TOPS Computation Book Review

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Background

First, I'm relatively new to the whole fountain pen thing. I first got into it back in May of 2015 or so, and I didn't really appreciate paper quality at that point either. I mostly just used what I had lying around home or office. Once I started using fountain pens for a bit, however, I started caring more about the types of paper I was using and making sure it was fountain-pen friendly.

My interest in notebooks kind of takes a separate path, however. Back in school and university, I pretty much used relatively cheap stuff because I didn't care. For notebooks, this either meant a fairly heavy-duty 3-ring binder (as they do tend to wear out over the course of the year) with cheap lined filler paper or, if I decided to use spiral books instead, whatever was on sale at my local discount store -- again, cheap lined paper. Then again, I was also mostly using Erasermate, or, even cheaper, Scripto erasable pens back then, so it's not like I had good taste in writing equipment...

Getting into fountain pens has broadened my horizons, not just as to paper quality, but also different sorts of rulings. No longer did it just come down college vs. wide-ruled. There was unlined, graph, dot, and even Seyes (AKA "French") ruling to choose from. Given how I was an engineering major at university, I wish I had paid attention and gotten either graph-ruled spiral notebooks or graph-ruled 3-ring filler paper. It certainly would've helped with a lot of the types of notes I took in class.

This brings me to where I am now. On my first day of work at my current job, I was given a standard, college-ruled, 5-subject Mead spiral notebook as part of my "new hire" set of office supplies waiting for me at my desk. However, as this book was filling up, I noticed some of my co-workers using graph-ruled computation books. Between having pre-numbered pages and graph ruling, I figured this might be a more practical upgrade to the basic lined notebooks I had been using up until that point. So I ended up using it even before I got into fountain pens because of its other advantages. Of course, once I got into fountain pens, I had to see how friendly it was towards them. This review describes my experiences.

This review will contain a few photos to show the book off, but since this book has work-related stuff in it, I may choose to slightly edit the photos. All edits will be described with the photos so you know exactly what has changed. Fortunately, there are some generic notes that don't involve proprietary information from my job that I can use to show writing samples.





Statistics

These statistics are for the TOPS 35061 Computation Book. TOPS also makes a model 22-157 computation book that's often sold under the Ampad brand. These books may look similar, but they are not the same. The 35061 is made in the USA and is what I've personally used. The 22-157 is apparently made in Mexico and uses lower quality and lighter weight paper than the 35061. It also seems to cost a bit more, oddly enough. With that, here are the statistics:

  • Size: 11.75 x 9.5 inches
  • Number of pages: 152 (76 sheets), all numbered.
  • Ruling: Quad (graph) ruled, with 0.25 inch (6.35 mm) spacing
  • Paper color: "buff"
  • Cover material: pressboard
  • Binding: double wire-bound
  • Paper weight: "Heavyweight" (estimated to be 24 lb bond/90 gsm based on the overall weight of the book)
  • *Price: Best I found was $15.99 at Amazon and Staples.com.

Overall Impressions

Photos were taken using my phone in not the best of light, so please forgive me.

The notebook itself feels very solidly made. The cover is a pretty heavy-duty pressboard material and the double wire-binding is secure and snag-proof. It won't win any beauty awards, but this is meant to be a utilitarian scientist's / engineer's workhorse notebook, not some cute little journal (not that there's anything wrong with cute journals if that's what you're looking for).


(My name and company name on the cover were blurred out).

The paper, described as "buff" colored, seems to be comparable in weight to that in my Rhodia Webnotebook, although I couldn't find an actual specification for its weight (it's officially only listed as "heavyweight"). A post in another forum estimated that it was probably around 24 lb bond based on the overall weight of the entire book. It certainly does not feel flimsy to me. It isn't super-slick like Rhodia or Clairefontaine, but does have a nice texture to it. Ink also seems to dry somewhat quicker on this paper than Rhodia or Clairefontaine.




The ruling is a very comfortable 0.25", and that extra 1.35 mm over the standard 5 mm that seems to be in a lot of other notebooks makes a huge difference, at least to me. With my writing, I feel a little cramped with a 5 mm line height. So cramped that I basically have to use 1.5 or 2 lines of ruling per line of text I write (and then it makes it feel too big). 0.25" feels just big enough for me to comfortably write one line of text per line of ruling.



Bleed through is non-existent. Show through is barely there and may be as much due to me having a heavy hand as to being a property of the paper.



Finally, and arguably most importantly, I was unable to discern any feathering at all. Below are two writing samples taken with a Pilot Varsity with purple ink and a Jinhao x750 with a Goulet F nib and Diamine Majestic Blue ink:

Conclusions

As far as paper quality, I'd have to say this notebook is top-notch. Again, it won't win any beauty contests, but if you want a solid, workhorse notebook, it's tough to beat this one.

Value is a bit of a trickier question... With Clairefontaine A4 wire-bound notebooks going for as low as $5 in some places online, you can get three of them for the price of one of these notebooks. However, those prices don't include shipping, whereas you can get these notebooks from Amazon with free shipping. In addition, as I mentioned, the graph ruling in those Clairefontaine notebooks is a little too narrow for my taste at 5 mm. The slightly wider ruling in these notebooks actually allows me to write on more of the page because I'm not going to be doubling up. Doing a few calculations comparing one of these notebooks with a Clairefontaine A4 at $10 ($5 for the book and $5 shipping), we get a cost of about $0.94/1000 square inches for the TOPS vs. $1.03/1000 square inches for the Clairefontaine. If we buy two Clairefontaines, so that the price will be roughly the same for both notebooks, including shipping, we get a price of about $0.78/1000 square inches for the Clairefontaine. At this point, it mostly comes down to how you feel about the ruling size, paper texture, color, and dry times. The ruling size and somewhat quicker dry times does give the TOPS book a bit of an edge, at least to me, but it's a pretty close toss-up between the two.

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