Yellow Rhodia Paper.

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The good folks at Rhodia Drive were kind enough to include me on a list of folks to provide feedback about the yellow Rhodia pad.

Shameful admission: I did not even know it existed.

Early conclusion: This is the nicest yellow paper I have ever written on!
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Despite the reviews on this site for less-than-cheap papers, I actually like legal pads for the yellow paper and the format. Problem is, the paper often has a combination of too much tooth (soft pencils get eaten) and too much dye (lighter pencils don’t show up). As a result, I usually resort to white paper legal pads, even though I’m not sure they are still technically legal pads.

I have used the No. 19 lined pads of white and yellow paper for podcast notes over the last two weeks, to really get a feel. Backtracking: the Cold Horizon from Field Notes was, I think, a lovely notebook. But I hated the paper for pencil. The subtle dye in the pages repelled graphite enough that a quarter of mine are filled with…INK.* I tested the yellow Rhodia pad a lot before concluding anything because I was suspicious that my first impressions could not be true, that this dyed paper performed just like it’s bright-white counterpart.
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But it does. I have never used yellow paper like this, and I will be a repeat user of this book for sure. I’d mention the smoothness of the paper and the solid construction of the Rhodia pads themselves. But, well, we all know this already. I really like the No. 19, coming in at 8.25 X 12.5 inches, with perfectly spaced lines, generous margins and printing on both sides.

My only qualm, and it is minor, is that the orange of the cover clashes with the yellow, chromatically. I understand that this orange is part of the Rhodia identity. But maybe using their black covers would be workable. Or, better yet: white covers with black printing? (Swoon.)

Thanks to Stephanie and Karen for the great notebooks to review, and definitely pick one of these up if you are even a remote fan of yellow paper.

*[Don't tell anyone.]

Review of Write Notepads & Co Gear, Part II.

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Last week, we looked at the company who makes Write Notepads and at the large notebooks. In this review, we will take a look at the pocket notebooks and the pencils. Chris sent us over a pocket notebook in the regular and Paul Smith formats, both unlined. As much as I really liked the large notebooks, I find myself enjoying the pocket versions even more.

For one, these pages are not perforated for tearing out. While I can live with this feature in a larger notebook, I really don’t like the pages to fall out of my pocket notebooks, which I use most of all sizes. There’s precious [to me] stuff in there! It was also nice to find that the unlined paper performed just as well as the lined versions. These would make great sketchbooks, to be sure.
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These do actually fit well into a pocket, though not a side jeans pocket. There is more flex than I’d expect from something that feels so durable. But spirals don’t do it for me in the front pocket of my Levis. I have not subjected the spiral to a week under my posterior, in a back pocket, but the spiral feels like it would handle the test and stay together. While I could take the big rubberband or leave it on the large books, I use them all of the time on my pocket versions, to keep the pages closed in my puffy vest pocket or, ahem, diaper bag. These are also much less terrifyingly-sized. I will hide the larger ones when my brothers come to HQ this weekend for a little shindig.
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For size comparison purposes, the Write Notepads & Co pocket notebook with the Standard Memorandum from Word. and the current Field Notes edition. The WN&C book is slightly wider than the Field Notes with the spiral. This size is just about perfect for what this book is, and in the end, I can’t put my finger on what I like about these semi-chunky, semi-small notebooks full of really nice paper so much. But I can’t get enough of them, certainly.
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Chris also sent over some of Write Notepads’ pencils. These wooden implements are available in packs of five, for five smackers. They come in a nicely fitting resealable bag which feels heavy-duty enough that I’ll use it for something else when the pencils are gone. They are made in the USA by Musgrave and are very attractive.
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They are listed as cedar, though they don’t smell like any of my other cedar pencils. They smell familiar somehow, and the grain looks to Mr. Dan and I both like cedar. They certainly have a light weight, and they sharpen with ridiculous ease; seriously, even on sharpeners needing new blades, these were easily brought to a point. The printing is on a clear sticker of some sort. I really like the typography, though I’d like it much more if it were printed on the wood like the Field Notes pencil.
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What I think the Write Notepads & Co pencil has over the Field Notes pencil the most is the design. I am a sucker for a naturally-finished pencil with a pink eraser – doubly so with a gold ferrule. (See the older Prospector, of which I have only a precious few with pink erasers left.) The eraser on this pencil is soft and performs as well as the Field Notes version – pretty well, not great, not smeary. I have long suspected the Musgrave makes Field Notes’ pencils. So maybe this is the reason?

The lead feels a lot to me like the Field Notes pencil, though a touch smoother, darker and harder to erase. The eraser is crimped on (rather than glued), which I usually think looks better. The leads in our packs are well-centered, and these pencils are a pleasure to use. I’ll cop to using them 80% of the time I am writing/drawing in Write Notepads gear.
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Thanks again to Chris at Write Notepads & Co for the generous samples and for manufacturing stationery in Baltimore! I can’t say enough now much I enjoy these books, and I hope that we see more limited Baltimore editions soon! (I bought half of their run of the first limited edition as holiday gifts this year after testing these books in December — Okay, not exactly half of the run; you can still get ‘em.) Definitely get yourself some of these notebooks, and if you’re in Baltimore, hit up Trohv on The Avenue (Hon). And if you’re in Baltimore, hell, let’s all do a meet-up in the spring at one of our many good coffeeshops.

