Leuchtturm Jottbook

I recently acquired three small softcover A6 notebooks made by Leuchtturm, a Swedish company that I’ve seen more about recently, and already own a few notebooks from. These are called “Jottbooks” – they’re around the same size as, and fit a similar niche to, the pocket Moleskine cahiers, Field Notes, and the Clairefontaine “Life Unplugged” notebooks. So I will write about them.

Construction and design

Like the Moleskines, they are stitched rather than stapled, which makes them easier to open flat(-tish) at any page, rather than just at the middle. (They won’t lie flat, but when you are using them, they don’t try to spring back into shape.) The covers are rather nice – shiny, textured, plasticky, like some sort of leatherette, tough but thin – they come in a good selection of bright colours as well. The feel of the covers as well as the colour selection makes the design feel quite 60s, in a good way, and definitely more durable than the card covers of Moleskines and Field Notes.

Inside, like other Leuchtturm notebooks, they start with a page for your name and address, then have a place for an index. The Jottbooks only have one index page with only 19 rows, so you won’t be writing the contents of every page in it – the larger notebooks have more index pages. (You could always write on the back of the page if you run out of space, as it is blank.)

There are 60 pages in each book, leaving it quite thin but larger than a Field Notes. The last 32 of those are perforated at the sides for you to rip them out. I’ve never really felt the need to tear out more than a few pages in a notebook, and 32 perforated pages is way too many, in my opinion.

It doesn’t have a back pocket. Back pockets are a silly Moleskine feature, particularly in thin notebooks like this. You don’t need a back pocket.

With each Jottbook comes a pair of stickers, one with two lines on it and one blank. Presumably these are to apply to the outside or the inside of the cover and write a title or subject on.


The paper in Leuchtturm notebooks generally is good, and pretty much the same across the whole range. I don’t think the quality is quite as good as the Clairefontaines, but it is proper paper that you can use big fat wet pens with. (See the last image in the gallery above.) On occasion there is some very slight feathering, but no paper is perfect. It’s 100gsm apparently but isn’t thick.

It’s slightly yellowy/cream off-white – lighter than Moleskine, not as white as Field Notes or Clairefontaine.

Each page of the book after the name and index pages has a space for the date at the top and a page number at the bottom. This is slightly redundant for me as, reflexively now, I date every page I write anywhere and timestamp each entry, as well as numbering the pages in any sort of journal or book – I check my watch, write the time down, underline it and then continue with the note. I’ve trained myself to do this and it is incredibly useful and you should do it too – when looking back through notes it’s pretty vital to be able to see what order they came in and when you wrote them.

Anyway, it is good that Leuchtturm are encouraging people in these habits, but their printing doesn’t quite agree with my manual scheme. In my journal:

  • I write the date on the inner side of the top of the page, closest to the centre – the date that I started the page on the left hand one, and the date that I finished the page on the right hand one, so that I can immediately see which dates the two pages span.
  • I write the page number on the outer side of the top of the page, and I continue page numbers between journals. (I am currently 3/4 of the way through page 1349, for your information; I only started continuing page numbers relatively recently too.)

The former dating structure can be continued with the pre-printed date area, but I can’t journal using the printed page numbers, unless I record an “offset” for them at the start. On the other hand, I’m not going to be using these as main journals anyway, more special purpose notebooks or casual jotting things, and for those purposes pre-printed numbers are a bonus. In general, +1 for encouraging people to think about the archiving of notebooks and not just assume they are going to throw them away.

The Jottbooks I have are lined and squared. Leuchtturm do make notebooks with plain and dotted paper as well, but I’m not sure that they put it into the Jottbooks, or if they do you can’t buy them in the UK yet.

Why would one want a Jottbook?

You may or may not feel the need for pocket notebooks like these – I’m not sure that I do, my normal pocket “random thoughts” notebook is a Rhodia pad at the moment and I tend only to use little notebooks for special purposes like dream diaries or work on a specific project) – but I know that a lot of people do, and the Jottbook stands out in a number of areas.

  • The cover is great – tough, waterproof, thin, colourful, feels nice.
  • The book is stitched so durable and opens well at any point – small stapled books irritate me on this point (hello, Field Notes).
  • The paper is good quality and won’t feather and bleed, but it’s not so thick that you only get a dozen pages in the book. There are 60 pages too which is a fair number.
  • The pre-printed numbers save you having to do that yourself, and the structure keeps reminding you to date and index the book.
  • They’re not particularly expensive. I paid £2.99 for each one, and used a 3 for 2 offer. Unless you write vast quantities or use a triple-broad nib that isn’t going to add up to a huge amount of money per unit time.

