Paper Notebooks Explained
There’s no better place than a paper notebook to pour out your blood, sweat, and tears. It helps you to slow down and be more thoughtful about what you write, whether it’s deep, dark secrets or lyrics to the song you’re writing. With so many different variations out there, we want to help you sort through all of your options. Read on to find out what kind of notebook is best for you!
Characteristics of Notebooks and Notepads
Standard size notebooks and notepads are usually letter or legal size (U.S.), or A4 (ISO 216 international paper size standard). These notebooks are best for taking notes at school or work. Notebooks about half that size (A5) are usually used as journals and small sketchbooks. Another popular size is B5, which is in between A4 and A5. We think B5 notebooks are “just right”–not so big that they become a hassle to lug around and not so small that you can’t finish your thoughts in one page. There are also people who prefer pocket sizes (A6), as they’re much easier to carry around. For more pocket notebook picks, take a look at our guides to Memo Pads and Pocket Notebooks. If you’re not sure what paper size you should use, read our Paper Sizes Explained guide for more detailed information.
|Format||Size (in inches)|
|A4||8.27 x 11.69|
|A5||5.83 x 8.27|
|A6||4.13 x 5.83|
|A7||2.91 x 4.13|
|B5||6.93 x 9.84|
|B6||4.92 x 6.93|
|Letter (U.S.)||8.5 x 11|
|Legal (U.S.)||8.5 x 14|
You’ve probably seen lined or even blank notebooks, but there are many other styles out there that you can consider depending on your application.
Lined or ruled notebooks are great for people who use their notebooks strictly for writing.
Artists and visual thinkers usually prefer blank notebooks so they’re not limited in how to organize their thoughts.
The dotted grid pattern features dots that can be used as guidelines as you’re writing while still being unobtrusive enough for doodles.
Notebooks printed with graph paper are useful for engineers or designers who are constantly making diagrams, mock-ups, and so on.
The dotted line pattern is a ruled style that features evenly spaced dots along the lines. This is great for students as it helps keep notes organized and neat when writing and drawing diagrams at the same time.
Doane Paper features an innovative style of Grid + Lines. Lines are wide-ruled and bolded, while the grid is a light blue shade.
Most people use medium (college) ruled paper, which is 7 mm. Wide ruled (8 mm and up) paper is usually used in grade school or by people who have larger handwriting. People with very small handwriting can also use narrow ruled (6 mm) paper. For graph styles, the standard size is 5 mm. The less common 3 mm grid is also available for those who do very detailed work.
Notebooks are bound in several different ways, including glue, staple, thread, spiral, rings, or a combination of the above. The binding method determines how flat a notebook lays, how well it stays together, and generally how sturdy it is.
Glue binding tends to not be as secure as other types of binding. Traditionally, glue-bound notebooks don’t lay completely flat, though this is not the case anymore with the advent of “lay-flat technology”. Some glue-bound notebooks are made intentionally so that pages can be removed easily. You can see this in top-bound sketchbooks and the like, which is perfect for those who need to remove their work from the notebook cleanly.
Staple binding is used for thinner notebooks (roughly 64 pages or less). Staples are placed in the middle of the pages and then the pages are folded into a notebook. Some notepads have staple bindings at the top of the notebook, where pages have to be folded back or removed in order to use the next page. Look for staple bindings when choosing a pocket or thin notebook.
Thread or stitched binding is similar to staple binding, as thread is stitched through the middle of the pages and then folded to create the notebook. Thread binding can accommodate more pages and is sturdier than staple binding. This binding style is ideal for people who need more pages and more stability in their notebook.
A combination of thread and glue allows for a more tightly bound notebook that can also lay flat. It’s also not limited by number of pages. This type of binding is great for people who prefer a sleek notebook with a sturdier binding.
Spiral notebooks have a spiral wire running through the pages. Though this binding is secure, we’re not fond of the way wider spirals move out of place every time we open and close our notebooks or how easily they’re bent. Tightly wound spirals are a better choice if you’re looking for a spiral notebook because they are sturdier and less likely to move out of place.
