The Best Home-Office Furniture and Supplies
Your home office should be a place where you feel comfortable doing your best work day after day. A team of work-from-home veterans spent more than 150 hours researching and testing equipment for a variety of workspaces and picked out a selection of great gear, including things that many of us use daily in our own home offices.
Wirecutter and Sweethome staffers work remotely, so we drew on our own experience to select these home-office essentials—some from our existing reviews, and many others exclusively for this guide. We also interviewed experts in ergonomics, productivity, and task lighting to learn the fundamentals of office setup. In this guide, whenever possible, we’re providing how-to knowledge along with our picks, since, for example, knowing how to pack items for shipping is more important than buying a particular packing paper. And we put even the most common office goods to the test, including hanging packages from the wall with packing tape, steaming open security envelopes, and loading 4,000 sheets of paper into a filing cabinet.
Once you’ve furnished your office and set up your desk, check out The Best Tech and Apps for Your Home Office to get connected, equipped, and otherwise ready to be productive.
Table of contents
- Desks, storage, and furniture
- Display accessories
- Cable management and organization
- Mailing supplies
- Writing supplies
Desks, storage, and furniture
The Ergo Depot Jarvis Bamboo is the best value we’ve seen in a full-size standing desk for anyone who wants to alternate between sitting and standing while working. It’s the sturdiest standing desk we’ve ever tested, with no front-to-back wobble even at its full height. At under $800 currently, it’s half the price of desks that are less stable. You can configure your Jarvis Bamboo with options such as monitor arms, keyboard or pencil trays, or power management. It comes with a seven-year warranty and ships faster than most desks (depending on the configuration you choose). Most important of all, it looks slick whether in the standing-up position or at table height, and it feels solid and smooth under your arms.
We used a 60-inch Jarvis Bamboo to test out many of the devices in this guide, including monitor arms, laptop stands, desk lamps, keyboards, and more than a dozen cable-management tools. After going through those changes and setups, and dozens of height adjustments, the Jarvis Bamboo desktop still looks new, and raises and lowers without noticeable wobble or hesitation. The control module’s decimal-point measurement display and memory buttons make it easy for more than one person to quickly set up and use the desk. If you already have a desktop you love, you can buy the mechanical frame separately via Amazon (with free Prime shipping) to attach.
If you already have a desk (and legs) you like, or if you don’t want to commit the funds to a full-size adjustable desk, consider the Ergo Desktop Kangaroo Pro Junior. It sits on your existing desk and moves your computer gear up to a standing position in seconds, with springs instead of motors. It’s lighter and less bulky than other conversion options, and you can easily move it to different desk positions. —Kevin Purdy
A standing-desk mat helps you stand longer at your desk by relieving pressure on your heels, back, and feet. The most supportive and comfortable mat we’ve found is the Imprint CumulusPRO. Four Wirecutter editors chose it from among our top picks after considering dozens of models. The CumulusPRO is made of a single, durable piece of 24-by-36-inch polyurethane and won’t release odorous and toxic fumes. It provides cushioned but firm support, and it won’t curl up at its edges like other mats we considered and tested. In our tests, it was also the only mat to survive having a stapler dropped onto it from standing height without exhibiting a puncture or scratch. But if something does go wrong, it comes with a 10-year warranty.
If you want a standing mat with a lot of varied angles and surfaces so that your feet don’t get bored, consider the Ergodriven Topo. We’re testing it for an update to our full guide, and we’ve found that the Topo’s “calculated terrain” (a teardrop-shaped bump in the middle, plus raised sides) gives your feet more to do, which could help keep you standing (and moving) longer. If you find that you prefer a softer, squishier surface, the WellnessMats Original is a good alternative and worth buying if our main pick is sold out. —Nathan Edwards
Picking a traditional desk
No one traditional desk can work for most people, but most people can find a great desk for their work. After speaking with ergonomic and office-design experts, we recommend that you spend more time shopping than you would normally to find a good desk that fits your body and working style.
The best desk for your home office is the desk that most effectively situates your body to face the tools you’ll be using. That best desk also has enough space left over to keep the things you need to have close by. For most people, that means enough room for a properly placed monitor, keyboard, and mouse. The starting point, as Alan Hedge, professor of ergonomics at Cornell University, explains, is a surface that stands 28 to 30 inches above the floor. Sit at that desk and then lean back slightly (100 to 110 degrees). From there, you should make sure of the following:
- Your eyes are in line with a point on your screen 2 to 3 inches below the top of the monitor frame.
- Your hands are resting flat and straight on both the keyboard and mouse.
- Your elbows are bending at or near 90 degrees, and both your elbows and your upper arms are resting close to your body instead of reaching forward.