The Official Chasing Daisies Thin Pocket Notebook Recommendation at the moment is thus either one of the Jottbooks, or a Clairefontaine “Life Unplugged” Duo. The latter have slightly nicer paper but are smaller, are staple-bound and don’t have quite such great covers. Swings and roundabouts really.

Purchased from…

Noteshelf 4 – stop me before I cliché

The problem with writing a review of the new Noteshelf 4 is that I keep accidentally adding the sort of awful clichés that bad tech bloggers always use. It’s ahead of the curve! Leaves the competition in the dust! Best in its class, bar none! Argh! I will try anyway and you can slap me with a cheap Android tablet if I slip up.

Noteshelf is the stylus-based notebook app for the iPad that I have written about before – initial review, version 3 review. It is, easily, my most used “content creation”1 app and also one of my most used apps in general, apart from Mail and Safari obviously. Many iPad apps look nice but have few features (meaning that you have to switch out of them a lot, which is annoying on the iPad). Some have lots of features but are ugly and annoying to use. Noteshelf, even in version 3, had lots of features and was very easy to use. It did and still does have the best zoom system for writing and detailed work that I’ve seen on the iPad – this is essential if you want to use a free-drawing notebook app for anything but the roughest of sketches… well, I’ve written about the previous version before, I won’t go over it all again.

It did lack a few things that I found myself missing, though, particularly highlighting, being able to move pages between notebooks, being able to change paper types within a notebook, and cut and paste within a page. Version 4 addresses my previous issues so well that I’m suspicious that the app has been recording me muttering about them and sending the information back to the developer. New features of Noteshelf 4 include:

  • highlighting
  • moving pages between notebooks
  • multiple paper types within notebooks
  • cut and paste within pages

as well as

  • custom paper types, either user created or bought via an in-app purchase
  • notebook covers not based on paper type, and also with new ones available via purchases
  • an additional and very useful toolbar on the zoom view giving access to common functions without having to move your hand all the way to the top of the page – yes, lazy maybe, but faster
  • auto-advance when reaching the right hand side of the zoom view
  • a better interface for inserting images
  • groups of notebooks, rather than them all being on one shelf (rather like app grouping on iOS 4)
  • reworked and more convenient “export page(s)” UI – actually lots of UI elements have been reworked to make them more convenient

and probably lots of others. What impresses me is the level of care taken to make UI elements usable. For instance, the “auto-advance” feature puts an area on the right hand side of the zoom window, and if you write in that, the view shifts to the right once you lift up the stylus, or moves to the next line if you’re already at the right hand edge. One can change the size of this area. But it doesn’t just shift immediately – it waits for a period after you’ve finished that’s just enough time to dot an i, cross a t or maybe add another letter in the same word if you’re printing, but not so long that you think “this is taking too long to advance”.

I struggle to find anything with Noteshelf now that I don’t like or feels incomplete. The only ones I can think of at the moment are:

  1. The new way that landscape mode works is not how I would like it to work. (Previously Noteshelf let you work with the iPad in landscape but with the page itself still in portrait; you scrolled up and down it. Now, the orientation of the page changes with the orientation of the iPad.) However, the developer has already said that he’s going to make the new landscape mode optional in a quick update, so that isn’t much of a criticism.

  2. The new pens are pretty ugly. Really. The old pens were better. Even a colour palette would have been better.

Apart from that, this is really the best app that I’ve seen so far for notebook-like behaviour on an iPad, with all of the advantages of export, backup, undo, quick colour changing and so on that digital notebooks provide. Not everyone will want an app like this, but if they do, this is the one they should get. It’s the piece of software that’s been most likely to stop me using fountain pens and paper routinely, and that really is saying something.

  1. Does anybody believe that old nonsense about the iPad “not being for content creation” any more? It was never true, and it’s certainly not true now. 

SNYS v0.41

I noticed that SNYS was having trouble with Lion, and I think some of the later Snow Leopard security updates, and wasn’t able to spawn processes properly. I’ve updated it so that it is able to do so. (Basically this just involved re-saving the script as a new application in Applescript Editor and then copying the resources back in.) This is v0.41 which is now available for download at http://daisychase.net/software/snys/SimplenoteYojimboSync.zip as usual.

Varuna Gajendra – sometimes a cigar is just a cigar

I recently took possession of what is, basically, the largest pen ever. I’m not entirely sure why I did: I did want to try writing with a really fat pen, as people say that they’re more comfortable, and the Tombow Egg Pen is not available as a fountain pen any more.

