Tale of a Vandal Notebook User: Going Indie, Part 2

Going Indie, Part 1 was oh so long ago, wasn’t it? A year ago, in fact.

For many years, the 3-ring binder has been one of my favorite organizing systems. Even my every day laser printer paper comes 3-hole punched. Binders hold current drafts of writing projects, and are great for archiving finished or shelved projects. I don’t print out every draft. That would be wasteful, ay? Yet there are times it’s simply easier to read from and edit a printed copy. Plus sometimes you have to have that tactile flipping through paper experience. At least I do.

Staples Arc / Levenger Circa Notebooks

Over the years, I’ve been confused by the seemingly cultish talk of the latest Levenger Circa discs, papers and planners. When I finally figured out that Circa was a customizable notebook system, I thought it was “more stuff,” and not my cup of tea.

Timing, of course, is everything. Enter @trhall again with an overwhelming generous gift he sent me in February 2012: a bounty of Staples Arc and Levenger Circa supplies—paper, covers, dividers, punches, everything needed to make an informed decision about these products. And me at the time, of course, exploring making my own notebooks. Oh dear. More stuff?

If you’re confused like I was, you’re asking, “What’s the big deal? How do these crazy things work?” It’s all about flexibility of paper, size of papers, and these little discs. You can buy a variety pre-printed, pre-punched Levenger Circa or Staples Arc papers. There are plastic covers, leather covers, and leather-like covers. And discs: Staples Arc discs are available (as of this blog post, anyway) in 1″ and 1 1/2″  sizes. Levenger offers more choice with Circa sizes 1/4″ up to 3″ discs available. Together, these items create binders of various sizes. Make sense?

The size of the discs dictate how many sheets of paper can be in your binder. Levenger specifies the number of sheets per disc as follows:

  • 1/4″ holds up to 50 sheets
  • 1/2″ up to 80 sheets
  • 3/4″ up to 120 sheets
  • 1″ up to 150 sheets
  • 2″ up to 350 sheets
  • 2 1/2″ up to 400 sheets
  • 3″ up to 450 sheets

The difference between the two systems may come down to aesthetics. Levenger has more options in types of discs and pre-punched paper than Staples does. Levenger offers Circa pages by Rhodia, which for some fountain pen aficionados hands down is the end all be all of paper. I concur it’s great stuff! (Even if I don’t use it.)

The power, however, of either of these systems is in the ability to use our own paper templates, and punch our own paper. For those of us so inclined, ay?

That power and flexibility requires you obtain one of the punches by the company of your choice. Yeah, it really doesn’t matter, IMHO, which you choose.  The systems are so similar, I’m using Circa discs with Arc covers. Yes, the papers, covers, discs, pieces and parts are pretty much interchangeable between brands!

The Punch

The Staples Arc punch creates a slightly smaller punch in the paper than the Levenger punch.  I really liked the ergonomic handle of the Arc punch for punching paper. It’s very easy to use. (As you age, you consider these things, ay?)

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Even so, I choose the Levenger Circa punch. The reason? The Arc punch had only two paper settings:  regular letter size and Arc junior size.

The Levenger punch has five paper punching settings:  letter, junior, compact, 3 x 5, and micro PDA sizes. The punch sizes I use the most? Junior, compact, and 3 x 5 for index cards.

There is more than one style of Levenger punch. There is a portable punch designed for you to carry with you, and a very large punch with a top handle similar to the Arc punch. The one I have is an in-between size, and is named the Circa Desk Punch.

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Notebook Sizes—Goldilocks’s “Just Right” Theory

As indicated by the various punch sizes, letter through micro pda, the Circa and Arc systems do not limit you to one size of notebook. For instance, my three-ring binder letter size paper pretty much limits me to a standard size binder of varying widths. (My favorite width for a three-ring binder is 1/2″ although I use 1″, 2″ and 3″ binders too.)

I have one letter size Arc binder. Frankly, this is not my favorite size at all, and I’m unlikely to invest in another one. The three-ring binder still rules for my letter size paper purposes. It’s just simpler and sturdier. ‘Suppose I could make a stiff cover…yet I remain unmotivated.

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I’ve tried using the micro pda size, but find it cumbersome with even the smallest disc. For “pocket” notebooks… well, I confess my favorite methodology is to shove an index card into my back jeans pocket. (BTW: Exacompta index cards hold up quite well in the back pocket!)

