Scribbles That Matter 160gsm  notebook review | Introduction

Dear Scribbles That Matter, I’m not sure what you’re doing these days and it’s hard for me to write a review about your notebooks because I have no idea how long this particular version will last. This wishy-washy behavior is not becoming and it makes me sad. Things were going so good! What are you even doing?

Yes, I’ll probably get a bit of hate mail for this commentary but I feel like someone has to say this stuff out loud and I’m afraid that nobody else is going to do it. So it’s left to me to say.

Hey, Pam, what are you even talking about? Stop being so cryptic.

WARNING – I’m about to go on an extended rant. If you want to skip all the drama and go straight to the review, just click here to … uh… jump over the shark below. (Sorry, that was really corny.)

Has Scribbles That Matter Jumped the Shark?

I’ve been cutting them some slack for a long time now. And this rant really has nothing to do with the performance of the notebook with 160gsm paper. But I think it’s time to call them out for what’s been going wrong and why I am worried about the future success of this company.

Jumping the shark is the moment when something that was once popular that no longer warrants the attention it previously received makes an attempt at publicity, which only serves to highlight its irrelevance. Source: Wikipedia

Business decisions made based on user polls – it’s one thing to listen to the feedback of your customers and make adjustments to your products, it’s another thing entirely to make major business decisions based on that same feedback.

  • It all started when they removed the skull doodle from the cover of their first journal and replaced it with a hedgehog because the “skull offended people.”
  • Sales were SO good that they struggled hard with keeping notebooks in stock. It was always a constant battle to make a purchase because you never knew if there would be inventory to buy. I get it – their popularity was a surprise at the beginning and they were trying to figure out supply and demand. But it felt like it took them a really really long time to get a handle on how many notebooks to keep in stock and when to reorder so that they consistently had inventory to sell.
  • Then the color dance started … new colors, discontinued colors, lots of colors then only a handful of colors and those colors will change as new colors are introduced. The reason for reduced color options was the cost of warehousing multiple colors through Amazon. This is understandable, but the entire thing seemed random and poorly planned from the consumer side of things.
  • Then they introduced new sizes – B6 and A6 – but instead of understanding the market and choosing colors based on color trends, they only offered teal (their signature brand color at the time). And then when a second color was introduced it was red. I might not be an expert in which colors sell best in notebook covers, but I can’t see how teal and red are the hot color choices for the majority of people. Even Amy at Life in the Mitten made a video about her hatred of the red B6 notebook and how she covered it up.
Scribbles That Matter 100gsm

Notice the skull doodle at the top center. This indicates my journal is one of the first STMs produced because the skull was removed early in their production process.

  • Sometime in early spring or late winter of 2019 the paper fiasco began. As far as I can tell, it’s still going on now as we approach the fall of 2019.
    • Winter 2019 – they changed the paper in their 100gsm A5 notebook to be “new and improved” with 115gsm and a more heavily coated page (described by users as “waxy”) to presumably further reduce ghosting and bleed-through. Nice in theory. But did they actually test this paper before they put it in their notebooks? Because from what I can see from online discussions, smearing and smudging of all sorts of ink pens and markers was a major problem. Thankfully they saw this as an issue and quickly made another change…
    • But this new change went a little wrong too. Instead of going back to their original 100gsm paper, they chose 160gsm paper (we assume in an attempt to compete with the new hot notebook on the market – Archer & Olive). Such an extreme jump in paper weight – which always dramatically reduced the number of pages in the notebook. They reduced the number of pages by nearly 25%.
    • And because there was such an uproar about the heavy coating on the previous 115gsm paper, they went with a matte finish on the 160gsm paper. Oops! Now we have a bleeding problem (especially noticeable with watercolor paints).

The latest updated from Scribbles about their paper choice is the one I received when I asked them through a private message on Facebook if they had completely discontinued the 100gsm paper? Their response:

“We will have 2 options in the future. 100gsm and 160gsm”

OK… but when in the future? I asked that follow up question and didn’t receive a response. So should we assume that actually means: “…at some random point in the future.”

But wait… there’s more!

In the middle of my writing this journal review, a new poll is up on the STM social platforms asking for feedback on a product change. So the latest development in the Scribbles Saga is a new notebook system instead of their current hardcover journals. The current poll results (late summer 2019) are showing 85% of fans favor this change. What’s the system?

It’s akin to a traveler’s notebook-style system where you buy a folio-style cover in the color of your choice. Then you choose which “insert” you want inside – 100gsm, 160gsm, bullet planner, etc. – and when you run out of pages, you just buy a new insert for your cover. The insert is the size of a normal A5 notebook with 150-200 pages but without the hard bulk cover, instead, it would be some type of rigid cardboard material. If you want to see it for yourself, check out their pitch video below.

