• Tips: our top 6 tips for shimmer inks

    the best of shimmer

    This post has been in the works for some time now... Last year was a great year for all inks glittery. We had the arrival of the new Diamine Shimmer ink range which was simply amazing. How often do sequels in life surprise and exceed expectations?

    With our cupboards brimming with sparkling ink it's about time to start writing with some of the stuff. But, before we can get stuck in, let's talk some quick tips to help bring those pens up to scratch and flowing smoothly to get the best of shimmer. 

    Here are our top 6 tips for shimmer inks to help you make them truly shine & shimmer :)

    1. Shake it till you wake it

    the best of shimmer

    Shake the bottle well before inking. Make sure that the silver/gold particles are not sitting at the bottom of the ink bottle.

    It's important to mention that turning pen in hand couple of times before and during writing (to re-distribute the shimmer again) will do wonders and is very eye pleasing too.

    2. Cleaning is the key

    the best of shimmer

    Flush the pens regularly (every 2 weeks or so). We do stock cleaning solutions by Diamine / J Herbin which are not essential, but they do help with the flow of stubborn pens. If you would like to read more about cleaning, click to see our blog here.

    3. Go broad

    the best of shimmer

    Use wetter/broader nibs (it will work with Fine nibs too, the shimmer may be a little less apparent or only show under certain angle/light).

    I would highly recommend to dedicate a pen to shimmer inks -  TWSBI Eco comes to mind first....

    It is a demonstrator pen which shows off shimmering ink beautifully. You can also disassemble it for a thorough clean.

    4. There is paper and then there is paper

    Emerald of Chivor on Tomoe River Paper

    I have seen shimmer even on copy paper, but if you really want to embrace the shimmer use good paper : Rhodia, Clairefontaine, Tomoe River... If you see a photo with crazy amount of shimmer & often sheen the chances are it was Tomoe River - inks really shine on this one :) <3

    5. Cheat

    Help the flow by pushing some ink through. Push or turn the filling mechanism to get some more ink on the nib and feed (careful, have some tissue paper ready just in case, but you will get a hang of it very quickly). I know that someone might say - well, it's just not on, but trust me...pens do suffer from ink starvation and this is just too easy :)

    6. Floss

    the best of shimmer

    The final piece of advice - this is another cheat/hack which I use a lot (I tend to over-clean pens :))

    If you have some DVDs around with security tags, cut them open. Inside will be 2/3 pieces of very thin metal called shim. You can use the shim to 'floss' the cut in the nib. Flossing will greatly improve the flow (which may get jammed with paper fibers or shimmer particles).

    Shimmering inks do require a little extra effort but they are so worth it :)

    If you have any other tips/questions please leave them in the comments. We love talking about shimmer ;)

  • The History Of Papermaking Part II

    Fourdrinier paper-making machine

    Papermaking from the 18th to the 19th century


    In an earlier blog, we looked at the development of paper from its origins, in 1st century China, when T’Sai Lun developed the first true paper from seeing how bees and wasps converted materials, such as leaves, into a paper like substance. From that start, the making of paper gradually swept westwards, through the Arab countries of the Middle East and north Africa and then, from the 11th century, Europe. For the next five hundred years, despite becoming increasingly refined, there was no change to the laborious, hand processes. Then, in the 19th century, two sudden and dramatic bursts of activity changed everything and not only was the making of paper revolutionised but the whole basis of the industry changed with the introduction of a new base material. In this blog we will look at these transformations, events which created the contemporary paper industry, and the paper we use, today.

    The limits to production of a highly skilled hand process were not limited to paper, but whereas the processes of making products, such as cotton cloth, had become industrialised during the 18th century, by 1800, and with just one exception, paper was still made by hand, one sheet at a time, manually dipping a frame with a sieve into a vat of pulp, which was then drained and the resulting sheet of paper dried, usually hung over frames. This process was also restricted in that sheet size was limited by how large a sieve a man could handle.

    Papermaking - The First Mechanisation

    However, as the 18th century drew to its close, there were many in the paper industry who were looking at how industrialised methods might be applied to papermaking and at one mill in France, and despite the turmoil following the French Revolution, they had had some success. Nicholas-Louis Robert, who worked for the then famous Didiot papermaking company in Essonnes, just south of Paris, invented a machine which introduced the first aspects of mechanisation into papermaking. Robert's machine, a replica of which is in the Frogmore Paper Mill Museum, and shown here, had a moving screen belt that would receive a continuous flow of stock and deliver an unbroken sheet of wet paper to a pair of squeeze rolls. This still had to be collected manually, hung over a series of cables or bars to dry and then had to be cut, but for the first time it introduced elements of mechanisation. Robert obtained a patent for this, in Paris on 9 September 1798, the original of the machine you see here being completed in the following year.

    Nicholas-Louis Robert paper machine
    A Replica Of Nicholas-Louis Robert's Paper Machine (circa 1799)

    Papermaking Comes To Britain

    Robert quarrelled with his employer over the further development of this machine. The patent had been registered in the name of St Leger Didiot, and he felt that with the then instability, and lack of the support, skills and finance for manufacturing ideas in France, it would be better to further develop the ideas in England. But the political situation in France meant he could not travel there. So, he invited his brother-in-law, John Gamble, who at that time was working in Paris on repatriating British nationals, to use his connections in England. Gamble had no papermaking experience but back in London, he was introduced to the brothers, Sealy and Henry Foudrinier, skilled Huguenot paper makers whose father, Paul, had migrated from Groningen in the Netherlands, and who agreed to finance the venture. Together they further developed the machine, and John Gamble was granted a patent in London in 1801.

    This machine was more complex than the Robert machine and incorporated a full drying process but its practical application was hampered by technical difficulties. The Foudriniers brought in a skilled mechanic, Bryan Donkin, who worked on the problems and in 1807 Donkin registered the patent, in his name, for an improved ‘Foudrinier’ machine. This became the machine which transformed paper making and even today basic paper making machines are still often referred to as a ‘Foudrinier’. Although there have been many improvements over the two hundred years since the first Foudrinier was created, a lot of them significant, all paper making machines have remained essentially the same as the original Donkin-designed machine, which is shown in the box below.

