Recently a friend sent me a pen with a brief note indicating that this is, by a fairly wide margin, her absolute favorite pen and that I should review it. I agreed to take a look at it, thinking I would see another suitably functional but unremarkable rollerball or gel pen. What I received was a .7mm blue/black Muji stick pen. About a day and a half later, after a quick Google search, I found myself circling the stationery section of my local Muji store with hungry eyes and a fresh paycheck. Long story short, here is what I spent $30 on after using a random pen for a few minutes.
A5/A6 High-Quality Notebook – $4.00/$3.00
Muji offers several options in their notebook category, but at $4 the High Quality line seemed like the best choice.
The A5 High Quality notebook is a softcover 72 sheet notebook with 6mm lined ruling. The notebook measures 21cm by 14.8cm, which makes it just a fraction taller and wider than a Leuchtturm A5 hardcover, for reference. The cover is thicker card paper that is malleable, but will crease if bent. The A6 notebook matches the quality and feel inside and out, just in a smaller 14.8cm by 10.5cm size.
Inside you’ll find some surprisingly thick paper that feels incredibly smooth and possibly coated, like Rhodia or Clairefontaine. The paper provides very little feedback with most pen nibs, fountain or otherwise. Although the paper is very comfortable to write on, dry time does get extended a bit,. Part of being a fountain pen user is learning patience, so this is not a major issue.
Upon closer inspection, I noticed a very small amount of feathering. This was only present with one of the 11 pens tested, so this is also not a major concern. On the back of the page, I was delighted to see zero bleed through from everything except the fine-liner. Even my medium Eco-T stayed on it’s own side of the page. Show-through or “ghosting” does occur, but this is to be expected with most paper types outside of sketchbooks.
Capped .38mm, .5mm, .7mm Gel Ink Pen – $1.50 (each)
As I mentioned, this all started with a .7mm stick pen. While I do not typically go for that wide of a pen, it was a clean enough experience to push me into the store.
The Muji gel pens are very minimal in their design. They feature a simple translucent barrel, a snap cap, and a screw-off barrel plug that makes refilling the pen very simple. The pen itself retails for $1.50, or $8 for a six-pack, and refills are available for $1.25 each. The pen does not feel cheap, like most disposable over-the-counter pens, but with refills priced so closely to the pen itself it is difficult to say which way I’ll go when this unit is empty. The slim barrels of the gel pens are very comfortable in the hand, and they fill a specific purpose I have been seeking to fill for some time now. In the interest of comparison, it most closely lines up to the Bic Crystal, but is smooth, smooth, and just feels like a higher quality piece.
The pens write just as smooth in the .38mm size as they do in the .7mm, however the gel ink used is not as quick drying as I would prefer. This is particularly noticeable in the .7mm size, as it is quite juicy on the page. One area where Muji has an edge is in color variety. Muji offers all sizes of their gel pens in all ten colors. For gel pens, I tend to go blue/black or regular blue, but it is nice to have those options open.
Blue/Black .5 Gel Ink Retractable Pen – $1.50
The Muji Retractable Gel Pen was another pleasant surprise. The pen writes just as smooth and consistently as the stick pen, which is great for a capless/open air refill. That refill, which retails for $1.00 by itself, is the same size as G2 or EnerGel refills. To state the obvious, this means you can refill the pen with your favorite gel refill OR take this incredibly well-functioning and affordable refill and use it in any number of G2 compatible pens.
The body of the retractable pen features a spring-loaded clip, a clear plastic barrel, and a rubber-like grip section. Personally, the grip section is almost a little too grippy, but there might be a break-in period with this material. Any perceived issue I have with the grip is made-up for with the highly satisfying click mechanism.
Aluminum Fountain Pen – $15.50
Spoiler alert; This is my favorite pickup from the Muji store. The Aluminum Fountain Pen features a body design that is very similar to the gel stick pens. The barrel is about as wide as the gel pen, making it very convenient to tuck into a pocket or under a notebook closure strap. The barrel, grip, and clip are all aluminum, making this a very light-weight tool. The knurled grip section unscrews to expose the international cartridge compatible feed, and the barrel has enough space to accommodate standard converters.
The snap-cap is also a very well-designed feature. The cap sits perfectly flush with the grip for a very uniform look, and it posts onto the back of the pen just as well. I don’t generally post my pens, but the light-weight materials used make it pretty post friendly.
The nib appears to be at least similar to a standard number 5, and is marked with “Iridium Point” and a script-font “F” indicating the Fine width. The pen puts down a line comparable to a Bock Extra Fine, but wider than a Pilot Metropolitan Fine. If you write with a light enough hand, this pen is capable of laying down a very fine line.
Fountain Pen Refills (2pk) – $1.50
Although the fountain pen does include one cartridge of black ink, I threw in an extra two pack for $1.50. Nothing particularly exciting to report here; Standard short international cartridges filled with black ink. 75 cents per cartridge isn’t exactly the cheapest ink on the market, but it is far from the most expensive.
I’ve been trying to figure out why I hadn’t tried these products before. I’ve heard of Muji in the past, and I’ve read other bloggers’ positive opinions of them, but I never picked any up. The problem, I believe, is access. If you happen to live in New York or southern California, you can pop over to one of Muji’s many neat little shops. If you live anywhere in between, you’re stuck shopping online. While the products are great for the price, the addition of shipping expenses may tilt that scale for some users.
That one completely subjective issue aside, I’m very happy with the performance and quality of the Muji products I picked up. The gel pens are smooth and comfortable to write with, though they do have a slightly higher dry time than I would prefer. The fountain pen is fantastic, and blows away anything else in this price range. The notebooks are better than products 3 or 4 times as expensive. It’s really all very impressive, making the fact that I hadn’t tried any of it out before now even more surprising. I’ll revisit this down the road to see how the budget friendly pens hold up over time.
I am very lucky to have a brick-and-mortar Muji store within driving distance (plus two others a little further west). If you happen to have a Muji store in your area, you should absolutely head over and check it out. If you don’t have that option, I still recommend these Muji products, but you’ll have to do the math on the actual final cost to get these in your hands. These products are performing well above their price bracket. I absolutely recommend the Muji line of gel pens and fountain pens. If you can find them, give it a shot.
Disclaimer: The product in this review was purchased by The Poor Penman for the purpose of review and to feed the addiction. All opinions stated are those of the author.