Staples surprised me a couple of weeks ago by reaching out and asking whether they could send me some products to review from their “TRU RED” lineup, which ended up including two spiral-bound notebooks and an assortment of gel pens, permanent markers, and highlighters. Knowing that Staples has, in the past, been capable of sourcing inexpensive, relatively fountain pen-friendly paper, the notebooks interested me the most. On the whole, I wasn’t disappointed, and one notebook was excellent, though I predict there will be inconsistency in paper performance for those who want to exclusively use fountain pens or wet rollerballs in these notebooks.

The inside of each TRU RED notebook features a “catch-all” folder, which I find useful for work.

The TRU RED notebooks come in both softcover and hardcover variants, in medium and large sizes. Both notebooks sent to me by Staples were mediums (6.5” x 9.5″), which roughly equate to an A5 size. These spiral-bound notebooks look and feel premium-quality and durable – the hardcover notebooks feature a heavy chipboard cover, while the “softcover” versions sport a flexible plastic cover similar to what you would find on a Miquelrius notebook. The double spiral bindings feel like they will hold up in a bag, and haven’t bent despite some rough treatment.

The covers are thick and durable, and the double spiral binding should hold up well.

The paper is a mixed bag, and the packaging on these notebooks doesn’t provide much specific information other than that they are made in Taiwan. (The only information regarding weight, etc. is the designation as “Premium Heavyweight Paper,” which the Staples website indicates is 27-32 lbs.) Staples offers several different ruling options, including narrow (college) ruled, blank, “meeting”, and “project”. I’d personally love to see dot grid, but I’ll happily use a ruled notebook as long as the ruling is narrow enough. The best part? Perforated pages. For the notebooks I use at my day job, I need to be able to shred/scan/file notes, and the ability to easily remove pages is essential.

The first notebook I tested (the softcover) performed exceptionally well with fountain pens.

Not a hint of bleedthrough – or even show-through – on the reverse, despite the fact that I was using a very wet medium gold nib with an ebonite feed!

So what about paper quality? Well, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The first notebook I opened (the softcover) had me really excited, because the paper was excellent, showing zero bleedthrough or feathering even with very wet fountain pen nibs. That initial thrill was tempered a bit when I tested out the hardcover notebook, because the paper – while OK – wasn’t nearly as good as the paper in the softcover notebook, despite the softcover notebook costing less money and nothing on the label to indicate that the two notebooks contained different paper. To me, the discrepancy in performance suggests batch variability, meaning that Staples is purchasing the paper for these notebooks from multiple sources, which makes perfect sense given the numbers. If you’re producing tens of thousands of these things, it’s unlikely that a single paper supplier will be able to meet demand.

On the hardcover notebook, the paper bled through, especially with a stub nib fountain pen, though it remained well within my “zone of usability” for everyday work purposes.

Good thing I don’t write with a stub nib at my day job.

Takeaways and Where to Buy

It’s hard for me to offer a single verdict on the “TRU RED” notebooks given the inconsistency in how the paper behaves, but on the whole I will say they are good for the price point. I’ll probably run by Staples this weekend and pick up one or two more of the black softcover notebooks, and if the paper is consistently good in that version, stock up because it’s some of the best inexpensive fountain pen-friendly paper I’ve used recently. Regardless, I’d wouldn’t hesitate to pick up more of these notebooks for work purposes, especially given the durability, professional look, and the attractive $9.99 price point for the medium softcover.

You can purchase these notebooks at Staples, either in their brick and mortar stores or online. Though it looks like the promotion ends today, Staples is currently offering a coupon code for 15% off purchases of $75 or more from their “Business Essentials” line. I have a few more of these products queued up for review, so stay tuned!

Disclaimer: Staples provided me with the notebooks featured in this review free of charge, for review purposes. I was not otherwise compensated for this review.

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