moleskine covers

I’m fully prepared for backlash and vitriol from this post, but, over the years, Moleskine continues to be the measure used — for better or worse — for all other notebooks. First and foremost, Moleskine notebooks are available in a multitude of sizes, configurations and form factors. The overall aesthetics are streamlined and understated. While you might not love them, its hard to truly dislike them. If anything, they are plain. And they are ubiquitous. You can buy them almost anywhere: the airport, the bookstore, the coffeeshop or your favorite boutique.

What really spurred me was a recent comment that suggested that the paper stock used in the Moleskine Cahier, Volant and standard Moleskine Notebooks was different. Well, that gave me something worthy of investigation.

So, I bought one of each at the standard large size (5″x8.25″ or 13x21cm slightly smaller than A5), new, off-the-shelf from my local Barnes & Noble. I wanted to make sure I had recent editions and not ones that had been sitting on my shelves for months or years that may have been manufactured with different paper stock. I purchased all plain notebooks since I like to use guide sheets and Moleskine paper is very conducive to using your own guide sheets as the paper is not super thick. Of course, all the Moleskine notebooks are also available in other colored covers but I went with plain black. The Cahier I couldn’t find a black version so I went with grey as the next best option for neutral.

I also tested the week-on-two-pages planner for 2016, also with the soft cover, which I got through Jenni Bick. I was curious if the process of adding printing created any coating on the paper that might alter ink adhesion in any way so the planner is my monkey wrench in the testing process.

Of course, my expectations are not that the Moleskine notebooks are all of a sudden 100% fountain pen friendly or anything like that but there are many readers who don’t need all-day, everyday fountain pen friendly paper. And there are lots of other notebooks that we often rely on heavily that don’t support fountain pens the way we wish they would like the Baron Fig, Field Notes, or Word Notebooks.

As pen and pencil aficionados, we also love gels, rollerballs, ballpoints, pencils, felt tips, brushes and all sorts of other mark-making tools. And sometimes, we need something that is easy to find in the size that fits our favorite Fauxdori, Roterfaden Taschenbegleiter or whatever other carryall or pocket we need to stuff with paper.

Format No. of books Pages/book total pages cover material binding extras MSRP
Plain Softcover




leatherette perfect bound, stitched ribbon bookmark, gusset pocket






plastic perfect bound, stitched sticker sheet, all pages are perforated






cardstock paperboard exposed stitching glued slit pocket, last 16 pages perforated in each book


First things first… a spreadsheet of specs!

The first thing I noticed when I put together my spreadsheet is that the Cahier 3-set is a better price value, page-per-page, than the Volant or the soft cover notebook, sales or discounted pricing notwithstanding. Of course, the covers are not as durable but the Cahier sets include the perforated pages in the back and the pocket so there are still some “extras”. I just thought it was interesting to note.

My experience with the large, soft cover plain notebook is pretty much identical to the XL version. The paper behaved as well as I expected and I’m finding that the flexible cover is a good compromise between the classic hard cover Moleskine notebook and a floppy paper cover. The soft leatherette cover actually feels very nice in hand and allows the cover to be folded back or to lay flat as I need it. It also slims the book ever so slightly so its not quite as bulky overall. The soft cover notebook still includes the gusseted pocket in the back, ribbon bookmark and the vertical elastic like the classic hard cover version.

The covers on the Volant feel the most rugged of the three. They are more plasticky feeling than the leatherette quality of the soft cover which feel more supple and upscale. However, I do like that all the pages in the Volant are perforated as an option. If you are looking for a notebook that could be used for lists and leave-behind notes, the Volant offers the easiest flexibility.  There are no extras in the Volant — no ribbon bookmarks or pockets in the Volant so its a very stripped down and streamlined notebook. The writing sample on the Volant was absolutely consistent with the plain notebook. My husband voted the Volant his favorite.

