The William Hannah notebook is stunning, a beautifully designed and crafted piece of leather and metal work that is the epitome of writing luxury. The paper is pretty good; it doesn't feather too much, bleed at all and show through is minimal. But it is pretty expensive (11p per page including shipping at time of writing) and it does take a considerable length of time to dry. So 'Scribble' set us a challenge, to take a look at a range of other papers and see if anything was better. All the papers were expertly sliced, corner rounded and punched ready for us to use, so I popped them straight into my WH notebook.

Before we jump into the papers, I wanted to highlight what I consider to be the requirements for a great A5 notebook paper. When I am writing letters or trying my hand at sketching then I will look for different properties, but this is a specific usage case as I use this size and format for taking notes and drawing diagrams. Primarily the paper needs to not feather or bleed even with thicker nibs, show through needs to be well controlled so I can use both sides of the paper if desired. More importantly if I have put a page in below with writing on I should not be able to see the text. Dry time is also very important for this use, I want to be able to turn the page as quickly as possible after finishing on it and not have the ink end up on the facing page. I also have a preference for thicker paper, it just feels higher quality to me and this is important when used in my WH notebook.

Fabriano Paper

Based in Fabriano, Italy, this paper mill has been manufacturing for hundreds of years with a history dating back to 1264. So does this history result in a good paper?

  • 85gsm smooth vellum finish paper with a ~4mm grey dot grid pattern.
  • The paper is smooth to write on, works excellently with fountain pen ink and the grey grid doesn't stand out too much and detract from the writing.
  • Feathering is well controlled even with wet nibs, bleed non-existent but there is a considerable amount of show through, I would only use one side of the page. Dry time was quick enough.
  • It is thick enough to work excellently with the WH binding rings, not falling out whilst closing the book and turning pages.
  • One of the best things about this paper is that it does a great job of showing the colour of inks and enhancing the shading characteristics.

Staples Arc

Staples have their own version of a ring binding system called the 'Arc' which has a slightly difference hole punch but still seems to be compatible with Atoma/WH systems. They produce refills for their book, so how do they stack up?

  • 100gsm white paper with 'Arc' branding, this page has a lined finish with a title section and borders.
  • Paper is smooth, thick and luxurious with a clean white colour. The paper dries very quickly and this makes it very suitable for its intended use.
  • There is some slight feathering with juicy thick fountain pens, but nothing major and the paper doesn't seem to bleed. Show through is minimal so you can definitely use both sides of the paper.
  • The main problem is the page decoration, the 'Arc' logo just looks ridiculous and you lose a lot of the page because of the frame around the lined section. The ruling is also too thick and dark for my taste and the lines too widely spaced.
  • It is however very good value if you get it from a store or order a lot at once, delivery from Staples is steep.

Artoz 1001

Founded in 1973 by Hans-Albert Kufferath in Switzerland, they produce a wide range of paper products including this '1001' paper.

  • 15% cotton rag paper, 100gsm laid texture paper in a ridiculously wide range of colours in this case Lilac.
  • The laid finish of this paper makes it a much rougher paper to write on, certainly this cannot be described as smooth. But it takes ink superbly with limited feathering, bleed or show through at all. I have heard mixed reports of other colours in this respect but the Lilac does an amazing job and the white also performs similarly.
  • It dries very quickly even with thick and juicy nibs.
  • The paper definitely has two different sides, each with a different feel under nib, something to take note of.
  • 'Scribble' took to the printer and put a feint dot-grid on some of my sheets, a great idea as this paper only comes in plain format, the result was superb but the grid possibly too wide for my taste.
  • It feels amazingly luxurious and thick, I really like the paper even if it is at the other end of the texture spectrum from my normal reference paper Rhodia 80gsm.

Atoma 90gsm Cream

The original ring bound manufacturer has two offerings in their range, a white paper which comes with their cheaper books and this cream version which can be purchased separately or comes with the Atoma Leather offering.

  • 90gsm cream paper, wide lined (dot grid available) and normally A5+ in size. Cut to A5.
  • I am not a big fan of cream paper, but this is pretty good. With thicker nibs slight feathering occurs but nothing too bad. Slight show through, but you can use both sides of the paper easily, and it doesn't bleed under normal use.
  • Similar in feedback to WH 100gsm paper but dries considerably faster.
  • On the lined version I find the markings are too widely spaced and too obvious for my preferences, the dot-grid version however is just about right.