    The Foudrinier Paper Making Machine

    The drawing below shows the four distinct operations of a Foudrinier paper making machine:

    1 - The ‘Wet End’, or Forming Section, where the pulp, usually with between 5 and 10% solids, is filtered out from the water, as it moves along on a continuous wire mesh;

    2 - The Wet Press Section, where the now formed fibre sheet is squeezed in large, felt covered rollers to remove most of the liquid;

    3 - The Drying Section, where the pressed sheet is passed around heated rollers, completing the drying process and reducing the moisture content to somewhere close to 5%;

    4 - The Calender Section, where the paper is smoothed by, again, being passed around rollers.

    Foudrinier paper making machine
    Workings of the Foudrinier paper making machine

    The drawing shows all these processes clearly, though one point not covered in the description is the dandy roller, above the belt at the wet end. The dandy roller, invented in 1826, allowed for the impression of watermarks, literally just a thinning of the sheet at a chosen point, which had previously only been possible with hand-made papers. Why ‘dandy’? No one knows for sure!

    The first of these improved machines was installed at Frogmore Mill at Apsley in Hertfordshire, today a working museum of paper making, and it was close by, also at Apsley, that John Dickinson installed one of the improved Donkin, though Dickinson-modified, machines in 1809. Dickinson went on to make further improvements, registering many significant patents in his name, but it was Donkin who became the central character in this first key phase of industrialisation, such that by 1851 there were some two hundred Donkin-made machines in operation throughout the world.

    Donkin & Dickinson - Is Paper Mightier Than The Sword?

    Bryan Donkin is one of the great engineering characters of the 19th century and it is surprising that he is not better known. Originally a land surveyor in his native Dorset, he became interested in paper and got himself apprenticed to a paper machinery manufacturer, John Hall, in Dartford, Kent.  He went on to set-up his own business, making moulds for papermakers, then in 1801 he was invited in by the Foudrinier Brothers and John Gamble to tackle the problems they were experiencing with the development of their machine. By the following year, he had established his own company in Bermondsey to exploit his developments, the Bryan Donkin Company, still in existence today but no longer in the paper business or in Bermondsey, and went on to become the pre-eminent engineer in the field.

    But that was not all. Donkin went on to invent the tin can, which he patented, to work with Charles Babbage on perfecting the first differential machine, for combining calculations and printing, and with Thomas Telford and Marc Brunel, father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, on many of their great engineering achievements. He was the ‘go to man’ of the age when you hit an engineering problem.

    He overshadowed John Dickinson, no mean inventor himself, who even before he became involved in developing and greatly refining paper machinery, had developed cartridge paper for shells – yes, the same as you might use for drawing today - which cut out the risk of smouldering after discharge, the cause of many accidents, and improved the firing rate of guns, a factor which greatly contributed to the victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. So, it wasn’t won on the playing fields of Eton, after all, and given that Wellington described it as “a damned near run thing”, perhaps paper made the difference. Is it paper that is mightier than the sword?

    Papermaking Crosses To America

    Developments were slower In the United States, where the first mechanised paper mill was opened in 1817, at Brandywine Creek in Delaware, and the first Foudrinier machine was imported in 1827. Doubtless, these developments meant that John Dickinson’s cartridge paper, see box on Donkin & Dickinson, was freely available to both sides in the later civil war, facilitating greatly a parity of mutual destruction!

    This new process revolutionised the production of paper of all sorts, with costs tumbling by up to 75% but the very success created a new problem, a shortage of raw material. Rags of cotton and linen were still the major source, supplemented by ‘linters’, the short fibres around the cotton seed and too short for use in fabric. As demand grew, longer cotton fibres began to be used, creating shortages in the cotton fabric industry and pushing up prices, a scarcity exacerbated during the American Civil War. Although it was known that the cellulose structure of wood was similar to the raw materials then in use, no one had seriously studied taking this forward until, in 1845, an ocean apart and quite unknown to each other, though inspired by the same original tract, two inventors developed a process for converting wood bark into pulp for making paper – Charles Fenerty in Nova Scotia and Friedrich Gottlob Keller in Saxony.

    Both Fenerty and Keller were influenced by an 18th century French scientist, René Antoine Ferchault de Réamur.  Réamur had made a study of insects, and from these he observed, as had T’sai Lun seventeen hundred years earlier, that wasps and bees made a paper like substance in a way which totally altered the structure of the raw material. He wrote a treatise on this, though, to his own regret, he never pursued his idea, writing in 1741, "I am ashamed not yet to have tried this experiment since it is more than twenty years since I have realised the importance of it and since I have announced it." It was this treatise which a hundred years later was to have a direct bearing on the next transformative stage in paper making.

    An 18th Century Polymath

    Though the study of insects was Réamur’s principal interest, as a true polymath of the time, he also received a handsome reward from the state for his work on manufacturing iron and steel and invented the first temperature scale, the 0-80 Réamur Scale This was cast aside from most use during and after the French Revolution by the 0-100 Celsius Scale, but is still used in the manufacture of the most famous of parmesan cheeses, Parmigiano-Reggio and Gran Padano.

    Paper Made From Trees

    Charles Fenerty’s family were in the lumber business in Nova Scotia, felling and converting trees, but Charles was something of a romantic, he left some thirty-five poems for posterity, and presumably it was his detachment from the everyday business, whenever he could, which led him to read widely, including Réamur’s paper, and to experiment with wood as a basis for a paper pulp. Sadly, although he made some paper, he did not take out a patent and his ideas were stillborn.

