Carry and Cases - a Guide to Carrying Pens and Pencils

Carry Case MontageIntroduction

If you love, or even just use pens and pencils, you probably need to carry them with you, at least sometimes. If so, this article is for you. You can chuck them in your pocket, loose in the bottom of your bag, keep them perfectly protected in a nice leather case, or carry a super-sized stack of pencils for art on the go, so we're going to take a look at some of the options for carrying pens and pencils.

We'll go through some of the things you might want to carry, and different ways of carrying them, which might give you some ideas - and even if not, will hopefully be interesting. Well, if you're interested in pens and pencils, anyway, which we're going to assume you are. You're reading a pen shop's website, after all.

We'll also make some specific recommendations for things you might want to buy to help you carry things in an appropriate and convenient way. Yes, you knew that would be coming. We're a shop, as we mentioned, so we'll be trying to sell you something.

While in the process of writing this, we decided to ask our Twitter followers what they were carrying and how. The answers were interesting, and reminded us of a few things we'd missed, so thanks to everyone who replied. There were fans of vintage pens, of various Japanese specialist things, and lot of love for wooden pencils.

Things to Consider

What Will You Be Carrying?

ABC. A, Always. B, Be. C, Carrying. But carrying what? Well, that's the question. If you're only going to carry one or two pens/pencils, and they're reasonably sturdy, or you don't care too much about scratches and damage, you might not need to carry them in anything at all. Which is great for you, because you don't need to buy a pen or pencil case at all. Not so great for us, because we wrote this article to sell you pen and pencil cases, so we're not doing so well at this marketing thing.

If you're carrying expensive pens with finishes that can be damaged, you might want a case mainly for the purpose of protecting them. Dropping an expensive pen in your pocket to rub up against your keys could have unfortunate consequences.

If you need to carry a few, or more, pens and pencils, you might really need some sort of case, just to keep them together and organised. If they're not too valuable, a simple pouch with a zip will do the job nicely enough. If you carry a lot, though, or don't want them all rubbing against one another, you might want to look at things with a bit more organisation to them.

There are cases that hold each pen separately, keeping them all safe, in capacities from a single pen up to lots - we have cases of this type for up to 40 pens.

If you don't care quite so much about protecting your pens, a simpler case should work fine, maybe with some extra compartments if you need to divide things up for easier finding.

Pocket Clips

Most pens and mechanical pencils have pocket clips, and wooden pencils don't. There are exceptions, including some pocket clips that are optional or removable. Depending on how you carry your pens and pencils, a pocket clip can be vitally important, handy to have, completely irrelevant, or just in the way. It's worth being careful about trouser pockets - it's surprising how much force can be applied to a pen that's clipped to your pocket when you sit down, especially in something like tight-fitting jeans. Personally, I have a nice tough Kaweco Liliput, and it usually spends its time clipped to the neck of my t-shirt, which keeps it handy without much force being applied to it. A couple of people have mentioned to us that they carry their pens clipped between the buttons of their shirts.

Because whatever pen or pencil I'm using the most tends to be clipped the neck of my t-shirt, a clip is rather important to me. If you keep a pen in your pocket, and don't like it clipped to the pocket's edge, you might prefer a pen or pencil without a clip. If you keep your pens in a case with narrow slots, a clip might be more trouble than benefit.

For example, my Kaweco Liliput most often lives clipped to my t-shirt, but if it's stepped back into second place (usually to make room for my TWSBI Vac Mini, or because I'm in more of a pencil mood) it lives in a small Kaweco leather pouch in my pocket, and barely fits in there at all with the clip attached. Fortunately, the Liliput clips are optional and easy to fit and remove, so either way works fine.

Although they're often referred to as 'pocket clips', their uses go beyond just pockets. Plenty of bags have spaces pens can fit in, but would just drop down into larger compartments if not clipped into place. They also keep pens from rolling off your desk as easily, though some pens seem to have a determination to reach the floor by whatever means are available to them.

Tough Pens

You don't need to worry too much about damage if you're carrying a tough all-metal pen that's built to take some knocks. If you care too much about the finish, you might still want some protection for it, but to a lot of us, this sort of pen looks better when it's seen a bit of life. Plain, untreated brass or copper takes a lot of time to keep clean and shiny, but if you like it looking tarnished and rough, they're easy to look after.

The other approach, though, is to buy pens that are cheap and easily replaced, so you don't have to worry about damage. If it's disposable, or nearly disposable, you don't need to worry if it gets lost or broken - you'll just grab another from the box…

Easily Replaced Pens

Cheap pens, or at least fairly cheap pens, can be really good these days. A pen costing £2 will often write every bit as well as one costing £200. If you don't mind it looking basic, there's a lot to be said for using pens you don't mind breaking or losing. If you'd only worry about losing or breaking an expensive pen, there's nothing at all wrong with using a good disposable one - it's all about what works for you, and that might just give you one less thing to worry about!

