Posts filed under Notebook

Moleskine Alternatives

Baron Fig Confidant

Baron Fig Confidant

I spoke about Moleskine journals on the podcast this week and it generated a lot of spirited conversation on both sides of the ledger. I think it's pretty clear that I am not a fan of the brand, but I wanted to elaborate a little bit as to why.

When I say Moleskine as a general term I am talking about one specific model: the hardbound Classic Journal in 8.25" x 5". This is the ubiquitous Moleskine. The one that is fawned over by the press, and the one that doesn't fit my needs. That's the key here. My needs. If it fits your needs that's fantastic. You should definitely keep using them. But for me, Moleskine paper falls short of its competition.

For the most part, Moleskines work well with ballpoint pens, fine liquid ink pens, and pencils. I've traveled before with just a Moleskine and a Fisher Space Pen refill and been completely satisfied. But my two favorite pen types - micro tip gel ink pens and fountain pens - perform poorly on Moleskine paper. Luckily, we live in a world where other options are only a mouse click away. I've tested all of the notebooks below and would choose any of them over the standard Moleskine Journal.

Moleskine alternatives (Classic Journal, 8.25" x 5"), in no particular order:

Leuchtturm 1917 - The closest in look, style, feel, and price, but with better performing paper for a wider range of pen types.

Rhodia Webnotebook - My personal favorite, and the best for fountain pens. Longer dry time is the tradeoff.

Baron Fig Confidant - Great style and format, could work better with fountain pens but great with gel ink.

Quo Vadis Habana - Slightly bigger and more expensive but on par or better than Rhodia.

This list just scratches the surface. Don't even get me started on other sizes, such as pocket notebooks and top-bound pads. We could get into the hundreds on that list!

I just ask that you keep in mind one thing when reading this blog or listening to the podcast: You don't have to agree with everything I say. And you shouldn't. Disagreement is good and healthy. We all have specific needs that we are trying to solve for, and within that journey lies the fun. I'll keep having opinions, and you should too.

Posted on June 18, 2015 and filed under Leuchtturm, Notebook, Rhodia, Baron Fig, Moleskine.

BookFactory Scientific and Engineering Notebook Review

Thanks to the team at for sending me this sample of one of the many lab notebooks they carry. I was really impressed with the quality and the layout of the notebook, but being a lab book, I wanted to make sure it got a good once over in its intended environment. Enter my good pen friend - and favorite lab rat - Bryan, now formerly from Okinawa. Take it away Bryan...


I received this Bookfactory lab notebook sample from Brad "The Pen Addict" Dowdy and I have to say that I am quite impressed with what this little puppy can do!  Let's break it down from front to back!

At first glance, this lab notebook looks like just another Moleskine clone, replete with Smyth sewn binding (for durability) and what feels like vinyl over heavy paper backing.  However, the differences become obvious when you open up the cover and see the first page.  It contains a really interesting lesson on what a lab notebook is, how to keep one and how to properly document ideas and findings.   Then, you'll see a table of contents with plenty of space for writing in whatever you like, followed by the taped binding.  This part impressed me the most is the heavy stock paper and the thoroughness of the design.  You can really see that they crafted this notebook to allow a scientist or engineer or any other professional to get notes and data on the page and do so in a manner that protects the idea or data.


Next up, I tried many different kinds of inks in various fountain pens.  I assumed that most writing will be done with a gel or ballpoint pen (and the paper would be chosen specifically for gel or grease ink), so I wanted to check fountain pen ink in case any readers out there like to keep notes with their Lamys (^_^)  As you can see on the reverse scan, some inks fare better than others (Noodler's Black being the only Noodler's that didn't showthrough), but the winner seems to be Diamine's Registrar's Ink, which is a permanent iron gall ink that didn't bleed through even with a wet M nibbed fountain pen.  Rollerball ink could be expected to perform similarly to most fountain inks, with some performing better than others.


Next, I tried to envision the uses for this kind of notebook.  Note that each page is numbered AND there is a space to note the book number, as well.  The signature blocks at the bottom are tailor made for patent documentation or scientific data entry verification, so I thought I'd pretend I was a designer and working on a new idea.  The grid system isn't so small to be useless, but isn't too large, either.  It's like Goldilocks and it's JUST RIGHT!  I then picked up a Zebra Surari 4C (available from!) and went to town on some hypothetical data to show how the grid can be useful in many ways.  I can see this notebook being used in various ways.  Here are some suggestions:  dungeon maps for pencil and paper roleplayers, pixel art mapping, flowcharts, clothing design, language/vocabulary flowcharts, and indexing a collection.


