After obsessively testing papers since October and finally making a decision about the “right” stock in January, Skylab Letterpress and The Well-Appointed Desk is finally unveiling our answer to the gap in the market — the perfect ink testing swatch book, The Col-o-ring.
We sourced 100lb/160gsm natural white paper from a 400-year-old European paper mill through a distributor located right here in Kansas City. Each book is 2″ x 4″ with die cut rounded corners and the covers are sturdy chipboard letterpress printed on a Heidelberg Windmill then hand assembled with a binder ring so that the pages can be easily be removed, rearranged, added or swapped to your heart’s content. Each book contains 100 pages and the paper is a good clean white so your ink colors will show true.
To prove how much better our paper is to some “other” swatch books, I put the Col-o-ring paper (on the right) up against a discontinued product (on the left). Using the same tools to test the same ink– a watercolor paintbrush with synthetic sable bristles and a Zebra G dip nib pen– (you can see, the Col-o-ring paper is smoother, though there is still a little tooth, so your pens won’t slip and slide all over the place) but the good news, is that even the wettest inks in a dip nib don’t bleed or feather!
But wait! There’s more!
We tested several ink samples on both the front AND the back of the paper…. (Emerald of Chivor is so hard to photograph. It looks so good in person! Alternately, Noodler’s Tchaicovsky is pretty much as weird looking in person as it appears below… I had this sample and thought I would test it … strangely goopy ink. Don’t blame the paper.)
Can you see a difference between Col-o-ring paper on the front or the back of the sheet? Nope. Neither could we. And we got very little show through and no bleed through, even with wet swabs. I use a paint brush loaded with ink so it takes a while to dry and still there was no show through. You could do swabs on both sides if you wanted to. Talk about cost effective!
One more, front and back sample, just to show off. (Diamine Oxblood is lovely,)
If you’re more inclined to do your samples with a pen, rather than a swab and dip pen or glass pen, these cards can work for that too. I did a quick writing sample example with my Aurora Optima and the paper picks up all the shading and color variation. I would have sampled more sheening colors but I had them all packed up for the Arkansas Pen Show this weekend. So, if you prefer to sample your inks this way, these cards will work too.
I’ll have ink samples, swabs and cards to try available at the Arkansas Pen Show so if you are in the area, please come by the show and try them out for yourself. Bring your favorite tools for sampling with you too and try those as well.
The Col-o-ring books will be available in my shop soon after I return from the show. I will put a post on the blog when I get them listed in the shop. Col-o-ring books will sell for $10 each plus shipping.
What could be hidden inside these silky, black nylon bags? I wondered the same thing when they mysteriously arrived in my mailbox recently from This Is Ground, most known for their high-end leather goods designed to hold electronics like iPads and iPhones.
What I found inside the luscious bags were two perfect-bound notebooks (perfect, of course) and a supple French Grey Medium Format Notebook Holder which is designed to perfectly carry one of the notebooks as well as business cards, credit cards, a mobile phone and such.
One notebook was called the “Designer” which features grid lines and the other was the “Artist” which is a blank format.
I found that the inside lower slit was perfect to hold a pocket/passport-sized notebook, so I tucked a Baron Fig Apprentice in the pocket though an actual passport would also fit in the pocket if you’re traveling and the This Is Ground site shows the pocket holding cards instead.
The top slit held my business cards perfectly and the secretary pocket on the left can be used for loose papers or a mobile phone. The right hand pocket is for the notebook.
Its a very aesthetically appealing format. The whole arrangement looks very pulled together in a meeting.
I tested the blank “Artist” notebook first. The paper has a soft ivory color and the only printing on the inner pages in the Artist book is the initials “TIG” in the lower right hand corner of each page. I used my usual “daily carry” items for testing the paper: fountain pens, felt tip markers, pencils, gel pens and a few specific art tools. Most of the fountain pens I used on the paper tended to spread a appear a bit wider than they actually are. There was a little bit of feathering on the edges of the letters creating a general “spread”. It just seems to be a more absorbent paper. My guess is that there isn’t any sizing on the paper to prevent the more liquid-y inks for settling into the paper fibers. So, gel inks, oily ballpoint and pencil are going to behave much better on the paper. There was a little show through and bleed through which, after seeing the feathering on the front was to be expected.
I had the most fun using the Plumchester brush pen and the Papermate Flair with colored pencil and watercolor markers on this paper, even though there was show through on the reverse. They handled nicely on the front.
The perfect-bound format does not lay as flat as I’d like without working the spine a bit and then the book doesn’t really close flat. Luckily, the leather cover weighs the cover down so it looks tidy.
The “Designer” gridded paper has a light dotted line grid pattern. The grid is spaced at 0.25″ (7mm) which, at first, looked a bit wide but ended up being fine. The lines are quite light and unobtrusive which is excellent.
