Lamy Safari Fountain Pen


Most fountain pens are appealing for their authoritative weight and the prestige of pushing an antique technology around the page. However, the Lamy Safari pen (designed by Wolfgang Fabian) re-thinks the fountain pen with comfort and accuracy in mind. It comes with a sturdy ergonomic grip similar too, but not as comfy as, the Dr. Grip. The pen is also made out of plastic making the weight (and cost) much less than a traditional fountain pen.

The Lamy weighs in at a meager $30 with ink costing about $2 to $5 dollars a bottle. The Safari is also frugal on ink; it runs a much smaller and tighter line than many pens meaning that the ink dries faster on the page, but do beware using ink from a different pen in the Lamy can clog it. You can see the ink cartridge at all times because a small part of the casing has been hollowed out.

Finally, the refillable cartridge snaps into place in the pen and is refillable through the pen’s stylus hence you don’t have to take everything apart when you want to refill (you do have to unscrew the top of the pen to get to the cart’s screw, but not the bottom) and also eliminating that first air bubble you get when placing traditional carts back in the pen. The plunger is operated by a screw action on the top making it easy to hold the pen in place while you refill it. It is also available as a left handed version.

Lamy also sells other pens with a similar design and grip if you’re looking for a more expensive or stylish pen, but despite the Safari’s minor flaws (I had major problems the first day getting it to write consistently until I watered down my ink) it’s quickly replaced my old Picasso pen for everyday scribbling. I now own two Lamys, using one for correcting tests and the other for everyday writing. The over-sized clip is also a bonus as it’s less likely to get bent out of shape by clinging to pockets, belts, etc.

-- Andrew Jones  

Lamy Safari Fountain Pen
Available from Jet Pens

Lamy Safari Refillable Ink Converter Z24
Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Lamy

Atoma Notebook


I used to run around taking notes with my trusted Palm Tungsten E but found it clumsy for taking graphical notes and just scribbling around. Then I discovered Atoma note books in Manufactum’s online shop:

I have been using it for over a year and it has transformed my note taking. The difference between Atoma and regular note books (especially Moleskine) is that they are modular and customizable.

The sheets are held together by aluminium rings so the note books can be opened completely without the annoying bending that occurs at the edges of sheets in spiral binders. The sheets can also be removed and re-inserted, turned around and so on. You can combine printed sheets of different content (e.g. college ruling, blank, math paper) in one notebook.

You can also print your own pages and use the Atoma hole puncher to insert these custom sheets in your note book. When you remove a sheet there is nothing left in the binding, an issue that annoyed me every time when I used spiral bound note books. You can also put A7 sized sheets and A5 sized sheets into an A4 binder because the binding is the same for all sizes.

The Atoma is incredibly customizable, reusable, and has a great, durable form factor. Best. Note taking. Ever.

-- Matthias Jordan  

[We have, in the past, reviewed the similar Circa Levenger notebooks. The Atoma notebook is the European disc-binding equivalent and has been around since 1948.--OH ]

Atoma Notebooks
6.5″ x 8.5″
8.5″ x 11″

Available from Myndology in the US.

Available from Manufactum in Europe

Manufactured by Atoma

Cobra Ink System


Good riddance paper! Someday.

Meanwhile I have stacks of color pages I have to print. I am designing a few full-color books and that means proofing them on paper so I really need really cheap printing. Those spammy refill ink cartridges aren’t cheap or dependable enough.

After much research and trial and error I found that the easiest cheapest method of printing is a continuous ink supply built into a printer. Once you are set up you can buy ink inexpensively by the pint, quart or gallon. A pint bottle of ink will cost no more than one of those itty bitty 1 oz. cartridges and will last hundreds of times as long.

A continuous ink system runs tubes from the refillable ink containers into the moving ink head in the printer. The printer operates normally. You simply refill the outside container with bulk ink and keep printing on the same originally installed cartridges. There are a number of outfits that will sell you a kit to do this yourself. I’ve heard of occasional satisfaction with this method. But installing this gear can get really messy and hairy. You are on your own if it does not work correctly. And some printer models are easier to retrofit than others.

I opted for a more elegant and not that much more expensive option: have the pros do it. Cobra Systems will install their continuous ink supply system on twelve different brand new Epson printer models. For about $50-100 more than the cost of the new printer, they will ship you a ready-to-use modified new printer with refillable ink containers already installed. Because this modification voids Epson’s warranty, they provide their own warranty. They guarantee it will work. Period. In fact, in my experience Cobra’s service is amazing. They will make absolutely sure your system is working to your satisfaction no matter what, even if they have swap it out at their cost.

Because Epson (and all the other printer manufacturers) discourage these kinds of workarounds of their pricey inks, there are some kludgy maintenance steps (like squeezing a bypass switch every now and then) needed to fool the cartridges into going beyond their programmed death. But these inconveniences are minor.

