Review: Myndology Bare Notebooks

Myndology Bare NotebooksEvery now and then I get a notebook that's a joy to use. It could be for many reasons, including paper quality, design, sizing, ease of use, uncommon personal preferences, ideology, loyalty or --yes-- even the buy-in from marketing and advertising. Since I actually work in a marketing firm, I like to think I'm more skeptical in this regard than most, but the rest of the qualities can coalesce into a notebook that's a real pleasure to write in. The hunt for such a beast continues daily, and each week I try another handful.

When Jason from Myndology offered to send me a few samples of their "Bare" line of notebooks, I hadn't very high hopes. In fact, because they were designed from the ground up to be "environmentally responsible," I was prepared for the worst. Several other recycled products sent to me for review have barely seen a line of ink before I passed them off to other less demanding users. Most of them are fountain pen unfriendly (to say the least), with excessive bleeding to the point where I can't use an overleaf. Glued bindings often become unstuck, the fibres of cover and paper start to fall apart in damp air, and some earthy but impractical thing gets in my way, e.g., a scratchy hemp bookmark, a brittle dried flower, or --heaven forbid-- an actual acorn or pine cone hot-glued to the front. Plus, the design generally falls into one of two categories: recycled book covers (usually random, but you're more likely to get a low-budget Harlequin knockoff than "A Farewell to Arms"); or a piece of cardboard that looks like the back of a cheap steno pad. Given past experience, and that Myndology is currently a sponsor of DIYPlanner.com, I was a little concerned that writing a Bare review might prove precarious....

When I first received the Bare notebooks, the carefully wrought design immediately caught my eye. Although it was clear that the covers were fairly thin but sturdy cardboard in various earth colours (clay, pine and sand), there was some sort of 3D effect that took me aback for a moment. It turns out that the front covers are die-cut with hundreds of little random arrows in a geometrically consistent pattern, but with the cardboard folded back around and creating a shadowed effect through the arrow holes. This "double cover" is not only aesthetically pleasing but sturdy enough to write with if you're holding the notebook in your hand or on your lap. A two-inch high removable piece of paper wraps around the cover with the Myndology name along with several lines of mantra intoning the Myndology slogan (good thinking) with renewable energy and recycling. You'll also find the environmentally-attuned specs: 100% recycled, 30% post consumer, printed with soy ink, produced with 100% clean, renewable hydroelectric energy, chlorine free process, acid free paper. Adding to the philosophy of reuse, one can keep the covers and discs and purchase paper refills from Myndology.

The rounded edges of the notebook cover and paper evoke the discs used to bind it all together. From my understanding, these are Rollabind-style discs and --just like the Levenger Circa line-- permit pages to be inserted and removed very easily. The discs themselves are made of a translucent honey-coloured plastic and compliment the earth-tones of the covers quite well.

Truly, these are some of the most beautiful and professionally-designed notebooks in my collection. Kudos to the listed design firm Duffy and Partners, and to Myndology for producing the line.

Ah, but aesthetics are one thing -- how about quality and practicality?

First of all, the dimensions of the Bare line are fairly limited at the moment, with the two size options of Memo (3"x4") and Journal (6.5"x8.5"). The Memo is the perfect size for keeping in a shirt or bag pocket, and in fact that's where I generally keep mine. The Journal is a unique size for me, since I'm more comfortable with 5.5"x8.5" ("classic" planner size). In this, its proportions are more similar to the A5 used outside of North America. Still, that little bit of extra width was something I grew accustomed to, and soon preferred to a 5.5" page.

The paper... well, this was the moment of truth. Despite a great design, useful sizes and good construction, a notebook means nothing to me if I can't use my fountain pens. This has been a problem before. Each Chinese-made Moleskine I purchase seems to be a little worse than the one before, and sometimes Levenger paper bleeds like Snyder's 300. With a ballpoint or a gel pen, there's no problem, but try them with even a fine-tipped fountain pen and you may need to skip every second page. A quick-drying ink like Parker Quink or Waterman's Black helps, but forget about using most specialty colour inks (a.k.a, "boutique inks") in the majority of notebooks.

The Bare paper itself is a pleasing ivory colour, just a pale hint of beige. The corners, like the cover, are rounded on the outside edges. The texture is not completely smooth: there's just a subtle tooth there that can grip a pen's ballpoint or stimulate ink flow from a nib. Time for the acid test -- I took up a range of favourite pens and pencils with the following results:

  • Lamy Safari fine nib with black Quink: perfect, no bleed or feathering, as expected
  • Lamy 2000 fine nib (more like a wet medium) with black Quink: no bleed, barely visible feathering (you likely need a magnifying glass to see it)
  • Parker 51 aerometric fine nib with Noodler's Polar Black: perfect
  • Levenger True Writer Metalist medium-fine cursive italic with black Sheaffer Scrip: perfect
  • 1918 model Waterman 52 fine flex with Waterman black: barely visible feathering and bleeding in the thick wet lines (very usual, even with better papers)
  • 1927 Sheaffer Lifetime flat-top fine nib with Waterman black: perfect
  • Parker 1927 Duofold medium (very) wet nib with Quink: minor feathering and bleed, as expected (this has bled on almost all my papers except Rhodia)
  • Hero 616 fine nib wet, with Levenger Cardinal Red: minor bleed, feathering
  • Parker 1927 Duofold mechanical pencil with ancient 1.1mm Autopoint B lead: nice and dark, very little excess graphite (thus little smudging)

With the exception of very wet wide nibs and dye-heavy boutique inks such as Levenger's Cardinal Red, the results were excellent, and very consistent with better quality paper. As can be expected, all my gel, rollerball, thin felt-tips and HB pencils wrote perfectly and demonstrated no issues. (Well, besides my lacklustre handwriting.)

