fountain pen friendly paper testing sheets

Introducing A Rating System For Paper And Notebooks

John Bosley Reviews 7 Comments

Recently, I have found myself really gravitating towards paper. While a great fountain pen experience requires a good pen, ink and paper, I’ve been focusing on trying out as many different types of paper as possible lately. I feel like many people don’t appreciate just how good (or bad) different papers can be. Because of this, I’m going to try and publish frequent paper and notebook reviews in addition to the regular content on this site. Keep in mind, I’ll publish reviews of all of the different notebooks and papers I buy, so while I have high hopes for all of them, some will fail, meaning it won’t exclusively be fountain pen friendly paper.

I decided I should probably standardize my review process. In the past, I just used whichever pens and inks I had available. In the real world this works just fine, since everyone is going to use different pens and inks on any given paper. Unfortunately, when it comes to comparing one type of paper to another, there should be some standards and consistency in the way it is tested.

What Is Being Tested?

I’ve identified six areas that I want to test in every paper review from now on. These are:

  • Sheen
  • Shading
  • Bleed Through
  • Ghosting
  • Feathering
  • Dry Time

All of these will apply to every type of paper that I test. While I know that different notebooks will have different features that make them more or less desirable, I’m not going to allow them to factor into the rating system, which means that the rating you see is purely for the paper and is not influenced by any other features of a notebook. Theoretically, if one paper has a higher rating than another, it should be better.

Almost all reviews will be based on one sample. As much as I’d love to try out multiple paper samples from multiple sources, I just don’t have the budget for it. So here’s what I’d ask of you… if you have the same paper as I do and have a drastically different experience, please let me know! It’s not unheard of for notebook manufacturers to change the paper that they use, leading to a different user experience from one notebook to the next. Please leave me a comment on any review if you think it is not accurate based on your experience.

Testing Standards

In order to have consistency in the ratings, I’m going to have standards that I follow for every paper review. This means that whether I test three different papers on the same day or one per week, the results should be comparable. Of course, there will be small changes in the test conditions such as temperature and humidity, but that’s just the way it has to be since I don’t live in a laboratory with a completely controlled environment. I’m guessing that you don’t either, so your experience with any given paper will probably vary a bit from day to day as well.

One standard that I’ll follow is that I will be covering the paper I’m testing with another piece of paper to protect it from skin oils while I write. This will prevent any skewed results, mainly unwanted feathering. I’ll also be using the same guide sheet under every page that I write on so that the writing surface is always consistent.

I’ll be using the same pens and inks for every review. If the pens haven’t been used in a few hours, I’ll scribble with each for a bit to make sure that fresh ink is flowing to the nib. If the pens haven’t been used in a few days, I’ll refill them so that they have fresh ink. Here is what I’m planning on using:

  • Fine: Esterbrook 9550 nib with Diamine Blue-Black ink
  • Medium: Lamy Vista M nib with KWZ Old Gold ink
  • Broad: Esterbrook 9968 nib with Iroshizuku Yama-Budo ink
  • Super Wet: Sailor Pro Gear Zoom Nib with J. Herbin Emerald of Chivor ink

Here are the pens that I’ll use for every paper review.

Sheen

Both the Yama-Budo and Emerald of Chivor are great sheening inks and the Diamine Blue-Black will occasionally show a bit of sheen. I’ll be looking at all of my writing samples, as well as making some ink smears, to see how much sheen shows up. This will be somewhat subjective on my part, but should be consistent. All sheen will be compared to how it looks on Tomoe River 52gsm paper, which will be the standard for a “5” rating.

Ratings will be on a scale of 0-5, where 0 means no sheen was observed and 5 means extreme sheen was observed.

fountain pen friendly paper testing sheen

Sheen won’t be easily visible in the photos, but I’ll evaluate it and let you know how each paper performs.

Shading

The Emerald of Chivor shows some nice shading, but the Old Gold is a wonderful shader, so it will be the main way I evaluate a papers shading characteristics. I’ll draw 5 vertical lines that are 10mm each and then look at how the ink shades from dark to light. More light area means more shading. I’ll also look at the writing and the intensity of shading (how often and abruptly the transition from dark to light occurs) to determine a final rating.

