Archer & Olive Notebook Review | Introduction
The Archer & Olive brand of notebooks and their ultra-thick, no-ghosting, no-bleeding, 160gsm paper, has taken the bullet journaling community by storm. Every time I turn around someone else is singing the praises of this notebook. Superfans are everywhere and it seems as if it’s the best notebook to ever be created. And you know what that means, right? It means THIS stationery nerd becomes highly suspicious of all overly-enthusiastic attention and it’s time to do a deep dive and comprehensive review of the Archer & Olive notebook.
Why I hesitated doing this review
To be honest, I held off on this review for a very long time. It’s been a hot topic in the journaling forums for about a year now and I remember when my YouTube feed and blog feed was suddenly taken over by reviews and unboxing videos by all the top planner gurus. Some bought the notebook themselves, but overwhelmingly those notebooks were sent to the reviewers for free in exchange for a review.
If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you know how I feel about free journals in exchange for reviews – especially when bloggers and YouTubers don’t disclose that they’ve received the notebook for free in exchange for a glowing review. In short… I don’t like them very much. Which is why I buy the vast majority of the stationery I review on my own. There are some exceptions, of course, but I’m 100% open and honest about when that happens. That’s not always the case with many reviewers online and during the A&O flurry of reviews, I saw that a lot.
Price was a hinderance for me
So back to why I waited so long to take the leap and buy an Archer & Olive notebook. Quite honestly… I didn’t want to spend the money. With their notebooks ranging in price from $28 to $38 plus shipping fees … I just couldn’t bring myself to spend that kind of money on what I assumed was an over-hyped product.
Yes, I’m totally going into this review as a skeptic. Because of the price and my current level of annoyance, I know I’m going to be extra tough in my testing and I’m going to expect a lot out of this notebook. But as always, I’m going to be fair and honest in my findings.
But I love you guys and it’s so important to me that you have all the facts in a raw and honest review. So I decided to finally order the notebook. Except I couldn’t bring myself to spend any more than absolutely necessary, which means I skipped the A5 version and went for a B6 because it was the cheapest option at $28 plus $5 shipping. (The A5 version is currently priced at $31 plus shipping.)
I bought the B6 notebook called “Vintage Bee” – it’s a soft blue/green color with a gold embossed bee on the front. It’s cute and it feels like a good quality notebook. There are fewer pages in the B6 Archer & Olive (only 112) than you’ll find in the A5 or B5 versions (those have 160 pages) so this notebook feels … I was about to type “cute.” LOL! Can a notebook feel cute? It’s petite and slim and feels like a sidekick-sized journal.
A sidekick journal is one that you bring along with you, in addition to your normal, usually larger, journal. It’s part of your EDC Kit (EDC = everyday carry).
And honestly, the more I get acquainted with the B6 size of notebooks the more I’m falling in love with that size (but that’s a discussion for another day). It’s time to get into the guts of this review…
Features & Specs
All the details about specs are in the chart at the end of this article, but let’s do a summary anyway. As I mentioned above, I’m reviewing the B6 Vintage Bee Archer & Olive Dotted Notebook. B6 measures 4.92” x 6.92” (125mm x 176mm) – for those not familiar with the size, it might be easiest to just imagine a 5×7 photograph. Mmm… or maybe that’s not easier since “kids nowadays” don’t even know what it means to print photos and that there used to be a thing called film cameras and photo developing labs. OK nevermind, just scratch that whole thing.
The B6 notebook has 112 pages (not numbered) but the A5 and B5 versions have 160 pages (also not numbered). When you open the cover there is the “This book belongs to” contact information page but beyond that, there are no special pages included – you go straight into the dotted pages of the journal. There are no index pages, key pages, or pen test pages (which you see in the Scribbles That Matter notebooks). You get two satin ribbon bookmarks, a back document pocket, elastic closure loop and an elastic pen loop (which is black elastic and does not match the color of the notebook or the closure loop).
The notebook I bought is a dot-grid and the grid size is 5mm – which is the standard grid size for these types of journals. The dot count is 23 horizontal X 33 vertical. The dots don’t go all the way to the very edge of the paper, which is a bonus! There’s a perfect size of margin of about 5mm on all 4 sides of the grid. There was definitely care taken with laying out the page so that the dot grid lays perfectly centered on the page. As a graphic designer, I notice this type of stuff and appreciate when it’s done right.
