/The 100 Best Notebooks, As Tested by Strategist Editors

The 100 Best Notebooks, As Tested by Strategist Editors

Photo: Stella Blackmon/New York Magazine

Hardcover or soft? Leather or cloth? Spiral-bound or sewn? Are the pages gridded? Are they a comfortable writing size? Do they tear out easily? Whether you use your notebook mainly for jotting, reporting, journaling, list-making — or some Beautiful Mind–esque combination of all of the above — the details really matter. And there are so many to consider. Finding the best options can be an obsessive quest — and thus one we couldn’t resist.

In the same way we went about ranking 100 pens, we started by digging through our own archive of notebook coverage, consulted dozens of experts, and gathered up our personal favorites to determine the top competitors. Then we called in notebooks of all kinds, including bullet journals, composition books, waterproof reporter pads, and a few exciting additions from around the world — places like Portugal, Japan, even Bulgaria — and put them to the test. The resulting list is a ranking of the top 100 notebooks, according to Strategist editors and writers. And if you agree or disagree (or have a favorite we missed), let us know in the comments — we just might test your favorite when we update this list in the future.

Among our team members, we have those who prefer lined notebooks, others who like blank ones; we have our spiral diehards and bullet-journal enthusiasts. And while individual preferences may vary, we’ve aimed to standardize our judgments by evaluating each notebook on a scale of 1 (poor) through 5 (excellent) in the following categories:

Design: Is there enough room to write? Do the aesthetics and ergonomics of the open notebook encourage you to use it? Do the lines/dots/grid feel impactful in a good way or overly designed and distracting? Or are they, in fact, perfectly muted?

Page Quality: Is the paper smooth enough for writing? Is it thin or thick? Does the weight of the page make it feel luxurious or flimsy? Is the texture soft and smooth or coarse and scratchy? Is the paper recycled/recycled-feeling? Colored or unbleached or bleached bright white? Does the ink bleed through?

Overall Feel: Does the notebook feel substantial or flimsy? Is it a good weight and size? How portable is it? Does it pack easily into certain bags? Will it hold up against wear and tear? Are there too many/too few pages? Or is it just right?

The Cover: What design elements stand out? Is it hardcover or softcover? Is it nice to look at or jarring? Is it minimal, classic, and clean or just boring? Design-y in a cool way? Or is it overdone or even a little immature-looking? Does it come off as expensive or cheap?

Once we had our notebooks in hand, we divvied them up among our 13 writers and editors to be rated according to our criteria. We asked our team members to use their favorite pen for each notebook to have a control factor. And since personal tastes vary — some of us prefer lined paper, others dotted or blank — we each stuck to judging the type of notebook we tend to use anyway.

Each tester used a single notebook for at least one full day for all writing needs (brainstorming, note-taking, journaling, list-making). And to get a real feel for the experience of actually living with the thing — carrying it around and stowing it in a bag — we all brought our test notebooks to meetings and on our commutes. Here, top 100 notebooks, ranked in order. Click here to jump to the top 80, top 60top 40, or top 20.

Type: Dot or lined

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 4.9 | Overall feel: 5 | Looks: 5

I’m a devoted Muji Paper Bind user (see below), but this notebook from Public Supply came out a little further ahead for a few reasons: First, Public Supply donates a portion of every sale to public-school classrooms throughout the U.S. It also comes in a ton of vibrant colors and special editions. As for the notebooks themselves, the pages are a nice eggshell color and easy on the eyes, which I prefer to bright-white pages (my only gripe is that they’re somewhat narrow). The dot grid is super-subtle, so it helps line things up without taking over. And the surface of the paper is slick, which means ink won’t bleed, and the paper is FSC certified, meaning it’s sourced from responsibly managed forests. —Liza Corsillo

Total score: 4.975

Type: Blank

Design: 4.8 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall feel: 5 | Looks: 5

This is the notebook I use on a regular basis for writing to-do lists, drawing on the subway, recording my feelings, and jotting down ideas. I am extremely attracted to the no-nonsense design and construction of these — and the price. I buy them in bulk so I won’t run out and so I can line them up on a shelf in my apartment when they’re full. The pages are smooth and creamy. They fit inside nearly every bag or purse I own, and their weight is imperceptible. I like that they’re slim and bendable — I can slip one inside the pocket of a hoodie — and since they’re not overly precious, I don’t have to think twice about filling them up with random musings. Larger, fancier notebooks can make me worry that what I’m writing isn’t good enough for their pristine pages. And though I love a beautiful linen or leather cover, I like that this Muji notebook has a card-stock paper cover so I can draw on it or label it with dates and project names. In my opinion, this notebook has only two design flaws. One is that the pages are slightly transparent when used with inkier pens, and the other is that they don’t lie open on their own. But with a little encouragement, I can bend one to my will so it’ll stay flat.
—LC

Total score: 4.95

Type: Dot grid

Design: 4.75 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall feel: 5 | Looks: 5

I typically use lined or blank pages with a stitched (not spiral) binding, but this dotted spiral notebook made me reconsider everything I ever thought I wanted in a notebook. It was my favorite of the ones I tested for its lovely textured cover, for the way the cover flips back over the brass-colored spiral, and for the faint dots inside, which I found even more enjoyable to write on than lined paper (!). It’s simultaneously stately and accessible, and using it makes me feel productive. The pages are smooth but not too smooth, thick but not too thick, and don’t bleed through. My one complaint, and the thing that kept me from giving this a perfect score, was that the dotted rows are just a tiny bit too close together for my taste. They’re faint enough that you can write outside them without it looking sloppy, but ideally I’d like my writing to fit between the lines. —Hilary Reid

Total score: 4.93

Type: Blank

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall feel: 5 | Looks: 4.5

This was a lovely notebook and one that I would leave out on my desk to admire. It has a pretty linen cover, with cream endpapers inside, and has that special feeling of a really well-made minimalist object. The texture of the pages almost grips the tip of your pen when you write, which might sound annoying but is actually very satisfying. —HR

Total score: 4.875

Type: Blank

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 4.5 | Overall feel: 5 | Looks: 5

Aside from its extremely handsome looks, I can write extremely well in this notebook. The smooth pages allow my pen to effortlessly glide across. I love that the paper has an off-white coloring, which is easier on my eyes under our office’s fluorescent lights. And though its bound, it acts like a spiral in that it stays open with no page creasing, and I can write on the front and back with ease. The lineless pages give me plenty of room to write, too. —Chloe Anello

Total score: 4.875

Type: Blank

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 4.8 | Overall feel: 4.5 | Looks: 5

The look of this notebook is very pleasing — warm yet neutral cloth-bound cover, peachy endpapers, back pocket, and small embossed details on the cover. Honestly, it’s worthy of an Instagram photo shoot of its own. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a favorite among prop stylists. That said, I don’t love the color of the pages — too bright for my eyes. And it’s not very portable, sadly. But as a thing on my desk to give other people the impression that I have my shit together: Aces. —LC

Total score: 4.825

Type: Gridded

Design: 4.5 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall feel: 4.8 | Looks: 4.8

I love the size and shape of this notebook. The pages are super-slick — kind of like bristol board but thinner — so my pen kind of glides across the page. I also really like how this notebook packs a ton of pages into a relatively thin book. Its grid pattern is unobtrusive, and each page has a faint little date area in the top right corner. The cover of the notebook has a cool ’80s-looking font and design, which for me brought a little too much personality to the table, but for others it might be just enough. —LC

Total score: 4.775

Type: Gridded

Design: 4.75 | Page Quality: 4.75 | Overall feel: 4.75 | Looks: 4.75

I am a lifelong ruled-notebook person. But this gridded notebook turned out to be my favorite — and the one I returned to following our tests. It’s simple but elegant, without overly complicated sections or chirpy to-do boxes. It’s just a wealth of gridded pages on creamy paper of a soft, Post-it Notes yellow. The medium-size spiral-bound spine is substantial but not overwhelming. Something I will likely never use are the five plastic pocket sleeves in the back, which you could save little things in if you wanted to. The size is ideal: spacious enough to include a packed day’s schedule but dense enough to last about two semesters or quarters. —Simone Kitchens

Total score: 4.75

Type: Blank, lined, or gridded

Design: 4.5 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall feel: 4.5 | Looks: 5

There is a lot to love about the Midori MD Notebook: It has an understated design, is super-portable, and has a reasonable price point, to boot. It’s really the details that make this notebook shine — the little red ribbon bookmark, the elegant embossed logo on the cover — and the dimensions are subtle but elevate the whole thing. It’s available in three formats: blank, lined, and gridded, so it’s sure to please most stationery aficionados. And while I was initially worried about the card-stock cover’s durability, I found that Midori sells a line of covers in either goat leather or Córdoba paper to keep the notebook protected. I tested a muted-pink Córdoba paper cover, which I ended up liking almost as much the notebook itself. —Dominique Pariso

Total score: 4.75

Type: Lined

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 4.5 | Overall feel: 4.5 | Looks: 4.7

Though I am a graph person at heart, this little guy is my platonic ideal of a ruler-lined notebook. It is the perfect size for a bag (five-by-eight-inch), has 96 pages (plenty, but not an intimidating number), and the cover colors are pretty and have no decorative elements or text anywhere to be found. The front and back covers are somewhat plasticky, which is wonderful: You get the sense that if you had this in your bag and, say, a water bottle spilled, it would make it out mostly unscathed. The inside is similarly unadorned but efficient: The lines are subtle but not too subtle, the pages are detachable, and writing on them feels smooth and comfortable. This is like the Frances McDormand of notebooks: handsome, no-nonsense, and timeless. —Katy Schneider

Total: 4.675

Type: Dotted

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall feel: 4.5 | Looks: 4

What is there to say about the Leuchtturm1917 Medium A5 Dotted Hardcover Notebook that hasn’t been said before? It’s a classic right up there in the ranks with Mead and Moleskine and is beloved by both bullet journalers and regular note-takers alike. While I am not a bullet journaler, I have used this notebook in the past and find it to be a reliable, versatile notebook. The level of quality is high without feeling too precious. And oh, the dotted grid! I absolutely adore it. I’ll pretty much scribble in anything, but that page design is my ideal: It gives just the right amount of constraint and freedom. At the end of the day, the Leuchtturm1917 delivers on its hype. —DP

