Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Join us Saturday, October 22nd, 2016, 6-9 pm, for the first Karas Pen Co sponsored Arizona Pen Meetup. The event will be held at the Karas Kustoms shop (126 S. Country Club Dr, Mesa, AZ 85210, on the northwest corner of Country Club and Dana ). We will have the full line of Karas Pen Co pens available to sample as well as any other pens hanging out around the shop. Tables will be set up to easily share pens, chat about all things writing, and generally as a way to foster the Arizona Pen Community. A brief tour of the shop will take place shortly after 6 pm. Afterwards we invite everyone to sit down, ask questions, try out pens, and enjoy an evening with like-minded pen enthusiasts. Beverages and snacks will be provided. Parking is available along Dana on the side of the shop.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Monsoon Reviewers Chosen


Just wow.

We never expected this level of interest and participation when we hatched the idea to ask the community to participate in this exercise. With over 60(!) essays, several artwork and photo submissions, we quickly realized we underestimated the talent and enthusiasm of those who have supported us in our endeavors. Dozens and dozens of stories, some several pages long, kept pouring into our inbox over the short time we allowed for entries. We read every single one. Poems, memories, and philosophy on the merit of work were among the focus of the essays. It was a very difficult decision to choose such a small group of people to send pens to for review. In fact, we added two extra spots in the essay category because of the sheer number of entries. We wish we could choose everyone, but had to pick a select few. As stated in the rules, this wasn't a contest of skill, or of who was the "best", but to see what resonated with us the most when we reviewed the entries. If we can figure out a way to share more of the entries in the future, we will do so, but until then, here are the entries that we chose:


Eric Schunk (@schunky_monkey on Instagram)
"What 'Made in America' means to me. I sketched the idea out in pencil and inked it with my copper Fountain K."

Phillip Barlow (@pensandgaming on Instagram)
Phillip submitted this original design for a custom desk for consideration. Not all artwork hangs on walls.

Jeff Butler (JB2)
"So here is my "Made In America" "artwork". Not all art has to be on canvas. Everything you see here is Made in America! Everything used to build this was Made in America. I had a request to build a holster and saddle bag so that a cowboy could carry his Bond Arms Derringer "Snake Slayer" (made in Granbury, Texas) with him out on the range to combat his rattler problems. I designed and hand made this to fit his needs and I only use materials made to last and Made HERE! I ask you What's more American than a old west style derringer custom leather holster and saddlebag, fit for a cowboy to use?"


See the essays after the jump...

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Project Monsoon- A New Way To Interact With Our Customers


We hope everyone is having a great summer so far. Here in Arizona we are on the cusp of the monsoon season where we have hot, sunny temperatures mixed with dark clouds, and lightning filled thunderstorms. You can be getting sunburned one minute, and drenched in rain the next. It makes for some beautiful scenery and once you experience it, you will never forget it.

This yearly seasonal weather pattern has inspired our latest experiment in pen-making. We have been experimenting for a while with different materials and finishes and have come up with some pretty cool results. This new pen represents the Arizona monsoon season, but in pen form. The orange body represents the heat/sun, the grey cap represent the storm clouds and silver grip sections represent the lightning that so often comes during our monsoon season. So, to celebrate some of the success we have had with some of the new finishes, we are going to try something new. Instead of our usual method of product testing, we are going to include more community members to give us feedback on our latest endeavors. 

Here is how it works. We are going to, through different means, give (yes, give) away a small number of this pen to gain feedback on materials and finishes. We want to hear it all. The good, and even the bad. The point of this is to be more in touch with our customer base and their wants and needs. So, if you are interested in getting your hands on one of these “Monsoon” pens to review, here is how to do it:

Choose from the following options:

  • Write us a short original essay on the topic “Made in America” and email it to us with the subject line “Monsoon Essay”. You don’t have to be a great writer, just tell us a story.
  •  Create original artwork inspired by “Made in America” and share it with us via email (subject line “Monsoon Artwork”) or Instagram (#monsoonreview). Please create something new, nobody says it has to be fancy, but don’t reuse old artwork. Artwork from all ages, including children, is encouraged.
  • Take an original photo or video depicting what “Made in America” means to you and post it on Instagram with the hashtag #monsoonreview and tag @karaskustoms and @karaspenco. We can’t wait to see what you come up with.

