Some Fountain Pen Friendly Budget Notebook Options

2016-07-10 all_three_blog_postIf there is one thing I am somewhat mindful of in this hobby (or obsession if we’re being honest) relating to pens, their associated inks, and paper — it is the cost of feeding the habit. I am not even speaking of bigger ticket items such as a quality fountain pen or leather-bound notebook — simply those everyday stationery purchases we often make.

Of course relative to that new pen purchase, a notebook or notepad remains fairly cheap by comparison, irrespective of brand or manufacturing quality. Although your standard A5 (No. 16) Rhodia pad may come in at AU$7.00 – $8.00, and even the A4 variant only AU$13.00 – $14.00, things can go skyward pretty quickly when stocking up on a few “essentials”. Like many, I have boxes and drawers filled with a collection of such products ready to be called into action when the inclination or need arises.

That being the case, why the need to seek out lower end options? A valid question, and I often ask myself whether I have become someone who buys something just because it is cheap — regardless of quality. However I can assure you I do have some standards, and only search for, test out, and put into ongoing use the products which although may not be perfect, will at least pass those minimum standards and be enjoyable and satisfying to use. I am certainly not going to put up with poor paper just because it was a bargain, spending my writing time cursing at the ink feathering or nib catching on cheap, rough paper.

At times I’ve actually found certain features in some of the cheaper options have suited me a little better than some of their higher priced cousins. Let’s face it though, there is a certain amount of satisfaction to be gained in finding some local, readily available alternatives which reduce the rate at which I burn through those more “premium” products.

I do acknowledge I am lucky enough to have access to many retail outlets given I work in the Brisbane CBD. All of the products here were simply bought off the shelf, and if available online, result in additional postage charges, rendering them less of a budget buy. I do feel for those of you unable to simply walk by in your lunch break, drop a few gold coins and walk out with a notebook or two.

As always, my intention is not to sell these products to you — merely to report in on how I found them to be valid options which are a little easier on the budget. All three I purchased myself, and I have no affiliation with any of the manufacturers or retailers.

Kokuyo Campus B5 Notebook – AU$2.80 DanDa

2016-07-10 campus_cover_blog_postThis notebook has been in daily use for the past month or so, and performed extremely well at the task. As you can see the cover is a little worn. “Daily use” generally involves blog post drafts, coffee tasting notes, general notes or song lyrics rewritten to test out a pen or ink. Many and varied content, however a common theme being longhand writing — often several pages at a time.

Design wise, the Kokuyo Campus series comprises a selection of thin, glue bound (external tape reinforced) notebooks unadorned with any additional pockets, closure straps or the like. They actually remind me of a standard school exercise book in many ways (perhaps with the exception of the better paper quality). The cover is simple card stock, which is not overly thick however does the job as intended.

Not having used any of the Japanese made Campus line of notebooks before, the quality of the paper was certainly pleasing, though not a complete surprise given listings with online retailers noting the paper to be decidedly fountain pen friendly. The 70 gsm paper handled my daily writer (typically M or F) fountain pens with aplomb, showing no feathering, bleed through, nor ghosting of any significance. Writing is almost as smooth as you’ll find anywhere — great paper for most fountain pens.

2016-07-10 campus_close_blog_post2016-07-10 campus_reverse_blog_post

With a 0.7 mm Retro 51 refill, the show through was just a touch more evident, however as always I also put this down to my heavier hand when using rollerballs or ballpoints.

The slightly off white paper shade provides a perfect canvas for true ink colour representation, and dry time is comparable to, if not better than some of the heavier weight papers — dependent on ink type of course.

The Campus line of notebooks comes in various sizes in plain, ruled or grid options, and the pre-printed No., Date and bold title lines at the top of the page are a nice touch. Although my numbering always goes in the bottom right corner of each right hand page, other indexing or notations can always take advantage of the field provided at the top.

The model I’ve been using contains ruling at 6 mm spacings, with contains additional 7 mm markings along the top and bottom lines for reference in the vertical plane.

2016-07-10 campus_spine_blog_postOverall I am very impressed with this thin, light, high performing notebook, and if there were any negatives, it is probably only the binding, which is beginning to stretch a little in the initial pages. I suspect I have contributed to this by regularly (and unnecessarily) bending the book back on itself to then lay it flat for writing — probably not the best habit given running the heel of my hand up the open book would achieve the same result. Coming in at 60 pages, I imagine most will have this notebook filled and move on before any real issues are seen with the binding, however it is perhaps best to take at least a little care.

I’ll certainly be buying from the Campus line of notebooks in the future, and if you haven’t already — I’d highly recommend at least trying them out. For the princely sum of AU$2.80, there is not a lot to lose, and as far as I’m concerned is quite the bargain for what you get.

Side Note: The design and evolution of the Campus series of notebooks is also an interesting story.

The Complete Report Pad — AU$2.80 Daiso

2016-07-10 reporter_cover_blog_postThis particular purchase was driven by the need for a “correspondence” notebook or notepad which was fountain pen friendly, contained tear off sheets, and was a little larger than an A5 Rhodia No 16 notepad.

