Tag: ask the desk

Ask The Desk: Karas Kustoms RETRAKT/Cross Selectip Hack


My favorite pen is the superb Cross Selectip rollerball. Sadly, all but two of the Cross pens that take this refill (and I’ve got a BUNCH) require you to uncap it to use it. Only the diminutive Cross Click, which is too small for my hand, and the Cross Edge, which I find impossible to open with one hand, operates without a cap. I’m looking for a pocket pen I can operate with one hand – either push-button or twist – that takes the Cross Selectip rollerball refill. Does anyone else make one? Thanks, Gary

The new Ti Arto Kickstater project from Big Idea Design claims to accommodate 200+ refills would be perfect but it, too, is a capped pen. So, I turn to the Karas Kustoms RETRAKT and a little refill hacking to solve your problem. The RETRAKT is available in aluminum and brass and is a wider barrel pen body, comparable in width to a Sharpie permanent marker so should feel quite substantial in the hand. I use and aluminum barrel version which is weighty but can be opened and closed with one hand. My husband has a heavier model with a brass grip section if you want something even more substantial. Prices for the RETRAKT start at $55.


When you purchase a Cross Selectip rollerball refill, it comes with a little plastic cap. Keep this! It is the key to my little hack. Though I suspect a rubber band or string could be used as an alternative. I cut the wide part off and used about 1/8″ or 3mm of the plastic sheath as a spacer between the base of the refill and spring to provide a bit more length to the refill barrel for the spring to travel along. I also needed to shave a little bit of the nubs off the blue cap in order to fit into the barrel of the RETRAKT. You might find a little more plastic is better (or a little less) but there is more than enough left from the cap to experiment a bit.


This last photo shows the Cross Selectip rollerball refill fully extended, with my little plastic mod and the spring inside. Voila! As Tom at Goldspot Pens likes to tease, I’ll hack any pen and any refill.


Ask The Desk: Left-Handed Pen Questions


Sean asks:

I have never owned a fountain pen before and I want to know which is a good medium priced ($30 or so?) pen that won’t require a lot of maintenance and easy to master.

At the $30 or lower price point, I would probably recommend a Pilot Metropolitan or a Kaweco Sport with an extra fine or  fine nib to start with (Jet Pens stocks a wide array of these). The Pilot nibs are going to be finer overall, even with the same marking on them, so if you know you prefer a wider point but would like to try the Pilot Metropolitan, I recommend starting with a medium nib. The Kaweco Sports are smaller, pocket pens but the nibs are statistically excellent for the price point and are screw-in so if you find you like the experience but would like a wider or narrower nib, a replacement nib unit is about $10-$15.

Monteverde has some good (and a good deal heavier and larger pens) below $50 that might appeal to you. Check on Goulet Pens as they stock a good assortment of Monteverde.

Pilot, Kaweco and Monteverde all use cartridges or converters that make them easy to fill and clean.

Overall, I find that most fountain pens that have smooth grip areas are left-handed compatible. The biggest issues tend to relate to writing hand position and whether you are inclined to smudge ink. Then the issues can be resolved with quicker drying inks like Noodlers Bernanke line or a finer nib that lays down less ink as you write. Paper stock can affect this as well. Rhodia is great paper for fountain pens as the ink does not bleed or feather but it can often increase dry time. Leuchtturm1917 paper is a good alternative. Most ink dries fairly quickly on Leuchtturm paper and has minimal show through and bleed through.

You may want to check out the article I wrote for The Cramped about fountain pens for lefties and the article I wrote for On Fountain Pens about my favorite fountain pens for lefties.

I received an email from Anurag asking about left-handed writers and flex nib pens.

I just found your website recently and its great! I notice that your a lefty. Have you tried any flex pens yet? I am hesitant on buying a flex pen due to this being a very new hobby for me.  I’m a lefty over-writer( very similar to your style) and would love to hear about your experience. Thanks!

The key to writing with a flex pen is being able to make wide down strokes and thin upstrokes to get the look we are most accustomed to seeing. Unfortunately, if you overwrite, this is not going to work with a flex pen if you are writing left to right. So you have a couple of options. You can learn to flex write from below the baseline, or underwrite. Its hard but this is the technique I’ve learned as its the most natural adaptation and easiest to expand to other types of calligraphy.

Master Penman John DiCollibus demonstrates some various angles for holding a flexible dip pen in this video which might help in showing some options to help you in getting started with flex nibs.

There are lots of other videos on YouTube showing how other left-handed calligraphers overcome our inconveniences of writing in the same direction that the English/Roman languages are written so its definitely worth exploring to see how others tackle the problem.

If you happen to make it to a pen show in the US, Deborah Basel is often teaching calligraphy workshops and is an excellent left-handed calligrapher and a fabulous resource. I highly recommend seeking out her classes.

Matt Vergotis, a left-handed calligrapher, relies more heavily on a brush pen rather than flex nibs that allow him to come at his work from the side rather than the top. Felt-tip brush pens are a bit more forgiving than flex nibs and can give some similar results with thicks and thins. You might want to check out some of his videos on YouTube or on Instagram. You might also consider enrolling in his lettering class on SkillShare where he shares a lot of his left-handed tips.

Ask The Desk: Notebooks (TN, XL and A5 Filo)


Matt writes:

Dear desk, My question is: I own two travelers Midori journals. One is the regular size while the other is the passport sized one. I am currently using the passport sized one for planning and bullet journaling/taking random notes in. I am not sure what to use the regular sized one for at this point. I was thinking as a daily journal. Any suggestions? P.S. — Do you use these too? Thank you. Matthew


The great thing about Traveler’s notebooks is that they can be used as you need them. So if you find that most of your needs are being served by the passport-sized cover right now, you can put aside the regular-sized one for awhile. However, I found that I loved the size of the regular sized Traveler’s notebook, even though it seems a little unusual. They are particularly good for journaling and traveloguing. I ended up using mine for planning too and the smaller sizes for note-taking and randomness. I don’t think I provided much clarity but the flexibility is the key to Traveler’s notebooks and the ability to use small booklets means you can try one method for awhile and see what works best for you. I’m excited to try my newest inserts, the Ink Journal with the Currently Inked card and the Inky Fingers Currently Inked Journal to help me keep track of what inks are in which pens.

Thomas asks:

I start law school in a few weeks, and I’m looking for a nice notebook to use for class notes. I just moved into my first house, and found my notes from undergraduate and and a masters program. They’re spread across lots of spiral notebooks that are looking as ratty as ever. I know that my notes for law school will be even more important, so I’d like to make sure they have a good home. In reading through your reviews, it seems most of the notebooks you look at are the A5 size–I carry (and love) a Moleskine A5 for meeting notes, ideas, and to-do lists–but for class notes I need something bigger, in the neighborhood of 8×10 or 8.5×11. I really like the classic look of Moleskine, but was also intrigued by the hardcovers from Baron Fig–only to be dismayed to find that they don’t make a larger version. So I’m wondering if you have a sense of who makes lined books that are little bigger, and that are affordable enough that I can buy a dozen or so over time without taking out a second mortgage. I’m also left handed, so that means that smearing is my worst enemy. I write everyday with a Uniball Vision Needle pen, which usually dries very quickly for me, but sometimes it has trouble on the Moleskine paper. And if anyone has done enough paper tests, its you! I would be extremely grateful for any thoughts you might have. Thanks for your time! Cheers, -Thomas


The first notebook I thought of was the Leuchtturm1917 Master series (A4 measures 9″ x 12.5″ – 225 x 315 mm – 121 pages in the Slim and 223 in the standard Master), which I suspect might be second mortgage requiring at around $27 per book for the Slim and $30 for the regular Master. Jenni Bick stocks both in a variety of colors and all the paper configurations (plain, ruled, graph or dot grid). The paper quality is good and the books hold up well but they are pricey.

So, I went digging for other options.

Still a bit pricey, the Blackwing Luxury Large Soft Cover Notebook (7.5 x 10) offers 160 pages of 100 gsm paper in plain, lined or graph and will fit into the Blackwing Large Folio. European Paper sells the books for $21.95 each but offers volume discount pricing so if you decide this is the notebook for you, you might save a few pennies ordering in bulk.