Wooden Pencils

We weren't going to make any special mention of wooden pencils. Other than people who draw or sketch, we didn't think too many people would carry them around, but our Twitter followers soon changed our minds when we asked what they were carrying. There was plenty of love for wooden pencils.

It does make sense. A mechanical pencil can do the same job for most people, and many mechanical pencils can retract their tips and carry lots of spare leads with them, so they definitely have their advantages. Wooden pencils have a simplicity that's hard to match with anything else, though. If you can see the tip, it's going to write, and it won't run out unexpectedly. It won't get ink on your fingers or your clothes. And while most people wouldn't think of pencil marks as permanent, as long as you don't erase them intentionally, they stand up to time, light, and water. The marks are made of carbon, and carbon doesn't fade or age.

They're nicely expressive tools, too - a single pencil can make all sorts of different marks, from pale grey to almost black, from fine to broad. With careful sharpening, it can even become a chisel tip for calligraphy.

And for a lot of us, the act of sharpening itself is therapeutic. It's a nice little moment of reflection or mindfulness. Time, perhaps, to gather your thoughts before you put them on paper, or just to concentrate on the job in hand, as a little moment of mental relaxation.

But we digress - how about carrying them? Well, they bring up their own problems there. A sharp pencil tip can be easy to break. The lead can mark things. You need a way of sharpening it, and maybe erasing it too. Fortunately, there are solutions to all these problems.

We'll make some recommendations further on in this article, but there are handy covers for pencil tips, and some simple ways to take sharpeners and erasers along for the ride.

Where Will You Be Carrying?

Business Use

If you need a way of carrying a couple of pens for business meetings, your main constraint might well be having something that looks good. In a meeting, it might not look right to keep your Minions pencil case on the board room table. It depends on your office, of course - nobody would mind a few Minions around here. Banana!

Quite a few manufacturers of quality fountain pens make cases to go with them, though there's no reason you need to stick to a matching branded case. For carrying more, a leather pencil case could hold more of a variety of things, while still looking smart, and something like the Kaweco Nubuck Traveler's Case can carry up to six pens safe and separate, and has a pouch for larger items in the top.

School, College and University

For school use, a reasonably simple pencil case may suffice, and depending on tastes, having the right cartoon character on the side may be more important than anything else. When I was at school, and big plastic case in the shape of an over-sized calculator was what most of us wanted, which probably says a lot about how old I am. The kids are probably into far cooler things these days, but you'll have to ask them about that. I'm too old to know what's cool. Is it still cool to say 'cool'?

We do know that for some kids, some of the super-organised cases from Japanese brands like Lihit Lab, Kutsuwa and Nomadic are just as exciting to them as they are to us. Maybe we're not as uncool as we think we are.

No, you're right, we probably are.

College or university could be a completely different matter. What you need to carry will vary hugely depending on what you're studying. Maybe you take all your notes on a notebook computer or a tablet, and rarely even use a pen. If you're reading this, you probably do value pens at least for taking quick notes, but you may not have much stationery to carry at all. If you're doing a subject that requires more equipment, like art or design subjects, you might need to carry a wide selection of pencils and pens, in which case, some sort of large case or even multiple cases for different things, might be a minimum.

Personal Use

If you're just carrying pens and pencils for your own personal use, it's unlikely you need to carry a lot. But you might still want to carry a lot! If you sketch and draw, even if it's only for your own entertainment or a bit of relaxing time, having the right pens and pencils available quickly is important. You might want your little sketching kit to be easy to take with you when you're going for a day out, but at the same time, you might just want your favourite pen separate so it's with you when you've just nipped out to the shop, and left the rest at home.

For daily carry, there are lots of good compact pens, many of which are well-suited to keeping in a pocket, while still being really nice to write with.

Travel and Flight

General travel, much like all of the above, depends entirely on your needs. If you just want to make some notes as you go, a pen and notebook would be fine; but if you want to draw and sketch, you'll need a kit to match your style. The main difference will be that you'll want a bit of extra protection for your kit. Oh, and you might want to think about refills. Depending on where you're travelling, you might need to take spares with you if they won't be available locally. If your pen uses G2 'Parker-style' refills, you can probably pick one up almost anywhere, if you're not too fussy about which you use. If you use something a bit more specialist, though, it might be safer to carry what you'll need.

If you're going to be flying, you have a bit more to prepare for.

Pens can leak in flight, due to the changes in air pressure. If a pen has ink and air inside it, and the pressure drops fairly quickly, as it does when you fly in an aeroplane (and it's very difficult to fly without one) the air that's inside is left at a higher pressure than on the outside, so it will try to get out. If the air can escape on its own, there's no problem. If there's ink in the way, though, it's going to be pushed out of the pen, which is how things get messy.

