The Taroko A5 notebook is a great way to get a hold of some Tomoe River paper at a less-than-eye-watering price. For fountain pen enthusiasts, Tomoe River paper needs little introduction. It’s super lightweight but resists feathering and bleed-through like a much heavier paper. Through some paper alchemy, it’s also fantastic at showing off the sheen of inks.
The Taroko Design notebook uses this legendary paper. Bureau Direct were kind enough to send some of us United Inkdom reviewers a sample notebook to take for a test drive. The one I’m reviewing here is the A5 size with lined paper. It’s also available in traveler’s notebook sizes, with plain and dot grid paper.
The notebook is proper A5 proportions so will sit nicely with an A5 traveler’s notebook or alongside a Leuchtturm or other A5 notebook.
It contains 64 pages (32 sheets) of paper
It’s made with 62gms Tomoe River paper which is the slightly heavier of the two weights this paper is usually found in.
It’s staple bound
This isn’t a cheap notebook at £7.95 but the premium price is due to the premium paper. Tomoe River isn’t easy to get a hold of in Europe
The notebook isn’t much to look at from the outside. The lined version has a black cover (the dotted is brown and the plain blue). It’s a sugar (construction) paper cover which won’t take a lot of battering about. It’s clearly designed to be used with an additional cover. As it is, this won’t protect the insides from folding, tearing, spills or general bashing. It does keep the total weight and width down though.
I’d never normally choose lined paper if dot grid or even plain was available. The lines are never the right width! The Taroko lines are a comfortable 7mm apart. Were I to buy one, I’d still choose dot grid, but I found the lined to be surprisingly pleasant.
The real pleasure with Tomoe River paper is the writing experience. The paper is smooth and light. Fountain pen ink can take a little longer to dry on this paper so be prepared for that. But also be prepared to see your ink like you’ve never seen it before.
I can also say, as someone who harbours the guilty pleasure of writing with ballpoint pen on sugar paper, this notebook would also be fun with ordinary pens.
I dropped some ink on the notebook while writing this review, just to see how it handled it. 12 hours later (TWELVE HOURS) it’s still not quite dry. Of course, this isn’t the usual amount of ink a pen, even a wet pen, would put down. Left-handed writers might want to think twice about this paper.
I really like this notebook but with some caveats. It is an absolute pleasure to write on. However, at £7.95 it’s a bit pricey. I suspect this would make me hesitant to use it and it might sit around for rather a long time while I waited for the perfect use for it. The soft cover also means that it would be better used inside an additional cover to protect it. All that said, Tomoe River paper is unparalleled and this notebook is a great way to try it out without the exorbitant shipping costs that come with buying from abroad.
United Inkdom has received a number of Paper Republic Grand Voyager XL traveler’s notebooks for review. Paper Republic is an Austrian company, based in Vienna, founded in 2012 but their products are starting to make a splash further afield now. Their small team (only four people) have worked hard to produce a high quality product and to keep that quality high.
Traveler’s Notebooks (TNs) are enjoying huge popularity at the moment. Essentially, a TN is a cover (usually but not always leather) with vertical elastics to hold interchangeable notebooks in place, and a horizontal elastic closure. There are some standard sizes, but also a great deal variation, usually designed to house particular notebooks (such as A5 or Fieldnotes). I currently have a standard sized TN made by Ink Bandits on Etsy, and a smaller one which was a gift. The appeal of this system is its adaptability. Covers hold varying numbers of notebooks, but it would be reasonable to expect a cover to hold 3-5 without too much trouble. Some wider designs hold more, and of course it depends on the number of pages and paper weight of the notebooks. There are, of course, a huge variety in the inserts available. Etsy is a great source for these.
Paper Republic make two sizes of TN: the passport, the and the XL; and a phone case which doubles as a TN. I have road tested the XL, which they sent to me free in exchange for an impartial review.
Firstly, the cover. Mine is black leather with contrasting orange elastics (other colours of leather and elastic available). The leather is tanned in Tuscany (a very good pedigree), and is soft and flexible. As with all leathers, it will get scuffed with wear but in such a way as to add character rather than detract from its appearance. I’ve had mine in my bag getting bashed about for a week or so and it’s not looking worn. The covers retail at €60 from the manufacturer in Austria (with free shipping for orders over that amount), or £54 from Cult Pens.
