Stabilo Point 88 Fineliner pens are a classic. But are they actually a fineliner? What is a fineliner pen anyway, and does the definition change based on the kind of work you want to use it for? We test out the Stabilo set of 30 colour 0.4 fine line marker pens (branded the Point 88) to see if they are worthy of being the best selling fineliner in Europe. Are they any good for creating fineliner drawings and art, or are they just the best fine liner pens for note taking, journaling and Zentangles? Watch the video to find out.
Reviewing Stabilo Point 88 Fineliners
Vishal: Hello and welcome to Stationery Test Drive where every week we take strange tools and exotic tools and very humble tools and we do fun things with them. I’m Vishal.
Samir: I’m Samir.
Vishal: They look like pencils first of all. I’m guessing that has some history which we’ll get into with Samir, but the point 88s are 0.4 fine, that’s what it says.
Minjal: That is the line width.
Vishal: I guess it is 0.4, it’s a very ratty 0.4, but before we get into all that complaining which we have plenty of, so spoilers for the episode I guess. Samir why don’t you tell us about the Stabilo company or as I used to know them the Schwan company.
Samir: The Schwan company as we used to know them and they are still the Schwan – Stabilo group.
Vishal: Because there is a swan which I assume in German is schwan.
Samir: This company started in 1855 with a a duo of German names which I will not try to pronounce. 10 years later, they started as a pencil company in Nuremberg, very close to the Staedtler and Faber-Castell and all of those, so they all started around the same time, in the same area.
And, ten years later by 1865 or so these people were in deep financial trouble. The company was bought over by a man whose name whose family name was Schwan and that’s where the Schwan company came to be.
The interesting thing about the Schwan company is that in the 1870s or the late 1860s they were one of the first people to have a registered trademark which you can still see here, it’s a little swan and that has stuck since then and it’s one of the first registered trademarks.
Vishal: So it’s an old logo in the legal sense, in that most logos don’t actually get registered until the company is big enough.
Samir: So they started as a pencil company, they continued as the Schwan company into the 1900s, they were a very popular pencil company even through the Great Depression where they then started making pencils specifically so that they would be cheaper and more affordable to people.
And something about this pen is actually from that time which is that during the Great Depression of the 1920s sometime they had an entire batch of pencils which came out defective. which was that the coating paint of the pencil didn’t cover the entire pencil and there were these white lines left. And people just started identifying that so much with the company that they made that their style.
Vishal: And then Staedtler down the road was like you know what we’re going to do that but it’ll be black.
Samir: No, but Staedtler has alternating black faces. The fact that there’s a line on the edge of these things is because they had a batch of pencils that did not get painted well, and they continued that and because they were a pencil company for a good 100 years by then when they made these pens they just continued that style.
Vishal: So that explains why they look so much like pencils. Has any of you used a Schwan pencil?
Samir: I don’t think I have.
Minjal: I think what is popular in india as well is the 0.88. A lot of doodle and Zentangle artists prefer this medium.
Samir: And the point 88 was invented in 1977 maybe 88 has something to do with 77, I don’t know. And it was one it was one of their first pens. They had been making pen since the 1950s and this turned out to be, this is still one of their most popular products. This is the best-selling fineliner in all of Europe.
Bird Illustration with Stabilo Point 88 Fineliners
Vishal: Well, it is best-selling but I was not actually very pleased with it and I say this from a point of view someone who you know uses fineliners a lot. The Uni Pin which we have reviewed earlier, is one of my favorites and this one is functional, like I said it’s a ratty 0.4 in the sense that it’s an even line but frankly at this point in time in 2022 I expect more from fineliners. There’s been just so much improvement in the line quality and just the longevity.
It’s like this yellow one which I ended up using, this is the smoothest line I’ve been able to get out of it because yesterday when when I was making my test drive I used it for hours and all I could get was a much rattier line than this. So this is Stationery Test Drive and we do test these things out with our own skills. We’re artists, designers and calligraphers and as an illustrator this is what I came up with, with this particular set of Schwan Stabilos.
