Calling all exhibitors:

shop-sa, in conjunction with My Office, will be hosting a digital trade show on Wednesday 11 August 2021.

The 105-year-old association of the stationery and home office products industry is hosting a virtual trade show to provide both association members and members of the public with a platform for brand exposure during these trying times.

What is a virtual trade show and how will it work?

In these unprecedented times, a traditional trade show is not possible. This online event will allow exhibitors to showcase their products and services in many different ways, in one online space.

The expo can be viewed using any device from mobile phone to computer, from virtual stalls to live presentations.

  • A pinned post will remain on the top of the news page on the My Office Magazine website, and will be updated with information on exhibitors up to the day of the event.
  • Logos, brochures and links of participating exhibitors will be displayed on the website.
  • Participating exhibitors will select an available time slot to host a live presentation.
  • Workshops will be advertised prior to event.
  • Visitors will contact exhibitor to book “seats”.
  • The exhibitor will send links to visitors prior to live presentation.
  • These videos will be hosted on YouTube or the exhibitor’s own website.

Links and advertising for the trade show will be sent to a database of 20 000 end-users and consumers on a regular basis, but any member of the public will be allowed to view the videos and brochures during and after the show.

The expo will also be marketed on various social media platforms to create awareness leading up to the event.

Sign up to be an exhibitor today! You too can become a member of shop-sa from as little as R855 ex VAT per annum – and access our exclusive member pricing.

Exhibitor packages

Lite package 
Member pricing: R1 000 ex VAT / R1 150 incl VAT
Non-member pricing: R1 500 ex VAT /  R1 725 incl VAT

Introduce yourself: who you are and what you do
1 short video (5 minutes or less)

Basic package
Member pricing: R1 500 ex VAT / R1 725 incl VAT
Non-member pricing: R2 000 ex VAT / R2 300 incl VAT

Introduce yourself: who you are and what you do
Up to 3 videos

Pro package
Member pricing: R5 000 ex VAT / R5 750 incl VAT
Non-member pricing: R7 000 ex VAT / R8 050 incl VAT

Introduce yourself: who you are and what you do
Up to 10 videos or brochure links
The option to host a live Zoom workshop/talk/demo
Additional promotion and spotlight features on mailers sent before the event

Call for prizes

Put your brand front and centre!

A number of competitions will be run during the course of, and after, the event. All donated prizes will be listed with your company’s name or logo visible.

For more information, please contact Wendy on (012) 548 0046, 082 963 7441 or

Innovation brings the future closer

Across the world, cities are constantly looking for new ways to improve service delivery and enhance living and working ecosystems for citizens. It’s no surprise that many consider digital technology to be the ideal methodology to help deliver new public services, address existing problems, and reshape citizen engagement.

Digital technology holds the key to the successful transformation of cities. It can accelerate and enable economic prosperity and commerce, improve safety and security, and make a real impact on the quality of life for citizens.

According to the World Bank Report on Digital Citizen Engagement, the use of new media communication technologies presents exciting opportunities to improve communication between citizens and government institutions.

“Most of the cities’ operational processes are not citizen-centric. They are structured for the physical world and lack the human touch. It is clear that digital technology is shaping the way government engages with communities and can help cities in addressing or managing issues around service delivery,” comments Lawrence Kandaswami, MD, SAP South Africa.

Innovation forces public sector institutions to think differently about how to provide services, how citizens consume and share information, and how to engage with citizens. This requires an innovative digital platform with the relevant digital tools to meet all these needs and serve citizens better. SAP Digital Core for cities focuses on all these aspects and more. The technology is designed to help cities prosper, improve safety and security, and become more resilient.

How can technology help cities become more resilient?
One of the challenges that cities face is managing natural disasters such as floods. In many cases, drains get blocked due to the volume of heavy rains, creating blockages that prevent the rapid and safe diversion of the storm water. “With the help of technology, cities can now use digital technology to manage these risks. For example, by installing sensors in the drain system, the city can monitor water levels, detect any malfunction in the drains and allocate resources in real time to remedy the situation, before it hits disaster levels. The city of Dubai provides another good customer case study on resilience and saving projects costs,” explains Kandaswami.

