A technophile lawyer rediscovers the joys of pen and paper

Thursday, November 4, 2010

An untimely review? Levenger Full-Page Grid Pads (Junior size)

I say "untimely" because even though I just bought a three-pack of these pads from the Levenger Outlet on eBay, I can't seem to find them on the Levenger website, leading me to believe they are no longer offered. But, since I've already been trying out these pads for a few days and putting them through the wringer for a review, why let a little thing like the fact they're discontinued get in the way?

Levenger Annotation
1/4 grid ruling
Junior Size
Besides, I'm pretty sure that Levenger paper in its pads, notebooks, and Circa refills is all the same — or supposed to be all the same, with the only difference being the ruling.

That difference is a big one, though, especially when it comes to pads in junior size, which is only 5 inches wide. (The pad is 8 inches long, but each sheet is only 5 x 7.5 inches once torn from the pad.)

The only ruling I can find in junior size pads on the Levenger site at the moment are annotation-ruled, which leaves a blank column running down the left side of the paper so you can annotate notes taken in the ruled portion of the pad. (See picture at right for the annotated ruling version of the grip pad.) To my mind, that leaves too little real estate to be of much use.

Levenger Full Page Grid Pad - Junior

The pads I bought extend that grid to the left, so you end up with a sheet that has grid ruling over its entire surface except for the header boxes at the top 1-1/4 inches and very slender 1/4-inch margins on the sides and bottom of the grid area, which measures 6 x 4.5 inches.

You may be wondering why I bought these pads given how I panned the Circa refill paper just a few weeks ago, which is supposed to be the same weight, smoothness, etc. There are two reasons: (1) I wanted some heavy paper that I could punch and place in my Circa junior-sized notebook in order to keep relevant notes near their corresponding dates and/or tasks (and without having to trim the paper); and (2) the deal from the Levenger Outlet was good enough that I wouldn't have been too bummed out if the paper was terrible.

Turns out there are quite a few things I like about this notepad.

The paper indeed feels heavy ("substantial," Levenger often calls it) and quite smooth. I love that it does not feel flimsy once pulled off the pad, and therefore feels almost as pleasant to write on when a single sheet is on a hard surface as when writing on the pad. Writing was pleasurably smooth with all the pens I tried — rollerball, gel, and fountain.

Bleed-through of the Levenger Grid pad
Hey, who's worried about
a little bleed-through?
Booker, you're thinking, you're crazy. That's the same paper you were complaining about just a few weeks ago when it came in Circa refills. But I don't think I complained about the sturdy feel and smoothness of the Circa paper, only the bleeding and feathering, neither of which bother me when using the pad as opposed to paper in my Circa. With the Circa paper, I needed to be able to write on both sides, so the bleed-through wasn't acceptable. But I only need to write on one side of this note paper. I want to jot down a few notes from a phone call or short meeting, tear off the sheet, punch it, and put it in my Circa notebook so I can keep the notes close to their corresponding appointment or task (I'm trying to use Circa to implement Getting Things Done — my variant of it, anyway.)

Fountain Pen Ink feathering in Levenger Grid Pad
The feathering is mild and varies by ink.
The overall effect is that the lines simply
look wider than they should, rather than feathered.

Is the paper too absorbent? For fountain pen purists, you bet it is. But despite bad bleed-through with fountain pen ink, feathering with fountain pen ink was very mild — the effect of the paper is more to widen the line of the ink rather than actually feather it. Plus, there's a benefit to that absorbency: fountain pen ink dries very, very quickly, so there's little to no smudging even when handling the paper immediately after finishing up my note. (Opinions on the fountain pen-friendliness of Levenger paper are all across the board, leading me to believe Levenger must not consistently use the same vendor all the time, so your mileage may vary.)

Besides, who uses fountain pens all the time? The rollerball and gel pens I tried did not bleed or feather at all and wrote very smoothly.
Crisp, clear rollerball and gel inks on Levenger Grid Pad
Crisp, clean lines with gel and rollerball inks. Top to bottom: Pilot G-Knock 0.38 mm. gel pen (blue);
Morning Glory Mach Pen II rollerball (red); Pilot Multi-Ball Permanent Marker (blue);
Zebra Sarasa Clip 0.4 mm gel pen. 

There was one other big difference between fountain pen inks and the others. Take a look at the close-up pictures again. See the difference yet? The gray ruling seems to repel the fountain pen ink. Look closely and you'll see that the rollerball and gel inks wrote over the gray lines, but the gray lines show right through the fountain pen writing. It's an odd effect when using a fountain pen, and noticeable enough to be distracting initially, but I got used to it.

Finally, I really like the size of the ruling. The 1/4-inch spacing of the grid lines is very comfortable for my natural writing size. If, like me, you find the 5mm grid spacing in Rhodia and other European pads to be too small to write on each line and too big to write every other line, you may like the spacing on these Levenger pads.

At first, I thought the pad could be improved by making it longer and wider so a torn-out sheet would match the junior size Circa paper (which is 8.5 x 5.5 inches), but after a few days of use, I discovered that I preferred my inserted notes to be on slightly smaller paper than the preprinted calendar and notes sheets in my notebook. It makes them stand out better, reminding me I have something to act on.

Could the pad be improved? Of course.

Less obtrusive ruling would be a big plus. I love the spacing, but the lines are a little thicker and darker than they should be. A paler gray would be nice, and thinner lines would minimize that fountain ink repellent effect I described earlier.

And it could be friendlier with fountain pens, surely.

Bottom line: I wouldn't want this quality of paper in a full-size pad or notebook for extended writing or for any application that required writing on both sides. But the writing experience is so pleasurable, and the negative effects of the paper so minimal considering the use I make of it, that I like this pad quite a bit, and would buy more . . . if Levenger carried them.



  1. I'm using a custom-combo Franklin Covey binder with a Moleskine planner(A5) within it for GTD. And my go to pen right now is the Zebra Sarasa Clip .4mm. Always adapting to see what works. Thanks for all the all the info!

  2. Thanks for commenting, John. I've been curious to try an A5 size notebook so I could use my Rhodia pads for notes, but I think I actually like the faster drying time of the Levenger paper and. like I said, I rather like that the notes inserted into my Circa stick out from the other contents (calendar, project lists, etc.).

    If I ever went with a letter-sized notebook, I might switch to fountain pen -friendly paper, but I find that the 0.4 mm tip size on the Sebra Sarasa Clip helps me write small, which is necessary in my junior Circa.

  3. Ah, the dragon chases its tail eternally. We search for the perfect paper for writing with our favorite pens, frequently discovering the papers and pens are not mutually agreeable despite our most calculated predictions.It's maddening -- but what fun!

    Great ink samples you've posted. I love seeing all the colors and whether they bleed, feather, or skip.

    I haven't explored any of Levenger's Circa system, but I did recently pick up a RollaBind from Staples and am completely smitten. I constantly reevaluate my choices of paper, ink, and pen -- but momentarily, I am loving my Rollabind and my Lamy Safari.

    Keep up the good posts! I love reading about pens, ink, paper, and Macs.