I’m happy with the piece more or less but I was not happy with the piece for 90 percent of the time I was using. Like I said it’s a bit of a ratty pen, the yellow that I used yesterday now it seems to have maybe warmed up a little. The convenient and great things about fineliners is that you can just put them down quickly and effectively and evenly or with at least some level of an interesting line to them.
This one, it’s just very noodly and I had to eventually just kind of lean into that noodling by just kind of abandoning any hope of making a nice prim and proper animal study and then just maybe just turning it into graffiti, which is an odd thing to say for a fineliner.
Samir: It is good graffiti.
Vishal: Thank you but yeah I would like to follow this style again and try it out but maybe with the Uni Pin or with some other fineliners that we have because just the amount of groping around to get a decent line here especially with these yellows. I don’t know, yes it’s a best-selling pen and I wouldn’t say no to just using it if that’s all I had around.
Samir: I think part of the problem we are having is that we come from an artistic background and all of our other examples of what we call a fineliner are artistic pens. This one is not. This is the best-selling fineliner technically what is called a fineliner in Europe because it is not used by artists, it’s used by normal people.
Minjal: And it’s used mostly as a writing tool.
Samir: And, note-taking tool, those kind of things. Now if you were to say what is the best-selling fineliner in the US it’s not going to be the Uni Pin fineliner it’s going to be the Pilot Office Blue fineliner or one of those things. It’s also that we come to this from an artistic point of view and because it comes in this brilliant range of colors you kind of expect it to work as an artistic tool but I think it’s just not quite the same thing.
Vishal: I’m not dissatisfied with it but Minjal what did you end up doing?
Zentangle Art with Stabilo Point 88 Fineliners
Minjal: I call this Pencil Shavings in color. I struggled with using the Stabilos so much, there was a point when I wanted to throw them against the wall.
Vishal: Would that make art?
Minjal: Yeah, maybe? I was telling Samir that I have a new – found respect for Zentangle and doodle artists. I realized that when you start a piece like this you just have to commit to it like one thousand percent. Even if it means drawing 600 lines at a time, you just have to finish the piece.
And I’m not somebody who really enjoys doing that. I don’t find Zentangles meditative or easy to begin with and these pens they’re problematic in the sense that they’re not a fineliner, they’re not a felt pen, they’re not really pencil like, I just found it very difficult to do anything with them.
Vishal: You seem to have gotten a much more even and almost thick line closer to the 0.4 that I would expect from a different type of pen. What kind of pressure were you applying?
Minjal: I was just going to say that because I’m used to the Pilot Parallel Pen there is a fair bit of pressure that I use whether I’m drawing or using fineliners, which is why I managed to get these kind of strokes.
Vishal: Whereas mine most of them unless I was really pressing down much harder than even I would like to which I usually think I’m a very heavy hand, I was not getting that until I pushed it in really hard.
Samir: And the good thing is that you’re using a paper that’s fairly substantial so you could do that because the other thing I did find with these pens is that they do blot quite easily.
Minjal: They’re water-based, the ink is water-based, so yes, there is a lot of blotting, smudging.
Flower Drawing with Stabilo Point 88 Fineliners
Vishal: I’m glad I used a smooth paper, so did you. Samir what did you use because you I’m guessing got to see a lot different.
Samir: I did this and yes I did get to face some of the blotting because I used plain printer paper. This is like a 70 or 80 gsm at best.
Vishal: Not really coated, not pressed into oblivion, so it has some tooth and it has a lot of absorption.
Samir: I discovered quite quickly that I couldn’t depend on it to not blot but in some of the early places like here you can see if you just hold the point there for the second, it’s going to start forming a large dot there. So the blotting is definitely an issue with this which I have not again come across with the other fineliners.
Again, I think the problem is that, it’s semantics. Yes this is a fineliner because it has a fine point. It’s just not the kind of instrument that we are used to calling a fineliner. The difference is that when felt-tip pens were invented in the 50s or 60s and then people kept improving on how fine you could get that point.
