Review: Stillman & Birn Wirebound vs Hardbound


Stillman & Birn Multi-media Art Journals

Stillman & Birn produces multi-media art journals in five different series–the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta & Epsilon series.  Each comes in a plethora of sizes.

And that’s why this review is taking a slightly different direction.  The two Beta and Delta series are virtually identical except that the paper in the Beta is white and the Delta is ivory.


I have a Beta that is wirebound and now a Delta that is hardbound, so I’ve done examples in both sketchbooks and will discuss the features both have in common, as well as the differences between the two.

The Specs for both sketchbooks
Paper weight: 180 lb (270 gsm)
Surface: Cold Press, Rough 
Bound in the United States
Other Specs for Delta Hardbound
26 sheets, 52 pages

Other Specs for Beta Wirebound

25 sheets, 50 pages
Used in this review-Delta Series Extra Heavy Weight Sketchbook Hardbound 5.5 x 8.5 inches (14.0 x 21.6 cm) and Beta Series Extra Heavy Weight Sketchbook  Wirebound Sketchbook 7 x 10 inches (17.8 x 25.4 cm)

Look and Feel-Both
Both hardbound and wirebound have textured black binder board covers.  The Stillman & Birn logo and the series name embossed on the lower back cover are the only adornment.

I’ve always said that if an sketchbook (journal, etc.) has something extra special about it, the company will let you know–loud and clear–in the promotional wrapping.  The wrapper for Stillman & Birn has lots and lots to say about the quality of their books.  I’m not going to repeat it all here–it would take too long, lol!  The Look and Feel of the books give proof to the wrapper.  They look quality and they feel quality.  Especially the Beta and Delta, which have extra heavy weight paper.

The paper’s thick, but light for the thickness.  (I won’t say these are light books, though!)  The thought that comes to mind is eggshell, because you can feel the texture, but still get the impression of smoothness.

Look and Feel-Hardbound
The binding of the Stillman & Birn is stiff at first, and the pages want to spring up, but if you carefully bend the book backward, the binding loosens just enough so that the pages lie flat enough for two-page spreads and scanning.

Look and Feel-Wirebound
The first thing I always check with a wirebound sketchbook is how much wear and tear the paper will get where the coil rubs against them.  I held one page at edge between finger and thumb and shook the book.

An inspection afterwords didn’t show any dents or tears around the coils.  Pages slid easily back and forth, and they hang straight rather than slanting downwards, as happens when the holes are too large for the coil (this was true with the Stillman & Birn Epsilon, also, which has the lightest paper of all the series).

The coil was small enough that it didn’t get in the way of my hand, though, as with all coils, it is difficult to draw to the very edge of the page.

Performance-The Delta
Color pencil-Lyra Rembrandt

The rough surface of these two series are really nice for color pencil.  The color builds up quickly and it glows!

Alcohol Markers-Spectrum Noirs

Front of page-color laid down                Back of page-color that bled through

The paper is a bit rough for the fabric nibs of alcohol markers, so I wouldn’t use them a lot in this book.  The color bleed-through is only about 10%.  I used the hard tip of a Tim Holtz Distress marker for the linework on the front, and an American Craft Precision pen for the linework on the back of the page.

Performance-The Beta
Fabric-tipped Art Pens-Micron Pigma/American Craft Precision pens

Despite the rough surface, the lines come out bold and crisp, yet by varying the pressure you apply it is easy to vary the thickness and tonal values.  
Acrylic pens-Elmers Painter pens

Elmers Painter pens have a very thick tip, so there isn’t much fine detail, but the color applies easily and fairly glows on the white Beta paper.

Watercolor/Mixed Media-Twinkling H2Os, Punchinella and Gel pen

I decided to try for a little Christmas in July effect, though I didn’t quite get it done in time for July!  The green and red are Twinkling H2O watercolors.  They glimmer, but the scanner seldom picks that up.  I then glued on some pieces of punchinella (sequin waste) and added some flowers, stars and spots with white and metallic gold gel pen.

The paper did warp and dimple from the watercolor.  I know from experience with my previous Delta that most of this will disappear if I leave a weight on the sketchbook.

