A Deep Dive into Discbound Planners

This is a follow-up to a series of posts created several years ago that dove deep into classic ringbound planners. To follow-up, we are going to going to investigate the ringbound planner’s closest cousin, the discbound planner.

Weekly interior spread from Happy Planner

What’s a Discbound Planner:

Discbound planner systems are built on a similar principle to a standard ringbound planner except instead of a hole punched along the edge of the page to attach the paper into a binder, the discbound system uses discs that have grooves cut into them to hold onto the paper. The paper is then punched along the edge, creating mushroom-shaped divots that grip around the discs.

What makes a Discbound Better/Different than a Ringbound Planner?

  1. With most covers, the disc sizes can easily be changed if you need more space or less space. Discs are relatively inexpensive so it’s easy to keep a spare set on hand. Those extra discs can then be used in another notebook set-up you’ll just need extra covers which can be made from cardstock, cardboard or even an old cereal box with a little cutting and punching.
  2. Discs can be made of plastic or metal. Plastic is lighter and less expensive but metal can class up the look of your planner.
  3. Since the paper is punched along the edge, rather than a hole through the paper like a ringbound planner, pages can be added or removed with having to pop open rings and snap them closed. One of the biggest complaints people have regarding ringbound planners is that, over time rings might not close completely or line up properly causing pages to fall out. Not to mention, popping the rings repeatedly in an office, class or meeting room can be a little loud.
  4. Both full wrap covers and exposed disc covers are available. Should you want a more professional, polished look, a full wrap cover like those from William Hannah or Levenger may be preferable. If you want to be able to fold the cover back on itself, therby needing less desk, lap or table space, an exposed disc cover might be a better option. Exposed disc covers are available in a wide array of materials from leather to paperboard and plastic. If you are looking for non-leather options, discbound systems offer a wide array of options.
Levenger Circa discbound notebook

 

The Big Movers & Shakers:

Discbound systems started with notebooks and then pre-printed pages were added that eventually became planner inserts. As far as I know, the first system using rings came from Levenger, called Circa. (Don’t hold me to it but Levenger was the first company I knew about who was using these discs to bind books.) Staples entered the ring with their ARC system and then many others followed.


Update: Thanks to our readers who reminded me about Atoma. The Belgian company, Atoma were the originators of the discbound system. When their patent expired, other manufacturers came onto the scene as I’ve mentioned above and below, most notably in the US was Levenger and then later Staples, Office Depot (TUL) and then indie makers.

Rollabind, which was one of the US producers of discbound notebooks in the 90s,  is no longer considered a brand leader in the discbound business. There are a lot of complaints about the Florida-based company when I Googled the company. As far as I can tell, the company is out of business. Even the URL is available for sale.


In 2015, the Happy Planner was released which built on the large, all-in-one life/family/work planner systems that had been on the market using wire/coil binding (like the Erin Condren Life Planner) except using the discbound system which added the flexibility of a ringbound planner to these behemoth planners.

Martha Stewart’s line of discbound notebooks through Staples ARC line.

The biggest players in discbound planners are:

Interior view of a Happy Planner monthly spread

Sizes available:

There are some stock sizes available for covers for Discbound systems (A4/US Letter, A5 /Half-Letter, A6 and pocket/jotter which is roughly 3×5 are most common).  Some brands will offer other sizes but these are the most common.

The advantage of the discbound system is that any paper can be punched and inserted into the system. It doesn’t even have to be the same size as the planner which allows you to punch and insert smaller bits of paper, be they notecards, paper scraps or other documents, and insert them in whatever order you need. Print out a meeting itinerary and punch it to fit in your daily pages. Add a photo between weekly pages to brighten your day. Punch loose sheets of different kinds of papers and add them to your planner or notebook for drawing or ink swatching.

(TUL Hole Punch)

The punch:

Since the holes are even spaced regardless of the size of your planner, one punch will work with any paper size. Unlike ringbound planners where the hole spacing varies depending on the size of the planner, discbound planners definitely make adding your own pages much easier. The average price for a mushroom punch large enough to punch A4/letter paper is about $50USD.

William Hannah “Plannah”

Customizing a Discbound System:

Like a Ring Bound planner,  the discbound covers allow you to add any type of insert you want, in any order you want. You can start with a pre-printed planner system like the Happy Planner and then add additional pages to meet specific needs. Or you can build your whole planner from scratch.

Happy Planner month-on-two-pages layout.

If you pick a common size like A5/Half Letter, finding and printing inserts is relatively easy. You can even go to sources for free pintables like Philofaxy and print the A5 inserts designed for ringbound planners and punch them to fit your discbound system.

There are also 100s of options available on Etsy to download and print yourself. Some inserts will allow you to edit them in Acrobat before printing for even more customization. I find that searching the terms “planner printable” plus the year if you want dated or “undated” or “minimal” gets the best results for simple pages. If you know you want decorative pages, add design elements to your search terms like “botanical” or “celestial” or whatever strikes your fancy.

A few Etsy shops we recommend are:

Final Perspectives:

Discbound planners and notebooks are similar to ringbound planners but they offer different degrees of flexibility and options. I don’t think there are as many high end cover options for the discbound planners which I think is a downside.

