Review: Peter Pauper Press Large Premium Sketchbook

Due to its first-glance similarities, the large premium sketchbook by Peter Pauper Press was one of the first sketchbooks I picked up in an attempt to find a replacement for the discontinued Punctuate sketchbook.

Peter Pauper Press premium sketchbook
The sketchbook is solid black under the huge product sticker originally on the cover. Stickers featured here by Shishido Creative, Seth Goodkind, @10thcard, Oxygen Impulse, Enduro, Izuma, and others.

I picked it up at Barnes and Noble at the time (my local store is closed now). The properties it touts include:

  • Hardcover
  • 8.5″x11″
  • 128 gsm paper (86 lb text stock)
  • “[H]eavyweight, fine-tooth paper, perfect for dry media”
  • Micro-perforated pages
  • 192 pages/96 sheets
  • Binding lies flat for ease of use
  • Acid-free, archival paper
  • $12.99

So, like the Punctuate sketchbook, it’s hardcover and has 192 pages. With its proper legal size (8.5″x11″), it’s a smidgen bigger.

I don’t consider it a true “stay-flat”-style sketchbook because the hardcover does wrap over the spine. Because of the way the cover is molded, it can’t truly lie flat.

But the stitched pages are glued to a flexible piece of binding, which isn’t attached to the cover at all. It’s difficult to tell without taking the whole thing apart, but it looks like only the front and back interior pages are glued to the cover, which means the pages are way less secure overall — if one of those attached pages comes loose, the hardcover won’t be much protection. But I think that’s a pretty unlikely to happen unless you drop the sketchbook into a pond. Otherwise how else is all of the glue going to come loose? And if you drop it in a pond, the pages coming loose from the cover is probably the least of your problems.

Anyway, this allows the binding a good degree of flexibility, which allows the pages to sit much more flat than they would be able to otherwise, which is always a plus. The Punctuate’s binding looked like it was secured to the cover on either side of the spine in addition to having the first and last pages glued, so it was considerably less flexible, as is standard.

Peter Pauper Press premium sketchbook
Top is the Punctuate sketchbook; bottom is Peter Pauper Press — much more flexible.

The perforated “micro” cuts are noticeably smaller, which means it’s much less prone to accidental tearing. In fact, I forgot it was perforated half the time because the page shadows pretty much hid the perforated edge entirely. Nice.

This does mean that actually tearing out a page is more difficult though, and nearly impossible without bending the page a little. You need to be very careful at the start, lest you miss the perforated edge entirely and just tear the page.

$12.99 makes it 30% more expensive than the Punctuate was, but it’s still on the cheap end for a sketchbook of this size, binding, and page count, honestly.

But let’s talk about the paper.

Peter Pauper Press premium sketchbook
Inked drawing visible from reverse side of page. (Zebra brush pen, Pentel pocket brush, and Pentel pocket brush with grey ink (J. Herbin Gris Nauge.)

128 gsm/86 lb (text stock) shouldn’t be anything to write home about, but this didn’t feel like text stock paper. It felt thicker and sturdier. 128 gsm feels weirdly inaccurate, if anything.

It’s lightly textured, but still provides a relatively smooth sketching experience with mechanical pencil (05). The slight grain is even kind of pleasant when inking since it provides a little resisitive feedback. Not bad!

Unfortunately, I was really disappointed with the show-through on the reverse side of pages for any kind of ink, including grey fountain pen ink. Even when there was no indentation, you could pretty much always see inked lines from the other side of the page, and sometimes through an entire page. This made it impossible to draw on the backside of any page that’d been inked, wasting almost half the sketchbook for me.

Peter Pauper Press premium sketchbook
Even when I’m not pressing hard into the paper, the ink shows through. The thicker brush strokes here were done with a light hand, but it doesn’t matter. (Zebra brush pen and Pentel pocket brush.)

I don’t consider most individual sketches precious, so I don’t have a problem with “ruining” them by drawing on the backside of the page. I think it’s nice to have really messy sketchbooks with drawings piled on top of each other and filling every scrap of page.

But I also do a lot of “finished/final art” ink drawings in my sketchbooks — things I intend to scan later — which means leaving the backside blank unless I want to have to edit out all the see-through bits that will show up in a scan later. And batch-scanning later is way better than scanning-as-you-go.

It’s interesting (and frustrating) because the pages feel thick enough that I wouldn’t have expected this to be an issue.

The paper doesn’t feel thin, but perhaps it’s too absorbent, despite being for dry media. If the ink is soaking into the page a considerable amount, then I guess it makes sense if it’s visible from the other side of the same the page. But that doesn’t explain why it’s easy to see through a page to ink on the next page — though admittedly, this fact doesn’t have much consequence other than being annoying. I can always slide in a buffer sheet when scanning.

Peter Pauper Press premium sketchbook
Can you see the straight lines to the upper right of the eel? That’s grey ink (Pilot Iroshizuku Kiri-same), not on the reverse of the same page, but on the next page.

Alcohol-based markers like Copic will, of course, show through the reverse side.

If you don’t place a buffer sheet under the page you’re working on, marker will bleed onto the next page if you go over an area three or more times. This is standard for most sketchbooks, so it doesn’t bother me. I did find that the pages were more absorbent than I was used to, which both meant that saturation was higher and purposeful blending was more difficult. Colors did tend to blend more naturally though, as the edges between different strokes were less distinct.

Water-based markers like Tombow dual brush markers perform similar to regular brush pens — there’s no reverse side bleed, but you can see that it’s there.

I didn’t test watercolors in this sketchbook, but I’d guess that page buckling would be significant. Page disintegration might be a problem under lots of water, but it’d probably be okay with light washes.

Peter Pauper Press premium sketchbook
Reverse-side marker bleed is par for the course.

All-in-all though, this is a pretty solid sketchbook.

It’s a full-size, hardcover sketchbook at a relatively low price point. There are a lot of pages, and it’s comfortable and nice to use with mechanical pencils and brush pens. That ink is noticeable on the reverse side of pages is a big downside for me, but I know plenty of artists don’t draw on the back of pages anyway, so it could be a moot point for many.

For those who like smaller sketchbooks, there’s also a half-sized (5.5″x8.5″) version of it for $7.99. (Haha, the one review for it also complaints about the see-through pages! I’m not alone!)

I’m not sure yet if I’ll buy this sketchbook again, but I can’t say I don’t love that it’s nearly the same size and format as my rows and rows of Punctuate sketchbooks…

Peter Pauper Press premium sketchbook
This is what it looks like if you draw on the pack of a page that’s been inked on.