While I was in Atlanta, my darling friend Leigh gave me a pile of goodies including this fabulous paper pad: the Life Noble Report Plain A4. It has 100 sheets of cream paper which I just love. The paper is not quite as smooth as the Apica Premium paper in the C.D. Notebook but its awfully close. But somehow, it behaved much better with fountain pens, or maybe my expectations were different with a large writing pad?
Some inks did take a bit of time to dry like in my title where I smeared. Why do I always do that? Is it me, the ink or the paper or all of the above?
In general though, all my pens performed well and there was no feathering or bleeding. This paper would be great for pen testing, calligraphy practice or letter writing.
From the reverse of stock, you can see some of the writing but there was no actual bleed through. The cream paper, however, does not make it a good candidate for ink testing for me because I prefer to test inks on bright white paper to get a true idea of the colors. The warm ivory might skew an ink color slightly which is fine for everyday writing but for my review purposes.
A similar item to this pad would be the Noble Note Plain A4 ($35) from Anderson Pens which is the same 85g cream paper just bound along the long edge instead of being bound at the top. Anderson is carrying a whole selection of Life brand stationery including smaller sizes as well as lined and grid.
After doing the Art Supply Posse podcast last week about sketchbooks, I stumbled into my local art store, Artist’s and Craftsman, and found the smallest spiral sketchbook samplers so I grabbed all the varieties that had in stock to try out. Borden & Riley makes my beloved-but-discontinued favorite 100% Cotton Rag Rough Marker Paper that we used for lettering so I was interested in trying out some of their other papers. I picked up the #880 Royal Sketchbook($3.84), #234 Paris Paper for Pens ($2.33) and #15 Tuppence Sketch Bond ($2.33, size not shown on web site). Each book was spiral bound at the top of its diminutive 2.5×3.5″ size. The Royal Sketchbook (90lb) and Paris Paper for Pens (108lb) had 20 sheet and the Tuppence Sketch(70lb) included 50 sheets.
For each paper test, I used the same assortment of pens, pencils and markers on each paper to get a comparison to how they performed and then did a doodle specific to the type of paper. Let’s go!
The Royal Sketchbook was the book I had the most hope for because it had thick, creamy stock with some texture to it. The paper was warm white, almost ivory and reminded me immediately of the many multi-media sketchbooks I’ve tried like the Canson XL mixed media, the Strathmore mixed media and the Stillman & Birn Alpha paper. I immediately wanted this paper in a larger format. It was worth the $3.84 test to determine I wanted more of this paper.
I’d always heard mention of the Paris Paper for Pens as a good option for calligraphy, dip pens, lettering and such so I was definitely interested in seeing how this paper felt. Its a very smooth, bright white stock. Its touted as being bleed-proof and I got no show through on the back of the stock except with the teal blue Spectra Marker which is an alcohol marker like a Copic. So, I wouldn’t recommend this paper for Copic-style marker drawings but it held pen, fountain pen and flex nib line work cleanly. The smoothness of the stock was really interesting too. I look forward to experimenting with it more and trying a variety of brush pens. I Was able to add some water to my watercolor marker color and pencil but it did not move as easily as it did on the Royal Sketchbook paper. It did create some interesting effects though.
These were some additional fountain pen tests on the Paris Paper for Pens. Some standard writing with a fine nib Franklin Christoph as well as some flex writing with my Waterman.
And the last book I tried was the Tuppence Sketch which had the lightest weight paper. Once I’d tried the other two, I knew that the Tuppence was definitely the budget/dry media paper of the three. The grey PITT brush lines showed through a bit to the back and even some of the black pen from the “#” was starting to show through so this is definitely lightweight budget paper. The watercolor pencil did not move at all and the paper started to warp when water was added. When I did the larger sketch, I started to give up because the W&N watercolor brush markers didn’t move as smoothly as they do on more receptive paper so I kept adding more water which just made the paper buckle and the show through on the back is really bad. I pretty much abandoned the drawing at that point. Were I more inclined to do straight pencil sketches, I think this paper would be just fine. There’s a nice tooth to it — not so much that it will chew up your pencils but enough to hold some pigment and color. I might go back and try some colored pencil and graphite drawings on this paper to give it a second chance but I tend to prefer paper that can take at least a little bit of water media.
Borden & Riley is not one of the larger artist paper producers but they make good products so its worth checking with your local art supply shop to see if they carry them. I’m hoping that Artist & Craftsman will get a wider selection of their products in stock soon. I’d love to have a full sized Royal Sketchbook and a goodly-sized Paris Paper for Pens pad to use as well. Can never have too much paper, right?
