Raider of the (not really Lost) Arc

What I actually raided was the Arc (as in, M by Staples Arc) section of my local office supply store.

It all started innocently enough, last weekend when I was out shopping with a girlfriend. We poked into Staples for a look -see and I noticed a prominent display of Arc disc bound notebooks and planners. Immediately, I nabbed an el cheapo hot pink plastic cover and a few inserts to take home and play with, and maybe post a review of.

You know…for the sake of the blog.

But then I panicked and put everything back. Don’t I have enough planner stuff already? Do I seriously need more? Of course not. Back away from the Arc.

Then I Tweeted about somehow only now discovering disc bound notebooks & planners and was astounded at the response. It seems that many of you knew about, have used, still use and love disc bound notebooks.  Huh.

Over the next few days, I found myself watching YouTube videos of how people use disc bound planning systems and Googling the different options. While I really liked the concept, I found some of the Arc stuff cheap looking, especially those black plastic discs.

Then I found out about Levenger Circa. Like Arc on ‘roids, they have high quality metal or resin discs, premium leather covers and uber high quality, fountain pen friendly paper.

Oh god…………..

I decided to go back to Staples and pick up what I had initially walked away from and play around with it to see if I’d seriously consider  moving away from my current (and working fine) Filofax Domino A5 system BEFORE taking the plunge into Levenger Circa. Who’s a good girl? I am.

Pictures are coming, promise. But long story short, I’m switching. And here’s why:

One of my biggest planner vexations over the years, has been how to adapt it to the almost constantly changing nature of my life. Just when I get all my ducks in a nice row, something major erupts. A cross country move, having to schedule caring for a terminally ill mother, a new job, night classes, utter and complete re-structuring of a current job. You get the idea. It seems I’m happily doodling to fill in empty space on weekly refills  in a Compact one month and wondering if 1 day per page is going to be enough in an A5 the next.

Because each of the planner systems I have previously used have various ring spacing/configuration for each size binder, that meant a lot of switching around and (cue scary music) purchasing new appropriately sized inserts and doing the dreaded re-copying ritual. It made tweaking my planner to work with my new circumstances almost as stressful as the life changes themselves.

But with these disc bound systems, there is essentially one hole configuration  for every single size cover. Same spacing. So you could conceivably put any size insert into any size cover.

Did you hear that? That was angels singing.

I cannot believe I am just finding out about these now, at 47 years old, a mere 15 days before the Mayan Apocalypse.


Anyway, the second beef I’ve had with ring bound planners is the freaking rings themselves. I like big rings (and I cannot lie…hehehe!) so that I can load up my book and carry plenty of other stuff along with several months worth of calendar pages. Thing is, those fat rings make it terrible to write on the left hand pages because they get in the way of your hand (if you’re a righty, which I am). Smaller rings, such as in a Compact or Slimline make for easy peasy writing, but you can’t carry much.

The cool thing about the disc systems is that they can fold over on themselves, like a traditional spiral bound notebook, only you can still add, remove and rearrange pages easily and at will.

Thirdly there are the long standing issues I’ve had (and bitched about incessantly) with paper quality, the provision for tabbed months, and having no Filofax/FC retailers anywhere near me so that I have to order stuff sight unseen and take my chances that I’ll like it.

All three are solved with the disc system.

I can simply put any size refill into my Arc, because every size has the same hole configuration so no re-copying needed. I can have freaking huge discs and carry around a veritable encyclopedia of a book, and still easily write on every inch of both pages, because I can fold it over on itself…or I can pop in some small rings and put my system on a diet when necessary too.

And happily, Arc refills are great quality, readily available at a retailer near me and incorporate tabbed freaking months.

Seriously Filofax…if Staples can do it…come ON.

But I digress.

Oh, and did I mention both the covers and the refills cost a fraction of what a traditional ring bound planner system would run you?

