Often when people start using fountain pens, they discover quickly after that not all paper is made equal. When using ballpoints or rollerballs, most paper performs fairly similarly, which has to do with the oil-based greasier ink of these types of pen.
How well your ink does on your paper has to do with your pen, your ink and your paper. The wetter the pen, the more ink goes on the page, and so the more likely you’ll have problems. Certain inks display certain tendencies, and so you’ll have to play around and try a few inks to see how they differ. However, the paper you write on often has the biggest variation in how your pen and ink perform.
Paper weight is an indication of how heavy it is. Most paper is measured according to “gsm” or grams per square meter. American paper weights are in pounds, and it’s very confusing. My reference point is: 20lb paper is around 75 gsm. Rhodia’s standard staplebound pads have 80gsm paper. If you ask me any more questions about paper weight in lbs, I will likely spend a long time on this online conversion tool.
I think the real difference between how paper performs comes down to the sizing of the paper, or how the paper is treated in manufacturing to change the absorbency level of the paper. The basic idea is that the more absorbent the paper is, the more feathering and bleed through you will experience. Paper that has additional surface sizing will have the ink sit on top of the paper and take longer to dry, rather than absorbing into the paper, to dry quickly.
Bad things that can happen with paper:
Show-through: if you’re writing on the other side of the page, show-through or ghosting can make it more difficult to read what you’re writing. This is much more prevalent in thinner paper, such as Tomoe River Paper, and obviously if you hold it up to the light.
Bleed-through: when the ink actually makes it way to the other side, bleed through makes it almost impossible to use the back page. Really terrible paper may even have ink on the next page.
Feathering: this is probably the least acceptable characteristic. Many people are willing to forgo the back of the page, but if the writing itself on the page looks terrible, there’s not a lot you can do about it.
Here are a few ways to think about paper: 1. Regular paper
This is the copy paper at your office, or the lined notebooks for students. This paper often isn’t great for fountain pens, as it was designed for fast consumption and for use with ballpoints. There are a few types of copy paper that are designed for laser printers, and that perform quite well with fountain pens, for example HP Laser Jet 32lb paper.
If you’re stuck using poorer quality paper, you can try either using a thinner nib, like EF or F, or trying an ink that general performs a little better on cheaper papers, like Noodler’s X-Feather, or Rohrer & Klinger’s Iron Gall Salix.
2. French/European paper
Clairefontaine and Rhodia paper are considered two of the top brands in paper. While both companies make a variety of paper formats and sizes and weights, in general, their paper is smoother, slightly thicker and excellent for fountain pens. Most people find they can use broad, stub or flex nibs without problem because this paper is good.
This paper is more expensive than regular or copy paper, and it also has longer dry times.
3. Japanese paper
Japanese paper is making is beginning to become much more widespread in North America. Japanese paper tends to be thinner, but definitely holds up to fountain pen ink very well. Even though the paper is thinner, the lines you get are often exceptionally crisp.
Life Stationery has a lot of ivory and thin paper in a huge variety of formats (notebooks, typing paper, writing paper, bank paper…), and Tomoe River Paper is exceptionally thin, and so has quite a bit of show-through. Japanese paper tends to have very long dry times.
4. Stationery Paper
Stationery or correspondence paper is usually A5 or A4 sized (rather than the North American standard sized letter or legal”) and come from Europe. This paper is often used for letter writing or more formal situations.
G. Lalo and Original Crown Mill are two companies that are known for their stationery paper, and in particular for their laid finish. This paper is thicker and much more textured, sometimes with “verge” or grid textured lines (that can be very helpful for writing straight across!).
What’s the deal with Moleskine?
We get asked quite a bit about why we’re not carrying Moleskine, mainly because we’re a stationery shop and we get a lot of people who aren’t using fountain pens but are maybe looking for a notebook. The long and short of it is that Moleskine paper is great for ballpoints and pencils, but not as great for really inky pens, like fountain pens.
There are many, many other paper products out there, some we carry and many more we don’t. You can always read reviews online, and they often also have pictures, so you can see how one paper performs, but it usually comes down to a combination of the pen, the ink and the paper, so your best bet is to try it out yourself.