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The question is inspired by this thread on MO. My father is a mathematician, so I remember seeing very nice pens all around. When I started to do math by myself I've realized how important can be a good pen and a notebook with a decent paper. Personally I do prefer thin pens (currently using blue gel Pilot pen) and squared paper, but I am also interested in what do people on MSE like.

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closed as off topic by Jonas Meyer, lhf, Isaac, Chris Taylor, Steve D May 24 '12 at 10:54

Questions on Mathematics Stack Exchange are expected to relate to math within the scope defined by the community. Consider editing the question or leaving comments for improvement if you believe the question can be reworded to fit within the scope. Read more about reopening questions here.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Would the person who voted to close care to explain? This is certainly of interest to mathematicians and if software that mathematicians use is on-topic as per faq then why not hardware? – t.b. May 23 '12 at 15:43
Didn't vote to close, but I wonder if coffee maker recommendations are next :) – The Chaz 2.0 May 23 '12 at 15:50
@t.b.: Paper is soft. The proper term is treeware. :-) – Asaf Karagila May 23 '12 at 16:28
I was the one who voted to close before t.b.'s comment. Since I was asked: It seemed to me that The Chaz's analogy is closer than the analogy of software, because I think of the latter as more likely to be particular to mathematics (e.g., because the particular typesetting or computational needs of mathematics might come into play). Here it is unclear to me why the answers would be different for poets or crossword puzzle enthusiasts. Thankfully my vote is not binding, and it doesn't look like it will be closed anyway, so this seems moot. – Jonas Meyer May 23 '12 at 17:00
@t.b. this question should definitely be closed. This is because it is a discussion and not an actual question, you could have 3 contradicting answers and all of them could be correct and wrong at the same time. It is just a matter of taste in most of the cases, the problem is not 1 question like this, rather if questions like this (which are simpler to ask and easy to answer) start trending. It would not be the first time that happens in a SE site. – Trufa May 23 '12 at 19:22

16 Answers 16

up vote 15 down vote accepted

These pens are incredible. I buy box every semester or so.

For paper, I take 1-2 hundred sheets of plain copy paper (I don't like lines when doing math) to the campus copy shop and get it spiral bound with vinyl covers. The total cost is under $\$4.00$ and unlike Moleskine (which I used for a while) or Mead notebooks, you can turn pages a full $360^\circ$ about the binding and everything is still smooth. Also, the vinyl covers are very durable. Once I started doing this, I never looked back.

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I'm intrigued, how these pens differ from the usual uniball? – Asaf Karagila May 23 '12 at 15:19
@AsafKaragila I'm not sure what you mean by "usual," but they write effortlessly, yet don't bleed. I've tried out many pens but these are my favorite by far. – Derek Allums May 23 '12 at 15:20
Well, by usual I meant the ones I linked to. – Asaf Karagila May 23 '12 at 15:21
Oh, sorry, I didn't see that. I'm not sure how they differ since I don't think I've used those. My guess is they're pretty similar. It's good to know there's another Uniball fan on here! – Derek Allums May 23 '12 at 15:28
@Asaf I am dismayed that there is no office-supply company in Israel that offers bulk discounts on common pens. You have my sympathies! – MJD May 26 '12 at 16:31

I take the philosophy "beggars can't be choosers". I lose pens like crazy, and despite my best effort at collecting lots of freebies whenever I have the chance, I never seem to have enough pens or pencils. For non-mathematical writing I prefer a good fountain pen--mine never leaves my desk at home for fear of it being misplaced. For mathematical writing I just use whichever implement of writing that is most conveniently within reach (which often ends up being cheap BIC ball-points).

For paper: when I am roving about (i.e. not at my office) I prefer a writing pad with either graph paper (5mm or less spacing) or narrow-ruled paper (college-ruled is okay, but narrower is better for me). I tend to become too messy when using blank paper, so ruled paper stands a better chance of me being able to eventually transcribe it digitally.

In my office, I do about half of my computations and writing directly on computer (I TeX as I go). For the other half I try to be environmentally friendly: I go to the printer room and pick up stacks of discarded print outs; most of those coming from when the laser printer runs out of toner and so most of the page is blank with some faint stripes of text. Since I transcribe these into my computer immediately, the paper quality doesn't matter much.

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It's relieving to find another narrow-ruled devotee. – Dylan Moreland May 23 '12 at 15:41

I prefer chalk and a blackboard. Not for an audience; I just like to have some space, and it gives me a chance to clean up my work a few times over without wasting paper.

