I have written these brief
reviews in order to emphasise the needs of the shorthand writer as I
see them, and to consider possible pitfalls. Knowing what you actually need and, equally importantly,
what to avoid, should be settled before spending your money.
My firm view is that fountain pens
are best for shorthand and an encouragement towards good penmanship.
A well-made quality pen works out cheaper than a lifetime of
indifferent throwaway pens and my trusty Senator
and Geha shorthand pens are not showing the
slightest signs of needing to be replaced, even after very many
years of good reliable service. Noodler's Flex Pens fill that gap
now, with affordable price and excellent quality.
Mechanical pencils are
abundant, but if you prefer a wooden pencil you will find that art
shops generally have a much wider choice than the average
stationers. The pencils below were easily and cheaply obtained. No doubt many similar items exist under other brand
names, and there are always more expensive designer versions
available for those situations where good looks are part of your
I would always want to ascertain whether the
higher price of either pen or pencil was getting me extra quality as well, and not just a
flashy exterior. I hope that your shorthand skills will be shining
more brightly (and memorably) than any glittery pen.
Associated websites for some
of them are on the Links
If you could line up all the
very fastest shorthand writers from past to present, along with
their pens and pads, no doubt there
would be a great variation in the type, shape and brand of their
favoured writing equipment. The pens and notepads would be all different. The people would be all shapes, sizes,
nationalities and temperaments. Their education, health and family
situations would vary from deprived to privileged. How did they all
attain high speed without using the same magic pen, 21st century ink
delivery technology, the latest gold-trimmed mechanical pencil, nano-diamonds
in their graphite leads, or tape recorder/MP3/Ipod practice passages? Here's my educated guess:
Desire and determination to succeed
Confidence in their own abilities
Doing the work necessary to achieve their goal –
not mindlessly, but targeted to produce maximum results for the
Practising consistently and persistently
Refusing distractions, resisting time-wasting and
This is an inexpensive piston-filled pen with a flexible and
adjustable nib, aimed
at pen enthusiasts and calligraphers. It is lightweight, slim, and
forms thick and thin lines with great ease. I consider it a vastly
superior shorthand pen compared to the discontinued Pelikan Steno
reviewed below, although writers who dislike flex nibs may prefer
the stiffer Steno.
The budget price does not mean low quality. The appearance is
perfectly acceptable, smart and pleasing. Fountain pen
enthusiasts/collectors may be tempted to make comparisons with their
expensive glossy pens but performance is the top priority with
Body: piston-filled, with ink chamber windows. Some
reviewers have mentioned a smell given off by the resin of
the barrel – my pens had no smell whatsoever when I opened
the boxes after their long trip from USA to UK, nor when they
were filled with ink. After two weeks, I changed to a different
ink colour (Waterman Black), and noticed a faint
vinegar-like smell at the nib end. It seems that particular
has brought out an odour but only noticeable when close-up, not
whilst writing. I do not consider it a problem.
Cap: screw on. The
tip screws off if you wish to remove the clip.
Feed: friction fit (not screwed in), removable
Nib: steel, with long split to enable full flexing, removable
Weight: body empty 7.26g, body with full ink 8.04g, cap 3.63g
The nib and feed can be easily removed from the barrel
for adjustment and cleaning, there are no fiddly damageable
mechanisms to worry about – purposely kept simple by Noodler's for
those who like to adjust their pens. You just grip the nib and feed,
twisting slightly while pulling out. This allows endless adjustment
for ink flow and degree of flex, easy cleaning and also, if desired,
you could fill the barrel directly by dipping in the bottle or with a dropper or
syringe. See Goulet Pens' website link
below for how to make the easy adjustments.
As the flexing nib is laying down a wider line, a split line ("railroading") can
occur if you are writing large outlines with a heavy hand. A
calligrapher would slow down to prevent this, but for writing
shorthand, the solution is to write smaller outlines, and train your
hand to write lightly, something that needs a firm will when
dictation speed gets ahead of your comfort zone. This is
not difficult as the nib produces an extremely thin line very
easily and only slight extra pressure is needed for the thicks. In any case, large sprawling outlines and excess pressure will
your speed, whatever writing implement you use.
You do not need to flex it this
much for shorthand writing. The nib with daylight showing through
the long slit.
