Sometimes you just want a simple, inexpensive notebook that is still fountain pen friendly. I tend to review some fairly expensive notebooks and most people probably don’t want to spend $15-20 on a notebook for random scribbles. If you fall into this category, Apica’s notebooks might be just what you’re looking for. Not only are they extremely fountain pen friendly, but most of them can be had for under $5. Don’t let the price fool you, though. These notebooks should appeal to almost anyone who demands high-quality paper.
Please note: most of the images in this review are of the Apica 3A50 notebook. My CD15 was pretty beat up, so I grabbed a new notebook for the photos. Rest assured, the only significant differences are the number of pages in each notebook and the size of each notebook.
I don’t know about you, but my first impression of this notebook wasn’t very favorable. I’d seen them in a few different shops and they were always inexpensive, especially compared to the other notebooks that I recognized. I immediately, and as you will see, wrongly, assumed that they were not high quality notebooks.
Moving past that, I was also not sure of how to use them. The CD15 doesn’t have very many pages, so it’s probably not the best option for a journal. Still, I was intrigued by the feel of the paper and the price. The paper feels nice and smooth and at such a low price I wouldn’t be out much if it turned out to be poor quality. Let me say that I am very glad I took a chance on this notebook. Read on to find out why.
Some of these details apply specifically to the CD15 notebook. Other notebooks will have different page counts or line spacing.
- Pages: 68 (34 sheets)
- Paper Weight: 81.4gsm
- Binding: Stitch
- Page Style: Lined (6.5mm)
- Size: A5, B5, A7, B7
Ink-handling characteristics (A table with the following properties can be found at the bottom of this post)
- Sheen: Medium
- Shading: Low
- Bleeding: Medium
- Ghosting: Medium
- Feathering: Very low
- Dry Time: Low
- Multiple sizes and cover colors
- Index page in some models
- Varying line spacing
- Dedicated Page/Date space on each page
Let’s start by discussing the layout and construction of this notebook. The CD15 and other related “CD” notebooks are all thin, low page-count notebooks. The cover design is exactly the same regardless of which size you choose. Each of these is composed of one signature, which means getting the notebook to open and lay flat can be challenging. The 3A50 notebook that is used in the photos has more pages and two signatures, but you’ll still run into the same issues getting it to stay open.
The CD notebooks all open directly to the first page of the notebook, but I was surprised to find the 3A50 has an index. I suppose it makes sense, as it has more pages (100 pages versus 68 in the CD15). In all of the notebooks, you’ll find the same page layout. Each page has a top and bottom margin, along with a space for the page number and date at the top of each page. The line coloring is a slightly dark grey, but not so dark that it takes over the page.
The quality of the paper in these Apica notebooks is a very pleasant surprise. It is nice and smooth to write on and, in my opinion, can hold its own when compared to notebooks that cost much more. In addition to how pleasant the paper is to write on, it is extremely high-performing! In my writing tests and general use, I observed little to no feathering or bleeding. Ghosting is also surprisingly low and I would gladly use both sides of a sheet.
As for ink performance, this paper will do a great job at showing off your inks. It does show a good amount of sheen, but not as much as other (more expensive) notebooks. It shows less shading, which is surprising. Dry times are good, especially when compared to other notebooks with similar ink performance.I keep mentioning how inexpensive these notebooks are. At less than $5 each, they certainly don’t cost very much, but let’s take a closer look at how much each page actually costs, especially when compared to other more expensive notebooks. Even though I can find a CD15 for under $5, it only has 34 sheets of paper. The cost per sheet for a CD15 comes out to about $0.15. Compare that to a Midori MD notebook that costs twice as much, but has nearly 3-times the pages and you’ll find that it only costs around $0.11/sheet. In fact, at that $0.15/sheet price point, you can pick up some very nice notebooks like a Life Noble Note or Leuchtturm1917 notebook. Still, you might not always have $10-15 to spend on a notebook, so having one that is high quality for only $5 can be a very nice option.
At the beginning of this review I mentioned that initially I wasn’t sure exactly how to use a notebook with so few pages. After using it for a bit I now almost prefer these smaller page-count notebooks. I end up using them as tracking journals for things like books I’ve read, inks that I’ve used or even tasks and ideas for this website! The size is ideal and the price is right. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the paper is very nice to write on and shows off all of the different inks I use. My big complaint is that they don’t stay open very well. As long as you can find a way to keep the notebook open, that shouldn’t be a huge problem. If you’re like me and initially dismissed the Apica CD15 as a low-quality notebook, you need to get one and see what you’ve been missing. It is definitely worth tossing one into your cart the next time you place an order or, better yet, see one in an actual shop. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
If you’d like a bit more information about how I test papers and notebooks, I wrote an article about my paper rating system.
