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  • A Fleeting Ripple

a fine line: rotring isograph technical pen

It is still mostly chilly in the mornings, necessitating a soft wool cardigan and an old blanket that’s almost completely felted. The rain splatters softly on the concrete, the upper floor’s balcony protecting mine from the small raindrops. Birdsong echoes in between the tall buildings. Usual city sounds of cars, trains and trams are hidden behind the sounds of nature. As my coffee gets cold, the rain stops and the sun comes out. The buildings in the distance disappear into the shimmering mist one by one. The river starts to sparkle and the city starts to wake up. It’s going to be a great day.

A sketch of a suburban street.

First year of architecture school is a special hell. Especially when you’re supposed to hand-draw every single thing and scan everything with a phone app to submit online because it was 2020. I went through so many fine liners in a week and used up a good chunk of markers and aquarelle pencils. One of my biggest expenses was not the stationery I wanted, but I needed.

Tip of a Rotring Isograph technical pen, the topic of this post.

And, let’s be honest, it is extremely wasteful to throw away a whole pen every time the tip starts to make a much thicker line or simply the ink runs out.

Being the fountain pen person I am, I started looking for more comfortable, refillable alternatives. The first thing that popped up was these Rotring technical pens. Rapidograph’s for the ones that you fill in the from cartridges, and Isograph’s come with a cartridge that you can fill up from a bottle. Their ink bottle and compatible cartridge design is quite cool and I’ll get to that in more detail later on.

Unfortunately, a set of them was still a little out of the price range that I was willing to pay. Fortunately, a thrift store nearby the university meant that I could sometimes find interesting stationery items there. That day, it was a set of Isograph pens, for about 1/10 of the price. I bought them and let them to soak to get out the stubborn ink out. After a few days, I tried to disassemble the pens to take a look at how they work and to see if there were any ink cruds left. The pens with point size 0.5 and 0.35 were relatively easy, but the size 0.25 one was not. They have a very thin needle inside the tip, which gets thinner according to the nib size. The needle was too thin on 0.25 to handle and it snapped. Later I learned that the nib units weren’t meant to be disassembled anyway. Most Isograph sets come with a needle to help clean the tip.

Writing sample of a Rotring Isograph technical pen, the topic of this post.

In any case, they have been a loyal companion for me. Most of my classmates don’t really know what they are, though some of my teachers are delighted to still see them in the hands of students. It’s quite comfortable to hold and very lightweight. The tip works more similarly to a fountain pen than a felt-tip fine liner. The ink flows with almost no pressure. The only difference is that you need to hold the pen at almost 90° to get a decent flow. The metal tip is much more durable in the face of metal rulers and quick sketches. The alcohol markers don’t blur the lines as well, the ink is much darker than felt-tip fine liners. It dries to a shiny, dense black on the thick semi-transparent tracing paper. It is less shiny on less coated and rougher papers. My drawing skills aren’t the best, as I tend to think with words, but the clean lines of the Isograph always shine through.

I haven’t given up completely on felt-tip fine liners, simply because I had bought 0.1 fine liners in bulk and they aren’t finished. I don’t enjoy them as much as I like the Isograph as the pen shapes feel less comfortable and the ink is always lighter. An eraser lifts some ink off the page, even the pens are supposed to be from well-regarded fine liner brands.

Filling system and the ink bottle of a Rotring Isograph technical pen, the topic of this post.

Refilling these pens are a great experience. The tip of the ink bottle fits to the cartridge’s opening and you just squeeze the ink right into the cartridge. Of course, I managed to drop the cartridge and splatter ink everywhere. The ink is waterproof, so you have to wipe it off quickly before it dries. Otherwise, an abrasive sponge and a strong detergent was enough to remove the stains. Don’t tell this to my landlord. Please.

In conclusion, Isographs are the golden standard to hold the fine liners to. They work well, are refillable, and it draws out the funny stories in some of my older teachers. Or just listen back to the episode 336 of the Pen Addict podcast. I was listening to it while drawing some floor plans and it made me physically sick. The podcast is great to listen to while drafting or sketching.

Thank you for reading! This week I don’t really have a fountain pen carry, but I can make a post about drawing carry. One of my design classes started last week, and that usually means a lot of hand drawing and almost no writing.


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