Best Softcover Notebooks

Updated October 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

36 Models Considered
6 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
294 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best softcover notebooks

Last Updated October 2019

Even in the digital age, there’s something profoundly personal about writing on paper. Sure, the writing process has migrated toward software, apps, and even voice transcribers, but for some people, nothing beats the sense of accomplishment derived from putting pen to paper. That’s why softcover notebooks have a special place in the lives of writers, artists, notetakers, and list makers.

Softcover notebooks are compact journals that provide plenty of space to transcribe your creative, practical, or organizational needs. Whether you’re writing daily, keeping a travel journal, or simply doodling, softcover notebooks have a variety of features to make your writing experience a pleasurable one. Choose from several ruling styles, notebook sizes, and colors to find the one that strikes the right balance between personality and practicality.

If you’re ready to turn the page and buy a new softcover notebook, take a look at some of the ones our team reviewed. If you’d like to know more, continue reading our buying guide.

Include your contact information on the inside cover of your notebook so a good Samaritan can return it if you lose it.

Key considerations

Size

While there are standard paper and notebook sizes available on the market, softcover notebooks come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Smaller ones in the A5 style measure around 5 by 8 inches. Medium-sized models are also popular, and at about 7.5 by 9.5 inches, they’re about the same size as a composition notebook. Some softcover notebooks are 8.5 by 11 inches, which is the same size as a standard sheet of paper. These larger notebooks are less popular and sometimes hard to find.

Writing instruments

Pencils: Graphite pencils generally perform well with the paper in softcover notebooks, though certain grades can smear more easily than others. Colored pencils also do well, especially on paper that reduces fluorescence so that colors pop in their most natural form. Not every softcover notebook has low fluorescence, so check for this added feature if you expect to do a lot of coloring.

Pens: Ballpoint, rollerball, gel, and fountain pens all perform differently, so it’s no surprise that they also respond differently to various types of paper. Softcover notebook manufacturers generally take this into consideration and indicate the recommended ink types. While you can use any pen or ink, some types are more inclined to bleed or saturate the paper.

Acid-free paper

A standard feature in softcover notebooks is acid-free paper. This means that the paper is less susceptible to the yellowing and deterioration that occur much more quickly in regular paper. Because the paper is specially formulated for longevity, it’s also thicker, smoother, and more durable.

Ruling

There are a variety of ruling styles to accommodate writers and artists of all kinds. Blank softcover notebooks with no lines are the epitome of a tabula rasa. Many artists and sketchers prefer these. They’re also a good pick for travelers who want to draw maps for reference, sketch landscapes, and otherwise detail their experiences.

Lines: Lined softcover notebooks have either college- or wide-ruled paper, though you’ll see college-ruled paper more often in smaller notebooks. The lines are popular with those who keep daily journals or enjoy taking notes in a more attractive notebook. They’re also a good option if you’re an athlete committed to writing regular entries to track food intake, fitness progress, and training schedules.

Grids: Softcover notebooks with grids come in two versions: squares like on graph paper or a grid of tiny dots across the page. Grids have grown in popularity with the rise of bullet journaling, and are geared toward those who seek a personalized and artistic approach to organization. Dot grids have long been popular with Celtic knot artists because they’re ideal for practicing formatting and design.

EXPERT TIP

Instead of folding down important pages, pick up some sticky tabs or bookmarks. The pages will stay intact and your notebook will continue to close properly.


Staff  | BestReviews

Softcover notebook features

Elastic: Elastic details are popular in softcover notebooks. They’re not only functional and reliable but also soft enough to avoid damaging other things in your bag or backpack. Several of the models we looked at feature an elastic closure, and others include an elastic pen holder on the side. If you don’t really need the elastic details, you can likely find less expensive softcover notebooks that satisfy your needs.

Page design: Some notebook users prefer blank pages. If you’re looking for a greater degree of organization, you have a variety of options when it comes to defined spaces. Some notebooks have printed page numbers or leave dedicated space on the pages for the date and subject. Some softcover notebooks geared toward writers include writing prompts or inspirational quotes to encourage the creative process.

Bookmark: A bookmark is one of the most common features in softcover notebooks. In fact, they’re quite easily found in models across all price points. Bookmarks are typically in the form of a single thin ribbon that saves your place without breaking the spine. In higher-quality and more expensive models, there can be as many as two or three bookmarks.

