It has certainly been a while since I reviewed a standard over-the-counter gel pen. Yes, the addictive nature of pen collecting has taken me down the rabbit hole, and my attention has been captivated by a multitude of nibs and inks. With such a broad range of tools at my disposal, it must take something pretty special to pull me away.
So what is it? What has roused my interests and moved me to the point of working to correct my horribly inconsistent posting schedule? It’s…
…A Staples store-brand gel pen and notebook. Yeah. Let’s take a look.
TRU RED by Staples
That’s right. Staples has updated their in-house brand to TRU RED, and they’ve got an assortment of office accessories under that banner. For the purposes of this review I only picked up a gel pen set and notebook, but they also offer scissors, desk organizers, and paper shredders. The gel pens can be found in either 0.5mm or 0.7mm with a range of colors in both retractable and stick-pen type, and the notebooks come in pocket or A5 size with all the standard ruling options.
The Notebook ($8.99)
When I first picked up the pocket size notebook, I did so with considerably low expectations. When it comes to stationery in-house brands of big-box retailers are generally acceptable, but don’t compare to the more specialized manufacturers. Sure, the faux-leather flexible cover, dual page markers, and soft off-white dot grid paper was alluring, but I had been fooled before.
Once I opened it up and flipped through the pages a bit, I started to notice the little details; Indicators that someone actually put some real thought into the design of this product. More on that in a moment.
The Pen ($7.49)
The TRU RED retractable gel pen also makes a surprisingly strong first impression. The pen bodies are all plastic with a matte rubberized texture along the entirety of the barrel. The click mechanism feels and sounds solid, and the plastic clip is simple and effective. On the other end, a small nose cone can be unscrewed to reveal a G2/EnerGel style refill. Staples does not appear to offer branded refills currently, however the pen will accommodate other brands.
Another notable feature is the pen’s minimalist design. There is not an excess of logos or brand names on the body, just the pen tip size and a small TRU RED logo. It’s a simple and subdued look, and I like it.
Putting Pen to Paper
As I mentioned, these products make a great first impression. Although I was introduced to the line while testing the competition for my job at Pentel, I quickly sought out a pack of my own for further inspection. Additionally, I require very little prompting for a trip to Staples and less still to buy more pens. So here we are.
The 0.5mm gel pen is a very smooth writer. I found the pen to write smoother than the Pilot G2 or the Uni 207, but not quite as smooth as the Pentel EnerGel. (Take that with a grain of salt as I do work for Pentel, but I stand by it.)
The ink flow is consistent and a little on the heavy side. The ink dries fairly quickly, but left-handed writers will likely get some smudges. The wetter ink also seems to spread and saturate the page a little more than usual, leaving a VERY slightly wider line than other 0.5mm pens. The ink output feels closer to the Schmidt P8126 thank most of my gel pens, though it is not so heavy as to bleed through lighter paper like the Schmidt.
The notebook also performed well under standard ink testing. I did experience enough feathering and bleed-through to disqualify this line from the “Fountain Pen Friendly” list, but it is very comfortable to write with.
The notebook also has some familiar features, like the double page markers, flexible faux-leather cover, and elastic closure band. But notably absent are a back cover pocket, index, and page numbers. Can’t win ’em all, I suppose.
Together these tools make quite the pocketable pair. While it is far too soon to know if they will hold up in the long run, I have been very satisfied with both of these products in the few short weeks I’ve had them.
These pieces do draw some obvious comparisons to other established brands, which really is sort of the point behind a private label product like this. Staples has been carrying and selling all of the most widely distributed brands for years; Monitoring sales, analyzing replenishment levels, and (hopefully) listening to customer feedback. While the product they have released is not a 1:1 recreation of Leuchtturm1917 notebooks or EnerGel pens, they are pretty dang good for the price.
TRU RED products are available at your local Staples or online.
Disclaimer: The products in this review were purchased by The Poor Penman for the purpose of review and to feed the addiction. All opinions stated are those of the author.