• Melina


Updated: Oct 10, 2019

You want to take control of your life. You do not want to miss that winning idea to chance or worse, count on your memory. You are sick of trying to locate that piece of paper you wrote that quote, you are tired of trying to figure out what spiral bound notepad you wrote your yesterday’s thoughts where you came up with the stunning approach to a problem. On both accounts you can’t find either. You need one notebook to track your daily to do lists, weekly and monthly planners, track your goals, and let out your thoughts.

But you look on Amazon and you find there seems like a million notebooks to chose from. Some notebooks are hardcover some are softcover. Some already have preprinted daily goals and some you have to draw in your own calendar. Other notebooks have lined pages and others are blank or dotted pages.

Don’t get me started about the price. The price goes from $5.99 to over $39.00.

You are right to seem a little overwhelmed. You want to relive your life through writing but you also want the right tools. This blog post will tell you about the different features to look for in a notebook so you can decide what would work best for you.

Let’s break your journal down to a few components. These components are the Size, Cover, Paper, Binding, and Extras.


When you start looking for notebooks you get an education in size. You will see notebooks state they are A5 or A4 size. This “A” measurement is an international measurement in paper. The reason for an international standard is due to that debate about the United States using inches for measurement while in Europe they use the metric system. The A sizing is adopted internationally so if you state to somebody you want an A5 paper no matter where they live in the world they can tell exactly what size you are dealing with.

Image courtesy of Prepressure.com

As you can see in the above diagram the sizes are in relation to each other. A0 is the largest size. But if you fold an A0 size paper in half you get an A1 size paper. Fold that paper in half you get an A3 paper. This process repeats and repeats itself for sizes.

A good journal is something you can take with you everywhere. You can take it in your purse, attaché case, or laptop case. Ideally the journal should be the size of a standard book.

Because you don’t want it too large or unwieldy to take with you. I recommend an A5 size journal. A5 measures at 5.8 inches in width to 8.3 inches in length. This is roughly equivalent to a half size of standard letter paper that you have in your copier.


There are several cover options you can have. You can have different color covers, different materials on the cover, and different firmness of cover. I am only going to talk about the firmness of the cover because material and color are more of a personal choice versus firmness which is more practical. You will see advertised hardcover notebooks or softcover notebooks. I hardcover is made with a firm cardboard whose purpose is not to bend or fold. Think of a hardcover novel which is solid and not bendable. A softcover on the other hand can bend and fold.

Because your notebook will be a part of your adventures a hardcover notebook is advantageous. First, the hardcover makes it easy to write in the journal. You automatically have a hard surface to write on. Second, the hardcover makes it easier for the journal to fold flat. This also has an advantage because you want the journal to open flat because you can set it down open it up and write when the flash of genius moment strikes. Third, the hard cover protects the notebook making it more sturdy in your travels. The notebook is going to be a part of you. You want it to reflect on the day and be a daily habit for you. You need a notebook that can be able to fit in your purse or bag and not fold over or causing the pages to bend onto itself. The hardcover journal will prevent this from happening and allow you to take the journal everywhere you want to go.

Another notable feature of the hardcover notebook is its binding. A hardcover notebook will have a stronger case binding while a softcover will likely have a saddle stich binding. We will talk about binding later in this article.


In reviewing journals on Amazon you will see a number of comments about people running into problems when they write in their journal about their ink bleeding through to the other page. You will also have some type of ghost markings when you write in a book but with good paper inside you can prevent the ink bleed from using markers. The thickness of the page will help you determine the quality of the notebook.

How do you judge the thickness? This is by a measurement in GSM. In the paper industry GSM stands for the grams per square meter. This measurement tells you the denseness of the paper. The higher the GSM the higher the thickness of paper.

A Handy Reference for Paper Weights

10-35 gsm: Tissue-like paper

35-70 gsm: Very light paper. The higher end of this bracket is just slightly lighter than some printer/copier paper.

70-100 gsm: Average paper weight for the paper you’ll find in a copier/printer

100-120 gsm: Heavier quality paper or light cardstock. Lighter than average greeting card weight and heavier than everyday printer paper. Suitable for many but not all home printers. It’s advisable to order a sample and test on your home printer.

120-150 gsm: Average cardstock, comparable to a standard greeting card in weight. Suitable for less home printers but order a sample and test to check.

150-200 gsm: Heavier cardstock. Suitable for covers for presentations, business cards, invitation backing and professional jobs but generally not suitable for home printers. It would be advisable that if you want to print onto this you have the paper delivered to a professional printer.

200 gsm +: Approximately as thick as the card that makes up a cereal box. It won’t go through most home printers but would be suitable for other home craft projects – such as creating invites and gift cards by hand, with rubber stamps or small hand-emboss devices. If you’re having it delivered to a professional printer there are many more uses for this weight of card.

Chart courtesy of papersave.wordpress.com

The average paper weight for paper you have in your printer is from 70-80 GSM. You will find this paper in your cheaper notebooks. Having this paper in your notebook you will likely experience ink bleed through your page using just regular pens.

A higher quality notebook will contain a GSM paper weight between 100 to 120 GSM. This is heavy enough paper to get your job done and prevent ink bleed but also light enough you can have a notebook with 120 sheets or 240 pages without being too bulky. The happy medium for quality and usability will be 120 GSM.