Total score: 4.6

Type: Dot grid

Design: 4.5 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 5 | Looks: 5

The dot grid on these pages extends to the edges, but none of the dots are cut off, which is a little design detail that set my most obsessive tendencies at ease. As a result, the dot grid isn’t distracting at all, and it’s so appealing to write in. The pages are nice and thick and smooth, and the ink doesn’t bleed through at all. That makes it feel like you’re writing in something special. One warning: The paper isn’t bleached, so pages do look a little vintage, or, if you’re being less generous, dingy. This notebook is the one that felt most like a journal, something that you’d want to spill your deepest thoughts and feelings into. (In fact, it felt a little gauche filing it with to-do lists.) It feels substantial, and the faux-leather front cover has a wonderfully touchable texture, yet it’s not too heavy to carry to meetings in the office. And the fact that there’s zero branding makes the notebook seem more expensive than it is. —Maxine Builder

Total score: 4.6

Type: Dotted

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall feel: 5 | Looks: 4

I loved the freedom this dotted notebook gave me. Saying my handwriting is imperfect is being generous, so not being confined to lines was the confidence boost I needed. My pen didn’t bleed and showed up clear and sharp on the page. The hardcover seems tough, but it is still light enough to carry around. The Bullet Journal logo on the front is the only downside to the appearance. It’s not a big deal, but a plain black cover would make this perfect. —Jenna Milliner-Waddell

Total score: 4.5

Type: Blank

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 3 | Overall feel: 5 | Looks: 5

The pages of this upscale take on a classic composition notebook are generously big, so I have lots of space to write my daily to-do list at the top and also jot down thoughts throughout the day and the occasional doodle. It doesn’t force me to contain my unruly handwriting because it’s lineless. My only issue is that it is a struggle to write on the back (which I like to do to save paper). I saw some indentations on the paper when I wrote particularly hard in some spots, and the page doesn’t lie flat unless you heavily crease it. The cover always opens flat, though, so no issues there. —CA

Total score: 4.5

[Editor’s Note: This notebook is currently out of stock. In the meantime, you can buy a classic composition notebook here.]

Type: Lined

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall Feel: 4 | Looks: 5

This notebook immediately commands your attention with its bright-red cover. It’s also super-skinny, which I like, even though it takes up the second-most surface area of the notebooks I received. Its cover is paper (or cardboard), which won’t bode well for wear and tear but makes it super-easy to fold in half (it’s so thin that if you fold it and push down to crease along the binding, it will stay open to a half-page on its own). The pages, which have the thinner lines I like, are easy to rip out, though they don’t tear perfectly as they’re not perforated. Tellingly, this calls itself “a notebook without the needless frills” — and the company is Japanese. I just wish it came in a smaller size (to take up less desk space). —Anthony Rotunno

Total score: 4.5

Type: Blank

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 5 | Looks: 5

I really like the shape of this notebook — it’s tall and slender, so it looks sleek and compact, but it still has enough space to write on a page. The pages are unlined, which I don’t love (I find that I cycle through pages faster in unlined books because I’ll write more willy-nilly and then feel like there’s too much going on). It’s a hardcover, non-spiral bound notebook, and the pages are not perforated, but they did rip out easier than in other bound ones I tried (didn’t leave any jagged edges behind). But because it is a hardcover notebook, I can’t fold it in half like I like to do. The smudging is more apparent on this one than the Black ’N Red, though it’s not the worst of the bunch. The paper doesn’t feel overly heavy or light; weight is not something I noticed when touching/using it. This notebook has some bells and whistles that make it more functional than your average one — like the Black ’N Red, it has an elastic to hold it open to your page. It also has a ribbon in it to mark your page. And it has a little accordion folder on the back for stashing other things. Pulling it out would make anyone look distinguished. Its design definitely lends it to be more the type of notebook you might take on a trip to jot down notes, addresses, or other bits of information, rather than a notebook you might bring to work or class to sort of outline and prioritize. Which isn’t a bad thing! Perhaps the best looking I tested. —AR

Total score: 4.5

Type: Gridded

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 5 | Looks: 4

An all-around useful and attractive notebook, the Kiriko was my favorite of the seven I tried. It’s good-looking without being distracting and functional while still feeling special. The textured linen cover features an abstract wavelike pattern, and a red thread down the spine gives it a handmade look. It’s what I would consider a journal-size notebook, and I’ve carried it around in my bag for a few days without it showing any signs of wear. Each page has a clean, gray grid that functions as a writing guideline and is especially nice for making lists. There’s also no ink bleed-through. The notebook doesn’t naturally lie flat when it’s open, so you’ll have to give the spine a little bend, which it can handle without looking creased. —Karen Iorio Adelson

Total score: 4.5

Type: Blank

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall Feel: 4 | Looks: 4

Full disclosure: I was really excited when I saw that I had been assigned the LIFE notebook. As an occasional lurker in stationery sub-Reddits and fountain-pen blogs, I’d heard a lot about these cult-y Japanese notebooks. They’re really expensive, though, which is why I’ve never bought one. From experience, I know that I tend to not actually write in fancier notebooks because they’re almost intimidating — is any to-do list really worth messing up this beautiful, unbleached, velvety and thick paper? That’s something I need to get over, on a personal level, but if you’re inclined to that sort of thinking, this notebook will bring that out. But, if you can get over that — as I did, in order to test this out — this thing is a pleasure to write on, honestly. The paper is really, really smooth. And no bleed-through with fountain pens. Like none at all. But it’s still not overly thick, and LIFE actually manages to get 100 pages into a pretty small package. It also folds open with ease — as in, it’s easy to spread both pages out and lay it flat without one side awkwardly bunching up. That might sound like a small thing, but it really makes a difference, and it comes up a lot with smaller A5 notebooks. There are also three tiny cardboard dividers in the binding that you can’t really see — they’re maybe a quarter-inch — but they could let you section things off. The cover is just thick paper stock, so it’s hard to imagine this not getting messed up unless you’re careful. I’m kind of mad because now that I’ve tried this — it’s going to be hard to go back to anything else. —David Notis

Total score: 4.5

Type: Lined

Design: 4.5 | Page Quality: 4.5 | Overall feel: 4.25 | Looks: 4.75

Just your classic Moleskine notebook here. We know the pages to be beautiful and soft, its hardbound cover to be pebbly smooth. Though as someone who tends to leave notebooks at my desk, with the exception of a few trips around the office to meetings or the art department, I like one that lies flat. This style always seems better suited to travel. But it’s a classic for a reason, and the “Myrtle Green” shade is a nice non-black yet still professional-feeling color. —SK

Total score: 4.5

Type: Lined

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall feel: 4 | Looks: 5

This notebook is slightly whimsical with the petite messages on the front, but still sophisticated with its leatherette cover and gold-foil edges. I wish it were bigger, but there are a generous number of pages to make up for it. I appreciate how thick the pages are because the ink doesn’t bleed through. Even with messy handwriting and lots of abuse, this notebook still looks clean. —CA

Total score: 4.5

Leda Art Supply Large Softbound Sketchbook

Design: 4.5 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall Feel: 4.5 | Looks: 3.5

Though I don’t love the color of its cover, this notebook feels like quality to me. To be clear, it also feels much more like an art supply than an office supply. Its blank pages are substantial and satisfying to flip through. They hold ink without bleeding through or spreading out from the initial line — something you can’t always say about art papers. It has a soft cover and a pocket for ephemera in the back. I don’t think I would carry this around with me much, but as a desk notebook, I like it a lot. The one I tested is the large size, but this notebook also comes in medium and small, which look much more practical for daily use or travel. —LC

Total score: 4.375

Type: Lined

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall feel: 4 | Looks: 4

I love a good spiral notebook. This one in particular will never leave my desk because it’s too clunky to fit in my bag. But I admire how large it is for writing notes. There’s so much room to let my large handwriting breathe. Plus I can write in the margins and have enough space up top to properly label each page, making it easier to go back to my notes later. I find the brand name at the bottom of each page slightly distracting. It also prevents me from being able to write in that section, but I’m not completely offended by it because it’s very in keeping with the brand. I personally enjoy the fun cover, which also is a trademark of Ban.do. It even has a hot-pink divider halfway through the pages that tells me I’m “Straight-Up Magic.” This notebook definitely boosts my mood. —CA

Total score: 4.25

Type: Gridded

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 4 | Looks: 4

There’s plenty of room to write, which I, as someone with huge, loopy handwriting, appreciate. And instead of having the grids go from the top of the page to the bottom, there’s a fat margin at the top, similar to what you’d find on classic loose-leaf paper. It just gives the page a little bit of breathing room, making it more appealing to write in. The grids too, though a bright blue, aren’t overwhelming. The page is more khaki than white, almost like a manila folder, so it looks a little dingy. But the ink barely bled through the page, and it’s smooth to write on. The best way I can describe this notebook is chubby, but that’s a good, charming thing. I think that’s because the dimensions of the notebook are more square than rectangular, so it’s a little easier to port around and stuff into a backpack or purse. The metal spirals are wide enough that I don’t feel like the pages are going to catch, and they feel sturdy. The main reason I’m docking points is because the front cover is mint-green card stock, which doesn’t seem too sturdy. This notebook has a decidedly vintage feel, which is fun and feels fancier and more bespoke than a spiral notebook from the drugstore. —MB

Total score: 4.25

Type: Blank

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall feel: 4.5 | Looks: 4.5

Hiromi Paper is a Culver City-based stationery store that is dedicated to bringing Japanese paper products to the U.S. The Washi notebooks are all made in Kyoto. My tester had geometric designs. It feels both graphic and distinct but not overly fussy. The inside has cream-colored paper is supple and smooth and a joy to write on. The notebook is held together by a single thread. It feels like a lot of care went into making it. That being said, since the cover is just a thick paper (albeit a beautiful, textured, thick paper), held together by a (literal) thread, it is a bit delicate. I do think this is a notebook that needs to be babied a bit, but it’s worth the extra attention. And if you want a notebook that nobody else has, then I couldn’t recommend it enough. —DP

Total score: 4.25

Type: Lined

Design: 3.5 | Page Quality: 3.5 | Overall feel: 5 | Looks: 5

This is an understated notebook with a sophisticated linen cover. It feels extremely sturdy and seems like it could hold up to a great deal of wear and tear. And there are other elegant features as well, including a ribbon bookmark, an elastic band to keep the notebook closed, and a built-in folder on the inside of the back cover to store loose pages. The lined pages themselves are fine: They’re thick enough that there was no bleed-through from my pen but not thick enough to feel particularly fancy. Picture standard loose-leaf that is slightly thicker. It’s perfectly acceptable; it just doesn’t match the quality of the cover. While the notebook is ever-so-slightly larger and heavier than I typically prefer, you can tell this is a notebook that is durable enough to earn the extra space it takes up in your bag. —DP

