I’m a closet (graphic) design lover. I will stop in the street to admire a carefully chosen colour palette, and I mentally applaud when I see evidence of good typography practices in an advert or on packaging.
So Canadian brand Ferris Wheel Press is kinda like catnip to me. As they’ll proudly tell you, they recently won a design award for their packaging, and rightly so.
I’ve never seen a stationery company leap into the market with such a cohesive, detailed and appealing brand. The word ‘brand’ may sound a bit wanky (remember, my day job is marketing) but what it really means is the whole experience you get from the company: its website copy, packaging, product design, product naming, even the way it bundles products together. Brand is about having care and attention from start to finish. Although I often say I care about the pen, not the box, getting a new pen is that bit more special when you’re untying ribbons and beautiful wrapping instead of plain bubble wrap.
Ferris’s brand is carnivalesque. It plays with different textures, a rich and modern colour palette of corals and warm yellows and “printmaker’s teal”, with gilded embossed illustrations and ornate typefaces, machined brass and glossy enamel, soft (vegan) leather and cold glass. In some ways it’s quite minimalist — you only have to look at the streamlined shape of the Brush fountain pen or the spherical glass ink bottle — and in others it’s completely whimsical and rich. Look at the illustrations on the packaging, filled with hot air balloons and cats. Or the names of the company’s inks.
Remember I mentioned bundling way up there a couple of paragraphs back? Well, Ferris has a complete portfolio including a pen, a range of inks, paper and carry products. They have smartly bundled these into a whole range of gifts sets.
I got the grandly named “Great Ambition” gift set, which includes a square notebook, a Brush pen, a bottle of ink, and a folio to put it all in, all wrapped up in a beautifully designed box, stuffed with gold packing paper. It sells for $290.
The unboxing experience had me giggling like a little girl, much to the amusement of my family. For any aspiring stationery lover, getting one of these sets under the tree on Christmas morning or for a birthday would be a moment to remember.
Look at all the beautiful packaging:
I mean, who designs the INSIDE of their packing boxes?
So let me get this introduction over and done with by saying that Ferris Wheel have knocked my socks off with their whole aesthetic. I love it. What a great way to start.
Now, on to the products.
Brush fountain pen
The centrepiece is the Brush fountain pen. It comes in a handsome colour-coordinated card box.
It’s one of the most unusual looking pens I’ve seen in a while. It’s made from metal, enamelled, super streamlined and clipless. The section is ornately engraved brass, and there’s a brass nut serving as cap band and rollstop.
The nib seems to be a #5 steel Schmidt with a plastic feed.
And it’s a cartridge/converter filler. The converter seems standard, but it has cute print-shop branding engraved into it.
It’s a bit of a Marmite design: you love it or hate it. I think it’s very pretty. The almost liquid enamel contrasts well in colour and texture with the natural brass, particularly in the teal colour I chose. Uncapped it reveals a sudden unexpected burst of details in the form of the engraving, which is rather nice.
The section is long, and grippy due to the engraving. The thread area is generally sharp and lumpy, but on the plus side the cap screws on and off quickly with no fuss.
The nib is custom engraved with lots of details, including the Canadian maple leaf, which also makes an appearance on the included fabric pen sleeve.
But the writing experience is pretty unexceptional. For a pen named Brush, there’s no hint of softness in this nib. Flow is medium, smoothness is medium. No problems at all, but nothing special, either.
My big complaint is that the Brush is way too small for me, particularly in girth. It makes a Parker Sonnet look fat, and a Lamy Studio positively obese.
Put it against genuinely large pens like a Scribo or 149 and the difference is striking.
I get that Ferris is going for a paintbrush aesthetic, but I found this narrowness made the pen uncomfortable for extended use.
At $138 standalone, or around £100 in the UK, I think the Brush is pretty good value. The nib is steel of course, but the materials and design set it apart from the rest of the pack.
Bluegrass Velvet ink
What about the ink? Again, it’s a tour de force of packaging.
There’s a cylindrical card box, colour-coded to the ink, with printing on literally every surface, including the bottom.
Inside a colour-coded velvet bag. And inside that, the bottle. It’s a whopping 85ml, strikingly spherical, with a huge solid brass cap in the shape of a nut that echoes the pen.
The Ferris brand name is applied directly to the bottle in gold, so there’s no paper label.
