Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Small Diversion with the Sharpie Liquid Pencil and Other Thoughts

Dynamints Fruit Mints - I hated these onesWhen I was a very young boy there was an ad on TV that captured my fancy. The product was for a now defunct breath mint called "Dynamints". In the ad, beautiful people would pop a Dynamint in their mouth, then the world would shake with the very flavor of it. I recall a pyramid of cheerleaders and a guy at the bottom foolishly sampling the geological potency of the mint and causing the pyramid to crumble. This was very convincing to my five or six year old mind.

One day I was spending time with my grandmother and I talked her into buying me the magical mints that "shake up your mouth". I remember sitting in the back of her olive green Dodge Charger, opening the coveted package, and carefully tasting one of these amazing objects.

Nothing happened.

As I sat there disillusioned, I recall seeing her bemused face in the rearview mirror. She was actually chuckling while she stared upon the ruin of my childhood innocence. Years later, Pop Rocks would provide me a more earthquake-like experience, but for the time being I was left only with a minty flavor on my tongue.

Even today—like a child—I get excited over new products, but cynically I expect to be disappointed. Case in point, Sharpie Liquid Pencils.

Five Mondays ago the Internet was abuzz about the spiffy new Sharpie Liquid Pencil. My Twitter stream was filled with retweets of links to Engadget, Gizmodo, and Wired. Artists were excited. Geeks were excited. It's LIQUID PENCIL!!! How cool is that? But wasn't this exactly like the Erasermate by Papermate, a product that had been around since the late 70s?

Many news organizations merely paraphrased the press release, or riffed on what other people wrote about it. None besides Engadget sent a single intrepid reporter to brave their hazardous, metropolitan streets to search for this unicorn of writing implements. I, however, empowered by ADHD and my impulsive whims, boldly called my local Office Max, verified that the strange beastie had been sighted in their aisles, then courageously risked my life in the five minute trek to capture one for myself.

Then I actually used it.

Aren't You Glad I Didn't Say "Orange"?Within moments of using the Liquid Pen, I could see it was EXACTLY like an Erasermate, but I knew that before from reading the press releases. Sharpie makes pens. There is no material that stores as a liquid, then after a pen press comes out perfectly, pencil sharp as solid graphite. It had to be erasable ink. As you can see from the examples, it is very similar to the Erasermate. They both write like pens. They both feature erasable ink. Both eventually become permanent. I have journals filled with Erasermate-written entries from the late 70s. I'd wear through the paper long before the erasable ink lifted away.

The inks worked identically except in one regard. The Erasermate has always been rather goopy, likely due to the erasable substrate the ink is suspended in. Pen marks do not perfectly erase away, leaving a faint stain sometimes larger than the written area. In addition, goopy ink lends itself to splotches which can become smeared as hands drag through it. The Liquid Pen featured similar problems. Pen marks do not perfectly erase away, ink can be smeared, etc. However, the Liquid Ink is not goopy, but clumpy. It erases better. Therefore it can have a dry brush effect, which for art is much preferred. Just don't try to build up heavy black areas, or use the Liquid Pencil in a Moleskine with its slick pages. This modern miracle works best with a toothy surface.

S01-Rummaging (Sharpie Liquid Pencil test)So I became mildly surprised. Even pleased. The Sharpie Liquid Pencil didn't walk on technological waters, but it did fill a niche that the Erasermate had failed to.

There is one thing about the Liquid Pencil that drives me crazy. Instead of a stud to click on to expose the ballpoint, the entire top of the pen functions as the stud. Once depressed, however, it rattles in place and is quite distracting to my ADHD riddled mind. Background noise becoming foreground noise, and all that. Although Erasermates used to come in nice, quality formats with refillable ink cartridges, even their cheap, disposable pen barrels of today are preferable to the rickety feel of the Liquid Pencil in action, though its thicker barrel does feel better in the hand.

And there you have it. More about the Liquid Pencil than you may have ever wanted to know, and certainly more than the press release driven shlock of most tech sites on the web today. Was this a pointless distraction? No, I've come to see pursuits like this as a necessary vacation for my mind to take. It inspired me to draw, write, and get out of the house. Anything that helps me do those things instead of focus on my limits is a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

Follow me on Twitter for my ADHD escapades at @SplinteredMind or my novel writing project over at @DouglasCootey. And if you're a glutton for punishment you can friend me on Facebook as well.