The best paper... in the world

by Scribble Monboddo

Now there's a headline to put the cat among the pigeons. Actually, best not mention cats to Nero, but... well, you get the picture.

As a stationery blogger, one of the most frequent questions to come my way is "what's the best paper?". It's right up there after "what's the best fountain pen for under £20?", in fact. But the answer is just as complex.

Which paper is best for you depends, obviously enough, upon what you're going to use the paper for. If it's origami, I'm a bit stumped. If you want to write on it with a ballpoint, then pretty much anything will do and you don't really need my help - no value judgement, it's just not a problem as such. If you want to write on it with a pencil, then the trick is to go for paper with a bit of texture, as the graphite depends upon abrasion to get onto the page, and funnily enough a lot of paper which isn't famously brilliant for fountain pens turns out to be really quite marvellous for use with a pencil - take Field Notes or My Paper Brains, for instance.

If you like using a fountain pen, then first of all welcome to the cognoscenti, but this does raise a bit more of a challenge. You want a surface which is fairly smooth, but not like glass, so that it's pleasant to run the nib over but offers just enough traction to draw some ink onto the page. You want ink absorption not to be too enthusiastic, so that bleeding (through to the other side of the paper) or feathering (lateral spidery smudging) are minimal. You want it to be sturdy enough not start wrinkling as you write on it, and you want it to be the right colour to contrast nicely with your chosen ink. Hitting all those needs at the same time turns out to be quite a big ask. 

There are nevertheless a long list of contenders, and with pioneers like Made for Ink working hard to find a recycled fountain-friendly paper to add to the collection it's a list which could soon be growing longer still. But a totally encyclopaedic article would be a ridiculously long read, so for the purposes of brevity I shall tell you about three papers which regularly appear at or near the top of the papyrus hit-parade.


Coming in at Number Three, it probably has to be Tomoe River. Golly, does it get a lot of attention. Cult status may not be entirely deserved, as its obscurity stems at least in part from the fairly limited availability of this Japanese paper. But it does do a good job of bringing out the sheen of many fountain pen inks, and it can be rather pleasant to write on too. The main caveat is that it comes in a couple of weights, and they behave quite differently. The lighter Tomoe is only about 52gsm, and that's really too thin for anything apart from origami; writing on it causes it wrinkle, and it's not a very satisfying experience. The slighter heavier stuff (about 68gsm) performs better, while still being impressively light. That low weight lends itself well to travel journals, although the longer drying times mean that rapid writers should perhaps still beware. It's also not always the absolute best possible value for money - not when you can get your hands on the next two options, at least.

The second paper which leaps to mind is one that Nero doesn't currently stock, sadly, but might do one day if the manufacturer comes up with the right sort of product made from it. I refer, of course, to Britain's own contribution, the amazing Optik paper. This is found even in supermarkets as spiral bound notebooks and 'Oxford' A4 refill pads, but also features in the better-known Black'n'Red notebooks. I've been using one of the latter to write a diary for a couple of decades, and it's handled every sort of nib and ink I can throw at it. It's smooth, it behaves, and when you can obtain it in the format you actually want, it's great value too. The owner of the brand recently flirted with making a 'proper' pocket notebook, but didn't commit and the product has since been withdrawn, which is a pity - but hey, maybe one day.

As my favourite paper, Optik vies for first place with the magnificent French stuff known as Clairefontaine or Rhodia. Yes, I said or. It really is the same thing, from the same mill, and the twin brands are just aimed at slightly different markets. Rhodia is trying to tempt a younger customer base and those enthused about design, while Clairefontaine is aimed at the connoisseur. Rhodia sometimes flirts with lower weights like 85gsm, and Clairefontaine sometimes leans towards 100gsm, but for the most part its 90gsm all the way these days. Some of the Rhodia Heritage books prepared (I suspect) for the US market even declare on the back that they're made from Clairefontaine paper! But my advice is not to worry too much about the myriad sub-brands and just enjoy the stuff; it feels delightful to write on, it seems to be able to handle just about any sort of fountain pen, the results look good and it doesn't cost a fortune. Problem solved.