Atoma vs. M by Staples’ Arc 44


About Atoma

I tried to get hold of an Atoma notebook for a while now. Atoma notebooks are quite common in Belgium where they were first produced in 1948. Despite their popularity in their home country they are not very well known outside Belgium, not even in the neighbouring countries. I haven’t seen them in shops in the UK or Germany and some Dutch friends I asked haven’t seen them in the Netherlands either. No wonder: 80% of more than a million notebooks produced every year stay in Belgium. The company behind Atoma did not extend their patent when it expired in the Nineties, so copies are now available from many companies: There’s Levenger’s Circa, Aurora’s Adoc, Clairefontaine’s Clairing, Elba’s Vario-Zipp, Staples’ Arc and there’s Rollabind.

Atoma

Arc

How do they work

The pages of the Atoma notebooks are being held together by plastic discs. The discs are holding the sheets of paper through special Atoma shaped ‘holes’1. You can remove sheets from the notebooks or swap the sheets around, just like you can in a ring binder. One advantage of this system over a ring binder is that the notebook can be folded over. Another advantage is that an Atoma notebook, compared to a ring binder, is using less space because you don’t need the surrounding folder. The ring binder will also take away space even if empty2. One disadvantage of the Atoma system is that you cannot label the spine of a notebook.

Atoma and Arc paper

Where to get them from

There are two shops in the UK selling Atoma notebooks: Craft & Party Direct and Manufactum, but I didn’t order my Atoma notebook from either of them. Craft & Party Direct charge a lot for shipping  and Koralatov and Iain pointed out that they had bad experiences when ordering from this company in the past. Manufactum charge too much for shipping, too, and they have a ridiculous conversion rate for their UK prices, charging UK customers 35% more than for exactly the same product from their other online shops – that is on top of their expensive prices in the first place. Manufactum’s other online shops in Europe are set up in such a way that UK customers cannot order from them – very annoying. This plus other bad experiences3 with them made me avoid Manufactum in this case. In the end I ordered my Atoma notebooks from the International School of Brussels (Link updated). The notebooks were only €2.50 (~ $3.07; £1.96) each and shipping to the UK was free, so I only paid €5 for the two notebooks I ordered. The same order with Craft & Party Direct would have cost me £10.45 (~ $16.40; €13.35), five times as much. Manufactum’s Atoma notebooks are made of more expensive materials, so a direct price comparison wouldn’t make sense. I also bought one of M by Staples’ Arc notebooks in my local Staples4. With a price tag of £5 (~ $7.85; €6.39) it was more than twice as expensive as an Atoma notebook.

The discs: Atoma in blue, Arc in black

Atoma versus Arc

The Atoma A5 notebook is made in Belgium and came with 72 sheets (144 pages) of “ink-loving 90g/m2 ledger paper”.

The A5 Arc notepad is made in China and came with 60 ruled sheets of 100g/m2 paper. I like the fact that it came with a name/index sheet, but I am not keen on the white border on each page.

There is a lot of choice when it comes to covers and cover material, for both, Atoma and Arc. The cover of the Atoma notebook I bought is made of cardboard, while the Arc cover is made of polypropylene.

The paper of the Atoma notebook is rougher. Writing on it is nice and the paper absorbs the ink quickly.  The surface of the Arc paper is smoother, but ink takes longer to dry than on the Atoma paper. The ink doesn’t show through the reverse of the Arc pages as much as it does on the Atoma paper, but both papers are suitable for ink.

The rings of the Arc notebook are bigger, which means they will probably be able to hold more sheets of paper, but that also makes the notebook bigger, even if you don’t use too many sheets of paper. Aesthetically I find the Atoma ring size nicer and more suitable for the number of sheets of paper these notebooks come with.

Atoma (left) and Arc (right) paper

Conclusion

Both notepad are nice. I like the disc binding mechanism as it has several advantages over ring binders. If I had to choose between the Atoma and the Arc I’d go for the Atoma notebook. Not because it’s cheaper, but partly because I am not a big fan of polypropylene covers and prefer the Atoma’s cardboard cover. I also prefer the size and therefore look of the Atoma’s discs. Paper-wise the Arc’s paper seems to be better quality than the Atoma’s paper, but I haven’t used it long enough to be sure. My last reason for preferring the Atoma is that I prefer sheets without such a big white border.


Prices and exchange rates: August 2012.

I would like to thank Sean for the Blackfeet Indian Pencil seen on the last photo.

