My review of the Sharpie Liquid Pencil

rexlabs test

Since the dawn of time, humans have been seeking a breath mint that tastes like a candy mint and a candy mint that works like a breath mint. Yet, whenever someone comes out with two-, two-, two-mints-in one, the only people who actually believe it are those who sell the product.

As consumers, we get it. If, for example, we want to purchase a camera that is dual anything, the savvy consumer will know not to expect the best of either. We merely hope the compromise won’t end up with the worst of both. We are consumers, okay, so we understand that the best camera is the one you have with you when the photograph or video-worthy moment presents itself. Accessibility is the feature that trumps all feature compromises when you see the Loch Ness monster. (Frankly, in the hands of a talented photographer who knows what he’s doing, a hole at the end of a shoebox can capture a great photo.)

So, despite the hype and whatever marketers tell you, it’s never a “best of both” and most of the time, it’s just “never” — it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about flying-cars or writing devices that are both “pen-like” and “pencil-like.” Lots of promises and predictions, but the best we get are “roadable planes” and “erasable pens.”

Despite this Law of Certs (a name I just made up), when I saw on Wired.com that Sharpie, a company I’ve written about before because it’s on my short list of “they get the web” companies has a new product called a “Liquid Pencil,” I decided to go ahead and drop my shield of dis-belief and decided I’d give it a try.

Unfortunately, the 2-pack version of the new liquid-pencil won’t be available until next month (apparently, back to schoolers buy pencils by the bushel).

It’s at times like these when having a friend like the amazing blogging anesthesiologist Joe (bookofjoe.com, @bookofjoe) comes in handy. (I devoted a post to Joe five years ago.) When Joe saw me tweet that I was looking forward to trying out the new “liquid penci,” he let me know that he had ordered some online. But, as he didn’t need the entire bushel, he’d be glad to share. Yesterday, I received two “test pencils” from the private collection of Joe.

I’m sorry. That was a way-too long setup for a brief review, but before Joe will tell me what he thinks of the device, I had to promise I’d go first:

liquid pencil

1. No surprise here: It’s a compromise: It’s neither a great pen nor a great pencil. Of course, it’s not intended to be “a pen,” except it is — after a period of time (Sharpie says three days, but I’m beginning to see it within 24 hours), the erasable liquid (I’m not sure exactly what it is, so I’ll just say “liquid graphite”) becomes permanent.

2. Its tip (equivalent, Sharpie says, to laying down the line of a No. 2 pencil) reminds me of the “fine tip” version of the Sharpie Pen (not to be confused with the “fatter” Sharpie markers you’re probably thinking about). When it comes to pen tips, I’m solidly in the Pilot G2 (blue ink) camp, so the whole “fine point” thing is a bit dainty for my “pen” tastes. However, as a pencil, I’m definitely “fine point” so this actually gives the new liquid pencil a “plus.”

3. So, for doing sketches or things I like to do with a finely sharpened pencil, I was thinking, “Okay, this is nice, except…uh, it’s doesn’t lay down a very good mark. Indeed, at first it seems like you’re writing with a pen that’s running out of ink. Splotchy and skippy are two words that spring to mind. In other words, not a good “pencil experience.” A traditional mechanical pencil is better, but, unfortunately, I never seem to be able to hang on to one.

4. But wait! I wrote #3 last night, during my first test of the pencil. Today, I’ve decided there’s a break-in period that can take at least 20-30 minutes of writing with the device before you get it working in a way that lays down a line correctly. I’m not sure, but I think it’s working better for me now because of three different factors that have kicked in: The tip (nib? point?) is loosening up so that the liquid flows better, I’m tilting the pencil a little more vertically than I usually hold a writing device and third, I’ve adjusted the pressure I’m applying to be more “pen like” than “pencil like”

5. Something potentially very bothersome: Like a mechanical pencil, the tip will retract into the barrel with a “click.” However, the way in which the “clicker” is engineered allows the eraser end of the pencil to slide back and forth. Nervous types will discover that when the writing tip is “out,” the pencil can be shaken to make an very annoying percussive sound.

6. Where I can see the liquid pencil coming in handy: For those who sketch and then apply ink over it (I’m sure some crafters do it, but I’m thinking of certain kind of illustrators), I can see an application. I’ll be trying it out for several weeks with a Moleskine sketch pad I carry in my (stop calling it a man purse) bag. Another great use: Sodoku and crossword puzzles, etc.

7. Issue I didn’t look into: I have no idea if it’s refillable.

8. Office Depot has it listed for $4.99 for a two-back, but “for delivery only.” (If I’m not mistaken, Joe purchased his bushel pack for $34.30 (quantity: 12), at Grainger.com.)

Bottomline: I like the concept and I’m pre-disposed to be a fan of Sharpie products. However, I was very disappointed at first with the way it “skipped.” I’m warming up as I test it more and can see it being great for certain uses and situations.

Okay, Joe. Back to you.

(And thanks, again.)

Bonus: The NYTimes.com Gadgetwise Blog has a review, but nothing as scientific as the RexLabs.

  • Aw man, that’s disappointing to read. I was so looking forward to Sharpie’s liquid pencil. I’ll probably still get the two-pack when it comes out, but doesn’t seem like it’s worth the bushel. Thanks for the review.

  • Jim Voorhies

    When I saw this psoted online, I immediately tried to get one myself. I thought the fluid quality we’ve all come to expect from good Sharpies plus the pencilness of it all makes this hugely tempting. However, now that your review lets me know it includes the possibility of annoying percussive noises in the office, this is gold, I tell you, gold!

  • Definitely get two. I have a feeling that lots of people will love them, and lots will hate them. Pens and pencils are one of those things where people’s personal preferences are a big part of the equation. For $2.50, it’s worth a shot. ; )