The Cahier notebooks are lovely to look at with the exposed stitching and the kraft paper covers. However, the paper in the Cahier did seem to be more inclined to feather the fountain pen inks than in either the Volant or the soft cover or the planner. Even the J. Herbin Emerald of Chivor in my TWSBI EF behaved nicely in all but the Cahier. Now I don’t know if the Cahier paper behavior was a fluke but it even shadowed and bled to the reverse more than the other three. Maybe that’s part of why its a slightly better price value? You get what you pay for?

Finally, for comparison, I also tested the week-on-two-pages 2016 Weekly Planner (with the same soft cover as the plain notebook) to verify that, in printing, the paper quality didn’t change. I used all the same pens with the same inks as I did on the plain paper which I assume was not run through printing press and the results were consistent with the plain notebook and the Volant. The Cahier paper still seems to be a little more absorbent than any of the other papers but generally speaking the printing lines don’t seem to alter the quality of the paper. So if your preference is lined or graph paper, Moleskine notebooks will withstand the same scrutiny that the plain books do.

One of the things I really enjoy about the Moleskine paper is the warm white color and the smoothness of the stock. The warm white color is very inviting and easy on the eyes. I find it less intimidating than a stark, bright white sheet found in other notebooks.

(Click on image to view full size)
(Click on image to view full size)

For the writing tests, I left the full-sized images available to view so that you can get as up-close and personal with these photos as you’d like. As you can see, with most everyday, fine line pens the Moleskine paper performed pretty well. Even fine fountain pens were mostly well-behaved. I particularly like how felt tip pens pens behave on Moleskine paper like the Sharpie Pen and Staedtler Triples Fineliners. They sort of grip along and make lovely marks.

Because the Moleskine paper is very smooth, if you do prefer a very fine writing tool, you are unlikely to snag an 0.25mm on the tooth of the paper. Pencils also glide across the paper. Even the finest Pilot Hi-Tec C, Energel Needletip or (my current favorite) Platinum Carbon Pen, skates across the paper. Despite the issues with some fountain pens and fountain pen inks, many writing tools are a joy on Moleskine paper.

Since most of my daily writing and drawing work is done with a 0.5mm or smaller tool, the Moleskine paper is really quite adequate. And all of the plain paper performed the same. What I did notice was that heat or moisture from my hand could affect the paper. Its not heavyweight paper by any means but honestly, neither is Tomoe River. Sure, Tomoe doesn’t feather but its transparent and takes an age to dry so there are trade-off’s with any notebook or paper you may choose.

(Click on image to view full size)
Reverse of pages. (Click on image to view full size)

From the reverse of the pages, you can see some ghosting and show through on the top row which is the planner and the Cahier but not so much as to be distracting when written on the other side. With the plain paper notebooks, I tend to only use one side of the paper anyway. For the planner, I use mostly color coded gel pens for daily use so they don’t show through as much as the testing actually demonstrates. Generally speaking, the reverse of the pen tests were not as bad as I was expecting them to be. Of course, I didn’t try a lot of wide calligraphy fountain pens but even my brush pens behaved with some discretion.

So, in the end, the Cahier paper does seem to be a little thinner, and a little lower quality,  than the paper used in the Volant and standard notebooks. I’d be more inclined to recommend the Volant and the soft cover notebooks over the Cahier if you’re going to dip your toe back in the Moleskine pool.

Part of what spurred my interest in all this Moleskine business was when I started using my Moleskine XL for a daily sketchbook late last year. I’ve warmed back up to the possibilities of the Moleskine notebooks. I’ve carried the XL everyday, to and from work, doodled, written, stamped, scribbled, watercolored and basically treated it as the workhorse object it was designed to be treated. To no ill effects. For three months. I’m happy to keep drawing in it. In fact I look forward to continuing to fill the pages and THAT is why we have notebooks. This goes back to the whole reason I keep a notebook — so that I write and draw and make marks.

I think whatever notebook makes you want to make marks, write your story, save your memories, doodle, scrawl or write your grocery list, don’t feel guilty about it. If you love a Moleskine, use it. If you prefer an Italian embossed leather notebook purchased on the Bridge of Sighs, than use that. The best notebook is the one you have with you, no matter which one you choose.

