Variable Size Dot Grid Notebook Research [Part 2]

This is part of an on going series of posts following the variable size dot grid notebook research and development. For more, please see:
Variable Size Dot Grid Notebook [Part 1]


Notebook Research

If I’m serious about the possibility of making a dot grid notebook, I had to check out some others with some notebook research. These aren’t full on reviews. I don’t need to do a pen test because I’m going to have to choose paper from the ground up. What I do have to evaluate is the construction, dimensions, and general usability. For my test I chose notebooks from Leuchtturm, Miliko, Muji, and Northbooks.


Paper Size/Color

Stack of notebooks

Top to bottom: Miliko, Northbooks, Leuchtturm1917, Muji. Digital caliper is ready for some serious notebook research.

  • Leuchtturm 1917: A5/Ivory-ish; the darkest paper of the group
  • Miliko: A5/Ivory-ish; second darkest
  • Muji: A5/Off white; lightest in the group
  • Northbooks: 5 x 8 inches/Off white, between Miliko and Muji in color

All but the Northbooks are A5, though they do make A5 versions. Honestly I didn’t realize how non-white some of the pages were until I set them all down next to a stark white college ruled notebook. Personally I kind of like notebooks/sketchbooks/etc. to be just a little bit off white. I think on a subconscious level most people do. Have you ever painted the walls of a room with white ceiling paint? Even in printmaking if I can find white cover stock that is around 96 brightness instead of 98, that’s what I prefer to use.


Ruling/Dot Size/Dot Color

Test writing in a Miliko notebook

Hands on Notebook Research: The larger dots of the Miliko were some of my favorite and even larger than my prototype

  • Leuchtturm 1917: 5mm Ruling/0.05mm Dots/Dark
  • Miliko: 5mm Ruling/0.6mm Dots/Medium
  • Muji: 5mm Ruling/0.38mm Dots/Medium to dark
  • Northbooks: 5mm Ruling/0.54mm Dots/Medium to light

For some reason I was surprised that they all had 5mm ruling when my initial design called for a 6mm ruling. Check JetPens to see what they offered and sure enough all the dot grid notebooks they have are 5mm.

My preference is for the larger size dots of the Miliko. To my eye, it almost looks like these notebooks are printed digitally instead of offset. It’s a non-issue for the most part, it’s just that I can make out the tiny dots of an inkjet printer within those dots.


Cover Thickness/Paper Thickness

  • Leuchtturm 1917: Cover: 0.96mm (0.038″), Paper: 0.08mm (0.0035″)
  • Miliko: Cover: 0.37mm (0.015″), Paper: 0.12mm (0.005″)
  • Muji: Cover: 0.5mm (0.020″), Paper: 0.09mm (0.0035″)
  • Northbooks: Cover: 0.32mm (0.0125″), Paper: 0.12mm (0.0045″)

If you’ve ever use Tamoe River paper, you know that paper thickness isn’t the end all, be all of paper quality. Still, it’s not the worst indicator of what paper stock will stand up to. It’s interesting to me that the more affordable books of this group have thicker paper.


Page Count, Construction, and Cost

  • Leuchtturm 1917: 13 sheets each (folded) to a sewn signature (5 signatures total), flanked by end sheets bonded to single piece of black vinyl, plus two bookmarks and back pocket. 121 numbered pages plus index makes 130 pages total @ $17.95 US = 13 cents/page
  • Miliko: Single sewn signature of 20 sheets (folded) and bound with thread directly to natural brown cover. 80 sheets total. $12.18 US/4-pack = 3.8 cents/page
  • Muji: 4 sheets each (folded) to a signature (12 total), flanked by end sheets (thicker stock than notebook paper) which are bonded to two separate cover sheets. The signatures are glued at the ends to make the book block and the edge is covered with light gray binding tape. 192 pages @ $10.90 = 5.6 cents/page
  • Northbooks: 48 cut single sheets adhesive bound with a single piece cover. 96 pages @ $7.99 = 8.3/cents page

After looking at all these things and holding and folding these notebooks, I have to say I feel like the Muji is the best choice and the Leuchtturm is a little overrated. I mean, it’s nice, but if their marketing weren’t so successful I doubt they’d be getting $18 for a notebook. If I could get the Muji with the Miliko size dots in a lighter color, that would be awesome. More awesome yet, would be to get that same design with the black cover and dark gray binding tape like some of the other Muji sizes, but that’s just a look thing. The Muji also lays the flattest of them all from the start, thanks in part to its many small signatures.


