clairfontaine basic clothbound notebook review front cover detail

Clairefontaine Basic Clothbound Notebook Review

John BosleyReviews 2 Comments

Is there such a thing as paper that is too smooth? Most fountain pen users want paper that is smooth to write on, but I’ve regularly heard people say that Clairefontaine paper is too smooth for them. I have used Clairefontaine Triomphe in the past and thought it was extremely smooth, but wondered how a basic notebook would compare. So, I picked up a Clairefontaine Basic clothbound notebook to review and tried it out. Here’s what I thought about it.

Clairefontaine basics clothbound notebook review cover

Clairefontaine basics clothbound notebook

First Impressions

When I first received the Clairefontaine Basic notebook, I didn’t think it was bad looking, but it would never be mistaken for a luxurious notebook. Although it does feel like it’s very well made, the color makes it look like it belongs in a student’s bag. Maybe if I had picked a different color it would change my perception of it, but I still don’t think it would seem like a luxury product, even if it were black.

The Details

The Clairefontaine Basic notebook has a lot going for it. Here’s a quick rundown of the details:

  • Pages: 192
  • Paper Weight: 90gsm
  • Binding: Glue
  • Page Style: Lined – 8mm, Dot – 5mm
  • Size: A5, A4

Ink-handling characteristics

  • Sheen: Medium
  • Shading: High
  • Bleeding: Very Low
  • Ghosting: Low
  • Feathering: Very Low
  • Dry Time: High

Other features

  • Elastic closure strap
  • Cloth-bound spine
  • Faux-leather cardboard cover
  • Comes in various colors

Actual Use

In actual use, this paper lives up to its reputation. Talk about smooth! It is immediately noticeable how much smoother it is than most paper. It is a real pleasure to write on. The light violet lines are not at all intrusive to write on and showed no resistance to various inks. During writing, the notebook lays somewhat flat, although it probably won’t lay open on its own until after many uses. The elastic band is not extremely tight, which means it should do a fine job of keeping your notebook closed, while still allowing for some expansion if you keep anything additional in your notebook.

clairefontaine basic clothbound notebook review elastic band

The elastic band closure will keep your notebook closed, but should allow some room for additional items.

clairefontaine basic clothbound notebook review cloth spine

The spine is bound in cloth that matches the cover color.

clairefontaine basic clothbound notebook review glue binding

You can see the glue binding in this image.

While the paper is very nice to write on, it also very fountain pen friendly paper! In my use, bleeding and feathering were non-existent. Ghosting was low enough that it shouldn’t be a problem to write on both sides of a page if you want. The paper shows a good amount of sheen and shading, but not as much as some of the premium notebooks I’ve used.

clairefontaine basic clothbound notebook review writing sample

Here are three different inks that show the shading and sheening properties of this paper.

clairefontaine basic clothbound notebook review ghosting

Here you can see that there was some ghosting, but no bleedthrough.

clairefontaine basic clothbound notebook review sheen

Here’s a good look at the sheen I got from Monteverde California Teal ink.

There are a few things that I didn’t like about this notebook. The first thing that I noticed when I opened it is that it has both a front and rear flyleaf. This is a very nice feature, as it means the first and last page of your notebook are less likely to suffer damage. Unfortunately, the flyleaf is glued to a significant portion of the first and last page, which means you have three options. 1) Use the first page and just fold it so it is usable. 2) Tear the first page away from the flyleaf, which looks bad but makes it more usable. Or, 3) Skip the first page altogether.

clairefontaine basic clothbound notebook review flyleaf

The flyleaf is glued to a good portion of the first page. I opted to tear it away, which doesn’t look very nice.

Another thing that I wasn’t crazy about were the large metal hooks that are used to attach the elastic strap to the back cover. They stick up pretty far off of the surface of the cover, and they actually make writing near the bottom of the page a little uncomfortable. I’m sure that near the back of the notebook they will severely disrupt your writing.

clairefontaine basic clothbound notebook review

This is how the elastic band is fastened to the back cover. It’s a very large, inconvenient piece of metal.

There are also a few missing features that you might find in other notebooks. This notebook lacks page ribbons, a rear pocket, page numbers, or any type of index or table of contents (although that first page that the flyleaf is glued to could easily be used for such a purpose).

Clairefontaine Basics Paper Test Front

Clairefontaine Basics Paper Test: Front

Clairefontaine Basics Paper Test Back

Clairefontaine Basics Paper Test: Back


To answer the question I started out with, “Can paper be too smooth?”, I think the answer is maybe. While I don’t have any strong objections to writing on Clairefontaine paper, I also prefer a little feedback when I write. After filling a page or two with writing, I found myself wanting the paper to be a little less smooth. With that being said, it’s not a deal breaker for me, but I can see how for some people it would be.

Fortunately, the Clairefontaine Basic clothbound notebook is a great value. If you’re not sure if you will like how smooth the paper is, it’s not a huge expense if you purchase it and don’t like it. Furthermore, I’m sure you have a pen friend who would be thrilled to take it off your hands.

In addition to being a great value, this notebook performs very well in almost all aspects that matter for fountain pen users. It is very fountain pen friendly and should handle most pens and inks with ease. If you’ve never tried Clairefontaine paper before, this notebook will give you a great and inexpensive introduction.

Interested in trying this paper before buying a notebook? Head over to my shop and pick up a paper sample pack.

Clairefontaine Basic Clothbound Notebook
  • 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: Very smooth paper, inexpensive, great paper
Cons: Annoying fasteners for the elastic strap, first and last page glued to flyleaf, doesn’t look luxurious, not many features
Value Rating: Stars: 3.86, Cost per A5 sheet: $0.09
Who this notebook is for: People who want an inexpensive notebook to jot things down in
Upgrade to this notebook from: Kokuyo Campus notebook
Upgrade from this notebook to: Black n’ Red Spiral notebook

Comments 2

  1. Late but oh well 🙂 I’ve seen a LOT of complaints about the elastic closure on the back of these. Just flip around so the metal ends are on the outside. Works the same and problem solved.

    That said, add me to the list of ones it’s way too smooth for, takes forever and a day to dry. I like my cheap composition books from Staples better, which look and sound like your review of the CVS version (except mine say made in Egypt. Interesting!)

    1. Post

      That sounds like a great solution, Steffy!

      This is definitely smooth paper, so I get it. I’ll have to grab a composition book from Staples the next time I’m there. Good to know the Egypt paper also performs well!

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