Monday, October 13, 2014

Product Review: Tomoe River Paper

10/9/14 various fountain pen inks, Tomoe River paper
If you’re a fountain pen geek like I am, you’ve been reading bloggers and social media users going on and on about Tomoe River paper. I first heard about this paper in connection with the Hobonichi Techo planner, which is apparently wildly popular in Japan and quickly gaining ground in the U.S., at least among stationery and planner geeks. Tomoe River paper is not only joyfully smooth to write on with a fountain pen, reviewers say; it’s also so unbelievably thin that a year’s worth of daily planner pages can fit in a thin, pocket-size book. What’s more, despite its thinness, fountain pen and most other inks do not bleed through. Not unlike some other overpriced but exquisitely beautiful Japanese products, such as my favorite Pilot Iroshizuku inks, Tomoe River paper is expensive.

I then discovered that the paper could be purchased in the form of small and large notebooks as well as in bulk, which brings the price down a bit. My DIY light bulb lit up over my head: If the paper turned out to be usable for sketching, maybe I could hand-bind it into a small sketchbooklet with a relatively large number of pages while still remaining thin and light – perhaps even thin and lightweight enough for a travel journal. Hmmm. . . I decided I had to see for myself. For a dollar, I could get three small sheets of Tomoe River at – enough to test the various media I use.

Reverse side of washed fountain pen ink.
Since I rarely use anything more than fountain pen ink washed lightly with water in a sketchbooklet/travel journal, my first test was just that (above). Indeed, as the reviewers had gushed about, the paper is sheer pleasure to write on. I tried several fountain pens, and their nibs skated along effortlessly on its glassy surface. With the addition of a light wash from a waterbrush, the thin paper buckled a little as I expected, but the wash itself was easy to control and didn’t puddle. The reverse side of the paper (right), however, shows bleed-through where water was applied.

Interestingly, the thinness of Tomoe River paper reminded me of the rice paper that my mom, a sumi-e painter, used to use, so I started wondering how it would fare with India ink. Below is a detail from a sketch I made at the University of Washington, which you already saw a few days ago. India ink fared remarkably well; the ink is dry enough when applied with a twig that I saw very little buckling. On the reverse side, the only spot that showed bleed-through was where I had made multiple strokes with the twig rather roughly and apparently tore the paper a bit. (I didn’t test markers on the paper, but I’m guessing they would fare as well as India ink did, since markers are relatively dry also.)
10/10/14 India ink, twig, Tomoe River paper

My last test was the full Monty: fountain pen ink applied with both a pen and a waterbrush; watercolor; water-soluble colored pencils (bottom of page). Water pooled dreadfully and took forever to dry, and you can see how badly the paper buckled wherever water was applied. The reverse side is just as bad, with lots of bleed-through in all the wettest areas. Well, I didn’t expect it to hold up to water media, so I’m not surprised.
The circled area is the only spot
where the India ink bled through.
There's almost no buckling.

I don’t think I need expensive Japanese paper (especially when I can use only one side) when I already like less-expensive French paper (Rhodiarama) for my travel journal. Although I admit Tomoe River is a dream to write on with a fountain pen and would be an extravagant indulgence for my writing journal, I already have a favorite German paper (Leuchtturm) for that. I guess I can’t rationalize running out to get a ream.

Whew – I’m saved from leaping into the Tomoe River!

10/12/14 various inks, watercolor, water-soluble colored
pencils, Tomoe River paper
Reverse side of various media shows bleeding in most
areas where water was applied.


  1. Thanks so much for trying this paper. I've wondered about it but everyone I heard talking about it was a writer, not an artist. I think I'll stick with S&B Epsilon paper if I want a very smooth paper :-)

    Cheers --- Larry


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