Review of Write Notepads & Co Gear, Part I.

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We received a generous box of goodies from the new stationery company Write Notepads & Co, based right here in Baltimore. Hometown pride aside, these are great books, and I have to say upfront that this review will glow like a new LED desklamp. In this review, we will cover the large lined notebooks in the regular and Paul Smith left-handed versions (the review of the pocket notebooks and pencils will come next week; it’s already written and ready).

First, a bit about the company:

We still make things here. It may be a Rust Belt town, but Baltimore’s charm is its stubborn vitality. We feel it in this century-old warehouse in South Baltimore, where I’ve teamed up with skilled, local workers to make these notepads. We have two goals: to help others in need and to make something that reflects the love and hard work we invest in our respective trades.

I’m a book-binder, third generation. So I’ve seen the new technologies moving in on print’s old territory. As I see it, change has pushed to the foreground the hand-crafted quality of a tangible good. And that motivates us. We won’t ignore a renewed taste for physical, textural charm if it justifies our devotion to an old trade. Nor do we take for granted simple utility. So with each note pad purchased, another will go to a Baltimore City student. You may have heard of this outreach model. It works. And you can help, even if you’ve forgotten what your handwriting looks like. Here’s a hint: it’s that unmistakably human font.

Chris tells me that the books are printed and assembled in Baltimore from US-sources components. What’s more: the company gives away one book for every book sold to a Baltimore City schools student. This hits close to home for me, since my better-half works at a middle/high school in our neighborhood.
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We are reviewing the large “regular” and Paul Smith editions today. The books are 5.5 inches by 8.5 inches and contain 120 pages of “premium brass-ruled paper.” The Paul Smith edition is left-handed, and the spiral binding is on the right of the page. I kept opening mine at the wrong end, but I enjoyed the graphic on the front enough to use this one first. I use both sides of spiral notebooks (pencils don’t exactly bleed). So any spiral notebook I use is ½ right-handed and ½ left-handed anyway.

The spiral itself is a stiff, brass-colored, double-O binding that is about as perfect as a spiral can be. By that I mean that it’s just the right amount of circle. More and the spiral would annoy my hand while writing and make the book feel…loose (which I think is where a lot of anti-spiral feelings come from). If the spiral were smaller, the pages would be difficult to turn.
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The corners on all five of our test books are precisely cut. That means a lot to me, and it’s something a good quarter to a third of my usual stapled pocket notebooks lack in sometimes serious ways. The books are held closed with a huge rubberband that would have gotten my two brothers and I into trouble as kids. You could probably rig a slingshot that would shoot 2x4s with these things. I use mine when I carry my books and don’t like having to put it somewhere while I write. But, since they are removable, they make archiving the books easier. Plus, I like the option to ditch the band when I feel like it. The covers are thick but pliable enough to give the books some “give” in a bag or pocket. Folded back upon itself, the nbook’s two covers made it more than stiff enough to support writing mid-air (which pencils and Space Pens also make possible). The branding is slight and tasteful. I like the ink color on the regular edition, which reminds me of the Bob Slate notebooks I like to buy when I’m in Cambridge (this summer!). Inside of the front cover, you’ll find information to identify the notebook as yours, in case you lose it.*
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The paper in the lined notebooks is brass ruled, which I had never heard of. So I asked Chris what that meant: “So we came up with brass-ruled paper as a way to describe the traditional means of ruling papers. This process has been employed by printers for well over a century. It’s name, pen-ruling, left a lot to be desired and was a bit confusing. The process itself involves long shafts that are fitted with brass wheels and spacers. These shafts move over a pool of ink that is then transferred to the paper.” As we might say in Hampden, That ain’t no lazer-printin, Hon.
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This is very graphite-friendly paper! I have to confess to becoming a little more picky about which papers I really truly lovingly enjoy covering with graphite lately, though I am attempting to resist such snobbery. Pencil is that writing medium which is only more picky than a ballpoint pen. But some papers are two slick; some too toothy; etc. This paper is fantastic, taking both hard and soft pencils with similar smoothness, though the paper is certainly not slick in any way. It feels a bit like writing on Rhodia paper, though the pencil lines come out darker and don’t smear as much. It’s nearly ideal for pencil.

