Tag: ask the desk

Ask The Desk: 2017 is Coming! Planning Emergencies!


Heather is looking for a very specific planner replacement:

I’m looking for a new academic planner 16/17 (or second best choice would be kraft paper notebooks with lines and grids / dots) for the one I’ve just finished using from Paperchase. I’ve been looking and looking and not having much luck. I bought a really lovely, inexpensive monthly planner – it has a month on two pages (grid layout), followed by approx 40 lined pages and 40 grid pages, all kraft paper with black and white ink so lovely on the eyes. Its great to write on (gel pens, biros, not fountain pens) and is perfect for my needs as a TA. Paperchase have released one like this for this coming year and I can’t find another supplier that does them in the same size. The notebook is 190mm wide and 245mm high, and has a sewn edge binding. Short of making one myself (wouldn’t even know where to start on that route!), can you advise where I might find something of comparable size and paper? I’m ok with setting it all out by hand, but I’d prefer to buy one ready made. Maybe a blank date one? Its the size that I need most, followed by the kraft paper element.

Heather, I have to admit you’ve left me a bit stumped. I can’t say that I’ve seen a kraft colored planner before your letter. On my search, the only options I found for kraft paper planners was a vendor on Etsy called Letter C Design who makes small planner booklets in kraft paper. I don’t think that’s at all what you were looking for. If anyone else has seen anything in the wild, please leave information in the comments.

Cole asks:

I’m wondering if you can help me find a thin gridded (dot or cube) notebook that could fit inside the pocket of my Leuchtturm 1917 medium? Something similar to the address book that comes with the planner? I LOVE my “official” Bullet Journal, but I’ve noticed there are a few things that I will want to migrate from Journal to Journal, WITHOUT having to recopy it into a new journal. My best example would be my room x room floor plans with paint/color samples. I like to have my floor layouts and color samples with me so if I’m antiquing, garage sale-ing, etc I can quickly reference them to see if I’m buying something that won’t go in my house. I’m now carrying my Bullet Journal everywhere, so I’d love to have it in there, but I don’t want to have to recopy the floor plans every few months. Is there a small “travelers” type notebook that would nicely fit in the pocket that could be transferred from journal to journal?

An A6 (approx. 4×6″), B6 (approx. 5×7″), Field Notes or Passport sized book would fit easily into the back pocket of the Leuchtturm1917 A5. In A5 or B6 sized, I recommend the Life Pistachio or Vermillion notebooks. They have good quality paper, available in grid and are about $4 each. The Pistachio have green lines and the Vermillion have, you guessed it, red lines. Of course, Field Notes are readily available from many shops and the Pitch Black edition is dot grid. Passport sized Traveler’s Notebooks would also work but are quite petite.

Chris needs helps:

I’m eagerly awaiting an A5 Roterfaden, and need a week on two pages insert for the remainder of 2016. Yes, I could just use my existing Midori TN calendar, but I’d like to find something A5 that is already bound and printed. No luck searching Etsy and the Midori version is sold out on Baum Kuchen. Ideas?

I spent weeks looking for a solution for Chris and came up empty handed. Traveler’s Notebook calendars in the classic TN size are in abundance as are the Field Notes/Passport sizes but A5 versions are as rare as Snorlax these days. Unless you are willing to go the print-your-own route, there just aren’t options for A5 calendar booklets to fit custom covers like the Roterfaden or leather Traveler’s Notebooks.

My best suggestion at this point is to finish the year with the standard Traveler’s Notebook calendar and then move to a 2017 A5 planner calendar. The other option is to embrace the DIY option and print out the large cahier format from Ray Blake’s My Life All in One Place printables page.

If anyone knows a good alternative for Chris, please leave a note in the comments.

Ellie seeks:

I’m starting to look for my 2017 daily planner. I’ve used Moleskine at first, but the paper quality kept getting worse every year. I then switched to Paperblanks, their daily option was a bit small for me but their Fabriano paper was quite good. After they changed their paper supplier last year I’m once again in need of new options. I’m looking for an A4 or A5 daily diary with a minimalistic, Moleskine-like page layout. Hobonichi is too expensive and Leuchtturm is not an option, the paper is beautiful but the ghosting is so bad I only write on one side of my Leuchtturm journal. I need sturdy pages since I tend to ask a lot to my journals, draw, write with wet inks, glue scraps of paper on it etc. I’ve seen Fabriano Ecoqua makes beautiful planners, and they would be easy to purchase here in Europe, but I can’t find any feedback online and I don’t want to buy blind. is the paper the same quality as the Ecoqua pads? What about the binding? I’m hoping some of your readers have tried the Ecoqua planner or know of any other options. Thanks for reading!


fabriano 2016-2017 planner

Has anyone seen the Fabriano Ecoqua planners in person yet? I haven’t but I am just as curious about how they will stack up.  I found the Ecoqua 16-month ($22.50), the 2017 weekly planner ($12.50) and the 2017 Daily Diary ($12.75 and $17.75, depending on size). The paper on these books looks quite thin as you can see the numbers printed on the reverse in the photos so I suspect they went for thinner paper for portability over thicker paper for legibility. Sigh.

