This new Rhodia Webnotebook is the result of Clairefontaine's direct response to users wanting a superior product to add to their writing experience. As Clairefontaine manufactures their own paper, this new Webnotebook contains an all new French made 90g ivory paper.
So now we have a journal with an extremely similar form factor (design) but with increased functionality, over the popular (but overpriced) Moleskine.
The first version of the Webnotebook contained an 80g paper that was not manufactured by Clairefontaine. That version is still available. The paper in the 80g version was from what I heard, "not fountain pen ink friendly" and in direct response to the fountain pen community, Rhodia has updated the Webnotebook with a paper that is more responsive to the water based FP inks.
I, like many others, started writing on a regular basis through the purchase of a single Moleskine journal. Why did we buy a Moleskine? Perhaps due to their incredible market penetration and high profile marketing in the giant brick & mortar booksellers and art supply stores. They also spin a great story about how how similar journals were used by past literary greats.
But what exactly is a Moleskine journal? It's a product design. It's become chic to be seen carrying one if their little black notebooks- but how does that design perform? Especially since they are not an inexpensive product, (though manufactured in China) where many similar products are being made and sold for half the cost of a Moleskine. If you use a ball-point, rollerball, or maybe even a gel pen, they perform just fine. But what if you are one of the 10's of thousands of fountain pen users? Well...the Moleskine functions inconsistently at best. Moleskine paper is not friendly towards water based fountain pen inks. Spreading, feathering and bleed-through are all too common occurrences with the Moleskine paper.... sometimes. I say sometimes because one page will provide the perfect writing experience then the next...awfulness.
We fountain pen users use them to write with because they provide an effortless writing experience. Minimal effort to move the nib across the paper means less hand and wrist fatigue which in turn allows for longer writing sessions. Fountain pens are not cheap - they can range from $25 for the Lamy Safari pictured in the photo above - into the hundreds for a Montblanc.
So why are so many people paying such a high price for a product that isn't what it could be?
Because Mole-Clone products have not been able to meet or exceed the Mole's design AND offer a better quality of paper. So people keep buying the Moleskines.
- Pen & Ink brand - still bleeds & feathers.
- Cartesio - cover not hard like the Mole, reports of feathering
- Stifflexible - paper bleeds
- Piccadilly - not a premium product - paper quality inconsistent
- Pentalic - great paper, but vinyl cover stiff and awkward to use
- Canteo - rough paper texture, spreading, limited availability
- Ciak - books don't lie flat, ink spreads - some bleeding
- Clairefontaine - great paper, bright white only - no similar form factor. (no Mole clone.)
(Please see the sidebar on my blog for links to my reviews on all the above mentioned products.)
So let's start to look at the specifics on the Webnotebook -
Though the product description says "discreet embossed cover logo" I'd say that it could be smaller, and perhaps moved to the rear of the book to allow for a more minimalist look that the black cover journal people seem to prefer.
The cover is hardback, with a slightest bit of flexibility - very similar to the hardback Moleskine. The cover material is soft - almost like a very fine glove leather. It's very similar to the cover material on the Pen & Ink journals. I prefer the feel of this cover to the Moleskine - though whatever material this is made of, it will show a greasy fingerprint. Note to self... don't handle brand new much-awaited journal with tanning oil all over your hands. Luckily, it wiped right off. Because it is soft- over time, it may show scratches through normal use.
The Rhodia Webnotebook includes a finished ribbon bookmark, an elastic band to close the book, (at about the same tension as the Moleskine) and rounded corners on the book & paper. That's a feature that I really love. Anyone who has ever sat with a book in their lap and had corners digging into their belly, or a sharp corner digging into their hand as they reached a bottom of a page, appreciates the rounded corners.
Notice that the pages appear to be unruled. That is because the ruling on the Webnotebook doesn't run to the edge of the page. I think it makes the book look neater. As of right now, Webnotebooks are only available ruled. As one who is known to doodle, I would really, really like to see a plain version of this book at some time in the future.
Size: 5.25 x 8.25 in.
Pages: 240 lined pages Run $15-18
Size: 5.5 x 8.25
Pages: 192 lined pages $20 (Not yet available for sale, this price is a guesstimate based on the 89g version currently being sold.)
