Waterproof Paper: Does it Hold Water?

The testimonials on Rite in the Rain’s website promise nothing short of magic. These hardy notebooks have, so the site says, braved the harsh weather of the Iditarod or spent three months in a ditch without letting water wash away their owners’ notes. One notebook was blown off a boat into a lake in South Carolina, where it soaked for 48 days. The pages made their way back to the owner with nothing more than the “strong smell of anaerobic marsh muck.”

Skeptical that such paper could ever exist, I set out to test it for myself. Would Rite in the Rain really magically hold up to the dissolving effects of water?

Lacking rain, I opted for a clinically controlled lab test. My instruments consisted of a dual-function spray bottle set to “mist” and wide-mouth glass for a notebook immersion test. Rite in the Rain sent a set of “comparison” samples as well that contain plain paper on one side and the specially treated paper on the other. With these supplies in hand, it was time to get to work.

Writing Quality

Before a single drop of water touched the page, I first had to test the writing quality—there’s no point in having waterproof notes that look bad in the first place. The paper in my memo pad was nice and thick. According to the company, this heft was integral to the notebook’s waterproof construction. But this quality can also be a liability: The bonds in recycled paper, which has already been processed several times, are not strong enough to withstand waterproofing, so the paper is constructed of virgin tree material. On the plus side, though, the notebook itself is recyclable, so you can ensure that this precious resource isn’t wasted when you’re done with your notebook.

rite in the rain

Once I started writing on the paper in my favorite pen, I ran into a bit of trouble: The paper’s waterproof coating rejected the water-based gel ink in my pen, resulting in a smeary mess. So I glumly traded that in for a ballpoint pen and had much more success. After writing several pages of text, though, I ran into another problem. Though I am right-handed, I tend to write in a lefty fashion, dragging my hand across the already-written text. (This is also the reason for the poor penmanship you see in the photos above. I’m glad we live in a digital age!) And as I wrote, the pen ink smeared a bit on the page, leaving me with a nice blue stain on my hand. As could be expected, areas of heavy shading smeared the most.

It’s not a bad writing surface given that it’s waterproof. It reminds me of writing with a cheap erasable pen: It smears easily and isn’t the best way to record your thoughts, but it provides a utility that typical pen and paper lack.

Test One: Mist Mitigation

This test involved one standard spray bottle, set on mist, applied to both regular paper and RITR paper. The regular paper curled up upon contact, while water simply bubbled upon the surface of the treated paper:

rite in the rain

The ink again was a sticking point. After I rubbed the writing with my finger, the gel ink began to dissolve in the beads of water; the ballpoint fared much better. If you want to be really sure you’ll survive the mists of a humid morning, the company also sells a waterproof pen to go along with the waterproof paper, but a ballpoint seemed to work okay if you don’t want to make that kind of investment: It retails for about $20.

Test Two: Submersion Subjection

Inspired by the tales of notebooks spending months in aqueous environments, I decided to immerse the notebook. Without a pond handy, I decided a wide-mouth glass filled with water would make a fine substitution. I filled the notebook with a variety of types of writing: high-density text that would be illegible if smeared too much; drawings; line graphs; and shapes with shading, which I suspected would be the most affected by the immersion.

After it had soaked for a few hours, I pulled it out—and it looked exactly the same as when I put it in. Some of the pages didn’t even feel wet. After drying, the notebook was not as flat and uniform as it had been, but it survived the water bath much better than a pad of typical paper would have.

While the pages were wet, I applied the same rubbing motion to the text as I had in the misting test earlier. A lot of the ink smeared, particularly in the heavily shaded regions:

rite in the rain

But the end result was still legible. Had I any important data, notes or figures in there, I could have retrieved them quite easily.

The Final Write-up

For those who need to ensure their notes will survive their expedition – the company seems to target scientists and industrial companies whose employees have to take field measurements – this seems to be a good insurance policy against waterborne data loss. But like all insurance policies, it comes at a price. A tiny memo pad such as the one I tested runs from about $5 to $7, and the larger models generally top $10. It’s also similarly not quite as good as the real thing. After testing this paper, I’m not going to say it’s magic, but you know what? Rite in the Rain paper is all right.


Want to see more images from my clinical trials with this Rite in the Rain notebook? Head on over to our Facebook page!

Posted by Laura Williams on Aug 25, 2011