The inserts are available from Paper Republic and Cult Pens, in plain, ruled, or grid, with 56 pages and 80 gsm white paper. They are available for 2 for 13 EUR (around £11.42 or $14.57 at today’s exchange rate) or £12 from Cult Pens. This is reasonably good value for money. The paper itself is ok (see ink test) but I’m not wildly excited about it. (There are also two types of undated planner insert but I could not determine from the Paper Republic website what, if any, differences there were between the two.)
You can see from the ink tests that the paper stands up to most inks with no feathering or bleed through, and very little shadowing.
(Pen test in order: Stabilo Boss highligher & pastel highlighter; Zebra Mildliner; Muji gel pen; Staedtler Triplus fineliner; Uni-ball Eye; Pentel Touch sign pen; Tombow Mono Twin; Tombow ABT; fountain pens with Diamine Tyrian Purple, Grape, Imperial Purple inks; flex nib fountain pen with Diamine Asa Blue ink.)
The biggest issue for me is the sizing. The XL is not actually A5. It’s close, but not close enough. A5 is a standard size: 145m x 210mm. The XL cover is 150mm x 210mm, so it’s a little wider than A5 as you would expect for a cover, though at only an additional 5mm, it’s not really wide enough to accommodate multiple A5 notebooks. That’s not necessarily a problem but the effect of the non-standard sizing is that much of the ability to customise the TN is lost.
The inserts, to fit the A5 cover, have to be much smaller than A5: only 135mm x 200mm. This makes more sense for the narrowness of the cover, but it also means that customers must either buy proprietary sized inserts from Paper Republic or trim down another notebook manually. You could, for example, trim down a large Moleskine Cahier to fit. However, these are expensive notebooks to cut up, and the paper is poorer quality than that of the Paper Republic inserts. You may, understandably, be reluctant to doing that though.
Despite the inconvenient proprietary sizing, this is a good TN. The leather is clearly high quality and has a lovely leather smell. The contrasting elastic colour gives the plain cover some character. I’d probably never have chosen orange but it’s really grown on me.
The lovely Stu over at Pocket Notebooks sent some United Inkdom members a bumper pack of small notebooks to review. I received a really nicely presented box containing 6 approx. A6 notebooks, and a tiny wee Silvine.
All of these notebooks should be able to handle fountain pens, so I decided to put the manufacturers’ claims to the test with a variety of pens and inks. I selected a variety of purple inks for no particular reason except I like purple. Here are the pens I used:
From bottom to top (the order used in the tests):
Stabilo Boss purple highlighter
Stabilo Boss pastel purple highlighter
Zebra Mildliner soft purple
Muji gel pen (0.5mm)
Staedtler Triplus Fineliner
Uni-ball Eye (fine)
Pentel Touch brush sign pen
Tombow Mono Twin
Tombow ABT (636 Imperial Purple)
Lamy Safari fountain pen, M nib with Pelikan Edelstein Amethyst ink
Faber-Castell Basic fountain pen, EF nib, with Diamine Grape ink
Pelikan P405 fountain pen, gold EF nib, with Diamine Imperial Purple ink
Vintage Waterman fountain pen, flexible italic nib, with Diamine Asa Blue ink
The Tombow Mono Twin is a permanent, solvent-based ink, which I expected to go through the paper. You would be hard pushed to find through which the Mono Twin wouldn’t bleed- what I was checking here was how well the notebooks stood up to potential feathering with this pen, so judge the results on that rather than bleed.
The vintage Waterman is a VERY wet writer, so this really tested how well the notebooks could deal with a lot of ink. The results were somewhat surprising.
This teeny-tiny notebook is on 110mm x 72mm and 40 pages in size, but is nonetheless an impressive piece of writing kit. They retail for £7.00 for 3 (approx. €8.25 or $9 US). The paper is plain, off-white, and the notebook has a sewn binding.
This unassuming wee notebook was one of the best at standing up to the rigours of the pen test.
None of the pens tested feathered at all, which was impressive. The Mono Twin did bleed through a little but there was no ghosting apart from that.
I’d definitely put Silvine notebooks on my To Buy List, but not this small. I’d be interested in an A5 notebook from this manufacturer if it had the same thick, off-white paper. The tiny pocket would get chewed up in my bag.
