Tag Archives: bleed-through

Review and Giveaway: Coloring Notebook

I’m sure no one has failed to notice the adult coloring book trend that’s exploded over the last few years. Bookstores are jam-packed with them. Many have gorgeous , elaborate designs, but that’s all there is to them: pages to color. For those of us who are always carrying a notebook or journal anyway, the Coloring Notebook provides a way to combine coloring pages with notes and journal entries, all in one package. Let’s take a look at the free sample the makers sent me:

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From the outside, it’s very much in line with other Moleskine-type notebooks on the market, with a few variations: a black cover with elastic closure, back pocket, and a ribbon marker in yellow, which matches the head and tail bands. The back pocket is all paper– no cloth gussets– and feels a little flimsy. The cover has a smoother texture than a Moleskine, and overhangs the page edges by quite a bit. It comes only in the 5.8 x 8.2″ size.

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Inside, coloring pages alternate with free-form space for writing or drawing. Lined, blank and dot-grid versions are available. I tested the lined version.

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There are single page and double page coloring designs, but the coloring pages are always back to back with the lined pages. The lines are not noticeable when you’re coloring due to the dense patterns of the coloring designs. When you’re writing on the lined pages, the coloring designs to show through a bit.

The overall issue of show-through and bleed-through will vary depending on the materials you use. I colored a page with markers and watercolor paints. There was some show- and bleed-through with the markers. The paper buckled a bit with watercolors but was better once dry. At 100 gsm, the paper is not especially heavy-weight, so I wouldn’t really recommend it for watercolors, but markers or colored pencils should work fairly well as long as you have reasonable expectations about the show-through. The images below show the front and back of a colored-in page before I tested writing on the back:

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I didn’t test all of my usual pens, but you can see some bleed-through from the Super Sharpie below. Any showthrough from the other pens is camouflaged by the coloring.

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Technically, this notebook doesn’t offer any more writing space than most actual coloring books– they all tend to have pages that are blank on the back, or maybe have abstract designs on the back, as they want you to be able to cut out and frame your colored pages. If I were creating a coloring notebook, I might add additional writing pages, as I think most notebook users might be likely to use up the blank space before they finished all the coloring pages, but others might disagree. Either way, it would make a nice gift for anyone who likes to color, and prefers the look of a traditional journal.

You can buy the Coloring Notebook for $19.95 at Amazon.

I will be giving away an unused Coloring Notebook to one lucky winner, who will be randomly selected from entries received in any or all of these ways:

On Twitter, tweet something containing “Coloring Notebook @coloring_ntbk @NotebookStories”, and follow @coloring_ntbk and @NotebookStories

On Facebook, “like” the Coloring Notebook page and the Notebook Stories page and post something containing the words “Coloring Notebook” on the Notebook Stories page.

On your blog, post something containing the words “Coloring Notebook” and “Notebook Stories” and link back to this post.

The deadline for entry is Friday October 28, 2016 at 11:59PM, EST. Good luck everyone!
And please remember to check my posts on Facebook and Twitter for an announcement of the winner. Please allow a couple of weeks for me to check all the entries and determine the winners.

Moleskine Monday: Voyageur Notebook Review

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The Moleskine Voyageur notebook was introduced last summer, and so far remains a unique outlier in their product line. It’s an odd size, in between the classic pocket and large notebooks. It has a brown cloth-bound cover. It has a fancy die-cut paper wrapper with a travel-themed collage element. It has colored endpapers. I guess you could say it’s a departure from the norm (pun intended).

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There are other aspects of it that seem like an offshoot of their City Notebook series, which makes sense, given the travel theme. (The City Notebook line has been scaled way back to only the biggest destinations. It’s a shame, but understandable, as they must have been very expensive to produce in the first place, let alone trying to update transit maps as needed. But I love them nonetheless.) There are 3 different-colored ribbon markers, and a section with useful travel info. This part is similar to what is found in many diaries by Moleskine and other brands– dialing codes, time zone map, places to write extensive personal details including loyalty card numbers, etc. There are pages titled “Places to Go” and “Places I’ve Been,” as well as one meant for stamps, and at the end there are perforated packing list and to-do list pages. There is also an index, and a sheet of stickers. In between are numbered pages in 3 sections– lined, dot grid, and plain.

