06 February 2017

Guest Post - Pen Loops - Graham

Thank you Graham for this post on the design and placement of pen loops on organisers. 

Pens and organisers belong together. However gorgeous and tactile a binder looks and feels, it has a practical purpose, which usually invoices writing. So why are so many binders designed giving second billing to the pen? How can such expensive and (seemingly) carefully designed binders end up with pen loops of the wrong size, made of the wrong material and in the wrong place? Why are they so often added as an afterthought?

This is an age-old problem which is still around, even in the newest binder releases. The new Filofax Heritage range, for example, has a pen loop stitched in a way that means that the edge of the flyleaf juts into the loop so that the pen has to sit above or behind the leaf rather than next to it. The universally acclaimed William Hannah range introduced an optional pen loop that sticks out of the middle of the side so that the pen is outside the binder, unprotected. OK for some, far from ideal for others.

Then there’s the number of pen loops. Most binders incorporate one. I use two pens so prefer two loops, but even if you only use one, two loops allow a binder to be equally useful to left-handed or right-handed users, who can choose which loop to utilise.

A look at my collection of binders illustrates this problem well.  In size the pen loops range from a diameter of just 6 mm to one of 13 mm, and in material from leather to leather with elastic to all elastic.  Whilst it is hard to design a pen loop that would hold any pen of any size and shape, some thought would have prevented some of the common issues.

For example, the more elasticated a loop is, the larger the range of pens that will fit into it.  My mini Finchley has an all-leather loop with a diameter of 10 mm. It is nicely positioned in the middle of the side and it is protected by the closure which loops around it.

Given the Finchley’s small size, however, this means that only a specific tiny range of small, fat pens will fit into it. Relying on a pen’s clip to keep it in place in the loop fails because this means that even the smallest of pens hang out of the bottom of the organiser. Either the loop should be smaller and be elasticated, or it should be leather and positioned higher up the side of the organiser. Clearly this is aesthetically less pleasing, but pen loops need to be practical. I love the design of the Finchley, so why wasn’t some thought given to the pen loop?  Isn’t there any user testing?

Don’t the designers actually try using what they have designed? They should do. I have never been able to find a usable pen to fit the Finchley – a pencil and other small pens just fall right through - and I finally had to add a Leuchtturm elasticated loop to keep ordinary-size pens and pencils in place instead.

My Finchley needs a second pen loop to make up for the inadequacies of the first
Should we be expected to buy accessories to make up for design flaws?

My personal Cuban Zip has two pen loops, but each have been placed in the middle of the side of the binder. This means that I can’t remove the pens by sliding them out of the loop. I have to push the zip down whilst yanking the pen up! Positioning the loops lower would have prevented this problem.

Oops. 
The Staples ARC that I use has a very roomy loop – with a diameter of 13 mm only the fattest pens will fit and stay. The loop has also been sewn so that it sits inside the binder. This is fine when the binder only contains A5 paper. When it contains dividers, which are slightly wider than the paper, one needs to hold the loop out of the way to turn the dividers.

Another design flaw.

In my Filofax Calipso personal compact the pen loop has been placed higher, so that it can hold a pen with its clip and the pen would not hang below the edge of the organiser. Great! Two things, though. The loop is on the left, so good for left-handers, less so for right-handers who need to reach across the organiser to get it. The other is that the compact, when closed, has very little room between the paper and the edge of the organiser. This means that the pen either squashes against the paper or one needs to pull the pen and loop out to hold it outside the closed organiser. With the compact personal Finsbury the problem is similar thought the pen loop has been placed a few mm further into the organiser.


The Calipso compact. Great until one needs to close the binder …
Designers of bound notebooks have much more freedom when designing a place for a pen. They can cut out the pen shape in the paper, mould a holder from the binder or even use magnetic fastenings.

They are often designed to fit a single pen shape and size.


There are external providers of pen holders (Leuchturm, Terry, Quiver, Sloop), but we shouldn’t be relying on them, should we? I know binder designers could do better. The X47 puts the pen along the top of the paper instead of down the side – that may not suit everybody but does stop the loop and pen getting entangled with the paper and dividers.

How about a pocket instead of a loop? What about that space within the rings? Would that hold a pen? I’m sure a good designer could think something up.

I’m no designer, but as a user I know that it’s time that pens were given their rightful place in binder design.

What do you think?

I too have had various issues about the placement of pen loops in a variety of organiser brands. 

25 comments:

  1. The best design for a pen loop that I've encountered is the one in my HBxWA5 organiser from Ashcroft in Japan. The loop can be adjusted to fit most sizes of pen and is sensibly located.

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  2. p.s. Thanks for a thought-provoking guest post Graham.

