Bic 4-Color Ball Pen

I work at a French school here in San Francisco, and our French teachers require students to use these pens for editing purposes. Apparently they are quite popular in France, their origin of manufacture. In fact, many of our American teachers have begun using these pens for their utility, and I myself have found the four colors useful for taking notes, as they allow me to differentiate between the types of notes I am taking. Funny enough, I recently ran across an homage to these pens in the New York Times, so it appears they have attracted a cult following.

-- Jason Sellers  

Bic 4-Color Ball Pen
$5 for 3 pens

Available from Amazon

Rubber Finger Tip

I have been using a rubber finger tip for about 4 months, 5 times a week, 2-3 times/day for approximately 5 minutes a session. It enables me to flip through a large stack of pages quickly.

If you want to flip through a large stack of matte paper, your finger just won’t do. The oils on your finger are not enough to grip letter paper and licking your finger to improve grip gets tiring, is messy, and leaves you… parched. This tool leaves no mess, is cheap, and highly consistent in its usefulness. Different sizes available.

-- Josh Miller  

Rubber Finger Tips

Available from Amazon


There have been a lot of reading and camping headlights featured on CoolTools over the years. But I’ve not found either to very practical, in so far a reading lights are often limited in their utility by the clip on the back — some are better than others — and their utilization of watch-type batteries; headlamps on the other hand are often expensive, somewhat tricky to fit on one’s head, and dorky.

The Huglight offers the best of both worlds. First, it is cheap. Second, it runs on two AAA batteries, which makes it convenient. The dual lights wrap around your neck and can be angled independently, or bound together with a rubber connection provided with the lamp.

The lights are bright and you can switch them on and off individually. They offer four modes, three white — which, frankly, don’t differ much in intensity — and one red one to help you maintain night vision. The white and red are both plenty bright.

Like headlamps, they leave both of your hands free.

I took a pair of these camping with my kindergartner and they were the most practical tool we took with us. She could put them around her neck, turn them on, and walk around at night. I wore them while cooking and washing dishes at the campsite, and then turned them face up inside the tent for illumination.

I use the red at home in bed for late night reading, as it also doesn’t mess with my sleep cycle (or that or my spouse).

Simple, cheap, and practical. I’ve had them for months and continue to be more than happy with my purchase. They are available at Amazon, but I bought mine at Costco at an even deeper discount.

-- Edward Nawotka  


Available from Amazon

Pencil Extender

This’ll be a short review because there’s not much to say other than that it works great and it’s American Made. Oh yeah, it’s a pencil extender.

What’s a pencil extender? It’s not a lead holder, which is an easy mistake to make. It’s for your regular pencil when it gets down to the very end and you don’t want to throw it away yet. I use a lot of Prismacolor Col-Erase pencils. They’re not super-expensive but art supplies can add up and I hate to waste anything. My General Pencil Co. extender, “The Miser,” has kept dozens of Col-Erases alive beyond what would have been an early retirement.

I’ve not tried it with any other pencils so I can’t comment on how well it does on a classic No. 2 or a Mirado Black Warrior. I do like it much better than the fancier-looking aluminium-bodied extender I tried around a year ago. That one was a bit too light-weight and once a pencil is worn down to a nub, I like the extender to add a bit of heft.

Love your pencil? Love it just a little longer with a good extender.

-- Barry McWilliams  

General Pencil Co. Pencil Extender: The Miser

Available from Amazon

Kuretake No. 13 Brush Pen

I’ve been a brush pen user for years. I love them. They’re my primary sketching tool & I always have at least one in my bag and one in my car. My first was the Pentel Pocket Brush. From there I moved on to the Pentel Standard Brush and the Kuretake No. 8. Then I was given a Kuretake No. 13.

I still have all the others, and still use them, but the Kuretake No. 13 is the finest of the lot. Being able to move, in one stroke, from a thin, fine line to a fat, smushed line is what makes all brush pens so fun. Even my least favorite brush pen is a blast to use but it’s the Kuretake that gives me the most control. My thin lines are thinner, my fat lines are more consistent and I get more variety between the two than with any other pen. Further, after a broad, smushed stroke, the bristles return to shape immediately, allowing me to move onto a more delicate line without having to dab the brush back into shape on a piece of scrap paper.

Further, the ink flow is just right. A lot of brush pens, with a full ink cartridge, have a tendency to be “wet.” When you press the bristles down for a fat line, the ink can puddle on the page, leaving a shiny wet line just begging to be smeared across your sketch. Great, if that’s the effect you want. I rarely do. I like an ink line that’s controllable and dries quickly enough that I can move around the page without worrying too much about where to put my hand.

The pen is uses water-based dye ink refill cartridges and the default ink is just a bit blacker than the default Pentel ink & reacts similarly with water. Because I’ve ruined two Pentel brush pens trying DIY refilling tricks, I’ve no idea how well the Kuretake reacts to other inks. If someone wants to try it, please let us know how it goes.



-- Barry McWilliams  

Kuretake Sumi Brush Pen

Available from Amazon

Post It Labeling Tape

I found this product over a year ago. It comes in yellow, green, pink, and white, on a dispenser similar to scotch tape. The paper feels like the same paper used for the original Post It notes, and works well with a Sharpie pen for labeling. The back of the paper is fully-covered by the adhesive (unlike Post-It notes, which have a strip of adhesive only along the top).

I can label anything, remove the label and reuse it. I do this frequently with food storage as I shift things around from one container to another. The labels don’t roll up at the edges or fall off after a few months. I first used the tape when I was moving, because I was using a lot of plastic storage boxes, which I couldn’t write on, and the tape (I bought neon green) was so much easier to use than masking tape.