  1. They aren’t really holes, but I’m not sure what to call them so that it’s obvious what they are. []
  2. By the way, the ring binder and the hole puncher were invented in 1886 by Soennecken, a company previously mentioned in this blog. []
  3. Delivered item not as described, security issues with their web site, … []
  4. I’ll refer to it as ‘Staples’ from now on, not as ‘M by Staples’ []

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44 thoughts on “Atoma vs. M by Staples’ Arc

  • Shangching

    I was interested in Clairefontaine’s Clairing notebook for awhile, but I only found one online vendor who carried it, with a hefty shipping and handling. Levenger’s Circa system is a bit of an uphill hike when I just want to try it out. I am glad to know that other options are available, just need to do more digging!

  • DaveG

    These types of binders are widely available in Switzerland under the ADOC brand.
    In dept stores like Manor (Basel) and OfficeWorld too.

    The commonest paper is lined like your left hand binder but plain and squared are also available.

    Sizes from A7 to A4 oversize.

  • Gunther

    Matthias, thank you for your detailed review of these two examples of this unusual notebook concept. Could it be possible that the patent could not be extended? The Atoma variant appeals to me too so I am considering placing an order at the Belgian website. – I have also become a little reserved towards Mnaufactum quite a while ago and haven’t purchased there since.

  • Matthias Post author

    Shangching, as far as I know Clairefontaine tried to push their Clairing notebooks a few years ago, but they now seem to disappear again. I wonder whether Clairefontaine will stop the Clairing line altogether, if they haven’t already done so… I didn’t realise that the Circa notebooks were more expensive…

    DaveG, that sounds quite exciting. Are they fairly new in Switzerland or have they been around for a long time? Also, does it say where they are made? I am wondering whether they are made in their Stockport factory near Manchester…

    Sean, I wanted them for quite a while, but I never saw affordable ones and was happy to finally find two reasonably priced disc-bound notebooks. I assume Staples is selling their Arc System in the USA, but I am not sure how prominent they display the Arc system. There are some nice leather notebooks, too.

    Gunther, it could be that the patent could not be extended – I am not sure. A few months ago the Economist had an interesting article describing how companies extend patents forever, but I doubt the mechanism described in that article can be applied to the disc-binding system… So you are probably right. The person I contacted at ISB was very friendly, but I doubt they make any money, so unless they want to sell these items to promote their school there is a chance they will stop shipping outside Belgium free of charge. I, too, have reservations towards Manufactum, so I haven’t ordered from them in quite a while, but many of the products they sell are just so nice and difficult to get… If their ridiculous £/€ exchange rate improves I might order again from them.

  • Gunther

    I forgot to ask for a detail: How difficult is it to remove and insert a page? And how does this stress the paper around the holes?

  • Matthias

    Removing a page is surprisingly easy. Inserting is even easier. I have only done it a few times as I haven’t used these notebooks a lot …yet. I also haven’t removed many pages in one go yet. There is not too much stress around the holes and turning pages is also very easy. For the purpose I want to use them for they seem great (it involves creating pages, that then have to be sorted alphabetically, that’s why a normal notebook wouldn’t do and a ring binder would be too big).

  • Claire

    Interesting. I took a weekend trip to Montreal and saw in Nota Bene both Atoma and a series of Clairefontaine notebooks with the same binding, I guess that’s the Clairing Shangching mentioned. The Clairefontaine notebooks have Patent Pending on them, I wonder what the Patent is for.

  • Audrey

    Sorry to barge in but I’m visiting Shanghai soon and I was wondering if you had an exact address for Meriful? Tried looking online but couldn’t find it. The store seems to have a lot of good stock. Thanks!

  • Matthias Post author

    Claire, do you remember how expensive these were? I wonder what the patent is for, too. Maybe the “holes or different or the discs have a special shape, but it doesn’t seem to make sense to patent something that you haven’t invented and that is already being sold by many companies.

    Audrey, Meriful is kind of in the middle of FuZhou road, on the same side as the Raffles City shopping centre, but much closer to the book stores. The address is probably FuZhou Road No. 622.

  • Claire

    Hi Matthias, the Atoma was $10-11, Clairing I don’t remember. Oh by the way I also saw and bought the Delfonics Rollbahn you mentioned in “Overpriced stationery in Shanghai” from Nota Bene. Looove it!

