What’s Up With “A” sizing?

In the stationery world, there are two types of “A” sizing: the European paper-based “A” designation and the US system based on envelope sizes, specifically envelopes referred to as “A” size or Announcement envelopes. The A-sized envelopes are frequently used for greeting cards, invitations and personal stationery. The envelope sizes specifically correlate to the size of the flat or folded card inserted into said envelope. The most commonly used A-sized envelopes in use in the US are A-2, A-6 and A-7. There is also arcane reference to baronial or 4-bar envelopes which are occasionally called A-1. 

Square Flap Envelope

The biggest distinction between Announcements envelopes and Baronial was that announcement envelopes originally had square flaps and baronial had pointed, triangle flaps. At some point though, envelope converters and paper companies made it possible to get envelopes with either square or pointed flaps. 

Pointed Flap Envelope

There are several other envelope categories like business envelopes (the Classic no. 10 envelope holds a sheet of US letter paper folded in thirds), catalog envelopes, remittance, coin, etc. and, depending on the source you use, these envelopes can have square flaps or pointed flaps. Of course, you can have custom envelopes produced with different flap shapes and a different size but that just muddies the waters when talking about the standard options and the arcane naming systems. 

Announcement (A-sized) Envelopes US from PaperSizes.org

The European “A” size is based on the paper size and the original uncut sheet of paper that was used. A-size paper starts with a full sheet at 841 x 1189mm (33.1 x 46.8 inches). When cut in half on the long edge those two sheets are considered A1, an A1 cut in half becomes two sheets of A2. Once an A2 sheet is cut in half to become A3 (297 x 420mm or 11.7 x 16.5 inches), the sheets become more manageable sizes and comparable to US ledger sized paper (11×17”). Then that sheet is cut to create the European A4 or standard letter-sized sheet (210x297mm or 8.3×11.7”). The sheet is continually cut in halves to the A10 measurement which creates tiny pieces of paper just 26x37mm or 1×1.5”. I can’t imagine that paper companies or mills find that size needed very often. I seldom see mention of stationery paper smaller than A6 or A7.

European A-Size Paper diagram from PaperSizes.org

So, if you ever find yourself wondering who in the world would be selling A2-sized cards and envelopes and thinking “that sounds enormous!” Consider the likelihood that it is an American vendor referencing the A-size based on Announcement envelopes and not the A-size based in European paper sizes. 

Fountain Pen Review: Moonman S1 with Fude Nib

Review by Tina Koyama

Readers of the Desk may associate me more with pencils, erasers, sharpeners and brush pens and less with fountain pens. Several years ago, however, I took myself on an epic journey to find my ideal fountain pen for drawing – one that would give me variable line widths. Although I tried a variety of specialty nibs and semi-flexible nibs, nothing gave me the lovely, organic line of a fude nib, and using one felt more natural and intuitive than other nib types. Ultimately, I found my grail (spoiler alert) in the then-hard-to-find 21kt gold Sailor Naginata Fude de Mannen (which is apparently not as elusive as it used to be; Pen Boutique has it in stock occasionally. Incidentally, if I had to choose a second-best fude that is more affordable and slightly easier to acquire, it would be Franklin-Christoph’s).

Before acquiring my grail, I tried many steel fude nibs, and even after, curiosity occasionally prompted me to continue trying fudes that crossed my radar. That curiosity still gives me a nudge now and then – which brings me to the Moonman.

I didn’t know much about the Chinese pen maker other than that its pens generally seem to be getting decent reviews (Ana and Laura have reviewed different models here at the Desk). When I saw that JetPens offered a fude version, I decided it was a good opportunity to give a Moonman a try. I chose the S1 model in koi red ($23.50) with bent nib. (I know that fude nibs are colloquially known as “bent” nibs, but why give something as elegant as a fude, which means brush, a descriptor like “bent”? I’ve heard every joke about whether I have dropped them, stepped on them or taken pliers to them to get my fude nibs to look that way. Yawn.)

I don’t usually have much to say about pen packaging, but it’s worth mentioning that my Moonman came in a simple but sturdy cardboard box that can be recycled easily. As you might guess, I have a bunch of plastic clamshell boxes that can’t be recycled, and since I don’t resell my pens often, they can be a nuisance. I appreciate simple, recyclable boxes.

