My Ongoing Narrow-Rule Obsession

October 27, 2008

This is a weird one, but I have a notepaper issue. I have severe pathos for the slow fade-and-disappear act that narrow-ruled paper seems to be performing in this country. Wide rule is for, I don’t know, people who use crayons as their primary medium of expression, and college rule is kind of a euphemism. Bluntly: the damned lines are too far apart on 99% of the notepad and filler paper made available in the America. When using paper wherein lines are too far apart I write kind of like a caffeinated and over-effeminate fifth grader: big, loopy, dumb-looking. It’s all I can do to keep from dotting my ‘i’s with hearts.

Thus I spend kind of a creepy amount of time trolling the online for narrow-ruled products. At my former font of employ, a helpmate was kind enough to track down Office Depot’s at-the-time only acceptable narrow-ruled product: a little spiral-bound number in a rather effete shade they call “orchid.” I’ve been writing on lavender-colored paper for the past 18 months. At least it doesn’t smell like flowers.

I filled the last page today. A lunchtime sojourn to Office De(s)pot did manage to turn up one tolerable, if not ideal, option: Tops makes a top-bound legal pad in narrow rule. Thank goodness. But I’d really like a spiral bound and I’d really, really like a composition book in narrow rule.

In England, where a lot of other consumer items are kind of a drag, from what I could tell, all paper was narrow-ruled (then again, their binders only have two holes instead of three, and said pair of holes are too close to each other, leading to massive notebook imbalance and possible loss of empire). I am still hoarding some of this weird, two-holed paper, because the lines are nice and close together. I guess the Brits have more writers, fewer people who use finger paints or bananas to write.

Perhaps this is all just a metaphor for my need for a sense of control, keeping my handwriting confined and neat. But I can’t be the only one. Hello, out there?

Photo: By Flickr user Manuela Hoffman.


  1. EMM says:

    I am also also obsessed with notebooks, but prefer mine to have blank pages – guess I’m just a no-rules / no-boundaries kind of person… I like to be able to mix drawing and writing on the same page. I’ve found Clairefontaine brand to be my favorite, but I have to order them. There is a place called Writersbloc in Portland, but they are currently without retail store. Check out their website, they may have what you’re looking for. I know they have something called “French Ruled”

  2. autumn says:

    also a bit notebook nutty. i like mine blank so i can draw, paste photos & clippings, and other random detritus of nostalgia. as such, they have to have a spiral which is able to expand a bit with the inclusion of said whatnot. moreover i like a heavy bonded paper so i can use fine felt tip markers to write with. its easy enough to find 1 or 2 of these elements, but finding all three has proven to be rather a pain. i tend to buy 3 or 4 at time when i do track them down.

  3. Cheryl says:

    I’ve seen a moleskine style notebook with a narrow rule – Quo Vadis Habana Journal in the small size. The same journal in the larger size does not have the nice narrow rules that the small one does.–small.html

  4. Mike says:

    I came upon your post searching the internet for a narrow ruled composition book – I really like the cardboard covers and the simplicity of those slim notebooks.

    Any sources would be appreciated.

  5. Greg says:

    I’m surprised to find so few comments on this piece. I thought this was hilarious, and I can relate perfectly. I’ve always been surprised by the proliferation of wide ruled paper. I also envision that only children would require such width.

    Anyway, I only write on the aforementioned Tops top bound legal pad (narrow rule, canary yellow). At Office Max there’s a massive selection of legal pads–only one type offers what I consider a reasonable width. I would die if they stopped making them. Or some online store would probably save me.

  6. Gwen says:

    I knew I couldn’t be the only twitchy obsessive desperate for something appropriate for tiny, cramped handwriting. I’m a graduate student, and lately the only way I can keep information in my head is to constantly write and rewrite things down. I stumbled upon a package of narrow-ruled filler paper a year ago, and have been feverishly searching since. I even tore a minute corner off of one sheet to compare available selections at Staples, Office Depot, Target and even a grocery store. Until I can find a source online, I did find a temporary substitute at Target the other day; “Innovative Designs”- their college ruled spiral bound notebook with a garish zebra patterned cover. Thankfully, the sheets are perforated and tear easily, and the narrow margins help make up for lost space…

  7. greenman11 says:

    I feel your pain completely! I was in the midst of a furious online search for more legal ruled notebooks when your blogpost poped up on google. Hahah, “dot my i’s with hearts”-line… niiice. Guess you brits are just more sophisticated, cheers.