Flex pen is midway in size between this Flex and the Ahab Flex
pen, and is equally suitable for writing Pitman's Shorthand. It is
filled in the same way as the smaller flex, but has an end cap that
has to be removed before the twist plunger can be operated. I find
these pens have a very free ink flow, and the line is not so fine as
the smaller Flex. They hold a large amount of ink.
clear Ahab flex pen containing blue ink. Below: normal Noodler's
This is much larger than the
normal flex pen, and the piston is plunger, not screw. There are no fiddly
mechanisms, the whole pen can be taken apart for adjusting the nib
and cleaning. The housing in which the nib and feed sit has two very
slight ridges inside, showing where the nib base should be aligned,
so you don't want to be forcing the nib in at a random position.
There is no ink window, so only the clear, or tinted
clear, ones will let you know how much ink remains. Having filled
the pen normally from the bottle, you can get extra ink into the
reservoir by holding the pen nib upwards and expelling some of the
air slowly and carefully by pushing up the plunger slightly, then
dip the nib in the bottle again and pull the plunger out. You can
use this method on any piston-filled pen.
The main body is separate from
the ink reservoir/plunger and so can be eye-dropper filled if you
remove the reservoir/plunger, instructions for this come with the
I generally prefer a slim pen,
but was very surprised at how comfortable I was writing with this,
you get a good comfortable grip and without any excessive weight
from its size. This would suit someone who finds that gripping a
slim pen produces cramped fingers.
The pen is named after the
character Captain Ahab in the book "Moby Dick" and the clip is made
to resemble a whale seen from above. This whale-sized pen is more a
homage to those gentle giants than to the captain.
Satisfyingly large ink capacity –
Whale-shaped pocket clip
http://noodlersink.com Bernanke Blue (also from
Goulet Pens) a quick-drying ink. It appears to be more quickly
sucked into the paper than normal inks, so less smudging. Rate
of dry is dependent on paper surface, and would probably perform
best with a non-flex nib where less ink is being laid down. On first opening, I found this
smile in the cap, it is obviously as delighted with the Noodler's pens as
have found it better to store the pens either flat or with nib
downwards to ensure the ink starts each time. It was noticeable that
higher quality ink produced better flow.
These pens are a pleasure to use for shorthand, longhand and
drawing. I give them top marks for shorthand performance
and recommend them without reservation. I have settled to using the
Konrad and Ahab for producing outlines for web and blog items, as
the greater amount of ink scans more clearly. I use the smaller flex
pen for attempts at faster shorthand – the slim barrel enables my
fingers to move more freely and the finer nib encourages smaller
outlines and more compact writing, all of which contribute to speed
and counteract the natural tendency to let the shorthand sprawl.
www.inknouveau.com/2013/04/goulet-nibs.html Goulet's have brought out their own range of non-flex
nibs in four sizes and two italic, to fit the Noodler's Ahab and
Noodler's Konrad pens. This means that Gregg and Teeline writers can
benefit from the advantages of using these two Noodler's pens –
adjustable, easy to clean and quality at budget price.
This is a budget pen that is
essentially a piston-fill fountain pen with a rollerball tip instead
of nib. It takes normal fountain pen ink, enabling you to use all
your favourite colours and keep the same pen indefinitely. Its
description of "refillable" means that you fill it from your fountain
pen ink bottle. Normal rollerballs described as "refillable" just
mean that you can buy refill cartridges for them.
Top pen empty, bottom pen full ink (Imperial Purple)
The pen fills
exactly the same a fountain pen, just twist the plunger down, dip
the tip and feed section in the ink bottle, twist the plunger back up again
and clean up around the feed. The clear
body lets you see the ink colour and quantity remaining.
Body: clear with screw-on cover over the plunger top.
This is a short length pen and some writers may prefer to keep
the cap posted.
Cap: clear, screw-on.
The tip with Noodler's logo screws off if you wish to remove the clip.
Feed: screw-in, removable
Tip: removable from
the feed - just pulls out
Weight: body empty 6.52g, body full ink 7.94g, cap
No thicks/thins are possible, but this pen might suit
Gregg or Teeline writers – I scribbled as fast as
I could but the line never ran dry. You can begin the day with full ink supply in your favourite
speed-inspiring colour(s), and every shorthand writer needs to know at
all times how much ink is left in a pen. Once you fill the pen, you
need to be using it regularly, as the tip will dry out if unused for
too long, and,
as with any fountain pen ink, it would not last long if left cooking
on a sunny windowsill.