The Fabriano EcoQua Notebooks are available in 8×12″ size in either staplebound booklets with 38 sheets ($4.79) or gluebound with 90 sheets ($8.35) from Dick Blick. Its smooth 85gsm soft white paper that should work well with your Uniball Vision and available in lined or dot gird. The covers are cardstock, however, so its not as durable as a hardcover notebook but definitely easier on the wallet.

If anyone has other A4-ish sized notebook recommendations for Thomas, please leave them in the comments. Thanks!

Emily asks:

I’m looking for an A5 notebook that comes pre-punched with filofax-esque holes. I would like to use my A5 filo as the “home” for all the notes I take in meetings without actually taking my filo with me to meetings. Ideally it would also have perforated pages. Am I asking too much of the notebook world for such a thing? Thanks!!!

I have not seen any A5 notebooks that are pre-punched with holes for Filofax and that’s most distressing! I noticed that Michael’s was stocking pre-punched Personal-sized paper (not perforated) recently for their Recollections “Creative Year” planner lines but not A5. They had a custom larger-sized binder with four holes. So odd and unhelpful.

Readers, if you can help Emily, please leave a note in the comments. Thanks!

Ask The Desk: (Ball)Pointed Questions


Hayley asks:

I am looking for a pen as a gift for my step-father’s 60th and I wondered if you might have any ideas please. He is a salesman and carries a ballpoint-ish pen in his jacket pocket. I’m happy to buy a good refill – like a Fisher space or a Schmidt or something – but I could use some ideas for the actual pen. He is a pretty glam guy, he’d be the one in the white dinner jacket when everyone else is wearing black, and he likes brightly coloured shirts but on the classy side, rather than garish. I suspect a nock/click would be most practical for him but a good post or twist would be ok too. I could probably get him something brass or gold but I wondered if you knew of anything a bit more eye-catching please? Thank you!


Hi, Hayley! This is a tough question without a specific price point so I’m going to give you a couple options at a couple price options. My first thought for a ballpoint pen that is classic but available in some options that could be colourful or understated is the Parker Jotter. It can be purchased in shiny stainless steel for a classy, upscale look for about $26 or in simple black plastic barrel with stainless steel clip for $7.95.

Cross offer their classic Century line which features both a ballpoint model which is a twist closure. There is also a rollerball model that features their Selectip option which has a traditional posted cap and allows for a ballpoint, rollerball or felt tip refill. A Century line pen can be purchased starting at about $24 for the black chrome plated ballpoint pen and the most expensive models would be the solid18K gold pen and pencil set for $6350. That one might be a little too pricey. The Cross Century line was updated and modernized into the Century II which is a wider barrel version which is available in ballpoint and rollerball versions as well as a fountain pen. The prices for the Century II start at about $90 for the ballpoint model.

I seem to keep coming back to classic Americana designs. The way you describe your father, it seems those might best suit his tailored, stylish looks. The next pen that came to mind was the Sheaffer 500 ballpoint in chrome ($15). Its a bit wider barrel but still a sleek, tailored look. It is also available in a variety of other colors, including a translucent red or blue with a chrome clip or a more sophisticated black with gold tone hardware ($46.50).

I hope these give you some good options and good luck finding just the right pen!

Susan asks:

Is it possible to get fine point ballpoint refills in a variety of coloured inks for the Hexomatic Retro 51?

The Hexomatic takes a standard Parker-style refill so your options are pretty broad. I’d recommend that you consider the Monteverde refills for Parker which are available in orange, green, purple, turquoise, and pink as well as more common colors like blue, blue/black, black, red and brown. These refills are available in both ceramic ballpoint and soft roll, even a gel-style refill. A wide selection of these refills are available from Refill FinderPen Boutique, and Goldspot Pens.

Pat asks:

I was given a very nice promotional pen from an associate. I do not know who manufactured it. I really like it and would like to use it, however the the rollerball ink cartridge writes very poorly. It is a Schmidt 888F. Can you recommend a better smoother writing alternative that could be used instead?

The Schmidt 888F is a standard G2 Euro Rollerball refill so you have a lot of options to choose from. A lot of folks prefer the Schmidt 8126 and 8127 over the 888F. But you can also use the Pilot G2 or anything else in the list on my Refill guide under the G2/Euro section.

I know that’s sort of vague but you have so many options you can probably just start twisting open pens from around your home and office and you’ll probably find a refill that will fit into the pen that you like pretty quickly. Then you’ll know what you like and can then buy refills accordingly.

Charles asks:

Since I want to try other refills than the standard Retro 51/Schmidt rollerball which 2 or 3 would you recommend to try? I don’t want to hack, simple refill only.

Retro 51s will take a Parker style refill with no modifications. If you are looking for a ballpoint refill and prefer a wider tip or a very fine tip, I recommend the Monteverde Soft Roll refills. If you prefer a gel refill, the Monteverde Gel refills are available in broad and fine and a variety of colors. If you prefer a medium gel refill, Parker makes them in red, blue and black.

Ask The Desk: Refills, Reuse, Notebooks & KC Tourism


Mishelle is in search of:

Looked through the list and I didn’t see this cross gel ball point listed. I was wondering if you know if it would be an option for a render k. I currently have a fine liner in there now but I’d like purple something (like) Cross Selectip Gel Rollingball Pen Refill.

I went to the knowledge source of all things refill, Tom at Goldspot Pens (AKA Refill Finder) and here’s what he recommended:
“The great thing about the Render K (especially the G2 version), is that they adapt to be able to use so many types of refills, and even include a spacer you can size down to fit your refill of choice. The Cross Selectip measures at 4.375” in length, which is about the same size as the international rollerball at 4.39″ They do make a rollerball in purple ink.
Cross also offers selectip porous-point refills, which is the same as saying felt tip. However, colors in the felt tip type are limited to blue or black. No purple there! I went through the Schmidt and Monteverde catalog to find a felt-tip that had purple ink, but no luck there either. If purple must absolutely be had, I’d go with the purple G2 or the Cross Selectip Purple.

Sharpie Pen Retractable

Michelle asks:

I have faux-chrome and black push button versions of the Sharpie retractable pen. When they inevitably run out of ink, I am loathe to discard them–especially the nicer ones which are becoming harder for me to find locally. I know they are not refillable, but have you heard of any way to reuse/hack/upcycle the bodies?

It turns out that I lose the retractable Sharpie pens before they ever actually dry out so I’ve never gotten to the point where I could actually test whether I could disassemble them. So, I went out today and bought another 3-pack in  the name of science and short of actual destruction, I couldn’t figure out any way to disassemble the barrel.

Does anyone else have any idea of a way to reuse or recycle the Sharpie retractables?

Leuchtturm 1917 Neon Green Notebook

Gentry asks:

Out of all of the notebooks, what is your favorite to write in. I am on the quest to find the best notebook. I am currently trying out a Piccadilly, Leuchtturm1917, and a Moleskine and am looking into the Baron Fig Confidant currently. Any suggestions on better notebooks would be awesome.

Notebooks are such a personal preference as it comes down to a balance between cost, form, paper, ruling (or not) and any added features (do pockets, elastics, etc make or break a notebook for you) that what I favor may not, in the end, be what you favor.

Of the notebooks you listed, Gentry, for value, I really like the Piccadilly. Its not the most durable but it has reasonably good paper and overall quality for under $10 and that’s hard to beat. However, with regular wear and tear, the binding will often give out, as will the elastic which can make the notebook look as cheap as it is.

So, if you’re looking for a “buy once, cry once” product, the best in category of the ones you’ve listed is definitely the Leuchtturm1917. While the build quality of the Baron Fig is excellent, if you’re inclined to use wet rollerballs or fountain pens, you will not love the paper.

If you like using fountain pens, you may also want to consider the Rhodia Webnotebooks or the QuoVadis Habana which features Clairefontaine paper which is so conducive to fountain pens.

Image via wikipedia
(Image via wikipedia)

Jonathan is coming to Kansas City:

My wife and I will be attending PlannerCon in September and were wanting to know what places we cannot miss in KC while we are there.

