Pretty much everyone - stationery nut or not - is aware of the reissued Blackwing pencils sold by Palomino, which seems to be in the process of rebranding itself as "Blackwing" for most of its newer products. The company has expanded outside of its standard line of pencils, introducing the "Blackwing Volumes" subscription service and a new line of notebooks. I've used Palomino/Blackwing pencils for a long time, but Alex at Blackwing was kind enough to send me over some samples of the notebooks for review.
These are nice-looking black notebooks, which appear high-end and not at all like just another Moleskine clone. The clean, minimal packaging doesn't detract from the notebooks themselves.
Blackwing sells their notebooks in three sizes. The smallest is the Blackwing Clutch, which is a 5.5" x 3.5" (the same size as a Field Notes notebook). Next is the Blackwing Slate, a 5" x 8.25" hardbound A5-ish notebook that was actually the first notebook Blackwing released around two years ago, and unique because it features an elastic spine with an elastic "holster" to hold a pencil (one Blackwing 602 is included). Finally, Blackwing recently release the Blackwing Summit, a 7.5" x 10" large format softcover notebook. The Clutch is your standard 48-page notebook, and the Slate and Summit both contain 160 pages.
These notebooks feel sturdy, and I suspect they will hold up to everyday use quite well, though I've not had the opportunity to really break 'em in and beat them up. Blackwing describes these covers as "wear-resistant polymer," which I suspect is another way of describing vinyl (what the texture reminds me of). The binding is sewn-bound, not glued, so it should hold together long enough for you to finish the notebook (unless you're harder on these things than I am.) All three are made in Turkey, and contain the same 100gsm paper which comes in dot grid, blank, or ruled format. Alex sent me dot grid notebooks, which I've enjoyed. Some people have complained that the "dots" are too dark, but this isn't necessarily something that bothers me, especially in notebooks like these which I primarily use for scratch work, tracking ideas for posts, and drafting various writing projects I'm working on. I also have a tendency to write very small, so I'm not necessarily "overlapping" the ruling on any paper I use.
The paper performed well - definitely better than the Ghost Paper notebook that I reviewed last week - and I'd probably say that the paper in these Blackwing notebooks is comparable in terms of performance to either Write Notepads or early Baron Fig paper. It handles fountain pen ink and other liquid inks moderately well. You may still experience some "pinpoint" bleedthrough or show through on the reverse of a page if you use an especially wet nib or ink, but I would have no problem adding these notebooks to my daily rotation.
As you might expect, the paper is outstanding with pencils. It's ever-so-slightly toothy, and the low degree of smearing or "ghosting" suprised me. (For those of you unfamiliar with pencil terminology, "ghosting" refers to graphite transfer from one page to another in a notebook, especially when you write on both sides of a page. With a cheap pencil or super-smooth paper, it can make your notebook look like a mess by the time you get to the end.)
Takeaways and Where to Buy
I've been meaning to try the Blackwing Notebooks for a while, and many thanks to Alex and the team at Blackwing for sending these over. Honestly, before seeing these in person I had expected just another rebranded Moleskine imitation, which Blackwing probably could have pulled off, given that Moleskine notebooks work perfectly fine with pencils. That's not the case, however, and the team at Blackwing has put together a quality notebook that deserves your consideration, whether you're a pen or pencil user.
You can purchase these notebooks directly from Blackwing via their online store. One thing I do have to mention, however, is the pricing on these notebooks, which for certain models is higher than their direct competitors. The Blackwing Clutch costs $14.95 for a three-pack; the Slate comes in at $22.95 (which does include a Blackwing 602 pencil); and the larger Summit is priced at $21.95. While the MSRP on the Slate is around the same as the Rhodia webnotebook or the Leuchtturm 1917, you can often find these two notebooks for $3-4 cheaper, and the Baron Fig Confidant costs $18 at full price. The pricing on the Clutch three-pack is also $2-5 higher than Field Notes and about $5 higher than Write Notepads. If you're a fan of Blackwing, or you otherwise like the aesthetic of these notebooks, spending a few dollars more may not bother you, but if you're someone who regularly churns through a lot of notebooks, there are more cost-effective alternatives to consider without sacrificing quality. That said, The big Summit notebook appears to be a bargain, especially if you were considering the slightly larger, and much more expensive, Leuchtturm A4 Master.
Overall, I love what Blackwing is doing and the effort they have put into building their brand. They make quality products which offer an enjoyable user experience. While you're checking out the notebooks, you may also want to consider Blackwing's newest limited-edition Blackwing Volumes pencil, the Blackwing 73, which is Lake Tahoe-themed.
Disclaimer: Blackwing sent me the products featured in this review at no charge, for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links.