Pukka Pad

When ever I hear the name of this brand, I instantly leap to Jamie Oliver's over use of the word Pukka and this puts me off. But ignoring this how does the paper hold up?

  • 80gsm lined white paper, smooth finish
  • This paper feels very thin to the touch but still manages to work ok with the ring system.
  • It feathers quite badly with fountain pens, but shading is excellent. Show through is bad and I wouldn't use the second side of the sheet, but weirdly the opacity seems quite high so if you have written on a sheet below you cannot see the writing through to this sheet.
  • The paper had to be chopped, sized, shaped and punched as you cannot get it loose. A bit of a faff for paper that has limited redeeming properties.

Clairefontaine Triomphe

Clairefontaine is one of my favourite paper brands, their papers are generally superb and reasonably priced with very few lemons in the range. Triomphe paper is usually sold in a peel able binding for letter writing.

  • 90gsm white vellum finish paper
  • The best way to describe this paper is very smooth, very white & very well behaved.
  • Fountain pens love this paper, it is so smooth that writing is easy and enjoyable even with a needlepoint.
  • Great shading, no feathering and limited show through make this a superb all round paper. The biggest negative from a performance perspective is the dry time which is on the longer side and I had a lot of transfer issues when I put turned the page a bit too soon.
  • I absolutely love this paper and it is my go to paper for writing letters, it is plain but a line guide shows through just enough to enable you to write in a straight line. But as a notebook paper the dry time is not fast enough and this is one of the only papers I have used that really doesn't get on with pencils.

Black n' Red

Another British brand, owned by Hamelin Brands Ltd. they are known widely for their iconic and surprisingly black books with a red spine. These are used widely in the office environment and to get some sheets a book was mercilessly butchered by 'Scribble'

  • 90gsm white paper with a wide spaced ruling (also available plain)
  • This paper is pretty good. It is well behaved with only slight feathering on very thick nibs, no appreciable show through or bleed. Far better than I was expecting for a paper that feels as thin as this one does.
  • It dries pretty quickly, shows some good shading on inks and hasn't got any major hang ups. I dislike the line spacing, too wide for me, but the colour is pretty inoffensive and doesn't get in the way.
  • The only thing really holding this paper back for me is the thin feeling, I like my paper in the WH notebook to feel a bit more luxurious than this.

Crown Mill Vellum

I have previously reviewed some Crown Mill notecards and really liked them, you can see the review for a bit more history of the brand, but how does their paper stack up?

  • 100gsm white paper, vellum smooth finish, no page markings
  • This paper feels great in hand, a nice smooth paper and a nice solid heft.
  • In use it feels great under the nib but has some very slight feathering that I wasn't expecting to see. Despite this it feels light a good writing experience and very easy to do so, similar to Clairefontaine Triomphe but not quite as glossy.
  • It acts and feels like a thicker paper than 100gsm would suggest, you cannot really see any ink at all on the other side of the page so using the second side is certainly possible.
  • It dries relatively quickly so this is definitely a good option for notebooks, but doesn't seem to move the needle significantly in any direction compared to the 100gsm WH paper.

W H Smith Papers

W H Smith is a high street stationer in the UK, or at least it used to be. Now it seems to sell almost everything apart from stationery, with the range being resigned generally to a corner of the store. Despite this they do their own papers and I was given two to try.

  • Basic Writing Paper: 80gsm, this is a cheap and cheerful paper which is better than the price or purchase location would suggest. Feathering is well controlled and the paper doesn't bleed onto the sheet below. Use one side and this isn't too bad, but it feels cheap and seems a shame to put this into a WH notebook.

  • Sketch Paper: I love thick paper, but this is one step too far even for me. It feels very high quality, shows off inks beautifully with great shading and has minimal feathering. The most surprising aspect however is how much the ink can be seen through the paper, I actually couldn't use the other side of the page because of this. It didn't bleed onto the sheet below but came close. It did dry very quickly though.

