I’ve had my eye on Bound Custom Journals for a while. The company was launched in 2011 after a successful Kickstarter campaign, inspired by founder Joel Sadler’s desire for a customized travel journal. The result is pretty extraordinary: a website where you can build custom notebooks page by page, with all manner of page templates and maps. Joel offered me a chance to test-drive the whole process… so let’s see how they turned out!
First the process of creating your notebook:
I went to Bound’s website and clicked “Build a Journal.” First you select your notebook format, linen-wrapped flexibound, staplebound, or vegan-leather flexibound. You then select a cover color, and are presented with a wide variety of page types to select from. The site keeps track of how many pages are available to be filled in the notebook. You can select one lined page followed by 3 blank pages if you want, or 43 daily log pages. I was thinking at first that you’d have to select the pages in signatures, but not so– it is truly flexible. The only time the program dictates how many pages are required is with maps, for obvious reasons. There is even customization within customization– you can not only select lined pages, you can decide how wide you want the line spacing to be, and whether it runs vertically or horizontally. The only thing that might be a problem for some people is that the daily, weekly, or monthly calendar pages force you to choose a date range, rather than allowing you to insert a certain number of undated pages.
It’s quite fun to play around with selecting pages. You can be totally random about it, but where it can really come in handy is for a journal devoted to a specific project or trip. Say you’re planning a trip to London: you could select a London map, then calendar pages for the date range of your trip, then contact pages for people or places you want to visit there, a checklist for sights you want to see there, and some Tic Tac Toe and Hangman pages to pass the time on the plane. Or say you’ve just started a small business designing clothes. You could select clothing template pages for onesies, hoodies and t-shirts to sketch out your designs, wireframe pages to design your website, storyboard pages to plan out a video advertisement, and calendar pages where you plot out all the things you need to do to get your business up and running by a certain date.
The possibilities are endless. But once you’ve settled on your pages and filled your journal, you review your selection, decide if you want to order more than one in the same layout, check out, and in about a week, they’ll be shipping your lovely custom journal. They say they make these journals one at a time, by hand, in the USA. I don’t know how they manage it, but it works!
Now for the finished product:
Here’s the two I ordered, also shown with a pocket Moleskine for size comparison.
I love my little 3.5 x 5.5″ staplebound journal, known as the Bound Memo. I mean, I really really love it.
It’s your typical cahier-type notebook, with a sturdy paper cover. The paper is EXCELLENT. It’s smooth and feels great to write on. Pens don’t feather out, and it performs extremely well on show-through and bleed-through. I think it stood up to my Super Sharpie better than almost any other notebook I’ve reviewed, even though it feels relatively thin.
I love the pastel colors available for the cover, though it would be nice if black was also an option. There’s a nice little logo on the cover, a minimal spot on the inside front cover to write your name, with plenty of blank space for more. The edges are precisely cut. The recycled paper shows some visible fibers.
The London and Europe maps are handy and readable. Some major London landmarks are noted on the map, including various industrial parks and shopping centers, which surprised me a bit. The printing throughout is not super-sharp– it’s comparable to what you could get out of a good-quality office printer, which is fine with me, except for one thing: the grey borders around the map make it hard to see certain streets– Moleskine’s City maps are designed the same way, but the grey border has more transparency and sharpness so you can still see what’s under there, and I think there is a bit more overlap at the edges, where Bound’s maps seem to have no overlap at all, meaning you could lose a street that happened to fall exactly at the edge.
The inside back cover has some info about the brand and the design. I don’t really need to know what typeface is used, but that’s fine. All in all, it’s a great little notebook. At $10 for one 48-page notebook, it’s expensive, but for the customization, quality, and being made in the USA, it’s worth it.
I also ordered the original Bound Journal.
This one starts off with one strike against it due to my own peculiar prejudices– it’s 4×6″, a bit larger than my preferred pocket size. But it comes nicely wrapped in paper, with a sticker closing the package, and a logo magnet thrown in for fun.
I really like the cover material– the cloth comes in nice colors (including black) and it is a nice thickness. It’s hard to see the texture in these photos but there’s a close-up below.
And the cover overhang is pretty minimal, which is a big plus. But the big negative is that the binding does not come even close to opening flat. I’m not sure exactly how the notebook is constructed, but it’s a problem, as bits of the maps can get lost in the gutter.
As for the insides: plain black endpapers, which I love, even if it’s harder to write your info on them without a special pen, and 140 pages worth of customizability.
This time, I chose a Manhattan map, which takes up 35 pages. The map gives you the names of parks, and a few other things like the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center and Hunter College, but it doesn’t note major landmarks like the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, NYU or Columbia University. I’m not sure what the source of the map data is, or how up to date it is, but I noticed that on mine, the recently developed Brooklyn Bridge Park is not on the map, though a much older and less-touristed park nearby is shown. For some reason, I also found the grey borders even harder to see through on the NYC map than in the London map.
The other problem with this particular map is the way the sections of the map are proportioned to the city landscape. In certain sections, a lot of space ends up devoted to water. Unless you’re using the journal to track scuba-diving the East River in search of drowned mafiosos in cement shoes, this is a big waste. (To be fair, Moleskine’s New York City Notebook has a bit of the same problem, though not as much– and theirs includes a larger portion of the more popular neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens.) I hope they’ll also add more maps to choose from– so far, 8 cities are available, plus 10 regions and a world map.
The notebook again has some info at the back about the company and the design, but that’s it– no pocket, no ribbon marker, no elastic closure, all of which is fine with me. This size journal is $35, or $50 if you go for the version with the “vegan leather” cover. This again seems expensive, but probably worth it given the customizability… it would be harder for me to commit to paying $35 for this notebook than to paying $10 for the Memo book, partially because the larger journal just doesn’t happen to be the exact size I like, but also because I’m afraid the inability to lie flat would really get on my nerves. Others may disagree!
Bottom line, despite a few gripes, I think the folks at Bound have created a really great product. For anyone who really wants a truly unique and totally useful notebook, this is the perfect solution. I hope they’ll consider tweaking some things, but despite that I can see myself happily ordering at least the small memo books again for future travels and other uses.
You can build your own Bound notebook here— act fast and you might still even get it before Christmas!