Total score: 4.25

Type: Blank, lined, or dotted

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 5 | Looks: 3

I found this one really interesting. There’s a whole section in the front with very loose “prompts” to draw or post a picture of yourself or places you find inspiring, jot down goals and priorities, etc. I found this kind of corny at first, but I actually think it’s a really nice touch now that I’ve had some time with the notebook. It’s not for everyone, but I appreciate how earnestly designed it is, and I think those exercises really can help get the creativity flowing and make the notebook feel more personal from the beginning. It’s a little off-tone if you’re just using this for jotting down random notes and lists, but if you want it to be more of a daily planner, casual diary, or bullet-journal type thing, I think it would be a really nice touch. Also the paper is great, smooth with almost no bleedthrough, and it’s still very thin, so it has a lot of pages in there. It takes reusable notebooks that you can swap out, which is practical and environmentally friendly. And another benefit is that the inserts have a soft binding, so you get the easy lie-flat spreadability of that style combined with the durable hardcover exterior. Also, it has two pockets. I don’t know what to do with even one of those notebook-pocket things, but this has two. —DN

Total score: 4.25

Type: Lined, gridded, or dot grid

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall Feel: 4 | Looks: 4

I’m a sucker for brands with some history and provenance, so I was well aware of Rhodia before this. I actually used their notebooks for a lot of my classes in college. (Not to date myself too much, but Moleskines were the hot notebook on the scene at the time, and I wanted to be different). Rhodia is a French company known well in stationery and fountain-pen circles for its high-quality paper. And the reputation is definitely deserved. The paper is very luxe and smooth. No bleed-through. It’s not quite as elegant as the LIFE notebook paper, but it’s still a standout for sure. Of all the notebooks I tested, this is the one I actually ended up using the most, but that’s because it just sat on my desk and I scribbled on it throughout the day. This thing is big — bigger than a standard American legal pad — so it’s not the most portable. But it’s great for leaving on the desk. One other great thing: The paper rips out super-easy and clean, which is often an issue with top-bound pad-style notebooks. One not-so-great thing: There’s no slightly larger “header” section like you have on most American paper pads, and I found myself really missing this. But for a pad with fancy paper, it’s hard to imagine doing better than this. —DN

Total score: 4.25

Type: Blank, lined, or dot grid

Design: 4.5 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall feel: 4 | Looks: 4.5

I desperately crave structure in every facet of my life, but this is a blank notebook I can get behind. It is very simple: a gray, cardboard-y cover, simple yellow-thread binding, and 72 sturdy, smooth pages. Unlike with Moleskine (which is a similar size), this, I fear, wouldn’t survive any sort of in-bag spill, but that’s okay: A set of three costs a mere $12. This is a slightly handsomer, slightly sturdier version of Muji’s (wonderful) softcover notebooks, and would be, I imagine, a doodler’s dream. —KS

Total score: 4.25

Type: Blank

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall feel: 3 | Looks: 5

This is a notebook with a backstory, literally: The first page explains, first in Spanish, then in English, that the product in your hands has a “distinctive and hard-wearing spine and corners” (whatever that means), is “bound in colourful fabric,” and “is the genuine Portuguese Notebook.” It is certainly handsome: The cover is speckled, the pages are dip-dyed in a pretty, vibrant red, and the whole thing is bound, as they said, in “colourful fabric.” It looks, in other words, like something you’d buy for your boss on a European vacation. While the (blank) pages are smooth to write on (with no bleed-through at all), the size (about nine-by-six inches) and heft (heavy) of this notebook relegates it to the “special occasion” category, for at-the-desk to-do lists or intelligent thoughts — it’s not something I would choose to carry around with me on the daily grind. —KS

Total score: 4.25

Type: Lined

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall feel: 4.25 | Looks: 4.25

While I’m not the kind of notebook user who needs her pages compartmentalized into “action” and “notes” and “date” boxes, this spiraled number almost convinced me that I should. The softcover is not overly structured, but with 160 pages, the notebook has enough structural integrity to hold in one hand while writing with the other. And it features perforated pages, which I now realize that I always needed. —SK

Total score: 4.125

Type: Lined

Design: 4.75 | Page Quality: 4.75 | Overall feel: 3.5 | Looks: 3.5

This shrunken notepad is best equipped for grocery lists, daily tasks, or highly abbreviated notes. It takes up minimal room in a bag or coat and could be stuffed into a back pocket. It’s impressively weatherproof, too. After I scribbled a page with Sharpie, dribbled water on it, and wiped it with my hand, the ink didn’t smear or bleed through. And, when dried, the paper returned to its original texture, without telltale waterlogged waviness. Ideal for intrepid reporters on drizzly days. —SK

Total score: 4.125

Type: Gridded

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 4.5 | Overall Feel: 4 | Looks: 3

When I think of a graph-lined notebook page, this is what I imagine. The grid fills the entire page, from the bottom to the top, with no margins or gaps, and yet it’s not overwhelming or distracting to look at. That’s because the lines themselves are a delicate dove gray, visible enough to keep my handwriting in check but not so loud as to distract from my words. My Baron Fig Squire pen raced over the page — the paper is that smooth and silky to write on. The only reason I’m docking any points is because there were some issues with ink bleed-through, but even those were minor. With brown cardboard covers and a spiral binding, this notebook should feel worse than it does, and certainly the design doesn’t scream “luxury.” But the cardboard is pretty rigid and feels firm; it’s also got an almost glossy texture on the outside, which is nice to the touch. It’s fairly portable and packable, though already, I’m seeing some of the metal coils get bent out of place. This is a nice-looking spiral notebook, with clean design and minimal branding, but it is still a spiral notebook, so it doesn’t really look fancy. —MB

Total score: 4.125

Type: Blank and lined

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall feel: 4 | Looks: 3

As a lined notebook lover, I fell hard for this one. The lined pages are all on the right-hand side of the notebook, and the backs of the pages, the left side, are covered in some sort of subtle design. While I’m sure the unlined side would be useful for some, I liked that this encouraged me to write only on the right-hand side instead of trying to fight gravity, holding down the lighter side of the notebook to make it useful. It also helps when flipping through the pages looking for notes to have everything on one side. My black-ink pen showed up, well, black on the page, which I liked. Other notebooks turned the ink into a faint gray that had me questioning if I was actually using a No. 2 pencil to write my to-do list. The ink doesn’t bleed through exactly, but holding a single sheet up to the light, you can definitely see through it. This didn’t bother me since the backside of the page isn’t for writing anyway. It’s not a hardcover notebook, but the plastic outside does give it a nice weight and tough exterior. I was able to toss this in my bag without fear of the corners of the cover turning up or getting marked up from the capless pen in my bag. It’s almost like you don’t have to think about it, which for me, someone who doesn’t care much about the condition of their notebook, worked well. If you care that much about the appearance of your notebook, this can easily be wiped down for regular cleaning. —JM-W

Total score: 4

Type: Blank

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 4 | Looks: 5

I will start this off by saying that when I got the Smythson notebook to test, I felt like I won the lottery. I’ve used one of its Panama Diaries annually for the last several years, and like countless others, I am a huge fan of the brand for its aesthetics and its functional agendas. So it started out slightly ahead of the pack of other contenders. That said, it did not emerge as the favorite of the ones I tested — not because it isn’t a good notebook but because I just think there were other notebooks that worked better as notebooks. It is indeed well made, with the soft grosgrain leather cover, sewn binding, and ribbon to mark your page. From experience, I can attest that leather-covered Smythson notebooks and agendas only get better with age and wear, whether you’re using them or they’re just sitting on a shelf with their spine sticking out. Its handsomeness alone would make me want to use it every day, and its simple page design would not discourage daily use, either. But the sewn binding does make it hard to rip out pages in a pinch. And there’s nothing that adds functional aspects to its design aside from the ribbon. Before I embarked on testing, I would have told you there is no better-looking notebook than a Smythson. But the Monocle’s trim size and neat look I think just edged out this notebook in terms of which one I found the most aesthetically pleasing. That could be because, after years of using Smythson’s diaries, there was no real wow factor about the notebook. (Can you become jaded by notebooks? I guess so.) —AR

Total score: 4

Type: Blank

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall feel: 4 | Looks: 5

This notebook is similar in size to a reporter’s notebook, and the no-spine design made me want to flip it open dramatically with one hand like a detective in a movie. Upon further inspection, I realized my Nancy Drew fantasy wasn’t possible. The back and front cover of this notebook aren’t attached at any point, and it opens accordion style. While I was intrigued by the design, I didn’t actually want to write anything in it. I was confused mostly and didn’t know where to begin. This felt like more of a keepsake or the place a long, passionate love letter or vows would be written in, not my grocery list. If you do have notes worthy of this, the paper is very thick. It has that handmade look and feel, what I imagine the Declaration of Independence was written on. The texture however did not lend itself well to my Bic pen. It did not bleed through the page but spread the ink out, giving my script a dull, thick appearance instead of the clean, skinny lines this pen typically delivers on normal printer paper. As for the size, it’s great for carrying around. It’s small and light enough to fit in most bags, but I wouldn’t toss this anywhere — it’s too pretty. It doubles as desk décor, for sure. If there is such a thing as a status notebook, this is it. Not only is it fragile, but the beautiful textured pastel-colored cover is enough to draw someone’s attention. When they learn it’s unlined, they will assume you have perfect penmanship and that is a flex in itself. —JM-W

Total score: 4

Type: Dot grid or lined

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall feel: 3 | Looks: 5

Had almost unreasonably high hopes for the Confidant, as the New York–based brand’s Squire took home the first-place crown in our best-pens ranking, and in fact the pre-online, print-only Strategist named this the best notebook back in 2015, right after the company launched. It’s a great notebook — easy to carry around, nice-quality paper, handsome without being showy (and available in a lovely range of colors) — but its big promise of lying flat did not quite hold up. It takes a dozen or so pages of use and some serious pressing for that to happen. —Alexis Swerdloff

Total score: 4

Type: Gridded

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 4 | Looks: 5

A luxury take on the classic reporter’s notepad, this spiral-top notebook is both thoughtfully designed and a pleasure to use. Because of its compact size, you can easily write in it while holding it in your hands, without using a flat surface, and it’ll fit in most bags. There’s still enough room on each page to fit several lines of writing, so you don’t have to flip to a new page too quickly. The starched-cotton cover is thick and durable, and the back cover extends over the spirals for a clean look. Its pages are thick and smooth to write on, with very minimal bleed-through. While there’s a light-blue grid pattern on the pages, the squares are so far too tiny to actually write in, so the grid acts more like a design element than a useful guide. It functions essentially as a blank notebook, which is probably fine for the type of quick writing you’ll be doing with this pad. —KIA