Tesco Watercolour Paper

I am sure that 'Scribble' chucked this one in for a laugh, unless you are looking to draw, sketch or paint in your WH as the primary activity this isn't worth a look. The paper is very thick, very textured and very cream in colour. It dries quickly but feathers beyond belief if you can even write on it, one side is just unusable with a fountain pen. Enough said.

Clairefontaine 'Clairing'

Another paper from the French company, this is the paper commonly used in their equivalent of the Atoma ring bound system.

  • 90gsm, lined with a blue ink and a reddish margin
  • By far the most disappointing paper I have ever tried from this brand. It feathered slightly, and too much, with both thick and thin nibbled fountain pens and show through is worse than expected for a 90gsm paper.
  • It is considerably quicker drying than the Triomphe paper, but not as smooth to write on and the rulings and margins just get in the way.

Tomoe River

This paper is quickly gaining a cult status in the stationery community, widely hailed as being superb with fountain pens. Hailing from Japan, it started life as a paper stock for catalogues where a low weight of paper is important to enable more pages to be used in the same volume & weight. Someone decided to try it with a fountain pen, and now it's everywhere.

  • 52gsm smooth finish paper with no line markings
  • This paper is smooth, it makes the Triomphe paper feel like like it has feedback and I can really understand why people could rave about it for this property alone.
  • It doesn't feather or bleed, which at 52gsm is quite a feat. This paper also seems to give inks their best opportunity to shine, the ability for shading properties to become apparent is also unmatched.
  • For a WH notebook however I just cannot understand using this paper. It takes a long time to dry making Triomphe look quick, it is too thin to work with the ring system as pages kept falling out, the cream colour just doesn't appeal to me but the worst property by far is the tracing paper type nature. I love the ability to remove and reorder pages in a WH notebook, with this paper you need to make sure that there are at least 2 blank pages below or the writing on the pages below will annoy beyond belief.
  • This paper just feels like tracing paper to me, not very luxurious and not very practical. For writing with it loose, doing caligraphy or reviewing inks I think this could be amazing but I don't do this enough for this paper to enter my regular rotation, it also is very expensive in the UK.

Original Crown Mill Laid

Another paper from Original Crown Mill, this time with a laid finish similar to that of the Artoz paper.

  • 100gsm white paper, laid finish, no page markings.
  • This paper is surprisingly difficult to write on, compared to the Artoz paper it feels rough and scratchy even with my buttery smooth Pelikan M805. To top this off there is lots of feathering, show through and it isn't particularly fast drying.
  • In hand this paper feels amazing, really high quality with a good heft and a nice texture. It is such a shame that the paper just doesn't seem to perform when using it for its actual purpose.

Conclusions

It took a long time to really get to grips with this stack of paper types. I was sent 14 paper stocks and apart from the watercolour paper all spent some time in my book and were used for everyday note taking. The experience of trying to find a better paper has taught me a lot about the properties that are important to me and reading other people's reviews on papers like Tomoe River has shown that I probably have a different set of priorities, especially in this context.

For use in my WH notebook I really do value a quality feel, and whilst some of the thinner papers performed well technically, they just don't make me want to swap over. I was pleasantly surprised by the performance of the Fabriano paper, W H Smith's basic writing paper and the Black n' Red. All of those actually do a pretty good job and out of the three I would love to see if there are any thicker Fabriano options that I could use.

The most disappointing option for me was definitely the Tomoe River paper, I had heard so much and can truly understand why people love it, but it just seemed like cheap tracing paper. The laid paper from Original Crown Mill was surprisingly poor, it may have just been the batch I had, but I expected more especially when compared to the pretty good vellum finish.

Did I find any papers that I would replace the William Hannah 100gsm paper with? I really liked playing with the Artoz paper, but lilac isn't a great colour for day to day use. I ordered some white paper stock, it isn't quite as good as the lilac from a show through perspective but the dry time makes this an absolute winner. The WH paper however has one thing going for it, it is pre-punched for use which as a lazy person makes it likely I will default back to it. Since starting writing this review WH has also upgraded their paper to a slightly whiter 120gsm paper stock, this initially seems better than the 100gsm so a review will be coming soon once I have spent some serious time getting to know it.