In my quest to find the perfect A5 bullet Journal notebook I ended up buying 24-ish different notebooks. Yes, 24. So grab a pot of coffee (you’ll need more than a cup) and a snack and let’s dig into this review, pen test and nerdy commentary about the notebooks we all know and love.
So let me restate — I’m reviewing 24-ish notebooks here. I say “ish” because I’m only reviewing 24 here today. There are more. I have a few that didn’t even make the cut because I discovered they were no longer being manufactured (or maybe I just couldn’t find a way to purchase them online), so those 4 didn’t make it to the final list. There are also some non-traditional notebooks I’ve picked up in my quest that will have their own series of reviews – those include spiral bound books, some composition notebooks worthy of bullet journaling…and maybe a few other journals I want to tell you about – but we’ll save those for another day. Today, we’re just going to tackle these 24.
Journal Review 2.0
This new version of the review is a major update where I’ve included an additional SIX journals. I’ve also taken the time to create a whole new way to navigate this epic article. (It’s more than 10,000 words, so that qualifies as “epic.”)
Rather than keeping all of the individual journal reviews in this single article, you’ll notice that when you click on the photo of a journal below, you’ll be taken to a new tab where you can see the detailed review on its own page. Then, just click on the journal review photo in the sidebar on that page to get back here and start over.
This is NOT a sponsored review … but you can still support me
First I should probably state the obvious here … put it out in the open so you don’t have to wonder or start rumors. I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to stationery products. There. I said it. Happy now? Let’s move on then.
Something else you should know is that this post is NOT sponsored by any notebook manufacturer, brand or seller. Nobody gave me notebooks for free. Nobody paid me. Nobody promised me roses or steak dinners to write nice things about them. Everything here is my honest personal opinion. I purchased all these notebooks/journals myself with my own hard earn (and quickly spent) money. I truly have been on a quest to find the right notebook for my own personal use and it got a little out of hand. And my promise to you is that everything you read here is honest, true, raw and real — if I don’t like something, I’m going to tell you but if I do like something, you’ll probably get tired of how much I talk about its awesomeness. You’ve been warned.
Buying excessive amounts of stationery supplies can get expensive. But in the interest of supporting my stationery hoarding habit, some of the links below are actually affiliate links to Amazon. Making a purchase in this way helps to support this website and my ability to provide you with additional reviews of products in the future. I will receive a small commission on anything you purchase at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support.
Just the Facts Ma’am
If you want to get straight to the specs of each notebook without all the narrative and photos below, you can download the comprehensive spreadsheet right now. Just add your email address to gain access to the file. You’ll be subscribed to the newsletter and get updates on new product reviews like this one.
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Notebook Specs I Wanted in my Next Bullet Journal
Before we jump in I want to tell you what the criteria were as I was searching for a notebook.
This all started when I started carrying a notebook with me everywhere about seven months ago. I’ve always carried notebooks but suddenly it had become an everyday necessity. I had developed my own task management and life organizing system over the years, but one day a friend point out that what I was doing was called “bullet journaling,” which sent me down a rabbit hole of discovery. So I started calling my journal a bullet journal (even though I didn’t play by all the rules – see my Hybrid Bullet Journal System here) and continued to use my journal to keep track of my daily tasks, thoughts, interesting tidbits or quotes, and even for taking notes when I listened to a podcast (another obsession of mine) or read a book. The journal I was carrying was just one I already had in my stash and just pulled off the shelf and started using it (the Green Inspired Journal in the photo below also has a full review on the list). Then at the end of May, I made a purchase of a Galen Leather handcrafted notebook cover. By the first of June, the first notebook has been purchased and the pen testing began!
We’re NOT going to discuss my obsession with leather in this post. But let’s just say that it’s real. Just look at this notebook cover. I’m sure you can understand the obsession.
I knew my next journal needed to meet a specific set of requirements to even make it to my shopping cart. Since I was spending my own money on these, I needed to be highly selective in the notebooks I purchased to test. The list of requirements for my perfect notebook are:
- SIZE – It needed to be an A5 size to fit the new leather notebook cover.
- LINES OR DOTS – I prefer a lined notebook as opposed to a blank sketchbook or dot grid. Although I do love dots in certain circumstances, so dots weren’t completely out of the running if something caught my eye. It’s interesting that I started this search looking exclusively for lines but ended up choosing a dotted notebook as the winner for my own use.
- COVER – A beautiful cover is a bonus. If it’s something that I enjoy holding in my hand for the next several months, it’d have a better chance of being chosen. We’re not talking color here, this is about how it FEELS in my hand, the material from which it’s made and how sturdy the notebook construction might be over the time I use it.
- PAPER – The biggest and most important factor is the paper. High quality, smooth paper that doesn’t show any ghosting or bleeding is essential. I don’t want to be restricted by which pen I use, so the paper needed to deal with any of my most trusted pens (we’ll talk about those in a minute).
So now that the requirements were settled I started searching. I watched review videos on YouTube, I read reviews on individual notebook listings on Amazon, and I even scoured all of the bullet journal guru websites to find out which journal they were using.
