Tag Archives: pens

Palimpsest’s Stationery Store Series

The blogger at Palimpsest does us all a great service with a fantastic series of posts about favorite stationery shops around the world, mostly in Europe. Each is well-documented with photos:

Evripidis in Athens, Greece:

Pen to Paper in Brighton, UK:

I love visiting stationery shops when I travel. Even though the major brands like Moleskine and Clairefontaine are globally ubiquitous, there are always some local gems that you won’t see just anywhere. I’d love to compile a list of the best places to buy notebooks in countries around the world– please share your favorites in the comments!

Review: Piccadilly Softcover Notebook

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This is another notebook I bought about 3 years ago and then immediately shelved. When I first examined it after buying it, I pretty much hated it. I bought it because it was cheap and I’d never tried a softcover Piccadilly, though I’d liked using some of their hardcover ones with graph or plain paper. But this softcover notebook only comes in lined paper, which I really don’t like using. The reason I hated it, though, is that when I took off the shrinkwrap, I realized that the elastic was so incredibly tight that it was warping the whole notebook. The whole thing seemed stiff and warped and dented by the elastic, and I was just so disappointed by the quality that I’ve been putting off reviewing it ever since.

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But a funny thing happened when I did decide to review the notebook. I started opening it and closing it and bending it, and just turning it over and over in my hand. I bent the spine back and forth, flexed the covers, and tested all my pens in it. And somehow by the end of all this, I had gone from thinking the notebook was a piece of crap to wanting to buy a whole bunch of them, if only I could get them with unlined or squared paper.

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The stiffness I initially disliked is due to an extra layer in the cover that sort of makes these notebooks almost a hybrid between a hardcover and a softcover. It makes the notebook thicker and chunkier, and it seems like it would be much sturdier than the Moleskine softcover notebooks (shown below next to a softcover reporter-style Moleskine).

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The notebook feels great in the hand, as it’s the perfect size and heft. And because it’s a softcover, there’s no annoying cover overhang, just a nice little brick of paper. Below is a comparison to a hardcover Moleskine:

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It does seem like the layers of the cover could start to become unglued– one corner is already coming apart a bit, but it’s in a spot that has been stressed by the tight elastic.

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The paper is ok but a bit thirsty. If you stop for 5 seconds in one spot with a fountain pen, you get a pretty big blotch that soaks through to the next page. It felt good to write on with all my usual pens, but there was more bleed-through than average. Show-through was about average.

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There’s something about knowing how cheap these notebooks are that makes me more willing to forgive certain flaws. The Piccadilly softcover feels like it could be a scrappy little notebook, not precious, not perfect– just something you can beat up and abuse and still enjoy even if it starts to fall apart. But you may disagree– I showed this notebook to a friend and asked her what she thought of it. She said she didn’t like it because it felt stiff and cheap, but when I told her how cheap it actually was (typical retail price $3-5), she said “Oh! Well in that case…” and agreed that maybe it wasn’t so bad.

It all depends on your personal priorities and preferences. If you are a fountain pen user and very picky about paper, it may not be the best choice. If you don’t live near a store where you can buy these in person after checking them over for defects, Piccadilly may not be for you. But for someone like me, the definition of a perfect notebook is more about size and shape and the absence of a cover overhang. I can tolerate almost any paper that feels good with a fine-point rollerball as long as it’s not lined or with overly dark graph paper lines. If the Piccadilly softcover came in squared or plain or dot-grid paper, I’d be searching stores to see if I could find good ones without too many flaws. I’m still surprised at how quickly I went from loathing this notebook to seeing it as a potential new favorite.


Obligatory Black Friday Post

Hope you all enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving and are stuffed with good food. If you’re starting your holiday shopping now, don’t forget to consider the Notebook Stories Store on Amazon for a selection of notebooks, sketchbooks, journals, pens, and books about sketchbooks and journaling.  Blick Art Materials is also a great source for sketchbooks, pens and other art-related gifts:  BLICK Holiday Gift Shop: One-stop shopping for everyone on your list!

