The Zebra Sarasa

“My Favorite Pen: The Zebra Sarasa 0.4mm”, wrote John Gruber:

Black ink, of course. Been using it for a few years now, nothing else comes close. (Well, the Uni-ball Signo RT 0.38mm comes close.) Anyway, if you’re not buying pens from JetPens, your pen probably sucks.

In that case, I just had to try one. Although, being ever keen to avoid unnecessary international shipping malarkey, I ignored Gruber’s aggressive zealotry about the American website JetPens in favour of some perfectly good local equivalents.

I bought a red one, a black one, and a blue one, each with a 0.5mm point. They arrived quickly. This all happened so long ago now that only one has any ink left.1 And perhaps it’s enough to say no more than that I’ve already gone and replenished my supply with some more of the same. That’s my review, right there. Goodbye.

Wait, I have further points. It is a “gel rollerball” pen, and it is clickily retractable. Clearly, the man was right: it is good. In fact, to someone who’s for years subsisted on terrible Paper Mate ballpoints pens stolen from greasy stationery cupboards, it’s downright amazing. I am pleased to report even when using thin, papery recycled paper, ink does not soak through to the other side. (I’m looking at you, the Pilot V5 Hi-Tecpoint and the Uniball Eye.)

I was a bit upset when I realised that I’d bought the plain Zebra Sarasa, while Gruber had linked to the “push clip” version, which differs from its cousin in a few ways, not least of which is the different and unusual clip. I think it’s also available in a few more different point sizes – such as Gruber’s 0.4mm – and is made from a higher percentage of recycled materials. All harrowing to learn.

(It’s a shame that in these pictures, which I didn’t provide so don’t blame me, there are too many different variables changing – the colour and the tip size. Please don’t let this distract or confuse you, and please don’t tell Ben Goldacre.)

But even if I had noticed the subtle distinction between the two types of Zebra Sarasa beforehand, I would come up against the difficulty of coming by a Sarasa Clip outside of America. Someone must have decided that the ability to clip a pen to a hamburger would only be required in that country, right? For me, it’s not a deal-breaker – my aversion to international shipping overpowers any longing for a pen that’s only slightly different to the one I can buy locally.

It’s nice that the Sarasa is refillable, and as far as I can tell, they have not adopted the inkjet printer/Gillette razorblade/Amazon Kindle business model, whereby the initial thing is cheap and the subsequent refills are obnoxiously expensive. But why, when the time came to replenish my supply, did I not take advantage of this?

See, here’s the thing. To allow the removal and subsequent replacement of the inner plastic ink capsule, one end of the Sarasa – the end that’s nearest the paper during use – can be unscrewed. This is an important feature, but it’s also crack cocaine for people like me, because I am powerless over the forces willing me to repeatedly unscrew and then re-screw whatever I can. And one day, being a ripply beast of some considerable strength, I screwed the end back on with such force that it lurched all the way past the end of the thread, producing a small crack that weakened the screw thread fastening. This introduced an element of jeopardy to the simple act of extending the retracted tip of the pen – now, the end was wont to shoot off, firing pieces in every direction.

Let me tell you, to have all the components of a Zebra Sarasa shoot across the out of the blue is an embarrasment of the highest order, very nearly quite as embarrassing as accidentally spraying a cherry tomato in the direction of a pretty girl sat opposite you. In a Struwwelpeter sort of way, it could train me to stop this unseemly behaviour and sit on my hands like a civilised adult, but I object to this conditioning.

The Pilot BPS-GP is one example of a pen more embracive of restless tics. Both ends of it unscrew, but are strong enough to withstand my even my powerful overtightening; even if this were not so, the absence of any springy retraction mechanism removes the risk of pieces catapulting across the room.

Sadly, that is a ballpoint pen, and years of exposure to those has had a bad effect on me. Another time, from the tip of another Zebra Sarasa began to protrude a millimetre or so of metal wire, evidently sprung from the inner workings of the gel rollerball system. It brought to mind the beginnings of a cheese-wire. When I pretended to ignore it and continued to write, it cut clean through the paper. (I don’t have a picture, because I scurried straight away to the dustbin, too terrified to remember about the throwaway culture and that.) The ballpoint pens have trained me to apply so much pressure as to wear completely away at a necessary layer of metal, like a monster. “The force is strong with this one”, or something? I don’t know.

  1. That’s the red, inevitably, for it is the toasted sandwich juicer of ink colours.