fountain pen friendly paper notbooks life rhodia clairfontaine

Comparing Fountain Pen Friendly Papers

John Bosley Paper 4 Comments

I’ve always wondered what makes writing on some papers feel different than others. I’m sure you’ve noticed that some paper feels incredibly smooth when you write on it and other paper has some feedback or “tooth” to it. Furthermore, the way a paper feels doesn’t seem to have any correlation to how it performs with fountain pens. To try and get a better understanding as to what makes paper feel and perform the way it does, I grabbed my macro lens and got up close and personal with a bunch of different papers.

How I Photographed The Papers

To prepare each paper, I grabbed a fountain pen with an extra fine nib (an Esterbrook with a 9550 nib and Iroshizuku yama-budo) and drew a 1-centimeter line on each piece of paper. I also wrote “1 cm” next to the line. I did this for a few reasons. First I wanted to see how the ink looked on the paper. I also wanted some sort of size reference for the fibers and any texture in the paper.

Once I had my papers prepared, I set up my photography gear. To photograph the paper I used my Nikon D810 and the Nikon 60mm f/2.8 macro lens. I lit the paper with two LED lights set up at paper level and aiming towards each other so that their “beams” crossed on the paper. The reason for this was to maximize how visible any texture in the paper would be. I mounted my camera so that the lens was parallel to the paper, found the minimum focusing distance for the lens, and photographed each piece of paper from the exact same distance with the same setup.

This entire setup gave me a bunch of photos that were all the exact same except for the paper that was used. I was able to crop them so that they were the exact same size so the scale between images remained consistent. This gave me the images you see below.

The Images

These images offer a good representation of how an ink will perform on each paper and also what the texture of each paper is. What to pay attention to:

  • Look at how the ink performs on the paper. Pay attention to the shading, sheen and feathering. Also notice how crisp the edges of the ink look. All of these can give you an idea of the difference between a high-quality and low-quality paper.
  • Look at the texture of the paper. Pay attention to the size of the fibers and how big any spaces between them are. Larger, irregular spaces indicate a paper that will give more feedback.

To get the best idea of how each type of paper looks, you’ll need to click on the images and view them in the lightbox that pops up. I uploaded high-resolution images for this article, so to get an even better idea of how they look, right-click on the lightbox image and choose to either open it in a new window/tab or download it to review it on your computer.

Fountain Pen Friendly Paper Macro Photos
fountain pen friendly paper macro photography apica cd15

Apica CD15 Notebook

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography apica premium cd

Apica Premium C.D. Notebook

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography baron fig vanguard

Baron Fig Vanguard Notebook

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography Berlin Notebook

Berlin Notebook

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography black n red spiral

Black N Red Spiral Notebook

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography clairfontaine basics notebook

Clairfontaine Basics Notebook

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography clairfontaine triomphe

Clairfontaine Triomphe Paper

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography fabriano ecoqua

Fabriano EcoQua Notebook

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography figurare spiral

Figurare Spiral Notebook

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography g lalo verge de france

G. Lalo Verge de France Paper

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography hp 32lb laser

HP 32lb Laser Jet Paper

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography itoya romeo

Itoya Romeo Notebook

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography leuchtturm

Leuchtturm1917 Notebook

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography life bank

Life Bank Paper

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography life l writing

Life L. Writing Paper

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography life noble

Life Noble Notebook

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography life pistachio

Life Pistachio Notebook

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography life schopfer

Life Schöpfer Notebook

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography maruman w report

Maruman W Report Paper

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography midori md

Midori MD Notebook

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography mnemosyne

Mnemosyne 183 Spiral Notebook

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography moleskine

Moleskine Notebook

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography muji writing

Muji Writing Paper

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography rhodia dot

Rhodia Dot Pad

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography tomoe river 52gsm

Tomoe River 52gsm Paper

fountain pen friendly paper macro photography tomoe river 68gsm

Tomoe River 68gsm Paper

A Closer Look At The Paper Texture

After looking at the above images, I found it a little hard to see any major differences between the papers. Of course, some really stood out as having a quite a bit of texture, but not enough to account for how different all of these papers feel when writing on them. I remembered that my photo editing program (Adobe Lightroom) has a feature that might help, so I opened up the images in Lightroom and took a closer look

The feature is called “Visualize Spots” and it is intended to help find dust spots on images. I realized I could use it to better see the texture in the paper. After tweaking the sensitivity a bit, I found a setting that I thought was a nice balance between revealing the texture of the paper and not showing too much detail. You can see screenshots of those images below (in the same order as above). More white means more texture.

If you’d like to learn more about using the Visualize Spots tool in Lightroom, it is found in the Spot Removal tool. Here’s a blog post I wrote about it for Photography Life, a photography blog that I contribute to.

Apica CD15 Notebook texture

Apica Premium CD texture

Baron Fig Vanguard texture

Berlin Notebook texture

Black N Red Spiral Notebook texture

Clairfontaine Basic Notebook texture

Clairfontaine Triomphe paper texture

Fabriano EcoQua notebook texture

Figurare Spiral notebook texture

G Lalo Verge de France paper texture

HP 32lb Laser paper texture

Itoya Romeo notebook texture

Leuchhturm1917 Notebook texture

Life Bank Paper texture

Life L Writing Paper texture

Life Noble Notebook texture

Life Pistachio notebook texture

Life Schopfer notebook texture

Maruman W Report Paper texture

Midori MD notebook texture

Mnemosyne 183 notebook texture

Moleskine notebook texture

Muji Writing Paper texture

Rhodia Dot Pad texture

Tomoe River 52gsm paper texture

Tomoe River 68gsm paper texture

My Conclusions

After getting up close and personal with all of these different papers, I thought I’d gain some sort of insight that would help me figure out what makes some papers perform differently than others. I had hoped that looking at them more closely would create some sort of “aha!” moment and suddenly it would all make sense. They obviously have very different textures and they shade and sheen in different ways. Writing on them also feels different.

Despite all of these differences, looking at them up close didn’t help my understanding one bit. Papers that perform great (like the Life L Writing Paper) look almost exactly the same as papers that are not very good (like Moleskine Paper). Papers with tons of texture perform the same as papers with no texture. Long story short, I didn’t learn a thing. It was definitely interesting to see how different some of the papers looked, but in the end I can’t say that anything is more clear than it was before. Regardless of the outcome, I did the work and figured I might as well share it so you could see for yourself!

As to what causes the differences in paper quality, it mainly comes down to fiber size, fiber type and coating. These are all topics that I’d like to cover in some future articles, but for now we’ll stop with the above images.

Hi, my name is John. I’m a Colorado-born professional photographer who recently moved back to Denver after spending 3 years in San Francisco. I’ve been using and collecting fountain pens for over 20 years. I got my first one in college when I got bored taking notes with ballpoints and pencils. Since then I’ve bought and sold hundreds of pens, but have consistency in my love of Esterbrooks.

Comments 4

  1. This is cool. Thanks. It also seems like your images could be used to analyze ink saturation, shading, and maybe even dry times or absorbtion rates — which could go some way to defining the difference one notices between Life and Moleskine papers, to cite your example.

  2. Nice work! I wonder if more differences would have been revealed if you had drawn another line on the page, for example with a pen with a broad, wet nib? I imagine that the poor paper would show more feathering and spread. But, nice technique and I appreciate all the work that went into it!

    1. Post
      Author

      Thank you Pilgrim! A broad, wet nib probably would have brought out a bit more of the feathering, but my intent with this post was purely to show the texture. I’m working on more detailed reviews of individual papers that will definitely use multiple nibs for testing!

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