This Top Ten list has been updated in Sept. 2023 and divided into a couple categories now to better differentiate between types of options.
There are hundreds of notebooks on the market and everyone has a preference on size and format but when people are just dipping their toe into the world of higher end stationery, there are really just a handful of products that get recommended over and over again. Partially, these are the products that are the most ubiquitous because they are available in the widest array of sizes and formats, solve a very specific problem or are the most exquisite.
- Stalogy Stalogy has moved to the top of my list as my favorite notebook. First and foremost, it’s available in both A5 and B6 sizes which are my favorite notebook configurations as well as in blank and the palest grid lines I’ve ever seen so there are printed grids but only just barely. The paper, which seems Tomoe-esque, has great color fidelity and is similar weight making large 360+ page notebooks the same thickness as a standard 100+ page notebook. For a daily journal or planner, it is my gold standard. (starting at $11.50 on Jet Pens)
- Midori MD (preferably MD Cotton but the regular and Light are excellent too, so technically this is 2, 3, and 4): Midori MD is probably my personal favorite everyday writing paper and it’s probably the least discussed in the pen community. There are three grades of MD paper and I think they are all awesome. There is MD (smoothest), MD Light (second favorite and a rival to Tomoe River IMHO) and (my personal favorite, it’s toothy) MD Cotton. Midori MD has minimal branding, comes with a plain cream cardstock cover, and available in lined, grid or blank. (starting at $6.75 on JetPens)
- Nakabayashi Yu-Sari I promised that the Yu-Sari was going to move into my top ten favorite notebooks and it has. It is an all-around good performer with minimal show through and bleed through. Its a thicker paper than the Tomoe River and Stalogy papers for those who want to use both sides of the paper without show through and it is extremely reasonably priced. (starting at $14.40, available at Gentleman Stationer)
Paperblanks: These notebooks have exquisite covers and some styles are now available with 100gsm or 120gsm paper (review here). The best way to guarantee that you get a Paperblanks notebook with the superios paper is to order directly from their web site. (starting at about $16 via Paperblanks)
Kokuyo Perpanep: This line of simple, grey notebooks is available in three paper types (previously reviewed here): textured Zarazara paper (lightly toothy), Sarasara (balanced smoothness) and Tsurutsuru (super slick, smooth paper). Each paper style is available in either 4mm dot grid, steno style or 5mm graph. The only size available is A5. The paper variety offers something for just about every writers preference but the choice of line rulings and no blank option or other sizes drops the Perpanep line into honorable mention territory. ($14.25 on JetPens)
Loose paper and/or available in bound notebooks from various makers:
- Tomoe River 68gsm
- Sanzen Tomoe River 52gsm
- Cosmo Air Light (discontinued)
All three of these papers are sold and rebound into notebooks by various companies and makers. The Sanzen Tomoe River is what is now available in the Hobonichi Techo planners. The 68gsm Tomoe River has some of the great color fidelity with slightly improved dry times over the 52gsm. Odyssey Notebooks uses the 68gsm Tomoe and Cosmo Air Light in their notebooks.
Cosmo Air Light can still be found from makers on Etsy but it will soon be a rare bird indeed. It’s powdery texture and unique color properties has made it a favorite at Desk HQ for some time.
Sketchbook, Drawing and Heavyweight Papers:
- Stillman & Birn Epsilon Sketchbook: While many won’t agree that a sketchbook is a notebook, I couldn’t complete a list of my favorite/most recommended/best notebooks without including the Stillman & Birn Epsilon Sketchbook which I probably recommend at least once a week. If not the Alpha, then one of the Stillman & Birn sketchbooks. The hardest part for many in picking out a sketchbook and specifically picking out a Stillman & Birn sketchbook is working through their complex naming system. The Epsilon is the toothier of the two 150gsm sketchbook options. Even I have goofed on occasion and purchased the Alpha by mistake as it is described as being medium grain and cold press. It’s not quite as toothy as the Epsilon which I’ve discovered I like better. YMMV. That said, overall, I have not been disappointed by the overall quality of any of the S&B sketchbooks I’ve used. For day-to-day sketching I do not need the heavier 270gsm paper in their other sketchbooks. (available from JetPens and your local art supply stores)
- Col-o-ring: I know it appears self-serving to mention Col-o-ring here but when I look at the notebooks and paper products I use on a daily basis, the Col-o-ring, Col-o-dex and Col-o-ring Oversize figure heavily into my rotation. I suppose I wouldn’t have made them if I wasn’t going to use them. While the Col-o-ring and Col-o-dex serve specific purposes of inventorying my ink collection, the Oversize is used for everything from comparing various inks to drawing and doodling to just writing notes and testing pens. When we originally made the Oversize, I wasn’t sure how much I would actually use it but it turns out it gets used as much or more than a lot of other notebooks in the house. Partially, it gets used because I’m so familiar with the paper so I know how pens and ink are going to behave but also because its a really convenient size. (available in our shop or through your favorite online retailer)
Previously in the Top 10:
- Rhodia ($2-$25.95 on JetPens)
- Leuchtturm1917 ($12.95-$27.95 on JetPens)
- Baron Fig Confidant (Available directly from Baron Fig or from your favorite online retailer)
- Field Notes (Subscriptions via Field Notes but past limited editions can be found at Wonder Fair)
- Traveler’s Notebook : Traveler’s Notebook was the first leather cover notebook option that allowed for a variety of smaller, cahier-style, staple-bound notebooks to be added. As such, TNs can have different paper depending on where or what refill notebook is added into the cover. The overall experience of the TN will be entirely based on which inserts you choose so trying different ones will be key to whether the TN is the best notebook for you. (starter kits $41-46.50 on JetPens)
- Musubi : Musubi is more about the gorgeous binding and materials used to create the notebook. As Musubi has begun introducing different paper options, the specific papers will influence where the notebooks fall in my list. I love how beautiful and unique the notebooks are but the paper stock can make or break my overall experience. (purchase directly from musu.bi)
From our previous Top Ten list, the Rhodia and Luechtturm 1917 both represent some of the most accessible decent notebooks available. Over time, I’ve found the slick surface of the Rhodia and the oft-very-yellow paper color to be off-putting. If you can get one of their white papers (often called “Ice”), the experience is good, especially if you prefer top-bound pads. The Leuchtturm 1917 is the option for someone who is liess likely to reach for a fountain pen as their first-choice writing tool. The paper is better than Moelskine but the quality is not as good as it may have been in the past and this inconsistency is why its been bumped off the list. Both the Baron Fig and Field Notes are popular but for superior fountain pen experience, there are other, better options.
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