We were also lucky enough to receive a limited-edition Baltimore print. I have a similar print hanging in my dining room, next to where I am writing this review. (We gave several of these Baltimore Books as holiday gifts this year, honestly.) If you can find one of these, get it.
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Of course, I have to name some qualms, lest it be assumed that I am entirely biased toward two of my favorite things (stationery and Baltimore) coming together. I almost never like perforated pages, which these books contain. The rubber bands are interesting, but I could do without them. I want to say that the books are expensive. But these are in league with Finer Stationer, not campus-store spiral notebooks. $16 for the large versions is higher than your usual spiral notebook. But your usual spiral notebook this is not. And if Comrades are Readers of stationery blogs, this price is probably not outlandish at all.

Thanks again to Chris for the samples and for the help with my questions! And stay tuned next week for the second part of the review, featuring the pocket notebooks and pencils.

* I’ve become so used to this since using my first Moleskine, uh, 11 years ago for my MA comprehensive exams that I miss it when manufacturers exclude it.

 

Blue Cats Quirks Notebooks.

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A long-time friend and Comrade of mine has started making/selling custom notebooks on Etsy at Blue Cats’ Quirks. These are standard pocket-sized notebooks in packs of four (not three!). What I like best is that the paper is missing until you order them. You get to pick what kind of paper you want in your covers.

“Individually handmade pocket sized notebooks made to order. Each notebook is 32 pages, approximately 3.5″x 5.5″, features a cardstock paper cover with rounded corners and a stapled spine. Sold in sets of 4 notebooks. (Please select which set you want. RANDOM includes 4 random covers on your choice of inside paper). Buyer choice of page type (once choice per set): blank, grid or ‘two-faced’ (when opened, each pair of two pages alternates between grid and blank) all of aprox. 16lb paper. Perfect size to slip in your back pocket or purse for those times when you just have to write things down. Great holiday or birthday gift! “

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I was lucky enough to receive a pack of these last Christmas, and I tore through them. They stood up to Pocket and Toddler abuse as well as any of my “branded” notebooks. Plus, they are made in Baltimore! Jenn put a special Hello Kitty-covered book in my latest pack for Charlotte, who, ahem, cutes (if I can make that a verb) her way into acquiring my notebooks and pencils. This prompted the statement, “Aunt Jenn is a nice lady.” Too true. So go and buy her notebooks! Through January 1, 2014, Jenn is offering a discount to Comrades, good for 10% off purchase if coupon is entered at time of purchase. Code: PENCILREVOLUTION1

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Smead Folder Gear Review.

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The folks at Shoplet sent over a box of office supplies for review, and we’ve been a little behind. In the Days of Yore (Okay, 2001), your fresh-faced Editor was a new college grad and living in Boston, where I worked in the Development Office at the university for a short time while I was at work on my MA in philosophy. Among my myriad duties was labeling the hanging folders for two big-time Gift Officers. I preferred using the vast amount of information we had on our graduates and their parents to help win over large financial contributions. To my Eternal Shame, I foisted labeling hanging folders onto the heads of some undergraduates in my and my officemate’s care. I wonder if one young lady in particular still thinks badly of me when she sees green cardstock. And, to this day, I refuse to label those heavy green hangers.

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So you can imagine how much I would have liked to have these hanging file folders with built-in labels, similar to the tabs on a regular file folder. These hanging folders are, frankly, killer. Made in the USA, they are lighter green than I am used to. Think Retro Mint. They are also a little more flexible and a lot more reinforced. And if you read this website – and have read this far into this review – then you probably appreciate little things like folders that don’t require filling out tiny slips of paper which are then stuck into sharp plastic tabs and bent onto the whole thing (no, thank you).

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The Super Tab file folders look like regular manila folders. Except that the tabs are larger and they are much much much heavier. Ever had the spine/crease of a folder give out on you on a rainy day? You need these. We would have fought one another in AmeriCorps for these babies.

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The Expanding Pocket is something I’ve never seen before. I usually think of these as a means to carry a lot of papers. But this one is designed to fit into a hanging folder. It features a grippy area to pull it out of the hanging folder in one piece. This is basically a Super Folder, for use where a regular folder just won’t cut it.

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Finally, more TMI (more too?). My father was an officer in the military whose duty was to manage supplies. He oversaw the transition from paper-based to digital systems. I mentioned having to write this review on a recent visit. He said, “Well, hanging folders are pretty much worthless unless they’re the good kind.” “Which as those? I have to write about Smead,” I said. And then he asked what I was doing with them after the review.

Word. Bandana Books.

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Word. sent us a pack of their new limited-edition Bandana edition books last week. You’ll remember that I loved Word. books, especially their paper. These are very cool notebooks, with a wonderful printing job. I like the vintage feel of this design, being a Bandana/Hanky Carrying Man myself. While Word. says that they don’t recommend wiping one’s brow with these books, I did spill coffee all over one. It was fine, and now it smells like French Roast!
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From Word:

Long associated with tireless work, devilish deeds and classic American style, the bandana is entrenched in U.S. history. Despite its global popularity, the paisley accessory is perhaps most strongly linked to the cowboys out West during the 19th century who wore them to protect against dirt and dust on the trail.