Helping cities transition to digital transformation
Digital transformation allows cities to tap into their own data and transform that data into meaningful business insights and decisions. The use of technology can help cities to interpret, understand, plan, prioritise, and target specific problem areas to find the right solution. When we think about constituent engagement, the first thing to remember is that it’s not one-dimensional. Increasing numbers of citizens may want a digital channel – but that’s not every citizen. Innovation brings a new level of engagement with a digital experience. This means more citizens can take advantage of self-service functionality, instead of standing in long queues to pay for services.

Economic prosperity is every city’s ideal goal

The use of digital technology enables cities to engage citizens and service providers to help cities understand challenges like transport flow management, scheduling of resources, and budget allocations. Engaged citizens can communicate better with government and exchange important information that could help cities improve service delivery.

“SAP technology is a relevant digital option for cities because citizens need simple choices. The technology puts citizens at the heart of how a service is delivered, presented, and consumed. It is designed with the “Future Cities” in mind to take cities through the journey of digital transformation. Today’s citizens are looking for personalised services that are easily accessible. Citizens and government engagement should be part of the operational process with clear collaboration plans for the sustainability and economic prosperity of cities.” concludes Kandaswami.

Africa the superpower

What a difference a century makes. If we stepped back in time to a hundred years ago we’d find an undeveloped China; a Middle East that had yet to discover the riches of oil and most of Southeast Asia consisted of countries that were barely distinguishable from medieval societies. It was an entirely different world.

Roll back two hundred years and many European nations would be far removed from the modern countries they are today. It is an enduring myth that fools us to believe everything has always been like it is today; that the societies at the top of the pile have always been there. Technological and social revolutions have molded the modern world and opportunity is out there for the taking.

When asked why I am so optimistic about Africa my answer is simple: look at how far we have come and look at how fast we are moving forward.

By 2050, it is estimated that Africa will boast a $29-trillion economy. It will have the largest youth labour market in the world and if guided and educated correctly, the same youth will be the workforce of that world.

Even today, the future is starting to glow in Africa. Many projects and initiatives are delivering and being joined by new catalysts every day. According to Jake Bright, co-author of The Next Africa: An Emerging Continent Becomes a Global Powerhouse, there are already over 200 innovation hubs on the continent, 3,500 tech-related ventures and $1 billion in venture capital injected into local start-ups.

Africa is modernising at an unmatched rate. Its tremendous mobile device adoption proves this fact. African companies and people simply accept that new technologies will improve their lives and if what they need does not exist, they will create it. From new solar power systems to the much-celebrated M-PESA mobile banking, Africa innovates at the edge. While other countries wonder about delivering packages with quadcopters, we are already pioneering intelligent drone systems sophisticated enough to track poachers. It was an African student who developed a new rocket fuel – in his mother’s rural kitchen!

This culture of innovation leapfrogging is one of Africa’s secret weapons, supported by a rising tide of SMEs. Though policy and leadership have been slow to respond, we hear new voices promoting SME and innovation cultures every day. Rwanda, for example has reduced new business registrations from over 18 days to as little as 6 hours through a series of reforms that include technology and paperless processes. As a result, more companies were registered there in 2009 than the total five years before that – and it keeps growing. Skills are central to Africa’s future and I see a lot of promise in the growing pool of related projects across the continent. Technology skills are being brought to schools everywhere with innovations including container classrooms and maker hubs. Tertiary skills are also being reinforced through partnerships with universities, as well as award-winning programmes such as SAP Africa’s Skills for Africa and Africa Code Week, the latter which trained over 86, 000 youngsters in basic coding skills last year.

But this is not a services revolution. Africa’s resources and agriculture remain important. They benefit acutely from innovation. One example is the partnership between SAP and GIZ, developing systems used by cashew farmers in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Mozambique to better manage their supply chain.

Thanks to the continent’s demand for hardy and meaningful technology, which is being driven by partnerships that reinforce Africa’s role in creating a better world, Africa is where others will look for the best in new innovation. The SAP Rural Sourcing Management solution is one direct result of this. Refined on African farms, it will serve as a blueprint to meet agriculture and food challenges across the world.

I believe that Africa will emerge to be the third centre of global power, settled in between the worlds of the East and West. The world needs Africa. It needs its resources, its people, its skills and its insights and Africa is rising to meet those expectations. Yes, it has not been a smooth ride, but the winds of change are blowing in the right direction. This will be Africa’s century.

By Brett Parker, MD of SAP Africa

The business plan is dead

We are living through the most disruptive period in our history. One only needs to consider companies like AirBnb, uBer, WhatsApp and Tesla to understand how quickly established companies can become disrupted by new entrants into the market.