First, congratulations on getting tickets to the Midwest PlannerCon. It looks like its shaping up to be a good event. As for places to visit in Kansas City, I assume you are looking for pen-and-paper related stops? So, I recommend Maker Goods in Westpost with a stop at Char Bar if you want to partake in some fine BBQ cuisine in a casual environment. Or grab some bagels from Mesuggah Bagels on 39th St. or donuts from the local institution Lamars Donuts.

At Crown Center, there is the only pen shop in town, The Pen Place, but you can also grab a slice from Spin Pizza while you’re there or a concrete from Sheridan’s Frozen Custard. Its near Union Station and the KC Aquarium which both offer touristy activities should you be looking to entertain yourself for an afternoon.

In the Crossroads, near Crown Center is Hammerpress which creates letterpress cards and also sells an assortment of stationery goods. Its not far from the Up/Down arcade, the Roasterie and Boulevard Brewery which both host tours.

And in the Country Club Plaza area is Paper Source along with lots of standard shopping, eating and drinking fare. Its close to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art which is a diverse museum with a fabulous gift shop. Their courtyard restaurant is also a nice place to hang out as is the  wide front lawn with the epic (and iconic) shuttlecocks.

Ask The Desk: Anything Goes!


Judith asks:

Will you be attending the DC Pen Show in August?

Judith, I’m delighted to say that YES! I will be attending the DC SuperShow in August. I’ve already purchased my plane tickets and Lisa from Vanness Pens has graciously offered to let me help out in their booth again after Chicago so I guess I did okay. So, if you are looking for me, I’ll be the pink hair behind the Vanness table during the day and the exhausted pink-haired girl at the bar after hours.

Samantha asks:

Any leads on where to find stylish, high-quality customized pencils?

Is that leads or leads? Was the pun intentional? I suspect it was… Anyway…I was under the impression that Pencils.com offered custom Blackwings but I could not find a link on their site. They do have a section of custom pencils but do not provide much information to the overall quality of these pencils though I am sure you can email to ask about options.

Dixon also has a promotional section on their site for custom Ticonderogas and the like. These aren’t the best pencils but better than completely no-name options.

Finally, CW Pencil Enterprise offers a very simple, gold foil stamped Musgrave pencil created by hand on their vintage Kingsley Hoil Foil Machine. Only one font choice but its pretty nice. There’s no minimum order and there’s more details about costing on their site.

Depending on quantity, the possibility exists that someone somewhere would be willing to work with you. Does anyone else have recommendations for good quality custom pencils?

Berta asks the baffling question:

Do the holes on an A5 sheet match up with the holes on a Franklin Covey Classic sheet? AKA, will A5 inserts fit in a Franklin Covey Classic planner?

If I read your question correctly, I have some unfortunate news. The A5 Sheets used in a traditional Filofax have only 6 holes while the larger Franklin Covey sheets have 7 holes. And they do not align at all.

Philofaxy did a great post with a photo to show how much the holes do not align.

Charles warns:

Oh No Ana, you have made my craving into a full blown addiction! What am I to? And here I thought it was just an innocent little twinge of ” ooh, I want that, and that, and if I get this I must have that.” Is there any hope? I may have to seek professional help.
You have many links. Do you have one that can help me?

PS : this has been a joke! Had it been an actual plea, you would have been redirected to…

Where? There’s a cure? If so, I need it too!

Do you have a pressing pen, ink or paper question for The Desk? Use the link in the header “Ask the Desk” and send me a question and I’ll try to find an answer for you and post it in the next edition of Ask The Desk.

Ask The Desk: 4mm Grid Paper Notebooks


Romain asks:

I am desperately looking for a large notebook (A5-A4) with 4mm squared paper; do you have any advice for me?

This took some hunting and I could only find one printed option that featured the coveted 4mm grid paper It’s the Miquelrius leather-look journals. They are available in 100-, 200-, and 300-sheet books with black, blue or red covers for $9.99 to $14.99. The paper quality is decent. I used a Miquelrius book for ink testing for some time early in my blog career before switching to Rhodia paper which is a bit more hardy.

Miquelrius books

There are more images of the whole Miquelrius Grid journal I used available on Flickr.

Another option for grid paper would be to print your own paper. Paper Snake offers printable graph in a variety of quadrille and graph paper sizes in metric and imperial sizes including 4mm.

Paper Snake site

Ask The Desk: Supply Organization

This Ask The Desk question is actually a follow-up from the Pen Addict Podcast Episode 197 and a question that started with June Thomas and was then there was a follow-up question in the Pen Addict Slack channel by clairelin. Both wanted to know how I kept my copious collection of supplies organized so I thought I’d pull back the curtain and reveal how I squirrel away all the supplies.

I live in a teeny tiny house so clutter is a big issue and space is at a premium, not to mention that both my husband and I are are collectors and pack rats, so we are a great risk of being buried under our hobbies. I try pretty hard to keep all the supplies organized and tidy so that I can find what I’m looking for and so that it doesn’t start piling up everywhere.

art supply storage

First, if it wasn’t for Ikea, The Container Store and other such places, I’d be buried under my own clutter. All hail Ikea! The first item that has kept me tidy is the Raskog utility cart. I filled the top tier with an assortment of glass jars that each hold a type of pencil, pen, brush or marker.  Some of the jars are Mason or Bell jars and some are jsut old salsa jars. I scavenge any straight-sided jar that passes through my kitchen now as a potential holder of pens.

The lower tiers store bottles of paints, spray bottles, gesso, towels, heat gun, etc. All handy and the cart rolls easily around my workspace so I can have access to the items when I need them and move them out of the way when I don’t.

ink and field notes storage

Along the top of my bookshelf, I keep surplus ink and Field Notes (and books of similar size). Grey boxes are ink, white boxes are Field Notes. The white boxes are photo storage boxes from a big box craft store and the grey boxes are from Ikea. The inks are bottles I’ve tested but are not favorites so I don’t need regular access to them.

storage wall

Along one wall of my workspace is the storage mecca. From the left, a vintage metal cabinet that I purchase at an antique shop (I keep meaning to repaint it but I want to take it to a powder coater and get it done right so it hasn’t happened yet) holds the notebook stash, camera equipment, excess pencil inventory and miscellaneous art supplies. The center wooden cabinet holds vintage fountain pens in the top shelf, stationery in the large left cabinet (yes, I have that much letter-writing material) and the right side is shop inventory. The steel drawers on the right are older versions of the Ikea Helmer units which are made much better now. I added magnet labels or Dymo labels on the front of the drawers so I would remember what was in each. Its an array of mechanical pencils, fountain pens, ink, electronic cables, tape, scissors and other daily office necessities. The smaller unit on top is a Bisley drawer unit from Container Store that stores an assortment of printer paper, label stock, photo paper, etc.

tackle boxes for storage

One of my favorite ways to stash collections of items is with old tackle boxes. This pile usually sits under my desk, each one with a specific task: one filled with acrylic paints, one filled with extra art supplies, one actually filled with tools, etc. One is empty and is used for events and craft shows to tote out a portable kit of supplies.

ikea storage

Behind my desk is the Ikea Alex Unit. Its a decent small sized flat file. The top two drawers hold rubber stamps and washi tape (yes, one whole drawer for each) followed by drawers with rolls of paper for shooting products, flat papers and some larger drawing pads and palettes. On top of the Alex is an old library card catalog I store more rubber stamps and stamp pads inside, my giant whale tape dispensers, my ticket spike (all those shipped packages!) and behind that, the daily use pen and pencil collections.

jars for pencil and pen storage

Ta da! Here are the pens and pencils that get used in all my reviews and paper tests, each divided by type into another jar or can: highlighters, gel pens, felt tips, pencils, rollerballs,and miscellaneous. The nice thing with the jars is that I can grab a whole jar and move them to my desk as I need them and then put the jar back when I’m done. Or just pick one or two. It keeps my working surface relatively clutter-free unless I grab all the jars at once. Then its chaos and I have to spend an hour putting everything away.

So there you have it. A tour of my storage solutions. Its not easy keeping it all contained and often times my desk is a big pile of mess when I’m in the throes of reviews but I feel like I’ve developed a good system where everything has a place.

I also make a point to cull through the stash regularly to keep it from growing out of control. I try to give things away to friends or charities before I get too overwhelmed.

