Review: Front Notebook

Front is a Chinese office supply manufacturer. It appears they do not have a Western distributor, which is too bad because their notebooks look awesome. Navigating their website is easier using Google Chrome, which automatically translates — unless you read Chinese, of course. It appears their webshop (hosted on Taoboa, a Chinese version of ebay) does not ship overseas. I found this notebook through ebay, and there are a few more copies left.
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The cover is a faux-leather material, feels kind of waxy and vinyl-like. Similar to a softcover Moleskine. There’s no elastic band closure, but the cover stays shut without it.

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The paper has a smooth touch, somewhat smoother than Moleskine paper. They don’t advertise the paper weight, so I’m unsure. I use a Micron Pen 01 and there was no show through. This notebook has colored/gilt-edging that matches the cover, which I particularly fancy.

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On the top of the page, they have some organizational formatting, including date entry space and circular checkbox next to the day of the week. I won’t be using it, but it doesn’t bother me,  it’s easy to ignore, and doesn’t take up too much space. The last 18 pages are perforated at the side, and in half. The perforation lines are easy to see in the picture.

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A5 Moleskine on the bottom for size reference.

Specifications

  • Model: D66-A501
  • $14.99
  • Lined, 8mm
  • 308 pages
  • Last 18 pages are perforated (on the edge and in half)

 

Review: Metaphys 44112

Metaphys notebooks are created by a Japanese design company, with stationery being just one of their product lines (others include dishes, bags, lighting).

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Logos on the front cover is a gamble, but I like the minimal typography, so it sits well with me. And I’d even say I like the model number too. But the description? Who needs a description of a notebook on the cover of a notebook?

The cover is canvas and a very stiff softcover — almost but not quite hardback. It seems very durable.

What I like about Metaphys notebooks are their unique sizes. The 44112 is the largest, measuring at 8.25 x 3.6 inches. So, tall and slim. Kind of reminds me of a large checkbook. In fact, while I was typing with the notebook next to me in my periphery, had the blip thought: “what is my checkbook doing here?”

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The paper is very nice to write on and smooth to the touch. It takes ink quite well, and dries quickly (I use pigment ink pens).The grid layout is spaced at 5mm, is very faint, and only printed on one side. The paper isn’t perforated, but does tear off the waxy spine easily. Maybe too easily.
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[A5 Moleskine on bottom for reference]

My only complaint: there’s no elastic band closure, so the notebook stays slightly popped up after use.

Specifications:

  • Grid layout on right-hand page (the back is blank)
  • Grid spacing: 5mm
  • 140 pages
  • £15.50

Where to buy:

Historical Notebook found in used bookstore

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If you frequent used bookstores, keep your eyes peeled for old notebooks. This story comes from Hobart, Australia: an antique notebook belonging to a British Army Officer dated from 1810-1812 was found in a used bookshop, The Cracked and Spineless. When the bookshop switched owners, this notebook wedged into a neglected corner switched owners with it. Keep reading at the link!

Why I don’t use Moleskine

When I switched over from pretty journals to notebooks, I thought I’d be set up with Moleskines for life. I imagined the satisfaction of having a uniform collection of A5 Lined Black Moleskines. As I progressed through the notebook, I loved how it was wearing and aging, how the filled pages were easily identified just by looking at the edges of the closed notebook. So, I was very disappointed when this happened within the last 20 pages of my first Moleskine:
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I filled my Moleskine up to the brim, filling most pages 100%. I do this because I imagine being 80 years old with ~30 notebooks holding my life’s writings will be much more manageable than ~60 half-filled ones. You know, archival and longevity reasons. I’ve since used other notebooks to their full capacity without any serious durability issues or fallings apart.

I will also note that I am very careful with my notebooks. So this notebook falling apart is not from carelessness, it is truly just from normal use.