  • Matthias Post author

    Oh, was the Rollbahn notebook reasonably priced? …I am just wondering whether Delfonics products are always expensive or whether it was just so expensive in “Queen’s market”.

  • Claire

    Memm: The small Rollbahn (about A6 size) cost $11. That has definitely pushed how much I’m willing to pay for a notebook that size with 60 sheets of (high quality) paper. Any chance you still remember for how much it’s sold at the Queen’s market? Did you buy it?

  • Matthias Post author

    That price sounds ok. I don’t remember the exact price, but it was definitely MUCH more than what you paid..

  • Shangching

    Circa is expensive because in order to fully utilize the system, you have to buy the punch and the disk, which can cost around $100 US. The notebooks vary from $21 to $40 something.
    Clairing notebooks are still listed on Clairefontaine’s French webstie, but I don’t think it is popularized in the US, since only one vendor carries them in my knowledge.

  • Gunther

    After fighting against the urge to order some Atoma notebooks I suddenly came across some important reasons why I must have them and gave in 😉 Thank you for the link to the IBS – the items are already on the way.

  • Matthias Post author

    Shangching, the Atoma punch is expensive, too, but I have seen cheaper, flat plastic punches from other disc binding systems, but not in Europe and I don’t know whether the dimensions are exactly the same.

    Gunther, I really like them and hope you won’t regret giving in to the temptation either. I wish they’d be easily available across Europe… The Staples ones have nicer paper, but I really dislike how they have a “forced border” printed on them and the bigger disc size makes them worse, too, IMHO. Please let me know what you think of the Atoma notebooks.

  • Gunther

    I am confident that I won’t regret the purchase, and of course I will let you know what I think of the Atoma notebooks. – I wonder why this kind of notebook isn’t widely available, especially in view of the many variants.

    By the way: A commenter at “Atoma Notebook” wrote that the Rollabind punches are compatible to the Atoma system so maybe these are a cheaper alternative.

  • Matthias Post author

    Thanks for this information. I will keep my eyes open. There was one for sale on eBay UK a few weeks ago, but it was part of a set and in the end wasn’t that cheap. I hope to find one in the UK (I’ll skip ordering directly from the USA as it is more expensive in the UK than in Germany because you have to pay VAT and a handling fee on anything above £15).

  • Gunther

    In the meantime, my Atoma notebooks I have ordered at the IBS have arrived. Since then I use one daily, and so far I am very happy with it. I have alerady ordered some more – thank you for letting us know about the source!

  • Matthias Post author

    Gunther, I ordered a few more, too, which just arrived this Saturday.
    there used to be a shop in Northern Germany that sold the simple Atoma notebooks, but they stopped years ago. I am not sure about the reasons behind it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is somehow linked to Manufactum selling the more expensive versions – or maybe they just didn’t sell well.
    Thanks for the link to this blog post.

  • Gunther

    Great to hear that yours have arrived already. By the way, I have shown the Atoma notebook to some colleagues, and since they were interested in it too we have arranged a collective order; it is already on the way.

    Was “Blattwerk Trends” the name of the shop? This name can be found when searching with Google for a German retailer but neither the show nor the website seem to exist any longer. Yes, maybe Manufactum may play a role.

    Thank you for showing these great notebooks and for telling about the IBS shop!

  • Ana

    Thanks for the tip on getting them from ISB, free delivery!
    I live in UK and I’ve been ordering them directly from the manufacturer (http://www.atoma.be/en), the delivery was quite pricey and the process a bit complex.
    If anybody is interested, to order from them you need to download the catalogue from the website, email them what you want and they’ll make you an offer. On the positive side, they offer the whole range of products, from individual discs to designer notebooks.

  • Michelle

    Hi,

    I stumbled upon your website googling Atoma/Arc search terms, I’ve used the Atoma and loved it, but I’m curious, does Staples’ paper fit into the Atoma rings or vice versa? They look like they’d fit, and they have the same number of mushroom-shaped holes so you’d think…

    Michelle

  • Matthias Post author

    Gunther, great to hear your colleagues liked these nice notebooks. What a shame they are not available in other countries, not even in countries close to Belgium…. I don’t think “Blattwerk Trends” was the name of the shop. If I ever find it again I will let you know.

    Ana, thanks for this information. Good to know this works. After hearing about the bad experience some had with the UK based retailers of Atoma notebooks, it’s good to know you can get them directly from Belgium…

    Michelle, Atoma and Staples paper is interchangeable, but my Atoma paper sheets are about 1.6 cm wider than my Staples paper sheets.

