I continued my quest for back to school composition books, but I didn’t see much at my local CVS. There was one CVS brand set of notebooks out. Here’s a quick review:
CVS Brand Composition Book
A few dollars?
The cover is made of a thick cardstock with a purple cosmic pattern. The twee words, “Make Today Magical”, are printed in silver letters. I like the white tape that binds the notebook. The design is pretty terrible. It feels like it was trying to be hip like the Target designs but also as low-budget as possible.
The paper itself is slightly rough. It has light blue lines for once! Ink performs okay. There is no feathering but no shading or sheen either. Ink went down smooth and dried very quickly.
Looking at the back, there is moderate show through but no bleeding. It doesn’t look as bad as the picture!
Overall, I wouldn’t recommend. The design is really ugly compared to some of the lovely Target designs and the paper isn’t that good. I want to hit Staples soon and also review some notebooks from my school bookstore! Also look out for an overview of all my fountain pen inks.
I loved back to school shopping as a child! It was the one time where I was allowed to pick out a giant stack of notebooks, pens, pencils and other stationery. I stalked the aisles, grabbing enough supplies to last the whole year and then some. Some of my favorite notebooks had floral designs, T.V. show characters, or glittery covers. There were fun trends too, like the year everyone bought Japanese erasers and bendy rulers! As much as I love fountain pen friendly stationery, the designs are often muted and boring in comparison. So I decided to look for that childhood wonder at my local Target. The mission was to find cute, but fountain pen friendly composition notebooks. Yes, I was inspired by Les from Comfortable Shoes Studio and her reviews of back to school notebooks. 🙂 I tested paper using an EF Blackwing, Sharpie Pen, Papermate Flair and Papermate Inkjoy, along with my currently inked pens.
My go to used to be Studio C, which always had pretty covers but also had paper that showed off shading and sheen! Unfortunately, they went out of business and don’t show up on shelves anymore. 😦 My stockpile won’t last me forever, so I was looking for a replacement. Here are the specs for one of mine:
Studio C College Ruled Composition Book
The one I tested was from the Silver Linings collection. I love the silver tape and motivational quote, “Live Your Dreams” on the front cover. The inside is just as lovely as the inside. The lines are college ruled and a pale blue. The paper skews cooler than the other notebooks I tested. It is wonderful for fountain pens, showing shading and sheen! The notebook is durable. The cover is made of thick cardstock that doesn’t bend easily.
Mead College Ruled Comp Book
The hot pink cover and tape lured me in, despite the ugly page of coupons attached. The plastic cover is sturdy enough despite not being cardstock. It also has a plastic page sandwiched in between the cover and pages which is nice. However, the paper inside was disappointing. It was rough under my pen. In my drying test, the ink was absorbed in under three seconds. The lines are a dark blue and don’t blend in. Nibs were a size larger on this paper. There was no shading, only a flat color. I saw feathering too. There was show through and bleeding too. I don’t recommend this paper! Even my Blackwing felt unpleasant.
Mead Five Star College Ruled Composition Book
I was really hoping this could live up to the Studio C, but sadly it doesn’t. It has has 100 sheets but is a lower price. The cover has white tape and a pretty image of swirling paint. The plastic cover sticks to the front and back pages so I have to pull them apart every time I open the notebook. My writing size stayed close to normal instead of increasing in width. There was also shading. But there was feathering in my larger nibs. My blue inks, like PenBBS #44 and Bungubox June Bride seemed to bleed through to the back more than Kobe Arima Amber. I could still use this with smaller nibs and red colors apparently. Show through is okay except for blue and green inks which bled more!
More than Magic Wide Ruled Composition Book
This was the best notebook of all! I only wish it came in college ruled and had more pages. More Than Magic is a Target brand that sells sparkly, holographic, cosmic- themed school supplies. I was attracted to their “stand” instantly, guess I’m still a child at heart. 😀 The notebook has holographic tape and writing that says “Find your light” behind a purple space background. Inside is another quote, “You are amazing”. The lines are wide ruled and not too dark for me. This was the best paper yet! All my pens behaved well, with shading and a bit of sheen. No feathering either. It took longer to dry fully, 15 seconds, but that means ink had time to pool and create shading. There was a negligible amount of show through on the back.