For those who prefer lined journals or square grid pages, those are also available. It looks like the notebooks they call Sketchbooks are the same paper as all the rest, but it’s just got blank pages. There’s even a Black Out Journal with all-black pages.
LET’S TALK ABOUT THE PAPER
The paper in Archer & Olive is decidedly uncoated and has a dull matte finish to it. It’s not smooth and the page has a bit of “tooth” to it.
The paper is thick. Obviously, at 160gsm it’s going to be pretty substantial. Some people have described it as “card stock” – but being the paper nerd that I am, I wouldn’t classify it as cardstock exactly. Although technically the weight of cardstock can vary a lot depending on what type of cardstock you’re talking about. According to the definition below from Wikipedia, the paper in Archer & Olive would qualify as cardstock – 135gsm to 300gsm is officially considered cardstock. But all that to say, the paper in this notebook doesn’t feel terrible or “too thick” or like I’m writing on cardboard (which are some of the things I’ve heard others say about the paper).
The term card stock is used to describe paper with weights from 50 lb to 110 lb (about 135 to 300 g/m2). Source: Wikipedia
We’re paying a premium for this paper so we expect it to stand up to all sorts of pen tests, fountain pen ink tests, and art supply tests. Let’s see how it performed.
Styles & Sizes Available
The big bonus of Archer & Olive is that you have lots of beautiful journals to choose from. And they also have 3 different sizes so your perfect notebook size is probably available. There’s also a 12-month planner option besides the standard dotted notebook options. A quick rundown of what is available for sale on the A&O website:
- B6 Signature – has fabric cover and standard dot-grid pages – $28
- A5 Signature Series – has a fabric cover and standard dot-grid pages – $31
- A5 Gilded Edges Series – same as Signature Series but with gold page edges – $36
- A5 Limited Edition Series – same as the Gilded Edges Series but with limited quantity – $36
- B5 Signature Series – fabric cover and standard dot-grid pages – $35
- A5 Black Out Journal – all-black pages with fabric cover – $38
- Daily Agenda Monthly Planners – yes, there are even pre-printed planners available
- Watercolor / Art Journals – these are spiral bound journals with watercolor paper inside
There are also options in the A5 notebooks for pages with lines for journaling or a square grid for those who prefer that style. You can also get a sketchbook with blank pages.
I’m quite impressed with the vast array of options in the Archer & Olive line of notebooks. There’s something for everyone. Plus the designs are all elegant and the notebooks are beautiful and feel luxurious. The Instagram post below is from the Archer & Olive account and shows the three sizes stacked on top of each other to give you a sense of scale for each size.
View this post on Instagram
Pen Test & Paper Quality
No matter how beautiful the notebook looks, it’s the paper inside that counts the most. So let’s take a close look at how the paper in Archer & Olive stood up to my usual assortment of pens as well as a few extra tough pens and markers … just to see how far I could push the paper. I’m here for you, nerds! I’m going to put this notebook through its paces and we’ll see if it’s really worth the money I paid for it.
Below is the full list of pens along with links for each.
Normal writing pens
Fountain pens & inks
Normal Pen Test Results
The results of the pen test are promising and about what I expected with this portion of the test. There is essentially no ghosting on all the normal pens on the list. Good job! But there are a few issues with some of the pens I knew were going to be tough on any paper. Let’s go over those.
FOUNTAIN PEN INK TEST
Jinhao X750 is a fountain pen with a medium nib that lays down a lot of ink with each stroke. Pair that with Noodler’s 54th Massachusetts ink and we’ve got a bit of an issue. To be fair, this combination doesn’t usually fair this well on paper that doesn’t have a heavy coating on it. This pen and ink combo only works well on heavily coated paper or some of the Japanese papers like Tomoe River. As you can see in the pictures, the show through and almost-bleed through isn’t super noticeable but it’s there and I wasn’t expecting it to be since this paper is supposed to be so amazing.