This is probably one of the early versions of how that is, which is you just take a felt tip and then you make it a much thinner point, which is fine for writing for doodling, for note taking, all of those things. Now the things that we have gotten used to things like the Uni Pin fineliner, the Microns those are all fineliners in that they are fine but they are actually more like technical pens.
Vishal: Right, they have more in common with a Rotring.
Samir: Exactly, than they do with a sketch pen. This is still a sketch pen with a water – based ink and a dye whereas a Micron or a Uni Pin has a pigment – based ink which is permanent which is why you can watercolor over it without worrying about the lines.
So in some ways the term fineliner is being used too broadly now for two separate things just because of the size rather than how they work. The thing we need to compare this to is probably most sketch pens which we have covered, we did a set.
Vishal: The DOMS sketch pens which were ridiculously cheap.
Minjal: I’ll just interrupt here, when I was practicing at home I tried using these pens to fill color, like you would with a sketch pen and it’s not an enjoyable experience.
Samir: Yeah because it’s just too too thin.
Vishal: The intangible thing here that we’re all getting to is that it’s not an enjoyable experience. Technically it might be a perfectly reasonable pen, you might be using it for writing and all and be completely fine with it but for a certain type of artistic need which we all have there are better pens than this. Probably a better price point as well, right?
Minjal: I think Stabilo also has fineliners, the actual artistic fineliners, I believe they’re called the Stabilo Sensor if I’m not mistaken, and that range is meant for artists. While these are marketed as fineliners, like you said, it’s about semantics, they don’t really work for us.
Samir: To be fair to them none of their marketing ever mentions this to be an artistic tool, it’s always about work, offices, students taking notes, that kind of thing.
Vishal: Other than the colorful variety these just look like office supplies.
Samir: It’s just that you show people like us a set of pens with 20 colors or something and we’re going to try to draw with them in some way or the other.
Vishal: If you’re the kind of person who’s stuck in an office and you have a set of these, well clearly you can make things with them that are not your usual use for office stationery.
Minjal: And they’re not prohibitively expensive or unaffordable, they’re all right, they’re economical.
Samir: We haven’t tested this out a lot but maybe just writing notes in a certain way, the thing is that even when Minjal does try to write something she is writing it from the point of view of a letterer, which is not the same as taking notes quickly. Maybe these work for that purpose. Because when we try to draw with them like an artist and try to get an even line, they’re not good at that.
Stabilo Point 88 Fineliners vs Uni Pin Fineliners
Vishal: Also, just personally speaking as someone with kind of pudgy hands I never liked holding these, they’re too thin. I’m fine with pencils being this way because pencils you kind of hold them in a certain light way and that’s kind of why what we end up with. Putting pressure on something this thin is not comfortable, it’s not nice, I don’t want to get a holder for that. There are all these just kind of quality of life things that there are now so many other better versions.
The Uni Pins that we keep harping on about are greater because they are a full regular barrel sized, these are ultra thin, those are easier to hold, they have a better place to keep your hand because here you’re just sort of on the barrel which is never actually great. The Uni Pins have this area which is just slightly better than this and nice and round and sort of where your finger rests, so that is always nicer to use that way.
Stabilo Point 88 Fineliners for Writing, Note Taking & Bullet Journaling
Samir: To some extent as I said we are kind of misidentifying this pen but also these pens are probably a victim of their own success. They were invented in 1970, 1977 is when they were introduced and maybe even the company themselves would have now better ideas of how this one should look or work or be held but I am fairly sure that if they change the way it looked people would not buy it anymore.
Vishal: We said at the top that we approach things from unusual ways, we approach the usual tools from unusual ways and unusual things from even more unusual ways. And these are unusual uses for this. You probably love the Stabilo point 88 and please tell us in the comments what you use it for, maybe you even use it for art and you love it, if you’re into Zentangles and things like that. We aren’t quite into that.
Samir: I think just having this kind of range of colors and this is barely half of the set that these are from and being able to just kind of switch between them and the fact that they have a cap that’s easy to put at the back, these are all like very simple usable instruments. Best artistic tool? Probably not.
