pencil lead comparison

Q&A: How Do Pencil Leads Compare

pencil lead comparison


We have tried to put together a simple guide to comparing pencils leads from different brands. It is actually very hard to achieve this and represent it well on screen, but this is a fair representation of the various brands we have available. Since most non-specialist brands lean towards an HB lead (the middle compromise between an H hard lead and a B black lead), there is little to distinguish between the pencils.

The Blackwing pencils demonstrate the highest degree of change which is not surprising – their pencils don’t follow the standard H and B grading you find, but they are still graded from the harder 602 pencil to the softer Classic with the Pearl in between.

This chart was done on Rhodia paper but you will also find very different results if used on different papers, especially a paper with a grain to it. Since pencils will be used for drawing quite often, it follows that you may find the paper plays a big part in the result.

Top marks do go to the Blackwing pencils, unsurprinsingly, but other pencils that deserve a mention here are the Faber Castell 2001 Grip, and the Viking pencils. Both are quite smooth and consistent in how they write.

choosing the right ink - our guide

Q&A: Guide to choosing the right ink

A guide to choosing the right ink

So you have maybe decided to buy some new ink, but where do you start? With so much choice, it is hard to know where to turn. Are all inks essentially the same? What do you get for paying more? And what about all those technical terms?

Choosing the right ink can be a daunting process and so this article aims to make the process a lot easier by breaking it down into the various elements that will affect your choice, and to give you a guide on how to go about choosing the right ink.

a guide to choosing the right ink

The Basics

We will start by looking at the basics of making a decision. These are four factors that should easily rule in or out some inks and help give a basic pointer to guide you.


At the time of writing we have 338 colours available to choose from, and this is spread across 18 choices of inks, not allowing for variations in the bottle size. 300+ colours is overwhelming, especially when you consider that the Diamine ink range has something like 27 blue inks alone.

However, colour is an important factor in choosing your ink, maybe the most important alongside price. For some people this may mean just wanting a basic blue or black ink. For others it means having a specific colour – Enzo Ferrari famously used to sign his name in his signature colour. And no, it wasn’t red – he was a purple ink man.

For others, it will extend down to matching an ink to something specific – to your notebook maybe. Others might place importance on matching the colour shade precisely as no two shades are the same. It really comes down to how specific a shade of colour you are looking for. This may mean you have to search around various different inks to find your perfect colour.


The other obvious influence on your choice of ink is likely to be cost. With some bottles costing under £7 and some costing over £30, there’s a big difference in price. The question is what do you get if you pay more? Is it a straightforward case of the higher the price, the better the ink? Er…no.

With quality brands like Diamine and Herbin costing well under £10, it clearly doesn’t follow that more expensive = better. We only sell good quality inks and so the advice on price would be to choose an ink that suits your budget. We will go on to look at other reasons why you might consider spending more on a bottle of ink later.

We previously looked at the relative costs of different inks, and with inks being sold in various sized bottles you might want to consider this as well. There is little doubt that Diamine ink is the best value, all things considered.


Size is less of an issue, but it’s worth a mention. Bottled ink tends to be around 50ml per bottle. Some inks have bigger bottles – Diamine is a whopping 80ml, KWZ is a hearty 60ml – whilst others might be a more modest 30ml.

A big bottle is going to be better value and will last a good while – an 80ml bottle of ink will fill the TWSBI Eco fountain pen about 40 times over! A big bottle of say 50ml+ is perfect when you know you’ll want to use the ink frequently, or it’s your favourite ink.

Herbin do small 10ml taster bottles which are a great way to test out colours without feeling like you’re wasting ink and even this will last you a while. The point being, size might not be so important in deciding since even a smaller bottle will last a long time.

We did look at the relative costs of different inks vs cartridges before – click here to see more


The last of the so-called basic decision makers will be the purpose you intend to use the ink for. Some inks are more suited for specific jobs. You might want a calligraphy ink (which has properties more suited to calligraphy writing), or you might require an ink for archival purposes. You might need a waterproof ink, like Blackstone Barrister ink.

Another element to consider is drying time – if you need an ink that dries quickly then you might consider an ink like Herbin. The alternative is a wetter ink like KWZ, and you might find this proves very impractical if you need to wait ages for an ink to dry.

Your paper choice will also impact upon this – some papers are better for inks to dry quickly if time is an issue. Look at papers from:

choosing the right ink - how much does bottle size matter?
Bottles range from 10ml to 80ml
waterproof ink
Blackstone waterproof Barrister ink

Beyond The Basics

Now this is where the choice of ink becomes really interesting. It is also where you move from choosing an ink for more more functional reasons, and find yourself taking greater pleasure from the act of writing and using ink itself.