    Friedrich Keller achieved better success, mainly because he persevered despite a similar initial lack of interest. A weaver in the small town of Hainichin in Saxony, he was dissatisfied with his occupation and read and experimented widely, and it was through this that he came upon Réamur’s writings, working on developing this for seven years before producing an acceptable result. He sent samples to the government, though they were not interested, but then in August, 1845,  he filed a patent in the names of both himself and a local paper specialist, Heinrich Voelter, who had helped him, not least with funding. It was not until 1848 that they built their first machine and, even then, they had problems with commercially grinding the bark, a problem not solved until four years later when Voelter commissioned some grindstones suitable for the task. By this time, the patent had run out, but Keller was too poor to contribute his portion of the renewal fee, so Voelter bought him out, for a sum of around £80, becoming the sole patent holder. By 1852 ground-wood pulped paper was being produced regularly in the mill of H. Voelter & Sons, in Heidenheim, and the wood-grinding machine was a success, too, selling widely throughout Europe and the Americas. It made Voelter a very rich man but left Keller unemployed and penniless.

    Chemical Pulping

    Over the next decades, the development was both widespread and furious, especially in the United States and in Sweden, not least with the development of chemical pulping, invented in the US but first used commercially in a pulp mill in Sweden in 1867. Mechanical pulping leaves the lignin in the fibre, making for a weaker structure because it keeps the fibres apart. Chemical pulping dissolves the lignin, producing a stronger paper and later, thanks to the further improved Kraft process, paper with long chains of cellulose molecules which are stronger still, making excellent printing and writing papers.

    The ability of the Kraft process to accept a wide variety of materials, including recycled material, meant that it became the dominant process by the middle of the twentieth century, though mechanically ground paper is still the principal component in newsprint today. There are now also many hybrid processes that allow for even greater variety of both base material and finished product.

    Cotton and other such materials are still used in papermaking for specialised uses, such as bank notes and security papers, and other ingredients can be almost any fibrous substance, for example sisal grass, old clothes – denim paper is made from old denim trousers! – and even dried elephant droppings, since their digestive systems have already done much to break down the base material!

    Many of the firms we see as the dominant players in the paper industry today were formed during the latter half of the nineteenth century, firms such as Wiggins Teape in England, now Arjo Wiggins, in 1850, Appleton Paper in the USA in 1853, Clairefontaine in France, in 1858, but these developments are for part three.

    Where Did All The Money Go?

    There is a sad side to this story; few of those early inventors went on to make much, if any, money from their vision and effort. The Didiot’s were left adrift in France and went bankrupt a few years later, having invested a great deal in trying to make their invention commercially viable; John Gamble faded from view with little recognition and no money from his work; the Foudrinier Brothers, having spent £60,000, received no royalties and went bankrupt in 1810, though Henry Foudrinier was granted a special award of £7,000 in 1841, by a House of Commons committee in compensation for the original patent. Charles Fenerty, as we saw, found little interest, see below for a reproduction of his rather sad letter to his local newspaper, and went on to write more poetry. Whilst Keller fell into poverty, in 1870 several German paper makers donated a small sum of money, which he used to buy a house, and later, from further collections abroad, enough for a worry-free retirement. He did, at least, receive several awards in recognition of his invention.

    Messrs. English & Blackadar,

    Enclosed is a small piece of PAPER, the result of an experiment I have made, in order to ascertain if that useful article might not be manufactured from WOOD. The result has proved that opinion to be correct, for- by the sample which I have sent you, Gentlemen- you will perceive the feasibility of it. The enclosed, which is as firm in its texture as white, and to all appearance as durable as the common wrapping paper made from hemp, cotton, or the ordinary materials of manufacture is ACTUALLY COMPOSED OF SPRUCE WOOD, reduced to a pulp, and subjected to the same treatment as paper is in course of being made, only with this exception, VIZ: my insufficient means of giving it the required pressure. I entertain an opinion that our common forest trees, either hard or soft wood, but more especially the fir, spruce, or poplar, on account of the fibrous quality of their wood, might easily be reduced by a chafing machine, and manufactured into paper of the finest kind. This opinion, Sirs, I think the experiment will justify, and leaving it to be prosecuted further by the scientific, or the curious.

    I remain, Gentlemen, your obdt. servant,


    The Acadian Recorder
    Halifax, N.S.
    Saturday, October 26, 1844

  • Taroko Design and Tomoe River

    Taroko Design notebook paper

    The final part of our Taroko Design Trilogy is dedicated to the heart of the books, the Tomoe river paper.

    For people that know Tomore River paper then you can just go ahead and skip to the lovely photos. Otherwise let us introduce you to something truly special.

    The paper that comes in the Taroko Design notebooks is Tomoe River white 68gsm. This Japanese paper feels very different to the more familiar European paper from Rhodia and Clairefontaine. It is less glossy and more lightweight - reminds me a little of the old tracing paper used back at school, just a bit thicker and less transparent.

    So what is it like to write on? Well the good stuff happens as soon as the pen meets paper. Every movement glides effortlessly, leaving a wet stroke behind. The ink sits on the paper for a moment as if on wax paper, floating above and wanting to burst out of line. But it behaves, keeps in and starts to settle into the page. Take a little break and grab a cuppa, it takes a while to dry but it is worth it. Or, do what I do watch and go:

    Toy Story Green Alien ooooh

    I cannot even begin to describe the beauty of the colours and sheen left behind, I'll leave that to the images below. It's not like any other paper, there is some black magic going on but that's okay with me! I'm afflicted by an addiction to try out any and all inks, pens, nibs and experience how it reacts with Tomoe River. I am filled with delight every time :)

    I thought it would be good to point out couple of loved and also unwanted paper properties terminology that burden fountain pen geeks and then show you the difference that paper can make.

    Bleedthrough happens when ink (or too much ink) gets absorbed in paper so much, that it gets to the other side of the page. Bleedthrough depends a lot on quality of paper and amount of ink on the page. Tomoe river clears this easily, other paper is not quite up to scratch...