The specific reason for this being I write a good portion of the letters I send during my lunch break, and often do so sitting at the bar of my favourite cafe in the CBD. Said bar is fairly narrow from front to back, and not therefore suited to the Rhodia A4 sized pad I had been using. Having resorted to the A5-sized Rhodia No 16 instead, ideally I wanted something in between to fill the void, with a B5 sized notepad was of course the way to go.

The Complete Report Pad is an Indonesian made B5 tablet style notepad sold through Daiso, and as noted above — for a bargain basement price.

The top binding is again glue with tape reinforcing, and allows straightforward tearing of sheets from the pad once completed. The front cover is your standard glossy, slightly thicker paper stock, with the rear thickened cardboard. Both do their respective roles as intended, however the front cover is not designed for very rough use.

Of course the most important aspect is the paper. Ruled at 6 mm spacings, the pages also sport a title bar along the top, containing pre-printed Date and No. fields. There are also 6 mm divisions marked at across the top and bottom-most line of each page. The ruling and printed divisions/fields appear on the front facing side of the page only, with the intention of single-sided use.

I’ve not been able to find specifications as far as the weight of the paper is concerned, however a reasonable estimate would be in the order of 70 gsm or so. Whether this is correct or not I am not sure, however the performance is certainly comparable to papers around that type of weight.

2016-07-10 reporter_close_blog_postWriting performance is very, very good for the price you pay for this notepad. It is not dissimilar to the Kokuyo paper I’ve described above, yet is marginally toothier to the feel. Again I’ve used numerous fountain pen nib types (M and finer) and inks with no problems. A small amount of ghosting with no bleed through; feathering is non-existent; and the overall feel of the paper provides a pleasant writing experience. I’d still describe this paper as being relatively “smooth”, yet of course it is not your Rhodia or Clairefontaine.

There really isn’t too much more to say about this one. For my intended purpose of finding an appropriately sized correspondence notepad, The Complete Report Pad is just about perfect. For the price you can pick these up for, they are exactly the sort of thing to grab a few and leave them in the various places you may jot down a few words or as I do — write a letter.

Wonder if they’ll let me leave a stack on the end of the bar?

Aqua Drops Twist Ring Notebook by Lihit Lab – AU$4.70 Officeworks

2016-07-10 aqua_drops_cover_blog_postHere is where I’ve really upped the ante, with the 30 page Aqua Drops Twist Ring notebook thundering through the register at a cost of AU$4.70 — almost double the price of the two mentioned above. To me it is still considered a budget option, though in the same store you can pick up a Rhodia No 16 Notepad for a list price of AU$7.16. There is also a B5 sized Aqua Drops notebook listed at AU$5.00 — agin for 30 pages.

The choice here though is not necessarily just price, but some of the utility gained in features of the Aqua Drops Twist Ring — namely the fact it is easily refillable, and those refills can be obtained in plain, ruled or grid loose leaf sheets. A packet of A5 refills will set you back AU$2.95, so in effect, once the notebook is purchased you have endless refills at a similar cost to the products above. I’ve mentioned the B5 size, and refills for this size are AU$3.50.

Although the utility of refilling and/or rearranging sheets in this notebook is probably the main drawcard, the writing performance is right up there as well. This is super smooth 70 gsm paper, and any nib or tip will glide happily across its surface. All of your ink colours will shine on the white paper, and while the lines are not overly dominating, aren’t quite as light as the Campus notebook.

If you are a heavy fountain pen user, and use a lot of broader nibs combined with wetter inks, the paper is probably not going to be up to scratch for double-sided use. However for my medium nibs and finer, the only negative is a little ghosting on the reverse of the page. There is no bleed through or feathering to be seen at this end of the nib spectrum, however my European mediums were right on the cusp of feathering with certain inks.

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The refill system is quite straightforward, with a tug on the top and bottom of the page adjacent to the spine when the notebook is open, popping apart the rings. I’ve not had the product long enough to comment on the longevity of the plastic spirals, however they seem strong enough. Fatigue with repeated use may perhaps be a factor, though equally it may not. Being circular in shape, the rings feel quite strong, however I wonder about something like a heavy textbook being dropped on the spirals — which I guess you’d never know until it happened.

My other main quibble, which isn’t unique to this particular product — more so with spiral bound notebooks in general, is the inevitable “page wiggle” which occurs while I’m writing. Unless the pages are a fairly tight fit on the binding, which tolerances generally prevent — I find myself needing to hold the page steady rather than simply resting my free hand on or beside the notebook. Not a big deal however I do find this a little annoying to constantly do.

With a packet of grid refills, I’m planning on using this as a recording notebook for my coffee roasting. Perfect.

Three new notebooks — budget intact

Although this post is not intended to be a head to head comparison of the three products I have described above, I have certainly come out of the experience a little more knowledgeable on the merits of each. Also worth mentioning in addition to those above, is the “X” branded spiral notebook from Officeworks which I have previously written about.

To be honest, I would buy and use all three again. One thing is for certain though, the B5 Complete Report Pad is now my default for written correspondence. I love the size, the paper is great, and sheets tear off with ease. A definite ongoing purchase when the current one runs out.

