Paper Review: Franklin-Christoph Firma-Flex Journals


The day I got my first fountain pen (February 23, 2013), I rushed home, popped in a Waterman Serenity Blue cartridge, sat down at my desk, pulled out my long-neglected journal, and put pen to paper.

If my life had a soundtrack, at that moment I would have heard this.  The paper on this journal, which I had bought at Barnes and Noble for $20, had been coated in such a way that it prevent the absorption of fountain pen ink. I wrote half a page, left it open to dry for a few minutes, came back, and wiped it away as if I had written on a white board with a dry erase marker.

It was at that moment I first realized the importance of the  Pen/Ink/Paper trinity. It was a lesson I would learn repeatedly over the next several days until I finally decided to spend a little bit of money and buy paper I knew was fountain pen friendly. To this day, I am always in awe of people who spend hundreds of dollars on fountain pens, but then choose to use low-quality paper for all their writing. It makes no sense to me–if I had to choose between buying another pen and using crappy paper or not buying a pen and using good paper, I’d be filling up my online shopping basket with Rhodia Dotpads before you could finish giving me the choice.

These days (and like many fountain pen lovers), I am awash in high-quality paper. I’ve got reams of it stashed in various places around my house. I order from specialty stores. I only write in journals with good paper. I don’t see the point in using a precision writing instrument without giving it a high-quality canvas on which to write.

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Which brings me (finally!) to the subject of today’s review: the Firma-flex journals by Franklin-Christoph. Franklin-Christoph (heretofore shortened to F-C, because I’m a lazy, lazy man) is one of my favorite modern pen manufacturers. I own two of the their pens: A Model 02 and a Model 19. I have tried their ink. I have one of their leather pen cases. I have their command center folio.  I’m a fan of their products. (And no, they have not paid me to say that or ever sent me free pens…much to my dismay. *cough*)  I recently finished my Tomoe River journal, and decided that before I started up my next journal of Tomoe River paper, I wanted to play the field a bit and see what else was out there.

From a design standpoint, the F-C Firma-flex journals are quite handsome. The black, leatherette covers are firm enough to provide a stable writing platform, but not as firm as a hardcover journal. The corners of the journal are cut off–a design element I’m coming to recognize as solidly Franklin-Christoph. The front cover of the journal has a lovely Celtic knot design embossed into the center of the cover, and the back has the F-C logo embossed at the bottom of the back cover. The embossing is clean and crisp.

I adore the covers on these journals. They look spectacular. And, on the A4 at least, they even make a wonderful writing surface. I have found myself pulling out my journal, flipping it over to the back, and using it as a writing pad while I’m writing letters on single sheets of paper. If Franklin-Christoph were to make desk pads out of the same material they use for these journal covers, I would be the first one in line to order one.  (*Hint, Hint!*)

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The edges of the notebook are stitched solidly with color-coded thread, indicating the ruling of the paper inside the journal: Maroon for ruled lines, olive green for graph lines, purple for dot grid ruling, and grey for blank pages. The dot and graph-ruled pages use a fairly standard 5mm ruling, and the lines pages use a 7mm ruling on the A5 and A6 sizes that I tested.

The journal comes in A6, A5, and full A4 sizes, and each comes with an attached ribbon/bookmark.

Overall, the design and construction of the F-C Firma-flex journals is pretty stellar. They feel well-made. And, best of all, they lay almost completely flat: even at the very beginning or end of the journal. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to struggle with the inner margins on a Rhodia Webnotebook as I’m trying to maximize my use of the paper.

And then we come to the paper: Franklin-Christoph’s paper is unlike any other paper I’ve tried before. F-C uses a thick (90gsm), heavy sugar cane paper in their journals which is not only quite sustainable, but also very friendly to fountain pen inks. The paper hasn’t been coated to a glassy smoothness like you might find with Clairefontaine or Rhodia paper. Nor does it have the light, velvety feel of Tomoe River paper. I would still classify the paper as smooth, albeit with a bit of texture to it that is quite pleasant with the right nib. I would personally never use a sharp italic on this paper, but I’m not really a sharp italic kind of guy anyway. If you’re the kind of person who likes your paper to have a bit of texture without feeling rough or biting, I would encourage you to give this paper a try.