We will be choosing 3 people per category in a completely biased method based on our tastes and preferences. This is not a contest, we will pick our favorites in each category and that is who will win. Each category will be judged by a different employee, so you can enter each category to increase your chances of winning. Enter as many times as you want, but each entry must be unique. We will post the winners and their entries on this blog (http://blog.karaskustoms.com/). We will announce the winners on August 12th, 2016 Tuesday, August 16th . You will have 48 hours to respond before we choose another winner. 

We are asking all winners of this giveaway to provide us with a review of the Monsoon pen. This can be as simple or as complicated as you wish, we just want to hear your thoughts. Good and bad, it doesn’t matter, but we want to hear from you. We obviously can’t make you review this pen if you are chosen, but it would be awesome if you did.

Once again, we will choose the winners on Friday, August 12th Monday, August 15th. Good luck!

Friday, July 29, 2016

American Pen History – A Brief Timeline

I’ve waxed poetic about my love of both history and pens on this blog in the past. But I figured we could look at a larger overview of the American pen manufacturing scene, starting in the late 19th century and moving to present day. There is a surprising number of major pen brands that started in the United States. Pen companies that were integral in technological improvements in writing instrument design and function. But those companies have “passed the torch” and there are numerous small companies that are carrying the love of writing into the 21st century and against all odds are succeeding in providing amazing writing instruments to a generation who have typed more than written. Let’s dig into this by taking a trip back in time.

The Rise of American Pen Giants

Dips pens, calligraphy pens, and even reservoir/fountain pens were the popular means of writing outside of lead stick pencils throughout most of the 19th century. In the 1880s a two companies were founded that would change the landscape of pen manufacturing and drive the pen making revolution in America.

In 1883, Lewis E. Waterman filed a patent for a new fountain pen feeder design that would allow for more precise control over ink flow. The feeder design utilized channels to moderate and control the ink to eliminate blotting when writing. In conjunction with this feeder design patent he founded the L.E. Waterman Company to make pens that featured this design. Waterman Pen Company would become one of the fountain pen giants not only in America but worldwide and is one of the few remaining first-generation fountain pen companies.

The Geo S. Parker Pen Company was founded in 1889 to make pens better than those being made by John Holland. From the outset, Parker succeeded in making higher quality pens than most of his competition but in 1894 he made another major advancement with the invention of the Lucky Curve feed. The Lucky Curve feed fixed the problem of ink buildup and blotting when the pen first comes into contact with the paper after being capped. With the Lucky Curve design it caused the ink to backflow into the pen when the pen was capped and fixed the blotting issue.

In 1897 Roy Conklin invented the first working self-filling fountain pen. By 1902 he had received the patent, incorporated, and was producing the Cresent-Filler pen for the Conklin Pen Company. The design was so successful that Mark Twain was outspoken in his preference for it and the company kept the filling system into the 1920s.

Conklin began to decline with the invention of a better filling system. Walter A. Sheaffer, a jeweler, patented his remarkable lever filling system in 1908 and in 1912 started the W. A. Sheaffer Pen Company and began mass producing pens with the lever filling system. Ultimately the system was less efficient than the crescent filler, but it was also far less cumbersome and more elegant and became much more popular with other pen manufacturers, even Conklin who adopted it in the late 1920s.

By 1927 Conklin’s competitors were vocally advertising the problems with the crescent filler, and they began to slowly fall out of favor with fountain pen users. The Wahl Adding Machine Company absorbed two companies in 1916 and 1917, first Keenan & Company makers of Eversharp pencils and second most of the assets of the Boston Fountain Pen Company. They formed Wahl-Eversharp and using Boston Fountain Pen Company began making superior quality fountain pens. They experienced great early success and ultimately removed Conklin as one of the Big Four in the American fountain pen empire.

Ballpoints a Long Winding Tale

Contrary to popular belief the first ballpoint pen wasn’t sold at Gimbel’s in 1945, the story of the ballpoint style pen goes all the way back to 1888 when John Loud, a leather tanner, applied for a patent that used an ink reservoir and a large ball tip design to mark hides. The pen was never put into production, and neither were the other several hundred similar patents that were applied for over the next 30 years.

American ballpoint pens came about when Milton Reynolds went on vacation in Argentina and visited a pen shop that was selling Hungarian made ballpoint pens. He found out the patents had expired and as such he founded the Reynolds International Pen Company, bought as much non-war allotted aluminum as possible, hired 300 workers, and started out stamping pens. He made millions of pens and orchestrated the Gimbel’s sale in 1945, a master event that was well advertised in how the pen would change the writing lives of Americans because it advertised a pen that could write for two years without needing to be refilled. The problem was the pens didn’t work well and after a few years the interest in them waned and a once expensive pen ($12.50 in its initial Gimbel’s release) couldn’t be sold for as low as 19 cents.

