Pocket Notebooks: What does Fountain Pen Friendly really mean?

I was thinking about it the other day, what makes a pocket notebook fountain pen friendly? No show through, no feathering, and no bleed through would be ideal, but that usually means longer than preferable dry time.

Pocket Notebooks Review Field Notes Doane Rhodia

I decided to break out a bunch of the pocket notebooks I have, and do some testing. There are constant complaints about Moleskine and Field Notes paper exhibiting a lot of feathering and bleeding, but maybe they’re just looking out for us? Let’s see what happens with a few different popular pocket notebooks and fountain pen ink:

Pocket Notebooks Review Field Notes Doane RhodiaClairefontaine’s Life Unplugged notebooks are packed with premium, smooth, awesome Clairefontaine paper. In normal circumstances, this is one of the most fountain pen friendly papers around. However, when in a pocket notebook, I find the dry time to be prohibitively long. I use my pocket notebooks to jot down quick notes, fold them up, and back into the pocket they go. With dry time for most inks taking longer than 30 seconds on this paper, there’s a good chance you’re going to stamp a mirror image of what you wrote onto the opposite page. Fountain pen friendly? Not in this context. I’m pretty sure I could fill up both pages before the ink is 100% dry. I find the “stamping” to be more intrusive than some show through.

Pocket Notebooks Review Field Notes Doane RhodiaNext up, we have the Word. Notebooks standard pocket notebook. This one has a built in bullet journaling system, which is pretty cool The 60# opaque smooth white paper does a good job of sucking up the ink and keeping it in place. As soon as I was done writing the sentence on the left, I closed the book and stuck it in my back pocket. There’s some minor show through, and perhaps a tiny bit of bleed, but potentially important notes on the surrounding pages are all safe and legible.

Word. Notebooks and Standard Memorandum Review Word. Notebooks and Standard Memorandum Review




Wider nibs and wetter inks show through a bit more, but it’s by no means bad. Ultimately, paper like this tends to be categorized as “not fountain pen friendly” but I think in this context, it is.

Pocket Notebooks Review Field Notes Doane Rhodia

Here we have the Midori Pocket Notebook. The paper is somewhere between Field Notes and Rhodia. It does a great job of keeping fountain pen ink in place, but it’s also guilty of having a prohibitively long dry time. This results in more stamping onto the next page as well, especially if you don’t wait long enough for the ink to dry. Wonderful to write on, but in practice it just doesn’t work out for a pocket notebook the way I use them.

Pocket Notebooks Review Field Notes Doane Rhodia

Field Notes – the most popular of the pocket notebooks. Field Notes paper is notoriously hit or miss, and I frequently see people asking about fountain pen friendliness and performance. Field Notes doesn’t have one dedicated type of paper, and some are better than others. This particular specimen is the Cold Horizon edition, and the paper is pretty bad. It bleeds and feathers a bit too much for me. I’ve found that the Finch Opaque Smooth 50#T Whitewash White in the County Fair Edition performs quite well with fountain pens. It’s absorbent without being over the top. Field Notes are my most used pocket notebooks, but admittedly because of form over function and I’m more often than not carrying a fountain pen. I don’t mind the show through that happens because of the ability to quickly write something down and then immediately put it away.

Pocket Notebooks Review Field Notes Doane Rhodia
I don’t know why these aren’t the most popular pocket notebooks around. The Doane Utility Notebook is by far the best combination of absorbent and ink-friendly. The grid+lines ruling may not be for everyone, but I personally love it. It’s the same paper that’s in the Doane Flap Jotter, which is awesome. There’s the slightest bit of show through, but overall it works great with fountain pen ink. Dry time is quick enough to handle being written on, then closed and pocketed. The paper is nice and smooth too. If you are a heavy pocket notebook user, and you haven’t tried these out – I 100% recommend you do so. This is by far the best handling paper – most ink dries fast and stays in place. On top of that, the minimalist design and subdued colors look great.