Of the other two, the Campus Notebook slightly edges out the Aqua Drops, and appeals mainly based on the quality of paper and overall lightweight yet quality construction. The Aqua Drops notebook series I consider a solid option, and for me, would be an ideal “project” notebook, as the option to add, subtract, or rearrange pages (of ruled, plain or grid options to boot) is a real positive. A few sketches and notes as part of a project negates the ongoing “page wiggle” issue of prolonged writing sessions, and tends to be where a lot of spiral bound notebooks I try end up.

As I mentioned above, I do find satisfaction in seeking out lower cost stationery options, which, admittedly aren’t always on point, however the three above are great options to try out for yourself. If they don’t suit? Well, I guess you haven’t really lost much in finding out.

Officeworks X A5 PP Spiral Notebook

x_a5_pp_post_cover_with_pensI picked up this notebook at my local Officeworks for AU$2.99. That’s right — three bucks. My expectations as to how it might perform under a fountain pen were therefore not overly high, however feeling the paper while in the store suggested it just might be a little better than expected.

Home I went — not expecting much, however in the knowledge at worst it would end up a rollerball or gel pen notebook and at least see some use. What I ended up with was a whole lot more than that.


x_a5_post_X_logoThe X A5 PP Notebook is part of the broader range of ‘X’ series stationery at Officeworks, consisting of notebooks, paper, writing instruments and various other accessories. I believe these are an Officeworks “own brand” type line up. All would be considered reasonably priced, with many downright cheap, as is the case with the subject of this post.

x_a5_pp_post_coverThe A5 is a double spiral or wire bound notebook with slightly frosted, transparent, hard polypropylene (hence “PP”) front and rear covers. Also available is a variant with a ziplock pocket at the front and an elastic enclosure, for the princely sum of AU$4.99.

Apart from the branding sticker in the bottom right hand corner of the front cover, the notebook carries no other features or markings, which suits the simplistic design. Given the cover is transparent, there is of course a great opportunity to decorate the first page as you please, and presto: instant personalised cover design. Commensurate with my overall design and creative abilities, mine remains blank.

x_a5_pp_post_labelOne other point to note is your usual preferences regarding binding in notebooks will of course apply. I know many find the large wire binding to get in the way of a fluid writing experience — particularly when writing on the left side of the page, or vice versa for left-handers. If that is how you usually find things in these notebooks, you’ll find it here as well. On a positive note, I’d say there is a medium amount of “wiggle” in the page when writing — also something I typically find characteristic of wire bound notebooks, which if excessive, can certainly be a deal breaker for me. They have done a pretty good job here.

Overall, the X A5 has a robust feel to it, and for the price, is certainly not an unattractive notebook. Sure, it’s not likely to set your desk on fire in the style stakes, however the simplicity of the design ensures it won’t necessarily look out-of-place on that desk either — a characteristic often missing from items at the lower end of the market.


The specifications listed on the Officeworks website:

  • Cover: frosted clear polypropylene
  • Binding: double wire
  • Pages: 180 (90 sheets)
  • Paper: 80 gsm white
  • Ruling: 5×5 mm dot grid
  • Size: A5
  • FSC certified (Forest Stewardship Council) paper
  • Country of manufacture: China

Paper and performance

As noted in the specifications above, the 80gsm white paper comes with a dot grid ruling and 180 pages — more than enough to keep you going though a few ink chambers of writing. The pages themselves are not perforated, however tear out easily enough, and do not leave the entire edge of the sheet torn to shreds like some wire bound notebooks.

It’s when it comes to writing on these pages that the real value for money here is hammered home. With fountain pens, this paper really does punch well above its price tag. Certainly not as smooth across the surface as say Rhodia paper, however performance-wise it doesn’t suffer.


With finer nibs you’ll experience a little tooth on the page (something I prefer, as long as it’s just a little), however I would still describe the overall experience as a smooth one. Wider and wetter nibs only get smoother, with no feathering, show or bleed through the page. I’ve mentioned in the past I can deal with a little bleed or show through, but feathering drives me crazy.


Remember I paid three dollars for this notebook.

Of course as with any paper performing in this way, at times there will be issues with dry time if you are powering along, and testing shows typical inks will dry at around the 20-25 second mark, plus or minus 5 seconds or so for wetter or dryer inks. Of course it goes without saying its ability to handle rollerball, gel ink, or your standard ballpoint pens is assured.

This is without doubt some of the best value 80gsm notebook paper going around, and is readily available online or at your local Officeworks store. This post on The Fountain Pen Network would suggest I am not alone in this line of thinking.


Having picked up this X A5 notebook on a whim, when “back to school” shopping at Officeworks with my kids, the hope was it might be a reasonable quality, cheap notebook to have lying around. It turned out to be way more than that.

Of course it won’t replace your Rhodia No. 16, but wow, it’s a heck of a lot closer than you might think, and I’m certainly likely to be back for more. It would indeed be a great option to accompany the purchase of a new Pilot Prera fountain pen if that’s why you entered the store.

Well done Officeworks — extremely well done.

Monokaki A5 Notebook

Having this Monokaki A5 notebook arrive in my letterbox a little while ago was indeed a pleasant surprise. Picked up in a Japanese stationery store by a friend during a recent trip overseas, I was the lucky recipient of a notebook I had not come across either in stationery stores or online.


