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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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
$14

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

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

$21 for 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23. Iron Curtain Press The Standard Notebook, Mint

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

There’s plenty of room to write, which I, as someone with huge, loopy handwriting, appreciate. And instead of having the grids go from the top of the page to the bottom, there’s a fat margin at the top, similar to what you’d find on classic loose-leaf paper. It just gives the page a little bit of breathing room, making it more appealing to write in. The grids too, though a bright blue, aren’t overwhelming. The page is more khaki than white, almost like a manila folder, so it looks a little dingy. But the ink barely bled through the page, and it’s smooth to write on. The best way I can describe this notebook is chubby, but that’s a good, charming thing. I think that’s because the dimensions of the notebook are more square than rectangular, so it’s a little easier to port around and stuff into a backpack or purse. The metal spirals are wide enough that I don’t feel like the pages are going to catch, and they feel sturdy. The main reason I’m docking points is because the front cover is mint-green card stock, which doesn’t seem too sturdy. This notebook has a decidedly vintage feel, which is fun and feels fancier and more bespoke than a spiral notebook from the drugstore. —MB

Total score: 4.25

24. Hiromi Paper Washi Notebook

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall feel: 4.5 | The Cover: 4.5

Hiromi Paper is a Culver City-based stationery store that is dedicated to bringing Japanese paper products to the U.S. The Washi notebooks are all made in Kyoto. My tester had geometric designs. It feels both graphic and distinct but not overly fussy. The inside has cream-colored paper is supple and smooth and a joy to write on. The notebook is held together by a single thread. It feels like a lot of care went into making it. That being said, since the cover is just a thick paper (albeit a beautiful, textured, thick paper), held together by a (literal) thread, it is a bit delicate. I do think this is a notebook that needs to be babied a bit, but it’s worth the extra attention. And if you want a notebook that nobody else has, then I couldn’t recommend it enough. —DP

Total score: 4.25

25. Shinola Large Hard Linen Journal

Design: 3.5 | Page Quality: 3.5 | Overall feel: 5 | The Cover: 5

This is an understated notebook with a sophisticated linen cover. It feels extremely sturdy and seems like it could hold up to a great deal of wear and tear. And there are other elegant features as well, including a ribbon bookmark, an elastic band to keep the notebook closed, and a built-in folder on the inside of the back cover to store loose pages. The lined pages themselves are fine: They’re thick enough that there was no bleed-through from my pen but not thick enough to feel particularly fancy. Picture standard loose-leaf that is slightly thicker. It’s perfectly acceptable; it just doesn’t match the quality of the cover. While the notebook is ever-so-slightly larger and heavier than I typically prefer, you can tell this is a notebook that is durable enough to earn the extra space it takes up in your bag. —DP

Total score: 4.25

26. Mossery Hardcover Threadbound Notebook

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 5 | The Cover: 3

I found this one really interesting. There’s a whole section in the front with very loose “prompts” to draw or post a picture of yourself or places you find inspiring, jot down goals and priorities, etc. I found this kind of corny at first, but I actually think it’s a really nice touch now that I’ve had some time with the notebook. It’s not for everyone, but I appreciate how earnestly designed it is, and I think those exercises really can help get the creativity flowing and make the notebook feel more personal from the beginning. It’s a little off-tone if you’re just using this for jotting down random notes and lists, but if you want it to be more of a daily planner, casual diary, or bullet-journal type thing, I think it would be a really nice touch. Also the paper is great, smooth with almost no bleedthrough, and it’s still very thin, so it has a lot of pages in there. It takes reusable notebooks that you can swap out, which is practical and environmentally friendly. And another benefit is that the inserts have a soft binding, so you get the easy lie-flat spreadability of that style combined with the durable hardcover exterior. Also, it has two pockets. I don’t know what to do with even one of those notebook-pocket things, but this has two. —DN

Total score: 4.25

27. Rhodia N° 18 Wirebound Pad

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

I’m a sucker for brands with some history and provenance, so I was well aware of Rhodia before this. I actually used their notebooks for a lot of my classes in college. (Not to date myself too much, but Moleskines were the hot notebook on the scene at the time, and I wanted to be different). Rhodia is a French company known well in stationery and fountain-pen circles for its high-quality paper. And the reputation is definitely deserved. The paper is very luxe and smooth. No bleed-through. It’s not quite as elegant as the LIFE notebook paper, but it’s still a standout for sure. Of all the notebooks I tested, this is the one I actually ended up using the most, but that’s because it just sat on my desk and I scribbled on it throughout the day. This thing is big — bigger than a standard American legal pad — so it’s not the most portable. But it’s great for leaving on the desk. One other great thing: The paper rips out super-easy and clean, which is often an issue with top-bound pad-style notebooks. One not-so-great thing: There’s no slightly larger “header” section like you have on most American paper pads, and I found myself really missing this. But for a pad with fancy paper, it’s hard to imagine doing better than this. —DN

