Reading Between The (White)Lines


I don’t plan on reviewing very much in the way of stationary in the future. There are far better places for that such as Biffybeans’ blog. In this case my experiences with the subject of this post have been different than what I’ve generally read so I’m hoping my observations might lend some balance.

Ranking second only to sliced bread in the pantheon of ingenious inventions is lined paper. For people such as myself who are lucky just to be able to walk in a straight line much less write one it is a godsend. There doesn’t  seem to be many drawbacks to having those medium blue lines trek across the face of one’s paper but a couple have been mentioned. Aesthetically it detracts from what is written if you, unlike me, write in a beautiful hand. In a more practical sense those gentle blue rules will bisect your page as annoying black slashes when you copy or fax the sheet. Compared to poverty, hunger, and disease these problems are minor and there hasn’t been much of a drive to solve them. However, do not despair; one person has been working on a way to make these foibles just a memory! The fruits of that labor have been sitting on my desk for the last few days.

It started when a friend (hello, Caloy) asked me if I’d heard about the “Whitelines” stationary he’d recently read about. I had not but a quick trip to Google salved my curiosity. Whitelines is a name that says all you need to know about this paper’s major claim to fame. As you might expect the rules on the sheet, either in a grid or as lines, are white. The rest of the sheet is a very light gray which does not xerographically reproduce. How can a line be white, you ask? Is the paper totally gray and those lines overprinted with white ink? Could a bleaching process be in use to fade in those rules? Or could pulp possibly, in some miraculous way, be laid on the wire with white and gray fibers in the proper positions during the papermaking process? Read on to discover this terrible secret!

Google told me that it all started when Swedish designer Olof Hansson got irritated when some photocopies of sketches had those pesky lines appear, black as night, and ruin the integrity of his designs. It was at this juncture his “eureka” moment occurred and the idea of the reversed-out line came to be. After patenting the idea for the Whitelines…er…line a company sprang into being.

So I became intrigued and started looking for somewhere that sold this paper in the United States. Problematically, it’s not widely marketed in North America but I did find one outlet that carried it: Wet Paint. They are a retailer of art supplies in Saint Paul, Minnesota who for reasons unknown also carry this product. Whitelines comes in glued, stapled, wire and perfect bindings in a number of sizes. It’s not exactly cheap to purchase but not so expensive as to enter the luxury goods arena. I bought several of the glue bound A4 pads both lined and with the grid. As long as I was at it I also bought a small pocket notebook to keep my pocket from getting lonely. Since then I discovered that Whitelines has teamed with a U.S. distributor, Consortium Book Sales, so in the future it may be easier for us Yanks to find.

Wet Paint was out of stock at the time of my order so I had to do what I hate most: wait. Eventually the box did show up and in it were pads that did indeed have lines that were white. Closer examination determined that really there were rectangles or squares of gray and line shaped areas of exposed paper. The answer to all my questions was simple: a 10% screen of black (a very rough approximation since I left my tools to check this back with my career in printing) is offset printed on the paper to form the darker surface area. Oh well, it was fun to imagine little gnomes with tiny brushes and cans of white paint while I could.

How it's done: The magic of old printing technlogy.

How it's done: The magic of old printing technology.

First impressions of the 40 sheet pad were that the paper was moderately rough and quite thin. My favorite papers have always been either Clairefontaine or something formal and substantial from Crane (they make the U.S. currency paper, don’t cha know.) As a comparison the Clairefontaine stock in the standard pads that I use is 90g/m2 while Whitelines is somewhat thinner at 80g/m2. The feel of the former’s paper is also quite different being smooth (possibly lightly coated with kaolin) and brilliantly white which gives it a tactile richness not matched by our new gray friend.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say, so let’s grab our spoon and dig in before I strain this proverb any further. For this unscientific and haphazard test I grabbed a few fountain pens that had differing nibs and wrote on the Whitelines paper a sentence each in my terrible handwriting. Starting at the top with a fine point I finished at the bottom with a music nib to test the paper’s handling of differing widths and ink flows. The paper felt a bit inexpensive as it had more tooth than I am used to and a coarse feel under my hand as it glided across. A few curves were added last and I traced them several times to force some bleed through.

Different pens, same line on Whitelines paper.

