The best notebooks of 2021
- A good notebook has quality paper, a good binding, and a sturdy cover.
- The best notebook for most people is the durable, eco-friendly Miquelrius Handmade Leather Journal.
Notebooks should be durable with high-quality paper that keeps your notes legible for years. You’ll want to consider the type of paper, bindings, and covers when choosing a notebook. You might want different kinds for taking notes versus sketching.
Paper type will depend on how you’re using the notebook. Artists and fountain pens users will want a high gram-per-square-meter (gsm) count. Lighter paper is smoother and better suited to note-taking. We researched and tested both varieties. (For more informaiton on paper quality and bindings, see some experts’ tips in Insider Reviews’ guide to the best planners.)
Paper size, sheet style (ruled, dotted, graph, or blank), and format are also important factors to consider before purchasing a notebook. Our picks include options for artists, travel, and left-handers.
Here are the best notebooks:
- Best notebook overall: Miquelrius Flexible Handmade Leather Journal
- Best travel notebook: Rite in the Rain All-Weather Hard Cover Notebook
- Best notebook for artists: Speedball Travelogue Watercolor Book
- Best notebook for note-taking: Midori MD Notebook
- Best left-handed notebook: Lemome A5 Wide-Ruled Hardcover Writing Notebook
Updated on 01/29/2021 by Jenny McGrath: We’re continuing to test the long-term durability of our notebook picks, as well as testing new options to see if they belong in this guide.
The best notebook overall
The Miquelrius Flexible Handmade Leather Journal is bound by bendable but tough recycled leather and packed thick with 300 sheets of smooth, wide-ruled paper.
Pros: Durable leather cover, smooth pages, generous page count
Cons: Expensive, may incur international shipping costs
The Miquelrius Flexible Handmade Leather Journal is handcrafted in Spain by a company that has been making stationery for 179 years. The lightweight, extra-opaque paper (70 gsm) is smooth to the touch, and the margins are wider than some of its more popular competitors, like Moleskine.
Although the paper is thinner than other notebooks, the strong opacity allows you to write with any style of pen, without your words “ghosting” the back of the page. I prefer to use a felt-tip with this notebook, because I think it complements the smoothness of the paper and makes it easier to write quickly.
The paper is bound by glue, as opposed to the more traditional thread-stitching. This isn’t always the most dependable method, but my notebook has survived for more than two years without the binding showing any signs of wear, and I take it with me everywhere I go.
The recycled leather has a coarse surface that is virtually impenetrable to scratches and scuff marks. But at the same time, the material is elastic, so the cover and binding fold in half with ease. This ensures the notebook will lay flat when opened to any page. And since the binding isn’t stiff, you don’t need to keep your writing hand grounded in order to keep the pages from turning unintentionally.
The Miquelrius Flexible Handmade Leather Journal comes in two different sizes: 6-by-8.2 inches and a smaller 4-by-5.75 inches. This size comes with lined and graph paper. We recommend the larger option that uses an A5 sheet size. This format gives you just the right amount of space on the page, and anything larger would make the notebook bulky, given its hefty page-count.
Miquelrius notebooks are certainly not cheap, but they are good investments.
The best travel notebook
The Rite in the Rain Weatherproof Hard Cover Notebook uses a special paper that repels water, sweat, grease, and mud.
Pros: Weather-resistant, ideal size for travel, archival-quality paper
Cons: Paper only works with certain writing instruments
Designed specifically for outdoor use, Rite in the Rain notebooks are the ideal travel companions for writers on the go. The notebook uses wood-based, recyclable paper protected by a patented coating that the company has been innovating for more than 100 years.
Rite in the Rain’s 32-pound paper (120 gsm) also meets the standard for archival-quality paper, ensuring your travel memories will endure through years of storage. The thread-stitched binding and glue are also designed to be weather resistant.
For its hardcovers, Rite in the Rain uses Fabrikoid, a unique type of imitation leather made from cotton cloth. The company’s softcover notebooks have a more flexible, paper-based cover. For travelers, we suggest the hardcover option. Even if your itinerary is more city walking than rainforest excursion, it’s always a good idea to have a little extra protection when you take a notebook on the road.
An important factor to consider, however, is the limitation on writing instruments that are compatible with the water-resistant paper. When the paper is wet, you need to write with pencils, wax markers, crayons, or Rite in the Rain’s specially designed pens. When it’s dry, you can use permanent markers and ballpoint pens, but the paper will not work with gel pens, fountain pens, or highlighters. If you’re traveling and lose your writing instrument, this can be frustrating.
