Category Archives: Review

Back-to-School Sale Composition Book Roundup Part Three

I’m calling this final part of the BtSS Roundups the “Drug Store Edition.” There are some very surprising entries and some of the typical offerings as well. Most of the drugs stores in my area had the typical Mead offerings- 5Star and the generic cardboard covered. They weren’t  on sale at any of the drug stores in my area. I only picked up brands and styles that are new to me. Again all are typical size for a comp book and college ruled unless otherwise stated/

Entry 1: Wexford Made in Vietnam 69 Cents Walgreens

Finally a classic marble covered composition notebook. The cover is sturdy and thick. The label area is unnecessarily large but gives more than enough space for information. The tight stitching is covered with appropriately sized textured paper tape. Overall this comp bool is a classic design.

Inside there are 80 pages with very pale blue lines. The printing of the lines is super thin too. The lines disappear behind all writing. Pencil feels great on this paper, smooth but with enough tooth to get a nicely dark line. Gel, rollerball, and ballpoint work great. Fountain pen glides across the surface. There is no feathering, spread, or bleed. The ink dries quickly but there is a great deal of sheen and shimmer in those inks. Fountain pen is lovely on this paper.

Entry 2: StudioC Forest Friends Made in Vietnam $3.29 Walgreens

StudioC Poly Cover Sugarland

Like the other StudioC offering this sports a really cute design, but on a very sturdy, super thick card cover. The poly covers were also nice and thick. I picked out an owl, then a fox, then more patterns, because why not? The spine is covered with textured paper tape with it’s overly cute design and it matches the gray tones of the cover. It is also appropriately wide, and looked proportionally right with the design.

Inside are 100, wide ruled pages. They are available in college rule but I was so distracted at the cute cover that I forgot to look at the contents. Repeat everything I said about the previous Studio C offering. The paper is stellar for everything. Fountain pens, gel, rollerball, ballpoint, and pencil all perform wonderfully on this paper. The ruling has a wide line and is a bright distinct blue. It does not disappear in the background.

I did not expect that both of the offerings available from Walgreens to be so spectacular. Thus far the Wexford is the price per page for performance for all pens and pencils to be beat. At 0.86 cents per sheet it sits on the low end of cost but on the higher end of performance. It’s not quite as nice as the 2016 copyright Mead card cover from Target or the StudioC but it is very close.

Entry 3 Office Depot Brand Card Covers $1.50

I’m reviewing all the Office Depot styles together as one because they all performed similarly.

All of the offerings from Office Depot had unpleasantly smooth paper which lacked tooth for pencils. Pencils smeared but held a point for a long time. Fountain pens bled, feathered, and in some cases soaked through.

There are 80 pages well stitched into some of the flimsiest covers this competition has seen thus far. The notebooks can be curled into a circle. The card is so thin and floppy that it is clear it will not last.


Entry 4: Divoga Going Bananas Fashion cover. $2 Office Depot

This fails several levels of what I use to determine if a book is a comp book or not- it is perfect bound and perforated. Though I do not call this an actual comp book, you may be deceived by the labeling online- these are not stitched.

Inside the sturdy cute printed covers ios some of the crappiest paper this competition has seen thus far. It feathers, bleeds, and pencils smears. This combined with the perfect binding and perforations means everyone should avoid this notebook, or only buy it for someone who only used ballpoints- because yes, even gel ink bled through!

It is important to note that Walgreens and many of the drugs stores have prices that fluctuate weekly on many of their seasonal items. When I purchased the Walgreens offerings here they were at the prices listed, but shortly after the Wexford was offered at 99 cents and the StudioC were BOGO at the price listed. The following week still another price.

Entry 5: U-Style Block Party $3.69 CVS

This entry sports 80 pages which seems to be the new go to for a standard page number. The covers are cute and printed with fun designs but are also thin and floppy. The stitching is 1/3rd of an inch with is too wide, I prefer ¼ inch stitching in my comp books. The paper itself is… terrible. It feathers,bleeds, and soaks through with everything I used in it. Even ball point shows through. Pencil is a smeary mess.