I ordered it from Andy’s Pens, which, while it might not look that modern and requires you to email the owner to order rather than having shopping carts and other e-commerce widgets, is a terrific site, with a huge variety of popular and obscure makes at good prices. I got a response to my email (sent in the middle of the night) in the early morning and had completed the transaction within minutes of reading it – the pen arrived the next day. It’s a pity that the design might put off some customers.

I ordered the black model with the “Bakul” finish and the standard Wality nib. I’ve had Wality nibs before, and they’ve been fine, so that didn’t bother me, and I liked the idea of the enormous capacity of the eyedropper chamber to go with the enormous size. The body of the pen is hand-made ebonite, and the Bakul finish is a slightly rough texture that’s given to it which is then polished to be quite smooth to the touch – if you have used a Lamy 2000, it looks and feels a lot like that.

Varuna Gajendra - capped vs some other pens Varuna Gajendra - uncapped vs some other pens

Construction and feel

It really is an enormous pen, mostly due to the huge size of the (screw) cap, which makes up about half the length – it is far larger than it needs to be to protect the nib. This makes it very easy to unscrew the two no matter how cack-handed you are, and very hard to lose the cap, two good aspects as far as I am concerned. It’s very easy to open and close as long as you have two hands free. There is no clip and the only visible feature is a breather hole in the cap – both a minimal and maximal pen.

When open, it isn’t all that much longer than any other largish pen. It is still, of course, a lot fatter. The body is 19mm in diameter, and the finger grip tapers from 14 to 12mm. The size of the body doesn’t matter that much in practice if you have a sensible grip, because all it does is rest against the side of your finger, and I found that the width of the grip was comfortable and probably ergonomic in some sense. (Small hands might have problems with it, I couldn’t say.)

The pen is is surprisingly light in the hand – the site says it is 50g when full, which isn’t much, and that includes the cap, which you won’t have in your hand when writing. It is not easily pocketable unless you have ridiculous clown pockets, but it fits into bags easily enough.

Varuna Gajendra - front section and nib Varuna Gajendra - uncapped, with cap

Nib and performance

This model of the Gajendra is an eyedropper filler, which means that the whole back section is an ink reservoir, which you fill using (traditionally) an eyedropper1, one of which came with the purchase. The reservoir holds 7ml or more of ink. That is a lot of ink and you will not, in practice, run out. For tests I loaded it with good old Noodler’s Bulletproof Black, and have had no trouble with this: the flow is fairly generous but not too wet, I’d say slightly on the wet side of average. It does have a tendency to be a little dryer than normal when starting up after being left for several hours; this is easily dealt with by re-priming the nib (i.e. unscrew it slightly, turn it upside-down and screw it up again – air in the reservoir forces a little bit of ink through the feed) or just by writing with it a bit.

The F Wality nib was smooth out of the “box”, though, being the picky2 sort of person I am, I smoothed it a little with a nail shaper to suit my preferences. It’s the same nib that was in the Airmail 69L that I’ve written about here previously, and that was also good (the one on my Airmail was better actually but stock nibs do vary ever so slightly). Normal people would not have to do this; I didn’t have to with the Airmail at all.

Why would I own this pen?

The most obvious target audience for a pen like this is people who prefer fat pens, either because they just like writing with and holding fat pens, or for some sort of medical reason – and there are a significant number of fountain pen users who fall into the latter category, from arthritis, RSI or whatever. Not only is it a tough and good-sized pen to hold but it is also easy to manipulate in almost every circumstance except filling, and you’d only have to do that every few years.

Even without these reasons, I’ve been using it as a standard writing pen for a few days now and it’s a generally very pleasant thing to write with. It’s much lighter than it looks, it is easy to grab and unscrew even when half asleep, the nib is well balanced in size, it is not going to suddenly run out of ink, and it isn’t going to break if you step on it. You may hurt your foot but the pen will be okay. The whole thing is extremely simple in structure, as is standard for eyedroppers, and there are no fiddly bits which will ever need work; the nib is pretty much all that would ever be likely to need changing.

It isn’t a good pen for people who want to show off, because it’s very subdued in design. At least, the black one I have is; they do come in colours as well, but nothing terribly flashy, and by design there is a complete lack of ornamentation. Despite the size I think it is very elegant. It could be a talking point when used in public, I suppose.

It is also not a terrific pen for people who will want to cap and uncap it to make rapid notes. Not only is it large, the cap screw is quite long. One could certainly use it in a meeting but would not want to fully screw up the cap between periods of writing. This would work. I will try it next time.

