Denik is an artist-designed notebook company that’s mission is to change the world with art. It’s doing this by contributing part of their profits to education and by paying the artists that create the cover designs a royalty fee for their designs.
Last year, they helped to build the Denik Middle School in Zambougou, Mali. They are currently working on funding a school in Laos and are working with Pencils of Promise, to build a school in Guatemala which will start in the Spring of 2017.
In their spirit of generosity, they sent me a huge stack of notebooks to review. So many, that I enlisted the help of friends in order to test all the notebooks in a timely fashion. Jordan, Marcos, Allyson, Kim, Terence, Bob, and Meshelle all pitched in to provide feedback and assistance in reviewing these notebooks and sketchbooks. For all of them, it was their first outings reviewing a notebook so I’m pooling their comments and opinions to streamline this review. Otherwise this would have had to be an ebook.
The notebooks that we had to review are:
- Plaid Classic (5.25″ x 8.25″, hardcover with flannel fabric over board, 60 heavyweight pages, blank) $24.95
- Granite Softcover (5.25″ x 8.25″ 150 pages acid-free, 75% recycled paper, lined) $11.95
- Drawing Mountains (5.25″ x 8.25″ 150 pages acid-free, 75% recycled paper, blank) $11.95
- Margerita Illustrated by Lisa Congdon (5.25″ x 8.25″ 150 pages acid-free, 75% recycled paper, blank) $11.95
- Hideaway (5.25″ x 8.25″ 150 pages acid-free, 75% recycled paper, lined) $11.95
- Floral Beauty (5.25″ x 8.25″ 150 pages acid-free, 75% recycled paper, blank) $11.95
- Floral Love Sketchbook (8″ x 10.5″ 150 pages of acid free, 75% recycled paper, blank) $10.95
- Crazy Ideas Sketchbook (9″ x 11″ 77# natural, 150 pages of acid free, 75% recycled paper, perforated) $14.95
The Plain Paper Notebooks:
For efficiency, I’m going to group all the plain paper notebooks together. These are the books that Bob, Marcos, and I tested. It includes the 150-page, 5.25″ x 8.5″ “Hideaway,” “Floral Beauty,” Margerita,’ “Drawing Mountains,” and the larger 8″ x 10.5″ “Floral Love” Sketchbook.
All the books have a “soft-touch” cover, rounded corners and a perfect bound spine. The sketchbook in the exception in that is has square corners.
I used my Cross Century II with blue felt tip refill and colored pencils for my first page. I got some show through and a little bleed through where I had the most color coverage with the felt tip ink.
Marco used a red felt tip pen with similar results to my page above. I think it was the Pentel Sign Pen or similar which would be similar to a Micron or a Multiliner. He got a bit a show through but no actual bleed through.
More tamale art with colored pencils, felt tip and a little bit of alcohol marker as well.
Bob did a light bit of sketching with a Copic Multiliner and there’s some evidence of the show through on the reverse side of his page. So we all got similar results and we all love to use felt tips!
Marco did some collage work with ink, and pasted papers which I absolutely love. He used foil papers, kraft, and card stocks. The glue caused the paper to buckle a little bit but the collage looks so cool, who cares?
More of Marco’s drawings, this time with a brush pen.
The Sakura IdentiPen is similar to a traditional Sharpie permanent marker so it had plenty of show through and some bleed through but the paper held up fine for doodling. You can also see some of the showthrough from the Pentel Finito Xtra Fine page on the lefthand side.
Sharpie permanent markers, like other alcohol-based markers bleed through the paper a lot and even on to the next page so if you’re planning to do note taking with a Sharpie, you may want to put a piece of cardstock under your page or a pencil board to protect the sheets below. Still looks pretty cool in Marco’s capable hands. (If he keeps this up, I might be out of a job!)
This page is a mix of Copic Drawing Fountain Pen and alcohol marker for the gray shading. The fountain pen has a little show through but not much bleed through. As you’ll see further down, Copics and other alcohol markers bleed through quite a lot.
Bob sketched with colored pencils and liked the way the paper kept his colors bright and true on the crisp white paper. The smoothness was a plus too.
Bob also experimented with laying down a thick layer of color to get a solid build up of pigment to see how the paper handled it. He was pleased with the results.
I tested the paper with pencils and a much lighter hand with my sketch of 11 from Stranger Things. I used the Pilot Color Eno Neox erasable leads in my Cross Century. I agreed that the smooth paper was a good match for colored pencils.
I also tried some gouache on the paper. I got a little bit of buckling as the paper is not really designed to handle wet media but not so much that for a small sketch it would bother me. I wouldn’t recommend full on watercolor work though.
Then we have our Copic and alcohol-marker tests. Both Marco and I had the same results. The colors bled to the back and some colors bled all the way to the next page and to the back side of that. Dark colors bled even further. So, proceed with caution, use a slip sheet or skip the Copics with the blank notebooks.
The Lined Notebook:
The Hideaway and Granite notebooks are both lined and feature softcovers and the same paper, page count and general configuration as the blank notebooks. They have the same rounded corners and soft touch covers as well. Allyson’s big complaint was that she was not a fan of the soft touch covers. They reminded her of nails on a chalkboard sensations. It is definitely not a sensation for everyone.
