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New Staples Arc Vs Levenger Circa


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#1 kiavonne

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 00:01

Warning! Image heavy! Please remove the pictures from quotes in any replies. Thanks!


There has been some interest and discussion going on in the Paper & Pen Paraphernalia forum here, Staples Re-launches a Circa-like system. I have been using Levenger's Circa system for a while now, and decided to see what the Staples' Arc was like in comparison - especially since there seemed to be a vast difference in price.

I headed out to Staples, and as noted by fellow FPN folk ClassicHippie and StyloBug33, I had to search the top shelf for the new Arc notebooks. The notebooks have not yet been put on display, and I had to find someone to get the few they had down for me. The cashier even had to remove the shrink wrapping to find a scan code. Staples only had a couple of the Jr. size and Letter size. I picked up a leather Jr. and a plastic cover Jr. for my comparisons. Interesting enough, they had one Letter sized Rolla notebook on the shelf on display with a leather (or was it imitation?) cover for $12. That was not a sale price. I did not pick it up, though, as I have more than enough letter size notebooks.

Following are my findings and observations on my comparison of the Arc and Circa Jr. sized notebooks:


So, first let's get to the paper. This is, after all, the main reason we have notebooks. The paper has to work or we cannot, no matter what we house it in.

Most everone is familiar with Levenger's papers. It's ok. It's not the greatest, not the worst. It is of around 60gsm, if I remember correctly. It's fairly smooth, but it does have some feathering and bleed issues depending upon the pen used. I've purchased my fair share of it in the past, and even the present if it is on super sale.

Staples' Arc paper is much the same as the Levenger paper. About the same weight. It is much smoother, though. It has more calendaring. Now, it is also ok to write on, but I found myself wanting to take my pen and rinse and wipe the nib because it just felt like it was picking up the paper coating on the tip. Maybe my imagination, but I really did not like writing on this paper. It doesn't feather as much, but it still has about the same amount of bleed as the Levenger paper. I won't be writing on both sides of either of these papers.

In all, I find that I much prefer the HP 24# inkjet printer paper I bought to be more to my liking. I also like basic graph paper I can pick up anywhere more than these two papers. I'm not sure why, but graph paper has always seemed to be better with my fountain pens, regardless of the brand, even with feathering and bleeding. Meh.

These pictures show the Arc and Levenger papers to show bleed through. It's a bit difficult to see, the sun was a bit bright, but they do both bleed through enough that I will only use one side of the paper for writing.

Staples' Arc
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Levenger's Circa
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Now, the sizes of these two papers is where things begin to get interesting. The Arc paper is 5.5 x 8.5 inches. This is exactly half a sheet of the US standard 8.5- x 11-inch paper. The Circa paper is closer to the international A5 size. This would confirm to me that Staples isn't really planning on selling the Arc system outside of the US. Shipping would probably be a bear. These next pictures show the Arc and Circa papers side by side, and a sheet of the Arc overlaying a sheet of the Circa.


Posted Image Posted Image



So, that takes care of the paper. Let's move on to the covers. I am only comparing the leather covers here, as I couldn't put my hands immediately on the Circa plastic covers, though I do have them.

Side by side, the Arc (black) and the Circa (tan) appear very similar. There are some noteable differences, though. The Arc is approximately a quarter of an inch taller and half an inch wider - closed - than the Circa. The leather appears to be good quality on both, though the Arc leather has a small pebble grain where the Circa is a soft, smooth leather. The stitching is very tight on both, but the Circa stitching is a little more consistant and even. The corners of the Circa are tighter than the Arc, but both are well done overall. One huge difference, though, is the weight. The leather covers of the Arc are considerably heavier than those of the Circa. The plastic supporting the covers for the discs is identical, so I'm assuming there is quite a difference in the supporting board under the leather. The Circa feels more padded, maybe what some might call more "luxurious," but the cover can actually be bent easily, whereas the Arc cover would take some deliberate effort to warp the cover. The leather Arc is not a lightweight notebook.

Posted Image


Opening the notebooks reveals some more aesthetic differences. The leather lining of both the Arc and Circa seem comparable, though the Circa may be just a little smoother. Not enough difference to really count, as far as I'm concerned.

The pockets of the Arc are on the front cover. It is a folio pocket that has slots for three business or credit cards. One can easily insert a folded sheet of standard size 8-1/2 x 11 paper behind the folio pocket. I don't like putting credit cards in my notebooks and I don't carry business cards, so the card slots are of no use to me.