Just a few years later Fran Seech, an chemist, lost his job for a ballpoint company that was going out of business. Seech had formulated a new ink that would allow better function in a ballpoint pen, and in 1949 was approached by Patrick Frawley who purchased the new ink and formed the Frawley Pen Company. He introduced a new ballpoint pen, this one was retractable and featured the new no smear ink. Knowing he was up against the stigma that ball points smeared and wouldn’t wash out of clothes, he initiated a strange sales technique. His salesman would barge into offices and pen stores, scribble on the owners shirts, and say if the ink doesn’t wash out that they’d buy the owner a more expensive shirt. The ink did wash out, and word got around that a new, usable ballpoint pen was on the market. Frawley named the pen the “Papermate”.

Fountain pen companies had bought into the ballpoint pen before and during World War II when pilots came into contact with the same Hungarian Biro pens that inspired Reynolds. They even received government specifications, but most of them dropped out of the ballpoint business until the 50’s due to the problems in ballpoint technology. Parker came back to the ballpoint pen in 1954 with its iconic Parker Jotter. A classic design with metal body and mechanism but a relatively low price it was done in the same sleek designs of the Parker fountain pens of the day. The pen has become so popular it influenced the Parker style refill that is still one of the most popular ballpoint refills.


I’ve opined the reduction of the once mighty pen to a mere disposable item numerous times. So I’ll attempt to steer clear of that topic, and try to focus on the current and future landscape of American pen manufacturing. For reasons that I hope are obvious, this won’t be a historic look at these manufacturers but a company and product overview, and Karas Pen Co won’t be one of the companies featured. Rather I will go over companies that Dan and I frequently refer people to if they are looking for a pen design or aesthetic we don’t currently offer. I am not up to date on the incorporation dates of many of these companies so my list is going to be somewhat random at best. So let’s begin.

American Pens in the 21st Century

When someone talks about modern American fountain pen manufacturing, there are really three types of companies that term applies to. The remnants of the Big Four from above that don’t necessarily make pens in the United States anymore but are American owned and operated companies is the first. The second is small-medium production companies that have risen to fill the void left by the first group. The third is a growing amount of custom pen makers that are pushing their “hobby” into viable businesses that are also setting trends in fountain pen aesthetics while mixing in some very traditional techniques and designs.

I won’t even focus on the first group except to say you can still easily find Sheaffer, Parker, and Waterman pens from various outlets even office and art supply stores carry them. Wahl-Eversharp was recently revived and is a partnership between an American businessman and fountain pen historian and an Italian manufacturer. The company is headquartered out of Scottsdale, Arizona with pen manufacturing done in Italy.

The second category is where we’ll start.

The Bexley Pen Company was founded by a group of fountain pen enthusiasts in 1993 with the idea of reintroducing classically inspired fountain pens to the modern fountain pen community. The manufacture their pens in Columbus, Ohio and make a range of pens in different materials and looks, all inspired by the golden age pens. Their pens can be found on their website and through numerous dealers.

Franklin-Christoph has a storied past as a small American company that goes all the way back to 1901, when the company began manufacturing ceramics. Over the years the company was known as a manufacturer and importer of quality goods and moved around the country. In 2001 they featured their first fountain pen the IPO. The company has continued to grow and is seen as a major player in American fountain pen community. They make classically inspired and modern designed fountain pens out of various materials in their North Carolina headquarters. Their pens can be found on their website.

Edison Pen Co. was founded in 2007 by Brian and Andrea Gray. Brian had been a pen enthusiast for years when he bought a metal lathe and taught himself machining. As they began to grow, Brian quit his day job to focus on pen manufacturing. They grew the company, hired a couple more people and now make several different pen designs in a myriad of color options. Brian also began working with alternative filling systems based on the Sheaffer Touchdown and Parker Vacuumatic as well as a bulb filler option. You can find Edison pens on their website as well as on Goulet Pens.

The third category is quite large and growing probably as I type this. I’ll focus on a few of the Makers we have interacted with.

Newton Pens is owned and operated by Shawn Newton in Arkansas. Shawn is a former teacher that ran a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2011 to fund his desire to make his own custom pens. Since that time Newton Pens has grown to the point where he left his job teaching to make pens full time. He created the Newton Pens Scholarship which sells postcards featuring student art. Then he awards high school students with $1,000 scholarships to help assist them with college. He is pushing the design aesthetic of fountain pens in a more modern, art-inspired direction with the release of his Shinobi, Prospector, and Breaker but keeping a traditional feel with the addition of the Temple and Vapor pens. You can find his pens on his website.

