If you have been anywhere within shouting vicinity of me over the last couple of months, you’ll know that upon seeing the new Plotter products, I have been yelling, “It’s a fancy Filofax!”
As someone who never abandoned the allure of ring binders like Filofax, I am delighted to see that the planning trends have come full circle. When I started The Well-Appointed Desk, Filofax and its brethren were the go-to for paper planning. They were one of the few more flexible planning options available. Yes, discbound notebooks were also available but only through places like Levenger and were considered more as flexible notebooks than planner systems.
Then along came the Traveler’s Notebook and the spiral behemoths like Erin Condren and Happy Planners. As people continued to seek out flexibility and functionality, there was a bump in interest in discbound notebooks with the arrival of haute couture models from William Hannah. And now, with the arrival of the Plotter, the plannerverse has come back to ring planners. The Plotter offers high-end leather and the aesthetic minimalism of the Traveler’s notebook with the interior functionality of the Filofax.
I am glad that Plotter has come into the market with their version of the ring bound planner and inserts. I love the custom-ability of ring bound planners. The advantage that ring bound (and discbound) planners have over all the other is the ability to move pages, take pages out to work on them and add a variety of pages into the planner — the pages don’t even have to be the same size as the other sheets. Pages can be smaller or folded. All you need is a hole punch or binder punch to add in customized pages.
While Filofax offers a slightly wider variety of sizes, the most common sizes for the binders and refills are the Pocket, Personal, A5. Plotter offers two very comparable sizes: the Bible size and A5. The Bible and the Personal are essentially the same size and the A5 options are as it says on the label, A5-sized. The Narrow size is a very slim paper refill and doesn’t have a comparable size via Filofax or other ring binder maker. So, if the Narrow binder appeals to you, you will very much be locked into Plotter’s refills and accessories unless it becomes a runaway success and other shops start making refills for this size.
Plotter offers very slim, leather binders. The covers for the binders appear to be the same type of leather as Traveler’s Notebooks. I was not ready to invest the money in these covers as I already own several Filofax-style binders. As a result of the slim design, the Plotter does not have pockets on the inside of the covers like most Filofax.
The rings on the Plotter planners are about 10mm. Filofax uses 11mm in their Personal Slim models but the average size rings are 23mm in the standard and 30mm in the A5. If you’re used to stuffing your planner, the Plotter binder will hold about 1/3 to 1/2 the amount of stuff you are used to. This is another reason I was not ready to drop coin on the Plotter binders. I don’t put a ton of stuff in my Filofax but I can quickly fill up the space with tab dividers and other miscellany. If you’ve already invested in a ring binder from another manufacturer, I recommend sticking with it before investing in the full Plotter set-up.
What does Plotter offer that other ring bound planners don’t?
The most noticeable features offered by Plotter is the paper and pre-printed pages available. Paper is listed as thin, strong, tear-resistant and fountain pen friendly. This is not a claim made by many other brands. Knowing that the parent company for Plotter also makes Midori paper and Traveler’s Notebooks, I excpect they really do make FP-friendly paper. Along with some good quality paper, some of the other insert options are minimal and very Japanese including very light 2mm grid paper, blank and drawing paper as well as the array of accessories available. There is also a more traditional 6mm lined option and 2022 monthly and weekly calendar options.
The 2mm Grid Insert
The 2mm Grid Inserts (80 sheets Bible Size $6.20) are a soft ivory with a red rule at the top and very pale grey grid on the page. The paper is very smooth. What I discovered is that while the paper holds up well to fountain pens it was not at all good for rollerball or other liquid ink. I also found the paper to be too slick for ballpoint pen. Pencil performed pretty well on the paper despite the paper being quite smooth.
The big surprise is that the paper is actually glue bound along the left edge into a pad. Most insert paper packs are loose sheets so this was a bit of a shock. If you choose to use the sheets as a pad and then insert them into the planner later, this may be an advantage but if you add blank pages to your binder to use as you go, you. will need to tear each sheet carefully from the glue edge. Plan accordingly.