At the heart if this lies three key elements you can get from an ink – the Three S’s. Some inks will display none, some or all of these elements and discovering them is part of the pleasure. Their presence, or lack of, doesn’t makes an ink better or worse, it simply helps give an ink its true character.

At this point it worth mentioning the paper. Inks don’t exist in isolation and since it is likely you will be using them on paper, then your choice of paper is very important. The same iink will perform differently on different papers. See below for more notes on this.


So what is sheen? This is when the ink dries with with a shiny finish to it. Most ink when dry will be flat and have no ‘surface’ to it. Sheen is when the ink has an edge that catches in the light. Discovering this when using an ink is part of the pleasure, but as a guide you will find a good sheen to inks like:

If you want to get the best out of the sheen an ink has then we recommend using Tomoe River paper, which just lets the ink show off its best qualities.


Shading is where an ink dries with some variation in depth. So rather than leaving a single solid colour, the ink will be more saturated in colour in one area than another. Is that a good thing? Well that depends on what you like and want from your ink, but it is another area that you can discover more about an ink and how it performs in subtle ways to create something richer and more rewarding.

Inks that are good for shading include:


Some might argue that this comes under sheen, but it is something quite specific. Shimmer inks have a metallic sparkle to them. Literally. They have small particles in the ink which you can see in the bottle., and which will settle and need agitating before using. The result is an ink that sparkles on the page. The result can be quite varied but when it works it can be magical.

There have been a whole host of new shimmer inks released in recent years, so there is a good choice, but you might want to look at these for some good results:

Sheen on Kyoto Nurebairo ink
Sheen on Kyoto Nurebairo ink
Shading on Herbin Vert Olive ink
Shading on Herbin Vert Olive ink
ink shimmer
Shimmer on Diamine Arctic Blue ink

What Else Can Inks Offer?

Is there anything else to an ink outside the basics and how it appears on paper? Well, arguably no. Choosing an ink based on those values will likely last you a lifetime after all. But there are other factors to consider, and these may help guide you in your choice of ink.

Limited Editions

Some inks release special or limited editions, and these can be in high demand. For some ink manufacturers this has become an annual event, and most notable amongst the limited edition inks are the Herbin Anniversary inks (this might now have become the Herbin 1798 range as of 2017) and the annual Edelstein Ink of the Year from Pelikan.

Lamy have also started to produce limited edition T52 inks to coincide with the annual launch of the limited edition Safari and Al-Star fountain pens. These tend to be very limited in supply.

Cult Inks

Some inks acquire an almost cult-like status. Sometimes there is an obvious reason for it, other times it seems to defy reason. But no matter, if an ink has been given this lofty status then it is popular above all other colours in that range.

Example inks here would be KWZ Honey, Herbin 1670 Emerald de Chivor and Robert Oster Fire and Ice.

edelstein ink of the year
Edelstein Aquamarine limited edition ink
robert oster fire and ice
Robert Oster Fire & Ice ink

Extras & Exotic Imports

Some inks are worth buying because they come beautifully packaged (I’m looking at you, Kyoto ink) or have extras in the box (Colorverse ink is a perfect example here).

In other cases it is simply that the inks have that exotic something – imports from afar that you are unlikely to stumble across in your local WH Smith or inks with a story to tell. Iroshizuku and Kyoto inks come from Japan, Robert Oster and Blackstone inks are from Australia. KWZ inks are made by a husband-&-wife team in Poland. Feeling closer to the story can make you appreciate the ink in a different way.

The Kyoto inks are also just beautiful objects in their own right, from the box to the bottle. Does this affect the ink? The obvious answer is no, but then again you can gain extra enjoyment from something more than just purely functional, and an ink like this is very desirable!


Last but not least is the fact that inks are complex substance. It is no coincidence that KWZ ink is made by two chemists, or that we have worked with chemist-come-bloggers on ink reviews. The process of making an ink requires a lot of input, and not just in terms of colour choice, packaging and marketing.

Look at Iron Gall inks for a clear demonstration of how complex an ink can be – these very traditional inks require sensitive handling in your pen as they can damage it in some cases. As the name suggests, it is made with iron elements and this helps it bond with the paper to form a more permanent mark. More interestingly it is chemistry in the making when you write with it as it changes colour and darkens.

Some inks really are just a complex mixture and discovering inks can leave you somewhere between a writer and a chemist at times.