Posted Image



Flipping to open the back covers, again the linings are pretty close in comparison, but this is where the Circa keeps its pockets. The Circa pockets are side stitched to the cover, with two card pockets stitched on top of a full length side pocket. Again, I don't use the card pockets. The full pocket, though, is also not of much use to me on the Circa. It is a very tight fit for any paper being slid into it, and of course, the size difference means it will not hold a single fold piece of 8-1/2 x 11 paper. The pockets are of little use for either cover, in my opinion. If I wanted to utilize pockets more with these systems, I'd look for other covers, the organizer style covers. These covers are for notetaking and immediate convenience, in my opinion, with the transfer of pages to more permanent storage later.

Posted Image



Oh, yeah. Both notebooks have their pen loops on the inside back cover. The Arc pen loop is shorter and not as wide as the Circa pen loop. Adding a couple of my Pilot vanishing points for comparison, the fit of the Arc loop is rather snug. The Circa loop has a little bit of play, yet, and seems would be more able to accomodate a slightly thicker pen. The Circa loop is all around better. However, once again I do not use pen loops as a rule, but it is nice to have one in a pinch. The Arc loop is certainly sufficient for my occasional pen loop needs.

Posted Image



Ok, down to the discs, now. These systems are fully compatible with one another. Both sets of discs are 3/4 of an inch in diameter. The discs of the Arc are every so slightly wider - but not thicker, if that makes sense - at the "mushroom," but for whatever reason, my Circa pages actually turn better with the Arc discs. Regardless, being they both fit the pages well, there is no reason at all to worry about finding another paper punch. The Rollabind and Levenger punches both work just fine. I imagine Staples will want to eventually brand their own punch, but for those of us with punches in hand for the Rollabind or Levenger systems, we won't need to replace them any time soon.

Posted Image


Price. The Arc is definitely the better in price. The Circa Jr leather foldover cover cost me right about $35 on sale as an imperfect item through Levenger's ebay outlet. That's about half price. The Arc cost $10. The Levenger plastic foldover covers are about $12 (sans paper). The Arc, with paper, cost $5. No where here will you find me complaining about the Staples Arc price.

Overall, both systems are very durable and can be interchanged with each other with small, but non-compromising differences (weight would be the biggest). Discs are interchangable. Paper can be switched. For the best overall economic use, Arc is the way to go, at least in the US with its sizing. We can easily substitute our paper of preference as long as we have a punch of some kind. I'm not sure what is in store for the Arc system internationally, but shipping is bound to be a bugger, considering the extra weight of the Arc leather covers. The plastic covers are slightly lighter than the Levenger covers, but have more give as well. Right now, though, I don't think Staples has much to roll out on Arc except for the foldover covers, both leather and plastic, in both the Jr and Letter sizes, with some lined or graphed refills for both. They have some task pads and some note tabs. That is about it that I can see. It may be that Staples is waiting to see how well their Arc system is received before they launch punches and other accessories and products. I think if the word spreads, though, the Arc will give the Circa a definite run for the money. And, I know of at least one other small business planning a disc system of their own which will also be compatible. I expect pricing to be a little different, though. All in all, a little competition is a good thing. I expect I will use bits and pieces of all the disc systems, depending on my needs at the time. Levenger's Circa is the most established and has the most accessories not tied into paper size - for now. Paper will come from various sources, as will discs. Covers are going to be my whims, but Arc's foldover covers are currently in favour in these economic times.

Edited by kiavonne, 03 January 2011 - 01:55.

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#2 lovemy51

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 00:26

thx for the review! i bought one (8.5X11) and i'm extremely happy with the quality of the paper. much better than the rollabind they were selling!

as far as the pen loop goes, the M staple's brand has an elastic piece sewn to the vinyl strap (on the left inside, one can not see it when the book is closed), so my Laban Kaiser, which is the thickest pen i have, fits in fine!! i don't see that in your Jr size. i'm correct?

edited to add: my danitrio tosca fits in the loop also and that's a thick body pen.

Edited by lovemy51, 03 January 2011 - 00:28.

