If you’re like me, you own more pens than you need. Also, if you’re like me, you keep a mess of electrical adapter cables and a can of “hunger emergency” soup in your desk.
Wait, what were we talking about? Oh, right – Pens. My two favorites at the moment are the TiScribe Bolt from Urban Survival Gear (reviewed here) and the Retrakt from Karas Kustoms. Apart from their full-metal frames, these would seem to be fairly dissimilar pieces. But, guess what? They take the same ink refills. Ever the tinkerer, I’ve been swapping cartridges in and out of each in the effort to find their perfect pairing. Here’s a breakdown of the ones I’ve encountered along the way.
This is the standard ink cartridge for both the Bolt and Retrakt, included in the package from their respective manufacturers. They’re the same G2 you’ve used time and again, with perfectly serviceable performance.
But you know something? I didn’t drop $60 on a fancy writing implement just to use the same ink from the pens they give away for free at the office. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the G2. It just doesn’t elevate the experience like the alternative options do. Now, let’s move on before the snootiness of those last few sentences sets in.
If you’re not keen on the idea of spending more than a couple bucks on a pack of refills, then this is the option for you. The Pilot V7s write thick, wet, and effortlessly. They’re also cheap, with packs of twelve going for around $13. I was so impressed with the performance that I swapped out my Bolt’s Mont Blanc rollerball in favor of these humble refills. They’re my new writing benchmark. If I’m going to spend money on a premium writer, it’d better be able to outmaneuver the Pilot.
There are a few nitpicks here, however. While they fit perfectly in the Bolt, installing them in the Retrakt takes a bit of effort. The internal plunger mechanism is narrow enough to fit into the gap at the top of the V7, so you’ll need something to plug the hole. I’ve had success cramming a small piece of paper in there, giving the mechanism something to push against. But, this robs the Retrakt of its wonderful, hydraulic-feeling deployment. Plus, the needle-like refill tip looks a little strange protruding from the Karas’ wide body. It’ll work, but these are much better suited to the Bolt.
It should be noted that many other Bolt buyers (not to mention the maker) have reported success with the Pilot V5 rollerballs. I like a thicker line, so I opted for the V7. From what I understand, their functionality is essentially the same. Also, don’t buy these if you’re left-handed. The wetness of the ink will smear across the heel of your hand before it gets a chance to dry.
This one is a bit of a stretch. I’d been using these for months in my metal Jotter, with largely positive results. Actually, this is the ink that redeemed the Jotter for me. My initial review of their ballpoint was quite critical, but the lush, easy black lines of this gel insert prompted me to purchase not one, not two, but three additional Parker pens.
Full disclosure – I haven’t tried these in the Bolt. I’m sure there’s a way to make it work, but I didn’t feel it was worth the effort. Karas, however, includes a spacer and additional spring designed to accommodate Parker Gels. They deploy, write, and retract just fine. But I wouldn’t say they do any of these things better than some of the other options out there. Plus, the additional pieces inside the pen make them prone to rattling in the hand and pocket. Then there’s my dusty workplace, which markedly affects their performance. While I still use Parkers regularly, I don’t recommend their Gel for either of these pens.
Oh, Mont Blanc. You make pens that cost hundreds of dollars, but your pricey refills can be trimmed to fit a humble Pilot G2 body. Still, I had to see what all the fuss was about. And you know what? I can kind of see the value here, at least in the refills.
Let’s start at the beginning. I purchased my first pack of Mont Blancs for about $18 on Amazon. That nets you two – I repeat, TWO – refills. These arrived several days before my Bolt, during which time I discovered to my dismay that they wouldn’t fit the brass chassis. After checking with a few folks, I discovered that it was possible to shave off the plastic ends, which would allow them to fit. Sure enough, it works (though, as with the Pilot, you’ll need to plug the hole for use in the Retrakt).
In use, the Mont Blancs are a paragon of precision. Their thin, rich lines were a revelation upon initial use. The ink dries quick and dark, making this a good choice for left-handed folks. Would I say they’re worth the money? Sure, but perhaps not my money.
Let me explain. I work on a construction site, where beauty isn’t exactly a top priority. And as lovely as the Mont Blancs may be, there’s also an element of “diva” to them. The fine lines don’t work as well for writing while standing, and I’ve had one begin to clog up or otherwise malfunction from dust and exposure. Another broke completely, but that was after a three-story drop onto solid steel (The pen was fine!). It wrote for a while more and then, well, just didn’t.
Long story short, these are good refills. They can be modified to fit both pens perfectly, and the fine lines (even in my mediums) are graceful and effortless. But consider your use case before paying the premium price.
Wait, I’ve written 900 words on pen refills? Time to wrap this up before I start shopping for wax seals or parchment paper. Thankfully, I saved arguably the best for last.
The Schmidt 5888 is the latest refill to cross my desk. It fits perfectly into both the Bolt and Retrakt, with zero need for modification. The lines are somewhere between the Pilot V7 and the Mont Blanc, with a nice balance between thickness and wetness. The bold, black ink rolls effortlessly across the page. The only flaw I’ve found with the Schmidt was an occasional tendency to skip, but I think it was the paper I was using at the time. The area I was working in included some greasy conditions and I suspect that a bit of this substance made its way onto the page. Overall, not a major concern.
Best of all is the price: My four-pack of 5888’s cost just $9 on Amazon. This is a nice middle ground between the Pilot and Mont Blanc. If you’re looking for something a bit more elegant than the V7 but not as needy as the Mystery Black, I’d recommend the Schmidt for either of these pens.
Let’s wrap it up with a quick comparison. Here are all five refills, shown on different types of paper.
Standard Printer Paper:
Story Supply Co. Pocket Notebook:
If you have any other suggestions, hit me up on Instagram.