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Notebooks for designers: The best paper planners and sketchbooks

Using paper (a notebook for designers) to keep track of your thoughts, ideas and musings is one of the best analog ways to stay organized and to let your creativity flow, but what makes a notebook good for you? And what are the best ones depending on what your needs are? We will cover that and so much more in this post.

the best notebooks for designers
[ notebook stack picture by Stylite Yu via Unsplash ]

“I’ll make a note of it,” – is a phrase we hear so often, it’s kind of lost all meaning. However, when someone says those few words, immediately whips a notebook out of their pocket or shoulder bag, and proceeds to do exactly that, you know you’re dealing with someone who is as good as their word.

Welcome to the wonderful world of notebooks. 

If you have a creative mind or live and breathe for that one perfect, inspirational idea, you need a notebook. Which one is the best notebook for you? That’s what we’re here to find out, so carry on reading to discover the ultimate notebooks for designers and creatives.

No, not that Notebook…

If you’re looking online for the best notebooks for designers, the search engine is immediately going to take you through to tech devices. But that’s missing the whole point of having a notebook!

The reason why designers need notebooks made out of good, old fashioned paper is because it allows you to noodle and doodle to your heart’s content and your imagination can freestyle its way to something truly innovative. With a notebook, you can formulate a big idea, write down little reminders, and can take note of everything in between. 

Some things to look out for in your designer notebook:

  • Decide whether you need gridded, ruled-line, dotted, or blank pages.
  • What page thickness are you after? Flimsy and lightweight to rip out and throw away or seriously high-quality paper that will preserve your ideas for the ages?
  • Pocket-size or shoulder bag size?
  • If you require a designer notebook to carry around with you in your pocket, make sure it’s light enough. You’ll be amazed how irritating a heavy notebook can become if you have to walk or stand for longer periods.
  • Eco-friendly and budget-conscious, or do you want a notebook that screams luxury?
  • Will your notebook be strictly for work or free time?

With this in mind, take a look at some of the designer notebook features that you should look out for.

HIGH-QUALITY NOTEBOOKS

  • Lasts longer – durable throughout the year, and you can keep it on a bookshelf forever.
  • Helps increase scope of creativity and productivity because the materials are more conducive to different media.
  • Stitches and glue bindings keeps the notebook pages together for years and years.
  • Paperweight (70gsm or higher) is thick and crease proof and resistant against ripping and buckling. Media will not soak through the paper. 
  • Ink won’t smudge or bleed through.
  • Heavier than a budget notebook.

BUDGET
NOTEBOOKS

  • Not durable. If it’s a spiral notebook, the pages will tear out easily, making them easier to lose.
  • You will be limited to the mediums with which you can write and draw. 
  • If you decide on a spiral notebook, get one with twin ring binding as it makes it harder to accidentally rip out pages.
  • Paperweight is flimsy and easy to buckle or crease.
  • Lightweight and perfect for EDC (every day carry) and everyday use
  • Pencil and disposable pens work easily on budget notebooks.

notebook quality
[ Top image: High quality, luxury notebook for designers and journal keepers. Bottom image: Medium price diary notebook. ]

» Features to look out for in a high quality, luxury notebook: Thicker paper: Heavy bookmark ribbon; rounder page corners; soft leather cover; sewing/binding and glue mean that the pages fall open easily and stays lying flat; pliable; gives off the aroma of leather and parchment.

» Features to look out for in a budget or medium price notebook: Thinner paper; no bookmark ribbon/bookmark ribbon frays / keeps moving out of place; sharp page corners; cheap cover materials; cheap binding and glue mean that the pages bounce back up again; rigid and unyielding (pages don’t lie flat when the book is open) making it more difficult to write or draw OR can also be too floppy because of inadequate cover structure; slight chemical aroma from the production line.

notebook for journaling
[ image by Nick Morrison via Unsplash ]

Different notes for different folks

Even in this day and age of high tech and digital, being able to write down ideas and record thoughts in analog form is a refreshing change of pace for designers and anyone working in the creative spheres. 

If you haven’t decided what you want to use your notebook for yet, there are plenty of one-type-fits-all notebooks out there. However, if the best overall notebooks are not ticking all the boxes on your list, it’s time to dig a little deeper into what duties you need your notebook to perform.

1Professional or casual: Do you want a notebook you can throw into the side sleeve of your backpack and walk out into the rain? Or one that says, “I’m professional and serious about my note-taking.” Some people just want a notebook to do rapid journaling with a regular ballpoint ink pen. Others want their journals or note-taking to include things like drawings, or other paint mediums.