Carolina Pen Company is located in Aiken, SC and was formed by Jonathon Brooks in 2009. His goal is summed up in his slogan, “Putting your personality in writing” and is summed up in his ability to make pens out of nearly any material. Beyond that he makes custom resins in a HUGE variety of colors, they have become so popular that other custom pen makers use his custom resins. He has recently branched out into traditional Japanese style Urushi technique and is one of very few American pen manufacturers making pens in this technique. He pens are available on his website.

There are numerous other custom pen manufacturers; Ken CaversCustoms Pens, Scriptorium Pens, and Fisher of Pens are three of the largest. But more and more people are moving into the “hobby” and pushing it forward.

What about American made non-fountain pens? Well I’ll go through a few of the biggest out there right now.

Tactile Turn is a small one man machine shop in Texas. Will Hodges founded Tactile Turn in 2012; he designs, prototypes, and creates production runs of high quality writing instruments. He has had success via Kickstarter and on his website and has recently begun selling his newest pen the Gist fountain pen via Vanness Pens and Goulet Pens.

Machine Era is a small company located in Richmond, VA. They don’t just make pens, but their pens are some of the nicest looking and functional pens on the market. They also make wallets and other accessories out of various metals. The design and machine their products on site and sell via their website and numerous retailers.

Schon DSGN is located in Massachusetts, where Ian Schon creates some truly amazing pens. He currently only has one design, but offers it in numerous materials and is now offering small batches in special customs colors. The pens are elegant but also indestructible and machined to some of the best standards you will find. You can purchase his pens on his website.

In Closing…

As you can see, American pen manufacturing has a long and storied past. Some of the greatest technological advances in writing instruments came about in American companies. The advent of two World Wars didn’t stop pen manufacturing, quite the opposite, early advanced plastics came about because of shortages from World War II. And pen manufacturers during that time continued to push forward with advances in both functionality and aesthetics.

That same spirit continues on today, and I’ve only listed a few of the American makers that are driving the pen movement forward. You can find hundreds more making pens and pencils in a variety of styles out of a whole laundry list of materials. Best thing about that, is that pen lovers like us all benefit from the fact that so many American companies are making pens, but more-so they are making pens in the United States, employing their friends and neighbors, providing a living wage to those employees, and making quality products. So when you consider your next pen purchase look at these manufacturers first.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Atlanta Pen Show Wrap-Up

For the second straight year we were able to attend the Atlanta Pen Show and while we’re pretty much pen show newbs, we pretty much slayed the entire show. Okay that might be a bit of hyperbole, but we had a blast and hopefully our fans and customers had a great time as well. What follows is a brief retelling of our time in HOTLANTA!


I don’t know about you but I’m not a big fan of flying the commercial skies. I’m not afraid of flying, I’ve been in really tight spots on numerous aircraft both military and civilian, and I don’t get anxious being on planes. What bothers me is all the crazy people stacked like sardines in a tin hurtling at high velocity through the air. Those people are the ones you have to watch out for. So it was only fate that landed Dan and I in the back of the plane across the aisle from two women that were HIIIIIIIIIIGH one something that then proceeded to order as much alcohol as possible, and generally make fools of themselves by yelling at crying babies and their parents and trying to curl up and sleep on the floor in front of their seats. Yup that was the flight to Atlanta. If I’d have known Atlanta was this much fun, I’d have stayed away longer…But wait, it gets better…

We didn’t feel like spending any more time than we had to at the airport, so in search of a taxi we went. They aren’t hard to find and soon enough we were speeding along the highway en route to our destination. And about halfway there, it was time for us to have a near death experience courtesy of some crazy driver that got pissed at our cabbie. Our cabbie decided to merge with the HOV lane while relatively close to the vehicle in the HOV lane. That driver decided he didn’t want us in the HOV lane and sped up and began pushing us back into the lane we were already in. Only that lane now was FULL of cars. Basically a wall of cars outside my window and we were inches away from them weaving back and forth as the other driver sought to push us into the wall of metal. Our cabbie didn’t bat an eye, he sped up, weaved about six times and then pulled ahead of the vehicle, and in a completely calm, mild voice said, “I’m sorry about that.” After which I was left speechless and Dan made a few remarks about us being alive and that was the only thing that mattered. The rest of the drive went off without a hitch and soon enough we were at the hotel.