The resin pen body weighs 15 grams, which is comfortable for me, as I tend to prefer lighter-weight pens. While some pens with fude nibs have long bodies to emulate traditional Asian calligraphy brushes or have ridiculously huge or heavy bodies (the Duke Confucius comes to mind; I needed a winch to lift it), the Moonman’s barrel has a conventional size and shape. The screw-on cap posts securely, which is a non-negotiable detail for me when I sketch on the street (believe me, a pen cap that doesn’t post will not remain with me long).

As mentioned earlier, I’ve used several steel fude nibs, and the Moonman has a bit more finesse than others in a similar price range. Its curved profile looks similar to several other Chinese fude pens I have owned (most of which were so terrible that I won’t name them).

The fude I cut my teeth on is Sailor’s 55-degree Fude de Mannen (steel nib). The 55-degree Sailor has a sharply angled bend, and it can be a challenge to learn to use. The Moonman’s curved nib is much easier to use by comparison. Since the price is not too much out of the range of the 55-degree Sailor, I’d probably recommend the Moonman over the Sailor to someone who wanted to try a fude for the first time.

The Moonman S1 comes with a converter that contains a spring-like agitator.

I inked it up with Diamine Sargasso Sea and took it out for a walk. Right away, I was pleased by how flawlessly it started. Smooth and responsive, it didn’t need any “breaking in,” like shoes, as some pens do. I chose some trees and shrubs in an alley to see the range of organic marks it could produce. Practicing the full range in this one sketch, I turned its widest angle sideways to get the broadest marks, like the large shadows. (Sketch made in Field Notes Brand Sweet Tooth notebook.)

Pleased with it, I came home and gave it a more formal scribble. That’s when I realized I had forgotten to test its reverse side on the sketch. I don’t use a fude nib upside-down too often, but occasionally when I need an extra-fine line or detail, turning it over comes in handy. Unfortunately, the Moonman’s reversed nib is dry, scratchy and non-useable. (What – you’re not supposed to use nibs upside-down?) That was disappointing, because otherwise the nib performs very well at all right-side up angles. (Testing done in Maruman Mnemosyne Special Memo Notepad.)

Upside-down usability is not a deal-breaker for me, but it might be for others. For a fude nib in its price range, the Moonman is a good value. I’m going to enjoy taking it out for walks.

Tina Koyama is an urban sketcher in Seattle. Her blog is Fueled by Clouds & Coffee, and you can follow her on Instagram as Miatagrrl.


GIVEAWAY WINNERS: Shibui 9-Vial & A6 Cases

Sometimes it feels a little like Christmas around here, with this little Jewish girl playing the role of Santa. Today I get to announce the winners of the Shibui 9-Vial and A6 cases, generously sent to us by Shibui for review and giveaway. Without further ado, the winners are Alan and Natalie!

Congratulations to Alan and Natalie, and thanks to everyone who entered. I’ve got more goodies for review and giveaway coming up in the next few weeks!

Paper Review: Midori Color Paper Notebooks

Paper Review: Midori Color Paper Notebooks

Today I’m taking a look at a new notebook from Midori – the A5 Color Paper Notebook. I did order a notebook in each color – pink, yellow, turquoise, green, lavender, brown. They only come in ruled, A5 size with 56 pages and you can find these in-stock at Vanness for $3.50 each.

I chose the brown notebook for this review. The paper is a light tan color and I’ve found it can look quite different based on lighting and surroundings.

The notebook is made of 14 pieces of paper folded to make a single signature of 28 sheets or 56 pages (if you number front and back, the final number will be 56). It is held together with brass colored staples inside a thick cardstock cover.

I chose the brown notebook for this review since it is the least cheerful of the lineup – my reasoning was, if I love the brown notebook, I’ll have no problem loving the other colors!

I love these bright colors! They are perfect right now in the spring – cheerful, happy, lovely color.

The pages are a pastel version of the cover page in each notebook. Above, from top to bottom – turquoise, lavender, green, brown, pink, yellow. Showing the pages next to each other like this is really the best way to give a good idea of the paper color – without a point of reference, they can be tough to photograph.

So, on with the brown notebook. It will stay open on its own if given a bit of encouragement. The paper itself is thick – I would estimate 80-100 gsm although I can’t find a specific weight. The notebooks are made by Midori but this is not MD paper.