Colorverse inks packaging
Colorverse inks have extras in the box
KWZ Iron Gall inks
KWZ Iron Gall inks

In Conclusion

To summarise, the most powerful influence on your decision of choosing the right ink will be price. A quality ink like Diamine or Herbin comes in at under £7 and will let you choose from well over 130 colours. But once you start to find more pleasure in using inks so you will likely seek out other more expensive inks for the unique properties they can demonstrate. Whether that is the unusual colour, how it performs when used or just a desire to seek out ever new creations will depend on where you ink odessey takes you! In short, start somewhere that feels right, and let you enjoyment lead you.

Blackstone Uluru Red
Blackstone Uluru Red
Diamine Apple Glory
Diamine Apple Glory
Lamy Dark Lilac
Lamy Dark Lilac
Edelstein Mandarin
Edelstein Mandarin
upgrade my fountain pen

Q&A: Why should I upgrade my fountain pen?

upgrade my fountain pen

Our guide to spending a little bit more on a fountain pen


So you are considering upgrading your fountain pen for a smarter, more expensive model. But what will you get for your money? You have maybe dipped your toe in the water and bought your first fountain pen. Now persuaded of the joys of using a fountain pen, your thoughts have turned to where you go next.

So having let your mind wander to what other pens are out there and what spending a little bit more might get you, this article is an attempt at giving some basic advice in terms of what to look for when moving from an entry-level pen to a mid-range pen.

What is an entry level pen?

lamy safari fountain pen

Typically most people will start here. This is most likely because of cost. A first pen might come in around £15-20 and even that can be a big investment when you are making the step up from say a ballpoint pen (dare I suggest you made the leap from a Bic biro to fountain pen?).

That is not to say that an entry level pen is not one that won’t last you a lifetime. Typically these pens might be something like the Lamy Safari fountain pen, the Kaweco Skyline, or maybe even a TWSBI Eco or the Pilot MR (aka the Pilot Metropolitan). All come in at under £30, some for under £20. All are great pens and will serve you well for many a year. But if you do want more…

What is a mid-range pen?

lamy aion fountain pen

For the purposes of this article, a mid-range fountain pen has been defined as being one that costs over and above an entry-level, but not into the eye-watering levels that you can pay. So this has been set at a more modest level of between £40 and £75.

Also, since entry-level will vary from brand to brand, it is deemed to be pens that display elements of being an upgrade on a more basic pen.

Key reasons to upgrade

So why upgrade? Well it becomes ever harder to actually justify the step up purely on value for money. There are gains to be had by spending more, certainly, but it is also an emotional decision and there is no point skirting round this. Nevertheless there are some clear benefits to be had from spending a bit more.


Whilst your entry-level pen will typically be made of plastic, you would certainly expect your mid-range pen to be made of a superior material. More often that not this will be metal, likely aluminium as it is lightweight and perfect for a pen. It makes for a more solid, durable pen than plastic, yet you will not be adding any serious weight to the pen. In fact the slight extra weight might make the pen better as it adds just enough to make it feel substantial without being heavy.

You may also find that this extends to all elements of the pen – look for what the clip and grip sections are made from.

Tip – consider what material you would feel comfortable writing with, and what weight of pen would suit you, and check the full specification.


This is something that will vary from pen to pen, and a lot of mid-range pens will not necessarily have a better nib that your entry-level pen. For example many Lamy pens have the same Z50 nib, from the Safari and ABC through to a Scala or Accent. Others like the Aion do have a better nib, in this case the new Z53 nib. It is more likely that the extra cost of the pen will get you a better barrel than a better nib but it is worth checking.

Also, a more expensive pen may actually have access to a better range of nib sizes although this again will depend on each manufacturer.

Tip – how important would a better nib be at this stage? This may require you pushing your budget even further.


This will vary from pen to pen but a more expensive pen might come with a few extra features or add-ons. Certainly most Lamy pens above a certain value will come with a converter. Other entry-level pens may not come with a gift box (worth considering if it is a gift for someone).

Tip – consider all aspects of what you want from your pen – don’t just be seduced by the look!


The design of the pen is where there will be marginal gains in making the pen better – possibly a better grip section, or the way the cap can be posted or the way the clip works. Small improvements but it can make a real difference especially with a pen, which requires a good connection between hand and pen.

Tip – consider what you like the least about your current pen and in what ways it could be improved. Then consider your ‘new’ pen in light of this.


This is where the choice becomes more emotional. Typically a more expensive pen will be better designed, and may even have been designed by a well-known product designer. This might not make it a better at writing, but owning a pen that you love might make a difference. A pen you want to write with because it looks good is a pen you will enjoy writing with all the more.