Ring binding comes in single and twin versions. Twin rings are the most secure out of all the bindings we’ve mentioned, and notebooks bound with twin rings are able to lay completely flat. The slight disadvantage to this kind of binding is that it’s bulkier and not as streamlined.
Paper weight is expressed as grammage (grams per square meter) or pounds (in the States). Paper weight does not necessarily correlate to the quality of the paper. Some papers that have lower weights but are made for fountain pens, such as Tomoe River paper at 58 gsm, are very high quality. On the whole, heavier paper is thicker and more durable. They can withstand more robust erasing and have less showthrough. People who draw or who write on both sides of the paper should consider heavier paper.
100 sheets from Kokuyo Campus Notebook (70 gsm) versus 100 sheets of Tomoe River paper (58 gsm).
Showthrough from Kokuyo Campus Notebook paper versus showthrough from Tomoe River paper.
Number of Sheets
Notebooks don’t just come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, they also vary in the number of sheets within the notebook. Some people prefer thinner notebooks, while others need an encyclopedia-like notebook to chronicle their thoughts. If you want more pages without the extra weight, try finding paper with a lower weight. You’ll be amazed by how many more sheets you can carry!
Cover Material and Design
Notebook covers are made from all kinds of materials, including thick cardstock, hard cardboard, flexible plastic, and luxurious leatherette. If you tend to carry your notebook with you everywhere, you should choose a sturdier cover that can withstand a few knocks. Covers with rounded corners are also a good choice, since they won’t get worn down or accidentally folded. We like covers that multitask; for example, some covers have pockets that let you slip in business cards or other loose leaf paper.
Whether you need to tear out homework to turn it in or just have to frame an awesome sketch, perforated notebooks make it easy to remove and share pages. Look for perforation with dots set closely together for that smooth, easy tear. Perforations that are not set close enough usually need you to fold or crease the paper to help them tear cleanly.
Some manufacturers provide covers to protect their notebooks, making them refillable. After you finish one notebook, simply buy a refill and you can continue using the cover. This is great for people who keep their notebooks after they’re finished with it since the refills match, making them easier to stack and store.
For General Use
If you use notebooks to write down phone numbers, recipes, or other miscellaneous items, your needs are simple. A basic ruled notebook in a compact A5 size would be sufficient to keep your information organized. We like using Apica CD Notebooks for their simplicity and light weight. You can carry them around with you, and with their attractive, stylish covers, why wouldn’t you?
Recommended Product: Apica CD Notebooks – A5
|Paper Weight||81.4 gsm|
|# Pages (Sheets)||28 (14)|
Also Consider: Rhodia Notepads
Students use notebooks for a variety of tasks, including taking notes during lectures, writing down assignments, doing homework, and more. We’re partial to a particular ruled style from Japan called dotted lines. The dots are evenly spaced so that when you’re simultaneously taking notes and making diagrams, you can use the dots as guidelines and keep your notes organized and easy to read. Kokuyo Campus Notebooks are perfect for students. They’re color-coded so you can have one for each class, and they feature the versatile dotted lines pattern.
Recommended Product: Kokuyo Campus Notebooks – Semi B5
|Paper Size||Semi B5|
|Sheet Style||Dotted Line|
|Paper Weight||70 gsm|
|# Pages (Sheets)||30 (15)|
Also Consider: Lihit Lab Twist Ring Notebooks
Whether your journal is a chronicle of your life, a dream recorder, or a place for you to put your thoughts and feelings, our favorite part of keeping a journal is looking back at completed journals and seeing how we’ve changed over time. Refillable notebooks are great for this, since you can organize your old notebooks in a bookshelf somewhere and reuse the notebook cover. For a journal that is luxurious and functional, the Exacompta is our pick. It has a lovely leatherette cover that protects your journal and perforated edges to keep your place as you write.