Total score: 4.25

28. Baron Fig Vanguard Softcover Notebook

Design: 4.5 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall feel: 4 | The Cover: 4.5

I desperately crave structure in every facet of my life, but this is a blank notebook I can get behind. It is very simple: a gray, cardboard-y cover, simple yellow-thread binding, and 72 sturdy, smooth pages. Unlike with Moleskine (which is a similar size), this, I fear, wouldn’t survive any sort of in-bag spill, but that’s okay: A set of three costs a mere $12. This is a slightly handsomer, slightly sturdier version of Muji’s (wonderful) softcover notebooks, and would be, I imagine, a doodler’s dream. —KS

Total score: 4.25

29. Emilio Braga Cloud Print Lined Notebook

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall feel: 3 | The Cover: 5

This is a notebook with a backstory, literally: The first page explains, first in Spanish, then in English, that the product in your hands has a “distinctive and hard-wearing spine and corners” (whatever that means), is “bound in colourful fabric,” and “is the genuine Portuguese Notebook.” It is certainly handsome: The cover is speckled, the pages are dip-dyed in a pretty, vibrant red, and the whole thing is bound, as they said, in “colourful fabric.” It looks, in other words, like something you’d buy for your boss on a European vacation. While the (blank) pages are smooth to write on (with no bleed-through at all), the size (about nine-by-six inches) and heft (heavy) of this notebook relegates it to the “special occasion” category, for at-the-desk to-do lists or intelligent thoughts — it’s not something I would choose to carry around with me on the daily grind. —KS

Total score: 4.25

30. Rhodia Meeting Book

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall feel: 4.25 | The Cover: 4.25

While I’m not the kind of notebook user who needs her pages compartmentalized into “action” and “notes” and “date” boxes, this spiraled number almost convinced me that I should. The softcover is not overly structured, but with 160 pages, the notebook has enough structural integrity to hold in one hand while writing with the other. And it features perforated pages, which I now realize that I always needed. —SK

Total score: 4.125

31. Rite in the Rain All-Weather Top-Spiral Notebook, 3” x 5”

Design: 4.75 | Page Quality: 4.75 | Overall feel: 3.5 | The Cover: 3.5

This shrunken notepad is best equipped for grocery lists, daily tasks, or highly abbreviated notes. It takes up minimal room in a bag or coat and could be stuffed into a back pocket. It’s impressively weatherproof, too. After I scribbled a page with Sharpie, dribbled water on it, and wiped it with my hand, the ink didn’t smear or bleed through. And, when dried, the paper returned to its original texture, without telltale waterlogged waviness. Ideal for intrepid reporters on drizzly days. —SK

Total score: 4.125

32. Maruman A5 Spiral Notebook

$21 for 5

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 4.5 | Overall Feel: 4 | The Cover: 3

When I think of a graph-lined notebook page, this is what I imagine. The grid fills the entire page, from the bottom to the top, with no margins or gaps, and yet it’s not overwhelming or distracting to look at. That’s because the lines themselves are a delicate dove gray, visible enough to keep my handwriting in check but not so loud as to distract from my words. My Baron Fig Squire pen raced over the page — the paper is that smooth and silky to write on. The only reason I’m docking any points is because there were some issues with ink bleed-through, but even those were minor. With brown cardboard covers and a spiral binding, this notebook should feel worse than it does, and certainly the design doesn’t scream “luxury.” But the cardboard is pretty rigid and feels firm; it’s also got an almost glossy texture on the outside, which is nice to the touch. It’s fairly portable and packable, though already, I’m seeing some of the metal coils get bent out of place. This is a nice-looking spiral notebook, with clean design and minimal branding, but it is still a spiral notebook, so it doesn’t really look fancy. —MB

