Some New Information
No, this isn’t a mistake. Melz, a fantastic reader, submitted a comment with so much wonderful information, I asked their permission to post it as an addendum to my Plotter alternatives series. You can find even more information about “system techos” on Melz’s blog.
I have only slightly edited the content below to make it flow well (like adding headers). Where I have edited the text (as opposed to just rearranging something), I’ve placed it [in brackets]. Please don’t grant me credit for this knowledge, it comes from the fantastic brain of Melz.
While Plotter markets itself as a leather binder, it is completely categorized as a “system techo” (システム手帳) in Japan. If you throw that into your preferred search engine, you will start to see more relevant results in terms of matching binder sizes and refills.
Quick History Lesson
When Filofax was introduced to Japan in the 80s, every business man just had to carry one — it was a sign of prestige, luxury and extravagance. Think fountain pens. That’s why most system techos, by design, are expensive and predominantly made of leather. As it became absorbed into the Japanese business culture, the system techo was born as were the “standard” sizes mentioned [in your series] (different companies in Japan also use different names for the M5 and M6 sizes).
|Personal (most common size in Japan)
|Mini/Mini 6 (M6)
|Mini 5/Micro 5 (M5)
When it comes to system techos, there are 5 major players in Japan: Ashford, Knox/Plotter, DaVinci (RayMay), Brelio, and Bindex (Nolty). Beyond these 5, there are countless others because artisan leather companies in Japan that cater to fancy executive fashion will typically sell a Bible size system techo cover in their lineup.
In addition to the 4 sizes listed above, there are two other popular (non-standard) sizes that were produced/marketed by the top 2 companies (Ashford and Knox):
[Narrow is] the height of Bible — to have more room to write — and the width of M6 — to fit in your palm. [This size] slips easily into your jacket’s inner pocket or a back pocket. It was introduced by Knoxbrain (now known as Knox) which is owned by the same company as Plotter, DesignPhil. This size has existed for quite awhile — at its height, even Ashford and DaVinci produced Narrow sized covers. Once the system techo popularity faded, they [Ashford and DaVinci] no longer produced them. Knox and of course, Plotter, [continue to do so, likely] since they started the size and are obliged to keep it going. If you find Plotter’s selection of Narrow sized inserts lacking, I’d highly recommend looking at Knox’s selection [Refills | 2024 Schedule] because they have to carry the full catalogue of refills for every size available. And their refills are typically cheaper than Plotter despite using the same paper (DP paper)! Since it’s the same height as the Bible size, you can also use Narrow sized paper in a Bible binder.
[HBxWA5 is the] height of Bible and the width of A5, produced by Ashford. Among the system techo scene, we just call it “HB”. The A5 Marks binder [mentioned in the Plotter series], is also available in the HB size. When the system techo scene started to die out as people switched to using their cellphones, Ashford introduced this size. They targeted the “female population” that filled social media with their refills peppered with stickers, washi-tape, and instant photos — in short, they want more room per sheet, but keeping the portability of the Bible size rather than the A5 size which is the next step up. It remains a popular size today but you can only find “official” refills for them from Ashford, and maybe Mark’s and Memorist if you look hard enough. Since it’s the same height as the Bible size, you can easily fold HB sized paper and store them in a Bible sized binder. Alternately, you can also use Bible sized accessories and paper in a HB cover.
There are less known sizes, of course. Plotter has also experimented with the Square size (height of Bible, squared), M5 Square (height of M5, squared), 3-ring binders (approximately business card size — Rhodia Japan recently released some), and more recently (May 2023) from Shumibun, the M6 Narrow (height of M6, width of M5). None of these are widely available sizes and you can generally only buy the paper refills from the said companies.
The beauty of the “system techo” is that with the 4 standard sizes [readily] available (granted, M5 is less available), you can easily get refills for those sizes at any major Japanese stationery store. Major paper-related brands like LIFE, Apica, etc., also produce refills for these sizes. In short, they are quite accessible in Japan. Because it is a “system”, you can mix and match any brand of refills and they will fit properly (with negligible differences — e.g. Davinci’s M6 is a few mm thinner than regular M6 on the market). I believe at the recent annual System Techo Salon event held at Itoya Ginza, the total count of refill types across all sizes is about 1,000, with about 200 covers. Talk about choice!
