When you (GASP) have to use a biro

I was asked to accompany a respondent in a court case to one of their hearings. Sensing that it wasn’t my wicked sense of humor that prompted the request, I guessed that they needed an observer who could take decent notes. I’d have to do all that from a chair in the gallery so I couldn’t pack my usual battery of gear.

In such places, I like using small notebooks or memo books. My current fave (and the only one I have on hand) is Field Notes’ Expedition series. These are lovely little journals that make use of Yupo or polyester paper. Yupo is so waterproof that some friends of mine use it to improvise watercolor mixing palettes. The tricky part is that Expeditions (and the similar Rite In The Rain notebooks) don’t work with nibs or gel pens at all.

I could use a pencil but I wanted something that laid down ink. Google took me to a Brad Dowdy article that recommended ballpoints for use with Yupo. Not having a biro handy, I hit the local bookstore and bought a few ballpens to test on an Expedition pocket journal.

These were readily available at my neighborhood bookstore. I wondered if they were any good.


Exploded view of the three. The refill at the bottom is pressurized, just like a Fisher Space Pen cartridge.
First up was Pilot’s Acroball. The 0.7 or Fine version had the drying time of wet paint. It was not immune to smudging even after half a minute of waiting. Not an acceptable outcome, but I’ll admit to being surprised at how smoothly it wrote.
This wasn’t a Papermate from my school years, for sure.

If you were the Driving Miss Daisy type, this could work.

Uni’s Jetstream was next in line. The only retractable version we get here is the 1.0 mm size. I was afraid that its lines would prove too bold but my fears were unfounded. It wrote about as wide as an American EF nib which is still within my comfort zone. It only needed a few seconds to dry and I thought, “We’re getting somewhere.” Feel was almost like a gel pen on the page and I was ready to go all-in except that I had one more pen to test. 

This is much better. The Jetstream fans didn’t lie about this thing being smooth on paper.

The last prospect was Uni’s Power Tank. (I love how the Japanese name their products!) I had never heard of the pen until I saw a couple next to a box of Signos and figured it was worth a try. The InterWebs told me it is Uni’s idea of a Fisher Space Pen. It uses a pressurized cartridge to allow the pen to write from any angle. Testing it on regular paper proved uninspiring. Smooth but nothing close to the Pilot or Jetstream. Lines were pale and I thought of chucking it right then and there. 

That’s pretty quick as far as drying times go.

The story changed when I tried it on the Expedition paper. The lines seemed darker and it glided so much better. After scribbling some jibberish, I wiped the text with my finger to see if ink would budge. Not much of it smeared after 5 seconds, and at the 10-second mark it was practically etched in stone. 

The Power Tank wasn’t the smoothest or darkest writing pen in the bunch but for the task required, it left the other two in the dust. It reminded me that sometimes, the right tool trumps what we think is the best tool in our box. I hate to admit it but ballpoints have come a long way since I last used them.

Now, off to court. 

The Power Tank gets to tag along, while the other two stay home. All gear tested was personally purchased.

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