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The other interesting characteristic of this paper is its absorbency: it is quite absorbent, without really bleeding or feathering like you might experience on lesser-quality papers. The result is that writing on this journal dries more quickly than with heavily-coated papers, while still maintaining its fountain pen friendliness.  The one downside to this increased absorbency, however, is a moderate reduction in shading, and a significant reduction in sheen versus what you might see on Tomoe River or Rhodia.

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The paper in the Firma-flex journals performs admirably under even harsh writing conditions. You can see from the image above that there is a some bleeding on the flex writing from my Waterman’s Ideal No 7, which I experience even on Rhodia or Clairefontaine. Considering how much ink that pen puts down, the bleed is really not bad at all. Even the infamous Baystate Blue exhibits almost no feathering or bleedthrough. I have been able to use both sides of this journal paper, even with fairly wet pens (like my Omas Ogiva Celluloide with the Extra-Flessibile nib) with no bleed and very little showthrough. It is the definition of fountain pen friendly–which is what you’d expect from a company that makes and sells fountain pens.

I’ve been using the A4 journal for my daily journal for the last couple of months, and I have to say, I am pretty darn impressed with it. I do find the A4 size to be a little too big for writing comfortably, as I tend to rotate my paper by 45 degrees counterclockwise when I write, which causes the right page to be a little too far away from me. That’s more of an issue with my own style of writing than with the journal, however. (Going forward, I’m going to stick with A5-sized journals, I think.)

Overall, though, I have to admit that I’m really impressed with these journals. And, with a price of only $14.50USD for the A5 and $19.50 for the A4, these are some of the more affordable premium journals I’ve ever tried. If you’re the kind of person who wants a lay-flat notebook, FP-friendly paper with a touch of texture, but still smooth, good dry times, and solid construction, I would highly recommend the F-C Firma-flex journals. They’re pretty spectacular. I prefer them to similar notebooks I’ve tried from Apica, Rhodia, and Leuchtturm1917.

  • Joseph Quinton

    Matt, thank you for this review. I am very attracted to this journal. Have you ever used a Leuchturm1917? This is the the journal I use and I wonder how it compares to the one you reviewed?

    • I have. Leuchtturm1917 paper is fine, but I found the showthrough to be signficant enough that I wasn’t comfortable writing on both sides of the paper. I much prefer the F-C journals, but I really like the Firma-flex covers over the hard covers of the Leuchtturm.

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  • Joseph Quinton

    Matt, do you know which model this is?

    • I’m not entirely sure what you mean by that, but I got these after they changed the paper formula toward the end of last year.

  • Mikey Mazur

    I have heard a lot about sugar cane based paper I kind of make my own notebooks well the cardstock ones, I say kind of only because I have only made 3 of them so still a learning experience :P. Not anything like this so I have thought about getting this one in dots also in I would get them in the A5 size personally. I call it the American version that I make for myself since its folded over 8.5 by 11 so that is 8.5 by 5.5 so not exactly A5 size. Thanks for the review!

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  • Mark Knoblauch

    Matt, when I heard you mention that you’d prefer an 8mm wide rule on paper, I thought I had seen that before somewhere…. Turns out that is the standard for the thicker horizontal lines on French-ruled paper. I liked using it because all of the secondary lines helped me achieve greater uniformity with my descenders and ascenders and lower-case letter height. If you’ve never tried it, get your hands on some and see if you like it. I bet it would be perfect for practicing your flex writing!

  • Mikey Mazur

    So I decided to try some of staples sugar cane based paper. I also heard many good things about it. So I spent the 4 bucks got one of the note books. The things I found online said the note books were 90 percent sugar cane but I think this must have changed the notebook I got was 80 percent. 2nd this thing bleeds and feathers like crazy! Even if I don’t flex the nib. Ill have to take pictures and up load them. I have to have a piece of copy paper under the sheets to absorb some of the ink. I am not mad or anything it was only 4 bucks. Just amazed my experience is much different than what I found online

  • Gordon Tillman

    Thank you for the review Matt. My wife told me this morning she had ordered one of these for my last night as a prize! 🙂

  • donn lemire

    Practical piece . I am thankful for the facts – Does someone know if I
    can find a sample NFPA Fire Alarm System Record of Completion example to
    fill in ?