The California Back Pocket Journal
These notebooks are slightly smaller than A5 at 88mm x 133mm and have 48 sheets, and a sewn (pamphlet stitch) binding. They’re available in lined, blank (as here), dot grid, graph, or a mixture of plain, lined, and dot grid, and are 3 for £10.50. The paper is 105gsm HP paper which is incredibly smooth.
The paper feels lovely, and handled everything except the very wet vintage nib, which, as you can see, feathered terribly and bled through the page. The bleed through on this was even worse than that of the Mono Twin. This was by far the worst result for the Waterman, which is surprising when everything else fared so well. There was hardly even any ghosting.
The Waterman result aside, this is a nice little notebook.
Another California Back Pocket: Tomoe River Paper
This appears almost identical to the previous, except it contains glorious Japanese Tomoe River paper. This is ivory-coloured and very thin, but can take just about anything a fountain pen can throw at it. I used a Hobonichi diary last year which was made from Tomoe River paper and have been a big fan ever since. It’s definitely worth the hype. Three of the California notebooks retail at £14.
The test results for this notebook are not at all surprising: no bleed through except for a small amount with the Mono Twin; no feathering; some ghosting due to how thin the paper is. The latter will bother some people but I don’t mind it. Tomoe River paper is a pleasure to write on.
This is the same size as the California notebooks, but has a coated cover which is a little stronger. It consists of 44 sheets of environmentally-friendly and sustainable wheat straw paper. It feels a little like recycled paper, having more texture than the other papers reviewed here, but doesn’t have the drawbacks of feathering and bleeding usually associated with recycled paper. The paper is white with very subtle specks, and the notebook is staple-bound.
This is a nice notebook, but at £6 each, they’re pricey. For my money, I’d rather get a Tomoe River notebook for £4.67, though I appreciate the environmentally-sustainable way the Inky Fingers notebooks are made.
The lines are narrow at 6mm, which I like. The lines are made of micro-dots which is a nice detail.
Also available are a blank notebook, and a Currently Inked Log book for the same price.
Clairefontaine 1951 Retro Nova
French company Clairefontaine make a variety of notebooks and jotters, supplying a lot of French schoolchildren with their classroom needs. They’re a favourite manufacturer of mine because of their high-quality paper, wide range, and good prices.
The Retro Nova is marginally bigger than the previous notebooks at 88mm x 140mm with 64 smooth ivory pages, and a sewn binding. They are 3 for £8, which is a stone cold bargain. Each of the three has a different cover pattern too. The one pictured here is “novelle vague.”
The pen test showed just how good Clairefontaine paper is. There was no feathering, minimal ghosting, and only the infamous Mono Twin bled through.
Story Supply Co.
Beneath a plain exterior decorated only by the Story Supply co.’s cheerful, retro logo, lies a solid little notebook. It’s 90mm x 140mm, with 48 pages of staple-bound, off-white paper. I tested the lined notebook, which has 5mm spacing. This retails at 3 for £11.
I wasn’t familiar with this company before, and was pleasantly surprised by how well the paper dealt with all of the pens. There was no feathering, little ghosting, and only the Mono Twin bled through (though there were slight hints of almost-bleeding through from the Waterman).
I liked this notebook a lot, but if pushed would have to state a preference for the Clairefontaine above. The Story Supply Co. paper is not quite as good, and it’s an extra £1 per notebook, for an inferior binding.
This is a differently sized notebook at 100mm x 140mm, so it looks a bit squarer than the others. It has 56 pages of white, dot grid, 100gsm paper and is staple-bound. Interestingly, the ‘dots’ are tiny crosses. These cost £8 for 3.
The Darkstar handled most of the pens well but the Waterman and even the Pentel Touch (which is also a wet writer) both feathered slightly. The Mono Twin and the Waterman bled through the paper, though the ghosting wasn’t bad at all.
This was a really interesting set of notebooks and I’m very grateful for the chance to test them all. My favourites were the Clairefontaine and the California Tomoe River. The Clairefontaine is the ideal combination of high quality and good value. The Tomoe River is a higher price for a specialist product that some people (like me) will love but may find the ghosting and long ink-drying times a frustration.