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Updated Dec 16, 2022 2:14 PM
Growing up, my mom would scold me every time I bought a new notebook before finishing my old one. I couldn’t help it though—sometimes a new pad is all you need to feel refreshed and get your thoughts out. Your phone has a notes app built-in. And even though it’s perfectly functional, let’s be honest: There is nothing like a good ol’ notebook. Whether you use a pocket-sized one for various lists or a spiral-bound one to take notes during class or meetings putting pen to paper is a highly effective way to commit facts to memory, get your ideas in order, and let your creative juices flow.
The notebook you choose is highly dependent on the purpose it will serve. Will you be carrying it around with you, or is it going to live on your desk? Do you plan to jot down quick notes or capture daily recollections in a diary? The details matter. Here’s how you can pick the best notebook for your needs.
How we chose the best notebooks
When looking at notebooks, we considered what purpose each would serve and the quality of the paper and binding. The one you use as a travel journal likely isn’t the same one you’ll want with you in the lecture hall or board room. We checked offerings from stalwart brands like Moleskine and Mead, and paged through virtual aisles of more than 100 pads. We broke down what we found by the main uses—journaling, schoolwork, travel diary, and bullet journaling—and assessed the best size and print type (ruled, dotted, or grid) for each occasion. From there, we looked at the paper quality and price of each notebook to ensure they are smear resistant and can be used with any pen or marker, no matter the ink.
What to consider when buying the best notebooks
A small notebook doing double-duty as a diary may be too small for school notes, and vice versa. Your words deserve only the best, stylish notebook to reflect what’s going on inside of them. Here’s what you should consider when shopping for the best notebooks.
The size of the notebook you choose should be determined by the purpose you want it to serve, whether that is jotting down a short grocery list, or storing a semester’s worth of notes. Notebook paper is often measured in what’s known as the A-size scale, which ranges from A10 (1 by 1.5 inches) to 4A0 (66.2 by 93.6 inches). The most common notebook sizes you’ll see are A4 (8.3 by 11.7 inches), A5 (5.8 by 8.3 inches), and A6 (4.1 by 5.8 inches).
If you’ll be carrying your notebook around in different bags, you’ll want something on the smaller side—anything A5-sized or smaller will do the trick. If you’re taking notes during class, though, you’ll want to go for something in the A4 range.
You’ll want to make sure your notebook paper can prevent ink from bleeding through the page. The thickness or weight of paper is measured in grams per square meter (GSM), and the minimum you should look for in a notebook is 58 GSM. The higher the GSM, the thicker and stronger the paper. Higher-quality paper is important if you want your notebook to stand the test of time or you want to experiment with different media, like watercolor or paint markers. But if you’re just looking for a small notebook to make lists you don’t plan to keep, a lower GSM will suit you just fine.
There are four basic print types: plain, ruled, dotted, and gridded. Once again, the print type you choose will depend on how you use the notebook and your particular preferences. Plain paper is great for sketching and mapping ideas, whereas the structure of ruled paper works well for note-taking and journaling. Dotted and gridded pages are ideal for bullet journals, especially when you’re creating your own agenda or list system. There are no hard and fast rules on this—trial and error will help you find what works best for you.
The most common binding types are sewn, glued, and spiral. With sewn binding, the pages come sewn together in sections. This type of binding works well for notebooks that you want to lay flat to write in (think bullet journals, diaries, etc.). Notebooks with glue binding (or “perfect binding”) use an adhesive to hold the pages and cover together. This method of binding is quite durable and is often used with hardcover notebooks. Finally, spiral-bound notebooks are threaded with wires between pre-punched holes to bind the front and back covers to a stack of paper. Notebooks made with spiral binding are often used for school and office settings.
The best notebooks: Reviews & Recommendations
The best notebook is the one whose size and print type best serve your needs. In general, larger, lined notebooks work best for school settings where you’ll be taking copious notes throughout the day. However, if you plan to use a notebook as a diary, you may want a smaller, lined notebook, with a lot of pages in it. And for bullet journals or travel notebooks, a smaller notebook with plain, dotted, or gridded paper will work best.
Best overall: Moleskine Classic Notebook
Why it made the cut: Moleskine notebooks have earned their reputation as a key piece of any scribe’s everyday carry over the decades. They’re slim and elegant, yet their durable covers will stand the test of time. This option is our top pick because it’s so versatile. You can use it to take notes in class, jot down grocery lists, or recap your day before going to bed.