18 Comments on Reconsidering Moleskine

  1. The only thing I dislike about Moleskine is the marketing myth that it’s some kind of finely handcrafted product made in Italy or France to early 20th century specs. It’s a perfectly fine product for something that’s churned out by the millions in China and sold in Barnes & Noble. In fact I use the Cahiers for journaling at least once a year, because I have a cloth cover that fits them perfectly, and although there’s some show-through with fountain pens I usually only write on one side anyway so it’s not an issue. (I don’t use them all the time because I get bored always using the same kind of journal.)

    • I actually re-read the information note included in the notebooks last night and it says the company was started in 1997 to recreate the feeling of the European tradition of small notebooks. So they don’t really hide the reality of how their books are created but they definitely “market” over it. Thanks for your input!

      • No, it’s not an outright lie, but they’ve definitely created a “soft focus” version of the product, because they know most people are too lazy to get hard facts, or just don’t care enough. Heh, I remember being in Papier Plume on one of my visits to NOLA and some hapless tourist coming in asking if they sold Moleskines–with a reverent tone of voice usually reserved for someone asking about, I don’t know, Shakespeare first folios–and receiving a very politely condescending lecture from the owner about how they don’t sell “mass marketed” products and she could buy one at the B&N in Metairie.

  2. I use ballpoint pens. I don’t write as an art project. I use notebooks for utilitarian purposes, mostly for planning other projects. I don’t care about fountain own friendliness. I do like high quality paper, but “quality” here just means “feels/looks good to my uneducated glance.”

    I purchased a set of pocket moleskine cahiers a while back, then promptly dedicated them to other projects. I quite liked them. They’re thicker that field notes, which makes them sturdier if you’re not using a leather cover. And they do their job with no complaints, while maintaining that classy, office friendly all-black aesthetic.

    I started to assume that the anti moleskine sentiment was just fountain pen elitism, and wasn’t applicable to me.

    When I needed a fourth pocket notebook, I checked back in at the same store at which I bought the first set (a Target). They were having a holiday sale, so I bought two packs.

    I’ve only opened one, and only used one of the three notebooks inside. But the paper is visibly different. It feels more roughly textured, and the lines are printed visibly fainter. I have both with me now- the differences are unmistakeable.

    If you tore out a few pages from each, mixed them up, and gave them to me, I would be able to sort which notebooks them came from with a casual glance.

    I don’t want to make this more than it is- they’re all usable. But I definitely prefer the former to the latter. And I would be completely unsurprised if fountain pens performed differently on each.

    So I’m a little more sympathetic to people’s complaints.

    • Cahiers are fantastic, a great value and really great notebooks all around. I like what you said about using them for projects. Since they are so thin, they are great for jotting down quick notes as well as planning, etc. I personally use the large size (5×8.25 in.) with the gray cover, and I love them. I use a number of other moleskine notebooks including the hard cover planner and regular notebooks, and I agree, the paper feels different. The cahier paper is a little grittier, but in my opinion, it is great for ink because it absorbs/dries very quickly, even for fountain pens. As long as the pen has been “broken in” and had time to adjust to the person’s writing style, it will be fine.

  3. I have definitely noticed a difference in the paper starting last year. I actually went to a moleskine store and asked the sales associate if he could tell the difference, and he did tell me that they switched suppliers, so there is a difference in the paper. I still love my Moleskine Le Petit Prince planner, but I have been experimenting with other notebooks too.

  4. I’m with you. There is always that bit of snobbery in any hobby, and the hate against Moleskine is one such snobbery in the Fountain Pen community. Even some popular reviewers that rave about things like Field Notes, then go on to hate on Moleskine – when Field Notes fits everything they are saying about Moleskine. (Not to mention that there are WAY more non-fountain pen users than FP users, where Moleskine is perfectly fine for their use.) I always say use what you like and what is on hand. When Leuchtturm, or Tomoe River Norebooks, et ctera, are as ever-prevalent as Moleskine, I am sure we can convert the masses – until then Moleskine will carry the mainstream journal users favor. I’m just glad to see a journal in someones hand, no matter what it is. =)

  5. I totes use Moleskine Cahiers for my daily journal/planner because it’s pocket sized and can go with me everywhere.

  6. I definitely agree with your last few statements about using whatever notebook works.
    Moleskine never claimed to be fountain pen friendly (to my knowledge) so the hate is just groundless.

