Few weeks ago Mishka from BureauDirect, UK asked me if I would like to try and test very hard one of the A5 size notebooks (or A5 notebook insert) made by small Taiwanese company called Taroko Design (name after very beautiful Taroko Gorge in Taiwan). I already had another two large Midori traveler’s size Taroko inserts, which I bought some time ago from BureauDirect at 2016 London Writing Instrument Show and I was about to review them too. I will call it as good coincidence .
What is very interesting about these Taroko notebooks/inserts is a paper they use to make them. Taroko uses incredibly light and at the same time satin smooth, famous among all fountain pen users (and not only) Tomoe River paper.
Taroko for their notebooks (at least for these I have) uses 68 gsm grade Tomoe River paper. Each notebook contains 64 pages ( 32 sheets) . The A5 notebook I received for review is made out of white paper. In fact, white paper has very subtle creamy hint which I really like. The two Midori size inserts I have are made of white and truly creamy type of paper respectively. Because Tomoe River paper is available as blank sheets, Taroko is offering three types of press printed pattern they do themselves: graph (or squared), dotted and ruled. I must say Taroko did a vary good job and the patterns are very well printed and all lines and dots are visible but not overwhelming. They also offer blank notebooks too. Dots in A5 are evenly distributed and the way each sheet is cut makes all pages within notebook look very consistent. Interestingly, the line position in Midori size ruled notebook varies slightly from page to page. But this is very minor issue an possibly most people will not notice it to be absolutely honest. It may be also an older batch.
The dotted A5 and Midori size creamy blank both have rounded corners, whereas ruled Midori size insert has squared corners.
The cardboard covers are available in different pastel colours, which I believe are specific to each notebook type. The only thing I wish Taroko could change is simply to make them slightly thicker. They seem to be a bit too flimsy for my taste. Notebooks from competitors like Midori, Bandit Apple have thicker covers and I think this works better, especially with traveler’s like systems where inserts are -in and -out regularly.
All pages are stapled, which is not necessary bad thing and I believe cheaper to do ( many other manufactures do the same ), but in my opinion having pages stitched together would be more desirable than just staples. Do not make me wrong Taroko stapled them very well, but in my personal opinion stitched notebooks look better and are more durable, unless you wish to take page out which with stitched ones may not be an easy to do. It would be a nice touch and it shows that company care about the details like that. Otherwise, the overall design and execution is very good.
OK, lets see how the 68 gsm Tomoe River paper Taroko Design uses performs in real life. Below I’ve shown a number of examples I did using different pens and inks with different properties.
First pen, Pelikan m805 with F gold nib. Ink Sailor Jentle – Souten
As you can notice the red sheen of Sailor Souten ink is very nicely pronounced on Tomoe River paper, especially when viewed with artificial light. This works also with other Sailor’s Jentle inks like Tokiwa Matsu (used with Conklin All American with titanium EF Bock nib) or Oku Yama (used with Pelikan m215 steel F nib). If you like inks which show beautiful sheen like Lamy Dark Lilac, Pilot Iroshisuku Kon-Peki or Yama budo for instance, this paper will be perfect to express this even more.
If you like inks which shimmers like J. Herbin 1670 or Diamine Shimmeristic series, Tomoe River paper is a way to go. It really enhances their beautiful characteristics. On Tomoe River some of them like J.Herbin – Rouge Hematite (or Caroube de Chypre too) show pretty green sheen too. Below I shown some examples. J. Herbin 1670 – Rouge Hematite and Stormy Grey, then Diamine Shimmeristic – Golden sands and Blue Lighting (Noodler’s Ahab and Konrad pens equipped with stainless steel semi-flexible nib from Fountain Pen Revolution, FPR):
Because this is smooth, satin paper which do not absorb much ink inks which have good shading properties can produce very nice colour gradation along the line. This is an example with Diamine Meadow ink used and FPR Triveni with semi-flex steel nib.
OK, fine but are there any issues with such a thin paper?
Well, of course there are, but they don not overshadow the very good paper quality and for most people will be minor. In general most fountain pens and majority of inks I used perform very well. I have not noticed any annoying feathering or bleeding through, which for me would be an ultimate stop sign. For such thin paper this is quite impressive result. However, because Tomoe River paper is so thin, there is quite significant amount of so called ‘ghosting’, which basically means that you can see written text on the other side, especially with darker inks. Again, nothing major, but some users my not appreciate that.
I found Tomoe River paper to be very soft too. With most pens I had very good writing experience, but some pens which have fairly sharp nibs tends to leave groves which are noticeable especially if you want to write on opposite page. With wet and sharp nibs (steel semiflex) the residual ink which stays in groves can slightly bleed through. The picture below shows an extreme case, where I was pressing nib down with moderate pressure to get decent line variation and than I did some ink splatters on top of it. There is some noticeable show through on the other side, but all these spots were formed in the places where local ink concentration was pretty high. This means that with normal writing you should not expect to see any bleed through at all.
To prove definitely that paper quality is good I usually do so called – an ‘Ultimate Baystate Blue’ test. Apart of its beautiful sapphire colour Noodler’s Baystate Blue ink has a bad reputation of the ink which really feathers and bleeds through out many paper types. However, really good quality paper can handle this ‘beast’ of ink.
As you can see on the picture below, Tomoe River paper used in Taroko notebooks can handle this difficult ink very well. There is some tiny amount of show through on the other side (bear in mind I have used a sharp flexible nib and I did splatters too, so there was plenty of wet and saturated ink), but having in mind how thin Tomoe River paper is, in my opinion this is very a good result indeed.
With pens where nibs have specific profiles writing experience may not be the best due to the paper softness too. Most pens/nibs (including steel semi-flexible) were fine but I really struggled with my Lamy 2000 for example which is well known to be not easy to handle on its own. It did the job but, I would not use this pen with this paper, but only because this particular pen character.
Overall, I found Taroko Design notebooks to be well designed and manufactured. These in midori size are a solid alternative to Midori inserts. I like versatility, so it is always good to have a bunch of different inserts in my traveler’s notebook at the same time anyway. There are some minor issues with Taroko inserts I mentioned above which I hope gives room for further improvement. They are not the cheapest notebook inserts around but similar to competitors. Having in mind that Taroku uses very good and fountain pen friendly Tomoe River paper, the price can be easily justified. Obviously A5 format does not fit to leather covers made by Midori, but I will encourage everyone to get appropriate A5 leather covers from Etsy or better do it yourself – great fun and they last for very very long.
More info about Taroko Design studio you may find on BureauDirect, UK blog where Stephen Chang (Taroko) has been interviewed.
(*) Disclaimer/ I have no affiliation with the all brands and companies mentioned above and this short review reflects only my personal views and findings about the product.