The Epson printers work as advertised. You can get a new 8×11 Epson Workforce 30 installed out of the box with a bulk ink system for $100. I’ve been using a new Epson Workforce 1100 with the Cobra-modified system installed for $280. It’s a serious large-format general purpose printer for up to 11 x 17 inch pages, with 5 huge ink tanks. After about 30 minutes of easy set up, purging the system of air from shipping, I was ready to print. I now churn out hundreds of 11 x 17 full color pages for a few dollars worth of ink. I saved the extra cost of the continuous ink system in the first week of use. (It’s shocking how much ink is consumed when a printer cleans its heads.) You can get long-lasting pigment inks, or high-heat inks, or plain old dye inks. Half a liter (a pint) of dye ink goes for $27. Compare that to the thimblefull in most ink cartridges.

Important caveat: You need to situate the printer in a work place you don’t mind getting stained with spots of color because even though the system is well designed to minimize spills, the inks are not sealed and sooner or later you WILL spatter some ink at some point. Count on it. Also, since the ink tanks are velcro’d to the side of the printer, these units won’t win any style prizes if that is important to you.

For most folks a bulk system is overkill. If all you need is infrequent home printing, I still recommend the previously reviewed HP OfficeJet K5400 as the cheapest per page cost for an off-the-shelf device. But if you are doing large volume printing, saying proofing a book, or running a T-shirts business (Cobra’s main customers), or printing flyers and posters, then I recommend Cobra’s continuous ink system and their fantastic support. (You can also send them your own Epson printer and have them add their continuous ink supply.)

-- KK  

Epson Workforce 1100 with Cobra dye ink system
Available from Cobra Ink

Over-Sized Post-Its

giant postit.jpeg

As a long-time aficionado of office supplies, I feel qualified to review this wonderful new (to me, at least) product. These über-Post-its measure 4″ x 4″ and are a different kettle of fish entirely from others I’ve used. Namely their Lilliputian 1.5″ x 2″, 2″ x 3″, and 3″ x 3″ brethren. These have an entirely different heft and presence under your pencil or pen or Sharpie.

And I like that these notes are lined, because I’m now using them as an aide-mémoire regarding what’s upcoming each day on my blog Book Of Joe. There are just enough lines on them for my eight daily posts and their working titles.

Finally, by combining them with an ultra-fine point retractable Sharpie, I’ve found note-taking heaven on Earth.

-- Joe Stirt  

[For those who prefer naked Post-Its, you can get lineless 4"x6" ones from Amazon.]

Post-It Super Sticky Notes
$12 for six pads

Manufactured by Post-It

LightWedge Book Light


For night owls who don’t want to wake a sleeping partner, this window-shaped LED reading light is indispensable. I’ve been using the wedge for ten years, turning pages into the wee hours without rousing my husband.

While most reading lamps shed ambient light, the wedge illuminates the page with a bright, diffuse but localized light panel. It would be as handy in a darkened theater as in bed. My model is battery powered (the 2.0 is rechargeable), but I haven’t had any need to replace them quite yet.

-- Shoshana Berger  

Original LightWedge
Available from Amazon

LightWedge 2.0 Rechargeable Book Light

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by LightWedge

The Best Pencil Eraser

I am a fan of mechanical pencils, but continue to be underwhelmed with the minuscule erasers they provide with them (almost as if they expect you not to make a mistake?). I’m tired of buying overpriced refills, and am more interested in finding something that could be used in addition to the pencil.

What’s the best pencil eraser out there? Are there significant differences amongst the materials?

– oliver h

Staedtler Mars Plastic Eraser - Color: White.jpegMars plastic erasers are the best. Abrasive erasers tear up the paper surface too much, and unless you have mastered pressing really hard without breaking the lead a mechanical pencil doesn’t draw that deep anyway.

The plastic erasers can also be cleaned with a wet thumb or a rub on scrap paper for neat work. I always find the “gritty” or “gummy” erasers get so dirty you spend half your time rubbing out their own mess. The Mars compound is stiff enough that corners can be used for fine work, or large areas erased with the flat end. The dirty, used portions just roll off as you use it and are cleanly blown/swiped away. I like the idea of putty/moldable erasers, but they get filthy, crumbly and horrible if kept in a pocket or bag.

-- Alan  

[I have since ordered a pack of the Mars erasers, and they really are the smoothest and most effective eraser. I can't imagine I'll need another for a few years as long as I can avoid losing them.--OH]

Staedtler Mars Plastic Eraser
Pack of 4

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Staedtler

Pentel Sharp Kerry Mechanical Pencil


I’ve been testing Pentel’s Sharp Kerry mechanical pencil for over a year now, and I’m ready to give it an enthusiastic thumbs up. I’m a graphic designer by trade and, in addition to everyday use, I find it to be an excellent tool for sketching out ideas on a tracing paper pad. (I’m partial to Bienfang Parchment 100 Fine Tracing Paper.)