    Ghosting (or Showthrough ) happens when you flip the page and can see what's written on the other side. Not so much that the ink bleeds through the page but just enough to cause a distraction. By the nature of Tomoe River being a lightweight paper it has some transparancy but it’s not the end of the world’ scenarios, it's fairly light. The show through on something as thick as Rhodia 90gsm is very faint, almost completely opaque.

    Bleedthrough on Moleskine paper

    Moleskine paper - Bleedthrough

    Ghosting on Tomoe River paper

    Tomoe River paper in Taroko Notebook - Ghosting

    Ghosting on Rhodia paper

    Tomoe River paper in Taroko Notebook - Zero Bleedthrough

    Feathering happens when ink on the page dries into a veiny looking tree. Lines don't look sharp or crisp anymore. I can't stand it! It is a true test of quality if paper can avoid this when writing with a fountain pen. Good news - Tomoe River paper excels in this category and shows absolutely no feathering at all :)

    Zero feathering on Tomoe River paper

    Tomoe River paper in Taroko Notebook - Zero Feathering

    Feathering on Moleskine paper

    Moleskine notebook - Feathering

    Shading is the variation between the light and dark parts of a written line. This is one property which makes writing with fountain pens stand out. Some people find it quirky, others distracting. I love it. This is more of an ink quality, but paper can help - colours on Tomoe River pop!

    Tomoe River paper in Taroko Notebook - Shading

    Shimmer is when ink with particles, shine and sparkle in the light. J. Herbin 1670 inks come with gold particles; Diamine Shimmering inks have a range with gold or silver…forget the gel pens, fountain pens can do it too.

    Sheen is when ink looks as though it has a metallic finish. It is more apparent when you get the right angle under the light. Sheen can be gentle and sit around the edges or it may completely cover the base colour of ink. For me, the more the better! Sheen is not just about the ink, paper and pen often play an important role. Pen – wetter the better. Paper, well, let’s just say that Tomoe River is the champion when it comes to showing off this quality.

    Herbin Emerald of Chivor is beautiful green teal ink which has both sheen and shimmer which makes it simply the best :)

    Taroko Design notebooks are a great first step into the amazing world of Tomoe River paper - great for travelling and using as a refill. However, sometimes you need something a bit meatier to work with. After discussing with Taroko Designs creator, Steven (interview here), we helped refine some ideas and proudly announce Enigma.

    Currently available in pocket A6, lots more pages to fill... Steven is working on an A5 version too so keep with us for more info :)

  • A look at the Taroko Design notebook range

    Taroko Notebook with sample writing

    In the second part of Taroko Design notebook trilogy I'd like to tell you about what we currently have our hands on.

    The covers are made out of kraft paper and come in 3 colours, each corresponding to the ruling of the sheets within.

    • Blue cover - plain, white paper.
    • Brown cover - dots, spacing is 5x5, white paper with grey dots.
    • Dark cover - lines, spacing is 7mm, white paper with grey lines.

    Steven, the mastermind behind Taroko Design, mentioned that the idea behind the subdued colour of the covers were to keep them understated and subtle. The focus should be placed more on the writer and words written inside. A real mascot against judging books by their covers! If you would like to gain further insight from the man himself you can read the full interview here.

    Grey printing of the dots and lines is a lot easier on the eye than black or purple, so kudos here! 7mm is the perfect spacing for ruled notebooks, no matter how big or small the book is :)

    Each notebook comes with:

    • 64 pages, 32 sheets of 68 gsm Tomoe River white paper
    • Staple binding
    • Rounded corners

    Stapled notebooks let you have them open completely flat. You can use all of the paper, on both sides without fighting against the centre parting. Sweet!

    3 different sizes, 3 paper rulings - 9 notebooks in total

    Taroko Design Passport Notebook

    The Passport notebook measures 124mm x 88mm and is the smallest in the range.

    Compatible with small - passport Midori Traveler's Notebook. If you haven't tried Tomoe River paper yet, then I highly recommend getting this one and never looking back :)

    I use Passport for swabbing ink samples. Great to use on the go as it fits just about anywhere. It's perfect go-round little notebook.

    It currently sells for £3.95. You can buy one here.

    Taroko pocket comparison with Rhodia and Field Notes

    Taroko Design Regular Notebook

    The Regular notebook measures 110mm x 210mm, the goldilocks of the three.

    Compatible with the beautifully crafted regular Midori Traveler's Notebook. It may seem a little off due to it's unusual long, slim shape but it has a special place in my book... ;)

    Traveler's Notebook is a huge stationery phenomenon and even tho we cannot sell covers, these refills are our best seller for a reason :)

    It is currently £5.95 and you can get yours here.

    Taroko regular comparison with Rhodia and Midori travellers

    Taroko Design A5 notebook

    This notebook is the big daddy and measures 148mm x 210mm, which is A5 surprisingly.

    There's no Traveler's cover for this size unfortunately. Weep as you may but someone here had a brilliant idea to try a Mark’s A5 cover – it fits!!! This combo makes a pretty good travel companion. Hands up who already has one (or two) of those Mark’s notebooks.

    It currently sells for £7.95. Click here if you want one.

    Mark's Storage It Notebook with Taroko A5 notebook

    One of the reasons why fountain pens and inks are so popular is because of the feeling you get when you use them. Having a juicy smooth fountain pen, ink with crazy sheen and Tomoe River paper is as good as it gets. It’s fun, it looks great and it feels magical.

    I can go on about Tomoe River paper all day, so let’s save it for a separate blog post :) To be continued…


    *all prices mentioned were correct at time of writing*

  • Q&A: What Is Seyes Paper?

    what is seyes paper?

    A simple explanation of how this seemingly complicated French paper ruling system is meant to work


    It is a question that many, if not most people, will ask when confronted by these strange rulings – what is seyes paper? In short, Seyes paper (also known as Grands Carreaux) is a very specialised paper ruling that is found in France. It forms an integral part of how French schoolchildren are taught to write, and yet to anyone not familiar with the Seyes format it can appear quite daunting. Hopefully this short article will explain all and also show how you can use the introductory books to ease someone into learning to use Seyes paper and gain consistency with their handwriting.