The Crescent Rendr No Show Thru Sketchbook 3.5″x5.5″ ($10) was something I wanted to try in hopes of finding a good multimedia sketchbook. I got the small size to sample at first before investing in a larger version. Crescent also claims that the sketchbook lays flat as show on the wrap included with the book.
The sketchbook has a flexible, soft touch paperboard cover and a perfect binding. In looking closely at the pages, the paper looks like there is a black core in the middle of the white sheet to create the bleed-proof quality.
Was the paper bleed proof? Yes, but any wet media, including watercolor markers, liquid ink applied in any volume, brush pens filled with liquid acrylic or ink, caused the paper to buckle and curl severely. I tried adding water to Winsor & Newton watercolor markers to blend the color and the color wouldn’t move. So there is another aspect to this paper that changes the property of some materials as well. The watercolor marker absorbed into the paper and made it impossible to manipulate those markers with water. I got a little movement with water soluble pencils like a Stabilo ALL but mostly, I found the paper frustrating. Sure, most material didn’t bleed to the reverse but the curl and buckle was so bad I couldn’t really use the other side of the sheet anyway so bleed through didn’t really matter by the time I finished a page anyway. At least for the types of art materials I use.
As for the claims about lay-flat, I found in the small 3.5×5.5″ size, the book did not lay flat at all, even after trying to bend the pages and cracking the spine. I ended up having to use a clip or hold the book with my hand. Maybe the larger book lays flat more easily but the small pocket-sized book did not lay flat and then after I used it, it did not close either.
Overall, I found this particular product quite frustrating. I looked online to see if anyone else had reviewed it. Notebook Stories agreed with my findings: bleed proof but curls with wet media. On Amazon, I found reviews that suggested that if you use a lot of alcohol-based markers like Copic Markers, then you might have a better experience with this paper but that fountain pens feather terribly. So, this is definitely not for fountain pen users or watercolorists. If you do a lot of marker illustrations, I would be more inclined to recommend traditional marker paper which is translucent but designed to withstand alcohol markers. If you want to use a wider range of mixed media (from pens to ink to graphite) and wet media (watercolor, markers, etc), I’d recommend Strathmore Mixed Media, Canson XL Mixed Media, Stillman & Birn or one of the artist’s sketchbooks from Seawhite of Brighton. I’ve written reviews about the Seawhite Artist’s Travel Journal and the A5 Starter Sketchbook pack if you’d like more information.
DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by JetPens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.
On the neverending hunt for the “perfect paper” for a notebook or sketchbook, I will try just about anything I stumble across on the internet. One such find is the Seawhite of Brighton A5 Starter Sketchbook set which I found on Amazon. The small set of three A5 booklets with simple black covers and 40 pages of 140gsm (approx. 80lb) “cartridge paper” were too good an option to pass up. First, they fit perfectly into my Chic Sparrow Creme Deluxe A5 Black Beauty Traveler’s Notebook cover. “A sketchbook in my planner/notebook kit? Yes, please!” And second, the paper was listed to be heavy enough weight to withstand ink and light washes which is my sweet spot for day-to-day sketchbook needs. So I invested the whopping $10.95 for the set and waited impatiently for the books to arrive.
From the exterior, the booklets feel like Moleskine Cahier or other small cardstock cover cahier. The black cardstock cover is not super heavyweight but is enough to provide protection and add some stability to the paper inside. The paper itself is a crisp bright white and the weight seemed like a good option for pen and ink with enough tooth for pencil and other materials.
I did a little research to determine what exactly “cartridge paper” is, a term not familiar to most folks in the US. Cartridge paper is a heavyweight paper originally used for making gun cartridges and later used by artists and printmakers and they kept the term. Its often compared to Bristol board though maybe not quite as thick. So, in the future, if you hear the term “cartridge paper” you have an idea that the paper is meant to be a bit more upscale than standard copier paper even though it doesn’t sound like it.
Because of the small size of the sketchbook, I was actually able to basically use a whole book before writing up a review rather than just a few small pen tests so I feel like I got a particularly good feel for the paper. In standard writing tests, I didn’t discover any problems. Gel pens, felt tips and fountain pens all seemed well-behaved with minimal bleeding or showthrough. If you like to use a wide nib pen and don’t mind blank pages (you can always use a guide sheet to keep those lines straight!), the Seawhite of Brighton paper might be a nice addition to your stationery cupboard.
