X17 is a notebook system developed by a German company (conveniently named X17) that consists of a notebook cover with elastic rings. These rings hold up to four notebook inserts, three in the model I use. The system is not dissimilar to Midori’s Travelers Notebooks. But in my opinion it is better thought-out and more practical. It is available at the X17 shop, shipping to the UK, Canada and the US is available at a reasonable rate of 9.95 Euro.
What attracted me to the X17 was the growing dislike of my Filofax. It is just too big to comfortably carry with me and the rings get in the way of writing on the left side (I am right-handed). What I wanted was a smaller package that nevertheless holds multiple interchangeable sections, such as my calendar, my todo lists and my daily log. I have been using Field Notes pocket notebooks for my daily log for years and I am quite comfortable with their size. This prompted me to slightly downgrade from the Filofax personal size to A6, which is only a few millimeters higher and about 1.5 cm wider than pocket notebooks like Field Notes or Moleskine Cahier. My thinking was that maybe I could even fit pocket notebooks in the X17.
X17 covers are available in multiple materials: Vegetable tanned leather, smooth Italian leather, regenerated leather (shredded leather offcuts that are glued together), cellulose fiber, plastic, Balacron (vinyl-coated cardboard, also used by Moleskine) and plain cardboard. Although the cardboard version would do quite well for only 3.90 Euro I opted for vegetable tanned leather in chestnut brown including three notebook inserts (blank, grid, lined), which puts a dent of 39.90 Euro in my pocket, but is well worth the price, as we will see. Calendar inserts are also available, but for the remaining year I wanted to draw my own layout or use the Field Notes Ambition 56-week diary I could never find a use for before. I also ordered the transparent slip pocket insert and a bookmark band.
When I unpacked the notebook cover I could already smell the leather, which is besides the smell of old library books a favorite of mine. The leather is smooth but not shiny and of a wonderful dark brown color with slight natural irregularities. On the inside the leather has a rougher surface. Brown stitching around the cover holds the two layers of leather together; the workmanship is excellent. As I use the cover more I expect the leather to age and acquire a few more dents and scratches.
The inserts X17 provides have rather thin paper, which causes some shine-trough but no bleed-through with extra fine fountain pen nibs. It is not suitable for broader nibs. I won’t use the X17 inserts much because pocket notebooks also fit perfectly. The elastics are slipped over the cover and the opened notebook and latch into notches punched in the top and bottom of the cover’s spine (X17 made a YouTube video of the assembly process). X17 notebook inserts also have these notches, but they are not necessary for a secure hold. Because pocket notebooks are a few millimeters shorter than A6 sized paper the elastic does not bend the paper on the edges.
I heard complaints about the Traveler Notebooks not being able to lay flat. Unlike the Traveler Notebook’s leather the X17 cover is shaped with a spine and because it has multiple elastics there is no need to lay multiple notebooks into each other. This must be the reason why it is able to lay flat on the table. The inserts do not lay as flat as the cover because the height of the other notebooks in it push the opened pages up slightly, but they still stay open and are very comfortable to write in.
The cover of the X17 has a notch on the right side to snap the elastic into that closes the notebook, which is necessary because with three inserts in it the notebook does not close completely without the elastic around it. The closure elastic is looped around one of the three elastics that run down the cover’s spine. The elastic it is attached to slightly shifts when wrapping the closure elastic around the notebook. The elastic does not leave the spine’s notches; it is only a minor aesthetic annoyance. I wonder if looping the closure elastic through a metal ring, punching a hole in the cover’s spine and running the closure elastic from the inside to the outside would work, but worry about the ring squeezing the paper. For now I will leave it as it is.
I have been using the X17 with the Field Notes weekly calendar, a X17 grid insert for my todos and a Moleskine Volant, which is about twice as thick as standard pocket notebooks and X17 inserts, and could not be happier with it. I also wrapped the transparent slip pocket insert around the main paper block to hold my calendar open at the current week and fitted the bookmark band. The package is small for the amount of paper it holds, has a high-quality look and feel to it and provides the flexibility I want without adding much bulk.
