Tag Archives: jetpens

Art Alternatives Pen & Ink Sketchbooks: They’ve Changed!

I have mentioned the Pen & Ink Sketchbooks from Art Alternatives many times on this blog. Their pocket size sketchbook with the heavyweight paper is the closest alternative I’ve found to a Moleskine Sketchbook, for those who prefer creamy smooth paper, as opposed to the brighter white, toothier paper found in many other competitors’ pocket sketchbooks (such as Hahnemuhle, HandBook Artist Journals, Leuchtturm, and Art Alternatives’ Sketch & Draw). Check out my “Four Notebooks Reviewed” series from several years ago for a detailed comparison.

I’ve used a few of the Pen & Ink sketchbooks over the years and they never seemed to change much– even their packaging was the same… until now. While trying to meet a minimum for free shipping at Blick, I decided to throw in a couple of these sketchbooks, but I got a bit of a surprise!

Here’s the image for what I ordered:


But here’s what I got:

I couldn’t care less if they change the design of the paper band, and in fact the new branding is quite attractive, but I was horrified to see that they’ve changed the construction of the notebook itself to the diagonal elastic that Art Alternatives has used on their Sketch & Draw line for a while. (See my Sketch & Draw review).

I didn’t like the diagonal elastic on the Sketch & Draw, and I don’t like it on the Pen & Ink. Very disappointing update– I wonder if they’ve changed anything else about the notebook, but I haven’t even taken the shrinkwrap off to investigate.

Jet Pens has updated their product image, so they are selling the new version. Amazon still has the product images with the orange bands, but like Blick, they may actually have stock with the new design, since the UPC codes are the same. If you order from them, you’re taking your chances, but since the listing says there are only a few units left, maybe it’s from older stock with the orange band and vertical elastic? (The product descriptions have been wonky on Amazon for years– there is a disconnect between the image and the actual paper weight. This listing seems to be the medium weight sketchbook with 192 pages of 54lb paper– don’t buy it unless you want the lighter weight paper comparable to a regular Moleskine. This listing has the same product image, and references 54lb paper, but the title says “heavy weight” and the customer Q&A indicates that the description is wrong and the product is actually 92 pages of 110 lb paper, similar to the Moleskine Sketchbook paper weight.)

The price on these at Blick is just fantastic– currently $5.69 for the pocket size sketchbook. And their customer service department was great about resolving my issue of not wanting this version of the product. It’s not like I desperately need more sketchbooks anyway, but I can’t help being sad that they changed these! I’ve ordered one on eBay that seems to be the old design, just because, well, you know…

Let us know in the comments if you’ve recently seen stock of the old design, or if you’ve tried the new ones!

Review: Kokuyo and Maruman Notebooks from Jet Pens

JetPens is renowned as a fabulous source of, well, pens… but they also stock a lot of great notebooks too. Brad at Jet Pens was kind enough to send me some samples for review– let’s take a look!


These 3 notebooks are give a first impression of sleekness, somehow. The covers are smooth, and they are relatively thin and flexible. They range in size from about 5 13/16″ x 8 1/4″ to 7 1/8″ x 10″. For Japanese notebooks, these actually have less odd English verbiage on them than usual! One of them says it contains “MIO Paper,” and that this stands for “Mobile Ideal Original writing paper,” but that’s about as weird as it gets. The notebooks all have a very clean, minimal design.

First we have a Maruman notebook, with a wire-o binding and plastic front and back covers. The plastic has a slight ridged texture to it. Inside, you have smooth lined paper with a micro-perforated edge for easy removal.


Next, a Kikuyo Campus notebook, again with wire-o binding and a plastic front cover. This one has a very unusual page design– it’s lined, but there are dots along the lines, so it’s kind of a hybrid between lined and dot grid and squared. You can use it for writing or as you’d use graph paper, and the cover has a sticker on it that suggests a sort of geometrical figure being drawn using the dots. The pages also feature a space for numbering and a date at the top. They are not perforated. The back cover is a light, smooth cardboard.


And here’s another Kokuyo Campus notebook, this time with a metallic silver taped binding. The pages seem to be glued in. This one also has the number and date space at the top of each page, with regular, un-dotted lines below. The notebook has a wonderfully supple feel– the pages are smooth, the notebook opens very flat, and it’s very flexible, easily bending almost into a tube, and returning to perfect flatness afterwards. But the price you pay for this kind of flexibility is that the paper is quite thin. I tested a variety of pens and found that it’s wonderful to write on, with a very smooth, “hard” surface. I turned the page and at first was shocked that there was no show-through– but then I realized I’d actually turned more than one page because they’re so thin! When you’re actually looking at the back of the page, there’s quite a bit of show-through, and really penetrating markers like my Sharpies even bled through and made spots on the next facing page.







So if you like the aesthetic and tactile qualities of a basic yet refined notebook, you’ll love these– the paper feels just heavenly with a fine rollerball pen. But they may not be a top choice if show-through really bothers you. Check out these and a variety of other journals and notebooks offered at JetPens… or you can try your luck at winning the two samples I’m giving away!

