There have been so many amazing stationery products over the last ten years. Some products, however, have changed how stationery products are seen, produced and used. While others might not have noticed the shift, we who are immersed have been able to recognize the originators, trendsetters or trailblazers who lead the way to news ways of making and using analog tools. There are many others and some new things that are just now bubbling up that may or may not have a lasting impact on the market. These are the ones that I think have risen to the top, and have made the greatest impact, in no particular order:
- Pilot Hi-Tec C: The Pilot Hi-Tec C Pen single-handedly turned many people’s attention back to the potential of good quality writing tools. This lead some people to build machined pens and others to start blogs and others to launch whole online businesses. It lead others to discover fountain pens and inks and specialty papers and more. This pen lead Pilot to continue to fine tune it’s gel pen technology and create the Juice and Juice Up pens and it’s competitors to create equally good gel pens like the Uni Signo, Zebra Sarasa and Pentel Energel. Whether the Hi-Tec C was really the first gel pen, for many of us, it was our first experience with good gel pens and became the gel pen by which all others were measured.
- Palomino Blackwing Pencils: The iconic Blackwing pencils were seen in episodes of Mad Men which started the craze of trying to acquire these vintage pencils in the early 00s. Thankfully, Palomino re-launched the brand in 2010 and saved us from spending $75 a piece for pencils. They have continued to add various graphite hardnesses and colorful variations through its editions since the launch. It was brought to my attention that pencils might not be as revolutionary as some of the other products on the list but I disagree. The Blackwing was instrumental in the Blackwing launched a podcast or two, a zine, several blogs, YouTube channels and a renewed interest in pencils in general.
- Tomoe River Paper: In the last few years, Tomoe River Paper has become THE paper recommended by fountain pen users for writing. It shows the most sheen with the least amount of feathering. It is very thin so there is a lot of show through but the thinness of the paper means a notebook can have 100s of sheets so using just one side of the paper is not that big a deal. The paper does have very long dry times however. Slowly, it’s becoming easier to acquire in the US and easier to find printed with lines, dot grid or graph on it in a greater range of sizes. Whether Tomoe River paper is something you love or not, it’s hard not to refer to it when comparing other paper now though.
- Traveler’s Notebook: This simple leather wrap with elastics to hold various notebooks really started to impact the stationery community about 2013 around the launch of the 5th anniversary edition of the Midori edition. Some discovered it much sooner and others a couple years later but the Traveler’s Notebook has made a firm impact on the stationery community. Whether you have an original Midori version or under the Traveler’s Notebook branding or if you have a custom leather notebook cover made by a leatherworker from Etsy or a craft show or pen show, it’s hard to avoid the ubiquity and convenience of these covers. Even if you prefer non-leather, there are many options as well.
- Hobonichi Techno: The Hobonichi Techo completely changed the landscape of personal planners (Wow! Back in 2014, I included it in a Ten Tools I Can’t Live Without post). It brought journaling, planning and freeform logging back into vogue when ringbound planners had started to lose their luster. The Hobonichi featured Tomoe-like paper that withstood lots of mark-making tools, they were small and portable and did not require tons of commitment. With essentially a page-a-day, busy millennials and younger could doodle, stamp, collage, test pens, make lists and bullet journal in their Hobonichi. Paired with one of the many covers available through the covetous website or on Etsy or Ebay to personalize their Hobonichi each year, the planners have developed cult-like followings and lots of variations and iterations including Traveler’s Notebook versions that are Field Notes-sized… it’s a melding of worlds!
- Field Notes: We cannot talk about the landscape of the stationery world without talking about Field Notes. Whether you love them or not, they redefined how and what stationery is over the last decade. Their Field Notes Editions created the need to covet pocket notebooks in a way that used to be reserved for comic books, Pokemon cards and 7″ vinyl releases. They elevated the aesthetics by making conscientious decisions about staple colors, edge painting and clever editorial throughout the notebooks. While not every notebook met the exacting paper standards of fountain pen aficionados, I’m hard-pressed to find a designer who can find fault with the aesthetics of any edition. Field Notes also helped to forge the way for subscription-based stationery that has been followed by other companies and embraced by everything from cosmetics to food to pet toys. While Field Notes might not have invented the subscription box, they certainly proved it can be profitable.
- Bullet Journaling: While Bullet Journaling is not specifically a tool, it changed how so many of us think about and frame how we use our notebooks. Ryder Carroll created a system for himself that launched a whole movement. It created notebooks, Facebook groups, YouTube “plan with me” videos, and countless set-ups flatlays on Instagram to make most of us wish we were more organized, had nicer handwriting and more pens. The foundation of Ryder’s system however have nuggets of honesty and truth that may have gotten lost under the pounds and pounds of over-achievers. I commend anyone who was able to get more organized, improve their handwriting and be more focused as a result of all this enthusiastic embracing of Bullet Journaling. I’ve tried the system many times and, in the end, my notebooks still end up just being mad lists of scratched notes in no particular order with things occasionally glued in when they are written down on some other piece of paper. That does not mean that the term “Bullet Journaling” has not become as ubiquitous in the stationery community as “sheening inks” and “stub grinds”. To anyone else they would think we were speaking gibberish but among the community, it’s shorthand for the coded notebook formatting of a highly organized person (i.e. not me).
- J Herbin 1670 Ink Series: While J. Herbin’s 1670 series releases only one shimmer ink each year and somewhere along the line they introduced the JACQUES HERBIN 1798 to differentiate the silver metallic from the 1670 gold metallic which only confused most consumers, then they decided to drop the “J” in their branding of their standard ink line altogether and THEN (yes, there’s an “and then”) they introduced yet another branding with their premium JACQUES HERBIN Paris 1670 line. But I’m getting away from the point of this listing. J. Herbin really launched the shimmer trend in inks. And honestly, they have made some of the most popular and unique colors with Emerald of Chivor, Rouge Hematite, Kyanite du Népal and Stormy Grey. I think this lead the way for more experimentation in inks across the board.
- Karas Kustoms Render K: Several other machined pens pre-dated the Render K on Kickstarter but when Karas launched the Render K they proved that it was possible to create a brand and a business model building analog products using Kickstarter as the foundation. Many other pens have been launched since then via Kickstarter proving that analog tools can be launched via a digital medium.
Resin Casted Pens: From larger makers like Edison Pens and Franklin-Christoph who both use a vast array of unique resins to smaller shops like Jonathan Brooks (Carolina Pen Company) who have created unique resins for Kanilea Pen Company and others. Manufacturers like Esterbrook have even started collaborating with resin makers like Tim McKenzie of McKenzie Pen-works. Many other small makers use unique resins like Hinze Pens and Woodshed Pen Company to create their designs. These resin materials have changed the look and feel of the pen community. Some makers buy their resins from various sources and others are creating their own unique materials like mad scientists. It’s given pen makers the chance to create and lathe truly unique pens.