Ask The Readers: Lay-Flat Notebooks & Brown Ink


Hello, dear readers, I’m turning to you to help make some recommendations to some of the questions I’ve received lately.

I will summarize a lengthy question from Jeff in the UK:

He’s looking for a notebook smaller than a standard A5 that will lay flat and will work well with fountain pens.

This is a real stumper. Smaller notebooks make me think of the array of pocket notebooks available (à la Field Notes) but these are not known to be terribly fountain pen friendly. Maybe the Backpocket Journal or the most recent incarnation of the NockCo Dot Dash pad? Leuchtturm 1917 does offer a pocket-sized edition (A6). Leuchtturm paper works tolerably well with fountain pens that are more fine-to-medium nib but not too wet. Anyone have other recommendations for Jeff?

And Scott asks:

What is your favorite everyday brown ink?  I need a change from my beloved blue-blacks! Thanks.

I am also a victim of the blue-black love and have very few recommendations in this category of colors. I am not crazy about J. Herbin’s Lie de The though I know a lot of people are fans of this particular shade of brown. I recently review the Akkerman Hopjesbraun and I liked it better than other browns I’ve tried but I have not committed to a whole bottle of any brown. Can someone with an expertise in brown inks help Scott out?

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34 comments / Add your comment below

  1. What about Rhodia webnotebooks? I think they come in pocket size as well. Or, depending on what the purpose is, there’s of course the Hobonichi in A6. Raymay notebooks (from JetPens) are also okay with fountain pens, and come in A6 size.

    For brown inks, I would suggest either of the Franklin-Christoph brown inks, or Cult Pens Deep Dark Brown, or De Atramentis Black Edition – Brown.

  2. I would check in with Paper Blanks new notebooks. They are very carefully designed to lay flat and come in a variety of sizes. I haven’t tested them with fountain pens yet but my Peter Pauper Press notebook coped with any nib and ink combo I tried on it and I am sure their parent company was Paper Blanks as well.

  3. Diamine Chocolate and Montblanc Toffee Brown are usual favourites, but also consider Waterman Brown which is nice and usually easy to get.

  4. Hm…how about the Rhodiarama notebooks? Those cuties come in A6 and are fountain pen friendly. The only issue is their limited ruling which is available in only lined and blank, but the variety of color choices is awesome. I think after a few uses they’ll flatten down, at least that’s the case with the Rhodia Webnotebook. Another possibility is the Apprentice notebooks from Baron Fig, I’m assuming those would have the same paper as their Confidant model and since they’re classic cahier-style they’ll probably fold flat. 🙂

  5. I’ve been making my own notebooks, for a few years, almost always using cream-colored paper. My experience is that Noodler’s Burma Road Brown looks beautifully vintage against off-white, and pretty good on plain white paper. It’s good brown; not too dark, and it seems to dry quickly.

  6. Scott,
    I love brown inks – Diamine Ancient Copper is my favorite, and Private Reserve Fast Dry Chocolate is second. Look at all the brown ink colors on the Swab Shop (under Reference Guides heading) at!

  7. Love brown inks, just as blue-black can shade into purple or green, browns can shade into greens and reds.
    Lie de The is towards green and looks especially great on off-white papers.
    Waterman Absolute Brown has reddish tones and performs well as does Iroshizuku Tsukushi.
    For truer browns, MontBlanc Toffee and Kaweco Caramel are ace.
    Finally, Noodler’s Number 41 Brown is a good-looking waterproof options but is prone to smudging.
    Also very fond of not strictly browns Herbin Terre de Feu and Diamine Terracotta.

  8. For a smaller than A5 notebook, I’d suggest the medium sized Midori MD. It’s the same width as A6, but 7 inches in height. I love mine! It lays flat, and the paper is thick enough to handle fountain pen ink. I’d also recommend purchasing either the paper cover (which is really lovely to the touch) or the plastic cover that comes with a little pen loop.

  9. I second th recommendation for J.Herbin Lie de The ink. Even works well with Field Notes, very little show through or feathering.

  10. I’m using a Dog Ear notebook. Grid pattern, smooth paper that’s FP friendly and lays flat beautifully. A tad expensive though or I’d stock up. Baum Kuchen carries them.

  11. Diamine’s Ancient Copper was the first ink to come to mind, and then Oxblood, although that’s more a reddish brown than a brown-brown.

  12. Only spiral-bound notebooks are going to TRULY truly lie flat. Midori makes spiral-bound A6 notebooks that are pretty good. As for the ink, Diamine Ancient Copper is a lovely red-brown that would go well with brown midori notebook’s cover.

  13. For a lay flat book in a smaller size I would check out the Apica offerings. I use the CD11’s but they have smaller ones too and the price is right.

    My go to brown ink is Diamine Ochre, a lovely warm brown with good shading.

  14. Moleskine Chapters lay flat. I haven’t tested with fountain pens yet, but the paper seems to be of a higher quality than other Moleskines.

  15. Pelikan 4001 Brilliant Brown is my regular brown ink, and an everyday carry. Warm, rich, good saturation, nice shading, widely available and reasonably priced. I love it.

  16. The TWSBI journals are great. They come in A6 and A5. I use them almost exclusively. They lay flat, are very FP friendly, are nice and thick, and the A6 ones have perforated paper. Very much worth a check out.

  17. I LOVE Diamine Chocolate Brown. I have sampled many other browns, and that one remains my favorite.

    As for notebooks, I enjoy my Leuchtturm A6, but it only lies flat now that I’ve gotten into the middle part of the notebook. Rhodia’s A6 notebooks may work better. The A5 certainly does a better job staying flat than the A5 Leuchtturm! Apica is good, but soft covered.

  18. Lie de The is great, but my everyday brown–which also happens to be bulletproof–is Noodler’s Walnut. It’s a rich, saturated brown that works well in a business environment, and you can dilute to it play around and get more nuance from it.

  19. I don’t prefer to use Browns much myself but I find myself breaking out that colour in the fall. My go-to Browns are Stipula Sepia, Montblanc Toffee Brown and Diamine Macassar.

  20. An expensive and less expensive option for each: Zequenz journal, Life notebook, Sailor Kobe Sepia #3, KWZ Mandarin. The Sailor ink is water resistant, the KWZ iron gall.

  21. The Élan Field Book E 64-8×4 W is 5″x7.325″ (12.7×18.6 cm) and is great for anything from pencil to wide stub nibbed fountain pens. Clairfontaine makes notebooks down to nearly uselessly small. I can find both options at the local university bookstore.
    Can’t help much with brown ink.

  22. Apica Premium C.D. A6. And De Atrememtis Sepia Brown, or Diamine Rustic Brown, or Diamine Ochre. I use Diamine Chocolate for a treat! 🙂

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