Review: TWSBI Notebooks

I first heard about the TWSBI brand via the Fountain Pen Network forums, which are a great place to discuss and learn about all things pen-and-notebook-y. I personally don’t have a mania for fountain pens, but people who do are very picky about the paper they use them on, so I’m always interested to know what notebooks they recommend.

TWSBI is based in Taiwan. Their website states that they started out as a manufacturer for other brands (I’m curious as to which ones), and then branched out into making their own line of fountain pens and inks, and more recently, notebooks. (The website also explains the origins of their name, but it does not specify how you’re supposed to say it out loud. My guess is “rhymes with frisbee”.) I’ve never seen their notebooks in physical stores, though they do have some US online retailers listed on their website (without specifying whether they carry TWSBI notebooks or only their pens). I decided to buy two notebooks directly from the TWSBI website (no response to my request for a sample to review, alas).

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I chose the small size in unlined and squared formats. When I saw that these measured 3.75 x 5.5″, I was a little worried– as I’ve written here many times before, I’m pretty picky about the size and proportions of my notebooks, and I don’t use the otherwise wonderful Leuchtturm pocket notebooks because they are 3.5 x 6″. So that extra quarter-inch of width could have been a deal-breaker… but it wasn’t! These notebooks are indeed wider than a pocket Moleskine (seen in the photos below for comparison), but I still like the shape.

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The first impression is that these are nicely and carefully made, as well as that they have a strong inky smell (this goes away relatively quickly). The corners are tidily cut, nothing is crooked, and they feel solid. They are softcover, but not overly flexible due to the pocket in the back. There is a debossed logo on the middle of the front cover and again on the lower back cover– I usually prefer plain covers, but I don’t mind it on the front, it’s subtle and looks like some sort of enigmatic symbol. The elastic closure is black, and comes tucked around the back cover when you first buy the notebook. It is the right length to stay tucked neatly there, but also feels a little loose in its stretchiness.  You get a pop of color in the skinny ribbon marker and the sides of the back pocket, which are red. I love this little design touch– it’s like a suit jacket that’s totally conservative on the outside but then has a colorful lining. Inside the notebook, everything is totally plain– no branding, no defined space to write your contact details in.

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Another point of differentiation: these have 240 pages, all of which are perforated. I’ve never understood why Moleskine gives you 240 pages in the large notebooks, but only 192 in the pocket size. I love having the extra bit of thickness. The perforation is very lightly cut– in a way, this is good, because the pages shouldn’t start coming loose on their own, and you don’t get that extra bend in them at the perforation line when you open the notebook flat. But the downside is that if you want to tear out a page, it won’t happen all that easily unless you fold it first along the perforation line.

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What about the paper itself? Will it be everything that picky fountain pen users have hoped and dreamed of? Not quite, I’d say. It’s a nice off-white, with subtle fine grid lines in the squared version– they make Moleskine’s grid lines look very dark in comparison. The color is not as creamy as Moleskine’s, but not bright white either. According to hearsay on the FPN forums, it’s 80g– it feels about the same thickness and smoothness as Moleskine paper. It’s a pleasure to write on, and my fountain pens worked great, though it could be about 15 seconds or more before they were smear-proof. But showthrough is a wee bit worse than average, perhaps– not totally dissimilar to other papers that feel like it, but a bit worse than an older Modo e Modo Moleskine that I compared it to. Fountain pens didn’t bleed through, but a couple others did.

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The big question with these notebooks is how they’ll stand up to daily use. Moleskine’s first softcover notebooks were notorious for falling apart at the spine, which they seemed to address by adding an extra strip of reinforcement where the cover is attached to the pages. I can’t see any such reinforcement in the TWSBI. The spine does not have a heavy layer of glue, which is why it opens perfectly flat, but I could already see a couple of spots where the signatures had gaps between them. Softcover notebooks can also be prone to fraying and curling at the corners. We’ll see what happens when I subject one of these to being tossed in my bag every day.