Two common upgrades are nice to have but not necessities. A lowered keyboard tray, particularly one that allows for negative-slope typing, works only if it lines up with your specific elbow height. And a built-in riser may put your monitor at the proper height, but if anybody of a different size frequently uses your desk, or if you change the size of your monitor, it’s easier to adjust your chair height for flat keyboard typing and use whatever you have handy to raise your monitor.
More than anything, you should spend time—and whatever money you can afford—to buy a desk made with a look and design that fits you, and that fits well in your space. “You should spend money on your home office like you do your bedroom,” said Tim Springer, PhD, president of Illinois-based consulting firm Hero Inc. and an expert in ergonomics and knowledge-work optimization. “You invest a fair amount of resources, emotional effort, and finances into finding the bed, the picture frame, that best fits your bedroom, but that kind of effort seldom goes into your desk, your chair for work. But it should.” Even if that means a reclaimed tractor door, a simple slab of wood, or whatever tables of the right height and size you can find on Craigslist, you shouldn’t settle for the handful of options at your local office store. —KP
After a year of sitting in eight top-rated chairs and talking to four different ergonomics experts, we’ve concluded that the Steelcase Gesture is the best office chair for most posteriors. Its ball-and-socket armrests (which function like a human shoulder) give it a wider range of adjustability than any other task chair. That means you’re more likely to find a fit that works for you, however you like to sit.
In addition to being comfortable, the Gesture offers an attractive design, comes in dozens of finishing options, and has a more compact shape than any other full-featured task chair. This means it will look better in a wider variety of spaces than its competitors. The chair’s highly adjustable arms let you stow it almost anywhere, since you can lower and tuck them in as needed to fit under a smaller desk. Steelcase is renowned for build quality, too, and the Gesture is no exception, but should anything go wrong, the company’s chairs are backed by a 12-year warranty.
To read more about why we like the Gesture, to learn about our runner-up pick, or to see our alternate pick for sweaty backs as well as a more budget-friendly model priced under $200, check out our full guide to office chairs. —Michael Zhao
After spending 10 hours researching 30 different models of filing cabinets, and performing hands-on testing with four of them, we found the 18″ Lorell 14341 Deep 2-Drawer File Cabinet to be the best option for most home offices. It was one of the least expensive filing cabinets we tested, but it had the smoothest drawers and stood sturdily even when fully loaded. The black or putty (tan) color options fit into almost any office without clashing. While the lock won’t prevent a determined person from getting to your documents, it will hold the drawers shut when necessary.
This pick is for anyone who truly needs to keep paper documents on hand. Filing cabinets are far less necessary for most households and small businesses today than they have been in years past. Many documents come transmitted online instead of on paper, and you can scan paper with a portable or flatbed scanner or even just your phone.
In our research, we focused on two-drawer vertical filing cabinets rather than sideways-arranged lateral cabinets, because space is at a premium in most home offices and most lateral cabinets are priced at $200 and above. We also limited our search to steel cabinets rather than wood, not just because they are sturdier and less likely to chip but also because they’re far easier to match with existing furniture. “Every manufacturer has their own definitions and interpretations of colors,” writes home-office expert Cath McIntyre. “What may be a very red toned cherry to one company may end up being a darker brown tone version with another.”
Of the several great, two-drawer, letter-sized options under $100 we found, most are made by the same company, Hirsh Industries, sometimes under its own branding and sometimes for other companies. After our research at Amazon, Office Depot, and Staples, we selected four models with good reviews and wide availability: the Lorell 14341 and Lorell 16872 2-Drawer Mobile File Cabinet, the Realspace Manager’s 2-Drawer Letter File from Office Depot, and the Office Designs Vertical File Cabinet from Staples.
We loaded each cabinet’s drawers with 20 hanging folders, each containing approximately 100 sheets of paper (about 21 pounds per drawer). Two Wirecutter editors rated the smoothness of the drawers’ pull, as well as how sturdy they felt when extended. The tall Realspace cabinet quickly fell out of the running, as it was less stable than its squatter competition. The Lorell 16872 was wobblier than the Lorell 14341 when we pulled drawers one by one. And while the Lorell 14341 and the Staples Office Designs cabinet look identical, the Lorell 14341’s rails allowed for fluid sliding of full drawers, while the rails of the Office Designs cabinet felt far rougher. The Office Designs model has a higher price, too.
We must note that all four cabinets tipped over when we pulled out both drawers, so don’t do that. We also learned to heed the warning stamped into each drawer: Load them evenly. —Nick Guy
Office trash can
Unless you often eat at your desk and can’t bring the scraps to your kitchen, all you need for an office trash can is something that fits your space and looks nice enough. The Brighton Professional Black Wire Mesh Square Wastebasket at Staples looks better than any other trash can that costs less than $10. We know, because we’ve looked at nearly 770 small trash cans. The Brighton model’s rectangular shape resists denting and tipping, and squares up evenly with walls or office furniture, while the mesh surface deters odors and mold. If you’d rather have a round can for looks or for scrap-paper free throws, the Rolodex Mesh Round Wastebasket is nearly the exact same can but round, and labeled with a tiny Rolodex badge.
