A group of writing instruments manufactured by Rotring. The 600 series has a hexagonal solid brass body, similar in shape to a pencil, but larger, with a silver, black, or "lava" (1) finish. The series includes a fountain pen, ball point pen, roller ball pen, tri-pen, and a mechanical pencil. The group is the most satisfying group of writing instruments I have ever used.

The design of the Rotring 600 series focuses on mechanical utility and simplicity rather than aesthetic beauty. These are, primarily, tools - they possess the beauty, the clean lines of good tools. They are heavy, substantial, especially the fountain pen, roller ball, and tri-pen, which is a good thing.(2) The combination of the weight with the hexagonal design make it easy to hold the pen steady and level.

The 600 series is available in two slightly different styles, the original and new designs. The original design is only available new through Levenger (3), and through smaller local stores with back stock. Those sold through Levenger have the word Levenger printed in red on the side, parallel to the clip.(4) The new version is named Newton, though usually it is still referred to as the 600 series. The Newton line is sold through many major dealers of fine writing instruments.

The old series, the original design, look like something designed for technical drawing - they look like old drafting instruments. All the metal surfaces have a matte finish. The grip on the ball point pen and the pencil is knurled, for steadier holding. The grip on the fountain pen and roller ball is etched lightly, just the right amount, for the same reson. The Newton series looks more contemporary and is more comfortable to use. The grip has a smoother, polished surface, which is slightly more comfortable, but does not give as firm a grip as the original design. The end of the cap and a ring of metal on the cap are also polished metal on the new design. The "lava" finish is only available on the new version. The Newton line also includes a version of the pen in black, with a gold plated nib and gold accents.

The numbers and other details (costs are approximate):

  • fountain pen
  • ball point pen
    • uses standard "giant" ball point refills
    • refills available from Rotring in black and blue, in fine, medium, and broad widths (refills available from other companies in other colors.
    • $25
  • roller ball pen
    • uses standard large ballpoint refills
    • refills available from Rotring in black and blue, in medium and wide widths
    • $50
  • mechanical pencil
    • available in .5mm, .7mm, and 1mm sizes
    • $25
  • tri-pen
    • blue and red ink, .7mm mechanical pencil
    • $50

The fountain pen is the gem of the lot. It sits in the hand, steady, awaiting movement. Writing is so smooth, the pen just glides across the paper. It takes some getting used to - not having to press the pen against the paper at all - just so long as the pen is touching the paper with the slightest pressure, the ink flows. The quality of line produced by the pen is very crisp. I like writing letters and other things more as a result of this pen - it is that good (5).

The roller ball is nice - it is as well balanced as the fountain pen, with a similar design, except that the grip comes to more of a point. The total cost cost of the pen is rather high - it seems to be a bad compromise between the fountain pen and the ball point. Cartridges don't last long - I used about two a week when I was actively using the pen, at $3 each! This is in contrast to the fountain pen, which, through the use of a converter, I used three 50 ml bottles of ink in a year, at $4 each. It is a nice pen, but given the high cost, it seems more reasonable to either spend the additional money and get the fountain pen, which is costs much less to use, or the cheaper ball point pen, which gets much more use out of each cartridge.

The ball point pen body is very similar to the mechanical pencil, about the size of a normal disposable ball point pen. It is a good pen, though the quality of the line is not that much better than the average ball point. What makes it superior is the knurled grip and the weight of the pen. These features make it much easier to be both precise and more relaxed. It is not a fountain pen by any means, but it has its place (6), and it does that well.

The mechanical pencil, though similar in style, has two distinct differences from most mechanical pencils. The lead channel (the tube, at the writing end of the pencil, that holds the lead) is much longer than most mechanical pencils, which makes it much more difficult to break the lead, at least inside the pencil.(7) This makes it possible to apply more pressure and create a wider range of marks. The other distinct feature is the clear lead holder. The pencil unscrews like many mechanical pencils, to reveal a clear lead holder, so that it is actually possible to know how many leads are left.

farqwart provided the following information on the Tri-pen

The Tri-pen of the 600 series is something of an interesting work. Most amusing is the way you select which implement you wish to use. There are three pictures around the outside top. Whichever picture is facing up while you hold the pen horizontal is revealed when you depress the top mounted button. To retract the implement, there is a ring around the top , below the button, that must be turned (clockwise when looking at the pen from backend on).

(The mechanism works) beautifully. I have had mine for 3 years. I'd rather it was a .5mm pencil than a .7mm, but that is minor. The actual selection mechanism has never failed me, and also is very solid, not allowing any play when extended. One of those years was spent traveling Europe, where it was nice to be able to combine the ballpoint/pencil into one item, leaving me to carry only the tri and a fountain pen.

