Atoma and Arc Notebook Systems

Atoma and Arc review

When my illustrious United Inkdom colleague Mr. S Monboddo sent me a customised Atoma/Rhodia notebook, my interest was piqued. Here was a notebook system that had the potential to be everything I needed it to be for work.

Specifically, for my work, I want all these things:

  • pages I can remove so I can scan them into my computer and then shred (e.g. meeting notes);
  • a mix of, as a minimum, grid and plain paper;
  • paper I can use fountain pens on; and
  • ideally, something I can fit into my Taschenbegleiter.

I’ve written about the system I’ve been using. There’s nothing wrong with this except it’s rather ungainly. I’m a tinkerer though and always on the lookout for the next best thing. There was a distinct possibility the Atoma system might be it.

The Atoma system consists of a set of discs and punched paper. The paper slips onto the discs and, crucially, slips off again without any unclipping or tearing. This makes it simple to reposition sheets of paper or take them out to scan.

Atoma and Arc rings

This makes for an infinitely flexible notebook. I have lined paper for the most part but several sheets of grid and plain paper at the back. If I want to use one of these sheets, I just move one or two to the front. If I want to make rough notes I can and then I can throw that sheet away if I want to. I can write a note for someone else and give them the sheet.

I can also use it like a normal notebook, with numbered pages. What’s even better is that it becomes an infinite notebook: as the notebook fills up, I can remove the earlier pages, scan them quickly using a sheet-fed scanner, and then store them somewhere else. (Or even dispose of them but I’m not that kind of person.)

The notebook Scribble sent me consisted of Atoma’s metal discs, some Atoma paper and some Rhodia paper. Atoma’s paper is okay but not great for fountain pens. It’s not particularly smooth and sucks up the ink a little too readily, making it prone to a touch of feathering. Rhodia’s paper is, of course, wonderful for fountain pens. The obvious long-term solution was to buy a hole punch so I can make my own refills using Rhodia paper. The Atoma hole punch costs £139. That was a lot more than I was willing to spend.

Ink on Atoma paper

The Atoma system is not unique to them. Levenger have something very similar and so, it turns out, do Staples. The Staples Arc system looked very similar and Staples sell an Arc hole punch for £34. For the first time in years, I headed to a Staples store and I picked up an A5 plastic-covered Arc notebook.

Atoma and Arc

First, some differences between the Atoma and Arc systems. The Arc discs are plastic. The Atoma discs are metal and feel a much higher quality. Atoma make some very interesting and beautiful looking covers; Staples have a good range of functional, yet far from ugly, covers. There’s no doubt that Atoma are going for the luxury part of the market and Staples are going for the budget and middle parts.

It turns out the Arc and Atoma systems are identical in function. The sheets can be mixed and matched because the hole punching is exactly the same. When I first discovered this I thought I’d be buying a Staples Arc hole punch so I could make up my own notebooks using Rhodia paper and the Atoma discs.

It didn’t work out this way because the Staples Arc paper is really good. It’s heavy (100gsm), smooth and loves fountain pens with all its heart. It’s available lined, in grid, plain, as a calendar, as a task list; there are dividers, rulers, sticky notes. I’ve so far found no need to buy a hole punch because I’ve got everything I need. (For my use, this means plain, lined and squared paper but nothing else.)

Ink on Arc paper

Very little show through on the Arc paper

If I wasn’t using my Roterfaden (which I’ll come to in a moment) then my perfect system would be Atoma discs and covers with Staples paper, plus a Staples hole punch if I wanted to get even more customised. This is almost perfect.

What makes it not quite perfect: while the system is good, the paper can come unstuck now and then if you’re careless turning the pages. There’s also something lovely about writing in a good quality hardcover notebook that you don’t get with this.

Atoma and Arc open in Roterfaden

I love my Roterfaden Taschenbegleiter. It’s ageing beautifully and it’s functional: as well as storing a notebook, it holds my iPad mini, scraps of paper, a plastic wallet with a ruler and protractor, and has a decent pen loop with which to hold my Vanishing Point. It turned out to be simple to hack the Atoma/Arc notebook to fit. I single cut to the cardboard cover that came with the Rhodia notebook Scribble sent me enabled me to slide it into the front pocket. A couple of clips hold it securely in place.