And that is the bottom line here: I love these enough that I DO intend to toss one in my bag and use it as my daily notebook someday soon. In recent years, I’ve gotten away using from softcover notebooks, but these have kind of rekindled the lust that the softcover Moleskine originally inspired in me, until I became a bit disillusioned with them and went back to mostly hardcovers. The TWSBI notebooks look classy, feel well-made, and if you can live with some show-through, they’ll be enjoyable to use– at least for a while! I’ll definitely revisit the TWSBI with a follow-up review on durability. I’m also hoping they’ll branch out into producing a hardcover notebook– I’d love to see how they’d do on that sort of binding.

You can buy these on Amazon for $13.99 for the small size, with free shipping (at least in the US), or you can order directly from TWSBI. At $10.99 for the small size, TWSBI’s price is lower, but they charge shipping, which for me was about $6-7 for two notebooks, if I’m remembering correctly, so either way the price is about the same. And to me it seems like a very good value for the quality of what you’re getting, and the extra page count vs. other similar notebooks.

Review: Ogami Notebook

The Ogami notebook makes a strong first impression, in more ways than one. Visually, it makes  a great first impression: it comes in nice colors, including this gorgeous turquoise, and the design is sharp and clean and appealing. And it’s Italian! You had me at “millimetri.” But there is also a rather negative first impression when you first unwrap the notebook and get a whiff of its very strong chemical odor, which to me had a pungency not unlike wasabi. Whew! When I first bought this notebook and played around with it a bit, I thought “I like this a lot, but I could never use it because of the smell!”

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Luckily, I always seem to have a long backlog of notebooks to be reviewed, so I put this one away for over a year before taking it out to test and photograph. When I did, I got a happy surprise: no more odor! So now let’s take a look at all the other things there are to love about this notebook.

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It comes with a removable vellum band around it, which has the usual branding info. I tend to like plain covers, but the metallic stamped “Ogami Professional 90 x 140 Millimetri” logo on the actual cover is cute. The binding of this notebook is a bit different from most, as it has stiff board on the front and back cover, but they aren’t wrapped in the usual way, just covered with the smooth turquoise paper, which has a soft, pleasing texture.

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The spine is designed to open flat, but due to a thicker layer of glue on the sewn signatures, it doesn’t open completely flat. The size overall is a bit smaller and thinner than a pocket Moleskine.

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Inside, the endpapers have an elegant diamond pattern on them, with a space for your contact info in the front and some more branding info in the back. There is an elastic closure, but no ribbon marker or back pocket. The elastic is a bit tight, but this means it can be tucked tidily away around the back cover. The overall feel is of good quality.

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As for the paper inside, the Ogami’s claim to fame is that it’s the “first notebook made from stone.” The paper is called Repap. It’s made from calcium carbonate found in limestone and construction materials using processes said to be more environmentally friendly than those used for traditional paper. The result is a lovely smooth bright white paper that feels wonderful to write on. If you use fine point gel ink pens or pencil, you will love this paper. Other pens work well too, and the paper delivers tight, dark black lines with many types of pens that can look greyish on other papers. There are a few quirks, though– fountain pens work great, but the drying times can be extremely long so you really have to be careful about smearing. My Super Sharpie did this weird thing where it looked as though I’d written over letters already there in a thin line, as though the ink concentrated itself in the middle of the stroke after spreading out a bit. Show-through is about average or maybe a little worse than average, but this paper is amazing on bleed-through– even the Super Sharpie didn’t bleed through. I suspect this paper may share some of the same materials as the show- and bleed-proof Rendr sketchbooks I reviewed, which also had a strong smell. The Rendr paper is much better on show-through, but the Ogami paper has a superior color and texture.

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I don’t remember where I bought my Ogami notebook, but you can find them online at Amazon, JetPens, and Jenni Bick, among other places. In NYC, I’ve seen them in stores such as A. I. Friedman and Paper Presentation. They also offer a stitched single signature jotter version and a wire-bound style, and come in white, turquoise, grey, and black colors, as well as a multi-colored “quotes” design, and a range of sizes. Check the measurements carefully when you order, as I’ve seen this 3.5 x 5.5″ size described as both “mini” and “small,” but 5 x 8″ versions are also sometimes referred to as “small.” Prices are usually on the high side, but not out of line vs. other notebooks that are made in Europe vs. China.