What I found was that almost universally everyone was using the Leuchtturm1917 dotted notebook and they loved it beyond measure. In fact, the creator of the Bullet Journal system, Ryder Carroll, even had a special edition version of the Leuchtturm1917 with the Bullet Journal branding on the cover. So I took a closer look at the brand and specs of that notebook. I was skeptical because the paperweight didn’t seem to be a good quality at 80 gsm. And seeing pen test results online concerned me because of the ghosting and bleeding. But I decided to give it a try anyway. My full review is below.
That’s where things started going downhill. I trusted the Bullet Journal gurus to tell me the truth. But when I saw the results of my own initial pen tests, I realized that those gurus were probably being paid to say nice things about a notebook that had really bad paper and was overpriced for such poor paper quality.
Then I fell victim to the same notebook “experts” who were raving about UberWorks notebooks. YouTubers and bloggers were so excited about how great these notebooks were, so I jumped on that bandwagon too. My full review of Uber Works is also below.
I kept being disappointed whenever I listened to someone else’s review of a notebook. I was tired of being duped. So I dug in and did what I did best. I researched, tested, evaluated, compared, and bought more notebooks than any one girl could use in a lifetime …. and here we are now.
After a couple unhappy starts to my notebook hunt I decided to get serious about specs. From here on out I was not going to try any notebook that had less than 100 GSM paper. I found several that meet the requirements and started placing orders. What I have for you below is a comprehensive review of all of the notebooks that I have collected, where they came from, how to find them yourself and what details you need to know about their quality and usefulness as a bullet journal, art journal, or writing journal.
Vocabulary and Glossary of Terms
I want to make sure we all know what we’re talking about before we get too far into this review. So let’s start with some vocabulary.
- GSM – grams per square meter – this is a measure of the paperweight. The higher the number, the thicker the paper.
- GHOSTING – when you can see the writing from the previous page on the next blank page. Sometimes ghosting is minor and unobtrusive. Often it’s a major problem and can interfere with the writing you put on the following page. Some people aren’t bothered by ghosting, Personally, I hate it. I want a clean, fresh, unblemished page to write on.
- BLEEDING – when the ink from your pen or marker soaks through the paper and appears on the following page or stains the next sheet in the notebook. Bleeding is always bad. I don’t know anyone who says they like or tolerate bleed-through.
- FEATHERING – when the ink spreads along the fibers of the paper and creates a feathered appearance along the line you drew. This usually happens when you have uncoated (matte) paper.
- NOTEBOOK vs. JOURNAL – for the purposes of this review, I’ll be using these two terms interchangeably. If you want to get technical about the etymology of the words, journal is derived from the French term jour – meaning day. So a notebook is a blank book whereas a journal is a notebook that you write in each day. But that seems like splitting hairs here, so we’re just going to pretend they mean the same thing for now. Okay?
Pens and Markers and Highlighters! Oh, My!
Let’s talk about pens. I’m a “black pen” type of gal. I don’t use colors pens or markers in my journal…. Well, I do once in awhile, but not often. I like a dark black ink – not heavy or wet, but true black. I also use highlighters in my journal. Usually just pink and green (you can learn more about why highlighters are so important in my journaling process by checking out the Pastel Highlighter Showdown).
Each journal in this review was put through a pen test to find out how well the paper stood up to a variety of ink types. This includes a collection of the pens I use regularly along with the two highlighters I’ve used in my journals that have the wettest, heaviest ink coverage:
- Bic 730R – .7mm
- Papermate Flair – Medium
- Papermate Flair – Ultra Fine
- Pilot P-500 – Extra Fine .5mm
- Pilot Varsity Fountain Pen
- Sakura Pigment Micron – Size 01
- Sharpie Accent Liquid Highlighter
- Sharpie Pen – Fine
- Sharpie Pen – Stainless Steel
- Staedtler Triplus Fineliner
- TUL Retractable Needle Point – Medium 0.7m
Let’s start this Bullet Journal Notebook already!
And now the mega bullet journal notebook review, in alphabetical order by brand name. As a reminder, this is an unbiased, unpaid, unsponsored, no-BS review of these notebooks. If you see any mistakes or oversights as you’re reading through it, give me a shout and I’ll take a look and make corrections.
Because this review is so epic – no really, it’s truly amazing! – I had to split up the full journal review into two main sections. Hardcover notebooks and soft cover notebooks. Each hardcover bullet journal notebook I’ve purchased and reviewed is listed here – just click on the picture and it will open a new window with the full review. You can read the all of the reviews in their epicness, or you can take the road of sanity and only jump to a specific brand you’re considering. Or feel free to skip all the individual reviews and jump to the bottom where I tell you which notebook I finally decided to use for my everyday bullet journal … and what I’m going to do with all the other ones.
Because this review is so epic – no really, it’s truly amazing! – I had to split up the full journal review into two main sections. Hardcover notebooks and softcover notebooks. Just click the photo of the journal you want to learn more about and it will open the full review in a new tab. The softcover section is much smaller than the hardcover, but there are some really good options in this section. In fact, two of my top five notebooks have soft covers. Definitely, give them a fair shake if you haven’t tried one of these yet.