Some find that pages that have been added and removed repeatedly from ringbound planners can get bent or damaged so that it becomes difficult to keep the pages in the book. I think this depends on the paper and how gently pages are removed.

Being able to fold pages back on themselves is a big plus over ringbound planners. Being able to add lots of different paper sizes or tidbits is also a big plus.

If you like creating your own planing and note-taking system, ringbound and discbound planners offer a great deal of flexibility and modularity.


Stay tuned! We will be providing a deep dive into other planning systems in the coming weeks.

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20 comments / Add your comment below

  1. The issue with paper tearing or folding with repeated removals and insertions can be remedied with a piece or two of invisible tape. If I have a piece of unpunched paper I know will be removed and reinserted multiple times, I run a piece of tape down the edge that gets punched so that the tape acts to reinforce the paper. Then I punch the paper as usual. This is similar to what you see with insertable tab dividers. If the situation occurs after I’ve punched the paper or with purchased refills, I use two strips of tape, one on each side of the paper to reinforce the punched area. Then I repunch the paper to remove the taped area from the mushroom cutouts. In this circumstance, if you only use one strip of tape, the adhesive edge tends to get caught up in the punch. With two pieces, the adhesive edges stick together and fall away.

  2. Hi,

    About discbound notebooks, I think the first one who did it is Atoma from Belgium. Their story began back in 1948.

    Thanks for your really interesting article with so much information.

    Regards,
    Silvie

  3. So glad you’re comparing these. I think more folks should try it. There are so many YouTube video reviews comparing punches, that’s how I learned that I would prefer the Levenger punch. I have come to really adore my Circa planner that I ended up designing for myself. I print on 32 lb paper and punch as I go. It’s perfect for me!

  4. Hi,
    Levenger is still out there with many new styles, colors & designs & various sizes. I 2 of them right now a pocket Joliet pad & a sliver keyboard pad.

  5. When I opened my email and saw a long post on discbound planners, it was like Christmas had come early! I’ve enjoyed this planning system for over a decade, and I love its versatility. My current daily carry is a Frankenplanner setup with a junior Levenger Honeycomb Sliver cover, custom Agendio planner insert, and paper, tabs, pockets, discs, pen loop, etc. from Staples ARC, TUL, Martha Stewart and other sources.

    I’m surprised Levenger isn’t on the list as one of the biggest players. They are still very much in the game. They offer a sampler kit that provides an introduction to different sizes and insert options. Back in the day, the sampler cost $40 and came with a $40 Levenger gift card. I’m not sure the gift card is still part of the deal, but talk about a gateway drug! I still have my sampler (plus a lot more!) and use it as a garden planner.

    1. I meant to include levenger in the list and it was an oversight that I didn’t. I’ll be sure to update the list.

  6. Office Depot has a disc bound notebook system called Tul. I got one in junior size, not a planner though they do have them. I like my Circa notebooks better as they are just a bit nicer.

  7. Some history. Rollabind originally developed the discbinding system. Levenger sourced the system from them and branded it Circa. For years, the Rollabind punches were identical to the Levenger ones except for the brand on the punch, and were a lower price.

    Eventually the Rollabind patent expired (US5553959A and US5749667A) opening it to other manufacturers. Which happily gave us lots of options at different price points.

    1. That’s the true tale! I knew there was more to the story and had forgotten Rollabind and Atoma! Thanks for reminding me!

    2. Thanks to Allan below, I’ve now learned of Atoma! They developed it in the 40s and had the patent until the mid-90s! Then Rollabind came in with their patents. I don’t know if Atoma ever had much of a presence in the US Market around then?

  8. Are all of the brands’ punches compatible with each others’ discs? I seem to recall that this might not be the case, but it may have been that there was a single incompatible system that has since been discontinued.

    1. I find all the systems I’ve tried to be compatible but I do know some of the discs accommodate the more mushroom shaped punches while others are a shaped a bit differently and may not slide as easily on the discs. Hopefully other readers will chime in.

  9. After having used a Franklin Covey planner for years, I discovered Frankenplanning with the discbound system. I currently use The Happy planner and have them in all the sizes for different things. My daily carry is a Classic size. I have my calendar, notes, tasks, a budget system I designed and even my address book that I also designed. There are on Etsy tons of options for pages, checkbook registers, everything your heart could imagine. This was a fun read. Thank you

  10. I’ve been using Levenger Circa discbound books for many years. My favorite cover is the Sliver. It’s the goldylocks zone of not too light and not too heavy. Just enough support to be able to draw standing up, on location.

    I mostly use half-letter though I have one letter sized book. I have the punch so I can make my own sketchbooks. I can add different kinds of paper in the same cover.

    My post from 2016 on how I make a sketchbook: https://redharparts.wordpress.com/2016/07/13/disc-bound/

  11. Hi everyone. I am new to discbound planners and have purchased a “Classic” size. I thought I had done a bunch of research to find the perfect size, but now I realize the classic is an awkward size and I can’t find very many options for refills. I was hoping to use normal paper in a standard size and then punch them myself, but now I am finding it difficult to find options. What does everyone else do with this paper size conundrum?

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