My plastic cover was $7.99. I know right?!  An Arc leather cover will run you $14.99.  Leather. Okay, its anywhere from $59 – $109 for a Junior size leather in Levenger, but still. You only have to buy ONE cover. Ever. For all your future, as of yet unforeseen planning needs. Unless of course you want more colors : )

AND…and…you can buy the covers separately and customize the inserts you want, rather than paying an arm and a leg for included inserts that you won’t even use.  Love that too.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Pictures.

Here is my Arc book

pink plastic arc front

M by Staples Arc in “Junior” size, hot pink with my fave Life is Good sticker added. At $7.99 you totally don’t mind stickering these things up!

Looks a lot like my Deep Pink Domino doesn’t it?

Love this, but do miss having a pen loop...

Love this, but do miss having a pen loop…

This whole thing…the plastic cover, colorful tabs, and all of the inserts cost me $32 (okay, $31.94. I rounded up, so shoot me). The Monthly/Weekly Calendar was the most expensive item…at $11.99 for an annual pack. On great paper. With Monthly tabs.  Yeah.

Here is a shot of the discs. These are black plastic and 1" in diameter

Here is a shot of the discs. These are black plastic and 1″ in diameter

The book came standard with 3/4″ black plastic discs, but I found them too small for my needs so I picked up a 1″ set for $1.99. They had 1 1/2″ and 2″ discs as well. The 2″ set will run you an additional dollar.

You can see how easy and inexpensive it would be to keep an array of discs for all your planner size needs!

Yesterday, Arc planner in tow, I had to go back to Staples for work. You know damn well that I  cruised around to see if there was anything else I wanted. Interestingly, when I went back to the Martha Stewart section for more sticky balloons, I noticed that on the other side of the display, she has her own set of disc bound notebooks.

I picked up a black plastic one more sturdy than the Arc ones (and also more expensive at $17.99 but the plastic was much thicker- the Arcs will bend – this one would not, but it was still thin and laid flat when folded back). The ONLY reason I got it was because it had a pen loop inside the back cover as well as an elastic strap closure like Moleskine’s have. I also picked up a set of her metallic (looking, they are still plastic) discs in 1 1/4″ diameter. You’ll see why in a minute.

Ta-daaaaa! New and improved Arc with Martha Stewart back/elastic strap closure

Ta-daaaaa! New and improved Arc with Martha Stewart back, complete with elastic strap closure, and new rings

Jazzier, no?

Here is a close up of those Martha Stewart discs.

MS discs

Stamped with “Martha Stewart”. Not so wild about that as I sorta can’t stand her, but they aren’t too conspicuous so it’s okay

And here is the back. It is still plastic, but it gives added stability for writing if I have the book on my lap or something. I thought it made a practical addition.

The black, plastic Martha Stewart back. I put the sticker on for some tie in to the front

The black, plastic Martha Stewart back. I put the sticker on for some tie in to the pink front

Now here it is compared to my beloved A5 Deep Pink Domino:

arc vs domino

M by Staples Arc in Junior size on the left, Filofax Domino A5 on the right

As you can see, they are practically the same size. Remarkably, the inserts are entirely cross-compatible too (they just need re-punching with the Arc punch, but that does not affect the Filofax holes at all) so you can move them back and forth if you so desire. I did.  More on that in a bit.

Arc Junior size on top of A5 Domino

Arc Junior size on top of A5 Domino

Remember those Martha Stewart discs I mentioned before? Well, I elected to put the same diameter discs in my Arc as I had in the Domino (1 1/4″ or 30 mm) to compare apples to apples.  I can fit the exact same amount of insert pages in the Arc as I can the A5 Domino.

The difference is that I can make the Arc skinnier or fatter at will just by changing out the discs. Cover & inserts stay the same. And I can fold it over on itself no matter what size discs I choose. Win!

All of you jonesing for an A5 Compact…just sayin’.

Here are the fronts - Arc Junior on the left, Domino on the right

Here are the fronts – Arc Junior on the left, Domino on the right

Notice that the whole Arc book is about A5 page size. True, the A5 binder itself is larger, but you can see that the inserts are not.

