paper review: moleskine cahier

Amongst fountain pen aficionados, Moleskine is known primarily for the inconsistency of their paper. For a long time, I'd had pretty good experiences with Moleskines and fountain pens, especially as someone who favors dry-writing, narrow nibs. While I've switched to Rhodia notebooks for most of my personal writing, I'm still using extra-large Moleskine Cahiers at work. The 7.5 by 10 inch, cardboard-covered notebooks provide great value for the money: a three pack of the extra-large cahiers, each with 120 pages, runs about $19 online.

(about two years worth of notes)

Over the course of the past two years, I've amassed quite a collection. I fill roughly one notebook a month with the notes I take for all of the meetings that I sit through on a daily basis. Typically, the paper is smooth, thin, and slightly absorbent. When I purchased my wet-writing Visconti Homo Sapiens, I was pleased to find that I saw very little bleed through and only mild feathering - that is, until I finished my last notebook and had to buy a new pack.

(old notebook - nice and crisp lines)

(new notebook - feathertastic!)

(new notebook - terrible bleedthrough!)

The paper in the new notebooks still looks like the same thin, ivory paper I'd been used to. Now, however, it has a bit of a tooth and is extremely absorbent - so much so that my wet writing pen creates a feathery mess on the page. Bleed-through and show-through, which used to be minimal, are now commonplace. I feel like I'm writing with a Sharpie.

What's more distressing is that even within the same notebook, I get slightly different results from page to page. Some pages behave like my last notebook, while others exhibit the aforementioned feathering, show-through, and bleed-through.

I use a fountain pen because I enjoy a superior writing experience when using it. Unfortunately, the inconsistent quality of paper in the Moleskine Cahier means that it doesn't deliver on its end of the bargain. Therefore, I'm making the switch to Clairefontaine notebooks. I just ordered three of them from Goulet Pens, and, while they contain less paper for the same cost, I know that I'll enjoy using them ever so much more.

Moleskine notebooks are available just about anywhere.

paper review: ecosystem sketchbook

Rating: 4.0

(click to embiggen)

I've been a big fan of ecosystem notebooks, having positively reviewed their hardback lined journal and created an iPad cover from a large, lined softcover journal. When I found out that they were releasing a sketchbook, I made it a point to get a copy to review, and I have to say that I'm pretty pleased.

The basic setup is very similar to a standard ecosystem hardback notebook: rounded corners on the paper and cover; a bound-in, 100% organic cotton bookmark; a sturdy elastic strap to keep the cover closed; and a paper pocket inside the back cover. The cover is 100% recycled board covered with 100% post-consumer recycled paper stock, and dyed with vegetable-based ink. Unlike the standard notebooks, the word "sketchbook" is embossed on the cover.

The endpapers are printed with ecosystem's leaf pattern, and there is a space to record your name and contact information in the front. Like all other ecosystem notebooks, there is also a serial number printed on the inside back cover that, when entered on the ecosystem website, allows you to register it so that if it is ever lost it can be used to contact you. It also shows you all of the components that went into your specific batch of books, so that you can see the ecological impact of your purchase.

Unlike a standard hardback notebook, the sketchbook is quite a bit larger – measuring 7 3/8 by 9 7/8 inches. Inside are 128 pages of bright white, chlorine free, acid free, 80 lb. paper. I'm happy to report that my major quibble with the early hardbound notebooks – glue that crept between the signatures and locked every few pages together near the spine – is gone. Every page now lies completely flat.

(click to embiggen)

So how does this perform as a sketchbook? Quite well, I'm happy to report. The paper is generally smooth and uncoated. It takes a medium pencil, ballpoint pen, and brush pen quite well – without any hint of feathering or bleed-through. A sharpie marker bled through, as I expected, but did not transfer any ink to the underlying page. Fountain pen ink was a mixed bag – one very wet pen feathered more than I expected, but I was able to use a 6mm calligraphy nib with several inks without issue.

India ink, when used with a dip pen, fared well – it bled through in some of the wetter places, but I saw no buckling of the paper, and it did not make it through to the underlying paper, regardless. I did not try charcoal or pastel, but I suspect the level of smoothness would make it less than ideal.

Overall, I'm very happy with this sketchbook. Ecosystem continues to produce very nice notebooks that I am happy to use. I think this is one that is definitely worth checking out to see if it meets your needs as an artist.

Note: A review copy of this sketchbook was provided by Ecosystem.

paper review: rhodia webnotebook

Rating: 5.0

I’ve been keeping writing journals for well over a decade, since I began the practice back in college. During that time I’ve used a wide variety of notebooks: ruled Moleskines, leather-bound blank journals, books with black paper that had to be written on with colorful gel pens, books that cost one-dollar, books that cost sixty dollars, spiral bound, hard bound, hand-bound, large, medium, small – the list goes on and on. However, I have never abandoned a journal to move on to the next, more interesting notebook – no matter how many I had sitting at the ready.

