I’ve recently been contacted by a reader to ask if I can give some direction about lined paper for an A5 Filofax. This turns out to be the type of subject that I really enjoy thinking about and researching.

Naturally, I have to qualify my thoughts by pointing out that I’m always going to be drawn to thicker papers which have very little show-through or ghosting so I can happily write on both sides of the page. I’m sure there will be papers which show off ink qualities far better than my suggestions, or which allow more pages to be crammed into a binder. The second point I’m very confident about is that the ubiquitous global shopping company which I refuse to name (and use) or the ubiquitous global shopping company/auction site which, frankly, scares me will both be excellent sources for alternatives to the items I’ve looked at. So, if you’re in the frighteningly huge majority of people who shop on those sites, the world will pretty much be your oyster and you’ll be able to take my suggestions into the stratosphere whilst I remain doggedly earth-bound. My choices are mainly UK based, because that’s how I shop, but I dare say there are local equivalents pretty much anywhere and some of the gems I’ve found are international brands which happen to be available at UK retailers. Finally, I have no affiliation whatsoever with any of the companies I mention, and I haven’t linked to them. If anyone is interested, they are easy enough to track down online.

My reader has experimented with Filofax’s own lined pages, but finds the lines are too close together and they don’t enjoy the paper quality. In my opinion, the paper quality has improved over recent years and for a fair amount of their main line of binder refills it is now acceptable. If the refill states on the cover that it is “Fountain pen friendly” then it’s going to be okay with a fountain pen – at the “more than a passing acquaintance” level of friendliness, but nowhere near the “one of these days we’ll be married” level.

Of course, my natural inclination is simply to point in the direction of Stamford Notebook Company and leave it there. This UK manufacturer supplies products using my favourite paper, including their own refills punched to fit an A5 Filofax-style ring system. These are not true A5-size sheets, coming in at about 13mm narrower than an A5 page although they are the same height. This may be a problem for some people, as may the fact that the paper is a warm ivory shade rather than white. Their refills are available as plain, ruled (with a perfect 8mm spacing), grid or dot-grid, plus two styles of horiztontal dated diary pages. As well as their standard paper, they also offer an artists’ sketch paper. Of course, these products sit at the more luxury end of the spectrum, they are not cheap, but you don’t have any additional costs – if you’ve already got your binder then you can just unwrap them, insert them, and start writing.

Similarly situated at the “plug and play” end of my list is Citrus Bookbindery, a brand which I haven’t personally tried, though I’ve long been tempted. The inserts look to be printed on white paper and come in an impressive range of sizes and paper qualities. They offer A5 sheets punched to fit the Filofax-style ring system in multi-media paper of 100gsm, 140gsm or 160gsm, an extra smooth writing paper of 120gsm, or recycled paper of 140gsm. They also offer coloured papers. The whole range is exceptionally customisable and pricing reflects this. But there is a lot to be said for ordering inserts which don’t require you to do anything more than simply open the packet. You can buy three types of paper sampler packs from Citrus Bookbindery which is useful if you want to try before you invest heavily.

I’m aware of several sellers on Etsy who produce paper inserts to suit all kinds of Filofax sizes, so it’s always worth a look there. One thing to be aware of, though: many of these small businesses are selling digital downloads for you to print, cut and punch yourself. Just be sure you’re ordering a physical pack of paper which is going to be shipped to you if you decide to go this route.

Before I go any further, I just want to add a note of caution about paper “weight”. The thickness, often given as a grams per square meter figure, is not a foolproof guide to the behaviour of the paper. I’ve had good experiences with some 80gsm papers used with my fountain pens, and then had bleedthrough, feathering and ghosting with some 100gsm papers. Nor is price any real indicator – I’ve bought random notebooks in supermarkets that turn out to have excellent paper and I’ve paid for Moleskines and Leuchtturm notebooks which haven’t met my expectations at all. So, that’s just to say that paper is quite a lottery.

My next thought is how to get hold of A5 lined paper which you can punch to fit in your Filofax. My reader mentioned that they could punch paper if needed. The first thing that springs to mind here are the pads of writing paper you’d use to write letters – the type that are lightly glued at the top of the pad. It’s quite unusual to find lined versions of these, but I’ve tracked down a couple. Stamford Notebook Company do an A5 version in the same rulings as for their pre-punched refills. Unlike the refills, these are true A5 size, but you have to punch the holes. What you gain on the swings you lose on the roundabouts. Looking to the budget end of the market, WH Smith have a very reasonably priced block of writing paper which looks like it should have a fairly decent line width. The paper is 80gsm and I haven’t tried it so I can’t say how well it would cope with fountain pen inks.