Ratings will be on a scale of 0-5, where 0 means no shading was observed and 5 means extreme shading was observed.

fountain pen friendly paper testing shading

Shading will be measured using the yellow (KWZ Old Gold) ink.

Bleed Through

All four nib sizes will come into play when checking to see if ink bleeds through a given paper. The final rating will depend on how much bleed through was observed and with how many of the pens.

Ratings will be on a scale of 0-5, where 0 means extreme bleeding was observed and 5 means no bleeding was observed.

fountain pen friendly paper testing bleed

The back of each paper will also be shown so you can see if there is any bleed through.

Ghosting

All four nib sizes will come into play when checking to see if ink ghosting is visible for a given paper. The final rating will depend on how much ghosting was observed and with how many of the pens.

Ratings will be on a scale of 0-5, where 0 means extreme ghosting was observed and 5 means no ghosting was observed.

fountain pen friendly paper testing ghosting

You can also check each paper for ghosting.

Feathering

Feathering will be judged based on how many pens feather and if it is isolated to one particular section of the paper or is widespread.

Ratings will be on a scale of 0-5, where 0 means extreme feathering was observed and 5 means no feathering was observed.

fountain pen friendly paper testing feathering

Each paper will be evaluated for feathering.

Dry Time

To evaluate dry time, I’ll only be using one pen, the Medium nib. While it won’t be as comprehensive as using all of the pens, it will be consistent across all of the different papers, so you’ll be able to judge them relative to each other.

Ratings will be on a scale of 0-5, where 0 means a very long dry time was observed and 5 means a very short dry time was observed.

fountain pen friendly paper testing dry time

Dry time will be measured in 5-second increments.

Value

While a paper’s performance is important, cost can be a huge factor in choosing which paper to purchase. While I don’t want it to factor into the overall paper performance rating, I think it is still important to mention. With that being said, I’ll have a separate overall “Value” rating in the conclusion box. This rating will be derived from the other fields plus a separate value field that I apply based on the following criteria (assuming cheaper is better):

  • $0.00-$0.02 per A5 sheet – 5 stars
  • $0.03-$0.08 per A5 sheet – 4 stars
  • $0.9-$0.14 per A5 sheet – 3 stars
  • $0.15-$0.19 per A5 sheet – 2 stars
  • $0.20 and higher per A5 sheet – 1 stars

All costs will be based on what I paid for each notebook, pad or pack of paper. In the case of loose paper, if I purchased A4 paper I will give the price per sheet assuming each A4 sheet gets cut in half, resulting in two A5 sheets. For example, a pack of 50 A4 sheets of Tomoe River 68gsm paper costs around $20. If you cut each sheet in half, that gives you 100 A5 sheets for $20, which comes out to $0.20/A5 sheet.

How The Results Will Be Reported

To communicate the score of each paper, I’ll use a table like this one. The format will be the same every time.

Sample Review Format
  • 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)
3

Fountain Pen Love Overall Rating

Here is where I’ll type up a short summary and the overall rating will be shown. It will include
Pros: Pros for the paper/notebook
Cons: Cons for the paper/notebook

It will also include the cost per sheet and value rating, which will look like this…

Value Rating: 2.43 Stars, Cost per A5 sheet: $0.12

When Does This Start?

I plan to start using this system in my paper reviews immediately. For the reviews that I have already posted, I’ll be adding the results of this testing format to each blog post. This should happen in early September of 2018.

Here are the updated posts:
Clairefontaine Basic Clothbound Notebook
Berlin Notebook
Life Bank Paper

Final Thoughts

While the above rating system will standardize how I review paper, keep in mind that it only takes 6 factors into account: sheen, shading, bleed, ghosting, feathering and dry time. While those are all important factors, they are not the only ones that you need to consider when choosing paper.