    Seyes paper was originally created in the late nineteenth century by Jean-Alexandre Seyès, a librarian, and his system has been adopted and stuck, so much so that the paper ruling is named after him. I can’t say for certainty that every child going through the French education system learns to write using Seyes paper but it is extremely well known and, from personal experience of the system, it does produce consistent results.


    So the obvious question is how do you use it? It’s like there is a hidden code and in a sense there is.

    • Seyes paper is made up of vertical and horizontal lines.
    • There is also a mix of bold and feint lines. Bold lines are every 8mm, feint lines every 2mm
    • Within the lines an 8mm grid is formed from the bold horizontal lines and the vertical lines
    • The pages will typically also have a margin in red

    So to explain how these work, it is easier to ignore the vertical lines for the moment. Look at the horizontal lines. What you now have is a series of lines every 2mm – one bold then three feint, repeated. You treat the bold horizontal lines as your ‘writing’ line, the base line for your letters.

    An explanation of Seyes paper rulings
    An explanation of Seyes paper rulings

    There are rules for which letters go where, and this is where the French system becomes harder to follow as they have a particular style of writing each letter, which I personally found quite hard. A simplified version of this might be as follows:

    • Upper case letters (A, B, C etc) start on the base line and go up to the third feint line;
    • Lower case letters (a, c, e etc) start on the base line, and go up to the first 2mm line;
    • Lower case letters with a vertical stem (b, d, f, h, k, l) are formed by taking the stem up to the third feint line;
    • Letters like an ‘i’ and ‘t’ go up to the second feint line;
    • Letters that drop below the line (g, j, p, q, y) sit on the base line and drop down two feint lines.
    Example of using seyes rulings
    Example of using seyes rulings

    Introductory Seyes Books

    We offer a range of notebooks and pads with Seyes rulings from Clairefontaine, the largest of French stationery manufacturers. Within their range they offer a set of six exercise books that help take someone through to the standard Seyes ruling. Learning to start writing on an 8mm grid with 2mm rulings would be almost impossible so these books are the perfect way to gradually introduce the various elements of Seyes paper in stages.

    You can read more about how these books work by using our handy guide here.

  • An Interview with Steven from Taroko Design

    Taroko Design

    I have just finished my A5 Taroko dot notebook when it hit me...I don't know a lot about the brand or the makers... Quick nosy Google search took me to their Etsy and Facebook page, but that did not satisfy my curiosity. The notebooks are incredibly popular (A5 dot is currently sold out), so I have set myself a mission to explore the brand, notebooks and paper in a 3-part blog :)

    So we thought we would get Steven to share something of his background and love of stationery. I had a great time chatting and geeking out with him. Enjoy!

    Interview with Steven Chang from Taroko Design

    Tell me a little about your background.  What was the impulse to start making your own notebooks? We're a small studio based in Taipei, Taiwan, and our story really started with the purchase of my first fountain pen, a Pilot Kakuno, several years back. With the fountain pen in hand, I was surprised at the difficulty of finding the right paper/notebook products in the market to use the fountain pen with. One thing lead to another (trying lots of different paper+pen combinations) and we've managed to secure three types of fountain pen friendly paper to make products with: Tomoegawa 52 and 68 gms, and our own Taroko Orchid paper at 80gsm. The mission is really to provide more choices to fountain pen users where most paper products cater to the rollerball/gel pen usages.

    What's the story behind your studio? After my earlier career in tech (product manager for notebooks and mobile phones), I decided to pursuit an industrial design degree. While taking the degree program, classmate at the time is my current studio partner Wenwen Liu. We decided to group up and start the studio a few months before graduation to keep the learning process going, by taking on projects as a team. Our past projects included graphic and floor plan design for photography exhibitions, souvenirs for tourist centers, and product branding and packaging. The creation of notebooks under the Taroko brand gives us the freedom of implementing our ideas (versus having to adhere to client design guidelines), as well as choosing the type of material that goes into our notebooks.

    How did you come up with the brand name? Taroko is named after Taroko Gorge in my hometown of Hualien. Most people would think of Taiwan as an industrialized island packed with 20 million people, but there are still natural wonders on the eastern portion of the island. We will be incorporating elements from Taroko National Park into our notebooks in the future. :) Here are some references on Taroko Gorge/National Park:

    What would you be making if not notebooks? Leathercrafts. Love the experience of making things by hand that will age well with usage. An important lesson from design school days is to always make things with your hand, draw with pen and pencils, and suppress the urge to jump right into Photoshop or a 3D rendering program. So we are always cutting and binding paper during our prototyping stage.

    What do you attribute the success and/or demand for stationery today to? The product has to deliver a kind of "experience" to the customer, from the weight of the notebook, suprisingly light to unexpected heft. The touch of the materials used, and the subtle feedback of the nib sliding across the paper. It is a difficult balance to hold between achieving that unique experience and manufacturing constraints in delivering products, but I believe that's what most leading brands are striving to achieve.

    What’s your favourite item of stationery in your personal collection? It's a little folding hand knife I bought in Nishiki market in Tokyo, and I use it to sharpen pencils with. The knife is handcrafted by a Japanese artisan, and when I use it to sharpen pencils, it serves as a reminder of the trip, as well as liberate the aroma from the pencil wood.

    And finally - what is your current paper+pen+ink combo? Tomoe River paper 68gsm (of course) with Pilot Justus 95 filled with Sailor Seasons Yama-dori (teal blue). The Pilot Justus 95, with its adjustable nib hardness, is perfect for when I need to write interchangeably between English and Chinese. And the Yama-dori gives a wonderful red sheen on Tomoe River paper.

    Thanks to Steven for sparing his time to give this great interview. We wish you and Taroko Design best of luck.

    Watch out for Part 2 of Taroko Trilogy - we'll focus a bit more on their notebooks.

