So you’re looking for the “Best Journals for Art Journaling” and I’m here to tell you, there’s no easy or perfect answer because every art journaler is different — using different mediums, styles, tools, etc. But I thought I’d share a few of my favorites with you — and explain the pros and cons of each — so you can decide which art journal is best for you!
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Each of these art journals has its strengths and weaknesses, and I’ll go into the good and the bad of each one so you can decide for yourself which will work best for you. I’ll be reviewing the following journals because I personally believe they are the best journals for art journaling:
I’ll also mention some popular brands at the end that many other journalers consider to be the best art journals for art journaling, but I haven’t tried yet. When I do, I’ll update this post (so be sure to bookmark it now so you can come back to it later!) Plus I’ll mention an art journal I would not recommend (and why!), so be sure to read all the way to the end. ☺️
Best Journals for Art Journaling: The Strathmore Visual Journal
I consider the Strathmore Visual Journal one of the best art journals for art journaling because I feel like I’ve put this journal through just about everything, and it has held up so well! It’s like the terrier of art journals: tough, tenacious and your best friend.
It comes in a variety of sizes and uses (like 9″ x 12″, 5.5″ x 8″, as well paper as for watercolor, mixed-media, bristol-vellum, etc.). This is the exact one I use in this review: Strathmore 400 Series Visual Watercolor Journal, 140 LB 5.5″x8″ Cold Press, Wire Bound, 22 Sheets.
I used just about everything in this journal that an art journaler could use: paint (acrylic, watercolor, paint pens, etc.), pens of all kinds and colors, ink, alcohol inks, collage with different types of glues and adhesives, stickers, etc. There were very few instances of any mediums bleeding through, and when they did in those rare instances, I just put a collage on the other side of the page.
PROS: Thick 140 lb. watercolor paper that holds up to a lot. I didn’t have any trouble with the paper getting wavy or buckling. It’s also an affordable choice: you can get the same one I used in this review for less than $7 as of the time I’m writing this. Plus it’s acid-free and made in the USA.
CONS: The spiral binding sometimes gets damaged (if you’re tough on your art journals like I am!) and it makes it hard to open and close. The cover is actually an awful shade of brown (under the thinner paper cover with the journal’s name, description, etc.). I ended up just painting and collaging over mine to cover it up. It bled through the inside pages when I used alcohol inks.
OVERALL: I’d give the Strathmore Visual Journal 4 out of 5 stars. I think it’s an excellent choice for beginner and intermediate art journalers. The price is right, it’s tough and it will handle almost anything you put on/in it. Plus, painting over the ugly colored cover was fun for me!
Best Journals for Art Journaling: The Field Artist Master Series Watercolor Journal
This small (5″x5″) art journal by Field Artist feels like a tiny luxury! The cover is thick and smooth, and the paper inside is high quality, acid-free and 100% recycled 300 gsm cold press watercolor paper. I’ve used a lot of different mediums in the journal, and really never had a problem with bleeding through.
For instance, I almost always use the back page as a test page (especially in art journals I’m trying out for the first time) and the one product that almost always bleeds through is the Sharpie oil-based paint marker. But as you can see, even with three firm strokes of the Sharpie in the upper right-hand corner, you can barely see anything on the other side of the page:
The bottom circle shows some minor warping from where I laid down a think layer of Golden Fluid Acrylic paint. I hardly ever use that much paint in one layer, but on my test pages I really want to, well, put it to the test! So I used a lot. But if I did have warping like that on an actual spread, I would probably just use collage or a similar method for my art journaling and cover it up.
PROS: As I mentioned, this small art journal feels, well, special! For its size, it’s slightly pricey, but at under $14 at the time of this post, it’s still an affordable treat for most art journalers. And the quality makes it worth it, in my eyes. It also has a “surprise” (or at least it was a surprise to me!) four-panel panorama fold out at the back of the journal. What fun! I also love its small size, especially on days where I’m short on time, but still want to be creative and/or document my days. It’s so easy to fill a tiny page on days like those! I also like the binding — it’s surprisingly easy to get this little journal to lay (well, at least almost) flat.
CONS: None, really. Unless you just hate working small. The largest size Field Artist offers in this style is 5″x5″. 4″x4″, 4″x6.5″ and 6.5″x6.5″ are also available with 200 GSM paper, compared to the thicker 300 gsm paper in the five-inch size.
OVERALL: I give this art journal 5 out of 5 stars. It’s definitely one of the best journals for art journaling — especially if you want your art journals to last a lifetime. My only request is for Field Artist to offer them in bigger sizes with this same quality paper!