Tip – this all comes down to personal preference. Only you know what you like.

Other tips

If you are still unsure then read a few reviews. Think about what you don’t like with your current pen and consider whether a new pen will answer some or all of these problems. And if still unsure then see if you can try out the pen in person. We do offer a try before you buy service with pens but please do check with us first as we can’t offer this on all pens.

guide to nib widths

Q&A: How Do Fountain Pen Nib Widths Compare?

This table provides a guide to the approximate nib widths of the different fountain pen brands we offer. Please note that this is intended as a guide rather than an exact measurement, useful in comparing the relative nib widths across different brands.

Ultimately, the exact width of the pen stroke will depend on so many factors including the ink and paper used and the style of handwriting applied.

J Herbin Compact Rollerballx
TWSBI Extra Finex
Kaweco Extra Finex
Lamy Extra Finex
Pilot Mediumx
J Herbin Compact Fountain Penx
Kaweco Finex
Caran d’Ache Finex
TWSBI Mediumx
Lamy Finex
J Herbin Plus Fountain Penx
Kaweco Mediumx
Lamy Mediumx
Caran d’Ache Mediumx
Kaweco Broadx
Lamy Broadx
TWSBI Broadx
Kaweco Double Broadx
What is an undated diary?

Q&A: What Is An Undated Diary?

What is an undated diary?

What is an undated diary?

It might seem an odd question but it’s not immediately obvious to everyone what an undated diary is. Whilst most people are familiar with a diary that has the days pre-printed for you, an undated diary simply follows the same format but just leaves the dates out. So regardless of whether the layout is a daily diary, weekly or even monthly it will be the same, with days of the week but no dates.

Example layouts of undated diaries, showing daily, weekly and monthly formats

What is the point?

Whilst there is an obvious time-saving benefit to a diary with the dates already printed for you (not to mention the accuracy of having the right dates on the right days), a ‘normal’ diary also has a shelf-life. So your 2018 diary will be of no use until the day it starts, and of no use once the last day has passed. An undated diary frees you from needing to use it in that specific time-frame. So if you have a more relaxed approach to keeping time, or maybe don’t need a diary every week of the year then an undated diary will be ideal.

What else can an undated diary do?

Another great use is that if you need a diary outside of diary season then an undated diary is there, ready and waiting. Diary season means that frenzied couple of months towards the end of the year when diaries come and go very quickly, and come early January there’s nothing left. So if you decide in March you need a diary, you might well be waiting a long time.

You can also let your creative self go free and customise the pages, unrestricted by the printed format already there. In fact, many diaries are so format-heavy that there is little room left to add appointments, but an undated diary tends to be less cluttered. Because it has no dates.

How do I use one?

Customise your undated diary
Customise your undated diary as much as you want to - even use stamps to add the dates

The quickest and easiest way is to just use a pen and write the dates in as you need them. The longer way is to go crazy with different pens, stamps and washi tape to make something quite unique. And then use it like you would use any diary. But just don’t feel you have to do every day or week. It’s your diary.

Anything else I need to know?

One more great advantage is that normally a diary gives you one shot. Mess it up with too many changed appointments or just spill you coffee on that page and you’ve got a problem. Undated diary? No problem as even in the worst case you just tear it out and start that week again.

left handed fountain pen nib

Q&A: What Is A Left-Handed Fountain Pen?

Lamy Z50 left handed fountain pen nib

How well suited are pens to left-handed people?

We are often asked about pens for left-handers, specifically left-handed fountain pens. Given that a lot of people are left-handed this market is poorly catered for. Apart from those designed for young children, there is not much available.

Although some 10% of the population are left-handed, as a child I was the only one in a class of 39 pupils apart from my teacher. She, being a no-nonsense type, was determined that if she could write ‘properly’ so could I. Properly meant ensuring my writing sloped to the right and not backwards and she would return all my left-sloping efforts to me with a big red ‘NO’ all over them. After being kept in for seemingly endless lunchtimes being made to write out over and over the handwriting cards we used, she declared herself reasonably satisfied. My writing was and still is, forward sloping.

left handed writing with a fountain pen
Left-handed writing that avoids smudging the ink (it's a Caran d'Ache 849 fluorescent orange fountain pen, nail varnish model's own)

These days children are allowed to develop their own style and backward sloping writing is considered fine. The problem many left-handers have though is that they find it difficult to see what they have written as they are going over the text as they move forward This then leads to the curled hand or hook many people end up developing to avoid smudging. The answer is to try and learn to hold the pen under the writing so that you can still see. The grip should be well back from the end of the pen so as to keep the hand back and the wrist should be straight. Turning the paper by 45 degrees clockwise makes it easier to slant the writing forwards if that is preferred.