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Some of the elements of this notebook sound very similar to the Travel Journal in the Passions series. I haven’t looked closely enough at one of those to really compare it to the Voyageur, but it does make me wonder why they decided to create this other product which would seem to target the same niche. Perhaps the Passions format was seen as being a little too structured, and the Voyageur was aiming at a better balance of pre-formatted vs. blank pages.

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And yet… there are a LOT of instructions to this notebook. Before you even open it, you’re being instructed to use the paper wrapper in your travel photos to say “I Am Here,” and hashtag them to connect to “the Moleskine community.” (What does that even mean anymore? It’s like trying to connect to “the Diet Coke community” or “the Nike community.”) Then there’s a whole how-to page telling you to download things and paste them in your notebook, share your travel details in a Flickr group, and turn your snapshots into a Moleskine photo book. It’s a shame so much of this is printed on pages in the notebook itself rather than in a removable booklet.

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The overall impression is that there’s a lot of elaborate fuss over how to use this “traveler’s notebook for the digital age,” and it’s rather a shame, because A) utter simplicity and blank-slate-ness is what made Moleskine’s notebooks iconic in the first place, and B) when you get past all the fussy stuff, I think it’s actually the best notebook Moleskine has made in years, at least in terms of its construction. The brown cloth cover is lovely. The notebook is beautifully made, with a tolerable degree of cover overhang, everything even and square, and very neatly tucked corners. It’s as if they brought their quality control team out of hibernation for this product. Some of the features, such as numbered pages and an index, have been on Moleskine fans’ wishlists for years, and have driven them to switch to Leuchtturm to get them. I love the extra ribbon markers and the colors they chose for them. I even like the size– it’s not one that I tend to use a lot, but at 4.5 x 7″, it is the same proportion as the pocket notebooks in 3.5 x 5.5″, and that ratio always seems to appeal to me. I like having the sections with different paper types, and how they used different color inks for the page numbers, dots, and lines. The colored tabs along the edges might encroach a bit too much on the page space for some people, but as a design element they are attractive and I like the idea of putting a subject header or date in them, though some inks may bead up on the tabs.

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Moleskine paper is the major thing that has driven many fans away, and the Voyageur is no different in that respect– lots of show-through, and bleed-through with quite a few pens. Fine point gel ink pens are ok, though, and fortunately those are what I use day to day. I did a side-by-side paper comparison with one of my old Modo Moleskines– bleed-through performance wasn’t great in that one either, but you can see how much better it was on show-through. The only test where the Voyageur out-performed the older paper was the 5-second stay-in-one-spot test with the Accu-Liner, which spread out more in the Modo notebook.

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I bought my Voyageur online— I was intrigued by the description of the features when I first heard about it, but I had my misgivings. It had already been a while since I bought any current-production Moleskines due to the quality issues, though I still snag old Modo & Modo ones from time to time if I come across them. Fortunately, the quality of the Voyageur was a pleasant surprise when it arrived. It has that hard to define “wantability” that would have drawn me to it on a store shelf, and “wantability” is exactly what the rest of Moleskine’s products have been lacking for me the past few years. I don’t know how or when I’ll use this notebook, but I do want to find a way to use it. But just out of orneriness and dislike of redundant instructions, I probably won’t use the Voyageur for anything related to travel!  #m_iamnotthere

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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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: Piccadilly Softcover Notebook

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This is another notebook I bought about 3 years ago and then immediately shelved. When I first examined it after buying it, I pretty much hated it. I bought it because it was cheap and I’d never tried a softcover Piccadilly, though I’d liked using some of their hardcover ones with graph or plain paper. But this softcover notebook only comes in lined paper, which I really don’t like using. The reason I hated it, though, is that when I took off the shrinkwrap, I realized that the elastic was so incredibly tight that it was warping the whole notebook. The whole thing seemed stiff and warped and dented by the elastic, and I was just so disappointed by the quality that I’ve been putting off reviewing it ever since.

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But a funny thing happened when I did decide to review the notebook. I started opening it and closing it and bending it, and just turning it over and over in my hand. I bent the spine back and forth, flexed the covers, and tested all my pens in it. And somehow by the end of all this, I had gone from thinking the notebook was a piece of crap to wanting to buy a whole bunch of them, if only I could get them with unlined or squared paper.