So how can you avoid these messes when flying with pens? Well, if you want to be completely safe, there's always the option of using a pencil. We like pencils at any time, but they have an extra advantage in the air - there's nothing to leak, so you know you're safe.

In general, though, ballpoints and gel-ink pens are safe too - they don't rely on a sealed barrel, so usually air can get in and out easily, without having to push ink out of the way. Ballpoints with pressurised refills, for writing on wet paper, upside down, and in space, are also safe in flight for the opposite reason. They are sealed, but they're designed to work with high pressure inside them anyway, so a bit more pressure difference is unlikely to be a problem.

Any of these reasonably safe pens can be carried as you normally would. Carrying fountain pens needs a bit more thought if you're going to fly, but it all depends how much risk you want to avoid.

Some people fly with fountain pens with no special care, and have no trouble. Others try to follow all the best suggestions, and still end up with ink-stained luggage. If you really want to be safe, you'll want to keep pens empty when travelling, and keep any ink you carry well sealed up, preferably inside an extra sealed layer. People have had ink bottles burst in flight, so having them inside an extra sealed waterproof box isn't a bad idea if you want to be on the safe side, or just a ziplock bag for just a bit of extra safety.

If you don't want to empty your fountain pens for flight, they're better off full. Ink doesn't expand, air does, so if the pen is completely full of ink, the pressure change shouldn't be a problem. Not all pens can be completely filled, but the fuller the better.

Some pens seal better than others, which should help. Platinum pens with their Slip & Seal mechanism should be relatively safe, and we generally hear good things about Pelikan's Souveran pens for this. TWSBI's Vac filler pens have an extra seal that can be screwed closed behind the feed, which should make them pretty safe, too.

Actually using fountain pens in flight adds to the risk. They're more likely to push ink out when uncapped. If you're going to use a fountain pen in the air, hold it tip up when you uncap it, and maybe keep some tissue around, just in case.

If you choose to fly with fountain pens and ink, though, you're taking at least a small amount of risk. If you really want to be safe, take the pencil!

Specific Recommendations

We won't make this part too specific, but we'll try to point you in the right direction for a few specific purposes, and give you some ideas.

Carrying Just One Pen

If you just want one pen, you might not need a case at all, in which case, you've wasted a lot of time reading about cases and carrying pens at this point. You could just cut your losses and stop reading now, or you could carry on in the hope of justifying your time. The 'sunk cost fallacy' says you should cut your losses, but what do fallacies know about anything? We both know you're going to continue. Stupid fallacy.

Do you also carry, or want to carry, a notebook? If you do, Leuchtturm1917 make these great little pen loops - they're self-adhesive, so they stick into the cover of your notebook, adding a pen loop. Simple.

A few different brands make nice leather cases for single pens, which are ideal if you want to protect an expensive pen, while making sure it still looks good. For some nice options, see Visconti, Pelikan, Lamy in black or red, and e+m

Carrying a Small Number of Pens

Most brands that make nice leather cases for single pens also make versions for two or three pens, so there are quite a few choices if you want a couple of pens to be well protected while looking good for meetings. See all our leather cases.

It might be worth mentioning at this point that multipens exist. You probably knew that, but you might have briefly forgotten. If you need two or three pens, or a couple of pens and a pencil, a multipen might do everything you need in one.

Carrying LOTS of Pens!

Yes, we know a few of you are a bit obsessed. It's ok. We are too. For those who need (or perhaps want would be a better word here, few people really have this need) to carry perhaps a dozen or more pens, and keep them all well protected and looking smart, there are still a few options.

We have unbranded leather cases for 20 or 40 pens, in quality black leather or a beautifully rustic brown leather we call 'Mountain Bear'. A combination of an intricate manufacturing process and high demand means Visconti's beautiful zipped cases can often be in short supply, but if they're unavailable when you check, you can ask for a notification so you can grab one when they come back.

Carrying a Small Kit - Pens and Stuff

For most of us, there's a limit to how many pens we need with us at once, but there are other bits and pieces we're likely to need too. If you're carrying pens, you probably want to carry a notebook too, and maybe a small ruler, eraser, pencil sharpener, scissors, spare leads, ink cartridges, another eraser in a slightly different shape, a notebook with a different page layout or different paper, a protractor, correction tape, a glue stick...

...sorry, got a bit carried away there. We'll get to that in the next section, but if you're a bit more restrained, and can stick to a small kit, there are some really nice options. Lihit Lab have some nice compact cases, which can each hold a few pens and perhaps some other items too. Nock Co, co-founded by The Pen Addict himself, Brad Dowdy, has some innovative designs for carrying a smaller number of pens along with a few extras.