The paper is just a tad on the toothy side of average – pencil glides over the page without slipping. I’ve added stamps to my paper tests lately since I’ve noticed that several popular papers are terrible with stamp ink including Tomoe River, onion skin, cotton, and MD. The paper in the Color Paper notebook is good at taking stamp ink but not wonderful. There was plenty of show-through but no ink bled through the page.

On the reverse side, you can see some ghosting (the photo picks up more ghosting than I saw in person) but Sharpie is the only item that actually came through the page. Even Sharpie did not bleed through onto the next page, though. I was terribly impressed with the success of the graphic pens and the brush pen!

I used the first page of the notebook for my testing. The notebook stayed open to this first page with only a little encouragement, and I found that it is a great one to use with the pages folded back on themselves if needed for one-handed use.

I’m glad I purchased the whole set of these notebooks – they are perfect for an A5 Traveler’s-style cover or an A5 Roterfaden Taschenbegleiter cover and at $3.50 each, they are well worth the cost. Plus, the color! Love the color.

Susuwatari also love color.

DISCLAIMER: Some of the items included in this review were provided to us at a discount for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Link Love: Cat(ch)-22 Edition

Link Love: Cat(ch)-22 Edition

Droid stampsFirst, the USPS Droids stamps are out and available. When Bob picked up some at the local post office, the woman behind the counter said “these seem to be very popular”. Duh. These ARE the Droids we’re looking for.

This week, we had so many delightful cat links, our favorite pet gets its own cat-egory. Oh, the puns!

On a more serious note, Parka Blogs linked to an artist discussing why Instagram is not good for artists. I think her sentiments ring true for all creators not just artists but also musicians, illustrators, designers and even small makers. She delves into the issues that have been created as a result of the algorithms put into place by Facebook that makes it necessary for anyone who wants to be seen on Instagram to have to post repeatedly and create Reels and Stories in order to be bumped up in the viewing algorithm. All this creates exponentially more work for creators just to be seen in the cacophony of noise the Instagram perpetuates. This work to create eye catching posts, reels, and stories and post them daily takes away from the time they could be creating new work.

This “endless hamster wheel of posting” issue doesn’t even delve into the issues Instagram creates in viewers. Instagram presents an endless stream of products to purchase and people with whom to compare ourselves. We all know that social media presents a curated “perfect world” life of those who post but it doesn’t make it any easier for our ape brains that only see the things we are not, don’t have, haven’t accomplished or don’t look like.

This Instagram hamster wheel is something I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately. I was tired of being bombarded with moving images every time I “checked in”. I considered deleting the app completely until Laura reminded me I would be unable to post without it. The sad truth is that for many small creators, Instagram is still one of the key channels to reach potential clients, customers or readers. Instagram, at present, is the Catch-22 of the digital world right now. You can’t live with it, but you live survive without it either.




Notebooks & Paper:

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Fountain Pen Review: Pineider Avatar UR Fountain

I’ve always wanted an Italian fountain pen, but sadly many of them are outside my price range. So when I came across the Pineider Avatar UR Fountain (on sale for $126.50 at Vanness) I hit buy pretty fast!

The UR in the title stands for ultra-resin, a new mother-of-pearl compound resin that Pineider developed in Florence for the body of these pens. I chose Abalone Green, but there are six other colorways in the the Avatar collection. The mother-of-pearl gives the body a sheen, and all the colors are a bit marbleized.

The model I chose is the regular line up which features a steel nib, and steel clip and hardware. There is also the Deluxe option, which comes with a 14K gold nib and gold hardware. Nibs are available in extra fine, fine and medium (I chose fine) and the steel nib is an N6 demi-flex nib. I did play with it a bit and it’s quite bouncy, and produces some line variation.

The details on the pen are really nice. The steel clip feels sturdy, and the band on the cap is engraved with a Florence-inspired design. The cap itself is magnetic, for a soft closure that produces a nice seal. Those who like to fidget with pens will enjoy this one! The cap is postable, but given the length and weight of the pen, I don’t think it adds anything and may actually disrupt the balance (I didn’t post!)

The Pineider comes in at about average length (capped: 5 3/4″/14.5 cm; uncapped 5 1/4″/13.5 cm) and is a bit heavier than the standard resin-bodied pens at 30g.

pen weight comparison chart

I really enjoyed the writing experience with this pen. The pen is smooth and cool to the touch, and the nib writes really nicely. Loading it with ink the first time went super smoothly, and I didn’t notice any problems restarting after letting it sit overnight. I always talk about how I have small hands and pens end up being uncomfortable to write with after short notes, but this one doesn’t feel like that at all. It’s just a really nice writing experience – the kind we fountain pen users crave.

