What is your favorite Gregg-ruled steno pad, and why? (Plus a similar question on writing instrument.)

I’m the sort of person that is a bit OCD, so I like to buy lots of the same thing. For this reason I’m thinking of placing an order on Amazon.com for 20 of the same Gregg-ruled steno pads. There are a lot of choices on Amazon.com, so I thought before I placed an order, I should throw the question out to this community.

What is the make/brand of your favorite Gregg-ruled stenopad, and why? (example: paper quality, spiral that doesn’t bind, ink doesn’t smear, etc.)

Are there any steno pads which are especially good for lefties? I’m not sure if there might be any such, as the spiral on a steno page is on top and should therefore be similar for lefties and righties. But there might still be steno pads which are especially good for lefties as lefties have problems with most left-to-right writing systems, with such things as smearing, etc.

Lastly, what is a good pen for writing fast and smoothly that would be good for GS? Any recommendations?

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  1. I'm left-handed, too.  I did a couple of steno pad reviews quite awhile back on Fountain Pen Network here.  I reviewed Ampad Pastel – Orchid and Skilcraft Bagasse.  I'm not sure if these steno pads are even available any more (both companies still make steno pads, but I don't know if they use the same kind of paper).  Like you, I found something I liked and stockpiled quite a bit of it.  Fountain Pen Network is a great place to read paper, pen and ink reviews.

    These days I write more on bagasse (sugarcane) papers because they hold up well to fountain pen ink (Staples Sustainable Earth line usually has bagasse paper notebooks and composition books, but alas, they don't make a steno pad in this line the last time I looked).  I also like the Leuchtturm 1917 journals.  They don't make a steno pad, but they do have a reporter's notebook (possibly not Gregg ruled, however).  I mostly write in their ginormus Master Classic journals these days, though.  The paper in these size A6 journals is thicker than their other offerings with little-to-no-ghosting on the backside of the sheets.  Even the thinner sheets of their A5 journals don't have a lot of ghosting, at least not problematic to me.  The sheets are smooth.  For lefties, I'd avoid Rhodia– it's wonderful paper, but it is so slick that the ink is much slower to dry on it, particularly fountain pen ink. 

    I like the smooth writing of a Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen (fine nib for shorthand).  The Pilot 78G is also great (you can probably only find the latter on eBay these days). 

    For inks, Noodler's Bad Blue Heron (fountain pen ink) dries very rapidly and is a very permanent ink.  Iron gall inks also dry rapidly and tend to do well on all papers, including poor quality ones.  Diamine Registrars Ink is a great iron gall ink (note:  don't use iron gall ink with a fountain pen that has a rubber ink sac type converter, though, as it has a tendency to eat the sac and cause leaking.  Both Pilot fountain pens I mentioned have these sac converters, but you can substitute a Pilot Con-40 ink converter instead).  A lot of people doing Gregg seem to use gel pens, but I'm an over-writer lefty and I find this position tends to make the ink-flow spotty with gel pens for some reason, particularly when writing rapidly, so I can't use them, unfortunately.

    You'll probably just have to buy a few paper/ink/pen combos and test them out until you find the one you like– then stock up!

    1. Thanks for the comprehensive note Washbear. I looked at your reviews, and discovered Sheaffer's Gregg Writer fountain pen. So I just bought one.  I do have some trepidation, since unlike you, I'm a left-handed under-writer and tend to push fine points (such as nibs) into the paper, making holes. This is why I gave up real pens for ballpoints with big balls and gel pens a long time ago. But I'm game to try again with the Gregg Writer. Do you think the nib of the Gregg Writer is prone to being pushed through paper?

      I looked for both the Ampad and Skilcraft you reviewed and they appear to no longer be made. The Skilcraft in particular is being sold on eBay for over $20 per pad – ouch! I do think I need to stick to Gregg-ruled steno pads for the reasons Carlos mentioned below, while I'm just learning.

      As for ink, which ink works best in your Gregg Writer as a leftie? Is the Noodler's Bad Blue Heron good for that pen?