If you throw out a lot of messy stuff in your home office, or if you want a more stylish, modern look, you should upgrade to one of two cans. The simplehuman 10 litre profile step can has a slim profile that should fit most spaces. Its removable liner has hooks that fit not only small trash bags and simplehuman’s own liners but also nearly any store bag with handles that you have on hand. The simplehuman can’s pedal and lid stand up firmly against foot slams and fingerprint stains, and it keeps in odors fairly well. The plastic-lid model we recommend runs about $30 as of this writing; for $10 more, you can upgrade to a stainless-steel lid and a 10-year warranty.
The best-looking trash can that is the easiest to maintain (if money is not an object or if people often see your office) is the Rubbermaid Executive Series Hide-A-Bag Open-Top Waste Basket. The two-shell can fits nearly any kind of bag you have, looks serious and professional, and remains nigh impossible to tip over. Removing and replacing liner bags in this can is remarkably easy; it’s the type of can used in upscale hotels, where housekeepers empty dozens of cans every day. This Rubbermaid can fluctuates between $40 and $60, but it’s a smart investment if you change out trash frequently or want something more presentable for your home office. —KP
Shredding sensitive personal and business documents can help to ensure that you or your clients won’t fall victim to identity theft or fraud. After performing 40 hours of research, testing with the help of a PhD physicist, and interviewing a man who made his living stealing other people’s discarded personal information, we recommend the AmazonBasics 12-Sheet Cross-Cut Paper, CD, and Credit Card Shredder for people who need to shred only the occasional bill or bank statement a few times a month. We found it safe, inexpensive, and mostly jam-proof. But it’s pretty loud, and it can run for only five minutes before needing a 30-minute break.
If you want a quieter shredder, or if your shredding volume reaches beyond what the AmazonBasics hardware can handle, consider spending $175 or so on the Fellowes 100% Jam Proof Shredder 73Ci. This model is equipped with a sensor that keeps it from starting if it detects more than 12 sheets being fed into it at a time. That feature might keep you from inserting a thick credit-card application package all at once, but you’ll spend less time opening that package and feeding it in than you would trying to unjam the shredder after attempting to shove the package through in one go. In the event of a jam, the Fellowes will automatically clear the problem to keep you from having to shut it down and reach inside. It also has a high-stamina motor that can shred for 10 minutes longer than the AmazonBasics motor can before needing a 20-minute break. The Fellowes is less noisy than the AmazonBasics is, and it comes with an easy-to-empty 5.4-gallon slide-out waste bin and an industry-leading five-year warranty. —Seamus Bellamy
If you seldom work with paper, have a bright-enough office, or prefer a warm and inviting space to a bright and focused workplace, the IKEA FORSÅ is your best desk-lamp option. This stylish, adjustable lamp throws a warm light on documents or around your desk. In contrast, if you work in the very early morning or late at night, or if you do significant reading and writing on paper, the Anker Lumos LED Desk Lamp can add the right light mixture to your space.
Along with natural daylight, dimmable ceiling lighting, and (if needed) freestanding lamps, a good desk lamp helps to provide layered, multidirectional lighting, which reduces eyestrain and irritation. Multiple, adjustable office lights reduce the contrast between the light on the object you are focused on and the surrounding area, allowing for detailed focus and the prevention of headaches. Adjustable desk lamps can make you more active and productive with cool light, or they can calm your mind and help you prepare for sleep after late-night work with warm hues. The link between color temperature and productivity is not concrete, however; some people may prefer warm lighting for long work hours, depending on their temperament and the tasks of their job.
The FORSÅ is a classic architect-style lamp that bends and rotates to cover more of your workspace. It looks better than any multiple-setting LED lamp we saw at a reasonable price, and it has a 6-foot-long cord and a small weighted base that frees up surface space. The drawback: IKEA sells bulbs for the FORSÅ only with a 2,700-kelvin “warm daylight” temperature, and LED candelabra bulbs with a cooler temperature are uncommon and somewhat pricey. That limitation is fine if you use the FORSÅ exclusively for calm reading or for nighttime work. If you use it as your main desk light, your other office lighting must be warm, or the conflicting temperatures (colors) may cause discomfort.