It’s just after 5pm at this point and we hit the lobby of the hotel and check in. Somehow are rooms aren’t ready, but with some quick talking and being okay with staying on separate floors gets us into our rooms faster. We drop our bags, freshen up, and then back downstairs for the official meeting between us and some of our pen peeps. We spend time chatting and shaking hands with a few local customers as well as people that travelled to attend the show, and decide it’s time for some food. A group of us meander down about half a mile to a local “Mexican” restaurant, Rio Bravo, and spend a couple hours eating, chatting, and generally enjoying ourselves before heading back to the “unofficial” PenAddict podcast meet up where the fun continues LATE into the night. Needless to say by the time I head to bed it’s REALLY late and I get about 3 hours of sleep.


So we woke up…late…got to the table…late…got set up…late. But it didn’t really affect us much as we had a line of people at our table waiting on us to put our wares out. And right away we started selling our pens. I should put a shout out to Chuck (you know who you are). Thanks for taking me to Starbucks for coffee, it was a lifesaver. We debuted our teal pens at this show and they were an instant hit. We sold through most of the teal INKs that first day and about half the teal EDKs. Along with our usual pens. Our grey is still a show best seller so we sold out of all of our grey pens as well.
Dan and Bob from Sky Lab Letterpress

We had friends stop by, Tania and Dan were the first two customers, showing us some love from the get go. Followed by Amanda and Isaac, then a whole bunch of people and if I forget to mention you I am terribly sorry, I’m only human. Stacy and Baron showed up and we chatted all things pens for quite some time. Lisa Vanness flitted back and forth from her table to ours quite a bit that first day, but that’s something we are used to and one of Lisa’s most endearing personality traits. We spent time with Brad and Jeffrey from Nock Co. Sat next to Jonathan and Megan from Carolina Pen Company, the Newtons were across from us and Mark Bacas had a table at the end of our row. All in all we were surrounded by friends that we actually view as family more than just friends. And the show kicked off with a great start. Somewhere around 3 pm, Dan got to head upstairs and get interviewed by the Don himself, Brian Goulet. We’re stoked to see the results of that video, as we’ve heard it’s quite amusing. Hopefully they link to a B Roll of all the outtakes!
Dan chatting with Amanda and Aubrey

That evening was the live PenAddict podcast. And I was tired so I wandered up to my room to attempt a nap, but that didn’t happen as the floor I was on had a whole high school basketball team on it. So back downstairs to enjoy some grilled hamburgers and pen conversation. I had a great chat with Mark Bacas, Stacy and Baron, and Amanda. Then wandered around for the rest of my evening “working” the rooms. I got to meet and chat with Brian and Rachel Goulet myself. We spent some time talking about Karas products, and I expressed my pleasure at being able to work with them. But they were just as busy as I was so we went off in search of more people to spend time with. I sat down with Shawn and Elizabeth Newton along with Jonathon and Megan Brooks got a lot of my time as we talked about creativity and the artist’s mind, the importance of arts in education, and reminiscing about our misspent youth. The night stretched on and into the wee hours of Saturday morning before I made my way up to my room and got another short night’s rest.

A bevy of Fountain Pen Nerds at the complimentary ink testing table.

Supposedly Saturday is the busiest day…so we were late once again. That’s what happens when you are on Arizona time in Georgia. It’s 8 am local, but your body thinks it’s 5 am. And no amount of coffee was going to get me moving any earlier than 8 am. So we made it to the table, opened it all up, and we were greeted by the masses. Okay, not the masses, but it was busier than Friday. A constant stream of folks stopped by our table. And we loved spending time with all of them. Some bought pens, some stopped to show us their current Karas carry, others just wanted to chat about pens and test them out. It didn’t matter what the story was, the pen community is a place where people show up and share stories, experiences, and pens. It’s about the love of fine writing, or not-so-fine writing, pens new and old, and the act of sharing those things with others in the hobby. So while we manned the table we spent some quality time with a lot of great people, young and old, that just wanted to enjoy pens and paper.
Bob from Sky Lab Letterpress is back chatting with Dan

Saturday evening was much the same as Friday evening. I was beat, attempted to get some sleep, Dan did too. I am not sure if he succeeded, I didn’t. I wandered back downstairs just in time to see all the complimentary pizza being finished up, so off in search of food I went. And found some stellar grub at a local Atlanta BBQ place just 9 minutes before they locked their doors. The meal was wonderful even if I did have to eat it under a highway overpass since I didn’t want the food to get cold. But it was one of the highlights of the trip for sure.