Overall, this book is excellent and I'd definitely recommend this line of notebooks as an alternative to Moleskine notebooks, with a few caveats:

1.  The paper is designed for gel or ballpoint, it seems.  Your favorite fountain ink might not work well with this and you'll get show or bleedthrough.

2.  The black cover, while attractive, isn't good for writing on.  You might need labels to catalog books with.

3. A science bench notebook would have to be larger (A4 or 8.5"x11"), but this little A5 size is PERFECT for everyday carry.

When inspiration hits, you don't want to be caught without a notebook.  Make sure you're ready for creativity with this notebook.

Posted on May 31, 2011 and filed under Lab Notebook, Notebook, Notebook Reviews.

The Field Journal Notebook from Tom Bihn

Tom Bihn Field Journal

I was contacted by the fine folks at Tom Bihn a few weeks back wanting to know if I would like to give one of their new Field Journal Notebooks a test run.  Having been familiar with their product line but never having tried one of their products, the answer was of course a resounding yes!  Just from browsing the Tom Bihn website and looking at all of their Made in the U.S.A. goods I was expecting the highest quality product, and I was not disappointed.

After a quick exchange of emails, I had a Cocoa Field Journal on the way, along with samples of the three paper styles that are offered with the Field Journal: Crane's Crest 24# 100% Cotton Paper and Harbor 100 60# from Gray's Harbor Paper in Grid or College Ruled.  Just from feel alone, you can tell this is a well made and well thought out product.  The heavy duty nylon material, zipper, straps, and seams are all nice and tight and scream quality.

From a feature standpoint, the Field Journal is the Swiss Army knife of notebooks.  The list is endless, but here are some of the high points:

-- Front zipper pocket plus rear flat pocket

-- Accepts 8-1/2" x 5-1/2" paper

-- Ring Mechanism can be rotated 180 degrees to accommodate left-handed users

-- Weight: Exactly 1lb

-- Shoulder Strap, Key Strap, Leaf, and TOM BIHN Logo Plastic Ruler Included

(The full specs can be found on the product page)

Tom Bihn Field Journal

As you can see in the photos, I could fit four pens (including a fountain pen and stainless steel Sharpie), a thumb drive, my iPod Touch, and the provided Tom Bihn plastic ruler easily within the pockets on the inside front cover.  The zippers are designed to zip far enough back so the journal can lay flat on any surface.  The handle options are nice as well, with a removable shoulder strap or attached briefcase handles depending on your carrying needs.

From a paper perspective, the writing experience was nice, but not exceptional.  Like I mentioned earlier, there are three stock paper choices - Crane's Crest 24# 100% Cotton Paper, and Harbor 100 60# from Gray's Harbor Paper in Grid or College Ruled - all of which I sampled.  The grid and lined paper are your basic choices.  They both handled my Lamy Nexx fountain pen without issue, and I saw no trouble with bleed or feathering with any other ink types either.  The only real pause is the page isn't as smooth compared to Rhodia or Clairefontaine, but that is also a tradeoff with the environmentally friendly Gray's Harbor (Watch the Gray's Harbor Paper story here).  I also found on the graph paper that the lines faded out from left to right across the page, which you can see slightly in the picture below.

Tom Bihn Field Journal

Highlighter test performed by sneaky 4 year-old

The Crane's Crest is a beuatiful paper, with an ivory color, perforated page, and a little more tooth.  For me personally, it is not my style, but I can see why it would be a popular choice and it was the best of the three samples.  If none of those are your style, feel free to add any standard three-punch 5-1/2 x 8-1/2" paper to your Field Journal, which is a major plus.

Tom Bihn Field Journal

I honestly could go on and on and on about all of the things the Field Journal Notebook has too offer, but the product page on the Tom Bihn website does a great job laying everything out, showing all of the colors, features, accessories, photos, and even a video of this cool product.

Photo of sneaky 4 year-old

The Field Journal Notebook retails for $75.00 at

Many many thanks to Tom Bihn for providing this review sample at no charge.

Posted on November 4, 2010 and filed under Journal, Notebook, Notebook Reviews, Tom Bihn.