Not to be dramatic or anything, but the bullet journal literally saved my life. At first, I underestimated its life-changing magic. I thought, “There’s no way a mere notebook can fix my life.” Now here I am, seven years and ten fully-filled bullet journals later, still at it.
If you haven’t yet heard of the popular bullet journal—or “bujo” for short—you’re missing out. It’s a journaling style for creativity and organization that went viral in 2013. I’d like to think the dotted notebook became popular because of bullet journaling.
The bullet journal was created by Ryder Carroll to be an “analog method for the digital age.”
Now, more and more brands have popped up with dot grid journals. So you’re spoiled for choice. I’m currently quite fond of my ZenART bullet journal—more on that later.
Have you gotten in on the BuJo trend? If not, this is a sign to start your bullet journal journey. Here’s where to buy and how to pick the best bullet journals you’ll use!
What is a bullet journal?
But first, what’s a bullet journal anyway? Simply put, it’s like a diary, planner, notebook, and sketchbook all in one. The bullet journal method was created by Ryder Carroll to be a personal organization system all in one notebook.
Through bullet journaling, you can “track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future.”
Bullet journaling isn’t always about colorful layouts and drawings. When you get down to bullet journal basics, it’s really just a note-taking system using bullet points. A bullet journal is there for you to write diary entries, take note of everyday happenings, keep a to-do list, plan, calendar, and achieve both long and short-term goals.
The community of bullet journalists have contributed to the creative and organized system we know it to be today.
You’ve probably come across beautiful and artistic bullet journal spreads before on Instagram and Pinterest. But in truth, the best bullet journal style is the one that works for you. So it can be as minimal or as decorative as you like.
What should I look for in a bullet journal?
Again, the best bullet journal is the one that works for you. A dot grid notebook is the most solid choice since it makes setting up your new bullet journal much easier. But I’ve seen people use notebooks with lined or even blank pages.
My advice? Look for a notebook that you’ll write in. Find something that will make bullet journaling most enjoyable.
Hard cover vs. Soft Cover
I never leave home without my bullet journal. So I prefer hardbound bullet journals since they’re sturdier. That or a thread-bound, soft-cover notebook—one that won’t fall apart at the seams so easily. I’m a leftie, so I avoid spiral notebooks like the plague. This is purely personal preference, though. If you like the feel of paperback notebooks, nobody’s stopping you!
Still, something about a dotted notebook with an elastic closure looks super sleek and inviting when on your desk. Choose a cover that appeals to your aesthetic.
Dot grid notebooks vs. Square grid notebooks
Most people who bullet journal prefer dotted notebooks. The blank page is made less scary through squared or dotted pages. It’s also easier for your brain to figure out what kind of bullet journal layout you’ll do next.
The dot grid makes your notebook much more flexible. You have the subtle structure of both a horizontal and vertical guide. No wonky lines or messy indentations here!
I personally prefer a square grid over a dot grid layout. I write a lot and it looks more minimalistic. Again, go with your gut. What looks neater and more appealing to you?
Another thing that may affect your bullet journal buying decision is how many colors the notebook is available in. I’m not too particular about cover design. In fact, I prefer them plain. I just add stickers when I feel like customizing my notebook.
Needless to say, get a bullet journal in your favorite color. You’ll use it more.
Paper quality and thickness
Get yourself a dotted notebook with smooth, thick paper. Especially if you like to write with fountain pens and markers. If you’re working with paints, make sure the paper can take it. You’ll usually find the paper thickness on the packaging of your bullet journal, usually measured in gsm or grams per square meter. Thicker paper means less risk of ink bleed-through or ghosting.
Based on past experience, I wouldn’t go for anything below 120gsm. And make sure the pages are acid-free. You bullet journal will last longer.
I usually have a pen test page at the back of my journals to see what art supplies it can handle. Obviously, you can’t do this in-store, so another way to determine the paper quality of a bullet journal is to feel the paper. Does it have grit or tooth or is it smooth? Paper that has more texture or roughness best goes with a ballpoint or gel pen but is an absolute no-no for a fountain pen.
Bullet journal sizes
Can’t say this enough: pick notebooks that’ll work for you. Your chosen size depends on your lifestyle and art style.
The standard size of a bullet journal is A5. It’s not too big and not too small.