Do you have any tips for storage and keeping the stationery clutter in check?

Ask The Desk: Art Supply Review Blog/Podcast


@peariyard on Twitter asked:

Anybody know of an art supply podcast a la /? Or maybe a blog?

If this isn’t a question after my own heart!

First, as far as I know, there is no podcast but I think someone should remedy that situation ASAP. And then invite me to come talk about stuff regularly. Let’s nerd out about watercolor paper, water soluble markers and acrylic high flow paint!

As for blogs, there are lots of options out there, some more current than others and some tailored towards more specific types of art making than others.

If you’re into watercolor/street/travel/portable painting, then definitely check out ParkaBlogs. He keeps an extensive set of reviews of watercolor pan palettes, sketchbook reviews, book reviews and lots of videos. Extremely extensive. Another great resource for travel/life/street painting is Liz Steel. Again, she focuses on a lot of portable supplies but she has a penchant for fountain pens and inks so she’s definitely “our people”.

Roz Wound Up is a great resource for an assortment of supplies for travel/portable drawing and sketching materials. She has a great list of links to people she likes along the lower lefthand side of the blog as well which is worth a click through.

Rob’s Art Supply Reviews has not been updated in awhile but he has a lot of standard materials listed like pastels, Neocolor crayons and papers that are still entirely relevant and available. Broke For Art on Tumblr used to be quite active but its got more Q&A nowadays. There’s still a lot of good content to peruse though if you’re on the hunt for something in particular.

Fellow pen bloggers Biffy Beans and Inkophile both keep tags for their art supplies reviews so they are good resources for some products as well. I have a tag for art supplies as well for any occasion when I review something that leans more “art supply” than everyday writing or office supply.

And of course, there are tons of videos on YouTube to peruse as well if there’s a specific product you are considering someone may have made a video trying it out. Don’t forget that sometimes Amazon reviews, or reviews on individual online art supply shops can also be helpful. Good luck and leave a comment if there’s a specific product you’re looking for information about.

Ask The Desk: Felt Tip Pen Conundrums


Amanda asked:

I’m a university student that loves using felt-tip pens but I hate how they show through the other side of my pages! Are there any affordable felt tip pens that won’t show through the pages of a cheap spiral bound notebooks?

and then to make matters even more complicated, Grace asked this great big question:

I am a typical college student who fell in love with felt tip/plastic tip pens. I have gotten my hands on Sharpie pen, Monami Plus pen, and Stabilo 88. I mostly use them for rewriting and color-coding my notes. I write a lot and I write hard (press). I would like your suggestion/opinion on which pen I should use.

So far, the Sharpie pen held up the best. It writes neat and it’s the only felt tip pen that doesn’t bleed through the page. The only bad thing about it is that it tends to strip after a while and get on your hands. It’s like having black and sliver sparkles/glitter coming off fro the pen.

The Plus pen writes neat but the tip softens as times goes on, has a tendency to “trip and splash” on the paper. What I mean by that is… It starts off writing really smooth and thin. Then when there’s the smallest variation in paper (that wouldn’t be detected by other pens), the tip would flex and bounce, making an ink splash. It really doesn’t seem to last too long compared to the other pens that I have had in the past.

Stabilo 88 is fine but is a bit thicker, and that is understandable since it’s an art pen. It bleeds through but it really lasts a while. The color seems to darken after uncapping for a few seconds but comes back to the normal color after a few strokes.

So I am trying to narrow down the choices for the next choice of pens that I should use. From what I have, I know that the plus pen is out. I am leaning more towards the Sharpie pen and Stabilo (Sharpie > Stabilo). Now I have been searching for more pens and I discovered from various sites about Sakura Pigma Micron. Would you say that Sakura Pigma Micron is better than Sharpie pen for uses of smooth and continuous note writing in college? I’m looking in the aspects of: grip, cost, color variety, smoothness, bleeding, and the time it lasts.

Since both questions are about felt tip pens and the issue of bleeding through the paper I’m going to respond to them together. While Grace’s question is much more in depth, I hope Amanda will glean some info out of this as well.

But for both of you college-ladies-on-a-budget, the bad news is that felt tip pens will most likely show through, if not bleed through, most budget notebook paper. Be prepared to either use only the front sides of the sheets or get an extra sheet of paper or cardstock to use as a blotter between pages to keep the inks from bleeding to the next page. Cut down a manila folder as an option for a budget blotter but be sure its not coated or glossy or you could have a mess on your hands.

Onward to the pens!

For the greatest color range and a slightly finer tip than the Stabilo88s, I recommend looking for the Staedtler Triplus Fineliners. The tips seem to be the same but I find the Staedtlers to be a bit firmer and oh, the colors!

As for the Sakura Pigma Microns, they have very fine tips but tend to be pricier than Sharpie pens and the tips can go soft or dull very easily. As for the paint on the barrel of the Sharpie coming off on your hand, have you considered the Sharpie retractable model? It has a plain black barrel with a silicone grip section. There’s not as much ink in the retractable model as the regular capped model but if you can find a good price on a multi-pack at a big box store, it might be a good investment for comfort and no-paint-transfer. I also find that the Sharpie pens are the least likely to have show through on most papers, closely followed by the copycat Bic Intensity.

A budget option to the Sakura Pigma Micron is the ZIG Millennium line of felt tip pens. They can often be found in craft big box stores or online and the fine, fine lines of the 005 and 01 versions might not bleed through most papers but may not hold up to heavy-handed writing. But they are not as expensive as Microns so you won’t be heartbroken if you kill one. I have killed many many Microns so I know how sad it can be. I’ve also killed Copic Multiliners, and a whole army of fancy tech pens.

So for straight-up black felt tips, stick with the Sharpie pen in either retractable or regular capped. If you want to try something finer, try the ZIG Millennium. And for color coding, I recommend the Staedtler Triplus Fineliners.

I tested a bunch of these felt tips on the cheapest paper I had on hand, it was a budget-priced composition notebook that has basically newsprint paper inside just to show what kind of show through or bleed I got.

Cheap paper felt tip pen test Cheap paper felt tip pen test from the reverse

Best of luck with finals!

Ask The Desk: The One Pen, Jotter Hacks & A5 Notebook


Portia asks:

If you could only use one fountain pen, what would it be? I’ve never had one before, but I also don’t need another expensive hobby/collection, so I’d like to stick to just one purchase. I really like a smooth feel to my writing (so gels and ballpoints over felt tips!) if that matters.

Okay, here’s my answer but please leave your answer in the comments!

Pilot Metropolitan Reto Pop Fountain Pens

I’d have to say if I had to pick just one fountain pen that had a comparable experience to a gel pen, I’d probably pick a Pilot Metropolitan/Retro Pop with a F nib. They are super smooth writers and the fine nib is comparable to the 0.5mm or finer gel tips depending on the paper stock and ink. The M nib is closer to an 0.5-0.7mm gel tip, if you prefer a wider point.

You can get a converter for them which will give you an unending array of ink options as well. The Metropolitan/Retro Pop is not an expensive pen either so you won’t have invested too much into a new hobby and can put extra funds towards inks instead.

David asks:

I’m looking for a good A5 sized notebook/journal just for note taking and doodling. Nothing too serious :-). Just random thoughts and ideas as they come to me. I tend to write with ballpoints and pencils as I’m terrible at loosing pens so don’t usually buy anything more expensive than that. Which brings me to my question. Do you know if there are any decent A5 journals out there that come with pen loops/holders on them? Is this very common? Or do most people think this kind of thing is a bit intrusive which is why you tend not to see it so much.

The solution to your pen loop problem is the Leuchtturm adhesive pen loop. Depending on your locale, Bureau Direct, Cult Pens and Goulet Pens all stock this genius little add-on. I adhere one into the back of my notebooks and they work brilliantly. I’ve yet to try to remove one and they have not fallen off either so the adhesive seems good.