2Strictly for writing or drawing notebooks: If you like to draw or doodle, you will soon run out of space in an ordinary book-size notebook. So, something with more pages and thicker paper might be what you are looking for, I really like drawing and doodling on notebooks, but I usually need to be careful when using watercolors since not all papers handle water the same way.

3Paper type: What media do you want to use? If your writing or drawing utensils soak through thin paper, check your drawing notebook has thicker paper. Or maybe you don't really need a notebook, and it would be a better fit for you to just get a ream of paper that is good for calligraphy and lettering and keep them in a folder.

4Price: If you go through notebooks at a clipping rate, it could work out quite expensive in the long run if you want to buy a high-quality notebook each time. Fortunately, there are some first-class notebook brands available that won’t break the bank.

sketching book
[ image by Angelina Litvin via Unsplash ]

Some of the top notebook brand names 

I think it's really helpful that before we go into each category and what notebook I recommend for each, we have a look at some of the most popular and high-end or specialized notebooks, since are staples in their areas. So let's check those out:

Best notebooks for creatives: Baron Fig

baronfig notebooks

The review ratings have been tallied and Baron Fig gets a solid five stars. Baron Fig notebooks are designed by designers for designers, and the brand’s minimalist approach to aesthetics is highly revered. They leave it to the creatives who buy their notebooks to fill them with magic. If you want to save $10 you can use my code here.

baronfig notebook
[ image by baronfig.com ]

PRO

  • Compact size for EDC
  • Choice of plain, ruled, and dot grid
  • 90gsm paper
  • Heavy ribbon bookmark
  • 192 pages
  • Lies completely flat when open
  • Mid-price range

CONS

  • No pocket for small papers
  • Too nondescript for some creatives

Best notebooks for architects: Magma Sketchbook

magma sketchbooks

What’s the point of a notebook offering you the perfect balance between functionality and aesthetics when it’s not comfortable to use? Paper still reigns supreme when it comes to form and design, which is why many architects choose to use Magma Sketchbook notebooks.

Magma Sketchbooks come in four different types: Fashion / Art & Illustration / Design & Art Direction / Architecture. The softcover Architecture edition cover is the perfect blend of old school appearance with high functionality.

magma notebook for drawing

PRO

  • 120 pages 
  • Blank and grid style paper
  • Printed scale rulers
  • 16 page guide on architectural styles; drawing types; layouts; fittings; etc.
  • Section on sustainability

CONS

  • No dotted pages
  • Soft cover might be a problem for those who prefer a rigid writing and drawing surface

Best notebook for graphics and graphs: Field Book 

field notes book
[ image by Kari Shea via Unsplash ]

Graph notebooks are in a category all of their own. These designated notebooks have gridded graph paper and are best used by engineers, surveyors, designers, and architects. Or they can be used by anyone who really loves to write neatly. 

There is quite a variety of graph notebooks on the market. If you’re really into your graphics, some notebooks come with stencil kits included for perfect website layout ideas. 

Field Book graph paper notebooks come in packs of five, six color choices, and the option of lined, graph, or dotted paper. There’s even a mini-size notebook for back pockets – ideal for site and field trips. 

field notes notebook
[ image by Vadim Sadovski via Unsplash ]

PRO

  • 5 x notebooks for a great price
  • Decent quality 
  • Modern and simple aesthetics
  • 240 pages
  • 80gsm
  • Pages lay flat enough after use

CONS

  • Compact size mean limited amount of space
  • Pages leave a jagged edge after being torn out

Best drawing notebooks: Moleskine Art Collection Sketchbook notebook

moleskine variety notebooks

I know there are some die-hard Moleskine fans out there who would be happy using the brand for the rest of their lives, and it’s entirely understandable. When many folks think of notebooks, they think “Moleskine” – it’s synonymous with affordable, highest quality notebooks. And the Moleskine Art Collection Sketchbook is no exception.

This notebook was designed for sketching and drawing anywhere, anytime. There are two sizes, depending on how much room you need for your work. And when you pull it out to use it, that Moleskine magic can be felt at your fingertips!

moleskine notebook
[ image by Ian Schneider via Unsplash ]

PRO

  • Convenient to carry thanks to the elastic closure
  • Rounded corners means no blunted page corners
  • Signature ivory color, thick, robust paper
  • Toothsome paper texture for dry media
  • 240 pages
  • Well priced
  • Side and portrait, hard bound

CONS

  • Not suitable for all media, like watercolors
  • Paper causes alcohol markers to bleed

moleskine details
[ Moleskine detail by Alin Luna via Unsplash ]

Amazing notebooks for designers worthy of mention

Now that we have checked some brands, let's check the best notebooks for different uses and budgets. No matter the use you want your notebook for, I'm sure one of those would work for you=]

1 – Best overall notebook for work

rhodia meeting book

Rhodia Meeting Book: Work means meetings and when you have a notebook devoted to setting goals, organizing notes, and capturing main points, you’re good to go. The Rhodia Meeting Notebook offers you all of these things. 80 sheets with date, lines, and note actions.