Total score: 4.125

33. Mark’s Storage.it Notebook

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall feel: 4 | The Cover: 3

As a lined notebook lover, I fell hard for this one. The lined pages are all on the right-hand side of the notebook, and the backs of the pages, the left side, are covered in some sort of subtle design. While I’m sure the unlined side would be useful for some, I liked that this encouraged me to write only on the right-hand side instead of trying to fight gravity, holding down the lighter side of the notebook to make it useful. It also helps when flipping through the pages looking for notes to have everything on one side. My black-ink pen showed up, well, black on the page, which I liked. Other notebooks turned the ink into a faint gray that had me questioning if I was actually using a No. 2 pencil to write my to-do list. The ink doesn’t bleed through exactly, but holding a single sheet up to the light, you can definitely see through it. This didn’t bother me since the backside of the page isn’t for writing anyway. It’s not a hardcover notebook, but the plastic outside does give it a nice weight and tough exterior. I was able to toss this in my bag without fear of the corners of the cover turning up or getting marked up from the capless pen in my bag. It’s almost like you don’t have to think about it, which for me, someone who doesn’t care much about the condition of their notebook, worked well. If you care that much about the appearance of your notebook, this can easily be wiped down for regular cleaning. —JM-W

Total score: 4

34. Smythson Soho Notebook

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 4 | The Cover: 5

I will start this off by saying that when I got the Smythson notebook to test, I felt like I won the lottery. I’ve used one of its Panama Diaries annually for the last several years, and like countless others, I am a huge fan of the brand for its aesthetics and its functional agendas. So it started out slightly ahead of the pack of other contenders. That said, it did not emerge as the favorite of the ones I tested — not because it isn’t a good notebook but because I just think there were other notebooks that worked better as notebooks. It is indeed well made, with the soft grosgrain leather cover, sewn binding, and ribbon to mark your page. From experience, I can attest that leather-covered Smythson notebooks and agendas only get better with age and wear, whether you’re using them or they’re just sitting on a shelf with their spine sticking out. Its handsomeness alone would make me want to use it every day, and its simple page design would not discourage daily use, either. But the sewn binding does make it hard to rip out pages in a pinch. And there’s nothing that adds functional aspects to its design aside from the ribbon. Before I embarked on testing, I would have told you there is no better-looking notebook than a Smythson. But the Monocle’s trim size and neat look I think just edged out this notebook in terms of which one I found the most aesthetically pleasing. That could be because, after years of using Smythson’s diaries, there was no real wow factor about the notebook. (Can you become jaded by notebooks? I guess so.) —AR

Total score: 4

35. Orihon Japanese Accordion Notebooks

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall feel: 4 | The Cover: 5

This notebook is similar in size to a reporter’s notebook, and the no-spine design made me want to flip it open dramatically with one hand like a detective in a movie. Upon further inspection, I realized my Nancy Drew fantasy wasn’t possible. The back and front cover of this notebook aren’t attached at any point, and it opens accordion style. While I was intrigued by the design, I didn’t actually want to write anything in it. I was confused mostly and didn’t know where to begin. This felt like more of a keepsake or the place a long, passionate love letter or vows would be written in, not my grocery list. If you do have notes worthy of this, the paper is very thick. It has that handmade look and feel, what I imagine the Declaration of Independence was written on. The texture however did not lend itself well to my Bic pen. It did not bleed through the page but spread the ink out, giving my script a dull, thick appearance instead of the clean, skinny lines this pen typically delivers on normal printer paper. As for the size, it’s great for carrying around. It’s small and light enough to fit in most bags, but I wouldn’t toss this anywhere — it’s too pretty. It doubles as desk décor, for sure. If there is such a thing as a status notebook, this is it. Not only is it fragile, but the beautiful textured pastel-colored cover is enough to draw someone’s attention. When they learn it’s unlined, they will assume you have perfect penmanship and that is a flex in itself. —JM-W

Total score: 4

36. Baron Fig Confidant Hardcover Notebook

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall feel: 3 | The Cover: 5

Had almost unreasonably high hopes for the Confidant, as the New York–based brand’s Squire took home the first-place crown in our best-pens ranking, and in fact the pre-online, print-only Strategist named this the best notebook back in 2015, right after the company launched. It’s a great notebook — easy to carry around, nice-quality paper, handsome without being showy (and available in a lovely range of colors) — but its big promise of lying flat did not quite hold up. It takes a dozen or so pages of use and some serious pressing for that to happen. —Alexis Swerdloff

