I normally review inks but I've been trying to be a little more diverse lately. This spring I was contacted by Bookblock and asked if I would like to review a new product that they were coming out with. Historically they have made customized notebooks for large volume orders but they are now offering a service called Bookblock Original where a customer can pick a graphic to wrap around an A5 hardbound book, choose from blank, lined, dot grid, or sketch paper interior as well as specify the colours of the book's elastic closure band and ribbon page marker. What comes out the backside of the process is a unique hardbound book that has been personalized for the recipient. I like the concept and can see where there could be a demand for the books as gifts to friends and family or used in the workplace amongst small teams to help build esprit de corps. So how was the concept executed?
When I was contacted, the company's web interface had yet to be developed so I was given cover design guidelines and asked to create an appropriately sized image that could be applied to the book's cover. Now that the website is up and running, this option still exists but you are also able to use the online "Artwork Editor" to assemble the book's cover.
The Artwork Editor has tools for image import, scaling and rotation, adding text in a huge variety of type faces, using drawing tools, applying image filters, adding shapes, and also using stickers on the book's cover. If you can't come up with a unique design for your book's cover, that is your failing. They have given you a tool set diverse enough to help you achieve just about any design you could want. That being said, I was not able to submit my final design in the web interface. This could be user error on my part or simply not seeing a crucial button in the interface but the "Submit Design" button didn't kick me over into the next phase. After successfully using all of the creation tools I am surprised that I would be flummoxed one step from the finish line, but that was my experience. The second option of submitting a PDF of the cover art worked flawlessly but you will have to have access to graphics software on your machine to be able to pull that off.
With the artwork taken care of you are only a few short steps away from being able to submit your order. Next up you specify the colour of the book's closure elastic and page marker ribbon, as well as specify the book's interior from a choice of three types of 90 gsm writing paper or the heavier 140 gsm sketch paper. With all of these selections made, you are able to see a preview of your creation as well as finalize the order through PayPal. You can expect to receive your bespoke book in two weeks time.
The execution of the cover art on the book that arrived was fantastic, the high dpi printing process ensured that the colours were vibrant with pleasing gradients. From a customization point of view, the book achieves top marks. After this first impression I opened the book and and started leafing through. On about 15% of the pages there were creases near the binding. This flaw appears in small groups at several locations throughout the book so it would seem to be somewhat systemic. It could very well just be my copy, other reviewers have not made comment of this flaw in the books that they received. The photo below highlights these creases but they are very hard to photograph and are more apparent in the actual book than the photo would lead you to believe.
Now for the performance of the paper. The book interior is manufactured by Monsieur Notebooks which is a name that I have heard of but have never used before. Standard ballpoint and roller ball pens work as expected in the book but there is some ghosting visible on the back side. Permanent markers are a non starter but that is typical of most papers. For fountain pens you can expect some minor feathering and muted shading of inks. When you flip the page over to view the back side you are greeted with a train wreck of bleed through; effectively the back side of the page is unusable and you risk bleeding through to the next page if you linger too long in any one spot.
So where does that leave us? At $18, the book is price competitive to similarly sized books on the market. The $8 shipping fee may or may not sway your interest in the product. The unique cover art is well executed but the book's paper quality is middling at best. If Moleskine works for you, this will as well, if your typical carry is a Rhodia Webbie or Quo Vadis Habana, you will likely be frustrated with this paper's performance.
This book was provided to me at no cost for review purposes. I don't feel that receiving this item for free has affected my objectivity in its review.