Writing samples on Whitelines paper. (click for larger image)

The results were quite unexpected and disappointing. A fountain pen site had some comments where this paper was given generally good reviews and said to be fountain pen friendly. I found it to be quite the opposite with most all the samples feathering and penetrating through to the back. I admit I wrote at a deliberate pace but this performance would never have occurred on the beloved Clairefontaine. My Danitrio is currently filled with J. Herbin Lie de Thé which seems to have transformed it from ink flow challenged to a virtual inkaholic, and thus it shows the most spreading. The images illustrate my observations so enjoy the sentence repetition!

Writing sample back Whitelines paper

The bleeding edge: A lot of show-through on back of sample. (click for larger image)

A closer look at the top.

A closer look at the top.

A closer look at bottom.

A closer look at bottom.

An even closer look at how the think and thick lines bleed.

An even closer look at how the thin and thick lines feather.

In the end my Clairefontaine doesn’t have to worry about being eased out of its frontline duties. Whitelines leaves me ambivalent having those appealing lines that fade away to leave the ink to bask in its own colorant but such a poor performing substrate. I’ll keep using this with my fine and medium points, though, since in the end the novelty of having Whitelines with white lines hasn’t worn off yet. Plus you never know when some lines will ruin your copies.

Update 4/1/09

I did these tests on the Whitelines grid ruled pad. A few days later I took one of the normal ruled pads and did some doodling.  I found this pad to have paper that was more resistant to bleed and show-through. Is the paper quality inconsistent? I’m not sure, but I think it’s not a good sign that I could have two pads from the same manufacturer that differ like this. In the end I guess, as with anything, your milage may vary.

  1. March 28, 2009, 10:42 am

    Thanks for this post. Stationery reviews are always helpful. Your photos are terrific, they show the detail on the feathering and the show-through which I, too, dislike. I have a TeNeues hardbound notebook with a pretty cover and thick paper which I was prepared to love but alas, feathering occurred. Sad.

    1. TAO
      March 28, 2009, 11:46 pm

      Glad you liked the review. It’s not like this paper is easily found but at least I hope I help to manage expectations.

  2. Kim
    March 29, 2009, 11:58 pm

    This is really enlightening. I am displeased to hear about the soak-ey nature of the paper, but as someone who also can’t write in a straight line to save her life, I appreciate the need for something like this.

    The macro shots really illustrate everything well. Thank you for taking the time.

  3. TAO
    April 1, 2009, 3:07 pm

    I like the concept of this paper as well. I updated my post with the tidbit that another pad I tried was a bit better with the bleed etc. However, still irks me that stationary that has a premium price can differ from pad to pad. Thanks for the comment!

  4. Kim
    April 1, 2009, 7:11 pm

    Hey does your tag line keep changing automatically, or have you been changing it regularly yourself? 🙂

  5. TAO
    April 1, 2009, 9:11 pm

    A new tag line should load with a return visit or page refresh. It’s automatic! I think I’ve got 6 or so of them. Just some silly stuff that I put together so I could try out the rotating head. If you click on it a refresh will be forced and you can randomly cycle through them. How’s that for a lot of talk about something pretty boring. Oh, the picture at the top changes too, although the pugs say it should just be portraits of them all the time. 🙂

  6. June 25, 2009, 10:14 pm

    Thanks for the Shout Out! Much appreciated.

    Nothing drives me CRAZIER than paper inconsistencies within a brand, but the thing to keep in mind is that very few journal makers are making their own paper – (Clairefontaine is) so there can always be inconsistencies. Sometimes manufacturers will change paper distributors – or go with the one with the cheapest prices each time they buy.

  7. TAO
    June 26, 2009, 9:43 am

    Biffybeans: Yes, the paper quality varied in my sample. The paper really isn’t much different than higher-end office stationary pads. I hope they’ve addressed their paper inconsistency and chosen a better mill to get it from. This would have been fine paper for ballpoint or even maybe rollerball use…but us fountain pen users are a lot tougher to please. Thanks for the comments!

  8. Mohan Bhaskar
    November 13, 2010, 12:25 pm

    This is an old concept and I have grown up using drawing book with white lines on light grey off white paper. It’s their in Indian market for years…Nothing new about this whitelines… I have used notebook and drawing book since 1991