Leuchtturm Pen Loop

This opens up your options for an A5 notebook to a wider variety based on whether you prefer soft or hardcover books, lined, graph or blank paper. Actually, Leuchtturm1917 makes wonderful A5 sized notebooks in softcover and hardcover with lined, graph, dot grid or blank paper with numbered pages and an index. The paper is good quality and they pack a lot of sheets into each book. Most people consider them to be a step up, quality-wise from a Moleskine and the Leuchtturm1917 books are genuinely A5 sized. I reviewed the neon green edition here. Rhodia webnotebooks are higher quality notebooks with paper suitable for fountain pens but the books are pricier as well. If you stick to non-fountain pens, it may be more than you need. There are reviews of the Rhodia webnotebook in blank, dot grid and the Rhodiarama edition available for more details.

And last, Bill had a question about refills:

I do have a question about the Schmidt P8126 Capless Rollerball in the Parker Style refill section. Form the images I have seen of the refill it doe not seem to have the toothed cap on top like a standard Parker ballpoint refill. Do you know if the Schmidt P8126 will still work in a click pen like a Parker Jotter?

Sadly, the Schmidt P8126 will not work with the Parker Jotter. It turns out the P8126 is slightly too wide to fit into the Jotter barrel. Also, because of the flat cone shape of the refill, even boring out the barrel, the refill would not fit into the tapered end of the pen. Total pen hack fail.

But, I did find a possible alternative: The Kaweco Sport G2 Rollerball refill. It’s available in blue or black as a medium but I tested it out and its not super wide. Monteverde makes Parker-style gel refills in fine point in a variety of colors which might also be an option.

At the end of my written review of the Parker Jotter, I swapped out the regular ballpoint ink with the Monteverde gel ink fine point in blue black if you want to see how it performs. Its not a thorough review but at least its a peek. I write pretty small too.

Ask The Desk: Pocket Fountain Pens


Barry asks:

I am an absolute beginner in fountain pens, however my interest has been extremely peaked.

I currently carry a mini ballpoint pen in my front pocket. I would also like to carry a fountain pen like this as well. I have medium size hands with medium writing. I would like to move to bottle ink in the future but this is not a must in the beginning.

There are several pocketable fountain pen options but there are some trade-offs when getting a fountain pen small enough to fit in a shirt pocket. Some will be shorter overall, even posted, than a regular full-sized fountain pen making them less comfortable for a longer writing session but acceptable for note-taking. Some will not accommodate ink converters because of the smaller size and will need to be used with cartridges only. You can refill cartridges with a syringe though so there is a work-around for this issue.


The first brand to come to mind is Kaweco which makes the Sport line in plastic, aluminum and brass (even carbon fiber!). There are many nib options available from EF to BB and prices for the Sport line start around $25 for a plastic model and go up to $100 for the brass models. Pocket clips can be added. For larger hands, the Raw AL or Brass models might be the most comfortable because of the added weight. The plastic models are quite lightweight but I find adding the clip and posting the cap help balance the pen.

Kaweco AL-Sport RAW & Aluminum Liliput

Kaweco also makes a smaller pen called the Liliput which is quite pocketable but is not as comfortable in larger hands for writing over longer sessions. But is comparable in size to the Fisher Space Pen.

On the budget end of the spectrum, there is the Pilot Petit Mini Fountain Pen which comes in eight translucent colors with matching inks, each for $3.80 and features a fine Japanese nib. If you wanted to dip your toe into the pocket fountain pen world, this is the least expensive way to try it out. The Pilot Petit is refillable, three cartridges are $1.90.

Another great small option would be the TWSBI Mini ($50) and it is a piston filler, designed to use only bottled inks. It’s small enough to fit in a shirt pocket but the cap will post and thread to the end of the pen to give a comfortable writing length. TWSBi uses European nib sizing and the nibs come in EF, F, M, B, stub1.1, stub1.5 nib sizes so there are plenty of options to choose from. There is also the newer TWSBI Vac Mini which uses a vacuum filling mechanism which might be a bit trickier for a new fountain pen user but may be something to consider later.

The Taccia Covenant is a higher end pocket fountain pen that lengthens by hiding the body of the pen inside a cap of equal length. When posted, the pen is over 7.25″ long. It’s available in three colors with a two-tone steel nib in fine, medium or broad for $103.20.

Franklin Christoph Pocket 66 Ice

Franklin-Christoph has made a couple pocket fountain pens and I particularly like the Pocket 66 in Ice, eyedroppered. By sealing the threads with silicone grease, the whole barrel can be filled with ink both showing off the color and maximizing ink capacity. Prices start at $149.

I hope this gets you started on your quest for the perfect pocket fountain pen. The pocket fountain pens are some of my favorites to collect and I’m sure you’ll enjoy adding some to your collection too.

Ask The Desk: Fountain Pen on Washi Tape?


Shana asks:

I recently got a fountain pen after having lost one many years ago. (A noodlers Konrad, go flex!) I’m using it often in my planner, which also has a lot of washi tape marking appointments. So far the few inks I’ve tested seem to not like washi tape as a surface to be written on. What inks work on washi tape?

Shana, I went to my planner-and-washi-tape experts, AKA my secret society of enablers, for some information. First thing I discovered is that washi is a word that gets used by a lot of tape sellers to describe a wide variety of paper tapes, some more papery than others and others more shiny. The original paper tape from Japan, MT stands for “masking tape” and actually, the term “washi” refers to a specific type of paper made in Japan. So technically, the tapes we use in our planners is paper tape or masking tape.

I asked my pals if they’d had any good experiences with tape and fountain pens and, with the differences in tape shininess, your results may vary from theirs. In field tests, all my secret society testers agreed that, while they could theoretically get some fountain pen and rollerball ink to adhere to washi tape, it tended to bead up and take way too long to dry to be useful. Most recommended that if you wanted to write on the tape itself, to use a permanent pen like Sharpie Extra Fine Permanent markers, Staedtler Lumocolor permanent markers, Stabilo Write4all permanent or American Crafts Slick Writers. The testers also suggested that ballpoint pens and gel pens do as well, but the gel pen needed a lot of drying time. One tester had some luck with 6B, 7B or 8B pencil but a pencil that soft may have the tendency to smear.

You may want to look for some plain paper stickers as an alternative to washi tape to use in your planner if you want to use them for appointment notations and write on them. Particularly Flex nibs will be a particular challenge since they lay down a lot of ink in regards to dry time as well. Quick drying inks might help like Private Reserve’s Fast-Dry line or Noodler’s Bernake series.

So, the short answer is no. Fountain pens and washi tape are not the best of friends. Best of luck in finding the perfect pairing.

Ask the Desk: EU EF Nibs vs. 0.5 mm gels, 3-Hole Personal Size & Planner Stamps


Renee asked:

I was interested in getting a pen that writes with a line similar to that of a .5 mm pen. I was considering a Kaweco sport given your enthusiastic reviews. Would a European extra fine do that?

The Kaweco might give a little bit wider stroke depending on the paper and/or ink combination than a 0.5mm gel or rollerball pen. Let’s do a little experiment!


I got a bunch of my favorite 0.5mm gel pens and pens I felt wrote comparably to 0.5 like a Sharpie Pen and the Staedtler Triplus Finalizer. Then I got out a bunch of European (and American) EF and F nibs and a few Japanese, just for comparison sake, and wrote their name and then drew a slow line using a ruler to try to get as close and exact idea of their line widths. I stand by my theory that the Kaweco EF and F are almost indistinguishable and about the same width as the Pilot Metropolitan M. I’d say those are a bit wider than the 0.5mm gel pens. The Pilot Metropolitan F, TWSBI EF and Monteverde EF were closer in width to the 0.5mm. For some reason, I did not have a Lamy EF in house.  The Lamy F was wider than even the Kaweco F or the Pilot Metropolitan M so if you’re looking at a fine line from Lamy, definitely aim for the EF. But if you are dabbling in the Japanese pens, you could go as broad as a M and still get a very fine line. Good luck on your fountain pen adventures!


Steve asks:

I have a small cache of 3.75″ x 6.75″ 3-hole ruled paper. The 3-ring binder has long since died. Any ideas on where I might find a new binder?

I was unable to find any 3-ring versions of a 3.75″ x 6.75″ binder. However, I was able to find 6-ring binders. The size is the same as the Filofax Personal-sized, DayTimer (portable), DayRunner (small). Mead even makes loose leaf notebooks in this size  for about $10. The paper might need to be punched with additional holes but the current popularity of the personal sized Filofax and similar planners means that 6-ring binders and refills will continue to be available for years to come. A copy shop might be able to punch the holes for you or you could purchase a hole punch and do it yourself.