    I’ve also definitely noticed a difference between paper quality in the cahier and volant – with the volant being more usable with fountain pens – but they’re still equally usuable, just with different writing instruments and for different purposes.

  7. Moleskines are like a gateway drug. You start out w/ them & then move on to other Notebooks. Its their popularity among so-called creatives (graphic designers, artists, writers, Millennials etc.) & their easily obtainable, buy anywhere near-ubiquity that continue to give Moleskine credence.

    But. the issue at hand is the INTERNET_rumourz of a decline in paper quality. So. Thank you for this informative post addressing the issue.

  8. Well, I do like Field Notes and I have a pretty decent collection of them. I use them primarily for stuff that I don’t need to reference again, like grocery lists. But I still love Moleskine reporters. I set one up to use this year and I’m still trying to get back into the habit. I don’t trust digital any more, so I like to have a separate analog system. I use my digital calendar for reminders.

    I do love my fountain pens, but I am less likely to use them when out and about. And I don’t know of anyone else that does this, but I have a tendency to press flowers in my Moleskine. I put a bunch together last year and put tape on top to preserve them. Looks nice.

    I am now trying to find a use for a nice Classic Franklin planner. I think I just need a lot of blank pages for it.

  9. My first time on this site, and I am enjoying it. Heard mention of it on Pen Addict. I’ve been journaling, drawing and doing calligraphy for over 20 years. I also like to set up my workspace, desk and tables just so, which is what brought me here!

    From my own experience I’ve learned that you use different papers for different purposes. I’ve used and continue to use a wide variety of journals and notebooks. I’ve learned to never use a fountain pen in a small notebook like Moleskine (the small sizes of Moleskine) or Field Notes. The paper quality just does not support it. Great for ball point or gel pens. I’ve used both brands from time to time, but strictly for utilitarian purposes. Sometimes only to glue cutouts onto the pages.

    If you really want to journal in fountain pen you have to go to a better quality paper. Mass-produced like Paper Blanks, or hand made like Amalfi or Oblations. If I journal, I don’t go any smaller than A5 size.

    For calligraphy, I rarely use notebooks at all, except for practice, and will then use A4 or letter size only (8 1/2 x 11). For calligraphy as well, papers vary greatly depending on the specific purpose, types of inks and pens you want to use. John Neal Bookseller website serves the calligraphy community and going there one can see the wide variety of suitable paper products available.

    As for marketing of brands, all manufacturers have a target audience and focus on selling to that group. For my own needs, I focus on the paper quality inside the notebook and care little about the covers.

    In closing if you really want to use a fountain pen in a small notebook that’s roughly Field Notes size, your best bet is Midori passport size notebooks. Just a bit shorter than the Field Notes or Moleskines but the paper quality is much superior.

    Thanks for listening to yet another opinion.

  10. The issue is not the paper quality.. perse, but that it’s so inconsistent across the board. You may buy one notebook and have no problems at all. Once that’s gone, you go to buy another of the same kind and the paper is not the same at all. Just because you didn’t get quality paper in the Cahier you bought, does not mean you would get the same result if you went back to the store and bought another of the same kind. I have regular large lined Moleskines that can take brush pens and wide nibs, but I have other regular lined Moleskines that can’t take the same ones, or finer ones well at all. I do not think the pens/inks make a significant difference due to that fact.

    tl;dr paper quality is not necessarily decreasing or increasing, only becoming less consistent. I truly wish that wasn’t the case.

