Rhodia pads are a classic in the art paper world, and a staple for hand lettering artists and calligraphers everywhere. Dot grid paper is really quite a great calligraphy hack for beginners and seasoned letterers alike. They save you hours of measuring and mistakes in setting up guidelines for your lettering drills. A super smooth dot grid paper like the Rhodia paper we test may be practically cheating. Thankfully, in art, all cheating is good. In the video we test out the Rhodia A4 DotPad and see if it’s extra-smooth tough 80gsm paper is as great a hack for drawing and ink washes as it is for calligraphy and lettering. Watch for more.
Reviewing Rhodia Dot Pads – A4
Vishal: Welcome to Stationery Test Drive, where every week we take interesting and fun and classic and well-known stationery and not so well-known stationery and take it for a test drive. I’m Vishal.
Samir: I’m Samir.
Minjal: This is Minjal. And in today’s episode we’re looking at the Rhodia Dot Pad.
Vishal: Dot Pads! It sounds very futuristic and space age but really it’s a piece of paper with dots on it. But before all of that, Samir why don’t you tell us what Rhodia is?
History of Rhodia Notebooks & Writing Pads
Minjal: Rhodia has been around since the 1930s, and I think taken over by the Clairefontaine brand sometime in 1997. Rhodia existed as a paper manufacturing company in the 30s and Clairefontaine has also been around for a long time doing paper products.
Samir: Yeah I mean I think with all of these very historical companies there’s lots of interesting enough history which if I guess we could dig into at some point it would be nice but whatever we could find out – Rhodia was started by two brothers whose fathers, also brothers, started a notebook distribution and manufacturing business before them, and when these brothers took over they started manufacturing first notebooks and then pads, and in 1934 and gave it this name.
Minjal: And they’re based in France, right?
Samir: Yes, and I think they were next to the Rhone river, which is where Rhodia comes from.
Vishal: Okay, sort of like Adidas and other sort of portmanteau names. Maybe the two trees stand for the two brothers!
Minjal & Samir: They do, they do!
Samir: They’re two Fir Trees from the French Alps and Fir Trees were the ones used in the paper manufacture to some extent.
Vishal: Now, of the three of us we have seen this pad several times before, especially if you are a long time viewer of Stationery Test Drive and it’s usually in Minjal’s hands. Now you’re a calligrapher, we’re artists and designers and calligraphers on this show, but you have a sort of the most specialty in formal calligraphy.
Minjal: I’ve actually used 4 – 5 Rhodia Dot Pads in the last 1.5 – 2 years. I think that the Rhodia is actually one of the best learning and teaching aids. When you’re learning a new activity, when you’re trying to learn something new, you want the prep and the setup to be convenient.
Especially with lettering, it’s very difficult to get precision without drawing guidelines. So what this pad has done for lettering artists across the world is it has made life extremely easy. Because, it’s easy to fold the cover back, there’s a stiff cardboard for balance and there is perforation on each page, which makes it easy to tear the individual sheets off as well.
Vishal: Yeah, it’s extremely fine for perforation and you can easily tear off.
Minjal: And the paper is extremely smooth.
Vishal: Yes that is something that we all noticed, even though I’d never used one before.
Gothic Calligraphy on Rhodia Dot Pad
Minjal: So, this is my test drive for the Rhoda Dot Pad.
Vishal: Minjal, first of all tell me about this ink you’ve used in the piece.
Samir: Yeah, it’s a very striking color.
Minjal: This is the cartridge that you can order with the pilot parallel pen. It was a dark blue ink, but I already had some black ink in the reservoir. So what you’re seeing is a combination of blue and black.
Samir: Yeah it just makes it much more rich and sort of vibrant looking than the pure black.
Minjal: When I do calligraphy or whenever lettering artists do any kind of lettering practice, you’d
ideally have baselines and ascenders and descenders that give you proper, structured, balanced writing. Which is very simple on the Rhodia Dot pads and Rhodia Grid pads.
What is a Rastrum used for?
Vishal: Speaking of grids, surely the dot pad is a modern, I’m assuming, a more modern version of a grid pad or a graph paper that we’re all kind of familiar with through school.