Well, I’ve never been more tempted to jump ship than I am now – the A5 Rhodia Webnotebook is fantastic. It is slightly larger than a large Moleskine journal – the same height, but about half an inch wider. It is approximately the same thickness, though it contains 96 sheets (192 pages) of paper versus the 120 sheets (240 pages) of a Moleskine, and has similar accoutrement: a sewn-in ribbon bookmark, a pocket on the inside of the back cover, and an elastic closure that runs vertically from top to bottom. Additionally, its signatures are stitched, so it lies flat when open.

In other ways, as well, the Rhodia shows subtle differences from a Moleskine. The large, ruled notebook has 27 lines versus 30, and the rules do not stretch from edge to edge. Its paper is ivory instead of the off-white of a Moleskine. The cover is slightly softer and thicker to the touch than its competitor, and the Rhodia logo is embossed on the front center of the book rather than the lower back. Like Moleskines they come in two colors: black and, in this case, orange.

Where the Webbie markedly differs from a Moleskine is the paper. It is filled with 90 gr Clairefontaine paper, which is an utter joy to write on. As I mentioned in my Quo Vadis Habana review, Clairefontaine paper is regarded by fountain pen aficionados as some of the best in the world to write on. It is silky smooth, and even scratchy nibs glide easily over the surface.

The paper is of low absorbency and resists feathering – standing up perfectly to wet inks like J. Herbin and Iroshizuku. The trade-off is that most inks take much longer to dry on this paper than on more absorbent paper, like an Ecosystem notebook or standard copier paper. Noodler’s inks, in particular, often take upwards of a minute to dry on Clairefontaine paper when they take only seconds to dry on standard office paper.

The 90 gr paper is thick enough to stand up very well to the wettest inks. I noticed no bleed-through from fountain pen inks at all during my testing, and the amount of show-through is noticeably less than in a Moleskine notebook. It also handles other media well – I had no trouble with a garden-variety ballpoint pen. A permanent marker bled through, but did not mark the underlying page.

It’s worth pointing out that the Webnotebook has gone through several revisions here in the US. The first version used 80 gr paper that was not manufactured by Clairefontaine. From what I have heard, it was not especially fountain-pen friendly. The second version had tightly sewn signatures, which caused problems with the book lying flat. It also had a Rhodia logo emblazoned on the bottom of each page.

The third generation of Webnotebook is the one I have – and which is the one that I recommend without hesitation. The logo has been removed and the signatures loosened up enough to allow the book to lie flat without issue. Another recent development is the availability of a blank version, for those that prefer an unlined notebook.

The only cause for concern is the relative price and the availability. Moleskines are available everywhere it seems, whereas I’ve only been able to find the Webnotebook in a local stationary boutique.  Also, the Webbie costs slightly more – but at this price point, what’s a dollar or two?

I’m prepared to declare the Rhodia Webnotebook the single best Moleskine-type notebook on the market. If you enjoy the act of writing on paper, especially with a fountain pen, then this is the book for you.

Note about this review: a review copy of the Rhodia Webnotebook was graciously provided by Karen at Exaclair – Rhodia’s US distributor. Once I finish this one, I plan to buy a dozen more – all in orange.

paper review: quo vadis habana

Rating: 4.0

Quo Vadis, who, for the past fifty years have produced well regarded date books and planners, also produce a set of notebooks known as Habana. They come in a small size of 4 x 6 3/8” and large of 6 1/4” x 9 1/4”. The large Habana notebook is noticeably bigger than a large Moleskine notebook, but otherwise mimics its form factor. It has rounded corners, a pocket in the back, a sewn-in ribbon bookmark, and an elastic closure. The elastic feels slightly flimsy to me, though, and I can see it stretching out with repeated use.

The hardbound leatherette cover, which comes in red, black, blue, and taupe, is softer than a Moleskine cover, feeling much more like actual calfskin. Also, unlike a Moleskine, the Habana cover has a bit of flex to it, which I’m not fond of. It’s not as flexible as an actual flex cover, but it’s not stiff like a traditional hardback. It’s somewhere in the middle, and I’m not sure what to make of it.

The paper, though, is where the Habana excels. It features 80 sheets of ultra-smooth, bright white, chlorine-free, acid-free, pH neutral, 90 gr Clairefontaine paper. Instead of bleaching the wood pulp, calcium carbonate, the mineral that makes up chalk, is added during the paper-making process, which is what gives the paper both its bright finish and smooth texture. The wide-ruled, large journal has 25 lines compared to the 30 of a narrow-ruled, large Moleskine. I much prefer narrow-ruled paper, but those that use a bold or wide nib pen will likely find the wide-rule to be quite accommodating.

Those that are concerned about environmental sustainability will be pleased to know that Clairefontaine paper is produced in France from sustainably managed forests that are PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) certified. Additionally, the Quo Vadis plant in New York is PEFC certified, which means that the end products can bear the PEFC logo, as the Habana does. Even the ink used is vegetable-derived (soy, corn, linseed) and water-based.