FEATHERING IS AN ISSUE
This is where things got very interesting – and not in a good way. I mean, I shouldn’t be surprised because this paper is not coated so the ink is going to soak into the fibers of the paper and then it spreads out beyond the line that you just drew. I notice this mostly with fountain pens and not so much with normal writing pens. What surprised me was my Platinum Preppy (purple ink below) shows feathering. That pen and ink are usually one that gives me the least amount of issues on any paper. But the feathering is very noticeable. Also the Platinum Desk Pen and a snub-nib with J. Herbin Emerald ink show feathering. Needless to say, I’m disappointed.
ALCOHOL MARKER TESTS
Now let’s talk about Sharpie and Copic (yes, I’m just going to call it Copic even though it’s not technically a Copic brand marker, it’s just a generic version of the same style art marker). So we know that alcohol markers are not paper friendly unless you’re using a specific marker paper. I wasn’t expecting these to perform well but I guess with all the hype I was expecting them to perform better than they did.
The Copic definitely bleeds through and in the art supplies test below you’ll see that it actually bleeds through to the next page (not just the back of the page). The Sharpie ghosts pretty badly and along the edges has a bit of bleed-through. What’s interesting to me, though, is that the ghosting/bleeding of the Sharpie is actually about the same as the ghosting/bleeding that I saw in the Scrivwell 120gsm paper. Scrivwell paper is coated to protect against bleed-through. Archer & Olive paper is NOT coated so the ink will naturally soak into the fibers of the paper and bleed through to the back of the page if the ink is heavy enough.
Good for journaling – but ink feathers badly
Overall, Archer & Olive performed pretty well on the pen test. If you plan to just use normal journaling pens, you’ll be very happy with the paper in this notebook. BUT, if you plan to use your fountain pens on this paper… you might want to think again. The feathering is problematic and could easily ruin the page.
Art Supplies & Paper Quality Archer & Olive Notebook
Art journaling is a huge consideration when it comes to a notebook that claims nothing will bleed through or ghosts on this paper. In fact, many of the videos you see in their marketing and advertising show heavily coated pages using various art supplies. One I recall seeing is where the entire page is painted in black paint then decorations are added on top of that paint. Very cool! But is it true? Did I see the same results? Of course, I’m going to test it!
I’m a long-time crafter and scrapbooker so I’ve got a room full of art supplies (did you follow along with my Craft Room Cleanup last year?). I went on a treasure hunt to find as many different types of art supplies I could in a variety of different categories of media. These are all supplies I have used in my art journaling attempts in the past (“attempts” because no matter how much I try it just never looks all that great). Here’s a list of the supplies I’m testing:
Art Supply List
The list of goodies used for the art test
- Watercolor paint wet – a wet application of watercolor paint then letting the paint air dry
- Watercolor paint dry-ish – another application of watercolor paint but with this time with less wet and I dabbed it with a paper towel to soak up any excess water and then let it air dry
- Tim Holtz Distress Paint – this comes in a dabber bottle and is an acrylic-based paint
- Ranger Dylusions Distress Ink – full-strength – even though this is a spray bottle I used it with a small paintbrush instead (spraying this stuff makes a huge mess!) This test was the ink straight out of the bottle.
- Dylusions Distress Ink – diluted with water – same as above, but this time I diluted it slightly with water to see if that made a difference.
- Tim Holtz Alcohol Ink – this ink is not really designed to be used on paper, it’s more for non-porous surfaces. But why not try and see what happens?
- Dye-based Ink – similar to the alcohol ink but there’s no alcohol in this version. It’s a water-based dye ink instead of being alcohol-based.
- Acrylic Ink – a thicker ink that is based on acrylic paint
- Copic-style Marker – I tried the alcohol art marker again on this page
- Noodler’s Apache Sunset Fountain Pen Ink – Using a q-tip I applied a swatch of fountain pen ink to the page to see what would happen. Assuming fountain pen ink is normally used in a pen, this will test if you are using a broader pen like a Pilot Parallel or a glass dip pen.
ART SUPPLY TEST RESULTS
Of the 10 art supply tested only 4 of them passed the test. Which means we have 6 things that failed. And a couple that surprised me, actually. Let’s discuss.
Really? I’m surprised that watercolor soaked through the paper especially since so many of the promotional materials claim this notebook is great for watercoloring. In fact, many of the reviewers even did watercoloring in their videos or blog reviews. Maybe they used a very dry application of watercolor (because that test came out just fine). But in the test with a bit more water on my brush, the watercolor soaked completely through the paper.