Samir: Yes, I think people have been drawing lines on the paper probably since paper was invented. But I think the mechanized history of it, where sort of there are machines to print lines, it is actually a fairly interesting history of even tools as far as drawing lines on paper are concerned.
I think we had covered one of these stories on our newsletter which was, there used to be a multi-nib dip pen called the Rastrum which was used to draw the musical lines. So you could just dip once and then draw the entire staff line.
Vishal: I was assuming that the the word Rastrum has something to do with just parallel lines because I know we use the term ‘rastering.’
Samir: The term raster for a raster scan comes from the Rastrum. And a Latin base which means lines.
Vishal: Okay, so this is basically a grid without the lines in between, these are just the intersecting points. Is that fair to say what makes a dot grid or makes this dot grid, I should say? Because and we can get into this later but there are other types of dot grid papers out there. We should try them out.
I know I’ve seen isometric grids at some point, which is a type of perspective projection I must say, which is not actually true to life, in that it could not exist from the way your eyes look at things, but it’s used,
especially if you played video games or seen pixel art from the last 10 or 20 years, you have definitely seen an isometric view.
Samir: Yeah and architects and designers will be familiar with that term.
Minjal: Right. Also I was wondering, is there a standard for the gap between the dots? Because I know this is half a centimeter.
Samir: Yeah, I think different manufacturers use different gaps.
Vishal & Samir: Yeah and half a centimeter is, let’s just say, is a convenient measure.
Vishal: Samir, you said that the first graph paper grids were done maybe maybe with that Rastrum but they were made in the 1700s?
Samir: The Rastrum is actually much earlier than that, I think it’s around since the 13 or 1400s. But again, at that point people used to hand draw the lines onto paper. Paper would be manufactured blank, as it still is, and then people would draw lines onto it as per their needs.
Musicians were one of the main people who would need to do that often. In fact when it comes to the old medieval manuscripts, all the scribes would actually not use a pen at all but just use a sharp metal object to indent lines into the page. And because they had much thicker paper, over time the indentations would go away, but they would be around for long enough for them to write onto straight lines. So they didn’t draw the lines onto them but kind of indented them, wrote their stuff and then over the years I’m guessing the lines kind of disappeared.
The French Revolution and Standardization of the Metric System
Vishal: And as printing technology got better such as with tools like the Rastrum or the press itself and standardization, I’m sure things like this changed.
Like the half centimeter in some ways, you can’t get it until the end of the 17th century, and you know why? Because of the French Revolution. Because three weeks before the French Revolution actually happened, and the Storming of the Bastille happened, Laplace – The scientist and mathematician actually,
Samir: Standardized the metric?
Vishal: No, he started the dialogue in the academy, or he was at least credited with being in the room when they decided, you know what we need to standardize here, and then that’s when the metric system was invented. The base 10 where we get centimeters from, where we get meters from.
Meters at the time were sort of decided based on, they’d calculated the earth, they’d done calculations on longitude and latitude and I think it was like some derivation from the distance between Paris and something.
Samir: Yes, it was a division of the distance between two measures. They have re-calculated it based on
the width of a hydrogen atom or something like that.
Vishal: And they also tried other things. They tried to make a 10 month or a 12 month calendar with 30 days each and they tried to make very famously a clock that was I think 10 hours and each hour was 100 minutes, and each minute was a 100 seconds. And that failed because they couldn’t import
the clocks anywhere because no one wanted them.
Samir: Also, I think the solar system refuses to work on a metric scale.
Vishal: Yes, but the good news is that the metric scale works very well on paper. I think even the A4 paper is a metric scale paper of some sorts. I think it’s like a root 2 derivation or something like that.
Samir: Yeah, it’s the width of the paper is, if you take it as one, then the height is 1.414 which is the square root of 2, which is not 1.616 which is the golden ratio, which I’m sure if the Italians had invented the metric system, would have been like that and more beautiful and more profound. There would have been columns everywhere.
Minjal: I feel transported to school and not in a good way!
Vishal: Wow, that is usually my line.
Minjal: I’ve used the Rhodia Dot Pads very often, what was the experience that you and Vishal had with them?
