Thursday, October 03, 2013

Joy, Not So Much

Writers are always searching for the perfect pen, so I was quite interested when my friend Jill told me about a lovely commercial she saw for InkJoy, Paper Mate's "revolutionary" new retractable ink pen that promises "effortless" writing. Evidently these pens are so wonderful they practically write by themselves (as they did in the commercial, Jill insisted.) Since I have yet to find an effortless inexpensive writing instrument, and the arthritis in my hands makes finding one a perpetual quest, I had to check them out.

I found two different eight-packs of InkJoy pens at my local CVS store; one set of all-black and another with multicolor inks. As you see here, I bought the latter on sale for $3.99 and brough them home to test drive them.

According to the little story on the back of the package, Paper Mate designed Inkjoy to start "quickly without dragging" and writing with these pens "requires minimal pressure from your hand, and delivers crisp, clean lines every time." They also note "We hope that you feel the joy whenever you write with an InkJoy pen." I'm always prepared for writing joy, so I opened the package and tried out all of the pens.

As soon as I took out the black InkJoy pen the metal clip fell off, which was not a promising beginning. I tried a couple of times to wedge the clip component back in place with no luck. Then I discovered a small ball of soft, waxy goop on the tip, aka the "tip seal" the package claimed preserved the freshness of the pen. Unfortunately this substance had partially melted into the end of the barrel and took me three tries to remove completely. This resulted in ink smeared on my fingertips, something I did not find especially joyful.

The ink did start immediately once I put pen to paper, and flowed a bit better than most ball point pens I've used. Whatever substance or chemical Paper Mate used to make this joyful ink flow has a distinct smell I noticed immediately, rather like ballpoint ink on steroids. Disclaimer: I have a pretty sensitive nose so the ink stink may not bother most people.

I tested the light blue InkJoy next on a pad of writing paper, and again the waxy tip seal ball had partially melted into the barrel and took three tries to remove (wrestling with these tips seals obliged me to stop writing and go wash the ink off my hands several times, also not particularly joy-inspiring.) The ink of the light blue pen had the strongest smell, and the color itself was odd and a bit too light to be practical for writing purposes.

I then put all the pens to the ultimate test by using each in my current Moleskin writing journal. I love Moleskin journals, as they're beautifully made and have perfectly smooth pages, but the narrowness of the lines make them a challenge for me to write in. The ink continued to flow well from all the pens, with some globiness here and there. Pen weight and grip comfort does factor in when you're writing, and the lightness of the barrels and the plastic guards above the pen tips (if these are supposed to provide comfort, they're a total fail) didn't really help in that department at all.

I stopped using the InkJoy pens to switch to my Platinum Koi fountain pen, which is the most effortless pen I own, to compare the feel. The difference between InkJoy and my Koi in writing ease were pretty startling; the cramp that was beginning to set into my hand disappeared with the Koi, along with a lot of my tension. Disclaimer: the Koi has been my most faithful, dependable writing instrument for the last ten years; it has among other superb features a 14k gold nib, and a new one retails for about $300.00, so a 50₵ ball point really hasn't a hope in heaven of competing with it.

The colors of the ink were hit-and-miss for me. I liked the black and dark blue, which were the basic standard color of all ball point pens, but the other colors not so much. The red pen was not really red but more like a dark fuschia, which annoyed the hell out of me. I want red, not dark pink. The orange pen's ink was so light it rendered what I wrote almost unreadable. I then tried a smear test, and discovered the ink doesn't dry instantly. If you don't want to smear what you've written, you have to wait about five seconds for InkJoy to dry.

At no time during my testing of InkJoy did I experience a single moment of joy. Lots of annoyance, yes, a couple of moments of real aggravation, yes, but actual joy, nada.

I took apart the orange pen to look for the revolutionary ink technology I'd been promised, but found the components to be identical to any disposable ball point pen. Since InkJoy didn't deliver on most of Paper Mate's promises -- I think the pens really only provide decent ink flow, assuming you can get the tip seals off without tearing out your hair -- and you can usually find much bigger packs of ballpoint pens at your neighborhood dollar store, I can't recommend them as a good buy.


  1. Yeah, I generally get the most joy from dollar store gel pens. They flow well, they're easy to hold, and that waxy tip thing comes right off. Sure, they can be hit and miss sometimes, but they're so cheap that I throw them out if they give me any grief. Right now, I'm getting a lot of joy from a pen I got for free from my bank. My last joyful pen came from a hotel. (Cheapness and freeness add to my joy.)

    Thanks for the product testing, though, Lynn. Because I probably would've eventually splurged on these suckers and then been disappointed. =o)

  2. Oh dear. Finding the perfect pen is quite the quest, I agree... I usually have about five different ones in my handbag, and vary which one I use depending on my mood. The one perfect ballpoint pen I've had I have since been unable to replace... they stopped making them. Typical.

    The ones use right now are the Pilot Frixion Clicker (which is erasable, though I'm not sure I want to know how they did that). I'm not sure if they exist where you live, though...

