Review of Staedtler Wopex HB.

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I have been meaning to review the Staedtler Wopex for a long time. But it is a pencil about which I have thought so much that it became a daunting task. For starters, this is not the kind of pencil I expect to like. I usually like something a little darker, and the fake wood angle is not one that attracts me.* The lead feels waxy, but in a tacky – not necessarily smooth – way. And it was, until recently, difficult and/or expensive to build a Stash of them in The Archive. But there’s something about this hard-to-sharpen and heavy pencil that pleases me to no end. On yet another Snowday at HQ, I thought I’d sit down and write about it.
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The Wopex is an extruded pencil made of recycled wood and plastic. This is nothing new. Nor is the finish being part of the extrusion new. But Staedtler has improved on the process, in my opinion. For starters, they released the Wopex during a time of greater ecological consciousness. I was young when Eagle came out with their extruded pencils, but it was certainly not a time of great eco-attention. One of my least favorite things about the older plastic pencils is their flexibility. Not only do the barrels feel like they might snap under my meaty grip; they actually bend when I write with them using anything but the lightest touch. The fact that these older plastic pencils have such light-marking leads that they require significant pressure for legible writing exacerbates their shortcomings, in my experience. The Wopex is dense, heavy and rigid. It is very comfortable to write with.
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I bought a 10-pack from Amazon, at the end of summer 2013, for around $8-$9. These have the same subtle glittery-sparkly finish as the European models which Matthias was kind enough to send me. The feel is very…grippy, but not in the sticky manner of some grippy pens which attract lint and pieces of coffee grounds like Silly Putty. The newer Wopex pencils that I found at Staples this winter are a much brighter green, and the sparkles are gone. They have a nice, tactile sensation to their finish, but it is no more than half as tacky as the few European Wopexen I have or the eraser-tipped version I bought on Amazon a few months ago.
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The lead is extruded with the barrel, and it is a plastic/graphite composite – similar to the leads for mechanical pencils. As I mentioned, it feels tacky and produces a light line. However, as several other bloggers have pointed out, this pencil’s marks stick to the page. They do not smear or transfer (ghost) easily. As such, I find that they make excellent pencils for pocket notebooks, and I keep shorter ones on my person.** I am surprised by how much I like it for Pocket Writing.

These pencils are marketed as eco-friendly because of the material of which they are constituted and because they are supposed to last twice as long as a wooden pencil. I have not found this to be the case. Because their line is a little light, I sharpen them more often. So whatever long-lasting properties the lead might have is rendered moot by its lightness. As the current price of $5 (US) for a dozen and a half, it is certainly an economical pencil. And I do not generally mind needing to sharpen a pencil more often.
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As Matthias points out, the Wopex is tricky to sharpen. There are sharpeners from Staedtler with a small W on the underside that are supposed to be great for the Wopex. The only reason I have found this to be partly true is that the blades are very sharp and are held fast to the sharpener body. Any KUM sharpener with a similarly new blade that I have tried has given me the same results. With care, I can get a nice point with a wedge sharpener, and it is what I often use to sharpen a Wopex. Burr sharpeners do no work as well. I lost a good inch and a half from my first Wopex last year by using a crank sharpener. The Wopex material gives the blades so much resistance that the auto-stop does not work. Using such a sharpener with care and not making the Wopex point into a plastic needle works satisfactorily, if one stops the sharpening process short. A Deli 0668 that Matthias sent me works great, with the point adjustor dialed back from the sharpest setting a bit. Also, I have been improving my knife sharpening skills lately, venturing into blade sharpening on occasion.
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The eraser is white and surprisingly good. It erases better than most of the Pencil-Mounted Erasers I have on hand, and even a few block erasers. To be sure, it’s no match for the Mars plastic eraser. But it does bunch its “dust” together into a tight ball in a similar fashion. It is soft, but stiff, and very securely clamped into the ferrule. I am trying to think of a pencil whose mounted eraser is better than the Wopex’s, and I am drawing a blank (or, at least, with a German 9H).