The reality is that if your company is going to survive in today’s digitally enabled economy, you need to adapt to a plethora of new market pressures, increasing disruptive competition and a customer which is becoming increasingly harder to reach.

The New (Current) Reality
No business is immune. The reality is that the world is moving off a linear trajectory and onto an exponential one. Take the advertising industry for example, since the 1970’s it has been enjoying a steady linear growth but then, in the early 2000’s digitization and connected networks suddenly exploded the number of distribution channels for traditional advertising networks.

There are three key drivers of the evolution of media.

1) Consumer pull: Consumers, and particularly Generation C, are already fully adapted to the digital environment.

2) Technology push: Digital technology continues to penetrate all aspects of our lives. We are after all living in the fourth industrial revolution. Tech has never been more affordable, but the capabilities of our technology (take cloud computing for example). Has exponentially increased.

3) Economic benefits: The economic benefits to be captured through digitization are real. The freelancing market in the UK contributed GBP 109 billion to the UK’s GDP last year, that is more than the entire automotive industry combined. The ability to scale at a fraction of the cost has seen a wave of capital being poured into new digitization technologies, and the public markets reward early movers with unprecedented valuations.

The Business Plan Is Dead
Business plans are often cited as the first thing an entrepreneur should write for a startup, but no business plan has ever survived the realities of the market.
I recently interviewed Craig Mullett, the President of the Branison group about this exact fact. Craig has invested in hundreds of startups and went so far as saying: “If a startup has more than one tab on the spreadsheet for its planned commercial model it’s way too much.” The current business environment is changing so rapidly that even established businesses are suffering from ever increasing changing market and as a result these dynamics are putting proven business models under increasing pressure and duress.

This manifests in things like declining revenues, loss of market share and increasingly, exposure to new disruptive competitors that are not constrained by organizational inertia and arthritic corporate structures.
A startup is well positioned to take advantage of this for several reasons, but by the time a business plan has been written for a market that market in most cases has changed to such a degree that the assumptions and strategy defined in the business plan has already become irrelevant.

Why Startups Need a Business Case
The highly-regarded entrepreneur Brad Feld has this to say:
Today, it’s clear to me that business plans for startup companies are a historical artifact that represented the best approach at the time to define a business for potential investors. In the past decade, we’ve shifted from a “tell me about it” approach (the business plan) to a “show me” approach (the Lean Startup). Rather than write long exhaustive documents, entrepreneurs can rapidly prototype their product and get immediate user and market feedback.

Agility and the adoption of lean product development methods has all but replaced the need for a 30-page business plan. From an investors perspective, the key requirement of a business case is to table a view on a potential market opportunity at a product level. Ideally, a problem or opportunity that is sizable and lucrative and based on that problem/opportunity it needs to define and demonstrate how a single action and strategy will solve that problem.

The business case should also predict cash flow results and the non-financial impacts that follow from the action and the execution of the strategy. A business case, unlocks the ability of an entrepreneur to get to market quickly and to disrupt the speed and frequency at which value is created.

The StratLab For Startups

With the business plan being past its prime, Digital Kungfu has developed a unique methodology that incorporates the best of aspects of a business plans while speeding up the process for a startup to disrupt a traditional market.

Our process, forced entrepreneurs to think through critical assumptions and strategic drivers about their business and helps them to the key strategic elements necessary to achieve success. The StratLab workshop helps entrepreneurs gain a basic understanding of what they are getting into before the rubber hits the road and empowers them with a new process of thinking and new way to articulate the value that a startup will create in any market.

The business environment is constantly changing. The startups that will succeed are the ones who have a clear strategy that is designed to make them #1 in their market and which positions them for exponential growth in the future.

By Matt Brown, CEO of Digital Kungfu

South Africa’s general retailers index posted its biggest daily loss in nearly two weeks on Monday, capping gains on the bourse after ratings downgrades last week knocked the rand currency, raising the prospect of inflation curbing consumption.

The rand extended its recent losses as the credit downgrades to “junk” by two ratings firms last week following the sudden firing of the finance minister kept investors jittery.

The general retailers index shed 2.77% on Monday, bringing its decline to around 12% since March 27 when President Jacob Zuma recalled finance minister Pravin Gordhan from an overseas investors roadshow, before firing him in a cabinet reshuffle.

Massmart, majority-owned by Wal-Mart, lead the way, falling 4.85%.