You’ll always want to consider cost when choosing which paper to buy. You’ll also probably want to consider the paper texture, as some people love smooth paper while others love paper with a little feedback. The color of the paper might also be an important factor, along with weight, size, page style, binding and cover style, etc…

One more thing to note is that most papers will fall into the “3” range. While a paper might have amazing sheen, it might also have a very long dry time, which will average out the score. Because of this tradeoff, I don’t expect to see many papers with a rating above “4” and doubt there will ever be a paper capable of receiving a “5” rating.

I hope you’ll use the ratings as guides to help you choose a paper that is right for you. I don’t claim that the ratings are the final word in which paper is best. Each person will have their own definition of what “best” means. It’s up to you to decide which qualities you prefer in your paper. My hope is that this rating system will help you find your perfect paper more quickly and easily.

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.

Comments 7

  1. Bravo! This is excellent, John! You picked great criteria and pen/ink combinations to do the testing (I like that sheen is #1 on the list 😉 )! Standardizing your process for these ratings is a great idea and will be so valuable to the pen community! I am really looking forward to reading your ratings of some of my favorite papers and notebooks!

    One thought; I know this is really hit and miss, but it seems to me that some notebooks have more consistent paper quality than others, from page to page in the same notebook. For example, it has been my experience that the Leuchtturm1917 notebooks have very consistent paper from one page to the next and from one part of the page to another part. However, in the past, I have been a little disappointed by more smooth papers, like that in the Life notebooks for example, because sometimes a part of a page will show a lot of feathering, whereas other parts of the page, or other pages in the same notebook will have no feathering with the same ink/pen combination, even in the same writing session. Again, I know this is difficult to quantify, but have you seen this? And if so, it would be great to read about in your future reviews if you run into that with your notebooks.

    Anyway–Great job!

    1. Post
      Author

      Thank you, Pilgrim! I’m excited to roll out some reviews on the new system. I had some eye-opening results that I can’t wait to share!

      I know exactly what you’re saying about paper consistency. I have seen it between different notebooks of the same brand, but also different pages in the same notebook. If I run across it, I’ll be sure to mention it, but it will be pretty hit and miss.

      You mentioned that you’ve encountered feathering on smoother papers, specifically Life. I find that some of the smoother papers are much more prone to pick up a bit of oil from my body, which will cause feathering. You might try protecting the bottom portion of the page while writing to hep prevent this from happening.

  2. John, one more request (blog post idea)! When you have time, it would be great to know your favorite inks in each color category. The inks that you keep going back to time after time in the blue, green, blue-black, red, etc categories. And a little about why they are your favorites.

    Thanks!

    1. Post
      Author

      That’s not a bad idea! I feel like ink and color choices are really personal, so I know not everyone would agree, but it is good to have a starting point if you have no idea where to start but want a particular color. I’ll add it to the list of ideas! 🙂

  3. Hi John, quick question. Just to have an idea of what the scale range looks like–what would rating would you give to standard office copy paper (ie, some feathering, bleeding, show through, etc). Does that get a composite score of a 0 on your scale, or a 1? On the other end, what would be the “ideal” paper? Tomoe River? Would that get the best score and what would it’s composite score be? I have not used it much, but I hear that it tends to flatten the color and shading a bit.

    Thanks!

    1. Post
      Author

      Good question! I would say the worst possible score would be a 0. That would mean no sheen, no shading, the ink never dries, and every bit of writing bleeds and feathers. In my tests I only recorded a few 0’s, mostly for sheen. I don’t suspect a paper like this exists, especially the part about ink never drying on such horrible paper. The ideal or “perfect” paper would be the exact opposite and is much more attainable, but again I doubt I’ll ever see a perfect 5 since a super-fast drying time isn’t very compatible with the other characteristics.

      I think the “ideal” paper is one that balances all of the traits and does them all well. In my opinion, while Tomoe River is an excellent paper, it’s not ideal because of how long ink takes to dry on it. Personally, I think lots of inks look better on it, although it doesn’t shade as well as other papers. Here you can compare my writing on it and some Midori paper: https://fountainpenlove.com/paper/can-different-papers-change-the-way-an-ink-looks/

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