Total score: 4

Type: Lined

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall Feel: 4 | Looks: 3

Functionally, this notebook is maybe the best of all, even though I don’t necessarily love spirals. That’s because I do love being able to fold my notebooks (so they’re half the size than they would be fully opened), and the spiral just makes that so easy. Plus this has an elastic on its back cover that you can use to hold the notebook folded open to the page you’re writing on. The lines are lines — they’re not too dark or light and are a bit wider to allow for bigger penmanship. Also, there is a sort of too-earnest page in the front with motivational language asking for objectives, which I don’t really care for but power journalers might like. The Black ’n’ Red has pretty great paper. I am a lefty, and I tested all my notebooks with a pencil, and this excelled at the smudge test. That said, the paper is more transparent than that of some of the other notebooks I’ve tried, like the Paperblanks. It’s often hard to see lead through a page, but on this one, you can — it’s not hugely pronounced, but it’s not faint enough not to notice or care, either. At roughly five-by-eight inches, it’s pretty small in the grand scheme; this would totally slip into a standard-size tote, backpack, or a work bag like mine. I don’t dig the black-and-red color scheme (it’s a little Satanic), but otherwise it’s a fairly simple-looking book — in a good way. A little more hefty and distinguished than a Mead; not immature. Although maybe a tad too serious. —AR

Total score: 4

Type: Lined

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall feel: 4 | Looks: 4

I remember growing up and begging my mom for these whenever we saw them in Barnes & Noble and her never caving — and maybe that’s a factor in the high score I couldn’t help but give it here. As a kid, I assumed they were expensive, but now I’m realizing that $10 for three is a pretty solid deal and she just knew these still weren’t worth it. As an experienced user now, I know this stitched-bound paperback notepad with few pages isn’t exactly something to covet, but it gets the job done. As a casual note-taker who doesn’t need much more, the simple lined pages are enough for me. The weight of the cover is a bit sturdier than other paperback notebooks I tested, so I don’t have the same fear of it ripping, but it’s still not lasting forever. These might be a status symbol for a suburban tween, but most adults will know this isn’t the best you can get, even at this price point. –JM-W

Total score: 4

Type: Lined

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall feel: 3 | Looks: 4

Unlike some other paper notebooks, this one has a dark cover — way better for hiding dark pen ink or even oil stains. Unfortunately, just like other paper notebooks, the cover is always slightly ajar from trying to fold it and hold it open. This only makes it harder to keep the cover and inside pages intact. If you don’t plan on traveling with it, this will do just fine at your desk. The inside is simple and lined, which I can appreciate. They are also wider than the lines of a Muji or Moleskine notebook, which for me made the task of filling the page a little less daunting. The pages are also pretty sturdy and held up to my tug test. While the cover’s days are numbered, I do appreciate the encouraging quote and fancy script. —JM-W

Total score: 4

Type: Lined

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 3 | Overall Feel: 5 | Looks: 3

I’m not really evaluating this one as a daily notebook because it doesn’t really make sense for that, and I don’t think that’s the original intent. It’s big, and it’s basically bound like a thin hardcover photo album, so it’s not something you’re going to want to use to jot down grocery lists. This seems like it’s intended more for archiving purposes, and for that I think it’s pretty close to perfect. There’s a page of sticky labels in the back to place on the cover and the spine and then sticky tabs to section off areas of the notebook. For administrative needs or record-keeping, this would really come in handy. There’s nothing fancy, no crazy new organizational principle. It feels very “federal,” if that makes sense — neat and organized, straightforward, not making any splash but efficient. It has a wide margin on the inside of the page, which I’m sure people who keep records would find better uses for than drawing cubes and stick figures, as I did. A final note: I didn’t Google this until after writing my review (to be objective!), but a quick search confirmed my impression that this is a cult-y archive notebook. There are pictures of tons of these set out on bookshelves with labels on the spine visible, which make them simultaneously satisfying and frightening to look at. —DN

Total score: 4

Type: Dot grid

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 3.75 | Overall feel: 4 | Looks: 4

Another minimalist pick from Muji, this one has dotted pages and a strap that adds a little to the overall design — although like the other Muji notebook I tested, it’s so simple that it doesn’t particularly stand out. That said, it does its job. The pages are still a little thin but thicker than the unlined Muji notebook pages, and the dots are in an unobtrusive shade of gray that helps keep my writing neat without feeling overly restrictive the way graph paper might. I would happily carry this around all day again, too. And I know this sounds like an insult, but I mean it as praise: I wouldn’t feel bad about using this as a coaster on my desk in a pinch. That’s to say it’s not precious and is something I could imagine having around in all situations. —HR

Total score: 3.93

Type: Blank

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall feel: 3 | Looks: 3.5

I am a longtime Moleskine devotee and carry its little hardcover reporter-style notebook with me every day to jot down anything from grocery lists to ideas for writing. And I’m a fan of its large and midsize softcover notebooks, too — but the large lined hardcover just didn’t cut it for me. First of all, it’s heavy. When I carried it home in my tote bag, the weight was similar to that of a 200-page hardcover book. I guess the upside to the heavyweight model is that the notebook feels very sturdy, and I didn’t worry about it getting damaged in my bag. Weight aside, the notebook has a lot to offer: The page quality is excellent and has that classic Bavarian-cream color of all Moleskine pages. The lines on the page are a faint gray color with spacing that is a little claustrophobic, in a good way. Writing in them forces me to stay neat. —HR

Total score: 3.875

Type: Blank

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 3 | Overall feel: 4 | Looks: 4.5

I like the look of this Japanese-made notebook very much: It’s brown, with a handsome, vibrant red spine. It’s also quite light, despite its size (large: about six-by-nine inches). The issues I had with this notebook were twofold: First, if you happen to flip the cover back while you’re writing, that cover will not recover — it retains a deep crease and will forevermore pop up when you lay the notebook on its back. And second, the pages (which are otherwise blank) have two thin vertical pink lines that run down the pages about two inches from each side. Those lines (while actually quite pretty!) are constraining — writing outside them made me feel deeply uncomfortable, but writing inside them meant whole inches of each page were wasted. —KS

Total score: 3.875

Type: Blank

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 3.5 | Overall feel: 4 | Looks: 4

This leather notebook has a very secure feeling to it, in part because of the strap that keeps it closed and in part because of the elastic pen or pencil fastener on the side. It came with a pencil tucked in the side holder, but I swapped it out for my pen, and it worked just as well. The page texture was a little scratchy, but the pages themselves have a high-quality thickness that falls somewhere between writing and drawing paper. On the inside cover, there is a log where you can clock the date, content, and page count each time you write, which doesn’t seem like something I’d ever use but, I imagine, could be useful if you had some journaling goals to meet. Overall, this one seemed very practical, without too many bells and whistles, and the kind of thing you could stick in your bag every day and feel confident that it would still be in good shape a few weeks (maybe months) later. —HR

Total score: 3.875

Type: Dot grid

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 4 | Looks: 3.5

This is a hefty notebook with nice, thick paper and a vegan-leather hardback cover that feels smooth to the touch. The one I tested has a light-pink cover with a floral pattern that feels a bit juvenile and cutesy, but it would be nice for someone who’s into that. (The company has a range of cover styles, so it’s possible that you’d find a design you like.) I like that it’s simple: The pages are dot-gridded and the corners are rounded, a plus for me. There are two ribbon markers, a back pocket, an elastic pen holder, and an elastic band to keep the notebook closed. It has a lay-flat design, another plus. While I do not bullet journal, I can see this being ideal for someone who does, as the 160 GSM paper would lend itself nicely to the use of markers and fountain pens. Even though it’s A5-size, the thicker paper and hardcover make it a little too bulky for my liking. Still, I can tell it’s well made and that it would hold up to extensive use. —Lauren Ro

Total score: 3.875

Type: Gridded

Design: 3.5 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 4 | Looks: 4

The lines of the grid are wonderfully thin, in a subtle light gray that offers enough structure without being visually overbearing. But this is more of a day planner than a notebook. In fact, self-described “power planner user” Perrin Drumm included it in her roundup of the best planners (not notebooks). And a lot of the features that make it a good planner make it a discouraging notebook. For instance, the grids are numbered from 0 to 24, denoting the 24 hours in a day, and each page has a spot to fill in the date, which makes it feel like I should only be using a page a day, when, in reality, I use at least two. The paper is very thin, almost as delicate as the onionskin paper you find in Bibles, and while writing, I always had a slight fear of puncturing the sheet with my pen. But amazingly, I didn’t, and even more amazingly, the ink barely bled through onto the other side (though my handwriting was somewhat visible). The thin paper means the notebook itself is pretty slim, even though it has 368 pages (one for every day of the year and then some). The lay-flat binding is truly lay-flat, and the size is fairly portable. The cover is exceptionally soft and flexible, which isn’t a bad thing, but I am frankly skeptical that it would withstand a lot of wear and tear, especially since the corners already started to show use after only a couple of days of light use. But the gold embossing on the cover makes the whole thing look a little bit classier and more expensive than it actually is. —MB

Total score: 3.875

Type: Lined

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 4.8 | Overall Feel: 3 | Looks: 3.5

This is a funny little notebook that I might give to a friend who likes charming old-fashioned stationery goods. It would be a nice travel notebook because it’s thin, blank so you could use it for sketching while sitting in a café, and the paper is of good quality and takes ink well. I don’t usually like spiral-bound notebooks because they get tangled up in headphone wires and other stuff I often have floating around in my bag. But the portability and flexibility of this notebook pretty much makes up for that. Still, this feels more like a onetime-purchase notebook rather than something I would add to my core lineup of paper goods. —LC

Total score: 3.825

Type: Blank

Design: 3.75 | Page Quality: 3.5 | Overall feel: 3.75 | Looks: 4

Like all Muji items, this notebook was simple and almost soothing to use. The cover is a dignified shade of brownish charcoal gray, and made of a hard card-stock material, which gives you a sturdy writing surface even if you’re using it while standing on the subway. The blank pages could be just a tad thicker — I noticed some ink bleeding through — but are easy to write on and in an easy-on-the-eyes shade of off-white. —HR