Another possibility with pads of paper designed for letter-writing would be to buy blank paper and use a lined guide-sheet underneath to keep your writing straight. This works with the thinner papers, such as Tomoe River or Bank Paper which can be found at, for example, The Journal Shop. Guide sheets are often available in different line widths, so you could track down a guide with 8mm ruling if that’s your preference.

One paper I can recommend for fountain pens is Rhodia and, of course, they produce their block notepads in a ruled format. As with Stamford Notebooks, it’s not actually an A5 sized page as Rhodia A5 tends to run shorter but is a true A5 width. You have to punch your own holes, but the paper quality is really good. It’s a white paper, too, which can be a bonus for some users. It’s very widely available which ticks another box in its favour.

Next, we have the labour-intensive options which ideally require a paper trimmer, although you could just trim sheets with scissors. My reader noted that most ruled A5 paper comes in the form of notebooks, which is true. However, I’d say don’t dismiss the idea of deconstructing notebooks to get the paper and line ruling you want. The big point in favour of this is that you have a lot of choice at all kinds of price points and you are more likely to be able to shop locally which is always my preference. You just need to be prepared to put in the effort when you get the product home. The best notebooks to choose are the “exercise book” type which British adults may remember from their schooldays. These are reasonably slender, with a soft cover and staple-bound. You can gently open the legs of the stapes using a knife (my mum’s old, blunt vegetable knife is my weapon of choice here) then ease the staples out leaving you with a pile of folded sheets. I like to press the fold of each sheet firmly then take off a narrow slice at the folded edge. You lose a few millimeters off the width of the page, but the pages tend to lie better in the binder. You can just open the sheet and cut where the fold was, but this often results in a slightly raised edge. You can deconstruct any notebook with a stitched binding in much the same way, but you’ll probably find they have several separate sections so you have to repeat the process of cutting the stitching for each “signature”.

Of course, if you have a paper trimmer, you can cut down A4 sheets (or, come to think of it, B5) and then punch them to fit the binder. This brings some of the better-quality “refill pads” into the mix – the sort that might be available from office stationery companies as well as high street stationers such as WH Smith. Oxford Optik paper is often recommended in the fountain pen community and is available in this type of refill pad.

Another option if you’re prepared to go the cutting route, and don’t mind ending up with a narrower page, is to use paper that’s punched for discbound planners. The advantage here is that it opens up two brands that I’ve had really good experiences with so far as fountain pen compatibility goes: William Hannah (the best of the white papers by a long margin) and Filofax.

Yes, back to Filofax. The company has three main paper streams – the worst by far in my experience is the paper produced for the ClipBook binders. I don’t know why it is so poor, but it is. My fountain pens hate it with a vengeance. In the middle lies their main ring-binder paper. But their third option, punched for use in their refillable notebook system, is superior to both of these. The line spacing is spot-on at 7mm to 8mm and the paper is of higher quality. It’s not William Hannah or Stamford Notebook Co. level, but it’s certainly very acceptable.

The method with these papers, which have mushroom-shaped holes pre-punched, is to slice off the punched edge then punch the holes yourself. The resulting pages are similar in size to the Stamford Notebook Company sheets – A5 height and just over a centimetre narrower, as you can see in my photos where I have one sheet of trimmed and punched William Hannah paper over the top of the original sheet with the disc-punched edge.

I think what all this boils down to is that the choices are wide if you are happy to think imaginatively about the possibilities. If you find the perfect paper quality and line width, but it’s only available as A4 pads, or bound notebooks, then ask yourself if you’d be happy to put in some effort to turn that into a format that suits your A5 Filofax. Alternatively, know yourself – perhaps you just want something that is ready to go and you’re prepared to pay a bit of a premium for it.

2 thoughts on “Ruled paper for an A5 Filofax

  1. Although I did sent a more private email Pam expressing my thanks for this most informative blog I wanted to share an update. I visited the Stamford Notebook website and found myself in stationery heaven. I sent an enquiry and received a response within 30 minutes! They said they would send me samples of their paper!

    So thank you again Pam Alison for that piece of advice and the many other useful options you present here.

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