Wednesday, October 30, 2013

My epic search for The Perfect Notebook

Who knew this would be so difficult?? I know I'm picky about my notebooks, but aren't most of us who love paper and pens?

**UPDATE: I bought a scale and have added the weights of each notebook in the photos below. I have finally figured out my weigh threshold! Details below.

As you may have read in my Journal Evaluation 2013 post, in January I'm switching from using a dated day per page diary as my daily record and journal (as I've been using this year) to an undated notebook for more freedom and flexibility of use in a slimmer and lighter book. Whatever notebook I use has big shoes to fill,  because I adore the Time Traveler day per page diary I've been using this year. The soft cover and white paper are so pleasing to me.

So I started going through my enormous notebook stash to choose which one I would use first. I want something that I will enjoy using as much as my Time Traveler diary.

I'm stumped. Of all the notebooks I own, none jump out at me as The Perfect Notebook. Cue new quest!

First of all, I already have such a ridiculous number of notebooks I really cannot justify purchasing another one. And anyway, half the reason to use a notebook instead of a dated diary is to start using up my stash. So my choices are limited to my considerable selection of notebooks already on my shelf.

But, please post comments with your notebook recommendations for future purchases! I'm always on the lookout for a better notebook. Please keep in mind I'm in the UK and I try to avoid ordering from other countries because the import taxes and fees are outrageous.

Here are my criteria for The Perfect Notebook:

1. Size: it must be between 5 by 7 inches and 6 by 8 1/2 inches. Bigger is too big, smaller is too small.

2. It must have a sufficient number of pages to last at least a few months, but not so many pages that the book is too thick and heavy.

3. I must enjoy the paper. Bonus points for white, smooth and thick. Points removed for too dark paper, and pen bleed-through.

4. I must enjoy the cover. Interesting, attractive, and nice to hold. Bonus points for soft, I love soft-feeling covers.

5. At this point I am only considering bound books, no spiral binding (of which I have several) and absolutely no ring binders (of which I have many).

6. It must stay open on its own! It doesn't need to lie dead flat, but it must stay open on a surface without self-closing.

7. It can't be too heavy. That's why I decided to stop using a dated diary, so half the point of a notebook is to use something that's easier to carry around.

8. Line ruling between 5.5 and 6.5 mm. Wider wastes page space, narrower cramps my handwriting.

9. It can't be too expensive or too difficult to replace. This is the notebook I'll use for everyday stuff. I can't feel like the notebook is too precious to write as much as I want in.

***UPDATE: 10.  I finally bought a scale and weighed all of these books. After some weighing and experimenting I discovered my threshold of how much weight I want carry for my notebook and planner combined is 700g. My weekly Plannerisms planner weighs in at 324g, which means my notebook ideally will be below 376g.

Surely that's not asking too much, is it??

Below are the notebooks in my stash that come closest to fitting the criteria above, but shockingly none of them fit all the criteria. I have shown my 2013 Time Traveler diary in the top left for size comparison. The Time Traveler is 6 inches wide by 8 1/2 inches tall and is the upper limit of what I want to carry.

*Update: my Time Traveler daily diary weighs 503g, so the weight of it combined with my Plannerisms planner totals 827, above my threshold of 700g. (Incidentally, I also weighed my A5 Filofax, which tipped the scales at 1039g. So for those of you who wonder why I don't use an A5 Filo instead of my bound books, that's why.)

All of these notebooks are *almost* perfect, but miss the mark somehow. Here's what I mean:

First up: the large Moleskine Hobbit notebook.
Large Moleskine Hobbit ruled notebook: 342g

The large Moleskine notebook is the perfect size, in my opinion, so I will use it as scale for the other notebooks. And at 342g it is well below my threshold of 376g. Below I have shown it next to my Time Traveler diary to show it is slightly narrower. And of course since it is a notebook with fewer pages than the day per page diary, it is less bulky.
Time Traveler Day Per Page diary 503g, Moleskine 342g
 

More things I like about it: It lays flat. I like this Hobbit cover. It has my favorite ruling, 6mm. I like the layout of the page with space at the top and 30 lines below. It wins points in all categories except for the paper, which has a lot of annoying show-through and even some bleed through with my pen of choice (Uni-ball Signo RT 0.7).
 
I like this pen because it is an archival quality rollerball and is comfortable to write with.

I haven't filled up a page with writing yet to see how much the show-through would annoy me. And because Moleskine's paper tends to change, it's not much use to try it on a different Moleskine notebook to test it. But below you can see where I used this pen to start numbering the pages. Not only is the 3 annoyingly visible from the opposite side of the page, but so is the 2 from the previous page.
 