Amanda wants to know:

Who offers the thickest paper stock (hopefully smooth) for 2017 diary refills for Kikki.K and Filofax Personal, Pocket and A5 planners? Thank you!

So far, the best pre-printed planner pages are either Kikki-K or the new Filofax Illustrated refills are the thickest stock. I also had some personal sized refills purchased at Michael’s from their Recollections line that used some great paper. If you happen upon this collection and are using the personal-sized planners, I can definitely recommend grabbing a few packets if they are still stocked at your local store.

Ask The Desk: Broad D1s, Baron+Elastic, Neo Smartpen & Zebra F701


Khreyselle asked me some time ago:

I’ve been struggling to find the perfect notebook to hold all of my graphic design sketches and notes. I have fallen in love with the paper quality of the Baron Fig/Code & Quill notebooks, but they are both missing the elastic closure and pocket/envelope feature that I would really love to have.

Would you happen to have any notebook suggestions that could possibly have what I am looking for?

PS. If it helps any, I am not a Moleskine fan. (;

Is it possible that the Shinola journals or sketchbooks might meet your needs? I recently purchased the sketchbook which has been getting decent reviews for paper quality and the notebook is definitely a step up in terms of paper quality from the Moleskine. The paper is probably on par with the BAron Fig and Code & Quill but includes the elastic you are wanting. For reviews of the journals, check the Pennaquod blog search tool. For opinions about the Shinola Sketchbook, Roz Stendahl at Roz Wound Up has tested a lot of different materials on the sketchbook with good results.

Cindy is searching for:

I am looking for a non-branded pen refill that is similar to a D1 but 2.0 mm in diameter. Where could I get such a refill?

The widest refill I could find was the Monteverde Soft Roll in Super Broad which is listed at about 1.4mm. Anyone know of a wider D1 refill?

Jaime has quite the conundrum:

I purchased a Neo Smartpen recently and I really like it EXCEPT that the ink refills (they recommend Zebra 4C which came with the pen) blob and I can’t stand it!! They have other brands that they say make a similar product (standard D1 ink cartridges), but that it has to be ballpoint, not gel, etc. to work with the software. I’m not crazy about a fine-tip ballpoint anyway – would rather have medium if possible. I don’t mind the color whether black or blue. Do you have any recommendations that I could try? They start out fine, but within a few pages – far from running out of ink – they are smearing and when I pick the pen up off the paper, it ha a little line of ink that comes with it, like a string of cheese from a pizza, smearing my work.

On my Refill Guide, under the D1 refills, there are several other manufacturers that make ballpoint refills in D1 fine point sizes. I’m surprised that the fine ballpoints are giving you more “string cheese” issues than a medium point might but I’d recommend starting with the Uni Jetstream refills in 0.7mm and see if you have better luck with them.

Adam asked in the Refill Guide thread:

The zebra style of refills seem to be a family all of their own… I’m keen to get the F701 all metal zebra, but I hear their ink is inferior to many other pens. Wondered if there were better alternatives to Zebra refills?

I’m not the only one that hacks refills to fit pens. Over on the EDC Forum, someone went into excruciating detail to hack refills to fit the Zebra F701 because, to your point, Zebra made the most unusual refill to fit this pen. This will allow you to choose the refill based on your preference. Are you looking for gel, permanence or tip fineness? Maybe just easier availability?

Ask The Desk: Random Questions & Follow-Up


On my review of the Leuchtturm 1917 Sketchbook Teresa asked:

Did you test it on copic markers? If so, did they bleed? How did the paper hold up?

Teresa’s question was quite timely. I had just started experimenting the day before she asked with my Copic Sketch markers and I just happened to test the colors in my Leuchtturm 1917 sketcbook so I had the answer for her right away. I added these photos to the review (should anyone stumble across it in the future) but I thought I would also post them here as well.


On the front of the paper, the Copic colors look good. The colors are smooth and look almost like watercolors. I have a lot of pale, pastel Copic Sketch markers but the paper in the Leuchtturm Sketchbook handled the colors nicely.


