Review – Daler-Rowney Simply Pocket Sketchbook (3.5×5.5) Hardback

Every time I have the time, I foolishly look in the notebook section at Walmart (both the office and/or crafts). I don’t know why, I always know that the notebooks won’t be great but I’ll be swayed to buy one anyway. In this case it was a hardback pocket sketchbook that I thought was only a dollar (it’s about 5 times that). The book basically has the same dimensions and look as a Moleskine Pocket notebook, but with 72 sheets of 100 gsm (65lb) “sketch” paper (heavier than the Moleskine notebook, lighter than their sketchbook, and with fewer sheets than either) at a discounted price. But is it a worthy “replacement”?

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The cover is very Moleskine reminiscent, being a black sort-of faux leather wrapped around cardboard, but in this case much more shiny and plastic-y. There are visible creases on both the front and back because the spine has been stiffened to remain flat, meaning the covers more or less “hinge” open. There is an elastic band attached to the back cover that does its job of holding the book together when wrapped around and warps the covers a little bit. Also on the back cover, stamped slightly off-center is the Daler-Rowney logo.

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Inside there is no strict “this book belongs to:” or logo page before getting right into the 72 sheets of “ivory” sketching paper, augmented by a very cheap looking/feeling black ribbon bookmark. Inside the back cover is a page-size pocket with cloth folds for strength, and I never use these so I can’t tell you much more than that.

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The paper itself is good. It is indeed fairly thick and heavy, with a grain that is smoother than most sketchbooks I’ve encountered but more toothy than any “notebooks” I’ve used. Aside from telling you that it’s “acid free”, the sticker on the front cover also has a picture of a pencil and a nib (I assume standing in for all ink pens) and it handles these two quite well. If you use pencil, there is a little bit of show-through if you go looking for it, but you could easily use all 144 “pages” of the book. The show-through becomes much more prominent with ink, especially from felt tip, brush, or fountain pens. There is also some minimal bleed-through with the more intense ink pens, but I never got it to actually mark on the next sheet. Still, it reduces the usable space of the sketchbook to 72 pages when using inks. Feathering is also a bit of an issue. There isn’t much of it, but when it happens (mostly with fountain pens) there are long thin lines of ink stretching away from your mark that almost look like little hairs. They’re pretty hard to see from far away, but when you notice them it’s hard to un-see.

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For the price it’s a nice little sketchbook (even if it cost more than I thought). It’s held up to a few months of moderate use from me with virtually no battle-damage, and while I suspect it to be less durable than a Leuchtturm or Moleskine it is short enough that it’ll probably last until you finish with it. The paper is good quality and pleasant to write on, and the handy pocket is there with an elastic band closure to keep every thing tidy. It’s a pretty good, if unrefined, option if you want a black pocket sketchbook.

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Review – Piccadilly Sketch Book

There are quite a few sketchbooks out there, and it can be hard to choose. If one isn’t the “pick one and stick with it forever”, or the “grab the nearest one off the shelf when a new one is needed” type of person, it can be overwhelming. Which ones on the shelf are worth it? Piccadilly is a brand of notebooks that has been making inexpensive Moleskine-type books for some time. Are their sketchbooks any good?

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The books have a super-plain brown cardboard cover with only the word sketch thinly lettered on the front. This cover is more of a wrapping, as it’s only attached at one point on the back, wrapping around and folding in the front like a dust jacket would. The binding is a series of small, sewn signatures glued together on the spine. It’s similar to most other binding methods; the spine cover just isn’t glued to the actual spine. At 120 sheets it’s a nice length, and isn’t too bulky or heavy. The construction, while sturdy, wouldn’t, I suspect, hold up to more than its complete page count if heavily used, and the cover-cover might even fall off or be rendered unusable before then. For a non-spiral it’s good, but it won’t last forever.

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The paper is blank 100gsm, textured and acid-free. It’s quite thick, almost seeming like card stock, but this provides a stable writing service even deep into the book. The texture isn’t great, in my opinion, but isn’t intrusive either. It holds graphite and pigmented ink well. If one is using wet, dye-based inks, though, feathering can be quite severe. The thickness leads to very little bleed-through (although it couldn’t stand, say, sharpies) and almost no show-through in most cases. It’s very well behaved and makes writing and drawing a pleasure, especially with pencil.

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It’s a good sketchbook, quite a good one, if you’re not going to put it in extreme conditions. It’s on the lower price side of average sketchbooks and does the part. Most people won’t have a problem with it and I certainly haven’t. If you’re looking for something to beat up, a different book might be needed. But if you’re looking for a minimal, handsome medium-use sketchbook, I’d have a look.

Review – Layflat Dot Grid Composition

Sometimes lines don’t look right on drawings and grids are too intrusive. Dots can be easier to draw around and can give the general guidance that is necessary. If you want the added bonus of having a book that lays flat on your table or lap you might want to try out the Layflat Sketchbook Dot Grid Composition notebook.

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The cover has a static looking black and white style and and a black spine. There is a space to write a name and subject as well. The cover is very thin cardboard, the inside being plain white with a plastic coating on the outside. It is rather thin, and has a problem with the pointy corners getting dinged up easily. The spine does lay flat with a little prodding, though not as flat as a saddle-stitched binding, but flatter than any other types of composition books, and most other note books.