My worry is that I'll start using this notebook and get aggravated by the show-through. Because this cover is limited edition, I don't want to use it part way and discard it out of frustration. Once I start using this book, I want to commit to filling it.

You may remember from my post late last year that I intended to use this notebook as my journal this year, but later decided to use a dated day per page instead. So, I've been excited about this book for a year now and would like to use it. Despite the paper, it wins in all the other categories and is a contender for the notebook I will start using in January.

The other major contender for my January notebook is the Alwych 5 by 8 inch notebook:
5 by 8 inch Alwych notebook 328g
You may remember I got several of these notebooks a few years ago right before I moved from Scotland to Indonesia. I love these notebooks! This size is perfect, I love the retro cover, it's light at 328g and it could go everywhere with me. And, it's from Scotland! What could possibly be better??

The paper is nicer than Moleskine paper, and I like the colored page edges. This would be perfect, but heartbreakingly it doesn't stay open on its own! I don't know if it eventually would with training.
So close!! The good news is, if I try this notebook and stop using it either to use a different notebook or to go back to using a Time Traveler diary in 2014, it wouldn't be a tragedy because it's easy for me to get these notebooks now that I'm living in Scotland again. So, this is also a very strong contender for my notebook to start in January.

The next runner-up is the Daycraft Signature notebook I got recently. I used one of these a few years ago as a self-drawn planner and really enjoyed the soft cover and smooth paper.
Daycraft A5 Signature softcover notebook 325g
This is another safe contender. I know I would enjoy using this notebook, because I always enjoy Daycraft Signature notebooks.
But, I just used another Daycraft Signature notebook last month, the Inspiro, and as much as I enjoyed it I would like to use something new, like the Hobbit or Alwych. Still, this would be a safe one to use as a trial because it's easy for me to get another one here.

Here's one that's so close but missed the mark: the Rhodia Webnotebook. It's the perfect size, the soft cover feels nice, and the paper is smooth and thick. But here's where it falls down. A minor issue is the prominent branding on the front. Come on Rhodia, put this on the back cover at the bottom please.
Rhodia large Webnotebook 364g
But my real problem with it is the paper color. It's a real shame, because the paper itself is so smooth and thick. But wow it is dark. I have shown it below in comparison to the white paper of my Time Travler, which I love, and the Moleskine paper top right, which is already on the dark side for me. The Rhodia paper is a dark apricot color, and I don't like looking at it. Too bad.
I'm planning to use this notebook for work whenever I get a job because I do like the size, the cover and the smoothness of the paper. But the dark paper color is too annoying for me to use it for everyday personal use.

Below are two Paperblanks notebooks I love: the Ultra Darwin journal (left) and the Midi Lindau journal (right).
Paperblanks Darwin Ultra journal 574g, Lindau Midi journal 284g
The covers are wonderful and the paper is fantastic. But, there is a Goldilocks problem here.

The Ultra journal on the left measures 7 by 9 inches, too big to carry with me everywhere. Update: when I weighed this book I discovered it's 574g! Definitely over my weight threshold of what I'm willing to carry around. The Midi journal on the right is 4 3/4 by 6 3/4 inches and only 284g. As nicely portable as that is, I need a page size of about 5 by 8 inches each day so this is too small. I have shown the large Moleskine in the middle as the just-right size.
For some reason, Paperblanks offers only a few covers in their Maxi (5 1/2 by 8 1/4 inches) size, and none of them turn me on. So frustrating! If they offered the selection they have in their Ultra size as Maxi size books, these would be my notebooks of choice. Unfortunately, my search goes on.

Below is the large Moleskine next to a Leuchtturm notebook I partly used a few years ago. Leuchtturm paper is superior to Moleskine paper by miles, and has the added advantage of numbered pages and an Index already built into the book.
Moleskine (L) 342g, Leuchtturm (R) 391g
Unfortunately Leuchtturm notebooks are wider than I prefer, and are just a little heavier than I like to carry everywhere. (I need to buy a scale and figure out just what that threshold is!!)  *Update: I was right! At 391g, the Leuchtturm is over my threshold of 376. It wasn't my imagination thinking it was too heavy! It actually is.

Below you can see the width difference with the Mole:
I compared this Leuchtturm notebook to the Rhodia webbie, and despite them being almost identical in size the Leuchtturm is noticeably significantly heavier. *Update: at 391g the Leuchtturm is heavier than the Rhodia Webnotebook at 364g.