So how does the paper stand up to fountain pen ink? In a word: wonderfully. Clairefontaine paper is regarded by fountain pen aficionados as some of the best in the world to write on, and the Habana aptly demonstrates why. It is silky smooth, and even scratchy nibs glide easily over the surface. The paper is of low absorbency, so I noticed little to no feathering, even with wet inks like J. Herbin or Iroshizuku. The trade-off is that most inks take much longer to dry on this paper than on more absorbent paper, like an Ecosystem notebook (note the smearing in the writing sample above). Noodler’s inks, in particular, often take upwards of a minute to dry on Clairefontaine paper when they take only seconds to dry on standard office paper.

The 90 gr paper is thick enough to stand up very well to the wettest inks. I noticed no bleed-through from fountain pen inks at all during my testing, and the amount of show-through is noticeably less than in a Moleskine notebook. It also handles other media well - ballpoint, rollerball, and Sharpie pen all wrote smoothly and without issue. A Sharpie marker bled through, of course, but didn’t seem to penetrate onto the underlying paper.

Overall, the Quo Vadis Habana is a great notebook. While I prefer a narrower rule and a stiffer cover, the Clairefontaine paper can’t be beat. This is definitely worth considering adding to any notebook collection.

Note: the Quo Vadis Habana was provided for this review by Karen of Exaclair, the US distributor of Rhodia, Quo Vadis, and Clairefontaine products.

paper review: behance dot grid journal

Rating: 2.0

The Dot Grid Journal is part of Behance’s Action Method product line – a set of paper products designed to support their Action Method project methodology. They’ve got a wide range of products, from pre-printed loose sheets to spiral bound notebooks, to stickers – the goal of which is to focus the user on action items. This journal, however, can easily be used without any reference to the Action Method. While the back pocket comes stuffed with two sets of Action Stickers and a couple of pamphlets on the Action Method, the book itself is simply a hardbound journal filled with dot grid paper.

Let me say that I really wanted to like the Dot Grid Journal. After recently discovering just how fantastic a dot grid (as opposed to a ruled grid) is, I was eager to have a notebook that utilized it. However, this particular product has the feeling of being, if not cheaply, then somewhat carelessly produced.

The 6” x 8” journal is filled with 200 pages of 60lb, 100% post-consumer, New Leaf bright white paper. The paper itself is fairly smooth, though not as smooth as Clairefontaine or Moleskine paper, and the sheets are perforated, which makes them easy to remove.

The black, “suede-to-the-touch” hardcover is embossed with “DOT GRID JOURNAL” on the front, and the Behance and New Leaf logos on the back. It is thinner than a Moleskine cover and has considerably more flex – not as much as an intentionally flexible cover, but more than a typical hardcover, which gives it an odd, flimsy feel.

The book has a wide elastic band, much like a Moleskine, along with a pocket in the back, and a sewn-in satin ribbon bookmark. While the bookmark is long, and feels fairly sturdy, the elastic band feels flimsy. I suspect that it will stretch out with repeated use.

The corners are rounded, but, at least on my copy, it appears that they were struck by the die at an oblique angle so that the sheets near the top of the book have more paper cut away than those near the bottom. The binding is stitched, and excels at laying flat – however, on my copy, the paper block isn’t square with the cover – it is about an eighth of an inch off on the back cover, resulting in a noticeable gap – which just adds to my opinion of poor quality control.

The pages themselves are printed with a light grey dot grid, which is easy to see but does a good job of disappearing into the background when you’re not focused on it. The grid is tightly spaced – so much so that it was too small for even my already small handwriting. It was ok I skipped every other line, but was too tight to write on every line. I would have preferred a 5x5 grid, like the Rhodia Dot Pads.

The New Leaf paper in the Dot Grid Journal is thinner than that used by Ecosystem in their notebooks, so I tested it with a variety of media. Here, there is some good news and some bad news. The good news is that it works well with Sharpie pens and ballpoint pens. There is a low amount of show-through there, and if those are your tools of choice, then you shouldn’t have any issues.

A Sharpie marker bled through the paper onto the following sheet. This result is not surprising, but not ideal either. However, I don’t tend to use permanent markers in my writing notebooks, so it’s not an issue for me.

Fountain pen ink is the bad news, however. On this paper, both watery inks like Iroshizuku Kon-peki and thicker, more viscous inks, like J. Herbin 1670 result in significant show-through and moderate bleed-through. Anything wet goes right through the paper. Worst of all, though, is that the dots themselves repel fountain pen ink. It looks like the pen is skipping. This is in no way a fountain-pen friendly notebook.

Overall, I can’t recommend the Behance Dot Grid notebook. I’m a fan of dot grids, and I’m still in the market for a dedicated notebook (Ecosystem, I have a product suggestion for you), but this product doesn’t fill my needs. If you’re a fan of the Action Method, or you’d still like to know more about this notebook, you can find it on Behance’s online store: