Hello! I’m so excited to bring you this long-anticipated and (self-proclaimed) read-worthy post about my favourite sketchbooks and notebooks. As an avid sketchbook and notebook collector, I thought it only made sense to document and share some of my favourite picks and most often used paper friends!
For me personally, putting pen to paper in my everyday life is a must. I’ve tried taking notes digitally (and I still do), but ultimately, I enjoy the documentation of todo lists, expenses, and planning all done physically by hand with a pen (or pencil) on a physical piece of paper. I can’t say I’ve really ever gone on a ‘quest’ for the ‘best’ paper and ‘best’ sketchbook for this purpose. One of the joys of stationery obsession is being able to try different types of sketchbooks or notebooks and use them for different purposes. In fact, the reason I’ve broken out my sketchbooks and notebooks into two separate lists versus a single list is that I use each for fundamentally different things.
So I will divide this up into two posts, this one for my top five sketchbooks and another one for my top 5 notebooks because in my opinion, they’re quite different, and I use each for different things! This is in no way going to be a highly comprehensive review of each sketchbook because that would take much more than a single post to cover! So I will try and list the basics in addition to my favourite things about each.
It’s going to be a long post so I’m coupling it with lots of pictures if you just want to scroll through and look at those! Without further ado, here be the lists (in no specific order):
Top 5 Sketchbooks:
The sketchbooks I use generally have thicker paper and are usually used with speciality mediums such as watercolour or markers. They are all, of course, fountain pen ink friendly as well!
Etchr lab – 100% Cotton watercolor sketchbook
- A5 size 5.8″ x 8.3″ | 210 mm x 148 mm, landscape layout, 52 pages 230g cold press 100% cotton paper
- $87 USD for three (https://etchrlab.com/collections/sketchbooks/products/es-landscape?variant=39308351733869)
This has been a really great go-to for my watercolour doodles and sketches. The 100% cotton paper is perfect for all the different watercolour techniques, especially wet on wet work. I came across this sketchbook probably through an instagramer (unfortunately I can’t recall which one ☹️) and immediately looked it up. The sketchbooks come in bundles of 3 only, and I’m currently on my second one.
The sketchbooks came in landscape format only, but recently they recently released vertical format (like a typical A5 notebook where the seam is on the long edge). I don’t think I’ll be picking them up anytime soon since it takes me so long to go through a sketchbook, but it’s a great next option! I had some grand plans to use this sketchbook for my planner weekly layouts, but for some reason whenever I use my Sennelier watercolours on the paper, the colours dry rather dull and I don’t know if it’s my paints or the paper. I have also tried my Kuretake Gansai Tambi watercolours on this paper with varying results.
In any case, I use the sketchbook for quick watercolour doodles and practice sketches including animals and quick copyart. I’ve also tried quick one-day planner doodles such as these cute pokemon doodles.
All in all, wonderful solid watercolour sketchbook for daily use, well built with quality paper for a really affordable price! I wish my watercolours didn’t dry so dull on the paper, but I think I can get over it as long as it’s for sketching and practice. I prefer the texture of cold press paper and these Etchr Lab sketchbooks have the toothiest cold press paper I’ve tried. I like it quite a lot though at times toothy paper can get hard to do small details!
I have an Etchr Lab ‘The Perfect Sketchbook’ with 300g cold press watercolour paper as well that I have yet to use. I’m certain it would be even more of a joy to use once I figure out what I want to paint in it. Until then, this Etchr is still the go-to for quick doodles and practice.
Midori MD – Notebook Frame
- A5 size 5.8″ x 8.3″ | 210 mm x 148 mm, portrait layout, 192 pages, 80gsm
- $16 CAD (https://phidonpens.com/products/midori-md-paper-a5-notebook-blank)
I really love this sketchbook! It is technically a notebook and this was my first time using one, so I was really not sure what to expect. So far I have been loving it. I didn’t intend to get the frame version (where it has a space to put a title, date, etc.) but grew quite fond of it vs having blank pages. I’ve now tried both and don’t really have a preference. The paper isn’t super heavy like typical sketchbook paper nor is it super light like Tomoe River fountain pen paper. However, it holds up excellently to markers, fountain pen ink and other dry media like coloured pencils and graphite. I’ve even used posca paint markers in it and while it crinkles a bit, it still holds up solidly.