Best Journals for Art Journaling: Canson’s Mixed Media XL Journal
Don’t be fooled by its name, the Canson Mixed Media XL Journal actually comes in a variety of sizes — not just “Extra Large” which is what I figured the “XL” stood for (but I guess not!😂) They come in a variety of sizes ranging from 5″ x 8.5″ – 18″ x 24″ all with spiral binding. I have the 7″ x 10″ and 9″ x 12″ versions. They’re supposed to handle both wet and dry media, but at 98 lbs, the paper doesn’t always hold up well, as you can see from my test pages:
As you can see, the Sharpie oil-based paint marker bled through quite a bit. As did the peach Sharpie permanent marker and the BIC fine point permanent marker. The Pastel Dreams Prima watercolor paint and Golden Fluid acrylic paint also warped the paper a bit, and to a lesser degree so did the Ceramcoat acrylic paint and even the Posca Paint Pens did a little bit, too.
PROS: The price is right on these, and if you like to glue down a bunch of stuff inside the spiral binding will allow lots of room for it all. About spiral binding: some people love it and some people hate it, so depending on how you feel about it, it could go in either the pro or con list. In this review, it’s in both! (As you’ll soon see…) The paper is okay — not great but I’ve worked with far worse, too (even in art journals that were much more expensive and even considered “fancy.”) And if you have a page you hate and just don’t feel like fixing or covering it? The pages in this art journal are perforated so you can easily tear them out. (Same goes for a page you love so much you want to frame it or scan it, etc.)
CONS: The paper is a bit thinner than I really prefer. And, as I mentioned: the spiral binding on these tend to bend and/or go wonky in my experience. I’ve learned not to take them on trips and treat them somewhat gently and it’s usually okay.
OVERALL: I’d give the Canson XL 4 out of 5 stars. I think these make a great beginner art journal! The low price and plenty of pages make it easy to go in and experiment without it having to feel like you must be precious.
Best Journals for Art Journaling: Handmade Junk Journals
Full disclosure: I’m no pro when it comes to making art journals! I had a friend in art school who loved making handmade books, and I watched her make them all the time. And, more recently, when I wanted to make some junk journals for myself, I think I watched a YouTube video to refresh my memory and get some solid ideas. So mine are really basic… but I had so much fun making them, I don’t really care! 😉
In case you don’t already know, junk journals and handmade books (*usually) are made with recycled/upcycled papers (like cereal box cardboard for a cover) as well as all kinds of new and vintage papers (like watercolor paper, ephemera, ledger paper, grid or lined paper, colored paper, patterned paper, etc.). Really your imagination is your only limit! I’ve even seen cloth, vellum, acetate, and more inside junk journals.
*I’ve also seen people use “found books” as junk journals. Things like appliance instruction manuals, tourist guides, apartment finder booklets, and more. Since these are free (or would normally just end up in a recycle bin) they are a super easy and low-cost way to start art journaling.
PROS: You can save money — and the planet — by making your own junk journals. They are fun to make and create in, low-pressure and easy to fill.
CONS: You have to learn how to make them (though it’s not hard!) or buy them from someone else who makes them. Some extra tools and supplies may also be necessary (like an awl at the very least, if not something like this bookbinding kit if you want to get more serious about it.)
OVERALL: If you love art journaling, I feel like making your own junk journal (at least once!) for the experience is a 5 out of 5 stars idea. 😉 I also think, if you try it, you’ll fall in love with the process and want to make more! If you want to learn how to make a very simple journal, check out this class on Creative Bug.
Best Journals for Art Journaling: Stillman & Birn Premium Sketchbook
The Zeta Series sketchbook from Stillman & Birn is like a gift from the art journaling gods. The paper takes wet and dry mediums so well, and you can erase (and erase and erase!) without piling or damage to the paper. The paper itself is a “natural white” so not a bleached-out bright-white, but not yellow-y or brownish, either. The pages are fairly smooth, but with just the right amount of tooth. Because of the sewn binding you can create across both pages if you want to (unlike with spiral-bound journals).
PROS: Pretty much everything I mentioned above. To me, these are one of the highest quality journals you can use for your art journals.
CONS: Because of the way it’s bound and the thickness of the paper, it can be difficult to get the journal to lay flat when you’re working in it. I use large bulldog clamps to hold mine open while I work, and once my work is dry and done, I make sure to put the journal under some other heavy books to help flatten it back out. Also, they’re a bit on the pricey side.
OVERALL: I’m sure it comes as no surprise: I give these 4.5 out of 5 stars. The Stillman & Birn sketchbooks are truly among the very best journals for art journaling!
Best Journals for Art Journaling: Upcycled Vintage Books made into Journals
If you have an old book around the house that you don’t mind not reading again, why not turn it into an art journal? Upcycled vintage books make great art journals. They’re “free” and they’re even less work than junk journals!
I actually created the one above in art school, and when my professor handed it back to me he said it was like reading my personal journal. Well, he basically was!
Some tips for upcycling old books into art journals:
- Choose a book with glossy or thicker paper so it can withstand the mediums you use in it.