Minjal: I get a lot of my reference from Pinterest and YouTube as well. There are nearly 200 – 300 videos of people using these in their journals. So this is obviously fantastic if you’re into bullet journals and making scrapbooks or just sitting and drawing 1000 lines, maybe it will work if that’s the kind of stuff you like doing.
Samir: It’s also to do with the difference we are seeing between these two and this one which is that Minjal has put a good amount of pressure on it and I think people who are journaling or writing in notebooks and things are more likely to do that whereas Vishal and me tend to think like artists which is we put as little pressure as possible to begin with and then see how it reacts and the problem is when you try to do that these pens don’t react well.
When you put the minimum effort into it you get this extremely non-existent line which I ended up using only for cross hatching here if you can see area, which is just not strong enough and then when you do press it a lot it kind of straight jumps into something like that.
Vishal: That’s the kind of line you can get from any kind of gel pen.
Samir: And that’s exactly what we need to think of this as. When these were invented gel pens didn’t exist, so this was the first pen to do something like this, which was to give you this range of colors in an instrument which is like the simplest, most common instrument even back then.
But if you’re trying to cover any sort of area with color these are just a terrible choice, but then so are the Uni Pins, if you want to cover an area.
Vishal: True, but I think Minjal said that when she tried to put down a block of color it didn’t go down as well as a Uni Pin would, so there have been improvements.
Samir: For sure because the kind of nib or tip that the Uni Pin and those kind of pens have is just extremely different from this one. Those seem to have much more of like a cylinder with like a smooth top whereas if you look very closely at this one it’s almost like the the tip of it has like a cone on it, that’s the shape of it which is why you can either get a very ratty line by using the very top of it or you then straight jump over to kind of a thicker line which is the edge of the cone.
Vishal: It’s the same issue we had with the Brustro Metallic Brush Pens, only those were in a much larger version of that cone and we had the same issue where the starting pressure of it was deceptive.
Samir: Again that comes from the fact that something like this is probably great for writing in that you can get a very even line if you’re putting that pressure into it which you are when you’re writing.
Vishal: My little bit of lettering here is the most even that I could get any of these lines.
Samir: Because the ergonomics of things like this is also to do with the fact that we come at it from the point of view of artists who have a certain degree of control over things, which is that we are willing to vary our pressure a lot and we want that variety whereas most people writing want something that just consistently gives you a clean line.
And clearly you can press a lot down on these whereas I know from personal experience that a Uni Pin for example if you press down on it this much, you’re losing that point. We have come across this in the DOMS episode, maybe these are push resistant.
Vishal: Wow, the things you learn. Well, push resistant swans can find their way into your writing kit, they will not be staying in ours for long, I must say, but we did enjoy them. We did enjoy the experiments in the test drive that we went on.
If you enjoyed this test drive we are here every week testing out something new and you can follow us at the descriptions at the addresses on screen as well as please follow Inky Memo which is this channel. And the website and there’s a newsletter where we talk about the history of pens as we have talked here, the history, the culture of the people involved in stationery and all sorts of other interesting and fun and obscure stories just like that.
Please do like and subscribe this channel, this video and to us if you like these things. We will be back next week with more Stationery Test Drives, more tools, more humble tools, more exotic tools, more unusual takes on usual things and usual takes on unusual things, just to show you that all of that is possible. Until then, I’m Vishal.
Samir: I’m Samir.
Minjal: This is Minjal.
Get the Stabilo Point 88 Fineliners and some Inky Memo favourite fineliners
1. Stabilo Point 88 Fineliner Pens – 30-Color Set – https://amzn.to/3DwaXlW
2. Stabilo point 88 Pens – ARTY Set of 65 – https://amzn.to/3rFUUzz
3. Stabilo Sensor Pens – https://amzn.to/3rLaE48
4. Uni Pin Fineliner – https://amzn.to/3Do6yBM
5. Pigma Micron Fineliners – https://amzn.to/43Cogfp