The cardboard cover that came with the Rhodia notebook is held in place with a couple of clips
The cardboard cover that came with the Rhodia notebook is held in place with a couple of clips

What I have now is an infinite, and almost perfect, notebook, in a beautiful and very functional cover. What’s even better is I still get to tinker. There’s nothing worse than finding something that’s so close to what you want, you can’t think of ways to improve it.

11 Comments

  1. Thanks for the review.
    I’ve been using the Arc hole punch for several years with my Atoma and it works quite well.
    I use it mainly for work so that I can add printed documents to my Atoma.

  2. With the 5×8 junior notebook you can hole the top or bottom, and fold a full sheet for reference. I also found a website where I could set a custom dot grid matrix and print letter or double junior dot grid sheets.

  3. Thank you for this review. Have been on the fence about this for use in college for so long. Knowing that it works well, that the Staples paper is good, and that the systems are interchangable is convinced me to pull the trigger.

  4. I am currently trying to choose a binding system, but none of them seem to offer a hole punch. Staples have discontinued Arc and WH do not offer such a device.
    Any thoughts …

    1. Cult Pens sell the Atoma punch which is compatible with the Arc system but it’s very very expensive. I don’t know of any others. It’s a shame the Arc system is discontinued.

      1. Office Depot has their own system called TUL. I think it’s similar to the ARC system. A TUL punch is a out $35. I have the Levenger Circa Leverage Punch which works very well. The reason I purchased the Levenger ($70 and free shipping from Amazon) is because it has the capacity to punch about fifteen sheets of regular paper at a time.

  5. “It turns out the Arc and Atoma systems are identical in function. The sheets can be mixed and matched because the hole punching is exactly the same.” I have both, and the fit is different, although somewhat compatible. The newer larger Levenger “Circa” punch will fit Atoma discs (but not the obsolete Levenger punch which makes smaller holes). The Atoma-Arc mash-up is imprecise. Levenger Circa holes are mushroom-shaped. The original disc-binding system is Atoma in Belgium with holes that are a slightly rounded T-shapes with a narrower “stem”. I have just ordered the Atoma punch, plus two sizes of metal (aluminum) discs, and several notebooks and covers in two sizes, A4 and A5. The shipment will arrive in two days from Cult Pens in England. For over 10 years I have been archiving with the US disc-binding brands, first Arc (the older brand name is Rollabind), then Levenger’s Circa. I quickly changed from Rolla/Rollabind/Arc to Levenger/Circa disc-binding because the Rollabind company was horrible to deal with. Levenger service is fantastic. I found another US company called Myndology which is even worse than Rollabind and which sold Atoma products including the punch, but they are always “out of stock”. The original disc-binding company, from the 1940’s, is Atoma in Belgium. A month ago I bought an Atoma notebook, and there is a huge difference in the holes and the discs. Then I ordered the Atoma punch. Yes, Atoma is far more expensive and they do not market far beyond their homeland. Here is the biggest difference beyond price: the Atoma holes & discs are not “mushroom” shaped, they are more of a T-shape. The Atoma discs have a smaller diameter and the Atoma discs have wider & thinner edges and do not protrude as much, so the fit is more precise, grippier, and the discs do not wobble. Yes, the newer U.S. versions are cheaper; they were born after the Atoma patent expired. I wish I had discovered Atoma before I invested in several hundred covers, thousands of discs, and two Levenger punches. The discontinued Levenger original punch makes a smaller mushroom which works better for thinner paper. I prefer plastic discs because I do not like aluminum which is soft and pits over time. Levenger Circa recently added aluminum to its many sizes and colors of discs. I found some collectible rare old Levenger Circa chrome-plated brass discs, brand new, on eBay, which are heavy and are magnificent with the Levenger leather Bomber Jacket cover. Again, the U.S. discs wobble and are sticky-outy. My Atoma purchases will arrive in two days.

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