A technophile lawyer rediscovers the joys of pen and paper

Thursday, October 21, 2010

My struggle with Circa, part 2: What's up with this paper?

Judo European Championship 2010
If you've been reading my blog a while, then you may remember that I posted a very short version of my frustrations with Levenger's Circa notebooks. That post triggered some comments from those who love their Circa, and from others who likewise found them frustrating. I promised to keep trying it out. I am discovering some good, some bad along the way.

In any event, I thought those of you that commented might be curious to see how the experiment is going.

As the title gives away, this post is about the Levenger pre-punched Circa paper. Now, I don't see any explicit claims on the Levenger website that the Circa paper is fountain-pen friendly, but: (1) I have seen reviewers make that claim; (2) Levenger has at least one picture of a fountain pen on a Circa product page; and (3) the pre-punched Circa paper is insanely expensive. With all that, you'd expect it to take fountain open ink well, but I'm here to tell you: if you want to use a fountain pen regularly in a Circa notebook, you should count on buying a Circa punch so you can buy some decent paper for doing so, because the Circa paper I checked out stinks.

I started with a letter-size and junior size Circa starter kits. The paper felt nice and smooth, and its darned heavy (60 lb.) paper. But after trying a variety of pens on it, I was asking myself how they managed to engineer such a thick, smooth piece of paper into a bloody mess. That ink has to travel a long way to bleed through, but this paper apparently makes the trip easy. I tried Rolla brand paper from Staples, too, and it was just as bad.

Circa paper bleed-through
Levenger Circa paper bleed-through

Rolla Paper bleed-through
Rolla brand paper bleed-through
 Curiously (or maybe not so curiously?), the colored Circa papers — grey, yellow and blue — performed much better:

Circa paper colors - bleed-through test
Colored papers did better; Rolla brand paper at top right
Honestly, my office's everyday copy paper performs better.

So there I was, about to write off Circa forever just because the Circa paper did not take fountain pen ink well. The I started reading around Fountain Pen Network and DIY Planner and saw that lots of people are in search of better paper and plenty of people are willing to offer their advice.

Then I realized: I'm not going to be writing with fountain pens in any event. I mean, I love fountain pens, but for my everyday work notebook, keeping track of projects and my calendar, a nice gel pen is fine. But I did not like the layout of the CIrca paper, either. So I settled on some 32 lb Wausau paper, very slick to the touch. My Zebra Sarasa Clip gel pens slide across it like skates on ice. (It doesn't take fountain pen ink all that much better than the Circa paper, but at least I can print my own layouts on it.) So, I''ve kept going with Circa, and will post more about my ups and downs as I go.

And wouldn't you know, just as I get around to bitching about the Circa paper, Biffybeans announces at FPN that Levenger will be carrying Rhodia 90 gsm paper for their letter-sized Circa notebooks. Genuine letter-sized rather than A4? That would be great, except I use a junior size Circa (5.5 in x 8.5 in). But let's give it time and see what develops. (UPDATE: And here it is. But is 90 gsm heavy enough to stand up to repeated page turning and extraction/insertion?)



  1. I do use a fountain pen, so I have the punch and make my own pages. I love the versatility of this book and use it for my pens and inks, letters and postcards. Hate Levenger's paper though and even if they do carry the Rhodia paper for the Circa I probably can't afford it. I have the Junior size so I just cut my Neenah Classic Crest pages in half. Perfect fit.

  2. I was wondering what happened to the rest of your Circa lament! Agreed with Julie, I love using a punch and keeping all my papers together instead of binder-clipping and then leaving them in my office when I have to take a call somewhere else/go to a meeting/etc. Rhodia paper! What will I do with the rest of my Levenger paper?

  3. I, too, have a circa punch and make my own pages. Great paper for fountain pens is HP Premium Choice Laser paper (32 lbs).

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  5. I have been using Circa for about 8 years. I use a fountain everyday. I have tried lots of different paper and notebook size combinations. I own my own circa punch and I have settled on premium heavy weight inkjet paper. I find that it accepts the fountain pen ink the best.

  6. I love Circa, but hate, hate, hate, hate the paper. I created my own custom templates, then bought good paper and a Circa punch. Couldn't be happier.

  7. The only to really use the Circa is to consider it a binding system and nothing more.

    I have the punch, the cover and the rings, but everything else in my circa is custom made from other products that work better for me. I have custom punched the tabs, all of my fill sheets and put it into a leather folio that works better for me.