Time for a break from inexpensive pens and pencils from JustWrite, and onto some premium level notebooks with Japan-made Tomoe River Paper. These notebooks are the result of a collaboration between JustWrite and Olive and the Volcano Letterpress, meaning they are exclusive to JustWrite. Not only that, but they promise to deliver on a few lofty goals.
The first is an unbeatable writing experience for fountain pens, with silky smooth textured paper, high bleedthrough resistance, and no feathering. Alas, this is a goal many supposed “fountain-pen-friendly” notebooks have often failed to achieve. The second objective is to deliver this performance in a package that is thin and light, owing mainly to the thinness of the paper. 52gsm is the quoted weight value (note: Rhodia is 80gsm, copy paper is 70gsm), and this initially left me extremely skeptical of whether or not this paper could deliver on both these promises at the same time, as normally these two things would cancel each other out.
As it turns out, not only does this notebook range keep both promises, it does so in an exquisitely presented package that is certain to knock other brands like Field Notes and Moleskine clean out of the park.
These notebooks come packaged simply – a clear plastic sleeve and a small paper jacket with the relevant information cleanly presented. Removing both of these means removing 90% of the distinguishing parts of the notebook. Simply put, you couldn’t tell these notebooks from a plain black Moleskine from ten paces. But, that’s where the similarities end.
JustWrite have really made use of their partnership with Olive and the Volcano Letterpress, with sparse, but very clean embossing on the front and back of the cardboard cover. The cover itself is a nice charcoal grey with a textured surface, a far cry from the Moleskine plastic junk cover. It’s also satisfying stiff, and will do well to protect your notes stored inside.
Everything from the outside is, well, gorgeous. Extremely understated and very elegant so as to not stand out, and keep distractions to an absolute minimum. The notebooks are only available in blank ruling, which is probably a safe choice given that notebooks can be completely broken by a poor choice in layout of lined or grid rulings. Note that this is a brand new product, so we may see lined options in the future (something I would really enjoy). Currently the notebooks come in two sizes – A5 and A6. The A6 is the perfect pocket notebook, much like Field Notes are. A5 would do well for more extended design work and notes. I find A5 to be a perfect size for carrying in a small bag to school or uni, where A4 tends to only fit in a larger, laptop-sized bag.
The pages are undeniably thin, bordering on bible-thin, and are a subtle off-white colour. This is where the notebook may disappoint if judging it solely on its construction, but the lightness of the paper allows for a whole 120 pages (60 sheets) in the same space where other notebooks could only fit up to 96 pages (Rhodia and Moleskine, and others). If you do one thing, look past the paper thinness until you actually begin writing on it.
Essentially the whole package oozes quality, far beyond anything Moleskine, or even Rhodia, have produced. Every part of the design, from the machine-stitched binding to the letterpress embossing, appears to be consciously included.
This is where these notebooks really surprised me. They’re very light in their construction, and sit flat on the table. The thin pages respond well to folding, so cracking the spine all the way around will cause them to flatten out with little resistance. However despite being thin and light, they’re also sturdy and do not exude a sense of low quality that can come with a lighter product. The cover is stiff, but still flexible, so using the notebook and then slipping it into a bag did not get me worried about damaging it at all.
But then, of course, there’s the writing experience. In my testing I opted to use a wide variety of inks and pens, which represent what this notebook would actually be used for in any situation. I can safely say that any sort of writing of drawing are an absolute pleasure. The smooth surface of the paper minimises friction and allows a comfortable writing experience whether you’re using a pen or pencil, and even very thin fountain pen nibs feel great despite the thin paper.
So, that’s part of the promise fulfilled, but what about the paper’s resistance to the woes of ink? Take a look for yourself.
I blasted this paper with even the worst of inks, including Noodler’s Bernanke Blue which even feathers on 90gsm Clairefontaine, the same paper found in Rhodia Webnotebooks, and as you can see this paper held up perfectly. Not only did this paper resist feathering with all but the most brutal of situations, it even prevented bleedthrough and showthrough. That’s right, I think that even if you spilled ink all over the page, the next sheet would be unaffected.
Of course, there was a small amount of bleeding with the Preppy Marker and Summer Tanager, which is a brutal bleeding and feathering ink, but not much. Simply put, this paper exceeded my expectations and then kept exceeding them. It basically disproves the commonly-believed notion that higher gsm, thicker papers will always prove superior for bleeding and feathering resistance. Needless to say, I’m thoroughly impressed.
What more can be said about these notebook except that they are pretty much perfect. Of course, I would appreciate more options in terms of sizing and ruling styles, but that’s to be expected of a brand new, almost experimental product from a small producer. I will add a couple more things to consider.
The paper is made in Japan, but the notebook itself is actually produced in Australia by hand, with machine-stitching binding it together. Compare this to Moleskine’s machine-made, sloppy construction from the depths of China (or god knows where else). Field Notes are comparable in this regard, being made in the USA.
Price comparisons put the Tomoe River Notebooks at the upper level, but not by much. The A6 comes in at $11.00AUD, with the A5 costing $19.00AUD. Field Notes will set you back about $15.00 for a pack of three A6 notebooks, but note that each contains only 48 pages (though coming in a wider range of colours and rulings). Moleskine come in around $16.00 for a two-pack of pocket A6 notebooks, with 76 pages each. However, you do get the high quality construction and 120 pages in the same space with the Tomoe River Notebooks, so I believe the higher price is justified (especially against the Moleskines).
So where does this put the Tomoe River Notebooks? I think they’re competitively priced, and far exceed Moleskines for quality and performance, so much so they’re basically in a whole ‘nother category of their own. Perhaps they are comparable to Field Notes, but they edge them out in terms of page quantity and also quality of construction and the understated looks.
What do I think? In the end, these are very high quality notebooks through and through, and another worthy contender to unthrone Moleskine. So JustWrite really do have a winner with these notebooks, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better quality notebook anywhere else. I would choose these over even Rhodia notebooks, but will still stick to Rhodia for their lined and grid rulings.