If you want to add bright, detail-oriented light to your space, the Anker Lumos LED Desk Lamp is the best value among look-alike LED lamps. The Lumos has four color modes (Reading, Studying, Relax, and Bedtime) and five brightness levels. The base rotates 180 degrees, pivots at three points, and has a decent-looking control panel with a sleep timer. Most lamps with all of those modes and options cost $10 to $30 more than the Lumos. Anker’s lamp includes a 2-amp USB charging port—not a necessity on most desks, but the speedy charging is a nice convenience. The base of the Lumos is 7 inches square, and it stays in place with foam padding. Most important, the Anker lamp beams its light from an even panel, not a strip with visible tiny bulbs. As a result, the light casts a wide, even glow, leaving no white spots on your desk. —KP
LED bulb for an office room
Most workplaces have twice as much lighting as their workers need, and too much of it from one source, according to Michael Helander, cofounder of OTI Lumionics. This environment leads to eyestrain and fatigue. To combat the problem, Helander recommends adding layered light to an office through a combination of overhead lighting and lamps. The very affordable Walmart Great Value LED 60 Watt Equivalent is the best LED bulb for using in an overhead fixture because it dims well and spreads light evenly in all directions.
As we note in our discussion of our desk-lamp pick above, most LED bulbs are meant to make your home feel warm, inviting, and relaxing, using a “warm white” color temperature of 2,700 kelvin. But most home offices should be a bit more task-oriented, so you should consider getting the more invigorating daylight (5,000 K) temperature. Depending on the size and color of your workspace, you could go with a brighter bulb, namely a 75-watt or 100-watt equivalent, or install a dimmer switch to balance out your lights. —Casey Johnston
An adjustable monitor arm is the best option to keep your monitor at an ergonomic height―with your eye level 2 to 3 inches below the top of your monitor―so that you can maintain proper posture and avoid slouching or craning your neck. We researched 30 monitor arms and tested five ourselves, and we found that the Ergotron LX Desk Mount LCD Monitor Arm is the best one for most people’s needs because it’s sturdy, adjustable, and affordable. It has a wide range of adjustability and comes in two sizes to accommodate people of various heights.
The Ergotron LX is easy to assemble and adjust compared with the UPLIFT Monitor Arm, which in our tests required a desk-imprinting clamp and proved to be harder to lock down at just the right height. The LX is sturdy―as something holding an expensive monitor ought to be―and capable of holding monitors up to 25 pounds, which includes our favorite 24-inch and 27-inch monitors. It’s compatible with VESA 75-mm and 100-mm mounts, as well. Once mounted, the LX gives your monitor a vertical range of 13 inches, and it can tilt up to 70 degrees back and 5 degrees forward, pan 360 degrees, and rotate a full 360 degrees. That range covers most of the angles and positions you might need for working at a desk, and it’s intuitive to adjust.
If you’re over 6 feet tall and need a monitor arm to use with an adjustable standing desk—such as our pick, the Ergo Depot Jarvis Bamboo—we recommend the Ergotron LX Desk Mount LCD Monitor Arm Tall Pole instead. The Tall Pole version is about $40 more expensive as of this writing, but we found that the regular LX arm isn’t quite tall enough to properly position a monitor for people over 6 feet. (The regular arm comes with a 7-inch pole, while the Tall Pole version measures nearly twice that at 13¼ inches.)
Our testing panel found that the Herman Miller Flo Monitor Support was better overall―easier to assemble, smoother to adjust, and prettier to look at. But the Flo costs $200 (notably more than our pick) and doesn’t provide an option for very tall people. The Ergotron LX is the most affordable, stable, and intuitive monitor arm we tested, and both Ergotron models come with a lengthy 10-year warranty. —Kimber Streams
If you don’t have the budget or space for a monitor at your desk, the next best thing for your posture and health is a laptop stand, one that puts your eye level 2 to 3 inches below the top of your monitor and keeps you from slouching. We looked at 34 models and tested 11 of them, and we found that the Rain Design iLevel 2 works best for the widest range of people and laptops.
The iLevel 2 costs about $70 as of this writing, but it earns that price with its easy adjustment and simple, sturdy design. A quick push of the left-to-right knob underneath the laptop tray adjusts its height. If you ever have to adjust your laptop’s screen position—to accommodate different postures, to avoid glare, or to fit different laptops or people―you’ll appreciate that easy-to-use slider. Compare that with the tricky adjustment of six knobs into uncertain load-bearing shapes on the Furinno stand we tried, or the ratcheting, not quite confidence-inspiring notches of the Aidata, Goldtouch, or Amazon Basics stands we tested. And for people 5 feet 8 inches tall or shorter, the iLevel 2 can move between sitting and standing heights, whereas the less-adjustable Allsop Redmond stand can’t. The iLevel 2 firmly held modern laptops with screens as large as 15 inches in our tests, though a heavier laptop may bounce a bit if you place it on a less sturdy desk. The aluminum helps conduct heat out of your laptop, and the iLevel 2 hides cables behind its bottom support, unlike the Griffin Elevator and most other open-design stands.