Sporting innovative design, an eco-friendly manufacturing process and very nice paper, the Bare line of notebooks demonstrates Myndology's ingenuity within a marketplace seemingly dominated by plain exercise books on one side and Moleskine clones on the other. The prices are quite reasonable too, both for the notebooks ($5 and $9) and the refills ($3 and $6, 60 sheets each).

If you're a fan of disc-bound notebooks and are looking for something fresh, I can certainly recommend giving them a try -- at worst, you'll save a tree, and at best, you'll find a dependable alternative whose quality rises far above many of the other notebooks out there with poor paper, questionable construct and variable value. I truly think Myndology has a winner on their hands with this line.

Pros: Thoughtful, unique design; excellent paper for notebooks; inexpensive; environmentally friendly.

Cons: Disc-bound notebooks not for everyone; little holes in cover could catch on keys and pointy objects in crowded bags; paper sizing and cost of punch make it difficult to produce one's own paper refills; cardboard covers are less rugged than plastic or leather alternatives.

Verdict: With the environmentally friendly Bare line, Myndology has produced a veritable treat for notebook lovers that combines high quality paper with a novel design, certainly an excellent value for less than $10.

Rating: 9/10

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Great review, Thanks!

Doug,

Especially for the extensive testing of fountain pen friendliness. That's a big consideration for me too.

Mahalo,
Walter

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"The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once." Albert Einstein and Buckaroo Banzai

Are the rings compatible

Are the rings compatible with with Levenger's circa punched papers?

Sorta

Different shapes, but you can kinda use them
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"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

Paper punched for Levenger

Paper punched for Levenger Circa disks will fit Atoma/Myndology disks, however, i've found that the tabs tend to tear frequently because the disks are just slightly thicker. So you have to be much more careful removing pages.

And Atoma/Myndology punched paper will not fit Circa disks at all.

I thought the discs were supposed to be wood?

Wasn't that one of the big deals with the "Bare" notebooks? No mention of wood on the Myndology disc-bound page, either. Anyone know what happened to the wood discs?

Myndology Wood Discs

It seems as if a lot of DIYers are really keen on alternative materials for discs and I get a lot of inquiries regarding wood and bio-degradable plastic. I too thought these were very cool and novel materials and looked at them with great interest a few years ago while at Atoma. They said they were discontinuing the wood because they did not hold up well to day to day use. The same goes for the bio-degradable discs, they had a tendency to crack easily, so they too were discontinued. I am not sure where the rumor came from, but wood discs were never in the plans for the Bare line as they were off the market well before we started designing Bare. The people at Atoma, being European and fairly environmentally conscious people to start with, have always used recycled content in their discs, and the discs themselves are recyclable. I hope that helps clear up some of the confusion.

Regarding the wonderful review. We take a lot of pride in the quality and design of our products and often some of the subtle details are overlooked. Not here! Remember, for those of you looking to see if Bare lives up to the hype, DIYers can get a discount on our website with the super secret, potatosalad 20% discount code.

Regards,

Jason

Thanks for the quick follow

Thanks for the quick follow up and clarification, Jason!

Aluminum can be recycled !

And them shiny metal discs are soooooo spiffy-kewl !
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"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

Bamboo?

Any chance of bamboo discs? Pressed bamboo is amazingly hard (I'm anxiously waiting for my cats to destroy my carpet so I can replace it with bamboo flooring) and is very green. Just a thought.

Drool!

Have been testing my new Bare journal with my Pelikan pens this evening, and and drooling bigtime! I was glad to see on another thread that Myndology plans to come out with 8 1/2 x 11 paper. I'd been hoping that moleskine would come out with that size loose paper, but the Myndology Bare will do nicely. Jason, if you ever decide to test this line with lawyers, let me know. I'd be glad to consult. Disc binding is great for organizing and reorganizing and organizing again trial notebooks.

Have been enjoying my notebook for a while

I am a big fan of the Myndology notebooks. The quality of the paper is really good, a pleasure to write on. I used one of the bare journals to create my customized Planner for 2008, and have been carrying it with me on my purse every single day since I printed it. I love the ease for adding new pages, and did I mention the quality of the paper? I use one of the memo notebooks as a shopping list and random note taker, and it is very very handy, I like how it survives so well inside my pocket and how it is rigid enough to write without a table. The cardboard cover is not as sturdy as plastic, and has suffered a lot of damage in the corners from living in my bag for nearly a year, but it is not falling into pieces. It does need to be replaced at this point; I need to print a planner for next year anyway. I wish shipping was not so expensive - $25 to ship a notebook to Canada! Blank journals and replacement covers would also be nice to see.