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#3 kiavonne

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 00:37

thx for the review! i bought one (8.5X11) and i'm extremely happy with the quality of the paper. much better than the rollabind they were selling!

as far as the pen loop goes, the M staple's brand has an elastic piece sewn to the vinyl strap (on the left inside, one can not see it when the book is closed), so my Laban Kaiser, which is the thickest pen i have, fits in fine!! i don't see that in your Jr size. i'm correct?

edited to add: my danitrio tosca fits in the loop also and that's a thick body pen.


The pen loop in the foldover Jr. size Arc (which I believe is also associated with the "M" brand) is a leather loop, so no it will not expand to hold a really thick bodied pen.
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#4 clickiechick

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 05:24

Great review!

I think the newer Levenger leather notebooks have the cover pockets in the front, not the back, FWIW. For some it makes a difference in writing on smooth back surface.

I too hit my local Staples and didn't see these anywhere. I asked a clerk for help and got the deer-in-the-headlights treatment. I'm glad you had the gumption to push the issue. The covers definitely look promising, especially at the prices.
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#5 lovemy51

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 06:32


thx for the review! i bought one (8.5X11) and i'm extremely happy with the quality of the paper. much better than the rollabind they were selling!

as far as the pen loop goes, the M staple's brand has an elastic piece sewn to the vinyl strap (on the left inside, one can not see it when the book is closed), so my Laban Kaiser, which is the thickest pen i have, fits in fine!! i don't see that in your Jr size. i'm correct?

edited to add: my danitrio tosca fits in the loop also and that's a thick body pen.


The pen loop in the foldover Jr. size Arc (which I believe is also associated with the "M" brand) is a leather loop, so no it will not expand to hold a really thick bodied pen.

oh well, it matters not... i will be hunting for the Jr size anyways. i don't use the pen loop any-who!
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#6 TMac

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Posted 05 January 2011 - 01:28

Kiavonne, great review.

This past weekend, I walked into my Staples expecting the previously mentioned issues in finding the ARC notebooks. Much to my pleasant surprise, they had a nice display section featuring all of the ARC product.

My early reaction has been very favorable. So far, I have had no bleed through. I used a combination that was producing show thru on almost all papers. Like Kiavonne, I thought the paper was shiny. I have been worrying about cleaning the nib frequently if I use the paper but think this is more in my head than real.

Finally, the cost is great. I love Levenger but found the ARC products to be good at most prices but phenomenal for the money.

#7 egretsrus

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Posted 08 January 2011 - 01:59

Love My 51....I have a new junior size Arc notebook and there is elastic on the inward side of the pen loop :-)
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#8 kiavonne

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Posted 08 January 2011 - 14:47

Love My 51....I have a new junior size Arc notebook and there is elastic on the inward side of the pen loop :-)



I checked mine again, wondering if I'd missed it twice before. I did. It is well integrated with the leather and does not show at all. I do have my days. I actually would have preferred no elastic, as I found the elastic loops/holders in a leather pen case to be marring to a couple of my pens. I use a soft pen wrap now. Fortunately, I don't like using notebook pen loops, leather or otherwise. I guess I don't trust them to keep my pens safely attached, and so this won't really affect me. I do like this notebook, regardless. I owe and offer apologies for the double miss, though.
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#9 lovemy51

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Posted 09 January 2011 - 05:51

Love My 51....I have a new junior size Arc notebook and there is elastic on the inward side of the pen loop :-)

thx for the info. i found that out the other day when i stopped at staples. i intended to get one, but... i don't have any bread right now!!!
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#10 ttakacs

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Posted 09 January 2011 - 16:15

I bought the letter-sized notebook at my local Staples and wish I had thought to check online for a coupon first (they are 20 percent off when ordered on Staples Web site but not in the store). If you want to test the paper bring your pen because the first page of the notebook is a description of the system and its accessories (in English on the front, French on the back). So I turned over the page and scribbled over the French and was satisfied with what I observed. At least, I didn't feel guilty about marking up the page, even though I did wind up buying.

#11 Madhatter57

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Posted 12 January 2011 - 18:08

In using these systems, do you have any problems with the pages coming loose? Is there a way to stiffen up the ‘mushroom’ holes for frequently used pages?

#12 inkyindi

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Posted 12 January 2011 - 18:12

In using these systems, do you have any problems with the pages coming loose? Is there a way to stiffen up the ‘mushroom’ holes for frequently used pages?


I laminate popular pages then use the levenger punch to re-punch the slots.

#13 mstone

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Posted 12 January 2011 - 18:47

In using these systems, do you have any problems with the pages coming loose? Is there a way to stiffen up the 'mushroom' holes for frequently used pages?


