QiHeng 160gsm notebook review | Introduction
When I set out on a quest to find every bullet journal notebook with 160gsm dotted paper, I was fascinated with this one when I found it. QiHeng Stationery also goes by the name SEQES on Amazon – at least that’s what’s in their product listing. But looking at their listing, it seemed like the notebook had all the same features as Archer & Olive but at half the price.
But what happens when I test the paper? Can it stand up to the same supplies I used in Archer & Olive, Scribbles That Matter, and Tekukor? Is it better? Is it worse? Read on, my nerdy friend…. We’re about to explore this amazing notebook and I’m going to tell you why I love it so much.
First, let’s just say it again… I paid $15.99 for this notebook (other designs in the notebook line have slightly different prices, up to $17-ish). This is an A5 sized notebook with 160 pages. If you remember in the Archer & Olive review, that same notebook would have been $35 (now $36 with the recent price increase). So this is a bargain, for sure!
Before we dive into the details of the review, I want to share a bit of the story of this brand. You know me, I’m always reaching out to stationery brands to see what insider information I can learn (and share with you). So I did the same with QiHeng (pronounced key-heng). I wanted to make sure they weren’t some fly-by-night company who would disappear as soon as I told you guys about their notebook. As it turns out, this is a unique situation.
Most notebook companies in the industry these days are actually resellers – which means they find a manufacturer to make the notebook they want to sell. The company works with the manufacturer to figure out the specs of a notebook – cover design, paper weight, construction quality, page style, packaging, etc. But QiHeng Stationery is different. They ARE the manufacturer. There’s no middleman who is telling the manufacturer what to make, the manufacturer makes their own decisions and then sells their product directly to the consumers (through their Amazon seller account).
This explains why they can sell their notebook for less than $17! They have cut out the middleman and pass those savings along to you and me. Lucky us!
The big question I wanted to know when I reached out to them was is they were going to continue making this notebook and if they were bringing more options to their product line. Here’s what they said:
Thanks for your support of our products. We have our own factories, we do the design and producing ourselves. We are new to the North American market, so we are still trying to figure out what styles/colours that American customers like. We are designing more colors/styles, if you have any ideas about it, please let us know.
So it looks like we have the opportunity to share some ideas with the company. Feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll try to compile some of the best ideas to send along to the QiHeng team. (Let’s not creep into the Scribbles That Matter style of special product requests… but if you’ve got cover color requests or ideas for different embossed emblems on the front, that’s a great place to start.)
But there’s an ant on the cover! Ewww!!
I know, I know, I know… ants are annoying and kinda gross. They invade picnics to sample our yummy food… and when you find them in the house, we work hard to kill every last one of them. But if you set those yucky things aside, there’s some pretty amazing things to know about ants.
Let’s take a look at fun facts and fascinating characteristics of ants …. Characteristics that we, as humans, could learn from and apply to our own lives.
- Ants are strong and can carry 20-50 times their body weight (usually in their jaws, while walking). Ants are loyal, not only to their queen but also to the rest of the family (colony) they live with and work alongside of. The type of family environment makes the social creatures who rely on each other for survival.
- Ants are industrious and known as the hardest working insect of the animal kingdom. When it comes to finding the sugary sweet nectar of plants or food that will nourish the colony, they band together to get the work done for the good of the whole. Did you know that the worker ants of the colony are all female? The male ant is only responsible for taking in enough nutrition to survive and to mate with the queen (figures that male ants only think about food and sex, huh?).
- Ants don’t have ears, instead they “hear” through vibrations they feel around them. This reminds me that it’s important to be aware of the world around me. Be present. Be mindful. Pay attention to what’s happening but do it with your whole self, not just one part of who you are.
- Ants don’t let obstacles stop them. One of the traits I like most about ants is their determination to overcome obstacles. As a group of ants is marching toward a goal, if something is set before them to block the way (rock, twig, cliff) they will explore left and right, up and down, and all-around (is that a song?) until they find a way around or through that obstacle. Nothing will stop them in their quest to achieve a goal or get where they need to go.
Take those traits and apply them to our human life and we are reminded to be loyal to family and friends; don’t be afraid to carry more than you think you can bear; be present and enjoy the world around you; be creative to solve problems and ensure survival; and don’t let obstacles get in the way of your goals.
Add an ant symbol to the cover of your bullet journal and it becomes a visual reminder of how to live a life you’ll be proud of.
OK, now that we know more about the company and why I picked the ant cover, let’s dive into the journal and see how they stand up to the other notebooks with 160gsm paper.
Features & Specs
The QiHeng 160gsm dotted notebook comes in A5 size – measuring 5.7” x 8.27” (slightly less than true A5, but close enough to count). We have 160 pages, not numbered (and they said there is currently no plan for them to add page numbers). The paper has a slight coating on it so the pages are smooth and silky. It’s a pleasure to write on the page and my pen glides effortlessly.
