Review: Sketchnote Ideabook

In September 2019, I backed the Sketchnote Ideabook on Kickstarter.

Its whole thing is that it’s a “sketchnoter’s sketchbook,” but while I don’t know much about sketchnoting as a movement, I was curious about the make and quality of the sketchbook, particularly after it was praised by the nerds on the Pen Addict.

The sketchbook missed its estimated delivery date (December 2019, ambitious!), but it still arrived within a reasonable time, I think, around February 2020.

Photo composite of the front and back covers of the Sketchnote Ideabook
Sketchnote Ideabook. For once I had the foresight to take photos before I sticker bombed!

Sketchbook details:

  • Ultra-smooth PU leather cover
  • 5.8″ x 8.3″ (A5)
  • 110 lb/160 gsm slightly textured paper
  • 128 pages
  • 2 ribbon bookmarks
  • Elastic closure band
  • Lay-flat binding
  • Includes a sheet of labels/stickers
  • $24.00 MSRP

Via Kickstarter, I paid $19 + $7.25 shipping for it, so $26.25 altogether. I don’t think this sketchbook is available from retailers, so the shipping may be unavoidable.

The Sketchnote Ideabook has a lot of bells and whistles, but ultimately very little of it mattered to me.

Cover of my Sketchnote Ideabook after it was sticker bombed.
Stickers by Black Sea Foam, Oxygen Impulse, Mad Rupert, SSSONNY, Dizzi, and others.

The PU leather cover is very nice to the touch and has some fancy debossing, but this got in the way of my usual labeling and sticker bombing more than anything. The interior front and back covers have various notes and suggestions with regard to sketchnoting — nice, probably, for someone actually sketchnoting, but mostly irrelevant to someone just sketching.

The interior back cover also has a folder flap that I immediately and completely forgot about, but it would be a good place to, I dunno, store loose notes and maybe business cards if I had traveled at all while this sketchbook was in use.

Front interior cover and first page of the Sketchnote Ideabook
Front interior spread of Sketchnote Ideabook. The Ideabook also came with some stickers and labels.

The sketchbook is small enough that I didn’t really need the bookmarks to mark my current place, so I used them to mark pages with sketches I wanted to revisit for something later, which was handy, even if I was limited to two. I usually use small sticky tabs for this purpose.

I don’t care for the elastic closure band and never used it. I think closure bands are nice in theory, but in practice, they just get in my way — I hate having the undo the closure to sketch and tucking it in the back just makes my drawing surface bumpy. How often does a sketchbook fall open that you actually need a closure band? And with a nice cover and quality paper, dropping the sketchbook isn’t likely to significantly damage the pages anyway.

Back interior cover of the Sketchnote Ideabook has a pocket
The back interior cover of the Sketchnote Ideabook has a pocket.

As advertised, the paper is excellent!

160 gsm isn’t as heavy as Denik’s sketchbooks, but it’s still much heavier than average. There is a very, very slight tooth to the paper, which is comfortable without being distracting. It holds graphite a little better than smooth paper while still being really great to ink on.

Photo composite of an ink and marker drawing in the Sketchnote Ideabook and the show-through on the reverse side of the page
Copic marker shows through the back, but doesn’t bleed onto the next page. This Calathea is available as a sticker!

Water-based markers and fountain pen ink absorb well with little to no show-through on the reverse side and no bleeding onto the next page. Alcohol-based markers and ink show through the back, but don’t bleed.

Lay-flat binding is always great, especially in a hardcover book that still wraps around the spine, rather than leaving it exposed, as in the Studio Oh! sketchbook.

Photo showing the spine of the sketchbook when open
The lay-flat binding isn’t glued to the cover, allowing it to remain flexible.

The last few pages of the sketchbook are perforated and have some printed grids and boxes for… something related to sketchnoting, I’m sure.

I ignored them and just used the pages as normal. The printing is pretty light, so it didn’t really concern or bother me. The perforation is more prominent than the micro-perforation I’m used to, but this also makes it harder to tear out by accident.

Open sketchbook spread with ink drawings over the pre-printed boxes
There are boxes printed on this page, but I ignored them.

Paper is usually the most important part for me, so I was glad that the Sketchnote Ideabook delivered on this. Unfortunately, while A5 (technically 5.875″ x 8.25″) is a common and popular notebook size, using this sketchbook helped me determine that this size is just too small for me in a general use sketchbook.

My other recent sketchbooks have been 7″ x 10″, 7″ x 9″, and 6.5″ x 10″ ish — all smaller than my long-preferred 8″ x 11″ (A4-ish), but still pretty manageable. An inch on each side makes a difference though, and the Ideabook was just uncomfortable and inconvenient for me to use.

Sketchbook open to a pencil drawing that comprises both sides of the page.
Pencil drawing. Lay-flat binding means very little of the page is lost to the gutter.

The problem is mostly that looking down on the sketchbook while drawing strains and puts pressure on my neck, but the sketchbook is too small to prop up on my legs — in that position, I’m still straining my neck to look down. The sketchbook is also too small to use comfortably with a desktop easel, and I usually ended up propping the sketchbook up with another sketchbook so I could have it at eye level.

I think things might have been different if I’d been able to travel in 2020. Then, I would’ve probably demoted this to a travel sketchbook instead of a general one, but it’d have been more tolerable as a travel sketchbook.

Away from home, sketching conditions aren’t ideal anyway, so compromising wouldn’t have felt so annoying. At a convention table, there’s no space for an easel or for me to prop a sketchbook up on my knees, so I’d be drawing with the sketchbook flat on the table anyway. Yeah, that’s not great for my chronic neck pain, but there’s little to be done in that environment, so it’s easier to accept.

Sketchnote Ideabook

The Sketchnote Ideabook is very well made, but it’s not for me — which is maybe obvious, since it was made specifically for sketchnoters, and I’m not a sketchnoter.

(Or at least, I don’t really have need these days to take extensive notes, though when I did, I suppose I might have fallen into the category of “sketchnoter.” What? It doesn’t count as sketchnoting if you simply sketch random things all over your pages of notes? Oh.)

This sketchbook can be used as a normal sketchbook, sure, but $24 for 128 pages (even 128 very nice pages) is pretty pricey. I think it’s difficult to justify the price if you don’t get much out of all the extras — doubly so if you find it physically uncomfortable to sketch in A5 size like I do.

But if you like the size and find the extras useful, then it could be a great deal! Despite its fanciness, I do appreciate that the sketchbook emphasizes that it’s for ideas and not art. The sketchbook is not precious. What’s important is that you use it.

Close-up of the back cover debossing of the Sketchnote Ideabook, which reads "Ideas not art."
Even for use as a sketchbook, I think this is a relevant message. The sketchbook isn’t precious! Just get the ideas out.

About the author

Kiri is an artist, writer, and (brush) pen enthusiast in Seattle with over 12 years of convention vending experience and an inclination towards verbosity.