The latest Word. Notebook is inspired by the classic Western staple. It’s an ode to hard work and sharp design. Sporting a unique paisley pattern, each is perfect for tossing in your pocket to keep track of all the things you have to get done even if a cattle drive isn’t on your list.

While we wouldn’t recommend wiping your brow with it after a day in the sun, you’ll be glad you have it by your side.

We have the black version here, and there is also a red version that looks very Autumnal and attractive.
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And have you seen The Standard Memorandum? I have added one of these to my Christmas List. Check out the video, which features vintage diaries written in pencil. And I have to repeat that I love this paper for graphite. Everything feels particularly…crisp on this stock.

Thanks again to Word. for the review samples, which were a very nice surprise to find at HQ one grey day last week.

Review of Scout Books Artist Notebooks.

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Scout Books makes some gorgeous blank books with covers by contemporary artist. I saw the Meg Hunt edition of this book, which I meant to order (and still haven’t, for no good reason) next time I got around to getting some new pocket notebooks. But then Scout Books and Trohv hosted a “Notebook Party”* last month in Baltimore to launch two new sets by Baltimore-based artists. Taryn sent us the Perrin set, which are three of the prettiest pocket notebooks I have ever used, including seasonal editions of one of my other favorite brands. The printing job on that thick chipboard  cover is amazing. Despite the texture, there are no gaps in the ink (see below). I tore these right open and used one up, lest they sit unused in their beauty.

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I said that I would mention something else I have discovered about the paper that Scout Books uses: It has a nice texture and tooth, but it does not shave the points from pencils. I find that I can use a wide range of graphite on this paper, from HB German pencils (as hard a pencil as I likely to use) to soft drawing pencils. This is no small feat. The combinations of soft pencils on Moleskines** or hard pencils on Field Notes do not work well for me, personally.

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Pencil Glory to you if you can tell me which British television character my bad little drawing is supposed to be.

These are great little books. The covers are stiff enough that they are far easier to write/draw in standing up or on one’s lap than some other pocket notebooks. The paper is fantastic (and takes ink well, though I am certainly not a Fountain Pen Person, knowing little about them and owning exactly one that is not inked) and very white. Behold: the graphite in the above little drawing, in all of its High Contrast Splendor! I forget what pencil that was — probably a modern Blackwing 602? They have fewer pages than other brands at 32 (Field Notes and Word. books have 48), but the shipping is free. And their size makes them seem a little less intimidating. You’re not going to fit a novel in there. So get busy filling it up!

My other two will probably be broken in before you read this review.

*As my daughter, who was my date, called it.
** Though I only have a Little Prince planner and rarely use Moleskines Ever or At All, these days.

Review of Scout Books Mega DIY Notebooks.

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Taryn at Scout Books sent over some of their newest offerings recently. I love Scout Books (see our review from last year). Their proportions make them feel roomier than they are, and the covers have a…cuddly texture that I wanted to pet the first time I ever came across one. And their ever-growing catalog is a cause of wonder to me. They do a fantastic job with all of their books, and I wish they got more attention in the stationery blogosphere.

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What’s more: they are ahead in the softcover notebook game, with their new “Mega” format. These are 5×7 inch notebooks with 48 pages. They come two to a pack, and they pack a punch that is worthy of their name! I am in love with this size! I can imagine some pockets that would hold one of these (cargo shorts, suit jacket hip pocket, cycling jersey, tummy pocket on a pair of overalls, etc.), but there is a glorious amount of their paper that I like immensely. The covers are Scout Books’ DIY version, blank chipboard to Rock in any way that Comrades might choose.

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The Mega books come in four page-styles currently: blank, lined, graph and dot-grid. Taryn sent us the lined and dot-grid. The lines are the same as the pocket notebooks we reviewed last year: excellent. The dot-grid is my current favorite dot-grid available. The top and bottom rows of dots are darker, to serve as a sort of margin or border. And the dots on the rest of the pages are very small and light. The whole point (!) of dot-grid, as I understand it, is to stay out of the way. When such dots are usually grey for some reason (I’ve never seen brown dots, for instance), this is especially important for Users of Graphite. These smaller and lighter dots are very…mellow, as you can see below.

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The paper is the heavy stock that is one of the things that sets Scout Books apart from other popular pocket notebook brands. (I’ve written about this paper before, and I’ll talk more tomorrow on the Artist Notebook post.) These notebooks are, frankly, Great and a great deal to boot at $10. Remember that Scout Books always offers free USA shipping. You can’t go wrong. I’m thinking of using these for NaNoWriMo, if I am brave enough to give up even more sleep next month.

Early Autumn Notebooks.

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While walking around one of my favorite shops (Trohv) on Labor Day, I spotted Word. notebooks on the table near Field Notes books. We reviewed Word. books a few months ago, and you’ll recall the I loved them. I’m sure lots of Comrades are waiting for the new fall Field Notes to come out. But I needed some notebooks! And this orange is far more…earthy and autumnal in person than it is in most of the photos I’ve seen online. Paired with one of these pencils, it’s an early autumn Pocket Notebook Combination to put one in mind of chai tea and reading Poe outside under a light blanket.