West Emory Composition Book
Forgot the price
I know this wasn’t a real composition book despite being labeled one. But I couldn’t resist the holographic cover. This notebook had light gray lines and space at the top for headings. Sadly, the paper also was absorbant, so ink took only five seconds to dry. My lines increased in width. There was splotching where ink usually pools. Show through wasn’t bad except for the PenBBS #44, which is a very pigmented ink.
Overall, if you’re looking for cute, colorful composition books I’d check out More than Magic, Mead Five Star if you experiment with inks that work, or Studio C if you find any remaining stock!
Lately, I’ve been searching for more unusual ink colors. My collection is mostly blue, purple and red which gets boring. One of my new favorites is J. Herbin Corail des Tropiques. It comes closer than any other ink in capturing the summery coral color. The ink itself comes in a small 30ml bottle. It’s possible to suck up ink without using a syringe, but I’d recommend one anyways because the bottle is so small.
The color is a lovely pink with orange tones. My photo shows it as more orange than it is! The ink is smooth in my Faber-Castell Ambition with a medium nib. It isn’t watery like other J. Herbin inks sometimes are. In the M nib, the color is dark enough to be legible. It is harder to read in long passages. I wrote a ten page story using this ink and I had some trouble reading my text at first. However, my eyes got used to the light tone. I would use a larger nib with this ink.
Monteverde Coral, a similarly named ink, is much darker and oranger. I really didn’t like it so I don’t have any picture to show. So Corail is the best option for a coral-colored ink! It may be too light for some people’s eyes but I enjoy it overall as a summery ink.
I finally got around to buying Baron Fig’s dream journal at the Baltimore Pen Show! You can tell how much I love BF in this post but this is my first review of their products. There’s just something about the clothbound cover, thick paper, and creativity that goes into each edition that draws me in. Baron Fig is best known for creating the Confidant notebook, but over time they have expanded to softcover Vanguards, pens, pencils and other stationery supplies.
The Wander Dream Journal is a guided edition, meaning that it has templates printed on the page. BF doesn’t just want you to write your dreams down haphazardly but organize and analyze them. That sets it apart from other journals I’ve seen before.
The journal is a beautiful night sky blue, embossed with silver stars and a crescent moon. I love running my hand across the cloth cover. It is textured and sturdy but prone to staining if you’re not careful. Even better are two important additions: a longer bookmark and an elastic band! These satisfy the few quibbles I had with Baron Fig notebooks in the past. The bookmark is a sky blue color while the elastic is a gray. I wish this notebook was available as a normal lined or dotted edition. I’d buy a stack of them!
The box itself is amazing too, decorated with beautiful surreal art that mimics a dream scape. BF definitely knows how to design a beautiful package.
Inside, there is lovely, psychedelic endpaper with a space to put your name. The pages are numbered, which is helpful for reference. There are enough pages to write down 92 dreams! The first spread introduces the various symbols you can check mark to further categorize your dream.
Emotion: your mood during the dream
Sleep Quality: did you sleep well or not?
Time: Did the dream take place in past, present or future?
Color: Did you dream in color or monochrome?
Viewpoint: 1st or 3rd person perspective
Type: Is this dream Recurring, Lucid, Mundane, Fantasy or Nightmare?
These symbols made me think more about the significance of my dream and how it happened. This is important when you wake up and rapidly start forgetting a dream! BF did a great job designing these categories.
On the pages themselves are spaces for recalling, drawing and interpreting the dreams. At the top is a space to write the date and day of week. Recalling the dream took up the whole left page, while the right page was split between room for drawing and interpreting. The ruling was lined. I wish that there was more room for interpretations because I’m not a great artist and didn’t use up much of that space.
The paper is good for fountain pens and any other writing instruments. However, the paper feels lighter weight and the pages almost curl up on their own. Usually, they are very thick and lay flat. Maybe BF changed their supplier? I will do more research and buy a regular Confidant to test at some point. I used a Pelikan F nib with Bungubox June Bride ink to write down my dream. There was shading, but it does look a bit flat compared to Tomoe River, my paper of choice. To be honest, everything looks dull compared to TR! There was no feathering nor bleed through. There was some show through. Ink dries very fast on the uncoated paper. I didn’t smear any of my text with my left hand, as I usually do.