Sarah asks:

Do you have any recommendations for planner stamps? I initially wanted to use the Pilot Frixion stamps because they are self-inking and erasable, but couldn’t find a complete set from any American retailers (except on Etsy and eBay, where I’d have to pay a huge mark-up). I bought this set last week and I’m pretty happy with it, but I wonder what other people are using.

This is a fun question, Sarah! Thanks for submitting it. I have found that I really like the clear cling planner stamps from either Hero Arts, Studio Calico or Studio L2E. Since they come on small flat sheets, they are easy to store and carry. You can even pick and choose from a variety of different planner sheet sets to build your perfect set for your planner. Most clear stamp sheets come on sheets ranging in size from about  4″ x 6″ and larger with lots of word and symbol stamps on each sheet.


  1. Studio Calico Stamp Set: Bullet By Hello Forever $15.99
  2. Hero Arts To Do List $15.99
  3. Hero Arts My Week $15.99
  4. Studio L2E Plan It Stamp Set $15

I keep a small acrylic block, similar to this set, in my pencil case and a small stamp pad for stamping. If you discover that you have specific stamps you use all the time, you can also just  adhere them onto something more permanently. Some are small enough to fit onto the end of  a bottle cap, old marker or dowel to make a more permanent stamp.

Happy stamping!

If you have a question for The Desk, use the “Ask The Desk” link at the top of the blog. Thanks!

Ask The Desk: Address Books (Fountain Pen Friendly and/or Refillable)

Amy asks:

Any suggestions for an address and occasion book that is fountain pen friendly? I don’t want a full blown planner/calendar. A bonus would be refillable pages. Thanks!!!

I keep rolling this over in my mind. There are a lot of possibilities for an address book.

Filofax Cotton Cream Address Pages

You could actually use a Filofax or other ring bound notebook as just an address book. This would give you the flexibility of choosing exactly the size you want. You could print your own address pages or purchase a printable using paper of your choice thereby satisfying the fountain pen friendly equation. And it would be infinitely refillable. But yes, there’s some legwork and set-up involved in this particular option.

If you don’t already own a ring-bound planner, you’d need to purchase one. New planners usually ship with a full set of inserts unless you buy them secondhand so there may be elements wasted. Then you’d have to find address tabs; buy, print or make contacts pages and assemble the whole thing. Once completed however, you are basically done. Once in awhile, you might need to print some new pages or update existing pages but it would be a self-sustaining system. As someone who owns about a half a dozen planners, I’m thinking I might just turn one of them into an address book because this is a brilliant idea and a way for me to put one of my many planners to use.


Hallmark Address Book

Hallmark Cards continues to produce address books including its own 6-hole binders which you can purchase replacement sheets. The paper quality is up for debate. I’ve used a 6-ring binder for several years and some pens bleed a little, others don’t at all. Its a heavier weight paper but it doesn’t seem to have any sizing on it so its hit or miss. And again, I have not been able to test every book in their store to determine if its specific to a range of products.  Prices range from $9.95 to $24.95.

There are some lovely bound address books that are available as well.

paperblanks address book

Paperblanks address book

Paperblanks makes lovely notebooks and their line of address books are no exception. These are bound books but stand up reasonably well to fine and medium nib fountain pens and are elegant to boot. Jenni Bick sells several options with prices ranging $18.95 and $21.95.

Moleskine address book

While not known to be the most fountain pen friendly, Moleskine does make a tabbed Address Book notebook. Its available in 3.5×5 and 5.5×8 sizes with a hardcover ($13.95-$19.95) as well as the softcover Volant ($8.95-$12) and the tabs are plastic covered to make it more durable. The pages are otherwise unmarked which give the user plenty of room for a variety of contact information from simple phone numbers to lengthy foreign addresses.

Of course, there are many other options for address books at your local book shop or office supply store that may or may not be friendly with your pens or your wallet. But these were a few I thought might meet one or more of the criteria set forth: refillable and/or fountain pen friendly. Nice to look at being a bonus.

Ask The Desk: Landscape Notebooks


Anna Marie asks:

I’m looking for landscape orientation notebooks. I know there’s a landscape orientation Rhodia Webnotebook, but I wouldn’t mind a color that isn’t orange or black. (Sacrilege, I know.) Do any other quality notebook companies make blank landscape orientation options, with binding on the short side? Fountain pen friendly always a bonus!

The sad truth of the matter is that there seems to be an assumption that if you want a horizontal/landscape notebook, you must be an artist and therefore only want a black book. The only company I could find that made landscape notebooks/sketchbooks with any other color cover was Hand Book Artists Journals Travelogue Series. I find the paper a little absorbent for some inks but overall its a thicker stock an good for light washes, and a variety of pen, pencil and media.

If you can live with a black cover though, the Rhodia would be best for fountain pens specifically. For mixed media, I can’t praise Stillman & Birn sketchbooks highly enough. I’ve used the Alpha and the Epsilon notebooks and I like them both. Stillman & Birn offer a landscape format in both softcover (this is new and looks NOT black!) and hardcover. The only Moleskine notebooks I’ve yet to try is the watercolor notebook and many people actually praise it. It’s available in the landscape format with 200 gsm, cold press paper which sounds pretty nice.

Hand Book Artist Journal Travelogue Series, which just happen to be local (Go, Kansas City!) They are available with a linen fabric cover in black, red, blue and green with a soft ivory paper inside.

Ask The Desk: Spiral Notebooks


Jennifer asks:

I was wondering if you could do a post on the best medium/small spiral notebooks on the market. I would much appreciate it. Thank you.

When you ask “what’s the best” do you mean best quality paper, best ring binding or are you using other criteria to determine what makes a serial notebook better than others (hard covers, pockets, divider tabs,etc)? Do you prefer true serial binding or is twin-ring binding or even plastic ring acceptable? I’ll make my best guesses here and hopefully hit on the best of the best here.


I’m going to focus on paper quality and availability.

Rhodia offers a couple different formats of wire bound notebooks that use the fountain pen friendly Clairefontaine paper. There is the 8.25″ square Reverse Book or a wide range of smaller top-ring notebooks like the medium Wirebound Pad that is 6×8.25″. Rhodia pads use mostly graph paper so if you’re looking for lined paper, you might want to consider the Rhodia Classic Meeting Book (A5). Pretty much any notebook from Rhodia, Clairefontaine, or Quo Vadis will use the much touted Clairefontaine papers which work well with fountain pens. Rhoda notebooks are often the easiest to find in the US and Canada but keep your eyes out for Clairefontaine as well.

Doane Paper offers their Grids + Lines paper in their Idea Journal twin ring notebooks, in a small (5.25″ x 6.875″) and large (8.4″ x 10.8″) size. They also have Flap Jotters (with top ring binding) in large and small (pack of 3/ 2.875″ x 4.75″). And their latest offering is the Moon Camera notebooks with cross marks instead of grid, line or dots. The Doane paper is pretty good with most fountain pens but if fountain pen endurance is a criteria for you, Rhoda will be your top choice.

Field Notes makes The Steno which features heavy-duty chipboard covers and is bound at the top with twin-rings like old school stenographer pads. The paper is not as conducive to fountain pens but the lines are light enough not to distract and the notebook sturdy enough to hold up to everyday abuse.

The Maruman Mnemosyne line of notebooks from Japan offer an array of ruling and size options with paper that is a favorite with a lot of pen bloggers out there. Some of the features they offer in their books are quite unusual and specific to Asian penmanship but can be appealing for tabbed note taking, coding and other functions.

As for big box office supply products, the M by Staples and the ARC by Staples are often recommended as having good quality paper. I don’t have a Staples near me so I haven’t had personal experience with these but there are lots of positive reviews. Try searching Pennaquod for ARC by Staples or M by Staples and reading through those options if you have quick access to a local Staples. The ARC introduces the disc bound system into the equation which is not technically a sprial binding but I thought you might let that slide for good quality paper and flexibility.

For even more reviews and opinions, you might want to check out Office Supply Geek’s lengthy list of Notebook Reviews with Sprial Bindings because he covers a lot of other possibilities as well.