The biggest drawback of the iLevel 2 is the sticker shock from its (certainly justified) price. If you plan to use only one kind of laptop on your desk, the slightly less expensive Rain Design mStand is worth considering. It raises a laptop about 5.8 inches, which puts the computer at a more ergonomic, less neck-tilting height for most people under 6 feet tall. As on the iLevel 2, the mStand’s aluminum helps dissipate heat. The cable-router hole in the back and the C-shape design under which you can stash a keyboard and mouse are better than on the iLevel 2.
In the end, however, no laptop stand, not even the pretty elago L4, did any better than the mStand or iLevel 2 at raising a laptop than the ultimate budget option: using whatever large books you have handy. You can even custom-design the colors with that option. —KP
Cable management and organization
Surge protectors don’t last forever: Like a light bulb, they need replacing every few years when they burn out. After more than 30 hours of research and 32 hours of testing with an electrical engineer, we’ve decided that our new top pick for the best surge protector is the Tripp Lite TLP1008TEL—not because it’s a better performer, but because it will actually stop working when its protection circuits wear out, as opposed to relying on an easily ignored indicator light. That way, you’ll know with certainty whether your expensive electronics are protected.
The Tripp Lite TLP1008TEL’s 10 outlets offer enough space to satisfy most home-office needs and provide plenty of protection for your electronics from the most common electrical threats. You can find bigger and more expensive surge protectors, but our extensive research showed that most people won’t benefit from that level of protection. To learn more about how surge protectors work to protect your valuable gear, take a look at our full guide. —Mark Smirniotis
Short cable and cord wrangling
*At the time of publishing, the price was $5.
The best tool for wrangling desktop cables that move around a bit is a 100-pack of VELCRO-Brand Thin Ties. After looking at more than a hundred products and testing a select few during months of desk work, we found that this simple, cheap option is the smartest. About $5 buys 100 ties, each of which you can reuse for hundreds of tie-ups. You can cinch a tie and leave it on a cable, so it’s always ready for bundling up. Of all the alternatives we tested, the VELCRO-brand ties offer the best way to bundle up thin or medium-thickness cables, or to run cables along desk legs.
If you need to keep a cable affixed to a surface for easy access, consider a six-pack of iGotTech Cable Clips. Each glue-backed clip can hold down two thin or medium-thickness cables, such as mouse or keyboard cords, device chargers, ethernet cables, and most laptop power connectors. For the same price, you get twice as many cable slots as with Bluelounge’s popular, more stylish CableDrops. Both clips’ glue survived months of testing, holding up a power cord on the underside of an adjustable standing desk. —KP
Long or heavy cable management
To keep your workspace—with all its cords running between your monitor, computer, other devices, and wall—tidy and presentable, you should bundle and hide the cables you don’t move often. The best-looking, most adaptable, and possibly even fun option for tackling your cables is Bluelounge’s Soba. You can set it up without unplugging much: Cut the self-rolling sleeves to the lengths you need, and add stops and Y-junctions where necessary. The design lets you easily bundle up the spread-out wires of a desktop PC or monitor and then bring in or let out cables on the way to the surge protector. If you have fewer than 10 cables that travel less than 9 feet, the Soba looks nicer and is easier to set up than simple zippered sleeves.
If you have a number of thicker cables and multiple devices to run, a J-channel, or “raceway,” can hide cords and charging bricks behind your desk, if you have the room. We tested and liked channels from both Electriduct and Master. IKEA’s SIGNUM is an option if you can’t spare any wall room (and you live near an IKEA store), but it requires more bundling work and occasional decluttering. —KP
It’s no use bundling and wrapping up your cords if they’re going to pile up around a surge protector on your floor or desk. We found the Bluelounge CableBox to be the easiest cleanup option in our testing. Shaped to fit most surge protectors, even double-wide eight- or 10-outlet models, the CableBox is a good-looking, simple box that’s very easy to set up: Cords go in the slots on either side, and extra cables or bricks get tucked in (or tied down with the included zip ties). You can pop the lid off if something new needs power. It seems pricey for a simple plastic box, but it’s just the right shape and size, it has the cutouts you need, and it doesn’t cost much more than competing models. And clutter has its own psychological cost. —KP
After researching 13 kinds of packing tape and testing five, we found that the best tape for shipping packages is the Duck EZ Start Packaging Tape with One Handed Dispenser. We taped more than 30 boxes to get a feel for the dispensers and taped weighted boxes to a wall for months to test the stickiness of each tape. The Duck EZ Start Packaging Tape was the second-stickiest, the second-sturdiest, and the least expensive tape we tested. Plus, it comes with a comfortable, intuitive dispenser and offers the most tape per roll of those we tested, which means you won’t have to replace the dispenser as often.
In our stress tests for stickiness and sturdiness, the Duck EZ Start tape ranked just behind the Gorilla Shipping Tape, which is around 50 percent wider and costs three times as much. Our pick costs only about 3 cents per foot and comes with 166½ feet per roll. The Duck tape’s medium-size dispenser has a great grip for hands of various sizes, a roller for smooth and easy tape application, and sharp, well-guarded teeth for effective tape ripping. Plus, small plastic stands on the dispenser elevate the tape roll and provide greater control as you tape.