      1. The nib on my Gregg Writer puts down a medium line thereabouts– heavier than, say, the nice fine line shorthand models in the textbooks, which surprised me.  I haven't tore any holes in any paper yet with it (as an overwriter, I push the nib, too).  I only use Noodler's Heart of Darkness in this particular pen.  I don't think I'd use Noodler's Bad Blue Heron in a vintage pen… this ink requires a little more frequent maintenance and has a tendency to clog some pens if they aren't used daily or flushed periodically.  I wouldn't use iron gall ink in the Gregg pen, either (it has an ink sac).

        Pilot Metropolitan and Parker Vector fountain pens work nicely with Noodler's Bad Blue Heron.  The same properties that make this ink dry so lightning fast are what probably cause it to clog nibs, so just write with it daily and expect to flush the nib from time to time.  Often all it takes to get the nib flowing again is just running the nib under some running water in the sink.  For more stubborn issues due to neglect, just soak the nib feed in a little diluted ammonia for 10 minutes and then rinse well.  You'll be good to go. The nib and plastic nib feed pull out of the Pilot Metropolitan for soaking.  I've never tried to remove the nib from the Parker Vector… I just drop the whole nib section in when it needs to be soaked.

        Hope you find that perfect combo!



        1. Washbear, based on your comments about clogging pens, it seems as if Heart of Darkness doesn't dry as fast as Blue Heron. That said, do you think Heart of Darkness dries fast enough for lefties? Although, I supposed you wouldn't be using it if it didn't.

          It also seems like although you own a Gregg Writer, you aren't really sold on using one for GS. Do you personally prefer the Pilot Metropolitan and Parker Vector that you mentioned, for that?

          My big issue is smearing. I thought I gave up an ink-colored blade of my left hand for good when I switched to using computers for my college papers, and later, work, instead of pen and paper. I'm viewing with some trepidation jumping back into the ink smearing world. So if the Gregg Writer wants to use only slower drying inks, then ultimately, it may not be for me.

          1. Noodler's Heart of Darkness is a little slower to dry than Bad Blue Heron, but I haven't had smudging problems with it, myself.  In these 2 reviews of it on FPN, they have smudge tests.  The one from 2011 shows a little smudging at 1, 3, 5 and 7 seconds, but this one from 2015 shows very little at 1 seconds and none by 3 seconds.  The variance could be caused by one of 3 things:  (1)  Nathan Tardiff is the owner and creator of Noodler's Inks and he creates and hand-fills every bottle himself… sometimes they do vary from batch to batch; (2) the absorbency of the paper can play a huge role in how fast an ink dries- a 100% cotton rag paper would be more absorbent than a slick one like Rhodia; and (3) some nibs just write wetter than others.  A heavier line is just going to take a little longer to dry.  My Gregg Writer is a wet nib, which normally I prefer for regular handwriting, but I prefer a fine line for Gregg shorthand specifically.  Since the Gregg Writer is a vintage collectible pen, I tend to not use it very often just to keep it nice.  Yes, for every day writing, I prefer to use my Pilot and Parker pens.  They're great workhorse pens (I also make my own homemade traditional iron gall inks, and these two pen makers make ink feeds that can handle the acidity of my inks, which endears them to me all the more).

            There are two other inks by Noodler's that dry instantly, though I have no experience with them personally (I usually go for Noodler's most permanent inks– what he calls his "bulletproof" and "eternal" lines.)  These lightning-fast drying inks are Bernanke Black and Bernanke Blue.  Here's a video by Nathan Tardiff demonstrating these inks and how fast they dry.  He even demonstrates it on Rhodia and  Claire  Fontaine papers and they don't smear on them, which is truly impressive for those papers!  These Bernanke inks are not waterproof.  If you require a waterproof ink, stick with Bad Blue Heron and Heart of Darkness.  But if you don't need a waterproof ink, I think you will be delighted by the Bernanke ones.  Oh, I just looked it up on FPN and there is a Bernanke Red as well.  Looks like the red has a little water resistance, too.  (Note:  Nathan likes to get political with his ink names, so those who are politically left-leaning may take offense at some of them.)

            Smearing is no fun.  Remember those erasable ballpoint pens?  Dang, those were useless for us lefties!


            1. Thanks so much Washbear, for the lengthy review and comments. Based on what you said above, your other comments to me, and further Internet research I did on some fountain pen forums, I went ahead and custom-ordered from Japan a Pilot Custom 823 fountain pen with the WA (Waverly) nib which has a slight upward curvature and is uniform in flow even when pushing the point. I think this will be best for me as a lefty (turns out I really am not a pure left-handed under-writer, but 50% under-writer and 50% side-writer, which makes smearing and nib-pushing even worse).

