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  • A Fleeting Ripple

paper basics: oxford a5 notebook

A soft music plays in the speakers, late in the evening, and chlorine from the pools burn your nostrils while sitting next to the pool. It’s crowded, but you managed to find a place further ahead, next to great pine trees that scorch in the hottest days of August. Crickets chirp in the trees. It’s damp and warm, almost like breathing in tea water, infused with the smells of a seaside summer. Even the marble slabs under your feet are still warm from the sun, a familiar caress of sunlight in the night. Well, not the only one, as your skin taut over your cheekbones, burned from the sun.



Finding accessible and cheap fountain pen friendly notebooks can be a challenge. Even before considering your own preferences for size, ruling and feel. My preferences are fairly straightforward; A5 notebooks, smooth paper that still lets you feel the page, and lined ruling more often than not. The number of pages in the notebook depends on the use I have for it, so I tend to prefer a bit of variety. Thicker, fancier notebooks get used for journaling, whereas cheaper, thinner notebooks get used for drafting and scribbling for school. I use the thinnest ones for courses simply because if I used a regular notebook, I’d have ¾ of the notebook empty by the end of it -our course lengths are five weeks.


Cheaper notebooks are also more accessible, a lot of the print shops sell some sort of nice notebooks, usually Clairefontaine or Oxford. I tend to pick up one or two when I go to print something because I always need scrap paper. Scribbling paper. Something to draft blog posts, write reading notes, jot down notes during lectures, and then put them with recycling when I’m done. There’s something cathartic about putting a finished notebook in the recycling bin. Clairefontaine notebooks are usually thicker, a bit more luxurious feeling, and therefore, don’t really get used for school work and carrying three different notebooks for different classes daily.


Enter Oxford notebooks.


Their staple bound notebooks are an absolute dream. The A5 one in my hand has 36 leaves of paper, bound as a single signature. The binding is great, it lays flat without much hassle because the shiny cardboard cover is easy to bend and the spine easy to break. Despite that, the staples have never come out of place and lay flat against the pages in the middle. At least in the three and a half years I’ve used them, going through twenty or so notebooks, my hand has never been poked by a rogue staple. Another nice part of the binding is the rounded corners, which don’t let the wear show too much. I thought the notebooks were in pretty good shape until I took the photos and zoomed in.


There are the regular rulings available: 5 mm grid, lined and blank. Lined and grid rulings have a red line on the left side of the page dividing the page vertically a couple of centimetres in from the edge of the page. It’s nice to have for jotting down corrections or extra notes about, well, notes. The rest of the ruling is printed in a light purple that stands out on the page. It’s not the type of ruling that disappears into your writing, but rather continue to stick out. That doesn’t bother me, I doubt I’d like using lined ruling much if it did.


Well, the main star of the show is the paper. On their website, Oxford makes some big claims about their “Optik paper” used in these notebooks, so I’ll start by mentioning those. They say that it’s perfectly white, soft and smooth, no bleeding, resistant to tearing, sharp writing without smudges or show through. They mention a bunch of different characteristics, so I’ll go through them to explain and see if the paper holds up. It really sounds like a fountain pen writer’s dream, and when I saw that, I was hoping that the paper would stand up to all that marketing.


Let’s start with the whiteness. Some papers are cream or slightly yellow tinted, which don’t bother me in itself, but they can affect how the ink looks on the page. For example, Diamine Earl Grey is notorious for this, it’ll look much redder on cream papers like the Midori MD paper and greyer on white paper. I think Optik paper is good for that, it doesn’t dampen the colours of the ink and shows the brightness. Even slightly lighter inks still stand out on the page and are easy to read.


Page softness is not really something I care about much, and it can be too much for me if the paper is too soft and the nib too cushioned. This paper is pretty enjoyable in that sense, the cushioning gives a nice feeling to the nib, without being super soft like Yamamoto’s Marshmallow paper. The paper is somewhat coated, the nibs feeling smooth on the page, without feeling like writing on just polished glass. Interestingly enough, this was one of the first places I noticed a difference between the A4 and A5 sizes of the notebooks. The A4 notebooks seemed to have a thicker coating, making the paper feel a lot more glassy. Some more differences will show up further down, but I don’t know why there’s a difference like that. Perhaps it was the print of the ruling, my A4 notebooks were all grid printed and my A5 ones are lined.


I will bundle up bleed-through and show-through/ghosting together. It’s basically about what do you see on the other side of the page when you turn the page over. Well, pretty much nothing for this paper. Wet, broad nibs with saturated inks show through a little, maybe like a little shadow of writing that disappears into the fresh words when you start writing. Even most ink swatches don’t show through more than that. The only bleed through where on sheening, wet inks that were dark and were applied with the glass bottle itself, instead of a more absorbent thing like a cotton swab. Even then, it’s only a spot. Again, I think A4 has less show-through, which would be expected if it had a thicker coating of on the paper.