“It looks like people are starting to realise that these downgrades will cause the economy to slow down, that’s generally a negative for retailers,” said Cratos Capital equities trader Greg Davies.

Overall, the market closed higher. Advancers included Anglo American, which closed 1.6% higher after announcing it would sell its Eskom-linked thermal coal operations in South Africa for $166 million, marking an important step in strategic overhaul to sharpen its focus.

The broader All-Share index increased 0.54% to 53,139.86 points, while the benchmark Top-40 index added 0.73% to 46,422.49 points.

On the foreign exchange market, at 23:50 the rand traded at 13.9501 per dollar, 1.20% weaker from its New York close on Friday.

In fixed income, the yield for the benchmark government bond due in 2026 climbed 7.5 basis points to 9.005%.

By Olwethu Boso for

School stationery woes plague Limpopo

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) in Limpopo says delays with the delivery of stationery have improved but the Sekhukhune district still remains a concern.

Sadtu members from various regions reported on the progress of stationery delivery in the province.

While deliveries had been made to most schools, Sadtu claims that some schools in Vhembe and Mopani are yet to receive stationery.

But the union has added that the situation is no longer a crisis there.

Sekhukhune, however, remained a worry.

“Vhembe and Mopani have picked up in terms of stationery delivery, there is no crisis now. The crisis remains at Sekhukhune,” Sadtu provincial secretary Matome Raphasha told News24 on Thursday.

The union hoped that the education department would move swiftly to address the problem as it argued that the lack of these materials at schools could have a ripple effect and affect final exams.

Court challenge

“It is possible that there could be omissions and shortfalls,” said Limpopo education department spokesperson Naledzani Rasila.

Rasila advised affected schools to contact their circuit offices.

Earlier this year a legal challenge was launched over the tender to deliver stationery in the province.

On Tuesday the education department was successful in a case involving two service providers who claimed that those awarded the stationery delivery tenders were irregularly appointed.

The two losing bidders took the department to court to try and get an interdict and to overturn its tender decision, and therefore halt delivery of stationery in the province.

The companies, Afropulse and Freedom Stationery, sought to overturn the awarding of the tender to African Paper Products and instead have it awarded to the two companies.

But the department had argued that it had almost completed the delivery of stationery to the 4 000 schools in the province.

By Chester Makana for News24

A sales update from Massmart has revealed so-so results, but in these trying times that’s just a couple of notches down from a howling success.

Sales were up 7,7% to R91,3-billion in the 52 weeks to 25 December, ahead of product inflation of 6,7%, but down from market expectations, and from last year’s performance (growth of 8,4% against product inflation of 3%).

Masswarehouse – that’s Makro to the rest of us – grew fastest, at 11%, while Masscash (Cambridge, Jumbo and so on) grew at 7,5%, although this was beaten down by internal inflation of 9,3%.

Massdiscounters (Game, DionWired) came in at 5,3%, while Massbuild somewhat disappointingly trundled home at 5,6%.

While there was an uptick in sales at home, they declined elsewhere, vindicating the decision to take it easy in Africa.

Source: Trade Tatler

Just as instant music streaming and the likes of Spotify are encouraging increasing numbers of us to invest in a Crosley and dust down our vinyl, a similar story is materialising in the world of messaging. WeChat, Snapchat, WhatsApp…whatever – it seems digital communication has served to reignite our romance with pen and ink.

If you recall the thrill of Saturday mornings spent shopping for brightly patterned paper, coloured inks and scented erasers, prepare to go back to the future. A host of new stationery brands have launched online tapping into what it was like to be a stationery-loving child of the Eighties but in a far more sophisticated way.

The ability to create customised greetings cards, invitations and letterheads that reflect a personal style was pioneered by Paperless Post, a US website established in 2009 by New York siblings James and Alexa Hirschfield. It now has more than 100-million users in the States – so the pair have decided to expand internationally, starting with the UK. “It was a natural step because we already have hundreds of thousands of British customers who have used the service through the American website,” says Hirschfield.

They’ve got stiff competition, though, in the form of a London-based rival Papier, which launched last autumn. Branding itself as “design-led”, the overarching aesthetic of Papier is playful illustration with a roster of international artists supplying designs, such as young British illustrator Luke Edward Hall. His bright, optimistic style blends Greco-Roman influences with a touch of the Bloomsbury Group “and a dash of Palm Springs” and has been applied to cards, invitations and stationery.