WATER-BASED ART SUPPLIES
Again, I’m surprised about the water-based supplies that didn’t fair well. The Ranger Dylusions Spray Ink and Noodler’s Apache Sunset Fountain Pen ink are both water-based medium and should not have soaked through the paper. In fact, the Dylusions Spray is designed specifically to work on paper but it soaked through to the back of the page and also soaked into the following page. Also the dye-based ink bleeds through the page and that’s a water-based ink, too.
ALCOHOL-BASED ART SUPPLIES
We kind of expected this result, right? Alcohol ink wasn’t messing around – it soaked through exactly as we would think it should. And we’ve also talked about the alcohol art marker and that bled through the page again here.
6/10 art supplies failed the paper test. I truly expected it to do much better than this.
Pros & Cons of Archer & Olive Notebook
Let’s compare the pros and cons of this notebook and see how it measures up.
- It’s cute. I like the designs Archer & Olive offers on the covers of their notebooks. There are many botanical designs with leaves and flowers along with some other fun designs like crystals, star constellations, and the one I chose, the Vintage Bee. The gold embossing on the cover is beautiful and gives this a luxurious look.
- There are many sizes to choose from including B6, A5, and B5.
- There are many styles to choose from including their Signature collection which is the base style or add gilded page edges to the standard notebook for an elegant feel. You can even choose the Black Out Journal where all the pages are black with white dot-grid design on the page.
- The construction of this notebook is very good. It feels solid when you open it and gives you a sense of confidence that it will hold up to everyday use.
- The Archer & Olive community is passionate about their journals so you’ll be surrounded by many like-minded journalers.
- The price is an issue. A big issue, in my humble opinion. I truly have a problem justifying paying $35 for a journal with only 160 pages (or 112 pages in the B6). Maybe if the art supply testing had been better I could see a premium price.
- International shipping is a major hindrance and some people have reported that the cost to buy this notebook and have it shipped to another country (outside the USA) can cost upwards of $60. Ouch!
- Failed Art Supply tests. With only 4 of the 10 art supplies successfully passing this test, it’s disappointing that the paper didn’t hold up better.
- The paper is not smooth and allows inks to soak into the fibers of the paper – this is because the paper is not coated. For fountain pen users, feathering is a deal-breaker.
- Pages are missing page numbers – this is a deal-breaker for some people.
So what do I think? This is a hard one for me. I know that Archer & Olive is a company owned by a small business owner, just like me, and I hate the idea of giving a product a bad review when I know how hard she worked to bring this dream project to reality. I love her story (and I love that Archer and Olive are the names of her kitties – and you know we love kitties around here!) and how she came from the wedding invitation industry (another connection we have as I used to be a wedding planner). So please know that just because I don’t love the journal doesn’t mean that I don’t respect Bonnie, the owner, and how hard she has worked to bring a high-end journal to the journaling community.
In all honesty, I can’t recommend this journal to my fellow stationery nerds. Yes, the price is a huge hurdle but with that kind of price tag, I expect a lot out of this journal. Yes, I’m holding this journal to a higher standard than I would hold a journal that costs less than $10. But wouldn’t you do that too?
If I hadn’t just reviewed the Scrivwell Notebook and seen how well the Sharpie held up to that 120gsm paper and then the very next journal is this one where the Sharpie performed exactly the same on 160gsm paper. And also, at the same time I’m testing this journal, I’m also testing four other journals with 160gsm paper and the results of Archer & Olive show it’s one of the worst-performing notebooks of its direct competitors.
I’m sorry. I wish I had better news. But unfortunately, I can not give this journal the seal of approval.
Stationery Nerd Kitty Tested
No Stationery Nerd review would be complete without some kitty antics. Here’s Pounce inspecting the ribbon bookmarks.