After switching to a Filofax for daily planning and record keeping I got more interested in ballpoint colors outside of the standard blue and black. Color coding helps with categorization and makes the pages prettier. When I’m on my desk I have plenty of pens available, but on the road carrying more than two pens in the Filofax is impractical. The BIC 4-Color is here to help, it holds four non-standard ink cartridges (standard for multi pens are D1 refills).
I remember my dad having one of these pens in yellow when I was little and I loved it, so it didn’t need much thinking to pick one up for three bucks at my local drug store. Twenty years ago they had a metal clip though, instead of a plastic one. The 4-Color is practical, but its design isn’t exactly pretty. It’s available in a small range of colors and a mini version, mine is the standard Grip version with a white top and a blue partially translucent barrel, which widens awkwardly where the rubber grip starts. On top it has an opening for attaching it to a lanyard keychain or something similar. I don’t need it but I see how it could be useful for people who walk around with checklists in their day job.
The mechanism of the pen functions with four individual push buttons, which works well. To release a color you push one of the other buttons down a few millimetres. Because the bottom part after the grip section is translucent you are able to notice when you’re running out of a particular color. Refills are available, but with online prices around five bucks you are better off buying a new pen. The refills can be exchanged by pulling them out of their base with a small amount of force.
I’m a fan of the BIC Cristal and I expected a similarly nice ink flow from the 4-Color. I got it with the blue and black. The green however is reluctantly flowing, the red feels a little smoother, but still has hard starts. The green BIC Cristal I bought a few years back works a lot better. That was before BIC changed their ink formula to a drier one. I suspect that broke the colors outside of blue and black for me.
The hand position when writing with the BIC 4 Color is relatively comfortable, despite its thick section, but I won’t use the pen much because of the ink problems. If you want a multi pen you should have a look at the Zebra Sarasa and Pilot Coleto models which offer gel inks and more color options.
I wrote that filing appointments and making plans are different kinds of tasks that require different tools, which is why the Hobonichi Techo isn’t for me. The past two weeks I’ve been using my old Filofax Metropol to combine both things in one package. Weekly calendar inserts as my inbox, ruled inserts for planning. I discovered the planner community in the process and Van der Spek’s custom made organizers. Time to share some sites I discovered in my search for the perfect Van der Spek planner.
Van der Spek Resources
Van der Spek Reviews
I will update the list as I get deeper into my newfound planner obsession. Your additions are also very welcome.
Every newcomer to the wonderful world of pen addiction quickly notices that there are wet and dry ballpoint pens (as in “pens with a ball”). Some of these pens are marketed as ballpoints, some as gel pens, some as rollerballs. The distinction the manufacturers make isn’t always clear, Schneider’s “Viscoglide” pens for example are marketed as ballpoints, but don’t use traditional ballpoint ink. Here is what I have learned over the years about different types of ink.
With ballpoints I mean traditional ballpoints like the BIC Cristal. The ink in those pens is of high viscosity, because it is oil-based, which makes the ink waterproof. The color comes from dyes that color the liquid which makes it less resistant to bleach compared to pigment-based ink. This YouTube video about the manufacturing of the BIC Cristal provides a glimpse into ink making.
Rollerballs contain ink of low viscosity, which provides an even color application, very similar to fountain pen ink. Like fountain pen ink it is water-based. In contrast to fountain pen ink the color in most models is not provided by dyes, but by pigments (polymer molecules) suspended in the liquid, which makes the ink waterproof and oftentimes bleach resistant. A prime example of this type of pen is the Uni-ball eye.
Gel inks are, like rollerball inks, water- and (usually) pigment-based. Viscosity-wise they are in between ballpoint and rollerball inks. There are high-viscosity gel inks like Pilot Acroball or Uni-ball Jetstream refills. Some pens marketed as ballpoints use high-viscosity gel ink, like Parker or the before mentioned Schneider refills. Some gel inks are of lower viscosity, for example Pentel’s EnerGel and Pilot’s G2 inks. They feel smoother and produce a more consistent line, but have a longer drying time.
Please note: Statements about waterproofness and bleach-resistance are best taken with a grain of salt, the exact ink composition varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. The consistency of the color application also depends on the paper used. The paper in the picture above is a smoother one, which means that it is coated and provides less friction for the ball to roll than less heavily coated paper, which explains the poor performance of the otherwise very reliable Acroball on the particular paper (Avery Zweckform notizio).