Monday 5 November 2018

The TWSBI Precision & The Rotring Rapid Pro - Two Similarly-Styled Ballpoint Pens of Differing Quality.

I was looking at getting myself a modern-styled ballpoint pen. While there's no shortage of ballpoints in my stable, I thought I'd go for something with a more modern and technical look. The kind of pen that I used to hear about back in the early Eighties from fellow students who wanted to be draftsmen or architects. Basically, I was considering a Rotring. 
This well-regarded German brand was founded in 1928 and produces a range of writing instruments. As I said, the guys in school who wanted to go into design fields would often talk of Rotring mechanical pencils and fine-liner pens used for drafting blueprints. These pens, I noticed, were always black and they had a nice weight to them. 

Anyway, fast-forward thirty-six years and here I am, watching a few of these ballpoints on eBay. Specifically, I was watching the Rotring Rapid PRO. It's a modern-looking pen - looking more along the line of a mechanical clutch pencil - in black PVD coating. It has a push-button arrangement and a knurled finish along the lower section of the barrel to provide a sure grip when writing. This pen, after a reasonably thorough search, was priced at approx. $55.ooAUD excluding shipping. 

Meanwhile, back at work, my boss was on a pen buying spree and he showed me a website that was selling a TWSBI Precision (pronounced 'Twisby' - why they don't just throw in an extra vowel is beyond me) ballpoint pen. This Chinese-made pen was of a very similar design to the Rotring and was priced at $50 bucks. 
I decided to go for it, since my boss was buying some mechanical pencils for himself. 

The parcel arrived about a week later. I took ownership of the TWSBI ballpoint, replaced the black medium-point refill with a broad-point blue one and used it consistently at work over the next few months. 
Then, one night at a work function, I took the pen from my pocket to jot something down and saw a piece dislodge from the button section of the pen and fall to the floor. I picked the piece up. It was a small metal ring, used to secure the upper spring in place. I couldn't figure out what held it in place, so I put his piece in my pocket and continued using the pen, noticing that the spring action now felt rough and the refill no longer smoothly clicked back into the pen. 
The next day, the watchmaker that I work with said he'd have a shot at re-attaching this ring back into place. Sure enough, he managed to glue the ring back onto the pen and it worked fine for another few weeks before it fell off again.This time, however, I had no idea as to where it landed. 
Of course, by now I had also decided to get the Rotring Rapid PRO. Close inspection of the eBay photos showed a different design to the push-button section of the pen. The Rapid PRO is available in either silver or black. I opted for the black. The eBay seller was based in Japan and the pen took about six weeks to arrive. This seller charged $53.40 for the pen with free shipping. I have to say that I have not had one bad experience with Japanese sellers on eBay. A few of them have sent extra items along with the purchased item. When I bought my Yashica Electro 35 camera a few months back, it arrived with a short letter thanking me for the purchase and reminding me to leave feedback. Enclosed in the parcel was a bag of green tea. 
The Rotring seller enclosed a pencil eraser in the shape of a piece of sushi, as well as a folded origami of a Warrior's helmet - it was explained to me in the accompanying thank-you note that they sent. 
I love the way the Japanese operate.
Here are the two pens. You can see that the TWSBI design borrows heavily from the Rotring. Both pens are of similar weight and they are great to write with as a result. And because they both accept Parker refills, getting replacements are not an issue. I have used the Schneider Slider 755 XB refills in broad blue and they work great, although they do tend to run out sooner rather than later. I'm gonna try getting some Monteverde refills next. While I don't mind a medium-point refill, I prefer the broad ones, as they tend to cover up the flaws in my handwriting a little more. 

Now, I'm disappointed that the TWSBI only lasted me about four months. Having worked in hospitality for so many years (1979 to 2001), a ballpoint to a waiter is like a side-arm to a cop. When it's a busy period, you need a pen that just plain works. This is why I used a Fisher Space Pen for so long back in the day. I could place my notepad against a wall next to the restaurant's kitchen and quickly finish jotting down an order, knowing that the pen could write at any angle. 

My restaurant days are long gone, but I still used a pen to a great extent when I went into retail. Now that I work in an office environment, I'm back to using a pen a lot throughout the day, and I want something that won't let me down.
Even though I have disposable pens within arm's reach, I tend to prefer using one pen all day long, and I prefer that it has some weight to it. It adds a little balance to the writing and makes it look neater. 

Here's a close-up of the TWSBI's button section. There's a plastic ring protruding from it and the ballpoint jams whenever you click the button. Disappointing to say the least. Could I send it back? Probably, but I ain't interested. In the lead-up to Christmas, I got a million other more important things to attend to. Besides, there's no guarantee that the seller will refund or replace it. There's always the grey area of the 'customer mishandling' card that the seller may pull on me. I'm not interested. Not since I replaced this pen with the Rotring. Yes, I'm slightly poorer, but wiser. That's okay by me.

The lower section of the barrel has a ribbed finish, all the better to help grip the pen. Loaded up with a Parker refill, the pen wrote nicely. It had a nice weight to it. 
Although, since the button section breakdown, I began thinking that this is not a $50 dollar pen. If it were around half that price, it would make more sense. To me, anyway. 

