Review: Formal Dept Notebook Case (& Giveaway)

Formal Dept Notebook Case foliage grey

Several months ago, the team that creates Formal Dept (illustrator Kate Pugsley and industrial designer Charlie McArthur) launched a Kickstarter to develop a watercolor dish and cup set. I was super excited to see the project reach it’s goal. Unfortunately, the Kickstarter launched in the middle of pandemic lockdown which affected the outcome and it didn’t fund. I hope that Formal Dept attempts the watercolor Kickstarter product again once the COVID-19 pandemic is over. In the meantime, I wanted to introduce you all to some of their other products.

Formal Dept Notebook Case inside

Their Notebook Cases will be of particular interest which are available in a foliage grey ($30) or a shapes ($30) pattern created by Kate. Kate’s pattern is excellent but I’m biased because I am a fan of her illustrations. The material on the shapes pattern is cotton canvas-y where the foliage grey is nylon so they have a slightly different feel. The foliage grey, like all nylon, attracts cat hair like I attract cats.

The Notebook Cases hold an A5-sized notebook in a pocket on the right-hand side and a zip pocket for small ephemera and 4-slots on the left for pens and drawing tools. The case zips all the way around with a big zipper. There is no structure built in to the case so depending on how stiff the notebook is that you put into to the case will determine how stiff the case becomes. I put a sketchpad in mine so it was not rigid but stiff enough that the case did not flop around or feel unstable.

Formal Dept Notebook Case inside

I filled the gray model with my drawing tools and doubled up pens, pencils and waterbrushes for sketching. Since the case is large enough for an A5 and the slots for pens are not blocked by anything, a full-sized waterbrush will fit and the pockets are large enough for the widest pen or two smaller pens. In the zippered pouch, I stored extra leads for my mechanical pencils, a Tile and some stickers and business cards.

Formal Dept Notebook Case inside pocket

Formal Dept Notebook Case inside

I was even able to stick my cellphone in the notebook pocket and zip up the case. This makes the notebook case a great option for taking out for a walk-and-draw, out to the patio, or (someday) to conferences or lectures. It holds everything you’d need for a day of notetaking, plus phone, some credit cards or cash in the pocket. And the price on these can’t be beat.

Formal Dept Notebook Case zipped closed

Formal Dept Notebook Case shapes


We are giving away one Formal Dept Notebook Case in the Shapes Pattern (new, unused) to one lucky reader (pictured here).

Formal Dept Notebook Case inside


Leave a comment below and tell me what you’ll put inside the Formal Dept Notebook Case. Play along and type in something. It makes reading through entries more interesting for me, okay? One entry per person.

If you have never entered a giveaway or commented on the site before, your comment must be manually approved by our highly-trained staff of monkeys before it will appear on the site. Our monkeys are underpaid and under-caffeinated so don’t stress if your comment does not appear right away. Give the monkeys some time.


All entries must be submitted by 10pm CST on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. All entries must be submitted at, not Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook, okay? Winner will be announced on Monday. Winner will be selected by random number generator from entries that played by the rules (see above). Please include your actual email address in the comment form so that I can contact you if you win. I will not save email addresses or sell them to anyone — pinky swear. If winner does not respond within 5 days, I will draw a new giveaway winner. Shipping via USPS first class is covered. Additional shipping options or insurance will have to be paid by the winner. We are generous but we’re not made of money. US and APO/AFO only, sorry.

DISCLAIMER: I was not paid for this review or giveaway. I purchased these cases with my own money because I think they make really cool stuff. Please see the About page for more details.

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87 comments / Add your comment below

  1. It would be my everyday cary… It would hold my life. Pens Pencils Notebook/Planner Phone All zipped into a cool carry…

  2. Wow, what a great case! I would fill mine with some art supplies – a small watercolor notebook, a mini watercolor kit and water brush, a good HB pencil, eraser and a few colored pencils. I am just beginning to get into nature journaling, so this case would be amazing to help me kick off this endeavor. Thank you!