Here are some shots of the interior:

The inside front has no pockets, no nothin'. I added a zip pocket insert to hold my stuff

The inside front has no pockets, no nothin’. I added a zip pocket insert to hold my flags and stuff

There is nothing inside the front cover. No pockets, nada

I put in some colorful tabs (they come in a set of 5 and are also available in black if you prefer something more professional) and that awesome sticky flag page marker to give easy access to the calendar part. These are the mylar kind that you can’t really write on, but they are still cool for, well, flagging. I may even pry them off and use my paper sticky flags on it. We’ll see.

pink arc weeklyThese are the weekly sheets. The calendar pack comes with both monthly (tabbed) and weekly. For $11.99. Did I mention that?  I also put an Arc Task Pad (very similar to Day Timer’s Hot Lists, but larger and not sticky. They go in the holes and can easily be moved around) as a Page Marker in between to serve as a running To Do list.

Here is the creme de la creme…

...Makes me want to weep with joy : )

…Makes me want to weep with joy : )

You can fold it back on itself for easy, comfortable writing. This photo was taken before I put in the Martha Stewart rings, but no matter the size of the rings, they still fold back and the rings don’t interfere with full use of page real estate.

See...perfectly flat, even folded over

See…perfectly flat, even folded over with big-ass discs

Also utterly and completely flat open

Also utterly and completely flat open

Now, since I also picked up the punch ($39.99 one time, for one universal punch that will cover you no matter what size your book is and is so well built you could brain a home invader with it) I was able to move the rest of the year’s Filofax A5 inserts into it so I can use it now. Because face it, with something so awesome, who wants to wait for the New Year? Certainly not “No Patience Zoe”.

FF pages Arc does not make a 1PPD calendar option (neither does Martha Stewart), but Levenger does. Today I ordered up a set of January – March daily pages for 2013. I love that you can order them quarterly. That way, you can start your system whenever you want; calendar year, academic, whatevsies. Or, you can just spring for the entire year. Your choice.

Since the inside back of the pink cover was equally as nondescript as the front (and lacked a pen loop) I popped the Martha Stewart back onto my book in a jiffy and, voila, pen loop!

inside back No, it doesn’t match…but for the pen loop (it’s plastic with an elastic section, just as we are accustomed to on some Filofax and FC models) and the Moleskine-esque elastic closure, it’s totally worth not matching.

I love this thing so much I don’t even care that it doesn’t match. Deal with that OCD!

If I’m still feein’ the mojo one week from today, I’m going to order myself  a nice Levenger one (with an assortment of metal discs) for ______________{ insert holiday or celestial event of your choice here}.

In the mean time, thanks for reading about my foray into the world of disc bound planners. If you’re good boys and girls…and I do end up with a Levenger, I might even do a video detailing my set up and day to day use for you : )

16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. J
    Dec 07, 2012 @ 15:19:05

    Bahahaha! For some reason I’m totally singing “here we go again” from OK GO right now! But seriously, I hope you’ve found perfection here!

    I tried to use an Arc for work notes, but found that the pages were constantly popping out. Maybe it’s because I overstuffed it with the standard rings… now it’s suffering in a desk drawer. Maybe I’ll have to pull him back out again and see if he’ll work- looks like it’s time for a trip to Staples 🙂

  2. thezeitgeistofzoe
    Dec 07, 2012 @ 15:46:25

    yes, if you over stuff it, the pages won’t stay in securely. hence my going back for 1″ (and eventually 1.25″) discs. try some new discs and see if he works better. i really love the uber-flexibility of the system!!

  3. kanalt17
    Dec 07, 2012 @ 18:23:21

    What’s the likelihood that I could use the levanter pages in my filo…?

