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The Best Notebooks for Every Use

The Best Notebooks for Every Use

May 7, 2019 - Posted by Emily L. to Guides, Paper, Notebooks

The Best Notebooks for Every Use

Whether they’re musings, compositions, sketches, or just everyday notes, we trust notebooks to keep our thoughts and discoveries in one place. To help you find the best notebook for your needs, we’ve curated a list of outstanding notebooks for many popular uses like note-taking, journaling, and more. These choices come in comfortable medium sizes and feature common sheet styles so you have the freedom to use them however you like.

Best Overall Pick: Apica CD Notebooks
Apica CD Notebooks
Apica CD Notebooks are perfect for those who simply want reliable, all-purpose notebooks. They contain smooth, lined paper that handles even fountain pen ink well. These lightweight notebooks are remarkably inexpensive for their quality, so you can use as many as you need without feeling like every word has to be perfect. Apica also makes heftier, premium versions with even smoother paper for those interested in a more luxurious experience or more sheet styles.

While most notebooks use A rule (7 mm) or B rule (8 mm), Apica created their own unique 6.5 mm rule, called D rule. They named their notebooks after this: "C" stands for college, and "D" signifies the ruling. After their 6.5 mm ruled notebooks were established, Apica expanded range to include other line spacings. Interestingly, the A5 size is the only one that features the namesake CD rule now.

Apica CD notebooks come in several colors and sizes. This includes the stylish Paris series, which is effectively an extension of the line with French design motifs.

Use our comparison tool to see the available options side by side.

Paper Size
Standard size notebooks and notepads are usually letter or legal size (U.S.), or A4 (ISO 216 international paper size standard). These notebooks are best for taking notes at school or work. Notebooks about half that size (A5) are usually used as journals and small sketchbooks. Another popular size is B5, which is in between A4 and A5. We think B5 notebooks are "just right"--not so big that they become a hassle to lug around and not so small that you can't finish your thoughts in one page. There are also people who prefer pocket sizes (A6), as they're much easier to carry around. For more pocket notebook picks, take a look at our guides to Memo Pads and Pocket Notebooks. If you’re not sure what paper size you should use, read our Paper Sizes Explained guide for more detailed information.
Format Size (in inches)
A4 8.27 x 11.69
A5 5.83 x 8.27
A6 4.13 x 5.83
A7 2.91 x 4.13
B5 6.93 x 9.84
B6 4.92 x 6.93
Letter (U.S.) 8.5 x 11
Legal (U.S.) 8.5 x 14
Notebook Sizes
Sheet Style

Lined, graph, and plain notebooks comprise the three most common sheet styles, but there are other styles that may be worth considering depending on your needs.

Lined Notebook Paper

Lined or ruled notebooks are great for people who use their notebooks strictly for writing.

Blank Notebook Paper

Artists and visual thinkers usually prefer blank notebooks so they're not limited in how to organize their thoughts.

Dot Grid Notebook Paper

The versatile dotted grid pattern features dots that can be used as guidelines as you're writing while still being unobtrusive enough for doodles.

Graph Notebook Paper

Notebooks printed with graph paper are useful for engineers or designers who are constantly making diagrams, mock-ups, and so on.

Dotted Line Notebook Paper

The dotted line pattern is a ruled style that features evenly spaced dots along the lines. This is great for students as it helps keep notes organized and neat when writing and drawing diagrams at the same time.

Word Notebooks The Adventure Log

Pre-formatted sheet styles such as those in planners or some journals encourage people to use the notebooks in a certain way. Although this guide focuses on sheet styles with broader applications, you are encouraged to explore them if you want a more directed experience.

Line Spacing

Most people use medium (college) ruled paper, which is 7 mm. Wide ruled (8 mm and up) paper is usually used in grade school or by people who have larger handwriting. People with very small handwriting can also use narrow ruled (6 mm) paper. For graph styles, the standard size is 5 mm. The less common 3 mm grid is also available for those who do very detailed work.

Ruled Paper Line Spacing
Graph Paper Line Spacing

Notebooks are bound in several different ways, including glue, staple, thread, spiral, rings, or a combination of the above. The binding method determines how flat a notebook lays, how well it stays together, and generally how sturdy it is.