But what of specialist pens? Many pens have a universal grip but with fountain pens there is the question of the nib. Of the brands we sell, only Lamy offers a left-handed fountain pen nib. Opinion is divided on how useful this is with some feeling there is no real difference between an LH nib and a medium. When I have tested them out I can feel no difference but that may be because of my writing style which is more akin to a right-hander (thanks Miss) but others may find differently. One of the issues to consider is that the left-handed nib only comes in medium so if you want a fine or broad, tough, they don’t make them for left-handers. Italic nibs can be difficult for those with overhand styles as contact with the paper can be lost with some angles but again, all these things depend on the writing style.

Certainly for children there can be an advantage of offering a left-handed nib. Even if the difference is slight or non-existent, the child may feel they have a special writing instrument that will help them and sometimes small things make a difference. Arguably fountain pens in themselves can help as they require careful positioning which encourages a proper grip and of course they are a bit special. For adults though it is a harder choice. Ultimately, if you are happy with a medium nib then it may be worth trying the left-handed version to see if that feels comfortable. If you want a fine or broad though, give it a go and you may be surprised to find it works just fine. If not, you’ll have to come see me at lunchtime I guess.

pen glossary

Q&A: Pen Glossary


A type of plastic often used to make the barrels of pens.


A pen with a tip that uses a rolling ball to transfer ink from a reservoir to the page, uses a thick oil based ink.


The part of the pen that contains the filling system that when in use often rests between your thumb and forefinger.


A brand of ballpoint pen.


The term given to describe when ink is absorbed by the paper too much and is visibly noticeable on the other side of the sheet of paper (As if you had written on the other side, not to be confused with ghosting).

Blotting Paper

A type of more absorbent paper used to take ink off of a nib, or section.

Breather Hole

A small cutout in the nib used to draw air into the reservoir when ink is drawn out to keep a steady flow.

Calligraphy Pen

A pen that either uses a flex nib or an italic nib to create line variation in your writing and are often also dipping pens.


The part of the pen that encloses the nib and is removed before use, this stops the ink from drying out as quickly.


A piece of plastic that contains ink and is sealed until you install it into a pen.


A metal or plastic protrusion from the cap of a pen that allows for the pen to be attached to a pocket.


A component that allows for you to fill a cartridge pen from bottled ink. It is installed like a cartridge.


A clear pen that allows you to see the mechanism of the fountain pen.

Dip Pen

A pen that you must routinely dip in a bottle of ink to replenish its ink supply, this was the predecessor to the fountain pen.

Eye Dropper

A pen that you fill the barrel with ink rather than using cartridges or a converter, these often have much higher ink capacity.

Alternatively this is a glass tube with a bulb on one end that you can fill with ink in order to fill pens or inkwells.


This is when a paper absorbs too much ink and it results in a frayed line that looks similar to a feather.


An essential part of pens that use liquid ink, this is a piece of plastic or traditionally ebonite that regulates the flow of ink from the reservoir to the nib.

Fountain Pen

A type of pen that uses a metal nib to transfer ink from a reservoir in the barrel, be it a cartridge or embedded filling system.

Gel Pen

Not quite a ballpoint or rollerball it uses the same mechanism but uses a water based gel ink.


This is when your writing can be faintly seen on the other side but the ink hasn’t bleed through the page.

Glass Pen

A type of dip pen that uses a glass tip in order to write with

Hooded Nib

This is when the pen’s section is designed so that it covers part of the nib, if not all but the tipping.


A liquid that is used to leave a mark on a surface that we often use in pens for writing.

Ink Window

This is when you have a clear section of the barrel, this can be a cutout, that allows you to see the amount of ink you have left.

Iridium Nib

This is the name given to nibs that use a ball of iridium welded to the tip to give a smoother and more durable nib.

Italic Nib

A grind of nib the is cut off at the end to offer line variation in writing.


A type of enamel “paint” that is used to the finish pens and gives a nicer appearance.

Mechanical Pencil

A type of pencil that instead of needing to be sharpened will advance the lead when you push a button or twist a part of the pencil.

Multi Pen

A type of ballpoint pen that uses multiple colours of ink that can be switched between at will.


A piece of metal – usually steel, gold or palladium – that ends in a point allowing for the ink to be directed to the paper.