Cover: The covers of softcover notebooks tend to be similarly constructed across the board, with a thin cardboard layer covered by a durable exterior layer. There are moderate variations in the thickness of the cardboard, though it’s generally pliable to some degree. The exterior layer is often made of leather or a synthetic material. Environmentally friendly materials, including cork or recycled plastic or wood, are also popular.

Colors: Softcover notebooks used to come in only basic colors like black, tan, or brown. With the rise in popularity of journaling, there’s now a rainbow of colors to choose from. The colors aren’t restricted to the covers, either: the elastic, inside lines, and bookmark ribbon are also color-coordinated in some notebooks.

EXPERT TIP

If you have to rip out a page of your softcover notebook, use a ruler to achieve a clean edge.


Staff  | BestReviews

Softcover notebook prices

The softcover notebooks we examined range in price from $8 to $25.

Inexpensive: The notebooks in the low end of the range, between $8 and $12, usually have a couple of unique features, such as a pen holder or inside pocket.

Mid-range: Softcover notebooks that cost $12 to $20 are made with better-quality materials, both in the cover and the paper. They also tend to come in multiple colors and ruling styles.

Expensive: The notebooks that cost between $20 and $25 are extremely durable, with a noticeable difference in construction quality. The larger softcover notebooks often fall in this bracket as well.

EXPERT TIP

Store softcover notebooks on their spine in your bag or tote. It will keep the pages from being shoved against the bottom of your bag, and you won’t have any unwanted bent corners.


Staff  | BestReviews

Tips

  • Always have a pen (or two) handy. Pens and softcover notebooks go hand in hand, so bring at least one pen in your bag so you’re always able to write.
  • Be careful with liquids. Spilling a drink on your softcover notebook can cause the pages to ripple and stay that way long after they’ve dried out.
  • Use dedicated notebooks. Instead of packing everything into a single softcover notebook, use dedicated notebooks to organize specific content. You could use one for journaling and another for taking notes. Save your completed notebooks somewhere safe in case you want to refer to your writing in the future.
  • Use different colored pens. You can color-code your notebook or simply liven up certain entries.
  • Stock up. If you find the perfect softcover notebook, buy more than one so you have the next one on hand, ready to be filled.

Other products we considered

We are big fans of the BestSelf Company Scribe Journal. This model packs a punch with an inside vertical folder for cards and receipts that stay secured with the elastic closure. The page corners have unique perforations designed to lie flat once folded over, an important feature for organization and keeping your softcover notebook intact. The thick, acid-free ivory pages are an ideal texture for pens as well as pencils. For such an all-around high-quality softcover notebook, we are also impressed with its mid-range price. A budget-friendly option is the AmazonBasics Classic Blank Notebook. Whether you’re a seasoned writer or journaling for the first time, this softcover notebook is affordable and inviting.The blank pages are great for taking notes, sketching, or journaling. The cover is quality cardboard with a soft synthetic layer, so the notebook is sturdy enough to carry in a bag or backpack. It even includes a bookmark, elastic closure, and rear pocket.

If your softcover notebook gets wet, stand it up and fan out the pages in front of an air conditioner to dry out the moisture.

FAQ

Q. What does it mean if my softcover notebook has acid-free pages?
A.
Acid-free paper has a pH above seven. It’s the result of a unique production process that uses different kinds of cellulose fiber to maintain the integrity of the paper. Acid-free paper can last for decades without deteriorating the way regular paper does. Many softcover notebooks have acid-free paper to prevent yellowing and breaking down from frequent handling.

Q. What is bullet journaling?
A.
Bullet journaling turns grids into in-depth organizers and task managers. Bullet journalers create highly personalized lists, calendars, or diagrams. This tends to work best in grid or dot grid journals, and sometimes blank ones. Regular lined pages can also be used, although they’re much less popular for bullet journaling.

Q. What makes a softcover notebook a better option than a spiral notebook?
A.
Of course, choosing a notebook or journal is personal, but there are certain perks afforded by softcover notebooks. For one, the spine is covered and flat, so there’s no risk of bending the metal spine, which in turn could warp the notebook. Softcover notebooks are also more compact, whereas spiral notebooks take up extra space and require some adjusting to fit in a bag. Softcover notebooks are generally lightweight. Spiral notebooks can be heavier due to the metal and heavier cover materials.

The team that worked on this review
  • Alvina
    Alvina
    Photographer
  • Amos
    Amos
    Director of Photography
  • Branson
    Branson
    Videographer
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Ciera
    Ciera
    Production Assistant
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Enid
    Enid
    Editor
  • Kristin
    Kristin
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Sian
    Sian
    Writer
  • Steph
    Steph
    Web Producer

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