In short, it is a wonderful pen with an amusing selection mechanism that amazes people. I've had people stare in awe at the pen, trying to figure out how it works. It is really just a simple pendulum sort of arrangement. When the implement's name faces up, the large portion of the pendulum faces down, and engages the chose implement when the button is depressed. The disadvantage is that you have to hold the pen horizontal to select what implement you get out, which really isn't an issue, and becomes second nature as you learn to use the pen. Of course the learning takes all of 30 seconds. I was so pleased with it that I bought a Trio Pencil - not a 600, but Rotring of similar design, .35mm, .5mm and .7mm.

All in all, the Rotring 600 series is a really good set of writing utensils, quite possibly the best buy for the money. They are expensive, but worth it.(8) Not everyone can just buy pens or pencils like this - I am not suggesting that. But if you are looking for a writing instrument or three, or someone wants to give that (almost) traditional graduation gift, it is worth considering writing instruments where the cost reflects utility and not fancy styling.(9)

My recomendation, for the individual looking to purchasing a set, is to buy the original design (10) from Levenger.(11) Get a fountain pen, ball point, and two mechanical pencils, .5mm and 1mm.(12) The fountain pen will be for most of your writing, the ball point pen for the rest. The .5mm and 1mm pencil provide a wide range of lines. The .5mm can make very fine lines, but can also make wider, bolder ones, because the pencil can be used at a much narrower angle to the paper without breaking the lead. The 1mm provides thick, dark lines, good for drawing and shading.

The silver finish hides wear better than the black, and the silver color looks more like a mechanical toy, a tool unembarassed to be a tool, and modern, whereas the black looks more formal, postmodern, like an art gallery or museum. It is the crisp black frame against the white wall, which looks so great, but requires work (or care) to keep looking new.(13)

These are fine tools, some of the finest available for the money. To buy a significantly better fountain pen would a much greater expenditure.(14) Prior to December of 1999, I would not have believed that a pen or pencil was worth this much. Now, I know otherwise. Good tools, no matter what you are doing, make all the difference.(15)

1. The "lava" finish is a speckled black.
2. Or not. People seem to either love or hate these pens for being so heavy - there seems to be no middle ground.
3. www.levenger.com
4. The text is small, but it still just doesn't look quite right. It can be carefully removed using a mild abrasive cleaner (like Bar Keeper's Friend) spareingly on the silver finish, whicih will take off the lettering without blemishing. The black is a bit harder - something like carbon tetrachloride is needed to get the writing off without marring the finish.
5. The postcards some Everythingians have received were not written with this pen - I was without it for a while after I knocked it off a desk onto a concrete floor, damaging the nib. Doh!
6. You need something to open a box with! Seriously, though, there are some things where you need to press hard on when writing, and you just can't do that with a fountain pen.
7. Oh yes, you can break the lead. However, it is much more difficult, and most likely, it will break outside the pencil, rather than inside it.
8. Yes, the first pens and pencils I have used for more than a month without losing. Almost two years now...
9. Last I checked, aesthetics do not affect the quality of marks made by a pen or pencil.
10. To me, the new design just doesn't look or feel right. The combination of the polished and matte finish metal doesn't look quite right, and the grip does not provide enough grip. But that's just my opinion. YMMV.
11. If you buy from Levenger, avoid the &qout;strongbox" the cute metal presentation box. It is just that, a presentation box, and nothing more. $20 worth of presentation, almost the cost of the pencil or ball point pen. It is not designed to carry the pens around in, just for presentation.
12. If you do not draw much, then you probably only need one pencil, the .5mm.
13. Formal != postmodern. Two separate qualities, held by the same object.
14. About $200, as far as I can tell. There isn't much of anything in between.
15. Good tools are not everything - I didn't say that. They will not provide talent or skill or anything like that. They will help you to keep you from being constrained by materials, and free you to focus on creation.
16. The observant may notice that there is no review of the tri-pen. I have only seen the tri-pen in pictures, never in real life, and accordingly, have never had the opportunity to so much as hold one.

Thanks to farqwart for the information about the Tri-pen, and also for informing me that the new design is called the Newton, even if no one actually calls it that, because the 600 series has been around so long and is known so well. In addition, he reminded me of the existence of the gold plated and accented version in the Newton series and provided the information for footnote 4. The pipelinks on those subjects are my opinions. They may or may not be shared by others.

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