Notebook Review: Rifle Paper Co. Graph Notepad

As you may know, I’m an engineer in my “day job” profession. I’ve been doing it for a while now, but I remember way back in my undergraduate studies learning that there is actual engineering paper. For those of you who aren’t familiar, it’s basically really fancy graph paper. It’s only grid-ruled on the back side, although when you write on a pad of it you can see the grids through to the front; but when you scan or copy it, they aren’t visible. It’s usually tinted green or yellow, and it has boxes at the top so you can write whatever header info you want. It’s drilled into undergrads’ heads that you absolutely positively do all hand-written work on this paper, no matter what. Even if that sounds ridiculous — and even if the cost of a pad of the stuff is even more ridiculous — it’s still somehow ingrained in my psyche, years later.

When I saw the Rifle Paper Co. Graph Notepad out of the corner of my eye at Metro Cooks a while back, you know damn well I impulse-bought the hell out of it. It’s like engineering paper…in tiny notepad form! What better scribble pad for my desk? A few months have passed, but I have finally decided to unwrap the pad and take it for a spin. Here’s my take on it…

The Rifle Paper Co. Graph Notebook is a typical 6.5 x 4.25 inch notebook, standing 75 pages thick. It is designed to look “technical”, with the main body of the page being laid out in a small grid rule. There’s a title and date box at the top of the page for conveniently labeling the subject of whatever note you might be taking — I could see this coming in handy for to-do lists and such.

Although it’s designed to look similar to a legal pad, with the thick brown binding across the top, it really isn’t. A simpler slab-o-glue binding across the top edge, similar to what you’d find on cheap hotel room notepads and the like, are what actually hold the pages of this pad together. The brown strip across the top is actually printed on the paper, and repeats itself (“Graph Notepad” title and all) on every page, which I think is kind of cheesy.

The pages are tinted a “robin’s egg” blue, with thick, very light-grey ruling. I do like a little bit of a tint to my page, but the blue seems dark enough that it hinders readability rather than helping it.

The blue page tint, ruling, and brown-stripe graphic are only printed on the front side. If you tear a page off and flip it over, you’ll get a blank, warm, creamy sheet to work with.

Like the brown binding strip across the top, the grid rule is kind of silly and doesn’t seem to be an actually useful feature. This is because it’s also drawn in a cartoonish fashion. The grids aren’t actually laid out in precise, straight lines — they look like someone hand drew them. Which is cute, but kind of defeats the purpose of graph paper.

For a notepad, the leaves of paper seem to be pretty hearty. They feel at least as sturdy as a higher-quality paper like the Docket Gold pad. Pencil markings don’t scratch through and imprint on the following page. Gel ink writes very nicely and doesn’t bleed through. Even fountain pen ink with a medium nib hangs mostly tight on the front side of the page (it bleeds through a little bit, but not catastrophically so), although it feathers something awful and results in an inconsistent texture. The paper has a nice feel to it — a little bit toothy, not flat or slick; but also not rough. I like the way it writes with pencil.

Conclusions

The premise of the Graph Notepad is mostly gimmick. From the phony binding strip to the crooked faux-grid rule, the design of this paper is clearly meant to be more whimsical than useful. Granted, I bought this product mainly because it looked kind of silly and fun, so I guess their plan worked — and I hope I don’t sound like too much of a stick in the mud. But in practice I’m a bit let down that it’s more inspiring as a goofy conversation piece than as a functional source of writing media.

That said, the actual paper quality seems to be pretty serious. The texture plays well with pencil, and the page has enough weight to keep ink from bleeding through and prevent the point of your writing instrument from leaving an impression on the following page(s). The only downside to the paper from an actual material standpoint is that, although it blocks fountain ink from transferring fairly well, it also feathers it like crazy. It’s great for gel pens and pencils, though.

While the graph paper concept is too gimmicky for me, I think I might find myself ripping the pages off of the pad and flipping them over to use the backside more often than I do the front. The paper has a nice feel to it, I like the warm creaminess of it, and you get the entire area of the page (without distractions) to work with when you flip it over. I’ve come to the conclusion that while the Graph Notepad isn’t really for me, perhaps Rifle makes other products with the same paper stock that might be more up my alley — but, then again, looking at their website seems to indicate that everything they do is pretty over-the-top whimsical and flowery.

The notepad itself set me back about $9 at local retail; their website has similar products listed about $8. That isn’t exactly cheap for a desktop notepad, but given the quality of the paper, I’d say it’s fair.

Rifle Paper Co.’s Graph Notepad is a fanciful take on the engineer’s computation pad, taking something serious and technical and spinning it for a more casual purpose in a fun way. That’s a cool idea that gets mixed results when executed; while I appreciate the concept and the paper stock is excellent (as long as you aren’t hoping for amazing fountain-pen writing), it strikes me as a little too whimsical to be super useful. It’s definitely got my attention enough to keep my eyes open for other Rifle products; and if goofy is more your thing, the Graph Notepad or their other stationery might be right up your alley.

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