  • Jane

    Having read the above I thought it would be useful for you all to know that the only uk based retailer to sell the complete range I think is a website called craftandpartydirect.com. Plus prices are good and delivery was very quick.
    Hope this helps anyone who is devoted to Atoma. Plus they sell the paper punch at a price that seems the cheapest?? I haven’t got one yet…….does anyone know if I can get it cheaper elsewhere?????

  • ChrisD

    I came across these when they were advertised on unclutterer.com and I bought the arc version in Staples. I like it a lot.
    I did look into Atoma as they have nicer covers but the UK distributers never got back to me.

    I sprang for the £23 to buy the special hole punch, so now I can use plain printer paper or put in pages cut out from newspapers and magazines.

    But I am very surprised to hear you say there is a good choice of covers for the arc system. In the Staples at Tottenham Hale, London you can choose about five colours in thick, heavy, expensive leather (not lightweight or streamlined AT ALL) or you can choose black, blue, or a black and white design in polypropylene.

    For the second folder I bought a colourful polypropylene ring binder, cut the top and bottom covers off with a stanley knife and hole punched it myself (also two bookmarks from the leftovers). I could also cut out and hole punch cardboard covers if I wanted.

  • Matthias Post author

    Jane, I bought the “desktop punch” from Staples. It is much cheaper, but also more plasticy. Still very sturdy, though.

    ChrisD, I do like the Atoma ones much more, I actually never touch the Arc ones any more, partly because of the border on the pages, the covers and also because (this will sound stupid) I find the proportions of the bigger discs much less aesthetically pleasing than the Atoma discs.
    About the UK distributor, I ordered twice from them. Both times I had to chase the order up. Contact through phone or email was impossible. I only got answers after using the form on their web site. Both times it took weeks (item first sent but lost on the way?), but both times I got my goods in the end. They do have some offers on at the moment.
    When I wrote the blog post Staples had more choice. There were also polypropylene covers with printed motives, I thought there were also two different leather styles (plus different colours in each style), but I can’t remember the details.
    Your colourful cover sounds great! I assume the desktop punch could handle the material.

  • Michael

    Hello Matthias,
    thank you for this review of both ring binding systems. I ordered the ARC stapler for my Atoma system to use my own templates and use the book as my daily companion, so I can staple my project papers for the next meeting and carry them with me and I had not to be afraid of loosing them on the way…

    Best wishes Michael

  • Matthias

    Hi Michael, I’m doing the same thing. The stapler aligns perfectly. I mainly use A5 Atoma notebooks, so I also sometimes print or “shrink photocopy” to A5 and staple it to fit.
    I use the Atoma daily and it’s just great for my purpose.

  • Oliver Stark

    Wow, this a great review / introduction to the Atoma system, good work and thanks!
    I’m from the Ruitertassen online team and we will probably offer the leather Atoma in the near future online.

  • memm Post author

    Thank you for your comment.
    That’s great to know. Will you also sell other styles and sizes?

  • memm Post author

    Well, I love Atoma’s wider A5 size, but also have A4. A6 can also be useful, but when it comes to business decisions it’s probably best to start with what sells best and then expand. I have now idea what sells best, buy my guess would be it’d be A5… A7 might be great, but maybe leather will be too thick.
    I also wonder whether Atoma’s system of distributors will be a problem for you. I don’t know whether all business has to go through them, but a few people had problems with their UK distributor in the past.

  • Matthias

    Looks great! Is it the kind of leather where any little scratch will leave a light mark that will then get dark again, from the oil?
    Maybe there’s another way out, by providing dividers etc, including one at the front and back.

  • Sarah

    Hi. I’ve only just heard of Atoma and I’m trying to find the smaller sizes in the UK. But mostly, is there anywhere you’d recommend getting the hole punch from? It’s a really expensive initial outlay!

  • Gunther

    Hi Sylvie,

    Yes, it is compatible – the shape of the holes and the distance of the holes are the same. However, there is a small difference, namely the distance of the holes from the left edge of the paper: In the Happy Planner the slot before the “T” shaped hole is two miilimetres longer than in the standard Atoma notebook. So if you mix the paper of the Happy Planner and paper punched with the Atoma puncher the left edges of the paper won’t flush (but of course this is only a cosmetic problem, not a functional one).

    Gunther from Germany, a happy Atoma user 🙂