What I like: I really like the super light grid printed on the pages, the little diagonal line in the upper lefthand corner that could be used for the date or page x of x is a nice touch. Some sheening was evident with fountain pen ink. Not Tomoe River-grade sheening but overall the paper kept the characteristics of the ink.
What I didn’t like: The paper seems engineered for fountain pen but at the expense of most other tools. Planners are the place where notes are often jotted with whatever tool is at hand so making the paper so specific is a challenge for me.
The Monthly Calendar Insert
The Monthly Schedule Refill 2022 (Bible Size $7.80) is printed on the same paper as the 2mm Grid Inserts. The text printed on the monthly inserts is in English for the day of the week but everything else is in Japanese.
What I Like: These inserts are super minimal to the point where I had to search for the month info. So if you want minimal distractions on your calendar, this is an interesting option.
What I didn’t like: For as much as I appreciate the subtlety of the calendar layout, putting the monthly date on the margin closest to the rings is an odd design choice. If you are thumbing through pages looking for, say, May, you need to open the page all the way to find the number “5”. Other calendar layouts keep the month information on the far left or right edge of the page so its visible as you thumb through the pages. I also hate when Saturday and Sunday are stacked in the same square. I can’t be the only person who does as much on the weekend as I do during the week?
The Drawing Paper Insert
The Drawing Paper Inserts (30 sheets Bible Size $7.00) feature a heavier weight paper with perforations along the left edge to be able to remove the ring hole part easily. There is no specific indication about the weight of the paper but I would compare it to sketchbook paper found in mixed media or multimedia sketchbooks. It’s thick like an index card stock but with a little bit of tooth and texture that would make it good for pencils.
The Drawing Paper Inserts also include the pre-printed diagonal line in the upper lefthand corner (on the left side of the perforation) to include a date. The brand name is also printed on the lefthand side of the perforation. Finally, the Drawing Paper Insert are also glue bound on the left edge like the 2mm Grid Insert.
What I like: The paper is good for pen and ink and pencils.
What I didn’t like: The paper was not adequate for any sort of water-based media like brush pens or watercolor. Those tools bled through the paper immediately.
For the same price as a pad of the Drawing Paper Inserts, it would be just as easy to buy a small, multimedia sketchbook that could be cut down to fit into your planner and have two or three times as many sheets and know exactly what kind of paper you were getting.
The Envelope Folder Set
The Envelope Folder (3 Assorted Colors Bible Size $12.50) was the most unusual item I purchased. The structure of the envelope folders are such that loose items like receipts, stamps and other ephemera can be tucked under the top and bottom flaps, then the folder is closed and secured under the envelope flap. I have used plastic zip pouches in my binder for years to contain various bits. The paper envelope has two benefits. The first is that its paper so it can be recycled when it wears out until the plastic pouches. And second, the paper provides privacy. If you are squirreling away a prescription, credit card or other document that you would prefer to keep private, the paper envelope folder could be a great solution.
The Envelope Folder differs from the Project Manager Assortment. The Project Manager set is designed to wrap around a group of pages as an alternative to using tab dividers. The paper used in the Project Manager set is also lighter weight than the Envelope Folders.
What I like: As I mentioned above, I like the recyclability and privacy that the paper envelopes provide.
What I don’t like: The color selection of the three envelopes was developed to coordinate with the overall brand but I would have preferred an option for just neutrals or just brights. As it stands, I will probably use the grey-green one until it disintegrates and probably never use the bright yellow and orange.
I like that Plotter is bringing ringbound planning back to the forefront. Like discbound planners, ringbound systems offer a great deal of flexibility and customization. I am not sure that I will invest in more of the Plotter products with the exception of the lightweight paper pads used for the 2mm grid, lined and blank paper. YMMV.
DISCLAIMER: The items included in this review were purchased by me and I was not compensated to write this review. Please see the About page for more details.