Here’s my dream, if you have the patience to read it! And the showthrough is in the third picture.
I’m quite stressed out with midterms so this was probably a nightmare looking back on it. I used to have dreams about zombies breaking into a house I was hiding in (I watched too much Walking Dead as a 12 year old) but now most dreams have me wandering in a labyrinth where I can’t escape, whether it’s in an airport, school, or mall setting??? What do you dream about?
This is an incredibly cool journal! I keep it by my bedside so I wake up and start writing in it immediately. Baron Fig is coming up with such innovative ideas lately. They also sell a recipe and guided planner book if you’re interested. The Wander Dream Journal is a good motivator to write down your dreams, before they disappear forever.
I bought this notebook with my own funds. I was not paid for this review.
This weekend, I finally received my $20 rewards for backing the Pay it Forward Kickstarter! For those who don’t know, Pay it Forward is a group of fountain pen enthusiasts who want to make the community a more welcoming and inclusive place for newcomers. You can send your unused notebooks, pens and ink samples for them to hand out. Since 2017, they have travelled to many pen shows and offered a table with free pen kits for newcomers to the hobby and children. They also have a table for donated new notebooks! Last DC Pen Show, I dropped off all my extra Field Notes, limited editions and other goodies that were previously sitting in a shelf. It felt very good to give away paper for others to use! For myself, I picked out a little pen bag and found inside an amazing demonstrator Jin Hao pen and sample vial of ink.
I wish this group was around when I first started my obsession in 2016. I figured out what pens and ink and paper I liked through trial and error. The pen community was still a bit intimidating to me at the time so I didn’t participate online. Pay It Forward both recycles stationery and creates a welcoming atmosphere.
PIF created a kickstarter last year to raise more money for tables at pen conventions and to spread the word. I donated $20 for a pack of Story Supply Co x Pay It Forward dot grid notebooks and a bottle of “Heart of Gold” ink, made by Papier Plume.
The notebooks are a reddish-orange and yellow. On the cover is the PIF logo, three hands holding stationery items. Inside is a place to write your name, date, and location. On the back cover is the mission of PIF. I liked that the cover was not a uniform red, but had yellow undertones. The paper is moderately fountain pen friendly like other SSC notebooks. The dot grid is a bit dark for me, but is much lighter than the Elemental notebook grid.
As for the ink, it’s a dark orange, with some nice shading. It reminds me of a sunset. The flow is nice and wet in my Sailor 1911S Medium nib. Compared to other inks I have, Sailor Apricot is lighter and has a silver sheen. Monteverde Ruby is much redder, like tomato soup.
I love PIF’s mission of creating a welcoming community. I’m happy to support their kickstarter and hope to see more PIF tables in the future.
I bought these products with my own funds. I was not paid for this review.
Nothing quite compares to Tomoe River paper. It is as smooth and thin as tracing paper yet sturdy and bleed-resistant. It exhibits more shading and sheen than any other paper I’ve tried. The ghosting takes time to get used to but becomes less of a problem as the pages fill up. I’d still rate TR as the best paper for fountain pen lovers. However, some other contenders come close in quality. Today I’ll be reviewing one of them, Stalogy. Many people use the A6 as a cheaper Hobonichi alternative. It sells for $17.50 rather than the $35 + that a Hobonichi demands.
A6 (4.1 in. x 5.8 in.), also comes in A5, B5 and B6
The Stalogy has a slightly-textured black cover with some golden stamps on the front. I was instantly impressed by its minimalist yet sleek exterior. The logos are off to the left side so they don’t get in the way. Stalogy’s motto, “What Should Have Been, Is” is printed in tiny letters. Unfortunately the cover is rather flimsy for me. If I used this as a planner, I would put on a protective case. From what I’ve heard, Stalogy notebooks fit inside of Hobonichi covers. It doesn’t lay flat easily. I needed to break in its spine so it wouldn’t spring up. Notebooks like the Nanami Seven Seas lay flat with ease.
