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: Average
- Shading: High
- Bleeding: High
- 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. Unfortunately, it does tend to bleed somewhat, so whether or not you’ll actually want to use both sides of a sheet is up in the air.
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 that, for the most part, they are. If you want a notebook that can be purchased almost anywhere, lays completely flat, performs well with fountain pens (as long as you don’t mind a bit of bleed through) 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.
Interested in trying this paper before buying a notebook? Head over to my shop and pick up a paper sample pack.
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 and bleed through
Value Rating: Stars: 3.43, 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
Nice review! I have wondered about these for some time but never picked one up–I might need to after this!
I noticed that your link went to an 8.5 x 11 notebook that was around $8.68. But there were other A5 options for less ($5 – $6) and there was also a hard cover A5 with 96 sheets that sells for $5.45 as of this writing, which would come to about 6 cents per sheet if my math is correct. Seems pretty cost-effective.
Anyway, none of that matters if the paper can’t hold up to FP use, and this one seems like it can! Thanks again!
Thank you! I had used one years ago and just picked this one up earlier this year to try again.
The link that I originally used was just a generic link to a BnR notebook. I did update the link to one that’s a little more similar, but for some reason it’s not letting me link to the exact notebook.
I did re-check the price and you’re correct about the cheaper cost. When I purchased it earlier this year I paid $8.68, but the price must have dropped. I’ve updated the review, but there are only 70 sheets in this particular notebook, which comes out to $0.09/sheet. Definitely better, but it doesn’t change the overall value based on the ranges I’ve used.
It’s great paper no matter what. Hope you can pick up a notebook one of these days and try it out!
John, I know you mean well, but I cannot justify having a little A5 notebook with 70 sheets in my bag or pocket that costs me more than my fountain pen. I live in UK and can buy a ream of A4 90gsm for under £5. That’s 1,000 sheets of A5. I need A4 – A5 is shopping list size for me. A4 is better for writing poetry and songs. I can buy Hard plastic-covered A4 80gsm 200 pages spiral bound ruled pad (with elastic) for £1.50 from the new incarnation of Woolworths. Alight, it’s only 80gsm, and when writing on the second side you would be aware of the first side, but there no noticeable bleeding and no tears if I make a mistake. I don’t want the medium to be so precious that I’m hesitant to write on it. I read your article with interest, and concur with you that R&B is not budget. Budget for me is 85 pence 200 pages spiral A5. I use Diamine inks generally and never notice bleeding with the aforementioned bargain pads.
That’s fair, Noel. Not everyone wants to or needs to spend a lot of money on paper. I would argue that the overall writing experience is going to be much more enjoyable with better paper, but you are correct that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get paper that plays nicely with fountain pens.
This scored high in my review too.
John – do you know of any easily obtainable books which are completely blank? No lines, dots, squares or anything else. Of course they would need to be fountain pen friendly. I’ve seen expensive ones for artists with very thick paper but I don’t want that.
Hi Noel, a few that come to mind (not sure how easily you can obtain them): Leuchtturm (has page numbers and an index), Life Noble, Midori MD, Fabriano EcoQua. I’d suggest you check out my big notebook post and see which ones are available in blank: http://fountainpenlove.com/paper/fountain-pen-friendly-notebooks-a-big-roundup/
Thank you for the review. I have heard from several people that the Black & Red Notebook is great, but my experience was terrible. I purchased one at my local office supply store. I use generally broad or stub nibs and I found that feathering, bleeding and showthrough were big problems. This did not occur on every page and was inconsistent across a page. I ended up throwing it away.
Wow, I would say that your experience is unusual for these notebooks. I wonder if you just got a bad batch of paper or if it had something to do with the specific inks you were using? I guess if the same pen/ink combos misbehaved on some pages and not on others, it was probably the paper.
Through your sample pack I discovered the SHEEN of the paper! Better than lots more expensive paper! Thx!
Well maybe not so cheap! Lol! But I can pick up in 25 mins. Sheeting is worth it
It’s true, it’s not as cheap as some papers, but still cheaper and better performing than many. One great thing about it is that most people can pick it up locally!
I am a fan of Black and Red notebooks. I agree with you about the spiral binding and am not sure why you reviewed the spiral style when there’s also a bound version available.
The spiral is just what I had, so that’s what I reviewed. 🙂
A little late to this party, but I’ve used an A5 notebook from Smythson for years with a fountain pen, no feathering, bleeding or ghosting.