Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Leuchtturm1917: Moleskine Killer?

"Lilac" Leuchtturm1917

I'd intended to write up a sort of review of my first Leuchtturm1917 notebook, but...well, it didn't happen. At this point, I'm on my second of these notebooks, having finished up the original black blank one I bought at Powell's City of Books. The second, my current journal, is a purple dot grid version. So...due to procrastination, I have experience.

Apologies in advance for my usual crummy, yellowish indoor lighting photos. I do try.

I went through a period a few years back when I used Moleskines quite a bit as journals. This was when they were first gaining popularity. I liked the sleek feel of them, their simple, elegant appearance, the nice little features like the back pocket, bookmark ribbon, and elastic closure. Ultimately, however, I couldn't justify the cost, particularly since I had lots of issues with the paper and fountain pen ink: feathering and bleeding on some pages, beading of ink and smearing on others. Frustrating.

Moleskine feathering--see all the little hairy looking extensions on my letters? Eek! Oh, and the content of this entry may be familiar to some of the typospherians...

Bleed-through on the back of the page. Note that this was not a particularly "bleedy" ink, or a broad nib.

Since those early days, about a zillion Moleskine clones have showed up on the market: compact notebooks with the hard cover, the pocket, the elastic, the bookmark. The Leuchtturm1917 is one that is recently gaining some attention on fountain pen boards and such, and when I saw them at Powell's for a fairly reasonable price, I grabbed one to try.

Page o' samples. I smeared the Black Swan...oops.

What I like:
  • I've had almost *no* issues with bleed-through or feathering with fountain pen or dip pen inks. A very, very wet ink could possibly feather or bleed, but even my fairly wet medium fountain pen nibs do pretty well, as did dip pens with sumi ink. Also, the paper has just a hint of texture to it, making it nice for pencil as well.
Back side of the page. There's show-through due to the thin paper, but really only the Sharpie bleeds, and only an eensy bit. Not bad...

And an attempt at a close-up, to show that there really isn't much if any feathering, even with pretty wet inks. Nothing like Moleskines, in any case.
  • Although I could buy a dozen Wal-mart composition books for the same price as one of these (and the Norcom comp books are still my choice for scribbling), as premium notebooks go, the Leuchtturm1917s are fairly inexpensive. I purchased this additional notebook from Writer's Bloc for $13 for a large notebook. Compare that with more like $18 for a Moleskine of the same basic size.
  • Pretty colors: many of the Leuchtturm1917 sizes and styles are available in a number of colors, for them what likes such things.
  • They have page numbers! Major bonus for me. I like to be able to gauge how much of a notebook I've used/how many pages I have left/how many pages I've written in a given day, and typically the first thing I do with a new journal is to sit down and mark page numbers. It's a tedious task, and I am very, very happy to have this done for me. The page numbers are very small and subtle and don't take up oodles of my writing space. Nicely done.
Page number
  • Dot grid format! I'm a new convert to this style of notebooks. They give you the freedom of a blank page, but with just enough of a visual guide to help you write neat lines. Also, the dots are subdued enough not to get in the way of lighter inks and pencil writing.
  • It's a small thing, but a nice detail nonetheless: these notebooks come with a variety of labels for archival purposes. I always date my journals after use, so I appreciate this. Another little detail that's a nice touch: the blank version came with a backing sheet that can be used behind the current page, with grid on one side and lines on the other.
Lots o' Labelage

  What I don't like:
  • Although the pages lay *mostly* flat, there's definitely more of a "hump" than you get with Moleskine notebooks. It's perhaps my favorite feature of Moleskines, and I'm a little disappointed these are as bumpy as they are.
Even held still have to write into a bump. Don't mind my inky fingers...
  • Although I didn't encounter bleed-through or feathering, the pages are very thin (I kind of think they'd be better off making these with fewer pages and thicker paper) and there is a certain amount of show-through.
  • The covers are thinner and less substantial feeling than Moleskine. Overall, it just doesn't feel as sleek and ruggedly made as a Moleskine, though that may just be perception. I carried my first one around in a backpack crammed full of other books and odds and ends for two months with no ill effects whatsoever.
  • The elastic isn't as...well, elastic.
  • When new and newly unwrapped from their protective wrap, these notebooks smell funny. It's sort of a press-board sort of smell. It quickly wears off, fortunately. It's been awhile since I unwrapped a new Moleskine, and I'm sure they have a "new notebook" smell as well, but I don't remember it being objectionable in any way.
  • I've experienced some skipping issues: the paper, while very ink friendly for the most part, is pretty sensitive to skin oils. Fountain pen ink may skip on spots where you rested your hand. I sometimes have similar issues with other quality paper, though (i.e. paper that doesn't absorb ink like crazy). It's a trade-off.
Indifferent details:
  • The last eight pages are perforated and can be easily removed. Personally, it's not a feature I imagine I'll use.
  • In addition to the numbered pages, there's a blank table of contents page at the front to assist with organizing. At the moment, I'm not sure how I'd use this in a journal. For significant dates, maybe? Dunno. But it's there for those of you who would use such a thing.
Bottom line:
They aren't perfect, and I wouldn't declare them a Moleskine killer. For the zillion and a half people who use gel pens or ballpoints and who don't care about the other little features the Leuchtturm1917 offers, Moleskine may remain the better choice. And Moleskines are everywhere, after all. (Even Target, now!) They're convenient.