Total score: 3.75

Type: Blank, lined, or gridded

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 5 | Looks: 3

What I like: It’s about as slender as the Monocle and Paperblanks ones (I’m learning I prefer slender notebooks to wider ones). It’s got more lines per page (30, to be exact), and they’re narrower — I like a narrower line. It’s also got an accordion pocket in the back — it’s not as big as the Monocle notebook’s, but honestly, that one may be too big for what you need (this one seems like a more subtle way to get the same function). And it has an elastic band to keep the notebook open. I also, in theory, like a memo-pad style (that opens vertically, not horizontally) — but I think it’s key for a memo pad to be able to fold over, otherwise you have this giant, long, scroll-like thing taking up most of your desk. And that’s exactly my biggest problem with this notebook: Because it is hardcover, you cannot fold it over, so it becomes unwieldy (you need a fair amount of space to keep it open). As I said, I’m a fan of the pages themselves for their many narrower lines. They do smudge a bit, but sort of the same amount as the Monocle or Paperblanks. Individual pages don’t rip out easily (I pulled out a couple of pages when I only wanted to rip one). And they’re fairly transparent (I can see my scribbles on the reverse side of a page). In terms of feel, they are comparable to the Black ’N’ Red, a bit velvety to the touch. When closed, this notebook is as compact and thin as the Monocle, so it would take up less space in a bag or tote than most of the other notebooks I reviewed. —AR

Total score: 3.75

Type: Gridded

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 4 | Looks: 4

While this notebook is a favorite of Molly Young’s, I must admit that it did not work for me. It is in fact a keepsake notebook, unlike all the others I’ve used (and tested), and definitely fun. But I found the patterned pages to be distracting, and it was difficult to read my notes, especially on the pages where the grids are bicolored. I use a fine-point pen, and my scribbles got lost among the lines (to be fair, my handwriting is terrible). I did enjoy how each page was a surprise (there are eight grid designs), and I could imagine using it for a special project or as a diary, but for everyday note-taking, I prefer more standard fare. As for aesthetics, it looks great: I love the cherry fabric hardback cover, the portable size, and the thick paper, which would lend itself nicely to the use of felt-tip markers, making it a perfect gift for an extreme bullet journaler. —LR

Total score: 3.75

Type: Lined

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 3 | Looks: 5

There’s a lot to like about this handsome notebook starting with its textured cloth cover, brass spiral rings, and subtle metallic logo. It’s on the larger size for a personal notebook, but it’ll still fit in most work bags. Inside, the pages are crisp and substantial, there’s minimal ink bleed-through, and the lines are pale and nicely spaced so they’re useful for writing without being distracting. There are some design details, though, that I found confusing. The pages are only lined on one side, leaving the reverse side blank. If you like writing with lines, this would encourage you to just use one side of each page, which seems wasteful. On the other hand, if you want a mix of lines for writing and blank space to sketch or draw, you might prefer this style. While lots of notebooks look fine without a top margin, the Appointed one looks like it’s crying out for one. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but it may be that the ruled left margin makes it look unbalanced. A plus about the pages is that they’re perforated, so you can easily tear them out if needed. —KIA

Total score: 3.75

Type: Lined

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall feel: 4 | Looks: 2

I wasn’t able to put this waterproof notebook through a storm, but just touching it, you can tell it’s tough. The hardcover is sturdy, and I had no fear of the edges bending even slightly. The cover also has enough overhang that I felt the inside pages were sufficiently protected. The pages are lined horizontally, but there is also a faint dotted vertical grid behind it. It wasn’t distracting but didn’t add anything to my experience. For daily use in an office, this notebook is so heavy duty it looks out of place, but someone keeping a travel diary during a backpacking trip or working off-site would be able to rest easy knowing their notes were safe. —JM-W

Total score: 3.75

Type: Lined

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall feel: 4 | Looks: 2

It doesn’t get more basic than this Muji notebook. It’s a lined softcover notebook with a brown-paper cover. If you like practical, this is for you. It’s small enough to tote around almost anywhere, but it’s only 30 sheets thick, so don’t expect to use this for any real length of time. Honestly, I don’t think it would last longer than the time it takes to fill 60 pages anyway. Just sitting on my desk for a few days, where I eat lunch, this already had a couple of oil stains. The corners of the cover also started to turn up. The cover is plain, but a more artistic person than me could turn it into a masterpiece. Otherwise, the design is so common I imagine it wouldn’t be hard to mix this up with someone else’s. —JM-W

Total score: 3.75

Type: Dotted

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 3.5 | Overall Feel: 3.5 | Looks: 4

This is a huge notebook. It’s nearly 9 by 12.4 inches and is hardcover. It reminds me of a restaurant-reservation book or an oversize teacher’s gradebook. It has a three-page table of contents, and the rest of it is dot-gridded. There are page numbers that start on the right-hand side (I’ve learned this is not a given with notebooks!), rounded corners (another plus), an expandable pocket in the back that can hold A4 sheets, two ribbon markers, and an elastic closure. It opens flat. This notebook is meant to live on a desk. I can’t imagine carrying it around unless in a portfolio or a briefcase because it’s so big, but it’s slim — only 121 pages. Actually, I think it might even work as a portfolio itself. You could easily slip a couple copies of your résumé within its pages without them sticking out and take the whole thing on a job interview. It looks that polished, thanks, in part, to the smooth cover. Even though it’s so unwieldy, I’m drawn to it. The only design detail is a debossed logo on the back cover. The paper itself is a tad bit thick and rough for my liking, and there is slight ghosting (you can see the writing on the other side of the sheet, but there’s no bleed-through), but it’s not a big deal. I’m trying to think of ways to incorporate this into my life. If someone were to hand-write a manuscript, I would recommend this notebook to them. —LR

Total score: 3.75

Type: Lined

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 3 | Overall Feel: 3.5 | Looks: 4.5

I picked this up from my college bookstore many, many years ago, and I still have it. I love its composition-notebook-style binding (center-sewn and tape-bound). It has a plain blue canvas cover, with rounded corners, green-tinted pages, blue narrow-ruled lines, and numbered pages (at the top right corner, and they start at 001). It’s technically a chemistry notebook, but I use it as a journal. It’s durable due to the hardback cover (and probably because it’s meant to be used in a lab). The paper isn’t particularly smooth (feels recycled), and there’s a little bit of ghosting and a tiny bit of bleed-through, but it hardly matters because you can’t beat the way it looks, if you’re going for a retro-technical vibe. —LR

Total: 3.75

Type: Gridded

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall feel: 4 | Looks: 4

This small but mighty Rollbahn really tickled me; I just love tiny things. At 3 inches wide and 4.5 inches tall, you could slip this little guy into your front pocket and be on your way. Plus the Rollbahn has a lot of well-thought-out details. The petite pages are outlined with a perfect grid: The squares are just the right size, and the lines themselves are lightly sketched onto the page, which offers just the right amount of order for note-taking. I also am a sucker for the Rollbahn covers. I know it’s just thick cardboard with an elastic strap, but the color options are distinctive, and the simple logo is pleasing to the eye. The pages are also easy to rip out and I was delighted to find a handful of clear sheet protectors at the back — in the event you need to protect your notes from the elements. The main drawback with this notebook is also its greatest strength: its size. If you lay the notebook flat and try to write, your hand will keep bumping against the delicate spiral at the top of the pages, making it difficult to fill the whole page. And with pages this small, every inch counts. It works much better when holding it slightly upright in your hand. Not super-convenient for office meetings, but for a specific set of circumstances, like, say you’re a reporter caught in a rainstorm trying to get a scoop, this is a good bet. —DP

Total score: 3.75

Type: Dot grid

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 3.5 | Looks: 3.5

There’s lots of room to write on these pages, and they feel effortlessly designed. The dotted grid is clear to follow but not distracting, though I do wish the blue was a little lighter in color. I would be remiss if I didn’t note that the pages of these Decomposition Books are made with 100 percent recycled paper, since that’s a main selling point. But the pages still feel smooth and easy to write on. They’re fairly lightweight, and there’s minimal bleed-through. Still, although this notebook is meant to mimic a classic composition notebook, it somehow feels flimsier than the traditional bound version that you can buy at a Duane Reade for a dollar. Maybe it’s because the metal spirals on the notebook are very thin, or because the cardboard covers aren’t laminated. It’s a good, portable size, but it doesn’t pack as easily into a bag as a bound composition notebook would. The all-over print on the front and back covers of this notebook feels a little childish, though I love the inside cover, which features some beautiful, intricate black-and-white illustrations of different natural phenomenon with fun facts (“Sputnik has never orbited the moon”). The sum is a notebook that feels like someone just slapped a bunch of cool, vintage-inspired design elements together, rather than something with a cohesive design. —MB

Total score: 3.75

Type: Blank

Design: 3.75 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall feel: 2.5 | Looks: 4.5

I love the supermarket-mint-chocolate-chip-green color of this notebook, which is on the cover as well as the sides of the pages. Something that I found a little off-putting, though, is that it’s the exact size and shape of a paperback novel, with the binding of a paperback, too, so when I wrote in it, I felt like I was writing in an actual book and not a notebook. That aside, the page quality made it pleasant to use: The paper had the right amount of smoothness, and it held the ink from my Muji pen without it seeping through or smudging. The pages actually reminded me a little of stationery, so I tried to tear a page out to write a note, only to find that it’s nearly impossible to rip a page out of this thing. That might speak to the overall sturdiness of the notebook, although I did find the card-stock cover easily ripped in my bag. —HR

Total score: 3.687

Type: Dot grid

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 3.5 | Overall Feel: 3.5 | Looks: 3.5

The Miliko notebook reminds me of my favorite notebook from Muji. It has the same transparent plastic cover, similar double-ring spiral, and faint dot-grid paper that’s smooth to write on. Because it’s a spiral notebook, you can fold the cover all the way back, which makes it ideal for note-taking on the go. I like that I can put my pen in the spiral. I also appreciate the fact that the cover is slightly larger than the paper itself, which means that the edges are somewhat protected. I would feel comfortable throwing it in my bag. The paper is on the thinner side, which is my preference, and I don’t mind the ghosting. It’s straightforward and clean — everything I like when looking for a basic, utilitarian notebook that I don’t have to be precious about when using. The transparent cover does make you feel a little naked, though. —LR

Total score: 3.625

Type: Lined

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 3 | Overall Feel: 4 | Looks: 3