Speaking of Trohv, there is a release party for Scout Books and some local Baltimore-based artists this Friday night, before Saturday’s Hampdenfest. Assuming that The Infant and The Toddler are behaving themselves, I’m hoping to go. Are there other Charm City Comrades who might be there?

(Pencils: General’s Kimberly; General’s Cedar Pointe; Mitsu-bishi Hi-Uni – all HB. Also: Dig the Word. leaf and flower books! Hope they keep up making interesting new covers.)

Review of AquaNotes®: When Inspiration Strikes in the Shower.

[Today's review comes from Comrade Gary Varner, long-time friend and contributor to Pencil Revolution.]
Where and when do your ideas come? And do you always remember them later when you want to use them? If you’re like me, it’s usually when I’m wet and about to get soapy. And that’s why I started using AquaNotes®.

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AquaNotes® is 40 waterproof 3-1/2 x 5-1/4 inch pages bound in a pad with rear suction cups to adhere to your shower or tub walls, along with a water-resistant pencil with it’s own special suction cup holder. Not only are AquaNotes® made and assembled in the USA, they’re eco-friendly as well. From their Web site:

“…waterproof paper that is totally recyclable, environmentally friendly, and non-toxic. Each pencil is water resistant and is made with Incense Cedar wood, a responsibly harvested renewable resource meeting stringent environmental requirements. Even the ink used to print the logo and company information on the notepad is soy based.”

In the past I’ve tried Rite in the Rain and other waterproof pads, Fisher pens, and even waterproof pencils. But invariably when the idea comes I can’t find the pen or the pencil or the pad. With AquaNotes, it’s on the wall at the ready when your next great idea strikes you during lather or rinse (and sometimes both!).
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There’s definitely a lot of science behind why ideas come more easily to us when in the shower. This great article from the Bufferapp.com blog gives some details on brain science and creativity and why showers are a great incubation place for ideas. And as the video below shows, its common for the relaxing effects of water on the body to open up the flow of ideas, and I for one don’t like relying on my memory to capture those gems! With AquaNotes® I’m ready when the ideas decide to show up.

http://youtu.be/itaHohHGuQg

You can buy the pads or parts, and even bulk packs straight from the manufacturer’s site, but places like Amazon.com, Vat19.com, and SwimOutlet.com carry the basic pad kits as well.

Gary Varner writes about communication, productivity, and core skills at garyvarner.com, and on Twitter @GaryLVarner.

Review of Tops Idea Collective Notebooks.

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Also in our box of review samples from Shoplet and Tops, we have some of the new Idea Collective Notebooks. These are moleskin (no e) style notebooks (we have the pocket sized version to review) and also softcover large notebooks that come in a pack of two.

The hardcover book has the features with which Comrades who have used Moleskines will be familiar. From Tops:

Inspiration is a personal thing. Where its recorded matters. Idea Collective notebooks and journals are great for capturing thoughts, quick notes or anything that inspires you. Designed with the creative person in mind, these products feature all of the premium details you’d expect in a high-end notebook. The durable covers feel luxurious and the smooth writing paper makes it easy to get carried away. Includes an expanding envelope with attractive yellow gusset to hold odds and ends. Wide ruled acid-free cream paper. Pad Type: Notebook Sheet Size: 5 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ Ruling: Wide.

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The elastic is grey and snappy, and the bookmark and cloth on the pocket are yellow. And there is a subtly debossed pattern on the cover. All combine to make these very attractive notebooks, without making them…loud. With the size, page-count, features and cream paper of a Moleskine, are these notebooks worthy of the Revolution?

These books have everything I’ve liked about Moleskines in the past: all of the above. What I don’t like about Moleskines the most relates to their paper and the company who makes/sells Moleskines. The latter is irrelevant to the review of this book. But where I think these books improve upon Moleskines, INSOFAR AS GRAPHITE IS CONCERNED is the paper.

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The paper is thin, like Moleskines. It is smooth and cream-colored, with grey lines. The lines run a little dark, like recent Moleskines (not my favorite thing).  Ghosting/graphite transfer is pretty bad, honestly, though I don’t think that’s avoidable with paper that’s this thin. When I get concerned, I put a piece of paper between the pages as I go. I have always found Moleskine paper TOO smooth for pencil. Graphite shows up too lightly, and it smears like crazy. This paper has just a little more tooth than Moleskine paper, and it resists smearing very very well. I like the width of the lines, too, for using fat pocket pencils. At $5.83 a piece, these are a good buy.