  11. I’ve been using a Moleskine daily planner this year and I love everything about it except…the paper doesn’t absorb well, so the gel rollerballs that I love tend to stain the opposite page. If I have to enter information quickly on a bunch of different dates, I end up with a bunch of smudged-up pages, and it drives me crazy. I have experimented with lots of different pens and the only one that seems to work on this paper to my satisfaction is an expensive felt-tip drawing pen. So I’m now on a quest to find a daily planner that is EXACTLY LIKE the Moleskine but that will work well with rollerball pens (my favourite is the sadly discontinued Pilot V-Ball Grip, but no rollerballs seem to cooperate with this paper.) I would love recommendations.

  12. You know, I keep hearing about the “hate against” Moleskine by fountain pen users, and I’ve never personally seen anything resembling full-on hate, just some personal opinions and criticisms.

    I’ve tried Moleskine Cahiers. I don’t like the way my fountain pen inks change color when they dry on the paper, and the bleed-through makes the reverse sides of the pages unusable. However, pencils work fine, ballpoints work fine, gel pens work fine. They’re a decent product that are a little more robust than Field Notes. I do like the perforated pages and the back-flap pocket. That being said, I still don’t use them.

    This isn’t any “snobbery” on my part, it’s purely economics. For what those notebooks cost, I’m not going to carry a separate notebook just for fountain pens, I’m going to carry ONE notebook that covers all of my bases. Unfortunately, neither Moleskines nor Field Notes do this. For about the same price, I can get Clairefontaine notebooks in the same size, which have laminated covers and paper that doesn’t suffer the bleed-through issues that afflict both Moleskine or Field Notes. For about half the price of Moleskines, Piccadilly Pocket Notes work well, too.

    See? I’m a fountain pen user, and I don’t hate Moleskines. I think they’re a fine product, and I’ve given them as gifts many times. They don’t meet my personal needs, but that doesn’t diminish their value in general.

  13. First time visitor to the site – thanks for an informative review. I buy notebooks based purely on whether they can take fountain pen ink or not, because I love my fountain pens. (Oddly enough, when they were compulsory during my first years in school, I hated fountain pens with a passion…) But a few years ago I got sick of not being able to read my own handwriting, and got out my old pens, and picked up a few notebooks.
    I settled on Leuchtturm1917 A5 notebooks as the least likely to have ink blotting through the page, and over the last few years they’ve improved until I find there’s no bleed-through at all. The most recent purchases seem to have an alteration in the paper stock — I think it’s not just a batch problem — so I’ve been looking for other notebooks, and thanks to your review, I’m giving Moleskine a try. (I got the Softcover Large Dotted version.)
    I should say that I’m not unhappy about Leuchtturm because of ink problems — quite the contrary. I brought out all my big guns in terms of fountain pens, and none of them get through the Leuchtturm1917 A5 paper. Not the modern, not the vintage, not the flex nib, not the rigid nib. But, the paper has changed its surface.
    It used to be smooth as glass. It really did feel like you were writing on nothing at all. Now, there’s a very faint ‘tooth’. I don’t know if it’s a quality that goes with the current ink-proof stock, or whether this also is a batch problem. It did send me looking for other notebooks, though. It’s just a personal dislike; I don’t like the feel of “scrape-y” paper.
    So… So far, I find the Moleskine not-quite-A5 is convenient. I do miss the Leuchtturm’s numbered pages, contents listings, and ability to open out quite flat, but hey. It’s paper quality I’m after. Again, after reading your review, I got out all my best pens and saw if I could get anything to show on the back of the Moleskine paper. And… Nope. Nothing. Zippo. Absolutely nothing got through it. Have I just been lucky?
    But I do notice that the surface feels ‘draggy’, whatever pen I use to write with. It’s just a shade too soft for me. Can anyone tell me if this is what you usually get with Moleskine? I don’t know yet whether I’ll find the sensation too obtrusive.
    And yes, I probably am a sad old pen geek who just prefers what she had. 🙂 I don’t think I’ll hate Moleskines, but I don’t know if I’ll ever love them.

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