Circa Micro PDA

Circa Micro PDA

I’m currently experimenting with a compact index card notebook—I took compact Arc covers, and punched my index cards for it. I’m not sure this will become a permanent usage style for moi. I love using index cards yet am not so keen on keeping them as an archive of notes. Although, I greatly admire this 30-year plus archive of Joan River’s jokes:

Alas, my card catalog is digital: any card with notes worth keeping get scanned, and then filed in an Evernote notebook. (OMG, you haven’t heard of Evernote? Check it out here.) Any index card that needs to be kept in analog form, can easily be punched, and inserted into my Junior Arc notebook. These are reasons why we experiment, right? To find out what works for our individual idiosyncrasies!

Regarding the photo below, the Arc compact notebook does not come with index cards. I swapped out squarish paper for my cards.

Staples Compact covers housing some index cards.

Staples compact covers housing some index cards.

While I don’t use it very much, I do keep one Circa style compact notebook. It fits easily into a jacket pocket. The Circa compact is rectangle shaped, not square shaped like the Arc compact.

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The notebook I use every day? The junior size! It’s “just right” for moi. The junior Circa/Arc size notebook has totally changed my notebook life. Much like a three-ring binder, I can carry multiple projects in one notebook. I can remove pages I no longer need, recycle them, file them, or (more likely than not) scan them into Evernote. New pages can be easily inserted into the notebook when needed.

I keep two Junior size notebooks. The one I carry around is divided into sections by tabs, each section representing a story in-progress, and lists of things to be done in Life and around the house. When I travel, I add a travel tab, and house various papers needed while traveling. I keep both handwritten and printed notes in the notebook. I use this Junior notebook everyday.

The second Junior notebook contains writing samples in various inks by various fountain pens (mine and those that come to visit from friends). I like this type of “ink journal” much better than a standard bound journal because I can take any scrap of paper, punch it, and insert said scrap into the notebook.

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Arc and Circa Papers

In my opinion, the power of the Arc and Circa notebooks is in the ability to use your own paper. Sometime ago, I switched from a Staples #28 Laser Printer paper to the HP 32# Premium Laser Printer paper. The latter paper is just that more superior to the #28 paper.[Both of these papers have the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) logo.] Often I can buy the HP paper on sale, and the paper has not failed to be fountain pen and ink friendly in my hands. I cut 8.5″ x 11″ paper in half to 5.5″ x 8.5″ for the Junior notebooks.  For the compact Circa notebook, the paper is cut to 3.75″ x 5.5″ 3.5″ x 6.5″.

Thanks to @trhall I’ve had the opportunity to try a lot of the different papers available for the Arc and Circa systems. The papers held up decently to my fountain pens, and inks. How these papers work for you will depend a lot the ink you use, and how bold or fine the nib of your pen. I’ve included samples of both sides of the papers so that you can see which papers have show through, or bleed through of ink from the other side of the page. The scanner emphasizes the show through of ink. In reality, the show through is not so great! Expect at least a wee bit of bleed-through of the ink to the backside of any of these papers if you use wetter, bolder nibs than I happen to use.

First up—Staples Arc Paper (Junior Size):

Standard Staples Arc paper

Standard Staples Arc paper

Standard Staples Arc paper shows some writing from the other side. But, hey, it's pretty good!

Standard Staples Arc paper shows some writing from the other side. But, hey, there’s no bleed-through using a sampling of Japanese Fine nibs. Even the wet Nakaya medium nib holds up well. The paper’s pretty good with these particular nibs!

Staples Arc Junior Paper with more ink colors:

Western style fine nibs

Western style fine nibs, and 2 Japanese: a Sailor F and a Platinum Music nib.

Oh dear, lots of bleed through!

Some bleed through with the wet (western) Danitrio EF, and a wee bit with the (Japanese) Platinum #3776 Music nibs.

Levenger Circa Junior Paper:

Levenger Circa "regular" or standard paper.

Levenger Circa “regular” or standard paper.

Backside of the regular Levenger paper.

Backside of the regular Levenger paper. The scanner emphasizes the show through which in reality is not very significant.

Levenger Rhodia Junior Paper:

Levenger Circa Paper made by Rhodia

Levenger Circa Paper made by Rhodia

Backside Circa Rhodia Paper

Backside Circa Rhodia Paper – there is show through but in fairness the scanner emphasizes that. The show through is not so in your face when using the paper in the notebook. No bleed through.

