Review: Design.Y Notebooks

I can’t believe it’s taken me over 2 years to review these notebooks. I first heard of Design-Y in early 2012, when they were receiving quite a bit of buzz on fountain pen blogs. If you’re not familiar with this brand, here’s the background: they are handmade in Japan by a Mr. Yoshino. He uses luxurious materials and crafts each notebook to order, with several options for customization. They are not cheap! But are they worth the money? Let’s take a look!

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I seriously splurged and bought 3 notebooks. The small, slim brown one is the “Record 216,” the black one with stained edges is the “Record 288,” and the thick black one is the “LP Record.” (Design Y also offers two other larger sizes.) The first thing I have to tell you about these is something that no review can truly capture: they smell wonderful! The covers are made of real leather, either goatskin or cowhide, and it has a texture and scent that on manmade imitation can match. No icky chemical odors, as some other notebooks can have, but vegans beware, these are not for you!

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The materials in general just have a feeling of quality– the leather looks and feels great, the paper is silky, and they come nicely wrapped and packaged. When you order, you can select the color of leather you want, and for some notebooks, which type of leather, goat or cow. You can also choose whether you want the edges of the paper to be dyed, whether or not you want a ribbon marker or elastic closure, and lined or plain paper. You can select various colors for the bookmark ribbon. The color options are all chosen to look great together, in subtle shades of black, brown, grey and cream. The aesthetics of these notebooks are pretty near perfect as far as I am concerned– I don’t need flashy colors or patterns. The only major thing I think they’re missing is an option for squared paper. When you receive your Design.Y order, it’s a pleasure to open. Here’s some un-boxing shots!

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The construction of the notebooks is classic– sewn signatures inside a hard cover, with rounded corners. A logo is stamped on the back cover, but there is no other branding. The notebooks open fully flat. The ribbon marker is attached in a unique way– rather than being glued inside the spine, it is looped through holes in the spine, leaving a little decorative element on the outside and turning one bookmark into two. The endpapers are plain grey paper. There is no back pocket– instead, on the inside back cover you see the knots of the elastic closure. They are tiny knots that don’t get in the way, and theoretically I guess you could replace the elastic. This is a good thing, as the elastic is very thin and flimsy and seemed like it could easily break if it snagged on something in your bag.

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The covers do overhang the pages a bit more than I’d like, but not terribly, and the corners are beautifully tucked in to a nice, tight roundness. Other than that, the notebooks I received seemed very well made, with careful attention to detail and craftsmanship. One of them was just a teensy bit off being totally square– it’s barely noticeable, and somehow it bothered me less than it might on a mass-produced notebook. When something is handmade, I can understand there being a little human error, vs. the supposed precision of machines. The sizes are not quite standard compared to most other notebooks– shown with a pocket Moleskine for comparison. I like the slim Record 216, which is a great size to slip in a pocket. And the chunky LP Record is very appealing. The Record 288 is pretty close to the size of a Moleskine– I have to confess I wish they had just made it the same standard 3.5 x 5.5″ size Moleskine and many other brands use.

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The paper inside is a creamy white. It is quite thin and feels wonderfully smooth and refined. It’s a pleasure to write on with any pen, and fountain pens do perform nicely on it. However, there is a lot of show-through, though bleed-through is a little better than average compared to other papers this thin. Fountain pens may take a little longer to dry.

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The bottom line here is that you get a nicely customizable, beautifully made notebook that will be a pleasure to behold, and a pleasure to write in, until you turn the page and realize you won’t want to write on both sides! But the sensory delights of Design Y notebooks will cost you quite a bit. The current prices are as follows:

Record 216: 3780 Yen, or approximately $37.03

Record 288: 4935 Yen or approximately $48.35 (including elastic closure, bookmark and dyed edge. Subtract 105 Yen for no bookmark, 105 Yen for no elastic, and 210 Yen for no dyed edge.)

LP Record: 8925 Yen or approximately $87.44 (including bookmark. Subtract 105 Yen for no bookmark, add 105 Yen if you want an elastic closure.)

Shipping from Japan is additional, based on weight. For these three notebooks shipping to the US, it would be about $18.22.

So you’re probably thinking, holy $&%^@, she spent almost $200 for 3 little notebooks. Well, these are the sacrifices I make to review things for you, dear readers! It is a little hard to justify, especially as the notebooks are almost too nice to use. I keep telling myself I should try to use one as a daily notebook, but they seem like they should be used for something special instead. I do love having them– there is something just so wonderful about the craftsmanship and that real leather smell, I have to take them out and fondle them every so often, just to appreciate how beautiful they are compared to cheap, mass-produced notebooks. If you want to have a special notebook in your collection, or give a notebook lover a drool-worthy gift, Design Y will fit the bill!

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7 Responses to “Review: Design.Y Notebooks”

  1. Just curious–since it’s been 2 years since you ordered them, do you know if the quality is the same? Any mention on other blogs?

  2. Recent posts on the Fountain Pen Network forums seem to indicate that these are still just as good.

  3. There are tricks to using notebooks containing Tomoe River paper, like these Design.Y notebooks, to avoid (and eventually forget about) the show-through problem you describe:

    – You can put dark paper behind them to completely prevent the show-through as you write. I figured out this dark-background trick quite by mistake when I was writing on a single sheet of paper on my ebony-colored desk. I sell Tomoe-based products and include a sheet of black paper in all my sample packs to demonstrate this effect.

    – The show-through only bothers you for the first couple of pages. Afterwards, the layers of text on previous pages all begin to blend together to provide a kind of natural shaded background so that the show-through is less stark and the dark paper is no longer really needed.

  4. OMG! I went on a bit of a bender earlier this year and bought both the LP Record and the Record 336 journals. You cannot be disappointed by these stunning notebooks. They are expensive, but you cannot get anything like this anywhere else. I got them both lined, but if I had to do it over again, I would have gotten plain, only because there is more freedom to draw and design the page without lines. Also, I just bought my first fountain pen, and my writing is a bit unruly with so much ink. The journals are perfection. Maybe someday I will get some others. I can’t wait.

  5. Hi –

    I bought one of these after seeing it featured on a blog somewhere (I thought it was on here actually but maybe not.).
    I have to say it really is a thing of beauty – the attention to detail shines through with everything from the packaging to the product and even the communication.
    I also love the customisation options.
    The only minor gripes I have are:
    1 – the paper is quite thin
    2 -the elastic closure appears to be quite flimsy (but I’ve had not problems with mine so far AND it came with a spare just in case which I thought was a hie touch).

    The only other problem I had was that the notebook is so lovely that I couldn’t decide what to use it for. In the end I decided to use it for jotting down lyrics to songs I am working on… :-)

  6. I wish there was an option to select different papers. A smooth paper with far less show-through (e.g., Kokuyo) is sorely needed. The prices are not outrageous for a hand bound journal. Thanks for the review.

  7. […] Review: Design.Y Notebooks [ns] […]

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