Some technical pens that I have used in the past had
a tiny compartment in the cap with a piece of absorbent material
that you could wet, to provide moisture to prevent the needle tip
and its fine filament drying out (necessary because the pen used
drawing ink that cannot be rewetted). Although you will be using
normal fountain pen ink in the Nib Creaper rollerball, if you felt
drying out was an issue in your environment, maybe you could try
putting something moist in the space at the very end of the cap, as
below, provided it did not touch the tip.
A clear small endcap screws over the plunger top to provide a
completely smooth barrel. If you post the cap over it and then
unscrew the cap, the main cap comes off with this little endcap
inside it – a good way to ensure the endcap does not get lost or
dropped during the refill process.
The feed section that holds the tip unscrews from the
barrel for easy cleaning or replacement of the tip. The pen is not
claimed to be robust if dropped, so care is needed not to throw it
around. Packs of replacement tips are available cheaply, if you
should damage the tip or let the ink dry hard. I bought the above
from The Goulet Pen Company, USA.
This review refers to the modern new one, and
not older versions of the same name that are sometimes available
second-hand. Please note that this pen
has been discontinued by Pelikan, but I leave the review
here in case you can obtain it from existing stock (I bought mine in
2010 before discontinuation). The arrival of the
Noodler's Flex Pen has rather put this one in the shade, in terms of
flexibility of nib.
The Pelikan Steno is an inexpensive cartridge pen especially made for shorthand.
It writes reasonable Pitman's Shorthand with a fine line, but the
nib is firm rather than springy and will really suit those who do not want a lot
of flex. For Pitman's Shorthand, the best approach with this pen is
to make the thin lines really light, rather than press down extra
hard to get solid thicks. However, it is very smooth and pleasant to write with
for all purposes and a very welcome
change from the heavy bulky thick-lined cheap pens that abound.
Pelikan Steno shorthand fountain
pen. The narrow part between the central steel ring and the thread
is an ink inspection window, see pic below.
The nib and split are both short,
with the feed covering most of the nib, resulting in minimal flex. Ink inspection window – pen held
horizontally and the ink just beginning to flow back into the
converter. Daylight shining through lets you know what you must do,
and it's more obvious when the ink is coloured.
Ink Comes with one cartridge. Converter available to purchase
separately for ink bottle filling (recommended, to ensure full ink
every day). A converter also makes cleaning and flushing the pen
much easier as you can force the water through in both directions.
Nib The steel chromed nib is very fine and has a low
amount of flexibility, and is by no means springy. A comparison with soft expensive gold nibs would be
unfair, and if you get into the good habit of writing the thin
strokes really lightly, then you can achieve the difference in line
thickness without too much pressure having to be exerted on the nib.
It may be that the nib was intended to suit all forms of shorthand,
and if so it rather "falls between two stools". An experienced
Pitman's writer will easily cope with this, as they will know their
outlines intimately and not rely so much on differentiation between
thicks and thins, but a beginner may feel hampered by the lack of
flex. Being a fine nib, smooth paper will give the best results and will
also ensure your touch remains light and flowing.
Body Matt-black plastic with steel cap which closes with a
click. Slim barrel and extremely lightweight, a very important
consideration for shorthand writing. The matt surface
of the barrel ensures it is easy to grip and not slippery. The
appearance is smart and professional, and without the cap on you can
also write unobtrusively without glinting, if necessary (e.g.
practising in public). Centrally there is an ink inspection window
to let you know if you are running out. It helps to tip the pen up
to get a better idea of the ink left, by how quickly the air bubble
comes to the window.
Weight Pen, converter, full ink, without cap = 8.73g. Cap =
7.98g. Having the cap on almost doubles the weight. This will
seriously affect your speed, as well as the extra weight gaining a
leverage effect due to its distance from the nib, working against
the fine control that you need.
A pelican before catching his fish, or a very friendly dragon!
This is a low-priced fountain pen.
It is very lightweight and the nib quite springy but cannot produce
the thicks and thins of Pitman's Shorthand, as it only gives a
uniform 0.5 mm width line, but is perfectly good for all other uses.