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The pages are thin as well, white with tiny grey dots at regular intervals. There are quite a few of the dots on a single page, though I don’t know how many. The paper shows through with almost every ink, though it does take a heavy amount to bleed through. Even a few fountain pens work. The corners get dinged up like the cover, and the individual pages are a lot easier to damage. The grid they form is easier to write with than many others and is fairly straight. Though many of the pages are not printed the same, so the dots are inconsistent. Each dot is made of several small dots so they are un-intrusive.

Overall it’s a good notebook for designs and sketches requiring general guidance. It doesn’t work well with larger fountain or brush pens, or heavier liquid ink pens. It can get dinged up easily, but it does lay flat. In the end it is a cheap and nice notebook. Though it has faults, it is reliable and of good quality. It’s good for students or casual designers.

Review – Escalada 3.5 x 5.75 Pocket Journal

So, you’re out and about, you’ve just finished your last pocket notebook and are looking for a new one. You happen across one. It’s got 80 sheets of thick sketch paper and is only a couple bucks. It even looks kinda nice in its faux-leather binding. Is this small Escalada journal a good buy? Let’s see.

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We’ll start with the binding. It’s surprisingly good, it flexes well and doesn’t break under standard usage conditions. The binding, as well as the cover is of course cardboard covered in faux-leather with a slightly unattractive sheen. This layer holds up alright, though it does start to peel and rub off at the corners which is very unsightly. It also gets gummy in high temperatures and begins to take the shape of whatever is next to it, so where the elastic band is there will be a permanent set of grooves. But it hasn’t melted or gotten sticky in the time I’ve used it and I live in the middle of the desert.

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The paper is 80 sheets of 74 lb drawing paper. It’s thick but flimsy, it feels as if it’s falling apart sometimes and ink bleeds through and can be easily seen on the other side in some cases. Yet I have had no instances of marking on the next page. It has an easily visible grain and does at times warp ones drawings, mostly pencil though and not very much. The roughness is a bit unsightly to me but that’s just personal preference. Despite the flimsy feeling of the pages they are very stout and remain ridged most of the time. They resist bending, however I feel that if they did bend they would soon fall apart.

It’s an alright pocket sketchbook. It’s cheap, both in price and manufacturing, but it does do its job well enough. Just carrying it in a bag or a case won’t do much harm to it, especially since it only has eighty pages and can be run through fairly quickly. However, if your life is a bit more rough and tumble than most this is not for you, it will look ugly shortly and fall apart not long after. It does best if you’re looking for a notebook to store in your bag or somewhere on the cheap and don’t have too much preference as to the quality of the content you put in it.

Review – Limn Books

I am always on the lookout for new sketch/notebooks. I have hundreds already, but am hopelessly obsessed with paper. I have loads of different styles of notebooks. And when I found these fairly unique notebooks I had to have a look at them. (Disclaimer – They are made by my brother so I may be a little biased.)

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Limn Books come from Austin Texas. At the moment they come in two flavors of 5.5x 8.5. The flavors really only mean that one has red lettering and the other has blue. The only lettering is Limn on the cover and a contact email on the back. They contain 20 sheets of plain paper (no lines) covered by green cover stock. They are hand-sewn, single signature bound then covered with a binding strip.

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The covers are quite nice at protecting the books and looking nice, but they are not stiff enough to write on, so writing will require a table. The paper is almost butter, smooth but with enough grit to hold ink on the page well. Ink bleed is not much of a problem, especially if one is just writing and not drawing. They are comparable to Moleskine books in both paper and cover quality, but lack the elastic and are quite bit cheaper.20121207-001124.jpg

They are nice, inexpensive little books. They write well, are extremely portable, and are generally handy. They are good books for keeping notes, lists, and ideas. They have no real specific purpose in my mind, and are good at anything one wants to do in them, but are not necessarily the best at anything.

Review – Bienfang NoteSketch Book

One of the worst things about different types of notebooks is that they vary in the page setup. Some have lines, some graphs, others are blank. Even the lined ones vary in the ruling between the lines. And what if you want to make a note on a sketch? Sure, you can just write it somewhere on the page, but it never really looks right, does it? Likewise with drawing on lined paper. Or what if you want to draw a diagram with a description. It will never go in any space you have left on the page, especially if it’s a long one.

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Well, Bienfang appears to have those people covered with the NoteSketch Book (all in different fonts so you remember it better). But we have to start with the covers first. The front cover is a nice card stock, heavy and not likely to rip out. It can take a mild beating, regular use is easily handled, but abuse isn’t. The back is cardboard and quite nice. It is light but strong, and will support drawing on ones lap or holding it in front of a subject. The paper inside is a little over half blank with the rest being roughly college ruled lines. It’s nice, but as thin as printer paper. It will only take pencil or technical pens before bleeding and wrinkling. Of course, for its intended use this is no problem. This also helps keep the book slim and it easily fits into most bags. They come in a variety of page sizes but those are all virtually identical, with the page size you like being the only deciding factor.

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Personally I can’t go anywhere without one of these. I don’t use them much at home, but on the road or just outside they are perfect. I don’t know about anyone else, but I only bring a pencil and a pen when I’m out, so any drawbacks from thin paper are negligible. And the ability to write notes and have space for it fits what I do. I love having a set aside space to put my thoughts or the story behind a drawing. If thats what you like to do, or you like to draft or draw diagrams that require explanation, this is the book for you. If thats not your thing, then this may just not interest you.