Notebook Addict of the Week: Allister

Allister emailed me to share this photo of his collection, which is one of the most attractively arranged ones I’ve seen!

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Allister also makes notebooks:

“Last year, I decided to take this passion a little further and opened an Etsy store selling Japanese notebooks that I hand-make myself. That way, I can experience that delightful feeling of holding a brand new and freshly made notebook in my hand every day. (… without my home exploding from a sea of notebooks, since they get sold and have to be shipped away :P )”

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That is a great way to deal with an addiction, and they’re beautiful notebooks! Thanks for sharing, Allister!

John Wooley’s Sketchbook

John Wooley gives us a tour through his HandBook Journal. He used this as a travel journal when he was 10 years old and the artwork is quite amazing for someone of that age!

From the Mailbag

From Dave: a link to a page with some beautiful calligraphy in a sketchbook:

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And also a link to a TV promo video with some glimpses of animated notebook pages in the first 20 seconds:

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Bluejay is looking for these notebooks, spotted in a Tumblr post, anyone know where to find them?

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Raymond shares a link to the Inspiration Pad, which re-imagines the idea of a “lined” notebook:

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Colin (who has some great posts about notebooks on his blog) sent this great comparison between the Midori Traveler’s Notebook and a similar style from Sass & Belle:

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Bevan sent this link about a notebook found after being buried in ice for over 100 years!

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Thanks to everyone who keeps my inbox overflowing with tips!

Pablo Bronstein’s Notebooks

Pablo Bronstein is an Argentine artist who now lives in the UK. The Wall Street Journal weekend magazine recently did a feature on his house, which in itself was gorgeous and fascinating, but what appealed to me even more were the tantalizing glimpses of some of his notebooks and sketchbooks in the photos:

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Review: Metro Notebook

I bought the Metro notebook about a year ago, at artsupply.com. I think I had just stumbled across it while browsing around and searching for notebooks, and I was intrigued because it looked like a standard little Moleskine-clone and the price was really low, only $2.48 (plus shipping). They are no longer available on that site, and I haven’t seen them anywhere else. Before you get all frustrated thinking there’s a nice cheap notebook out there and I can’t tell you where to buy it, let me just say it’s no great loss! The Metro notebook wins the prize for being the WORST NOTEBOOK I’VE EVER REVIEWED ON THIS SITE! (So far, anyway…)

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Pretty harsh, huh? I’ve reviewed notebooks that had a few quality issues. And I’ve reviewed many notebooks that weren’t really my cup of tea, but I could at least appreciate things about them that other people might like. But this notebook should have been exactly the type of notebook I love, except that it failed miserably in pretty much every respect. Let’s dive in and explore the atrocity!

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As I said, it’s a standard made-in-China Moleskine-clone: pocket sized, black cover, elastic, ribbon marker, and expanding back pocket. Pretty much the same size as the pocket Moleskine shown next to it for comparison, just slightly shorter. There’s no branding inside, and the Metro name is stamped on the back cover in metallic ink.

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The minute you pick it up, you start to notice the crappiness– the cover material has a shiny, cheap feel to it and shows some wrinkles and dings. The printed-on logo is already wearing off. The cover overhang is all over the place– completely cock-eyed with the pages sticking out slightly at the bottom on one side and the cover sticking way out on the top on one side.

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The corners are not exactly rounded, as they’ve just folded them with one little tuck that leaves them kind of angled. When you open to the inside front cover, you can see glue stains along the edges (they are hard to see in these photos, but very noticeable in person), and the glue is coming loose.

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The notebook does not open very flat as it does not have sewn signatures– it is perfect-bound, with the pages cut and glued together at the spine.