I always see some sort of leather-bound “giftable” notebook on display in bookstores or nicer gift shops, and there’s always something off about them. Usually they’re a little too fancy or precious looking. This somehow manages to straddle that line between practical and special. It’s well priced, the leather looks good, and it takes refillable notebooks that easily slide into the cover. No, it’s not going to make the same impression as a hand-stitched oiled leather one with fancy rough-edged paper, but honestly, I feel no one ends up actually using those. The leather cover on this is nice and sturdy — also subtly and softly padded, which is fun — and the paper is quite good and holds up well to a fountain pen even with very little bleed-through. I personally don’t love the “sun” design on my cover, but maybe that’s just me. A notebook with a leather cover is definitely a strong move and probably not for everyone, but it does help signify that something is more of a “diary” than a standard utilitarian notebook, and I think as far as that goes this is a really smart option. I imagine the leather would hold up well over time, and you could swap in the refills. This would be a good gift for a writer. —DN

Total score: 3.5

Type: Dotted

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 3 | Overall Feel: 3 | Looks: 4

Designed to hold a softcover five-by-eight-inch Public Supply notebook, this leather cover dresses up a basic notebook. It features credit-card-size slit pockets and a loop to hold a pen or pencil. While it’s attractive (and definitely giftable), I found that the leather-covered notebook just didn’t add much to my writing experience. The inside paper is fine — with medium thickness and stylish dotted lines — but the notebook won’t lie flat, which made it difficult to write in whether I held it in my hands or on my desk. I’d say this one would be most useful if you’re traveling and want to give your notebook a layer of protection, or if you just love Public Supply notebooks and want to keep reusing the cover. —KIA

Total score: 3.5

Type: Dot grid

Design: 2 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 3 | Looks: 5

I am on the record as a Best Made fangirl, but this sturdy and well-made notebook was one of the last ones I tested because the design of the notebook was so unappealing to me. The pages (there are only 48) are small, about the size of an iPhone, and yet the dotted grid is large, exactly one-half-inch per square. That’s the largest grid of all the notebooks I tested. So the result is that I tried to write big enough so I could fill out the grid, but that, in turn, meant the page filled up after two or three sentences, and that made it an incredibly impractical choice for taking notes in meetings. Maybe it’s better for diagrams or journaling in the great outdoors, but for my purposes, the design was a hindrance. The paper does feel luxurious, very smooth and thick with a light manila-folder tint, and there was functionally no bleed-through from my Baron Fig pen. Some favorite details include a ruler embossed into the linen back cover, printed page numbers, a place to put a start date and location on the inside front cover, as well as an end date on the inside back cover. I just wish it was bigger. —MB

Total score: 3.5

Type: Blank

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 2 | Overall Feel: 3 | Looks: 5

I love how this notebook looks. The bright-blue linen-bound hardback cover is highly appealing, and the gold embossing of the Graf von Faber-Castell seal (this is the luxury offshoot of the stationery company) is both subtle and elevating. Inside, the pages are blank and thread-stitched, and the only design element is a small illustration by Kera Till on the flyleaf. The slightly off-white paper itself is a bit scratchy for my preference and on the thin side, however, (while there’s no bleed-through, you can see the writing on the other side of the sheet), and I noticed that some of the pages had to be separated. I thought this was maybe a design choice, but the product description doesn’t indicate that (it’s not deckle-edged). While not perfect, it strikes a balance — portable and would look great on a bookshelf. —LR

Total score: 3.5

Type: Dotted

Design: 3.5 | Page Quality: 3.5 | Overall Feel: 4 | Looks: 3

Here’s another plain notebook with a faint dot-grid pattern. I like that the flexible softcover has a leatherlike quality to it, making it a little more durable than a paperback. It’s bound and lies flat and has a ribbon marker. The cream paper is mediumweight, and my pen glides smoothly when I’m writing in it. The pages have square corners, as does the cover, but because the cover is soft, its corners got a little smushed. Still, I think it’s hardy enough to withstand transport in a bag. It’s black and unassuming and would work well in a more formal office setting, if that’s what you’re going for. —LR

Total score: 3.5

Type: Gridded

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall feel: 3 | Looks: 3

The brand claimed that this notebook is waterproof, so the first thing I did was pour water on it. And it did not lie. The water dribbled off the page (which remained completely dry), and I could write on it afterward. I also decided to dunk it in a cup of water, and it came out just the same. I don’t know what kind of sorcery the company used to make this notebook, but I’m very impressed. The pages have a waxy texture, but I’m assuming that has to do with their being waterproof, so it’s a painless thing to look past. It’s too small, with far too few pages for me to use every day, but it’s great to just keep in a bag. It does effortlessly bend, though, so if it gets crushed, I fear it will forever be warped. But it’s small enough to keep in the same pocket as my lip balm and keys, so I think it will survive unscathed. —CA

Total score: 3.5

Type: Lined

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall feel: 3 | Looks: 4

A little guy — a bit smaller than an iPhone — this Midori pad checks off a lot of boxes (elegant, easy to tote around, expensive-feeling paper). Each college-ruled page features a mix regular lines and dotted lines, which feels helpfully confining without being constricting. Just a few complaints: The entire back half of the pages are blank (unlined), which is nice for freeform note-taking or doodling, but for my purposes (mostly making to-do lists), they’re unnecessary; a few unlined pages in the back would have felt appropriate. Also: There’s an extra piece of cardboard between the cover and the first page, which often got in the way as I toggled from page to page.
—AS

Total score: 3.5

Type: Lined

Design 3 | Page Quality 3 | Overall Feel 5 | Looks 3

I guess this is a Moleskine dupe of sorts? I tried not to hold that against it. If you’re a fan of that style of notebook, I’d say this is a very solid option. The paper quality is nice, and it doesn’t feel crazy smooth like some of the fancier options, but in a way I think that makes it actually more inviting to write on. There was a small amount of bleed-through, but I tested everything out with a fountain pen (shout-out to Lamy Safari), which was maybe a little mean of me because that’s a bit of a challenge for any paper. The lines are relatively narrow, but nothing crazy, and if you’re using a compact notebook like this, you probably want smallish lines so you can at least get a fair amount down on the page. There’s nothing about this that makes you say “Wow,” but it’s a really sturdy hardcover notebook that I think could take a beating in a tote bag or travel bag. —DN

Total score: 3.5

Type: Dotted

Design: 2 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall Feel: 3 | Looks: 3.5

Here’s another notebook primed for bullet journaling. It comes with suggestions for use and has a tab key, index, “future log,” and numbered dot-grid pages. Like the Octagon notebook, the page numbers start on the right-hand side. I do not get it! I prefer a straightforward notebook instead of one with instructions on how to use it, but I do like the 100 GSM coated cream paper. It was smooth to write on with my fine-point pen, and even though there’s slight ghosting, I didn’t mind. The corners are rounded (a key feature for me), and the vegan-leather hardback cover has a subtle debossing of a great barrier reef. (The notebook is part of Dingbats’ Earth series.) It comes with a pen holder, elastic closure, two ribbon markers, and expandable pocket. Overall, it’s too busy; too many bells and whistles for a non BuJo-er. But the paper was my favorite of all the notebooks I tested. I barely even noticed the faint tabs running down the edge of each page. And it’s sized as A5 + but still relatively compact and good for portability. Durable, too. —LR

Total score: 3.375

Type: Lined

Design: 3.5 | Page Quality: 2.5 | Overall Feel: 3.5 | Looks: 3.5

This is a basic, retro-looking spiral notebook that reminds me of something you might see in a movie that takes place at a high school in the ’70s. There’s nothing particularly nice about it. But aesthetically, if you wanted to accessorize your corduroy bell-bottoms with a notebook, this would be it. It’s squarish in size, with green-tinted pages and blue narrow-ruled lines (a must for me when I’m using a lined notebook). The paper feels like standard notebook paper, i.e., cheap and a little thin. There are no margins. It’s for scribbling notes, or for maybe doing your math homework. It’s compact, too, so easy to stash in your leather-fringed purse. —LR

Total: 3.25

Type: Gridded

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 3 | Looks: 3

The best thing about this notebook is that it easily lies flat when open. Its pages are crisp and thick, and they feel good to write on. I don’t mind the grid pattern and the page color, though it is slightly yellower than other notebooks that I liked more. What I really don’t like, however, is the cover and the spine. They’re both made of leather, but they’re two different colors — gray and brown — which I don’t think go very well together. I also found that this notebook isn’t as portable because its cover is rigid and it weighs slightly more than the others. —LC

Total score: 3.25

Type: Gridded

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall feel: 2 | Looks: 4

Despite its almost comical size and weight, this Tops Computation Book is rather delightful. Made with engineers in mind, and meant for “data recording, calculations and general note taking,” the pages are massive, cream-colored, and graph-ruled. Moreover, each page is helpfully numbered from 1 to 156 and features side margins, which I found myself using for micro to-do lists, i.e., “People to Email Today.” The whole experience of taking notes in the Tops all in all felt very “cool art director,” though it’s really too clunky to bring around from meeting to meeting and it does not fit in a canvas tote bag, were you ever want to transport it. It’d be great for keeping at one’s desk, almost like a blotter. —AS

Total score: 3.25


Emilio Braga Marbled Notebook
Photo: Augusta Sagnelli/Augusta Sagnelli

Type: Gridded

Design: 1.5 | Page Quality: 2.5 | Overall feel: 4 | Looks: 5

I really, really wanted to give this handsome notebook top marks, because I adore the way it looks. It was love at first sight, really. The hardcover has an abstract marbled pattern in a muted olive green. Sort of like if your composition notebook had a cooler, older sister. It’s nostalgic and reminds me of grade school but still feels grown-up. And the pattern is repeated on the edge of all of the pages, which is a nice touch. But once I opened it up, I discovered its fatal flaw: The grid that is printed on the pages is way too obtrusive. The lines themselves are super-dark, and the grid pattern is too cramped. I could barely read my notes, which is simply not practical. Had the pages been blank, this one could’ve been a contender. Still, for those who prefer form over function, this would look great on a bedside table. —DP

Total score: 3.25

Type: Lined

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 3 | Overall feel: 3 | Looks: 3