I understand that most notebook users don’t fill their notebooks 100%, so this might not be an issue for many writers — but that doesn’t excuse the poor durability. Like planned obsolescence, perhaps Moleskine doesn’t imagine the majority of their customers using their notebooks to their full capacity? But they should! It was disappointing. This notebook is irreplacable and I so value what is written inside. I don’t want to be doctoring my notebooks, especially for pricey pricey Moleskines. Just put in fewer pages, Moleskine, if you can’t hack it well.

Alas, this unfortunate experience sparked a great interest in searching for excellent writers notebooks. I have since found out that many other notebook manufacturers do a Moleskine better than Moleskine.

Review: Cottonwood Arts Dotmatrix

Cottonwood Arts is an art sketchbook company, with a notebook offering that is equally note friendly as it is sketch, with its “dot matrix” (dot grid). Design wise, this one is heavily inspired by Moleskine, and could be an alternative, if it suits you. The main difference in the design is the binding: It has an exposed canvas spine (picture below) with two boards glued on as the cover. This binding allows for the notebook to lay completely flat. The cover has a pleasing matte feel.

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The 100gsm paper is cream colored, smooth to the touch, and takes ink very well. The packaging advertises it as being suitable for mixed-media. It’s a nice weighted paper, without any teeth or grain that can be typical of art sketchbooks being used as notebooks.

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The page layout is the highly coveted dot grid, or dot matrix as Cottonwood Arts calls it.

I love the dots, but once I wrote on the page and panned out, I found the dots to be noisy with the ink. Visually, my writing doesn’t stand out against the dot grid as much as I’d like. It’s slightly difficult to ignore the dot grid and focus my eyes on the writing. I’ve used dot grids before, and that hasn’t been my experience. I’d much prefer it if the dots were smaller/fainter. But I’m still going to fill it on up! Maybe I find them to be overbearing because I’m not the intended audience — the image on the cover slip is of typography sketches.

The notebook comes with a pen loop (only large enough to fit a basic bic pen) and a gusseted folder in the back, very similar to a Moleskine.

Specifications

  • $12.95
  • 160 pages
  • Dot grid
  • Dot grid spacing: 6mm
  • 100gsm
  • A5 (8″ x 5.25″)

Where to buy:

  • Local art supply store (that’s where I found mine)
  • Cottonwood Arts (do note that under product specifications, in error it says 30 pages)
  • Amazon

Review: Nuuna Punk Notebooks

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Nuuna notebooks are made by Brandbook in Germany, which specializes in making customized large-batch notebooks. They’re available in both dot grid and blank page layout. The paper is advertised as 90g Munken polar paper and is bright white in color, as compared to the creamy off-white paper Moleskine uses. The paper is smooth, yet the ink sinks into it. The covers have a nice matte feel, and the edges are colored to match the band. This specific notebook spurred my interest in notebooks with colored edgings — I find the aesthetic of black cover with black colored edgings a very pleasing look.

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It appears that this collection, the Punk Collection, of notebooks has been discontinued which is seriously disappointing. There are a few places you can find the remaining notebooks left. Nuuna’s new collections of notebooks look interesting, and worth investigating, but the punk collection is so great that I’d encourage Nuuna to keep offering them.

Technical Specifications:

  • $18.00
  • Hardcover
  • 90g paper Munken
  • Size: A5 slim (8.25 x 4.5in)
  • Dot Grid and Blank
  • Dot grid spacing: 4mm
  • 192 Pages
  • colored/gilt edged

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These notebooks are very durable. The black notebook on the left is 100% filled on every line (er, dot grid line) and page, while the white notebook on the right is brand new. After being completely filled, the notebook has not structurally deteriorated at all, and looks nicely worn and aesthetic. With other notebooks, it’s been such a bummer to find them fall apart as I’m filling them.

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Top to bottom: Nuuna Punk Black/Black, Nuuna White/Yellow Punk, and Moleskine A5 for reference.

Where to buy: Nuuna Website