- Cover type: Hardcover
- Size: 5 x 8.25 inches
- Page count: 240 pages
- Color options: Comes in 21 colors
- Print type: Ruled, dotted, plain, and squared paper available
- High-quality paper
- Multiple print types available
- Several size options
- Not ideal for a classroom (smaller than the average spiral-bound notebook)
- Not refillable
- No customization options
- Slightly pricey
The notebook comes with long-lasting, acid-free paper that’s easy to write on because of its weight. At 70 grams per square meter, it’s on the thicker side, making it suitable for use with a wide variety of pens. If you prefer to write on both the front and back of the pages, the heavyweight paper will prevent most inks from bleeding through and muddying up your words. The soft yellow hue of the paper is also very pleasant to look at and won’t blind you as bright white paper does.
One of the best things about Moleskine notebooks is that the case binding is soft, so the pages lay flat effortlessly. This is definitely an advantage compared to similar notebooks that you have to press open repeatedly to tame them.
These notebooks work well for everyday use. The plain design makes one appropriate to bring to the office, and the 21 available colors allow you to still express your personal flair. And while this particular pick features ruled pages, Moleskine also offers the same size notebooks with dotted, gridded, plain, and plain/ruled paper.
On a practical level, the integrated elastic band and internal folders ensure you can securely tuck mementos inside. And at 5-by-8.25 inches, the Moleskine Classic Notebook is easy to tuck into a bag on your way out the door.
Best bullet journal: LEUCHTTURM1917 Medium A5 Dotted Softcover Notebook
Why it made the cut: The LEUCHTTURM1917 bullet journal is an elegant, yet simple-to-use notebook that’s easy to carry around with you, and it’s a pleasure to write on. It’s comparable to Moleskine’s Classic Notebook, but LEUCHTTURM1917’s pages are even thicker at 80 GSM, making them more ideal for fountain pens.
- Cover type: Softcover
- Size: 5.5 x 8 inches
- Page count: 123 numbered pages
- Color options: Comes in 13 colors
- Print type: Dotted, plain, ruled, squared
- Eight perforated sheets
- Light and portable
- Multiple colors available
- Fewer pages than other bullet journals
- Not as long-lasting
A good bullet journal allows for easy customization so you can create your own agenda, keep up with your tasks, and track your goals. LEUCHTTURM1917’s soft dotted notebook covers the basics: the pages are pre-numbered, and the journal includes a blank table of contents and labeling stickers for convenient organization. Its binding includes two ribboned bookmarks that let you create different sections of your bullet journal.
The soft-cover A5-sized (5.8 by 8.3 inches) notebook is designed with off-white, acid-free paper that prevents ink bleed through. The dotted lines are ideal for you to record your thoughts, and the thread binding allows the notebook to lay flat for easier writing. The back cover also features an expandable gusseted pocket for safe storage.
While there are plenty of bullet journals with dozens of extra features, the LEUCHTTURM 1917 is our favorite because of its simplicity. You can turn it into whatever you want: a daily agenda, a yearly goal tracker, a project planner, or all of the above. The pages are already numbered and the book comes with a built-in table of contents—all you need to get started is a pen.
Best for school: Five Star Spiral College-Ruled Notebook
Why it made the cut: There’s a reason students still take the Five Star Spiral College-Ruled Notebook to class. This tried-and-true notebook covers all the basics. I used these in school, and they were especially useful in large lecture classes where we covered a ton of material in a short amount of time—I didn’t lose time flipping the pages every few minutes, and the notebooks’ large size made it easier to organize my notes. Plus, only needing to buy one pack of notebooks for a semester made back-to-school shopping significantly easier.
- Cover type: Softcover
- Size: 8.5 x 11 inches
- Page count: 100 sheets
- Color options: N/A
- Print type: Ruled
- No ink bleedthrough
- Additional storage
- Can make a binder bulky
- A bit pricey
- Pages don’t detach easily
Sometimes you can’t beat a classic. Each notebook in this multi-colored six-pack has a plastic spillproof front cover and a two-pocket storage page for handouts, homework, and miscellaneous loose-leaf papers you collect throughout the year.
Five Star’s college-ruled notebooks are our favorite for school because of how versatile they are. Each notebook comes with 100 sheets, ensuring you’ll only need one per class for the term. They are also designed with three-hole punches on the left side, so if you use a binder, you can easily add one to it, or tear off individual perforated, hole-punched pages when needed.