Back to Plotter
Now back to your post! You are correct that when it comes to Plotter, it’s all about leather & paper. There are tons and tons of system techo covers out there so what makes Plotter, Plotter, is the 11mm rings and the leather.
A little bit of history about Plotter. The predecessor of Plotter is actually called “Luft” and was produced under the Knoxbrain (now Knox) brand. Apparently, it was really popular which was why they decided to spin out a new brand to sell it — focusing on minimalism. You get a basic cover and you have the freedom of choice to decide what you want in it, versus having it come with pockets and extra flaps that take up room. Leather has long been a sign of luxury, so a major part of the brand is introducing different artisan leathers and encouraging users to appreciate its unique features and “nurture” the leather to make it uniquely yours.
The 11mm, for some, may be constricting. However, Japanese system techos, by design, were intended to only contain essentials. The Chinese character for “hand” (手) is part of the term “techo” — the basic idea is that it’s something you carry and have on your person at all times. So a major intention, by design, is to keep it light enough to be carried around. A businessman really just needs to carry a calendar to look up appointments, some paper to keep memos, and store business cards. At the end of every week, you take some time to file away the things that are no longer needed in the system techo and you add new sheets of paper to it. It’s not meant to be the “keep everything inside” thing that the western world tends to use them as. Of course, they can’t dictate how you should use it but they aren’t marketed the same way as a Filofax would be, which is why most folks don’t realize it’s the same thing! This is also why a large part of the refill accessories on the market also cater to filing/storing these refills away.
Knox actually had several other designs (featuring one piece of leather with no pockets) that sported larger rings, such as the Il Buttero line (sadly discontinued). They have long been discontinued but I hope that someday, they will pop back up under the Plotter brand. Knox itself, according to Saitou-san, the Brand Producer for both Knox and Plotter, now focuses on all-in-one system techos (with all the bells and whistles like pockets and flaps built-in) while Plotter focuses on the minimalistic designs.
The other major thing to mention is paper. Because the system techos are designed to be carried on the person, the refill papers are formulated to be lightweight but durable. The Tomoe River (TR) paper, for example, was also known as “techo paper” because it was designed to meet this niche of being able to pack so many sheets in your binder. For TR paper fans, Raymay/Davinci refills use TR paper. Both Knox and Plotter use DesignPhil (DP) paper which was developed with the same idea in mind.
[Referring to] the number of sheets per ring size, it varies depending on the paper weight. The “official” numbers with regards to using Japanese produced paper (quoted from System Techo Style vol. 8) are:
- 25mm: ~200 pages
- 19mm: ~140 pages
- 15mm: ~110 pages
- 13mm: ~100 pages
- 11mm: ~70 pages
- 8mm: ~55 pages
Not System Techos
Now regarding Kokuyo, Kleid, and other [similar brands]: these are geared towards “loose leaf paper”, which is another “system” and the most commonly available. Students and offices would use these sizes, in particular, the B5 (26 hole) size. Common manufacturers for this size include Kokuyo, Maruman, Life, etc. — any brand that produces general stationery and paper. Their associated binders (note: they are never called covers, because that term is reserved for system techos) are either made of plastic or cloth (Kokuyo’s Color Palette series is topnotch). I don’t think I’m aware of any brand that produce them with real leather — Maruman’s Giuris line, for example, has a “luxury” binder for loose leaf paper which uses PU leather.
If you are ever interested in stepping into the world of system techos, I highly recommend purchasing a copy of “System Techo Style”, an annual magazine that covers the system techo scene in Japan. Even if you do not understand Japanese, the magazine is full of color pictures of all the latest releases by the major brands in Japan (Plotter being one of them). It is produced by the same company/team as “Shumi no bungu-bako” (Hobby Stationery Box) magazine, which is published quarterly and is the authoritative source for the latest luxury stationery (fountain pens, etc.) in Japan.
In conclusion, I know much of the information and products I’ve made in this long comment reference to Japanese-centered brands and items. But if anyone is interested in exploring the Plotter binders but wanted covers with more pockets or different types of refill inserts, I hope I did a decent job hinting that there is a whole market out there for them. And I believe you’ve also done an excellent job covering all the other different sizes that can be explored when it comes to ring based binders!
I hope you found Melz’s information useful. I know I enjoyed the history lesson immensely! Were you aware that system techos, planners, and loose-leaf binders were all different things? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.