Final word because I am awful at finishing blog posts


Addendum (Monday 11 July 2011)

I was wondering whether the large size of this pen would insulate it from Eyedropper Heat-Related Blobbing, which is when heat from your hand or from the sun occasionally causes the air inside the reservoir of any large-capacity pen to expand and force ink out unexpectedly. (This is similar to pens leaking in aeroplanes, though that is caused by the air pressure outside the pen going down rather than the air inside the pen going up.)

The answer to this question is “no”. If you sit in the hot sun writing with it, expect to see the line get wetter and wetter and eventually, some ink blob out onto the page. So don’t do that. I’ve not found it to blob just from the heat of my hand though – the ink level would have to be pretty low for it to do that.

  1. I should really write a page about filling eyedroppers, not that it is hard at all, but it’s not a common mechanism these days and the idea might put people off. 

  2. I am absurdly picky about nibs and the slightest of scratches. This often leads to my ruining nibs because of a tiny imaginary scratching sensation that is probably due to some dust on the paper which I insist on trying to smooth out with unsuitable tools. I don’t advise this as general practice. 

Pelikan M205 Duo Highlighter Fountain Pen

This speciality fountain pen was released by Pelikan last year, but I hadn’t ordered one until now, when I just gave up trying not to. The concept is that it is (a) a demonstrator – i.e. has a transparent outer casing (b) has a BB (double broad) nib and (c) is to be loaded with highlighter ink. Yes, it is a highlighter fountain pen.

It comes in an absolutely lovely display box. This is the nicest packaging that I have seen for a fountain pen – even the fancier ones I have tend to come in little “jewelry boxes” which could contain anything, well, anything long and thin. In contrast, the M205 Duo’s packaging is very specific to the particular pen and suits it perfectly.

Pelikan M205 Duo box - 1 Pelikan M205 Duo box - 3 Pelikan and ink in display box

The pen itself is a standard M205, except that it is a yellow demonstrator. (If you have an M200, which I do, it’s basically the same pen but with silver trim instead of gold.) It’s smaller than it looks in the pictures, but not too small even for those of us with fat fingers, and extremely lightweight. It seems quite orange in the picture below, but it isn’t, really, that orange – that is the light.

The Duo comes with a 30ml bottle of Pelikan radioactive1 fluorescent highlighter ink, and again, we come up against the limits of photography: it is not as green as it looks in the photograph below. Though it does still have a bit of a green tinge.

Pelikan M205 highlighter fountain pen with ink

Here is a scan of some writing with it, which is heavily adjusted to try to make it a bit more obvious the difference in line widths. It’s basically impossible to scan fluorescent ink and have it look like real life. Let me emphasise that it this is just for nib size comparisons. What does the ink look like in practice? Imagine a particularly bright yellow highlighter that has not had a chance to dry out at all, and has been freshly uncapped. When considering the benefits of this sort of pen for use in practice, imagine that it will continue to be like that indefinitely, rather than drying out a bit and being disappointing (which has always happened with ink highlighters that I’ve used) and if it ever starts to run low you can just top it up. This is the benefit of a fountain pen highlighter, the regular flow.

The pen writes very smoothly, and if you are after a BB nib for other purposes apart from highlighting, an M205 BB nib unit will likely please you. The line is certainly thinner than you would normally get from a normal highlighter, which means that it is best for underlining and circling, but you can colour in larger sections if you really want to, and the size gives the advantage that you can also write short notes with it.

I was asked when showing this off whether you could use another ink and the answer is of course yes – it’s a piston filler and you can load it with any ink you fancy. You can also change the nib for a narrower one; I bought mine from Pelikan Pens, and they offer nib replacements pre-order, or you could buy another nib later on (Pelikans are very easy to change nibs with, the units just screw out and in again).

Why would you buy this?

The question is a fair one. I bought mine because… all right, I can’t really explain it, I just loved the idea. I don’t even do much highlighting, though I will be making an effort to do more.

You might buy it if

  1. you just love the idea;
  2. you do a lot of highlighting, have some disposable income, and want something high-quality to highlight with. This isn’t just a novelty item, it really is a good highlighting pen. The ink flow is regular and the nib, while broad, is still a lot more precise than a squishy felt tip. I couldn’t honestly tell you that it would save any money, but it would be a more effective tool.
  3. you want to buy a present for somebody who does a lot of highlighting, and likes pens. The box really is lovely. Do you have any academics, lawyers, students or other people who review a lot of paper papers in your life? Is it their birthday soon? Are you sure they wouldn’t rather have a case of wine? Bear in mind that you can buy this as well as a case of wine. Go on, they deserve it. It’s only money. You can’t take it with you.

  1. Ink may not actually be radioactive.