Isometric Drawing on Rhodia Dot Pad
Vishal: Well, Samir had a more structured experience, so why don’t you show us yours because mine is going to be kind of like I was in school, not very good at following rules.
Samir: I was actually very much experimenting with what Vishal was talking about earlier, which was trying to do an isometric projection. And that is what I came up with.
Vishal: Mathematicians who are watching us can correct us but I believe that might be closer to an orthographic projection.
Samir: Yes, it is. Because what I had to do was, as Minjal has shown here, if you draw a straight diagonal you get a 45, so I didn’t want a plain 45 and so I used a 2-1 sort of rectangle as the basis and so this I think angle should be 30, I think?
Vishal: And that is you know probably correct and I did not do that well at Maths in school, but yeah I think the the advantage of a dot grid like this is that, the work is fantastic, I love this one, I wish I had done something like your piece and I will maybe with the Rhodia pad.
But what about the actual making of it, what tools did you use, other than of course pencil which you can see here?
Samir: Yeah, I used a simple mechanical pencil for the construction lines and I have to say that this is one of the smoothest drawing experiences with a pencil that I’ve ever had. This paper just takes to pencil in a way that I have not found other papers behaving.
Vishal: And the colors?
Samir: The colors are our old favorite DOMS Sketch Pens which we have covered before.
Vishal: The cheap and cheerful and wonderful DOMS Sketch Pens, we have an episode on that where we put a lot more color down.
Samir: I just love the vibrancy of those colors so I thought I’d use them again.
Illustration on Rhodia Dot Pad
Vishal: Now mine is quite different and I know we talked about this because I knew Minjal would probably use some of her inks and I knew when I saw you using sketch pens, I thought okay let’s do a proper test drive. Let’s see what we can do with completely other mediums because we’re very used to talking about the paper being the major factor.
So this is mine. It is sumi ink mostly, there’s some pencil as an under drawing which I’ve forgotten to rub out. Now one of the major issues we have with a lot of papers, is that they warp and they warp especially when you put down liquids such as washes or even liquids such as inks.
Minjal: So this is a water coat?
Vishal: Yeah, yeah this is a wash. This is like a diluted sumi ink wash.
Samir: So I think you can tell a little from here, I think what happens is that pens put a lot more pressure onto the paper and that’s when it does bleed a bit, but it seems to not be too bad with maybe just liquid because there’s no pressure onto it.
But it’s liquid and pressure, so even here with the sketch pens there are some portions where it begins to bleed, like I’ve gotten more bleed with the sketch pen than you’ve gotten with water.
Vishal: Right, but I think again it’s the matter of the paper’s coating? It might be a hot press or something, I’m guessing? Where it’s like super smooth on top, where the ink just kind of glides over it, the pencils just glide over.
Samir: Yeah the pencils just work beautifully here.
Minjal: But this is fantastic. It actually looks like it’s printed or screen printed!
Vishal: Yeah, it takes to inks very well, sumi ink itself is a wonderful medium, which we should cover in the future because I use it a lot, I almost default to it and I don’t mind.
Samir: And I’m guessing the whole dot grid thing was completely essential for doing something like this.
Vishal: Yes! So what I did is I did not use a ruler at all, maybe to set down some of the initial grid lines so that I wouldn’t get out of the place but it was entirely easy and worth just putting it down in hand like freehand because then you get livelier lines while still keeping certain proportionality.
The problem I have with some, especially architectural drawings, that’s fine, I like that style too, is that the lines kind of go all over the place. And there’s something nice about being able to put down an imperfect line that’s still roughly within the grid and being able to then do things like this.
And the Rhodia pad itself, the dots are kind of nice and light gray, so even if I had to take this onto a digital medium and finish coloring it or something there, it would not be too hard to to get rid of the dots or even just to just to knock them back a little or go over them in in white or something digitally and clean things up.
Yeah, the perfect imperfection of being able to do something with seemingly something so mathematical, is a direction I kind of consciously went in. And, even besides that I think it’s a great paper, if Rhodia makes a smooth non-graded pad, non-dotted pad I would absolutely get one.
