9 best notebooks for ideas, to-do lists and journaling

From minimalist designs to personalised and totally chic, these are the pads any stationery aficionado needs

Hannah Twiggs@hannah_twiggs
Wednesday 10 June 2020 15:45
Whether you're after lined, dotted or even a blank page, this round-up will help you decipher the one for you
Whether you're after lined, dotted or even a blank page, this round-up will help you decipher the one for you

Most people can probably agree that there’s something innately satisfying about starting a new notebook. Others find tarnishing that first, perfectly blank page anxiety-inducing. And then there are others for whom one notebook (or five... or 10) is never enough. It won’t come as a surprise that many journalists fall into the latter category.

But whether you’re a stationery addict or you simply have to write every day in one way or another for work, selecting the right notebook isn’t just a matter of function, but form.

There are several things to consider when choosing the right notebook for you. Start with the basics: what are you going to use it for? If you need to jot down thoughts on the go or during a meeting or interview – opt for a blank planner style that is light and slim enough to be portable, with blank space to write in your own dates and doodles. If you’re more of a perfectionist or you like to sit and write for a long time, you’ll probably want to choose more of a hardy journal.

The more artistic among us – from the mindmappers to the doodlers – might want freedom from the lines and go for a blank page, or even dotted. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, bring in even more order to yours notes with a grid.

Will you be doing a lot of writing on the go? Notebooks come in all shapes and sizes, from the thick, heavy-bound desk companions to the pocket-sized, chuck-in-your-bag kind.

Here you can begin to dig into the style: are you after a unique, statement piece, or something minimal and no-fuss? Do you want a cover design that’s going to get noticed in a Zoom meeting or do you want something sleek and professional?

If you’re also a pen aficionado, you’ll be looking for a GSM paper weight that’s going to support even the heaviest fountain, roller ball, ballpoint or gel pen.

For this, shopping in store is your best option to truly get a feel for the thickness – some shops will even let you test it out beforehand. Online, it’s a bit of a gamble but, thankfully, stationery addicts tend to also be avid reviewers.

The options are near endless but don’t panic, there’s something for everyone. And remember, definitely judge every notebook here by its cover.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

365 days notebook

The minimalist details of this simple-styled stalogy notebook from design-led Papersmiths are what makes it stand out. Originally designed for editors who need to jot various things down on the go, the blank dates, days of the week, months and vertical schedule mean you can use it as a journal, day planner or even a sketchbook.

The 4mm grid has just the right thickness and darkness for easy, neat writing and drawing. The carefully selected paper is bible thin and light enough to fit 365 pages in, but strong enough to prevent ink bleed. Despite being able to accommodate a full year of notes, lists and drawings, it’s sleek and light to carry around. If you use stationery every day, this is an absolute must buy.

Another one to check out on the Papersmiths website is the projects journal by School of Life, which features a bright yellow linen hardcover with dotted pages and is certain to bring a bit of sunshine into your planning.

Meanwhile the graphic l notebook by Germany-based Nuuna is slightly larger than A6 and the perfect size for taking notes on the go and stashing in your bag. It features numbered pages which is ideal for creating your own contents page and getting to your Zoom meeting minutes efficiently.

Leuchtturm1917 special edition muted colours softcover medium notebook

No notebook review would be complete without mentioning Leuchtturm1917. Light, sleek and flexible, the softcover notebooks were rereleased alongside the brands other most popular formats in the new muted colours collection to much fanfare at the end of last year. The introduction of four new delicate colours (powder, denim, sage and bellini) might not seem like news, but in the stationery world, not to mention the bullet journal community... it was big.

For those who love the experience of writing, there really is no equal. The size and range of colours make them ideal companions for all walks of life, while the blank contents page, numbered pages and blank spine sticker (for archiving when you’ve completed it, if that’s your thing) make it an ideal starting point for bullet journalers of all styles and levels – or simply those who like to keep their notes organised. Like most notebooks of its brood, there’s also a gusset pocket in the back. A nice added touch is the extra page marker.

Choosing Keeping hardback 'composition ledger' notebook

What makes the composition ledger notebooks so special is that each one is unique. Bound with a mix and match of beautifully patterned Italian and Japanese papers with mottled edges, this would make the perfect gift for the stationery lover in your life… or, if that is in fact you, a gift for yourself. They’re so unique, in fact, that you can only choose the colour of the linen spine and corners, and the rest is up to chance. But trust us, it’s worth it. The traditional manufacturing and muted colours make it feel like it’s come straight from a Victorian classroom.

When life has returned to a semblance of normal, a trip to the Covent Garden store is well worth it, too. There you’ll find a veritable treasure trove of high-quality stationery goods, from golden Italian scissors to fountain pens hand-turned in Osaka.

The 90g creme paper is heavy enough for fountain pens, and along with the hardback cover makes this a robust and durable writing companion.

Papier navy moons and stars leather notebook

Nestled in a white and rose-gold stamped presentation box, the navy moons and stars leather notebook from Papier is impressive before you’ve even opened the upcycled leather cover. Scattered with golden stars and specks – traditionally pressed foil stamps – and monogrammed with your initials, you can see what the brand means when it says these luxurious journals “have a certain je ne sais quoi”. Who doesn’t like something with their name on?

