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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.