Total score: 4

37. Postalco Notebook A6

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 4 | The Cover: 5

A luxury take on the classic reporter’s notepad, this spiral-top notebook is both thoughtfully designed and a pleasure to use. Because of its compact size, you can easily write in it while holding it in your hands, without using a flat surface, and it’ll fit in most bags. There’s still enough room on each page to fit several lines of writing, so you don’t have to flip to a new page too quickly. The starched-cotton cover is thick and durable, and the back cover extends over the spirals for a clean look. Its pages are thick and smooth to write on, with very minimal bleed-through. While there’s a light-blue grid pattern on the pages, the squares are so far too tiny to actually write in, so the grid acts more like a design element than a useful guide. It functions essentially as a blank notebook, which is probably fine for the type of quick writing you’ll be doing with this pad. —KIA

Total score: 4

38. Black N’ Red Notebook

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall Feel: 4 | The Cover: 3

Functionally, this notebook is maybe the best of all, even though I don’t necessarily love spirals. That’s because I do love being able to fold my notebooks (so they’re half the size than they would be fully opened), and the spiral just makes that so easy. Plus this has an elastic on its back cover that you can use to hold the notebook folded open to the page you’re writing on. The lines are lines — they’re not too dark or light and are a bit wider to allow for bigger penmanship. Also, there is a sort of too-earnest page in the front with motivational language asking for objectives, which I don’t really care for but power journalers might like. The Black ’n’ Red has pretty great paper. I am a lefty, and I tested all my notebooks with a pencil, and this excelled at the smudge test. That said, the paper is more transparent than that of some of the other notebooks I’ve tried, like the Paperblanks. It’s often hard to see lead through a page, but on this one, you can — it’s not hugely pronounced, but it’s not faint enough not to notice or care, either. At roughly five-by-eight inches, it’s pretty small in the grand scheme; this would totally slip into a standard-size tote, backpack, or a work bag like mine. I don’t dig the black-and-red color scheme (it’s a little Satanic), but otherwise it’s a fairly simple-looking book — in a good way. A little more hefty and distinguished than a Mead; not immature. Although maybe a tad too serious. —AR

Total score: 4

39. Moleskine Cashier Soft Cover Journal

Type: Lined
$8 for 3

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

I remember growing up and begging my mom for these whenever we saw them in Barnes & Noble and her never caving — and maybe that’s a factor in the high score I couldn’t help but give it here. As a kid, I assumed they were expensive, but now I’m realizing that $10 for three is a pretty solid deal and she just knew these still weren’t worth it. As an experienced user now, I know this stitched-bound paperback notepad with few pages isn’t exactly something to covet, but it gets the job done. As a casual note-taker who doesn’t need much more, the simple lined pages are enough for me. The weight of the cover is a bit sturdier than other paperback notebooks I tested, so I don’t have the same fear of it ripping, but it’s still not lasting forever. These might be a status symbol for a suburban tween, but most adults will know this isn’t the best you can get, even at this price point. –JM-W

Total score: 4

40. Apica Premium C.D. Notebook

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall feel: 3 | The Cover: 4

Unlike some other paper notebooks, this one has a dark cover — way better for hiding dark pen ink or even oil stains. Unfortunately, just like other paper notebooks, the cover is always slightly ajar from trying to fold it and hold it open. This only makes it harder to keep the cover and inside pages intact. If you don’t plan on traveling with it, this will do just fine at your desk. The inside is simple and lined, which I can appreciate. They are also wider than the lines of a Muji or Moleskine notebook, which for me made the task of filling the page a little less daunting. The pages are also pretty sturdy and held up to my tug test. While the cover’s days are numbered, I do appreciate the encouraging quote and fancy script. —JM-W

Total score: 4

41. Blueline A9 Notebook

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 3 | Overall Feel: 5 | The Cover: 3

I’m not really evaluating this one as a daily notebook because it doesn’t really make sense for that, and I don’t think that’s the original intent. It’s big, and it’s basically bound like a thin hardcover photo album, so it’s not something you’re going to want to use to jot down grocery lists. This seems like it’s intended more for archiving purposes, and for that I think it’s pretty close to perfect. There’s a page of sticky labels in the back to place on the cover and the spine and then sticky tabs to section off areas of the notebook. For administrative needs or record-keeping, this would really come in handy. There’s nothing fancy, no crazy new organizational principle. It feels very “federal,” if that makes sense — neat and organized, straightforward, not making any splash but efficient. It has a wide margin on the inside of the page, which I’m sure people who keep records would find better uses for than drawing cubes and stick figures, as I did. A final note: I didn’t Google this until after writing my review (to be objective!), but a quick search confirmed my impression that this is a cult-y archive notebook. There are pictures of tons of these set out on bookshelves with labels on the spine visible, which make them simultaneously satisfying and frightening to look at. —DN