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The larger, softer cover versions are pretty nice books for big projects. They lack pockets or a page marker, though the Moleskine Volants I assume they are meant to resemble don’t have these, either. I can certainly imagine using these for “work” and/or longhand projects, with the generous acreage and page count. They seem a little expensive, running about the same price as a 2-pack of XL Volants — especially given the modest price of the other book we have to review. They have little to distinguish them from every other softcover black notebook, though: not the yellow trim, grey elastic, or debossing. They also don’t have the DATE stamp on every “odd” page that the pocket hardcover notebook has. I think the design between these two collection mates is a little mismatched.

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That said, a new entry into moleskin (no e) territory by another brand is not a bad thing, if, like me, you enjoy many things about a moleskin but have grown weary of Moleskines (or never liked them at all). The hardcover books are, frankly, a steal at the asking price, and mine seems made as well as Moleskines from 8-9 years ago. My review sample is already being filled up.

Review of Tops Focus Notes Notepads.

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We received a review package of Tops products from the folks at Shoplet and Tops (thanks!). We have two of their newish Focus Notes books to try, the letter-sized and small top-glued style.

The Focus Notes pads are designed for meeting and project notes. There is a top margin for “Date” and “Purpose.” The page is split into two main columns. The “Notes” column takes up the majority of the page, with lines that approximate “college ruled” paper. The left column has no lines and is the “Cue Column.” The bottom margin is for the “Summary”.
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The funny thing is that this format was very handy when I filled up a few paged with different kinds of pencil for review purposes, for a graphite assessment, and for a general review. I can imagine these columns coming in handy in the kinds of community outreach and higher ed meetings I used to attend at my last regular job and when I was in AmeriCorps. The lines are a nice, light grey that is easy on the eyes. The lines are even light enough to not interfere with graphite marks, provided Comrades use something darker than a Faber-Castell 9000 HB.
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The paper is thin and not enormously opaque; I can see the lines from the page under the one I’m writing on a bit. But the paper is very smooth and takes pencil very well. It lacks the roughness and fragility of typical legal pad paper, in my opinion. I’d much rather use one of these for taking furious meeting notes than a cheap legal pad (or the back of the printed meeting agenda). If it makes sense to say, this paper reveals graphite shades/hues to be pretty true. Some papers make cores look darker, while others make them appear more lightly. This paper does a good job of running to what I feel is the true darkness of a pencil’s core. Smear resistance is shockingly good, and ghosting is no issue, since the pages are only printed on one side.
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The printing quality various from good to Okay. Some of the lines have breaks, and the lines on different pages don’t exactly line up. But these aren’t premium-priced French notebooks or pseudo-European books, either. The quality is actually quite good for the price and purpose of these books.
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I like the design, but I think it could be a little better with a few changes:

1) The top margin just takes up too much space.
2) The “Cue Column” has the word “column” in it, while the “Notes” section does not. I’m not sure why.
3) Graph paper or a dot grid would be very nice. But the line spacing is nice for meeting notes, as they are.

In all, I think these pads will be useful for pencil reviews, since they help to organize thoughts about them (to be turned into a blogged review) and since the graphite’s core will reveal its true…darkness.

Review of Word. Notebooks.

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The nice folks at Word. sent over two sets of their new notebooks for review. We promised a pencil-specific evaluation and are happy to share that these notebooks are excellent. From Word. :

Product Specs:
48 pages, lined
3.5″ x 5″
Made in the USA
Cover: Environment Desert Storm 120# smooth paper (100% post consumer recycled)
Interior: Lynx Opaque Ultra smooth white 60# text
Printed with Hostmann-Steinberg inks
Stitching wire comes from the Spiral Binding Company

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Word. books have two staples that serve as the binding. I thought the sparse stapling might pose issues, but mine held up perfectly well. Also, not having a staple in the center of the spine probably helped in the flexibility department. This is good because these run a little on the thick side for pocket notebooks that come in a three-pack. Certainly, this is scarcely noticeable on its own, but side-by-side with other books, it becomes obvious. Packaging is standard: a belly band. However, the belly band hides the color of the Word. logo. I’d suggest a belly band printed with the logo color, if possible, such as the Traditional Camo’s unexpectedly – but attractively – orange logo. The bands are otherwise perfectly suitable for packaging the notebooks and providing some information.

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The corners of both of our review sets were pretty much perfect. “Big deal,” one might think. But I can’t be alone in regularly receiving notebooks from other designer brands with downright shoddy corners. It doesn’t bother me hugely (I don’t handle them with care anyway), but I remember last spring that it bothered quite a few people on Twitter.

The paper seems whiter than normal, perhaps because of the faintness of the lines. This is a good thing. One of the challenges of using graphite can be competing with the printed lines for prominence. Word.’s lines are close to perfect, being visible while not outshining the graphite. The lightness means that one can, very easily, ignore the bullet circles at the beginning of each line.

[Ana at the Well Appointed Desk and Steve at Recording Thoughts wrote great reviews that talk about the paper's ink-handing capabilities. We'd certainly have nothing to add to these great reviews in that department and will confine ourselves to graphite.]