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    1. You're welcome! It was good to get it off my chest. :-)

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  3. Janet's Graf von Faber Castell organiser uses a pocket. Looks like a pretty good approach.

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    1. That looks like a full and well-thought out binder. I hadn't looked at that manufacturer before - I'll have to keep an eye out for their products. Thanks!

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    2. Hi Graham,

      Great post! I have no particular positive feelings about penloops. I even cut out mine alltogether, because it was interfereing with my dividers.

      I now keep my fountain pens in a separate case (by VanderSpek) and a 4-Corona cigar case! Works like a charm!

      LöhnMethode also carries a pocket on the side of the binder (A5 and A6).

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    3. Thanks Guido. I've had a leather pen case for years but it's gathering dust - I could never get used to the separation of pen and paper - I found it easier just to leave the pens lying around. I hadn't heard of LöhnMethode before (so many makers of binders!) - they don't show photos of the insides of their planners on their website, unfortunately.

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  4. I removed the leather pen loops on my Cross and Finsbury because they didn't fit the pens I like to use, I replaced them with elastic loops that I sewed in place of the originals.

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    1. I've been tempted to do the same ....

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  5. A problem for many of us Graham. I've encountered the exact same problems as you, so thanks for your post and video. I couldn't access your collection link, by the way. Maybe just my end?

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    1. Oops, looks like a typo - cm instead of com. The link is https://philofaxy.blogspot.cm/2017/01/reader-under-spotlight-graham.html

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  6. Thanks for addressing this Graham.
    Utilizing the space within the rings has allowed me to carry an extra pen and pencil. My solution was to attach two (2) additional pen loops to a plastic pouch or page lifter. One on the zip side, and one on the ring side. The loop would face to the left and fit between the holes of the rings. This allows me to slip in a pen or pencil without the worry of it slipping through. An added bonus is that my pens can be positioned so as not to interfere with any tabs. Hope this helps.

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    1. Thanks Carla. I hadn't thought of turning an extra loop inwards in this way. I'll give it a go.

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  7. I've purchased several A5 Filofax Flex Pen loops and cut them to size and punched them for Personal size or A6 size. Or just punched them for A5 and they give me an additional pen loop or two. They take up very little space on the rings and act as a divider too.

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    1. Thanks Steve. I read elsewhere that you'd done that - I have a couple now awaiting butchery when required :-)

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  8. I appreciate this post, and I hope Filofax and other manufacturers read it. I've never been able to understand why high end binders come with useless pen loops! :)

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    1. I forgot to mention that these pen loops from Mochithings hold any of my fountain pens or multi pens. I attach them to a divider or dashboard so that I don't have to mar my binder.
      https://www.mochithings.com/products/5418

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    2. Thanks Sarah. It's nice to know I'm not the only one who gets disgruntled at poor binder design.

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  9. Really - don't get me started on this! I like ringbound systems and I love pens, especially fountain pens, and *especially* big fat chunky fountain pens. My old Hampstead - now long retired - had *two* elasticated pen loops, one for my big fat fountain pen and one for the pencil I always use in my diary - because things change. Now I challenge anyone at all to find a binder which will accommodate those writing instruments, never mind the question of producing refills which don't have the paper quality of a kitchen roll or loo paper.

    Given that the advent of digital systems now makes ringbound systems a niche market, and given the ridiculous prices of some well known brands of binder, isn't it time manufacturers started actually listening to the needs of this niche market?

    My Holborn is a lovely binder and comes with one *narrow* leather pen loop. Pen or pencil - your (my) choice. My Cavendish has two pen loops, both leather and unelasticated, and will just about do the job. My A5 Holborn and Bridle similarly - if I want to carry an A5, which is a rare occurrence.

    All of this doesn't even begin to get near the problem of the Malden, with its ridiculous little leather pen loop which unravels from the inside out whenever a pen is introduced. I've checked and this is actually in the design - not a manufacturing error. Incredible.

    So yes - let's have some binders with two elasticated loops please, and made to take the sort of pens us writing enthusiasts actually want to use, rather than confining us to a choice of pen or pencil, and restricting us to 'thin' pens only.

    Right. I shall now hang up my ranting hat and go off for a quiet grumble :)

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    1. David, you're a man after my own heart!

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    2. Absolutley cool David :-) Thanks for the smile your witty comment gave me.
      Yes, the pen loop challenge is always on the top worries of using a new binder. That said from a rather thin pen loving female.

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  10. Thank you Graham for pointing out this ever lasting challenge for us planner nerds.

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  11. Graham, thanks for a wonderful post & lovely to see so many comments! Great minds think alike as I was writing a very similar post, so you beat me to it :)

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