The inside cover starts with an “In Case of Loss” contact section, but then goes straight into the dotted pages right afterward. There are no extra pages like an index or pen test page, just 100% dotted pages. The paper is bright white and the dots are a light (or medium-ish) gray in color. Not too dark, not too light.
You’ve got the standard elastic closure band and a back document pocket. There’s also an elastic pen loop that holds up to my tugging-test.
The cover I chose was the gray linen cover with the silver hot-stamped ant on the front. There are other cover options including a blue linen with a spider or faux leather covers with embossed animals (fox, bear, owl, squirrel). Don’t worry… one of the things I requested when talking to the company was some different cover emblems. Not sure what’s up with the spider but maybe that has some significance that I’m not understanding? Or maybe there’s a lot of people who actually like spiders.
The construction of the journal is strong. At least it has held up to my testing even though I haven’t actually used the journal on a day-to-day basis yet. The binding is sewn and the notebook lays flat when open.
Dots on the page are light-to-medium gray. We have 39 x 27 dots in the grid and the dots go all the way to the edge of the paper with about ⅛” side margin but a 1⁄4” top and bottom margin. The dots line up perfectly from one page to the next.
As mentioned above the pages do not have page numbers. I understand that adding page numbers adds a whole layer of complexity to the manufacturing process and would add to the cost of production. I’m fine with the lack of numbers because I don’t index my pages (I’m a flipper). But for some this is a deal breaker. But for the quality of this journal, it might be worth the effort to manually number the pages.
Right now the only page style choice you have with this brand is dots. Which is fine because for a new product line, you want to start small and see what the consumers demand. It’s better to start with a single product option and see how it sells before putting a ton of money into a bunch of different options that might not be as well received. I’d love to see a square grid and a narrow lined option (I like the line spacing in Moleskine which is 6mm).
Let’s Talk about the Paper
Because of the coating on the page, there’s no feathering when I use fountain pens or wet gel ink pens. And that same coating helps to prevent bleed-through of some of the most troublesome art supplies. We’ll get into those details below. But let’s just say that the paper performs VERY well.
I’ve pitted this notebook against 4 other brands in the same 160gsm class. Of all the notebooks tested, this one is tied for the best performing paper. Yes, nerds… I LOVE this notebook. The other brand at the top of the heap is my beloved Tekukor.
Let’s dive into the pen tests and the art supply testing and see how things shake out.
Styles & Sizes Available
The only option for size is A5 (a tiny bit smaller than true A5). But you’ve got two choices for paper quality. The one that I bought is the 160gsm (yes, this review here) but there’s also an option for 100gsm paper. But that other notebook only comes with blank or ruled pages, not dotted. You have 6 different cover color options in the 100gsm bullet journal notebooks, too.
I look forward to watching this brand and see what new products they come out with. I’d love to see A6 and B6 options, wouldn’t you?
Pen Test & Paper Quality
First, let me just list all the supplies I’ve used for the basic pen-testing. I’ve chosen a variety of pens and markers in different categories including fineliners, gel pens, ballpoint pens, fountain pen inks, and various highlighters and markers. I even threw a Sharpie Marker in the mix as the alcohol marker you should never use in a journal. And because this paper is supposed to be bleed-resistant and ghost-proof, I also grabbed an art marker (a generic version of Copic markers). Whenever possible I used a black pen because that is going to give us the darkest possible ink to test ghosting or show-through.
Below is the full list of pens along with links for each.
Normal writing pens
Fountain pens & inks
NORMAL WRITING PEN TEST RESULTS
The pen test results are about what you’d expect with paper this thick. However, it actually performs better than Archer & Olive and Scribbles That Matter paper. There is virtually no ghosting at all and even that troublesome fountain pen combination I’ve been testing didn’t even give us any problems. (That combination is the Jinhao X750 with Noodler’s 54th Massachusetts ink.)
But take a look at how the Copic-style marker and the Sharpie Marker held up. Both of these are really part of the art supply list, but I also tested them alongside the normal writing pens, too. The Sharpie didn’t bleed through! What?!?! Yes, we’ve got some minor ghosting, but absolutely no bleeding at all. That never happens with Sharpie. Even the alcohol ink art marker performed really well. Yes, a bit of bleed-through and plenty of ghosting … but when you look closely at the bleeding, it isn’t the entire swipe of the marker, it’s only the parts where I start and end the line or overlap with another line of the marker.
Really impressive! Gotta love coated paper, right?
Speaking of coated paper, sometimes that can actually be a problem when it comes to dry-time with inks. Especially fountain pen inks. But the ones I’ve tested are just fine. Noodler’s seems to be the worse culprit for wet smudgy ink (at least in my limited experience with inks) and the smudge test I did with Noodler’s Lexington Grey ink did just fine. Fast drying, no smudging and no ghosting or bleed-through at all.