HP 32# Cut to Junior Size:

HP 32# Premium Laser Printer (uncoated) paper, cut to Junior Size. Punched with Levenger punch.

HP 32# Premium Laser Printer (uncoated) paper, cut to Junior Size. Punched with Levenger punch.

Backside of HP 32# paper.

Backside of HP 32# paper. A wee bit of show through. No bleed through with fine and medium nibs. I’ve seen bleed through with very wet, bold nibs on this paper. The lines from my aging laser printer are not as sharp/crisp as the Rhodia paper’s lines.

Close-up of Arc and Circa Punch Holes:

Punch holes compared: Arc on left, Circa on right. Note the Circa is a bit bigger/rounder than the Arc  punch.

Punch holes compared: Arc on left, Circa on right. Note the Circa punched hole is a bit bigger/rounder than the Arc punched hole. I like the larger punched hole as it provides an easy turning of the page.


There seems to be an endless supply of accessories you can use with the Arc or Circa systems: rulers, annotation tabs, page finders, la-la-la-la-la! The only ones I use: the tab dividers, a pocket divider for each notebook, and a zippered pouch.

Essential accessories: pocket divider, tab dividers, and a zippered pouch. All of these happen to be made by Staples Arc.

Essential accessories: pocket divider, tab dividers, and a zippered pouch. All of these happen to be made by Staples Arc.

I also made a DIY thingie to keep a packed notebook closed tightly. The thingie also serves as an ink blotter when necessary. I glued two pieces of thick blotter paper (bought from Pendemonium) together. A piece of elastic ribbon was glued in between the papers. The result works great:

blotter blotter2

Flexibility Rules!

It is difficult to know, if I hadn’t been given these notebooks to try, if I would have made my way to try them. I didn’t know I needed them until I tried them… A mentor of mine used to opine:  We are often limited by our own thinking and imaginations.

For me “going indie” with paper means not being locked into a given notebook brand. Having the punch is essential to using my own blank pages, and printing my own notebook paper. The cost to me is far less than buying the pre-printed Arc or Circa papers. My own needs are simple. I know people like these systems for a variety of reasons, and there are all kinds of pre-printed papers from both Levenger and Staples for those who prefer that route.

If you are prone to such behavior, you may argue that the punch, discs and covers lock me into a brand, or in this case two brands since I am combining Levenger punch, and the Staples cover and discs into one notebook. Well, none of those reusable items are decomposing any time soon! Even if Staples were to discontinue the system tomorrow, I’ve already got my own paper punch, plenty of discs and dividers, and the confidence that I could make a new cover if needed. All set to continue on alone, ay? I believe the Arc and Circa systems fit my indie paper/notebook lifestyle like a glove.

I’ve been using these notebooks over a year and don’t intend to stop. Thank you, Thomas!

Bits of Reading Pleasure

Updates to this Post

And a Bit of Marketing Trivia

The Staples Arc system official name:  M by Staples™ Arc System. Staples’s M line is the company’s designer line. The “M” refers to a Staples slogan, My Style, My Way. 

BTW: Neither @trhall nor I receive any compensation from Staples or Levenger. We’re just fountain pen dweebs friends.

7 thoughts on “Tale of a Vandal Notebook User: Going Indie, Part 2

  1. I definitely learned some things in reading this post, and I’ve been using Circa/Arc for a while! I really do like the blotter/elastic ribbon closure thingie. Great idea. I also like the Junior size most, though I also use the Compact and PDA formats. I like the Circa punch better as well, due to the larger smurf/mushroom cap size of the holes.


    • Thanks for taking the time to comment, Thomas. And especially for the heads up re. the Steno DIY stuff. When I can carve out the time, will give one of those a go. Continue on, converting people to fountain pens and custom notebooks one at a time, wherever you go!


  2. Thanks for this very informative blog post! I run an Arc blog – arcit.blogspot.co.uk – I love hearing how different disc bound systems can integrate and be used together! Sadly, we in the UK only really have two disc bound systems available – Arc and Adoc, but fingers crossed if they become more popular we should start to see some new brands emerging.


    • Thanks for taking the time to comment, Amanda! Your blog is a great resource, and am glad to discover it. (Tried leaving a comment there, but perhaps my occasional ineptitude got in the way of the confirmation.)

      Amanda’s blog: Arc It!


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