Overall, I’ve been really impressed by the StudioC, Wexford, and the Mead card covered. All these offered great paper at affordable prices. Granted the StudioC covers are super bright and eye catching, so if old school black marbling is your go to- you’ll be better off looking for the Wexford from Walgreens. The Wexford on sale is the best price per page, but the typical sale price of 99 cents isn’t bad either. The Studio C is the highest priced but also offers the best paper experience.

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Review: NockCo Sinclair Pen and Notebook Case

The NockCo Sinclair has 3 pen slots and a spot for a notebook plus room between the two sides for additional storage. This case, like almost all Nock cases, has an outer shell of 1000D nylon with DWR coating and an interior of smooth nylon pack cloth. The interior pack cloth allows smooth extraction of pens and notebooks, yet they stay put once inside.

Though there are only 3 pen slots, unless you use large pens you can fit more than one pen into each slot. I’m able to comfortably stuff 3 pocket notebooks into the notebook slot and more into the central section. If I want to use it as an on the go art supply case I can hold a travel palette, water brushes and a few pens and pencils. My point is that such a compact pocket sized case it can hold a tremendous amount of stuff yet still fits into a back pocket.I picked out the coffee and amethyst colorway. It is a great looking color combo that is a nice riff on the more typically found chocolate with baby blue. The purple is light enough that you can find all your stuff inside with ease. The zipper is beefy and moves with ease. I found the pulls to be a little large and to interfere where I slid the case into a pocket. I replaced them with pulls made of narrow paracord and beads. These being flexible don’t force the case open when shoved into a pocket. The nylon stays put in the pockets of my jeans or khakis even when walking around.

I was skeptical that the Sinclair would replace my Fodderstack XL as a part of my practical carry, but it has. It let’s me keep my pencil, a red pen, my Alloy, and a couple of others combined with my notebook and assorted sundry items. If one needs to carry a little extra stuff than the Fodderstack XL allows, the Sinclair is the obvious next step.

Okay, let’s talk about the price of this thing- it’s $40 plus shipping and handling. Not cheap. But it’s insanely well made. Every stitch is where it  should be and thus far in my use it is super tough. Taking my Fodderstack XL as an example, the Sinclair is going to survive my use- in  my pockets and in my bag. While I might buy and discard 3 or 4 Yoobi pencil cases over the next few years, I’ll be using the same Sinclair that whole time. The Sinclair is an investment and one you’ll be using for years.

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Review: Lodestone Letterpress Pocket Notebooks

As you can see from the pictures the designs printed onto the covers are simple and clean. I particularly enjoy that they hearken back to the Oklahoma state song with a few words from the song with simple images. The wheat stalk on orange is particularly nice. The light blue with a windmill is also a nice touch. Fans of Field Notes will recognize the 3 shades as the classic butcher colors of paper used in the original colors of Field Notes. The cover stock is sturdy and feels great. The combination of spare text, simplified imagery, and card covers is very nice. The back cover sports a simple company label.

Inside the sturdy covers are 48 unruled pages of white drawing paper. I’ve tested it out with pens, pencils, watercolor, brush pens, and light watercolor washes. With the wetter applications of watercolor the paper cockled a tad, but overall the paper responds well to everything. My wettest M nibs showed some signs of soak through but most FP inks did okay, with show through here and there, but not so much as to make the verso unusable. Mostly I really liked this toothy paper with pencils and brush pens. I responded the best to these tools.

The whole thing is held together with 2 sturdy silver staples. The corners are square. I’ve been carting mine around as a general sketchbook for the last few weeks and It’s very sturdy and capable. I like it and Spencer deserves some support for his cute sturdy notebooks.

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Review: Papermate Inkjoy Gel Pen

It is important to point out that this review is for the Inkjoy gel pen, not the ballpoint monstrosity that Paperhate also sells under the Inkjoy label. Which can I just say is the most confusing thing ever. They ought to drop the ball points out of the Inkjoy line up because they are not a joy to use- a blobby horrible mess.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the Inkjoy gel ink. I have several colors that I really enjoy- slate blue, black, teal, and blue. The res is too light for editing but some may like it. The green is nice too. The colors are great but do not match the color of the body well at all. The slate blue is many shades darker than the pen body. The teal is significantly darker as well.