Papier appears to be getting it right: since its launch, it has grown at a rate of 20% per month. “We’re seeing lots of customers buying stationery sets with patterns and motifs, including emojis and monograms that are clearly personal to the recipient,” says founder Taymoor Atighetchi. “People are asking for bespoke motifs, too – recently a woman wanted very specific stationery featuring a brown trout for her husband who loves fishing, which we created for her.”

At the other end of the spectrum is Eleanor Tattersfield, whose design brand Marby & Elm began as a cottage-industry using a Flatbed Adana letterpress in her garden shed. Her witty, brightly coloured typographic designs were stocked in Liberty within a year of starting the company in 2011. Five months ago, she set up shop in Clerkenwell, east London, where she offers a unique while-you-wait bespoke stationery service: a set of 12 personalised notepapers and envelopes is £35 (R780).

“If I try to analyse the appeal of letterpress,” says Tattersfield, “I think it’s the juxtaposition of contemporary vivid colour with Victorian type – it’s modern design but executed in a traditional way.” Her brand is proof that we no longer yearn for overtly formal stationery, but are prepared for irreverence in our correspondence. One of her first commissions was a set of thank-you cards for a pre-eminent psychiatrist, who wanted “F**k Yeah!” emblazoned upon them. It is now one of her bestselling lines.

With the UK greetings card market worth an estimated £1,75-billion (R35,9-billion), fashion brands are hoping to steal a slice. Matthew Williamson has just launched his first stationery range, adorned by 17 prints from his archive, including flamboyant peacock feathers. Williamson is keen to inspire pensmiths with his designs: “It’s such a lovely surprise these days to open a stamped envelope. I have a wall at home above my desk filled with special thank-you messages which I love to look at. With the digital age, letter-writing is seen as unnecessary, but I would love to do my bit to revive it.”

Menswear brand Oliver Spencer and Harvey Nichols are also broadening their offering with stationery. Both have called on the services of modern stationery company Mark + Fold, whose designs are less about decorative pattern and more about celebrating the raw materials. Founder Amy Cooper-Wright studied philosophy and French, but a book-binding evening class at St Martins had her hooked. She started out making notebooks for family and friends and set up Mark+ Fold after gaining a design MA.

“Choosing to use stationery in the digital age is very much a conscious choice, and so paper has to have a materiality that you want to choose to write on,” says Cooper-Wright. “I use a small niche of mills in Scotland and Greater Manchester, and one in Holland because it offers Cold-glue Ota-binding, which no one else can do, but produces notebooks that open completely flat.” Such attention to detail has made the Mark One Notebook, with 35 per cent cotton paper, her bestseller.

Artisanal and bespoke, Mark + Fold is definitely targeted at the aesthete, but it has a considered philosophy behind it. “I take inspiration from Kenya Hara, the force behind Muji. He wrote a book called White, about the power of a white surface and our compulsion to make our mark on it. Starting the first page of a notebook can be quite emotional. It’s just not the same on screen. It’s been proven that you think differently on paper so using stationery is much more than just a style statement.”

By Bethan Ryder April for

One morning last month a man sat down at his computer and ordered $4 000 worth of pencils designed to look like John Steinbeck’s favorite, the Blackwing 24.

“It’s probably the most iconic pencil ever made in America,” says Caroline Weaver, whose shop on New York’s Lower East Side, C.W. Pencil Enterprise, took the order of 1 920 pencils.

C.W. carries more than 200 types of pencils, including the Blackwing (also favored by Walt Disney), as well as a dozen erasers and sharpeners, and zero mechanicals.

“Mechanical pencils, they don’t smell like anything. The lead is so small you can get no line variation out of it,” says Weaver, 25. “Though it is a little bit of work to use a wood-cased pencil, most people appreciate that. There’s a physical connection you can draw between how often you have to sharpen your pencil and how much work you’ve done.”

The shop was bustling on a recent Thursday afternoon as Weaver made rapid-fire sales to a hodgepodge of tourists, designers, and high school students. Three Spaniards approached the cash register, unsure which of their coins amounted to the 87 cents they needed to buy a miniature pencil. Weaver solved the problem and carefully packaged their purchase in a custom envelope, tying her signature bow around it.

Her devotion is reflected in a tattoo on her forearm of a black Ticonderoga from the early 2000s that her mother, an interior designer trained in technical drawing, created. “I had her sharpen it three times,” Weaver says, “because a pencil sharpened and used three times is the perfect length.”