    Part 3 will be all about Tomoe River paper. (Hint: it's amazing!:) )

    Taroko Design notebooks are available here.

  • The History Of Paper Part I

    history of paper part one

    From the 1st to the 18th century

    The wasps and the bees

    The history of paper provides a fascinating insight into the shifts in world power and industrialisation over the past two thousand years. Whilst paper in some form has a lineage which dates back to the 1st century, it may come as a surprise to many, given the role paper occupies in our lives - and despite the forecast of a paperless society - that paper, as we know it today, has been around for less than two hundred years. It may come as even more of a surprise to learn that the two great events that mark this, the original invention and the switch to an abundant raw material and, so, modern industrialised processes, were inspired by observations of wasps and bees. In this, the first of three blogs, we will look at the gradual development from its origin in China through to the great changes in the early-nineteenth century. In subsequent blogs we will then look at the rapid developments during the rest of that century, and finally look at the products you buy today, the people who make them – and what some of the terminology means.

    Origins in China

    The invention of paper is usually attributed to an official at the court of the Han Dynasty in China, T’sai Lun, in the Christian year 105. However, it is probable from references in ancient scripts to believe that the process T’sai Lun used had been known for a hundred years before but he was the first to refine, systemise and fix a recipe. He developed this from his study of wasps and bees, where he saw that the material they used to build their nests was by a process of maceration, chewing the fibres so that the raw material, plants or cloth, broke down and formed a paper like product. It is this maceration process, breaking down the molecular linkages of the raw material to form new linkages, that set paper aside from all the similar products that had been used, and - despite great changes, both in scale and ingredients - remains as the basis of all paper making today.

    wasps nest frogmore paper mill
    Wasp Nest, Frogmore Paper Mill, England

    Prior to this - and outside of China for many more years yet - the materials used for writing had typically been skins, or from plants or bark pressed and dried or, as in China, bone or bamboo.  Although commonly treated to provide a better surface or as a preservative, the base product involved had not undergone any shift in structure – so, effectively a plant leaf was still a plant leaf.  Two of the most common forms were papyrus, as in Egypt, or amate, as in pre-Columbian central America. So, though paper derives its name from the Greek word papyrus, that is because there is a connection with use, not the product.

    T’sai Lun settled on a mix of mulberry leaves, other bast fibres, fish nets, old rags and hemp waste. These were mashed up by hand and then left to ferment, the extent of this being one of the great skills, before being poured, with water, into a sieve which retained the fibres. This was the other great skill – moving the sieve around to get the fibres to form strong patterns and the new molecular linkages whilst the ‘paper’ was still wet. A small amount of paper is still made exactly that same way today. Originally, the Chinese used paper as a wrapping material for delicate objects and medicines and it would be another hundred years before it became used for writing. It went on to be used by them as toilet paper, ‘a curious Chinese tradition’ one Arab traveller remarked, as paper cups and napkins, envelopes and by the 14th century the world’s first paper money. Paper became so highly prized that it was often used, or demanded, as tribute to the emperor.

    Paper comes to Europe

    As Chinese influence spread west, so Chinese papermaking spread and eventually, when the Chinese suffered a stinging defeat at the battle of Talus in 751, captured Chinese craftsmen took advantage of an old Arab tradition, buying their freedom by passing on the skills to their captors. From then it spread across the Arab lands, and via Morocco, first arrived in Europe in the 11th century. When the Crusaders captured Toledo in 1085, they also took possession of what is often described as the first paper mill, though it was almost certainly still a manufactory, with no continuous water process as in a mill.  For many years, paper making, in what is modern day Spain, remained a monopoly of Muslims, though this was broken when the then king of Aragon established the first water mill, at Xativa in 1282, where water was used to power the pounding of the fibres, though even then Muslims retained the monopoly to make hand-made paper for a while longer.

    map of fabriano
    Historical map of Fabriano, Italy

    "In 1268 the skills of papermaking became truly refined"

    Meantime, papermaking had spread across Europe, to Sicily in 1102 and then north to Fabriano, near Bologna, in 1268, and it is here where the skills of papermaking, introduced by Arab prisoners-of-war, became truly refined, with improved maceration, sizing with animal glue, to give a decent writing surface, and the invention of watermarks. It is probable that the idea for sizing came from the tanneries, for which the town was then famous. Despite the growing spread of paper mills across Italy and northwards, particularly to France, the artisans of Fabriano remained famous for their skills and the quality of their product for many years.

    At first, paper was still seen as a poor substitute for parchment, made from animal skins and the commonest form of writing material in Europe at the time, but with improving technique and quality and with costs falling dramatically, to about one-sixth the cost of parchment for quality products, paper became used virtually exclusively for writing and, together with the development of the quill pen and suitable inks, spurred the developments of the early retail stationery industry, a subject dealt with in an earlier blog.

    Paper becomes widely available

    It was not until 1490 that the first paper mill was founded in England, by John Tate at Stevenage but by then paper had begun to transform society in ways that would have seemed unimaginable to T’sai Lun at the Chinese emperor’s court. Without it Gutenberg’s press, invented in about 1440, would only have been just a dream. From this came the ability to make the written word available to anyone with basic education, a greater questioning of the truths, and in time the Enlightenment. With paper freely available, at least to those with some means, it also became possible to put thoughts into writing in ever increasing quantities, whether as tracts to spread ideas or as letters to pass on news of events and convey thoughts and feelings. Without paper, there is no widespread availability of the Bible, crucially in the vernacular and not just Latin, no Chaucer, no Shakespeare; paper is king!

    gutenberg press
    Gutenberg Press

    But the sheet mould way of making paper, despite the refinements in quality and reduction in costs from the 13th century onwards, remained little changed between its invention in China and the late-18th century.  Mechanisation, as we saw in Spain in 1282 and subsequently in Italy, was confined to the processes of maceration, trip hammers to pound the fibres being driven by water being the most notable change, but the actual process of making the paper was still by hand. Once the fibres of the basic materials, such as rags, had been pounded they were allowed to ferment, how far being a matter of skill, then boiled, washed to remove impurities and then beaten to a pulp, dye added if required and, finally, transferred to a vat.  This pulp mixture, usually with between 5% and 10% solids, is then turned into paper through the sheet mould process.

