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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.