Back at the hotel, the official Nock Co/PenAddict Podcast after party was in full swing in the hospitality suite. Or it was until there was a noise complaint, then back to the bar everyone went. I spent time at the bar moving between groups of people trying to talk to as many different folks as possible. I talked about the military with some Air Force kiddos (that’s the term I’m using since they literally told me they were in elementary school when I was sent to Iraq the first time), chatted about pets with Crista for quite some time, looked at pens and custom stamps and paper with another Dan (seems to be WAY too many Dans in the pen community), Lori and I looked at one of her vintage pens and I hopefully gave her some good advise on how to get it fixed, and wrapped up my night reminiscing about the military with Jason before heading back upstairs, once again late or early depending on how you look at it.

My celebrity moment, with Brian Goulet

What else on should we do on the last day in Atlanta? Yep, you guessed it, sleep in again. However, I got up in time to get a quick breakfast at Waffle House before heading in to “work”. The traffic on Sunday is slow and lazy getting into the pen show, and we had a 4 pm flight out of Atlanta. So we started packing up around 1230 pm. Dan wandered around for a bit shaking hands with people and saying our good byes. I got to spend a bit more time with Shawn Newton chatting about pens looking over his lovely works of art. Hopefully one day there will be a pen or two of his in my pen case. Then I met and got to hang out with Jenni, the Goulet’s video and sound guru. It was an awesome conversation and a perfect way to wrap up the pen show. Dan and I said our final good byes to Brad and Jeffrey, Ana and Bob, and a smattering of other awesome pen folks before we jumped in an Uber and headed back to the airport. Our Uber ride was not nearly as harrowing as the cab ride and actually turned out to be an awesome experience connecting with our Uber driver chatting about life and work and what makes different cities wonderful places to live.

Then it was through security, waiting at the gate, then on a plane headed back to the desert. Leaving the lovely weather, awesome people, and amazing experiences behind.

I’m a pen show newb. My first show was the LA International Pen Show in February. And while the show was fun and the people great, it held a lot of drama and was very “business-like”. There wasn’t the same feeling of community as there was in Atlanta. From the first moment we met up with some pen people in the lobby of the hotel Thursday night, until we left on Sunday, our days were filled from start to finish with amazing experiences shared with great people. It’s not all about pens. The conversation at this show covered more topics than you’d ever imagine. We talked about life, love, war, pets, friends, family, feelings, loss, art, education, and everything in between. It wasn’t a networking event (sure that did happen) but it was an event where people got to hang out and have fun. At the end of the day we went to bed exhausted not from work, but from the time spent with good people talking about what motivates us to move forward in life. In all it was an amazing time with very little drama but great memories. I hope the rest of the pen shows we attend end up being this awesome, the bar has been set REALLY high.

DC Fountain Pen Sueprshow 4-7 August 2016
San Francisco International Pen Show 26-28 August 2016
Colorado Pen Show 7-9 October 2016

We hope to see some of you (all of you really) at one of these shows. If you can make it please stop by and say hi, we love talking to you folks. And if you’re in Arizona, stop by the shop. You are all officially invited to stop by and say hello. We are in the shop Monday-Friday from 10 am to 5 pm. If you time your visit right on Friday you will probably get some lunch courtesy of Karas Kustoms.

Friday, February 26, 2016

2015: Year in Review...and Some Notes...

So I have procrastinated long enough and nearly two full months have gone by since the first of the year, and the date I was supposed to write the “2015: Year in Review” Blog Post. Well, similar to our Kickstarters that ended up shipping a little bit later than expected…here’s your year in review blog post plus some thoughts about the LA Pen Show, a list of stuff we have planned for 2016 (at least the stuff I can share), and some randomness.

2015…What to say about it? Well, to be quite honest, 2105 was a pretty cool “roller coaster” ride of a year. We started the year out pretty quick by attending our first ever pen show, when we flew out to Los Angeles for the LA Pen Show. It was a great opportunity for us to have a presence and get our names out to an audience that really didn’t know who we were. Shortly after we had the opportunity to attend the Atlanta Pen Show and again the effect was very positive and allowed us to grow our customer base but also to interface with people in the pen community.

During the first half of 2015 we manufactured, remanufactured, anodized, re-anodized about a million Cubes trying like mad to get them right before we sent them out to the Cube Kickstarter backers. The entire process practically drove us crazy on how such a simple product could encounter so many issues. But with some resilience we were able to fulfill shipping in August and get to work on the next product.

And that’s where we decided to break the mold. 