Public Opinion Polls don’t tell the whole story

The Scribble That Matter social media following is substantial. As of this writing, their combined social following on Facebook (11.6k) and Instagram (95k) is a bit more than 100,000 people (presumably with plenty of duplication). But they rely heavily on product changes based on opinion polls they publish on their social media channels.

Obviously, with the way the social media algorithms work, not 100% of their followers will even see those polls. In fact, the standard impression stats are around 1-2% of the business’ followers will actually be shown individual Facebook or Instagram posts (unless the business pays to boost those posts through paid advertising).

And it’s safe to assume that their social following is probably a tiny percentage of their actual notebook users. Maybe another 1% assumption? Which means if they sold 1 million journals and they’re listening to less than 1,000 of those users on social media to make major decisions about their product offerings … yeah, that’s not a good business move.

So why would a company rely so heavily on the opinion of such a tiny percentage of its users? Why wouldn’t they use the same types of tools that other corporations use when making decisions about product changes – especially when you have such a loyal following?

It seems as if they are whimsically chasing feathers in the wind rather than carefully laying bricks to form a strong foundation. It’s only after you have a strong foundation and a well-built house that you can start experimenting with crazy paint colors on your walls or funky cushions on your sofa.

Does this review even matter?

So here I am, in late August, about to write a comprehensive review of the 160gsm Scribbles That Matter notebook. And I wonder if I should even bother. Will this be the same paper they use in the next production run of the notebook? They seem to change their paper with each new run so I’m not sure I should have confidence that they’ll stick with one decision for the long term.

We can safely assume that the previous Scribbles That Matter review I published about the original 100gsm version is no longer valid because that version no longer exists. It makes me wonder how long THIS review will be valid or if I’ll need to add a disclaimer at the top saying it can be ignored now.

So as we go through this review, keep in mind that I don’t know what the future journals from Scribbles That Matter will look like. I’ll caution you to either buy a 160gsm journal right away before they change things again or just skip this one altogether and pick one of the other 160gsm options (Tekukor and QiHeng are both great options!)

So with ALL of that in mind … let’s jump into the review.

​Features & Specs of Scribbles That Matter 160gsm

The notebook is true A5 – measuring 5.8” x 8.3” or 148mm x 210mm. Each page is numbered and has light grey dots that go all the way to the edges of the paper but with a narrow margin equidistant all around the block of dots. The page number sits below the dot grid on the bottom corner of the page. The paper is bright white (although the product listing says it’s “light ivory”) and somewhat smooth with a bit of “tooth” to it. The excessive coated / waxy feeling of the previous paper is definitely no longer an issue as this paper feels more matte.

Typical for all Scribbles That Matter notebooks, you have many features including an attached pen loop, back document pocket, 2 bookmarks, and a fairly sturdy elastic closure band. Inside you receive several special pages:

  • Contact info page (includes a place to add the dates you start and end the journal)
  • Key page
  • Index pages (3)
  • Pen Test page
  • Mindfulness page

Number of Pages

The information band on the journal says there are 200 pages that are 115gsm – this is a misprint (or careless design work) because in the Amazon product listing you see this:

160gsm paper with 150+ numbered pages that are a dream to write on (please note that the packaging may have a typo that says 115gm with 200 pages)

So 150+ numbered pages is correct. The page numbers go up to 158. But the problem is that all those special pages are also numbered. Which means that 6 of the numbered pages are not useable for anything other than their special use. Which leaves you with 152 useable pages.

Let’s Talk about the Paper

In this version of Scribbles That Matter, we have 160gsm paper, as I’ve said a million times already. I’ve done a review on the old version of Scribbles with 100gsm paper – but that’s obsolete now.

This paper is thick! Definitely in the card stock category. The paper is matte without any substantial coating to protect it from bleed-through or feathering. The only reason we don’t see bleed-through with normal writing pens is due to the thickness of the paper. But once you start adding any significant ink or art supply we see that the paper starts to soak up that moisture and seeps through to the other side.

Styles & Sizes Available

There are two options for styles in this paper weight in the A5 size, which is normal for the Scribbles brand. The “iconic” version is the one with doodles debossed into the cover. The “pro” version is smooth with tiny versions of the doodles debossed on the back cover along the bottom. (Debossing is when the impressed image goes down into the surface of the materials – embossing is when the design is raised above the surface.)

I purchased the Pro version in Charcoal.

The cover is “responsibly sourced vegan leather” and is soft and smooth to the touch. Because the cover is a soft material it is possible to damage the surface if you are the type of person – like me – who tends to just toss your journal into your bag with everything else. So it is possible to mark up your journal if you’re not careful with it.

