Writing Implements

Sheer delight — by way of writing in a Pano Totebook with a Uniball Signo RT1 0.38mm.

Assumed Audience: users of notebooks and pens and people who care about the aesthetics of writing.

It will surprise no one to hear that I care a great deal about my tools, including for writing — and not just for digital writing tools, but also and equally for analog writing implements. I do a great deal of my thinking with pen and notebook. Bad paper or a mediocre pen will drive me to distraction; good pen and good paper delight me. And the Uniball Signo RT1 (0.38mm) plus a Pano Totebook are good indeed.

The Pen

For the past few years, I was using the Pilot Juice 04: a 0.4mm black gel pen. It’s a lovely pen, and I very much enjoyed writing with it. Unfortunately, it dries just slowly enough that my notes had a tendency to smear — not helped by the fact that I write fairly quickly. I had put up with this because I loved everything else about the pen. It was an improvement in every way (including smeariness!) over my previous favorite, the Pilot G2. Early this spring, though, I had had enough of smeared notes and went looking to see if I could find a pen that wrote similarly but was less smeary.

Happily for me, JetPens has two extremely handy (and detailed!) guides: one to quick-drying gel pens and one to fine-tipped gel pens. The Uniball Signo pens were among their top recommendations, and seemed to be just what I was looking for, including having a retractable top instead of a cap. Caps drive me nuts. I have no idea why. But they do. JetPens’ other recommendations also look great, but the RT1 line is waterproof — and I have been known to spill my always-with-me water bottle from time to time.

The result, on every paper I have tried with these pens, is a fabulous writing experience. The pen is smooth, not scratchy, despite being quite fine-tipped. I have only ever managed to smear the ink by actively trying to do so within a second of letting the ink hit the page. Even that doesn’t work in every notebook: with some paper, these pens never smear.

I have only experienced one downside to capless pens at this size tip: they occasionally get a bit dried-out, especially in the hyper-dry Colorado air. However, that condition has never been permanent.

The net is that these are my favorite pens in the world. It’s hard for me to imagine going back to earlier pens.

The notebook

I’ve been writing in a variety of notebooks for the last decade — mostly Moleskins, a rotating variety of given-by-my-employers notebooks, and occasionally just a simple legal pad. In my experience a good pen works well with all of those, but the quality of the paper still matters.

Moleskin paper is good, but also tends to be a bit smearier. It seems better-optimized for pencil than pen — and I quit using pencils as a primary writing implement half a decade ago. I’ve heard about other notebook makers, of course, but nothing had reached out and grabbed me. Then I learned that a small design company I follow, Studio Neat, had designed their second notebook: the Totebook.1 Given my experience of a couple of their other products, I was intrigued, and I ordered a couple.

Dear reader, it was a great choice.

The Totebook has a couple attributes that delight me. First: the paper is delightful. When combined with any of the pens I have around, it holds ink with minimal smearing. Combined with the Uniball Signo RT1 0.38mm, it doesn’t smear at all, no matter what I do to it. It feels nice under the fingers or the palm, too: soft, not rough, but with enough texture that it’s easy to flip. Pages don’t stick to each other at all. They’re thick enough that they’re easy to flip, and that bleed is minimal (not zero, but not distracting at all).

Second: each of these notebooks has 80 pages (40 sheets)… and it lays flat for writing. This is the best. One of the reasons I stuck with Moleskins for so long is that their thin notebooks lay open for writing extremely nicely, and I value that above many, many other attributes. Their hardback notebooks with more pages don’t have that attribute, of course, and neither do any others in my experience. (I’d love to hear if there are others that do, though!) The Totebook combines a soft, leathery-feeling (though not actually leather) cover with a binding designed for lay-flat writing, and the result is a high-page-count notebook that I can actually lay out on a table or desk and jot notes in as I work.

The net is: I love this notebook, and I’m probably going to buy a lot more. I want them to make this forever. They won’t; even the best things have endings and edges. But I want this particular good thing to go on as long as it can.

  1. Their first, the Panobook, is presumably great as well — but I’m a notebook-in-my-bag kind of guy; I want the notebook on my desk to be the notebook I have everywhere. ↩︎