We really like the Kaweco Nubuck Traveller's Case - up to six pens in individual loops, and a pouch for your other stuff. A fabric flap keeps the two parts separate, so your scissors don't scratch your pens on your travels.

Pen Case or Pencil Case?

A little aside here - what's the difference between a pen case and a pencil case? It's a tricky question. We're not sure there's any set definition, but we usually are pretty sure we know which category something falls into when we see it. Pouch with a zipper and a My Little Pony design? Pencil case. Leather holder for two pens, with a nicely embossed logo on the front? Pen case. Some of the most interesting cases can fall somewhere in the middle, though, and it doesn't matter too much what we decide to call each one. They can all be used for holding pens and/or pencils, so we won't obsess over the name.

Carrying a Large Kit - MORE Pens and MORE Stuff!

Kutsuwa's Dr Ion cases and much of Lihit Lab's range are ideal if you want to carry more with you. These cases are heavy on the organising, with all sorts of options for shapes, and many varieties of compartments for different shaped stuff. You'll need to think a bit about what you're planning to put in the case, and how you'll be carrying it. If it's going to go in a bigger bag, make sure the case will fit inside and leave enough space for your sandwiches, phone and cuddly Bulbasaur.

Pen/Pencil Rolls

One of the more unusual variations for carrying pens and pencils, these are fairly popular among artists as a convenient way to carry a sizable selection of pencils. They are generally a length of cloth with elastic loops all the way along it, so a pencil can tuck into each loop, then the whole thing can be rolled up and kept together with some sort of elastic or string closure. Artists who work with pencils like them because they can hold a large number of pencils, and very quickly lay them all out for easy use. Derwent's pencil wrap is a classic. Graf von Faber-Castell's Luxury Leather Pencil roll is a bit more of an investment, but it's beautiful.

There are some interesting variations, too, like the Nock Brasstown, which incorporates a pen roll into a pencil case design; and the Fabriano Minicartucceria, which applies the pencil roll idea to a more varied selection of stationery. Le Porte-Plume from Paper Republic uses the same idea, but with individual compartments for large pens (or a couple of smaller ones in each), all made from full-grain leather so it will age beautifully.

Notebook Carry

If a notebook is all you're going to carry, that's easy - just carry it, or stick it in your pocket or bag. But you're going to be asking people if you borrow their pen quite often, which will soon get annoying for all concerned. Best to at least take one pen or pencil along too.

If you just need one pen, check out the Leuchtturm pen loop - it sticks to the notebook and adds a pen loop to keep pen and notebook together. Handy. If you use a notebook with a spiral binding, a pen will usually fit down the middle of the spiral, held in place by its clip.

If you need a few more things with you, check out the 'small kit' section above - some of the slim pen or pencil cases can sit quite neatly alongside a notebook.

If you want a way of carrying and protecting the notebook, there are some really nice options. We have leather notebook covers from Paper Republic and Calepino - a cover that works with standard 90x140mm notebooks gives you almost unlimited choices for notebooks to use, including the ever-popular Field Notes. Lihit Lab make pouches that hold a notebook along with other bits and pieces - even letting you keep an A5 notebook alongside an iPad Mini, for example.

Carrying Wooden Pencils

There are simple push-on caps that can protect your pencil's tip, and keep the lead from marking other things in your bag or case. There are more advanced caps, like the Faber-Castell Perfect Pencil, which include a clip for easier carrying, and a hidden sharpener so you have everything you need in once place.

If you do want a separate sharpener, there are all sorts available, from simple and small, to larger cannister types that hold their shavings safely inside.

Oh, and if you like the simplicity and thicker lead of wooden pencils, but also want some of the benefits of mechanical pencils? There are still plenty of clutch pencils around - usually holding thicker leads, 2mm or wider, in a variety of sturdy plastic or metal bodies.

What Should You Carry?

It's the key question, and it's one we can't answer. What you carry has to fit in with your needs and uses. The answer will be different for everyone. And even if your needs are simple and basic, you might want to carry more. Personally, I could get by just fine with a cheap disposable ballpoint and a couple of index cards in my pocket, but I enjoy carrying my Paper Republic notebook cover and a brass Kaweco Liliput fountain pen.

Maybe a pencil and a sheet torn from an old notebook would work for you, but you'd get much more pleasure from having a good notebook and a set of art pencils and accessories in your bag. And maybe you'd be perfectly happy with a Hello Kitty ballpoint, but know your boss wouldn't approve, so you have to keep something a bit smarter around too.

So think about what you need, but don't ignore what you want, and what will give you pleasure. If you're going to make the effort to carry it around, you might as well enjoy it.

26 September 2017


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