Ask The Desk: Notebooks (TN, XL and A5 Filo)


Matt writes:

Dear desk, My question is: I own two travelers Midori journals. One is the regular size while the other is the passport sized one. I am currently using the passport sized one for planning and bullet journaling/taking random notes in. I am not sure what to use the regular sized one for at this point. I was thinking as a daily journal. Any suggestions? P.S. — Do you use these too? Thank you. Matthew


The great thing about Traveler’s notebooks is that they can be used as you need them. So if you find that most of your needs are being served by the passport-sized cover right now, you can put aside the regular-sized one for awhile. However, I found that I loved the size of the regular sized Traveler’s notebook, even though it seems a little unusual. They are particularly good for journaling and traveloguing. I ended up using mine for planning too and the smaller sizes for note-taking and randomness. I don’t think I provided much clarity but the flexibility is the key to Traveler’s notebooks and the ability to use small booklets means you can try one method for awhile and see what works best for you. I’m excited to try my newest inserts, the Ink Journal with the Currently Inked card and the Inky Fingers Currently Inked Journal to help me keep track of what inks are in which pens.

Thomas asks:

I start law school in a few weeks, and I’m looking for a nice notebook to use for class notes. I just moved into my first house, and found my notes from undergraduate and and a masters program. They’re spread across lots of spiral notebooks that are looking as ratty as ever. I know that my notes for law school will be even more important, so I’d like to make sure they have a good home. In reading through your reviews, it seems most of the notebooks you look at are the A5 size–I carry (and love) a Moleskine A5 for meeting notes, ideas, and to-do lists–but for class notes I need something bigger, in the neighborhood of 8×10 or 8.5×11. I really like the classic look of Moleskine, but was also intrigued by the hardcovers from Baron Fig–only to be dismayed to find that they don’t make a larger version. So I’m wondering if you have a sense of who makes lined books that are little bigger, and that are affordable enough that I can buy a dozen or so over time without taking out a second mortgage. I’m also left handed, so that means that smearing is my worst enemy. I write everyday with a Uniball Vision Needle pen, which usually dries very quickly for me, but sometimes it has trouble on the Moleskine paper. And if anyone has done enough paper tests, its you! I would be extremely grateful for any thoughts you might have. Thanks for your time! Cheers, -Thomas


The first notebook I thought of was the Leuchtturm1917 Master series (A4 measures 9″ x 12.5″ – 225 x 315 mm – 121 pages in the Slim and 223 in the standard Master), which I suspect might be second mortgage requiring at around $27 per book for the Slim and $30 for the regular Master. Jenni Bick stocks both in a variety of colors and all the paper configurations (plain, ruled, graph or dot grid). The paper quality is good and the books hold up well but they are pricey.

So, I went digging for other options.

Still a bit pricey, the Blackwing Luxury Large Soft Cover Notebook (7.5 x 10) offers 160 pages of 100 gsm paper in plain, lined or graph and will fit into the Blackwing Large Folio. European Paper sells the books for $21.95 each but offers volume discount pricing so if you decide this is the notebook for you, you might save a few pennies ordering in bulk.

The Fabriano EcoQua Notebooks are available in 8×12″ size in either staplebound booklets with 38 sheets ($4.79) or gluebound with 90 sheets ($8.35) from Dick Blick. Its smooth 85gsm soft white paper that should work well with your Uniball Vision and available in lined or dot gird. The covers are cardstock, however, so its not as durable as a hardcover notebook but definitely easier on the wallet.

If anyone has other A4-ish sized notebook recommendations for Thomas, please leave them in the comments. Thanks!

Emily asks:

I’m looking for an A5 notebook that comes pre-punched with filofax-esque holes. I would like to use my A5 filo as the “home” for all the notes I take in meetings without actually taking my filo with me to meetings. Ideally it would also have perforated pages. Am I asking too much of the notebook world for such a thing? Thanks!!!