Having gone through the issues with Kickstarter fulfillment and how the process can drag on; and after seeing just how many customers we really had, we felt we might be able to push the envelope a bit and try a new way of releasing a pen. We had the design drawn up, in fact the design had been floating around the office in certain forms since the Retrakt had been created. But making a pocket carry pen that was functional but wrote nice was always something we had planned on doing. It just so happened that a long relationship with Massdrop made manufacturing and selling a pen of this style a little bit easier. And as such we launched the EDK via Massdrop in a joint venture. The pen was a big hit on Massdrop, but also via our direct sales, and we have received nearly all positive feedback on the pen design and function.

While this was going on, we couldn’t stick to status quo. So we pushed forward further into fountain pen territory. We had successfully rolled out the INK fountain pen in 2014 via a Kickstarter campaign. Then sold through our initial stock of those pens. But with user feedback we realized we needed to make some changes to the pen to make it the best pen it could be. This required moving to a different nib brand and size, and ended up making it necessary to redesign the entire thread profile on the section, barrel and cap. But it also gave us a more aesthetically pleasing large sized fountain pen.

During the INK redesign we received some feedback from a few of our pen testers that caused us to move forward on a pen much quicker than we had intended to. They prompted us to move forward on the design of the Render K fountain pen, which we decided should be called the Fountain K, just for continuity and all that jazz. The Fountain K would give us a full sized fountain pen that was still lightweight but available in all copper and all brass. 

And with the Fountain K manufacturing moving along quickly, we were able to put some real research behind our customer base and our current marketing and social media presence. When the research was said and done, we decided to take the biggest risk yet, release the pen completely on our own. Market it via our blog, Instagram, newsletter and the pen community. And let our customers decide on just how important the pen was. 

It was a big risk. It meant we put a lot up front time and money into the production process. Something you don’t have to do when you rely on Kickstarter or other crowdfunding sources. We trusted in our design and hoped our customers would love it as much as we did. So as soon as we had a pre-production run complete we released it directly via our website. The response was overwhelming, as we sold through the initial pre-production run in just over a day. It solidified the Fountain K as our next pen and enabled us to go right into a full production run.

The holidays were now fast approaching. We were hard at work cranking out the new INKs and the Fountain Ks. And planning out a special surprise collaboration. The first official collaboration with another company with a similar mindset. The collaboration was rolled out in early December when we released the Superstition Special Edition EDK pen and Nock Co case combination. It was a big success as well and we quickly sold out of the limited number of case combos we had.
As the year came to a close, we shut down the shop and took a much need 11 day hiatus to spend time with our families and rest up for the journey ahead.

But 11 days isn’t a long time, and coming back to work brought with it a TON of work, in the shop and in the office. The guys in the shop completed the move of every piece of equipment Karas Kustoms uses. We reorganized the shop in order to fit more machines and work more productively. Not an overnight process when you are moving around machines that weigh several thousand pounds and rewiring them as you go. But they were up to the task, and we were way ahead of schedule when the moves were finished.

In the meantime, I was busy interfacing with several major players in the online pen retail business. Late in 2015 I started up a dialogue with Patrick from Papier & Plume, an amazing pen store in New Orleans. From the get-go it was an amazing step forward for us to be featured in his store in a prominent spot that got a LOT of foot traffic. We have since gone on to solidify this relationship and I am lucky enough to work with Patrick and Renso in ensuring they get whatever service I can with helping them sell as many of our pens in their store as possible. 

But right on the heels of that relationship came three more in quick succession. Cult Pens in the United Kingdom reached out with the desire to Karas Kustoms pens. And in a few weeks we had shipped them their first order and set up a great relationship with them as well. 

Then due to one of our customers meeting with Mike and Lisa Vanness, owners of Vanness Pens in Arkansas. We were able to start an amazing relationship with Vanness Pens that has truly grown into something of a family relationship. They are a small, family owned store that has been round for a LONG time. They epitomize the values of the small American business owner, something that is near and dear to our hearts. And they truly have a passion for pens, much like we do. So we were much honored to have them sell our pens in their store.

And finally we were approached by Brian and Rachel Goulet, yes THOSE Goulets, with their desire to carry our fountain pens at Goulet Pens. To be honest, this was a BIG deal for us. Goulet Pens is known for carrying the best in fine writing instruments, providing stellar customer service, and essentially educating the next generation of fountain pen users via their blog and videos. For them to want to carry our products was some next level stuff! And early in 2016 Brian and Rachel released a set of videos and did a Periscope featuring our pens, and the effect was amazing for us and we hope for them as well.