Let’s talk about the shape of the pen… The pen body is long and thick. This will please many people who aren’t fond of skinny narrow pens, but if you aren’t a fan of girthy pens, you may find this one, uncomfortable. The exterior of the pen is coated is a rubbery and grippy coating. There are divots along the section of the pen you hold to further facilitate the grip. In practice I doubt these are necessary, as the rubbery coating is textured. There is a large translucent window where you can see ink levels. The sturdy clip is made of the same translucent plastic color matched to the ink. The clip could probably stretch over time but I’ve yet to have that happen.

The ink inside is smooth, flows are a good rate, and flows from the moment the waxy blob is removed to the last drop of ink is gone. Every single pen I’ve uncorked and used has worked the same. At this point I’ve probably used a half dozen of them and have all the colors in my pen pack at work- and every single one simply flows smoothly every single time it is deployed. Paperhate knocked one out of the park with this ink formulation.

One drawback is that there isn’t even a semblance of these being waterproof or even water resistant. Somewhere around here I’ve got a few sample sheets of paper with water tests, the only thing left on most of the papers is the indentation of my original writing. Sad, because the black with a waterproof ink could be THE sketching tool.

Another drawback is that the flow of these is so heavy that I literally BLOW through them. In my post about the G2 I mentioned how fast I destroy one of the Inkjoy refills- I’ve gone through one in a week. The average is about a week and a half. It’s less if I am processing intakes and filling out a lot of paperwork. If I pick up extra hours it is on the low end.

At the end of the day, the InkJoy is a fabulous gel pen. It’s flow is smooth and the sensation of using it is superior to every other gel ink I’ve used. On less absorbent papers it lasts better, but if you use cheap paper be prepared to really blow through  the refills. Refills are only available via Amazon in a few colors- specifically black, red, and blue. I hope someday that I’ll be able to get the slate blue in a refill form.

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Review: NockCo Gigante Folded Index Cards

The Gigante cards measure 3.5×5.5 inches when folded and 5.5×7 inches when unfolded. The ruling is Nock’s dot dash in a very pale purple. The smooth paper is 80lb or 216gsm. It is heavier than most inexpensive index cards on the market.

I tested the cards with all my currently inked fountain pens, an assortment of gel ink, rollerball, ballpoint, and fiber tipped pens. None of them soaked or bled through. The fountain pen ink shows plenty of sheen and glimmer. All my pens felt great on the paper. The experience was much like using any really terrific paper.

The size is very useful. It is the exact same size as a pocket notebook. I immediately popped a few  into my Fodderstack XL, with a few standard sized index cards in the middle. I then added a handful to my Sinclair. I’ve found these useful for information that I know I don’t need to keep for ages and also info that I want to transfer to specific notebooks later. Honestly, I’ve been using them much in the manner that I have used larger post its in my pocket notebook- but they feel more substantial.

These are not cheap cards- $8USD for 25 folded cards. Their standard sized cards (3x5in) are 50 to a pack and $6. Though they aren’t cheap they do perform better than most index cards I’ve used, particularly with fountain pens. Depending on how you use your index cards. If you use them as scratch pads and scrap paper then these may not be a value for you. If however index cards are a major part of your practical carry along with fountain pens, you’ll find these invaluable. Continue reading

Review: Pentel Energel Alloy

I’ve been looking for a refillable pen body that can hold my favorite pen refills- PaperMate InkJoy, Uniball Signo, and Zebra Sarasa. I did some heavy research into this by asking questions in the RSVP Stationery Podcast group about favorite refillable pens. Part of my interest is that I blow through pens at my workplace and it is just not environmentally friendly. I saved the empty pens for a month and I had a dozen. A dozen empty pens is too many. I’ve used quite a few refillable pens in the past but none of them fit any of the gel refills I wanted to use.While I really love my Baron Fig Experiment I really don’t want to lose it at work by leaving it on a desk, and I’ve learned the hard way that keeping it in my pocket leads to stains.