The ruling inside is 7mm and the lines are a dark gray. There is additional space at the top of each space for a title. The lines could be a wee bit thinner or lighter for my taste but no one else complained about them so maybe I’m just super picky. Meshelle, Terence and Allyson were all under tight deadlines this past week so their comments were limited so I did standard pen tests on the lined notebooks. Felt tips pens and darker, juicier fountain pens left some dot bleed through. Rollerballs, like the Regal Alice, and particularly wet fountain pens like the Karas Kustoms with super-saturated Robert Oster Blue Sea ink (also the blob of ink in the top corner) left its mark on the reverse of the paper which you can see in the photo below. Overall, the results in the lined notebooks are consistent with the blank notebooks which lead me to believe its probably the same paper.
With gel pens like the Pilot Hi-Tec C, there was no show through or bleed though issue so that’s good. And pencils performed just fine. I particularly liked the Mitsubishi Prussian Blue/Vermillion pencil. It was lush and dark on the paper.
I wish that Denik was less obscure with the actual weight of the paper in the notebooks. Its a very Moleskine-y thing to do. Denik is specific with the sketchbook paper weight, why not be specific with the notebooks too?
The Crazy Ideas Sketchbook is a classic wire bound sketchbook and exactly the kind of sketchbook that Bob would gravitate towards. The large format 9″ x 11″ size and wire binding is his go-to format. The paper is a little lighter weight than his favored Canson XL Mix Media but its a little larger in size and the perforation means its a little cleaner and easier to remove pages for sharing and scanning.
None of Bob’s regular drawing tools like felt tips, rollerballs, pencils or gel pens had any show through or bleed through and he liked the light tooth and weight of the paper. The paper was thick enough to feel substantial but not so thick as too take itself TOO seriously. He could doodle, sketch or take notes at will and not feel too precious about the paper. That’s just how he likes his sketchbooks.
When it got into more marker territory, there was definite show through with those pesky Copics but not as bad as there was with the notebook paper and it certainly didn’t bleed to the next page. This is much better for drawing purposes. With watercolor brush markers, there was no show through at all. Even adding water to spread the color, there is only a little buckling. This is not really watercolor paper though. I did find that this paper was okay for a bit of gouache as well but again, it did pucker a bit. So, I’d rate it “light wash” and ink only and not full-on watercolor or wet media. It would do in a pinch but would cause some weird pooling due to the paper buckling.
As for fountain pens, I had really good luck with no feathering and little show through. I’d actually use it for calligraphy practice since the sheets are large, easy to remove and fairly smooth.
The Hardcover Notebook:
The hardcover notebook had a woolly flannel plaid cover with a leather tag debossed with the Denik logo on it. Very subtle. On the inside covers was a black and white mottled print that reminds me of a composition book. And the whole book reminded me of something Jordan would love and I was right. There is also a red satin ribbon bookmark inside this book. I wish the ribbon had been finished on the end to keep it from fraying but some white glue or a FrayCheck should stop it. A flame might work as well but since I am letting Jordan keep this book since she tested it, I’m not going to set it on fire, just in case.
Jordan used some colored pencils and a Sharpie permanent marker too. We Hallmarkers are nothing if not consistent. She was overall really happy with the thicker paper though the Sharpie permanent markers did still bleed through. You can see the Sharpie show through on the photo below.
Jordan found that pen and ink and felt tip was awesome on this smooth paper and had little to no issue with bleed through because it was thicker. The ink washes did not cause any warping or buckling. Jordan was able to get a range of blacks and grays which made for a happy lettering artist.
Jordan also experimented with her Koi watercolors. She got some warping of the paper but was still able to produce some good color range. Once the paper was dry, the weight of the book itself flattened the paper back out to create satisfactory results for sketching and experimentation.
I really like the cover designs of the notebooks and sketchbooks. The artwork is very cool and there are lots of options to choose from, designs ranging from inspirational quotes to textural patterns. Some covers even feature gold foil stamping for extra zing.
I thought I was going to love the softcover notebooks but I find that they don’t lay flat enough for me and I really have to work them to keep them open or roll the covers back on themselves. The fact the covers are fexible enough to fold back on themselves is a plus for some though. In general though, I’m more inclined to use the softcover notebooks for notetaking rather than art-making. The lined versions would be good for general writing, list-making, journaling and the like and the 7mm ruling is in that sweet spot of ruling being neither too wide nor too narrow.
While I was initially hesitant about the spiral bound sketchbooks, I have been won over to them. The paper is good quality for drawing, pen and ink and most markers as well as light gouache and water media making it good as a daily sketchbook. Having used the spiral bound for a couple weeks, I have been won over to the idea of a wirebound sketchbook in general. I like the lay-flat-ability and the perforation makes it easy to remove pages for scanning and other digital capture.
The Plaid Classic hardcover with the extra-heavyweight pages was also a huge hit and I hope that Denik will continue to produce this particular configuration because it was a clear winner. Jordan handed it over to me with a sheepish “I’m gonna get this back, right?” look in her eye. It is being returned to her today as are all the other books that were tested as thanks to everyone who helped out on this epic notebook and sketchbook testing project.