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

10. Moleskine Volant Journal

Type: Lined

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

11. Leuchtturm1917 Medium A5 Dotted Hardcover Notebook

Type: Dotted

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

12. Piccadilly Dot Grid Essential Notebook

Type: Dot grid

Design: 4.5 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 5 | The Cover: 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

13. Leuchtturn1917 Bullet Journal

Type: Dotted

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall feel: 5 | The Cover: 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

14. Comp Notebook

Type: Blank

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 3 | Overall feel: 5 | The Cover: 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.]

15. Stalogy 016 Vintage Notebook

Type: Lined

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall Feel: 4 | The Cover: 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

16. Monocle Wallet Notebook

Type: Blank

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 5 | The Cover: 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

17. Kiriko Grid Notebook

Type: Gridded

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 5 | The Cover: 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

18. Life Noble Notebook

Type: Blank

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall Feel: 4 | The Cover: 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

19. Moleskine Classic Pocket Notebook

Type: Lined

Design: 4.5 | Page Quality: 4.5 | Overall feel: 4.25 | The Cover: 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

20. Kate Spade Take Note Monogram Notebook

Type: Lined

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall feel: 4 | The Cover: 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

21. Leda Art Supply Large Softbound Sketchbook

Leda Art Supply Large Softbound Sketchbook

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

22. ban.do Rough Draft Large Spiral Notebook

Type: Lined

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall feel: 4 | The Cover: 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