The two Scotch-brand tapes we tested, Sure Start Shipping Packaging Tape and Heavy Duty Shipping Packaging Tape, were the flimsiest and the least sticky. They were first and second (respectively) to fall off the wall in our tests, and they are both more expensive than our pick. LePage’s Seal It Bandit Packaging Tape is more expensive, and its dispenser lacks the Duck EZ Start’s convenient roller for smooth application. The Gorilla Shipping Tape was the sturdiest and stickiest we tested—it even took a chunk of paint off the wall—but it’s three times more expensive per foot than our pick and overkill for regular shipping purposes. —KS
After researching nearly 20 security envelopes and then mailing, peeking into, and trying to break the seals on six contenders, we found that Office Depot’s Lift & Press Premium Envelopes are the best. Offering the best paper quality of all the envelopes we tested, they’re the most opaque, and they’re impossible to break into without damaging the envelope. Office Depot’s Lift & Press Premium Envelopes are self-sealing and have edge-to-edge seal coverage, unlike the others we tested—and at 8 cents per envelope at the time of our tests, they were some of the cheapest we found.
We placed printed documents in each of the envelopes and held them up to a sunlit window. The Office Depot envelope was the only one that prevented us from reading the text inside. We expected all the security envelopes to pass this test, and we were surprised to discover that envelopes from the most popular brands, Columbian and Mead, were the easiest to see through.
Next we attempted to steam open the envelopes without damaging them and then reseal them without leaving any telltale signs. The Mead and Staples envelopes steamed open and allowed resealing, the two Columbian contenders wouldn’t open, and the Office Depot envelope ripped—leaving clear evidence of our attempted break-in—but still refused to open. That’s a good thing.
We froze a second set of envelopes overnight to weaken the seals and then tried to break into those. Mead’s gum-sealed security envelopes (which steamed open) wouldn’t budge, but Mead’s Press-it Seal-it, Staples’s Easy Close, and Columbian’s Self-Seal envelopes all opened and resealed.
Although the cold weakened the Office Depot envelope’s seal, the envelope’s design has subtle security perforations that rip easily under pressure, and this feature thwarted our attempt to open the envelope stealthily. (The only other envelopes that we couldn’t break into were Columbian’s Grip-Seal security envelopes, which are more see-through, have worse-quality paper, and cost more than twice as much per envelope as our pick.) —KS
Packing materials (or, how to pack)
After researching 13 kinds of newsprint, nine types of Kraft paper, and 13 different bubble wraps, and testing three of each, we learned that how you pack is more important than the materials you use. (But don’t worry, we still have recommendations for each!) We tested all these packing materials in various combinations by throwing boxes of properly packed wine glasses down flights of stairs. Not a single glass broke or chipped, because they all stayed well protected thanks to proper packing technique.
For glass and other fragile objects, begin by wrapping the item in at least two layers of bubble wrap. Center the object on the edge of the bubble wrap, fold the edges inward over the object, and roll the object down the length of bubble wrap. Secure with a bit of Scotch tape or the like. For a nonfragile object that you still want to protect—a book, for example—wrap it the same way using a layer or two of newsprint. Choose a box a little larger than the object you’re shipping; if the box is too snug, careless postal workers could squish the item. Fill some of the empty box with crumpled Kraft paper to provide a cushion, place your object in the box, and then fill the rest of the space with more crumped Kraft paper. The bubble wrap and/or newsprint will protect the surface of your object, and the lightly crumpled Kraft paper will cushion the object. Ta-da!
Now for the picks. We like the Cheap Cheap Moving Boxes Packing Paper best because its individual newsprint sheets are smooth and thick, plus they’re recycled, well packaged, and, yes, cheap. Duck’s Kraft Paper was the thickest we tested, and it held its shape and filled more space in boxes than the competition. We also asked members of a blind-testing panel to rank Kraft paper samples from thickest to thinnest, and they chose the Duck paper every time.
Most people can get by with leftover bubble wrap and air pillows from other packages, but if you ship fragile objects frequently, you may want to invest in some bubble wrap. We like Duck’s Bubble Wrap best because it doesn’t take up a ton of space in your office or closet and comes perforated at every foot for easy dispensing; it’s inexpensive, too. The Duck wrap is Amazon’s bestseller, and currently it has a 4.6-star rating (out of five) with 902 customer reviews. All the other bubble wraps we researched were more than twice as expensive per foot, too large to keep on hand in a home office, or saddled with poor user reviews. —KS
After researching 15 different mailing labels and testing nine ourselves, we found that Avery’s White WeatherProof labels are the best by a wide margin. We printed hundreds of labels using our pick for the best cheap printer, stress-tested each type of label with water and friction, and mailed a selection of labeled envelopes to see how they would hold up in practical use. The Avery WeatherProof labels were the only ones we tested that didn’t smudge when wet, pill under friction, or come unstuck. Plus, the WeatherProof labels come in assorted sizes and don’t cost much compared with other labels.