              I also saw the fast-drying user reviews on the Goulet Pens site between Noodlers Heart of Darkness, Noodlers Bad Blue Heron, and Noodlers Bernanke Black, and it seems based on user reviews, which are subjective and not objective, people seemed to think Heart of Darkness is much faster drying than Bad Blue Heron, and Bernanke Black is only a tad bit quicker drying than Heart of Darkness. I guess this just shows the difference between subjective user reviews and more objective testing.

              I've gone ahead and ordered Heart of Darkness for the vintage Sheaffer Gregg Writer that I bought a few days ago, and will wait to make sure my custom-order for the 823 WA is accepted before I order some Bernanke black for it.

              It's been at least 30 years since I've personally used a fountain pen, although my wife has owned and used expensive fountain pens all her life since she was 18yo. Between the Gregg Writer and the new 823 WA that I ordered, I can see how fountain pens can become an expensive pastime!

              So with pen and ink nailed down, my main issue now is trying to find a Gregg-ruled steno pad with very absorbent paper to further reduce smearing. I've been unable to find any steno pads with 100% cotton rag paper. Field Notes offers a Gregg-ruled steno pad, which is well-rated but more expensive for something which one will go through relatively quickly. Maybe not something to use when learning. I may just go with the Ampad or Tops non-recycled steno pads that Carlos suggests, while I am learning GS. I do want to stick with Gregg-ruled steno pads while learning, as mentioned earlier.

              1. Oooh, do let us know how the Pilot 823 WA nib works out… I've never seen a nib like that.  

                I doubt you'd want a 100% cotton rag paper for shorthand, even if one was available as a steno pad… though it's wonderful paper, it tends to be pretty textured and so it would not be the best choice for speed writing.  I think with your ink choices, you'll be fine with the Ampad steno pad.  If not, if you have a favorite copy paper that works well for you, you can create your own pages on Incompetech for free, which lets you customize the line-spacing.  According to Wikipedia, Gregg ruling has 11⁄32 in (8.7 mm) spacing between ruling lines.  For a 8 1/2"x11" custom Gregg sheet on Incompetech, enter 2.91 on the "lines per inch" section.  You won't be able to print a center line like the steno pads have, but you'll get Gregg ruling. 


            2. Washbear, you can see a short Youtube review of the WA (waverly) nib here. It's on a Pilot Custom 912 pen, and this WA nib is a standard option for the 912, but not the 823. Since I want an 823 instead, I had to custom-order the 823 with a WA nib from Japan. If for some reason, my custom order isn't accepted, then I might just buy both an 823 and 912 WA and just switch the nibs. I think nibs are interchangeable between the 823 and 912. 

              From this URL link and some other writeups on the WA nib that I found online, the WA nib appears to really make a big difference for lefties as the ink just flows better (and therefore looks better) when pushing from the left as lefties do so much of. I will report here on how this all works out with my lefty under/side-writing when I get both of these pens.

              Thanks for info on Incompetech. Printing off my own paper and spiral binding it to use as a steno pad seems to require too much commitment though. I think I'll just order one steno pad from each of Ampad and Tops, and then just test which works best for me with these two pens, and then order two dozen of the better one.

  2. I've always just used a ballpoint pen (haven't owned a fountain pen in a long time).  Cheaper pens leave ink blots everywhere, and even with the better-quality pen I'm using now the ink tends to build up around the ball  at higher speeds and creates the occasional blot.

    When the pen is fresh the ink flows smoothly, and so does my writing.  As the ink starts to run out I find that the ink blots disappear, but it feels like I am dragging the pen across the paper, which slows me down considerably.  So when I feel that drag I switch to a new pen.

    If anyone has a suggestion for a ballpoint that doesn't have that ink build-up I would be glad to hear about it!



    1. I like gel pens. Sarasa SE and ZGrip by Zebra.

      Staples Motiva is also good. It was my favorite before I gave gel another chance. Staples Strata was nice, but I haven't found it again.

      These are office supply store pens. Not the cheapest, but definitely not in the locked cabinet.