Pocket Notebooks Review Field Notes Doane Rhodia

This post was definitely more of a rant than anything. With tons of pocket notebooks out there, and the term “fountain pen friendly” constantly being thrown around, I needed to voice my opinion. So here it is: typical “fountain pen friendly” papers just don’t work as well as pocket notebooks. There needs to be a higher level of absorbency, but balanced with feathering and show through. I find Rhodia and Clairefontaine to be great when you have the time to let the ink dry, but Field Notes, Word. Notebooks, and especially the Doane Utility Notebook are all better suited for on-the-go scribbles (or highly organized, gridded out daily planners). My opinion of what it means to be fountain pen friendly has changed a lot the more I use pocket notebooks. They’ve achieved a permanent spot in my back pocket. I hope this was somewhat informative, either that or I was just looking for an excuse to take a bunch of pictures. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter!

What do you think “fountain pen friendly” means when speaking of pocket notebooks?

68 thoughts on “Pocket Notebooks: What does Fountain Pen Friendly really mean?

  1. Have you thought about getting some blotting paper? It might help with the stamping and dry time problem. You can cut it to size and use it as a bookmark so you can blot on the go. I use it with my Leuchtturm1917 and it makes it more convenient to use on the go.

    1. I have thought about it, but I feel like it could detract from the utility of having a notebook in my pocket. The more fuss, the less likely I’m going to use it to write something down.

      I also find that the thicker paper in the Rhodia and Clairefontaine notebooks make the book more of a presence in my pocket. The thinner paper goes unnoticed until I need it, which is also a huge plus for me.

      I’ll have to give it a try and see how it works out for me though, a few other people have suggested doing this method. I’ll have to update the article after I give it a try!

      Thank you for your comment!

  2. If you can write on both sides of a page with a wet nib, maintain legibility and minimize distractions (bleed and feathering) that to me is a fountain pen friendly.

    The Midori lightweight paper works the best as a pocket journal. I can use a fat nib without having the paper bleed and if I want to write quick notes I can use a fine nib and it drys fast enough to not get ink on the opposite page. With bad paper you will get “distractions” 100% of the time.

    To be honest though, if I think I am not going to have the time to let the ink dry, I am not going to bring a fountain pen with me.

    1. Very good point, that I forgot to put in the article. I’ve been carrying a non-fountain pen lately and it’s come in massively handy.

      There’s nothing saying I HAVE to use a fountain pen, it’s just that I know a lot of people do regardless, even though it may not always be the best tool for the task at hand.

      Great point, and thank you for your reply!

      1. I carry a Space Pen to accompany my pocket notebook. Not because the Space Pen is anything special, but it’s small and write well enough. More importantly, it fits in the little watch pocket on blue jeans without falling out.

      2. I’ve been carrying the Tactile Turn Mover pretty much everywhere, it’s got a Pilot G2 refill that works much better in Field Notes than most fountain pens.

      3. Same here,
        It’s good peace of mind. About 15 years ago I couldn’t make out an invoice because I didn’t have a pen. Back then a $0.19 Bic would have made out that $100 invoice. I like to have a back-up.

  3. Thanks for this info Ed! I’d been looking at the doane paper pocket notebook but wasn’t sure how it performed. I’d never been impressed with the field notes books (no offense) so had been looking for an alternative. I have some Action Cahiers from Creative Outfitter (Action Method) but they’re too “To-Do” focussed. Not general enough though I love their paper.

    Good article!

    1. Interesting! I’ve never heard of those, I’ll have to look into it. No offense taken, I really like Field Notes more for the design than their performance. If I had to pick, the Doanes are my favorite. The Grid + Lines makes them so versatile and the paper is top notch.

      You can check out my review of the Doane Flap Jotter – https://edjelley.com/2013/12/23/doane-paper-flap-jotter-notepad-review/ – they use the same paper.

      Thanks for chiming in!

  4. Most of these are not available in here in Germany. But I hope to get some Hahnemühle sketch & note and the travel booklet and try sketching. In my case they have to work with a flexnib pen and watercolor. Very wet media.
    Maybe they are available somewhere in USA.