SPECS & RATINGS FOR ARCHER & OLIVE
See the charts below for details on specs and category ratings for this notebook.
|Notebook Brand||ARCHER & OLIVE|
|Model | Style||Signature Dotted Notebook|
|Hardcover | Softcover||Hardcover|
|Cover Options||fabric with gold embossed | various|
|Sizes Available||B5 | A5 | B6|
|Binding Type||sewn binding|
|Paper Weight||160 gsm|
|Dots | Lines | Grid | Blank||dots|
|Dot Description||small | light grey|
|Grid or Line Spacing||5mm|
|Grid Count||B5 ( ) A5 (26x38 ) B6 (33x23)|
|Number of pages||B5 + A5 = 160 pages B6 = 112 pages|
|Are pages numbered?||No|
|Purchase Location||Archer & Olive Website|
|Price I paid (including shipping)||$35.00|
Journal & Notebook Review Rating Scale
Yes, I know that review up there is super long! You know me... I'm long winded and I think you might want to know every single teeny tiny thing about this product. Sometimes you just need the facts summarized in an easy chart. That's what this part is. Below you'll see my score for this notebook. I've based my score on the following criteria. Open each toggle box below to read more about the scoring system I use.
Notebook Features & Specs
Evaluates the available features of the line of notebooks including special pages included (contact page, index pages, pen tests, perforated pages); special features (bookmarks, back pocket); and additional features (special elastic closure, stickers, tools, pen loop).
- 20 points • PLAIN JANE - notebook includes paper (and probably a cover) but that’s about it
- 40 points • PURELY BASIC - notebook includes one or two features but not anything outstanding
- 60 points • JUST AVERAGE - notebook includes some of the typical features but is missing some
- 80 points • FULLY LOADED - notebook includes all the typical features you’d expect in a notebook
- 100 points • LUXURY - notebook includes every feature you can imagine plus more
Notebook Construction & Durability
Evaluates the overall construction and build of the notebook or journal. Factors considered are binding and lay-flat design; cover durability; bookmark and back pocket stability; paper performance; and the overall feel of quality.
- 20 points • VERY POOR - notebook is not recommended due to poor construction, performance, and stability
- 40 points • BELOW AVERAGE - notebook shows poor construction and has many areas that need improvement
- 60 points • JUST AVERAGE - notebook shows an expected level of construction and adequate performance or durability
- 80 points • ABOVE AVERAGE - notebook shows good construction and is durable in all areas
- 100 points • LUXURY - notebook shows superior quality in construction and durability; feel luxurious
NORMAL WRITING PENS TESTING
I tested 16 different writing pens. These are the types of brands you’d expect to use in a normal bullet journal or standard long-form journaling notebook. Fineliners, gel pens, ballpoint, fountain pen inks, highlighters, and calligraphy brush markers. For this score I've based it on the level of ghosting and bleed-through of all the pens tested.
- 20 points • EXTREME - ghosting and bleed-through is so bad that you can’t write on the back of the page
- 40 points • MAJOR - significant ghosting and bleed-through makes it difficult to write on the back of the page
- 60 points • MODERATE - some ghosting and bleed-through is visible but writing over it is acceptable for some
- 80 points • SLIGHT - barely visible ghosting or bleed-through and only with wet or heavy inks
- 100 points • NO PROBLEMS - no visible ghosting or bleed-through at all
ART SUPPLY TEST RESULTS
I've thrown some tough art supplies at this notebook to see how far I could push the paper. I fully expected the alcohol-based materials to fail - there were 3 of the 10 that I expected all the notebooks in the 160gsm category to fail. Some surprised me and actually performed really well. The score in this category indicates how many art supplies PASSED the test.
- 10 art supplies were tested. Each supply is worth 10 points for a possible 100.
- It is possible to be awarded partial points for a "nearly failed" or "nearly passed" supply test.
FEATHERING | CAPILLARY ACTION
Feathering is when the ink penetrates the fibers of the paper and spreads outward from the line just written. The feathering happens when ink from your pen is pulled into an absorbent paper via capillary action. Typically seen with uncoated or low-quality paper (i.e. newsprint or cheap school notebook paper) combined with wet ink or broad nib styles.
- 20 points • EXTREME FEATHERING - the paper is so porous that ANY ink type feathers with every pen stroke. This is probably a paper towel or newsprint.
- 40 points • MAJOR FEATHERING - any WET ink shows significant feathering with every pen stroke
- 60 points • MODERATE FEATHERING - certain ink types show feathering but it’s not overly bothersome
- 80 points • SLIGHT FEATHERING - if you look closely you’ll see some periodic and insignificant feathering
- 100 points • NO FEATHERING - no feathering at all