Avery’s White WeatherProof labels are designed for use with laser printers (such as our budget pick), but not inkjet printers. If you have an inkjet printer, we recommend the Avery White Shipping Labels instead. The White Shipping Labels smudged when wet and pilled under friction in our tests, but they hold up in the mail and stay attached to packages and envelopes. They rank a distant second behind the WeatherProof labels and don’t come in the 1-by-2.62-inch size (which is ideal for standard envelopes), but they are a couple of cents cheaper per label and good enough for most mailing needs.
The best tool for designing and printing your labels is the free Avery Wizard software for Microsoft Word on Windows. The plug-in asks you for the label code—which you can find on the front of the label package—and the addresses, and then it automatically formats a Word document for you to print. User-friendly and uncomplicated, this software removes all the opportunities to accidentally mess up the formatting or margins. If you don’t have Microsoft Word, or if you use a Mac, you can use Avery’s Templates (for Word or PDF) instead, but you have to watch out and click to avoid installing an Ask.com toolbar when downloading a template, and you have to enter and format each label manually yourself. We don’t recommend Avery’s online tool—it’s terrible. —KS
For weighing packages, we recommend the American Weigh Scales Table Top Postal Scale. We researched 11 postal scales and tested three using a scientific weight set and a variety of packages, and we found that the AWS scale has the best-placed buttons for weighing unruly packages, runs on easier-to-replace AA batteries, and usually costs a few dollars less than the competition.
The American Weigh Scales Table Top Postal Scale can weigh packages up to 55 pounds. This model was accurate to within 4 grams in our tests; that’s a bit less accurate than the other two scales we tested, but it isn’t an issue, because mailing services in the US go down to only 1-ounce (28-gram) increments.
The AWS Table Top Postal Scale has three buttons on top—On/Off, Mode, and Tare—and a Hold button on the side. This configuration was the most convenient among the scales we looked at, because the Hold button’s position on the side allows you to hold the measurement of large, awkward packages that block the backlit screen. Other scales have their corresponding button on top, making it difficult (sometimes impossible) to see or reach with a large package on the scale. Like most mailing scales, our pick also has a stand that you can raise to keep envelopes steady during weighing.
We also tested the Weighmax postal shipping scale and the Accuteck Heavy Duty Postal Shipping Scale. Both tend to be more expensive than the AWS scale, and they each run on included 9-volt batteries instead of more-convenient AAs (a set of which comes with our pick). All the scales we tested come with an AC adapter, however, so they’ll still work even when the batteries die. —KS
If you need a pen to take notes during a teleconference or to hastily scribble down an idea, the one to grab is the uni-ball Jetstream (just don’t lend it out, because you might never get it back). When we interviewed pen experts with more than 17 years of combined experience writing about writing tools, they all agreed on one thing: The uni-ball Jetstream is the best pen for almost anyone. It’s pretty widely available, and it creates one of the smoothest, quickest-drying lines you can find. It won’t bleed, it won’t skip, it won’t feather. It will dry indelibly—and so quickly that left-handed people can use it without worrying about smudging.
The Jetstream also requires little pressure to write with, so once you get a feel for how to use it, you can write incredibly fast since it pretty much glides over the page, especially if you write in cursive.
The Jetstream isn’t the cheapest pen in the world, but it isn’t so expensive that if you loan one it’ll be a huge problem when you discover that the borrower chewed on the thing. It’s available in sizes from 0.38 mm up to 1.0 mm, with a bunch of different bodies in different styles. For most people, though, the 0.5-mm version is easy to find, a joy to write with, and ready to work after lingering at the bottom of your bag for a few weeks. —Tim Barribeau
The uni-ball Kuru Toga mechanical pencil set itself apart from the 127 other models we evaluated through research, interviews, surveys, and testing. Unlike any other widely available pencil, the Kuru Toga has a unique ratcheting internal mechanism, so each time you lift the pencil from the page, the lead rotates a tiny amount. What does that mean? The sharpest point of your lead will always touch the paper, and you won’t constantly fidget to rotate the pencil in your hand.
Because the point never gets blunt, your to-do list, diagrams, and mind map will look exactly as sharp when you finish the page as when you started it. And your lines will always have the same width. It’s like writing with a ballpoint pen, but with all the flexibility of a pencil. —TB
After researching 14 popular products and testing six offerings from Highland, Office Depot, Redi-Tag, and 3M, we think that the best basic 3-by-3-inch sticky notes for the money are Highland Notes, which you can typically find for half the price of 3M’s ubiquitous Post-it Notes. Highland Notes stick effectively on a useful range of papers and surfaces, from printed books to loose-leaf paper to computer monitors, and they provide a pleasing surface for writing with pencil or pen.