Conclusion: I absolutely love the Stillman & Birn sketchbooks, and this extra heavy paper make the Deltas and Betas my favorite.  The quality is superb from stem to stern, and you could use the books for almost any purpose.  I’m so glad I have one to giveaway.

You can find my other Stillman & Birn reviews at:
Alpha Series Review
Gamma Series Reivew
Delta Series Review
Epsilon Series Review
Comparison of the different series

Giveaway: I’m giving away a copy of the Stillman & Birn Beta Series Extra Heavy Weight Sketchbook Hardbound 5.5 x 8.5 inches (14.0 x 21.6 cm).  It looks exactly like the Delta reviewed here, but has the same paper color as the Beta reviewed here.

a Rafflecopter giveaway//d12vno17mo87cx.cloudfront.net/embed/rafl/cptr.js

Disclaimer: I was sent these Stillman & Birn sketchbooks with no requirements asked of me, and have received no other compensation for writing my reviews.  I have included options for the entrants of the giveaway that include visiting Stillman & Birn sites and following them.  I was NOT asked to do this.  I included the options because I think there are benefits–Stillman & Birn features great artists, whose work you might enjoy, they have occasional giveaways and link to giveaways, and following them is the fastest way to learn of new products or deals.  But I do understand that everyone must guard their time and may not wish to do these things.  For that reason, only the first option is mandatory to enter the giveaway, and it is weighted for more points than the other options.

Author: Life Imitates Doodles Art, Reviews & Tutorials

Artist Ambassador for Zebra Pens. I'm a self-taught artist who dances about with all sorts of artistic mediums. My main loves are Watercolor, Zentangle and Ballpoint pen. The subjects of my work are many and varied and change at whim. I'm a little bit crazy, but doesn't that come with being an artist? At my Life Imitates Doodles Blog, I post a list of resource links for Tangles, Tutorials and Giveaways two times a week. I also write reviews, hold giveaways and share my art work.

87 thoughts on “Review: Stillman & Birn Wirebound vs Hardbound”

  1. I get a little flutter of excitement every time I find your name & a review of a sketchbook or notebook. Thanks for all the links too – very helpful indeed.
    As I've said before it's so good to know there's someone who 'speaks' my language & I learn heaps from you. Thank you so much.
    Paula (PEP)

  2. Sorry – haven't quite got the hang of the sequence of commenting & Raffle gizmo. So what would I do – tangle & experiment with watercolour media; I've got some inused AquaMarkers & of course there's always stroking the feel of the paper & the cover!!!
    Paula (PEP)

  3. I just started a journal with my son who has autism so that we can work on something together. We sat last night and made a very large list of ideas he would like to try out. He prefers to work in colored pencil and and ink. This seems like it would be perfect!

  4. I'd use it of course! XD I've heard great things about this product but haven't gotten my hands on it yet. I'd use it for sketching my comics. ^_~

  5. OOo, the perfect giveaway– I have 5 sheets left in my current sketchbook. LOL I love good timing… what I would do with it? The usual– draw, doodle, make fast notes on design, stick in things… sketchbooks are always nearby for me, and I use them for everything. 😀

  6. i learned that they only sell these in 3 stores in canada – which are not anywhere near me…lol… so if i want one i'd have to order it online, or win it from you. 😉

  7. Thank you for such a generous giveaway! I'm considering embarking on a “365” project where I have to create something every day. This would be great to use.

  8. I've actually been looking for new sketchbooks for me to write in! My notebooks usually turn into some sort of half collection journal, half writing notebook, so I always need good quality blank paper. This looks perfect!

  9. I'm another person who has heard marvelous things about these but haven't had the pleasure of trying one yet. I'd definitely enjoy experimenting with different mediums. 🙂

  10. Firstly I gotta say you do awesome art all the time, it's amazing! I will use the sketchbooks for some copy-sketching, since I'm running out of pages in my current sketchbook! (too ugly to show to the world by the way)

  11. I love the red and green combination. I just added the Twinkling H20s to my coveted art supplies list. And after visiting stillmanandbirn.com I found there are a few stores in Seattle I need to check out. I am particularly excited about the alpha and gamma series. I'm such a paper nerd!