Recommended Product: Exacompta Journals
|Paper Size||5″ x 7″|
|Paper Weight||64 gsm|
|# Pages (Sheets)||192 (96)|
Also Consider: Leuchtturm1917 Notebooks
For Sketching and Visual Thinking
For all you visual thinkers out there, we recommend completely blank pages, so your imagination can run wild. You never know where or when inspiration may strike, so having a notebook with a hard cover will help protect it as you carry it around. The Stillman & Birn Zeta Sketchbook has heavy paper with a smooth finish that works well with almost any media, including pencils and ink. For more detailed sketchbook recommendations, check out our Guide to Sketchbooks.
Recommended Product: Stillman & Birn Zeta Sketchbook – Hardbound
|Paper Size||5.5″ x 8.5″|
|Binding||Thread and Glue|
|Paper Weight||270 gsm|
|# Pages (Sheets)||52 (26)|
Also Consider: Art Alternatives Pen & Ink Sketch Books
For Engineering and Design
For engineers, architects, and designers, we recommend using graph paper notebooks. You can present your work in a clean and clear fashion within the grid guidelines, and keep everything neat and to scale. Aptly named after the Greek goddess of memory, the Maruman Mneosyne Notebook features subtle light gray graph lines that will help your work stand out. Its flexible but sturdy cover, durable ring binding, and carefully perforated paper all speak to its high quality.
Recommended Product: Maruman Mnemosyne Imagination Notebook – A4
|Paper Weight||80 gsm|
|# Pages (Sheets)||70 (35)|
Also Consider: Rhodia Reverse Books
For Fountain Pen Users
Fountain pen users often struggle to find a paper that will prevent the much dreaded effects of feathering and bleed-through. Ideally, the paper will be dense, but smooth and silky, and not so absorbent that it bleeds through to the other side. We recommend looking for notebooks that are specifically made with fountain pens in mind. We like using the remarkably smooth paper of the Clairefontaine Collection 1951 Notebook with our fountain pens. It’s definitely a match made in heaven! If you’d like more options, take a look at Our Favorite Notebooks for Fountain Pen Use.
Recommended Product: Clairefontaine Collection 1951 Notebooks
|Paper Size||5.75″ x 8.25″|
|Paper Weight||90 gsm|
|# Pages (Sheets)||48 (24)|
Also Consider: Kokuyo High Grade MIO
For Carpentry, Workshop, or Garage
If you’re looking for something a little grittier, or a notebook that can get down and dirty, we recommend looking for notebooks with an unpolished cover, such as chipboard or craft covers. These kinds of rugged notebooks will fit right into your workshop or garage. Doane Paper Grid+Lines Idea Journals do just that. With their sturdy twin ring binding and unfinished chipboard cover, you don’t have to worry about damaging or being overly careful with them.
Recommended Product: Doane Paper Grid + Lines Idea Journal – Large
|Paper Size||5.25″ x 6.875″|
|Spacing||0.125 mm; 9 mm|
|Paper Weight||60 gsm|
|# Pages (Sheets)||100 (50)|
Also Consider: Field Notes
Some notebooks feature eco-friendly paper. Rhodia Webnotebooks are made with PEFC paper, which means that it comes from sustainably managed forests. In addition to helping you minimize your environmental impact, Rhodia Webnotebooks feature supple leatherette covers, fountain pen friendly paper, and a handy inside pocket.
Recommended Product: Rhodia Webnotebooks – A5
|Sheet Style||Line, Blank, Dot|
|Spacing||7 mm; 5 mm|
|Binding||Thread and Glue|
|Paper Weight||90 gsm|
|# Pages (Sheets)||192 (96)|
Also Consider: Kokuyo ReEDEN Notebooks
Even though people have taken to storing information the digital cloud, we still reach for our paper notebooks. We feel a little bit like Lord Voldemort when we say this, but it’s like the notebook contains a part of our soul after we’ve written in it. Do you feel that way? Let us know what you put in your notebooks in the comments below!