Although I knew nothing about the Monokaki range of notebooks (Monokaki meaning “writer” in Japanese), the quality of both paper and overall manufacturing was immediately apparent. Also, given the decorative border around the front cover included pencil, fountain pen and inkwell motifs, I was further encouraged as to the likely merits of the paper stock, and its ability to handle my favourite writing instruments.

Yes, I was a little excited about this one.


Seeing the unfamiliar Monokaki brand name immediately sent me on an internet search for a little more information, an endeavour which also had me thankful for Chrome’s translation button when viewing the manufacturer’s website. There isn’t as much information readily available compared with some of the more common brands, however what I did find was indeed of interest.

UK store Choosing Keeping (online or 128 Columbia Rd, London) provided some background, which included a little dig at another major brand’s claim about being a notebook for novelists:

The one exception being that while other’s marketing campaigns are entirely fabricated, the Monokaki notebook’s paper – Kotobukiya paper – was really created as a bespoke product for Japanese author Fumio Niwa by the company’s present day owner’s grandmother in 1939 and used by countless authors and poets including no less than two Literature Nobel prize winners and one nominee.

I’d encourage you to click-through and read a little more, as the page also includes information on the company, which continues to operate and manufacture the notebooks from the Sakura district in Tokyo. The 1940’s woodblock cover design apparently comes from Japanese manga artist Ryo Takagi, commissioned to create a design of “traditional Japanese atmosphere – to include familiar stationery and writing instruments”. I think you’d agree the design goal was achieved.

On a more practical note, and certainly of great interest to many of us in the pen community:

The manuscript paper was indeed designed with novelists in mind for its excellent performance when used with fountain pens – no bleeding, no feathering

So all in all, things were looking good, with both first impressions and an initial foray into learning a little more about the brand yielding positive results.

For reference, some links (I’d recommend Chrome for opening those in italics and translating the result):

Update, 13 December 2015: I have now updated the information above which incorrectly stated Choosing Keeping were an online store. The store has been in touch to advise they also have a brick and mortar shop specialising in classic stationery and notebooks at 128 Columbia Rd, London as well. Thanks Julia!

Look and Feel

If I consider what actually is my preferred or favourite “look” for a notebook, I don’t believe I really have one to be honest. There are times when an understated black might be what I am after, yet other times it might be something a little more individual or unique. The Monokaki range is itself a little unique in that it probably fits both these descriptions.

I do enjoy a little variety from time to time in what I am carrying, however not at the expense of the writing experience. Considering this, I do have what I’d call a spectrum of tolerance here. By that I mean certain notebooks I’m happy to use even if it means finer nibs and certain inks only, as long as things are not too restrictive. Mind you, that particular subset of nibs, inks and pens must perform without further compromise, otherwise the notebook will be gently set aside and see no further use.

Although I’ve probably begun to drift a little off track, my intended point is to merely highlight the fact there are no real compromises with the Monokaki’s paper — to any of my pens, nibs or inks, as you’ll read about a little further below.


I do love the look of this notebook, with its relatively understated, yet very individual cover design. The contrast of the binding tape complements the unique monokaki_traditional_japanborder and designs contained within it. Even the font used on the cover branding, combined with the central symbol and what I believe to be traditional Japanese lettering (part of manufacturer Asakusa Masuya’s logo) add to the overall design aesthetic of the front cover. The back cover is also not forgotten, containing a central symbol, with both corners also demonstrating fairly intricate detailing.



While I am not entirely certain if some of these symbols carry significant meaning over and above their decorative effect, the overall feeling I have about the character of the design is one of old world Japanese tradition or history. I have no specific basis for that, however that is the feeling I keep coming back to when I look at it, and is something I find quite compelling.

In the hand, there is a feeling of quality evident in the construction. With time, I’d expect some wear and tear around the corners of the front and back cover if it were going in and out of a bag on a daily basis, however it would more than likely be filled in short order as well if that were the case. That said, I have no real concerns about the overall durability of the cover, if a little care is taken along the way.

imageThe paper is thread-bound and glued in small sections (apparently to assist flatter opening), and externally reinforced with tape along the spine, which not only provides additional support, but I believe enhances the overall external look. Additional stiffening is also provided by a second sheet of card stock inside the front and back cover, providing a kind of double cover for want of a better term. monokaki_dbl_coverThis again adds to the overall sturdy feel of the notebook, providing additional rigidity to the cover.

The pages themselves are lined, with a larger margin at the top of the page. The only additional markings are 10 mm graduations marked along the top and bottom line (which are themselves bold), allowing the accurate addition of a vertical margin if you so desire. monokaki_vert_margAt a guess I’d say this may be present to allow vertical rulings to be created for a grid of 24×18 boxes, similar to the Masuya manuscript paper from the same manufacturer.

I do not find the absence of other possible additions such as page numbering or date fields detracts in any way from either the look or the usefulness of the page. In fact, the simplicity of what is offered fits with its overall character.