The hipster movement and Steampunk aesthetic have brought back a number of other traditional products. Restoration Hardware fashions 20th-century trunks into $2 495 bookshelves. Tin ceilings popular in the late 1800s are being reproduced in plastic. And vinyl, done in long ago by the cassette tape, has been resurrected. Pencils, unlike trunks, still serve a day-to-day function for students, designers, and contractors, as well as note takers predisposed to changing their minds.

Hipsters don’t pay the bills at C.W., though. While most of Weaver’s customers are millennials, she says, the big spenders are the roughly 15 percent who are over 50. The shop’s top five customers, who spend between $3 000 and $4 000 a year, are all over 40.

The average sale at C.W. is about $50 online, $25 in the store. Weaver typically charges twice her wholesale cost. She declines to disclose total costs or revenue but says the business turns a profit.

The pencil industry boasts a lively collector’s market, and Weaver says that, as far as she knows, C.W. is the only brick-and-mortar store catering to this demographic. Despite some nice buzz (here, here, and here, for example), she faces competition from,, and resellers on EBay, and tries to distinguish C.W. with the in-store experience. She’s familiar with every pencil she sells, as well as with those she can’t get her hands on; many are no longer in production. Bantering, that Thursday, with a collector from out of town, she sold him and his wife about $100 of merchandise and recommended a pencil podcast.

Weaver grew up in a small town in Ohio, went on to study art at London’s Goldsmiths, and traveled the world picking up new pencils along the way (such as a mint green set of three she acquired in Japan, her favorite at the moment). She risked personal funds of $80 000 to build up inventory, create the online store, and pay advance rent. Weaver launched the website in November 2014, found a retail space of roughly 200 square feet renting for $1 900 a month, and opened the doors in March of last year.

“I didn’t want it to be in a shopping neighborhood,” she says of the store, on Forsyth Street, above a restaurant, Birds & Bubbles, that specialises in champagne and fried chicken. “I didn’t want anything too polished. I like the idea that this shop kind of has to be discovered, that people seeking it out would be brought to a neighborhood that they might not usually come to.”

Since C.W. opened, the block has filled up with other quirky businesses. A 14-year-old neighbor stops by regularly to purchase pencils for her exams at the exacting Bronx High School of Science. She gets a neighborhood discount, reflecting her frequency as a client and Weaver’s management style.

Demand is sometimes more than Weaver and her staff of four (all millennials) can manage, she says.

“I have had a couple people offer to invest in the business, and I’ve declined. I’m not good at finance things. It really terrifies me, so even if it’s unwise, as long as I can keep it as simple as possible, I feel safer,” she says.

She and Caitlin Elgin, deputy pencil lady1, closed the shop for a week in February to travel to Germany, where they found a manufacturer for their cases and, as a bonus, a pencil with plain graphite on one end and neon yellow for highlighting on the other.

Those unable to travel to the store get a taste of Weaver’s personality from her online shop, her Instagram page, which has more than 94,000 followers, and her pencil-of-the-month club. Weaver, who had long dreamed of being such a club member herself, launched the program without any marketing beyond an offer on her website. It promises one pencil a month for a year for $80. Within about five months, she had 700 subscribers.

“We always try to pick pencils people don’t really know about, which is quite a task. It’s one of my favourite things, but all that packing and all that prep work takes us the entire month to do,” says Weaver, who says she had to stop accepting subscribers. She could probably afford to hire an employee dedicated to expanding the club but has a hard time justifying it and, in general, doesn’t see herself building an empire.

“I never want it to be where I can’t be here, or have too many locations to worry about,” she says. “I didn’t start this because I want to be a business lady. I started it because I really wanted to sell people pencils.”

By Polly Mosendz for

If you want to bring your sketches and notes into the 21st century with a smart pen or a digital pen, or already have one and want an update, this list will help you find the best pen for you.

We’ve already brought you the best styluses for Android and the best styluses for iPhone. Now, you can get the best of the buzz of instantly transferring everything you write or draw on paper to your phone too.

No matter how quick your thumbs or good your enunciation for Siri is, we often revert to handwriting when it comes to quick note-taking or sketching. Many of us do our best creative thinking with a pen in their hand and evidence says that handwriting helps you remember content.

Far from banishing handwriting to the past, the digital world has reinvigorated the ancient practice. Styluses are an increasingly good match for real pens and, in some areas, overtake them – for example, in the ease with which you can switch from a ‘pencil’ to, say, ‘charcoal’.