Minjal: Oh they do! So there are ruled notepads and notebooks, there are blank notepads.
Vishal & Samir: I’m guessing they have to take the grid and then a person is to come in and chisel out all the, one dot at a time!
Which coloring mediums work best on Rhodia Notepads?
Minjal: But, also I think I’ve been using this for almost six to seven years, I didn’t think to use water on this paper ever because you know it is 60-70 gsm?
Samir: No, I think it’s 80 gsm.
Minjal: And I had no idea it could take a wash this well.
Vishal: I was not expecting it to but it did which is a good thing. I used the loose sheet, I used a backing sheet, that’s what I always do. So maybe there was like some, anything that bled through would have just gone into that but I don’t think enough did.
Samir: But I can’t see any coloration on the other side.
Vishal: So, yeah, if you thought, if you are one of those free spirited artist people who think that grids are confining and too defining for you, reconsider.
Samir: The other thing I think we need to mention is that there might be that there might be two reasons why we have got some bleeding and you haven’t. One is pressure, if you’re using a brush there’s no pressure and the other is medium, actually coloring medium.
We have all used what’s essentially water-based mediums, but this is a fountain pen ink, this is a marker water-based ink, these are both going to be dyes, which dye the fibers of paper. You have used a pigment which sits on top of the paper, so it’s less likely that the black soaks into the paper, it kind of sits on the surface. So it’s actually not too bad when it comes to the water part, maybe it’s the dyes that seep through the paper.
Vishal: Right, that makes sense. That makes more sense also to why it is such a enduring pad because it will be perfect for even with a lot of pressure, pigments and dyes like that rather than things like this. But it is surprising to try something like this.
This is our test drive for this week. I think we’ve covered enough of the interesting stuff that we like about it and also the boring stuff. I’ve actually had great fun getting dyed, not dyed, dot patterned notebooks, because in notetaking I don’t really I don’t have the greatest handwriting, I don’t have the greatest sort of line quality.
And what I like about this is especially as a person who’s let’s say multidisciplinary, sometimes my notes have lettering and drawing on the same page and as a designer as well when you’re doing sketches these are really useful. We have looked into grid books and we might do some of them in the future.
‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen – Productivity System & the Popularity of Rhodia Notepads
Samir: And we have to mention since you talk about notetaking, that the dot pattern has a lot of connection to notetaking. Over the past decade or so dot pattern paper is very popular with the bullet journaling crowd and in the earlier 2000s Rhodia pads specifically in fact were very popular and maybe they continue to be with the ‘Getting Things Done (GTD)’ crowd if you’re old enough to know what that is. Getting Things Done was a book and a whole sort of productivity system in the early 2000s, I think David Allen?
Vishal & Samir: Yes, I believe there is still a podcast and the site, 37 folders? 37 signals? 43 folders!
Samir: The early 2000s were filled with brands who had numbers with them and it gets confusing!
Vishal: Yeah, that’s a matter for another day. We’ve looked, crunched the numbers and done the art and now we would like you to crunch some digits into and letters into your browser or your social media of choice and please follow the links that you can see on screen. Follow Inky Memo which is our channel, and our brand, of which Stationery Test Drive is one facet.
We have other things such as a great newsletter where we go into even more geeky detail about the history of stationery, about other stories to do with the well-stationed and stationerd! Stationerd – I’m sure that’s a thing, please look it up. Not for us but yeah.
Next week we’ll be doing something else, is a thing that you will never ever hear again on this show. You will hear other things about other great pieces of stationery, we have some really fun stuff coming up, cheap stuff, stuff you may not have heard of, stuff that was disappointing but also worth using and we will see you next week and hopefully every week. But until then I’m Vishal.
Samir: I’m Samir.
Minjal: This is Minjal.
Vishal: Stay cool, Stationerds!
Get Rhodia A4 Dot Pad Notepads
1. Rhodia Stapled Pad, No18, A4, Dot – Black – https://amzn.to/3QsgjGX
2. Rhodia Wirebound Notepad, A4, Dot – Orange – https://amzn.to/3O7KX5j
3. Rhodia Notepad, No38 A3+, Dot – Black – https://amzn.to/3O2V4sh