Glue Binding

Glue binding tends to not be as secure as other types of binding. Traditionally, glue-bound notebooks don't lay completely flat, but they can be made to lay flat when combined with thread binding. Some glue-bound notebooks are made intentionally so that pages can be removed easily. You can see this in top-bound sketchbooks and the like, which is perfect for those who need to remove their work from the notebook cleanly.

Staple Binding

Staple binding is used for thinner notebooks (roughly 64 pages or less). Staples are placed in the middle of the pages and then the pages are folded into a notebook. Some notepads have staple bindings at the top of the notebook, where pages have to be folded back or removed in order to use the next page. Look for staple bindings when choosing a pocket or thin notebook.

Thread Binding

Thread or stitched binding is similar to staple binding, as thread is stitched through the middle of the pages and then folded to create the notebook. Thread binding can accommodate more pages and is sturdier than staple binding. This binding style is ideal for people who need more pages and more stability in their notebook.

Thread and Glue Binding

A combination of thread and glue allows for a more tightly bound notebook that can also lay flat. It's also not limited by number of pages. This type of binding is great for people who prefer a sleek notebook with a sturdier binding.

Spiral Binding

Spiral notebooks have a spiral wire running through the pages. Though this binding is secure, wider spirals may move out of place as the notebooks are opened and closed or be prone to deforming. Tightly wound spirals are a better choice if you're looking for a spiral notebook because they are sturdier and less likely to move out of place.

Twin Ring Binding

Ring binding comes in single and twin versions. Twin rings are the most secure out of all the bindings we've mentioned, and allow notebooks to lay completely flat. The slight disadvantage to this kind of binding is that it's bulkier and not as streamlined.

Paper Weight

Paper weight is expressed as grammage (grams per square meter) or pounds (in the States). It does not necessarily correlate with paper quality. Some papers that have lower weights but are made for fountain pens, such as Tomoe River paper at 58 gsm, are very high quality. On the whole, heavier paper is thicker and more durable. They can withstand more robust erasing and have less showthrough. People who draw or who write on both sides of the paper should consider heavier paper.

Papers with lower weights take up less space.
100 sheets from Kokuyo Campus Notebook (70 gsm) versus 100 sheets of Tomoe River paper (58 gsm).
Papers with higher weights usually have less showthrough.
Showthrough from Kokuyo Campus Notebook paper versus showthrough from Tomoe River paper.
Sheet Count

Notebooks don't just come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, they also vary in the number of sheets within the notebook. Some people prefer thinner notebooks while others need an encyclopedia-like notebook to chronicle their thoughts. However, sheet count isn’t the only factor in notebook thickness: if you want more pages without the extra mass, try finding paper with a lower weight. You'll be amazed by how many more sheets you can carry!

Cover Material and Design

Notebook covers are made from all kinds of materials, including thick cardstock, hard chipboard, flexible plastic, and luxurious leatherette and leather. If you tend to carry your notebook with you everywhere, you should choose a sturdier cover that can withstand a few knocks. Covers with rounded corners are also a good choice, since they won't get worn down or accidentally folded. We like covers that multitask; for example, some covers have pockets that let you slip in business cards or other loose leaf paper.

Notebook Cover Materials
Pocketed Notebook Cover

Whether you need to tear out homework to turn it in or just have to frame an awesome sketch, perforated notebooks make it easy to remove and share pages. Look for perforation with dots set closely together for that smooth, easy tear. Perforations that are not set close enough usually need you to fold or crease the paper to help them tear cleanly.

Closely Perforated Notebook Page
Wide-Spaced Notebook Page Perforations

Some manufacturers offer covers to protect notebooks from the wear and tear of regular use. Covers come in many different designs, from simple sleeves to organizers with built-in pockets. Once you find one you like, you can keep using it for years even if your taste in paper changes. Many covers have specific refills that are made to fit them, but most will accommodate any refill in the correct size. Binder-style notebooks like the Kokuyo Smart Ring use loose sheets for their refills. This is especially useful for students and others who often need to rearrange their notes.

Kokuyo Smart Ring Notebook
For School and Note-taking

A student needs a notebook that supports every subject and learning style found in the classroom. It should also be able to withstand being tossed around in a backpack.

Kokuyo Campus Dotted Rule Notebooks
The appropriately named Kokuyo Campus Dotted Rule Notebooks are well-equipped for school use. Evenly-spaced dots along each line help with drawing diagrams and keeping things tidy. Each page also has neat headers that let you easily label subjects and dates. Both of the notebooks’ available bindings travel well in school bags: the glue-bound variants slide in and out of backpacks with ease and the twin ring ones are especially sturdy. And since each notebook has just enough pages for a single class, you won’t be weighed down by extra paper.

