Monday, October 26, 2009

Let's get ready to RUMBLE! Clairefontaine vs Doane

I said some pretty bold things over Twitter about this matchup. Before we get too far into this post let's take a look at the notebooks we are comparing;

The Contestants: The Clairefontaine boasts a well known satin-finish with 90gsm pages. The Doane Idea Journal utilizes it's grids + lines also in a 90gsm page (the website says 60 lb. and to the best of my knowledge that translates roughly to 90gsm).

I decided to do something a bit different. I took a video with my blackberry to introduce you to the lovely pens that would be utilized in the testing. I'm no professional and this is simply to do things a little different. I am planning on getting a decent video camera later this week (hopefully) and I can do more of these.

I actually have some footage of the actual testing but with this cold and the poor audio quality of the blackberry it sounded like an obscene phonecall. So I will hold off on lengthier videos until I get better tools.

The Showdown: I used the traditional pangram in both print and cursive so I could get a good feel of the pens on each notebook. I then did a basic timed smear test. From here I used three of my fountain pens to get a better idea of fountain pen behavior with the notebooks.

(For reference the pen use order is Jetstream, Uni-ball signo, Pilot varsity, Foray 0.7 liquid ink, Sharpie Ultra fine, Parker Urban Gel)

First up, the Clairefontaine:
I was surprised at how well the paper reacted to the basic writing. I saw no problems with smearing which is great considering how you can see some of the inks sitting on the page for extended times. I suspect that consistent writing with a natural speed could lead to a few problems but it really depends on the ink.

At the bottom of the page is the timed smear tests. Here you can see why I say the Parker gel is a nightmare for lefty writers. It sat for 20 seconds and was still smearing pretty significantly. I was pleased with how fast the other inks dried but as you can see, even the "smear resistant" Jetstream is prone to the satin-finish. This makes hasty note taking very tricky for a southpaw because you will have smearing and ink transfer because you are hitting this ink very quickly.

Here you can see the back of the page. Only the Sharpie is pronounced and I think you would be just fine writing on both sides of the page with any of the actual pens. The picture speaks volumes, very impressive indeed.

Fountain pen users may want to avert their eyes from this next picture. Well, maybe it isn't all bad here. Though the ink sits on top of the page at first it does do a decent job of drying fairly quickly. I am thinking that the Pelikano's medium lefty nib is very generous with the ink output which leads to a very long drying time.

Another impressive picture. Clairfontaine does a great job of limiting shadow and bleed through.

Next up is the Doane Idea Journal:

There is a distinct difference when writing in these two notebooks. The Doane Idea Journal has a bit of tooth to it that is a nice contrast to the feel of your pen skating across the clairefontaine. Just as with the clairefontaine there was no problems with the traditional writing exercise. The main difference here is that while writing with the wetter inks you could see the ink absorbing quickly into the paper.

The picture shows a welcome difference in the smear tests. This notebook could make writing with a parker gel bearable, or maybe not. Take note of how fast the Varsity and Foray dry up on the page. It is a clean win here for Doane.

Unfortunately it is a victory that is short lived. As is evident in the picture to the left, we can see where that ink goes so quickly, to the other side. Moderate shadowing and slight bleed through can be seen. Many people are used to this sort of thing happening with their papers but it is still an issue. The cost of both of these notebooks is above average and I'd assume most people would want to get the most use of the paper possible.

Where the back images are impressive with the Clairefontaine, the same can be said for the writing images for the Idea Journal. The inks tested here were dry almost instantly after the ink was put to page.

The picture here was a pretty obvious guess given the previous photos. You can clearly see the ink here but only the Napalm ink is solid enough to disrupt writing on the other side. The key here would be fine nibs.

The Analysis: Both notebooks performed above what I originally thought. The clairefontaine is super smooth. Ink tends to actually sit upon the page until dried, which can take awhile. This is fine for a right handed person but for a lefty over-writer this presents some issues with anything that requires any sort of quick writing. When it comes to shadowing and bleed through, clairefontaine is a champ. It is very minimal and will allow for front and back writing.

The idea journal from Doane is a quick drying dream. It managed to soak up some ink in very impressive time. The downside to the fast dry pages is the shadowing on the back of the page. It is not bleeding through page after page, but it is noticeable and depending on your writer of choice can lead to one sided page use. I also notice that while I'm writing on Doane Paper of any sort I tend to write slower and my writing tends to look better. This is no doubt attributed to the added graph quads with the lines.

The Verdict: As a left handed person I am biased. I simply need a page to handle the ink I'm putting down and do it quickly. While the shadowing can be a bit of a downer, I do not yet use a lot of fountain pens. I do a lot of my writing with gel pens and rollerballs. This may eventually change with the pens and inks I choose to use but as it stands, The Idea Journal from Doane is my paper of choice.


  1. Really great review. I like to write on both sides of the sheet, so heavy shadowing is a problem with some papers. Thanks for the comparison.

  2. Thanks for the comment dianeb! It does seem that most people are resigned to one sided writing in order to work with their favorite pens and inks. I think clairfontaine paper does a fantastic job of allowing two sided writing, if you have time to wait for it to dry or can keep your hand out of your ink.

  3. An excellent review. I haven't tried any DOANE papers and may give them a next up chance after I write through my stash.

    Thanks for the comparison.

  4. I love everything about the Doane Idea Journal except the excessive bleed/show through. I will use the one I have until it is full, but won't buy another.

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