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Let’s Take A Look At Paper Color

John BosleyPaper 6 Comments

Fountain pen friendly paper can have many qualities. In my reviews I pay close attention to a papers feathering, bleedthrough, ghosting and even how it handles ink to produce shading and sheen. One thing that I never really mention is the color of the paper. Personally, this is something that I hardly notice, but I know that many people care about the color of their paper. In this post, I want to take a look at a variety of fountain pen friendly papers and see how they compare in color.

The Papers

Although I have a fairly large selection of papers to choose from, I’m not going to analyze them all. Most of them are relatively close to one another in terms of color, so I’m going to mainly choose papers that can be found at most major pen retailers or locally in art supply shops. Of course, I’m also looking for papers that are not exactly white, just to make things a little more interesting!

With that being said, here is the list of papers we’ll be looking at today, in no particular order:

  • Tomoe River 52gsm
  • Tomoe River 68gsm
  • Clairefontaine Triomphe
  • G. Lalo Verge de France
  • Midori MD
  • Life Noble
  • Life Bank Paper
  • Fabriano EcoQua
  • HP Premium32
  • Leuchtturm
  • Rhodia
  • Mnemosyne
  • Apica CD
  • Apica CD Premium
fountain pen friendly paper color comparison

Here are the different papers in this comparison. I intentionally darkened the image a bit to make the colors easier to see.

The Testing

Comparing papers visually is not a bad way to analyze how different (or similar) they are. After all, how a piece of paper appears to us when we use it or read what’s written on it is what matters the most. Still, I want to see what kind of information we can get when we dig a little deeper. So in addition to simply looking at the paper, I’m going to photograph them all together (so that the lighting is consistent) and then digitally analyze the color of each piece. I’ll do the digital color analysis using Adobe Lightroom, but if you’re interested you can do something similar with the Digital Color Meter tool if you have a Mac.

Testing notes: To attach the paper samples to the backing paper, I used double-sided tape. It was attached to the upper-third portion of each sample, so I made sure to take my color reading from the lower part of each sample to avoid any inconsistencies. Also, whenever lines or dots were present, I avoided them to get a reading of the paper, not the markings on the paper.

The Results

Here are the RGB (Red Green Blue) values for each paper type. Keep in mind, all samples were photographed in the same image, so the only change is the paper sample. Each number in the table is a percentage, so the lower the number, the less of that color is present in the overall paper color.

Red ValueGreen ValueBlue Value
Apica CD82.081.880.4
Apica CD Premium84.083.780.8
Clairefontaine Triomphe83.082.682.3
Fabriano EcoQua86.586.484.4
G. Lalo Verge de France88.087.985.2
HP Premium3285.085.284.6
Life Bank84.684.481.5
Life Noble86.885.877.0
Midori MD88.288.183.0
Tomoe River 52gsm87.387.285.3
Tomoe River 68gsm87.987.885.7

As you can see, despite how different the papers look, most of the numbers are all pretty close to each other. Initially, I was a little disappointed in these results, but then I spent a bit more time looking at the numbers and trying to figure out what they really mean.

If you look at Clairefontaine Triomphe, HP Premium 32 and Mnemosyne, the Red, Green and Blue values for each paper sample are very close. These are also the papers that have the least color tint and are closest to pure white. Similarly, if you look at Life Noble, Leuchtturm and Midori MD, the Blue value is significantly lower than the Red or Green value. In effect, a lower blue value means more yellow, which seems to be the case when looking at the papers.

Life Noble vs Clairefontaine Triomphe

Left: Life Noble, Right: Clairefontaine Triomphe

I have to admit I’m surprised that the Midori MD green value isn’t higher. In person, the paper looks very green, but maybe it’s just a trick caused by the color of the grid. I’m also surprised how red Rhodia is. I had never noticed it until I looked for it, but if you look at its RGB values, it does skew towards Red. I was also surprised that the Tomoe River 52 and Tomoe River 68 are so close in color values. When you handle a sheet of each, the 52gsm looks a lot different than the 68gsm, but apparently that’s just because it’s so thin, not actually a different color.

Rhodia vs Midori MD

Left: Rhodia, Right: Midori MD

So What Does It All Mean?

So now you know that some papers are more yellow, some are more red and some are more white. So what? Is this detailed information any more helpful than what you can see with your eyes? Not for the papers with more extreme color tints, but for subtle variations it may be useful. In my article How Does Paper Color Affect Ink Color, it was pretty clear that different paper colors can change how an ink looks. If you’re a color purist and know a paper has more of a particular color in it, you can take that into consideration when choosing which ink to use on it. I know that no one is going to be judged by the color accuracy of their writing, but still, it’s good to know what to expect from a particular paper color.

