Tag: ask the desk

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!

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.