The Paper in Your Notebook
Updated: Dec 1, 2019
We have already talked a bit about paper in this post. Now it's time to get a run down of what the paper in your notebook is like (if you own a Pilgrim, that is). I am attempting to give an objective run-down of the papers we use, while communicating the aspects that might be subjectively important. For the stationery aficionados out there, I also describe some common papers in the industry as a reference point.
Envirocare 70 gsm 100% recycled.
This is our most regular paper, and is one of the standards in recycled paper. It is used by a few other Australian businesses that have a selling point of sustainability. That's with good reason: the source fibre recycled, and the mill is also known for it's energy-coupling processes that have improved efficiency.
Off-white tone, tending to grey. When held against standard printing paper, however, warm sub-tones can become apparent, which generally vary from dusky-rose to peach.
Envirocare is a pleasingly tactile paper.
The consistency is good, being comparable with good virgin fibre papers. Very occassional flecks are found from the recycled content.
Envirocare is low density, and unusually opaque for it's thickness. It is resistant to bleed-through, and is thus excellent with fountain pens and felt tips.
The paper is asymmetric, with a slight hatched bite on one side.
The fibre picks up graphite very well. Pencil-written text is clear but during sketching, gradation from light application to heavy application isn't always easy. The hatch side picks up a little less detail, but smudging still isn't generally an issue.
Both sides perform well with fountain pens and felt-tips. Very sharp point fountain pens or dip pens may fray the fibres slightly; envirocare is not a tight and hard paper. The paper indents relatively easily and - as with any paper - one should be aware of ball point pen indents carrying through.
I use envirocare 70 gsm for most of my work. I use it as a writing paper, in research journals, and account books. It performs well and adds a welcome element of tactility to my experiences.
Some artists that use soft mediums ( charcoal; 6B pencils) like the slight bite that envirocare offers. The tactility of the paper prompted one of my testers to use watercolour paints on it.
All of the above is without reference to the recycled content. Envirocare a great paper if you want to go recycled, but it's also preference of any paper, on quality alone, until the price-range is quadrupled.
Envirocare 150 gsm 100% Recycled
This is the same paper as Envirocare 70 gsm, just with twice as much mass. It has many of the same properties - opacity, tone, and slightly asymmetry.
Increased mass reduces the hatch texture, making it a little more uniform.
Envirocare 150 is has good bulk, making it suitable for people who like to use paint in their books; but it is still a general paper, not a specialty painting paper.
A notebook that uses 150 gsm paper is the same size, same price, but with about half as many pages that are about twice as thick. I personally like to have over 200 pages in my notebooks so I place my occasional sketches on thin paper, alongside written work. Other people have different priorities, and could end up with book holding more art and watercolour than pen ink.
Smooth Mohawk Paper
The Mohawk range of papers are renowned as high quality stationery papers. They are made using only wind-generated energy, and many of the papers contain 30% recycled content. These are specialty papers of leading standard, and are accordingly expensive. Mohawk Via smooth is the fine paper of choice in my workshop.
Tight-woven texture, very high consistency.
Smooth, but not at all waxy. The paper is notably symmetrical on both sides of the sheet.
Captures detail and has maximum retention. Very little smudging or blurring of any kind.
Very pleasing as a smooth paper, but not notably tactile.
Clean cream tone off-white.
Moderate opacity. Less than envirocare, but greater than many very smooth papers
Dense and quite stiff.
Moderately 'dry',meaning that it isn't a sponge to ink, but doesn't take too long to dry (envirocare is significantly 'drier').
Mohawk Via is what I recommend for the 'Architect Style' of work. It needs to capture technical drawings and specifications, as well as being an enjoyable for general creative work. It's virtue is in being consistent and smooth without being too sterile. As a writing paper I still use envriocare, which has a little more tactility.
Strathmore Wove Style Paper Strathmore wove style papers are another regular material in the workshop. 'Wove' refers the more prominent texture of some papers which resemble paper made from rags of woven material; but in truth these machine made papers cannot be properly compared to true handmade wove papers. Strathmore wove is a fairly tactile but consistent cream-toned paper that is often used as a sketch paper. Strathmore is the sister range to Mohawk. The two mills are now merged into a single company.
Moderately textured but consistent; the texture is favourable because it is an even surface rather than being the runs of grain.
Enjoyable to work and sketch on. Good detail and retention, but at least a category below that of smooth Mohawk papers.
Moderate to high opacity.
Pleasing off-white cream tone.
Soft and pliable.
A couple of other papers
The moleskine notebooks are a common stationery staple. Their paper is a humorously hot topic, with the fountain pen crowd rattling on about how it is too thin or too prone to bleed-through. Like most papers molsekine's product isn't bad, nor is it a ground-breaker - it's a question of personal preference.
Moleskine paper is smooth, consistent, cream-toned, and very low gsm. It take pencil well, doesn't smudge, but it is true that fountain pens can bleed-through and that it has low opacity. Arguably, a slightly thicker paper, or even a less-dense, more tactile paper would serve the notebooks well. However, the thin paper means a lot of pages per book, which I believe was an overall good design decision for the brand. They also offer very thick art grade paper, which almost goes too far in the other direction. Before I made my own notebooks, I got on fine using mechanical pencils in moleskines, although I do also favour a fountain pen more these. It would also seem that envirocare has rubbed off on me over-time. My preference is now for slightly more tactile papers.
One complaint I do have is that moleskine could work on offering a similarly versatile paper with a part-content of recycled fibre. It is not the price of this that is limiting (recycled paper is often thought to be a luxury, but this is only true for certain forms of it). Rather, it may be the complexity of setting up that operation, and then being able to embrace the variability and other consequences to design that go with it.
Another Paper - Rhodia
Rhodia is another stationery staple. It is consistent, smooth, and has a beautiful silky feel. It is 90 gsm, with moderate opacity (in case you have not realised, dense smooth papers tend to have lower opacity, and occasionally bleed-through more). While the retention is very good, it is so smooth, that it is actually difficult to elicit a quality pencil sketch. The tone is orange-cream. It's a good tone, even good for writing in the sunlight, but some find it a little too overdone. It's a great writing paper if your like the smoothness and colours on offer.
Low Grade Papers
All of these papers are quality, consistent papers. What about all the other kinds? Let's take a low-grade printer paper. I can't describe it as consistent, or pleasantly textured. The body and surface is often inconsistent, a touch grainy, producing poor pencil retention and spreading of pen-ink such that fountain pen lines are thick and blurry. This is a different sort of category.
The Handmade Paper Topic
All of the above papers are also fairly popular machine made papers, available from major paper merchants. These papers are practical for notebooks, and they are the papers I know the nuances of. If you want to fill 200 pages with tight writing on the road, they serve well. However, hand-made papers have a huge role to play, particularly for creative work. For the time being, this lies in the future of the Pilgrim works. We try to run a waste-free workshop, and part of this is retaining sorted linens and paper off-cuts for paper making. In the mean-time, I encourage you to try out handmade papers in loose sheets, but be wary of buying them in notebooks. This will allow you to embrace the characteristics of handmade paper when appropriate, which is really the only acceptable time to do so.