2 – Best overall notebook for bullet journaling beginners

leuchtturm notebook

Leuchtturm1917 Medium Hardcover: While not a bullet journal outright, using this type of Leuchtturm1917 allows you to manage tasks and assignments in the same way. It offers numbered pages and a table of contents as part of its smart notebook system. 249 acid-free dotted pages. Bound with stitching and kept neat with an elastic on the cover.  Bookmark ribbon and label stickers included.

3 – Best value notebook for when looks and luxury don’t count

muji b5 notebook

Muji B5: For what it offers, the Muji B5 notebook is incredibly good value for money. If you take copious notes or plan on keeping a travel diary, throwing a couple of these in your bag will keep your overheads minimal. They sell in packs of five. You can get the Muji B5 in an array of colored bindings, which will help if you need to differentiate between notebooks. Paper is superb for the price, smooth texture and bleed resistant. Binding is stitched and glued, so it’s more durable than a spiral notebook. 

4 – Best overall spiral notebook

campus wide notebook

Campus Twin Ring: If you absolutely have to buy a spiral notebook, then it has to be a twin ring spiral one. Good enough to house random thoughts and notes at work or on campus – the durable, well priced Campus Twin Ring notebook. 

70 sheets of 70gsm paperweight, the smooth, lined pages are thicker than your average notebook, so they don’t fall prey to the tearing and folding of other cheaper  brands. Each page has a section for numbers and dates if you need to set up a table of contents on the first page.

5 – Best overall eco-friendly, sustainable notebooks for designers

rocket book

Rocketbook: Rocketbook’s Smart Reusable notebook may sound like a bit of a mouthful if you try to say its name out loud, but any Rocketbook is perfect for anyone who wants one notebook to last them forever. And for an everlasting notebook, the Rocketbook is exceptionally well priced. 

No cutting trees are cut down or used in the making of the Rocketbook Smart Notebook. It’s made out of polyester paper, similar in surface to a whiteboard, but it feels like actual paper. The notebook comes paired with heat sensitive markers and pens, and while this may limit the media you can use, it very good for the planet!

Rocketbook comes with an app that allows you to capture digital images of your drawings and notes and then upload them onto your storage device of choice. Wipe the page clean with a damp towel, and voila – your notebook is ready to reuse again.

rocketbook colors

Closing things up

I hope this has given you some ideas about what to look for when it comes to notebooks for designers. You can still stick to a budget while avoiding the mass-produced, no-name brand stuff that litters the bargain-basement aisles at your nearest superstore. 

Some really beautiful notebooks are available at the click of a mouse button, and the price is really no good indication of quality in some cases. 

I want to give a great tip for all your left-handed designers and notebook lovers out there. Use a notebook instead of a diary. In that way, you will be able to start using the notebook from the back and then turn the pages backward as you progress through it. Your hand won’t be pinched by the bookbinding when you write from left to right. 

Or else just buy a twin spiral notebook with the binding on top.

And another tip for anyone who likes to walk around a site or HQ with their client, writing down notes in abbreviated form: transcribe your notes into longhand the minute you get back to base. This is note-taking technique is recommended because it enables you to transcribe your notes when their meaning is still fresh in your memory. 

notebook for designers
[ image by Jess Bailey via Unsplash ]

If you wait until the next few days, that squiggle in the margin or acronym that made perfect sense at the time you wrote them down, may mean nothing to you after one or two days.

And remember…

It pays to buy a notebook that truly represents your aesthetic. Don’t get caught out with an embarrassing notebook like poor Eminem

chased

Sunday 28th of July 2019

found your site on del.icio.us today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later

Flavia

Tuesday 22nd of May 2018

Olá,

Pesquisando novas idéias de flores, achei o seu Blog, e fiquei encantada, gostaria de parabenizá-la pelo seu trabalho!!Amei!!!!!!Bjs!!(Sou estilista e artesã brasileira).

jadyn Kinghorn

Monday 22nd of January 2018

i think this sooooooo cute and i needed a new notebook, perfect timing.

nicollette

Wednesday 3rd of January 2018

i thought this flower was sooo darn cute!! i was on Google and i looked at some duct tape flowers and found this amazing!! i fell in love with it!!!