Considering a notebook and want to know if you have the right paper? I wrote this just for you.

I can't believe it... we haven't talked basic notebook paper yet! Well, not in a succinct post, and not in a way to help you pick what you want without diving into paper theory. Paper is the heart of a blank notebook, and well worth spending some time thinking about. If you are looking into a notebook, read on.

Pilgrim Notebooks are handmade, but they are about being handmade with integrity, and attention to detail when it comes to function. I see the right paper as being the one invites you to create freely, and this can change from person to person.

Part one of the paper story is about our standard paper. This is a relatively thin recycled paper which is all about providing lots of pages for your work, but still being a pleasing surface. It’s a recycled 70 gsm paper that is fairly opaque, off-white, and delightfully tactile - but it is not necessarily for everyone. It is best for those that don’t mind a bit of transparency and impression. Its strength is in its modest functionality and the sheer number of pages in a book. Yet looking back on a book with this paper is always satisfying because of the feeling of dense creativity and work; there is something about the way the pages carry the work while letting it tell a story in the tactile world rather than leaving sparse information alone. A similar pleasure comes from finding old books which hold the indent of the printing type. In my commonplace/bullet journal I use this paper with waterman hemisphere and pilot prera fountain pens with fine nibs, and a steadler mechanical pencil, and I sometimes sketch with wooden pencils.

Note: We can't talk thin papers without talking bleed-through. I use fountain pens, which test this well. Bleed-through isn't an issue for plain writing, but it can be if you layer lines on top of each other e.g. for diagramatic elements, or sketching with a pen. It's quite good relative to the gsm, but in terms of a low-gsm paper, where it really shines is it the opacity, rather than resisting bleed through or indentation. Feel free to contact me with questions about these sorts of details.

This 70 gsm writing paper is what you will most often see in shops that stock Pilgrims

Part two of the paper story, is the other side of the coin; our sketching paper is also enjoyed as a thicker general purpose paper. This is actually the exact same recycled paper but about twice as thick, at 150 gsm. It was originally intended as a sketch paper that could also tackle some watercolour, but it has become well regarded for writing and general journaling. It’s ideal for those that are all about there being no impression and show-through from the other side of the page, but are willing to have fewer pages as a part of that. The paper itself is also much stiffer to handle - another matter of preference. The assymetry of the paper comes out a bit more in this thickness - one side is reminiscent of a laid paper and the other side a smooth vellum finish. In the pilgrims the paper is arranged so that two pages of each spread are always the same texture.

For most books you will have the option of 70 gsm or 150 gsm when ordering online. However, the 150 gsm is not so common at my stockists, and when it is at the shops it is usually in thinner soft-cover books which actually gain some strength from having thicker paper.

This 150 gsm paper is another standard. While it offers fewer pages to a book, it has it's own appreciative audience that enjoy it's opacity, thickness, and texture.

Part three: the irregular papers. We have talked about the papers that are used most regularly in the notebooks. However, there are plenty that have been made with ’specialty papers’, ranging from general-use to art papers; often the choice for a different paper is driven by a particular preference, such as for the paper to be as smooth as possible. These irregular papers are sometimes more expensive but whether they are better is a different question, and is only answered by how the paper works for you and whether it aligns with you values.

The much-loved Mohawk and Strathmore papers make frequent appearances. A good example is the Mohawk paper which is used in the noter’s book (see the website for this): this paper is a good intermediate weight (not too thick but not too transparent), has a tight grain, and is smooth while still being tactile. I favour it for detailed pencil sketches, but I think fountain-pen enthusiasts will also be interested in this paper. Despite how much I enjoy this paper, and the fact that I do use it in my most precious journals, I still use my standard recycled writing paper for about 80% of my notebooks. For me, it’s just the right paper for the job.

Mohawk via smooth 118 gsm has been one of my favoured papers for higher price-point books, but is still only present in one or two of my own notebooks.

Notes for the interested:

What about handmade paper? I agree, it has to happen. But the notebooks I make are all about the combination of bringing joy through being lovely handmade objects, aligning with one's values, and being endlessly useful; they are about your creations making them more special than they are at first. To put it very simply, it is taking a long time to look into handmade papers because the paper must be practical, and this means time and resources being spent in the research.

What about the recycled paper and environmentally friendly paper? Where does all that come in? It was the combination of recycled paper, practicality, and an accessible price that led to the standard paper for these books. However, recycled isn't everything. Other tags like carbon-neutral are also worth considering. While recycled paper re-uses material, it doesn't create it, and at least some the material must be grown initially. How that part of the cycle plays out if paramount, and so you could actually have non-recycled papers that exemplify sustainability by having ecologically harmonious and nuanced production methods. But these aspects of sustainability can be minor compared to the importance of your individual behaviour. We will not get anywhere with sustainability until we value materials and process and engagement with the ecological reality of our existence and the way we send ripples outwards in the biosphere with every motion of our lives. We need to appreciate that even a piece of paper is a valuable part of the world and something that was created by a delicate biosphere. Buying a well-made book is probably a good start to this.

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