Notebook Review: Apica CG-54 Grid

Good, affordable notebooks are hard to find. As much as I value notebooks — and believe me, I’d be lost without them — there is something that puts me off about paying $15 or $20 for a carry-around, soft-cover notebook just because it’s a certain brand or style that’s hip right now (you know the ones I’m talking about). So whenever I spot a notebook that looks solid, affordable, and cool, I grab it and give it a whirl. This notebook from Apica is a perfect example.

I picked up the Apica CG-54 notebook during my recent trip to Seattle. At the time, I really knew nothing about Apica notebooks, even though in hindsight I’ve found that the CD line has a reputation among fountain pen users. I just grabbed it because it was affordable, looked nice, and wasn’t something I’d found in shops in Anchorage. Even after searching back through Google for some background info on the Apica CG, I can’t find much — the interwebs are awash in information about the CD line, but not so much the CG. So, I reckon this is a prime subject for a review!

Design

First off, I want to say that I have no idea what type of difference there may be between the paper in the Apica CG and CD notebooks. Perhaps a future review will alleviate that uncertainty, but I’m going into this one with an open mind and a clean slate!

The Apica CG54 occupies a footprint of 128 x 182 mm. This is a Japanese “B6”, which is slightly larger than the standard ISO B6, and contains 52 individual sheets (I had to count them by hand!)

The soft cover is made up of a “woven” type cardstock with an interesting texture on the outside, but slick and smooth on the inner covers. The insides of the cover are blank, with the outside featuring all of the printing. The main “GRID NOTEBOOK” heading is supplemented with advice to the would-be writer than this notebook contains “most advanced quality” paper that “gives best writing features”. Within the fancy-looking, old-fashioned border are three spaces for a subject, name, date, or whatever tickles your fancy when it comes to labeling your notebooks. The back cover is mostly blank, with the exception of the obligatory barcode and product info printed tidily and relatively discreetly along the bottom. Apica notebooks come in lots of different colors, but I chose red because it’s my favorite.

The Apica CG54 is thread-bound in two “volumes”, and taped along the spine. Fresh off the shelf, it doesn’t like to lay flat, but the spine can be cracked and loosened up a bit to accommodate this.

Paper

Opening the Apica CG-54 reveals a pad of paper that struck me as simple yet pleasant and finely-made.

The pages of the CG54 are ruled with a tight 5mm grid, which I really appreciate. I could definite use that for everyday writing, as well as sketching, list-making, planning projects, and such. The rules are printed with a modest gray mark that is consistent, fine, and straight.

Apica’s CG paper feels very smooth. It comes across as natural, without some sort of weird coating, but doesn’t seem to have a lot of tooth to it. It also has a bit of a natural tint. It’s definitely not a cream or ivory paper but it is pleasantly muted compared to some of the bleach-white, retina-zapping tones that are filling notebooks these days.

Apica paper (left) vs. "generic" white paper (right)
Apica CG paper (left) vs. “generic” white paper (right)

I’m not sure what the paper weight of this notebook is, but the pages feel thin and yet sturdy. Despite the light weight of the paper stock, it didn’t strike me as transparent or floppy at all as I flipped through.

Having taken care of the reconnaissance tasks, it was time to get some hands-on experience and lay down some graphite and ink. On the pencil side of things, the CG is a little too slick for my tastes. Without a lot of tooth to the paper, it has a hard time getting the lead to lay down, especially for harder pencils. Softer ones like the Blackwing make a pretty good mark, but feel quite slippery on the page. You could probably write for days and days with a hard pencil, and even a soft pencil should be able to eke out some mileage on the smooth Apica paper; but I don’t find the feeling or appearance of the written word to be particularly compelling. It’s pretty so-so for pencils.

I was really curious to see how a fountain pen fared with the Apica CG paper, since that seems to be market niche that has adopted the CD notebook. That said, I’m not a fountain pen/ink aficionado, having but one lowly Cross pen to test out with the “oem” ink. Nonetheless, I whipped it out to see what it could do, and I found that the Apica CG paper resists bleedthrough wonderfully. The drying time is not spectacular — you definitely have to wait a bit before closing the book if you don’t want to make a mess on the previous page — but in my limited experience it’s not bad. Likewise for feathering: for this free-flowing nib, the paper did feather a little bit, but not enough to annoy me if I hadn’t been scrutinizing it as closely as I do in the context of a review. Overall, I think the fountain pen writeability of this paper is “pretty good”.

Finally, I busted out the Pilot G2 gel pen to see if I could make it bleed through the page — nope! The Apica CG paper stood up to even that mess of an ink and was just like “no dice, buddy.” It seemed to dry faster than the fountain pen ink, and feather-resistance was equally mediocre.

Conclusions

The Apica CG-54 notebook is solidly, yet simply made and feels like a quality stationery product. However, it definitely lends itself more to one writing-instrument niche than the other. Sadly for us pencil nerds, the CG paper is just “ok” but a little too smooth to really make pencil marks on a page pop. This is a blessing for pen users, because the same traits that make it kinda “meh” for pencils also make it a solid choice for pens. Furthermore, I was really impressed with the bleedthrough resistance. Nothing gets past these pages, it seems.

The Apica CG-54 notebook was highly affordable, coming in around $5. For a medium-format notebook with solid paper, you really can’t do much better than that. Again, I really appreciate the simplicity of it, and the B6 format (or at least, B6 to Japanese people) is a good size that fits nicely in my man-purse.

I really like the Apica CG-54 notebook in general, even though it’s not particularly conducive to my preferred writing instruments (the good ol’ graphite and wood pencil). On the other hand, if you’re a pen user and need a cheap, good-quality, no-fancy-features notebook, I wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on this purchase.

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