Taking a Look at the Leuchtturm 1917 SKETCHBOOK

June 14, 2014


Above: Full test page spread—I had to scan it in 6 pieces and join it in Photoshop. I did this quickly so there may be some visible anomolies remaining. However if you can't read something on this image you can go through the post to the other images—I've broken the scan into 4 sections which will all appear large enough to read easily—if you can read my somewhat messy and hurried writing of course. Click on the image to view an enlargement, but look at the other images if you can't read "the fine print."

Readers may remember that last year I did my 2013 fake journal in a large Leuchtturm 1917 NOTEBOOK. The notebooks have the option for paper with grids and lines or blank pages. I opted for a dotted grid. I really wanted that.

I also didn't know that they made a sketchbook with thicker paper (if it was available then). Or if I did I really wanted those dots!

Despite the fact that the paper in that notebook was too thin to really support mixed media and wet media use I used the book and I loved it. If you go to the first link in this post you'll see how much I abused this book and I have to say that it held up to more abuse than any other commercially made journal I've ever used. I wouldn't try some of the things I did with it in some of the other available journals. If you look at the photos there you'll see that I really overfilled the book with collage. You can also see a flip through of that journal here.

I was really impressed with how well the binding held up.

Recently a student over at Sketchbook Skool posted questions about the Leuchtturm 1917 SKETCHBOOK (I'm using all caps for the last word to differentiate it from the NOTEBOOK I used for my 2013 fake journal).

I wrote to her that I'd tried the notebook but didn't know they'd made a sketchbook.

Since I loved the notebook I had used, I ordered up their large size (Master) and it arrived today. I took a long lunch and spent an hour testing the paper. 

I'm strapped for time now because I have to get back to work and catch up, but I wanted to share what I'd found with you as soon as possible, so I thought I'll just post my test page and if you're interested in this paper you can click on the partial images throughout this post which will provide a blow up clear enough for you to read the materials I used and my findings.


Left: The top left quadrant of my test-Review page spread. If a sentence is cut off don't worry, it will appear in full on another segment. Note: At the top center of this segment next to the cobalt blue watercolor swatch you see writing that reads "nice washout but still difficult…" That note belongs to the lines of Black Pentel Colorbrush which appear above the washout from that black line. Slightly up and to the right you'll see it's label, it's the dye-based Colorbrush from Pentel and I was also testing the splatter. The splatter bleeds through. See the test of the post for problems with the dye-based media I experienced.

Here is just a brief summary of the key points that hit my normal "deal breaker" criteria:

1. I love the construction—same great construction as the notebook. For Moleskine folks it looks very much like a Moleskine with the black cover, rounded corners, ribbon marker, and elastic closure. The signatures are sewn. There is even a nicely constructed back pocket and some labels for spine and cover.

2. The paper is acid free, smooth, but also toothy enough that it loves pencil. (And this also means it's fun to write on in ink because it's smooth, and fun to use the brush pen on, but you can get a bit of dry brush if you watch yourself.)

3. The journal opens flat.

4. Unlike the Moleskine, the covers DO NOT SMELL awful. Moleskine covers have a pronounced chemical smell.

5. Unlike the Moleskine Sketchbook the paper DOES NOT SMELL awful (a overpowering chemical smell that doesn't dissipate over time and is intensified when wet. Instead the Leuchtturm paper has just a slight, clean paper smell you have to bury your nose into the page to smell. And when wet the Leuchtturm paper still doesn't smell bad. (I have this problem with the Moleskine Sketchbook).

6. Unlike the Moleskine Sketchbook the paper in the Leuchtturm 1917 Sketchbook is BRIGHT WHITE. It is 180 g/m2 and very opaque—by that I mean that I can use heavy black Pentel Pocket Brush Pen ink on a page and flip the page and not see what I just drew!


Left: The bottom left quadrant of my test-Review page spread. If a sentence is cut off don't worry, it will appear in full on another segment.

Those are the basics.

I would also say, if you're using the Moleskine Sketchbook for pencil or color pencil you really should buy one of these Leuchtturm 1917 Sketchbooks to test your methods in because I think you'll find the paper 100 times better for your artwork.

Now here's the "bad news"…

…because we all know there is always some bad news, and that no journal is ever all that we need (except of course in my case the Strathmore hardbound journal with 500 series Mixed Media Paper).


Left: The top right quadrant of my test-Review page spread. If a sentence is cut off don't worry, it will appear in full on another segment.

