Paper Review: Baron Fig Strategist Note Cards
Fountain pens and index cards aren't always an ideal pairing. Inexpensive index cards can be especially brutal, as they are prone to feathering, show-through, and bleeding. So when I discovered that Baron Fig offers a set of 'premium' index cards, I knew had to check them out.
Materials & Construction
Baron Fig doesn't provide a ton of information about the paper used in its Strategist note cards. In fact, the only detail I was able to find on their site was a terse bullet point that reads, "card-stock quality." With that said, the choice of paper does seem properly suited to a note card application. It's sturdy and holds its form well without creasing or tearing easily. Even better, the paper is able to achieve this robustness without being unnecessarily thick, so a small stack of cards will maintain a relatively slim profile and allow for easy portability.
As for the characteristics of the paper itself, it's relatively absorbent and has a hint of texture to it. That texture is noticeable but definitely not unpleasant; it just adds a touch more feedback than what you might experience on a smoother writing surface, like Rhodia's coated paper.
Apart from that, there’s not much to say about the paper used in these cards. As I said, the choice of paper is a good one for use in note cards, as it meets my expectations for sturdiness while still being thin and light enough for easy sorting, filing, and carrying.
The Strategist note cards offer a pleasing mix of conventional and modern design elements. To start, the cards take on the familiar 3" x 5" size that many of us will be used to from school and office usage. The traditional size is a plus when it comes to compatibility; if you already have a case that's meant to hold index cards, these Strategist cards will likely fit without issue.
Where Baron Fig mixes it up is with the layout of the Strategist note cards. Rather than the standard ruling you tend to see on more ordinary note cards, Baron Fig includes a dot grid layout on one side of the Strategist, while the other side is blank. The dot grid pattern is similar to what you would find in many notebooks, including Baron Fig's own Confidant series: dots are spaced 5mm apart and have a faint gray hue that's prominent enough to guide spacing but subtle enough so as not to be distracting. I like that the dot grid pattern is generally symmetrical; the margins are even on opposing edges, though the margins on the long edges are a bit wider than the ones on the short edges.
I don't know that I enjoy having one side of these cards be blank. For me, having a blank canvas is only really useful for drawing, and that's not something I do with note cards. Personally, I use note cards almost exclusively for text-oriented tasks. Consequently, I find the dot grid side of these cards to be way more useful than the blank side, where I often find myself wanting for something to guide my writing.
One notable caveat to my preference for having two dot grid sides is that having a blank side makes these cards well-suited for creating ink swatches. You can use the blank side to produce a nice, big swatch and use the reverse side for a writing sample. In this application, I actually appreciate having a blank side, as having a dot grid would mar the uniformity of the swatch.
The rounded corners of the cards are another touch that adds a bit of a modern aesthetic. I wasn't expecting to enjoy this design decision as much as I do, but now that I've have some hands-on time with these note cards I think I know why. The rounded corners don't just provide a chic look; they also make the cards slightly more pleasant to hold and handle. Call me crazy, but I also think the rounded corners make the note cards a little bit more resilient. I feel like traditional rectangular cards tend to show more wear as a result of crumpled corners, whereas these note cards age a bit more gracefully.
Put simply, performance is where these note cards really shine. I tested them with a variety of writing instruments, including fountain pens with nibs of all sizes, and the writing experience was nothing short of spectacular. Feathering and bleeding were nowhere to be found, even when I tested the cards with brush pens, permanent markers, or juicy wet double broad fountain pen nibs.
To me, show-through becomes a heightened cause for concern when discussing note cards. Because concealing the contents of the reverse side of the card can often be important (for example, when creating flash cards for quizzing), show-through can sometimes make or break the usefulness of the cards. With that said, the Strategist note cards generally provide acceptable performance, with two caveats. First, permanent markers will frequently show-through the reverse side of the card. Second, in well-lit situations you will often be able to see through to the reverse side of the card, so you may want to cover that side with a blank card or your hand if hiding the content is important.
Dry times are also of critical importance when dealing with note cards, particularly if you plan on writing on several cards sequentially and then stacking or filing them together. During my testing, I found that most fountain pen inks dry in 5-10 seconds on these cards. That's quite speedy, and results in a feeling that you can use these cards with confidence without having to worry about any abnormal smearing or staining.
The quick dry times are likely the result of the rather absorbent qualities of the paper. Because it's so absorbent, I was concerned that the paper might affect some of the visual characteristics of fountain pen ink, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that shading and sheen properties of inks were mostly unaffected when using these note cards.
All in all I have no complaints about the performance of the Strategist note cards. They've held up admirably no matter what writing instrument I've thrown at them, and if you are a fountain pen user you'll likely be happy with the cards' performance compared to other options.
Baron Fig sells the Strategist note cards on their online store for $9 for a 100-count pack. If you're used to buying note cards that aren't necessarily geared toward use with fountain pens, then $9 will likely seem a bit high. After all, 100-count packs of standard 3" x 5" note cards can easily be had for less than a third of that price. However, I've found that inexpensive note cards often provide a compromised writing experience when used with fountain pens, so if fountain pen performance is of the utmost importance to you, then you may not mind paying the premium. Moreover, Baron Fig's price is actually more competitive than some other "premium" note cards, such as Levenger's Dot Grid Cards which sell for $12 for a 100-count pack.
Final Thoughts & Score
card-stock quality paper is receptive to fountain pen ink (and virtually any other media you might throw at it)
rounded corners are stylish and make the cards more comfortable to hold
absorbent paper allows for fast drying without robbing ink of unique properties
show-through may limit applications where masking the content on the reverse sides of cards is important
would prefer dot grid layout on both sides of the card
price is a bit expensive