Campus Dotted Rule Notebooks offer students several options. The glue-bound notebooks are available in 5-color value packs so you can color code by subject. There are also other Kokuyo notebook lines that feature dotted rule, such as the refillable Smart Ring and comfortable Soft Ring notebooks.

Use our comparison tool to see the available options side by side.

Kyokuto Expedient Notebooks
The Kyokuto Expedient Notebooks are higher capacity alternatives with different sheet style choices. At 160 pages, these twin ring notebooks can hold significantly more content than individual Campus Dotted Rule Notebooks. Although the Expedient Notebooks do not have dotted rule, their dot grid option supports both written and drawn notes. They are also quite sturdy, with plastic covers that resist denting and rounded edges that prevent dog-earing in backpacks.

These come in a monochrome selection of clean, minimalist designs colored according to three sheet styles: plain, dot grid, and lined.

Use our comparison tool to see the available options side by side.

For Fountain Pens

To qualify as fountain pen friendly, a notebook’s paper must resist feathering and bleedthrough so that each letter looks clean and sharp. Some people also use a third metric: the degree of ink visibility on the back of the sheet, called showthrough or ghosting. For more recommendations, consult the Fountain Pen Paper and Best Notebooks for Fountain Pens guides. It’s worth noting that most notebooks in this guide are already fountain pen friendly, so you have options if you have a specific use in mind.

Midori MD Notebooks
Our recommendations for general fountain pen use are the Midori MD Notebooks, so-named for the brand’s subtly toothed Midori Diary paper. These unpretentious notebooks handle feathering and bleedthrough well and have a warm cream tone throughout. The paper also dries relatively quickly, making them among the more practical fountain pen friendly papers to carry around. Their main drawback is mild showthrough compared to thicker papers.

Midori MD Notebooks come in the three major sheet styles and two portable sizes. Midori also manufactures covers for these notebooks.

Use our comparison tool to see the available options side by side.

JetPens Kanso Sasshi
If you’re looking for something especially lightweight, try the JetPens exclusive Tomoe River Kanso Sasshi Booklets. The smooth, ultra-thin Tomoe River paper is lauded among fountain pen enthusiasts for its quality. It is highly resistant to feathering and bleedthrough, though it is prone to significant showthrough and does not dry as quickly as the Midori MD Notebooks. If you’re a bottled ink buff, the true white paper will ensure that you can see your ink colors as they are.

These A5 booklets are sold in pairs and are also available in pocket size. You can also get a dot grid version in a slim A5 size.

Use our comparison tool to see the available options side by side.

For Extended Writing

People who write a lot appreciate high capacity—no one wants their notebook to run out of space before they wrap up their magnum opus. A suitable notebook should have plenty of space to see your work through.

Kokuyo Campus High Grade MIO Paper Notebooks
Kokuyo’s High Grade MIO Notebooks have paper designed for performance and offer plenty of writing space. They have silky smooth sheets that tolerate writing on both sides remarkably well for how thin they are. For long writing projects, we recommend the 160-page A5 notebooks for their capacity; although they’re bigger, the semi B5 notebooks only hold 60 pages. Your hands can rest comfortably on the notebook or desk as you write thanks to a combination of flat-laying binding and thin paper. If you’d like to christen your work with a name, there’s even a title page for you to do so.

These notebooks have two sizes and two line spacing options.

Use our comparison tool to see the available options side by side.

Also Consider: Life Noble Notebooks
Life Noble Notebooks
The refined Life Noble Notebooks also have great paper and ample capacity: 200 pages, excluding the miniature varieties. The paper is acid-free, smooth, and handles showthrough well. But what sets these notebooks apart from the top choice is their image: it’s hard to deny the appeal of feeling like you’re writing an old-school book. From the elegant vintage cover design to the ivory sheets, these notebooks have an attractive look. They lay flat so you can write comfortably for hours.

Life Nobles are color-coded by sheet style: tan for blank, red for graph, and blue for lined.

Use our comparison tool to see the available options side by side.

For Journaling

Journaling is deeply personal and can take on many forms but is fundamentally about putting your private musings into a notebook. If you’re looking for a combined planner and journal, check out our guides to the Hobonichi Techo Planner and the Kokuyo Jibun Techo.