If you like to journal outdoors or travel often, you might enjoy a pocket notebook. If you’d rather plan, journal, and make art on ample page space, get an A4-size notebook.
For something in between, try B5 notebooks. I love this size since I love note-taking and doodling in the margins.
Other handy features
Here’s where I like to get choosy when picking the perfect notebook. It’s all in the little details.
- Numbered pages: The first bullet journal notebooks I got weren’t numbered, which made it a bit of a pain going through each page one by one. Having numbered pages makes tracking things in your index easier.
- Index pages: No need to set up a table of contents for your bullet journaling!
- Pen loops: For journaling on the go. Keep your fave pen and journal combo together, forever with one of these handy things!
- Elastic closure: To keep your journal shut and to safekeep its pages from the elements—or prying eyes.
- Ribbon bookmark: You could just use a regular old bookmark but I like having a ribbon or two to hold important pages.
Best value and price point
Of course, go for the affordable option. Bullet journaling to me is an investment, but good quality needn't come at a high price point. Have a shortlist of bullet journals you’d like to buy, compare prices and features, and then make your choice.
Where can you buy a bullet journal?
You can find bullet journals almost everywhere these days. Shopping online has also made it easier and more convenient to get started on bullet journaling. Here's where to go to get your first or next bullet journal!
Your fave bookstore
Shopping for a journal at a bookstore is a way for creative bookworms to hit two birds with one stone. I often spend hours lost at a book shop well after I’ve chosen a bullet journal to take home with me. A bookstore is a goldmine for spontaneous inspiration. You never know what you’ll find hidden on the shelves. I’ve seen (and done) bookshelf-inspired bullet journal spreads. My layout was inspired by a shelf in one particular bookstore I visited previously.
Your local art or stationery store
If you’re looking to start bullet journaling from scratch, make a pilgrimage to the art store. That’s your literal one-stop shop for all things journaling. You can find just about everything you need to start art or bullet journaling. Pick up some colorful pens and starter watercolor palettes while you’re at it.
I love getting bullet journal notebooks from stationery shops as well because most shop attendants know what they’re talking about and know how to give excellent recommendations for your next art haul.
Another fave for many artists. On Amazon, you can find the best bullet journals the world has to offer. What’s great about this massive e-commerce platform is you can rely on user reviews to make a more informed decision. And you have all kinds of journals from name brands, small businesses, and the cheaper options in between.
From small businesses (like yours truly)
This wouldn’t be a story on our blog without a little self-endorsement, right? If you fancy a quality bullet journal, grab one from our shop here on ZenART!
Don't go too far looking for your next journaling companion. We've got a bunch of artist and beginner-friendly notebooks and sketchbooks right here and at a great price.
For one, the ZenART dotted notebook was made just for artists and bullet journalists on the go. It’s a solid option for starters. As a seasoned bullet journalist myself, I’m loving this journal—I’ve even decorated it to suit my personality.
What I love most is the extra detail that went into making these bullet journals.
They say don’t judge a book—in this case, a bullet journal—by its cover, but the ZenART dotted journal looks impressive at first glance. There are five color options so there’s a dotted notebook for every personality. Then take a look at the side. There’s an elegant Japanese pattern along the edges.
The notebook has a light dot grid to help you stay organized. It’s easy to customize and adapt the bullet journal method in your own way. With 120gsm ivory pages and premium thick paper, you can even do a light wash of watercolor in this journal! The smooth, acid-free paper is fountain pen friendly, too.
Some other handy little features you’ll love: Four index pages, numbered pages, a roomy back pocket, an elastic band, and two ribbon bookmarks.
Don’t wait, shop here and now on ZenART!
How do you like to bullet journal?
Hope this helped you get started on your BuJo journey! Let us know how you like to bullet journal—and how long you’ve been at it. What paper do you prefer? Are you a fan of blank, lined, or dotted notebooks?
Want more bullet journaling guides? Check out our blog’s Toolkit section for more tips. Tell us what you think of our journals or show us what you've created by joining our ZenART community. See ya online!
- MEET THE AUTHOR-
Belle O. Mapa is a writer and artist based in Manila, Philippines. She believes that everyone is born with an inner creative spirit—we just need to nurture and discover it on the blank page. Currently, she lives out her passion: writing stories, hosting journaling workshops, and advocating for mental health awareness.