The pages are a standard 8.5 x 11-inch size, meaning they’ll easily fit on even the smallest lecture-hall desk. This size will also make it easy to fit in most backpacks, and the pages provide enough space to ensure you don’t need to flip the sheet every two minutes. Plus, each notebook in the set comes in one of six bright colors, so you can easily tell them apart. Never again will you have to scramble around to figure out which notebook you need for your next class before the bell rings.
Best for travel: Ai-Natebok Travel Journal
Why it made the cut: You’ll look forward to taking this small, leather journal out of your bag to record memories when you travel. It also makes a perfect gift at a great price. The ability to have multiple insertable notebooks is crucial—when I took a solo trip a few years ago, I found it incredibly convenient to use different inserts for varying purposes. You can use one to jot down trip information, one to recap each day, and another to make a mini scrapbook.
- Cover type: Leather cover
- Size: 4.72 x 7.87 inches
- Page count: 160 pages
- Color options: Comes in three colors
- Print type: Lined pages
- Extra storage
Documenting your adventures on Instagram isn’t quite the same as writing down those experiences that make a trip memorable. A travel journal allows you to jot down the subtle details that resonate with you and store random mementos without weighing down your bag.
The Ai-Natebok travel journal is the ideal notebook to take with you while you traverse the globe. It’s small but mighty, with a soft leather cover to protect the inner pages, and won’t allow your memories to disintegrate as you take the notebook in and out of your bag. This journal also comes with two lined 80-page inserts to capture extra thoughts and a plastic card slot to store tickets, transit cards, and more.
At 4.72 by 7.87 inches, this travel journal will fit in nearly any bag or pocket. It’s available in three beautiful, stain-resistant colors—brown, light brown, and white coffee—and the leather gives this notebook a long life, so it’ll be able to come along to your many future adventures. If you need to add more pages or want to supplement your journal with dotted or plain paper, you can get additional inserts.
Best pocket: PAPERAGE Lined Pocket Journal Notebook
Why it made the cut: This thin, portable notebook has thick paper and loads lots of quality in a small package.
- Cover type: Vegan leather hardcover
- Size: 3.7 x 5.6 inches
- Page count: 160
- Color options: Comes in 11 colors
- Print type: Ruled
- Includes inner pockets and sticker labels
- Included bookmark
- Can get a larger notebook for the same price
If you’re looking for a small notebook to write down all of your large, fleeting ideas, look no further than this one from Paperage. Don’t let its size fool you—this ruled notebook has pockets, an elastic closure band, and thick high-quality paper, just like its larger counterparts. It’s also great to keep on you for list making, reminder writing, and quick doodles on public transit. Plus, it comes in 11 colors, and its ruled type will help you write in straight lines, which is important when writing in such a small notebook.
Best budget: EOOUT 3 Pack Spiral Notebook College Ruled Notebook
Why it made the cut: The practical EOOUT notebooks make it easy to record thoughts or take notes wherever you go, while the covers are neutral and add a bit of flair at the same time. The three-for-the-price-of-one bundle is difficult to resist, and the hard cover makes them durable.
- Cover type: Hardcover
- Size: 5.5 x 8.3 inches
- Page count: 80 pages
- Color options: N/A
- Print type: Ruled
- Flipping pages is easy
This trio of notebooks from EOOUT provides months’ worth of space for jotting down your thoughts. Each is bound by twin coils that make opening and flipping through the pages easy. At 5.5 by 8.3 inches, these notebooks slide easily into just about any bag, and the sturdy hardcover casing makes them durable enough to withstand getting bumped around.
The quality of the paper also makes these notebooks a smart pick. Each of the 80 pages is thick enough to help prevent ink from bleeding through to the next page. The college-ruled pages are designed with roughly 25 lines per sheet, so there’s plenty of room for notes.
Q: How much do the best notebooks cost?
Depending on the size, binding, cover material, and tech connectivity, the best notebooks can range between $7-$600.
Q: Where can you find the best notebooks?
You can find the best notebooks at Amazon, any major retailer, office supply stores, or at specialty paper stores like Papier.
Q: What is the most popular journal size?
The ideal journal size is subjective, but they’re often smaller notebooks than those used for schoolwork. We recommend B6 (5.03 by 7.16 inches) or smaller so you can toss it in any bag.
Final thoughts on the best notebooks
No matter how many new notes you can start on your smartphone app, a notebook is a must-have for those details and drawings that just need to be put on paper. Our favorite overall is the Moleskine Classic Notebook because of its versatility. You can choose from five different print types so that you can get exactly what you want out of the notebook, and the durable cover will help it last for many ideas to come.