As I ventured deeper into the sytem techo world (of Japan), one of my most-used techo happens to be an outlier: Plotter’s 3-hole leather binder. Now, calling it a “techo” probably isn’t right as I used it primarily for quick memos.
It was originally made available as a limited edition item at the “Plotter Special Pop-up Store” held at Aoyama’s “Spiral” in March 2019. In short, you had to visit the store in person to obtain one.
Eventually, in June 2019, it was released as an online store special edition and available only with Pueblo leather. Then in April 2020, the lineup was expanded to include the Shrink leather series, and finally in July 2020, in limited quantities, ones using Cordovan leather.
Why I love this little guy
Measuring at 7.5 cm × 11cm, it’s literally one single piece of full grain leather, no stitches, with a 3-hole 11mm ring binder installed in the middle. Nothing more, nothing less. You can’t get more minimal than this.
Because of its size and weight, it is lightweight, and almost zero bulk to carry around everywhere. I even slip it into my pocket when I’m at home as I walk from room to room. This way, when a thought pops up, I can quickly take note of it so that I can address it or move it to a proper todo list when I’m back at my desk later.
The Pueblo leather is also known to patina well as it is infused with plenty of oil, so in time, it will grow softer and develop a sheen. I could probably accelerate the process but the Plotter website does not recommend providing additional maintenence beyond the occasional light brushing.
I bought mine in Navy color, which looks more like a muted black. In time, it’ll probably look more black than navy.
However, it was a defect merchandise
As much I adore the little guy, the moment I took it out of its packaging, I knew I’ve somehow ended up with a defect merchandise. Unfortunately, as I do not live in Japan and it has been awhile since the purchase (I used a proxy buyer and tend to ship my purchases after I’ve consolidated several purchases to save on shipping costs), I could not have it returned or exchanged so I had to live with it.
Mine came with the ring binder installed slightly off - it’s not obvious unless you really stare at it and consider its alignment. It only becomes obvious when the cover is closed as the edges do not line up properly.
Then the back side of the cover - what’s visible inside - was left unfinished. The Plotter leather covers usually have something applied (probably Tokinole) to provide a hardened, and smooth “finish”. Mine still has its underside fibers sticking out. It looks rugged and does not have that sleek look that one would associate with Plotter’s brand.
Considering the price I paid for this tiny piece of leather, I’ll admit I was quite irked about the lack of quality control. I even did some research and looked at photos from other owners to verify that mine was indeed an odd egg. Unfortunately, it really was.
Despite this, it does not impede its functionality other than look somewhat more rugged and skewed when closed. As evident from this post, I still use it on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, there are some cons
For such a small piece of leather, it can quite cost prohibitive: 6,050円 for Pueblo leather, 4,950円 for Shrink leather, and 8,800円 for Cordovan leather. I originally bought it for the novelty aspect but eventually tapped into its usefulness later. When it was first introduced, it was only available with the Pueblo leather so I did plunk down the money.
At these price points, you could buy other quality leather binders in far larger sizes that could be more practical for your personal workflow.
And now, to a larger issue: the lack of commercial refills for this unique size. Plotter sells a 3-hole refill memo pad with 40 plain sheets for 330円 - let me say this, it’s pretty high quality paper and painful for me to waste them on quick notes. Definitely not disposible quality paper.
So what’s the solution? Make your own refills, or use business card sized index cards (5.5cm × 9.1cm) which is also the same size as its refills. In Japan, there are a number of sources for this but you end with fairly heavyweight paper and its added weight. If you have a local Daiso store, I did find a pack of 200 business card sized paper with the label “Index card mini” for 100円 which is quite affordable but you have to put up with the subpar and thick cardstock paper.
Alternately, Filofax’s Jot Pads, which comes in a set of three, does fit the leather binder nicely. However, its length is 8.5cm which is a little shorter than the available space. And it also comes with a hard paper backing which does add unnecessary bulk.
I usually just cut up A4 paper and make my own refills. The leather binder can fit up to 6.0cm × 9.5 cm sheets of paper quite comfortably, with no extrusions.
Which brings me to the next issue: the lack of markers on 6-hole punches for this size. It’s an added hassle on my part to make sure the paper lines up each time I punch holes or it will look messy when you put them into the binder.
Despite its shortcomings - mostly because of its unconventional size - I find it extremely indispensible in my daily note-taking habit. Its size and minimal footprint really helps me overcome my dislike to carry bulky and/or unneeded things on me.
I just flip it open, write what I need, and when I’m done transfering that information to my regular planner and am ready to cross it off, I just throw that note away and it’s gone. Simple as that.
The downside is I have to dedicate some time to prepare the refills occasionally. I try to make a large batch at a time, as well as keep an eye out during my Daiso raids to see if I can find pre-cut paper that would fit this binder.
But I’ve yet to find a better replacement so for now, I’m happy with this setup!