My Sketchbooks Comparison

My sketchbooks

I addmitted before I am a sketchbook addict — whenever I come across a sketchbook that looks promising, I must have it. It would not be a problem if it didn't end up unused for several years, which sometimes happens to my art supplies. But I did at least try out all my sketchbooks enough to make an opinion about them, so here it is.

I am not an experienced artist, I am a newbie trying to navigate my way in a complex world of brands, grades and avilability in second world countries (the latter being the reason why my review is a little thin - I can't even find a proper sketchbook where I live).
If you disagree with me, feel free to comment, I will be glad to hear your opinion.

Comparison table is provided at the bottom. I will add more to it as I try out.

Note: Links that link to Amazon are referrals, meaning I get a small cut if you buy the sketchbook. The cost is the same for you.


Moleskine sketchbook

Moleskine sketchbook

Considering all the hype about Moleskines, I was very disappointed with this particular sketchbook.
I knew it was not designed for water-based media (although it's advertised for gouache), but I expected it would at least handle ink well, and I was wrong. While there's no obvious problem with fineliners and brush pen, other than looking a bit faded instead of pure black, the results with my calligraphy pen are very poor - streaky, patchy, and leaky. Don't let my sketch examples fool you, I increase the contrast in Photoshop before uploading, but in reality the black ink is nowhere near black, the paper just soaks it up.
The paper is very smooth, but it's also covered with something that prevents ink from setting properly. I've heard people using fountain pens are also somewhat dissatisfied.
Thick black marker bleeds through.

You can use watercolor pencils on it and the paper won't buckle, but rub the paper with a wet brush too much, and you get patches of water leaking through the paper that kinda ruin the uniformity of colour.

Apparently you can use this sketchbook with opaque media such as gouache, acrylic or even oil - I tried a bit of gouache and yes it does work. This, the thickness of paper, and the fact that the book opens absolutely flat so you can use both pages at once, is the only advantage in my opinion. If you aren't too concerned with stuff showing through the other side, you might as well buy something more affordable with a larger number of thinner pages.
Also the yellowish tone is a bit too intensive for my taste. This is not a subtle off-white, it's vanilla.

Verdict: I'll use it up, but somehow I doubt I'll get this one again.

Buy on Amazon.com

Examples


Moleskine watercolor notebook

Moleskine watercolor notebook

First of all, I don't like the extreme landscape format. I have bought this sketchbook only because there is no alternative to it where I live — however, you may be able to find other sketchbooks locally or online with paper of comparable quality, but a more reasonable portrait format binding (Derwent, Global Arts, Stillman and Birn — if I find a retailer that doesn't charge an arm and a leg for shipping to Europe, I will try them out).

Paper is a quality heavy weight acid free watercolor paper — great for just about any water media application and double-sided use. The texture however makes it less than ideal for smooth ink drawings and calligraphy.

Verdict: If you can't get your hands on portrait bound sketchbooks, or you like the landscape format, this one is great.

Buy on Amazon.com

Examples


Winsor & Newton wire bound watercolor sketchbook

Winsor & Newton wire bound watercolor sketchbook

My sketchbook is several years old, and I have read they changed their paper supplier afterwards, so the quality is no longer as good as in the older editions.
I don't use it in an advanced way (heavy washes, lifting off the paint), but the price to quality ratio is in my opinion quite good and it works well for me. It has 170gsm acid-free paper with barely noticable texture.

One thing I noticed is when I use ink (whether it's pen or brush & ink or fineliner, it doesn't matter) when the pages rub together (wire bound books are pretty loose), the adjacent page will get some ink residue on it — nothing too big and most of it will get off with an eraser, but it can be annoying if there is a nice watercolor drawing on the other page... so depending on how important you consider your sketches to be, you may have to skip reverse pages if you work in ink.
Pages are perforated so you can tear them out.

Verdict: I prefer threadbound sketchbooks because wire bound smudge a lot, but other than that the paper is perfect.

I can't find this one for sale online – maybe it's discontinued?

Examples


Canson Art Book: Universal Sketch Book

Canson Art Book: Universal Sketch Book

I bought this hardbound sketchbook locally, and the price is about the same as Moleskines. However after testing all my drawing instruments on it, I love it! The paper is thin, but it's of great quality so nothing but the thick marker bled through. Paper grain is fine so my brush pen, dip pen and calligraphy pen glide over it and I can say this is absolutely the best sketchbook for ink of all the others I've reviewed. No feathering, no bleeding, no ugly yellow paper tone, opens completely flat, even has a back pocket... if the paper was a bit thicker, it would be perfect! But I'm satisfied with it as it is.