Courtesy Choosing Keeping:

  • Monokaki Notebook
  • A5 210 x 148 mm
  • Soft flexible washi paper card cover
  • Acid-free smooth light cream paper
  • Plain or ruled (lines 9 mm apart)
  • 160 pages
  • Fountain pen friendly cream paper
  • Thread-stitch bound in small sections for flat opening throughout
  • Sizes available
    • Large, B5 – 257 x 175 mm
    • Medium, A5 – 210 x 148 mm
    • Small, B6 – 182 x 128 mm
  • Price £12.00 ($AUD24.70)

Also available on Rakuten Global Market with a list price of $AUD12.56.

imageA word about the Masuya paper (English page link), which is used in the Monokaki range of notebooks (also referred to as Kotobukiya paper, with both terms used somewhat interchangeably from what I’ve read). Masuya manufacture 2 types of manuscript paper and have a range of 35 different products. Originally cream, the paper also comes in white, created to better reflect the light source — apparently coming about due to one of the previously mentioned “novelists” writing by a single spotlight.

From the site itself (unaltered):

Masuya in Asakusa is a traditional company successing Japanese hand-writing culture. We have various products made of high quality paper many famous writers have chosen. Japanese traditional design, unique touch…

Along with the rather unusual:

Feel Japaneseness through Masuya’s products.

It has been a little difficult to track down more detailed information about the Masuya paper used in the Monokaki line of notebooks, and you will note the absence of a gsm rating in the specifications above. The paper in this notebook is certainly far thinner than a 90 gsm Rhodia or Clairefontaine notebook, and also the 80 gsm softcover Leuchtturm1917 notebook I have been most recently using — by a considerable margin. Given Tomoe River paper weighs in at 52 gsm, then at a guess — and I repeat this is my own guess-timation only, this paper feels like it would be around 60 gsm. I may be way off the mark here, however it is very thin and very light compared to your standard “fountain pen friendly” notebooks — and is certainly closer in properties to Tomoe River than any other paper I have used to date.

Once written upon, the paper has a little of what I’d call that “crinkle”, reminiscent of Tomoe River paper, and does seem to have properties that lend me to think of it in similar ways. At times I feel I have turned one page when I have actually picked up two.

Needless to say, I like it — a lot.

Writing Performance

From my comments above, you probably can see what is coming here.

This paper is pretty amazing — particularly if you enjoy writing with fountain pens, meaning of course it handles pretty much anything else you care to throw at it as well. The exception of course being Sharpie markers and the like, where thin doesn’t always hold up to such an onslaught of saturated ink. For fountain pens though, this is some of the best paper I have written on since, well… since I’ve been concerned with such matters. As much as I loved my Rollbahn and Apica Notebooks of previous reviews, the paper in this one surpasses those.


For my paper requirements and preferences, this one is now certainly a favourite. Beyond the obvious shockers of horrendous feathering (my number one hate and deal-breaker), excessive bleed-though (a slightly lesser evil to me), and show through (perfectly acceptable to me for the most part), I’m sure we all have our favourites for various reasons.

monokaki_reverse_pageThe paper in this notebook has what I’d call a moderate amount of show through for darker and more saturated colours you might use. So in all likelihood, many of your fountain pens. Again if we compare it to Tomoe River, it has possibly a little more — but only just, assuming my eyes aren’t deceiving me.

Because the paper is so lightweight, although it has a little tooth to a gliding nib, there is no sinking in feeling from toothier, heavier-weighted paper. I’ve also noted in the past how on some heavier paper such as a Clairefontaine notebook, I feel as though the nib skates away from me a little, and what I gain in less resistance, also results in less control. There is none of that here — even with more rapid writing. To me it really is the best of both worlds. As far as feathering goes – what feathering? None of that here.

IMG_5250As far as the shade of paper is concerned, I’m a little picky here. Every time I try a notebook in the off-white/cream/yellowish spectrum, I begin by thinking: gee, this would be fantastic in white. However this is typically followed by filling up the notebook with all manner of ink colours and not thinking another thing of it. As you can see from the writing sample page, all of your colours will vividly show in all their glory.

One point I should make here, is that this is not a flat opening notebook, even through the middle third of the book. I have doubled it back and left it open in attempts to coax it a little flatter through the spine to no avail. While not a deal breaker for me, it is noticeable, and something which does get in the way of the writing experience somewhat. Something to consider in any event.

In summary, the writing experience is as close to a Tomoe River experience as you can get. Why is that relevant? Well, Tomoe River paper is popular and well regarded for a reason. Light weight paper, smooth without the slip, handles pretty much every ink and nib, a little show through yet no bleed or feathering. Sound familiar? Indeed it does, however applies equally well to the Masuya paper in this Monokaki notebook.

Probably the one thing about these types of paper that can sometimes be an issue is ink drying time. By comparison, the Monokaki on average dried a few seconds faster for a given ink — often at around the 15 seconds mark, versus 18-20 seconds for the Tomoe River. So again I found the overall performance quite similar.

Without a doubt this is great paper, and if you are at all able to get your hands on some, I highly recommend trying it out — whether in notebook or manuscript page format.


imageThe Monokaki A5 Notebook is indeed a joy to use, largely due to the writing experience of the Masuya paper itself — and isn’t that pretty much the key to our love of pens and paper? True, I have a little flexibility as far as my specific paper requirements for writing, and this Monokaki Notebook sits very close to the favourite end of that spectrum.