I have not seen any A5 notebooks that are pre-punched with holes for Filofax and that’s most distressing! I noticed that Michael’s was stocking pre-punched Personal-sized paper (not perforated) recently for their Recollections “Creative Year” planner lines but not A5. They had a custom larger-sized binder with four holes. So odd and unhelpful.

Readers, if you can help Emily, please leave a note in the comments. Thanks!

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19 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Hi Emily and Ana! If you can find your own (unpunched) soft-cover notebook that you like, you can take it to your local print shop and they will be able to punch holes in it to fit your Filofax. (It’s a good idea to bring a sample with you so they know exactly where to put the holes.) I own a print shop and we often custom-punch paper and books for people. The cost to do this should be minimal.

    1. I was considering recommending a local print or copy shop to drill holes in a notebook. Great suggestion. I worked in a copy shop and used to do this all the time.

      1. Thanks guys! I think there are a few printshops by my office. Maybe they can print some of those frustrating etsy filo printables as well!

  2. I like the paper of the Fabriano, but they use a glue binding instead of sewn signatures (hence the difference in price). They will not take a beating over the years.

    For durability, go with her original suggestion of the Leuchtturm1917. Though you will initially invest more, they are your best best. They are very well made.

  3. For Thomas, the impending law student:

    Rhodia side stapled notebooks.

    It’s great paper, and the cover material is durable. They don’t have as many sheets as some other notebooks, but that means they’ll be easier to carry and you’ll waste less paper.

    If you prefer, they also have spiral notebooks ( and spiral pads, ( which would eliminate smearing from your left hand.

  4. Congratulations to Thomas on starting law school! That’s what I was doing 23 years ago this month.

    Law school notes may not be as important as they might first seem. I have mine somewhere, but I have not looked at them since the bar exam (and maybe not even then). Also, most law students revise their notes into class outlines (usually on computer), so, even during the semester, the notes are not as important as the outline.

    I would recommend a loose-leaf solution, perhaps legal pads, so that you can put them and your class outline in a file folder at the end of the semester. If you must have a bound solution, what about inexpensive composition books? Several places make leather covers for standard-size composition books.

    Good luck!

    1. I’ll add my vote to the loose leaf option. In my recent graduate studies, I took notes on loose leaf paper, and organized or stored everything in 3-ring binders. This system also allowed me to print my own lined paper at home, on either 28- or 30-lb paper.

  5. Oh, and what about disc-bound notebooks? Letter-size, reusable, available from many places, with a punch you can choose your own paper, and you can bind in your printed outline and case briefs with your notes.

  6. For the law school student, take a look at the B5-sized notebooks at Jet Pens. They are a little smaller than A4 but far more generous than A5. Midori, Apica, Marusyn, and others have good paper in a wide range of binding types at many different price points. B5 is absolutely my favorite size for note-taking.

  7. Perhaps Levenger’s Circa would be good for Thomas. It’s very organizable, with different paper styles.

    The rings might be an issue or might not. The paper is great.

  8. It’s been 26 years since I graduated from law school, if you are going to use pen and paper, I also recommend a loose leaf option. It’s easier to update your notes and use them for putting together your class outline for each class. This question made me chuckle too, because a few years ago I audited a law school class, and I was the only one using pen and paper. The prof held a pop exam and offered pencils and paper to the students who needed them. Some students had something to write with and some had paper, but none had both, except me, of course.

  9. About the Midori Traveler’s, I also have the regular and Passport sizes. I was using the larger as a wallet, but the plastic inserts didn’t hold up. I still have my plastic in a card insert. I use two inserts, the monthly for planning and a lined insert for my financial stuff.

    I like the size of the passport and I keep thinking I should put everything into that single notebook. I just don’t think it will work. I’m using Field Notes inserts. Yes, they are a little bit bigger but really not that much. I use the Pitch Black to go with my black notebook and I put any random notes into this.

    I think the larger one would work well as a journal and I’ve seen it used that way.

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