    1. A friend from germany sent me this pocket journal and I have been using it as my mini mixed media art journal! I totally love it!! Now, thanks to you I know the name to find some more hopefully in the netherlands 🙂 Thanks!!

  5. You should check out the Life Vermillion notebooks. The A6 is slightly larger than the standard 3.5 X 5.5 but it’s still very pocketable. Outstanding, very fp friendly paper without excessive dry times.

    1. These look great, I believe they’ve been out of stock every time I’ve went to place an order from Jetpens. I need to really work on using the notebooks I have now.

  6. I don’t have any first hand experience, but I’ve read that Scout notebooks are among the best for fountain pens. I keep meaning to order some to try.

  7. I think Scout does a good job. That’s what I keep in my passport wallet on me at all times and I use both sides with a fountain pen and usually don’t think about dry times. I don’t usually use BB’s though. They are also available on Amazon.

    1. The InkJournal pocket notebooks are made with the same paper as the Scout books. And they have neat fountain pen related images on the covers of each book.

      1. I’ve found that those Ink Journals are very prone to bleed through. I know I have a few on a shelf somewhere that I have to revisit. Interesting!

  8. Yes, yes, yes. I have come to realize that the term, “not fountain pen friendly” means “not big-fat nib, wet ink, big fancy slow writing friendly.” Not that there isn’t a time for that, but pocket notebooks are for pulling out, writing in a few lines, and sticking them back into the pocket. My little Rhodia notebook is an ink journal that never leaves the office.

    I came to fountain pens having decided to convert from pocket index cards to notebooks and I really like Field Notes. Why I decided to use fountain pens is another story, but I just stick to fine nibs and live with some shadowing. What I’m looking for with a pocket notebook are “standing in the goat paddock and writing a quick note to buy more hay” fountain pen and ink combos that work for me.Some pens and inks stay inside, others go out to play.

    Even so, I’ve been vexed with some of the Field Notes paper choices. I really wanted to like the Red Blooded, but the paper is just barely acceptable even for me. Sounds like I should at least give the Doane notebooks a try.

    1. Thanks for the comment! Definitely true, there are some pens that are meant to be knocked around (I never worry about my EF Lamy Safari with some Sailor Kiwa Guro Black) but some are totally not (my Montblanc never leaves it’s pen case).

      I agree with you, I wish there was some more consistency. The Cold Horizon books are pretty awful, even with gel pens. Not a huge fan of those. I’ve found the County Fair editions to have some pretty decent paper though.

      1. County Fair was my first pocket notebook. I might not be so enamored with Field Notes if I had started with a different edition. In the future I’ll wait for the reviews before ordering a new edition.

    1. I’m learning so many good things!

      I have a Banditapple large (weird) tablet size book that does work pretty well.

      Might have to check out the pee wees too. I think I already own enough pocket notebooks to last two lifetimes haha.

  9. Great post! I stumbled upon this blog from the Tactile Turn KS project. Quick question – what is the name of the leather notebook holder you have pictured in this post – it’s sweet.

    1. It was actually custom made by someone for me! They don’t make them commercially though. It’s a Midori-style cover – try googling those!

      That one’s covering a Word. Notebooks Standard Memorandum.

  10. Have you noticed a difference between the “Garage Series” and the regular black utility notebooks? The garage series says they are made with 60 lb paper and the regular black are made with 80 lb paper.

    1. I haven’t used the regular black Utility Notebooks, only the garages series. I believe the Garage Series is the same paper as the Flap Jotter, which I really like.

      I’ll have to look into it!

  11. I think you brought up a good point. I, myself, can’t really use pocket notebooks in my pocket. The smaller the clothing, the smaller (and less useful) the pockets. I hate ballpoints because they make ink globs that drive me up the wall. I purchased a Tomoe River notebook from Paper For Fountain Pens and used this link to make a template for a grid in the size I wanted. I copied it onto normal sized paper and left a flap that I folded over and place on the page behind for a writing guideline. I then use that same page like Reecey mentioned above. Probably not a great idea for everyone but, it keeps me from writing uphill or smearing. I use an EF Kaweco Sport or Liliput for writing on the go. They actually DO fit into my pocket!