At £40, it’s on the upper end of the price bracket, but the devil is really in the details. With cool blue endpapers, a ribbon marker with matching head and tail bands and 96 pages of lightly textured 90gsm lined paper, this notebook will definitely make working from home that little bit more luxurious. With three colour combinations and foil options to choose from, as well as the option to personalise, it also makes the perfect gift for someone you really like.

Smythson Soho notebook in Nile blue

If a fountain pen is your choice writing mode, the Soho notebook from Smythson cannot be overlooked. Handcrafted in England from the finest leather, the book contains 192 pages of the stationery matriarch’s signature silver gilt-edged, pale blue featherweight paper – no really, it’s light as a feather. This might lead you to believe it couldn’t possibly be fountain pen proof, but in fact it can withstand even the heaviest of inks.

We chose Nile blue from the Panama collection, which is set apart by its lightweight cross grain leather and tonal palette of mineral shades. Lightweight, flexible and hardy, the calf leather cover is a perfect marriage between form and function.

Everything about this notebook is luxurious – especially the price tag – but not overbearingly so. This elegant and extremely lightweight writing companion would make a practical and luxurious gift for a loved one on a special occasion.

Hoxton Mini Press a notebook for bad ideas

Hoxton Mini Press, an indie publisher of collectable photography books based in east London, believes creativity is “definitely not about being perfect”. In fact, the pull out insert that comes with every notebook for bad ideas says exactly that – “to do something well you have to risk doing something badly” – and features quotes about mistakes from greater thinkers old and new (there’s everyone from Winston Churchill to JK Rowling). That being said, it could be argued that the brands first foray into stationery, whose super-durable cloth cover and 100gsm acid-free paper open extra flat, comes pretty close to perfection.

The insert also says the publisher toiled for three years to come up with the “perfect notebook in which to risk imperfection”. Well that certainly paid off as the care taken in the design can be seen in every detail, from the foil-stamped fox logo to the ribbon marker. The only question left is how will we ever bring ourselves to write in it?

Moo Kate Moross journals

The best thing about the Kate Moross journals from MOO is that you get three for one. Each one is different: one is lined for notetaking, one is blank for sketches, and one is lined with checkboxes for your “to-dos”. That’s right nerds – a whole book for your to-do lists. The next best thing is that the colourful trio comes in a pink slipcase “as an easy way of organising the various threads of a project”. Those are the words of designer Kate Moross, whose lively illustrations have been featured everywhere from Google to The Guardian, and now this notebook set.

With 60 pages of “munken kristall” paper and four pages of “G.F smith colorplan” in the middle of each one, all thoughtfully sewn together with contrasting stitching, this is the perfect set for your next project, from first scribblings to final plans.

Another great option from print experts MOO is its hardcover notebook​ (£14.99), designed to “get you organised”. With a lay flat Swiss binding (which means the paper block is detached from the spine so it truly does lay completely flat); a heavyweight top sheet to keep the first few pages nice and flat; blank circles at the corner of every page to be filled with crosses, numbers or doodles; non-glare, high-brightness, silky smooth paper stock; and a slip case that keeps your pages protected and pristine and lets you neatly archive all your old notebooks, this is truly a notebook that was made to be used.

Muji high quality paper open-flat notebook

Muji might fly under the radar as a stationery shop but any true stationery addict knows it’s the go-to for the high-quality Japanese products. Though minimalist and inexpensive, there are several features that bring these A6 notebooks into the spotlight. First of all, thanks to the work of an almost imperceivable white thread binding and textured spine tape, the book falls completely flat when open. The tape, along with the thick and durable cardboard cover, means you can chuck it in your bag and let it bounce around without fear of it falling apart after extended use.

For a disposable notebook, the manufacturing is of a premier quality, with no rough edges or out-of-place lines. The creamy, smooth paper is deceptively thick and works well with most types of writing instruments, with little to no bleed. Muji specialises in bringing joy to your life through thoughtful, highly functional design, and even if this notebook is the only thing you buy from its range, you can see it’s really nailed it.

Katie Leamon lay flat notebook

If you’re after a notebook with a substantial number of pages that can lie flat but has a high enough quality of paper to support a fountain pen, this number will do the trick. The 90gsm allows for almost no bleeding, the plain pages are ideal for big picture thinking (think lots of arrows and doodles) and the lay flat binding allows for ease of writing or drawing.

At 300 pages, it comes in slightly thicker than others on this list, but the robust gravure texture cover will give it extra protection in your bag and on the go. With nine different abstract patterns to choose from, there’s something for everyone in this collection. Extra points to the brand for manufacturing all of its products in England, using responsibly sourced materials and promising to be plastic free this year.

We also checked out the black and white squiggle notebook (£14), which, with its mixture of lined, dotted and plain paper, can accommodate a wide range of writing needs, while the 96 100gsm pages mean it’s slim enough to carry out and about.

The verdict: Notebooks

If you use a notebook every day but want flexibility, the 365 days notebook from Papersmiths is the best choice, while a hardback composition ledger from Choosing Keeping will guarantee something unique and special every time. You can’t go wrong – on style or function – with something from Katie Leamon, while on the upper end of the price bracket, a Smythson leather notebook makes for a very special gift.

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