Interested in trying this paper before buying a notebook? Head over to my shop and pick up a paper sample pack.
Apica CD15 Notebook Review
- Sheen (higher is better)
- Shading (higher is better)
- Bleeding (higher is better)
- Ghosting (higher is better)
- Feathering (higher is better)
- Dry Time (higher is better)
Fountain Pen Love Overall Rating
Pros: Inexpensive notebooks, great paper performance
Cons: Higher cost per sheet, doesn’t stay open very well
Value Rating: 3.14 Stars, Cost per A5 sheet: $0.15
Who this notebook is for: People who don’t want to spend a lot on a notebook but still want nice paper.
Upgrade to this notebook from: A Kokuyo Campus notebook
Upgrade from this notebook to: A Black n’ Red notebook
Interesting, John – I have thick books and would prefer thinner ones. As I’m in the UK, the things you mention are often dearer here. China & Japan are closer to you, but the other side of the world to me. Nevertheless I looked at the notebooks on Amazon. The CD15 is: White – £4.45, Red – £4.89 and Yellow – £7.88
Strange – all 33 sheets, 7×10″. Why would there be different prices if the only difference was the cover colour? Is it the same your end?
It is interesting how something like a different color can change the price so much. It’s the same here and seems completely arbitrary.
Thanks for the review, John! I’m not sure if it is just my imagination, but it seems to me that the paper in these smaller Apica notebooks is more resistant to hand oils than the paper in the premium Apica notebooks. I actually prefer the paper in the CD11, CD15, etc to the paper in the premium CD notebooks for this reason.
It’s not just you. I prefer the paper in these notebooks to the paper in the premium notebooks as well! Keep an eye out for my review of the premium notebooks soon.
Hi John, I read your posts diligently while I was searching for a good stress-free notebook so I can spend more time with my fountain pens & inks. I picked up the Apica CD-15 and really haven’t been too happy. I have consistently find good reviews on this paper which leaves me frustrated and eager to find out what could be wrong with my “use case”. I’m noticing feathering in some ink but it’s not brand or ink dependent, nor does it appear to be pen dependent (maybe to some extent in terms of wetness/flow, and saturation — those becomes more noticeable). I layered papers and blotting papers on top of the pages to reduce the possibility of hand oil as well. Helped a little but it’s still happening — top, middle and bottom of the pages. I highly doubt i picked up a bad book. Any idea what I could be doing wrong? I love the paper and it’s a pleasure to write in (albeit i wish the lines were narrower).
That is really unfortunate, Peky. I was going to suggest that maybe it was skin oils, but it looks like you thought of that. I really can’t think of why your notebook would be having these issues. Maybe it has something to do with your home environment (too humid?), but I seriously doubt it. I would guess that it’s nothing that you’re doing and the notebook itself. Maybe something happened to it in transit or at the retailer?
Hi John – I actually came here to leave a near-identical comment to the previous poster. I’ve been writing in an Apica CD11 journal for the last 2 months, and I’ve been diligently consuming your reviews because I find them to be very similar to my experiences generally speaking – Graphilo is my by-and-far favorite paper, albeit too spendy for regular use, and I use Clairefontaine Triomphe as a less-satisfying but very-reliable note or memo writer – and was using your data to decide on my next notebooks.
The thing I found really jarring, after sorting your reviews by sheer number grade, was your high rating for Apica CD11 – I’ve tested writing across about 15 paper types and for me, Apica CD11 falls squarely in the middle on feathering – definitely below Rhodia, Midori, Clairefontaine, and similar – and is the main reason I’m switching away from it for my future writing. It feathers with every pen I have M or wetter, and it feathers on wetter inks in F pens as well, such as Pilot inks. Strangely, Apica’s wirebound notebook paper performs a smidge better – they use slightly different papers, in comparing the side by side specs on JetPens.
Anyway, another data point for you! I test new pens & inks across quite a wide range of papers as well, and deeply appreciate that you’ve got all of your info so well-organized and displayed. This one just felt like an outlier to me.
That’s really strange, Lira. I’m glad to hear that our experiences generally line up and that you find my reviews useful. After two comments in a row about the Apica notebooks, I went and grabbed a CD11 and tried it out with everything I have inked up, from shaders to sheeners, F to OB. It handled everything beautifully! I wonder if there was a bad batch of notebooks that went out? Or maybe I’m just really lucky. I’ll have to keep an eye on future notebooks and see if I notice anything. Thanks for the info!
Could very well be the case, if we (meaning me + the other commenter) are the outliers – maybe I’ll give them another try in the future. Definitely not a risky investment, at least! Thanks for giving it another go, and thanks again for all the info here.