I like to write things down, whether it’s sketching out a design idea, doing some quick math to help with measurements or calculations, or planning out a project.
Regarding what I use for this, I tend to lean towards two extremes. Sometimes I use a 25-cent ballpoint pen and the back of an envelope.
But other times, I use a fountain pen filled with ink, a retractable pen with rollerball cartridge, wood or mechanical pencils, technical pens and markers, or a machined pen with trimmed-to-fit gel ink refill with needle-thin point.
Most of my writing and sketching needs can be well-served by inexpensive paper. However, as with tools, I tend to seek out more enjoyable experiences.
When using certain writing implements, such as fountain pens, more premium paper makes things easier to read thanks to less bleed-through and feathering. Or, it can simply be smoother to write on.
Even if you don’t need special paper that works well with fountain pens and other heavy-ink pens or markers, a good notepad or notebook can still improve the writing or sketching experiences.
For instance, I have come to really like “dot grid” paper, which provides many of the same benefits of graph paper but without the distracting grid lines.
A surprising number of readers responded well to my recent Rotring 800 mechanical pencil deal post, and so I’m curious to see how many of you are also particular about the paper and notepads you use.
Here are some of the types of paper I like to use when writing or sketching with deliberate intent (as opposed to jotting down something quick such as on a Post-It, pocket notebook, or envelope).
What do you like to write on?
Regular Printer Paper
At $5 to $7 for 500 sheets of paper, it’s hard to beat the economy of standard printer paper. You might also want a clipboard or plastic folder to help keep everything together. Since most of the other recommendations below are somewhat pricey, I felt compelled to add a reminder that printer paper (or copy paper) is just fine if you’re on a tighter budget – or if your needs are simple. I have stuck with Hammermill multi-purpose inkjet printer in the past, and Target’s house brand of similar multi-use inkjet paper in recent years, out of convenience. Any copy or printer paper will usually do. The brand generally doesn’t matter, but I like USA-made and try to stick to the same brand for a stretch for consistency.
Price: $5-7 for 500 sheets
Rhodia A4-Size Dot-Grid Notepad
I used to keep legal pads around, but found that I didn’t really use them much, and I resorted to using standard copy paper for sketches and more complex notes. Rhodia notepads cost quite a bit more, but there are 2 clear benefits. First, the paper is smoother, and is more enjoyable to write on. Second, I really like their dot grid pattern, which provides graph-like structuring without being distracting. The pages are micro-perforated and easily removed. The paper is Clairefontaine 80g SuperFine Vellum, which is smooth with a bit of tooth that works well with ink and graphite. A4 is roughly letter-sized, and A5 is half the size.
Price: $9 for 80 sheets
If you want to keep things together, the wire-bound notepads are another good option.
Roaring Spring 5×5 Grid Engineering Pad
I wish I was introduced to engineer calculation pads sooner. One side of each sheet is blank/unruled, and the other side has grid markings. You can write on either side. When writing on the plain side, the grid markings show through, helping to keep your sketches or measurements in neat alignment. When removed from the pad, the grid lines on the back of the sheet aren’t as prominent, which helps to make things easier to read. You can accomplish a similar effect by placing a writing board with grid markings behind a sheet of plain paper. The pads are a bit pricey, but I like them in lieu of memo pads or scratch pads. It’s available in tan (buff) and green. They’re punched to fit a standard 3-ring binder.
Price: $9 for 100 sheets
Maruman MNEMOSYNE Notebooks
Maruman MNEMOSYNE notebooks are a premium 5mm-grid notebook with ultra-smooth paper that’s micro-perforated in case you need to remove papers. I like the horizontal A4 (N180A) and smaller A5 (N182A) sizes. (When shopping for European or Japanese paper, A4 is approximately letter-sized. If you cut A4 paper down the middle across the short length, you get 2 sheets of A5-sized paper.) The benefit here, aside from the smooth texture, is that there’s less ghosting and bleed-through compared to less expensive paper. Maruman’s notepads are premium-priced, and so I try to use them more sparingly. My intent was to use this as my project notebooks, but I feel bad about “wasting” the paper due to its cost.
Price: ~$18 for 70 sheets A4, ~$11 for 70 sheets A5
Midori MD Notebook
Midori MD has different styles of notebooks, and I think their 5mm grid pattern is a good place to start. The paper resists feathering and bleeding, which makes it very fountain-pen friendly.
Midori notebooks fold completely flat when open, which makes them a bit more user-friendly in my experience. I have found them to be almost as easy to write in or refer to as a notepad, but add-on covers can hamper this. They have a basic almost spartan design, and you can add covers (Midori brand or 3rd party) to increase their durability.
Price: ~$12 for 88 sheets A5
LEUCHTTURM 1917 Notebook
Leuchtturm 1917 notebooks are available in different styles (e.g. dot grid, ruled, Bullet Journal, calendar planner), and with hard or soft covers. They are also available in a very wide range of colors. The number pages are great for use as a project notebook or workshop journal. These notebooks are a big step up from budget notebooks, with durable bindings and high quality paper.
I like these notebooks, but personally found that I tend to work best with larger notepads or pages that can be removed and moved around.
Price: ~$22 for 251 sheets A5
If you’re tight on budget, Amazon has their self-branded graph-ruled notebooks at 1/3 the price.