The texture of the paper is very nice: smooth and stiff with a little tooth. Lead shaves off of the pencil point, but it doesn’t powder and smear as it does on most textured papers. It adheres to the relatively (for a pocket notebook) rigid paper. As a result, pencil marks appear much more darkly than one would expect, and this is a fantastic quality in a pocket notebook. Ghosting (graphite transfer onto facing pages) is actually phenomenal, especially for a paper that claims to be 60# text paper. Using soft-for-HB pencils, I experienced very little ghosting. I am in love with this paper, which seems to shine best with softer HB leads and B leads (Mars HB; Palomino HB; Chinese Dixon HB; General’s Kimberly B; etc.)

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The covers are “Environment Desert Storm 120# smooth paper (100% post consumer recycled).” They are stiff and have a nice aroma to them – papery. The inside cover features a pared-down contact info section, falling somewhere between Moleskine and Field Notes in number of entries. The Word. system is also outlined in the front cover. Were Comrades using these books to Get Things Done, the bullet system is a fantastic feature. The images explains it all. Implementation of this system is actually accomplished very well in these books where, again, the lightness of the lines allows one to ignore the circles and even to darken them with graphite. One can easily imagine the bullet system being so in-your-face as to make these notebooks unusable for any other purpose, and I think it’s a credit to Word. that they didn’t push the bullet system far enough to alienate potential users. Rather, they created something a little unique, and they implemented in in a very nice notebook.

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The back cover features random “facts” that, while entertaining the first time around, seemed like a waste of good real estate from a company trying hard not to copy from Field Notes (not copying is a good thing, I think; had these books been basically bulleted Field Notes, I would not have liked them as much). I’d suggest an index for the back cover, or even fields for archiving the notebooks, after they are finished. From someone with a growing stack box of filled pocket notebooks, I’d find such features helpful.

In conclusion, this is a very new notebook brand that I hope sticks around. They got the size just right, and the paper is perfect. I can’t admit to using the Word. bullet system very consistently, but that’s not how I use pocket notebooks, which tend to last me only a week to ten days before they are full. The covers are attractive and durable, and the corners are some of the best I’ve seen. I don’t understand the extensive use of camouflage, but, being a former Army Brat, I appreciate it and the variety of patterns. The solid colors are great, and some extension in patterns and/or more colors would be most welcome, albeit unnecessary.

Should Comrades go get some? Oh, yes.

Field Notes Expedition Edition: Smeary?

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(Sorry for the lack of photos; my camera is in the shop. Literally.)

My subscription came today: the Field Notes Expedition. They are, as usual, much prettier in person. Opening it, I found them a little smelly, like last winter’s glossy edition. But the paper is smooth and flexible and feels wonderful. Check out the link if you haven’t already; the videos are pretty cool.

I immediately put both pencil and Space Pen to paper, after tearing open my packet. My Field Notes get filled and filed, not collected, though I certainly understand the impulse. Pencil feels like a magic marker on glass on this paper, with duller sides of the point feeling almost like a paintbrush. Writing on very wet paper with an indelible pencil produces a less smooth version of the same sensation. I was aghast. But then I noticed something….

Lots of stuff smears on this paper. Space Pen (and even the “fine” refill in my AG-7) smeared after nearly 1/2 hour to dry. Pencil smears more than regular paper, even somewhat smear-resistant pencils like the General’s Layout and Staedtler Wopex. Certainly, Comrades are not unfamiliar with graphite smearing, and it’s something that tests the Perfectionist in all of us. And, if you’re a heavy user of Fisher ink, you know that Space Pen’s write-anywhere ink comes at the price of severe ghosting and smearing from glacial drying times. Pigma Micron wouldn’t really adhere to the paper at all (it repels water). The Pigma Micron “Microperm” did write very well and actually dried. Still, I’d hate to be stuck with permanent markers for all six notebooks, even if I’ll have them filled before February most likely. I assume that Field Notes knows that regular pens will be powerless on this paper, since they gave out pencils this time around (I usually get a pen with my shipments theses days) and since they came out with their own Space Pen just in time for this release.

EDIT: I have found some pencils that are excellent, and even some surprises.

Pencils I have found to work pretty well:Faber-Castell “Castell 9000″ HB and B
Staedtler Wopex HB
General’s Layout
Faber-Castell Grip 2001 HB
General’s Draughting
New USA-Made Golden Bear HB
Field Notes Pencil

Things which smeared more than I’d like:
Blackwing (dark one, but this is always a little smeary)
General’s Semi-Hex HB
Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100 HB
Mitsubishi Hi-Uni HB
Faber-Castell Goldfaber HB

Surprises:
Verithins! If, like me, you’ve always wished they were better to write with, this paper works very very well. They feel like a regular pencil on this paper, and it’s very very difficult to smear them.

Someone asked if we were going to review this paper. But I think this might take more than what free time, energy and pencils we have on hand at HQ. Have other folks found the perfect graphite (or even pen?) for the new Field Notes? I will put what successful pencils I discover in the comments and will hope Comrades will do the same.