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What struck me about the new US version, aside from the brighter green, is the ferrule. I am not aware of owning other pencils with this feature. The ferrule is molded to both the eraser and the barrel. It is round where it holds the eraser. And it is actually hexagonal where it meets the barrel of the pencil. The result is an inexplicably pleasant feeling of Completeness. Please, Comrades, do not judge me too harshly for staring at one of these pencils long enough to find the source of this Completion Sensation. The other result of this Ideal Marriage of Ferrule Ends is that the ferrule does its job very well. You ain’t getting this pencil apart without large steel tools, several people or very very strong teeth.
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The Wopex is available in quite a few colors in Europe, and I have considered attempting to collect them myself. I am glad that it is finally available in the US at all, and I hope we get a few more hues. There’s a market for neon pencils, Staedtler! I am a huge fan of these pencils. Send us some colors, and make us Happy.

*But I have recently acquired some eraser-tipped Bic Evolution pencils, after a recommendation by Speculator, and I am enjoying them.

**Perhaps subconsciously, I matched the case for my recently-purchased Android phone to the green of a Wopex, since they often ride in the same pocket.

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.

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!

Review of Scout Books Composition Book (lined).


The good folks at Scout Books sent a set of their Composition Books over to Pencil Revolution HQ a few weeks ago for review. After a few weeks and pencil points, I have to say that these books are really fantastic! They invite comparisons to Field Notes (packs of three on craft paper, made in the USA), the way that Field Notes invite comparisons to Moleskine Cahiers (packs of three on craft paper). But I’d like to examine these books on their own, if possible, comparing them for size only.

Scout Books are made in Oregon, using recycled material papers from domestic mills and vegetable-based inks. While this often used to mean an inferior paper, this is certainly not true of Scout Books, as we’ll see. They come in three packs and singles, with different color options and interior options. Prices are similar to other high-end pocket notebooks, though the DIY option clocks in at only $8 a pack. And: FREE SHIPPING to the USA! We got our review set very quickly. You can also design your own Scout Books, which is an idea I’ve been pondering since trying these books out. (Hmm…) Perhaps coolest of all, you can get Scout Books that are actually BOOKS, with illustrations by contemporary illustrators, like the American Lit pack I’ve dropped hints to my wife about, which contains stories by Poe, Jack London, et. al.

Scout Books are about the same width [3.5 inches] as Field Notes (end of comparison), but they are shorter [5 inches]. This not only makes them incredibly shirt pocket friendly; the shorter height actually makes them feel larger in your hand than they are, since they come closer to being square. It could just be my square hands, but they are easier to write in than I would have thought, given the size. The covers are very heavy, and they make writing standing up a cinch because the back of the book is nice and stiff — but not too stiff for a pocket. I had no issues with covers wearing out or the binding giving up the ghost. If anything, my review books looked too new since I filled them up too quickly to really break them in. But that’s really nothing to complain about. Scout Books are unusual in that their “contact” info is on the back cover, containing places for your name, notebook start date and end date, and the front cover of the Composition Books has a space to write whatever you want.

The paper is where these books really shine! They reminded me of Eco Jot’s paper at first, with the dotted lines and nice color. But this paper is smooth! Pencil glides across the lines, and I’d filled one up in days, trying out different pencils. Ghosting is very light, since the paper is relatively stiff and thick, and smearing is very minimal, as much so as any other pocket notebook I’ve tried (and much much much better than others). To be sure, only the softer leads I’ve been enjoying this summer (Baltimore is muggy!) ghosted at all, while German HB pencils do not. The paper hits that sweet spot, where it’s certainly not glossy and certainly not overly toothy. While the page count is disappointing sometimes (32 pages), the satisfaction of filling up a book and moving onto the next one comes more often.

Given the ecocreds, stellar design, USA production (and free USA shipping!) and amazing paper, anyone who wants to try some new pocket notebooks would do well to grab a set of these. There aren’t a lot of reviews floating around; I’d love to hear what other Comrades think, especially as we tinker around with the idea of Pencil Revolution Notebooks. Thanks again to Taryn at Scout Books!

*[Footnote: I did try ink in these books, and nothing bled — not bold gel pens, wet rollerballs, wide fiber-tips, or fine fountain pens. I don’t think any of it even qualifies as show-through, to tell the truth. It was very very good.]