I really enjoy sketching and drafting in this sketchbook. It’s very easy to control my drawing, whether it’s just sketching with light pencil lines or inking with fountain pen ink. The paper also has just the right amount of tooth and texture feel for my personal preference. On top of that, the most surprising aspect that I like about the Midori MD is that the cover. While it’s paper and softcover, it is surprisingly sturdy and holds up a beating when thrown around in my bag. In the photo above, the top MD is my first ‘frame’ one and bottom is nearly new blank. Both looks like they’re in decent condition but I have definitely used the heck out of the first one.
Not that I deliberately try to put it through pain, but sometimes I just don’t think too carefully about protecting my sketchbooks when carrying them around and this one does a great job of staying in tact without having a hard cover! It is sort of like card stock and the corners don’t fray too much despite the wear and tear. Very impressive!
Right now this sketchbook is a daily driver for me for my side projects. Originally I tested it out with little doodles and illustrations but am now regularly using it for design sketches and drafting ideas for my keyboard project Quarrykeys. I also use it for design sketches for any of my architectural projects and jotting down floor plan ideas. The paper is also really great for using markers on. It’ll still bleed through like crazy, make no mistake, but the blending and the feeling when I use marker on this paper is very comfortable and easy.
Koval sketchbook – ART & PRO
- ART: 5.5×7.8″ Fabriano 200g cold press 100% Cotton / PRO: B5 size 6.9×9.8″ Fabriano 300g cold press 100% Cotton
- $65 USD (Pro:https://kovalshop.com/en/pro-series/70-61-pro-17x25cm69x98in-b5-fabriano-300g-cp-100cotton.html#/5-cover_color-dust_black)
- $44 USD (Art: https://kovalshop.com/en/handmade-sketchbooks/72-art-14x20cm55x78in-fabriano-200g-cp-100cotton.html)
These sketchbooks are just WOW! They are handmade sketchbooks using some of the highest quality watercolour paper that I know – They use both Fabriano and Arches, Arches being the more expensive of the two. I got both sketchbooks in Fabriano :’) But it is no less impressive despite the lower price. I really like the way they’re bound and finished as a whole. The quality is top notch and it even comes with a sturdy elastic to keep the book together (especially when the more you use it, the paper does tend to crinkle and expand due to the water), makes these really high-quality sketchbooks!
The sketchbooks came with a pack of sample paper collection with the range of paper you can choose from as well as a full-size loose sheet. I ended up using it to paint a commission for a friend! The sketchbooks themselves are wonderful, lay flat and very high quality. Another one of those situations where I feel like my drawings aren’t worthy to be on their pages. I’ve decided to take their use slow and enjoy it by drawing some more meaningful illustrations for myself.
So right now, this sketchbook is purely the home for little private illustrations that feature a few of my original characters I have created through the years. I only draw or paint in the sketchbook when I have a recluse of time so that I can fully enjoy what I’m doing. Over the years I have found sometimes I doodle and force myself to do illustrations and it has started to feel more like a chore. This sketchbook is meant to alleviate that feeling for me and just get me back to enjoying the process of creating. I won’t be posting these drawings anytime soon anywhere else…so enjoy the exclusivity!