  8. Karyl says:

    I stumbled across your page while doing a search for narrow ruled paper. So nice to know I’m not the only obsessive type out there! I’ve been making do with quad-ruled notebooks (same vertical spacing) but just discovered that ‘narrow rule’ and ‘legal rule’ are one and the same – and there are a couple of sources online for legal-ruled notebooks. Not sure if they make legal-ruled filler paper as well… Good luck!

  9. Avani says:

    Thanks so much for your post! The death of the narrow rule is one of the great tragedies of my life. I’ve spent years stalking office supply stores and websites in search of narrow-ruled pads and especially notebooks. Frankly, I don’t understand why – in this new age of “green” products – narrow ruled notebooks are not making a comeback (you can get so much more on a page with normal-sized handwriting). For years, I used National Brand’s 8 1/2 x 6 7/8 inch small notebooks (#33-004), but they stopped making them. I think the Rediform brand has a substitute but I want a normal-sized notebook with perforated sheets (yes, I dream big). I found a limited edition Staples notebook that is narrow-lined about 2 months ago. It’s not available online but check your local store.

  10. Adam says:

    I am glad to know that I am not the only one.

    I have been trying to find a very particular set of journals that were produced for Target a few years ago. I have been trying to find them or something even remotely comparable for months with no luck.

    They came in a pair, one brown, one a very light blue. The covers are cardboard, bound in a standard composition book style with tape. The paper is 10in tall by 7in wide and the ruling seems to be 3/16in.

    Anyway, if any other strange obsessive compulsives out there ever come across something like this, please post a follow-up comment about where to find it.

  11. Renea says:

    Wow I thought I was the only one who really cares about their paper! I just found college ruled in my school’s supply store (Georgia Tech’s Barnes and Noble) and I like it… the problem is I’ve already run out of paper and can’t find it anywhere else!!! UGH!

  12. Mary in Central Florida says:

    Oh how I feel your pain, you are definately not alone. My poor husband had to listen to a “why is everything wide ruled” tyraid this morning as a matter of a fact. I don’t have a solution, surely wish I did.

    Have you noticed that they are making pens and pencils wider too? It’s a huge mess as far as I’m concerned. Now the “normal” pencil lead is at least .7 or even .9! Maybe it’s a conspiracy by the kindergardeners to not have to learn to do better.

    Good luck hunting. I have found one sort of acceptable composition book. Staples has a composition book that is filled with paper covered in squares. They are much better than the regular ones that are so wide my car would fit between the lines, they aren’t perfect. They’re hard to find but when I do find them a buy a few.

  13. Deb says:

    I found your blog entry while searching Google to see whether the term for narrow-ruled paper had just changed and nobody told me or if it was indeed disappearing from my world. I feel childish carrying around a wide-ruled notepad, like I just got my school supplies and now I’m ready to start 3rd grade.

  14. Dan says:

    Came across this while looking on-line for a source of narrow ruled paper. It always seems such a waste to only use half of the paper when writing (the half closest to the line). In the past I have just put two lines of text for each pre-printed line on the page…and that is with “college ruled” paper. I don’t even attempt using wide ruled paper, why should I pay to use only one-third of the page.

  15. marciekr says:

    You can still find the National Brand Narrow Ruled Eye-Ease notebooks online. Luckily there is still one last mom and pop office supply store here that carries them so I don’t have a problem getting them. It’s the only kind I use and I have no idea what I will do if they do discontinue them. No more lists I guess.

  16. bas says:

    Levenger ( sells
    micro-ruled (3/16″) letter size pads
    at the moment.

  17. Army Wife says:

    If anybody knows of a good, cheap source for National Brand, Narrow Rule Eye-ease 10″ x 8″ notebooks, please post it! I’m prepared to stock up huge quantities.

  18. John says:

    I could never describe the effects of wide rule as well as essay above. However there is nothing weird about your pathos. The lines on today’s paper are actually too far apart to write between with a banana, watermelon maybe.

    I started school and used up most of my writing stock unaware of the shortage. I believe i have 16 pieces left and have been looking in stores and websites frantically. I tried writing with the bannana paper today. I mostly wrote two lines of text per line.