And your purchases made through these links will help support this site! Thank you!

Rands In Repose on Notebooks

The passage below is from a post a few years old but I only just recently came across it. The writer has some great insights about notebooks and does an in-depth comparison of various models he’s used:


The primary goal of a notebook is to get out of the way… to disappear. It does this by perfectly fitting into your writing situation. How accessible does it need to be? What notebook tangibles do you need? How will it withstand a beating? By fitting into how you write, a notebook becomes invisible. It wastes none of your time because any moment you spend noticing the notebook is a moment you could be noticing something else, and writing about it.

But that’s not what makes a notebook truly sexy.

I have years of experience with some notebooks, weeks with others. As you can see, I’ve explored a wide variety of notebooks. The photo above is ordered chronologically, with my oldest journal on the bottom and my newest discovery, the Field Notes brand, the notebook in which I’m writing the first draft of this article, on the top. Like The Gel Dilemma, I’ve evaluated notebooks according to specific buckets of criteria.

My collection represents a wide variety of the notebooks out there, but they are merely the ones I’ve stumbled upon or had recommended. It is by no means a complete or representative collection. But know this: when I see a store with notebooks for sale, I always stop. I examine. I flip the pages and figure out if there is anything new. I do this regardless of current company, country, or convenience. I am a social introvert, but will stop a complete stranger on the street if they’re sporting an unknown notebook.

Read more at Rands In Repose: Sweet Decay.

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?

Notebook Addict of the Week: Gracie

This week’s addict emailed me a hot tip:

 I just got home from a recent trip to Canada. I am not sure if you know this but there’s a store there called Dollarama and they sell moleskine-like notebooks for $2. They are a good alternative to the real thing and a LOT cheaper!

She also sent these photos of what she bought, and the rest of her notebook (and pen) collection:

Thanks Gracie! I may have to go up to Canada and do some shopping soon!

Review & Giveaway: Stillman & Birn Sketchbooks

There are so many different kinds of paper artists can use, and so many materials that demand different surfaces. When you’re in an art supply shop, there are multiple options for loose sheets and large spiral-bound sketchpads, but when it comes to smaller hardcover sketchbooks, each brand only seems to offer one option… why? You’d have to shop around and test different brands to find one that works for you… or at least that was the case until Stillman & Birn came on the scene.

Stillman & Birn’s slogan is “paper matters.” While one artist may want a smooth paper for fine pen & ink drawings, another will want a rough surface for charcoal, or a thick paper that will stand up to watercolors. Stillman & Birn’s sketchbooks offer a variety of options to suit all preferences:

Paper weight: heavy, or extra heavy

Paper color: natural white or ivory

Binding: hardcover or wirebound

Paper surface: rough, vellum, or plate

They have boiled down various combinations of these options into 5 series of sketchbooks–Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon– each of which is available in several sizes, from 4×6″ up to 11×14″.

Let’s take a look at the samples they sent me to test out:








First impressions: the covers are nice and sturdy, with squared corners. The material is a bit smoother than other similar sketchbooks. Each has a paper band outlining the characteristics of the paper within. Otherwise, the only branding is a stamped logo on the back cover. The wirebound sketchbooks are a nice option for when you want to completely fold back the cover. The hardcover sketchbooks don’t open as totally flat as some other brands I’ve tried, particularly in the smaller sizes, but this may be due to the thicker paper.




All the papers performed beautifully– the extra heavy paper did not buckle at all with the watercolors, and even the dreaded Super Sharpie was 99.9% undetectable in terms of show-through unless you’re holding the paper up to the light. Even the heavy weight paper was better for show-through than almost anything else I’ve tried. The regular heavy weight paper only buckled a little with watercolor. All the papers held up to erasing.  The rougher surfaces work nicely with charcoal, and yet still feel good to write on with a fine point pen. The surface didn’t deteriorate with multiple layers of watercolor or markers.