  3. I am a brand new shorthand learner as well. I have found that extra fine pens work the best for me–it's easier for me to make delicate outlines, especially with loops and smaller letters, with a finer tip. I've been using the Pilot Juice pen which is .38 millimeters.

  4. I bought a box of gel pens by mistake, and regrettec it at first. I didn't have as much control with them. They were too slippery on the paper. Now that I'm used to them, I really like them.

    I prefer fine, as long as it's smooth to write with. I used to try to write very small, and they had to be fine for me to see all the details. Now I write larger, and I've read more shorthand written small with a thick pen. It works, but aesthetically I still prefer fine.

    As for paper, I've always bought the cheap stuff. Most of my writing is in cheap college-ruled notebooks. I finally gave up trying to write between the lines last year, and realized I write much faster and neater at the standard size or maybe a bit larger, and double space. Sometimes I print my own graph paper. It really makes a difference to see how long each line should be. It doesn't fit perfectly, but at least I know how wide the letters should be. After much experimentation, I settled on 5mm paper, short as half square, medium is 1 square, long is 2 squares. 



    1. My biggest complaint with cheap ball points is the angle. If you don't hold them straight enough, they skip, or I can feel them catching on the paper.

  5. For the paper, I have never found something smoother than Clairefontaine papers for letters. They are not ruled but they are so transparent that I can put beneath a paper with rules.
    And fountain pen on it… 🙂

  6. This question comes often, so here are some links from previous discussions. The choice of pen and paper is very individual to the writer. In general, I tend avoid steno notebooks thicker than 80 pages (they feel too thick for me — that is unless they are court reporting notebooks from pengad, which are fine) and those with paper that is too thin or that it bleeds. My general recommendation is not to buy it in bulk now because you don't really know what would feel right for you. Instead, just buy one notebook from Office Depot and see if you like it. Try one of the Ampad or Tops Gregg ruled notebooks first — they are usually very good. Lastly, since you are still learning, stick to Gregg ruled paper for now: you need to learn to write thinking about proportion of characters first. If you start with lines that are too small, you won't get a sense of how the characters should look like. Later on, once you know how to write, then you can write on anything you want.

    Pens and Pads and Tools of the Trade

    Tools of the Trade?

    Favorite Tools?

    Paper / Pen / Ink Combos for Shorthand

    Lastly, here is a discussion about left-handed writing. It gives you some pointers about how to write, etc.


    1. Thanks for all these links Carlos (or do you prefer Chuck?). I went through all of them with great interest. Because of one of the one of Washbear's reviews, I ended up buying a Shaeffer Gregg Writer fountain pen today and from your links, I see you have one too.

      What do you feel is the best ink and steno pad combo that works with the nib in this particular pen for GS? As a leftie, I need a fast drying ink or else I'll be trailing ink everywhere from the edge of my hand (I'm an under-writer).

      I was checking out Washbear's recommendations on the Ampad and Skilcraft above, but those particular stenopads with the paper Washbear reviewed are no longer made.

      1. Inks: I don't write with fountain pens that often anymore, but when I did, I used Private Reserve inks because they were thick and they won't run out of the pen (some inks are too watery and you end up with a mess). They also make a fast drying ink but I haven't tried it — maybe that would work for you. Amazon carries Private Reserve. For steno pad, like I said, any brand with real paper (Ampad, Tops, etc.) and Gregg ruling should work (recycled paper tends to bleed with fountain pens so I wouldn't use it).

        (BTW, Carlos is perfectly fine: Chuck was one of my nicknames for the site long time ago.)

  7. I usually use any top wire-bound notebook. As long as it isn't too absorbent or thin. I use a fountain pen (right-handed), usually an inexpensive Lamy Safari, Pilot Metropolitan etc. I prefer the Safari, because it doesn't have the step. Some people find the ergonomic grip irritating, I don't.

    In fact I prefer paper without lines, as my Gregg tends to get quite big. If I can't find a pad without lines down the middle, I draw the lines myself, for the next couple of pages in advance.

    In fact I use printer paper regularly. I flip it into landscape mode and divide it into 4 columns. I find flipping it into landscape helps, as there is usually a pause when I reach the ends of the column, and in landscape I don't have to waste time going all the way back up.


  8. Sometimes expert (high-speed) shorthand writers would divide the columns into two; thus, there would  be four columns per page.  The idea was that it would reduce hand movement.  I think there is some truth to this.

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