  12. I would use the book for combining my mandala's (lyra color pencils) and Zentangle (black pen) to show to my (future) students. Or I can say: I use it to have fun!

  13. Thank you for offering this fun giveaway! 😀 I'd use this as a sketchbook for my illustrations. I want to study a postgraduate next year and I'd probably end up doing all the rought sketches for my portfolio here 🙂

  14. Especially enjoyed your review of how the handsome journals' paper treated all of the different drawing/painting media. Brava! And thanks for the opportunity to win.

  15. I use fountain pens a lot and have just recently started experimenting with ink and water and ink and watercolors but I'm not happy with any of the sketchbooks I currently own, they are better for pencil work. I would love to have a good sketchbook to take with me for location work.

  16. First, your drawings are amazing! Okay, I would love a book like this and would probably use it for art journaling. I've been looking for a journal that would stand up to almost any type of medium and these seem to fit the bill!

    Smiles~
    Marilyn

  17. I would love to win a real journal, living in Honduras I can not buy such a luxury and have to make my own out of what ever quality paper I can find!

  18. I went to their website and found several retail locations near me that carry their products. Now I can go see the journals in person to find the best one for me to use. Thanks for the info. It was very helpful.

  19. If I won the book I would use it as a visual journal; creating backgrounds and then writing my thoughts in it. I would want to try out gesso, acrylics, watercolor pencils and neocolor II. I have a few markers and could try those out too.

  20. would love the sketch book, the ones I have are almost full. If I would win
    I would not have to buy a very nice one. Thank you for the chance to win, and I learn a lot from your reviews.

  21. Your examples are extraordinary. Thank you for illustrating the examples for a more vivid understanding of the sketchbooks. I love to use a bit of colour with my zentangles, this looks perfect for on the go. Thank you for sharing.

  22. If I won the sketchbook, I would live to use it for outdoor inspirations for my zentangles. I've been wanting to take it to our water sanctuary and try and interpret the nature of the wildness of the area into the tangles I draw. Something different. But I have been wanting a single book with which to do this with and this one sounds perfect. Just the right size and paper weight.

  23. I really enjoy your reviews. There are so many sketchbooks and papers out there and it helps to have more information about these new paper products coming out.

  24. I would love to use this notebook to play with color and tangles. Thanks for the giveaway, Sandra, and your helpful reviews. Cari

  25. I've been chatting about S&B sketchbooks with artists on Cathy Johnson's FB page and with other artists I know use them. I would use them to sketch illustrations for my picture books and to go out on sketching excursions.(I'm a newbie on sketching in public and carrying the S&B would give me confidence I'm sure…) I am just now experimenting with watercolors and I know having the best sketchbook will definately encourage my results and help me to maintain this practice. I've only heard wonderful comments about S&B so I appreciate the chance to win. Thanks for the reviews on these books in your post. Helpful!

  26. I have a BIG pile of sketchbooks that are okay and some are better than okay but I need great. I would adore winning one of these and what I've heard from others it will be the last sketchbook I buy because there is none better.

  27. Wow, thank you for offering this give away. As I need to add to my tiny stack of sketchbooks, consider me entered. I will have to check out the Twinks – they sound cool (even if their “Twinkliness” doesn't scan well).

  28. I have been practising Zentangles for the past 12 months and would love a good quality sketchbook to continue to learn this art form. Don't have any teachers near me so depending on the www to learn.

  29. At the S&B website I learned that Beta and Delta books are 180 lb cold press paper, while Alpha and Gamma are vellum. Epsilon is 100 lb plate, a surface that I had never heard until today.

  30. I would use it for more mixed media art journaling, seems like it would be perfect for that….or anything! Lol! Thanks for chance to win one 🙂

  31. hi Sandra love your work found u via the S&B facebook site was just going to post there about where to buy in australia and if i could get a page of the Beta hardbound sent to me to try , and i see your post ummm meant to be lol anyway i would use it for everyday sketching and also mixed media journaling … so fingers crossed lol

    hugz bev

  32. Thank you for doing the review on the stekch books and very useful to know which is best. I would use any pens to do on stekch book – pencils, pens, marker pens, etc. Good luck to everyone to win this giveaway 🙂

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