I recently reviewed the Baron Fig Confidant notebook and, but it is but one of several notebooks currently on my shelf. Ever since I took this deep dive into the world of the writing enthusiast, I’ve been on searching for the right notebook to pair with my new favorite pens. Since I dusted off the old test sheets for the Baron Fig review, it seems like the perfect time to dig into my notebook pile and share whatever information I can. For this article, I took a look at A5 notebooks from Rhodia, Leuchtturm1917, and Moleskine. Although these three brands are (typically) the first three that come to mind for discerning shoppers, there are WAY more out there. This article is the first batch of paper reviews I have planned, so if there is a brand you would like to learn more about, drop me a line and let me know!
Now, without further ado, here is what I found.
Oh Moleskine; the go-to brand for aspiring writers, planners, and gift-givers looking for and higher class of notebook. As I touched on briefly in my review of their Clickball pen, Moleskine claims to be “bringing back to life the legendary notebook used by artists and thinkers over the past two centuries.” (It is worth noting that the Moleskine brand has only been around since 1997.) They do this by offering an assortment of notebooks and planners in various sizes and orientations from small pocket books comparable to classic Field Notes (3.5x5in.), all the way up to large format journals (7-5×9.75in.) as well as options in page layouts including, plain, grid, ruled, and dot grid. They also have a huge selection of styles and designs available, with licensed products from Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and Game of Thrones just to name a few.
The notebooks have a good solid feel when writing, carrying, flipping through the pages, and the covers feel very durable for everyday use. The pages are somewhat heavy and thick, which results in a lower page-count for some of their books when compared to brands like Leuchtturm. But, while the paper looks and feels fine, it’s performance is not as good as the premium style would suggest. When writing with a 0.38mm Uni-Ball Signo, I experienced considerable ghosting on the back of the page. Surprisingly, the paper did turn out to be pretty resistant to bleed through with a wide array of fountain pen inks, running through only when I wrote with far more pressure than necessary (or advised). On the front of the page, however, the in feathered considerably, making my already poor handwriting look just awful. One particular line of notebooks from Moleskine, the Art+ line, is geared toward artists and therefore has better quality paper, but the selection is very limited in that line. As prestigious as the brand claims to be, I would like to have seen better performance for the Fine Writing crowd. And for standard pen users, it seems like more flash than substance.
Rhodia is the Jeep of paper brands. It’s tough, it’s durable, it can be used for a myriad of different writing situations, and not everyone likes using it.
Rhodia’s paper ranges between a 80 and 90 gsm weight. The staple-bound pads are typically produced with 80gsm paper, while the hard-cover Webnotebooks use the 90gsm. Both paper options are incredibly smooth, and provide very little feedback or resistance with most pens. While this surface does make a great platform for fountain pens, I experienced some ink skipping with a Schmidt rollerball refill to the point it was basically unusable. When it comes to fountain pens, however, the Rhodia paper more than handles everything I’ve thrown at it. Diamine, De Atramentis, KWZ, Robert Oster; any ink from any nib from any brand of pen, this paper holds up. I have not experienced any feathering on the front of the page, and only slight ghosting on the back when writing with a very heavy hand.
Rhodia staple-bound pads are available in several sizes ranging from the small 2 x 2.9 inch pocket pad up to the larger 8.27 x 11.69 (A4) size. You can get the hardcover notebooks in either the 3.5 x 5.5 inch pocket size (around $15), or the larger 5.5 x 8.25 inch (not quite A5) size (around $22). While the larger size notebook is incredibly useful as a journal or planner, the thicker cover puts it slightly over the standard A5 size. While this does not immediately effect its usefulness, if you prefer to have your books in a cover, you’ll have to special order something for the Rhodia product line.
When compared side by side with books like the Leuchtturm A5, the Rhodia definitely has a different feel. The paper heavier, rougher, and thicker, which leads to fewer pages for a comparably-priced product. If you’re anything like me, and the feel of a notebook is an important factor for you, the Rhodia might not be your first choice.
While Moleskine claims to represent the long history and traditions of great writers, Leuchtturm has actually been in the stationery business for (literally) 100 years. Today, you can find their notebooks in over a dozen colors with hard or soft covers in a variety of useful and portable sizes. All of the books feature numbered pages, a multi-page index at the front, and perforated removable pages at the back. The books also contain a back-cover pocket for storing loose sheets, and two bookmarks for those who’s notebooks serve multiple purposes.
Their most popular is the hard cover A5 book, which houses 249 pages (121 in the soft cover) of 80gsm paper in blank, ruled, graph, or dot grid page layouts. The pocket notebooks, which run about an A6 (90x150mm) size, feature 186 pages of the same paper (121 in the soft cover). The paper is smooth and soft, but gives a little feedback when writing. As far as standard pens are concerned, everything I’ve tested writes smooth and consistent. Where some paper may be too smooth for a roller-ball pen to keep traction, the Leuchtturm paper has just enough bite to keep everything moving, without being scratchy. The surface accepts fountain pen ink as well, with no feathering or light spots. If you’re using an ink known for shading or sheen, you’ll see those effects with Leuchtturm. Not quite to the same degree as Tomoe River, but pretty close.
Although 80gsm sounds like it would be on the heavy end of the scale, the pages are prone to show-through or “ghosting” with most fountain pens. With wetter inks, or broader nibs, or even a heavy writing hand, you may even see bleed-through, as I did when I was still getting used to fountain pens. While it can be frustrating to get lost in quickly writing an entry only to turn the page and see dark spots of ink-saturated paper, with a little patience you should be able to use the Leuchtturm paper cleanly and efficiently. Once you spend some time writing in these pages, you get a real feel for this book. There is almost a warmth there, like flipping the pages of a well-read book. This tactile comfort is no-doubt an intentional feature, as Leuchtturm is all about the details.
Leuchtturm’s exceptional quality and attention to detail has caught the eye of famous authors like Neil Gaiman, who reportedly made the switch from Moleskine for his notebook of choice. The Bullet Journal community has also fully embraced the Leuchtturm brand, and you can even purchase Bullet Journal branded A5 notebooks which include a couple extra features to make that practice easier.
The price point for the Leuchtturm brand is as varied as their product catalog, but on average you can expect to pay around $20 here in the US. That is certainly more than the typical offerings of Target or Staples, but you are also buying the confidence that this notebook will last a long time, and hold up to (almost) anything you can throw at it.
I wish I could say that I love all my notebooks equally, but it’s difficult to not favor the Leuchtturm1917 brand. While none of these could be considered a “perfect notebook” by any stretch, the German-made Leuchtturm does a lot more right than wrong. Does that mean I’ll only be spending my money on their notebooks in the future? Heck no! I don’t have that kind of self control. But so far, of the dozen or so brands I’ve used over the years, Leuchtturm brings something different to the table. As long as they keep up the good work, I’ll always have one near by.
Disclaimer: All products discussed in this article were purchased by the author at full retail price. I bought Moleskine so you don’t have to.