Leuchtturm1917 Notebooks
Leuchtturm1917 Notebooks have many details that make them great journal candidates. All sheet styles include page numbers, while the lined and graph paper varieties also provide headers for dates. The page numbers are especially handy for creating a directory of your entries with the included index. Besides the paper details, the notebooks’ other perks include a ribbon bookmark to mark your last spot and a cover-sized pocket in the back for mementos. If you carry your journals around, the elastic band will protect your notebook’s pages—and add a feeling of privacy.

Leuchtturm1917 notebooks primarily differ in paper size, cover type, and color choices.

Use our comparison tool to see the available options side by side.

Clairefontaine My Essential Notebooks
Clairefontaine’s My Essential Notebooks boast supreme paper quality. The sheets are delightfully smooth and also excellent for fountain pen ink. Like the Leuchtturm1917 notebooks, they have an index, a header for dates and titles, a bookmark, and an elastic band. The folder-like pockets on the inside of both covers can also hold loose sheets of paper. My Essential Notebooks have more pages than Leuchtturm1917 notebooks of the same size but wider line spacing, making them better for those with larger handwriting.

The My Essential Notebooks come in five colors.

For Travel

A travel notebook should be ready for adventure: sturdy and easy to carry around while you’re on the move in foreign or familiar lands.

It should be no surprise that the durable and customizable TRAVELER’S COMPANY TRAVELER’s notebooks are our top picks. These notebooks have hardwearing, genuine leather covers that develop a well-used look over time. They’ll come to reflect all the adventures that you and your notebook shared together. Travelers have plenty of choice when it comes to refills, including planners for keeping track of itineraries and sketch paper for drawing memorable sights. The refills can also be used alone as budget notebooks if you don’t want to use the leather covers. And since they’re thin, you can have a refill for every trip.

In addition to covers and refills, you customize your notebook with a variety of add-ons. For more information, check out our comprehensive TRAVELER'S COMPANY TRAVELER'S notebook guide—there’s a lot you can do!

Use our comparison tool to see the available options side by side.

Field Notes Signature Notebooks
Field Notes Signature Notebooks are durable and portable. The strong Smythe-sewn binding can stand up to heavy wear and the round corners prevent dog-earing from being packed and repacked. At 6.5” x 4.3”, they fit easily into bags and large jacket pockets. They come in two sheet styles: lined for those who prefer to simply write and blank for those who prefer to freehand or sketch. The notebooks are sold in pairs, so you’ll have a backup if you ever lose one during your travels.

These notebooks come in two pleasantly muted colors depending on which sheet style you choose. Field Notes has quarterly limited edition releases, so be sure to check out the full category. Most of these releases are pocket-sized but sometimes they make larger notebooks.

Use our comparison tool to see the available options side by side.

For Sketching and Visual Thinking

For those who want to fill their notebooks with more pictures than words, we recommend paper that isn’t constrained by lines. The notebooks should also be portable so that you’ll be covered whenever inspiration strikes. You can find media-specific recommendations in our sketchbook guide.

Stillman & Birn Zeta Sketchbooks
The Stillman & Birn Zeta Sketchbooks are great generalist sketchbooks. Their heavy paper has a smooth finish and works well with almost any wet or dry media, including pencils and ink. And since the pages are white, every color you use will appear vibrant and true to life. Hardcover Zeta Sketchbooks are great if you need a flat surface on the go, while softcover ones slide comfortably into bags.

The sketchbooks come in four sizes, with the largest being a twin-ring bound hardcover and the smaller two being softcover.

Use our comparison tool to see the available options side by side.

Also Consider: Rhodia Webnotebooks
Rhodia Webnotebooks
Rhodia Webnotebooks are premium notebooks for visual thinking. What makes these notebooks so great is their smooth, ivory paper that handles ink with ease. We recommend the plain or dot grid sheet styles for visual thinkers; the former is a completely blank canvas for your drawings while the latter’s unobtrusive dots can help align proportions or guide flowcharts. If you tend to draw wide, we also recommend the landscape options. The notebooks come with elastic bands to protect your pages.

If you want more color choices, Rhodiarama Softcover Notebooks have the same great paper with more colorful covers.

Use our comparison tool to see the available options side by side.