I hope this helped and started you on a path to good quality paper in a spiral notebook.

Ask The Readers: Broad Nibs for the Vision Impaired

ask the readers header

Mark has a really great question, and I know that you, my readers, will have some great ideas for him:

I’m legally blind, and looking for a broad line. Currently, I use a Uni-ball Signo RT with 1.0mm refill. I’m considering the Ohto Fude Ball 1.5mm, Pilot VP with tuned broad nib, and Lamy 2000 with B or BB nib.

The Lamy BB looks nice and broad, but it has a reputation for QC issues. I’d love to see a line comparison between the Ohto Fude Ball and Vanishing Point in broad.

I tend to favor fine line pens so I’m not the best person to recommend broad nibs but that’s such a good option to help folks with vision issues. I’ve used the Kaweco BB nib and it lays down a THICK line. My instinct is that a European or US fountain pen with a broad nib, like most fountain pens, is going to have a broader nib than a Japanese pen, unless it is modified by a nibmeister.

Of course, the Nib Nook tool on Goulet Pens is a great to get a visible comparison between various B and BB nib options that they stock. Like this:

Nib Nook B and BB

In regards to gel pens, JetPens has a post on Broad Pens for its Penpedia that covers the pens it stocks from 1.0 to 1.6mm. There’s some good options there that will be both  broad and reasonably priced.

Does anyone have other thick line recommendations for Mark? Or some comparison images of some broad lines to share? If you include links in the comments, I’ll add them to the post. Thanks!

Ask The Desk: Tot Staples & MAGIC Erasers & Pens for the Signo 151


Jan asks:

Is there a replacement for the Tiny Tot staples?
I’ve had a red one most of my life and only have a few bars left. Please help it is the best thing for my small desk.

Oh, I’ve got you covered! I too collect vintage TOT staplers and discovered that JetPens stocks staples from Japan No. 10s that fit perfectly. They even come in colors. You can also do a search on the internet or Amazon for No. 10 staples and find other options.

Kimmar asks:

Are Koh-inoor Magic erasers  available in the US?

Sadly, I’ve not found a source for Koh-i-noor Magic erasers in the US but there are vendors on  Ebay that will sell them from Europe and ship them over. That’s how I acquired my last batch. Andy from Woodclinched placed an order and sent me a few. Maybe you can find a few other pencil/eraser enthusiasts online to go in on an order with you? Maybe through the Pen Addict Slack channel, FPN or other social network?

UPDATE: Our good friend Greer Chicago does stock Koh-i-noor Magic erasers but does not have many in stock currently. Grab them quickly or check back and I’m sure they will restock soon.

koh-i-noor magic erasers

Jairo asks:

I was wondering if you know a good pen holder (i.e, retro 51, Karas Kustoms Render K, ti2 tech… etc) for the refill of a uni-ball signo UM-151 0.38?

it does not have to be all metal, but an improvement over the actual body of the pen 😉

The UM-151 sized refill is the same as the Pilot Hi-Tec C so there are some options available for a good pen holder. Should you need to later refill the pen holder, that refill is listed as a  Uni-Ball Signo UMR-1 or UM-151. UM-153 and UM-100 will also fit.

There’s the Eco-Essentials Pen, the Karas Kustoms Render K, the Big I Design Titanium Pen, the Tactile Turn Mover, and the Pen Type-A for starters. The best option is to look for pens that say they will accept the Pilot Hi-Tec C refill for the widest variety.

Ask The Desk: Retro 51 Refills


Daisy asked:

Just got myself a new Retro 51 Tornado (Nine Lives edition) but I am a bit overwhelmed by potential refills. I like a fine black line, and ideally ink that won’t run when highlighted. Can you help narrow down my options? This may be heresy, but I’m not sure if I prefer ballpoint or rollerball, so suggestions for either or both would be good 🙂

I followed up with Daisy to determine exactly what size nib she preferred and she confirmed that she likes the Uni Jetstream in 0.5 and the Uni Style Fit in 0.4 and 0.5.

If you want to stick with a rollerball, the Schmidt P8126 Capless Rollerball in fine would be a good option. Or you could follow  Mike Rohde’s technique and just cut down a Pilot Juice or Pilot G2 refill or Mike’s favorite, the Pentel Energel. You can either buy a regular pen with one of these refills in it, or purchase a refill from your favorite retailer. My best recommendation is to open up some of the pens laying around your workspace and see if they might fit. If I find a pen I like, I always try to open it up to see if it will fit into my favorite pens. I hope that helps!

Retro 1951 + Pentel EnerGel Refill Hacking

Ask The Desk: DDC Editions

rp_askthedesk_hdr21.pngLori asks:

I hope you can answer this. How often does Draplin Design come out with DDC Field Notes? I’d like to buy a set one of these days.

Lori, I went straight to Field Notes HQ (AKA Coudal Partners) and asked my good buddy Bryan. His answer mirrored my suspicions. DDC editions are released whenever Mr. Draplin feels like making them. My best advice is to add the Draplin blog to your RSS feed and hope for the best. Also, join the Field Nuts group on Facebook. If anyone is going to hear about a DDC Field Notes edition, it will be the folks there. Good luck on the hunt!

Field Notes DDC Factory Floor Silver Streak

Do you have a pen, paper, planner or pencil question? Use the “Ask the Desk” link in the top menu bar to email me and I’ll do my best to try to answer it.

Ask The Readers: Lay-Flat Notebooks & Brown Ink


Hello, dear readers, I’m turning to you to help make some recommendations to some of the questions I’ve received lately.

I will summarize a lengthy question from Jeff in the UK:

He’s looking for a notebook smaller than a standard A5 that will lay flat and will work well with fountain pens.

This is a real stumper. Smaller notebooks make me think of the array of pocket notebooks available (à la Field Notes) but these are not known to be terribly fountain pen friendly. Maybe the Backpocket Journal or the most recent incarnation of the NockCo Dot Dash pad? Leuchtturm 1917 does offer a pocket-sized edition (A6). Leuchtturm paper works tolerably well with fountain pens that are more fine-to-medium nib but not too wet. Anyone have other recommendations for Jeff?

And Scott asks:

What is your favorite everyday brown ink?  I need a change from my beloved blue-blacks! Thanks.

I am also a victim of the blue-black love and have very few recommendations in this category of colors. I am not crazy about J. Herbin’s Lie de The though I know a lot of people are fans of this particular shade of brown. I recently review the Akkerman Hopjesbraun and I liked it better than other browns I’ve tried but I have not committed to a whole bottle of any brown. Can someone with an expertise in brown inks help Scott out?

Ask the Desk: More Refills (Pen and Paper)


Carlos hoped I could help with this:

I would like to buy some refills for a Dunhill ballpen sidecar and a Montegrapa rollerball (refill with 12 cm long).
Could you tell me what refills should I buy?

According to my research, it looks like the Montegrappa rollerballs all take the standard Pilot G2 style refill, also described as the Schmidt/Euro Rollerball refill size, that are about 110mm (4.5″) long. That’s great because there are lots of options and you may even have a plastic pen laying around with the right size refill on your desk right now. If you have a Pilot G2 retractable, you should be able to twist it apart and pull that refill out and try it in the Montegrappa.
Check out my Epic Refill Guide to find your favorite refill in the Pilot G2 section.
The Dunhill should take a standard Parker-style refill or a “capless style” G2/Euro refill. They are about 98mm (3.875″) long. Most office supply stores like Staples, Office Max or Office Depot should have a selection of Parker-style refills. A list of many Parker style compatible refills are also on the Epic Refill Guide.

Kate asks:

I came across your blog’s review of the Leuchtturm Weekly Planner, and I’m thinking you might be the person who can help me on my quest for the holy grail planner.  What I’ve been searching (unsuccessfully) for is a weekly planner with substantial notes pages.  So, something that has the weekly spread,monthly spread and two or three year overview you’d find in a typical planner, but also has at least 100 ruled or blank pages for notes.  This seems to be an impossible ask. I’ve tried the levenger circa system, but I’m not wired for one that I have to constantly assemble or move stuff around in.  Have you come across anything that fits this bill? I would love to know about it!