  3. I will use it to carry a few fountain pens, some uni-pin fine liner markers, a pencil and a small sketch notebook.

  4. What wouldn’t I put in there? Probably, like you, Ana, it would become my go-to sketch kit (and quite the Stalin’ one at that!)

  5. Oooh it would be a tie between using it to stash and carry around my art supplies, watercolor tin, and sketchbook or some favorite pens, washitape, sticky notes, and my planner

  6. My Authentic self written down with one of my beloved fountain pens/red ink. To me, there is no greater form of bravery than to document one’s life using red inks. Two or more other fountain pens to avoid a fountain pen’s loneliness.

  7. If I should be lucky enough to win, I would give it to my daughter. She would fill it with one of her many notebooks. Depending on her “theme,” accompanying tools would be for sketching/watercolors, or favorite journaling pens, or LSAT studying tools…..

  8. I think I would put my planner in there, plus my favorite fountain pen that I’m not afraid to lose or loan (Platinum Pretty), and some fine point colored pens, my phone, and my ID. Then I’d use it to rekindle my sketching habit that I never have time for.

  9. I would put pens, of course, as well as paper by and envelopes for writing to my pen friends. The zipper pocket us perfect for holding stamps, washi tape, and stickers for envelopes.

  10. I would put my journal, two fountain pens (currently new Esterbrook JR and a Sailor 1911S), a roll of washi, grey Kaweco clutch pencil, eraser, and some stickers. Calvin would add the obligatory cat hair since he sits on my stuff whenever I journal.

  11. Looks perfect for a Midori A5 notebook, a mechanical pencil or two (Rotring 600 and/or Alvin Draftmatics) and a few pens — a trusty space pen, a Caran D’Ache 849, and let’s say a Kaweco Sport too. The pocket can hold an eraser, some extra leads, a few cartridges, and a business card in case I leave all of this valuable stuff behind.

  12. I’d keep the journal and pen I’ve been using to keep track of my Kindergartener and Preschooler’s daily assignments and projects (there are SO many) and the pocket notebook and pencil I use to keep track of myself in it. I’ve found myself unsuccessfully trying to balance all my notebook things in one hand and a child in another too many times.

  13. I just got a new birthday pen! A Lamy in Mango. This would be the first thing in.

    Since my job just “restructured” and I’ve decided to take the go-back-to-school path I would keep a homework planner in here next.

    Thanks for the chance!

  14. I agree that it looks perfect for containing — and encouraging — correspondence. Besides the obligatory array of pens, there is clearly room for an assortment of cards, letter paper, envelopes, stickers, and whatnot. And, of course, an assortment of commemorative stamps.

  15. Hm. I think I’d use it for an extra-compact traveling correspondence case (again, once COVID19 is receding in the rear-view mirror). A few fountain pens in the left side (one of which would be my trusty Platinum Preppy loaded with Kung Te-Cheng, which will write on anything), and in the right-side main pocket a selection of postcards and note cards with envelopes. The zippered pocket can hold my (Field Notes sized) address book and a selection of stamps (likely just a booklet or two of first-class Forever stamps, unless the USPS starts making neat postcard stamps; maybe a couple of Global Forever stamps just to cover my bases).

  16. Mine would be used in several arenas. I travel on business so it would hold my pens, pencils and Field Notes notebooks. Possibly my passport as well as some well placed stickers. It would fit perfectly in my backpack. Take remove it and all I need is accessible.

    When not traveling, it would hold the same on my desk and avoid the clutter.

    I’m pretty Type A on organization and this would be cool.

    I hope you agree.

  17. I would put nothing inside of it because I immediately bought one after reading this and will be putting my Seven Seas Writer inside of that one, which is not the same one you are asking me to pretend fill up. The pretend one (unless I win) will stay empty and be a gift.

  18. I love anything with pockets
    And that it can hold so much is great!
    I now have a couple of notebooks going and all the writing things in a old jar
    This way they would all be in one place
    Thanks for the chance to win!

  19. I would use it for work to keep all my notebooks and pens that I use to take data in my school setting (if I ever go back to in-person instruction). Nice set up to keep everything in one place.