To make it pretty much perfect? There is probably nothing I’d change about the properties of the paper — for fountain pens it is pretty much spot on. I’d perhaps tweak the binding to allow truly flat opening; opt for a truer white in paper shade; and finally, have a local store or online seller stock the range so I can easily replenish my supplies when they dwindle!

This is certainly a great notebook, and with 160 pages to play with, will serve me well for a little while longer — and that can only be a good thing. I often get the impression there is a whole world of Japanese stationery that I am entirely oblivious to — which is also a good thing, for it simply means there will always be more to discover.

Apica CD11 A5 Notebook

Hypothetically speaking, were I someone who walked through their local CBD bookstore’s stationery section more than say, a couple of times per week (who does that?), I would have noticed the Apica Notebooks display stand.

I might have also watched as the stocks slowly dwindled, perhaps picking up an A5 size in a mustard yellow — one of the last remaining colours. Of course, I then perhaps noticed the very next week, stocks were replenished with just about every colour available in the range — I mean I’d know that if I were someone who walked in looking at the notebooks all the time.

What I can confirm, is at the time of writing, there is a nice range of Apica Notebooks in different sizes at this particular store. That’s the word on the street anyway.

Look and Feel


IMG_4584The Apica CD11 Notebook, is an A5 (148 x 210mm), soft cover notebook with a distinctive, traditional looking cover design. Made of flexible textured card stock with tape reinforcement along the spine, the overall look harks back to times gone by.

Although not my favourite, the mustard colour has certainly grown on me, and is only a stone’s throw from the colour of the Baron Fig Three Legged Juggler limited edition I finished a couple of months ago. I’m not sure what it is with me lately, however you might recall a recent review of the Delfonics Rollbahn notebook which I also purchased in — uhh… yellow.

FullSizeRender 19Back to matters at hand. As listed in the specifications below, the CD11 is a 28 sheet or 56 page notebook, so although a little larger in overall dimensions, thickness-wise is similar to a Field Notes Arts & Sciences edition, which runs 32 sheets or 64 pages. The Apica CD line does includes a smaller pocket-size — the B7 sized CD8, and would be well worth considering if a very fountain pen friendly pocket-sized notebook was of interest to you — great value at $AUD2.75 for 72 pages.

The cover is adorned with a nice border pattern and a few words from the manufacturer. The Most advanced quality and Gives best writing features inscriptions I can live with, however I am not one to write any details such as my name, contact or the like on a front cover. At best I might put the start and end dates or a specific topic if relevant for the book, however the fact it remains blank with half the notebook used is probably telling on this point as far as my preference goes.

FullSizeRender 18

From (L): Field Notes Two Rivers & Arts and Sciences; The CD11; Baron Fig Confidant Three Legged Juggler Edition

Overall, I do rate the design highly, and although very thin and light, still affords the feeling of a quality product.


Courtesy of the fine folks at JetPens, whose specifications tab on products never fails to provide just about every specification you’d care to know.

  • Model: Apica CD11
  • Manufacturer: Apica
  • Country of Origin: Japan
  • Weight: 2.6 ounces (74g)
  • Binding: Thread
  • Cover Material: Card stock
  • Cover Type: Softcover
  • Line Spacing: 7 mm
  • Number of Lines: 25
  • Number of Sheets: 28 (56 pages)
  • Paper Weight: 80 gsm
  • Perforated: No
  • Refillable: No
  • Sheet Style: Lined
  • Size – Depth: 0.3 cm
  • Size – Length: 21 cm
  • Size – Width: 14.8 cm

The notebook you see was purchased at the Brisbane CBD Dymocks bookstore for $AUD5.50. It can also be purchased online in six different colours from Australian retailer Bookbinders Online for $AUD3.95, or in the US from JetPens for $USD1.75. For a single purchase, I certainly could not have had one delivered all up for less than $5.50, and was happy to pay the store retail.

There are no bells and whistles here. The CD11 contains no sleeves, pockets, elastic enclosure, perforated pages or other paper ruling options. There is no numbering or pre-formatting on any of the pages. This is a traditional, 7mm lined notebook with a blank margin at the top of those 25 lines. If you have a preference for blank or dot grid pages, this may not be the notebook for you.


This is a straightforward, high quality product, at a very competitive price — which handles fountain pens very, very well. If that sounds like something you would be interested in — and I believe many would be, then I don’t believe too many of the other features are all that necessary.

Writing Performance

The 80gsm paper of the CD11 reminds me very much of a Clairefontaine Essentials cloth bound A5 Notebook I own. Apart from the 90gsm paper, the major difference of course being the Clairefontaine’s 192 pages. For that reason I have never really had any great affinity for carrying it with me – it just feels too heavy and bulky.

When used with fountain pens, the CD11’s acid-free off-white paper handles almost everything you can throw at it, with the exception of the tiniest bit of feathering on wetter nibs and inks. Here your own experience might vary a little, as my pens are typically on the medium to fine side. The pictures tell a better story, with no bleed through and only minor show through apparent on the reverse of the pages. Rollerballs and ballpoints were handled with ease, however I suspect avid pencil users might want paper with a little more tooth to it perhaps.