The paper in the “Designer” is the same as the “Artist” in terms of weight and color. Both books feature 60# natural off-white paper with 110# covers and measure 5×8″ with 48 pages. There is also a ruled option available, if that’s how you roll. Notebooks are $15. There’s a Warhol “Banana” edition of the “Artist” available for $17.
My dreams for the notebooks Version 2.0:
Improved paper quality (it doesn’t have to be totally fountain pen-friendly but at least fountain pen-tolerant would be nice)
Cahier editions (3-pack) that are stitched or sewn so they lay flat and users can fit one in the left hand slot and the right hand slot
Artist edition has thicker, more art-specific paper. Maybe if has fewer pages but is actually more drawing paper rather than just blank paper with a catchy name
I love the leather notebook cover. It feels fantastic and looks ridiculously professional. While I love my Traveler’s Notebook, it doesn’t always look as upscale as I need to be at work. The This Is Ground Medium Notebook Cover definitely ups my “classy” game. The only down side is the notebook and that the cover only holds their proprietary-sized notebook. It becomes a serious limiting factor. I understand wanting to get the repeat business of selling refill notebooks, but the convenience of being able to refill with more standard-sized notebook (even in a pinch) might entice more people to invest in such a lovely notebook cover.
I am going to continue to use the Medium Notebook Cover and hope that This Is Ground will continue to improve the inserts for the cover. Because the cover, they got right.
DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by This Is Ground for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.
Since I’ll be in Little Rock next week for the Arkansas Pen Show, I thought I’d get a jump start on the St. Patrick’s Day festivities with some green and gold themed Fashionable Friday. I’ll have more details about the event coming up soon but in the meantime, get in the spirit of spring with a little Erin Go Bragh!
PIUMA: Super Minimal Fountain Pen in Brass $70 (via Ensso)
Field Notes Portland $9.95 for 3-pack (via Pen Chalet)
Conklin Duragraph forest green fountain pen €55 (via Fontoplumo)
Misfit Ray in Forest Green with Green Sport Band $99.99 (via Misfit)
This weekend I acquired a large quantity of vintage Prismacolor and Derwent colored pencils from a local printing company that used to do a lot of photo retouching work. I was asked “What’s the big deal with vintage Prismacolors?”
Besides loving the beautiful logos, the quality of the foil stamping and paint on the Eagle brand Prismacolors manufactured in the US is top-notch. But in terms of actual material quality, the cores are less likely to break, are more likely to be centered, and overall better quality. So, why wouldn’t I stockpile them?
There’s a lot of great colors in this grouping too.
I don’t have as much experience with Derwent colored pencils but these are all made in Britain/England and labelled “Rexel Cumberland” in various iterations. They are similar to a lot of the pencils I’ve acquired from clearance sales at work. I pretty much have enough of these now to build a shed in the backyard out of colored pencils. Or color in an entire city block. Either option sounds excellent.
Also included in the stash was a few miscellaneous China Markers (wax crayons), dried out ballpoint pens, a couple local advertising pencils, a couple Stabilo ALL pencils, a Hardmuth Aviator 3H pencil, and a few Berol-era Prismacolor colored pencils.
I need some awesome, attractive and functional cubicle accoutrements. Any suggestions?
As a cube dweller myself, I completely understand the need to jazz up the beige-walled, humdrum hives of the worker bee. Luckily I work with some unbelievably creative people who have already filled me with some creative ideas like hanging a paper chandelier from above your desk or making a four-foot-tall papier maché letter to sit atop your filing cabinet. If these seem a bit extreme, don’t fret, I also have some less showy options as well that won’t make your HR person have a conniption.
There’s also tons of great ideas on Pinterest if you search “cubicle ideas”.
If you can install any software on your computer, the next way to personalize your space is to make your computer environment look like your space. I recommend adding a screensaver of your choice and of course changing the desktop wallpaper to match your own personal aesthetic while still being tasteful. Try the Fliqlo screensaver which never fails to impress for being both eye-catching and useful (and available for Mac and Windows). For wallpapers, I often link to Think.Make.Share. Blog and their monthly offerings as well as Oh So Beautiful Paper. They both offer great options for beautiful desktop wallpapers for your computer that are inspiring and professional.
Add a plant. A small plant will add color to your desk, clean the air and brighten your mood. A succulent or air plant won’t require much care or watering but if your thumb is black, you can make a paper plant instead.
Can you cover the panels of the pinboards in your cubicle with fabric or paper? Many of us in cube-land have cover the weird 80s neo-geo fabric on our cubicle panels with black felt, white felt, kraft paper or some other neutral material. Some got more decorative and used patterned gift wrap paper or fabric. I recommend a neutral base and a good stapler if you attempt this particular hack. I used inexpensive polyester felt purchased by the bolt from Joann’s so my cost was under $10 to cover three panels.
My vast love of colored pencils is directly proportional to my frustration with sharpening them. While my desktop Carl Angel-5 does a decent (and sometimes very good) job on most colored pencils of average barrel diameter, it can’t handle pencils of slightly larger girth, which happens to be the case for two of my favorite colored pencil lines – Derwent Drawing Pencils and Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles. (While I don’t use them often, I would think jumbo graphite pencils would run into the same issue.)