Your grail planner is a tall order, indeed! My first instinct was to ask if you’d considered a Midori Traveler’s Notebook or a Fauxdori (leather covers made and sold by individuals on Etsy and such)? There are many inserts available for this system that let’s you have a planner and a notebook for lots of notes. Each blank, lined or grid insert has about 64 pages in it. There is one insert available for the Midori with extra thin paper that I think has over 100 sheets in it. Something like this might give you the option of having a full booklet for notes plus a planner/calendar.
MTN Current Set-up
You might want to do a search on YouTube or Google for how people set up their Midori Traveler’s Notebook (MTN) or a Fauxdori to get an idea if the system might work for you.
There are also many printable planner system options available from folks on Etsy like DIY Fish. Her systems are also available for Midori Traveler’s Notebooks, Filofax ring binder systems or half-sheet sizes that could be used with a mini 3-ring binder. The last time I was in Target, I saw they had a good sized assortment of half-sheet 3-ring binders, if that might be an option that would work for you? Its not quite as fiddly as the Circa but still might require rearranging pages every once in awhile.
I’m not sure if I gave you any suggestions that might be the golden solution but hopefully it will give you some other options to consider.

And finally, Pat asked:
I’m searching for a nice leather notebook for a gift.  Do you emboss names or initials on your notebooks?I would also like your recommendation on the best notebook that can be refilled.  Also, are there any stores in the Baton Rouge area that sell your products?

Despite the confusion in her question that I was an online shop, I do think I might be help to help Pat find someone who can engrave and/or leather and refillable. Not sure I can find anything that is the trifecta though.

As for leather engravables, I know that Vanness Pens in Little Rock, AR does engraving. They have a separate web site for engraving called A Personal Statement. They offer a variety of notebooks.

Filofax has recently introduced a refillable notebook. Goldspot Pens and Goulet Pens both stock them online. While not leather, they are pretty nice leatherette and look good.
As for a good local source for notebooks in Baton Rouge, I do not know of any. The closest pen-and-paper shop that I know of in Louisiana is in New Orleans. Its called Papier Plume. While I’ve not had a chance to visit it yet, I have several friends who have highly recommended it for fountain pens, ink and accessories.

Do you have a pressing pen, paper, pencil, ink or other stationery item issue? Use the “Ask The Desk” link in the navigation bar to send in your questions!

Ask The Desk: Grippy Fountain Pens & Cross Refills


Jon wrote me recently about left-handed pens:

I’m a lefty. Never quite got over someone confiscating my ancient Parker VP, loved that pen. For the past couple of years I’ve been using inexpensive Schneider pens that have facets on the grip that make positioning it automatic.

Thought I’d upgrade a bit and have found the Conklin Durograph in cracked ice rather attractive. But it doesn’t seem to be offered in a dedicated left handed model.

I do understand lefties can use just about any fountain pen, but I find the grip designed for lefties appealing. I am an underwriter.

Please tell me what I need to make myself happy.

I’m really considering in the $40 or so range. Don’t need to impress anyone but me and how it writes is pretty much all that’s important. Medium points work well and I’m stuck in the blue/black mentality.

Thanks. Jon

Conklin Duragraph Cracked Ice

I actually have the Conklin Duragraph in the cracked ice finish and it has a smooth grip area so it can pretty much be held at any angle.

If you’re looking for a molded grip, the Lamy Safari might be a good option. The grip is molded symmetrically so you wouldn’t need a special left-handed model. I know a lot of lefties who underwrite like the molded grip section on the Lamy Safari and Lamy AL-Star. The Safari sell for less than $30 and the AL-Stars (the aluminum model of the Safari) sell for about $40. Its available in a full array of European nib sizes and the nibs are easy to swap out should you decide you want a different nib size. Nibs are sold for about $12.

Lamy Safari Neonlime

Jim asked about finding a pen refill:

Hi, I asked a question a good bit ago and your answer rocked.  I was wondering if you could help me with something else.  I’m a bit of a pen junkie.  Years ago I purchased a Cross pen.  It’s was little and fat.  I’ve been trying to get a refill for years. I have no idea what pen it is or if they even still make a cartridge.

I totally understand being a pen junkie. I am also a refill junkie. I’m always worried my favorite refills will become obsolete. But I also am a firm believer that a little refill hacking can get you back to writing as well.

Do you have the old refill still? Was it a ballpoint or rollerball?

If you have the refill and you know it was a Cross, you can use the Refillfinder app site to see if the refill is still available. Refillfinder is a division of one of our fine sponsors, Goldspot Pens. FYI.

If they don’t have the exact size you need, is it possible to cut down a different refill? You might scan those junk drawers for old rollerballs, ballpoints or gel pens and try to disassemble them. If you have the old refill, just hold it up next to the refills you find and then cut the length or use a bit of hardware store tubing to make a spacer if the refill is too short. People often plug the end with air dry clay or other materials if the refill originally had a cap. I trim refills, wrap tape around the ends to make it wider if necessary and other minor modification to get non-standard refills to fit into a pen.

Here’s my last example of pen hacking and Mike Rohde’s hack. And of course, it never hurts to check through the Refill Guide to find comparable refills.

Cross Townsend Darth Vader Fountain Pen
While we’re on the subject of Cross Pens, do you see the new Star Wars pens from Cross? I am loving the look of the Darth Vader Townsend fountain pen. But at the tune of $575 I’m thinking it may have to stay in a galaxy far, far away for me.

Ask The Desk: Good, Cheap Pencils


Don asks:

I read your review of the Mirado Black Warrior, where you mentioned that there were much better pencils for very little more money. Can you tell me what these would be? I work in an elementary school, where we usually stock up on gross boxes of relatively cheap pencils, so the Black Warriors have been something I pick up when they are on sale for my own stash. I am not so sure that the Black Warriors haven’t changed a bit with the various company mergers and acquisitions, but I can’t say for sure. And I just bought 12 dozen for 12 dollars on Amazon; I’m not sure why the price was so low. But I do understand that they usually sell for $3 or $3.50 a box of 12, so I know that your comparisons would be based on this price. Thanks for any information/opinions you can share.

I did a little comparison shopping but at 12 dozen for $12, that’s a hard deal to beat. However, I find the Mirado Black Warriors to be a bit dark and soft, especially for kids. Pencils.com offers some of the Prospector, Forest Choice and Golden Bear pencils in a gross. But they are more than twice than the sale-priced Mirados.

I also really like the General Pencil Company but their site lists only 3 doz. pencils at a time for about $24 which is much more expensive than those Mirados as well.

Papermate Mirado Black Warrior

So I decided I needed to consult the experts at the Erasable podcast for their insights.

Andy Welfle said:

I do think that the Black Warriors have changed a bit, for the worse, in the last few years. Of course, I really dislike Paper Mate, I think they cheapen everything they make, and when they acquire good quality brands and start putting their logo on stuff, it also accompanies standards being lowered.

But that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

(Meaning: I’ve never really done any sort of comparison, so that statement is not scientific by any means.)

As for the cheapness, I’m willing to bet that if he wanted to buy in bulk, Amazon would be the way to go. I’m sure those pencils cost nothing to make, so if he’s cutting out the big-box store middleman by shopping direct on Amazon, he’s cutting out their profit needs.

I’ll defer to Tim (Wasem) on what the best pencil to buy for students might be, since he’s going through that right now, but I’d heartily recommend the Golden Bears. They’re super good quality for the price. It’s definitely still more expensive than the Mirado, but damn, they’re worth it. 😀

And Johnny Gamber said:

Hey, Comrades!
The Blackwarrior is a strange beast. While the finish, country of origin and even the wood have become…PaperMated, the core/lead is very nice. But I think Ana’s right that it might be soft for students, and office paper shreds that point.
For cheap bulk school pencils, I’d hit Walmart right now and stock up on their big boxes of USA Gold pencils, even the USA Silver. For the price and ease of getting them, they are hard to beat.
Happy Back to School!

Unfortunately, Tim was unavailable for comment. He must be busy sharpening all those Palomino HBs he’s got squirreled away.

Do you have a pressing pen, paper, pencil, ink or other stationery item issue? Use the “Ask The Desk” link in the navigation bar to send in your questions!