And smart pens take the technology one step further: you can now write or sketch as you normally would on paper, and it will be instantly digitised. No longer will you have to type up or photograph analogue sketches or notes. You can combine the flexibility and control of a pen with the communication and shareablity that comes with digital information.

Most smart pens (apart from Wacom’s Bamboo Spark, but we’ll come to that later) work via an almost invisible grid of tiny dots on the paper – which is why you often need special paper as well as a special pen. A camera within the pen tracks where the ink is in relation to those dots – and transfers that information to an app with Bluetooth.

As it is so early for the technology, smart pens differ widely in quality. Here, we’ve scoured all that’s on offer to find the best smart pens for designers and artists.

Neo smartpen N2

Neo smartpen have prioritised getting as close to a normal pen as possible – and not a cheap, sponsored biro, but a comfortable-to-use, luxury experience. It is light (less than 0.8 ounces), thin (less than 12mm) and the length of a normal pen (at just over 15cm). Plus, made of aluminium and stainless steel, it is probably one of the most durable pens you will ever own.

Cool features include writing and drawing in 8 different colours with 3 different thickness options, recognising pen pressure in 256 steps, storing up to 1 000 pages of handwritten notes on the pen itself, being able to transcribe hand-written notes and its compatibility with standard ink refills. In the Neo Notes app, you can organise your pages, sync with services such as Google drive and Evernote, and customise your notes and drawings.

So, the gorgeous design out the way – it did win a 2015 iF Design Award – and easy use, how well does the Neo smartpen actually work? Mainly well. Use continuous pressure and you should be okay, but light strokes don’t always register. Simple doodles and notes will usually transfer brilliantly, but intricate drawings and designs are less likely to be transferred accurately. It could be perfect for your early doodles and ideas though.

This pen retails at around R2 500.

Moleskine Smart Writing set

Moleskine’s new writing set offers the shape and feel of their mind-blowingly popular classic notebooks – and now the brand is firmly in the twenty-first century. Just like its competitors, you can edit notes, transcribe handwritten notes into digital text and share your notes and sketches.

Its standout features, though, are writing colour options, page detection (write on any page and the pen will know which one) and that the pen also takes standard refills. Just like the notebook, the pen is beautifully built – with an aluminium body. Moleskine’s pen’s features (such as storage up to a 1,000 pages) overlap with the Neo smartpen – unsurprisingly, as they Moleskine’s was made using Neo smartpen tech

Buy the whole set for around R4 100.

Wacom Bamboo Spark

Wacom’s Bamboo Spark’s coolest feature is that it can be used with any paper due to a transmitter inside its pen and a receiver within the folio that comes with it.

Within the app (to which you can transfer pages in only a few seconds via Bluetooth), you can ‘rewind’ your drawing line-by-line and export at any point. Though the case only holds 100 pages (unlike Moleskine’s and Neo smartpen’s 1,000), you can easily store pages to the cloud, and share through the typical platforms. Unlike competitors such as the Moleskine Smart Writing Set and the Neo smartpen, you can’t refill with standard cartridges.

You might have come on here expecting the Inkling –but the Bamboo Spark is Wacom’s second, better attempt at a smart pen, and makes the Inkling pretty irrevelant. You can check our hands-on review to find out why the Bamboo Spark is better.

Buy the device for around R2 300

Livescribe 3

The Livescribe 3 might take some getting used to, as it’s thicker than normal pens – but it’s definitely worth getting to know it, as it works with precision and ease. Just like its competitors, the Livescribe 3 offers transcribing, sharing and organising notes – but the app also lets you record sound while scribbling.

Not only does it have great write-ups when it comes down to actually using the pen, but the Livescribe 3 might save you some money as it doesn’t necessarily require special paper: you can print Livescribe’s variety of paper if you have a 600dpi (or higher) inkjet printer. However, you can’t use standard ink cartridges with it – only Livescribe ones.

Buy the Livescribe 3 from around R2 700.


BLCK INK is newer to the game – and, as a result, is less tested and known. If its marketing videos – which are unique in that they concentrate on art, rather than note-taking – are anything to go by, this is the best pen for drawing and can produce truly beautiful results with greater precision and accuracy. It offers much the same features as other pens on the list, such as sharing and instant transfer, but we’re hoping it lives up to its promise of transferring drawings to such quality that they look just as good on your phone as they do on paper.

By Mimi Launder by

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