When you look online for budget notebook recommendations, one of the most recommended is a Black n’ Red Spiral Notebook. Not only are they supposed to be very fountain pen friendly, but they’re also carried by many different office supply stores, which means that you can usually purchase one in person instead of online. Are they worth all the fuss? Do they deserve to be called a budget notebook? Let’s investigate and see how good Black n’ Red spiral notebooks are.
My first impressions of this notebook were mixed. I wasn’t crazy about the plastic cover. To me it feels cheaper than a paper or leather cover. I did like the simple design and color scheme, though. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the notebooks are two colors: black with red accents. Moving inside the notebook, the paper felt great. It seemed nice and smooth and the paper color is bright white.
The Black n’ Red spiral notebook is a basic, no frills notebook. Here are some details:
- Pages: 140 (70 sheets)
- Paper Weight: 90gsm (24lb)
- Binding: Spiral
- Page Style: Lined
- Size: 8.25″x5.88″ (A5)
Ink-handling characteristics (A table with the following properties can be found at the bottom of this post)
- Sheen: High
- Shading: Average
- Bleeding: Very Low
- Ghosting: Very Low
- Feathering: Very Low
- Dry Time: High
- Legal Rule – 8mm line spacing
- Elastic closure
- Dual wire bound
- Optik paper
Let’s first discuss the notebook itself before talking about the paper. The notebook is actually quite nice, although it doesn’t have many features. The spiral binding means that the notebook is going to lay flat no matter what. Unfortunately, the spiral can get in the way of writing, but mainly towards the beginning and end of the notebook. Every page of the notebook is perforated, so tearing out a page is easy should you need to. The cover material, while not my favorite, is quite durable and should do a good job of protecting the pages inside. It is not rigid, but should be stiff enough for most people to write on without a surface underneath. The elastic closure band that is attached to the back is nice and snug. The front page of the notebook has a motivational quote and space for personal info and some objectives. The middle page of the notebook is glossy and just has a motivational quote. Some people might choose to use this middle page to divide the notebook into two different sections, but you can always tear it out if you’d like.
Now for the paper. I mentioned that the paper feels smooth and it is very nice to write on. It has a bit of feedback, but mostly offers a very smooth writing experience. Overall, this is great paper. It shows nice sheen and shading, has no observed feathering and very low ghosting. I was able to write on both sides of a sheet with very wet pens and could hardly see the writing on the other side. In fact, out of all of the papers I’ve used and tested, this Black n’ Red notebook has some of the lowest ghosting I’ve ever seen.
The paper itself is a nice, bright white with grey lines and a header and footer area without any lines. The lines do have a bit of ink resist with certain inks, but not enough to worry about. In each of the four corners, there are small boxes with symbols in them. These allow you to use Scribzee, an app that allows you to scan and upload each page of your notebook to an account in the cloud. While it’s not something I plan on using, it’s a nice feature that doesn’t waste any room that you’d normally use for writing.
So, the initial question I had was “are Black n’ Red notebooks worth the hype?” I would have to say yes they are. If you want a notebook that can be purchased almost anywhere, lays completely flat, performs extremely well with fountain pens and has essentially no ghosting, you can’t go wrong with a Black n’ Red notebook. If you’re not a fan of spiral-bound notebooks or want something that looks a little nicer, you might want to look at some other notebooks.
One other thing that I mentioned at the beginning is that everyone calls this a “budget” notebook. While it’s true that you can pick one up for less than $10, that doesn’t make it a good value. When you do the math, some Black n’ Red notebooks actually cost more per sheet than other notebooks that are generally considered to be higher quality, such as Midori, Mnemosyne, and Clairefontaine. I’m not saying that Black n’ Red aren’t good notebooks, because they are. They just aren’t necessarily the best value you can get for your money.
If you’d like a bit more information about how I test papers and notebooks, I wrote an article about my paper rating system.
Black n' Red Spiral Notebook
Fountain Pen Love Overall Rating
Pros: Widely available, great paper, very low ghosting, durable cover
Cons: Spiral binding can get in the way of writing, some line resist
Value Rating: Stars: 3.86, Cost per A5 sheet: $0.09
Who this notebook is for: People who can’t stand ghosting but want to use both sides of a page
Upgrade to this notebook from: Clairefontaine Basic notebook
Upgrade from this notebook to: Apica CD15 Notebook
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.