My only concern is that my pH test pen showed a couple of the sketchbooks not to be acid-free– if it turns purple, the paper is acid-free, if it stays yellowish, it’s not. I was surprised by this, as I’ve rarely had notebooks fail this test. The Beta sketchbook (extra heavy weight, natural white, rough surface) and Epsilon sketchbook (heavy weight, natural white, plate surface) were the ones that failed, and the only thing those papers have in common is the color. But Stillman & Birn say all their sketchbooks are “archival quality” and “pH neutral” so I hope they’ll address this with tighter quality control on their paper. [UPDATE 9/7: the owner of the company immediately contacted me upon seeing this review. They test their batches of paper when they arrive and are addressing the pH issue with the manufacturer in Europe to understand how this may have happened.]

I really enjoyed testing these, as I had to break out some art supplies I hadn’t used in a while, and the way they performed on these papers inspired me to want to use them more! I hope some of you will also feel similarly inspired by this giveaway: the folks at Stillman & Birn have generously offered to send an 8.5×11″ hardbound sketchbook from the Alpha series to 5 randomly selected winners who enter in any of the following ways:

On Twitter, tweet something containing  “@StillmanandBirn” and “@NotebookStories.

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

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

And for those who don’t have these other options available to them, you can also enter by leaving a comment on this post.

Since we can have 5 winners, I will pick at least one winner from each entry method above.

The deadline for entry is Friday September 9 at 11:59PM, EST. Good luck everyone!

And if you don’t win, here’s the list of retailers currently stocking Stillman & Birn sketchbooks. (You might want to snap some up fast, as the company is based in New Jersey and their warehouse and offices were heavily damaged by Hurricane Irene. I hope this won’t interrupt their supply too much!)

Leuchtturm Review at Guardian.co.uk

At the Guardian website, Steven Poole takes a look at a Leuchtturm notebook:

The most bruited feature of the Leuchtturm, meanwhile, one to which a circular sticker on the cellophane packaging is devoted, is that the paper is “ink proof”. They are not claiming that the mere addition of ink to the pages causes all other notebooks spontaneously to self-destruct; but that you can use a fountain pen and the ink won’t “bleed through” to the next page. In the spirit of scientific notebook-reviewing duty, I conducted a robust experiment. With a Rotring ArtPen Sketch EF (a bit like a fountain pen), loaded with sepia ink, I drew a grumpy man in both the Leuchtturm and the Moleskine. No bleed-through in either. Then, with a Rotring Tikky Graphic 0.3 (black ink), I drew a surprised sheep in each notebook. FAIL! The sheep’s solid-black face and legs were too much: a couple of spots of black ink bled through onto the next page of both notebooks. So I am, sadly, unable to report that the Leuchtturm is clearly superior in this regard.

Read more at Notes on notebooks | Books | guardian.co.uk.

Moleskine Monday: Pencils and Backpacks and Apps, Oh My!

The blogosphere has been buzzing for the last couple of weeks about all Moleskine’s new non-notebook items (not the underwear, though!) The Core77 article has lots of pictures but just focuses on the genesis of the designs without actually reviewing the products. Wired is skeptical. PSFK is enthusiastic. The Wall Street Journal deems the messenger bag “an instant classic.”

I’m really curious to see the bags in person– they look kind of nice, though I’m wondering what the quality of the leather (or PVC, or whatever) is like. I also think all this stuff is very aggressively priced– a set of two pencils and a sharpener for $8.95 seems like a lot, and the bags are well over $100.

As for the new Moleskine iPhone app, that, at least, is free. And it’s just as well, as I can’t say it really offers a lot of value. I tried it out and found the interface to be rather confusing and the app crashed a few times. It doesn’t offer anything that other note-taking apps don’t, except for the ability to use backgrounds matching Moleskine’s lined, blank, or squared papers, and a built-in Moleskine product catalog. I like the idea of having an electronic notebook that would preserve the simplicity and good design of the paper notebooks, but I’m not sure this app quite fits the bill.

How about you, what do you think of these new products?