For Engineering and Design

Technical drawings must be precise and legible. A graph or dotted rule sheet style will help facilitate a smooth transition from sketch to reality by keeping things neat and to scale.

Maruman Mnemosyne Notebooks - Creative Style
With smooth paper that can handle pens and pencils alike, the Creative Style Maruman Mnemosyne Notebooks will help your work stay clear and organized. You can choose from subtly lined graph paper or blank sheets for more freeform brainstorming. All of the notebooks have title headers to keep your ideas tidy and the largest ones, Imagination, have spaces for dates as well. When you need to hand off your work, the careful microperforations will make removing sheets painless. The sleek and understated design of the hardy covers also makes these notebooks excellent choices for the workplace.

Creative Style Mnemosyne Notebooks come in three sizes: Imagination (A4), Inspiration (A5), and Roots (A7). For more information on Maruman Mnemosyne notebooks as a whole, take a look at our guide.

Use our comparison tool to see the available options side by side.

Also Consider: Rhodia Reverse Books
Rhodia Webnotebooks
Rhodia Reverse Books have similar merits to the Mnemosyne Notebooks: graph paper, twin-ring bindings, and perforations. They also have excellent, super smooth paper that takes ink beautifully and is a pleasure to use. Unlike Mnemosyne Notebooks, the alternative choice to graph paper is dot grid instead of plain paper. The dots are a happy medium between blank and graph paper, providing just enough guidance while remaining inconspicuous. The notebooks’ unique square shape lets you orient the binding on whichever side is most comfortable.

Rhodia Reverse Books are available in black and orange, the brand’s iconic color duo.

Use our comparison tool to see the available options side by side.

How We Approach Research and Testing

Our writers draw on their personal expertise, consult our in-house subject matter experts, and do extensive research to make our guides as accurate and comprehensive as possible. We then test every finding that makes it through the research stage. Only the techniques and tools whose performance we personally confirm make it into our guides as recommendations.


Even with the pervasiveness of smartphones and tablets, there’s nothing that can truly replace the joy of writing in a good notebook. What do you think of our picks? Let us know what your favorite notebooks are in the comments below!

ProductPaper SizeSheet StyleBindingCover Material# PagesPerforationsCovers
Apica CD NotebooksSemi B5, A5, B7, A7LinedThreadPaper56, 68 , 72NoYes
Clairefontaine My Essential NotebooksA5LinedThreadCardstock192NoNo
Field Notes Signature Notebooks4.3" x 6.5"Blank, linedThread & glueCardstock72NoNo
JetPens Tomoe River Kanso Sasshi BookletsA5, 3.4" x 5.4"BlankStapleCardstock96NoNo
Kokuyo Campus Dotted Rule NotebooksA4, semi B5, A5, A7Dotted ruleGlue, twin ringCardstock, cardstock & plastic60, 80, 100VariesYes
Kokuyo Campus High Grade MIO NotebooksSemi B5, A5LinedGlueCardstock60, 160NoYes
Kyokuto Expedient NotebooksB5Blank, dot grid, linedTwin ringCardstock & plastic160NoNo
Leuchtturm1917 NotebooksB5, A5, A6Blank, dot grid, graph, linedThreadSynthetic leather120, 128, 186NoNo
Life Noble NotebooksA4, A5, 3.3" x 5.0", A7Blank, graph, linedThread, twin ringCardstock60, 80, 200NoNo
Maruman Mnemosyne Notebooks - Creative StyleA4, A5, A7Blank, graphTwin ringPlastic140, 160YesNo
Midori MD NotebooksA5, B6 slim, A6Blank, graph, linedThread & glueCardstock176NoYes
Rhodia Reverse Books8.3" x 8.3"Dot grid, graphTwin ringCardstock160YesNo
Rhodia WebnotebooksA5, 3.5" x 5.5" Blank, dot grid, linedThread & glueSynthetic leather192NoNo
Stillman & Birn Zeta Sketchbooks7.2" x 10.0", 5.6" x 8.8", 5.5" x 8.5", 3.5" x 5.5"BlankThread & glue, twin ringChipboard, synthetic leather50, 52NoNo
TRAVELER'S COMPANY TRAVELER'S notebooksA5 slim, 3.5" x 4.9"Blank, graph, lined, specialtyStaple, threadLeather (covers), cardstock (refills)32, 48, 64, 80, 128VariesYes