FullSizeRender 16IMG_4578IMG_4579

If you are thinking of picking one of these up, you can count on using most if not all of your pens, and you’ll certainly be using both sides of the page — something which I see as important when you only have 56 to play with. As far as ink drying time is concerned, as expected with paper like this it does take time, however I found it a little faster than your average Rhodia pad and the Clairefontaine notebook I mentioned above.

I have very much enjoyed writing in the CD11. The fountain pen experience is top notch, the 7mm grey lines are perhaps a little darker than I might like, however these soon disappear when surrounded by words. The combination of the thread binding and small number of pages, also ensure the CD11 will lay completely flat when opened. IMG_4597Here I mean completely flat, as the softness of the spine makes for a simple bend backwards upon opening, and you have something as flat as a sheet of looseleaf paper on the desk in front of you. Closing after this? As simple as running your fingers down the spine as though you were folding a sheet of paper and the notebook will almost completely close — certainly good enough for me.

Closing Thoughts

IMG_4582I have thoroughly enjoyed using and would highly recommend the Apica CD11 notebook. It has been in use as my writing and summary notebook for a little over a month now — that is, for slightly longer writing sessions calling for more than a pocket-sized notebook.

There are three main points I keep coming back to when I think about whether I’ll buy another of any particular notebook. Whether it is fountain pen friendly; opens flat; and is light and easy to carry. The CD11 more than fits the bill on all three fronts.

When I try to get some writing done in my lunch break, I carry one pen (fountain); my iPad mini (plus or minus Logitech keyboard cover attached); FullSizeRender 17and a notebook. The lighter the notebook the better, and I have not found one better in this regard, and to have it accept whatever fountain pen I’m using at the time perfectly when I get to my cafe destination — just brilliant.

Sure, I’ll buy and try other notebooks, and yes I do like dot-grid as well, however the CD11 is one of those I’m sure I’ll return to when I just want to use a high quality, well designed, value for money product, built for a specific purpose at which it excels.

Just remind me not to buy another yellow one will you?

Delfonics Rollbahn Spiral Bound Notebook


In my ongoing quest for a quality spiral bound notebook, I decided to pick up a Delfonics Rollbahn recently, during a free postage promotion on Notemaker, one of Australia’s best online stationery stores.

Since then, I have also seen new stock arrive at the Dymocks Brisbane CBD bookstore, and the Rollbahn metallic covers (silver, gold) look absolutely fantastic. How do they perform? The most apt description here is also fantastic, and I have put together a few thoughts on this below.

The Notebook

The particular model purchased was the large (14 x 18 cm or 5.5 x 7 inches), which is a little more square in form than say, an equivalently sized Moleskine, which measures 13 x 21 cm (5 x 8 inches). I must admit, I do like the square format of the pages, as my writing is often not on the small side when jotting down a few quick notes, a list, or even something a little longer.

Specifications (from Notemaker):

  • PAGES: 180 (90 sheets)
  • RULING: 5mm x 5mm Graph / Brown-Grey coloured ruling
  • PAPER WEIGHT: 70gsm
  • PAPER COLOUR: Off White/Ivory
  • DIMENSIONS: 14cm x 18cm
  • SOURCE: Made in Japan

Look and feel

Looking more closely at the design, the binding is double spiral for added strength, with the cover made of extremely stiff, robust semi-gloss card stock (also described in the product specifications as splash-proof, however I did not specifically test this).



At the rear of the notebook are five, top-opening, clear plastic sleeves between two thick yellow dividers matching the front cover. As with the front, thick card stock forms the back cover — this time in kraft, complete with a small letter-pressed Delfonics branding. An elastic closure strap in navy blue (matching the contrasting logo on the front cover) completes the picture.



The overall look of these notebooks is quite striking, and I am quite drawn to the styling, quality and attention to detail applied to both the design and manufacture — not surprising given two factors: it is stationery, and it is made in Japan.

As I mentioned earlier, the silver and gold metallic covers are even more impressive, and nothing can beat seeing them first hand in a store. In fact, I have no doubt my accompanying photos would have been of the silver model had I seen them in-store prior to my online order.

As far as I am aware, the Rollbahn series come in 5 x 5 mm graph paper only, however the rulings are so faint I did not find it dramatically different to a dot grid type of paper, nor should those who find graph ruling a little “busy” for their tastes. At the very least it is worth a look, even if graph ruling is not your thing.

All sizes in the Rollbahn series contain 180 pages (90 sheets), with every page perforated for easy removal, however a little care is required when initiating the tear. I would note here I am always loathe to criticise a notebook for this, as my technique can be a little, how shall we say — “cumbersome”, at times.


Of course the best design components of a notebook pale significantly if the paper is not up to expectations.

A note here about the paper first up. It is yellow. Pale yellow, however yellow nonetheless. The specifications on Notemaker describe the paper as “off white/ivory” with “brown/grey” coloured ruling for the 5 x 5 mm graph paper design. Is the paper colour a deal breaker? I’d say no, however if you are someone who uses a lot of subtle colours or shades of inks, it just might be.

