Challenge Accepted!

6 11 2021

I was very restrained yesterday, and and focused on 5th November being Guy Fawkes night rather than Fountain Pen Day. Living in Canada means that with the exception of a single random firework being set off in the neighbourhood (more likely a Diwali lingerer), there was not much chance to celebrate with fireworks, treacle toffee, baked potatoes and accidentally roasted hibernating hedgehogs whilst willfully ignoring the fact you’re burning the effigy of a man involved in a failed catholic plot to overthrow the British government in 1605. Ah… such warm childhood memories. Literally – those bonfires could be huge!

But today my resolve broke and while accompanying Mrs E. on a trip to Richmond, I fell into the MUJI shop. The time of year meant they’d replaced many of their usual stationery offerings with diaries, and having just got my Rhodia A5 one I wasn’t even tempted.

Image Source: Cult Pens

I was however tempted by their 5-pack of exercise books, tantalisingly labelled as “anti-bleed-through”. Challenge accepted!

MUJI “anti-bleed-through notebooks”

For a mere $4 what could I lose? (OK… $4, I suppose!)

The notebooks are B5 (defined here by MUJI as 179×252mm rather than the “proper” ISO size of 176×250mm – still close enough in the grand scheme of things), which is slightly taller than a common-in-Canada Hilroy/MEAD exercise book, and a tad narrower. The aspect ratio is comforting to me as someone who grew up in the UK because it fits the usual 1:√2 aspect ratio of A4 and other ISO defined A/B/C-range sizes, ubiquitous everywhere but North America.

The notebooks are a useful 30 sheets/60 pages, which is a little ungenerous, but then again, they do have nice protective card stock covers with 5 different coloured spine tapes for additional protection. At first, I thought the books were simply perfect bound (glued) rather than the usual “saddle-stitch” of cheap stapled exercise books or actual stitching of more up-market offerings, like Clairefontaine . On closer inspection (full iPhone zoom through a loupe) I noticed that it’s actually 15 individual signatures, notched and then glued. The notching allows the glue a slightly better grip on the spines of the signatures.

Blurry close-up of the spine, showing the folded sheets and the glued spine.

This method leaves a very neat, square spine, and allows a very square final product. The other benefit with not having all 15 sheets folded in a single signature is that the pages lie flat, wherever you are in the book.

The paper is quite smooth with a feel I’ve come to associate with Japanese brands, though this claims to be Indonesian. I’d guess somewhere in the 80gsm range. If you like tooth, this may not be for you.

Pages have 6mm rulings with tick marks top and bottom if you need to add columns. I have a feeling I may find this a little too narrow for my writing – especially with broader nibs which I prefer for their aid with shading, but we’ll see. It’s not a deal breaker… there are plenty of other nibs in my collection.

So, the bottom line though: how does it handle fountain pen inks?

Well – nothing scientific or anything, but here’s what I happened to have inked at the moment. I wasn’t overly impressed with how the Diamine Holly sheened with the “test” line (i.e. not much), so I went a step further and “swabbed” a few of my more sheening inks, to see how the paper faired more generally. I’m not a fan of waste (those Yorkshire genes), so I use a plastic chopstick for swabbing, rather than the more usual Q-tip. I find that surface tension allows a reasonable amount of ink to “stick”, but it almost all transfer to the paper, and you don’t end end up wasting much as you clean things off in water, as you do with throwing a still sopping wet Q-tip in the bin.

Currently inked pens to hand, plus some sheeners.
Rear of page showing some ghosting where ink had sat pooled for extensive period. Flash photo makes it seem worse than real life.

I found the paper shows shading and sheen pretty well, ghosting only when you insist on leaving a puddle of ink to dry. There was no bleed with the nibs/inks I tried.

The only very slight issue I can report is excessive drying times with usual culprits like Noodler’s Apache Sunset. Olivine was 70 seconds to fully dry the writing from a B nib, but I gave up counting with Apache Sunset. For CA80¢ a book though… who’s complaining? I’d definitely buy these again, and look forward to using them as my “day book” to capture thoughts and ideas, safe in the knowledge that they’ll handle whatever pen/ink I happen to have to hand.