They do sell prepunched "reinforcers".

#14 Madhatter57

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Posted 12 January 2011 - 21:48

Thanks for the info, I’ve only seen them in the Levenger's catalog and was intrigue with the available options. I’ll have to check them out at my local Staples. I’m looking for a relatively narrow book to fit in my bag and this looks like it will work.

Thanks again.



#15 CatBookMom

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 21:35

Oh, what papery goodness! The Staples website says my two nearby stores have the paper, so I'm hoping that means they've got the other parts as well. I really hope Staples comes out with a punch, since it's been the $$$ cost of the Levenger punch that's kept the Circa system out of my life. And a while back I lucked into a sale on some half-size (5.5 x 8.5) sheets of really decent journal paper, at a price they almost paid me to take it, and I've been looking around for a nice little binder just for them.

Thanks, Antique, for the review

#16 JediGamer

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Posted 18 January 2011 - 02:53

One thing to remember is that if you have a nearby Staples, you can ship to the store for free.

That said, the paper is very nice, but I doubt Staples will come out with a punch since they want you to buy their refills.
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#17 ttakacs

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Posted 26 January 2011 - 02:07

Here is my mini-review about the paper:

On the Arc paper I have used Sailor Jentle Blue, CdA Blue Sky, Aurora Blue, and Montblanc Royal Blue with various nibs (from EF to M). Almost no bleedthrough, a bit of showthrough, but not enough for me not to use the reverse side of the paper. With these inks, I observed no feathering, despite the porosity of the paper. That's the good news. The not-so-good news is the paper is so absorbent that a fine nib becomes a medium nib, and a wet-writing medium becomes a double broad (and so I discovered, rendering my wet-writing, medium-nibbed Montblanc Classic useless on this paper). Some pens will be unusable on this paper, but the flip side is that that your scratchy, dry-writing EF nib, employing Aurora Blue, will look and feel like a smooth fine nib on the Arc paper. A porous paper, much more so than Clairefontaine and Staples "bagasse" (among others that I use regularly).

#18 caligatia

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Posted 26 January 2011 - 02:39

kiavonne, do you have an older Circa notebook? Because about three years ago Circa changed their junior notebook to be exactly half a sheet of letter-size paper (5.5x8.5") due to customer demand. I bought my junior notebooks after the change, and they hold pages out of my printer perfectly.

#19 kiavonne

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Posted 26 January 2011 - 05:13

kiavonne, do you have an older Circa notebook? Because about three years ago Circa changed their junior notebook to be exactly half a sheet of letter-size paper (5.5x8.5") due to customer demand. I bought my junior notebooks after the change, and they hold pages out of my printer perfectly.


No, these Jr books were bought within the last year, albeit mostly from the outlet store. I bought a couple of cloth foldovers when I had a discount from Levenger's regular online store.
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#20 Hennypenny

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Posted 26 January 2011 - 11:51


In using these systems, do you have any problems with the pages coming loose? Is there a way to stiffen up the 'mushroom' holes for frequently used pages?


They do sell prepunched "reinforcers".


I got some reinforcers from Levengers a while back -- they call them "Circa reinforcement strips" -- $14 for a pack of 25 strips. HP

Edited by Hennypenny, 26 January 2011 - 11:54.

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#21 JMT

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Posted 13 February 2011 - 02:47

I went to Staples earlier today to look for an engineering note pad and some soft lead for my mech pencil. I am taking an electrical engineering course and needed some paper for homework. Well... as usual when I start looking at office supplies and pens and paper I spend FOREVER in the store. Having decided previously that the circa system may be too expensive, I had searched staples a few months ago for a rollabind/circa style system and found nothing. I figured they did not and would not ever be carrying these type of items. Needing a new notebook today (three ring or other) to categorize notes, I picked up one of the five star flex binds when I turned around and saw the Arc notebooks. I was excited to say the least! I marveled at how cheap the full size leather system was -I was tempted to buy two! Bought some graph paper to go in it as well -prepunched.

Coming home I decided to search for "arc vs circa" to see if the systems were compatible because I need a punch. Low and behold FPN had a review and all the info I was searching for. Being and FPN noob I am continually surprised at the depth of information I find here! I just received my first batch of ink from goulet to go into my first Pens -two TWSBIs. What a great day!