Full disclosure: This notebook has been one of my go-tos for a while now. As far as simple, standard full-size lined notebooks are concerned, I’ve always bounced between this Moleskine Cahier and those Muji ones. I prefer the Moleskine because it’s a bit bigger and just feels a little more interesting. (The cover breaks in a little over time, and I prefer the look of the Moleskine’s threaded binding to the taped-over binding on the Muji notebooks.) It’s a pretty big notebook, just a tiny bit smaller than a standard-size sheet of notebook paper, but for me that’s ultimately the most comfortable size to write in. So if you want something a little larger, this can be good to bring to meetings and jot down notes throughout the day. The last 16 sheets in the back are perforated, so you can easily tear them off, which might not sound important but almost always comes in handy. The spacing between the lines is pretty small, so while you can definitely squeeze a lot onto each page, it could be an issue for people with larger handwriting. (I sometimes just go wild and take up two lines at a time, so that’s always an option too.) There’s nothing super-special about these, but I think that’s what makes them so great in a way. Ink does bleed through to the other side a bit, but in general, the paper is pretty nice. They strike a nice middle ground in the notebook world: not so fancy that you’re afraid to write in them, but also high quality enough that they feel like more than your standard-issue notebook. —DN

Total: 3.25

Type: Lined

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 3 | Looks: 3

This notebook is the most “quintessential” looking notebook I received (it recalls the Mead marbled ones I used as a kid). That makes it inviting, I think, in a way that you know exactly what it’s for. But instead of marble, the cover features a star map with constellations — maybe a bit too much for me, but at least interesting and a bit unexpected/atypical. One thing I love about the design is that, right on the cover, it tells you how many sheets (80) and pages (160) there are. It’s sewn-binded, so pages are pretty easy to rip out, but they’re not perfectly clean (the rip is similar to that of the Stalogy). It’s the biggest notebook I got by footprint, both much thicker and slightly larger proportionally than the Stalogy (it’s not the thickest, though; that goes to the Paperblanks). Its cover is a more rigid cardboard, so it can’t really be used when folded over, even if you press hard or use a binder clip). Inside, the front and back covers have whimsical illustrations and measurements (including “speed of sound” and “speed of hair growing”), which are sort of in line with the cover art. Of all the notebooks I tested, this is the only one that specifically says it is made with recycled paper (and printed with soy ink, no less!). So you feel good about that. Otherwise, the pages are probably the least smooth and velvety of any of my notebooks, though they have 30 lines and are the narrow width that I like. The texture doesn’t mean the pages feel flimsy or cheap; they’re just not soft. But it’s not like they gave me a papercut. And even though it takes up the most square footage of any of the notebooks I tried, it still would fit in a standard tote or bag (it passed my work-bag test). —AR

Total score: 3.25

Type: Blank

Design: 2 | Page Quality: 3 | Overall feel: 2 | Looks: 5

I loved the cover design on this notebook the most out of all the ones I tested. The large pages were also attractive because I could fit all my thoughts onto one page; however, once you open it and actually use it, the cover no longer will lie flat. Even when I pushed half the pages onto the cover to try and weigh it down, it still stuck up and just caused the paper (which actually is a tad thin) to flip back over. It’s incredibly unbalanced, and the annoying experience detracted from its pleasing appearance. —CA

Total score: 3

Type: Blank

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 3 | Overall feel: 3 | Looks: 3

This notebook is incredibly average. The gray-and-black speckled design is on the cusp of being unique and cool, but the dull colors make it boring. The pages have a good weight to them. The cover doesn’t offensively stick up either after opening it for the first time. I also have a good amount of space in this lineless design to write. It’s a good notebook; there’s just nothing special about it. —CA

Total score: 3

Type: Gridded

Design: 3.5 | Page Quality: 4.5 | Overall Feel: 2 | Looks: 2

The gridded pages on this notebook are fine and certainly don’t feel overdesigned. They go from edge to edge, and the lines themselves mostly aren’t distracting. But the page doesn’t feel special or especially appealing to write on in any meaningful way, either. The ink doesn’t bleed through, but it’s still relatively lightweight, which is nice for an everyday notebook. It’s smooth for writing and feels surprisingly luxurious, especially given how mediocre the design is overall. I also liked that the page isn’t bright, bright white but a slightly creamier hue. Even if the page quality is fairly high, this notebook feels cheap. It’s pretty light, and the front cover is pretty flimsy, essentially made of card stock. (Plus it stained really easily.) The size is a standard A5, but for some reason it feels smaller and less substantial to comparably sized bound notebooks. This notebook doesn’t look refined, and there’s not really any features that make it stand out. I do appreciate that the branding is fairly limited, but it comes across as boring rather than clean or minimalist and cool. —MB

Total score: 3

Type: Gridded

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 3 | Looks: 2

Compared to the American school kid’s wide-lined composition notebook or five-subject behemoth, this French notebook (originally used by students) is more petite, stylized, and delicate. The pages are printed with the tiniest gridlines that would be impossible to write in. Apparently, this is called French (or Seyes) ruled paper that’s designed for practicing handwriting, with specific rules about how many horizontal lines each letter should cross. Because I was just using it for jotting notes instead of learning how to write properly, I found the lines more distracting than helpful. The paper is smooth and nice to write on, but I felt that without the wider lines that I’m used to, my handwriting was actually more all over the place. It’s small enough to fit in most bags, but not especially durable, as the front and back covers started to look a little creased and scratched after just a few days of regular use. —KIA

Total score: 3

Type: Lined

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 2 |Overall Feel: 4 | Looks: 3

Pretty much the same design as the Piccadilly notebook, but with a softcover. I personally prefer the softcover for a notebook like this because it’s easier to spread open and write, and it still feels durable enough for regular use, but it will probably get a bit banged up over time. The paper quality on this was slightly disappointing. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t feel like anything special. Basically just standard-issue white lined paper. And that’s fine. There was a little bleed-through, but overall still a good option for daily use. —DN

Total score: 3

Type: Lined

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 2 | Overall feel: 3 | Looks: 3

Recommended by a buyer at the New York Public Library gift shop, this “personal favorite” of hers features a reproduction of the original 1818 title page of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein — making it a particularly good gift for a literary type. As for the notebook itself, the soft leather cover is flopsy (unlike, say, a Smythson or Moleskine), which lends it a less formal or stiff quality. While distributed by Discovery Books, the notebook was made by esteemed Italian stationery brand Ciak, so the quality is up to snuff, though I had difficulty getting it to lie flat, and the paper doesn’t feel particularly luxurious. —AS

Total score: 2.75

Type: Lined

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 3 | Overall feel: 3 | Looks: 2

Its Wes Anderson vibes aside, this Field Notes notebook is nice. It’s small enough to fit in a chore-coat pocket, but vertical enough for jotting down lots of notes. It takes a bit of flattening (I usually put my phone on one page for a few minutes) to make it stay open on a desk, but as its name implies, Field Notes notebooks are really much better suited for someone on the go, rather than a desk-bound office drone. I had a hard time with the “I’m a person who carries around a Field Notes notebook”–ness that carrying around a Field Notes notebook signifies, but that’s perhaps my own issue.
—AS

Total score: 2.75

Type: Lined

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 3 | Overall Feel: 3 | Looks: 1

This is the most compact notebook proportionally that I received — that came recommended by a New York Public Library gift shop buyer — but also one of the fattest, with 240 tightly bound pages. It’s smaller-lined pages have 20 lines, with the lines being a bit wider like the Black ’N’ Red. Plenty of room for bigger penmanship. The pages are almost too narrow to use as a work and/or school notebook, though; because of how narrow they are, they seem more suited for a diary or a journal. The notebook also has a fancy clasp to close it. (I wrote that it is Harry Potter–core, as it reminds me of Tom Riddle’s diary from The Chamber of Secrets.) It has a red ribbon to mark your page (the hardcover spine cannot be broken to help indicate your place that way). The notebook’s pages are also yellowish — the brand calls them “acid-free, sustainable forest paper.” They’ve all got a fine border around the edges, so that when you close the book, the pages pressed together show a reddish Baroque pattern (that’s in line with the aesthetic of its embossed cover). The pages are among the least transparent of the notebooks I’ve used (when you turn a page, you really can’t see the writing on the other side). They do smudge a bit, though, but not enough to make a big mess. So the Harry Potter/Mother of Dragons aesthetic isn’t my favorite, but that said, it would look great on a shelf — like an actual book. —AR

Total score: 2.5

Type: Blank

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 2 | Overall Feel: 3 | Looks: 2

This is just a touch bigger than the Smythson proportionally, with about the same thickness. Its cover is made of a material that feels like rubber —- it’s pleasing to the touch. The brand says the cover is “all-weather.” It’s also unlined, which I don’t love, and the pages smudge way more than any of the above notebooks. “Very smudgy,” I wrote. I’m now wondering if that’s because it’s a sketchbook, and if you’re sketching with charcoal or something, maybe you want to be able to blend it lightly? The pages rip out almost seamlessly, but not quite (again, wondering if that has something to do with it being more for sketching?). There’s something a bit drab about this. It’s not that far off from looking like a Moleskine, but the cover is a muddled gray, not pure black, and the rubbery material has a matte effect that’s just like meh. I would be comfortable calling it the most boring on my list. This coupled with its other features I don’t like (namely the smudge pages) made it my least favorite. But I’m an editor, not an artist, so perhaps someone who likes to draw or sketch would like it more than someone who uses predominantly uses notebooks to write. —AR

Total score: 2.5

Type: Blank

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 2 | Overall feel: 3 | Looks: 2

I appreciated this notebook’s high-quality construction. The leather cover could protect the pages from any potential accident (or crazy weather if you took it outdoors), but the cover also makes the notebook very heavy. The pages themselves feel rather thin, and the clip that keeps each page down honestly is kind of annoying. I dislike that I have to move the clips each time I flip the page, making quick note-taking a bit tedious. —CA

Total score: 2.5

Type: Lined

Design: 2 | Page Quality: 3 | Overall feel: 2.5 | Looks: 2.5

Major points for surviving 60-plus years and actually being functional, and very cool that Rad & Hungry sells authentic Uruguayan notebooks, but the novelty wore off quickly. The sepia-singed pamphlet — it only has 16 pages — feels more suitable for a school-age child practicing cursive than a functional notebook you would take to a meeting. I docked it major points for flimsiness: When I flipped the cover over and back, the paper separated from its stapled binding. I’m not sure what we can fairly expect from 60-year-old staples, but shuffling around a stack of loose papers defeats the whole purpose. —SK

Total score: 2.5

Type: Lined

Design: 2 | Page Quality: 3 | Overall feel: 2.5 | Looks: 2.5

I love the retro seriousness of this PVC-covered “folio” notebook. I imagine it belonging to a hard-hat-wearing contractor, making his way around a construction site and checking off a punch list. While my day-to-day notebook use does not require a waterproof shell, I like the simple, yellow page-ruled paper. The perforated pages add a nice touch. I would be inclined to slip it out of the red case and use it alone — perhaps with a yellow mechanical pencil from Pentel, that other legacy stationery brand. —SK