  19. Khimba says:

    Yes! Are there enough of us to reverse this trend? I look longingly at that yellow narrow ruled legal paper, but it won’t work as a notebook, so I’ve settled with college-ruled composition notebooks. Won’t someone bring back narrow ruled composition notebooks and narrow ruled three ring notebook paper? Thanks very much to the tips that narrow ruled is also called legal ruled, and about the National notebooks, those were great notebooks.

  20. Carol Barber says:

    For those of you hunting unruled composition books. I found a website that sells them in packs of six or by the single book and a decent price. “Office Quarters” Check it out. I just ordered 2 packs!

  21. Blaine Gray says:

    Thanks for the comments on ruled pads. I have found that decent ruled pads are scarce. Thanks to all for the suggestions for places to get pads. I did try one TOPS pad but the holes were too far in so they did not line up with any other punched pages in the binder. Amazing. I found the M by Staples pads were hard to write on.

  22. Kat Shelton says:

    Narrow ruled heaven: the rip-proof kind that’s reinforced with plastic on the left edge. My mother used to buy me stacks and stacks of that paper when I was in high school and college.

  23. Marcy says:

    I came across this entry while — you guessed it — searching for the perfect narrow ruled notebook. I want you to know that I feel your pain as I, too, revert to the 8 year old version of myself when attempting to write on a wide-ruled paper. I almost feel compelled to use unicorn stickers and pink ink.

    While I am still on a quest to find the perfect narrow-ruled notebook, I did recently find the perfect narrow-ruled legal pad. Ampad Gold Fibre pads (I bought mine at Staples) are my pad of choice, and have a good weight backing and paper thickness. They come in white and yellow, which I find to be an added perk.

  24. Aubrey says:

    Ladies and Gents, I have seen the light. I found this page while on Stumble-upon, and I thought I’d leave you readers with hope!
    I had a couple of narrow ruled composition notebooks back in the late 80s, and I too, have sought the narrow ruled paper over any others.
    Today, I was in the Office Max near my home in Minneapolis, MN, wandering about, when lo and behold, what did I see? Narrow ruled composition notebooks in a variety of non-pastel colors. I wish I had had the funds to snatch them all up, because I feel as though they’re not going to be there when I go back for them. I would post a link from the store, but they’re not showing on the Office Max website.
    So, haul buns if you have a store nearby, and stock up before they disappear! I’ll try to go back later today or by the end of the week, and I’ll update you all if I manage to snag some of these beauties!

  25. Aubrey says:

    And they weren’t the mini ones either. Regular sized notebooks with itty bitty spaces betwixt the lines!

  26. Jan says:

    They must not only be narrow-ruled, but wirebound. Canson, the art paper people, used to make a fantastic one, 5 x 8, just right to carry around in a bag or to a meeting. But, alas, it is no more. I am now on a thus far fruitless search for a new ideal. This, as a friend is fond of saying, is a first world problem.

    • OverlordXim says:

      GREAT NEWS! I know exactly what you are talking about. I have the same one and needed to replace it. I went to Barnes and Noble to see if they had any more and I bought the three I found in stock. Anyways the good news is that I got in contact with CANSON-US and they said it is still an active product but because it is a private label it is only available through B&N. If they are out of stock at the store, you can have them order more. Enjoy!

  27. Jan says:

    P.S. No plastic covers, either.

  28. Emily says:

    I too came across this blog based on a search for narrow ruled filler paper. I guess I’ll just have to try the university’s bookstore to see if they still carry it. I used only narrow ruled for my college and graduate school days.

    I have found narrow ruled filler paper only in college bookstores and online in a few places. It’s just so expensive though that my student loan “income” may force me to use that less desirable stuff. Here is one place that I found it online.

    There are dozens of college bookstores online too that sell the same stuff for a bit less, i.e.