I ended up choosing Colorverse Photon for its inaugural inking, which I think matches the pen perfectly!

DISCLAIMER: Some of the items included in this review were provided to us free of charge for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Dipping Into Glass Nib Pens

Dipping Into Glass Nib Pens

Glass nib dip pens grabbed my attention over the last year in a way they hadn’t before. This increased interest was in part due to their booming popularity in the Japanese market and the release of some wild new products such as the Too ribbon pen. Although many of the Japanese specialty products aren’t widely available, there are still some interesting glass pens available in the US market. After adding a few of these pens to my collection, they’ve become a tool I use on a regular basis and they have even surprised me in some unexpected ways!

One of my favorite uses of dip nib pens is dunking them into the most outrageous inks in my collection without any fear that they might harm my pen like I may worry about a fountain pen. I also don’t have to commit to a specific ink for any length of time. If I don’t like the ink or I feel like changing colors mid-sentence, I can simply clean off the pen, put the ink away, grab a different one and keep writing. For this review I decided to grab a sheening ink, a shimmering ink, an ink with black particle material, a neon ink, and a shading ink to attempt to show how different properties of ink may show up with the use of different glass dip pens.

One of the things that has surprised me about glass nib dip pens is the variety of pens available and how the differences from pen to pen are similar in some ways to customizing the writing experience of a traditional fountain pen. For example, not only can the size of the overall pen vary drastically- the size of the glass nib itself can also vary greatly pen to pen. The overall shape of the glass nib pen plays a dramatic role in the weight of the overall pen and also how the pen feels in your hand. Specifically, the amount of glass at the end of the pen versus the front of the pen changes the way that the pen feels in the hand when you’re writing. The closest comparison I can make with traditional fountain pens is the way metal sections add weight to a pen. Many glass nib pens have a wider section or decoration near the front of the pen that weights the pen more towards the front of the pen.

I got my first glass dip pen at a stationery shop on a vacation five or six years ago. I don’t remember now exactly where I got it or even the town I bought it in. However, for a long time this was the only glass dip pen that I owned. This particular pen has a very small nib and also very small grooves in the nib of the pen. The smaller nib is great for some use cases like dipping the pen into tiny sample bottles. However, the tiny grooves of the nib make this glass pen more difficult to clean than the other models that I now own. So for a long time, I thought that all glass nipped pens were very difficult to clean- it was a pain to get the ink out of the grooves of the nib of the pen. I think this is one of the overall misconceptions about glass nib pens. While some are a little more difficult to clean the ink out of the grooves or the glass, some are exceptionally easy to clean and it varies greatly depending on the pen.

The size of the grooves of the pen specifically impact how much ink the nib can hold, and also what type of ink properties it will demonstrate. It doesn’t show very well in the photo below, but this glass nib pen wasn’t able to hold any of the black particles that are present in the Tono & Lims ink Bee. All the other glass pens put some black particles down on the page, but the “glass nib pen” from the mystery vacation stationery store made the ink look like a bright yellow without a single black particle. The same can be true for some shimmering inks with this particular glass pen.

The second glass dip pen that I acquired was a gift from my parents when they traveled to France. The same style of pen from J.Herbin is also available from many retailers including Goldspot. Compared to my first glass nib pen, this pen has a significantly larger nib which makes it easier to clean but also more difficult to dip into small sample vials and some ink bottles that have smaller openings.

Overall for the price point, I feel like this glass nib pen is a very good starter pen to get a feel for what glass nib pens are all about. With drier inks, this pen can sometimes be a little inconsistent and you can get some “skipping,” or thinner lines- but for most inks it produces a wet medium to broad line and provides a decent representation of most ink properties.

Over the last year as I started hearing more about glass pens and I started following some of the Japanese glass makers, I also started looking around at what was available to the US market. One of the first makers that I came across was FirespiderGlass. What first struck me about these specific pens were the intricate glass details. One of the things that he is most known for is his jellyfish pens which appear to have a jellyfish floating inside of the end of each glass pen. Outside of the jellyfish pens he also does some other pens with different designs including galaxy themed pens and cane striped pens. I watched his site for about six months before I finally decided to purchase two of the pens. What you’ll notice about the pens on his site is that because each one is handmade and unique, over time different pens of different shapes and sizes and designs will be posted and available.