- Glue some pages together to make them stronger (and so you don’t have to put something down on every single page!)
- Use up some bits and pieces of old artwork (like I used extra prints I’d made in printmaking classes) to help fill the pages.
Mine was an old library book, so I even used the library book card and pocket in my art journal:
PROS: Most people have an old book around that they can start using right away, so it’s easy to get started! Plus you can incorporate some of the images within the book itself within your own artwork. If you buy an old book to use as an art journal, you can get any size/style you want for very little money. (I like to find mine at yard sales, estate sales, thrift shops, and used book stores. But you can also find them on Etsy and other places online.)
CONS: Your work probably won’t be archival, but I always figure if they’ve lasted this long, they will last at least my lifetime. Also, some people feel like they’re defiling old books that should be protected. On the other hand, I feel like I’m saving a beautiful old book from the landfill or recycle bin. But I respect those who choose not to use old books for that reason, too!
OVERALL: I LOVE using upcycled vintage books and I do think they make some of the best art journals for art journaling. Depending on your style, needs, and feelings about using old books in this way, I’d give them 4 to 5 out of 5 stars.
Best Journals for Art Journaling: These Didn’t Make My List, But They Might Make Yours!
There are a few really popular journals for art journaling that, frankly, I haven’t tried yet! But I’ve heard such good things, I’m going to include two here:
Moleskines are a popular choice for many art journalers. Some of the reasons I haven’t used them for art journaling specifically are partly because of the price (this one pictured runs around $17 on Amazon as I’m writing this, and comes in many colors). The paper is also an off-white, leaning towards yellow and I’m personally not really fond of that. Also, the paper is thinner and not really meant for water-based mediums.
That said, I think they’re great for “regular” journaling, if you’re just writing down your feelings/thoughts, and maybe adding stickers or something like that.
I see these “traveler’s notebooks” (in A-5 size) being used a lot on Instagram. Sometimes they are put into a refillable leather folder, and sometimes they are just used as is. Even though this brand of traveler’s notebooks has a heavier weight paper than most others (100lb), some reviewers do mention that alcohol-ink based markers (like Copics) do bleed through. If you’re not using those (and/or possibly water-based mediums) then they should work just fine.
One journal I would not recommend (sadly!) is the Global Art Materials Travelogue Watercolor Book. I bought one at a local art supply store because it was so lovely! It has a linen cover, and watercolor paper inside… I thought for sure it would be a favorite. But despite the 200gsm paper, the paper buckles with even the slightest bit of watercolor or acrylic paint. Such a bummer. Plus, over time the elastic band that supposedly keeps it closed lost its elasticity and just loosely encircles the journal. #sad
Best Journals for Art Journaling
The truth is, everyone will have to decide for themselves which one is the best art journal for them. But I put this list of best art journals for art journaling together to help you decide which one you’ll love the most. My advice is to try different types (from this list or otherwise) and see what you like!
Questions you can ask yourself to help you make the right decision:
- Do you like spiral bound or perfect binding?
- Do you like heavy paper or is thin paper just fine?
- Do you want to buy a journal off the shelf or make one of your own?
Mediums Used for Art Journal Testing in this Post
In case you were wondering what I used to test the pages in these journals, here is a list of everything featured:
- Tombow Dual Brush Pens (Pastel)
- Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pens (great for calligraphy and hand-lettering!)
- Sharpie Oil-Based Markers
- Gel Extreme white gel pen
- Crayola Super Tips
- Gelly Roll Moonlight
- Papermate Flair (for some reason these remind me of being a kid playing “office” haha!)
- POSCA Paint Pens
- Souffle Pens (they really stand out on dark colors once dry!)
- Kelly Creates Brush Pens (I personally like the Tombow pens above over these – the ink ran out so fast and was not a true black)
- Unipins (these are a lot like Microns but more affordable)
- Goof Proof Erasable Pens (highlighter type colors and they are erasable but you cannot write with them anywhere you’ve “erased”.)
- Yasutomo Traditional Chinese Ink
- Prima Marketing Watercolors – Pastel Dreams
- Golden Fluid Acrylic Paint
- ART-I-SAN paint pen
- Ceramcoat Acrylic Paint
- Sharpie Highlighter
- Sharpie Permanent Marker
- BIC Permanent Marker
- Elmer’s Paint Pens (I prefer the Posca paint pens mentioned above over these)
- Recollections Dual Tip Pens
Plus adhesives like:
I hope this has been helpful! If you’re new to art journaling and/or you’d like more ideas (beyond just the best journals for art journaling) you should take a look at my recommended art journal supplies!
I hope you’ve found this list of the best journals for art journaling (and more!) helpful. Please subscribe to my newsletter (if you haven’t already) for more art journal inspiration and ideas. And follow my art journal explorations on Instagram!