Custom Discbound Notebook

Posted 12 March 2021

I love stationary. I always have. In college, when I had to get a job and all I could find was retail, I was genuinely happy to work in the print department of Office Max. I was able to talk about different paper types, finishes, and features with clients and (much to their exhaustion) co-workers. I might go as far as to say that stationary is one of the things that got me into graphic design.

Today though, I want to share one of my personal labors of love, a project I’ve worked on for a few years, and one that continues to evolve - my notebook.

Open notebook

Oh and one last thing, I’m not affiliated with or sponsored by anyone. Everything I talk about or link to here, I do because I think they’re genuinely good products.

Disc Binding

Disc binding is a relatively new and less recognized method of binding pages together. It takes everything that is good about binders, being able to rearrange pages, and combines it with the smaller form factor of a spiral bound notebook.

Notebook Discs

Disc bound notebooks and note taking systems have gathered a cult following, attributed in part to the utility of such systems, but also to the level of customization and personalization each notebook can have. Ultimately, everything is truly modular.

A little note on size

Choosing the right notebook size is a task in itself. I considered letter size, so that I could add things like hand outs and printed documents, but it always felt too cumbersome for me personally. I’m on the go a lot, and wanted something smaller. I also considered TUL’s junior size, but felt that the pages were too tall. I even tried designing my own paper size. This worked out well enough for a year or two but I eventually decided to move to a more standard paper size. I finally landed on A5. This size is the perfect balance of width and height, and is small enough to bring with me everywhere.

For the love of paper

Paper is beautiful and versatile. All you need to do to see a variety of paper is take a stroll through the sketchbook isle of any art store. Some paper is art in its own right. One of my professors was so adamant about his paper that he made his own from scratch.

I too became fairly particular about what I write on. I wanted paper that feels luxurious, is good to draw on, is thick enough to hold up to highlighters, but thin enough to get a lot of sheets in a thin notebook. Ultimately, I decided on the 60lb sketch paper from Strathmore. I had been using their sketchbooks for years through art school and it became something I enjoied to write and draw on.

I also love dot grid paper, and like disc bound systems, my interest is based in the versatility it has to offer. The dots on dot grid paper give enough reference to keep lines of text straight, like lined paper, but they also provide enough reference to make more technical sketches and designs, like graph paper.

Now that I’ve decided on paper size and paper type, it comes the time to fill my notebook with paper. Spoiler alert, I’m going to cut, print, and finish my own filler paper:

  1. Remove paper from sketchbooks
  2. Cut paper down to A5 size (5.83in x 8.27 in or 14.81cm x 21.01 cm)
  3. Print paper double sided with the dot grid design
  4. Punch holes in each page
  5. Round the outside corners with the large rounder
  6. Round the inside corners with the small rounder

Its a lot of work for some paper, and it requires some extra equipment, but I find the activity relaxing and rewarding. For anyone that wants to follow in my footsteps, I use a basic Xacto guillotine cutter to cut the pages down to size. To round the corners, I use this corner cutter - by far one of my best purchases in art school. And for the hole punch, I use the Staples brand Arc hole punch. I like this punch because it has a setting specifically for A5 paper and it can punch though several pages with ease.

Notebook paper

An extra little note about my dot grid paper design. I initially just did a very standard dot grid design, but later had trouble locating the exact middle of the page. I then updated the paper design to darken the middle 4 dots, and the middle 2 dots on all 4 sides. This greatly helps with placing things in the page. I’ve uploaded the printable dot grid paper to Google Drive if you want to use it.

Finding the right cover

Covers are one of the most difficult things to figure out. Apparently, A5 is not a popular paper size for disc bound systems, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a cover that was designed for this size in mind. Ultimate dream goals is to get one of these beautiful notebooks from William Hannah. For now though that’s too expensive for me, so I’ve found some alternatives.

In the beginning of this journey, I made my own covers. I liked these a lot, but they didn’t have the level of polish I wanted. (I’m not a master book binder or leather worker and have limited equipment, go figure) The front cover was a softish cover I had taken from another sketchbook. I cut it down to size and used e6000 glue to affix it to a poly cover I had also cut down to size. The back cover was also affixed to a poly cover, but it was made from a rotary cutting mat. It was extremely difficult to work with, as you can imagine. Altogether though, it was brilliant. I could use the back of my notebook to cut things on with an Xacto knife, which is pretty cool.

Later on, I decided I wanted the cover to be leather. I’ve looked at so many leather notebook cases I can’t begin to list them. I thought my best bet would be to get a case meant to wrap around any notebook. But I was always worried that my notebook wouldn’t fit because of the extra bulk the discs add. Last month on a whim, I decided to take my notebook in to Office Depot just see if the junior size covers were big enough for the A5 paper, and to my surprise they were!

Notebook Closed

I might get a new cover one day, but I’m finally content with this one from TUL.

Discs

Next up are the discs. Short and sweet, I wanted the smallest size (0.75in) and I wanted them to be metal. Unfortunately, very very few brands offer this combo, and when you do find them they are expensive. I really like the dark silver ones from TUL, but the smallest they come in is 1in. I’m currently using some from Levenger, but there are a few other options.

Finishing touches

Even after all that, I felt it needed a little something extra. I like the aesthetics of the moleskine notebooks with the elastic strap, and decided to make one for my notebook too. I went to the local art supply store and bought a length of 0.5in black woven elastic. Wrapping it around the front cover, I cut it to length and clued the ends with my trusty e6000. Leave this overnight to bond, and when you stretch it around the whole notebook it should have the desired tightness. I also had a metal bookmark / paper clip thing that I thought made a nice decoration.

Despite all the work and consideration thats gone into it, it’s not done. I don’t know that it will ever be finished. Just like this website, it’s a place of experimentation and self expression. I want to make my own leather cover one day, or find one that fits my style even better. I also still love the idea of having covers made out of rotary mats haha.

If you’re deep into stationary and / or liked this content as a break from my usual tech / design thoughts let me know! I’d love to see your ideas and setups.