  4. kanalt17
    Dec 07, 2012 @ 18:23:50

    Uh, that should be levenger but I’m sure you know that. 😉

  5. thezeitgeistofzoe
    Dec 07, 2012 @ 19:04:14

    @kanalt17: extremely likely ; ) since the pages are pretty much the same size (arc pages will be a wee bit smaller) you can filo-punch them. i will filo-punch a spare note page for you when i get home and tweet you the picture. consider yourself enabled.

  6. Laurie
    Dec 08, 2012 @ 08:51:26

    Oh wow!! I have to admit, I’m very surprised by this! Please update when you’ve used it for awhile.

  7. Sharon
    Dec 08, 2012 @ 16:32:48

    I’ve been using the compact Levenger diary pages in my personal Amazona. (They are exactly the same size.) The punched side of the pages get a bit tattered after awhile (reminds me of the Great Hanging Chad Controversy of 12 years ago). Anyway, their paper quality is so nice that I put my OCD tendencies aside and just deal with it. Their monthly tabs are really nice also — for 2012, they went the Filofax route of making the weekly pages run over from month to month so that you can’t use the monthly tabbed sections as dividers, but they’ve gone back to the Franklin Covey way of doing things for 2013.

  8. Josh LaPorte
    Dec 09, 2012 @ 16:17:57

    I bought an Arc notebook when I was using my Success Choice binder for taking notes at meetings which could subsequently be punched for the seven ring binder. I later decided the binder was too big for me but I continue to tote around the (plastic, like yours) notebook filled with plain ruled notepaper. I use it primarily to write letters and occasionally for meeting notes, but now that I use a personal filofax the page size is practically useless (too small for regular files, too big to fit into my filofax).

    I also had some issues with pages popping out and also the difficulty of adding or removing lots of pages at a time.

    The paper is very good quality and reasonably priced. And it’s wonderful to be able to restock locally.

    Does Arc and Circa stuff interchange? I was under the impression that the disk spacing or punch shape was different?

  9. thezeitgeistofzoe
    Dec 10, 2012 @ 16:18:26

    @laurie: will do. as of today (dec 10th) i am still thrilled with it. in fact i even ordered my levenger early ; )

    @sharon: so glad to hear they’ve mended their ways for 2013! i have a set of levenger diary pages on order and i hadn’t realized they had changed to the ff way. oops! i toyed with just punching my ff inserts for circa to save money (since i already have them for 2013) but then decided to just order a set. the “hanging chads” comment made me laugh out loud : )

    @josh: yes, i believe arc, circa, martha stewart and rollabind are all interchangeable. i can do another post once my levenger stuff arrives (and you know i will, lol!) but over the weekend i used my arc punch on some stuff for the little circa compact i won on ebay and it worked great. i think levenger has recently changed their punch to allow for a larger “mushroom head” (to make page turning a bit easier) but that the size/spacing remains the same and is compatible with other disc bound brands. i’ll let you know in 7-10 working days, hehehe!

  10. Trackback: Circa – You Knew I Wouldn’t Wait the Week « the zeitgeist of zoe
  11. MJ
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 19:16:29

    they are all interchangable.. i actually have all 3.. yep.

  12. MJ
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 19:17:13

    oh and i read somewhere that the MS paper is like filofax paper.. not fountain pen friendly so go the cheaper route and get the arc 100gsm paper for like 4$ pack? they are also on sale right now anyway

  13. Trackback: Circa Take II – Yet Another Levenger Box Arrived Today « the zeitgeist of zoe
  14. thezeitgeistofzoe
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 20:44:30

    @mj: i agree…from playing around with the note paper than came with the MS cover vs the arc paper, arc won the day. of course the levenger paper is even better (imho) but arc is good enough, cheap & readily accessible. win!!

  15. Richard Moore
    Nov 11, 2015 @ 22:32:02

    Can you use Levenger Disc’s in an Arc? (I prefer the Aluminium Levenger to the Black Arc Disc’s)

  16. thezeitgeistofzoe
    Nov 11, 2015 @ 22:43:02

    Yes, Levenger & Arc are interchangeable

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