Once you have the paper weight down, there is still the decision to what type of markings you want on your pages. For instance, do you want to have blank pages, lined pages, grid pages, or dotted. For the writing types the lined pages work well to keep your writing clean and easy to follow. For artistic types the lines and the grids are too much of a distraction and not necessary if your sketching a scene or drawing a picture.

Dotted pages satisfy both of the written and artistic worlds. There are many benefits to the dotted pages. First you can write or draw with dotted pages. The dots do not take up all the real estate in a notebook as grid or lined pages would. This allows you to mix in sketches as well as journaling in your notebook. The idea is to have one notebook to place all your creativity, ideas, and reflections in. You can have one notebook serve all these purposes.

Second dotted pages allow you to make a planner. You can easily create a daily, weekly, and monthly calendar with little artistic skills. This also avoids having to purchase planners or goal calendars. You can use this one notebook to handle those needs. Again the idea is to have just one tool handle multiple functions.

Third, even though you use it for writing or journaling the idea is to increase your creativity. Research has shown if you doodle or draw you are unleashing your creativity and that works more parts of your brain. So if you journal about that problem and then just doodle in your notebook you are working that problem with more parts of your brain than just that analytical writing type of the brain.

Look for dotted pages. Dotted pages will give your journal more versatility and uses than any other type of page markings.

HOW MANY PAGES A lot of people will ask how many pages should the journal be. You must remember that a journal too thick you will less likely carry with you. A journal with too little pages will only last you about a month. You purchase a calendar for a year and a planner for a year so your journal in essence should last that long as well. If you are looking for a journal with 120 GSM paper than a notebook that contains from 180 to 240 pages is ideal. Most journals do not have more than the 240 pages because if they do they would be too thick for even the binding to hold it together. If you ever tried to staple too many pages together only to have the pages slip out. That is what would happen if you have a notebook with more than 240 pages


Different Types of Book Binding

Binding is what holds the pages of the notebook together. There are more than a dozen types of binding together a document. In this article we discuss the four main types, Saddle stich, Spiral, Perfect Binding, and Case.

Saddle stitch Binding

Saddle stich binding is when the pages are inserted inside each other and secured through the middle fold with wire staples. Saddle stitch or side stitch is common for a notebook between 2-300 pages. It is relatively inexpensive type of binding. It is excellent for artwork, graphs and maps. The advantages of saddle stich binding are because the staple is in the middle of the fold these type of books will lie flat when opened.

Saddlestich Binding Notebooks

What is interesting is that the pages are not actually stapled. They are “stitched” with a machine that pushes through the sheet with a long metal wire. This wire is then folded holding the pages together. It looks like a staple to the casual observer.

Spiral Binding

Spiral Bound Notebooks

Spiral Binding uses either a plastic or metal coil that is inserted and twisted through small holes punched along the book paper’s edges. We are all familiar in school with the spiral bound notebooks. Spiral binding is very versatile in the number of pages the notebook can hold. It can accommodate high and low page counts. All the needs to change is the width of the spiral coil that weaves through the pages. The advantages of spiral bound notebooks are that they can open flat and open at a full 360 degrees. That is you can open the book onto itself to save on space and give a harder surface to write upon. Because of the 360-degree advantage you will see travel atlases and guides using the spiral binding.

The disadvantages are that if the binding comes off it can snag on clothes or in your bag. This is a hassle and for notebooks carried in a travel bag or purse these spiral coils can catch on other items in your bag or add to the chunkiness.

Perfect Binding

Perfect Bound Notebook

Perfect binding is when the pages are bound by gluing. In most applications, the individual pages of the book are stacked on top of each other. Once this is done the pages are glued together along the binding side of the stack. A second gluing is applied in order to glue the stack of pages to the cover of the book. Paperback books are the most common type of books that use the perfect binding technique. You will see this type of binding also in magazines.

Case Binding

Case Bound Notebook

Case binding also called hard cover binding uses a hard cover that surrounds and protects the pages. These pages are tied together with threads and secured by the hard cover that surrounds them and glued with endpapers. Case binding is typically more expensive than perfect binding or the other binding methods because of the stronger cover and the pages are secured by threading. This method of book binding has been around as far back as the early 1800s. It provides a long lasting method of protecting your notebook. Not only the pages secured together by the threading but they are cased by the pages to the hardcover. The cover in this books are stronger and more durable than you would see in other binding methods.

For binding methods considered the case binding method you see on books meant to last a long time. That is why this type of binding are in your hardcover books and novels. If you want a journal to last through the years and look nice you should look for this type of binding.


As you can tell from this reading there are many factors to consider when choosing your journal notebook. Each decision is up for your preference and everyone has a different idea what is important to them. Some may want a smaller journal so it can easily travel with them and other a large journal for artistic endeavors.

The most important consideration is that you choose one with high quality paper and binding. A journal reflects your thoughts, feelings, and tracks your progress. You hear about people’s great joy in reflecting back through their journals at different times in their lives. If you pick a journal with low quality paper and binding that journal will not last you for years but only months. That defeats the whole purpose of keeping your journal. Also, choose a journal that is pleasing to the eye. You are going to be looking at it daily so you might as well find one with a color that makes you happy or enjoy.

Enough about reading about journals. Just go out and buy one. Use it and abuse it. Test new ideas and don’t be afraid to make mistakes or messy artwork inside it.

Let me know how you like your journal. I am always curious to what you all think is important in your journal. Thanks for reading.

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