Paper Review: Elemental Paper "Oxygen" Notebook
Toward the beginning of 2018, Greg and Laurie Krumm launched a Kickstarter campaign for a new line of notebooks. Pitched as "the result of a convergence of passions for the Elements of the Periodic Table, Notebooks, and Fountain Pens," Elemental Notebooks quickly piqued my interest. But I've been burned by Kickstarter before. Do these notebooks have what it takes to restore my faith in crowdfunding?
Materials & Construction
I am impressed with the materials used in Elemental's notebooks. Let's start with the cover. It's a hardcover that feels sturdy and substantial, and it's wrapped in soft-touch linen that feels quite nice in hand. The linen has some tooth to it and compares similarly to the fabric used in Baron Fig's Confidant. The linen is wrapped tightly, bound cleanly, and truly gives off a premium vibe.
The quality of the binding is equally impressive. It's Smyth-sewn, meaning the pages are physically sewn into the notebook and reinforced with adhesive to create a very strong and durable binding. It's also eminently usable: the notebook lays flat regardless of whether you're writing in the beginning, middle, or end sections. Having said that, the way the paper is affixed to the cover means the very first page and the very last page of the notebook are a bit difficult to use, but that's a trait that's relatively common among notebooks that I've tested.
One thing I haven't enjoyed is that, although this notebook does lay flat, the covers have failed to close tightly from the get-go. When laid on a flat surface, whichever cover is facing upward tends to bulge out about 5mm, and it's been this way ever since I removed it from its packaging. This hasn't proved to be a a major annoyance, but it does cause some consternation if you plan to regularly store the notebook in its packaging, as the splayed cover makes it difficult to re-insert the notebook into its paper sheath.
Of course, the most meaningful set of materials is the paper inside this notebook. Like so many other notebooks, it's acid-free, archival-quality paper, but at 100gsm, the paper in this notebook is a little bit heavier than what you may find elsewhere (Baron Fig: 90gsm; Leuchtturm: 80gsm). The paper is smooth with only a hint of toothiness, and reinforces the premium feel of the notebook.
Finally, Elemental’s notebooks include not one, but two ribbon-style bookmarks. The bookmarks are color-matched to each notebook, and the blue and white ribbons included in the Oxygen version pair nicely. Having said that, the fabric used for the ribbons themselves feels rather cheap and I don't really like how their glossy finish contrasts with the more matte look of the rest of the notebook. This causes the bookmarks to stand out from the other more premium components of the notebook, and not in a good way.
That's the word that immediately came to mind when I first unboxed this notebook. Before I even dive into the design of the notebook itself, I want to take a moment to discuss the packaging. It features a stylish matte black finish complemented by blue foil lettering and it's easily one of the more attractive examples of notebook packaging that I've encountered.
Moving on to the notebook itself, the design continues to impress. Elemental Paper uses a variety of colors for its linen covers and every single one of them is quite fetching. I'm most fond of the vibrant blue featured on this Oxygen version, but there's also gray, black, and green versions named "Hydrogen," "Carbon," and "Nitrogen," respectively. According to the company, blue was chosen for Oxygen because "88.88% of water is Oxygen by mass and Liquid Oxygen is light blue in color." I love that the design choices are not purely arbitrary and tie in to the overall chemical element motif; it shows a level of thoughtfulness and consideration that's not always apparent in other notebooks.
The covers are all solid-colored but there's a neat little design element featured on the spine: each notebook has its namesake chemical element foil-stamped at the base of the spine. It's a subtle touch that adds a bit of understated charm to the notebook, and I quite like it.
Perhaps the most unique trait of Elemental's notebooks is the design that's printed on the edge of the pages. Each notebook has its namesake element's emission spectrum printed on the edges of the pages in rainbow colors against a black background. It's a snazzy look and yet another example of how the company's scientific motif permeates the entire design of its products.
Turning to the internals of the notebook, we're met with 192 pages of standard A5 size paper. The pages have rounded corners, are unnumbered, and lack any perforation. The paper is available in dot grid layout only, which may disappoint some, but works fine for me. Enveloping those pages are the inside covers, and the front inside cover deserves a mention. It displays the Bohr model of the notebook's featured element, while the facing cover page features an outline of the periodic table which can ostensibly be used for your contact information.
All in all, I am a huge fan of this notebook's design. To call it 'stylish' is an understatement, and it's hard not to be won over by the amount of charm it exudes, particularly if you have any sort of interest in science.
For the most part the paper in my Elemental notebook performs well, with a few caveats. Let's start with the positive. Show-through has been minimal, and bleeding has been nonexistent. If using the reverse sides of pages is important to you, then there should be no concerns with this notebook, and I suspect the paper's heavier weight has something to do with that.
Furthermore, despite being rather absorbent, the paper nevertheless allows for great shading. When testing with Franklin-Christoph Honeycomb, a lovely golden brown with plenty of shading, I was able to see the entirety of the ink's color gamut with no noticeable reduction in shading. If it's sheen you're after, however, you may be a bit disappointed. The paper's high absorbency does tend to rob—or at the very least, reduce—inks of their sheening properties.
Another positive quality is that inks dry relatively quickly on this paper. During my testing I found that my inks were mostly dry within 10 seconds, and completely dry within 15 seconds.
However, the paper in this notebook isn't without its failings. Specifically, one aspect of the paper's performance that's been unfortunate is its tendency to promote feathering when used with fountain pen ink. Even when using fine and medium nibs I would experience a decent amount of feathering. Thankfully, the magnitude of the feathering isn't dramatic. You won't see the spiderweb-like splintering that you might experience with something like Moleskine. Rather, the feathering mostly takes the form of fuzzy edges on letters. Nevertheless, it's apparent enough to be a distraction.
It's a bit of a let-down that the paper doesn't perform better, especially when you consider that: a) the creators themselves are fountain pen users; and b) the Kickstarter campaign specifically noted that paper quality was the creators' "biggest priority." Don't get me wrong; the paper isn't terrible, and it will definitely work just fine with certain inks. But I get the feeling that the quality of the paper was a secondary consideration behind having a handsome design.
Though these notebooks were originally only available via the Kickstarter campaign, they have since become available on the Elemental Paper website and sell for $20 individually, or $36 for a pack of two. That price is entirely reasonable and plants these notebooks firmly in the typical price range of other A5 notebooks from manufacturers like Rhodia, Leuchtturm, and Baron Fig. If you're fond of the notebooks' unique style and don't mind the fact that you may have to be somewhat selective with your ink choices, I'm confident you won't be disappointed paying around $20 for these notebooks.
Final Thoughts & Score
unique aesthetic is stylish and different
thoughtful, thoroughly-considered design choices abound
quality materials result in sturdy, durable construction
covers don't close flat
inks sometimes feather on this paper
bookmarks look and feel cheap