It is no secret that I am a big fan of Karas Kustoms, (AKA Karas Pen Co). Their original Render K was a pen I got even before starting The Clicky Post which seems like ages ago and is a design I still love today. I maybe even have a little soft spot for it in my pen collecting heart. And, for a newly established pen review blog just getting started they were kind enough to give me a limited edition white Delrin Render K to review way back in May of 2013. Yes, AGES...
Karas is located in Mesa, AZ and happens to be just a few blocks from my house. This has given me a unique opportunity to connect with those guys more so than most makers, and it has been pretty incredible to see how they've grown over the last 6 or 7 years. In today's pen market there are now literally dozens of machined metal pen makers, but Karas is one of the earlier companies to help set the stage for others to follow.
Since that first Render K, they've released upwards of 10 additional models (some variations on previous models to make them better), but what is exciting is that they've recently been designing completely new ideas and pushing their own boundaries which is pretty cool.
For product makers I think it can be easy to be set in your ways and continue to just make what you always have, but over the last 18 months or so they've been really working to expand their line of goods into territories traditionally unknown to them which I really appreciate and respect.
You may have seen some recent posts from a few other bloggers or shots of a new product line that is will be hitting the market soon called their Reaktor series. In essence, the Reaktor lineup is a set of two new models of pens, the Galaxie and Starliner, that Karas is offering as their more "entry level" series. Most of their pens start at $60 and go up from their, but the Reaktor pens are starting in the $40-45 range which is pretty considerable. They are no Pilot Metropolitans on the cheap end of the spectrum (which are still good pens), but for an all metal, machined pen made in the US this is about as entry level as things get which is exciting.
Even with my cordial relationship with Karas Pen Co, I plan on giving the Galaxie and Starliners a thorough look over so rest assured I'll give an honest impression. And, I know that they guys will appreciate my honest opinion regardless of the outcome because that is just how they are.
There is a lot to cover with these models, so this review may be a bit longer than usual.
The Models: Galaxie vs Starliner
There are two models that look somewhat similar in the Reaktor series, but what is the difference? The simplest distinction is that the Galaxie models have either a rollerball or ballpoint while the Starliners are all fountain pens.
By name I don't think there is a super easy way to distinguish between the two, but since one of the Galaxie models takes the Pilot G2 (more to come on that) my brain thought: "Galaxie - G2. Both have Gs."
Maybe that will help.
The Starliner models all come with a Bock nib (removable) and can be fitted with a variety of tip size options.
In appearance the Galaxie pen has a much more "mechanical" look to it. The finial of the cap has a machined gear shape with some lines and circular details cut out as well. The barrel has two lines cut in near the end and a small button like design on the very bottom.
The Starliner seems to have been given a bit more of a space themed appearance with subtle "points" sloping up from almost flat ends of the pen, and three sets of rings that progressively stage from 3, then 2, then 1. A nod I'm sure to a rocket countdown: 3, 2, 1, blastoff!
Both (the Starliner in particular) seem have to have a bit of a sci-fi, 50s feel. Like, part ray gun and classic car smashed together.
An obvious design feature is the somewhat oversized look of the cap. The Render K and Ink pens both had caps that flushed with the barrels of the pen, so the distinct step from the cap to the barrel feels dramatic.
The "Snap Cap"
A new development with the Reaktor line is the introduction of a snap cap function. Rather than using threads to twist the cap on and off, Karas developed their own design which allows for a friction fit "snap-on" experience.
This is achieved by creating a slightly bulbous end on the grip section which then snaps over a ridge and o-ring that is tucked away inside the cap. With things like this I might question just how snug it is and whether the cap would just pop off on its own, but once it is snapped into place it is pretty solid although very easy to take on and off. I've yet to have an accidental uncapping incident.
With the caps there is some slight play and wiggle when the pen is closed which can give it a bit of a rattle. Not like a baby rattle, but there is some movement and slight metallic "clink" sounds as the cap and barrel move about. I think I'd prefer it to be a little tighter, but this doesn't make the pen a no-go for me. Some people it might drive them nuts.
Regarding the bulbous part on the grip section, for me it creates a specific place for me to hold the pen and is quite comfortable. If you tend to want to hold the front of your pen almost down to the tip it may make for a somewhat odd grip, but for most people I think they'd find it rather ergonomic.
Sizes: Standard and XL
Both models come in two sizes: standard and XL.
The standard size is meant to definitely be more of a pocket carry as they come in a shorter length and with no clip on the cap.
