Pen and Pencil Recommendations: Extremely Fine Points
August 18, 2005 10:03 AM   Subscribe

Pen Recommendation: Finest possible point with good ink flow, will not smudge when highlighted. Pencil Recommendation: Any way to get the convenience of a 0.7mm mechanical pencil that doesn't break all the time in a <0.5mm tip?

I'm looking for a pair of writing instruments to fix about 300 pages of a somewhat badly copied music score. I need to fill in faded note heads, correct 10-12point french text, etc. The lines of my pens and pencils are too big.
The perfect pen would have an extremely fine line that was deep black, never goes away, never smudges, and never ever skips. (And it will be highlighted repeatedly by various highlighters, so it needs to not smudge, and hopefully dry quickly)

Pencil: A really fine tip pencil would be nice to write in various text-notes. The problem is that I tend to crack 0.7mm leads like crazy in most pencils and I basically can't use 0.5mm leads. Oh, and I'd prefer something a bit finer than 0.5mm. What's my best bet here? Is there such a thing as an automatic pencil that resists my heavy hand? Are drafting pencils the answer, perhaps with very hard lead?(Does harder lead mean that a sharpened tip will stay sharp longer?)
posted by sdis to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure if they're available in your country, but Zebra's sarasa pens are the best I have ever used. I'm left handed and I needed a pen that would let me write some very small, complex characters and not smudge. The ink holds up to sunlight and the 0.4 size gives a very, very fine line, but I prefer the 0.5 for readability. They also only cost about $1 each.

I refuse to use any other pen when I am writing something I want to keep and look at later.

I found them at staples, too.
posted by Alison at 10:15 AM on August 18, 2005

For music retouching (which I did for a living for a couple of years), I used used a set of Rapidograph technical pens. They come in many widths and lay down a dead-black, perfectly consistent line. However, they use only their own ink, which is not waterproof. Also, they dry out of left unused for more than a couple of weeks.

For less exacting work, I used a Flair felt tip which I had shaved with a razor blade, and a Bic Auditor's Pen -- an ultra-fine ballpoint.

I wouldn't use a pencil. There are very hard leads, which stay sharp a long time, but the line they draw is too light. Every pencil retoucher constantly resharpens the pencil tip on a piece of sandpaper.

Before computerized music setting, music copyists used either a music typewriter or open nib pens and India ink. That took a lot of skill, but was the only way to get slur lines that swelled in the middle.

The major music software will scan and do "optical music recognition." That may be the way to go.

The other possibility is to do the retouching in non-waterproof ink and then photocopy the parts.
posted by KRS at 10:29 AM on August 18, 2005

I second the Rapidograph pens. I use them occasionally for diagramming things. They definitely leave a clean, black, consistent line that never skips or globs. That said, they're irritating to refill.

I don't use pencils, the feel of them sets my teeth on edge. So, I can't recommend anything there. For a while, though, during a math class in which pencil was required, I used a doohickey that I think is actually technically called a "lead holder".

It's a hollow metal and plastic tube that holds a piece of 2.0mm (notice the decimal placement) lead with a springmetal claw. You must repoint it frequently for fine work, but it works quite well. One of those amorphous gray putty erasers works beautifully to remove the lead, but you must be sure not to press down too sharply when drawing, or you will cut small scores in your scores (heh). It's probably not what you want, but evaluate it and see. I know that it served me well for a summer of pre-algebra many years ago.
posted by Netzapper at 10:49 AM on August 18, 2005

The Pigma Micron pen is the best fine-line pen I have ever used. The ink is outstanding, and it comes in a variety of line widths. I use the Micron 005, which is, I believe, a .2mm point.

It's a drafting pen, available at any art / architecture supply store, for a reasonable price (usually around $2 - $3 US).

It know little about mechanical pencils, but I would imagine that there are drafting pencils which are roughly equivalent.
posted by dersins at 11:41 AM on August 18, 2005


Rapidoliner pens are disposible equivilents of rapidograph pens. They are slightly more fogiving in the angle you have to hold them at to get a good flow. You don't need to clean them and if you ever drop one so it lands on the tip you are out $5 instead of whatever the rapidograph diamond tips go for nowadays ($40?). Any ink pen will smudge when the ink is still wet.

Sizes: .18 mm, .25 mm, .35 mm, .50 mm.
for pencil a good old fashioned lead holder that you keep nice and sharp will give you a fine point that won't constantly snap off like a mechanical pencil will.
lead holder

lead pointer to keep it sharp
posted by darkpony at 2:15 PM on August 18, 2005

As an old school drafter and technical illustrator (read no computers) the way you hold the pen/pencil and press down are the greatest contributors to line quality. Perhaps practicing with a looser grip will help.
posted by grefo at 2:17 PM on August 18, 2005

For years I used a Staedtler Marsmatic and a Kohinoor pen for drawing. Archival inks are jet black and last forever. They will not smudge after they have dried, which is typically soon after being laid down. Used on cruddy paper, they clog like the bejebus.

As for pencils, .5 mm will break less frequently if you use softer lead, like B or 2B instead of HB. It will also smear more readily. Pentel sells lead that is supposed to be more resistant to breaking.

I've also seen pecil lead with a gold-colored coating that supposedly broke less frequently.
posted by plinth at 2:36 PM on August 18, 2005

As I'm sure you've already figured, it's not so much the size of the tip, it's the size of the line it makes, after the ink spread is factored in. Lots of these super-thin pens still make lines that are 0.4mm or wider.

The best pen I have ever used for a thin line that remains thin and does NOT spread is the Pilot G-TEC-C4. It is not sold in the US-- I get them in the UK and buy several dozen when I am there. You can get them at Paperchase outlets for about £2 each. They make a non-spreading line that is, at its widest, 0.2mm. Pretty impressive.
posted by NYCnosh at 2:37 PM on August 18, 2005

Phil Agre on cheap pens
posted by craniac at 3:13 PM on August 18, 2005

The Zebra F-301 is my favorite pen ever. The ink is not as dark black as I'd like, but the line is smooth, thin, and smudgeless.
posted by schroedinger at 5:21 PM on August 18, 2005

They sell the Pilot G-Tec-C4 in Canada. I have one on my desk right now. I think I got it at Staples. Very fine: the cap says 0.4 but as NYCnosh's link states the line is 0.2. Not much fun for filling things in.
posted by maledictory at 7:47 PM on August 18, 2005

Just saw this in Wired: UniBall Signo Bit, 0.18mm. The finest points out there -- you can write on a grain of rice.
posted by Araucaria at 11:40 AM on August 26, 2005

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