I honestly find it astonishing that Darkstar has only been around for a little over a year. Starting at the end of 2015, Darkstar have constantly been making their handmade UK notebooks better and better and better. Nothing’s perfect, and unfortunately I can’t say they’re Leuchtturm A5 (I say A5 for a reason, which I will explain below) or Rhodia level yet, but I can, without a doubt, see them heading that direction and taking the UK market by storm and I hope one day to see them being a major player within the international market challenging the names I just mentioned. Based in the United Kingdom, Darkstar handcraft their notebooks in a way that I can best describe as “personal”. I’m going to throw this out there so you can skip this part if you want – I’m going to talk a little about the business and why I appreciate them. Not about the notebooks themselves, I’ll start that after the next paragraph:
I first came across Darkstar on their Instagram page a while back. What gravitated me towards them was their interaction with their followers/customer base. One of the things that made me jump down this rabbit hole within the fountain pen(/stationary) hobby was the community. Darkstar do not let go of this, and that’s one of the things that makes using these notebooks so pleasurable; it’s all something that adds to the writing experience and that’s why I think it’s important to mention within the review because that’s something that I do not get when I am using a Leuchtturm notebook. They have nice colours, sure. Contents and individually numbered pages, that’s cool. But were the notebooks handmade? Do you know what went into the notebooks? These aren’t Mont Blanc pen notebooks for the businessmen/women, they’re custom made hand turned pen notebooks for the individual.
As I said, the company has been constantly improving their notebooks, and the version they’re at now still isn’t them at the top of their game. I did run into one or two issues with the notebooks. One being that the pages are rather prone to tearing out easily. The only other issue I ran into was the paper quality. While not disastrous, again, not Rhodia level (though, I would say better than the Leuchtturm Master, which is why I say it’s not disastrous; just not perfect).
The two notebooks I received came in a beige colour (akin to the kraft Field Notes) and a sleek matte black notebook with an interesting cover. It feels sort of like rubber but.. Not.. I honestly have no idea how to explain it. But from certain angles it looks like a regular notebook without the branding that you see on the beige notebook. If you want stealthy notebook, this is the one that you want.
When using fountain pens, I love being able to feel the ink. On this paper, I find that rather difficult as the characteristics of the ink is reduced and the line feels almost two dimensional, rather than three with things such as shading. Of course, no doubt this will be improved in further versions.
In terms of the tone, I wouldn’t call it white like Clairefontaine (which is what I personally prefer), but very very very slightly creamier. This might be part of the reason why I say the writing feels 2-D, because that’s what I feel when I write in Leuchtturm. I won’t say anything negative about the tone of paper, because that’s a purely personal preference.
Also works well with rollerballs; I have noticed a lot of feathering and bleed through on my Retro 51 when using it even in the Leuchtturm A5. The paper makes the ink behave very well. I feel that Darkstar have been able to tame the ink with their paper (which is certainly the priority), but a slightly glossier paper would do me. Again, this is personal preference. The dry time is still very very good. Not as long as Rhodia, but it doesn’t dry immediately. Some of you may know that I am left handed and I write hooked. By the time my hand runs over the line, it has dried fine.
In terms of the quality of the paper, it performs very well. It even handles my (admittedly terrible) flexing in a vintage Parker rather nicely. No bleedthrough, but I do notice ghosting. Again, a personal preference but I don’t mind ghosting as I think it adds character to what I’m writing. On closer inspection, I do notice that there’s feathering on my Sheaffer italic nib. Ever so slight, but it’s there. When using my Jinhao 1200, which is an absolute gusher, I don’t get that, so perhaps it’s partly to do with that particular nib rather than the paper.
I also notice that the quality control of their paper is a little hit or miss. However, when I say this, these notebooks were testers. I will not say whether you should or should not give them the benefit of the doubt in terms of quality control (including the binding issues, though it was an issue previously on their earlier releases) but something that I wanted to make you aware of. The individual sheets aren’t all flush and some pages in the black notebook are sometimes printed without the dot layout and just plain. I will say though, the notebooks are no strangers to laying flat!
All in all, while not at the top of their game, I know that Darkstar will continue to improve. If there are two things I hope to see in the future, it would be an A4 hardback with an improved binding and glossier paper. No doubts I can see the A5 being a big hit in future versions.
Disclaimer: I received these notebooks free of charge in exchange for an honest review and had no other compensation. All opinions expressed are my own. I would like to thank the folks over at Darkstar for the opportunity to review these notebooks, as well as the motivational images that brighten my Monday morning.