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I agree, I do enjoy working on the whiteboard when I'm in my office (sadly we don't have blackboards in the university). At home and in travel I prefer something a bit more compact. – Asaf Karagila May 23 '12 at 15:38
Sometimes I use a whiteboard, but only to free my mind, like a lonely brainstorming. I won't afford myself write such staff on the paper since I can't erase that :) – Ilya May 23 '12 at 15:42
Do you prefer blackboard over a whiteboard? If so, why? (just curious :) – Svish May 24 '12 at 10:25
I don't personally have a preference either way. I do know people who prefer blackboards, though, and I am also curious about it. – Dustan Levenstein May 24 '12 at 11:39
@Svish, Dustan: blackboards have this awesome knocking sound when you write, and the whole process is somewhat musical. Whiteboards just have the alcohol-like smell of markers. – Asaf Karagila May 27 '12 at 7:02

Any piece of paper (I literally did mathematical things on back of a bus ticket, more than once), but I often have a spiral bound legal pad around.

My favourite pen is Mitsubishi Uniball UB-150 (Micro) Black.

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Recently I've had a similar experience in a train. I use a plastic card for travelling, so no tickets unfortunately, so I've used a train company booklet – Ilya Jul 12 '15 at 11:53

Technical pencils with an eraser on the end. Any kind of paper.

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I'm glad to see someone besides me is using pencils! However I'm too clumsy to use typical mechanical pencils (lead breaks every few minutes). Give me a #2 wooden pencil and a pack of yellow pads. – hardmath May 24 '12 at 9:35

I like using the Pilot G-2 0.5 roller, preferably black or blue

Usually I use any sort of draft I can for papers, though I always carry a hard-cover notebook in my back-pack, in case I need to write something while standing in the bus or walking.

I really liked unit3000-21's idea of binding draft-papers together, I think i'll start doing that as well :-)

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+1 for the pilot g2 (though i prefer the 0.7). weirdly i've found the black ink to sometimes be streaky but i've had no problems with the blue ink. – Eric O. Korman May 23 '12 at 16:35
Y'know, I've noticed the same thing with the ink, and thought it was in my imagination. – Hydrangea May 23 '12 at 20:27

The best is a napkin or a beer coaster. That is where all the best theorems were first written. (This is folklore.)

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Pilot FriXion erasable-by-friction pens are THE BEST. They work amazingly well. Erases instantly and even more cleanly than pencil.

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Pens? They make everything stand out. How do you go back and review notes done all in pen? They also bleed or indent the paper below much more than pencils, created a rather used-paper experience when you turn the page. I think notes are best taken in pencil with a switch to pen for certain highlighting of information. I've done notes and problems all in pen before for studying purposes and like I said, it's like everything is yelling at you, when you go back to review

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Israeli people are notorious for being loud and rowdy. Living in Israel you get used to everything telling at you, so having the notes yell as well is not terrible! :-) – Asaf Karagila May 23 '12 at 18:23
@VISQL That's why you have to use good pens. – Phira Jun 10 '12 at 12:13

I like the PaperMate (formerly Sanford) Ph.D. and Ph.D. Ultra mechanical pencils. They have a big, comfortable grip, a massive eraser (essential!) and hold lots of lead. They are expensive enough that you will take care not to lose them, but not so expensive that you will be bankrupt if you do.

For paper: plain white office paper on a wooden clipboard. On the rare occasions that I write something that I want to keep, it's easily scanned. Otherwise, it's easily recycled. Notebooks tend to accumulate unnecessarily.

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So, I have been using Uni-ball Signo (DX) UM-151 (0.38) on the Apica CD40SN. If you're in Boston, you can get the notebooks at Tokai at the Porter Exchange. Sadly I am unaware of any US stores carrying the UM-151. The paper is extremely smooth and the interaction of the pen with the paper is really stellar. But sometimes nothing beats loose leaf paper, and there are times when unlined paper is better than lined paper.

The other pen that I think is pretty useful to have around is the Sakura pigma micron 0.2mm, especially when drawing figures.

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Maybe it's a function of the particular writing I like to do, or my puzzle background, but I really like working on graph paper when I'm trying to work something out; being able to sketch out figures with some small degree of accuracy or to veritcally align elements consistently (my alignment has a tendency to drift when I'm not paying attention) is really useful.

I also have a small supply of multisubject notebooks at around 4"x6"; they're just small enough to fit into the pocket of a jacket or cargo pants, easy to pull out on a bus or in line, and the sectioning lets me keep up with two or three different streams of thought without having to jump over irrelevant text.

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I write notes in pen. Just simple papermate blue. Never black. I do all my work in pencil however (before Tex) and for that I use any pencil I can find. Normally mechanical. SIAM gave out a bunch of free pens to our student chapter and I've been riding them out for awhile.

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I still prefer the good old fashioned regular pencil and paper (not too picky when it comes to paper.)

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I use Le Pen from Uchida for nearly everything. They're cheap (I get them at a local art store for a bit cheaper than the website) and they come in all sorts of colors. Uniball and such are nice but I got sick of using such a sharp point.

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I prefer to use liners. For example, Pigment liners form Staedtler or Topliner from Schneider (that is what I found in the nearby stores). I prefer a width of 0.3 mm.

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