This item is part of the “MUJI afforestation effort”, with typically enigmatic labelling of “PLANTING TREE PAPER” on the packaging, allowing communities to directly choose and benefit from the trees they cultivate. In this case Indonesia.

Today’s cast of participants:

  • Opus 88 Demonstrator with Pilot Iroshizuku Syo-ro. This was a birthday present from my wife and arrived with a very slight, but noticeable fault on the cap. I was blown away with the level of service both Cult Pens and Opus 88 themselves demonstrated in putting it right, and both have received my further business subsequently as a consequence of that behaviour. The ink is a nice enough teal I got as a sample from InkyPaw in Canada about a year ago. Since then, they seem to be struggling and don’t respond via any of the usual avenues (email, phone, web form, …). I’m afraid I can’t recommend them as after months of no replies I recently had to resort to my credit card company to get a refund from an undelivered order. The ink is a solid enough performer, as are all Pilot’s Iroshizuku range I’ve tried so far, but it was just a bit meh, colour-wise.
  • Pilot V-pen with Platinum Classic Citrus Black. I ran this CA$3 pen dry about a year ago, and it’s had a couple of refills since then. They were on offer at Walmart, and I liked the fact they were essentially throw-away if I wanted to carry them in my coat pocket without fear from theft or losing them. The steel nib is still a Pilot though, and it writes perfectly, if boringly. Once dry though, I didn’t see why it was necessary to throw a perfectly functional pen body into the landfill, and there’s always the “re-use” option before the “recycle” one, so… I turned to YouTube and found they are stunningly easy to refill! I essentially followed the steps in the link I put in the pen name, but found a thick elastic band and fingers were more appropriate than a folded tissue and a pair of pliers for removing the nib and feed. I went one step further and used acetone (nail varnish remover) to remove the branding from the barrel, and created a lo-fi demonstrator. Citrus Black is a lovely quirky ink and the iron gall creates some awesome darkening as it oxidises on the page. On this MUJI paper, the effect was immediate, though I have had papers where it’s like writing with lemon juice until the reaction takes place, several minutes later. That can be hard to use if the paper’s not lined, but it’s not a common thing. It’s one of a few water resistant inks I have, but this one is more for the colour than being able to use it on envelopes.
  • Platinum Preppy with Platinum blue/black cartridge. This was an impulse buy when ducking into the Vancouver Pen Shop to avoid the rain (my story and I’m sticking to it – especially if Mrs E. is reading…). I’m a habitual user of M and B nibs, with occasional forays into F or stub if the mood takes me. I have a few EFs from Chinese vendors which are actually typically 0.38mm and solid Fs in practice. This purchase is loudly proclaimed as 0.2mm to avoid any issue of what letter you might like to assign (though they also helpfully add a suggested EF in the corner for the undecided). It came with an included Platinum cartridge (obviously… not Pilot as I claim in the writing test on the page, above!). I bought a converter to subsequently use, but being 0.2mm, this nib lays down an almost homeopathic amount of ink, and I feel I’ll be long gone before it exhausts this included cartridge. Despite its undeniable mid blue colour, this is in fact a blue/black cartridge, and is also allegedly water resistant.
  • Lamy 2000M with Noodler’s Ink Apache Sunset. This is the stainless steel version of the classic Lamy 2000, and weights slightly more than Mjölnir. I find it esthetically wonderful and calming just to look at. Without the ink window it just seems generally more refined than the standard model. Mine has a medium gold nib which I actually find tends more to a B and is wetter than a BC morning. It is the perfect instrument with which to apply shading inks to a page, and Apache Sunset is just such an ink. I have mixed feelings about Noodler’s inks, but Apache Sunset is glorious in its shading, given a suitable paper to work with. It shades from quite a deep orange all the way to pale lemon yellow. It’s quite well-represented in the text I wrote in the image above. I have had it bleed through many cheap notebook papers, but this MUJI notebook had no issues at all.
  • Kaweco AL Sport with Diamine Holly. I like metal pens and pens with something a little off-beat to them. The stonewashed blue version of the aluminium Kaweco Sport was a perfect fit, and I treated myself to one a year or so ago. I bought it with an EF nib, but found it a bit scratchy (Kaweco are notorious for inconsistent nib quality). Only a week or so ago, I swapped in a medium nib, and it’s now a thing of pleasure. I’m a bit of a sheen whore but fancied a green/red rather than the more common blue/red sheen and so treated myself to Holly originally from Diamine’s 2019 advent calendar. Now available on its own in full bottles, I think I’m well sorted until long after I die. I’ve only been using it a week or so, but it has performed admirably on several different papers and seems well suited to the M nib in the Kaweco. It did sheen on the MUJI paper as I did a one-line write test, but provided way more shading than I’d seen before. This triggered my concern that perhaps this paper aided shade at the cost of sheen… hence the later sheen tests.
  • Lamy AL Star with Lamy blue cartridge. Despite it being a very common first pen, I’ve never owned a Lamy Safari or its aluminium brother, the AL Star. I’ve penabled Mrs E. with a small coterie of them in recent times, and decided it was time to get my own. As well as enjoying metal pens (Parker 25, Parker 45 Flighter, Kaweco Brass Sport, Retro 51 Tornado Lincoln etc…), I also have a thing for so-called “stealth” pens. These are all matte black… including the nib if possible. That is the case with the AL Star. As well as a coated black nib, it also has a black clip rather than the usual steel coloured clip on the AL Star. Ticked all the boxes and fell into the shopping cart. You know how that can happen… I opted for a B nib with a view to having another option for high shading inks and though broader than the Kaweco M it’s not as broad as the unreasonably broad Lamy 2000M medium! At present it’s just got the free cartridge that came with the pen, but it has a converter ready to go once that is empty. The ink itself is unremarkable, and a bit unsaturated to my mind, but a decent performer. Not my cup of tea, but I could see it being a decent school option if fountain pens were still used. Alongside Parker’s Quink or Waterman’s Serenity Blue.
  • Lastly we have another Lamy AL Star this time with Pelikan Edelstein Olivine. I was looking for other already inked examples to test the paper, and so borrowed one of Mrs E’s Lamy’s. This one is a deep purple, originally to go with Diamine’s Deep Dark Purple special from Cult Pens. Now though, it’s inked with Pelikan’s Edelstein Olivine – one of my collection of dark greens as I search for the perfect “British Racing Green”. The pen also has a (silver coloured) B nib, excellent for showing off any shading inks, such as this Olivine.