    "Making paper remained little changed between its invention in China and the late-18th century"

    In this process, a mould consisting of a flat frame holding a screen, made with a sieve-like material, such as an open weave cloth, with a further frame, called a deckle and just like a picture frame, and sitting atop the main frame, is dipped into the vat of wet pulp. The frame is then carefully withdrawn from the mixture and, whilst the deckle contains the water run-off and the water drains through the screen, the frame is carefully tilted to-and-fro to distribute the, by now reconstituted, fibres evenly, creating a layer of entwined fibres held together by natural bonding properties, the maceration process having created those vital new molecular linkages. Once the main body of water has drained away, the still wet material left on the sieve is carefully dried with a sponge, the deckle is removed and then the, by now, paper is transferred to a suitable surface to complete the drying process, often just by exposure to open air.

    By the late-18th century, industrialisation was already transforming the world, first with water and then steam power, and in France, despite the turmoil of the Revolution and its aftermath, there were some who were turning their minds to radically developing the centuries old paper making process - but that is a story for our next blog.

    * The picture of the wasps’ nest is of the exhibit at the Frogmore Paper Mill Museum, in Apsley, Hertfordshire. This museum is not only a treasure trove of exhibits and information on papermaking but has a working papermaking set-up. Be sure to take the guided tour.

    By the way, the paper featured at the top of the blog piece was handmade by Kathy at the Frogmore Musuem using traditional paper-making techniques.

  • J Herbin Metallic Inks

    Herbin Metallic Inks

    Something shiny arrived in the post and the whole office could not help but gather around like a flock of mesmerised birds. It's the J Herbin Metallic inks... Brace yourselves!

    Herbin Metallic ink - Copper animated

    I was thinking about how to talk about these inks but figured that the best way to show them off was with a photo heavy review :)

    I'm sure that many of you have fallen in love with J Herbin 1670 and Diamine Shimmering inks. While their gold and silver particles look amazing, they do not show too well on black paper. Our saviour, the J Herbin Metallic inks, fill this gap – they are pigment based calligraphy inks and work on both light and dark paper. However, I cannot stress enough that it is only suitable for dip and glass pens. Sorry, no fountain pens are allowed here!

    You can get the inks individually as 30ml bottles or an assorted set of five smaller 10ml bottles. They are very easy to use – you do not need to dilute them or add Arabic gum. That said – they do need shaking... A lot of shaking :)

    Let's have a look at what you get in the set.

    First, there's the white. There are no white inks for fountain pens, so it's great that J Herbin added this here even tho it's not really metallic. White calligraphy ink will look ace on silver/gold/black or kraft paper. My only moan is, that is is not as opaque as the rest of metallic inks.

    Iron ink is a little strange - it looks like a rusty water pipe :) There is a nice mossy green sheen which sits on the top and shows well on bright white paper. A surprising win in my books.

    Silver and gold inks are great - they are exactly what you want them to be. Perfect for addressing envelopes.  #incowrimo They will take your calligraphy to another level.

    Last, but not least, copper is my favourite of the bunch :) I prefer to call it rose gold :) As I dipped glass pen and pulled it back out - everyone gazed with awe and let a little 'oooh' out. Wow factor guaranteed.

    These new arrivals have brought a lot of attention around the office and have awoken the creative element in us all (no pun intended). You don't need to be a first class calligrapher to have fun with these, just dip and go! J Herbin Metallic inks are unique and original. I'm finally glad I get to use my glass pen for something else other than sampling ink :)

    Products featured in this post:

    We also reviewed J Herbin Fluorescent inks. Check out the awesome photos here.

  • Tips: 3 Reasons To Switch To Dot Paper

    Have you ever wondered what the fuss about dot paper is about? As a dot paper convert of many years I thought I would share my feelings on dot paper and give my top 3 reasons to switch to dot paper. You should at least give this new-fangled paper style a go. You never know, it may even win you over and leave you wondering how you ever coped with lined or grid paper.

    What is dot paper anyway?

    First up, a quick explanation for anyone wondering what dot paper even is. If you imagine a sheet of paper with horizontal and vertical lines, and at the point each line crosses another you place a fine mark, or dot. Remove all the lines once you’re done and what you’re left with is a series of regular dots. In almost all cases this will be a dot every 5mm, forming a grid.

    Dot paper

    Top dot reason number 1 – It’s the best of all worlds

    Have you ever wanted your cake and eaten it? Faced with a choice do you ever long to take both? Or all three? Dot paper is just that – it’s three papers rolled up in one.

    I’ll assume that everyone know what lined or ruled paper is, and those regular horizontal lines are. Ideal for regular and repetitive writing, but just a bit annoying when you want to draw, or make a table, or stick something in your book.

    dot paper is the best all all worlds

    Grid paper is a bit more unusual but involves regular horizontal and vertical lines. I like grid paper but it makes for a lot of ink on the paper before you even started writing. The final result can be quite heavy and just too busy for my liking.

    Plain paper is ideal for drawing or sketching, but with handwriting like mine you don’t want to be let loose on plain paper! My writing needs some guidance to keep it neat and tidy.

    So faced with the need for a notebook that lets me write, create structures and draw I use dot paper. It really is the best of all three combined. The dots give enough of a framework to write neatly. They also allow me to make easy tables, and yet if I want to sketch something out they seem to fade into the background.