I used Leuchtturm dotted notebooks as my self-drawn weekly Plannerisms planners before they were published, so I know I enjoy using these notebooks. This particular notebook is unlined, but in the future I may spring for a soft-cover ruled Leuchtturm. That just might become my notebook of choice.

Here are some Clairefontaine notebooks that are so close yet so far away. Below I have shown them with the large Moleskine again for scale.
Clairefontaine A5 harcover (L) 421g, Fabric bound (R) 295
Clairefontaine paper is my absolute favorite in the world, so it seems like it would be an easy choice to use these notebooks, right? Well, no.

First of all, the hard cover one on the left is too big. I measure it at 6 3/4 inches wide and more than 8 1/2 inches tall, which makes it bigger than I want to carry. *Update: at 421g it's definitely past my threshold of 376g.
The one on the right is A5, nearly 6 inches wide by 8 1/4 inches tall so it's just within my size parameters, and at only 295g it's nicely lightweight. But my problem with it is the cover. The laminated card cover with fabric binding has the advantage of being lightweight, but it's not very durable and the bigger issue is it looks like a school book, which is actually what it's intended for. Clairefontaine notebooks need better covers, in my opinion. They have these laminated card ones, or other cardboard like ones.

What I want is a Moleskine or Rhodia-like cover. Rhodia is made by the same parent company as Clairefontaine, but I've already discussed why I don't like the Rhodia's dark paper. Exaclair, please put white Clairefontaine paper in a Rhodia webbie cover! If that existed, it would be my perfect notebook.

The Habana notebooks come close. The covers are wonderful but the notebooks are more expensive than I want to spend for my everyday notebook, and size is an issue: the large is too big (6 1/4 by 9 1/2 inches) and the small is too small (4 by 6 inches).

So, you see my dilemma. I have a lot of excellent notebooks, but none are exactly what I want.

I haven't yet decided on which notebook I will start using in January, but I will let you know when I decide. I need to choose the right one, a notebook I enjoy and that works well for me. I'm afraid of my notebook experiment failing because of using a notebook I don't really enjoy or that doesn't fit my needs well enough, causing me to stop using it.

Do you know a notebook that fits my criteria above? Please post a comment so the next time I'm notebook shopping I can check them out!

53 comments:

  1. Martha Stewart smooth cover Journal?

    202 pages, 5.5x8.5 inch (ish) lovely paper to write on, plain cover but in lovely colours, not 100% sure on the linespacing but i think its similar to Moleskine spacing. I blogged about it here:

    http://clareio.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/martha-stewart-avery-classic-smooth.html

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    1. Looks interesting, but the paper looks dark? Where did you buy it?

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    2. That is more down to the bad lighting in the pictures it's not as dark as filofax cotton cream paper but im not sure if its a 'pure' white either, i got it from Staples and im pretty sure it was only around £5 so might be worth a look!

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    3. Thanks! I found it on Staples online and it does look good, although I'm not sure I can stand the pages at the beginning with Martha's "tips!" I think I'd have to cut those out! :D

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    4. I bought some of her notebooks and had terrible bleed through on the paper. The book was cute but I hated the paper.

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    5. Yikes Stephanie, thanks for the heads-up! I can't tolerate bleed-through.

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    6. Stephanie,
      No WONDER the Martha Stewart line at my local Staples always has her items on sale...life's mysteries revealed!
      PM

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  2. What about a stretchy book cover for the Clairefontaine?

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  3. What about a stretchy book cover for the Clairefontaine?

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    1. Then that would require me finding and buying a cover. I have some leather covers, I wonder if any of them would fit.

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    2. Yes! This is what I've done. I have an A5 Filofax Flex leather cover on a Clairefontaine 1951 A5 notebook. I get the nice leathery goodness (but you could also use one of the non-leather Flex covers) AND the wonderful Clairefontaine paper. This also gives you pockets for storage and the option to have a pen loop if you want, but I actually don't. There's plenty of room to use the pens' built in clips to secure them inside the Flex cover, one above and one next to the notebook. Perfection.

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  4. I really like the size of these journals,and the covers and paper are very nice. I'm not sure about international shipping, and the pages aren't white. http://www.galleryleather.com/journals/desk-journal

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    1. Wow that's a really good price for a leather notebook! Although the cost of import taxes, fees and international shipping usually ends up costing more than that. I'll have to see if they are available here. Monsieur notebooks have leather covers and are available here, I reviewed one a few years ago but have seen online they are different now.

