Shibui recently contacted me about reviewing a few of their leather stationery cases. The company was started by a husband and wife team in 2017 as a result of their own enthusiasm for fountain pens and journaling. They struggled to find the perfect leather pen case — something simple yet functional that would age well while also being flexible enough to evolve as a pen collection grew and changed. Out of their efforts to fill a gap in the market, they developed the Pull-Tag™ which does not use elastics to hold pens but utilizes slots and a leather strap to secure pens into a case.
I received the following cases:
- 3-Pen Case XL (₱2,350, approx. $48.50USD)
- Life Organizer A5 (₱3,995, approx. $82.60USD)
- 8-Vial Case (₱2,125, approx. $44USD)
- A6 Hobo/Notebook Journal Cover (₱3,450, approx. $72USD)
Upon receiving the package, I noticed a few things about the cases right away and I have to admit that my reaction is completely related to already owning several leather pen cases from Galen Leather. The first thing I noticed was that the exterior leather did not feel like the leather on the Galen cases. This is not good or bad, just different. Galen offers smooth leather as well as their beloved “crazy horse” treatment. I’ve handled both repeatedly and love the look and feel of the “crazy horse” material.
I also noticed right away that, while the packaging says that all the zippers are YKK brand, on all but one case, the zippers are plastic teeth rather than metal. I have a tendency to overstuff a pen case or notebook case so heavy-duty metal zippers seem more likely to withstand abuse but I can’t definitely say that the plastic zippers will be less reliable. Plastic zippers just don’t feel as durable.
Other overall reactions to the cases were that they featured lots of pocket extras in each of the cases making them appear, at first glance to be competitive products to Galen — regardless of my feelings about the leather used — at lower prices.
So, let’s now review each case individually.
The 9-Vial Case is similar in size to the 3-Pen XL Case. It’s a long slim case that comfortably fits into the hand.
The case features stitched leather strap that has been designed to perfectly hold 5ml sample vials. While not many people have need of a case to carry samples, Jesi pointed out that she uses the 5ml sample vials to store spare nibs which do warrant a good case.
The stitching is neat and clean and the zipper has a metal, branded pull.
The reverse side of the flap leather looks pressed and fabric-y as if the leather may have been processed and backed with a thicker material. It’s not what I think of as cowhide on the back. The leather used for the strap looks more in keeping with leather I am familiar with.
Sample vials do fit perfectly and would definitely make a statement at your next pen meet-up or pen show.
A6 Hobo/Notebook Journal Cover:
The A6 Hobo/Notebook Journal Cover is another unique case. It features a carrying handle along the spine which makes the case a good option for toting your Hobonichi around the office (or home office). This notebook does feature a metal zipper. It was the only one of the four cases that did.
Inside, the cover features slots for cards but the slots were too narrow for a standard US “credit card” size. The reinforced stitching is nice though.
The pockets and slots behind the notebook are not reinforced, except for the horizontal slot for the actual notebook.
The Pull-Tag inside lays alongside of the slots for cards.
The downside of this placement is that when there is a notebook inside the case and a pen, the pen presses against the notebook. Looking down at the cover, there appears to be space along the spine that would perfectly nestle a pen but the Pull-Tag loop is just a bit too far to the left on the inside cover.
Overall, I found the A6 Hobo. Journal Cover to be the most disappointing.
3-Pen Case XL:
I saved the 3-Pen Case and the Life Organizer A5 for last because I have Galen covers that are very similar and wanted to compare the cases.
The Pull-Tag inside the case works great to keep the pens snug. Of all the cases, the Pull-Tag in the 3-pen case is the most effective.
My Galen 3-Pen Case ($39) is my oldest and most beloved pen case and it’s got some miles on it. It is a standard size versus the Shibui 3-Pane XL case which is designed to hold longer and/or larger pens. Size difference aside, the Pull-Tag detail on the Shibui case is a good feature. In my Galen, the elastic is not snug enough for my thinner pens like the Kaweco Special. Both feature an interior secretary pocket on the left-hand side. Without the metal zipper, the Shibui doesn’t look quite as polished.
Life Organizer A5:
The large A5 Life Organizer is so similar to the Galen Leather A5 Notebook Folio ($119) that it was hard to not immediately start comparing them. The Shibui case features a two-way zip but its a plastic zipper compared to the Galen Folio.
Again, the Shibui has a plastic zipper and the Galen features a metal zip.
Inside, both cases feature pockets for cards and, this time, the Shibui case pockets are large enough to hold a standard credit card.
The Shibui A5 case a zipper pocket inside as well as a zippered coin pocket. The Galen Folio has a 4-pen panel that can be removed as well as elastic loops for cords and other miscellaneous items. Galen also includes a ket chain with fish hook clasp.
The downside of the zipper pocket is that it bumps into the pen in the pen loop. The zipper head is metal and could potentially scratch or dent a pen, depending on the material the pen is made of.
Inside the back cover, the Shibui cover has a card pocket and a cable loop holder with snap. Galen’s back cover is a fleece felt material with a slot to make it easier to slide a notebook cover in and out of the cover.
The Shibui pen and notebook cases photograph much better than they feel in hand. I know it’s weird to say that but the leather material doesn’t feel leathery. It has an odd texture and feels almost plasticky. I had to ask some local material experts if the cases were real leather. They felt confident that it was but thought it was a very inexpensive hide, possibly bonded to other material. (I had it confirmed by Shibui that their material is indeed leather. 100%.)
Some of the design decisions in the Shibui cases seem odd or just not as well-considered as the Galen cases.
Initially, I thought people might be inclined to consider the Shibui cases because they are less expensive than Galen and other cases. However, after looking more closely at the cases and the price differences, the Shibui cases are not necessarily less expensive or lesser by much than the Galen cases.
However, the 9-Vial case is a unique item and, should you have need for such an item, this is probably my recommendation from Shibui.
Shibui Leather Cases are available from Pen Gallery (Malaysia), Cityluxe (Singapore), Pierre Cardin (HK), and Endless Pens (USA) and soon more locations will be added in the USA and Taiwan.
DISCLAIMER: The items included in this review were provided free of charge by Shibui for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.
5 comments / Add your comment below
Wow, I must be the only person on the planet who hates the feel of Galen leather. I ordered the A5 folio and the 5 pen case about 4 years ago. While I loved the packaging and the little 3rd eye dongles and the care in packing, their leather feels like cardboard compared to Innovative Journaling, where I buy all my notebook covers and leather bags… made Santa Fe New Mexico. http://www.innovativejournaling.com
Ana, I will see if I can get Arthur to send you something to review. His leather is good enough to eat.
Thanks, Mary. I’ll look into Innovative Journaling.
The pull tab approach is the same as an index card/pen case I have from Levenger. It’s at least 15 years old now, so I don’t have a link or anything. It’s a book-style opening, zippered on three sides. On the right hand side is an index card holder with flaps at the top and bottom to hold cards in. On the left side, there are three or four pen loops than can be resized using a pulltab that is woven through cuts in the leather. There are also pockets on the outside, accessible when it’s zipped. The pulltab system wasn’t perfect, but it did accommodate a wide variety of pen bodies. The leather seemed a bit thin and tore in at least one spot from use, but the concept was a good one at least.
Thank you for the thorough and honest review of these products. I love that you included your library card in the photos of the 3 Pen Case XL.
Even though I have Travelers Notebooks, more and more I want non-leather items for my stationery needs. Not that I need another pen/pencil case, but well you do need several to find the right one for the need at the time.
I would love to win the notebook cover so that I can put my notebook and Pilot Custome Heritage in that.