- Square 225 x 225mm and A5 145 x 210mm, 112 pages, 150g/sqm
- $33.95 Square (https://www.leuchtturm1917.ca/sketchbook-square-225-x-225-mm-hardcover-112-pages-150-gsqm-plain-black.html)
- $29.95 A5 (https://www.leuchtturm1917.ca/sketchbook-medium-a5-hardcover-112-pages-150-gsqm-plain-black.html)
One of my original favourite sketchbooks of all time and it still remains on my top list. These are not cheap sketchbooks nor do they have as many pages as your typical Leuchtturm notebook, but the paper quality difference is so worth it that sometimes I’m worried about drawing something unworthy for it’s pages. (A common sentiment among all my nice sketchbooks it seems…)
That’s why everytime I end up with one of these sketchbooks, it takes me such a long time to get started since I want my first drawing in the sketchbook to be special. Hence – Weirdo World Tree. This bright white paper is wonderful to draw and sketch on, and it’s probably my most recommended paper for using copic markers on. Of course, the pages still bleed because that’s just what copic markers do, but the paper is so absorptive I can run multiple layers of markers and it won’t get onto the page below. It is also fountain pen ink friendly, so you’ll get little to no feathering. The paper is flat and smooth and it’s very obviously a high-quality paper for…high-quality drawings. Haha.
I thought it would be a good time to pull out my ancient original leuchtturm1917 when I first tried it for the first time. The drawings date back to 2015! It’s where I first drew my Weirdo World tree, along with a number of small comic doodles coloured with marker. How nostalgic!
FWP The Sketchbook A5
- A5 size, 160gsm, hardcover wrapped in Rattan canvas cover.
- $28 CAD (https://www.ferriswheelpress.ca/collections/the-sketchbook/products/the-sketchbook-a5-enveloped-in-rattan)
I’ve had this sketchbook on hand for so long before starting it, but I knew I would love it even before I first touched pen to paper. To start, the cover is just wonderful and makes me very happy. Even though I’ve come to appreciate softcover sketchbooks more, it’s hard to go wrong with a good and solid hard cover. The intricate Rattan canvas design just makes the sketchbook feel like it’s going to be a joy to look at and of course most importantly, to use.
The paper is quite good, on the stark white side and reminicent of the Leuchtturm1917 sketchbook paper. Fountain pen ink has no issues so far, even my very feathery Noodler’s ink is holding up well (though not perfrect). My staple pilot penmanship couldn’t get as fine a line down on this paper, and the quality of the nib on paper is just on the cusp of glide vs tooth that I’m comfortable with. This means that it’s harder to control my lines since there’s less grip from toothier paper, but it makes for faster drawing because of the smoothness.
It took me a long time to decide what to draw in this sketchbook but I think using fountain pen ink in here is the key and I’ll stick to ink drawings. I’ve also tried a bit of pencil sketching in here and found the paper to be quite smooth with very little tooth resistance. If you recall earlier, I personally prefer a little more tooth, so I would probably prefer the Midori for sketching, but the way pencil glides on this paper is actually quite soothing and I think I could get used to it.
In terms of overall value, the Midori is probably the greatest bang for buck, as it is used most often and costs a fraction of the other sketchbooks in my list. However, good quality cotton watercolour paper is quite pricey so I can’t fault those for being on the higher end of sketchbook price. That being said, the three-pack deal of the Etchr lab sketchbooks really is worth getting as you get a quality watercolour sketchbook without breaking the bank. I think for me personally, the more expensive a sketchbook is, I tend to shy away from using it regularly because I feel like I’m just going to ruin it with my doodles. I have a tendency to look back on sketchbooks and get upset at how I ‘wasted’ the paper with ugly sketches. Obviously, that isn’t the attitude to take, but the mentality is hard to avoid and as the saying goes, we are often our own harshest critic. Hence my daily drivers end up being notebooks — the next feature in my two-part post. Regardless, here’s to hoping one day I can get over that hump and finally make use of all these wonderful products I own!
So that’s a wrap! This post took WAY longer than I planned – I started writing and preparing this post in the middle of 2021. But I’m glad to finally share Part 1 of my sketchbook/notebook selections and hope you’ll stick around for Part 2 on my Top 5 Notebooks! Thanks for reading and hope it was a nice glimpse into the everyday of a casual doodler and fountain pen blogger. 🙂