The terracotta platypus

Platypus pens is now offering its pens constructed from a PLA filament that contains 50% terracotta (by weight). The pens look like they are made from terracotta, and feel like it too.

Platypus Pens Model 1 and Model 10 in their natural habitat

Terracotta infused PLA filament makes a truly lovely pen, but it also offers a few disadvantages for the user and for the penmaker.

For the user

The surface of pens made from the terracotta filament is slightly rough and that means that ink cannot be simply wiped away with a tissue. A wet cloth is usually sufficient to clean the pen after filling, and an occasional purposeful cleaning may be necessary. What’s more, the rough surface is relatively prone to marking when scraped against hard edges, and when scraped against soft surfaces it is slightly abrasive. Cap posting is not recommended for terracotta pens.

Terracotta pens are likely to develop a patina after long use, something that some people might not like, but others will certainly enjoy.

For the designer

Terracotta filled PLA has a matt finish with no sheen or shine. Just like a terracotta pot. The patterns originally developed for Platypus Pens exploit the shininess of some PLA filaments to exhibit sparkles and play with light reflection. They do not work so well with terracotta. Therefore a new pattern has been designed, cleverly called ‘Pattern 4’, a pattern that uses shadows instead of reflections. I call the pattern ‘dimples’ for reasons that may already be apparent. (Dimples works pretty well with the shiny filaments as well and so it is being offered for all pens.)

A Model 10 pattern 4 (‘dimples’) Platypus pen showing its rustic charm on an old sawhorse outside the Platypus Pens factory (shed)

For the maker

The terracotta filament comes out of the extruder differently from other PLA filaments. It seems more fluid than normal PLA at the optimal printing temperatures and it’s heavy and so it sags during printing when given half a chance. What’s more, it doesn’t weld as well to the non-terracotta filaments used for the contrast bands and so each of the bicoloured components has a weak point. That is not at all a problem for the completed pen because the weak joint is reinforced in the epoxy-glued sandwich of inner and outer parts, but I suffer a much higher failure rate among the components made from terracotta. The component rejection rate is probably about double that of components made of normal PLA.

Why use terracotta at all?

So if terracotta has all of those disadvantages, why bother making (or buying) a terracotta pen? Simple: the terracotta pens feel GREAT!

The micro texture and slightly porous nature of the terracotta feels distinctly different from the  ordinary PLA Platypus pens of otherwise identical design—different in a way that many people find to be better. It’s hard to describe the feel, so perhaps I can just say that it is less ‘plasticy’. I’ve never held a Visconti Homo Sapiens pen, but I suspect that the feel of their lava powder-infused resin might be similar to the terracotta powder infused PLA.

Should you choose a terracotta pen? Not if you would find the extra care needed to keep it free of ink stains, or if you do not like a pen to shows signs of its long use. However, if you want a pen that feels wonderful in the hand and that is unlike any other that you will see then, yes, give it a go.

A pre-review on YouTube

Mick L (Michael Lampard) has just released a YouTube video where he talks about his terracotta Platypus pen (prototype).

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