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Experiments in Notebook Building

May 14, 2020

I push the limits of my printer to create a hand-bound, 236-page, 8.5″ × 7″ sketchbook on 105 gsm paper, complete with page numbers and a dot-grid pattern for sketching.

Associated project: Notebook Builder

In this post, I get into one of those esoteric hobbies of mine: making sketchbooks by hand.

Bullet Journaling, sketching, etc., are all part of that movement of sticking with pen and paper in an evermore digital age, which I find paradoxically both radical and traditionalist at the same time. The benefits and reasons of writing and drawing by hand are a topic for another post, but suffice it to say that I do enjoy sketching ideas and concepts on paper, and I also use a bullet journal.

On top of that, I've taken on the challenge of hand-making these sketchbooks by hand.

I wanted to see what kind of sketchbook I could create using the consumer-grade laser printer I have at home, while breaking out my typical, 5.5 × 8.5, cheap, 20 lb paper used for a carry-around sketchbook. I consulted the paper requirements I need for double-sided, automatic printing on the printer I have at home (Brother HL-3180CDW).

Realized that I had room to explore!

Paper Size

The maximum size as listed by my printer was Legal size (8.5 × 14), which when folded in half, yields an interesting, almost-square, 8.5 × 7 sketchbook. This, I predict, will be a useful dimension for sketches of user interfaces and diagrams, and for sketchnoting. Granted, it's not as portable, but this still fits my purposes of having a "desktop" sketchbook meant for deep work. Ideas captured throughout the day will go into my regular bullet journal, and then expounded upon in this sketchbook.

Paper Weight

I also wanted to maximize the paper weight, to minimize the amount of bleeding, and make it more of a respectable sketchbook. The limit provided by Brother was 105 gsm for my printer.

Paper Source

With these requirements, I bought a ream of Hammermill paper, as suggested by the book Drawing Ideas. The name of the product I used was "Hammermill Premium Color Copy", purchased through Amazon [affiliate link]. To my surprise, the Legal size paper of 28 lb turned out to be even cheaper than the letter-size version, at least on Amazon. A mere $12.95 for a ream (which could make up to 2000 notebook pages), at this time of writing.

Putting it together

I printed out pages for my new sketchbook, with the aid in my soon-to-be-released Notebook Builder app to lay down the dot-grid pattern and the page numbers, as shown in the photos below.

My first 8.5″ × 7″ sketchbook using Legal paper, cover view.
My first 8.5″ × 7″ sketchbook using Legal paper, cover view.
Sketchbook using Legal paper, inside view. The page numbers and pattern were printed using the Notebook Builder tool, to be released soon.
Sketchbook using Legal paper, inside view. The page numbers and pattern were printed using the Notebook Builder tool, to be released soon.

Below are photos comparing the sketchbook sourced from Legal paper verses from my typical Letter paper.

Hoping the new dimension will make it suitable for sketching user interfaces, diagramming, and sketchnoting
Hoping the new dimension will make it suitable for sketching user interfaces, diagramming, and sketchnoting
Sketchbook made with Legal-sized paper compared to that of Letter
Sketchbook made with Legal-sized paper compared to that of Letter

The paper is incredibly smooth, far smoother than what I'm used to. We'll see how it feels when actually using it for sketching. The smoothness likely contributed to the much-crisper dots than what I'm used to using a cheap 20-lb paper.

Other features of this paper are that it's Acid Free (which is a plus for archival journals). It's also 100 bright, which may or may not suit your needs.


I'll be working on a comments section, but for now, you can tweet me @JayLiu50 or email me at jay@designbyjayliu.com.

Written by Jay Liu, interaction designer.
https://designbyjayliu.com