Rite in the Rain’s Weatherproof Hard Cover Notebook comes in several different, field-specific sheet styles but also the standard lined and grid formats. At 80 sheets, the notebook won’t weigh you down, but it still provides enough paper to last your entire trip.
The best notebook for artists
The Speedball Travelogue Watercolor Book has an elegant, natural-linen binding and uses paper that works well with both paint and ink.
Pros: Meant for watercolor but also works great with ink
Cons: It’s only 60 pages
The Speedball Travelogue Watercolor Book uses cold-pressed paper, which is more textured than hot-pressed but smoother than rough watercolor paper. This makes the Travelogue Watercolor Book functional for its intended purpose but also compatible with mixed-media compositions and ink sketches.
The paper is 200 gsm, which is a common weight for Manila folders and index cards. This notebook also gets a few extra points for its natural-linen cover. The exterior is also quite durable and includes an elastic closure.
The Speedball Travelogue Watercolor Book is bound by a combination of glue and thread stitching.
The large landscape format seems to be the most popular among watercolor painters. The notebook also comes in two portrait sizes, a square size and a unique, pocket-panorama format. The notebook only contains 60 pages, but given the high-quality paper, it’s still a good value.
Note: This product was previously known as the Global Art Materials Travelogue Watercolor Book.
The best notebook for note-taking
The ultra-smooth texture and wide margins inside the Midori MD Notebook make note-taking fast and easy.
Pros: Smooth paper for writing fast, large margins, attractive design
Cons: It doesn’t have a cover
When it comes to note-taking, speed is the name of the game. Students and professionals who need to jot down information quickly will appreciate the fact that Midori’s paper is made from broad-leaved trees instead of more common conifer trees, which gives an added smoothness.
The Japanese company takes a lot of pride in how they make paper. (Its website provides an in-depth look at the process.) After continuous use, I found that the paper is the main reason why the Midori MD Notebook is the best for note-taking.
A close second, however, is the margins. When I’m writing fast, my handwriting gets much larger, and the wide margins help reduce sloppy note-taking. It also has a unique bold centerline in the middle of each page, so you can divide the upper and lower sections and organize accordingly.
Midori notebooks are known for their clean, minimalist aesthetic. The exterior consists of a blank sheet of paraffin paper instead of a traditional cover. Although the coverless design is attractive, after a while, it will show signs of wear. This isn’t a good notebook for extended use outside of the classroom or office space.
The thread-stitched binding, however, is quite durable. It’s only covered by a strip of cheesecloth mesh tape, so you can crease the binding, just like you would a paperback novel. This feature also keeps your writing hand at a comfortable angle, allowing you to take notes over a period of time without cramping up.
I prefer the A5 sheet size. Midori offers this version in lined, gridded, and blank varieties. It’s also available in A4, A6, and a slimmer B4, but not all versions are easy to find in the United States. At 88 pages, the notebook is the perfect length to dedicate to a class or work project.
The best left-handed notebook
The Lemome A5 Wide-Ruled Hardcover Writing Notebook is ideal for left-handed writers, because of its extra-thick paper that dries quickly and prevents smudging.
Pros: Paper dries quickly, the firm binding lays the notebook flat
Cons: Paper thickness makes it less smooth, less-durable binding
Lefties living in a right-handed world know the struggle of finding products that accommodate our unique predicament. The Lemome A5 Wide-Ruled Hardcover Writing Notebook boasts thick, 125-gsm paper that dries fast and prevents smudging.
The faux leather exterior guards the front and back cover of the notebook but not the thread-stitched binding. Lefties will enjoy this unique feature, because it adds protection without reducing the flexibility of the notebook. That means the front cover won’t rise up against your hand while you’re trying to write — a constant nuisance for lefties who prefer hardcover notebooks. This does leave the binding less protected than other notebooks, however, reducing the overall durability.
The one sacrifice lefties have to make when opting for thick paper is smoothness. The 125-gsm paper is admittedly coarse, and it’s hard to write quickly on it, which can be frustrating at times. But an added plus, there’s virtually no bleed or ghosting, even with wet ink.
The notebook contains 90 sheets, and comes in the standard blank, dot, grid, and ruled sheet styles, with an A5 paper size. It also has an elastic closure and an elastic pen holder on the outside of the binding.
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