So Now What?

With some preliminary notebook research done, I’ve got to ask myself if my own variable size dot grid design is worth pursuing. One thing I found when writing in the Miliko is that I don’t write along the bottom of the dots, I write along the center of the squares. I also never realized how much my writing size varies with the room I’m given.

In contrast, when I’m writing on the tests printings of my grid paper, I find I write along the bottom of the dots and my “lowercase” letters come to about the halfway point of the square. I kind of prefer this. So with that in mind I’m not giving up.

Notebook research: Test writing on the first version of my dot grid notebook prototype

Test writing on the first version of my dot grid notebook prototype with dots that are too dark.

So I hope to test a 6.3mm (1/4 inch) ruling. Since all other metric rulings are arbitrary (except 5mm, it’s at least 1/2 cm), going with an Imperial measurement makes sense to me in a North American market because right or wrong (okay, it’s wrong) that’s what we use here.

The free dot grid notebook paper downloads are still available. I might be offering a premium downloadable version on Etsy. It would be unbranded and available in various sizes and dot colors.

At some point I’m going to have to ask someone (or many someones) for some amount of help. This is a big undertaking for just one person. At the very least I’m going to need some experienced stationers to test drive my variable size dot grid notebook. And I hope to be doing a giveaway to help meet some like minded stationery addicts.

Erasable Ink

Erasable ink tested on some old checks

Erasable ink tested on some old checks

Did you know this was a thing? What prompted me to research this was an image someone posted of some watercolor and marker brush work on a dot grid notebook. The media kind of amplified the color of the dots. For the most part such notebooks are for initial designs, and maybe that’s okay. But hey. What if you could do your layout in pencils and then erase the dots that were in the field where you planned to put other media?

It turns out erasable ink is a popular feature on checks to prevent fraud. This isn’t a super accurate test because I don’t know what portion of the check was printed with erasable ink. Was it just the light green background, or was the darker green also in erasable ink? If it was just the light green, then it was totally erasable.


All The Rest

I promise I’m still building a guitar. I kind of hate that I started on this notebook thing, but it’s become a problem I can’t put aside until I’ve explored all the angles.

This week I reclaimed and removed stains from some silkscreen frames for printing. I might print a little something this weekend, but I was bummed at the small amount of ink I could get my hands on locally. Might have to put in an order and be patient.

As I continue to think about the variable size dot grid notebook and if it is worth bringing into the world, I’m reminded that I need to share the Neat & Keen mission statement. It needs to be written down and refined, but the overall theme is that I strive to make things that are made from quality materials, recyclable or natural as much as possible, and that help people to beautify and enhance their space and think critically. Think US made chess boards finished with natural lacquer.

Recently I have upgraded to the Adobe Creative Cloud and a Lynda.com subscription. I’ve never stopped using these tools, but the tools I’ve been using have been a little outdated. Whether I find work elsewhere or manage to take my freelance art and design full-time, it will be helpful to stay up with the latest advancements. Any steps I can take towards not being a full-time third shift warehouse worker are good steps.

And to that end I’ve recently had the opportunity to go to a new shift. I will be working first shift hours (6:30am – 4:30pm) Thursdays through Monday. Yeah. I’m going to work every weekend. That part is kind of a drag. However, I will have three days off a week to work on Neat & Keen stuff. That’s huge. This weekend is the first one I’ve had off since April. Going from having one day a week off to three (and sleeping at night) is huge.

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