Nanjing Metro Notebooks

And now, for something a little different. As you may have noticed from my occasional travel carry posts (when I am prepared enough to write about them in advance), I travel fairly regularly for work. Today I’m writing about a stack of notebooks that were given to my team by Nanjing Metro.

A glimpse behind the curtain

A very brief introduction to how I came to have these notebooks. In real life, I research international public transport systems. This involves meetings held internationally several times a year. My colleagues recently visited Nanjing in China and brought back some notebooks made by Nanjing Metro. I didn’t go on the visit myself, but I was thrilled when they arrived in the office. They’re practical for my team too, because we spend our time away in meetings and on technical visits, so a pocket-sized notebook is good for making notes when we’re out in the field.

The notebooks

The notebooks measure 110mm by 150mm, which is unlike any other paper sizes I generally come across. It’s a little bit smaller than a C6 sheet (which is 114mm x 162mm) but taller and wider than a Field Notes. It has a kraft notebook cover with gold foil stamping. Give me anything kraft and I’m happy, I think it’s a very attractive and versatile paper.

Nanjing metro thickness and notebook size, compared with a Field Notes Red Blooded

There is a fun logo on the bottom left hand corner stamped across the spine of the notebook which incorporates the metro’s logo (a five-petal flower) and a train! It’s foil stamped onto the cover in a bright, warm, yellow gold. When you look at the notebook straight on, the contrast is quite subtle, but you can really see the brightness of the gold when it catches the light. The foil stamping is slightly textured, almost like a foil sweet wrapper that you’ve smoothed out between your fingers. It has rounded corners (although the bottom corner is a little rounder than the top one).

Lovely foil-stamped cross-spine logo. I love that bright, yellow gold.

The notebook is designed for metro users, perhaps unsurprisingly, although its interior features lead me to think it might be aimed at unfamiliar users. There is a fold out metro map inside, which is useful for having in your pocket as you travel around the network.

A fold-out Nanjing metro map for use on the go.

There is a metro logo on each double page spread, too. Inside, the paper is a very creamy shade, quite thin, and smooth. Blank pages give a lot of flexibility and is a great choice because lines or a graph grid would just make the pages too busy.

Creamy paper compared with a Field Notes Chicago edition, with white graph paper.

There is a lot of fun going on in these notebooks. The “Metro Hero” character stands proudly on each page, giving you important messages about the metro. On each page, Metro Hero asks you a question and provides an answer. Some of these are quite technical and many are safety-related. Questions and answers are framed in a sort of thought bubble on each page.

The Metro Hero character, who gives advice about Nanjing metro on each page.

The first 8 pages are designed and organised slightly differently to the majority of the notebook (I’m not sure why). At the back of the notebook there are four completely blank pages, free of branding and Metro Hero chat. Just in case you need a full double page spread for sketching, notetaking or jotting on the go. Here are some of the different page decorations:

Lovely use of the metro logo across two pages.
Very simple red Nanjing metro logo, which looks great against the cream coloured paper.

How do they do with ink and graphite?

The answer is – quite well. I’ve been using these notebooks on and off at work to see how they stand up to my writing tool rotation. It does fine with fountain pens with relatively fine nibs and less saturated inks. Gel pens and pencils are absolutely fine. It’s not the most enjoyable paper for fountain pens though, the paper feels quite absorbent and makes the writing experience feel quite dry. This isn’t the case with gel pens, felt tips or highlighters. I feel like if I was using this notebook the way it was supposed to be used (i.e. out and about on the metro) then gel pens would be my go-to writing tool.

A couple of pen and pencil tests. Very little feathering with the ink in particular.
Close up of performance with fountain pen ink (Diamine Woodland Green)
Slight bleedthrough with fountain pen ink.

In summary

This notebook appeals to both the stationery lover in me and the lover of all things urban, with its transport touches. I find the kraft and bright gold stamping a lovely combination and the creamy interior pages are very agreeable, with plenty of useful space to make notes. Blank pages are the right choice to keep the notebook from becoming visually overwhelming. I don’t particularly enjoy using fountain pens on the paper, so performance-wise, I would stick to gel pens and pencils. If there was a London version of a notebook like this, I don’t doubt that people might actually find it quite handy with its fold out metro map and tips for travelling on the network. While it won’t win any prizes for being the best notebook I’ve ever owned, I’ve really enjoyed using these as a fun alternative to my familiar notebook rotation.

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