The first pen I got from FireSpiderGlass is one of the jellyfish pens. This glass pen is one of my favorite overall designs and is beautiful to look at and use. The details at the end of the pen with the jellyfish and near the grip of the pen are intricate and truly amazing work. This glass pen is one of my larger pens, so if I’m using a glass pen for a multi-hour writing marathon this may not be my first pen of choice, but otherwise it is just so fun to use. Also notice that the grooves on the nib of this pen have an interesting shape and design. I thought this may make the pen more difficult to clean, however it has been just as easy to clean as my J.Herbin glass pen.

The second pen that I got from FireSpiderGlass has become, by far, my favorite glass nib pen. The pen is one of his rainbow cane pens and is a little smaller and more straight shaped than the other pens in my collection. The nib also has very wide, straight grooves that make this pen the easiest of my glass pens to clean. Cleaning the ink off of this specific pen is literally no different than cleaning ink off a smooth glass surface. I typically dip it in the water a single time wipe it off carefully with a cloth and I’m good to go for the next ink. There is also a slight tapered shape in the section of the pen that makes the pen extremely comfortable to hold. Just like fountain pens, glass pens are an extremely personal purchase, and it’s all about finding the pen that speaks to you and feels right in your own hand with your own handwriting.

These two pens from FireSpiderGlass really changed my opinion of glass nib dip pens overall. The glass work specifically in the nib section of the pens make these two pens extremely consistent writers and drastically changes the feel of the pen on the page. This is where the skill of the glass maker not only impacts the overall look of the pen but also the use of the pen and the feel of the pen as you use it. I didn’t necessarily expect there to be a difference in writing, but the pens from FireSpiderGlass produce a consistent smooth line with just a bit of feedback and are really a joy to use. If you’re looking to upgrade your glass pen collection, I highly recommend watching his site over time to find one that really speaks to you.

The final glass dip pen that I added to my collection was a pen that either Jesi or Ana sent me over messaging from Shigure inks. What really intrigued me about this pen is that it could be purchased in different nib sizes. Although my other glass pens vary in line width a little from pen to pen, the width is not usually something that you can choose when you purchase the pen. I decided to purchase a broad nib pen and I’ve really enjoyed using it ever since it arrived. The broad nib puts down a ton of ink on the page allowing me to see properties of the ink that I may not get to see with my smaller glass pens. The line is also very consistent and feel on the page is extremely smooth- the pen just glides across the page. I also really enjoy that the pen is smaller and shorter overall making it more comfortable for longer writing sessions or longer swabbing sessions- especially with my smaller hands. There are several styles available in this brand, and I think for the price these are really great quality, and in the current US market one of your only opportunities to customize the size of the nib of a glass pen.

One of the things that you have to get used to with glass pens is controlling how much ink is in the nib and how much of that ink will go down onto the page. For some pens, if you dip the pen in the ink without allowing some of the ink to drip off or gently wiping some of the ink- the ink will pool on the page or leave extra drips or globs of ink on the page when you first start writing. My advice would be to really spend time learning the pen on scrap paper before you use it to write anything of importance. Each glass dip pen has its own sort of personality, and with practice you learn how it’s typically going to write. I usually have an extra piece of paper out when I’m using glass pens so that I can write a couple of characters with each new ink before I write on my actual page or ink swab. This allows me to see what the writing will look like with that particular ink and get any extra ink off the pen before I start writing on the page.

Overall glass nib pens are a really interesting choice specifically for testing a large amount of inks very quickly. I also think the practice of using the pens has a very different feel than inking up a fountain pen. Obviously, glass pens are very fragile and don’t travel well the same way that my fountain pens do. But there’s just something kind of relaxing or meditative about sitting down with glass pens and inks at my desk and writing or drawing or swabbing inks. I’m excited to see how this specific part of the market will continue to evolve, and if the US market will continue to expand or if some of the Japanese specialty glass pens will become more widely available. I would definitely love to get my hands on one of the ribbon pens at some point in the future!


J. Herbin Glass Dip Pen $24

FireSpiderGlass Dip Pens– $70-175

Kenny’s Labo Glass Dip Pens $20-$65

DISCLAIMER: All products included in this review were purchased with my own funds. Please see the About page for more details.