Whew! We made it to the end. Finally! I’m curious to know if you read the whole thing or if you skipped around and only checked out the journals you were specifically interested in (drop me a comment below and let me know!). I had to go back and look at my Amazon receipts, but I can confirm that between the time I bought my first journal in this quest to the date I’m publishing this review – it’s been a long FIVE MONTHS! So now let’s do some wrap-up and announce the winners of this epic journal review.
Free A5 Journal Comparison Spreadsheet
I wouldn’t be a respectable nerd if I didn’t make a spreadsheet, right? I know what it takes to keep my nerd card! The spreadsheet is 3 pages of pure research gold. I’ve gathered all the specs you see above, and more, into a single spreadsheet that shows all the journals side by side. Use the form below to request the download link – just enter your email address and you’ll be directed to a page to download the file.
Download the Journal Comparison Spreadsheet
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The Winner is Crowned!
Just in case you didn’t see mention of it above, there are a couple winners in the group of journals I reviewed. Based on the original requirements I named earlier (size, lines or dots, cover quality, and paperweight) I have some favorites. There are two categories of winners here — journals I’m already using for something and journals I love and I’m searching for a reason to use them. And the winners are …
Journals I’m currently using
- Tekukor – my everyday carry bullet journal
- Scribbles That Matter – my travel log journal
- UberWorks LUFT – my handwritten diary
- Green Inspired – my learning and notetaking notebook
Journals I love and will use soon
- Pentalic Traveler’s Notebook – I think the lined journal will be my next handwritten diary
- Daycraft – my next bullet journal will be a lined journal, this might be the pick when I’m done with the Tekukor
- Lemome – if I don’t go with DayCraft for my next journal, it might be the Lemome Cork
- UberWorks GAYA – I have used this one as an emergency bullet journal replacement journal for a few weeks and I liked the way it felt, might add this to the lineup too.
Journals I recommend for bullet journalers like me
I know a lot of you struggle with finding the perfect journal. I hope this massive review has helped you decide. But if you still can’t make up your mind and you just want to know how I rank the journals that I like and recommend, I’ll give you some help here. After this little experiment (ha! I said “little”) I don’t believe I will ever buy a notebook with anything less than 100gsm paper (with only a couple rare exceptions noted below). Yes, that means I’ll never by a Leuchtturm1917 or even the special edition Bullet Journal Leuchtturm1917 designed by Ryder Carroll — if that makes me lose my bullet journalist card, so be it.
100gsm weight paper
- Green Inspired Notebook – available locally at Target (110gsm)
- Lemome Bullet Journal
- Peter Pauper Press Essentials Notebook
- Scribbles That Matter
- Superior Maker Executive Notebook
- Tekukor Dotted Notebook
- Daycraft Signature or Inspiro Collection
120gsm weight paper
- Lemome Classic (suede) Cover
- Lemome Cork Cover
- Pentalic Traveler Pocket Journal
80gsm and 90gsm – exceptional exceptions
- Clairefontaine Basic Notebook (90gsm) – a dream to write on!
- UberWorks LUFT or GAYA (80gsm) – but only with the right pen, no heavy ink here
What did I miss?
I already know that there are some popular notebook options that didn’t make the list. Some that you might want me to review in a future post, maybe. Here are a few that I already know you’ve asked for and why they aren’t on this list.
- NUUNA — this European notebook looks like an absolute dream! The covers are fun and I hear the paper is amazing. But here in the United State, these notebooks aren’t easy to come by. If I were to order from the company’s website, the total price would come in around $30-45 … not exactly budget-friendly. Also, the sizes of these books aren’t in line with normal A-sizes. They are sized at 6.5 x 8.7 inches (165 x 220mm) — much too large for my Galen Leather cover. So this brand was out.
- Rhodia — I know a lot of people are raving about the new Rhodia Goal Book right now and I’ve been tempted to give it a try. But the Rhodia paper comes in at 90gsm and after a while, I made the rule that I’d never buy any notebook with less than 100gsm at a minimum. So the Rhodia didn’t make the cut. If you’d like to see a good pen test review of the Rhodia paper, check out this one by Heart Sprinkle.
- Citrus Book Bindery – Fran McKay over on the Etsy shop for Citrus Book Bindery does a beautiful job with her handcrafted journals. She uses at least 130gsm paper (or heavier if you need something for art journaling or multi-media pages) and hand makes each of her journals to your specifications. I haven’t ordered one yet. But I drool often. I’m sending you over there so you can drool too. One day I’ll have one in my hands and I’ll tell you all about it!
All Done! Your Turn…
So that wraps up this epic, crazy-long, ridiculously wordy journal review. If you’ve made it this far, let me know and I’m going to send you a gold star for your bullet journal! You’re amazing!
Drop me a comment below and let me know which journal you’re going to try out from this list. Or let me know if you agree, disagree or think I’m completely off my rocker for some review I’ve written above. I’d love to hear what you have to say!