1. When I used dye-based products they tended to bleed THROUGH to the other side. The bleeding wasn't horrible and happened only in the most saturated of areas, such as when I splattered a Pentel pen containing one of their dye-based inks onto the page and the dots gradually went through to the other side, or when I used the dye-based Pentel Sepia Colorbrush and immediately hit the ink area with water to dilute and spread the ink. There in patches it started to go through. It didn't go through if I didn't hit it with water, but since their other dye based products did if spattered I think it was all a matter of "concentration" in a particular spot.

2. Dye-based cartridge ink for the Pilot Parallel pen bled through the paper at areas of heaviest concentration.

Now here's some more good news:

All my pigment based markers did not bleed through even when I attacked those areas with water. Or, even when I made multiple layers of ink in an area. Maybe the ink dries before the pigments which are thicker can seep through the paper.

Note: Dick informed me that the dye-based products are seeping through because the color in them is always in suspension it's the nature of the dye, whereas the pigment products are stopped by the paper. The WATER in the pigment markers etc. might be making it through to the other side of the sheet (in ways so microscopic we don't see it clearly) but we don't see any pigment color seeping through because the pigments are too thick to go through the paper. There was some more technical stuff, but frankly I think that was the gist of it and I was back to sketching and not really listening much after that.

So if you use pigment based products you should be pretty much OK. See some notes on my page about layering etc.

As with any sketch paper if you use wet media on it you run the risk of experiencing buckling. But the buckling is minimal and totally within what I find acceptable so I'm not going to sweat it. It compares well to any paper in its weight class, including lightweight watercolor papers. Also I'll still use some of my dye-based products in my book because the bleed through was so minimal and recently I've been using other non-wet media papers with bleed through with the dye-based media that's even more extreme so it doesn't phase me here and there. But you will need to test and see if it's an acceptable level for you and the way you work. I won't be able to do my sepia smear portraits in this book, for instance, because the dye-based ink settles into the paper surface too quickly to smear and as stated, when I add water to that dye-based ink there's the bleed through issue.

The paper is hefty enough to support collage. 

I think everything else you can read on the four close-up images.


Left: The bottom right quadrant of my test-Review page spread. If a sentence is cut off don't worry, it will appear in full on another segment.

I think these books are definitely worth a look if you work in pencil and colored pencil. (If you work in watersoluble colored pencil I would caution you that most brands or watercolor pencil are DYE-based products and may do what all the tested dye-based products did and bleed through.)

If you love bright white paper (that doesn't smell strongly of chemicals) and you love using pigmented brush pens and pigmented inks, then you'll at least enjoy this paper if no love it.

I tested a couple puddles of watercolor to see if they bled through, and they didn't, so I'll do a watercolor and gouache test sometime in the future (maybe next week). If you like to push your paint around I think you might not enjoy painting on this surface because it does suck things down. But since the paints didn't seep through even when left as a standing puddle, if you have an adaptable painting style they might work for you. I'll know more when I paint on them. Vigorous wet brushing may cause seepage. Right now I am hopeful, but I also happen to enjoy painting on drawing paper, so I'm not exactly neutral here.

So that's the scoop. Look at the blow up images and read what I found out.

And if you want to get one of these SKETCHBOOKS be sure the title of the product you're ordering has that word in it and says the paper is 180 g/m2 or you're getting the wrong book and it will be the Notebook with thinner paper.

I only found the SKETCHBOOKS on their website. I purchased the Master, which is the largest size (sizes I'm interested in were on the bottom right of my test spread). It's too large for my scanner, but oh so fun to sketch in with all of that available real estate across the spread. That journal cost $34.95. It contains 96 pages.

I'll let you know what happens when I try some painting in it, but don't hold your breath as I have to get back to work and catch up now.

I am not able to bind books right now because of my shoulder injury and if I can get even a minimal amount of paint on the page the smaller one I purchased at the same time might become my Minnesota State Fair Journal! We'll see. 

    • Tina
    • June 14, 2014

    I’m really excited to see your review of the Leuchtturm SKETCHBOOK! I have been using the NOTEBOOK for quite a while as a writing journal, and I love it for all the reasons you mention. I just recently heard about their sketchbook, which I think is new. But I haven’t been able to find it at the usual retail places (I did see it on the Leuchtturm site, but was trying to avoid the shipping cost). What is the 180 g/m2 equivalent to? About 100 lb.? I like 140 lb., but there are times when I would be fine with a lighter paper. I usually use water-soluble inks applied with fountain pen and lightly washed with water, light washes of watercolor and markers. Am looking forward to your painting assessment.

    – Tina

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