Viewed from the reverse of the writing sample, the only show through was the Pilot Envelope pen and a bit of the panda drawing but it was not enough to keep me from drawing on the back side of the page later.
What I really wanted to test was when I introduced more art making tools like watercolor, ink, and colored pencil, which are my favorite portable media. What I came to discover is that “light wash” was the key with watercolor or the paper did start to buckle a little bit but it did not pill. So, by the time I had filled the booklet, the paper was a little waffly but there was not any bleeding of color through to the reverse from the watercolors or anything like that. Just potential puddle spots because the paper waffled a little bit.
I used the book to do a lot of color tests with some new watercolor sets that I’ll do lengthier reviews about in the future but it was nice to have a small book to keep all the swatches together and be able to flip back and forth and see color depth and granulation differences quickly and easily.
I still prefer a little bit heavier weight paper in general for my mixed media sketching but its the trade-off point between cost, portability and need. Some days, I’m just scratching out ideas, doodles and color chips and I don’t necessarily need 200gsm watercolor paper for that. The Seawhite of Brighton 140gsm paper is definitely a step up from the standard paper found in most black art sketchbooks in US art supply store that is usually closer to 65-70lb (96gms+) and much less conducive to any sort of wet media like ink or watercolor or even juicy markers.
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.
No. of books
perfect bound, stitched
ribbon bookmark, gusset pocket
perfect bound, stitched
sticker sheet, all pages are perforated
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.
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.
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.
The first step into getting prepared for 2016 was to set-up my new Hobonichi Techo A6 with the blue-green cover ($47). The color combo is absolutely PERFECT! Lime green loveliness inside with my second favorite color, turquoise, exterior. I had a decorative plastic protective sleeve I purchased a few years earlier from 1101.com that I added to the book. I quite like the overall look but sadly, this particular cover is no longer available. There is a different printed over available though or a clear cover.
Inside, in the array of card pockets provided, I put lots of tidbits like stickers, washi tape wrapped around old playing cards and a few other tidbits. I’m not hugely inclined to do a lot of decorating in the Hobonichi at this point but the washi tape will give me a way to attach receipts, notes or other ephemera into the book as need and the stickers can be added to the monthly calendar for events and birthdays. Mostly, I plan to use the Hobonichi as a daily journal so the decorative bits are really for those days when I haven’t got a lot to write about and may be inclined to doodle or draw or just put a great big “X” on the day and call it done.
I wanted a pencil board to put between the delicate Tomoe River paper pages so I made one from a piece of index card (read: plain manila file folder), cut to size with a decorative tab at the top. I used the fancy tab punch and some scrapbooking paper to make the tab and the adhesive tab sticker to cover it. It wasn’t necessary to add the tab but it makes it quick to pull the card out and flip it around from page-to-page. It only took a few minutes to make it so I can use it as a blotter card as well if my inks are not completely dry. If it starts to look dodgy after awhile I can make a new one. I used a bit of washi tape to put in the ticket stub from Star Wars: The Force Awakens opposite my pencil board as you can see in the photo below.
In the back of the book, I added a little A6 plastic folder that my friend brought back from Japan for me several years ago. As I was setting up the Hobonichi, I realized it was the absolute perfect size to fit into it and gave me a place to put a few more cards and stickers.
The Hobonichi provides the last two weeks of December as half-page sheets so that I have been able to slowly start moving towards using it as a daily journal. The narrow half columns are a bit limiting so I’m looking forward to having a full page to write or draw the day’s events. I have been using an extra large Moleskine softcover notebook so the Hobonichi was seems incredibly small in comparison. I’m hoping moving to the full page will help alleviate any feeling of being cramped since the Moleskine XL was a bit larger than I needed per day most of the time.
I’m also still a little concerned about ink smudging and adhesion on the Tomoe River paper. The whole left-handed thing can be a bit of a pain and I get caught up in writing and forget to make sure the ink is dried before I run my hand through it. I’ve already run my hand through it a couple times so I will definitely need to make a point of finding a few pens that are the best match with the Hobonichi and keep them with the book to avoid future messes. So far, my favorite pen with the Hobonichi is the Platinum Carbon Pen. The super fine line allows me to write very small on the graph lines and the ink dries pretty quickly. I’ll play more with the gel pens I stash in my office at work in the next couple weeks and see if any others become favorites.