When you fall down the rabbit hole that is fountain pens you quickly learn then it’s not just inks you need to worry about or nibs – oh no, no, no, no. The paper you write on is important to the experience and fountain pens are mainly used because they make writing by hand enjoyable. So after doing plenty of research online, in Facebook groups and on Reddit I plunged in and started to buy notebooks if all the kinds recommended to me with a few other cheapies thrown in. Posh paper costs money so I wanted to see if cheap could also be cheerful!
My analysis takes a few factors into account because, while good paper is a thing of beauty, a good notebook should also function well as a daily journal and should bring joy to the user. So with that in mind here are a few comments about how I scored them:
- I tried to source only notebooks that were available in dotted format. This is popular amongst serious bullet journalists and so limits the list to the specific genre of notebooks and rules out most simple pads.
- Paper should be smooth to write on and should not let the ink bleed and spread. It should also, as much as possible, resist going through the paper and showing on the other side – ghosting.
- Notebooks got more points if they had a pen loop so you can keep book and pen together; an elastic closure to keep it closed; an inside pocket on the rear cover; a decent protective cover; and bookmark ribbons … lots of ribbons!
- I also gave points if the spine allowed the notebook to be opened and laid flat without too much bending and straining. Sewn spines are generally better than glued or stapled.
I should also add that a lot of this is highly subjective and you might not think half this stuff is important but the views are my own and I bought and paid for all these notebooks myself so I’m not biased by a sponsor. I just did it for fun 🙂
Here are the contenders and their scores (apologies for the rubbish formatting):
|Endless Recorder||Regalia paper||Crimson Sky||H||D||A5||80||192||£19.58||£0.10|
|Leuchtturm1917||Notebook Medium||Berry Pink||H||D||A5||80||249||£12.99||£0.05|
|Tomoe River||GLP The Author||Blue||S||D||B5||68||192||£24.95||£0.13|
|Dingbats||Wildlife notebook||Grey Elephant||H||D||A5+||100||192||£17.95||£0.09|
|Little Calm & Happy||Notebook||Black||H||D||A5||120||160||£8.95||£0.06|
|Rettacy||Notebook (x2)||Grey & Teal||H||D||A5||120||160||£7.00||£0.04|
|Yamamoto||Tomoegawa Tomoe River||Mid Blue||S||P||A5||52||200||£19.14||£0.10|
|Yamamoto||Takasago Premium||Light Blue||S||P||A5||88||100||£19.14||£0.19|
|Clairefontaine||Classic Bullet Journal||Clothbound||S||D||A5||90||192||£8.29||£0.04|
|Maruman Mnemosyne||ring bound notebook||Black||S||L||A5||80||80||£8.74||£0.11|
|Yamamoto||New Chifon Cream||Dark Blue||S||P||A5||80||100||£19.14||£0.19|
[cover is either H=hardback or S=softback; paper is either L=lined, D=dotted or B=blank]
|brand||paper (1-5)||dry||FX||colour||ribbon||elastic||spine (1-3)||cover (1-3)||loop||look (1-3)||score|
|Little Calm & Happy||2||F||ivory||1||1||3||3||1||1||2||14|
[dry: S=slow, M=medium, F=fast]
- Endless Recorder: available with Tomoe River or Regalia paper – great little notebook with a high score AND made with 2 great papers.
- Rhodia Soft Notebook: excellent paper but this is the cheaper glued spine version
- Rhodia Soft Goalbook: excellent paper but still soft cover and many pages are pre-printed for specific purposes.
- Clairefontaine Classic Bullet Journal: excellent paper – identical to Rhodia but a very simple cheap notebook
- Dingbats Wildlife notebook: paper is excellent but loses 1 point for being thicker. Very nice all rounder though.
- Leuchtturm1917 Notebook: excellent paper but loses points for the soft cover and you have to buy a stick-on loop as extra
- Midori MD Notebook: loses points in my scoring system from the very basic features but that’s Japanese minimalist style!
- Tomoe River GLP The Author: loses on being B5 and having no loop
- Lemome Notebook: amazing value for money and works well but the paper paper is thick
- Little Calm & Happy Notebook: a pretty good notebook but just looks cheaper than the Lemome
- Rettacy Notebook: too much ink spread and ghosting to be considered – very cheap but not very cheerful
- Tomoegawa Tomoe River: this is still the most outstanding paper if you want to show off ink effects like shading, sheen & shimmer. The combination of a slow drying time and very high resistance to bleed-through makes it the best. It’s worth noting that Tomoegawa stopped production of Tomoe River paper but sold the rights to Sanzen paper company and initial reports are that it is virtually identical. Many notebook producers are still using up their Tomoegawa stock too so you’ll be able to buy both for a while.
- Midori MD: This paper is almost as good as Tomoe River – there really isn’t much to sperate them.
- Regalia: This is a bit thicker than Tomoe River and is very good to show effects and prevent ghosting but I did have a bit of an issue with bleed-through on some of mine.
- Leuchtturm1917: Another great paper but a little faster to dry – I’d say it is good for effects but not as good as Tomoe River.
- Rhodia Clairefontaine: One of the best all-round papers on the market but it is a bit faster drying and the ivory colour isn’t so good for showing ink effects, but it is better if you are writing left handed and need a faster drying paper. Waiting for Tomoe River to dry can be quite tedious if you are using a very wet pen & ink combo.
- Dingbats: Quite thick paper and fast drying so it isn’t very good for showing effects like sheen – but it is a nice allrounder for a journal
- Lemome, Little Calm & Happy: Both just OK – quite thick paper which is good to prevent bleed-through etc but is heavy and quick drying so not good for ink effects.
- Rettacy: OK for ballpoint pens I guess but not great for fountain pens – with mine I got way too much feathering and bleed-through even with very basic pen & ink combinations.
It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that the paper in nearly all the books was pretty good – I did my research first and avoided the really cheap stuff. Cheap notebooks try to get less ink ghosting by using thick paper and I suspect that a high gsm is a good selling point – I mean, more is better, right? Well actually no it isn’t always – gsm means grams per square meter so the thicker paper is heavier and you are carrying around that weight and it makes the books themselves much thicker. The best papers are super-thin but prevent ghosting by just being very good at their job.
The notebooks that came out top were: Endless Recorder (either paper type), the Rhodia Goalbook & Dingbats Wildlife followed closely by the Leuchtturm1917 & Lemome, which just lost points on usefulness and paper respectively. If you’re sole interest is in writing on the best paper and you don’t care about having a fancy book then get Endless Recorder, Midori MD, Tomoe River or notebooks with Clairefontaine paper like Rhodia or Clairefontaine themselves or possibly Leuchtturm1917.
My personal choice at first was the Dingbats but after I tried the Endless Recorder I switched my allegiance to that – the combination of features and excellent papers just beats everything else if you want a feature-packed journal with great ink-effect paper.
I was surprised that the Lemome had come out so well and how the utterly gorgeous Midori MD and Tomoe River notebooks had scored quite low down. But this just shows the bias of trying to balance out the relative merits of paper vs usefulness of the book itself, as a journal. You can also make the argument that the thinnest, finest papers have a slight translucence about them which means you can see some of the writing on the other side of the paper, which might be annoying.
Anyway, I hope you’ve learned something useful from my article – do let me know what you think.