Not a great photo, however top to bottom: Clairefontaine, Rhodia, Moleskine, Rollbahn

Not a great photo, however top to bottom: Clairefontaine, Rhodia, Moleskine, Rollbahn

Just to confirm — it’s definitely yellow. There is no way I can be convinced this is merely off white or ivory, and if the performance of this paper were not as good as what it is, I may not have enjoyed using it as much as I did. I simply prefer paper towards the whiter end of the spectrum — particularly for those types of inks.


That said, upon putting down some samples on a page, (see accompanying image above) most of my comments above might appear unwarranted or a little harsh — comments which I almost removed (the sample page being written after drafting the post). More vibrant, colours such as Montblanc Irish Green and J.Herbin Orange Indien were fairly true to their white paper appearance (the orange perhaps losing a fraction of nuance), however I have also added a shot below of some Montblanc Daniel Defoe Palm Green, where most of the green tones can only be seen in a smudge. Conversely, I have found a nice, consistent shade of earthy green when the same ink is used on whiter paper.


See for yourself in the accompanying images, and the only reason I highlight this aspect in particular, is that for me, were this paper white, I would be telling you it would be pretty much perfect. It is that good.

The usual characteristics such as bleed through, show through or feathering are handled perfectly by the 70gsm paper — that is, pretty well none of these are demonstrated in the writing I have put down so far. This is great paper for note taking — fountain pens included, with dry time certainly on the quicker end of the scale compared with other brands of paper.

I find it a little less “slippery” for want of a better word than say Rhodia paper, my go to for fountain pens typically. The little bit of extra feedback suits my writing style perfectly, as I sometimes find a really smooth nib more difficult to control on very smooth (e.g. Rhodia) paper.

One minor qualm I noted when writing was the small amount of “wiggle” or movement of the page if not held with your opposite hand, mainly due to the large squares cut in the paper for the double spiral binding. Most likely not a problem in the extra-large size, however in a notebook of this size, I often rest my hand on the left page or off the notebook completely. Not a major issue however the movement was noticeable and something I thought worth mentioning.

Use case

For me, this large size notebook — my first Rollbahn, is best suited to shorter note taking given the size of the pages, however would hold up well for longer form writing. In a larger size, I can see this working extremely well as an office meeting note taker or “day book” of sorts, which is where I find the spiral bound books to work best for me.

Many of the notes I take during the day relate to meetings, general thoughts/ideas on processes, procedures or projects, and rough working, mind mapping or outlining these very topics.

Why does the spiral binding suit here? Simply because I prefer a notebook at work which opens flat, closes flat, and can be turned back on itself to allow notes to be taken on a somewhat stable and rigid surface if I choose to rest the book on my lap. This I find to be a common scenario, either for comfort reasons in a long meeting, or to jot down a few confidential notes, where the notebook is angled towards, and closer to me.

IMG_3516It is also at my office job I am most likely to be using ink colours in the blue-black spectrum, or more gel ink pens or my trusty Retro 51. As good as the paper is, as I’ve state above, the yellow shade is probably not best for testing your new ink colours — at least those on the subtle shade side in any event.

My purchase receipt tells me I bought this notebook in late October, and in the intervening two months, I have: made a few plot related notes for NaNoWriMo; jotted down some coffee tasting notes; written a few pages worth of outline for a post on what I learned from NaNoWriMo (must actually finish and publish that one!); and taken a dozen or so pages of notes whilst watching David Sparks excellent OmniFocus Video Field Guide (in Daniel Defoe Palm Green – see accompanying image). A group of notes largely consisting of bullet points, lists and short text notes.


It is pretty clear I am very impressed with the Delfonics Rollbahn, and find it suits my style of writing and notebook requirements extremely well. The styling, design and build quality are second to none. I will definitely be giving the extra-large size a run as my office notebook in future.

What do I like most? Definitely the paper quality, (if not quite the colour), the overall build quality and design, and the attention to detail that is apparent in the double spiral binding, rear pockets, and perfectly rounded corners. Although nice, the closure strap is something I generally prefer not to have (particularly in a notebook which closes well on its own) — as I find they often get in the way. Certainly not a deal breaker by any stretch.

My dislikes? Here it is really only the shade of the paper, for otherwise it is essentially flawless. A minor qualm about the “wiggle” in the page when writing I mentioned earlier is not something which would stop me buying more in the future.

As far as value for money is concerned, here is where things get a little (not a lot — but certainly a little, depending on your budget) interesting. The 14 x 18 cm sized notebook retails for $AU14.95 (either brick and mortar store or online), and the extra-large 19 x 26 cm for $AU24.95. Not an insignificant amount, however when balancing this with what you get for your money, that is, exceptional quality, and 180 pages of it, I’d say the value for money certainly is definitely there. I should also mention the notebook also comes in a smaller (10 x 15 cm), 180 page top opening reporter style notebook for $AU9.95.

Although this is my first Delfonics Rollbahn notebook, I doubt it will be my last. My recommendation would be to try one for yourself, and if you write with fountain pens, my advice is the same — try one out.

Just remember, though perfectly fine for most colours, the shade of paper isn’t made to showcase the subtleties of your ink collection, but will serve you extremely well for taking meeting notes or writing the intro or outline to your next long form essay.