The Rotring Rapid PRO has what appears to be a simpler push-button design. One that I hope remains intact for longer than three or four months of daily use. Both pens have a nice pocket-clip design, which work as they should, even though it's becoming increasingly harder to find shirts with a breast pocket on them. Unless I go for poly-cotton. Can't do that. I have standards, after all.
The Rapid PRO has a nicely knurled finish to the lower end of the barrel. Makes for a great grip of the pen. Again, similar to the TWSBI, this pen has a nice weight to it. It's about a centimetre longer than the TWSBI and it looks slightly thicker too. This pen I can see the $53 bucks in it. Downright bargain. Once you begin writing with it, it's the better pen. 

I have often said, though, that a pen is only as good as the refill inside it. This is one reason why I can't justify spending hundreds of dollars on a ballpoint pen by the likes of Mont Blanc, for example. Sure, I have tried a Mont Blanc ballpoint and it writes beautifully, without a doubt. But there's a plethora of much less expensive ballpoint pens out there that write just as well. 
But I suppose one doesn't buy a Mont Blanc solely for the writing experience. 
As far as refills go, I've used enough pens over the years to know what works for me. As mentioned, the bolder/broader refills tend to produce a thicker line on the paper and this goes a long way towards masking the gaps in the loops of my letters. 
The Schneider Slider 755 refills that I mentioned earlier are great, but they become a little sporadic towards the end of their life, cutting out halfway through a word, leading you to believe that the refill is running out. Five minutes later, they write like a champion, with no indication that the ink is running out. This can go on for weeks. 

I'll give the Monteverde refills a try at some point. Any of these refills are too pricey to purchase here in Australia. Most pen stores sell refills for anywhere between six to eleven dollars each depending on the brand. If I purchase off eBay, I can find them for about $4.50 each, once I include postage cost to Australia. 

Anyway, I'll get rid of the TWSBI, and let us never speak of it again. I'll take the spring out of it, as these can sometimes come in handy for use in typewriters. 
In the meantime, I'll continue putting the Rotring Rapid PRO through its paces. If my initial impressions are anything to go by, this is a lot of pen for the money. 
Very happy with it. 

Thanks for reading!


  1. Nice review. I've been using a TWSBI clear "demonstrator" fountain pen for over a year, and it's proven to be the nicest fountain pen in my collection. I like the huge in-body ink reservoir and the use of bottled inks. But I've never tried the ballpoint. I also have a weakness for those technical mechanical pencils.

    BTW, I just "finished" a Bic Cristal 1.0mm blue pen. Had it from day one, used it for almost two years, it never got stolen, lost or broke. Worked well down to the last drop of ink. I have newfound respect for these "cheap" pens.

    1. Hi JVC! Yep, the TWSBI fountain pens are well regarded, I’ve read, but this ballpoint was a disappointment, to say the least. Check out the Rotring 600 or 800. They’re like the Volkswagen Beetle of mechanical pencils.

      As for cheap ballpoint pens, nothing beats a BIC. The Cristal model is what put that company on the map. I have one within arm’s reach on my desk at work, for those times when my more expensive pens begin playing up.

  2. Must be Pen Day in the Typosphere! Honestly can't imagine spending much more than 99 cents for a plastic bag full of pens and trusting my instincts on seeing something interesting inside. Could be my love of the pleasant surprises like a nice Koh-i-Noor or Staedtler or the occasional vintage fountain pen, or some sort of mental block. :D

    1. Ted, you have a knack for finding bargains. Besides, the pickings are very slim in my neck of the woods when it comes to pens. I very, very rarely see them in thrift shops. And the ones that do have them tend to charge for them.

  3. Good tip for Christmas, thanks!
    Do you have a top tip regarding a reasonably priced (below 100 dollars) pen? At the moment I'm using a simple Parker Jotter. Pleased with it, but perhaps there is even better to be had for a reasonable price.

    1. FYI I was talking about a fountain pen. This Lamy seems nice

  4. Stijn, the Lamy Studio is a nice looking pen. I have a few Lamy Al-Star and Safari models, as well as a 2000. Very good all-purpose everyday writers they are. The Studio would be a good pen to start with if you're planning on getting into fountain pens. Although, bear in mind that once you (maybe) get into some of the pricier pens out there, you will find they will offer different writing experiences. And if you get a nice condition vintage fountain pen, then the entire experience changes once again. It also depends on your writing style and size. If you write small, go for a fine nib. If you write large, go medium or bold/broad.

    I know you were asking about fountain pens, but if you want to go for a a ballpoint that's a little snazzier than a Jotter, the Fisher AG7 Space Pen has a beautiful vintage ballpoint pen look about it.

    Best of luck.

    1. Thanks for sharing your views! At the moment I'm still happy with the Jotter foutain pen, so I imagine that the Lamy Studio will already be an upgrade. I do write rather small... From your answer I seem to be understanding that vintage fountain pens could offer even better value for money? I'm hoping to find that sweet spot in the market with the maximum of value for my money :)

      Good idea, that Space Pen will go well with my Speedmaster :)

    2. The Parker Jotter is a great pen. I have a couple of them and I think Parker ballpoint refills are among the best out there. Have a look at the Parker Sonnet models as well, but beware. A lot of fakes out there. If you see them for less than fifty bucks or so, chances are very, very high that they are fakes. I learned my lesson the hard way about ten years ago.

      Vintage fountain pens can be pricey, but the gold nibs - which had been worn-in by decades of use- make them very flexible. If you write small, then you're in luck, as many vintage pens tend to have a fine or extra-fine nib on them.
      Do your homework, though, Stijn. Join a fountain pen forum (the fountain pen network, for example) and ask a bunch of questions. Folks are happy to help.
      Can't go wrong with an AG-7 Space Pen.