Paper Review: Rhodia Webnotebook
Many people discover the joy of Rhodia paper early on during their trip down the fountain pen rabbit hole. However, most of the attention gets directed at Rhodia's paper pads, specifically their No. 16 A5 dot Pad and No. 19 A4+ dot Pad. Today, I'm here to tell you that their Webnotebooks are equally worthy of your affection.
Materials & Construction
You can tell there's something special about Rhodia's Webnotebooks the moment you pick them up, and much of that first impression results from the quality of the cover. Available in black, orange, or silver, the "Italian leatherette" hardcover is both a joy to behold and to hold. It's a soft, supple faux leather cover that feels great in the hand while still being sturdy enough to hold up to ordinary wear and tear. I absolutely adore the Creamsicle orange hue of my notebook, but the black and silver versions offer a more understated look if that's more your taste. The notebook also includes an elastic band to ensure it closes tightly, and I've found the band remains taut even after extensive usage.
The inside covers are lined with paper that's a slightly more vibrant orange, but it still pairs nicely with the lighter hue of the outside cover. Though there's not much going on with the front inside cover, the back inside cover features a collapsible pocket for storage. The pocket doesn't offer a huge amount of storage, but it works just fine for a few loose sheets of paper or thin accessories like a sheet of stickers, some note cards, or a small ruler.
I wasn't able to find much specific information on the binding, but from the looks of it, it appears to be Smyth-sewn. There are visible signatures that appear to be bound by both fabric and adhesive. More importantly, the binding performs exactly how I want it to: it allows for a completely lay-flat design no matter which section of the notebook you're using, and it provides a comfortable writing experience.
As for the guts of the notebook, Rhodia provides 96 sheets (192 pages) of their 90g, acid-free, pH-neutral paper. Those of you with an eye for detail may notice that this paper is slightly heavier than what you'll find in their dot Pads (80g), but in practice it's hard to tell a big difference. Again, I wasn't able to find specific confirmation of this fact, but the paper appears to have the same type of coating that's used on the dot Pads.
If I do have to pick an area to direct some criticism it's with the bookmark. Like so many other notebooks, Rhodia uses a thin, glossy, ribbon-style bookmark that just looks and feels cheap. It wrinkles easily and I suspect it will be prone to fraying, though admittedly mine hasn't started to do so yet. It does irk me that so many notebook manufacturers treat the bookmark as such an afterthought; sometimes I wonder if they'd be better off just omitting it entirely rather than including one that brings down the overall perceived quality of the product.
It's hard to describe the design of this notebook as anything other than minimalist. In fact, the only bits of flourish that you'll find on the Webnotebook are the Rhodia logo that's been elegantly debossed into the center of the front cover and a short line of text at the bottom of the first page indicating the type of paper. I sometimes appreciate a little more accoutrement with my notebooks, but here I think the sparsity works well; it keeps the notebook classy and professional and distills the design to only those elements that are essential.
The design of the paper is equally austere, but it does have a few things going for it that keep it from being boring. The corners of pages are rounded and while the cuts are generally uniform, the rounding isn't quite perfect. There are visible apices on either end of the rounding, but it's not so bad that it detracts visually. Besides, asking for perfectly rounded corners is probably a bit too nitpicky.
At 145mm x 210mm, the paper is a hair narrower than "true" A5 but it's close enough not to matter. Blank, ruled, and dot grid options are available, and I opted for the dot grid version. The dots are dark gray and are relatively prominent, so if you prefer a subtle dot grid that blends in more closely with the background then this paper may not suit your tastes.
Prior to purchasing this notebook, I did have some qualms about the color of the paper. If you're used to using Rhodia's dot Pads then you've likely come to appreciate their pure white hue. My fear was that the ivory colored paper used in the Webnotebook might take some adjustment, but after having used it, I've come to appreciate it. Design-wise I actually think the ivory colored paper complements the notebook's overall aesthetic, especially on this orange version. There's only a whisper of yellow tint to the paper, and I find it adds to the overall premium feel of the notebook. Having said that, I can see how some may wish that Rhodia offered versions with more traditional white paper.
In my opinion, the Webnotebook comes really close to having the perfect design for a notebook. Aside from numbered pages and perhaps a few sheets of perforated pages, I can't think of much more I'd rather get from a notebook.
There's one aspect of this notebook that's virtually unimpeachable, and that's the way it performs. Many fountain pen enthusiasts find Rhodia to be the de facto gold standard of fountain pen friendly paper, and the paper used in the Webnotebook only reinforces that perception.
To start, the paper simply holds up better to fountain pen ink than most others I've tested. While it's certainly possible to experience bleeding, it takes a concerted effort to bring about, and even then it usually only results from significant volume, a finicky ink, or a combination of the two. I tested the Webnotebook with a range of inks from Diamine, Private Reserve, Herbin, Pilot, and other brands, and just about all of them performed without issue. The one exception was with Noodler's inks, but I've come to expect Noodler's to perform a bit differently given its ultra-high level of saturation.
Ghosting was nonexistent with normal handwriting, but I did witness it when practicing some flex writing. With that said, even some flex writing had zero show-through, which is really rather impressive.
One of my favorite qualities of Rhodia's dot Pads is that they virtually eliminate feathering, and the same is true here. I didn't witness any feathering with any inks I tested, even when using broad or double broad nibs.
Dry times were a bit of a mixed bag. Some inks dried as quickly as 10 seconds, while others took closer to 25 seconds. This result is somewhat to be expected given the nature of the coated paper, and of course some amount of that variance has to be attributed to the peculiarities of each ink.
The paper does allow the shading properties of ink to show. I saw plenty of it when using Waterman Mysterious Blue and Franklin-Christoph Honeycomb. However, I saw far less sheen than I was expecting. For example, when using Herbin's Emerald of Chivor, a notorious sheen monster, I saw virtually none of its characteristic red undertones. I thought it might be possible that the ink was overly saturated with gold shimmer particulate that was masking the sheen, so I also tested with Organics Studio Nitrogen. While the second test demonstrated that it's certainly possible to get some sheen, it nevertheless seems to be the case that's it's far more muted compared to what you might get from Tomoe River paper.
Ultimately, however, I judge this paper by its performance with more traditional fountain pen inks and by that standard I have to say that it performs supremely well. I'm confident that most fountain pen users will find this paper to meet or exceed their expectations, and it's certainly stood up to my own.
The "desk" (A5) size Rhodia Webnotebook typically lists for around $20 at most popular online fountain pen retailers. However, I've found that you can save a few bucks by ordering from Amazon. As of the time of this writing, the black version of the A5 Webnotebook is listed on Amazon for $17, while the orange version is going for around $15. At these sub-$20 prices, I think the Rhodia Webnotebooks offer superb value, especially when compared against other A5 notebooks that often perform worse yet cost more. Even if you do end up paying the full $20 list price, I think it's more than fair given the outstanding performance the Webnotebook offers.
Final Thoughts & Score
sumptuous Italian leatherette cover looks and feels great
impressive performance with fountain pen ink
often available at a lower price than notebooks that look and perform worse
only available with ivory colored paper
cheap bookmark seems like an afterthought
inks with sheen won't always shine on this paper
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