Total score: 2.5

Type: Lined

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 1 | Overall Feel: 2 | Looks: 4

I maybe slightly inflated my numbers here because obviously this isn’t a high-quality notebook, but I mean, come on, it is an icon. A classic. The economical notebook that is a staple in so many backpacks. I respect that. Is the paper nice? No, not really. It’s pretty thin and will probably rip if you flip through it quickly. And yes, there was bleed-through with my fountain pen, but how many people are going to use a fountain pen with this? The “wide rule” feels really inviting after testing out so many narrow-lined notebooks, and there’s something comforting about a notebook that isn’t trying to impress you. I feel like this is still a good choice for students who want to save some money or, like, really chic people who want an “anti-notebook.” —DN

Total score: 2.5

Type: Gridded

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 1 | Looks: 1

The paper in this notebook isn’t just graph-lined or graph-dotted. It’s straight-up graph paper, like what your geometry teacher would hand out in middle school. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but for everyday note-taking, the steel-blue lines are a little too dark and make it a little tough to read my handwriting. The pages themselves are smooth for writing and, considering how thin they feel, don’t show much bleed-through from ink. They were comfortable to write on, but I kept getting distracted by those dark graph lines. This notebook feels flimsy. The front and back covers are just glossy paper, with no extra weight, and you can see where the binding comes apart from the pages when you fold it open. Herlitz is a German company that’s known for making school supplies, and boy, does this look like a notebook that belongs in a third-grade classroom. There’s a near-runic design on the front and back covers, which look a little juvenile, as does the heavy-handed branding. —MB

Total score: 2.25

Type: Lined and gridded

Design: 2 | Page Quality: 2 | Overall Feel: 2 | Looks: 3

This is a soft-cover notebook billed as a bullet journal. There are four lined index pages at the beginning, and the rest of the notebook is faintly dot-gridded and the pages are numbered. The cover is not attached at the binding, which allows you to lay the notebook flat when opened, a feature I appreciated. I could do without the inspirational text on the front and inside cover, but it’s not a deal-breaker. What really got to me, though, was the pagination. The numbering starts on the left-hand side of the notebook, with odd-numbered pages on the left instead of the right, which goes against all principles of book design! I could not get over that. Plus, the paper, which is FSC-certified, has a recycled, scratchy feel — my fine-tip pen caught when I was writing. There’s no bleed through, however, and the paper has a nice heft. It’s a slim, portable size (which I like), but I worry that the paperback cover won’t hold up to abuse. —LR

Total score: 2.25

Type: Gridded

Design: 2 | Page Quality: 3 | Overall feel: 2 | Looks: 2

Before opening this notebook, I was turned off by the flimsy spiral spine. I know the moment it gets hooked on something, it’s a goner. The flimsy bright-purple cover (my favorite color, by the way, but not in this case) was the second strike. It’s a larger notebook, so I knew the first time I tried to shove this in my bag, the thin cover would turn on me. Opening it up, I was equally disappointed. The pages are sturdy, but it’s colored graph paper. Between the colored sheets and all the lines, my thoughts were jumbled before I even got them on the page. For a student or professional who actually needs graph paper, this might suit them just fine. And it has multiple sections so those users can keep their projects separate. —JM-W

Total score: 2.25

Type: Blank

Design: 2 | Page Quality: 3 | Overall feel: 3 | Looks: 1

This is an extremely basic, blank-page notebook with a thread-sewn spine. It’s perfectly sized for any sort of bag or tote: small, but not too small, and thin without feeling insubstantial. Style-wise, well, while it might not be my taste, it very well could be very aesthetically pleasing for someone who appreciates ombre (in pink-y, sunset-y shades) and gold-foil stamping (“NOTES,” it says on the front, in said gold foil). —KS

Total score: 2.25

Type: Blank

Design: 2  | Page Quality: 3.5  | Overall feel: 2  | Looks: 1

If you dream of shopping for paper goods on Diagon Alley, you might cherish this leather-bound notebook. To be fair, the paper quality isn’t terrible, though the leather cover has stained the first few pages yellow (consistent with its aged aesthetics). It also contains five notebooks in one, which is too much, unless, of course, you want to use one notebook for all your subjects including potions, divinations, charms, transfiguration, and defense against the dark arts. —LC

Total score: 2.125

Type: Blank

Design: 1 | Page Quality: 3 | Overall feel: 2 | Looks: 2

The Russian-nesting-doll packaging of this notebook — a cardboard box reveals a cotton bag reveals plastic wrapping reveals a leather folio (which is a bit intense — black and quite heavy) — makes the eventual discovery that the actual pad is a super-narrow, blank-page little thing a bit disappointing. The narrowness is also a bit of a problem in practice: A couple of seconds into writing in it, my hand began cramping up. The pages themselves are perfectly serviceable — though lightweight, there’s no bleed-through, and the feel isn’t too waxy. —KS

Total score: 2

Type: Lined

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 2 | Overall Feel: 2 | Looks: 1

At 8.5-by-11 inches and at least one inch thick, this notebook, per my first impression, is “offensively large.” It’s a notebook that’s designed with students in mind (a front flap advertises that it “lasts all year” and it’s got “5 subject” right in the name), and it would be ideal for a high-school or college kid. It has five sections separated by dividers with pockets on each side that’d be great for handouts. Also, the pages are perforated and three-hole-punched, so they’re ready to transfer to a binder. The lined pages — while a bit on the thin side — show no bleed-through and offer plenty of room to write. It’d be perfect for taking lots of notes in class or a lecture without having to turn the page an annoying amount. However, it’s too bulky and unsophisticated looking to use as an everyday grown-up notebook. It’s the kind of notebook you need a backpack to carry around. And while I generally like a spiral for holding a pen, this one is too large to get that snug fit. —KIA

Total score: 2

Type: Blank

Design: 2 | Page Quality: 2 | Overall feel: 2 | Looks: 2

This travel journal was the most basic of the bunch that I tested. While I like the overall size and shape — slim and taller than it is wide — I found the thin cardboard cover to be flimsy. While I didn’t have any problems with it during testing, I could easily see it getting torn, folded, or wet in my (often unorganized) bag. However, the quality of the pages was much higher than the cover. The unlined paper was mediumweight with a thick, smooth texture that my Muji glided over with ease. And the sewn spine allows the notebook to open completely flat, which makes writing on the smaller pages a breeze. I also appreciated the slightly rounded corners. Ultimately, this isn’t a bad notebook for jotting down a quick grocery list, but it’s just not as noteworthy as the other notebooks I tested. —DP

Total score: 2

Type: Dot grid

Design: 2 | Page Quality: 1 | Overall Feel: 4 | Looks: 1

Comparing the Rocketbook to a regular notebook is kind of like comparing Microsoft Word to a typewriter. They both basically do the same thing, but the user experience is very different. You write in the Rocketbook like you would a standard notebook and then, with the accompanying phone app, scan an image of the page. There are small symbols on the bottom of each page which you can assign, also through the app, to specific destinations, like your email or a Google Drive folder. Simply mark the appropriate symbol with an X and that page will appear in the corresponding destination. The pages are also stored on your phone and, through handwriting-recognition magic, you can search for a word or phrase across all of them. Then, use the included cloth to erase and reuse. Because the Rocketbook pages are meant to be used repeatedly, there’s no feeling of the notebook as a permanent journal or record. The upside is that in terms of sustainability, you’re constantly reusing the same pages, but notebook purists will miss flipping through their old notes or keeping the notebook as a reference. With the plasticky coated pages, writing in it feels a bit like your pen’s on a slip-and-slide, so it’s not exactly fun to use either. —KIA

Total score: 2

Type: Lined

Design: 2.5 | Page Quality: 1.5 | Overall feel: 1.5 | Looks: 2

Clocking in at legal-document size, this is a ton of no-frills notebook. The hardcover back makes it easy to use on asymmetrical surfaces, and the spiral is big enough to flip pages out of the way when you’re ready to scribble elsewhere. Although it has perforated pages, they’re not particularly necessary in a spiral notebook. —SK

Total score: 1.875

Type: Lined

Design: 2 | Page Quality: 1 | Overall feel: 2 | Looks: 2

This notebook was truly bleak. The cover is gray, the pages are gray, the lines inside are gray. It was very unpleasant to write in because the pages are newsprint and really drink up the ink from your pen, which then seeps through to the other side. It did have a few redeeming qualities, though: the intriguing label in Bulgarian on the cover (if anyone speaks Bulgarian, I would love to know what it says!), the utilitarian square shape, which would make it easy to slide into a tote bag, and the fact that it came with a packet of black tea tucked inside the front cover. —HR

Total score: 1.75

Type: Lined

Design: 1 | Page Quality: 1 | Overall feel: 2 | Looks: 1

The half-inch width of the lined paper gave me anxiety. I can see how it would be helpful for a first-grader to have boundaries for their handwriting, but as an adult, I’m set in my ways. If I’m quickly jotting down my thoughts, I don’t want to feel constrained. I do have to say that because this notebook is a classic grade-school notebook, it’s very durable (a silver lining). But the pages were rather flimsy. It also has a slightly gray tint to the paper, which felt a little sad, especially for a children’s notebook. —CA

Total score: 1.25

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Among the experts: writers Madeleine Schwartz, Jonny Sun, and Elizabeth Stix of the Writer’s Grotto; illustrators Lucas Adams, Alex Citrin, Olivia de Recat, and Rebecca Green; productivity experts Jake Knapp, Gretchen Rubin, and Justin Kerr; bullet journalers Cindy Thomas, Matt Ragland, Alexandra Louridas, and Danny Cuttell; Karen Hernandez, paper buyer for MoMA Design Store; Wakako Takagi, owner of stationery store Baum-kuchen; Mei Hyler, buyer at Yours Truly, Brooklyn; Elana Sinsabaugh, buyer for the NYPL gift shop; Amy Salvini Swanson and Beth Salvini, owners of Greenwich Letter Press; Sandeep Salter, owner of the Picture Room; Rosanna Kvernmo, owner of stationery store Shorthand; Colleen Callery, owner of Books Are Magic; Chandra Greer, owner of GREER; Adam Biles from Shakespeare & Company; and Edwin Arzeta, sales manager at Japanese stationery store Hiromi Paper.