When I’m home, I often hand-sharpen them with a knife, but as an urban sketcher, I often need to sharpen in the field. I can’t take a knife on a plane, and it seems imprudent to stand on a street corner with a knife in my hand. So I’m left with portable sharpeners as my primary option.
I’ve tried many with terrible to fair results; none have been excellent. Ever hopeful that the grail is still out there, I decided to try four that seemed promising:
Of the four, this see-through, brightly colored, high-tech-looking gizmo “with notification” intrigued me the most. It took me a while to get the hang of the ratcheting motion, but once I did, I realized it could save wear and tear on my hand and wrist, which I appreciate. The sharpening blades turn as you sharpen, requiring only a short back-and-forth motion, so you don’t have to crank your wrist all the way around and continually regrip the pencil.
The “notification” feature – a button that pops out when the pencil is fully sharpened – doesn’t seem to work consistently. However, I get a nice sharp point on my standard-diameter pencils, both colored and graphite. Unfortunately, neither of my two thick pencils – the round-barreled Derwents and the semi-hexagonal Caran d’Aches – would fit. To be fair, the Ratchetta’s description says nothing about accommodating fat pencils, but I guess I got so excited about the design that I forgot about my objective.
Kutsuwa Stad T’Gaal
This one gets the prize for the most puzzling name. And once again I’m guilty of getting so excited about the design that I didn’t read the description carefully. When I saw the dial that enables choosing among five settings, I must have jumped to the conclusion that the settings were related to pencil diameter. (I think I was imagining the wall-mounted classroom sharpeners of my youth that had a variety of hole sizes on the dial.)
Reading the instructions that came with the Stad T’Gaal (and by “reading,” I mean looking at the diagrams, since I can’t actually read Japanese), I quickly realized that, in fact, the settings numbered 1 – 5 are not about pencil girth at all but instead enable you to choose the length of the sharpened core. Setting 1 results in the shallowest cone; setting 5 the steepest.
Chagrined at my misinterpretation, I was nonetheless rewarded – both the Derwent and Caran d’Ache pencils fit! Well, perhaps “fit” is too charitable. It’s more like I am able to maneuver them in with some effort, like squeezing into jeans from a few years ago. And like those jeans, there is an unseemly consequence: the mouth of the sharpener takes some of the finish off those thicker pencils. Nonetheless, the Stad T’Gaal does a clean job of sharpening them at various core lengths. Standard-size pencils come out beautifully, too. The steepest No. 5 setting is probably not long enough to satisfy fans of “long point” graphite sharpeners, but it exposes an impressive length on my thick-core Derwents. Bonus points for coming in several fun colors.
Kum No. 410 Magnesium 2 Hole
This no-frills sharpener is the least appealing of the four I tried because it doesn’t contain the shavings. Away from home, I must remember to catch the shavings in a tissue until I’m near a trash can, which isn’t a huge deal, but is still something to think about.
Equipped with two holes, the smaller is intended for standard-diameter pencils, and the larger accommodates pencil barrels up to 10.5mm. Paradoxically, neither of my thick pencils sharpens well in the larger hole – the blade doesn’t seem to make contact evenly – but using the counter-intuitive smaller hole, both the Derwent and the Caran d’Ache are sharpened satisfactorily. It exposes a decent length of core without coming to a deadly point (which some graphite writers covet but isn’t really necessary for colored pencils). The mechanism is not what I would call stellar, as I have to exert extra effort or pressure to get the job done, and it doesn’t feel secure.
As I was sharpening with the smaller hole, the sensation and result gave me déjà vu, and then I realized that the Kum No. 410 is probably identical to the inner workings of the dome-covered Kum 301.08.21, which is my current sharpener of choice that I was hoping to improve on. (Of the two, I like the domed one better, since it contains my shavings.)
Kum Special Diameter Pencil Sharpener for Triangular & Hexagonal Body Pencils
I had the highest hopes for this Kum because its name indicates that it’s intended for pencils of special diameter. Surely my difficult-to-accommodate Derwent and Caran d’Ache qualify as “special”! Like the Kum No. 410, this one offers two holes that look suspiciously similar to the ones in the 410. (Don’t tell me I’m having yet another case of déjà vu!) But in fact, they are not identical because neither hole accommodates the Caran d’Ache. The smaller of the two holes does sharpen the Derwent adequately.
Incidentally, although I don’t use them much, I was curious whether a couple of Koh-i-Noor jumbo triangular pencils – a Triograph and a Magic – would fit. Nope.
Since it’s the first portable sharpener I’ve found that can accommodate all the pencils I typically use and also sharpens beautifully, the Kutsuwa Stad T’Gaalis a versatile keeper in my bag. If only its mouth were just a tiny bit wider, it wouldn’t scrape the lovely matte-finish lacquer on my pricey Caran D’Ache Museum pencils. The grail search continues.