Four Notebooks Reviewed Part 1: Moleskine, HandBook, Derwent, Pen & Ink

The notebooks I use most frequently are hard cover pocket sketchbooks, with heavy unlined paper that is suitable for various kinds of ink, pencil, and watercolor paints. I like to doodle and draw sometimes, so this type of notebook works well for me even though I also tend to use them for keeping a journal.

For several years, I’ve been using the Moleskine sketchbooks quite happily, but more recently I’ve started to explore other options. Here are a few that I’ll be talking about in this post:

  • Derwent Journal
  • Pen & Ink Journal Sketchbook
  • HandBook Journal

As you can see, they all come packaged more or less the same way, with a removable paper band.

They are all almost identically sized at approximately 3.5 x 5.5 inches:

The Moleskine is the thinnest of the bunch, while the HandBook is noticeably chunkier. The Derwent is slightly smaller than the rest, which I rather like. The Pen & Ink has the most cover overhang (at top in photo below), whereas the Handbook has almost none.

In terms of how each one feels in my hand, I lean towards the slightly smaller and thicker form of the HandBook and the Derwent.

Each notebook has a distinctly different cover feel. The Moleskine cover seems thin and rather hard in texture. The Pen & Ink has a softer, more leather-like feel– I assume it’s not real leather, but it feels like it could be. When I first touched it, I involuntarily said “ooh!” I can imagine it getting scratched and dented easily.

The Derwent has a suede-like cover with a bit of nap to it. You can see the light reflected differently if you draw stripes in the cover with your finger.

The HandBook journal is cloth-bound, which I also find has a nice “touch” to it. It’s hard to describe, but the HandBook, Pen & Ink and Derwent books all feel a bit more “warm” than the “cold,” hard Moleskine.

One thing I really don’t like about the Derwent journal is its contrasting beige elastic– to me, it’s just ugly. They could have at least made it a nicer color if not black! The HandBook journal has an unusual elastic– I’m not sure what it’s made of but it seems to be woven of a couple of different materials, including some kind of clear fibers. It seems durable and I’ve used a couple of these books now without the elastic ever seeming to loosen, but I can’t say I’m crazy about the look– it seems a bit too high-tech-looking to go with such a traditional cloth binding.

Each notebook has the brand embossed on the back, similar to a Moleskine:

back cover of derwent

As for ribbon markers, all these notebooks are pretty similar in terms of material– the Pen & Ink and Derwent have slightly thinner ribbons which strike me as being less likely to unravel than a Moleskine’s. I LOVE the orange marker in the HandBook journal, and though the material seems identical to that of a Moleskine, the ends are sealed off so they don’t unravel, and the marker is slightly shorter so it doesn’t flap around too much at the bottom.

As for color, obviously these are all black but the Derwent also comes in a beige color (with a contrasting black elastic), while the HandBook comes in pleasing shades of blue, red and green (all with orange markers). The Moleskine and Pen & Ink sketchbooks only come in black.

So based on exteriors alone, does any of these notebooks emerge as a clear winner? No, and it all depends on your taste anyway. While the Pen & Ink journal gives the impression of good quality, it may seem a little too soft for daily use, and it’s ever so slightly larger than the others due to the cover overhang. The Derwent’s suede can pick up a lot of lint and crumbs and that beige elastic really bothers me. I think the Moleskine and HandBook win for me, even though they are quite different from each other. If I had to pick just one based on appearance alone, I think the Handbook is my favorite though I’d trade its strange two-tone elastic in for a plainer one.

In the next part of this review, I’ll open up these notebooks and look at what’s inside!

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12 Responses to “Four Notebooks Reviewed Part 1: Moleskine, HandBook, Derwent, Pen & Ink”

  1. Very nice work! I enjoyed that, thanks.

  2. I’ve used the hand.book for sketching and writing, and it’s quite a nice paper. Not too scratchy for the writing pen, but not slick either.

  3. Any recommendations on where to buy the different notebooks? Was going to try the handbook, and I think I found it on amazon, but not sure — it’s not a great listing.

  4. [...] the first part of this review, I discussed the outward appearance of four similar pocket sketchbooks, the Moleskine, the Pen [...]

  5. [...] at various attributes of the Moleskine, HandBook, Derwent, and Pen & Ink sketchbooks (see Part 1 and Part 2 of this review), let’s sum up a few key points about these 4 very similar [...]

  6. These reviews were really helpful! Thanks a lot! :)

  7. hi. i’m from the philippines. do you think they sell pen and ink or piccadilly here?

  8. Hi Beenlookingaround, I’m not sure about the availability of those brands in the philippines, but I’ll see what I can find out.

  9. [...] pen community tend to dislike bulky covers, or covers that overhang the pages (check out this comparison from Notebook Stories). This is definitely not an issue with this book: the covers are cut square [...]

  10. [...] pen community tend to dislike bulky covers, or covers that overhang the pages (check out this comparison from Notebook Stories). This is definitely not an issue with this book: the covers are cut square [...]

  11. Prefiero el mío, 100%, Ecuatoriano, incentivando y motivando el arte

  12. […] Four Notebooks Reviewed, Part 1 […]

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