I'm sold, nonetheless. The Leuchtturm1917 notebooks have most of the features I like about the Moleskine (hard cover, bookmark, elastic, pocket, at least kinda lays flat) and a few others I really appreciate (page numbers, dot grid format), the paper is way better, and none of the drawbacks are utter deal breakers to me. They're my journal of choice for the time being. I just hope the price remains reasonable-ish!

Vitals as reviewed:
249 slightly off-white dot grid pages
Acid-free 80gsm paper
A5 size (5.75 x 8.25")
Designed in Germany, printed and bound in Taiwan


Anonymous said...

This may not suit your needs but the other day I found an Ampad Gold Fibre writing pad at our local Staples. It is a bit smaller than a steno pad at 5x8", with 'antique ivory' colored paper, and 80 pages per pad. It is spiral bound at the top. I found it takes fountain pen ink without bleed through or feathering. It also did great with gel and ballpoint pens and pencils. It may not be stiff enough for your purposes but I had no problem. Ad a rubber band to keep it closed and it should do fine in a backpack.

They were $2.00 each and I grabbed one on the way out. Liked it so much I went back the next day and bought out their stock. Which reminds me: I should go back today and see if they got more in.

Jeff The Bear

Little Flower Petals said...

I've used those Ampad writing pads for work, where I like having to have the ability to tear out pages. They work well, and $2 sounds like a great price! May hafta check Staples this weekend....

For bang-around scribbling and hand-written drafts, I mostly use Norcom composition books from Wal-mart--they're usually a dollar at most (less at back-to-school time), and durable enough for most purposes.

But it's nice to have something a little more durable and elegant for journals, though I've used my fair share of comp books and such over the years.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your nice comparison of Moleskine and Leuchtturm1917, I really appreciate it :)

Little Flower Petals said...

You are most welcome!

xtrapnel said...

Thank you for the review. I have just purchased a Master and Large notebook, both in red. The Master is very large, even larger than A3, well built and rather imposing. Now all that remains is to find a use for it...

John said...

Thanks for your review! After reading it, I decided to go with the dot grid notebook (I'm a math grad student, so lines are a little limiting and blank is a little disorganized).

I purchased my first one and received it from Amazon today. Weirdly, pages 27 through 58 are missing the grid (numbered, but otherwise blank). I assume that this is a mistake in the binding. Amazon is great and is overnighting me a replacement, but I wanted to check: you don't have this group of blank pages, right?


Little Flower Petals said...

How frustrating! No, no such issues with any of the two dot gridded Leuchtturm1917s I've used so far. Must have been an off day at the factory...

I hope everything works out! I'm still pretty happy with these for the most part. I suspect the Rhodia Webnotebooks would be even *more* fountain pen friendly (a few ink/pen combos can feather on this paper, though it's generally very good), but at this point, I'd have a really hard time giving up my page numbers and stickers. I'm even using the index to mark down days of note (I use mine for journals).

Now I just hope the prices stay reasonable!

Joe said...

I like a number of the features that I'm reading about and am intrigued.

Could you tell me how many "lines" are created by the dots down a page? I currently have a calendar system with my Moleskin using all 31 lines, and wouldn't want to abandon it.

Thanks for the review!

Little Flower Petals said...

Hi, Joe! I'll count as soon as I get home from work today and let you know. I'm all but certain there are quite a bit fewer "lines" on the dot grid pages since it's wider spacing, but just how much fewer, I'll have to quantify.

Little Flower Petals said...

OK, there are 38 "lines," not counting the spaces at the very top and bottom of the page.

Joe said...

Thank you so much for counting! I think that's even more than in my classic Moleskine. Going to have to try it out!

Little Flower Petals said...

No problem! Sorry about my original statement thinking there were *fewer* lines...I'm using a non-dot style journal at the moment and I'd forgotten I tended to only write on every other line. (I have sort of big handwriting.)

I hope it works for you!

Anna said...

I find this a good review and pleasant to read. Thanks.

I was wondering what ink did you use on the Moleskine to show the feathering?

Little Flower Petals said...

Thank you for your comment, Anna, and I apologize for taking so long to get back to you! I had to go back and find the notebook--the knew scan is actually quite a bit darker than real life, so I wasn't sure of the ink. I believe it is the bottled version of Waterman South Seas Blue.

Little Flower Petals said...

Er...make that "I knew the scan is actually quite a bit darker than real life."

I blame the heat.