Paper layout sometimes feels like a solved problem. Between blank, ruled, graph, and dot grid, there’s an option for everyone, right? So when I stumble across something a little different, I tend to take notice, which is exactly what happened when I first saw the Grid + Lines Utility Notebook by Doane Paper.
Materials & Construction
The Grid + Lines Utility Notebook makes use of a “chipboard” cover. Chipboard is paper stock that’s made from recycled fibers in a variety of thicknesses. The backside of a legal pad is one common application of the material that may be familiar to you. The 100lb stock used on the cover of the Utility Notebook has a sleek matte black finish that feels somewhat chalky to the touch. Though it’s generally durable enough to withstand the trials of being toted around in bags, it’s still pliable enough that you will have to worry about bending and tearing.
Moving on to the guts of the notebook, you’ll find 24 sheets (48 pages) of 60 lb recycled paper. The paper doesn’t appear to have any sort of coating and generally feels similar to standard printer copy paper. The corners of pages are rounded and are cleanly cut. However, I suspect the manufacturing process seems to involve some sort of stamping or pressing of the paper, as several of the pages of my notebooks exhibit indented corners and rolled edges.
Holding all this paper together is a 3-staple saddle-stitched binding. The low page count means the notebook isn’t very thick at all, which results in a completely lay-flat design with practically no gutter. Unfortunately, however, there is a noticeable bulge at the center of the notebook that only widens over time. Finally, the combination of the saddle stitching and lightweight cover results in a notebook that doesn’t close under its own weight after relatively light usage, which is something I don’t particularly enjoy.
I’m a fan of the Utility Notebook’s minimalist aesthetic. The front and back covers have a simple, high-contrast design that features white text on a black background. It’s an understated look that keeps the notebook business friendly without being boring.
At 5″ x 7″, this large version of the Utility Notebook is a convenient size that’s smaller than A5, but ever-so-slightly larger than B6. At this size, the notebook is eminently portable and makes for a good on-the-go companion notebook.
The distinctive ruling on this notebook is what sets it apart. As the notebook’s name implies, the layout consists of a combination of wide-ruled lines and more tightly-spaced grid lines. The wide-ruled lines are a bold shade of blue, while the grid lines are lighter in tone. The ruled lines are spaced 9mm apart, while the graph lines are set 3mm apart. Technically there are 19 ruled lines per page, but only 17 of them are usable, as the top and bottom lines are too close to the page border to be functional.
One minor annoyance is that the ruled lines don’t always align when spanning the binding. Apart from creating some slight visual dissonance, this misalignment can also be frustrating for writing exercises that may use both pages. While that’s not something I do all too frequently, from time to time I do use graph paper to create informal spreadsheets or charts, and the uneven ruling does slightly inhibit that kind of usage.
The paper in the Utility Notebook is only modestly fountain pen friendly. If you tend to use extra fine, fine, or medium nibs, the notebook may work out for you, but problems start to arise when using broader nibs or when applying ink in volume.
To start, despite the seemingly substantial 60lb paper in this notebook, I do encounter some bleeding. This primarily occurs when using flex nibs or doing ink swabs, but other notebooks I’ve tested have been able to stand up to such usage without issue.
Next, I also experience show-through more frequently with this paper than with others I’ve tested, especially when using broad nibs. In these instances, though the reverse sides of the pages are still usable for the most part, the show-through is more than I prefer, so I sometimes have to avoid using the backs of pages. Again, if you mostly use finer nibs you may not have any issues, but even then you may want to stick to less saturated inks.
One thing I can’t recommend this notebook for is flex writing. To put it simply: flex pens don’t work well in this notebook. The volume of ink put down by flex nibs results in heavy feathering and bleeding that renders the back sides of pages unusable. The results are pretty cringeworthy if I’m being honest.
The absorbent nature of the paper does reduce the shading properties of some of my favorite shading inks, but it’s not entirely eliminated. Sheen, on the other hand, is practically non-existent. Moreover, the paper itself seems to rob some inks of their vibrancy; I swab-tested various inks that I’m familiar with and all of them took on a much more muted tone.
On the positive side, dry times are on the quicker side. When testing with a Jinhao 159 (M) inked with Noodler’s 54th Massachusetts, dry time was as quick as 5 seconds in most instances.
Ultimately, though there are certain aspects of this notebook that I enjoy, for me it is relegated to use with rollerballs, ballpoints, and pencils. With those writing instruments, the paper performs reliably and predictably, but I just can’t say the same when using fountain pens.
As of the time of this writing, the Grid + Lines Utility Notebook is sold in packs of 3 for around $12-$13. That price feels reasonable, especially if you appreciate having separate, smaller notebooks rather than a single, larger notebook. However, if you do plan on using these notebooks with fountain pens, I think there are better options to be had.
Final Thoughts & Score
- grid + lines layout is versatile, uncommon
- minimalist black-and-white cover design is attractive
- quick dry times
- bleeding and show-through, particularly when using broader nibs or saturated inks
- significant feathering when ink put down in volume
- absorbent paper reduces vibrancy, shading, and sheening properties of inks