Nib Creep

This is when ink from the feed makes its way onto the nib around the slit.

Oblique Nib

A type of nib grind that is similar to an italic nib but is cut off at an angle. This gives a different style of line variation.

Piston Fill

This is a filling mechanism that uses an internal piston to draw ink into the barrel, or converter, somewhat like a syringe but often with a screw mechanism.


This holds the ink in the pen be it a part of the barrel or the ink cartridge.


Extremely similar to a ballpoint with the major difference being that uses a water based liquid ink.

Screw Cap

A cap that needs to be screwed on to be fixed in place rather than pulled on or pushed off.


The part of the pen that you grip and that houses the nib and feed.


This is a property of inks where a nib puts down more ink in certain places making lighter and darker parts of the writing.


This is a fault in the nibs of pens where the nib will be writing but at certain parts the nib will not lay down ink.


The cutout between the tines of the nib that allows ink to flow down the feed to the tip.

Steel Nib

This is a nib that is made out of steel, these usually also have iridium tipping.

Stub Nib

A grind of nib that is cut off at the end, similar to a italic nib, but the corners are rounded over. This sacrifices line variation for a smoother writing experience.


The business end of a nib, this is the point or edge at the end of the nib that allows the pen to lay down a certain thickness of line.

how to make a list: to-do lists

Q&A: How To Make A List

how to make a list

The art of a to-do list and getting things done


Lists come in all shapes and sizes, from a shopping list to a ‘Top 10’ favourite list, but there is one list that can make us feel so much better. A basic ‘To-Do’ list. In this blog piece we look at how to make a list – what goes into a good to-do list and what makes it work?

Why make a list?

a to-do list helps get things done
Make a list - it helps gets things done

We all have things we need to do, from critical work tasks to mundane shopping lists. A list can make you:

  • focus on what you need to do
  • prioritise the most important tasks
  • give you a sense of achievement as you start to make progress
  • help you see how much more you have to do, helping you plan out your time
  • let you know that you’re done (time to make another list!)

Lists are also quick and easy to put together and also quick and easy to manage. Simple but effective.

Choose a subject

A list works best when it is focused around a core subject. It may be that you need more than one list to make it work. Examples of how to make a good list focused might be:

  • a shopping list (again, but it’s a classic)
  • daily tasks
  • project-based tasks

Keep it simple

If the list becomes too long then it may not work well. It really depends on what you are trying to achieve. If it’s that shopping list (again) then maybe it needs to be pretty long, but if it’s your daily to-do list at work then once you start getting north of 10 items it will start to feel a real burden and progress will be slow. Think about splitting a list if it spills over the 10 item mark.

Keep it focused

prioritise your list
Make sure you know which items on the list are the most important. And do them!

Even with a 10-item list you may still find yourself adrift, and end up feeling pleased that you’ve ticked off 80% of the list when in fact you’ve failed to do the two most important items on there. If you can, pick out the two or three items (at most) that are the really important items you need to get done.

Private or public?

There’s nothing quite like a bit of peer pressure to help push you over the line. Some lists are clearly not for public eyes (yes, that one) but it might be that by sharing a list it helps. Think about maybe sharing it with a team or within your household. Maybe even share the load. But then you’re into the next item – ownership.


If you are going to have a shared list (i.e. with different people doing different tasks) then just make sure it is clear who owns what.


how to make a list - the SMART way
SMART lists - worth bearing in mind

I have so far avoided acronyms and jargon but sadly it falls upon me to suggest one that is possibly quite useful. SMART lists. Different people will define SMART as being something slightly different but essentially it means:

  • Specific. Make each task clearly focused.
  • Measurable. How else will you know if you have done the task?
  • Assignable. Who will it be assigned to, who will own it?
  • Realistic. Make it an achievable task and it might actually get done.
  • Timely. Give it a timeframe, an expected done by date.

Paper or phone?

how to make a list: on a phone or on paper
Phone or paper - depends on what suits you best

And so to back to stationery. In my world there’s a time and a place for both paper and digital lists, so really this isn’t an either/or. It is just a case of choosing the right one.

A paper list is so easy and simple, and lends itself to those tasks you need to jot down quickly, as quick as your train of thought. In my notebook I will religiously write out a daily to-so list of tasks that gets added to (and added to, and added to), and will form part of a larger monthly to-do list. I use a phone app for all sorts of to-do lists but these are where I need to be more time-based (e.g. remind me on Friday to call British Gas).

diary formats

Q&A: Diary Formats Explained

diary formats


If you are looking for a paper diary then it might seem daunting when faced with such choice but this short guide should help with explaining diary formats. And yes, despite the prevalence of online diaries and calendars there is still a big demand for a traditional paper diary. After all, a paper diary is there no matter what wi-fi is available, it’s simple to use and easy to flick from date to date. Just the mere addition of a pen or pencil and it works. Like it has always done, tried and trusted down the years.