In my pursuit of such a refillable pen, I purchased the Pentel Energel Alloy. Of the gel pens out there the Pentel Energel is not my favorite. Past versions of the pen have always felt plasticky and flimsy. I’ve managed to snap the pen at the point where the grip screws into the body. Breaking won’t occur with the Alloy. The metal body of the Alloy feels much sturdier than the plastic bodied Energel. Though it is made of metal and has a substantial feel it is not too heavy. I’ve spent a few weeks writing with it, blowing through a few refills at work and working on my novels.

The refills I’ve used have been the Energel, InkJoy, Sarasa, and Uni Signo. They have all fit well. There is no rattling or noise. Each refill clicks through and provides enough of a point to write. The grip section is tactile and grippy, and though it is all metal it doesn’t get slippery. The clip is substantial and grips tightly to whatever it clips to, which generally is my lapel or my current notebook. Thus far I have not stretched out the clip.

The one thing I do not like is that the nock is somewhat soft and spongy with a very long distance from press to the point being deployed. The click is satisfyingly loud.

Overall I’m pretty happy with the Alloy thus far. It feels sturdy and though it is not a super heavy pen, it feels substantial, especially after using a Sarasa or other of the plastic bodied gel ink pens. I like it but it is the first step on the journey for an affordable refillable pen body.

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Review: Weskin Journal by Bookblock

I’m just going to start right here, the Weskin is a little weird. There is a lot to like though so let’s start with that, then I’ll get to the weird.

This is a really well made journal or notebook. The stitching is top notch, tight where it should be and glued really well. I have zero glue creep in mine and we all know how much that irritates me. There are two ribbon place markers that are nice and long- 2 full inches extends past the bottom of the book. I love this. I can grab the ribbon, slid it to the right and open the book with it- the way place markers are meant to be used! Mine weren’t heat sealed but I sealed mine in about 2 seconds with my handy lighter. The cover is nicely textured fabric. I’m not sure what kind of fabric it is, but it has the look and feel of linen. It seems to attract less dirt than other fabric covered journals I own so perhaps this has a coating or some synthetic content. The Bookblock logo is simple and pressed into the lower back of the cover in gold foil. The edges are gilt and snap, crackle, and pop when the book is opened. Classy.

The journal opens flat and even folds over onto itself with ease. Doing this you can, as I have, write out of hand into the journal. The ruling is an interesting shade of blue grey that matches many of the pens I uses. The intensity at which is printed is a few shades too dark for my liking. The ruling doesn’t disappear into the background of my writing, rather it stays right there, front and center. It is less noticeable when I write in graphite or black ink, but my prefered blue grey tends to meld with it. The ruling doesn’t extend to the very edge of the page which is a tad old fashioned, and I know annoys some of you. Thus it bears mentioning. About 15 years ago having the ruling centered with a margin around your page was fashionable and expected, today, thanks to moleskine, the cheaper and easier alternative of extending the ruling to the very edges of the page is much more fashionable and prefered.* You will either like it or not.

The paper itself is ok. It reminds me of the Paper Oh! Ondulo I reviewed back here. It is a smooth to the touch coated paper that performs really quite well with graphite, ballpoint, rollerball, and gel ink. It is abysmal with any fountain pen. All of my pens regardless of nib size and ink combination feathered like crazy and bled through. Like the Ondulo, pencil is where it is at for this paper. Graphite feels awesome on it’s toothy coated surface. It’s not so toothy that you’ll wear your point down in a line or have severe smearing issues, rather, it’s just right for graphite. The weird. The cover is stiff flexible. Like the Firma-Flex you can roll this journal over onto itself and shove it into a back pocket. This is odd to me. Folded over onto itself you can write in hand. It’s not so flexible that the cover is limp, it’s still stiff. In a nicely fabric covered journal this just seems a tad… odd. That said, this is a perfect cover weight to shove into a bag with a lot of stuff inside. The bendability of the covers means that the journal conforms to the shape of the bag. I’ve been carting mine around for a month or so now, and I stick it in the compartment of my bag that holds my Lihit labs Bag-in-Bag. It conforms to the shape of the Bag-in-Bag and allows me to get more stuff in the bag. There is a note of genius in the oddity.