There was definitely bleed through on the reverse of stock. Oh, yeah. But if you’re aware that it will bleed through and plan accordingly, the Leuchtturm 1917 sketchbook makes a good sketchbook for Copic markers.


I do recommend putting a sheet of scrap paper under your page though because some darker colors will bleed through to the next page and through the back of that like a damn laser beam. If you have one of those flexible plastic pencil boards, I would slide it under your drawing page to protect the next page from unwanted transfer. Otherwise, the Leuchtturm 1917 sketchbook takes Copic markers pretty well and doesn’t make the color look splotchy or weird.

Matthew asks a few questions:

  1. What is your favorite pen that you are currently using?
  2. What is your favorite gel ink pen to use?
  3. What are your thoughts on the Midori brass pen?


My current favorite pens right now are my two Franklin-Christoph 45 XLVs (shown above) and my Pocket 20. All three have been purchased this year at various pen shows so they have sentimental value as well as being beautiful pens with nibs selected and tuned just for me. Its hard to decide which one is my absolute favorite and they are all small enough to fit in bag so they all travel with me regularly. I mean, really, which one would you leave behind? Each one has a different style nib and a different ink color so I enjoy switching it up throughout the day.


My favorite gel ink pens (at present) are the Sakura Ballsign Knock Gel Pens in 0.4mm (shown above in my custom Dudek Modern Goods pen holder). I have a rainbow of colors on my desk. They are comfortable to hold and write smoothly but with a nice fine point. I haven’t had any issues with hard starts with them either. The more exotic colors like the pastels and neons have some hard start issues but the standard gel pens work flawlessly.

And finally, I have the Midori Brass Pen but it actually in the bottom of a drawer. It does ship with a very fine tip ballpoint refill and it looks like you could probably modify a gel pen refill to fit into it instead pretty easily. I own a lot of vintage bullet advertising pencils so I guess I just never gave the Midori Brass Pen the attention it deserved. I should probably pull it out and give it a fair shake.

Jennifer asked:

A friend of mine asked for recommendations on rough paper for general journaling/writing. I am at a loss. I primarily use Rhodia and Tomoe River. She doesn’t want to spend a lot and uses Pentel RSVP pens. Any ideas? Thanks so much for your help. Jennifer

I was at a loss to think of a good, inexpensive paper for journaling and writing but I stumbled across a very inexpensive sketchbook this week that may be a good option for your friend. The Peter Pauper sketchbook in the 5.5″x8.5″ (roughly A5 size) has very nice 128gsm paper. For me, the bonus was that is was only $7.99 at my local Barnes & Noble. Now, I assume she’s not looking for blank sketchbook paper but I’m going somewhere with this so stay with me.

Peter Pauper also sells an assortment of lined journals including a competitor to Moleskine called the Essentials in A5 and A6 sizes for $12.99 and $8.99 respectively. This might be a good option, especially if your friend is working mostly in ballpoint. Many of their other journal products are available at Barnes & Noble but not the Essentials line since B&N carries Moleskine.

I have lots more Ask The Desk questions in my queue so bear with me. I will try to answer them swiftly.

Ask The Readers: B5 Hardcover Notebook

ask the readers header

Okay, gang, now I need your help! Sometimes, questions come into my inbox and I ponder and query and google and I come up with nothing. So, I’m hoping that the massive collective hive mind of stationery genius out there can help out. Maybe you use or have seen something to help Linda.


Linda is begging for help:
The notebook I have used since 2008 is now out of print. I bought all the stock I could find and am down to my last two. I need a suitable replacement but haven’t had much luck. Perhaps the Desk can advise?

What I Need:

  • Hardcover
  • B5 or a tad bigger, but not A4
  • White pages, not cream or ivory
  • Thick pages that do not bleed (Sharpies excluded, of course)
  • Dot grid, graph, etc. Even lined, maybe if the lines are unobtrusive
  • Smooth paper

I’m a fan of Apica, Kokuyo’s Campus notebooks, Rhodia dotgrid. But I can find nothing both hardcover and B5.
Any tips?
I’m getting stingy with my notetaking and brainstorming in order to make my current notebooks last.

I am at a loss to find a good replacement for you, Linda. B5 size is close to a US Composition notebook and, for some reason, this size notebook always seem to have a flexible cover, whether they are US, Japanese or European. Moleskine’s XL size is a B5 but the paper is warm white and not everyone’s favorite. The only bright white options I could find were Leucthtrum 1917 but I couldn’t find that they offered this particular size configuration in hardcover. Only softcover. So, I’m rallying the troops! Do you have a recommendation for Linda?

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!