“Buy one, give one” from EcoJot.


Mark sent us a video of his trip to Africa this fall, on EcoJot’s Kinderkits mission.  I really like EcoJot books largely because they’re well-made and a pleasure to use.  But you’re also buying something both green and socially conscious.  You’re getting a great book, and you’re helping to do, well, Good. You can’t beat that.

View the video here.

EcoSystem and Rhodia 2011 Planners.


In the packages from Rhodia and EcoSystem that we were lucky enough to receive this fall, there were two semi-large/medium black planners.  These are both the variety that start in the summer; so I have given these 6-8 weeks of testing (each!) personally.  And now, I am having trouble deciding which to use for 2011(and the Daycraft models we’ll look at tomorrow don’t help the decision).

EcoSystem 2011 “Advisor“, flexible black cover.

This is a great (and green!) EcoSystem notebook, printed with the days of the week on the left and lined note pages on the right.  The paper and binding are top-notch, and the entire book is eco-friendly to boot, featuring 100% post-consumer recycled paper, organic cotton elastic and bookmark, etc.  There’s the usual information one finds in the beginning of a planner and a nice pocket in the back to boot.  I’ve actually beat the heck out of this thing since early November, and it’s come out looking practically new.  If you’ve had a Moleskine in the soft-cover variety that’s had the “moleskin” and cardstock cover materials separate, fear not.  In my own experience at least, this flexible and matte cover is as tough as a hardcover.  And I really like the tacky material of which it’s made.

The printing is nice and unobtrusive, and the binding is tight.  Maybe I need to just crack it, but the binding was tight enough that this book’s biggest flaw (which is, to be sure, slight) is that it doesn’t sit quite as flatly on one’s desk as some other books do.  Still, the elastic is snappy, and the bookmark is beefy.  “2011” is debossed in the upper right of the cover, and it’s classy-looking.  This is definitely a planner that will last through the year intact.

In some ways, EcoSystem’s planner functions like a Moleskine, only, well, better.  (I’ll talk more about that when we review the pocket “kiwi” EcoSystem book in the new year.)  This might be worth mentioning for some Comrades: this book has the best moon cycle symbols I’ve seen.  If you follow the moon (like I do), you might appreciate this.  The fonts and inks are definitely a plush for this book.

Rhodia 2010-2011 Academic “Weekly Notebook“, black flexible cover.

This book is actually an academic (summer-summer) planner, but the 2011 model seems to have the same features.  This Rhodia planner has the week on the left, and heavy graph lines on the right, on very very very white paper.  The 6 x 9 inch dimensions render it rather large, but it’s actually very thin and carries well.  It opens completely flatly on the table, all by itself.  The elastic even “closes” into a straight line along the back cover when it’s open, helping it to both stay out of the way and help the book lay down well.

If there’s something I wasn’t crazy about regarding this book it’s that all the printing and graph lines are a little obtrusive and darkly-printed.  One thing I always appreciated about Moleskines was that the printing inside was grey and out of the way.  Using pencil, the heavy lines took some getting used to.  This is probably a person thing, though.  The colorful inks and well-planned fonts make up for it.

The Rhodia planner has great information about holidays around the world, not merely a mention that there is a holiday in a certain country on a certain day.  It also has the best maps I have seen in a planner.  We usually find one global map with timezones on it, sometimes even country outlines/labels.  But the Rhodia has a total of seven pages of detailed maps!  If maps and/or geography interest you, you might agree with me that this is a great thing.  With the holiday listings and detailed maps, one might expect this planner to be unwieldy.  But, as I mentioned, it’s thin and light and very portable.  With the nice paper and great contents, don’t ask me how Rhodia pulled this off.

Review of EcoJot Journals.


Mark at EcoJot was kind enough to send a package of samples to Pencil Revolution HQ in Baltimore (thanks, Mark!) a couple of weeks ago. We’ll be dealing with the journals in this post, with a review of the “workbooks” closer to NaNoWriMo, since I think they’d be a great tool for intrepid souls bent on writing their novels in longhand.