The bottom line when it comes to the Weskin is that I  like it, but I know to only use it with pencil and my favorite gel and ballpoint pens. It reminds me of picking out a nice journal back when I was a kid. At €15 this isn’t a cheap alternative to other brands out there. If you are a European stationery nerd, you’ll be happy to know these are made in Europe. Where exactly? I don’t know, but Bookblock is based in London.

If you are interested, head on over to the BookBlock site. Unfortunately BookBlock is still working on their shop and the Weskin is not yet available.

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Review: Baron Fig Prismatics LE Pencils

Baron Fig had some issues with the Snakes and Ladders edition of their Archer pencil. Shattered and off center cores were the worst of the issues. I also read reports of the core being significantly softer than the previous edition, which to me is a good thing. The original Archer is lovely to behold  but contains coarse somewhat gritty graphite.

Let’s start with the awesome thing about the Prismatics* they are gorgeous and the packaging is beautiful. When I opened the box that Michael of Leadfast sent my way, I was struck by the gorgeous tube- deep blue-ish purple with red, blue, pink, and yellow geometric shapes all over. There is a white outline of a pencil shape and opposite is the informational copy. The tube feels sturdy and it lovely to hold. I ripped the plastic off the tube and was greeted by the pretty hexagonal pattern created by the 12 pencils held tightly together. The end dip matches the package. Perfect.

Inside there are 4 pencils of each color- red, blue, and yellow. The colors are bright and cheerful. One hex side is adorned with geometric designs the opposite simple says, “Baron Fig.” Inside the bright cheerful coloring is cedar. The cores are well centered and the whole deal sharpens with ease in all my sharpeners- from the Carl A5 to the Pollux to the Masterpiece.

The Prismatics contain the same core as the Archer with it’s somewhat coarse and gritty graphite. I sharpened 3 of the pencils, one each color, and found that each pencil had different level of coarseness and softness. One was about perfectly an HB, another slightly harder and much more coarse, and another slightly softer with less grit.  The point retention is great.

These are not a bad pencil but nor are they a good pencil, they are acceptable. I found them to work perfectly fine on toothy paper- paper where the coarseness of the core was less evident and mattered less because the paper was working hard to create the smooth experience I prefer. That said, if you use composition notebooks, yoobi journals, and other inexpensive paper with plenty of tooth you’ll like these well enough.

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Review: Koala Tools The Bear Claw 2B Pencil

The Bear Claw is a fat triangular pencil. If were round it would be a jumbo but the triangular shape makes it feel like a semi-jumbo in my hand. I keep writing that I’m MEH on triangular pencils but I keep liking them when they have rounded corners, this is no different, I really like it’s rounded triangular shape. It feels awesome.

The pencil is made out of redwood. It has a lovely pink color that contrasts nicely with the black paint, gold printing, and ferrule The green eraser is round and looks okay with the rest of the printing. I think a black or pink eraser would look a lot better with the color scheme. The printing on all of mine is pretty janky. The black paint is thin and reminds me of an over applied stain that wasn’t wiped off properly. The gold imprint is off on most of mine, with half of the pencils having only half a print. The ferrules are well affixed, but hold the eraser rather loosely. In fact the eraser is so loose that in use I’m worried it’s going to work its way out of the ferrule. One of my pencils has a deep split up the side where the wood split and then was painted over. The final coat of varnish is thin in places, thick in others and there are runs on some of the pencils. On some the runs are actually raised and can be felt.

The redwood is hard and really resists sharpening in my Dahle 133, but does sharpen up nicely once you get past the resistance.

The 2B lead is smooth and dark and feels good on smooth as well as toothy paper. The core is the best thing about these pencils. It’s soft and really is a B pencil rather than a 2B and doesn’t hold a point for very long. I’ll get over that because the core is so dark and smooth. I have to say that I rather like the core, it is a redeeming core for such a shoddily made pencil.

