TWSBI notebook review: superb paper, questionable construction

After I went down the fountain pen rabbit hole, I quickly realised it was time to find a better notebook. I’d used Moleskine notebooks for years, but the paper isn’t exactly fountain pen friendly. This post details my experience with the medium-sized TWSBI notebook1 as a potential replacement.

TWSBI medium notebook with Franklin Christoph Model 02 (click to enlarge)

TWSBI medium notebook with Franklin Christoph Model 02 (click to enlarge)

Pros

  • 240 pages of off-white paper that works beautifully with fountain pens.
  • A well-presented softcover notebook that lays flat.

Concerns

  • Flimsy elastic closure strap.
  • Binding was shoddy on this particular notebook.
  • No hardcover option.

Appearance and first impressions

The notebooks have a soft, black, leatherette cover stamped front and back with the TWSBI logo. I prefer hardcover notebooks, but unfortunately, that’s not an option. The binding allows the notebook to lay completely flat when open — a feature less common with hardcover designs. A red satin bookmark and highlights on the rear concertina pocket add some flair to the otherwise conservative design.

TWSBI medium notebook front and rear cover

Front and rear cover (click to enlarge)

The elastic closure is the flimsiest I’ve come across. I wasn’t sure it would go the distance, but it has held up fine under daily use.

I am still talking about a notebook even if this next bit sounds more at home in a wine review. At the risk of sounding like I’ve lost the plot, the first thing that struck me on opening the packaging was the waft of an unusual aroma. It was both familiar and elusive, and I still haven’t placed it. Minty and reminiscent of freshly cracked pepper. This unexpected olfactory experience was strong at first but faded with use.

Dimensions

The TWSBI notebook is available in small, medium and large sizes. The medium is the same size as a large Moleskine and a little narrower than the A5-sized notebooks from Rhodia and Leuchtturm1917.

Size comparison with other popular notebooks (large Moleskine hardcover, medium (A5) Leuchtturm1917  softcover, and Rhodia Webnotebook)

Size comparison with other popular notebooks (click to enlarge)

Dimensions are as follows:

  • Small: 5.5″ h × 3.75″ w (140mm h × 95mm w)
  • Medium: 8.25″ h × 5.25″ w (210cm h × 130mm w)
  • Large: 9.8″ h × 7.5″ w (250mm h × 190mm w)

The binding quality is my only major criticism. One or two sections had loose threads at the center page but the last section was only hanging by a thread (see photos). For now, I’m prepared to write this off as an isolated quality control issue, but it detracts from an otherwise well-crafted product.

Example of loose threads in the section binding

Several sections had the odd loose binding thread (click to enlarge)

Fail! The last section's binding was only hanging by a thread.

Fail! The last section’s binding was only hanging by a thread (click to enlarge)

Since the dimensions were so close to those of a large Moleskine, I tried it with my leather Molecover notebook cover. It works well, despite the TWSBI’s soft cover. My Molecover is well worn having housed dozens of Moleskines. If you tried this with a new Molecover you’re likely to destroy your notebook cover — the leather won’t have stretched enough. I had to be more careful when closing the notebook to avoid bending the front cover, but it works better than I expected.

My well-worn Molecover worked surprisingly well with the softcover TWSBI notebook.

My well-worn Molecover worked surprisingly well with the softcover TWSBI notebook (click to enlarge)

Paper

Each notebook has 240 unnumbered, off-white pages. TWSBI does not specify its weight, but I’d estimate it at 80 gsm. The medium and large sizes dispense with the perforated pages of the small notebook. Including some perforated pages in the larger sizes (as the Leuchtturm1917 notebooks do) would have been a nice addition, but it’s not a deal-breaker.

The writing experience was excellent with everything I tried. Show through looks worse in the photo than it appears with the naked eye

The writing experience was excellent with everything I tried. Show through looks worse in the photo than it appears with the naked eye (click to enlarge)

Blank, lined and grid page layouts are available, but dot-grid lovers will be disappointed. Fine, grey lines stay in the background and don’t steal the focus from your words and drawings. These unobtrusive lines are rarely visible after scanning pages for digital storage. The 6.5mm rulings are a touch wider than Moleskine’s but less spacious than Rhodia’s layout. This spacing feels perfect for my handwriting.

Line spacing comparison with Moleskine and Rhodia

TWSBI’s line spacing is a fraction wider than Moleskine’s, but less spacious than Rhodia’s (click to enlarge)

Writing performance

The paper performance was excellent with fountain pens (as you’d expect from a fountain pen manufacturer). It’s smooth but the nib doesn’t skate across the pages in the same way it does with Rhodia paper. I’ve had no issues with feathering or bleed through with any inks.

Writing sample close-up. No bleed through or feathering.

No feathering or bleed through here (click to enlarge)

Even heavily saturated inks (like Private Reserve American Blue) demonstrate little in the way of show-through. Both sides of the page are usable. I’ve made insouciant use of inks that are prone to bleed through with other notebooks. Impressive! The camera picks up more show through than you see with the naked eye.

High-quality paper makes for a delightful writing experience

High-quality paper makes for a delightful writing experience (click to enlarge)

Where to buy

TWSBI notebook prices are on par with other notebooks of similar quality. Retail prices (USD) are around $14 for the small, $16 for the medium, and $19 for the large size.

You can buy direct from TWSBI, but international shipping prices are exorbitant. Try these alternatives:

Summary

This won’t be the last time I use these excellent, fountain-pen-friendly notebooks. They are a worthy alternative to the ubiquitous Leuchtturm1917 and Rhodia offerings. A hardcover option with a stronger elastic strap would make it just about perfect. The binding on this example had some loose ends, but I’ll put that down to an isolated quality control issue until I have more data.

Question: What’s your favorite notebook? Leave a comment below.


  1. Disclosure: The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I purchased this product and have no relationship with TWSBI. 

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