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
And this is where things get interesting. Of the 10 art supplies I tested, only 3 failed. That’s a 70% success rate! (If you’re keeping score, that puts QiHeng in first place of all the 160gsm notebooks I’ve tested.) The supplies that failed include the ones you’d expect to fail – alcohol ink, dye-based ink, and the Copic alcohol marker. The cotton swag test of fountain pen ink almost failed with a teeny tiny bit of orange peeking through the page but I’m going to rate that as a success for how well the paper stood up to a heavy swatch of ink in that area.
Let’s talk about the successes. The Dylusions ink spray was a surprise for me – so many others failed miserably on that one. Scribbles That Matter not only bled through, but it also seeped into the following page. But QiHeng stood up and didn’t even ghost with that one. The acrylic ink and paint was just fine so dig out your paint palettes and have fun!
I was most impressed with the way the paper stood up to watercolor. Not only did it not seep through the page, but also the paper didn’t crinkle or buckle at all when subjected to a very wet paintbrush. You can see from the photos that I was not gentle with the water on this one. I put 3 layers of watercolor on that wet test and it held up just fine. Wow!
This notebook could easily be an art journal and you’d be free to use almost any art supply you wanted to play with. Let the games begin!
Pros & Cons
- The price of this journal can’t be beat! By cutting out the middleman and getting a product directly from the manufacturer, you’re getting the best of both worlds… not only do you know the quality is going to be top notch because you know who the maker is, but also you get a bargain price because there are fewer hands in your wallet.
- The construction of this journal is excellent. I love the linen covers – and even though I haven’t tested the faux leather version, I’m sure the quality is equally as good.
- The paper is amazing! Not only does it hold up to normal pen testing but also the art supply test – which is brutal by design – turned out to be no problem for this paper.
- Did I mention the price?
- The cover design options are limited. I wish some of the cute animal emblems on the faux leather journals were also available on the linen covers. That fox is adorable and I’d love to see it in a silver hot-stamp on a khaki colored linen cover.
- Lack of page numbers might be a deal breaker for some people.
- Lack of special pages might be an issue for some people who really need index pages and prefer them to be printed on the front of the notebook.
So what’s the verdict? Yep, you guessed it. The QiHeng 160gsm Dotted Notebook is Stationery Nerd Approved. I love this notebook and love even more that it’s such a high-quality brand at su
ch a bargain price. I can’t wait to hear what you think of it. Don’t stop scrolling yet, though…. Below you’ll find the chart of specs for this journal as well as the performance rating scale for the 5 areas of testing.
I’m happy to give QiHeng Stationery notebook the Stationery Nerd Seal of Approval! Not only do they get my approval, but they have also earned first place among all the 160gsm notebooks I’ve tested. Go buy this notebooks. Do it… you won’t regret it!
How would you use a journal with 160gsm paper? Which cover design did you like best? Do you have a color or emblem suggestion for future journal designs?
|Model | Style||SeQeS Dotted Notebook|
|Hardcover | Softcover||Hardcover|
|Cover Options||linen fabric | faux leather|
|Sizes Available||A5 | 148 x 210 mm | 5.8" x 8.3"|
|Binding Type||sewn binding|
|Paper Weight||160 gsm|
|Dots | Lines | Grid | Blank||dots|
|Dot Description||medium grey|
|Grid or Line Spacing||5mm|
|Grid Count||39 x 27|
|Number of pages||160|
|Are pages numbered?||No|
|Additional Features||silver emblem on front (hot-stamped)|
|Price I paid (including shipping)||$15.99|
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 to 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
GHOSTING | SHOW-THROUGH | SHADOWING
Ghosting is when your pen strokes show through on the backside of your page and you can clearly see what you’ve written or drawn on the previous page. The combination of paper, ink wetness, and pen nib style contribute to ghosting or show-through.
- 20 points • EXTREME GHOSTING - see-through is so bad that you can’t write on the back of the page
- 40 points • MAJOR GHOSTING - significant ghosting making it difficult to write on the back of the page
- 60 points • MODERATE GHOSTING - some ghosting is visible but writing over it is acceptable for some
- 80 points • SLIGHT GHOSTING - barely visible ghosting and only with wet or heavy inks
- 100 points • NO GHOSTING - no visible ghosting at all
BLEEDING | BLEED-THROUGH
Bleeding is when ink penetrates the fibers of the paper and soaks through to the other side of the page. The combination of paper, ink wetness, and pen nib style contribute to bleed-through.
- 20 points • EXTREME BLEEDING - ink bleeds through the page and soaks into the following page of the journal
- 40 points • MAJOR BLEEDING - significant bleeding making it difficult to write on the back of the page
- 60 points • MODERATE BLEEDING - some bleeding of full words or extra wet ink pen strokes
- 80 points • SLIGHT BLEEDING - minor bleeding when a pen is left on the page for too long or at the end of a line but not visible during normal writing strokes
- 100 points • NO BLEEDING - no bleeding at all
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