The Write Dudes were kind enough to send me a box full of exciting samples to try. I went with the Smooth Sticks Gel Highlighters first, since I’d never used dry highlighters before. And the packaging promised “NEW TRANSLUCENT;” I assume the old, opaque highlighters were just rebranded as crayons.
I have developed pretty exacting standards for the design aesthetic I like in a writing utensil (I think that aesthetic could be described as “designed for a Japanese market”); the Smooth Sticks fall into the category most American-targeted products I see fall in: I say in pained tones, “Mm. Isn’t that nice,” and make a very strained, concerned face. The only design advice I can offer is “pretend you want to sell this in Japan”. It’s worked very well for most big pen/pencil companies, who two-facedly sell the most fantastically designed products in Japan, and sell the most early-90s inspired design fiascoes here in America (there are some exceptions. The Pentel Jolt comes to mind).
Let’s put this right up on the table: these should not be sold as highlighters. There is no category conceivable at which these Smooth Sticks excel as highlighters. I tried them on several types of paper, starting with the type of paper I’m pretty sure spawned the entire need for a dry highlighter—books written on almost transparently thin tissue-like paper.
Sure, they don’t bleed through the page. And yes, you can line the constantly misshapen end up, if you’ve got a good feel for what the tip of the Smooth Stick has become under your repeated highlightings, and manage to highlight some rather small bits of text. But it isn’t always very easy to line up. In fact, I often felt like the experience of attempting to highlight in a straight line was akin to attempting to put on lipstick while driving down a gravel road at 45 miles an hour.
Since the surface area of the end of the highlighter is constantly being worn down and changing shape, it was often easy to miss where I wanted to highlight, or for the line to be wavy due to the stick being a little too smooth. I feel like an unchanging chisel-edge highlighter reduces the amount of line wobble when highlighting.
But one of the biggest problems you’ve surely noticed by now. Look at all the little crayon-like leavings. Some of the flakes are small, but some are veritable nuggets.
Look at that thing! You could send that to a jeweler and have it made into a cocktail ring, and then put in a museum when you die.
All these little flakes and nuggets are bad news for highlighting in books. They stick to pages, in places you don’t want them to have stuck, and make a mess. This wasn’t an occasional problem. This was just about every time I highlighted anything, I would have flakes, streaks, leavings of some kind beyond the highlighting I wanted. I find that unacceptable in a highlighter.
But I told you these shouldn’t be sold as highlighters. What these are, they are neon, translucent, twistable crayons, and that’s what they should be branded and sold as. I’d have been much more satisfied with the performance of the Smooth Sticks if you’d told me they were crayons. Expand the color line, Write Dudes, and start selling Smooth Sticks Twistable Gel Crayons. It’s a good market to get into; twistable crayons and colored pencils are cool, they’re novel, and people will be willing to pay more for the thrill of TWISTABLE CRAYONS than they’d ordinarily pay for ordinary crayons. But stop telling people to use these as highlighters.