The drawback: Highland Notes are available in a pretty limited range of colors and sizes compared with the dizzying array of Post-it Notes. If you need many options, we advise picking up the Super Sticky variety of Post-its, available in a recycled version (which never hurts).
One piece of advice, whatever brand you choose: Avoid “pop-up” notes, which are glued accordion style, unless you plan to use a dispenser. Our testers and researchers concluded that the accordion fold got in the way of using the pad on its own, and such pads tended to unfurl when carried around in a book bag or briefcase. —Michael Berk
After testing seven popular whiteboards over several weeks in the Wirecutter office in New York, repeatedly writing and erasing with a variety of dry-erase inks (including letting ink dry and sit untouched for days at a time), we think the best whiteboard for most people is the OptiMA RitePlus porcelain magnetic board. It’s the cheapest magnetic board of those we tested that featured a porcelain-coated steel surface for smooth writing, easy erasing, and long-term durability. That steel core also gives the RitePlus a strong grip when you’re posting documents with magnets. The RitePlus comes with a 50-year warranty, among the best we encountered, and this solidly constructed board comes with usable mounting hardware, all packaged securely for delivery—not a given with lower-cost melamine dry-erase boards.
At about $75 currently for the popular 2-by-3-foot size, the RitePlus costs roughly twice as much as a decent melamine board such as the Quartet Standard. For the extra money, however, you get that 50-year warranty versus three years of coverage for the melamine board, along with easier erasing and better construction, hardware, packaging, and magnetism. Other porcelain boards we tested cost hundreds more and didn’t perform better or feel more solid. If you really intend to use and reuse a whiteboard, the OptiMA RitePlus is worth the investment.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you absolutely must have a magnetic board and want to spend as little as possible, the Board Dudes Aluminum Framed Magnetic Dry Erase Board does the job for very little money, but its lightweight construction makes it easy to damage, and the minimal packaging makes it susceptible to bending in shipping. —MB
We put 10 dry-erase markers to work around the Wirecutter offices and found that the best pen for the money is the classic Expo Low-Odor dry-erase marker. Each Expo pen’s chisel tip gives you versatile line options, puts down a clear and well-defined line with plenty of pigment just as effectively as more expensive markers, and wipes clean easily with a standard eraser, with less residue and staining than the competition on both melamine and porcelain surfaces. And it lasted the longest of all the markers we tested when left uncapped, putting down a usable amount of ink even after we neglected it for a week. It’s also available in a fine-tip version, which performed similarly in our testing, laying down clear and even lines, erasing easily, and drying out the least of the fine-tipped pens when we kept them uncapped for up to a week.
If you prefer a much finer tip (1 mm; it’s also available with a 0.6-mm tip if you really need precision) and a more difficult-to-erase marker (which means you’re less likely to smear your complex equations as you work), we like the Staedtler Lumocolor Correctable Pens, which give you a very thin line comparable to that of a Flair or other fine felt-tip pen. The Staedtler pens offer solid coverage but require a wet cloth (or their own built-in eraser) for cleanup. —MB
After subjecting a selection of the most popular notebooks on the market to everyday writing as well as heavy abuse (such as throwing them down flights of stairs and soaking them in water), we recommend the Black n’ Red Twin Wirebound Notebook for use at your desk. This notebook offers a heavier-weight, more premium paper than most school-oriented notebooks, providing a better writing experience. It has a smoother surface, which allows for faster writing, and it uses higher-quality paper that creates less feathering and bleed-through. The double spiral binding is nice and tough, and the rubber-band enclosure helps keep everything in snugly. Thanks to the larger and tougher cover, this notebook survived our dunk test better than most.
If you need your notebooks with their spiral bindings at the top, the Rhodia Wirebound Lined Orange Notepads are a close cousin of the Rhodia notebooks we truly enjoyed writing on for our back-to-school guide. —TB
After testing seven top-ranked highlighters over the past two years by marking up many pages of handwritten notes, printed documents, and books, we’ve determined that the Sharpie Clear View is the best because its see-through tip doesn’t block the text that you’re highlighting. This design seems like a gimmick, but we found that the Clear View made drawing straight, accurate highlights easier than any of the other markers we tried. In our tests, the bright and visible ink worked well over print, pencil, and pen ink (though it smeared a bit on wet rollerball and marker) and exhibited minimal bleed-through save on the thinnest printed pages.
If you need to highlight on superthin pages, we recommend the Sharpie Gel Highlighter instead. This fluorescent-hued crayon goes on dry and doesn’t bleed through, but its broad, rounded tip is less accurate. The Gel Highlighter also smeared handwritten ink and pencil notes more than the Clear View. —MB
Originally published: March 1, 2016