There are 368 pages packed into this small notebook! They are thin and crinkle easily. Inside is light gray 5mm grid that doesn’t reach the borders of the pages. It also has two unique features that are more useful for planners. Tiny months and days are printed where the header usually is. Numbers representing times line the left border. Unfortunately, these numbers are tiny and such a light gray I couldn’t see them well.
I’d like to see more features that distinguish it from an average planner. Hobonichi Techos have yearly/monthly pages and timetables. However, if you’re more of a bullet journal person and don’t mind making your own layouts, the Stalogy offers similar paper and portability, while being twenty dollars cheaper. For me, I prefer structure so I like the Hobonichi style more. (My current planner is a cheap Exacompta student one I got at my university bookstore lol.)
The paper is very thin and light, reminding me of tracing paper. But despite looking delicate, it handles ink well. There was heavy show through, but only my globby Pilot Precise V5 RT bled in places. The ghosting is distracting, but if you’ve used 52gsm Tomoe River paper, it is also known for that. I didn’t have any heavy sheen inks on hand, but all my inks showed shading. There was no feathering or spreading of ink. I did see a hint of sheen in my Iroshizuko Momiji sample. It takes over ten seconds to dry, around the same as Tomoe River or Apica paper. Be careful not to brush your hand against the drying inks, especially if you are a lefty. I’m left handed but I’ve grown used to writing in a way that my hand doesn’t touch the paper lol.
Compared to my Nanami Cafe Note B6, the grid on the Stalogy is much lighter. I’m usually a fan of lighter grid but in this case it looks fuzzy and hard to see. The TR paper is equally as thin. There are small boxes at the top and bottom of the Cafe Note, spaces for dates or page numbers I guess. The Cafe Note A6 is only a dollar more than the Stalogy and has 480 pages! I personally think the Cafe Note is a better deal but shipping can raise the price. Stalogy is available with Amazon Prime.
I liked the Stalogy at first, but I’m not a fan of making my own planner. It’s nice but not as mind-blowing as Tomoe River offerings. I’m thinking of using this as a diary because it is undated. I would recommend it for people who want more freedom in their planner or those who appreciate quality paper.
I bought these notebooks with my own funds. I was not paid for this review.
I always am on the lookout for new places to buy quality notebooks and pens. D.C. doesn’t have as many stationery stores as NYC, but it does have the homegrown Jenni Bick. I visited it a year ago, and finally had the chance to go again with a friend. The store is located only a few minutes walk from the Dupont Circle metro, if you take the 19th Street exit. There is also a Krispy Kreme nearby, if you hunger for fresh donuts and paper. 🙂
The store is easy to see, with a giant selection of notebooks displayed proudly in the window. Once inside, a rainbow of Leuchtturm1917s greet you, stretching across the wall to your left! Even though I’m not the biggest fan of the 1917, this display makes me smile.
You’ll find many types of notebooks here, both the usual Moleskines and Paper Blanks, to Japanese brands like Midori or Stalogy, to more obscure companies. The selection has only gotten larger since last year, to my delight. The Leuchtturms take up much of the front. There is a section for Nuuna notebooks, which I had never seen in person before! There is also a clearance table, a Moleskine display, some fountain pens behind clear glass and fountain pen ink from Lamy, Faber-Castell and J. Herbin. Jenni Bick also has a selection of store-made leather journals. They are beautiful but extremely expensive. If you need a memorable scrapbook or journal, this section is for you.
There also is some art supplies in the back! There is a table with notebooks for people to try out and write in. This is a great idea because often I am enthralled by a notebook’s cover but disappointed when the paper ends up being terrible.
The employees are so nice and helpful here! They are knowledgable about every type of paper. Honestly, I’d love to work at Jenni Bick so I could be around stationery all day. I was heading to the Phillips Collection afterwards, so I couldn’t buy anything too big or bulky. So I settled for a blue inkpad, a Stalogy365, a discounted Semikolon notebook and some elastic bands for my Traveller Notebook.
If you’re in Dupont Circle, I recommend stopping by. There are other great stores and museums nearby. Second Story Books is a treasure for anyone who loves used books for cheap!