This is a precision-made instrument: fairly heavy, made from metal and plastic. It’s unique in that it features a removable cap that when placed on the other end still functions to advance the lead with a click of the button. You pull the cap off and click it back onto the opposite end of the pencil; an action that makes me feel as though I’m about to draw something brilliant.

I found it by searching around for a mechanical pencil that was well-balanced, moderately heavy, and handsome to look at. Do the same and you’re likely to find the Sharp Kerry is mentioned by more than a few pencil aficionados as one of the best.

-- Chuck Green  

[I promptly ordered this pencil after reading Chuck's review as its cap solved a significant problem I have had in the past where sharp pencils tear through pockets. After a week of heavy use, I have to agree that this is one of the best pencils I have ever used.--OH ]

Pentel Sharp Kerry Mechanical Pencil
Available in 0.5 mm and 0.7 mm lead sizes

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Pentel

Naked Binder

Naked Binder.jpeg

For years I have used two-ring European-style binders from Leitz simply because it was very difficult to find a quality binder sized for US standard paper (8-1/2″ x 11″). However, I recently switched to Naked Binders, and I find them remarkably well made and thought out.

Unlike the readily available, poorly made, vinyl binder with the covers only bonded at the seams, the paper and book cloth covers on these are fully bonded to the board underneath. The result is that a minor tear does not cause the whole thing to fall apart, and they feel like they are built to last. The D-rings are attached to the back cover rather than the spine so the pages lie flat and index tabs line up making a neat and clean presentation.
Ring Binder.jpg
The fact that they are environmentally responsible and made in the USA are bonuses. I bought a couple as a test case and quickly ordered more to replace all the binders in my home and office.

-- Scott Hintz  

Naked Binder

Available from and manufactured by Naked Binder

Swiss Army Replacement Pen


Recently, the previously reviewed Derringer Wallet Pen caught my eye. The fellow recommending it said he found it really handy, and that he always had something to write with since he’d started carrying this pen.

I got my ruler out to see if it would clip into my wallet and found that the 4″ long stainless steel Derringer wallet pen would protrude from my 3.88″ wallet. That is unlike the pen I’ve already got in my wallet, which is almost invisible unless you know it’s there. I use — and have done so for many years — a Swiss Army Knife pen refill, Victorinox model number 30422.

It costs $2.95. It’s a replacement pen for the one that comes as original equipment in Swiss Army Knives. 91mm (2.75″) long, with a gray, curved top that fits snugly into the body of a Swiss Army Knife, these handy little pens come in blue or black ink. There’s also an even smaller (2″ long) version that fits the smaller, key-chain size knives. I don’t recommend it because it’s very difficult to grasp and write with.

Now, you are not going to want to copy out Moby Dick with my little pen, but for quick notes, sudden flights of fancy or inspiration, phone numbers, and the like, you can’t beat it. And I always have a pen. So often no one does, and I don’t think I do, until I realize hey, I do have one. People smirk and scoff but they’re very glad when they see it writes just fine. A life-saver.

Joseph Stirt

Years ago, I lost my Swiss Army knife and when I went to replace it, I found a model I hadn’t seen before. Instead of the toothpick, this one had a retractable ballpoint pen!

A pen? I’m excited about a pen?
Victorinox Swiss Army Signature Pocket Knife.jpeg
Yes. After years and years with this (and having to replace it when I went to the airport and forgot to take the knife off my keychain), the pen is the tool I use the most. I have a Fisher Space Bullet pen but it’s not always in my pocket. The Swiss Army knife is.

The pen is small and not very comfortable but always-there trumps comfort in this case. I use the pen often, but not for long, so the ink lasts a very long time. Refills are available, if a bit hard to find.

The model with the pen is not available everywhere, so you may need to search around a bit. It’s also a bit of a conversation piece — hardly anyone has seen it before and they always want one.

– Moe Rubenzahl


Swiss Army Replacement Ball Point Pen
Blue Ink
Available from Swiss Knife Shop

Swiss Army Signature Pocket Knife (w/ pen)

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Victorinox



PocketMod is a website and freeware program that helps make 8-paged mini-booklets and organizers out of a single sheet of paper. You can make them online by selecting from a series of templates of what goes onto each page, including calendars, graph paper, to-do lists, etc. Then print out your design on a sheet of regular 8.5″x11″ paper, follow folding instructions and voila!

You can also make your own templates by downloading the PDF converter application. Or, search around forums or Google to find templates that others have posted. I have seen some that automatically sync them to different calendar applications, and someone has even created a PocketMod that troubleshoots OS X computer problems. The possibilities are limited by your own creativity.

I carry a bunch on me, all within easy reach so I can just whip ‘em out and record whatever idea before I forget. I even set up ones for particular projects so I can share them with clients. I hold them together with a rubber band in my back pocket, and then when I’m done with the project I just bind them all together.

-- M. Katz  

[Note: Mac users can download a piece of freeware called PagePacker that mimics the Windows-only PocketMod PDF converter.-- OH]

PocketMod Free