EcoJot is known as such because they are a brand of 100% post-consumer recycled stationery. Sure, there are myriad such brands these days. EcoJot is unique because their paper quality is top-notch (as we’ll discuss); their philanthropic efforts really excel; and because, well, these don’t have that “feel” that a lot of “green” stationery has. You don’t have to sacrifice writing pleasure to save the planet.

Vitals:
Cover Material: Very thick, very stiff recycled board.
Paper: 100% recycled, acid-free paper with vegetable-based inks (green lines and unlined).
Binding: Steel spiral.
Size: Varies (Test units: 6X9; 5X7; 3X4 inches).
Page Count: Varies (Test units: 150 lined; 80 lines; 50 unlined).
Unique Characteristics: 100% post-consumer recycled and still high quality; huge variety of cover art and formats.
Origin: Canada.
Availability: From select online and brick-and-mortar retailers (I even found them at the bookstore of the university at which I work).

One of our test units is a Giant Panda from the line supporting the Jane Goodall Institute. “Ecojot’s ‘Buy One, We Give One‘ campaign is our company’s new business model committed to directly advocate children’s arts and literacy in developing countries.”

EcoJot’s eco-claims are the real deal:

* We use acid-free, processed chlorine free paper & board.
* All our inks & glues are vegetable based, therefore bio-degradable.
* No new trees are used to make our paper & the paper mill is powered by biogas harnessed from a nearby landfill.
* All our protective packaging is corn-based. Furthermore, we try and use as much locally made raw material as possible.

But this is a review of EcoJot’s journals for the purpose of being something for pencil writing and drawing. And this is where EcoJot’s books really set themselves apart from other “green” notebook lines.

Frankly, I love this paper!  It’s white with soft, green lines.  At first I thought the spacing was a little wide.  But, for pencil, I like something wider than tiny lines like we find on a lot of notebooks.  It has a very nice tooth for pencil writing.  Too-smooth papers (like Moleskine’s regular paper) leave graphite all over the place, since there aren’t enough nooks and crannies for graphite to hide in.  This has a nice texture to actually wear away some graphite, without rendering it necessary to sharpen anything softer than an HB every page.  It’s not as shockingly white as Rhodia paper, and it’s not as smooth.  Neither of these are bad aspects to me at all, but quite the opposite.  This paper doesn’t “feel” like other recycled paper.  It’s relatively thick, very stiff (for paper) and doesn’t have chunks of anything in it.  This texture lends itself very well to erasing, even the new Blackwing (which some folks report erases badly in general).  Smearability is really minimal.  And, my favorite part, no ghosting!  It took a heavy hard and very soft pencils to product any ghosting at all.  Writing pencils (General’s Semi-Hex and Cedar Pointe; Faber-Castel Grip 2001; modern Mirado Classic; old USA stock Dixon Ticonderoga; Palomino; Forest Choice — all HB grade) didn’t leave any ghosting whatsoever.  If you journal in pencil, you might appreciate this pleasingly unique characteristic in a spiral-bound book.

Speaking of which, construction is outstanding.  The spirals are flexible, while the holes don’t have pages catching like happens on cheap spiral-bound notebooks.  The covers are very stiff and strong, and the whole thing is cut perfectly and put together very nicely.  Each book has a page in the beginning that explains EcoJot’s mission and what the book is made of.  The graphics are really outstanding.  I especially like “The City” and would love to get my hands on the journals in that line.

And that is the conclusion I drew when I tested this book: I want more!  And, thankfully, these are not very hard to find, even offline.  The prices are fair, and (especially the jumbo) the journals have a lot of pages in them.

We also tested a tiny green notepad/journal and an orange jumbo “solids” book.  Like the medium Panda book, these were outstanding.  A box of pencils and a jumbo book has “longhand novel” written all over it.  And, of course, a box of Forest Choice matches nicely, in theme and appearance (and works wonderfully on EcoJot paper to boot!).

You can follow developments on EcoJot’s blog.  To be perfectly honest, I try to find something positive to say about things I review. Or, put differently, I don’t review things I hate (haven’t done it yet).  I don’t want to convey that my raving is par for the course.  But these notebooks are really just worth ordering right away if you like spiral books with heavy covers, nice paper and serious eco-credentials.