The XL is a slightly longer pen barrel with an elongated cap (to include a pocket clip) as well which extends the pen's length for a more normal size. The clip included on the XL will look familiar as it a part shared with several other Karas models.
While the models look and feel very similar, there are some variations in their lengths.
Galaxie Standard -
Galaxie XL -
Starliner Standard -
Posted: 5" (to tip of nib)
Starliner XL -
Posted: 5.375" (to tip of nib)
I wouldn't consider either of the sizes uncomfortable to use unposted (the standard is too short for me without the cap), but in contrast to how I usually use metal pens I actually prefer to post both models.
Can I take a second to call out the posting feature? One thing that some folks just can't get over is when a pen doesn't post and the capped Render K and Ink models by Karas haven't really supported it in the past. This has been a lacking feature that may have driven some people away, but they've dialed in the ability to do so on the Reaktor line.
Posting is easy and pretty comfortable on the Galaxie and Starliner. The cap fits snugly against the barrel when posting by design, but also since there is a rubber o-ring inside the cap itself which seems to grab a bit.
One thing of note is the clip and which models have it. None of the standard "pocket" sized pens come with clips and I don't believe it will be an option. Although they are slightly different lengths, the caps on both the standard and XL are interchangeable so you could technically have a short pen with a clip or a long clipless XL if you owned one of each.
Colors and Materials: Keeping it Simple
The original Render K came in one material and one color: aluminum and a clear anodized finish which made it more of a "silver". I have to admit, this finish is still my all-time favorite as I feel it showcases the original concept of the pen so well.
Over the years their pens took on a kaleidoscope of anodized colors and materials, but for the Reaktor series they chose to keep it simple.
The only material being offered on the Galaxie and Starliner pens is aluminum which makes a lot of sense. It is one of the cheapest and most reliable to work with, it is sturdy but not weighty, and limiting to only one material surely helps in production speed (which equals cost to a business).
From a color standpoint things have been once again stripped down to a smaller selection of only 4 standard options to choose from, but I think what they've landed on is a really good mix.
- All black anodized: cap, grip section, and barrel are all black
- All tumbled aluminum: cap, grip section and barrel are all tumbled aluminum
- Clear and red: cap and barrel are clear anodized, grip section anodized red
- Clear and blue: cap and barrel are clear anodized, grip section anodized blue
The ONLY obvious choice I see missing from this list is an all clear anodized option. I tend to be super boring in my pen choices, but due to my undying love for the all clear anodized Render K I could definitely see myself going for that option.
Although, out of all of these options the one that I think I like the most is the all black model. It just looks awesome.
For anyone doing the math of potential options, out the gates the standard offerings make for a potential 16 variations of size and color selection, but if you buy several of the pens your options could certainly expand.
Refills, Converters, and Cartridges
For the Galaxie pens, the standard size takes a Parker style refill for which Karas provides the Schmidt Megaline that is Schmidt's version of the pressurized ballpoint. Usually with this size refill you could swap in a P8126 rollerball, but with the Galaxies this isn't the case.
The Galaxie XL is probably the more flexible of the two with regard to options as it takes the longer, Pilot G2 sized refill. This opens the door for a pretty wide variety of gels, rollerballs, and fineliner refills.
With the Starliner model the XL is also going to be the better bet when it comes to wanting to customize your fountain pen experience as it is long enough to take an international size converter. This means you can fill the pen with whatever ink you choose pretty easily.
In contrast, the standard sized Starliner is shorter and not quite long enough for a converter (although there may be small ones like the Kaweco...not a fan) so using the short international cartridges is the best bet. For some fountain pen folks this might be a let down, but if a nice pocket fountain pen is in your sights for everyday use it may be a concession to make.
From the moment I saw these cool little pens for the first time I was pretty excited about them. For one thing, I was excited that Karas was branching out into some new territory for us to experience and I really loved the pens right away. I've definitely found myself gravitating towards the Galaxie XL (in all black) as the one I pick up most from the bunch, but even with the seeming limitations in color options I think there is at least one combo that most people would enjoy.
From a value standpoint I feel that these are a great bargain. They are solidly made and in the mainstream makers that exist today there isn't really anyone trying eagerly to hit this pricepoint and with such a cool, retro-inspired, all metal pen design. They did good.
Thanks to Karas Pen Co for sending me the set to take a look at and definitely check out the new Reaktor lineup when they arrive soon.
AND since there are so many of these pens I was sent to try, expect a couple of giveaways soon so I can share the goods....