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#22 kiavonne

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Posted 13 February 2011 - 03:22

Jim, welcome to FPN! We've always got something good to find out about just about everything related to pens and writing. It's a good reason to keep coming back around, there's always something new.
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#23 amyx231

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 19:58

yes, circa bleedthrough is a bit...unique, isnt it. apparently it was a sourcing problem, but even my best pages still arent the best. Printer paper wins.

#24 stevesurf

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Posted 24 March 2012 - 07:47

Welcome to FPN!
Does anyone know if Staples lets you use one of the Arc punches without buying it, just to try punching a few sheets?

Edited by stevesurf, 24 March 2012 - 08:23.

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#25 PJohnP

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Posted 24 March 2012 - 16:00

Does anyone know if Staples lets you use one of the Arc punches without buying it, just to try punching a few sheets?


Not that I'm aware of, frankly. You might try a personal approach to someone in the store, but Staples hasn't let me "test drive" too many items over the years.

However, I have both the Staples Arc and the "new" Levenger Circa punches, so I can offer a few comments.

The Levenger Circa punch is built like a tank, all metal excepting the collection base which is a polymer base. It punches tidily and well, up to ten pages. It's better in the four to six page range, but I've tested it successfully with ten. It's relatively small compared with the Arc punch which has a much larger vertical dimension. I wrote a longer review of the Circa punch here.

The Staples Arc punch will successfully punch fourteen pages tidily and well in my tests. It's better in the six to eight page range. The Arc punch handle mechanism lends itself more to the higher number of pages than the Circa punch, but it's not an easily stored item, where the Levenger punch can fit into a desk drawer simply. The Arc punch mechanism handle is largely polymer (plastic) construction, with a sliding arrangement between two "arms", and so there may be questions about the longevity of the punch. I have no questions at all about the longevity of the Levenger Circa punch - it will last a good few years.

Both punches perform well in terms of correctly punching the "smurfs" with sharp edges, but still allowing sufficient room for the punched paper to slide easily over the disks for both formats.

I hope that this helps.




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#26 fpc

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 07:07

One thing to remember is that if you have a nearby Staples, you can ship to the store for free.

That said, the paper is very nice, but I doubt Staples will come out with a punch since they want you to buy their refills.


They have a very good punch which also costs less that the Levenger one.
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#27 yugami

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Posted 02 April 2012 - 16:41

Welcome to FPN!
Does anyone know if Staples lets you use one of the Arc punches without buying it, just to try punching a few sheets?


The punch works great. I use it on 28lbs paper for my custom printouts.

I have a heavy guillotine style paper cutter at work as well so I just laser print and chop then punch.

Both the full size and 1/2 size preset detent on mine lines up perfectly with their refills.

Their paper center will cut a ream in half for you as well so you can just print whenever you desire (assuming a printer that can handle oddball sizes)

Not to sound like a fanboy but for the cost and the benefit you can't go wrong if you want a custom planner/notebook. The disc system is so much easier to move things around than any sort of ring system.

#28 dfranks04

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Posted 05 April 2012 - 14:09

I bought the Arc system from Staples and while it is a fun customized notebook, it just was not for me. I returned it a couple days later. Even with the large sized discs I just didn't like how the notebook felt and how the pages turned when loaded with lots of paper.

#29 pishee

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Posted 01 July 2012 - 19:10

Hi! I just bought an Arc at Staples yesterday, and bought the academic weekly planner pages, which I haven't opened yet, because I think I could find templates for pages that I like better online. I have three questions: 1) Does anyone know where some really good weekly planner templates are that will fit the 8/12 x 5 1/2 Arc? 2) Assuming I find a good template, what kind of paper would be good to print it on so that fountain pens won't bleed through? If the cost of such paper is prohibitively expensive, I might just use the planner pages that Arc makes. I understand from FPN and other reviews that it is pretty good about no bleed through and very light show-through. 3) If I print pages from a template, I'll need a hole punch. There is a portable Circa punch on Levenger right now for $20. I'd rather get this one than a $40 punch. Will I be able to punch Arc pages with a Circa punch? I think the answer is yes, but just want to double-check. Thank you! FPN has helped me so much with pen and paper decisions.

Edited by pishee, 01 July 2012 - 19:11.


#30 amberleadavis

amberleadavis

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Posted 03 July 2012 - 03:32

Thank you. I bought the ARC punch and I've used the ARC system with my Rollabind parts. They have worked well.

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