I’ll select two random winners from entries submitted as follows:

On Twitter, tweet something containing “JetPens” and follow “@jetpens” and “@NotebookStories.

On Facebook, “like” the  Notebook Stories page and the JetPens page, and post something containing the words “JetPens” on my wall.

On your blog, post something containing the words “JetPens” and “NotebookStories” and link back to this post.

The deadline for entry is Friday Jan. 27 at 11:59PM, EST. Good luck everyone!

My Favorite Pens

Sometimes, a notebook is only as good as what you write in it with. A notebook can have the best paper in the world, but it still won’t be enjoyable to use with a crappy pen. Over the years, I’ve tried many different pens, but I’ve finally narrowed my choices down to a few favorites, all gel ink rollerball pens:

Uniball Signo RT 0.38

This is my #1 pen for daily use, and you’ll usually see it as the first thing I try in a notebook I’m reviewing. I love the fine, smooth, opaque line and I have found these pens extremely reliable– they don’t get blobby or scratchy, they don’t skip, and though the bodies and mechanism are lightweight plastic, I’ve never had one break. The body color matches the ink, and it has a rubbery part toward the tip so it’s comfortable to hold. You can even buy refills in a few colors in order not to have to throw out the bodies when the ink is gone. They come in a great range of colors– my favorites are black, blue-black, and lavender-black. (The black and blue-black are available in refills, but for lavender-black, you have to buy a whole pen.) The refills are $1.35 and whole pens are $1.65. There’s also an 8-color set available for $13.00. There’s nothing fancy or flashy about these pens– they just do their job quietly, simply and beautifully.

Uniball Signo MF3 Multi-pen

I definitely have a soft spot for multi-pens. I love the idea of being able to keep multiple ink colors and a pencil with me at all times without having lots of extra pens floating around in my bag. This is probably the best all-around multi-pen I’ve used. This pen includes black and red ink in a 0.5 width, plus a pencil. The thing that really distinguishes it from other multi-pens is the mechanism– you twist the barrel to rotate between the inks. When the pencil is selected, you push down on the cap to advance the lead. There’s an eraser under the cap. I like the twist mechanism because you never have to worry about accidentally retracting the ink you’re writing with if you bump the button that selects another color– some multi-pens can have a hair trigger in this regard. The body is comfortable to write with, with a non-slip rubbery surface at the tip. Though I often prefer the 0.38 width to 0.5, the line this pen gives is also a nice weight, and I always find it writes very smoothly and evenly, with a clean, dark line. The body comes in various colors. The pens are $6.75, and refills are $1.00.

Uniball Style-Fit Multi-pen

Yes, I like the minimalism of carrying one pen, but I also like to maximize my color and line weight choices, which is why I love this pen. This is the Build-a-Bear of multi-pens: you pick the empty pen body , which comes in a variety of colors, and then pick 5 refills to insert, including various ink colors and widths, and a mechanical pencil option. (A slimmer 3-color version is also available.) The first one I bought was a silver body and when I opened the package, I couldn’t help saying “OOOH!” because it looked like a sleek little rocket! About 2/3 of the body length is silver, and then the tip is a clear plastic so you can see the ink colors. (This makes it a wee bit less comfortable to use than the MF3, as you don’t have the softer rubbery surface.) The pen inserts give the same smooth, fine writing experience as the other Uni-ball pens mentioned above, with .28, .38, .5, and .7 weights available. The mechanism for this pen is 5 separate buttons to select the different inks, the clip being one of the 5. If you use the pencil insert, it has to be inserted corresponding to the clip, as an extra push a bit further is what advances the lead. The buttons are sensitive– if you hit one without pushing it down all the way, you’ll retract the ink you’re using. The body is light-weight, and the only concern I’ve had about durability is that with one of these pens, I must have tightened it a bit too much after replacing an ink, and a crack developed. (I have two– the other pen has been opened and screwed closed quite a few times with no cracks.) The empty body is $4.25, ink refills are $1.35-$1.65, the pencil component is $3.00. (There’s also a “Mystar” body for $8.25 which looks a little different, but I haven’t tried one of those… yet!)

Zebra Sarasa 3+S Multi-pen

Most of my pen faves have been Uni-ball, but I also like the Zebra Sarasa pens I’ve tried. This is another multi-pen, this time with black, blue and red inks in a .5 weight, plus a mechanical pencil. It’s very sturdy, and the inks are nice and smooth. One distinguishing feature is that the clip opens wider than most other pens. Again, the buttons are a bit sensitive, perhaps a little more so than on the Style-Fit. But it’s nice that the buttons are the color of the ink within, so it’s easier to see what you’re selecting, and the body has the comfortable soft rubber coating around the tip. The filled body is $10.00 and refills are $1.10. Various body colors are available.


I bought all of these at JetPens, where they have lots of other delectable goodies for pen and notebook lovers. For full disclosure, I have to say JetPens have given me some free pen and notebook samples to review, but I am also a frequent paying customer. Their $25 minimum for free shipping makes it pretty hard to stay away!

How about you? What are your favorite pens?