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The stiffness I initially disliked is due to an extra layer in the cover that sort of makes these notebooks almost a hybrid between a hardcover and a softcover. It makes the notebook thicker and chunkier, and it seems like it would be much sturdier than the Moleskine softcover notebooks (shown below next to a softcover reporter-style Moleskine).

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The notebook feels great in the hand, as it’s the perfect size and heft. And because it’s a softcover, there’s no annoying cover overhang, just a nice little brick of paper. Below is a comparison to a hardcover Moleskine:

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It does seem like the layers of the cover could start to become unglued– one corner is already coming apart a bit, but it’s in a spot that has been stressed by the tight elastic.

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The paper is ok but a bit thirsty. If you stop for 5 seconds in one spot with a fountain pen, you get a pretty big blotch that soaks through to the next page. It felt good to write on with all my usual pens, but there was more bleed-through than average. Show-through was about average.

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There’s something about knowing how cheap these notebooks are that makes me more willing to forgive certain flaws. The Piccadilly softcover feels like it could be a scrappy little notebook, not precious, not perfect– just something you can beat up and abuse and still enjoy even if it starts to fall apart. But you may disagree– I showed this notebook to a friend and asked her what she thought of it. She said she didn’t like it because it felt stiff and cheap, but when I told her how cheap it actually was (typical retail price $3-5), she said “Oh! Well in that case…” and agreed that maybe it wasn’t so bad.

It all depends on your personal priorities and preferences. If you are a fountain pen user and very picky about paper, it may not be the best choice. If you don’t live near a store where you can buy these in person after checking them over for defects, Piccadilly may not be for you. But for someone like me, the definition of a perfect notebook is more about size and shape and the absence of a cover overhang. I can tolerate almost any paper that feels good with a fine-point rollerball as long as it’s not lined or with overly dark graph paper lines. If the Piccadilly softcover came in squared or plain or dot-grid paper, I’d be searching stores to see if I could find good ones without too many flaws. I’m still surprised at how quickly I went from loathing this notebook to seeing it as a potential new favorite.


Review: Tops Designer Notebook

Here’s a notebook that I’ve never seen in any stores, but spotted on a couple of websites, including Amazon and WB Mason. The online images made the Tops Designer Notebook look like a typical Moleskine-type notebook but in nice colors like blue and red, and the price was quite low. But how does it really compare when you see it up close? Let’s take a look!

Here’s the front and back cover. The removable paper band is made of a translucent vellum paper.


The back view provides the first departure from the standard Moleskine set of features– the elastic band attaches in the middle of the notebook instead of at the top and bottom


As you can see from the next photo, there is quite a large overhang of the cover beyond the paper.


The outside dimensions of the notebook are about the same as a Moleskine, but the pages inside are much smaller.



When you open the notebook, that elastic starts to seem really weird– the way it’s attached leaves it hanging quite loose.


At first I thought it might have been made that way so you’d have the option of wrapping it around sideways like a Ciak or Piccadilly Primo journal, but it’s too loose to work that way.


Here’s a closeup of the cover material– it’s hard to see, but it has an unusual texture, not the usual vaguely leather-ish feel. The closest thing I can compare it to would be the surface of a cinder block, or a stucco wall!


The inside front cover is blank:


But when you turn to the first page, there’s the space for writing your info, on the inside of the endpaper. The binding is a bit tight and the notebook doesn’t open flat very easily.


There’s no pocket in the back, just a logo.


So how about the paper? I’m sorry to say that it’s quite disappointing. It’s quite thin and showed some of the worst bleed-through I’ve seen in any notebook I’ve reviewed:



I have to say that I found this notebook very disappointing overall. The weird elastic and small, skimpy pages just bothered me. The price for these notebooks on Amazon is currently $5.49 (or $8-12 for a larger size), though I think it was about a dollar less when I bought mine. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’re even worth that much– Piccadilly’s notebooks cost less at Borders and are far superior in quality. The only upside to these might be the color and texture of the cover, but that’s a matter of taste.


96 lined pages

132 x 85mm

Made in Malaysia