Review of Rite in the Rain Notebook No. 373.


The good folks at Rite in the Rain were kind enough to send us a notebook and pen[cil] holder to review. After the “super storm”, we are finally ready to get our review out there. My better half prevented me from braving Super Storm Sandy last week to see how Frankenstorm-proof these books are. But! Boy, are they nice for pencil. Oh, and they are waterproof!

Everything made by Rite in the Rain is made in the USA, from the books, to the pens, to the accessories. It’s no secret that USA-production is a big plus around Pencil Revolution HQ. Green credentials are also wonderful, and Rite in the Rain doesn’t disappoint. Their paper can be recycled like regular paper (the coating is water-based), and the covers contain post-consumer materials. The paper inside is not made of recycled paper, however, since RiR says that it weakens the paper, which is designed to be durable. The waterproofing process is streamlined to be low-impact, environmentally speaking.

Rite in the Rain does sell all weather pens. They are made by Fisher (of Space Pen fame) but with specially designed ink for their paper. I haven’t tried the RiR pens (though I’d certainly like to), but my trusty 2002 model Space Pen performed pretty well, albeit with a little skipping. But that’s not what this amazing paper is designed for! Erin from RiR tells me that their paper was made for pencils, literally, since there were no special pens for use on waterproof paper in the 1920s, when their paper was developed.

We’ve touched on the archival aspects of pencils before. There is little shortage of archival-safe notebooks. But how many of them are also waterproof?

Rite in the Rain 20 & 32 lb. papers meet the archival criteria laid out by ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992 (R2002). This means that it is an archival quality paper and will last several hundred years under normal use. So… not only will it survive the elements, it will survive the attic! All of our books and copier papers are made from these grades.

Pencil on Rite in the Rain paper might be the best way to save writing for posterity. Only fire, theft, or a nefarious individual (or Crack Team of Baddies) with an eraser would delete one’s notes.

Onto the actual review!

The notebook we tested is the No. 373, a 4 5/8 x 7 inch book with a double spiral on the side (coated for rust resistance). It includes a nice title page, with space for contact info and a few lines for  the “Project.” Flipping the page, we find a table of contents page, and then it’s on to the note pages. The lines are “encased” in a rectangle that does not allow for marginal notes but which made referencing a list of camping gear and procedures much easier for me. There are 64 pages all told (32 sheets), including the title and contents pages. For the cartographically inclined, each page features a scale at the bottom: “Scale: 1 square = ____”. The ink is a light blue, vegetable-based ink. The pages have rounded corners and are lined. Unusual to me are the dotted vertical lines running perpendicular to the “main” lines, allowing Comrades the option to use lined or graph paper. Rite in the Rain calls this their “Universal” page format. I like it a lot. The cover is a Stiffly Flexible yellow plastic. Combined with the pencil band, this book survived a camping trip in my daypack looking like I’d never used it at all.

This is a solid notebook, with thoughtful detailing and a sensible size. It’s not quite pocket-sized, but it fits well with other books and certainly into the smallest of daypacks. But my very favorite thing about this book is the paper, and not entirely because it’s waterproof.

As I mentioned above, this paper was designed for use with pencils. The coating is applied over paper that seems to have a bit of a tooth, and the coating allows this tooth to come through, possibly adding some of its own texture. What results is a paper that “drinks” up graphite the way that some papers drink liquid ink. While this paper is by no means rough, those of us who prefer a dark line will delight with the Graphite Shearing Action of this paper. Points don’t wear away very quickly, but they don’t last forever — though Lovers of Dark Lines may even delight in the pencil sharpening required by this Marriage of graphite and paper.

Mr. A from the fantastic La Vie Graphite told me a few years ago that General’s Layout is a wonderful pencil for this paper, and he was entirely correct. I tested quite a bit of graphite in this book, and the slightly chalky Layout is my current favorite, bolstered by the American Heritage it shares with the book itself. Other honorable mentions include pencils with unwaxed cores (Paper Mate Earth Write), USA stock Dixon pencils, and USA Gold. While very smooth pencils performed very well, the slightly…more textured leads produced the darkest, neatest results.

This is some of the most smear-resistant and ghosting-proof paper I have ever used. Only on a blank page can one spot graphite transfer, and a person really has to rub her or his hands on this paper to get the pencil to smear. It goes a long way toward keeping the pencil writing legible over time. Erasing is not much different than with regular paper, although I noticed that less soft and more abrasive erasers didn’t seem up to the task. Soft erasers did a nice job, and I wouldn’t use anything else, at the risk of removing some of the coating that makes the paper waterproof.

The pencil strap is very well, made, with a long, thick, elastic strap and strong velcro. It holds a pencil more tightly than you’d think and does a good job of protecting both the pencil point and the pages of the book in a backpack. Made of black Cordura, it looks like it will last for years.

Many thanks to the folks at Rite in the Rain, and stay tuned in the next few days or week for our Rite in the Rain Water Test!

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