  20. A5 is such a nice size to carry around. I have a week-at-a-glance planner in A5 that I carry and would love to have a selection of pens with it!

  21. This would become my EDC! My favorite Inkjoy gel pens, zebra highlighters and rifle paper company floral notebooks would go in it!

  22. my favorite pen of the week (I change my mind regularly) and some great note cards as well as a snack – don’t leave home without a snack 😉

  23. I have just acquired a new-to-me fountain pen, and as soon as I figure out the perfect color ink for it, I’d put it, a notebook/sketchbook, and some colored pencils in this beautiful case to take out into the woods with me so I could make art!

  24. My Wicked Witch of the West Sailor 1911 seems to be a good match . . . of course, I expect that it would pretty much be my everyday carry with all kinds of tools, but that seemed to be a good fit.

  25. Cotman Watercolor, Lamy fountain pens, a couple of extra ink cartridges and a mixed media sketchbook. A waterpen.

    It looks very nice.

  26. I’d put a shot notebook to document the settings on my leica for each frame, a few of my favorite pens I’m thinking the 1937 Shaeffer Balance which I always keep filled with the KWZ Honey gold ink, some business cards for my photo art business

  27. I think my day to day pens and writing supplies plus a notebook. Sounds very run of the mill thing to do with it, but it’s true! My stuff is all over the house.

  28. Hi. I would put a Gratitude Journal, a few pens in the two sides and some stickers in the zippered pocket. Thanks for the chance to win this good looking case.

  29. This notebook case looks great, thanks for the giveaway! I just got a little set of notebooks from Wet Paint in MN each with different kinds of paper. I’d like to match paper to best medium and keep them in the notebook case.

  30. i would use this to carry my new purple blackwing slate…so glad i didn’t spring for the plain black or grey i’d seen in an art store a few weeks ago!

  31. I’m not sure if it was Ambrose Bierce, but someone wiser than I once defined a wife as someone who can find something that wasn’t there when you looked. This zippable case looks like a wonderful location for me to misplace my various notepads and pens in.

  32. I have been writing a lot of letters lately and really loving A5 sized paper, so this would be home for my Clairefontaine A5 lined pad, a pack of loose leaf blank Tomoe River paper and a pack of A6 sized envelopes. Then the other side would hold a half dozen pens inked with colors specifically chosen for letters. And just a couple rolls of my favorite washi tape in the zipper pouch.

  33. This seems like the perfect notebook and pen carry case. I would put a Field Notes 5E character journal, pens, phone and cards in zipper compartment. Would make a great clutch for shopping or in a larger bag for easy access.

  34. Wow! I would use this everyday! Filled with a larger format Field Notes, perhaps (the lined Signature model), and an assortment of pens and pencils. My best pens would go in here: My Acme Studios “The Cry” by Munch fountain pen or my Campbell’s Soup Warhol pen. My Retro51 Crossword pencil. SOme Blackwings.
    Also sharpeners and other useful accessories. Oh, Office Supply Muses, smile down upon me today.

  35. I would try to fit my seven seas crossfield in there, plus an assortment of pens. Could be really handy for traveling or daily carry.

  36. An A5 notebook, my Nook Simpletouch (some tech seems to last forever), and a rotation of fountain pens would all seem to fit nicely. I’d also throw in the fude pen I got with my new Hobonichi. I’d like to find some good uses for us. That kit would go with me everywhere

  37. Maybe I would put my Retro 51 celebration pen, the Erasable’s podcast Squire, an eyedropper Preppy with shocking blue, and a Vanishing point with Moss Green ink. And a notebook.

  38. I’d keep the A5 Leuchtturm1917 Neon that I use for service calls and pens that no one but me ever touches in it.

  39. Blank journal and an assortment of pens, I think! I found myself without a notebook at all yesterday at an emergency vet visit, so I definitely need an everyday carry for one!

  40. Ooooo la la! Such a wonderful case! I would put my Elemental Uranium notebook inside with a revolving list of fountain pens!!

  41. I would put art supplies – pencils, sketchbook, etc. I’ve just taken up drawing and this seems like it would mae it easy to carry the drawing supplies with me.