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  5. AArrg. I not too long ago read a pen-and-paper blog on the topic of the perfect A5ish notebook and the author had made a spreadsheet of possibilities. And I didn't bookmark it. And now I can't find it. . .

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    1. No idea if this will help but here is the link http://wellappointeddesk.com/2013/10/01/shopping-for-a-new-notebook-nerd-style/

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    2. Oh yeah I remember seeing that post. I love the spreadsheet! Some of these brands aren't available in the UK I think.

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  6. Do you ever try Japanese notebook?
    http://www.amazon.co.jp/%E3%83%84%E3%83%90%E3%83%A1%E3%83%8E%E3%83%BC%E3%83%88-%E5%A4%A7%E5%AD%A6%E3%83%8E%E3%83%BC%E3%83%88-A5-A%E7%BD%AB-H100S/dp/B0013RR7P0
    This is an A5 notebook with line at 7mm on a very good paper that won't bleed and feather while using fountain pen,

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    1. Looks nice, I wonder if it is available here in the UK.

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  7. Challenge accepted! And you will not believe the answer, but just try it once and I know you will agree. http://www.mbystaples.com/journals-and-notebooks/refills/journal-refill/94/ (Covers sold separately, if you want one. I use mine as is.)

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  8. Ack! I just looked on the web site and I don't see it. Could be they were discontinued. Bummer. They do have a new one which I will have to try: http://www.staples.com/M-by-Staples-Business-Notebooks-Hardbound-6-inch-x-8-1-2/product_803216#desc_content . I will do so, and report back.

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    1. I wonder if those are available in the UK? I'll have to check it out!

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  9. Quo Vadis Habana? They are 224 pages, so slightly fewer than the Leuctturm. I am carrying one of the artist ones as a journal now; similar in weight to a daily Moleskine diary.

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    1. The large is too big and the small is too small. If only they made a 5 1/2 by 8 1/2 size.

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    2. Hm. . .Plannerisms Companion Notebook will have to be your next project?

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    3. There have been discussions for such a thing actually!! If I had a notebook with the same awesome paper as is in my Plannerisms planners and the same soft touch cover, I think my life would be complete!

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    4. Not that I need more notebooks, but wow would this be good. Matching planner/journal. Yay!!

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  10. Have you ever tried the italian brand, Legami? http://shop.legami.it/note-book.html

    I used in the past a gridded pocket notebook of theirs and it was quite good. Only doubt would be the paper, it might be a bit show-through depending on the pen.

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    1. I've never tried them but I went and had a look and wow their colors are gorgeous! The prices are good too, but I wonder how much shipping and import tax would add on to the price. Gorgeous notebooks!

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    2. If you're still looking you can get legume at got2jot.co.uk ... and they are brilliant

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  11. i have no tips but just so you know, this post totally made me want a new notebook [and i don't need any, either!!!]

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    1. Sorry!! Posts like this always do the same to me when I see them on other people's blogs. :) Great to see you!

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  12. Miquel Rius: nice paper. http://www.shopmiquelrius.com/servlet/the-554/Flexible-Journals--dsh--Horizontal/Detail

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    1. I've had several people recommend Miquelrius notebooks to me recently. I'll have to see if I can get these in the UK. Thanks for the recommendation!

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  13. I love this post because it reminds me of what I went through when I was trying to find the perfect sketchbook. You know where I found it? In my studio... I had to bind it myself! But the other reason I am enjoying this post is because I realize I have a few more notebooks to add to my stash! :-) Of the ones I've tried, Leuchtturm gets my vote. Another one I like that fits your criteria is Ecosystem (especially the cover and bright white paper). But I don't know if you can get it in the UK.

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    1. I forgot about ecosystem! I reviewed some of their notebooks a few years ago. I really like their covers and white paper, but I don't like that every page is perforated for easy tear-out. Not permanent enough for me! Maybe if I were really careful about the pages they wouldn't come out. I looked on Amazon UK and they do have a few available, and the prices are really good too. I'll definitely put these on my future purchases list! Thanks!

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  14. Arrrrgh, I just saw online somewhere that Leuchtturm notebooks ruling is only 5 mm! That's too small for me. I have used their dot grid, which I think is also 5 mm but is more forgiving for writing larger, and blank but have never used their lined. Why so small? I guess it is meant for very tidy German handwriting, which I do not have. Oh well. They are such good notebooks. If I buy more in the future it will have to be dotted or blank.