So the Webnotebook costs more than the Moleskine - and it has less pages... but considering the materials used in its construction - it's more in line with its price point than the Chinese made Moleskine.
Front and back end papers on the Webnotebook are a very minimal plain black. No lead in/out pages - no product information, no superfluous pages of any kind. It allows you to jump right in. Of note - first and last pages of the book are attached to the end papers and aren't of much use. This is something I see in many different brands of journals, and quite frankly, I'm not sure why I'm even mentioning it.
Rhodia paper is a bit yellower in color than the Moleskine. Ruling width is 7mm (27 lines per page in the large version) to Moleskine's 6mm (with 30 lines per page.) Each book has a margin on top/bottom which I really like. Not sure why they chose to place a Rhodia logo on the lower right corner of every right hand page - I don't mind, but some people might find it intrusive.
The spine is pretty much collapsible. (Why isn't every journal like this?) So it pretty much allows the book to lie completely flat.
One of my only concerns with this product is that the signatures are sewn a little tight, (like most Clairefontaine products) and it prevents the book from opening completely flat - like the Moleskine. In my opinion...it's flat enough - but I wish they would consider improving the tension. (On all their products)
Pages are an off-white with a yellowing cast. Reminds me of the color of a manila folder, or of the pages in the Moleskine Sketchbooks. They are actually a bit more yellow that I'm used to using, but quite frankly, I prefer anything that isn't white.
Large black pocket inside the back cover of the journal. It's rare that I use these, but it's nice to know it's there if you have something you'd like to save.
13 different fountain pen inks (3 different manufacturers - Herbin, Noodler's and Diamine) tested in 13 different fountain pens ranging in extra fine to medium nibs plus two cursive italics in .5 and .7 nib widths. This paper is super smooth with every single pen/ink combination tested, and I experienced no feathering, spreading, (meaning that each nib wrote at its actual size) and no bleed-through to the other side.
I have heard of another tester experiencing some bleed through with a wide nibbed pen. That always makes be wonder... why him and not me? 90g Clairefontaine paper should not bleed - but to note, this paper does have different characteristics than the typical 90g bright white Clairefontaine offers in almost all of their products. I find the 90g bright white to be smooth but draggy.... in that the paper almost feels coated in some way. This paper is much smoother.
Many writing papers include some kind of a clay wash to make the paper resistant to ink. Resistance = no bleeding or feathering, but the more resistant it is, the longer the ink will take to dry. Water based fountain pen inks seem to dry quicker on this new paper than on the regular 90g bright white.
Note - the image above is an extreme test example.
I inked up a (very wide) Brause Hatat calligraphy nib (approximately 1.5mm) with some J. Herbin Pearle Noire ink and tested it on this paper. The nib was writing super wet and there was, not surprisingly, bleed-through. Interestingly enough, I also tested this ink/dip pen combination on a sheet of Clairefontaine Triomphe writing paper and while there was only minimal bleed-through, the ink took a good ten minutes to fully dry.
This is the first of two water color experiments I did in the Webnotebook. I used a Niji Waterbrush and artist grade watercolors to paint a design, and then I used a Pitt pen over top to draw the doodle. Like many papers designed for writing - that is to resist ink, the paper somewhat resisted the water, blending wasn't fantastic, but the colors did stay quite vibrant. The paper didn't start to wear down/crumble until I went over the same area multiple times, and while the paper did buckle, it didn't really affect the page behind it.
This is the 2nd example of watercolor in the Webnotebook. Same Niji Waterbrush, same paints - but this time, I drew the design first, and then painted it in - using a lot less water in the process.
With paper like this, if you are going to paint on it, you'd be best served to use as little water as possible for the best results. Light washes would be best. Colors stayed very vibrant on this paper, and of note - there was no bleed-through with either painting.
The new Webnotebook is not yet available for sale, (it's still on its way from France) but please keep checking The Quo Vadis, and Rhodia Drive blogs for updates on availability. Quo Vadis (Exaclair's blog) will also be raffling off a few of these "advance copies" so if you can't wait to get your hands on one, I suggest heading over and checking them out.
In closing - while this product may not be all things to all people, I'm going to say that it's immediately moving to the top of my list as the #1 plain black journal for "preferred writers."