For the second time, I’ve been burned by Kickstarter. The first time was with the Hippo Noto’s long wait time and questionable sturdiness. At least the Elemental Notebooks delivered fast. Also, the chemistry-themed design is spectacular, living up to every picture released. It reminds me of another cloth-covered favorite, Baron Fig notebooks. I bought the Nitrogen and Hydrogen, and a set of Unobtanium pocket notebooks. (I forgot Oxygen had the blue cover, this is why I hated Chemistry lol) But the paper is more important than anything else for me, so the Elemental Notebooks were a massive letdown.
Once again, I’m late to the show. Check out Mountain of Ink’s review here. In the next paragraphs, I review the Nitrogen notebook and the Unobtanium add-ons.
100 gsm cream dot grid paper
A5 size, or 3.5 by 5.5 inches for Unobtanium
$20 per notebook, pocket Unobtaniums were add-ons for $12
two ribbon bookmarks
no table of contents or numbered pages
I was impressed by the Elemental notebooks as soon as I got them. The packaging is gorgeous! The notebooks come in black slipcases that explain the element the notebook is named after. The cover is made of a slightly rough cloth, with no decorations on the front. It reminds me of an old library book, especially with the indent near the spine. The dark green of Nitrogen is beautiful. The endpapers are well thought out. There’s a space in the shape of the periodic table to put your name in. The bottom of the spine is imprinted with gold foil showing the periodic element. It’s a nice touch. The edges of the book are tinted black with tiny colorful stripes meant to emulate the emissions spectrum of Nitrogen.
The Unobtanium notebooks have the element stamped in green foil on the lower right side. It’s made of a soft pleather material. They are the size of Field Notes, but have stitched bindings like Baron Fig Vanguards.
But the paper is where it all goes downhill… I opened up my Nitrogen to see large, dark, dots. I hate when the ruling is too dark. It distracts me from my writing and looks generally unpleasant. But then I used my new Sailor Kingdom Note fountain pen to write the header and was instantly disappointed.
Feathering everywhere! No shading, only a flat color. Something I’ve noticed with bad paper is that “splotches” appear, instead of shading. I experienced that here. There was more show through than I’d like, but it’s not terrible. The paper itself was an off-white color, with some tooth to it, like Baron Fig. This paper is really bad. It’s usable with gel pens, ballpoints and pencils, but the dots are still too dark for me. So I don’t know what to use these for? The Unobtanium has the same paper. At least I use those for taking quick notes and the dot grid doesn’t matter as much.
Comparing the dot grid on the Confidant, on top, with the bottom Elemental notebook
Honestly, I feel misled. The creators of Elemental notebooks specifically said the paper was good for fountain pens. They even posed the Oxygen with a blue TWSBI Eco-T in a promotional picture! They also said the dark dots were part of the prototype and would be lighter in the final production. I wouldn’t have spent $47 on these notebooks if I knew they weren’t fountain pen friendly.
Comparison to Baron Fig:
The Elemental Notebook just begs comparison with the Baron Fig! I’m a huge fan of the BF Confidant, so this newcomer had a lot to live up to. I’d say BF won, for pure stylishness and usable paper. My Nitrogen is a typical A5 size, while the Confidant is more compact. The ribbons on Nitrogen are longer, and there’s two of them. See how they lay flat and are easy to pull on? That’s what BF needs. The stubby bookmark isn’t enough for me.
The Nitrogen is more like a library book, complete with the crease near the spine and rough linen cover. The Confidant is like a luxury product, with softer covers and a modern style.
The Confidant wins the paper battle, by far. First of all, its dot grid is large but a soft gray. The Nitrogen has the problem of both dark and large dots, which makes writing very distracting.
The Confidant doesn’t have the luxurious Tomoe River feeling, but I actually like the slight tooth while using my fountain pens. Nib sizes tend to spread a bit, but don’t feather. The colors are vibrant and accurate. Honestly, I’ve only used the limited edition Confidants, and other reviews have made me question the paper quality. I want to do my own test on the regular Confidant. But the Nitrogen feathers and spreads everywhere. Instead of shading, I get weird splotchiness.
front of Baron Fig paper
back of Baron Fig Paper
Overall, if you want a cloth-cover A5 notebook with dot grid, get the Baron Fig. It’s cheaper at $18 and has better paper.
