Elemental Notebooks Review

For the second time, I’ve been burned by Kickstarter. The first time was with the Hippo Noto’s long wait time and questionable sturdiness. At least the Elemental Notebooks delivered fast. Also, the chemistry-themed design is spectacular, living up to every picture released. It reminds me of another cloth-covered favorite, Baron Fig notebooks. I bought the Nitrogen and Hydrogen, and a set of Unobtanium pocket notebooks. (I forgot Oxygen had the blue cover, this is why I hated Chemistry lol) But the paper is more important than anything else for me, so the Elemental Notebooks were a massive letdown.

Once again, I’m late to the show. Check out Mountain of Ink’s review here. In the next paragraphs, I review the Nitrogen notebook and the Unobtanium add-ons.

Specs:

  • 100 gsm cream dot grid paper
  • A5 size, or 3.5 by 5.5 inches for Unobtanium
  • $20 per notebook, pocket Unobtaniums were add-ons for $12
  • 192 pages
  • two ribbon bookmarks
  • no table of contents or numbered pages

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Appearance:

I was impressed by the Elemental notebooks as soon as I got them. The packaging is gorgeous! The notebooks come in black slipcases that explain the element the notebook is named after. The cover is made of a slightly rough cloth, with no decorations on the front. It reminds me of an old library book, especially with the indent near the spine. The dark green of Nitrogen is beautiful. The endpapers are well thought out. There’s a space in the shape of the periodic table to put your name in. The bottom of the spine is imprinted with gold foil showing the periodic element. It’s a nice touch. The edges of the book are tinted black with tiny colorful stripes meant to emulate the emissions spectrum of Nitrogen.

The Unobtanium notebooks have the element stamped in green foil on the lower right side. It’s made of a soft pleather material. They are the size of Field Notes, but have stitched bindings like Baron Fig Vanguards.

Paper:

But the paper is where it all goes downhill… I opened up my Nitrogen to see large, dark, dots. I hate when the ruling is too dark. It distracts me from my writing and looks generally unpleasant. But then I used my new Sailor Kingdom Note fountain pen to write the header and was instantly disappointed.

Feathering everywhere! No shading, only a flat color. Something I’ve noticed with bad paper is that “splotches” appear, instead of shading. I experienced that here. There was more show through than I’d like, but it’s not terrible. The paper itself was an off-white color, with some tooth to it, like Baron Fig. This paper is really bad. It’s usable with gel pens, ballpoints and pencils, but the dots are still too dark for me. So I don’t know what to use these for? The Unobtanium has the same paper. At least I use those for taking quick notes and the dot grid doesn’t matter as much.

Honestly, I feel misled. The creators of Elemental notebooks specifically said the paper was good for fountain pens. They even posed the Oxygen with a blue TWSBI Eco-T in a promotional picture! They also said the dark dots were part of the prototype and would be lighter in the final production. I wouldn’t have spent $47 on these notebooks if I knew they weren’t fountain pen friendly.

Comparison to Baron Fig:

The Elemental Notebook just begs comparison with the Baron Fig! I’m a huge fan of the BF Confidant, so this newcomer had a lot to live up to. I’d say BF won, for pure stylishness and usable paper. My Nitrogen is a typical A5 size, while the Confidant is more compact. The ribbons on Nitrogen are longer, and there’s two of them. See how they lay flat and are easy to pull on? That’s what BF needs. The stubby bookmark isn’t enough for me.

The Nitrogen is more like a library book, complete with the crease near the spine and rough linen cover. The Confidant is like a luxury product, with softer covers and a modern style.

The Confidant wins the paper battle, by far. First of all, its dot grid is large but a soft gray. The Nitrogen has the problem of both dark and large dots, which makes writing very distracting.

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Comparing the dot grid on the Confidant, on top, with the bottom Elemental notebook

The Confidant doesn’t have the luxurious Tomoe River feeling, but I actually like the slight tooth while using my fountain pens. Nib sizes tend to spread a bit, but don’t feather. The colors are vibrant and accurate. Honestly, I’ve only used the limited edition Confidants, and other reviews have made me question the paper quality. I want to do my own test on the regular Confidant. But the Nitrogen feathers and spreads everywhere. Instead of shading, I get weird splotchiness.

Overall, if you want a cloth-cover A5 notebook with dot grid, get the Baron Fig. It’s cheaper at $18 and has better paper.

Conclusion:

I think I’ve learned my lesson about not funding kickstarters. Both times, I’ve been disappointed. The nature of a kickstarter is itself fickle. It’s easy to run out of money, find problems in production, or deliver months late. I don’t blame the creators for running into problems, but I’m done accepting them. From now on, I’m ordering notebooks that are in regular production.

I bought these notebooks with my own funds. I was not paid for this review. 

Hippo Noto Review

Specs:

  • 68 gsm ivory Tomoe River paper
  • pocket A5 size, 5.2 x 8.2
  • $40, $33 when I got it
  • 500 pages
  • two ribbon bookmarks
  • back pocket
  • no table of contents or numbered pages

Intro:

My Hippo Noto arrived a few weeks ago, but I finally have the time to review it! The Hippo Noto notebook was part of a kickstarter from last year, created by a fellow blogger, Krystle from Squishy Ink. I just want to say, I appreciate all of Krystle’s effort! First kickstarters rarely go smoothly, but she kept the backers updated when there were problems with the ivory paper and when the notebooks were stuck in customs. So good job on your kickstarter and I can’t wait to see what you will make next!