Some new things you can buy via our website now or in the next few months. 

We currently have Titanium nibs for the INK fountain pen. Why do you want a Titanium nib? It allows for some semi-flex/spring-y line variation when writing without doing any crazy nib modifications. You can purchase TI nibs with a pen or as an accessory via the accessories tab.
We added some aluminum, brass and copper beads on cord for simple key rings or as zipper pulls. They aren’t really fancy but a nice add on for a pen pouch
We now carry notebooks, simple little things with artwork created by Dan as an homage to the Arizona state flag. They are pretty rocking and are pocket sized for easy carry.

We added 1.1mm stubs to our Fountain K and INK fountain pens. These are steel nibs and write quite nicely for those of you that want to lay down a LOT of ink.

Upcoming we will be adding Black lacquered nibs to our fountain pens as well as 14K gold nibs. These will be sourced from Bock as usual and will likely be available sometime in May.

We are working on the redesign of the Render K pen. Streamlining the overall design of the pen to utilize Fountain K barrels and caps was a no brainer. Now you will be able to easily swap between a ballpoint/rollerball and into a fountain pen with just the swap of a section and refill. The versatility of the Render K pen will be immense, allowing for the user to select between a massive amount of 110mm refills, the full line up of Parker style refills, and a section and nib for fountain pen use. It’s gonna be pretty epic.

We will be attending the Atlanta Pen Show in April, and have plans to attend the San Francisco Pen Show, DC Pen Show and Colorado Pen Show. We also would like to attend some non-pen related shows that fit our Made in America mindset.

Pen Show thoughts…

The 2016 LA Pen Show was my first pen show experience. And it was one filled with stress, work, fun and laughter. It was by no means the perfect event from the very beginning we encountered major issues with the hotel, the show, you name it. But Dan and I rolled along as if nothing was wrong and put in work. I won’t go into all kinds of details. If you want a complete review of the show, I suggest you head over the Pen Habit and read what Matt has to say. Actually, while you are at it, just follow his blog and his YouTube channel because Matt is a pretty awesome dude and one of the reasons the pen show was so great. 

That’s the perfect segue into what I want to talk about concerning the pen show. The people make the show great or they can kill it for you. But it all depends on your outlook and how you deal with picky, sometimes obnoxious, but other time’s wonderful people. I mean this with all sincerity, pen people are picky, it’s just a trait that they have. So almost all of them are opinionated and quite a few will tell you just what their opinion is. That’s not a good thing or a bad thing in and of itself, but it can be off putting. But I have come to expect that being the hands behind the Customer Service account here at Karas, so the people didn’t bother me.

In reality, the people made the show FANTASTIC. We got to meet some people that I have had online relationships with for quite some time. I got to shake hands with the GREAT Brad Dowdy. Joey Feldman, artist extraordinaire, hung out with us and chatted pens and did an impromptu drawing session with Dan. Lisa and Mike Vanness turned out to be nothing like I expected but even better than I had hoped, just wonderful people to be around. We hung with some customers for dinner the first night in town. Had a relaxing second evening with even more of our fans. And capped off the show on the last day selling pens, but honestly having a lot more fun making friendships with people.
So while the pen show can be a mess, it really comes down to who you decide to surround yourself with. We had a great time turning online relationships into friendships. Being able to shake hands with people we had only ever exchanged emails with. And generally spending as much of our downtime building real friendships with people, because in the end it’s the people that matter. Sure pens are cool. We make stuff that helps people create or have a better writing or have a near indestructible pen when they are on the deck of an air craft carrier. And that’s great, but without the people, we wouldn’t have a need to make pens. 

Nearly everything I have talked about in this post has centered on the fact that the people that buy our products are what makes our product as good as it is. We do have a desire to make quality machined writing instruments. But we made changes and improvements because users told us ways to make things better. We designed cross platform pens to provide a single pen that could be used in nearly any situation. We made a pocket pen because people wanted one. And we love designing and making pens, it’s fun and fulfilling. We design all kinds of stuff around the shop. Dan is constantly scribbling down ideas. But when it’s all said and done, we COULDN’T do what we do without you. The end user has made us as successful as we have become, and you will continue to keep us in business and challenge us to improve. 

So I guess the Year in Review, is really a Year for You. Thank you for your support. Thank you for challenging us. Thank you for enabling us to continue to create. Thank you for putting your faith in a small company in the heart of Mesa, Arizona. We wouldn’t have it any other way.