As for deciding which of the available diary formats are right for you, the choice is actually quite simple. It essentially breaks down into one question – are you a daily or weekly person? And after that you choose your size and the rest is more cosmetic – choosing colour and cover.

The First Big Question - Calendar Year or Academic Diary?

This won’t affect the format but you might be unsure on what the difference is. Quite simply, most diaries cover a year from January to December with maybe the odd week either end to see you from year to year. These are calendar year diaries.

An academic diary is aimed at people involved in studying – teachers and students – because their year is based more around a mid-year to mid-year schedule. These diaries will start sometime around July and run to the following year. Oddly many of these run for 18-months but we have yet to understand the significance of this so please don’t ask!

The Second Big Question - Daily or Weekly Diary Formats?

So the really big question is whether you would want a daily or weekly diary format. And that may actually come down to the type of person you are. First, a quick explanation of what they are.

Daily Diary

Quite simply it means that each page in the diary is devoted to a single day.

Weekly Diary

This means that the week is spread out before you across the two pages when the diary is open. There are variations on this theme, such as two weeks over the spread, or different ways to show the week, but it’s all the same principal – a week at a glance.

What Type Of Person Are You?

You may find it easier to decide which is right for you by knowing whether you need to see slightly further ahead or not. Yes most diaries will have a monthly or yearly planner section, but the big difference is that a daily diary will only give you two days at a time to view, and will never break up your time into nice weekly sections. Some people like this, some can’t cope and need to see the week from Monday to Sunday.

See more on diary formats below.

The Last Big Question - What About Diary Size?

Once you have decided on being a daily or weekly diary person, the next decision is the size. This can be broken down into three main size types – pocket/mini, mid-size and large/desk. Which of these diary formats will work for you will depend on how you intend you use your diary – on the move or on the desk?


These really are for those who want to make minimal notes and just have something small on them to carry round. You can even go down to micro-diary size if space is at a premium.


A good all rounder, large enough to write more than just the odd word, but small enough to carry round.


So called because that is where they usually live. On your desk. Generally seen as too big to carry round, a desk diary will likely be left on your desk, or similar, where you make appointments in it.

What Else Do I Need To Know About Diaries?

Once you have decided on a diary style and size, you may have the decision made for you, but assuming there is more than one diary to choose from, you may then need to consider the following.

Daily Diaries

There really isn’t much variation between daily diaries. They will devote the whole page to a day, probably with appointment times to help plan your day. Some might have space for notes as well.

diary formats - daily
Daily Diary Format

Weekly Diaries

The big choice here is whether to go vertical or horizontal. Oh dear, another choice. So what is the difference between a vertical diary and a horizontal diary?

Vertical Weekly Diaries

The vertical format is laid out across the page, Monday to Sunday, and each day will have a vertical column usually with timed appointments. Ideal if what you want is a rigid schedule of events.

diary formats - vertical weekly
Weekly Vertical Diary Format

Horizontal Weekly Diaries

The horizontal format has sections for each day, but without the timed appointments. They suit someone who wants to write something for each day but is less worried about their day being a series of events such as meetings. Less rigid, more relaxed.

diary formats - weekly horizontal
Weekly Horizontal Diary Format

Weekly Diary/Notebooks

A variation on this theme, and the most popular of diary formats is the diary/notebook. It is also known as a weekly notebook. It will have a horizontal style diary for the week on the left-hand page, and the facing page will be devoted to notes (usually a lined page). For many this is perfect as it gives them enough space for the diary whilst also allowing for free-format notes each week.

For some pople this is also enough to double up as their notebook, but you are limited to a page per week for notes.

diary formats - weekly notebook
Weekly Notebook Diary Format

Two-Week Diaries

A real planner diary, with a full fortnight of days across the two-page spread giving you the most of a longer-term view.

diary formats - 2 weeks
2 Week Diary Format

Monthly Diaries

Now we’re getting serious with our long-term view – a series of monthly planners. Really these are notebooks with a series of spreads that let you plan out each month. This kind of diary format serves someone who sees the big picture, not the daily detail!

diary formats - monthly
Monthly Diary Format

Undated Diaries

Unlike most other diaries, an undated diary follow one of the diary formats above, but without a pre-printed date. It means you can pick up and drop off keeping your diary without feeling like you have to complete each and every page. It does mean that you have to add the dates yourself though – some love this, some don’t.

diary formats - undated
Undated Diary Format
use a notepad to make a list

Q&A: Can Stationery Make You More Productive?

use a notepad to make a list

How stationery can help you get stuff done


Being effective. Getting stuff done. Doing the things that need to be done and not the tasks that don’t matter. These are possibly rated as amongst the most desired objectives for the majority of people. We are all overwhelmed with the need to get things done and technology is meant to have made our lives easier. So can stationery make you more productive?

