Most office workers do their daily writing in whatever notebooks or notepads happen to be in the stationery cupboard. Conference freebies, cheapie Staples or Rymans wirebound books, or maybe a Moleskine if they’re lucky.
When you start to take an interest in writing with fountain pens, you discover that a great writing experience depends on three things working in harmony: pen, ink, and paper. And sooner or later, you’ll realise that the paper you’re being issued in your workplace sucks for anything but biros and rollerballs, and is ruining your writing experience.
If you’re like me, you probably do more writing at work than at home. Your work notebook is a constant companion, where all your ideas, meeting notes and lists live. Using the right paper in the office perhaps matters even more than it does at home.
Even if you’re happy with the notebooks you’ve habitually used — and I’ve been really happy with the Leuchtturm A5 dot books that I’ve used for my last seven or eight work notebooks — it’s always wise to take a look at alternatives every now and again.
So, you’re in the market for an upgrade. What should you be considering?
This is probably the reason you’re looking for a new notebook in the first place: getting away from that awful tissue that passes for paper in most offices. But not everyone agrees on what “better paper” means.
Certainly, to be fountain-pen friendly, you’ll want paper that resists feathering and bleeding, but that will probably come at the cost of longer drying time (consider a sheet of blotting paper as a bookmark and blotter). If you use dry fine nibs and inks then you might not worry so much about this.
Few manufacturers bother to say in their marketing materials that their paper is fountain-pen friendly, and you can’t necessarily trust those that do. Even paper weight is not always an accurate measure of performance. If you can’t try paper out in person, reviews can help.
You might not have considered it before, but you’ll really notice the paper texture when you’re writing. For example, Clairefontaine paper is glassy smooth; Leuchtturm has a bit more tooth to it. Reviews don’t always spend enough time on this, but it matters.
And lastly, consider your preferred colour. Not all white paper is the same shade of white, and it affects how your inks look and how bright the page looks under office lighting. I like the slight creaminess in my Leuchtturms and Rhodia Webbies; the pure white Rhodia dot pad is a bit too stark for me.
In my experience most people would be wise to stick with A5, as a good compromise between portability and enough space on the page. A6 is too cramped for all but the tiniest hands (Hobonichi users may disagree); A4 is likely too big for working on the train or around a small table.
Nowadays some makers have deviated slightly from the A5 standard. Baron Fig’s paper is wider and shorter; Clairefontaine offers A5+ which is bigger in both dimensions. Dingbats is plus-size, with a hefty cover overhang.
Also consider thickness and weight. Heavier paper and more pages equals a thicker, heavier book. Lots of pages is good when you have to refer back to notes from months back; a lighter book is better if you have a long commute or don’t take many notes. This may sound obvious, but we’re trying to find the perfect notebook here, no compromises!
The Taroko Enigma is 384 pages, and is about the same size as the Baron Fig Confidant, at 192 pages. That’s due to the different paper weight between Tomoe and normal 90-100gsm sheets, plus cover weight.
There are a world of cover choices out there — paper, card, plastic, fabric, leather, pleather — but the most important thing to note is whether the cover is hardback or softback. Soft covers may be more comfortable and easier to jam into a bag, not to mention lighter. Hard covers should be more durable, but the real advantage is that you can prop your notebook on your knees and write tolerably well.
There are several types of binding, each with its pros and cons:
- Saddle-stitching. This can either be actual stitching, or more commonly, stapling. The notebook won’t have a spine, so saddle-stitching is only suitable for books with fewer leaves of paper. It’s cheaper, and it lays flat.
- Perfect binding. Bundles of pages are glued into a spine. This should be durable and can be used for even large books, but the downside is that it’s not so easy to get the notebook laying flat.
- Wire binding. Great because you can fold the used paper right back round, but otherwise (in my opinion) rubbish. Wire is flimsy and prone to bending and getting stuck, it gets in the way if you’re left-handed, and it makes the notebook thicker and can scratch other stuff in your bag.
- Disc binding. Used in the delectable William Hannah notebooks, as reviewed by Nib & Muck here. Great because it’s everlasting and lets you swap pages in and out, but it’s costly and bulky and requires you to either punch your own paper or buy special refills.
For an everyday work notebook, perfect binding is my recommended choice.
Most notebooks in the office cupboard are lined, generally broad. Obviously, there’s plain paper too, but unless you’re a designer, that’s probably less usable for you.
My preference is for grid or dot paper, which makes it more convenient to draw diagrams, write lists and doodle, while still giving you a line to follow for prose.
Different manufacturers use different spacing for their lines and grids, not to mention different weights and colours for printing their lines. See what works for you and your handwriting. If you write small and like pale colours, then a 4mm faint grey grid might be best. If you flourish with a double broad nib, maybe a 7mm heavy line would be just fine.
A notebook isn’t just some blank pages bound together between covers. Some have a load of extra features that could be really useful for you. Look out for:
- Page numbers and index pages: great if you hop between projects or want to stay superorganised.
- Rounded corners: means pages don’t snag.
- Perforated pages: great if you need to tear out a page or two to share with a colleague.
- Pockets: for saving business cards and train ticket stubs (and then promptly forgetting where you put them, of course).
- Bookmark ribbons: some have more than one, so you can save your day’s to-do list and your latest blank page, for example.
- Elastic closures: stops the notebook flopping open in your bag; also handy for clipping a pen to as you walk between meetings.
- Pen loops: great if you only use one pen, but who does that?!
- Digital integration: tools like Leuchtturm Link let you capture your notes digitally for quick later reference.
In a busy meeting room, it helps to be able to spot which notebook’s yours. So consider buying a colour other than black! If your workplace (and your personality) are a bit more creative, there are loads of more vibrant designs out there now, from retro 1950s exercise books to bright geometric patterns and illustrations. Go wild. Or go boring, your call.
I typically go through a 250-page A5 notebook at work every two or three months, writing on both sides. You might rocket through one a fortnight. The difference between a £12 notebook (Leuchtturm) and a £35 one (Taroko) might not break the bank, but it adds up over the years. Regardless of how much you spend, your colleagues will think you’re crazy (if they don’t already). Oh, and try not to be fooled by overall price: look at price per page for a true measure of value.
For my next post, I plan to compare my usual Leuchtturm 1917 against the Taroko, Baron Fig, Dingbats, Rhodia Webnotebook, and probably one or two others. Have a suggestion? Let me know!