I am reviewing
it here because it provides a good
encouragement to use a fountain pen at minimal cost.
I heartily approve of the name and this
well-behaved cheapie now writes with delicious Sheaffer Skrip red
ink to match the barrel and replace the biro I have been using for
The plastic barrel has a matt surface near the nib to
improve grip, a tiny window to show if the ink is low, and the cap
closes with a click. The springy nib encourages keeping a light touch, so that you are
not switching between hard and soft implements, as you go from
shorthand to longhand writing – using biro or gel pens encourages
pressing the paper, a habit that easily damages fountain pen nibs. It is pleasant
to write with and if kept for longhand, will save wear and tear on
the more precious shorthand pen. This pen is a good way to avoid the
rock-hard giant nibs that cheap pens often have, and can also serve
as a "lender" so that your trusty shorthand pen is shielded from
unintentional abuse by the unskilled!
It came with a black ink cartridge, which resulted in
an annoyingly dry nib every time I took the cap off. I put in a
standard size converter and changed to blue ink, and there was a huge difference
in performance, and saved this pen from a one-way trip to the waste
bin. It now writes wet and smooth every time and never again will I
blame a pen for poor performance caused by inadequate ink supply
from a cartridge. I had
at first put a spare short cartridge inside the barrel, as pens often allow
room for, but it stuck and I could only remove it with a bradawl ...
This comes in 0.5 and 0.7mm
lead sizes, and my one was supplied with "extra tough" B lead. The 5mm leads produced neater shorthand
but a light touch is needed to prevent paper digging. I find that HB
leads are adequate for thicks and thins. The protruding lead at the tip is too short to be able to
break. The only thing I have noticed right away is that the lead
advances better if the pencil is not held at a very shallow angle,
as the lead sleeve needs the constant very slight pressing that
happens during writing, in order to advance the lead. You can
advance manually from the top end as well if necessary, but that
means that the protruding lead may then be long enough to break, and
it would not advance any more until it had worn down enough for the
sleeve to again have contact with the paper. I did break off the tip
on purpose and the pencil just kept on writing anyway.
sleeve is retracted by pushing and holding the top end down gently
(not fully) as for manual lead advance, and then pushing the sleeve
in, either by finger or pressing on the work surface, and then
finally letting go of the top end. Another slight push on the top
end brings it jumping out again.
It is a self
feeder but I found that the sleeve cannot deal with a
short length remaining, both lead and sleeve end up retreating into
the metal cone. The stub has to be removed and the next lead
advanced manually, but then lead-end problems are common to
mechanical pencils anyway.
Have a look
at this very informative website which is dedicated to pencils, as
well as a review of the Grip-Matic:
Transparent barrel, rubberised grip, top end clicker.
This pencil has a sleeve over the lead that retreats into the pen.
When the lead wears down to the sleeve, you can carry on writing, as
the protective sleeve is slowly pushed back inside, although you
cannot write at a shallow angle. When both lead
and sleeve get down to the cone tip, then you have to click – the
first click pushes the sleeve back out, next click pushes the lead
into the sleeve and a 3rd click advances the lead beyond the sleeve. This means that you can use the bare length of lead and
also the length of lead inside the sleeve before you have to click
for more. Without the sleeve you could not write with that length of
lead without it breaking. You can therefore write 2 or 3 times as
much before having to click. The lead and sleeve can both be
retracted inside by pushing on them while holding the clicker down.
The eraser is under a very small plastic cover which could easily
get lost. The smaller Pixie version is ideal for the travelling
shorthand kit, short and light without being too narrow for writing
comfort. I can see no advantage in using the longer heavier version,
unless you must have a black barrel.
Click thumbnail Transparent barrel, rubber
grip, side button clicker with a smooth easy action. The button is unobtrusive and does not get in the
way when writing. There is an eraser underneath the top clip.
Although the barrel is transparent, it is shaped into facets so it
is not so easy to count the spare leads inside. This has become my
favourite of all the mechanical pencils because side-clicking is so
much quicker and more convenient than end-clicking.
Click thumbnail Transparent
slightly fat barrel, 2 barrel-length windows, smooth rubber grip,
side click button.
The eraser is under a very small plastic cover which
could easily get lost.