Water media warps paper a little, but it's not terrible. It's advertised as resistant to erasing, and I can confirm it really is.

Verdict: So far this is my favorite one and I hope I will be able to get them locally in the future because it has most of the features I want. This one, plus a sketchbook exclusively for watercolor, is all I need.

Buy on Amazon.com

Examples


teNeues Magneto

teNeues Magneto sketchbook

I suppose this one is similar to regular Moleskine notebook in many ways, but I haven't had one so I'm not sure. The paper is thin, smooth, off-white.
Good for everything except watercolor and a heavy ink application. Brush pen doesn't leak through, paper takes light water washes with a little buckling.

I bought it at a discount so the price was OK, however the normal price is more than I'd normally be willing pay for such a notebook (about he same as Moleskine) since it's not art grade.

Verdict: I'm satisfied with it because it's been very useful, but I won't buy more of them.

Buy on teNeues.com

Examples


Lega-lega notebook

Lega-lega notebook

This sketchbook has thin velvety paper — not very good for fine-liners or brush pen because they feather and sometimes leak, but it's good for pencil (though graphite easily transers onto adjacent pages, but it happens with a Moleskine too), colored pencil, ballpoint pen, and even watercolor pencil and light watercolor will work, but as with any thin paper it will buckle a bit when wet.
The subtle off-white tone is very nice.

Verdict: If you live in Croatia and are not too fussy about paper quality, this one is very good and I've used it more than all other sketchbooks combined. I suppose you can find similar quality sketchbooks locally wherever you live.

Buy on Lega-Lega.com

Examples


Lega-lega red notebook

Lega-lega red notebook

I can't find it online (sold out?), but it's the same as the black one linked below.
The paper is thin and somewhat smooth. Brush pen doesn't leak through, but my calligraphy pen does a bit.

Verdict: If you live in Croatia and love unusual things, this is as unusual as it gets. That, and the black version.

Buy on Lega-Lega.com

Examples

EDIT: Moleskine now has the same black paper thing, but thicker.


Sketchbook medium comparison table

I assigned "points" for each medium I thought of testing (I don't have art markers, sorry). OK gets 1 point, Great gets 2 points, Bad gets zero, and the sum is at the bottom. The points by no means reflect the overall quality of the sketchbook, just that it's more versatile with different mediums.

Moleskine sketchbook Moleskine watercolor Winsor & Newton wire bound watercolor Canson Art Book teNeues Magneto Lega-lega notebook Lega-lega red notebook
Graphite pencil Great Great Great Great OK Great Bad
Ballpoint pen Great Great Great Great Great Great Great
Pigment ink fine-liner OK OK Great Great Great OK Great
Brush pen OK Great Great Great Great Bad Great
Color pencils Great Great Great Great Great Great Bad
Watercolor pencils OK Great Great Great OK OK Bad
Watercolor Bad Great Great OK Bad OK Bad
Gel pens Great Great Great Great Great OK Great
Calligraphy Bad OK Great Great Bad Bad Great
Fountain pens OK OK Great Great OK Bad Great
Paint markers Great Bad Bad OK Great Bad Great
Gouache and Acrylic Great Great Great OK Bad OK Bad
Points 16 19 22 21 15 11 14

Comments

Robinson

Thanks for the review. I can only get the Canson sketchbook at some shop around my college, now I know that will not be a bad thing after all :-D

Allan

AWESOME REVIEWS!!

I have been looking for reviews as I'm about to buy my first sketchbook. Happy to know that I can get 2 cansons instead of 1 moleskine, and still getting more quality!

Though I have to ask for your help here: Would you even consider the A6 sized sketchbooks? Or A5 all the way? I'm not sure which size I should pick!

Thanks!

Nela

Hey guys! Thank you so much, I'm glad you liked my reviews :) sorry for the late reply, I haven't been monitoring the comments on this blog lately.

@Robinson: Definitely not a bad choice! I'm actually half-way my second one from this series, and plan to get more.

@Allan: Actually some of the sketchbooks reviewed were an A6 size - the teNeues one and Moleskine watercolor. However I prefer to use the A5 ones whenever I have enough space in my bag simply because there's more room to express myself.

This is something that boils down to personal preference.
You won't know what *you* prefer until you try it. And since you're a dude, you might want to consider something that can fit in the pocket of your cargo pants if you go out without a bag, for example.

My answer would be - try both ;)