So – very happy with the paper’s performance re shading and lack of bleed or ghosting, and all-round lack of feathering. All that remained was to go back and prod a bit more at my niggle about the so-so performance with Holly’s sheen. I decided to “go for it” and blather the rest of the page with some high sheening inks to see what it could do, as well as test the “anti-bleed-through” claim that originally caused me to buy the notebooks. I dug out the plastic chopstick I use for swatching new inks and set to work…

I tried 4 inks. Three I know usually sheen well, and one that should… but never has. Perhaps this paper will be the one?!

  • Diamine Holly. When laid down in volume, this performed really well and displayed the sheen I expected, quite prominently. In normal writing, it was more subdued, but it’s definitely present and with more shading than I’m used to seeing.
  • Krishna Jungle Volcano. I have always found this to be a disappointing orange that shades to a muddy grey rather than displaying the promised “high sheen” of jungle green. Can’t recommend it, and this paper doesn’t let it perform any better than others I’ve tried.
  • Diamine Bloody Brexit. I’ve always found this ink a solid performer and it sheens with lots of red/magenta on this paper too.
  • Organic Studio’s Walden Pond Blue. This ink is nearly all sheen! It is nominally green, despite the name, but sheens so much, it is essentially a metallic magenta when dry. It’s like Holly’s bigger sibling, with hardly any of the base colour visible once dry.

Looking at the reverse side of the page once everything had dried, there’s a little ghosting where the sheening inks had been laid down thick, and possibly a touch of bleed for Bloody Brexit… but this was hardly a realistic use case, and the text lines had no ghosting at all, even on the slow drying Noodler’s or Edelstein. The photo above actually makes it look worse than it is, due to the effect of the flash.

I think this notebook is well worth the pittance MUJI are charging as a workhorse notebook for fountain pen users, and the sheening inks do in fact perform, if not quite as readily as the shaders.


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