  3. I fell for the Inkjoy commercial a few months back and was pretty disappointed in my experience, though I don't think it was as frustrating as yours. I think the pens are kicking around my study somewhere still, but I immediately abandoned them and went back to my Sharpie pens. They may be slightly more expensive, but they give me far more joy than Inkjoy did!

  4. Anonymous8:49 AM

    I have a purple ink joy pen and am underwhelmed. I find that I enjoy cheap free hotel pens or free sample pens best--the kind you pick up at conferences or fairs. I have tried nib pens but don't have much success with them. I wonder if it is because I am left handed.


  5. I just bought that InkJoy package too! More because I wanted to try the colors when I'm editing on paper. Different colors for different edits. Though I had the same problems with the seal, the ink does flow a bit smoother than some of my other pens, but they're too thin for me to hold for long. I think I'll stick to the Pentel multicolored sticks for editing though. The colors are much better.

    My favorites, since I can't do the fountain pen ;) are either the Uni ax Gel which I replace with Jetstream inks, or the Dr. Grip Gravity. Both of those have a soft cushion, they're wider and my hand doesn't tire like it does with the thinner pens. But really, for an ink pen, Pentel and Uni Jetstream have the nicest inks.

  6. I'm so glad you wrote this review of the Inkjoy pens! I was just watching the commercial the other day and thought they looked really cool. Thanks for saving me the $$$.

    After numerous trials and tribulations, my most favorite pen--the one I use daily--is the Pentel EnerGel excellent, smooth-flowing, perfect grip, joy to use pen.

  7. Fran K11:21 AM

    I'm not a writer, but as an office manager I have a pen in my hand the whole time I'm at work. I've used loads of different varieties and am now quite particular in my preferences. I like the Bic Crystal pens with the medium point and the pen has to be balanced by having the top on the end. I can't write properly without the top. I'm not keen on the gel pens as I smudge everything, so I'll stick to the Bic!

  8. Isn't it funny how the simple act of finding a nice pen can make you feel great? I tell you, I'm very easy to make happy. I've been using the uniball 207 pink retractable gel pen (ink is black - color of pen is pink for breast cancer awareness) and have really loved it. It writes very smoothly, and you can buy a pack of 12 for around $22, so slightly less than $2 each. I have them all over the house.

  9. Thanks for saving me some money! I am a sucker for pretty colored pens. Like you, I have achey hands, but I also have a hand tremor problem these days. I use my ridiculously wonderful Namiki Falcon fountain pen most of the time, but it was too expensive to just stick in my purse.

    Have you ever shopped at JetPens? They have a fantastic selection of gel pens, including lots of varieties that are released in Japan that don't make it all the way over here. Some of the biggest pen makers are Japanese (Pilot, Zebra) and they have some really neat colors. One time I went through and bought a pretty color of about ten different gel/ballpoint pens to try as many kinds as I could. My favorite is the Zebra Sarasa Stick. They don't hold a lot of ink, but they come in fantastic colors. I think hands really vary, but I would also recommend the Pilot Petite1 fountain pens that they carry. Only four dollars and super cool colors!

  10. Thanks for the info. I also stick to the Uniball pens for longhand writing.

  11. I found using the Dr. Grip pen series (especially the gel pens for some reason) to be the easiest on my hands. My husband likes the feel of the barrel, but prefers the standard ink. The gell pens do require a bit of open-page drying time, but the comfortable shape helps me write a bit longer than my usual.
    They don't have as many pretty colors though.

  12. Back in high school I started using fountain pens as I tend to bear down VERY hard while writing. You can't do that with a fountain pen or you'll bend the nibs! Until 2007 or so I used disposables then I found the Waterman line of fountain pens. They are around $30 or so but you can use either a pre-filled ink cartridge or a reservoir. Love it love it love it....

  13. Wirecutter says the best ink pen is a Uniball Jetstream. also rates them very highly. And Brad Dowdy, who is one of the first and most reputable pen bloggers.

  14. We absolutely LOVE InkJoy pens - so long as they're the kind with caps, NOT the click-in-and-out kind.

    There's some kind of difference between the two - our guess is something they did so they wouldn't dry out without a cap - and the retractable are mediocre as a result.

    The capped kind, however... those are wonderful. Black or colored. I literally have three more unopened packages of the color ones sitting on my desk right now, in case I run out of something - or the kids steal them. I brought them home when my 17-yr-old asked for a couple more package of black, and I wanted to stop up just in case.

    I use them for marking up (home)school work, my daughter has been doing everything possible in rainbow for months now. And because they're priced so low ($1.99 for a pack of 8) at our Walmart -we don't have to be stingy about them. And they work SO much better than any cruddy color ballpoint or cheap gel that we've gotten before.

    Seriously. At least from your photos, you ended up with just retractables. The "joy" is definitely in the capped style.

    Heck, tell me a mailing address and I'll spare one of mine. :)

  15. Huh.... I've had no problem with the InkJoy pens at all (save for one exploding internally but that can happen with any pen). I've been a Papermate pen believer since college and will stick with them everytime.

  16. I meant to ask you, have you tried the Pilot Varsity disposable fountain pens? They're pretty good for a disposable and you can buy a pack of 7 that are all mixed colors for a decent price. Pretty fun!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.