    1. Nice system!

      Tomoe River is great stuff, I just got an A5 journal filled with it. It’s lined too, which is great. I’d just be a little worried about the dry time, but you should be good with the Kaweco EF, those are surprisingly fine for a Western nib size.

      Thanks for commenting!

  12. For both price and performance, the Scout notebook is a clear winner. Although not much to look at unless you order the custom versions, the Scout has unbeatable paper inside; it’s much like the Doane Utility, only thicker. What’s more, the last time I ordered from them, Scout did not charge shipping. The Doane Utility book comes in a close second. One of the issues, I think, is that it seems a little silly to put fine paper in a book that will eventually be folded, torn, bent, and scribbled in (and, often, lost). Hence the manufacturers tend to favor style over substance.

    1. Very true, as most pocket notebooks aren’t a permanent thing – they get used relatively quickly and are swapped out after a short 48 pages.

      I just ordered some of the color block Scout notebooks and in curious to see how they fare. Thanks for the tip on free shipping, it pushed me to place the order!

  13. I just ordered Scout 3.5″ x 5″. They will fit in my shirt pocket and it will still snap shut. I got to learn about them in my Doxie Flip instruction book I believe. I’m looking forward to trying them. I’m not hardcore like most of the rest of you all. I don’t yet carry a fountain pen, but use one at my desk. Thanks Ed, I do want to try the Doane Flap Jotter.

  14. I like the Life notebooks (especially the little ones) I got from Jetpens. They work really well with my Kakuno (my favorite little pen right now) and my TWSBI mini (also a favorite). I use an extra fine nib, and I get no bleedthrough to speak of.

    1. I love my A5 Life notebook and those smaller Vermillion ones look great. If the paper is the same, I’m sure they’re great!

      Generally EF nibs are best for bleed-prone paper. I just wish they showed off the color and shading capability of the ink better.

      1. I would agree with you there. I have found that my EF TWSBI Mini does not look very bright and pretty on the paper. (My thing is purple inks, too.) But I love the size of the Vermillion notebooks. I have one for school that is my thought-gathering/stress relief/anxiety management journal. Just writing in it relieves my anxiety because I love the activity so much.

        By the way, are you doing the InCoWriMo? Would you like letters? (I have been reading your blog via Gourmet Pens. Azizah sends me to the neatest places!)

  15. I have to mention that if you are used to the size of Field notes, Word., or Doan …make note that the Scout is a half inch smaller. For you guys who like to carry in your pocket that might be just what you like. I have the color block trio and like the smaller size, too.

  16. I have found that another thing to consider is the quality of the cover. Some of the Field Notes notebooks I’ve had have had covers made out of very porous paper which absorbs sweat in the Summer when I carry the notebook in my front shirt pocket. I have founf the Rhodia small notebooks much better in this regard — I just wish the pages were perforated.

    1. One of those Rhodia small notebooks was my first pocket notebook! The covers are definitely a bit more resistant to water.

      Currently, I’m using one of the Drink Local editions, the wear is absolutely awesome and the cover has some water resistance to it.

      Also, if you like those Rhodia notebooks, check out the Rhodia Unlimited pocket notebook – they have perforated pages!

  17. I had one of those foofy Paperblanks notebooks in the house and nothing else to write on because I’d just fed my Moleskine into the wood chipper ( I get that way), but I am astonished by the quality of the paper. Dense, with a slight tooth and no bleed-through whatever, even with a vintage Waterman 52. Better. Than. Rhodia. If you can deal with the frivolous covers, they’re a fantastic choice.

  18. I am a hotel concierge and as such write nearly continuously all day long. I have found the combination of J. Herbin Inks which dry very quickly and an Omni 9 1/2 x 7 1/4 side spiral Cornell Note Taking 100 sheets at about $3.50 each is the perfect combination. No real bleed through unless I use a medium nib and black ink. I really like Clairfontaine and Rhodia, but I would gave to buy them myself, plus I LOVE the Cornell format.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.