A 6-pack at the MSRP is $5. Not a bad deal if you can find them for that price. Mine were $7 at Black Ink in Cambridge, MA.

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Review: Yoobi Document Organizer

Back to School Sales are irresistible. I end up picking up stuff I really have no interest or need for the Yoobi Document Organizer (YDO) is one of those things. The YDO is reminiscent of two very different products, but not exactly like either. The first is a favorite of mine, the Lihit Labs Bag-in-Bag organizers. The YDO is close in size to the large. The other item it reminds me of, and you can thank Leadfast for the comparison, is the Nock Co Lanier. It’s not exactly like that either. I’ll get to those comparisons later.

The YDO is available in 4 colorways- Goin’ Bananas, Aqua and Checks, Aqua and Black Dotty, and Yoobi Awesome. Aqua and checks is a bright shade of blue, while Aqua and Black Dotty is more of a seafoam green. Not at all aqua. There are also 2 different price points, which is weird. The Goin’ Bananas and Aqua and Checks are both $10 while the other two are $13. Why the price difference? The two higher priced YDO have velcro flaps on an inside pocket.

I picked up the Aqua and Check because it was the only version my local Target had. If I’d had my choice I’d have gotten Goin’ Bananas. The quality of the stitching is acceptable, for a $10 item. If I had spent any more on this I’d take it back. There were a few loose threads here and there, that didn’t have an effect on the sturdiness of the item, so I hit them with a lighter and sealed them off. The zippers seem fairly sturdy but not as sturdy as say, a Tom Bihn bag. But then this isn’t intended to hold a backpack’s worth of stuff. Rather the YDO is intended to hold a few items in a well organized manner.

The organization inside is simple. One large pocket, two smaller pockets, a mesh pocket, and a flap. The zipper unzips fully around three of the four sides. The remaining side holds a handle.On the outside there is a zipper pocket and two smaller pockets. The whole thing is just under 2 inches thick, 13.5 inches high, and 10 inches wide. The polyester canvas slides in and out of my backpack and bags with ease. The handle is far from comfortable as it’s just a thin strap made of canvas. It’s also rather small. I can’t imagine carting the YDO around for more than a few minutes fully loaded.

Speaking of fully loaded, this thing can hold a lot more stuff than I first thought. Loaded to comfortable non-bulging it holds the following: tablet w/case, BT keyboard, composition notebook, pocket notebook, handful of pens and pencils, earbuds, cord and one small charger. If I pack it to bulging I can add to the above a back up power source, another cable, my pocket notebook in case, phone, and my BT speaker. Either way, this is a decent amount of stuff if you want to use it to organize a specific set of tools for a specific purpose- like heading to the cafe to peck out your next novel without carting around a large backpack or messenger bag. If say I was heading into work and I knew I had a block of time where I wasn’t going to work but I could head to the cafe this would be a fast way to ditch my backpack and take only my tablet and keyboard with me. Also, I could see myself taking this with me on the weekend to the cafe. Or I could slip this into my backpack and have all my stuff ready to go in seconds.

The big drawback to this is the lack of shoulder strap. I should weigh how much stuff I can cram into it, but at the end it’s heavy and if I were to cart it around by the strap, my fingers will go numb before I get to the cafe. Unlike the Lanier*, I don’t mind adding loops for a shoulder strap to this because I paid $10. If I look at this as a Bag-in-Bag contender the strap doesn’t matter.

I guess if you wanted to back the Lanier and you want something similar at a budget price, this is a great alternative. Just don’t expect it to wear and last like a Nock product would. If you want a Bag-in-Bag at a budget price, this will do the job really well. Yeah some of the patterns are silly- but I kinda love the silliness of the bananas. Yoobi makes some silly products, but they are aimed at teens and fun loving adults.

Overall I like this product. It functions for my uses and I’ll be adding a shoulder strap to the outside so I can lug it to the cafe without carting a full bag of junk. It is really interesting to pare down my carry and look at what I need and what I don’t need. But that is a whole other post. Continue reading