The button action is not so smooth as
the Pentel Techniclick above and could get in the way of fingers unless you
position it exactly where you want it. I found the fatness in the
gripping section to be not so comfortable as the narrower pencils. The button is near enough to the
writing end to be clicked with the edge of the thumb, with no finger
movement – BUT still not something to be doing in a shorthand exam, this would
be like stopping to click a camera when running from a lion!
I have seen
a pen that uses the side-click mechanism merely for retracting, not
for advancing, so the packaging needs to be read carefully.
writer needs to know the lead supply situation more than other users
and transparent barrels give you a close-up of the secret life of
pencil leads, and an idea of how many spares are in there. Seeing
the second lead going down the feed-hole allows you to estimate how
short the first lead has become, exceedingly useful information. It
seems to be beneficial to keep several spare leads stored inside
mechanical pencils, giving a greater chance that one of them will
find the self-feed hole without having to jiggle it.
shorter (13mm) than most others, are extremely light in weight and
look exactly like hexagonal wooden pencils. The eraser is the
clicker and also the means of keeping leads inside, so it would not
do to wear it down too far (for shorthand you will of course never
be using an eraser). The 0.7 mm HB leads are refillable and HB is soft enough for the thicks and thins. The
above was a pack of 5 fun colours, but according to the Zebra
website the black and the yellow can be bought in one-colour packs.
The white one seems to be less distracting to the eye while writing,
being the same colour as the paper.
pencils look to be ideal for your portable practising kit, as would
be any other brands that are short and light. One very slight disadvantage is
that an unsuspecting family member tidying up might sweep them away
in a fit of purging the glut of uninteresting office
or children's pencils.
Because they look like normal
eraser-tipped wooden pencils, they might in error be given to a young child
to play with, and the easily-removable eraser could present a
choking hazard. This would be the responsibility of the owner,
as the package is marked that they are unsuitable for children under
5 years of age.
If the pencil
barrel is too thin, slippery or smooth for finger comfort, a pencil
grip may be the answer. The blue one is spongy and slides on easily.
The green ergonomic one is a smooth jelly-like substance and it takes some
effort to get the pencil in, easier if the pencil is circular rather
If you have
difficulty holding a pencil, or even picking one up, then the
jelly gripper may help. It is shaped for both left and right handers.
With hand and finger problems, speed may not be your priority or
even possible. Shorthand uses approximately 1/6th of the writing
effort, because of the brevity of the outlines. Learning and
using shorthand for home tasks instead of longhand will greatly
reduce the amount of movement needed from your hands and fingers,
and could possibly restore your creative writing to being a pleasure
and not a pain. KUM below
produce these and other types of grips for those who have
difficulty, as well as stationery items for left handers.
This inspired sharpener provides for
2-part sharpening – No.1 hole produces a very narrow cone without
touching the lead, No.2 hole sharpens the lead only without touching
the wood. Being able to sharpen the tip alone might be beneficial in class, as
it can be done more quickly than launching into a full
wood-cutting sharpen. The top opens for disposal of shavings, and
inside the cavity is a slot containing two spare blades.
Picture of pencils shows cheap sharpener at top versus long point sharpener. Ordinary
sharpeners often break the lead because of the force needed to get
the blade to bite the wood, the KUM one obviates that problem. The
long point is much pleasanter to use and you get fractionally more
lead showing, but also more possibility of tip breakage unless a
light touch is maintained. Art students will also appreciate this,
as drawing and colouring pencils have leads that are much softer and
more easily broken.
... while I
change leads ...
or cartridges ... or refill ink ... or click ... or grab
importance to the shorthand writer is the interruption incurred when
reaching the end of the lead or ink supply. This would
be total disaster in an exam or other fast writing. It is only a
problem if you do not know when it is going to happen and for
exams it is essential to start with a cleaned out pen and full ink chamber,
new cartridge or new full-length lead in place.
If you decide to use a mechanical pencil in an exam, you should test
out how many lines you can write without any clicking. Class or exam
dictations give no time for any clicking, either side or top end, or
Office work might be different, as there will be pauses. As you get
faster, student and exam dictations get longer in quantity of words that have
to be written, so the little bit of lead showing is eventually going
to be not
enough to last. If you advance some extra out to "tide you over",
you will not have the confidence to write fast while you wait for it
"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)