  29. Jessica says:

    Wow! I’m so glad I’m not the only one who insists on narrow ruled paper! I don’t suppose you also pair this compulsion with a preference for extra-fine nibbed fountain pens too? That’s my big problem: Not only does the ruling need to be right, but the paper needs to be of such quality that it won’t bleed my ink all over the place. I found a box of J.L. Hammett Co. 8×10 1/4″ ruled notebooks a few years ago–those were perfect–but I’m afraid the company is defunct! Settled for Miquelrius graph-ruled notebooks eventually. Once a lovely Canadian boyfriend gave me a pad of “economy” paper that can be bought in Canada. It’s not the best quality paper, but the lines are a mere 5mm (about 3/16″) from each other. My jaw dropped when I first saw him writing on such stuff. (Of course I had other reasons to date him too…) Good luck with the quest!

  30. Melanie says:

    Me too. Hate wasting paper. And I take enough notes that the fewer pages I have to fit in my 3 ring binder, the better. I note a lot of people use booklets, but I go for loose leaf paper. I found a relatively cheap source here and they have a flat shipping amount.

  31. Tim says:

    Priceless essay! I too was pulling my hair looking for very narrow ruled paper, but found and have customized my own. Will print some off and have them bound or will experiment sewing my own binding. I found that I like 4mm spacing (change line spacing to 2.5 lines per CM). For landscape printing (to fold in half for a smaller book) change paper size from 8.5 X 11 to 11 X 8.5. Works great.

    All the best – t

  32. RitaG says:

    I join you all in the search (which brought me here). I have long been a fan of the National 8 1/4 x 6 7/8 spiral with eye-ease paper. I still have a couple of them with several pages left.
    After I could no longer get those, I found that Carolina Pad made a similar 8 1/2 x 7 with white paper. I also have a couple with some pages left, but I’m starting to run out and don’t know what I’ll use in the future. They are the perfect size for journaling while on a trip, among other things.
    Best of luck to all, in the quest!

  33. RitaG says:

    Well, crazy me — I just found my National notebook!
    And they have other sizes too, in narrow rule. Hooray!

  34. Jill says:

    Looks like the search for narrow rule goes on forever… this makes 2-1/2 years! I’m looking for a composition book with fountain pen friendly paper. There was a John Derian line at Target but it disappeared instantly. IMHO. I’m still looking online for that one, with its pretty cover and cream-colored high-quality paper.

    There’s a comp book (scroll sideways, two versions only), a Continental brand that’s one of the only two narrow rule at Staples. The other is their house brand, not bad but $5.00 each. Moleskine comp books are at Target, wrapped pack of two, $18.00.

    —Aunt Jill on FPN

  35. StefanV says:

    That National notebook seems to have 1/4″ ruling (I determined that by counting the lines in the enlarged picture). Is that narrow enough?

    • RitaG says:

      StefanV — you got it right, the National is 1/4″ ruled. I ordered five of my favorite spiral books the other day, along with a couple of pens I love & couldn’t find anywhere else.

  36. OverlordXim says:

    Wow, I thought I was the only one who was obsessed with narrow ruled paper… every one here thinks I am crazy. Loved the post, a quick look on Wikipedia showed the different standards between the US and the UK when it comes to ruled paper. My guess is that for some reason wide-ruled is the rule of choice for “legal purposes” hence the alias “legal ruled”. A quick tip from a web developer, change your main font. If it wasn’t for FF’s FireBug plugin I would still be trying to read it. There are fonts that are safe to use cross-platform and the rest are not. Again, loved the post and I died laughing when I red the crayon/ banana bit.

  37. JamesF says:

    Staples has their M notebooks that are narrow ruled, coil bound with hard covers in either black or camel for $7.49. They’re the closest I’ve found to being awesome, but my Pilot G2 0.38mm gel-ink pens bleed a bit more than on other paper.

  38. Cordelia says:

    Yet another person who found this post while searching for narrow-ruled journals!

    Check out Iota’s Legacy Journals:

    I would also suggest raiding your local Barnes and Noble, because I found some great ones made by BN that are still in the physical stores but are no longer available online. If anyone is looking for a nice soft cover journal with grid-rule (narrow in both directions!) I recommend the Miquel Rius soft-bound journal which is only in black online but has many colors in-store at BN:

  39. TeeTee says:

    hi y’all… i love narow ruled paper and the only place i can get it is my college book store… its just the loose leaf variety but… I love it… been out of school for a while… but i still go back and visit when i can just to buy MORE packs. =) Narrow Rule Forever!!

Related Posts

Scipio the Computer has deemed that these might be similar in content!
Wonderful games with Caslon