I think I’ve learned my lesson about not funding kickstarters. Both times, I’ve been disappointed. The nature of a kickstarter is itself fickle. It’s easy to run out of money, find problems in production, or deliver months late. I don’t blame the creators for running into problems, but I’m done accepting them. From now on, I’m ordering notebooks that are in regular production.
I bought these notebooks with my own funds. I was not paid for this review.
My first stop of the day was at Kingdom Note! I’ve heard so much about this place. It’s a store that stocks pens, inks and notebooks. It has an exclusive line of inks that are inspired by animals and plants. Kingdom Note also collaborates with the Sailor company to make veggie themed pens! These store-exclusive products are not available in the U.S. I’ve seen them on Ebay for exorbitant amounts of money but I’d rather not pay those prices.
The store is on the 6th floor of a building in Shinjuku and is hard to see from the street. You will see a sign for KN and a camera shop. Luckily, its 5 minutes from my hotel!
The store was smaller than I thought it would be. Only a few people work there. The attendant helping me was really nice and he knew enough English for us to communicate. The store was filled with a wide variety of fountain pens, many of them European. The small selection of Nakayas dazzled me. There was a rack of notebooks, but nothing very special. My eyes were immediately drawn to the vegetable themed pens and the giant wall of ink. I bought a “green pepper” fountain pen in a broad nib but there was also a pumpkin themed one. You could buy matching 20ml inks for it. I certainly did! There were also demonstrators in bright colors but I already spent all my money for the day. 😛
I also tested a variety of inks. There’s a whole wall of them, both European and Japanese! I was given a binder full of ink sample cards then I chose which one to try. The attendant let me test them with a glass pen. I bought three inks, two of them in 50 ml bottles and the other in a tiny 20ml one. I bought the Mycena pura, a dusty pink color based on mushrooms. I first heard about it from a post on Reddit, but I thought I would never buy it! I also got Thysanostoma thysanura, a pinkish purple like a jellyfish. And I bought the matching green pepper ink to go with my pen. When I get back from Japan, I hope to have ink reviews up for them.
Make sure to get the tax refund taken care of! Foreigners have to pay an 8% tax rate for some purchases, but you can get it refunded in kiosks and at the airport. I got a slip of paper with my purchase that I can turn in later.
The people working there were really kind and I felt welcomed inside the store. I’m glad I got the opportunity to go to a small boutique style store.
Tomorrow I’m going to Mt. Fuji on a tour but hopefully I’ll get to Itoya Ginza and Maruzen Nihombashi soon. I also added the Tools art supply store and Smiths to my list. It’s in the Lumine Est department store underneath the Shinjuku train station. I’m going to get Copic markers there. I will post more about the pen stores I visit!
Let’s start with the yellow journal! It’s slightly shorter and wider than a B5 notebook, making it compact and easy to carry. It has 60 blank creamy pages. It’s nice to run my hand over the paper. The sunny yellow cover is a bit thin but held up well in my suitcase. There’s a beautiful design on the front that use the letters mnr. It stands for the Museo Nazionale Romano, the name of the larger museum complex the Palazzo belongs to. This name is repeated on the back in bold black letters. The word Electa is on the bottom right, possibly the maker of the notebook? I couldn’t find any more information online.
The paper is thick and a smooth ivory color. When I did my pen test, pencil did wonderfully on this paper. There wasn’t much show through with gel and fountain pens. The paper was fountain pen friendly. Slight pink sheen from Sailor Sky High showed up in my test. There was no bleed through except with a sharpie. The only downside is that there were glue bubbles on the first page. Overall, this notebook exceeded my expectations and will be put to use as a sketchbook.
The black Ostia Antica notebook was not as great. When I bought it, it was in a display saying it was made by Paperblanks. I’ve heard of the company before and expected good paper. It has a nice cover, with the words Ostia Antica and below it, an illustration of one of the mosaics at the site. It’s A6 size and has 96 pages. It also has a black bookmark and elastic band.
Unfortunately, the paper was scratchy and thin as tissue. Pencil was okay, but every other pen showed or bled through to the other side. Fountain pen ink looked dull, with no sheen or shading. At least I bought it with blank paper so I can use it for quick pencil sketches.
Hope you enjoyed this quick review! I’m busy working at an archaelogical dig but I hope to post more soon.