testing testing

The 100 Best Notebooks, As Tested by Strategist Editors

From spiral-bound to linen-clad to 1950s-era.

Photo: Stella Blackmon/New York Magazine
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.

Criteria

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?

Methodology

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.

1. Public Supply Soft Cover Notebook

Type: Dot or lined

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 4.9 | Overall feel: 5 | The Cover: 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

2. Muji Paper Bind Notebook A6

Type: Blank

Design: 4.8 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall feel: 5 | The Cover: 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

3. Appointed Dot Grid Workbook

Type: Dot grid

Design: 4.75 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall feel: 5 | The Cover: 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

4. Zhi Jin Classic Thick Cloth Linen Notebook

Type: Blank

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall feel: 5 | The Cover: 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

5. Livework Moment Leather Blank Journal

Type: Blank

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 4.5 | Overall feel: 5 | The Cover: 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

6. Milligram Blank Linen Notebook

Type: Blank

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 4.8 | Overall feel: 4.5 | The Cover: 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

7. Kokuyo Campus Notebook A5

Type: Gridded

Design: 4.5 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall feel: 4.8 | The Cover: 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

8. Rollbahn Pocket Memo Notebook

Type: Gridded

Design: 4.75 | Page Quality: 4.75 | Overall feel: 4.75 | The Cover: 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

9. Midori MD Notebook Light

Type: Blank, lined, or gridded

Design: 4.5 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall feel: 4.5 | The Cover: 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