Yes, undoubtedly technology has been a benefit to our efficiency but it has also very neatly put greater emphasis on us to manage our own lives – we now organise our own holidays online rather than get a travel agent to do the hard work for us; we have become our own financial experts with online banking but have to constantly juggle accounts and direct debits ourselves; we are tax experts as we have to submit our own tax returns. The list goes on and all technology seems to be doing is adding to the list of ‘things we have to do’.

rhodia goalbook
Rhodia Goalbook - a new way to set out your goals

Now I’m not saying that technology isn’t wonderful or that I don’t wonder how we survived when we had to use a travel agent or had no access to our bank accounts 24 hours a day. But in the midst of it all, we seem to have developed an increasing need to manage our lives. It is notable how the more technology drives our lives, the more we like to try and manage the problem with an analogue solution rather than using yet more technology.

Stationery – much maligned over recent years, scoffed at for its days being numbered, yet actually a means to sorting out the very problems that the digital age, its supposed nemesis, has created. So this post is about how stationery can be used to make our lives a little bit easier.


Use a notepad to make a list
Use a notepad to make a list

At its most basic, stationery is simple, efficient and effective. A pen and some paper get the job done with minimal fuss, and the very act of writing in itself has been shown to aid the process of memory. And let’s not get to issues of battery life, lack of wifi, upgrades and more. A simple to-do list is easy to create, easy to amend, easy to use and easy to complete. Whether it is a shopping list when nipping to Tesco’s or a quick to-do list, having pen and paper handy at all times will make you more efficient.

Bullet Journaling

bullet journaling
Bullet Journaling - The ultimate in list making

Yes, I have mentioned the whole BuJo process. Apologies to Ryder Carroll but it is essentially an advanced form of list-making – he quite rightly argues that the act of writing out daily to-do lists and migrating tasks makes you more focused on what you are actually tasking yourself with doing, and so you also feel more readily inclined to remove tasks. Bullet Journals are far too big a topic to cover here (start reading more here and then see where it takes you) but it is one of the most obvious examples of people using stationery to complement or even replace technology.


sketch out ideas
Visualise it - sketch out your ideas on paper

Many people find that sketching out an idea on paper is so much easier. It helps you visualise an idea or problem. It’s quick, immediate and easy to start again. Visually having something laid out over a page or even both pages as your idea grows makes it easier to understand the whole thing.


diary planning
Use a diary to plan your time

Another topic for another day is how we keep a diary – online, on paper or not at all? Maybe it is a combination of digital and paper, but however you decide to keep track of your time a diary may well be the cornerstone of keeping yourself afloat – just the act of knowing what you have agreed to do at what time. We are seeing an increasing demand for ‘traditional’ diaries (i.e. paper based), as well as a much bigger range of diaries being made compared to say 10 years ago.

The Pleasure

The mere act of writing can help as well as be enjoyable

There is also something tangible that a pen with some ink on paper can provide that can’t be provided by a computer screen. Some people will lose themselves down that rabbit hole and in doing so efficiency will be lost by becoming a hobby. That’s fine, but even if you stick to writing as a means of being more productive, there is still a pleasure to be had from using a pen you know, writing in a colour you like and writing on paper that works for you. Maybe it handles wet ink well, maybe it has micro-perforated sheets that tear out neatly leaving no trace, maybe it is punched ready to be filed. Go find your ideal pen, ink and paper and see how being efficient can also be a pleasure.

Digital vs Analogue

There is no getting away from the fact that there will be some who say that to reject or even blame technology is being a luddite or burying your head in the sand to progress. On the contrary I am someone who loves their technology as much (well, almost as much) as anyone, and I have an unfulfilled desire to find the perfect app that will deliver untold efficiency. I won’t find it and it will never exist, but I can still go looking. However I also know when to use pen and paper, when it will be more efficient and effective and making me get through everything. The secret is all in the balance between the two, and that balance will vary from person to person. Hmmm…I feel another post coming up on that very subject.

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