Looking at the rest of the Scribbles That Matter line you’ll also find B6 and A6-ish (I like to take credit for naming the A6-ish size since that was my suggestion way back when they were asking for suggestions on new sizes). There’s also the B5 Bullet Planner which is a pre-printed calendar and bullet journal version of the notebooks. 

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 Pen Test Results

As expected, the normal writing pens did just fine on this paper. The only exception on the list above is the Jinhao X750 with Noodler’s 54th Massachseuttes ink – which has a bit of ghosting (which is expected, that ink and pen combination was thrown into the mix because it’s a tough one and usually ghosts or bleeds with all papers). However, I was pleasantly surprised that there isn’t a problem with feathering from fountain pen ink. The photos below show writing samples with Platinum Cool fountain pens.

The paper is not smooth so there’s a bit of drag when using some of the fine-tip pens. The paper has “tooth” – which means the surface is not coated so the paper grabs the ink and your pen doesn’t scroll across the page effortlessly. I guess this is probably fine if you’re just bullet journaling in this notebook. But if you’re doing journaling or long-form writing, it could get uncomfortable or annoying very quickly. I personally prefer smooth paper where my pen glides effortlessly across the page. However, I know that there are plenty of people who prefer paper with a bit of texture so that might actually be a plus for some folks.

 

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

 

  1. Watercolor paint wet – a wet application of watercolor paint then letting the paint air dry 
  2. Watercolor paint dry-ishanother 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
  3. Tim Holtz Distress Paint  – this comes in a dabber bottle and is an acrylic-based paint
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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?
  7. 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.
  8. Acrylic Ink – a thicker ink that is based on acrylic paint
  9. Copic-style Marker I tried the alcohol art marker again on this page
  10. 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

Oh boy… here’s where things get interesting. Of the 10 art supplies that I tested, Scribbles That Matter failed at six of them. So a success rate of 40%. Let’s look closer at what failed and what didn’t.

The alcohol and dye-based inks and markers failed, as expected. However, two of the supplies (Dylusions Spray Ink and the Dye Ink) not only bled through to the back of the page, but they also soaked into the following page

I also tested fountain pen ink and applied it liberally with a q-tip to swatch the color. Now… that fountain pen ink test failed in all of the journals, right? But in Scribbles, it was among the worst performers of the 5 brands I tested. In fact, it was about the same amount of bleed-through as what we see in Archer & Olive journals.

What surprised me most is the watercolor. This is one of the big sales pitch lines for this paper. You can use paint – acrylic, and watercolor – without bleed through. I tested watercolor in two different ways. One method was to use a small amount of water to lay down the color, then blot it with a paper towel to soak up the excess water. Then let it air dry on the page.

The other method of watercolor is my normal method of using a more wet brush to blend color and then soak up that excess water with a clean brush, then let it dry on its own. Not only did the entire area soak up the watercolor, but it also bled through the page and warped the paper. That’s a pretty big failure, in my opinion.

​Pros & Cons

So let’s look at the good and the bad of the Scribbles That Matter 160gsm notebook and lay it all out.

PROS

  • The price is right at just $20.99. It performs the same as Archer & Olive but the price is about $10-15 less than A&O.
  • For normal writing pens like gel ink, ballpoint, or most fountain pen inks – the paper holds up just fine with no bleeding or ghosting.
  • Some art supplies work great on thick paper. If you plan to use acrylic paint or very-dry watercolor paints, you’ll be very happy with the results.

CONS

  • I have no faith whatsoever that this journal will be available long-term … and if they do keep this in the product line, who knows if the paper will be the same next time they print more journals.
  • The paper is uncoated and is not smooth for writing.
  • The bleed-through with the art supply test was definitely a failure. This is a direct result of the above – uncoated paper allows ink to soak into (and through) the fibers of the paper.

​Conclusion

I want to love this journal. I want to love Scribbles That Matter (in the way I used to love them). But their business model is broken. Their product development philosophy is broken and they are letting a small (but vocal) part of their customer-base make decisions about the direction of the company that should be left to product development managers who have training and expertise in these types of major business decisions. You can’t change your product at the random whim of an audience who has no vested interest in your business success or profit model.

There’s something to be said for consistency and providing your customers with a product they can rely on and know that from one journal to the next, they’ll still get the same one they ordered last time. I don’t know that if I ordered an STM notebook again today that I would get the same product I ordered a couple of months ago. Not knowing makes me decide to not order.

NOT Stationery Nerd Approved

I don’t give this failure rating very often and I hate giving it – especially when I’m rooting so hard for the company to succeed. But in this case, the Scribbles That Matter 160gsm Notebook FAILS the Stationery Nerd test. 

Notebook BrandSCRIBBLES THAT MATTER

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