A Tale of Six Notebooks, a Chinese Pen, and a Whole Lot of Feathers
This was supposed to be a short, quick review. But it turned into a genuine saga.
I love notebooks. I have piles of them that I’m not sure I’ll ever get to use. But I keep buying them because I’m looking for the PERFECT notebook. As I’ve been trying different brands, paper types, styles, and bindings, I think I’ve identified exactly what I’m looking for. Unfortunately, I don’t think it exists. With the thousands of different types of notebooks out there, you’d think I could find a handful of options that suit my needs. But you’d be wrong.
Before I continue with this review, let me share my criteria for “Ken’s Perfect Notebook”:
- Fountain Pen Friendly
- B5 Size
- Dot Grid Pattern
- Top-bound, Twin-Ring Spiral Binding
I’m always scouring the pen/ink/paper sites, looking for something that might qualify, but I usually come up empty. Recently, though, I discovered something that I thought might suit my tastes: Notebooks from a company named Kyokuto. Their products are very highly rated, but imported from Japan…so they’re pretty expensive in the US. They fill the B5/Dot Grid/Twin-Ring Binding requirements that I’m looking for, and the reviews I read indicated they are great with fountain pens. I figured I hit the jackpot. Because I’m also looking for the perfect pocket notebook, I ordered four Kyokuto F64° notebooks: Two B5 (one Dot Grid and one with no rules), and two pocket-sized (one with normal rules and one with no rules).
These are really nice-looking notebooks. The twin-ring binding is very sturdy and looks nicer than a standard spiral binding. The back cover is made from a very heavy card stock that allows you to write in it while holding it in the other hand. The front cover is a thinner card stock, but over the top of that, Kyokuto adds a very thick clear, frosted plastic cover. It protects the front cover from damage, and when folded back, adds to the already sturdy back cover for a very stable writing surface…for those times when you don’t have a table to set it on.
Two really nice features of these notebooks are: (1) The twin-ring binding allows these notebooks to lay flat when opened to any page; and (2) The corners away from the binding are rounded off, so they don’t get bent or damaged from being in a backpack, book bag, or pocket. I would go so far as to say the form factor of these notebooks is just about perfect (although I’d rather the B5 have the binding on the top edge rather than the left edge to keep it out of my way). Functionally, these notebooks are very well designed.
The paper is a bit thin, but smooth. I worried about ghosting and bleedthrough, but I fully expected a nice result from using fountain pens. Boy, was I wrong…at least I thought so at first. I started my writing samples using the pocket-sized notebooks. I collected several pens I had on-hand and inked up, and started writing:
- Platinum Preppy (EF): Looked perfect…off to a great start!
- Platinum Preppy (F): Noticed a tiny bit of feathering, but you had to look really closely to see it.
- Pilot Metropolitan (Italic/Plumix): Feathered all freaking over the place…didn’t spread too far, but all the edges of the letters are fuzzy and feathery.
- Kaigelu 336 (M): Also feathered. Not as bad as the Metro, but still nowhere near crisp lines.
- Sharpie Pens (F and M, felt tip): These looked pretty good. I had to use a loupe to see any fuzziness, and only saw any on the Medium.
So it looked like I was out of luck with my “Fountain Pen Friendly” requirement.
The X-Feather X-Factor
I thought this might be a good opportunity to test Noodler’s X-Feather ink. It’s supposed to eliminate feathering on even the cheapest paper. So I loaded up a recently cleaned Baoer Skywalker with X-Feather and went to town on one of the B5 notebooks. To my delight, there was no feathering. It looked great (although there was a small amount of skipping going on…but more on that later)! To better compare with the smaller notebook, I wrote a bit with the same Kaigelu 336. The results were pretty different. The Kaigelu still feathered a little, but not nearly as bad as it did in the pocket-sized notebook.
The real test came next, when I tested the Boaer with X-Feather on the smaller notebook. It feathered. Noticeably.
I drew a nice thick line in both notebooks, and even there, the line in the smaller notebook feathered quite a bit, whereas the line in the B5 sized one had no feathering at all. None. Zip.
So now I’m starting to wonder if the paper is different between the two sizes. They look and feel the same, but the performance is vastly different.
A Note on Skips
I mentioned a couple paragraphs ago that I noticed some skipping with the Skywalker. It happened in both notebooks. Even though there was no feathering in the B5, the pen still skipped the same as it did in the smaller notebook. I’ve heard nothing but great things about the Skywalker, and because X-Feather is a very fast-drying ink, I figured it had more to do with the ink than with the pen. But just to expand the test a little, I did some writing samples on both Rhodia and Maruman paper. The Skywalker/X-Feather combination skipped on the Rhodia, but did NOT skip at all in the Maruman. No skips, no hard starts. It was perfect. (I did test it on a sticky note, too…it didn’t feather at all, but skipped like a kid on a warm summer Saturday.)
I’m still not sure what to make of the differences in feathering between the two different sizes. The paper seems the same to me, but there’s no denying that the smaller, pocket-sized notebooks are much worse with fountain pens. There’s also no denying that all the notebooks are sturdy, well made, and nice-looking. I’m not sure I can recommend them for fountain pen use because there’s no telling whether you’ll get the good paper or the bad paper. But if you’re looking for a general, everyday notebook for jotting quick notes or carrying around “just in case,” then they might be perfect for you.
For the record, despite the poor fountain pen results, I think the Kyokuto is still my favorite pocket notebook due to it’s size and top twin-ring binding. I’ll just have to stick with my gel pen to avoid going completely mad dealing with all that feathering.
|Size||Semi-B5 (7 x 9.9 inches) and B7 (3.5 x 4.9 inches)|
|# of Sheets||80|
|Rules||Dot Grid (B5), 7mm Rule (B5), 6mm Rule (B7), Clean/No Rules (B5 and B7)|
|Binding||Twin-Ring, so they lay flat (huge plus): B5 on the Left Side, B7 on the Top|