Total score: 4

42. Muji Double-ring Dot Grid Notebook A5

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 3.75 | Overall feel: 4 | The Cover: 4

Another minimalist pick from Muji, this one has dotted pages and a strap that adds a little to the overall design — although like the other Muji notebook I tested, it’s so simple that it doesn’t particularly stand out. That said, it does its job. The pages are still a little thin but thicker than the unlined Muji notebook pages, and the dots are in an unobtrusive shade of gray that helps keep my writing neat without feeling overly restrictive the way graph paper might. I would happily carry this around all day again, too. And I know this sounds like an insult, but I mean it as praise: I wouldn’t feel bad about using this as a coaster on my desk in a pinch. That’s to say it’s not precious and is something I could imagine having around in all situations. —HR

Total score: 3.93

43. Moleskine Classic Notebook Hard Cover, XL

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall feel: 3 | The Cover: 3.5

I am a longtime Moleskine devotee and carry its little hardcover reporter-style notebook with me every day to jot down anything from grocery lists to ideas for writing. And I’m a fan of its large and midsize softcover notebooks, too — but the large lined hardcover just didn’t cut it for me. First of all, it’s heavy. When I carried it home in my tote bag, the weight was similar to that of a 200-page hardcover book. I guess the upside to the heavyweight model is that the notebook feels very sturdy, and I didn’t worry about it getting damaged in my bag. Weight aside, the notebook has a lot to offer: The page quality is excellent and has that classic Bavarian-cream color of all Moleskine pages. The lines on the page are a faint gray color with spacing that is a little claustrophobic, in a good way. Writing in them forces me to stay neat. —HR

Total score: 3.875

44. Life Margin B5 Blank Notebook

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 3 | Overall feel: 4 | The Cover: 4.5

I like the look of this Japanese-made notebook very much: It’s brown, with a handsome, vibrant red spine. It’s also quite light, despite its size (large: about six-by-nine inches). The issues I had with this notebook were twofold: First, if you happen to flip the cover back while you’re writing, that cover will not recover — it retains a deep crease and will forevermore pop up when you lay the notebook on its back. And second, the pages (which are otherwise blank) have two thin vertical pink lines that run down the pages about two inches from each side. Those lines (while actually quite pretty!) are constraining — writing outside them made me feel deeply uncomfortable, but writing inside them meant whole inches of each page were wasted. —KS

Total score: 3.875

45. Blackwing Slate Notebook

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 3.5 | Overall feel: 4 | The Cover: 4

This leather notebook has a very secure feeling to it, in part because of the strap that keeps it closed and in part because of the elastic pen or pencil fastener on the side. It came with a pencil tucked in the side holder, but I swapped it out for my pen, and it worked just as well. The page texture was a little scratchy, but the pages themselves have a high-quality thickness that falls somewhere between writing and drawing paper. On the inside cover, there is a log where you can clock the date, content, and page count each time you write, which doesn’t seem like something I’d ever use but, I imagine, could be useful if you had some journaling goals to meet. Overall, this one seemed very practical, without too many bells and whistles, and the kind of thing you could stick in your bag every day and feel confident that it would still be in good shape a few weeks (maybe months) later. —HR

Total score: 3.875

46. Archer & Olive A5 Dot Grid Notebook

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 4 | The Cover: 3.5

This is a hefty notebook with nice, thick paper and a vegan-leather hardback cover that feels smooth to the touch. The one I tested has a light-pink cover with a floral pattern that feels a bit juvenile and cutesy, but it would be nice for someone who’s into that. (The company has a range of cover styles, so it’s possible that you’d find a design you like.) I like that it’s simple: The pages are dot-gridded and the corners are rounded, a plus for me. There are two ribbon markers, a back pocket, an elastic pen holder, and an elastic band to keep the notebook closed. It has a lay-flat design, another plus. While I do not bullet journal, I can see this being ideal for someone who does, as the 160 GSM paper would lend itself nicely to the use of markers and fountain pens. Even though it’s A5-size, the thicker paper and hardcover make it a little too bulky for my liking. Still, I can tell it’s well made and that it would hold up to extensive use. —Lauren Ro