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The pages are a yellowish creamy color– to me it looked like the kind of yellowing that can come from acid aging the paper, so I was surprised to see my pH test show that the paper was acid-free. The paper is a bit less smooth than a Moleskine, and perhaps a bit thinner (no weight is specified). The pens I tested worked fine for the most part, with a bit of feathering from the Accu-Liner, and some spread when I held it in place for 5 seconds. But showthrough and bleedthrough were worse than usual.

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The paper in this notebook is not great, but it shines in comparison to the shoddy construction around it. I suppose it’s somewhat to be expected for a notebook that was so low-priced, but I was still kind of amazed at just how bad it was! I would be interested to know if any readers have bought one of these with better results. As a notebook enthusiast and addict, I can usually find something to like or appreciate about almost any notebook, but the Metro really has no redeeming qualities! I feel like I have to keep it in my collection just for comparative purposes, but I’ll have to bury it somewhere I won’t come across it often. If you love notebooks the way I do, you know what a pleasure it can be just to fondle a really nice one– the opposite is true as well! It’s almost painful for me to look at and touch this deeply disappointing, badly made notebook.

Verdict: Do not waste $2.48 or even a penny on the heinous, awful Metro notebook!!

Notebook Addict of the Week: Ron Nakagame

I came across this photo on Pinterest recently, and couldn’t believe I’d never seen it before, as the original has been on Flickr since 2011. Amazing collection of Midori Traveler’s Notebooks! It’s one thing to amass a huge stash of notebooks that don’t have removable pages, but when you have this many notebooks that are refillable, that shows true addiction! Theoretically, this could be a collection of just two sizes of notebook that are otherwise basically the same, but there is a wonderful variety here. No two are alike, thanks to different color materials, colors, charms on the elastics, degree of wear and other little added touches.

I wonder if Ron has collected even more in the years since this photo was taken– from scrolling through some of his other Flickr photos, I suspect he has!

Digitize Your Notebook… Then Microwave It!

Here’s something I’d never thought about doing to a notebook: microwaving it. But there’s a new notebook designed for just that: with the Rocketbook, you can write your notes, upload them via smartphone, and then erase the whole thing by microwaving it, so you can reuse the notebook again and again (they recommend a maximum of 25 times).

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Via Just Toss This Digitized Notebook In the Microwave to Erase Every Page.

 

Review: Pentalic Illustrator’s Sketchbook, New Version

A few years ago, I reviewed the Pentalic Illustrator’s Sketchbook. I quite liked it but found that the paper was a bit thin and show-through was more than average. A commenter on that post noted that Pentalic had “beefed up” after these were initially introduced, and that seems to be true. More recently, I bought another one, after noticing that it seemed thicker than the one I already owned.
In the photo below, from left to right you see a pocket Moleskine for size comparison, the new, thicker Pentalic, and the older Pentalic, with the belly band.
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In this photo, from top to bottom you see old Pentalic, new Pentalic, and Moleskine.

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In this one, Moleskine is on top, then new Pentalic, then old Pentalic.

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The new and old Pentalic are pretty much identical other than the thickness– same features and design. But the new one is definitely thicker, and as you’ll see in the pen tests, it’s much better on show-through and bleed-through (new Pentalic on the top, old Pentalic below). It’s so nice to see a manufacturer actually improving their product instead of cutting corners and making it worse! The old notebook said it had 70 GSM paper– unfortunately, the new one was missing its belly band when I bought it, but Pentalic’s website now shows these as having 100 GSM paper.

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The only slight gripe I have about both versions is that the glue seems to have been applied a bit heavily on the spine, so they feel a bit stiffer to open and don’t quite lie flat without being pressed down. (Old Pentalic on the left below, then the new one.)

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But other than that, with the new paper, the Pentalic is a great little sketchbook! I’ve seen them in various art and stationery stores, usually for a pretty reasonable price of around $10-11. I was surprised to see that on Amazon, they are actually a bit more than that: as low as $11.75 for the pocket size, and only about a dollar more for the 5 x 8″ size. Both are available in black, white and brown. Listings on Amazon still seem to say 70 GSM– not sure if that is just a holdover from the description of the prior version of the product, or if they still have stock with that paper weight. Buyer beware!

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