Hippo Noto promised 500 luscious pages of 68gsm Tomoe River paper. For those of you who don’t know, Tomoe River is the best paper I’ve found for fountain pen inks. It shows off tons of shading, sheen and shimmer better than other favorites of mine like Baron Fig and Clairefontaine. There are two types of this paper, 52gsm and 68gsm (means how thick the paper is). It comes in two colors, cream and ivory. The more common version, 52 gsm is as thin and delicate as tissue paper. Some people don’t like it because the ink shows through severely on the back, though it doesn’t bleed. It’s also easily crinkled. 68gsm is slightly thicker with reduced showthrough, while still being amazing for fountain pens.

So I was sold on this notebook and ordered one in December, with an early 2018 delivery date. I finally received it on April 28, almost five months later. According to the kickstarter, some people still haven’t received theirs yet. The cream paper version was delivered much earlier because there was a defect with the ivory paper. However, this is often what happens in kickstarters.

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Appearance:

I was thrilled by the appearance of the notebook. It came packaged in a cute box with a hippo logo. The fake leathery cover is soft and in my favorite color, teal! It leans more green than blue. There are two long ribbon bookmarks to keep your place. Much better than the stubby ones in Baron Fig Confidants!

 

 

But there was a large brown stain on the elastic band that held the notebook closed. It’s a small thing but it’s gross and I see it each time I open the notebook. 😦 The edges of the leather cover weren’t completely neat, giving it an uneven appearance. I know that notebooks can’t be perfect, but it was disappointing after I waited so long. Hippo Noto, with a little hippo, is printed in silver on the cover. Very cute!

 

 

The leather cover also serves as the spine, glued to the massive slab of paper. A gap has emerged between the leather and paper, making me wonder if it will fall apart. This is more worrying than any of the small defects. The glue may not be strong enough to attach the leather and paper together.

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So far, my notebook has held up. On the kickstarter page, two people have complained of pages becoming unglued or the spine not being stable. I’m not sure if this is a widespread issue or just me. I feel like the first few sections in my notebook are coming loose. I think it’s such a large slab of paper that it’s becoming unglued from the spine. Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 11.33.08 PM

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Looking inside, you see bright blue endpaper. There’s a giant pocket in the back and info about Hippo Noto on the bottom left corner. I like how subtle the branding is on the notebook. There is no table of contents or numbered pages. It’s okay because I can make my own. The first and last pages were attached to the endsheets and were too difficult to use. It lays relatively flat, mostly in the center. The first few and last pages have a large “hump”, so you may have to adjust your writing position. My notebook also came with blotting paper for preventing ink smudges, an adhesive pen loop and a writing mat to put under your current page.

 

 

Paper:

This paper is amazing! It’s even better than the 52 gsm Nanami Seven Seas notebook I’ve tried. It’s much less translucent and delicate. It’s a bright white color, but not as blinding as Clairefontaine. The paper is silky smooth and I could spend minutes stroking it. (yes I’m weird) I love the smell of Tomoe River. It’s hard to describe but isn’t distracting. Pencil and gel ink works fine on the paper, but felt tips like the Papermate Flair looked washed out. Fountain pen ink is vibrant and pops on the page. My pen test didn’t use super sheening inks but it was still visible. Lamy Dark Lilac (sold out, sorry) is amazing on this paper. I can see golden sheen with my bare eye. There is a pretty halo of pink sheen in Sailor Sky High.

 

 

I prefer the 68 gsm much more than the 52 gsm because of the reduced showthrough. With the thinner 52 gsm, I could see every word on the back side. Writing on the back made it less distracting but the visual “noise” of the showthrough still bothered me. 68 gsm still has some ghosting on the back, but it’s not nearly as annoying. Only the extra fine Sharpie bled through, but it does that on every paper. I know, in the picture it seems like a lot of ghosting. But it’s much better than 52 gsm. I chose lined paper, not dot grid like many others did. I ordered it before I fell in love with dot grid! The lines are 6mm apart and made of faint gray dashes. They don’t distract from my writing at all. There’s a giant margin at the top. I like having that space to write a title and date, but that space could be cut down to add a few more lines. Looking at the Well Appointed Desk review, the dot grid has a margin but it’s not nearly as large as mine.

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Dry times are long depending on the ink. My pen test used Kobe #44 Marchais Blue, which dries relatively fast. After ten seconds it was dry. As a leftie, it was hard to stop my hand from smearing the fresh ink! I was careful here, but in my Nanami notebooks there are smudges. I recommend using Tomoe River paper for journaling, writing stories and poems and other longform writing. It doesn’t dry fast enough to take school or work notes with it. Plus, why would you sully its beautiful pages like that? This notebook demands time to pause while the ink dries, thinking about what to write next.

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Conclusion:

Overall, the Hippo Noto has great paper and is made of nice materials. However, I’m a bit disappointed by the long waiting time, spine problems and stain on the elastic band. The Hippo Noto needs to be revised a bit. Hopefully the next batch irons out these kinks and makes a good notebook even better. Because it’s not in a regular production, only lined and blank ivory notebooks are left on the site. Hopefully more are made soon. It’s also expensive. $40 with $10 shipping, though I got it as a Late Pledge for $33. If you want something similar to hold you over, you can get a Taroko Enigma  with 68 gsm for $30 and $10 shipping. The Enigma also has better quality control and doesn’t take too long to arrive. However, you’ll be missing out on the pocket, elastic band, cute colors and lined options that come with the Hippo Noto.

I had high expectations for the Hippo Noto after waiting for months, more than I would than if it came in a week.  If you want a notebook with fabulous paper, cute colors and short form factor, then you should buy the Hippo Noto. As for me, it will still be my next story notebook, but I won’t buy another until quality control is better.

I bought this notebook with my own funds. I was not paid for this review.