  42. I’d put my fountain pens, and likely a pilot frixon pen along with my Rocketbook Everlast notebook and a Rhodia Dot-grid pad. Then I’d be ready for note taking anywhere!

  43. Pencils, sketch marker, and gave travel coloring book and pad. Something to be able to take work me on my bike 🙂 looks awesome!

  44. I would keep a tuft of fur from my best friend. He was with us for over 10 years and was more human than dog. It’s been over 6 months and I still miss him every day.

  45. As a teacher union rep… I have been fumbling with solutions to carry my notebooks and sticky notes and all the stuff needed to manage the chaos of that part of my job this year. This looks like it would be a perfect solution! fingers crossed

  46. Along with my notebook (I love the Midori A5 line), I’d have to include the get-out-the-vote postcards and artistamps I’ve been sending to remind people that their vote matters! It looks like I could also fit a slim volume of poetry in there, so I’d bring along some Joy Harjo or Diane DiPrima to remind me of what’s at stake. <3

  47. 100% I would use this everyday. I just had a son on 3/23/20 and have a hard time documenting his life because im afraid to bring my notebook anywhere for fear of ruining it. Hell if I don’t win this ill prob just buy one when covid is over and I start working again 🙂 thanks for the opportunity!

  48. LIONS & TIGERS & BEARS oh my!! …….. Ok, not really. But pens & paper & colored pencils. Oh and a sharpener & an eraser. And a vial of ink for drawing, a quill pen, and a little watercolor kit with a water brush. That letter I’ve been working on for a week and some stamps. Enough cash for a cup of coffee. A granola bar and lip balm (I have a thing about lip balm).
    Perhaps a tardis is needed.

  49. What I would put in the case – my bujo, my top 2-3 inked pens, a few markers (fine line and brush), a rotring 800 and eraser and, if any room is left, a ruler, design templates and maybe even some washi tape

  50. I think you have the right idea. It will be great as a field notebook case for sketching and drawing. I’m wondering about putting my travel watercolor set in it. My current one gets too tight with everything. Thanks!

  51. This would be great for my letter writing kit. I could put my Clairefontaine pad plus envelopes, stamps and the letters I need to respond to along with a variety of different writing tools. Thanks for the opportunity!

  52. I would have to put my current favorite Zebra Stainless Steel Ballpoint in it plus my new “Light of Hope” Blue Hong Dian fountain pen. Beyond those two items, I’m not sure. It’s a lovely case, and I would be delighted to own it. Thank you for the chance to win it!

  53. I would include my notebook of World Domination plans, the Keys to the secret Nuclear bunker, My cell phone with the Game ‘Shadow of Death’, the Maltese Falcon, the flux capacitor and my favorite Gold nib pens.
    If the space allows I will store the chip I got from the Terminator’s head as well. Thank you!

  54. Love this case! Perfect to stash in the car to corral necessary post office supplies! I’d keep a few Forever stamps, some pens (of course!), a tape runner, and some stickers … these are my on-the-go mailing goodies in case I need to send a last minute card! Thanks for the chance!

  55. I’d put my Baron Fig confidant and 1st generation squire in this. I’d also include some vintage Nu-Vise signal tabs in the zipper pocket.

  56. That is lovely! I would carry my Fabriano A5 notebook that captures my thoughts and lists throughout the day, plus some currently-inked pens for writing and some pencils for drawing.

  57. I would put in about the same thing as you did. Pens and pencils, stylus, cell phone, USB charger, and some markers. Maybe some stamps, too!

  58. I think it would be great for when we get back to travelling again and would act as a carry all for portable journaling etc.
    In the meantime, it would still be handy to have a grab & go case from one part of the house to another and would hold a notebook and fountain pens!

  59. This would be a great little tool for transitioning between working from home and working at the office as I’m currently splitting my time at both locations. It’s just right for a selection of fountain pens, refillable highlighter, a notepad, index cards, and sticky notes. The pocket is perfect for my thumb drive with attached Tile and other small items.

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