3M has terrific products in their Post-It line, (including a Post-It glue stick, which I used to use for gluing appointment and business cards into my Day Runner), but this is my favorite product for around-the-house. (Not that it wouldn’t have a million uses in an office, classroom or lab.) They also put thought into designing the dispenser: the tape tears easily and cleanly, and it isn’t such brittle, cheap plastic that it cracks if you drop it. I have used Avery removable labels, but they come on sheets, which are cumbersome and can get bent, come only in white (as far as I know), and require finding a pair of scissors if you need a small label. The tape is far more convenient.

-- Joan Blindsight  

Post-it Full Adhesive Roll, 1 x 400 Inches

Available from Amazon

Zebra 4C Pen Refill

I don’t own the pen where this product is used as a refill, but I do use this in situations as an emergency back-up micro-pen.

I keep one in my wallet for the times when I don’t have a regular pen, and they’re the right size for a pocket-sized or mint-tin survival kit.

It has a good flow for a pen without a body. Not good for long-form writing, but it’ll more than do for a quick signature or short note.

-- Tony Prudori  

Zebra 4C Pen Refill
$5 / 2-pack

Available from Amazon

Swingline ClassicCut Lite 12 Inch Guillotine Trimmer

My wife is a teacher and we do lots of printing on card stock and cutting on card stock. For many years I used a paper cutter with a blade that slides down a channel. It worked fine for 1 or 2 pages of card stock, but beyond that the blade was hard to slide and the paper had a tendency to slip, especially when going quickly.

When the blade dulled, I decided to try a guillotine style trimmer. These are the trimmers I remember from my youth in school. The ones in school looked like they could cut wood. This is a home-appropriate version that handles 5-6 sheets of card stock with ease and probably exceeds the 10 regular sheets it claims.
It’s also much faster and less prone to movement as you cut. It is more expensive than the sliding models, but for large volumes, it’s worth the extra cost.

One caveat, I have no young kids in the house, but I imagine it’s a lot easier to injure yourself with this than with the razor models (the blade retracts into a cover when you’re not cutting). I’d recommend keeping it well out of reach of small hands and paying close attention to your own hands when using it.

-- Chris Hartmann  

Swingline ClassicCut Lite 12 Inch Guillotine Trimmer

Available from Amazon

New Perspective Systems

A short, definitive tutorial on all 6 perspectives in art. Starts with 1 vanishing point and goes through 6 vanishing points for a completely spherical view. Understanding multi-point perspectives is useful to not only artists and designers, but also to photographers and folks dabbling in Virtual Reality, or anyone trying to map the physical world onto a 2D surface. These lessons are presented in a 40-page PDF, which include some grids to practice on.


New Perspective Systems
Dick Termes
1998, 40 pages, PDF

Available from Dick Termes

Sample Excerpts:


Carl Heavy Duty Pencil Sharpener

I’m a teacher, so pencils are a big deal for me. I learned of this while researching another pencil sharpener reviewed on Cool Tools. Now that I have it, I couldn’t be happier.

It resembles an old-fashioned wall pencil sharpener from any classroom, but is not wall-mountable. (For me, that’s a feature, because it won’t telegraph the grinding noise through the walls into the room.)

So how can an unmounted classic crank pencil sharpener be used with only two hands? (I don’t have one hand to hold/anchor the unit, another to turn the crank, and a third hand to push the pencil in!)

The answer is in its unique feature: The sharpener, after being extended (you’ve got to see the picture) grabs your pencil, maintains good pressure and self-feeds it into the sharpener. You let go of your pencil, use one hand to hold the base (either in mid-air or anchor it to a shelf) while the other hand turns the crank. When the crank starts turning freely, your pencil is sharp as a tack. (There is an included shelf-mounting clip, and I read about people who rigged up their own mount, but I’m happy to go two-handed.)

These are made by Carl, whose name I recognized from high-end paper cutters. I purchased the basic one, available widely for $25, even though I really want the $45 one, which lets you select from 5 different tip sharpnesses. (I really prefer a blunter tip.) But I wasn’t ready to spend that much on a new technology. Now that I’m familiar with it, I’ll look for an excuse to buy the preferred one, called the “CC-2000″.

When I unscrewed the blade mechanism (which I might have to do to dislodge a broken tip or even eventually replace the blade), I saw what looks like a perfectly standard classroom single blade: a cylinder with spiral cutting edges. Replacement blades are available although, at $20, they cost almost as much as a new machine.

A negative feature, though tolerable for me, is that the clamp mechanism leaves small “bite” marks on the pencil shaft where it clamped its tiny metal spring jaws. They’re not especially noticeable, but if you own high-quality pencils, the thought will make you wince.

I haven’t put this into hard use yet in my classroom, because it’s summer, but the website where I learned of this had rave reviews. It’s available in several satisfying colors, and if you search you can find quantity discounts ($14 for 36-at-a-time, for instance). It’s called different things – “Classroom-friendly pencil sharpener,” “Angel A5 pencil sharpener,” – but I think they’re all the same.

Before buying, make sure you see a video clip of how to use it – extend the spring-controlled holder, squeeze the mini-clamp, insert the pencil all the way and then release the squeeze. Then let go of the pencil and turn the crank. I bet there have been purchasers who didn’t learn to extend the holder – big fail.

I’ve always preferred electric pencil sharpeners, even spending $100 on one once. But this is now my tool of choice.

-- Craig Wilson  

CARL Angel-5 Pencil Sharpener

Available from Amazon