Well folx, Back to School Sale season is already upon us. With the last 2 years of subpar sales I decided I wanted to really take a deeper dive into the sales available around me. I’ll break this up to the various stores I visit, then finally compare and contrast the cost and quality of the various materials. I’m also removing a few stores from my list because I no longer support those businesses. Though, I must grumble at myself for “supporting” the other businesses, if small local places had comp books I’d have no squeamish feelings of this at all. My goal is to spend less than $20 in each of the stores.
I’m starting this year out with Dollar Tree. Where everything is now $1.25. Here I picked up a pair of wide ruled comp books, some erasers, an actual Zebra Sarasa Dry, and an assortment of supplies for storage and art use. I spent $14.25. Several of the materials I purchased were specifically for gel printing- 2 different sizes of metal cake pans, a package of flexible cutting mats to use to hold my gel plates and registration of prints, and a few spray bottles.
Let’s start with this- the old rainbow erasers that Dollar Tree carried? They are no longer available. I will have to check the other Dollar Tree that I knew carried them. The new erasers are a plastic gummi texture, which work reasonably well. My intent is to use them for carving, not erasing. In this context I’ll have to be careful with which side I use. There are bubbles on one side and it also feels a bit uneven. We’ll see how they work for carving. For all you art teachers out there, these erasers are the largest available at the cheapest price. They aren’t as thick as the old OOPS or other novelty erasers, but they are a good size for teaching basic relief carving for printing.
There were also displays of Zebra, Crayola, and Sharpie brand items. An entire end cap was dedicated to Crayola items. I don’t know that I ever really expected there to be name brand items at Dollar Tree, or if there were they’d be in mini packaging, sort of like the dish soap. I picked up a Zebra Sarasa DryX20 0.7mm tip gel pen. They only had the gel pens in single pen packages, but $1.25 per pen isn’t a bad price considering inflation and all that. It works well, as any Zebra gel pen does.
Dollar Tree sells cake pans that are smaller than those you can find in many other places, also they don’t have a raised area around the base, which makes them perfect for molding gel plates. I picked up both “8 inch” round and square cake pans. I put “8” because they are not 8 inches at the base, close to 7, but are 8 inches at the top. These are good sizes for my printing uses.
Their craft section has a number of useful materials and tools. I picked up a package of small wooden blocks to use for printing patterns and a package of spray bottles. We’ll see how these become useful in my art practice. I’m of the mind that you can never stock up on too many spray bottles!
Finally for the composition book fans among us- the comp books. They had several varieties, all made for Dollar Tree by an American import company called Jot. The information on the back is weirdly presented in both English and Spanish. Initially I thought they were made in the USA, however when reading the info closely I realized the books were all made in India. This is fine, but the presentation definitely led me to believe they were made in the USA when I only glanced at the info. The only comp books on the shelves were wide ruled. UGH. I grabbed 2. One a standard comp with a cute cover and the other a fashion cover with recycled insides.
Let’s start with the good- the covers are thick and stiff. While not as thick as the covers of yore, they are stiffer than the average comp book available at most big box stores, that is to say that they are heavier than standard cardstock. The designs are cute. One has an inspirational quote and the other dinosaurs doing things! Cute.
There are 100 sheets in each book. The stitching is great and the spine tape is a decent width on the cover. The pages are ruled with a nice light.
That’s where the good ends. Because this paper is terrible for anything except ballpoint and pencil, and it’s not even that good with pencil.
I’m reviewing these two notebooks together because they perform the same except for the texture of the recycled notebook. It has a chunkiness to the page that is quite unpleasant. It’s as if they used sawdust as an inclusion and added a bit of dye to change the color. The paper otherwise responds the same as the non-recycled paper.
Everything soaked through- even gel pens. The Zebra Sarasa dryX20 soaked through at normal writing speed and the pauses are a mess. It feels good on the page but it just soaks through. The paper in the fashion comp book is very smooth, while the recycled notebook looks like it has sawdust in it, despite it being chunky it’s also slick. It’s pleasant with my gel pen but not much else. The combination of weird slickness and chunkiness just feels kind of awful.
The paper doesn’t have a lot of tooth for pencil. The pencils, even the softer darker numbers, just kind of slide over the page leaving a light mark. The marks also smudge a lot. There is very little feedback from the page to the pencil.
The whole experience of using these comp books is quite unpleasant. I suspect using pencils would frustrate most people and if you use anything but ballpoint on this paper it’s gonna soak through. And I suspect that even a juicy ballpoint like a Bic Cristal xtra smooth would soak through! At $1.25 they are way overpriced and not worth the spend when you can get far better comp books at Staples for 50 cents! These are so bad that I don’t even want to take pictures of the pages. What a mess.