It’s worth noting that the bottle itself doesn’t state what the ink is, so you’d better hang on to that card outer. Also, if you’ve seen the promo shots on the Ferris website, note that the colours there have been adjusted to be much lighter. In the flesh (as almost all inks do) these inks look black.
The brass cap seals securely thanks to a rubber inner liner. The neck of the bottle is a little narrow if you like oversized pens.
The colour I received was Bluegrass Velvet, a dark teal. Like the Brush pen, it performed well, with perhaps a hint of disappointment after the ritual of opening the gorgeous packaging.
Bluegrass Velvet runs not particularly wet. It dries fast, with good shading and a tiny bit of sheen. It is a really pretty colour, a rich blue with distinctive green side to it that is hard to capture on camera. I’ll definitely keep using it.
At $36, or £32 in the UK, these are not cheap inks by a long shot. The price per ml is competitive, but the bottle is twice the capacity of most other brands. If I was to buy more Ferris inks, I would probably opt for its smaller “Ink Charger” portable bottles.
Always Right notebook
What about the paper? Lots to say here.
I received the “Always Right” notebook, which has a vegan leather cover (extremely soft) in sumptuous coral.
It has a contrasting bookmark in seafoam…
…thick white dot grid paper, the most perfectly executed rounded corners I’ve ever seen, and a million cute little touches. There’s a flip book animation of pencils in the bottom corner (note that there are no page numbers, though…)
The end papers are sumptuously illustrated. And most noticeable of all, this is a square notebook, although if you like a more normal aspect ratio they do one of those, too.
The paper itself is pretty good. It’s 100gsm. There’s a little texture to it, it’s fairly absorbent, yet minimal feathering and only bleedthrough when you write really hard (like trying to flex a nib).
Colours show up true, although with not a lot of sheen or shading. Dry times are good. With 176 pages and the plush covers, the notebook is chunky but not fat.
At $26, or £20 in the UK, not too expensive, either.
Always Right Leather Fether Folio
And last but not least, the “Leather Fether” Folio. I will say upfront that this is my least favourite product in the set. Mine is a mustard yellow, and like the notebook it’s also made of vegan materials, here a super durable material called Fether.
While there’s enough padding to feel plush, the folio is nicely rigid. The edges are smartly stitched, and it’s a professional looking product that does exactly what it promises — but I find a few of the design decisions rather limiting.
First, I found it odd that the notebook’s back cover inserts into the far left edge of the open folio, which means when everything is open the left side of your notebook is unsupported by the rigid cover, and the whole open spread is nearly 60cm wide. I’d have suggested removing the notebook for use, but reinserting the flexible cover into the folio’s slot takes time.
Put simply, you can’t use this on your lap, or even on a cramped meeting room table.
Second, the pen slot cut into the inside fold is too small for anything but the Brush pen. The edges are unfinished and unstitched, and I wonder whether it will get tatty or loose over time. Of course, you can only hold one pen in the folio.
Beneath the pen slot is a cutout for an Ink Charger bottle, which I was unable to try. On the right cover is a slash pocket for miscellaneous paper.
So you see, I find the folio pretty but way too limited in what you can carry, and actually not usable either. At $135, I’ll pass.
The perfect gift?
After using these four products for a while it’s clear that they have been designed as a set. Not just in terms of the basics — like the notebook and pen fitting precisely in the folio — but in terms of the overall approach to usability, and most strikingly in the visual aesthetic.
The colour palette, textures, whimsical illustrations and other little touches run across the whole product portfolio and build a convincing feeling of fun, and a certainty that these products have been designed with care to the smallest hidden detail.
For me personally, I’m not sure these products will all find their way into my personal rotation. The Brush pen is gorgeous, but until Ferris come out with an XL size, it’s too small for me. The ink is great, and the notebook feels wonderful — but I wish it came with Tomoe! The only real failure in my eyes is the Folio, and to bastardise Meat Loaf, three outta four ain’t bad.
I’d be thrilled to get a Ferris gift set if I was getting properly into stationery for the first time. The brand is just that special. So my pick from the range would be the Showtime gift set at $175 — which is all the products I just reviewed, except the folio.
Ferris Wheel Press sent me this gift set for free (although I did have to pay customs charges on it!). If that concerns you, please check out my ethics page in the top nav. You can get your Ferris products now from Hamilton Pens and probably other UK retailers soon.