The ghosting, or lack thereof.

Unfortunately, these properties make the paper a bit more prone to smudges and slower drying times. It’s still on the shorter side, especially since it’s not a very absorbent paper, but it’s not instantaneous like I imagine straw paper would be. That’s feather terribly though… Optik paper does not at all. Anyway, for some reason, A4 and A5 sizes have a bit of a difference in here as well. The paper in A4 size took longer to dry, some super sheening inks -looking at KWZ- didn’t even dry completely, smudging after weeks of drying. It did show sheen and shimmer a bit more though, almost as much as Tomoe River under certain lights. I wish I still had a few to show… On the other hand, A5 size dries much quicker, I never had a smudge when turning the page while using simpler inks like Diamine’s base colours or so. I’m not sure if it’ll be quick drying enough for lefties, so please let me know and I’ll edit it in.


I sometimes wonder why the A5 and A4 sizes I used are so different; whether it’s a batch problem or a size problem. If it was a one-off, or a consistent thing that they do on purpose. Was it the size that made the difference or the ruling?


Nevertheless, these short-comings don’t bother me for one very big thing: price vs performance. I usually refrain from talking price on this blog for one big reason: everyone’s budget is different, and even the country you’re residing in might inflate the effect of this personal preference. It’s not for me to decide what is a good purchase for you.


But.


This notebook was about 3 Euros. 3,27 USD with last night’s exchange rate. For where I live, that’s cheaper than most notebooks, let alone fountain pen friendly ones. It’s cheaper than most of the other fountain pen friendly notebooks, especially ones with fancy Japanese paper. That’s the level of grocery store stationery. For that, I will gladly continue to buy these notebooks and suggest them to anyone that asks to try a good-feeling paper, regardless of their pen preferences. If you like fountain pens, you’re in for a good experience.


These notebooks don’t claim to have any extra bells and whistles. No desire to be catered only to the fountain pen crowd, or to be labelled as “luxury” paper like so many fountain pen friendly paper is. It’s just a plain notebook; as good as possible, as cheap as possible. I think they do a pretty good job of that.


Well, I certainly had a lot to say about these little notebooks. I have two in the rotation right now and my current blog post drafts go into one of them, that one is already about to finish. They’re fun and one of those things that make me dread the next school year a little less. The school is heavy and hard, and I’ll hold onto any kind of lifeline to stay a little bit more sane. If that’s silly little notebooks that I rip apart by the end of the year, be it.


Sometimes similar notebooks are branded as Black n Red notebooks, a sub-branding of Oxford. They use the same paper, but come in a different binding and a bit fancier format. They’re a little more expensive though, I think. In any case, they’re still great workhorses for people who burn through notebooks.



Thank you for reading! My holiday is in full swing, so today’s pictures are coming from my phone camera. If you spy me in one of the pictures reflecting off of the shiny cover, hi! I also want to say that Oxford did not sponsor this post in any way, I just like using their notebooks and think that they are worth the praise.


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5 comentarios


Invitado
11 sept 2023

I am also heavy Oxford user and cant praise their paper enough. Also using their yellow spiral flip notebook for brainstorming and its just superb. Not many options here in Europe . . . but I would say next to Rhodia, Oxford is my go to cheap alternative.

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A Fleeting Ripple
A Fleeting Ripple
04 feb
Contestando a

I have never seen the yellow flip notebook, now I'll have to hunt it down! I quite like them for brainstorming or drafting as well, Rhodia's are my go-to's for that.

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Invitado
29 ago 2023

I'm a big Oxford notebooks user too and never noticed any differences between the A5and A4 sizes, so my guess would be that you were just unlucky and got a bad batch.

I I find most of the notebooks available in Europe to be fairly fountain pen friendly (they need to be seeing that fountain pens are still widely used in schools).

Like so many other topics this quest for affordable paper suitable for fountain pen usage seems to me to be primarily a fairly US-centric one (see also best beginner pens which usually also get discussed primarily from an American POV online).

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A Fleeting Ripple
A Fleeting Ripple
04 feb
Contestando a

I agree with you, though there are still better ones. Most regular paper in EU is ok with fountain pens, but you won't see much sheen or shading. Oxford is pretty amazing for that.

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Invitado
21 ago 2023

Excelente review. I used Oxford notebooks exclusively which were imported by Canson into Brazil until 2018. But then they were dropped when Canson started their own branded line of notebooks, which are very bad for fountain pen users. I first switched to Clairefontaine and Rhodia, and now use only Japanese notebooks bought at Daiso stores. These are inexpensive and excellent.

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