Interested in trying some of these papers before buying a notebook? Head over to my shop and pick up a paper sample pack. It contains samples of all of these papers.

Comments 6

  1. oh no, now you’re speaking my language in stationery nerdery and i had to run and futz around in python with the numbers you graciously provided.

    i did convert the RGB colours to HSV (because i figured that would expose factors we care about more directly: colour tint, strength of tint, and lightness of paper) and found as probably the more interesting things:

    * hue is practically all clustered in the 50–60° range, so smack in the middle of the yellows, with one outlier into the green (HP premium at 80°) and two outliers into the orangey red (the rhodia you mentioned, at 26.6°, and the clairefontaine at an even redder 25.7° – but its saturation is so low it doesn’t bring the hue to bear really). i figure the HP premium being more green than average is probably that characteristically harsh tone of very bleached paper next to the warmer hues we’re more used to in notebooks.

    * the three brightest papers are: midori (.882), g. lalo verge de france (.880), and tomoe river 68 (.879)

    * the three lowest saturation papers are: HP premium (.007), clairefontaine (.008), and then the apica cd (.019) as the first of a group of papers starting at around those values.

    when one plots value and saturation, the lack of overlap between these two top-3s becomes apparent: the area where saturation is low *and* value is high is completely empty. so you either get papers that are *really* good at either being very bright or very neutrally coloured, or the ones that score reasonably high in both, but not in the top in either. (i am somehow not very surprised to see the tomoe river 52 take the crown among these – it is charted as somewhat darker than the 68, as you mentioned, and ever so slightly less saturated, so it manages to score reasonably well in low saturation while being near the top in brightness)

    comparing the numbers to the photos really brings out how much lower saturation makes papers look brighter to the eye – the leuchtturm and the life noble papers look so much darker on the photos, yet especially with the life noble, it’s not far lower in value than the tomoe river 52. likewise, the leuchtturm is just slightly more saturated than the midori, but they have a pretty substantial gap in value – much larger than you’d think from looking at the photos.

    i guess that also is why there are many more ways to calculate how light or dark a colour is – value, lightness, luma… – vs its hue, and me choosing value was a suboptimal choice of method.

    1. Post

      Wow, it definitely sounds like you should have done this article instead of me! As a photographer, I am most familiar with RGB values, but the HSV sounds like the way to go. Super interesting info! Maybe I’ll need to re-do this post with some new analysis. Thank you!

  2. hey john,

    first of all, sorry i just jumped into the comments with almost an entire blog post of my own. stationery and numbers. excitement happened.

    and, re RGB vs HSV etc.: i hear you, straight RGB is how i first wrapped my head around colour representation as well. i just figured the separation of HSV would allow to more directly read the things you read off the RGB values.

    if you end up jumping into more analysis that way, i did put some more experimentation towards different lightness measures – value seems to have been a suboptimal choice indeed. brightness or any of the luma measures appear to be more helpful. although between those two, choice seems to involve some actual thought about what one wants to be measured and what’s considered useful.

    1. Post

      No worries! I’m glad when people get excited about the same things that interest me. It’s definitely something that I need to look into more, so you’ve given me some great food for thought!

  3. Please excuse my ignorance if I don’t understand this properly, but when I Googled “Midori paper RGB value” it lead me here. I was expecting to find the RGB numbers for Red, Blue, Green as in the Photoshop Info Panel. Using the Eyedropper tool, I find an average RGB value of 239, 235, 223 for Midori paper taken from your photograph above. However, you listed these as “percents” in your table? You also said the photograph was darkened for clarity/contrast, so the real Photoshop RGB value is undoubtedly higher (lighter). So how do I find what the actual value is?

    Moreover, how do I color balance a photograph of a writing sample I’ve scanned into Photoshop using the actual RGB value of the paper? I want to use these values as a sort of White Point to adjust all the colors. Is this even possible, or should I just spend the $50 for a SpyderCHECKR?

    1. Post

      Thanks for asking, Kelly. I used Adobe Lightroom, which gives percents instead of actual RGB values. I have never checked it to be sure, but I’d imagine you could divide the RGB value by 255 to get a percent (or multiply the 255 by the percent to get an RGB value). The reason I adjusted the image exposures was to make the color differences more pronounced and accurate.

      Photographing something is not a good way to check color unless you have a very good studio setup. Natural light is not at all consistent and flash color temperatuer can slightly vary from shot to shot. A scanner would be much more consistent. If you’re looking for completely accurate color representation, something like a Spyder will do that for your monitor, but you’ll still have to get the actual exposure and color temperature correct in your photo and consistent across every single image you take.

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