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What’s the Deal with Tul Pens?

Tul Retractable Gel Pen
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Ever been handed a Tul pen or found one at the office and asked yourself, what kind of pen is this? It happened to me and other people have had the same question. So, what’s the deal with Tul pens?

Tul History

Tul (generally seen as “TUL” but pronounced the same as “tool”) is the in-house pen brand of Office Max and Office Depot. The holding company behind those two retailers — Office Depot Inc. of Boca Raton, Florida — owns a number of sub-brands, including Ativa, Foray, Realspace, DiVOGA, and, of course, Tul. Tul was formed in 2006 and has been operating continuously since then.

Tul Products

Tul makes a whole line of writing instruments and accessories, not just pens. The pens include:

  • Tul Retractable Gel Pen (GL1)
  • Tul Fine Writing Solid Metal Barrel Retractable Gel Pen
  • Tul Element Retractable Gel Pen
  • Tul Retractable Ballpoint Pen (BP3)
  • Tul Pearl Ballpoint Pen
  • Tul Rollerball Pen (RB1)
  • Tul Brilliance Ballpoint Pens
  • Tul Mechanical Pencils
  • Tul Fine Liner Felt-Tip Pens
  • Tul “Custom Note-Taking System” Disc-bound Notebook

If you take a close look at these pens you will see that they are an attempt at a nicer product — something rivaling a Uniball Jetstream or Pilot G2, not something the cheapest pen possible. For years big box retailers sold their own branded pens which were simply aimed at being as cheap as possible, but this race to the bottom led only to poor quality products and unhappy consumers. Over the past few years we’ve seen this trend reverse, not only with brands like Tul but but an improvement in quality from Bic, PaperMate, and other mainstream pen brands. Tul even sells limited edition pens, like the Pearl ballpoint and gel pens!

Looking at Tul’s pens, the closest visual comparison is probably to the Uniball Signo UM-151/Signo DX, which is an affordable plastic pen but one with clean styling and excellent day-to-day performance.

Tul also sells customizable notebooks, which are essentially binders not unlike a Filofax, Levenger Circa, or Traveler’s Notebook. These notebooks are bound with plastic discs and have a large number of cover options a well as many accessories for the inside.

Tul’s pens had a significant reboot in 2012 which remodeled the entire line and changed the pens significantly. If you have only experienced their older, pre-2012 pens then you might be surprised at what you find today as it’ll be totally different than before. The general consensus is that most changes have been for the better. Tul pens originated in 2006.

Tul ballpoint pens are relatively standard office ballpoints. They lack some of the finesse and all of the history of a Bic but are comparable with your standard Cristal or PaperMate pens. These pens are only sold in black, blue, and red.

Tul retractable gel pens are a bit more interesting than the ballpoints with vibrant colored ink. The blunt tip of the pen combined with the gel ink is reminiscent of the PaperMate InkJoy gel pen series. The gel is sold in a standard conical tip (medium) and a needletip (fine). The gel pens are sold in a variety of colors.

The Tul RB1 rollerball pens are capped rollerballs with smooth writing and quick-drying ink. They are very wet for their size, but write nicely. They are also sold in black, blue, and red.

What Makes Tul Different?

One of the interesting things about Tul is that it skews slightly nicer — as in more high-end — than most in-house brands. Tul’s base level is that of a solid pen company, perhaps a Pentel, but then the company isn’t afraid to release more expensive pens, like the “Fine Writing” series Solid Metal Barrel ballpoints. These pens sell at about $10 per, which is not typically something you’d see from a brand like tool. Tul also has limited edition products, like limited edition pen colors and Reinforced Metallic Edge refill pages for their disc-bound notebooks.

Where Can I Buy Tul Pens?

Tul products are made by Office Max, but they are more widely distributed than you might think. The can be found at Office Max and Office Depot of course, but you can also find them at Amazon, Ebay, and Staples.

Tul Alternatives

Looking for more brands like Tul? The companies pens are most like those from Pentel and Kaco, while their disc-bound notebooks are similar to those sold by Levenger.

On the whole, the closest comparison to Tul would be Staples’ Tru Red.