    Top dot reason number 2 – It’s innovative

    Maybe I shouldn’t be swayed by fanciful things like fashion and design, but there is a part of my mind that does like to seek out something new, something different. Not accepting the status-quo led us to paper and pens and notebooks in the first place, so dot paper is just one little step further in the advancement, and it’s a good one. So switch to dot because...well, just because it is there and (sort of) new and will make you feel like progress is happening. There is a reason why you will find all the top manufacturers including dot paper in their line up.

    dot paper innovative stationery

    Top dot reason number 3 – It’s Bullet Journal friendly

    Without getting bogged down in what Bullet Journaling is (see the official website here), I am keen on adapting elements of keeping a Bullet Journal to suit your own needs and style. You can read my explanation on this here on a previous post. The point being that dot paper is ideal because it lends itself so well to keeping a Bullet Journal. From using the dots to create boxes for to-do lists, through to adding tables and charts and logs, the flexible nature of dot paper is perfect. That’s why the official Bullet Journal uses dot paper.

    dot paper for bullet journaling


    dot paper flowchart

    Ultimately it comes down to finding the right paper for what you need and what you like, but I switched over some years back and have never gone back. From Rhodia to Leuchtturm I have been through many dot paper journals and look forward to many more yet. Try one if you haven’t and see for yourself.

  • Q&A: Paper Rulings Explained

    paper rulings explained

    What are the main types of paper?

    You could spend all day covering every last detail of the different paper rulings that are available, but we have narrowed the choice down to five main paper styles. These are lined, plain, grid, dot and seyes. Many people will be familiar with the first two but maybe less so as the list goes on. The aim of this article is to summarise the main differences between the paper styles and hopefully better inform your choice.

    paper rulings
    The Big 5: Commonly found paper rulings

    1 - Lined

    Lined paper, also known as ruled, is the most common and also the most popular of all the choices of paper rulings. Lined paper is composed of regular horizontal rulings across the page.

    What options are available? The most common choices you will find are the size of rulings  - that is the gap between the lines. Typically you will find this varies from 5mm - 8mm with 6mm being a fairly standard notebook ruling. It might seem a minor detail but the size will determine how much space you have to write in. Bigger handwriting needs bigger rulings.

    You will also find that some lined paper has a margin - typically this will run vertically down the left-hand side of the page. This is useful if you annotate notes.

    Advantages? Lined paper is the most popular of all paper styles and this is because it lends itself so well to writing neatly across the pages in lines.

    Disadvantages? The page rulings are great for writing but can be an obstacle if you want to mix sketching and drawing in with your notes.

    ruled paper
    Ruled Paper (6mm)

    2 - Plain

    Plain paper is fairly self-explanatory - it is a blank page with no rulings at all. Often associated with drawing or sketching, plain notebooks are also suitable as an everyday notebook to write in. But beware as the lack of any rulings will make it harder to be consistently neat.

    What options are available? There are not really any options with plain paper since by its very nature it is the most pared-back of all the paper styles.

    Advantages? Plain paper is the most open of all paper styles and so it suits someone who is happy writing without any page structure at all. There is plenty of scope for drawing alongside your writing.

    Disadvantages? The very same open style! Having no rulings or markings of any kind may not suit everybody as most people's writing will drift messily across the page.

    plain paper
    Plain paper

    3 - Grid

    After lined and plain paper, you are moving into the world of more niche paper rulings. Grid, or graph, paper is still seen as a bit of an unusual style but it has been around for many years. It is also seen as a bit 'continental' since it is more popular in French and other European notebooks.

    Quite simply, grid paper is made up of a series of regular horizontal and vertical lines, which intersect to create small squares.

    What options are available? As with lined paper, the crucial difference is the size of the grid. Unlike with lined paper, there isn't much choice here. You will find that almost all grid notebooks stick to a 5x5mm grid. Occasionally you may also find that grid paper has the option of a page-margin.

    Advantages? Grid paper is the most structured of all paper styles and gives a fantastic framwork for writing and drawing, if that suits your way of working.

    Disadvantages? The disadvantage of grid paper is that with so many lines, the page can become quite busy before you even start writing.

    grid paper
    Grid paper (5x5mm)

    4 - Dot

    Now this is where paper rulings become very modern. Dot paper, also known as dot-grid, is something of a more recent arrival to these shores and often confuses people. It is actually very straightforward and is proving extremely popular as it is a great all-rounder.

    The dots come from the fact that at the intersection of where horizontal and vertical lines would be there is a small dot. There are no lines, just the dots at regular intervals. What it means is that dot paper has a grid-like structure but without the lines.

    What options are available? There is little in the way of choice here - typically you will find that dot paper works off a 5x5mm grid, with the dots spaced 5mm apart horizontally and vertically.

    Advantages? Dot paper has the advantage that the dots form a structure to write with but are feint enough. This means you can sketch and draw without the page structure getting in the way. Many people find that dot paper combines the best of lined, grid and plain paper.

    Disadvantages? The disadvantage of dot paper is that it is neither one thing nor another - not structured enough to be lined or grid and yet too 'dotty' to be useful as plain paper.

    Dot paper
    Dot paper

    5 - Seyes

    Seyes paper (pronounced say-yez) is a uniquely French thing. In fact it is so specific that most people need not even consider it as an option but it is widely available on our website so we will cover it here.

    Seyes has a very particular page layout of horizontal and vertical rulings, but in a seemingly irregular pattern. In fact it is a repeating series of narrow and wide rulings. The purpose of the paper is to help children learn to write. It is something that French children are very familiar with, hence the wide choice of Clairefontaine and Rhodia notebook with seyes paper.

    What options are available? Because the paper is intended to be used for children of all ages, the rulings start very wide and progress to quite fine. There is a method to how the paper is used, and we will explain this in another post. However in summary it is about using the lines to form the different elements of letters.

    Advantages? Er...not many. Seyes paper is something you specifically want and are looking for, in which the advantage is that it will be a unique layout designed for that purpose.

    Disadvantages? The disadvantage is that if you are not familiar with seyes paper then it won't be of much use since it is intended to serve a specific role in writing evenly.

    seyes paper
    Seyes paper (3mm Stage VI)

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