Total score: 3.875

47. Stalogy Editor’s Series 365 Days Notebook

Type: Gridded
$17

Design: 3.5 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 4 | The Cover: 4

The lines of the grid are wonderfully thin, in a subtle light gray that offers enough structure without being visually overbearing. But this is more of a day planner than a notebook. In fact, self-described “power planner user” Perrin Drumm included it in her roundup of the best planners (not notebooks). And a lot of the features that make it a good planner make it a discouraging notebook. For instance, the grids are numbered from 0 to 24, denoting the 24 hours in a day, and each page has a spot to fill in the date, which makes it feel like I should only be using a page a day, when, in reality, I use at least two. The paper is very thin, almost as delicate as the onionskin paper you find in Bibles, and while writing, I always had a slight fear of puncturing the sheet with my pen. But amazingly, I didn’t, and even more amazingly, the ink barely bled through onto the other side (though my handwriting was somewhat visible). The thin paper means the notebook itself is pretty slim, even though it has 368 pages (one for every day of the year and then some). The lay-flat binding is truly lay-flat, and the size is fairly portable. The cover is exceptionally soft and flexible, which isn’t a bad thing, but I am frankly skeptical that it would withstand a lot of wear and tear, especially since the corners already started to show use after only a couple of days of light use. But the gold embossing on the cover makes the whole thing look a little bit classier and more expensive than it actually is. —MB

Total score: 3.875

48. Vintage Argentinian Notepad

Design: 4 | Page Quality: 4.8 | Overall Feel: 3 | The Cover: 3.5

This is a funny little notebook that I might give to a friend who likes charming old-fashioned stationery goods. It would be a nice travel notebook because it’s thin, blank so you could use it for sketching while sitting in a café, and the paper is of good quality and takes ink well. I don’t usually like spiral-bound notebooks because they get tangled up in headphone wires and other stuff I often have floating around in my bag. But the portability and flexibility of this notebook pretty much makes up for that. Still, this feels more like a onetime-purchase notebook rather than something I would add to my core lineup of paper goods. —LC

Total score: 3.825

49. Muji Double-ring Blank Notebook A5

Type: Blank
$16 for 3

Design: 3.75 | Page Quality: 3.5 | Overall feel: 3.75 | The Cover: 4

Like all Muji items, this notebook was simple and almost soothing to use. The cover is a dignified shade of brownish charcoal gray, and made of a hard card-stock material, which gives you a sturdy writing surface even if you’re using it while standing on the subway. The blank pages could be just a tad thicker — I noticed some ink bleeding through — but are easy to write on and in an easy-on-the-eyes shade of off-white. —HR

Total score: 3.75

50. Moleskine Classic Hard Cover Large Reporter Notebook

Design: 3 | Page Quality: 4 | Overall Feel: 5 | The Cover: 3

What I like: It’s about as slender as the Monocle and Paperblanks ones (I’m learning I prefer slender notebooks to wider ones). It’s got more lines per page (30, to be exact), and they’re narrower — I like a narrower line. It’s also got an accordion pocket in the back — it’s not as big as the Monocle notebook’s, but honestly, that one may be too big for what you need (this one seems like a more subtle way to get the same function). And it has an elastic band to keep the notebook open. I also, in theory, like a memo-pad style (that opens vertically, not horizontally) — but I think it’s key for a memo pad to be able to fold over, otherwise you have this giant, long, scroll-like thing taking up most of your desk. And that’s exactly my biggest problem with this notebook: Because it is hardcover, you cannot fold it over, so it becomes unwieldy (you need a fair amount of space to keep it open). As I said, I’m a fan of the pages themselves for their many narrower lines. They do smudge a bit, but sort of the same amount as the Monocle or Paperblanks. Individual pages don’t rip out easily (I pulled out a couple of pages when I only wanted to rip one). And they’re fairly transparent (I can see my scribbles on the reverse side of a page). In terms of feel, they are comparable to the Black ’N’ Red, a bit velvety to the touch. When closed, this notebook is as compact and thin as the Monocle, so it would take up less space in a bag or tote than most of the other notebooks I reviewed. —AR

Total score: 3.75

51. Princeton Architectural Press Grids & Guides: A Notebook for Visual Thinkers