mechanism work as they wanted. A long-overdue change of luck lead them to a manufacturer who seemed to have the precision needed.
With a new manufacturer came a new cycle of sending samples, evaluating quality, feeding back, and waiting for new samples. All the while, a lot of people had paid money up front to get the pens, but the pens still didn't exist. Most people were patient. Some were less so and just wanted the pen they had paid for. The majority though, wanted the pen to be right - they wanted a quality product more than they wanted it now.
Eventually, the new manufacturer started producing pens of the required quality and they could start shipping pens to their Kickstarter backers.
The problems however, weren't over yet, by any means. There were still bad pens among the good ones, so a lot of careful quality control had to be done. Most of the pens were arriving too oily to send to customers, so they had to take them all apart and wash each component before sending anything out. Perhaps most problematic of all, the manufacturer could get the quality right most of the time, but only by producing them very slowly, so there was only ever a trickle of pens coming through and a long queue of people waiting for them.
Over time things caught up and the backers got their pens. Most loved them and the time spent agonising over the quality issues had paid off, resulting in a truly unique and great product.
All of the above is of little interest if the end product isn't a good pen. Fortunately, it is. Starting with the Hi-Tec-C refill from Pilot ensured the Pen Type-A would write well, and the attention to detail in design and manufacturing have made sure it's a quality product. The original idea itself made it something unique.
"Pen Type-A started as an homage to our favourite ink cartridge. But we had no idea that there were so many other people who liked the Hi-Tec-C also. After a year struggling to have Pen Type-A made, we are now working with a precision machine shop in Vermont. For a pen, it's over-engineered to the point of absurdity. Built to outlive you, age gracefully and one day be passed down to the people you care about most.
It is exactly the pen that we set out to make." - CW&T
First, is the question of what it isn't. It's not for everyone. It isn't the pen for people who want something to leave by the phone for jotting down a quick number, or to keep in their pocket to always have a pen handy. It probably isn't the pen most executives are going to want to show off in their meetings, though it could be.
What it is, is unashamedly geeky. Made to appeal to engineers, designers and collectors, if precisely-machined steel is your thing, it's a thing of beauty.
From a practical point of view, it's more of a desk pen than a pocket pen. There's no clip, it is quite heavy and the ruler case has quite sharp edges. That same case though, gives it more practical uses than just the pen - you'll always have a rule handy for straight lines and quick measurements.
Removing the pen body from the case is pure fun. How many pens do you know that make taking the cap off a fun experience? Pull, and the pen slides out in a way that feels really satisfying. Pull reasonably quickly, and it ends with a 'Pop!' Something that becomes quite addictive and that everyone will want to try. You think it will get old after a while, but it hasn't happened to us yet.
Putting it back in the case is nice too. Standing the case upright with the open end up, pop the pen inside, tip first, and let go. It slides down into the case, pneumatically slowed to a gentle rate. A firm push will put it away quicker and feels good too.
Turn the case open-end-down, with the pen in place, and it falls slowly, rather than just dropping out. Well, until it reaches the end, anyway. Then it falls and hurts your foot. The final production models have improved on this and they need a little pull to start moving. That means the pen can be turned upside-down in its holder, and won't fall out. Once given a little start, it slides smoothly. When closing, it just needs a little extra push at the end to lock into place.
The part where the ink meets the paper is all down to Pilot, which has always been great. It's a different feel in the Pen Type-A; heavier, thicker, and rounded. It won't be to everyone's tastes, but it does feel solid and substantial. The plain, unpolished steel barrel is quite easy to grip, and although there is no designated place to put your fingers, that just means you can hold it wherever feels most comfortable.
The only problem is the time you waste playing with it because it just feels good. You get the pen out to make a note, then find you've spent five minutes taking it in and out of the case and you've forgotten what you were going to use it for in the first place.
If you can bring yourself to stop playing with the case, the writing experience is good too. If you've used the Pilot G-Tec-C4, you know how that feels. It's a very precise pen, with a tiny tip that writes very fine lines. Normally, it's a fairly cheap pen with a simple clear plastic barrel. The Pen Type-A morphs this into a tough metal pen, quite heavy but very sturdy, and enjoyable every time you use it.
How would you like to win one of these unique pens worth £120? Well you're in luck, as we have two Pen Type-A pens to giveaway. All you have to do is Like us on Facebook and complete the registration form to enter. Good luck!
Competition closes on the 25th March 2013 and entries are limited to one per person. The winners will be selected at random using a random generator and announced in the comments below and on our Facebook page. The winner agrees to their name and profile being used when announcing the results of the competition. If the winner cannot be contacted after two weeks of the competition closing, or are unable to comply with these terms and conditions, Cult Pens reserves the right to offer the prize to the next eligible entrant drawn at random.
28 February 2013