What makes a quality notebook?

If you love fountain pens the way I do, then you love to use them.  In todays electronic society normal opportunities to write are scarce to say the lease.  Everything is a pin code, keyboard, or touch screen interaction away.  Rarely does a chance to put pen to paper exist and often times those occur when someone hands you a cheap bic and a receipt to sign.

As a result, I am a voracious journaler. I highly recommend the late Jim Rohn’s audio book on How to Use a Journal available at audible.com.

What makes a quality notebook for the fountain pen user?

But what makes a good journal? There are a few things (independent of price) that make for a good notebook. Mr. Rohn said he was fond of buying expensive journals because they reflected the value of the ideas he captured there. For me personally, once you buy a $100 pen, and fill it from a $25 bottle of ink, the cost of the notebook is not all that important. The writing experience is important.

So what makes a good journal?
Here are my criteria – aside from side, shape, and page behavior. What I mean by page behavior is how the pages behave when the notebook is open. Some notebooks are quite stiff and the pages like to stand up and get in your way when you are writing. That is realitively easy to figure out in a store whether or not a notebook will behave well. However, how will it hold the ink?

The pages hold fountain pen ink well, in my opinion are pages that do not bleed through and do not feather. What is bleed through and feather? Read on.

Bleed Through

Bleed through is when ink on one side of the paper bleeds through the page and is visible on the other side, discoloring or detracting from the writing that appears there. This happens when the paper is too thin, or is fabricated in a such a way that the ink finds a path through the threads to the other side. Paper thickness is not always a good guarantee of non-bleeding paper.

Until recently my go to notebooks were the moleskin line of note books available virtually everywhere.  In the last year however, they have noticeably degraded their paper quality. Here are two examples of moleskin notebooks bleeding through:

Orange Ink on back page bleeding into green ink on front.
Orange Ink on back page bleeding into green ink on front.
Same color ink bleeds through
Same color ink bleeds through

High quality notebook paper does not let the ink bleed through.

Had I written using a ball point pen, this problem would never occur. With a fountain pen however, this is a problem. High quality pens are often free flowing with ink.

Feathering

The second problem that you can encounter with “cheap” (and sometimes not so cheap) notebooks is the notion of feathering. Depending upon the length of the fibre in the paper. Again, with thick gel, or ballpoint inks this is not a problem. With a more fluid ink like a fountain pen, this can be a big pain. Feathering occurs when the ink follows a thread in the paper and spreads out.

What makes a quality notebook for the fountain pen user? A notebook with short fibers. You want the ink to lay on the page in sharp crisp lines.

The letters of each word splay out with small strands making them look “fuzzy”.

Feathering

You can see in the above photo, taken from an Italian made notebook what feathering looks like. Despite the leather cover, gilded page edges, and thick paper, this notebook suffered from “feathering” due to the long fiber length in the paper itself. I still enjoyed the notebook, but not as much as others where the lines remain crisp and solid.

So where can you find a quality notebook?

Unfortunately they change often. For a very long time, as I said moleskin was extremely reliable. However, recently it would appear that they have wondered away from the quality product they used to make and are delivering a lower quality product at a premium price.

Surprisingly, some of the better values can be found in the store brand notebooks, such as the Barnes and Noble journals and I have been very impressed with Rhodia brand notebooks:

Exaclair also makes outstanding notebooks.

And while it is quite expensive, the best notebook I have found in recent years is the Zequence 360 Notebook.

While this is quite expensive ($38), it is a fantastic notebook that has the unusual ability to wrap around itself. The flexible cover and lay flat pages make this probably the best notebook I have used for a long time. What’s more it comes a high page count so it will last for a long time.

One final bonus. If you are looking for a cheap, almost throw away notebook, something for say writing the draft of a story, you might consider the Staples brand composition notebooks. I have been stunned as the quality of the paper for such an inexpensive notebook. They are smooth, polished, don’t bleed through and they hold the ink well in crisp sharp lines. I highly recommend these for drafts, and well, if you don’t care much about the look then they also make a great journal.

I hope that helps you find a notebook you love, and perhaps one of my recommendations will benefit you.

Conclusion

If you’re going to have a nice pen, you probably want nice paper to write on.

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