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  15. Hi Laurie, I have used the Stanley Leather Journal from Levenger for years for journaling - the paper is wonderful (great for fountain pens). I measured the lines, and I think they are 5.5 mm width. Here's the link to the paper: http://www.levenger.com/Paper-322/Journals-325/Desk-Journal-Refill-Set-of-2-Core-7910.aspx and here's the link for the journal itself (which used to come in colors but now is just in black. I wonder if these refills would fit the Flex or one of your other leather covers? http://www.levenger.com/Paper-322/Journals-325/Stanley-Leather-Journal-Core-8148.aspx. They ship internationally but you have to call or email them for details.

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    1. Hi Claudia, thanks for this! The notebook itself looks great, and 100 gsm paper, wow! But the reviews from people who have used this for years are bad saying they have changed the product and it's not as good as it used to be. Those reviews are from about a year ago though, and the recent reviews are good so I wonder if they changed back to better quality.

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  16. Hi Laurie! Two thoughts - use only one side if the moleskine (and be on to the next notebook sooner AND put it to good use)... You can also do what I've done in the past.... Remove the cover from the moleskins and glue in the clairfontaine. Everything is temporary because you'll be on to new notebook before you know it.

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    1. Hi Nancy, thanks for your suggestions! Not sure gluing a Moleskine cover on a Clairefontaine would work without the pages sticking out. Clairefontaine pages are standard A5 size, which is almost an inch wider than the Moleskine. And, I thought of just using one side of the page with the Moleskine, but it feels wasteful to me and I often do two-page spreads so that wouldn't work either. Oh well, my search continues!

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  17. Commenting again in order to receive updates to thread.

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  18. Oh dear. I just discovered Time Traveler has journals. But maybe not available in Scotland?

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    1. Yes Time Traveler does have journals, and of course they would be my journals of choice except they are listed as having 352 pages, which is excellent value for the price but it means they would be nearly as thick (and therefore heavy) as the day per page diary. There is a fuschia cover listed as 176 pages and I am waiting to hear back from TT to see if they can ship to the UK and how much shipping would cost. Because if I can get my hands on that, it would end my debate and would definitely be my perfect notebook!!!!!

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    2. Laurie,
      My fingers are crossed for you--I can't wait to find out=)
      PM

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  19. I feel your pain on this. I went through a similar listing process on my blog, about required features of a planner.

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    1. Hi Melinda! Did you do a post about your planner specifications? I'd love to know what your ideal planner would be like, because I'm very particular too! I see you're DIYing a planner now, it looks great! A couple of years ago I did a DIY planner (although it wasn't at all artistic) with a different layout every week. It was fun to trynew formats and it really helped me learn what works well for me.

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  20. I'm a bit late in this thread but I am also on the search for the perfect notebook. I recently started a Bullet Journal, which I love, but I'm doing it in a Moleskine with graph paper and I HATE it! The paper is SO thin that even with a regular ballpoint, I can see through to the other side. GAH! I'm contemplating getting a Leuchtturm because I used to scoff at squared paper but now I LOVE it. So helpful and versatile. I'm just feeling unsure about the paper. I wish the Rhodia Webooks came with more pages.

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    1. Becky the Leuchtturm paper definitely handles ink better than Moleskine. Leuchtturm notebooks also have numbered pages and Index pages built in, which is nice for Bullet Journaling.

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    2. Sadly, I'm finding the weight of the Leuchtturm becoming an issue. I love the quality of the paper, the index, and the numbering and while it does fit in my bag, it's so heavy. I'm actually contemplating using a spiral notebook but I really prefer bound books. Right now, I'm looking at ordering a Baron Fig. They are a new notebook that was a Kickstarter project. The covers only come in grey, which is kind of boring, but I love all of the features of it. www.baronfig.com/books

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  21. Mmm, Scotland, that's my favorite country. And I also like writing with a fountainpen in a notebook, a perfect combination. Maybe the Italian made Ciak notebook is something for you: 100 g White paper, semi-leather cover, 249 pages, a horizontal strap. Very nice notebook, Laurie! Greetings from Holland, Ruud

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  22. Mmm, Scotland, that's my favorite country. And I also like writing with a fountainpen in a notebook, a perfect combination. Maybe the Italian made Ciak notebook is something for you: 100 g White paper, semi-leather cover, 249 pages, a horizontal strap. Very nice notebook, Laurie! Greetings from Holland, Ruud

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  23. BTW it just occurred to me, you didn't mention Hobonichi notebooks in this post. Did you not own them yet? I know you reviewed both the A6 and A5 size Hobonichis a while ago now; did you ever use them? Did you like them?

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    1. I did not like them and gave them both away.

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