Review: Barnes and Noble Rainbow Sketchbook

This plainly named rainbow sketchbook is produced for Barnes and Noble, apparently by Seet Kamal International, a generic paper goods manufacturer in India.

Barnes & Noble rainbow sketchbook
Barnes & Noble rainbow sketchbook. Stickers here by @pepperonccini, @thisishannako, @onnanono, and others.

There’s no branding on the sketchbook itself, just a note that it was “Made in India for Barnes and Noble Booksellers, Inc” near the ISBN. The BN site notes that the sketchbook “celebrates pride” so maybe it’s intended as a limited product? (I don’t think I bought this sketchbook anywhen near the month of June though.) There are no other products by Seet Kamal on the website, so no “non-pride” version of the sketchbook. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

There are also no product details on the site, but here are the qualities noted on a sticker in the sketchbook, along with what I can surmise about size and paper weight.

  • Hardcover
  • ~6.5″ x 9.75″
  • ~180?? gsm smooth paper
  • 168 pages
  • Acid-free
  • $7.99

I was apprehensive about the smaller physical size of the sketchbook. I know 5″x7″ is too small for me, and 6″x8″ isn’t much better, but while this was noticeably smaller than my preferred 8″x11″, I decided to give it a shot.

Barnes & Noble rainbow sketchbook
Flat metal clips to hold open pages really helps when working on smaller size sketchbooks.

And it was okay. I think this is probably the smallest size general sketchbook (as opposed to specific-purpose sketchbooks) I’d be comfortable with.

The main thing about smaller hardcover sketchbooks is that it’s harder to hold the book open and keep the pages flat, especially if you’re working at the beginning or end. The hardcover binding always wants to fold shut, and the smaller the book, the less weight there is in the front and back covers to weigh it open.

This is solved by having large flat clips that hold open the book while you work. Clips wouldn’t be ideal while traveling, since it’s more stuff to pack and they need to be pretty big to be able to clip down a hundred or so pages, but I filled this sketchbook between April and June 2020, so, uh, travel wasn’t a thing anyway.

Fewer pages and no page perforation weren’t a big deal. More pages is always nice to have, but 168 pages is still substantial enough that it doesn’t feel like a waste of a hardcover to me. And I rarely take advantage of page perforation anyway.

Barnes & Noble rainbow sketchbook
Inks and indentation visible from the reverse side of the page, but it’s not enough to bother me.

The paper quality is the more important thing! And this paper was actually great.

It’s very close to the paper quality of my beloved Punctuate sketchbook.

The pages are smooth — great for use with fine-point mechanical pencils, which sometimes catch on the tooth of more textured pages, and for use with both brush pens and technical pens. The page weight is substantial — back-of-page indentation from pencils are minimal, so sketching on both sides of a page is fine. Heavy-handed inking will have some indentation and ghosting on the backside, but it’s not nearly as bad as the Peter Pauper Press sketchbook.

Barnes & Noble rainbow sketchbook
No bleed from water-based markers like the Daiso Graphoo. Pencils on the reverse side of the page aren’t obscured by the marker.

You can still draw with pencils on the backside of inked pages without issue. And actually, pages with ink on both sides are still perfectly legible — you can tell there’s something on the back of the page, but for the most part, it doesn’t interfere with what’s on the front side. Depending on how heavy the inks on the back are and individual scan settings, it’s also still possible to get a clean scan of a page with something inked on the back.

Backside marker bleed was as expected: water-based markers (e.g. Tombow ABT dual brush, Daiso Graphoo calligraphy) don’t bleed at all and don’t show through the back of the page, while alcohol-based markers (e.g. Copic markers) bleed through the back, but not onto the next page, so a guard sheet isn’t really necessary unless you’re doing a lot of blending.

For alcohol markers, lighter colors bleed less, so sometimes I’d still draw on the pages with light green or light blue marker bleed because it wasn’t substantial enough to distract me.

Barnes & Noble rainbow sketchbook
Alcohol-based markers like Copic bleed through the back, but not onto subsequent pages.

Honestly, I was surprised at how quickly I filled this Barnes and Noble rainbow sketchbook, but it was a pleasure to use. It really underscored how important paper quality is to me. Thick, smooth paper is a must! Being able to draw on both sides of most pages is a must!

But I really wish the size were bigger. Having clips to hold the pages open made working in it manageable, but archiving the finished sketchbook on the shelf, among the rows and rows of other sketchbooks that are the same size is… frustrating. ಠ_ಠ

Barnes & Noble rainbow sketchbook
A pretty good sketchbook.

For the most part, I keep one “main”/general sketchbook in use at a time, but I sometimes have “side” sketchbooks for other uses — usually travel/on-the-go sketchbooks and specific-project sketchbooks, like Inktober, or notebooks for note-taking that transformed into sketchbooks at some point.

The side sketchbooks have never been uniform in size and are stacked in a weird pile, but the main sketchbooks have been uniform for years. So having a main sketchbook in a significantly smaller size breaks my system, and while this is a totally stupid thing to fixate on, it does still factor in.

Will I get this sketchbook again? Probably. It’s a great sketchbook!

But if I can find something that’s 8.5″x11″ish with this paper quality…

Barnes & Noble rainbow sketchbook